Chapter no 15

The Teacher


AS I’M HURRYING to the meeting of the poetry magazine, I run into Kenzie and Hudson.

Actually, I don’t run into them so much as I see them. Hudson has football practice, and Kenzie probably has a cheerleader practice, but they’re taking a few minutes together before they head out, hidden in one of the quiet nooks on the fourth floor, behind a set of lockers.

They do look good together, both of them with their matching perfect blond hair. If anything ever happened between me and Hudson, we would not have looked nearly as well matched. Not that anything ever did. There was a time when… Well, let me just say that I wrote a few bad poems about Hudson Jankowski. We spent so much time together, and he was my best friend in the whole world, yet he was the one I fantasized about when I was alone in my bedroom.

And now he’s with Kenzie. They’re not kissing, but they’re standing very, very close together, talking softly.

The weird thing is, we used to make fun of Kenzie and her minions. They’re required to make a shrine to her in their bedrooms, Hudson joked. And give her twenty percent of all their earnings.

She is really pretty though, I pointed out to him once. And Hudson made barfing sounds. Of course, he was only thirteen then. As he stares into her eyes now, he doesn’t look like he’s going to make barfing sounds any time soon.

Ugh, they’re about to kiss. I can’t even watch.

I look down at the two backpacks that were abandoned against the wall. Hudson’s is the cheap, black one. Kenzie’s is trimmed with leather, with lots of buttons and ornaments hanging off it. There’s one key chain that has the name Kenzie on it in diamond lettering. I wonder if it was custom-made. I also happen to notice that the key chain has a couple of keys hanging off it. Her house key.

I hazard a look back up at Kenzie and Hudson. They’re still talking, completely absorbed in each other. I never thought I’d see the day when

Hudson became one of her minions—worse, her boyfriend. Quietly, I slide the key chain off the zipper of her backpack and slip it into my pocket.

As I walk away, I expect to hear Kenzie yelling after me. She already hates me, and this would be the final straw if she saw me take her keys. And what if she tells the principal? Why would I take this kind of risk and get in trouble again?

Except she doesn’t catch me. I make it all the way down to the stairwell, and by the time I get to the third floor, I realize that I’m home free.

The key chain is still in my pocket when I reach the meeting for the poetry magazine. I’m surprised how few students have shown up. I would have guessed, based on how popular Mr. Bennett is, that the room would be packed. But then again, he also works on the school newspaper. Maybe that’s enough of an opportunity for the girls to flirt with him. Anyway, I’m glad there aren’t too many kids here. It’s less intimidating this way.

When I step into the room, Mr. Bennett is talking to another student, but he lifts his eyes, and that great smile stretches across his face. He excuses himself from the conversation with the other student and jogs over to speak to me.

“Addie!” he says. “I’m so elated you could make it!”

I’m so overcome by his enthusiasm, I can only manage to nod.

“Well, come on in,” he says, because I’m still lingering in the doorway. “You can see we don’t have a lot of people, but everyone who attends is extremely dedicated. And I’d like you to meet our editor-in-chief.”

He leads me to a girl who I recognize from the senior class. I’m pretty sure her name is Mary. She has jet-black hair cropped close to her head on the bottom and shaggy on the top, falling into her eyes. She’s wearing a hoodie sweatshirt zipped up to her neck, and she’s got a spiral notebook open in front of her, with a page covered in angry black scrawl and half- finished drawings of skeletons. She scowls when she sees me.

“Hi, Mary,” I say, hoping she’ll be impressed that I know her name.

The girl does not look pleased. “It’s Lotus. Not Mary. Do I look like a Mary to you?”

That feels like a rhetorical question, but even so, I shake my head no. I’m still pretty sure her real name is Mary, but I’ll call her Lotus if she wants me to.

“Lotus, I’d like you to show Addie the ropes here,” Mr. Bennett tells her. “Also, Addie has a phenomenal poem she submitted in my class.” He

winks at me. “I feel like it might be first page material.”

It was probably the wrong thing to say in terms of endearing me to this hostile girl, but at the same time, the praise makes my knees wobble. I’ve always been a mediocre student, and this might be the first time in my life that I have ever felt like maybe I’m good at something.

I can just imagine telling my mom that I want to be a poet. She would have a stroke.

I drop down into the desk next to Lotus/Mary. She doesn’t seem thrilled, but she reluctantly turns to look at me. “So let’s see this poem,” she says.

I dig around in my backpack and pull out the two-inch binder that contains most of my papers from school. I’ve always been organized, and I love dividing my work with color-coded tabs. I flip to the English section and immediately locate the poem about my father, which I don’t mention is the best of dozens of angry poems I’ve written about him over the years.

I hand it over to Lotus, who scans the page with narrowed eyes. She’s wearing black eye makeup that reminds me of Cleopatra. When she finishes, she comments, “This is really dark.”

I’m not sure if it’s a compliment or not. “I know.” “Is this, like, real?”

I nod slowly.

Lotus lets out a low breath. “Okay, well, it’s pretty good. Maybe needs a little work. Mr. Bennett will help with that. He gives good suggestions. And, you know, I can help too. Like you have sort of a color theme going here with the blood coming out of her face, but you could push it even more. More colors, you know?”

I nod vigorously. “Yes, totally.”

She gives me a long look. “Aren’t you the one who hooked up with Mr.


I flinch. “No.”

“Yeah, you are. Addie Severson, right?”

“Right, but…” I nibble on the tip of my thumbnail. “Nothing happened.

It was all a misunderstanding.”

“Okay, then how come he got fired?”

I get a jab of guilt in my chest. It’s all my fault, but there was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I could say to make it right again. “I don’t know.”

“He’s pretty gross.” She starts scribbling listlessly in her spiral notebook. She has drawn a pair of crossbones, and she outlines them again and again. “I don’t know how you could do that with him. Like, anyone would be better.”

“Right. I didn’t.”

She shrugs like she doesn’t believe me. For a moment, I thought maybe Lotus could be a friend, but I’m not sure anymore. My reputation is too tainted, which is why I was so desperate to change schools. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I could swap to a different school in the spring.

But then I look up, and Mr. Bennett is across the room. I catch his eye, and he gives me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. I imagine telling him that I’m leaving Caseham High, and I imagine his disappointment.

But really, what gives me the confidence to stay is the set of Kenzie’s keys in my pocket.

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