Chapter no 18

The Teacher


AS TODAY’S meeting of Reflections is coming to a close, Mr. Bennett crooks a finger at me. “Addie, can I talk to you for a minute?”

I’ve been going to meetings of the poetry magazine for a few weeks now, and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m part of something. Lotus sometimes waits for me after the meeting is over, and we walk to our bikes together, although I still am not sure if she likes me or not. Sometimes I think she despises me and would murder me in my sleep if she had the option, but other times she seems to be happily tolerating me. In any case, I wave to her to go on without me, although I can see in her eyes she’s curious about what he wants to discuss with me. Lotus absolutely idolizes Mr. Bennett.

I hang back in the classroom while Mr. Bennett shuffles through some papers on his desk. He waits until everyone is gone before he lowers the papers and smiles up at me. “Addie,” he says. “Guess what?”

I love the way Mr. Bennett’s eyes crinkle when he smiles. In the month I have been in his class, I have noticed he has two kinds of smiles. There’s one he uses in class when he’s trying to encourage students, but it’s not as genuine. When his eyes crinkle, that’s when I can tell he’s actually happy.

“Good news?” I ask.

“So there’s a statewide poetry competition.” He rubs his palms together. “And every year, I have the opportunity to submit one poem from all my classes. And this year, I want to submit your poem.”

My mouth falls open. Mr. Bennett teaches multiple English classes, and on top of that, he’s got all the kids from the magazine to choose from. Lotus, for example, is an incredibly talented poet. All her poems are better than any one of mine. Has he lost his mind? Does he think that I’m Lotus somehow? “Mine?” I finally squeak.

He beams at me. “Yes! I want to submit ‘He Was There.’ I think it’s brilliant. One of the most moving things I’ve ever read.”

That’s the piece about my father. I’m having a serious choked-up moment. I’ve learned to get used to his praise, but not this much praise. It might be too much, like I might explode from the amount of approval I’m

receiving right now. Like when a starving person suddenly gets a bunch of food and then they die from it.

“Are you sure?” I say.

“Addie.” He folds his arms across his chest. At some point after the last bell rang, he undid the cuffs of his sleeves and rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his forearms—now I can see the dark hairs on his arm. None of the boys in my class have that much hair on their arms. Hudson just had a little, and it’s pale blond like the hair on his head. “Addie, you have to believe in yourself a little bit. Because I sure do.”

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“Your poem is amazing.” His brown eyes hold my gaze. “You are amazing, okay? You are a master of this craft, even at sixteen.”

If anyone else said it to me, I would think they were being patronizing. But somehow, when Mr. Bennett tells me I’m amazing, I actually feel that way. Like maybe there is something out there that I’m good at, even though being a poet would be a stupid and ridiculous career for me and I really should become a nurse like my mother says I should.

“I’m not amazing at math,” I blurt out.

I feel dumb for having said that, but for some reason, it makes Mr. Bennett laugh. He throws his head back and gives a great big belly laugh. I can make out a tiny silver filling in one of his back teeth. “Is my wife giving you a hard time?”

I lift one shoulder. “It’s not her fault. I suck at math.” “I know how she is. She’s strict, isn’t she?”

I press my lips together, reluctant to say anything negative about his wife. But the truth is, while Mr. Bennett is one of the most popular teachers in the school, only the best math students are fans of Mrs. Bennett. She is really strict, and she doesn’t have much patience for kids who don’t get the material right away.

But the worst thing people say about her is they don’t get why Mr. Bennett married her. He’s the hottest and most beloved teacher in the school. Mrs. Bennett is pretty, I guess, although not on the same level as her husband. And she’s definitely not beloved. In fact, she’s actually kind of a…

Well, she’s a bitch. There, I said it.

“My wife is very concrete,” he says. “She’s only interested in logic and reasoning. She isn’t a dreamer, like we are. For her, words only serve a

utilitarian purpose.”

“It’s fine,” I reassure him. “I just need to study.” And also pray for a miracle.

