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Chapter no 24

The Teacher

EVE

FOR MY BIRTHDAY DINNER, I put on my Louis Vuitton pumps and a red dress that clings to my body. I may not be the curviest woman in the world, but I’ve kept in good shape, and this dress accentuates my figure— Jay would appreciate it very much. But when I march into the living room, where Nate is watching television, he barely looks at me.

“Ready to go?” he asks. He hasn’t changed out of the dress shirt and slacks he wore to work, but in his defense, he always looks incredibly handsome.

“I’m ready.” I grab my purse from where I left it on the table next to the front door. “I thought we could go to Maggiano’s tonight.”

Nate looks at me like I just suggested we dash off to Italy to have dinner tonight. “Maggiano’s? That’s kind of far away, isn’t it? And pricey.”

“It’s my birthday,” I start to point out, but I don’t feel like arguing. And the truth is, I’m not excited to be sitting in a car with him for the next forty- five minutes either. “Fine. Do you want to go to Piazza?”

Piazza is a popular Italian restaurant about ten minutes away from here. It’s cheap and fast. Not exactly the kind of place I dream about going to on a special occasion, but I have a feeling nothing about this night is going to be anything special. May as well make the picture complete.

“Sure,” he says.

As always, Nate drives. He turns up the classical music station to a high enough volume that we don’t need to speak to each other. When we first got married, I thought about what future birthdays would be like with this man. He was so affectionate, I used to think that at thirty or forty or even eighty, we wouldn’t be able to keep our hands off each other. I never imagined we would be driving to a birthday dinner at a cheap Italian restaurant, struggling to find something to say.

“We have some good talent this year on the poetry magazine,” he says. “Oh, that’s great,” I say, even though I literally could not possibly care

less.

“Those raw emotions are so intense. Only a teenager could write something so utterly compelling.”

I nod. “All those hormones. I can’t even remember what it was like to feel everything so strongly. But I know I did.”

My husband is quiet then, lost in thought. He always seems like he’s a million miles away these days. We have the same job, so it seems like it should be easy to come up with something to say to each other, yet we can’t. We have become strangers to each other.

Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I need to try harder to connect with him. When we were first together, we used to sit in the park together, curled up under a tree, and he would read poetry to me. If he suggested such a thing now, I would roll my eyes at him. I liked the poems he wrote for me, because they came from his heart, but I never enjoyed poetry in general. It all seemed so silly—especially the ones that don’t even rhyme. I mean, I’m a math teacher. I would sooner sit in the park with him and solve quadratic equations.

Maybe I should suggest it now. Maybe this weekend, we can go to the park and share some poetry. And maybe I need to cool things down with Jay. As much as that tryst has meant to me, if I have any interest in saving my marriage, hooking up with another man is not the best way to go about it.

I’ve decided—tomorrow, on the second day of my fourth decade of life, I’m going to make things right. I’m going to spend more time with Nate, and I’m going to tell Jay that it’s over.

When we get to Piazza, Nate pulls into a spot at the end of the parking lot, as far as he can get from the restaurant. He does that all the time. There are plenty of parking spots right next to the door, and yet he parks half a mile away.

“Can you park a little closer?” I say.

He throws the car into park and frowns at me. “What are you talking about? I’m already parked.”

“Right, but there are other spots that are closer.”

“You really want me to take my car out of the spot and then move to a different spot, like, ten feet away?”

“It’s not ten feet. And you’re not wearing four-inch heels.”

His eyes flicker down to my Louis Vuitton pumps. “Well, who told you to wear those anyway?” He narrows his eyes. “Are those new? They look expensive.”

“I’ve had them for ages. I wore them for my birthday last