“If she’s ever too hard on you,” he says, “let me know. Seriously.” I will seriously never let him know.

“I completely understand,” he adds. “I was also terrible in math when I was in high school. And biology.”

“Really?” He has zeroed in on my two least favorite subjects.

He grins at me and his eyes crinkle in that way I have come to love. “Oh yes. I refused to dissect a frog because I thought it was wrong. The teacher was going to fail me, so I had to do an extra credit project just to scrape by!”

I didn’t think it was possible to like Mr. Bennett any more than I already do, but there it is.

“Anyway…” He looks down at his watch and seems surprised by the time. “I apologize—I didn’t realize it was so late. Sorry to keep you. Do you need a ride home?”

I’m so shocked by his offer, I almost drop my backpack. Is he for real offering me a ride home? Doesn’t he know what happened to Mr. Tuttle? There is no way I’m taking a ride from another teacher who actually makes an effort to care about me. I’m not letting anything like that ever happen again.

“That’s okay,” I say quickly. “I have my bike.” “Are you sure? It’s no trouble.”


He shrugs. “Okay. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

He seems so unconcerned, it almost makes me wonder if I overreacted somehow. After all, a ride is just a ride. Other kids do occasionally get rides from teachers, and the teachers don’t end up fired and disgraced. Maybe I made too much of the whole thing.

It seems too late to change my mind though, so I grab my backpack and head out of the room—and almost run smack into Lotus. She’s leaning against the wall, her bag propped up against her Doc Martens, a slightly manic expression on her face.

“Hey,” I say. “I told you not to wait for me.”

She rubs her nose with the back of her hand. “Bro, what was that


“Oh.” I have to suppress a smile. “There’s some statewide contest he wants to enter one of my poems into. So, you know.”

“Wait.” She sucks in a breath. “The Massachusetts Poetry Contest?” “Maybe?”

Lotus swears under her breath. “That’s bullshit, you know?” I don’t know. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…” She grits her teeth. Lotus has a lot of small, sharp-looking teeth. “That poetry contest is a big deal, and he only gets to submit one poem from the whole school.”


“And, like, you’re just a beginner.” Her heavily mascaraed eyelashes flutter. “I mean, you’re good for a beginner, but there are at least three other kids at the magazine who are better than you. And I am a senior, and he has never picked one of my poems.”

I don’t know what to say. “It wasn’t like it was my decision.”

“Yes, but it was a bad decision.” Her eyes narrow at me. “You should tell him it’s a bad decision. He shouldn’t pick you just because you’re the teacher’s pet.”

I already suggested to Mr. Bennett that there might be better poems out there but he insisted. “What do you want me to do, Lotus?”

“I want you to go back in that room and tell him that he should pick somebody else’s poem to submit.”

I don’t know what is more shocking: the fact that Mr. Bennett told me he was choosing my poem in the first place or what Lotus has just asked me to do.

“I’m not doing that,” I say.

She folds her arms across her flat chest. “So you want our school to lose?”

“I don’t want us to lose, but Mr. Bennett picked my poem for a reason.

He must think it’s capable of winning.”

She sneers at me. “Oh, you really think that’s why he picked your poem?”

My mouth falls open. “Yes…”

“I mean, it’s not enough you got Mr. Tuttle fired, now you have to go after Mr. Bennett?”

My face burns. I had thought maybe Lotus and I were friends, but I was sorely mistaken. “I have to go home,” I mumble. “I’ll see you next week.


As I walk away from Lotus, clutching the straps of my backpack, my thoughts won’t stop racing. I hate that she called me out on all my darkest fears. Mr. Bennett had a lot of poems to choose from. Why did he choose mine? Objectively, I don’t think my poem was the best one. There were so many other amazing choices—including the ones Lotus wrote.

So why me?

Is it possible she could be right? Is it possible that Mr. Bennett had some sort of ulterior motive in picking an inferior poem to enter in the contest? Was this nothing more than favoritism on his part? Or something even more than favoritism?

The worst part of all though is the shiver of excitement that goes through me at the possibility that Lotus could be right.

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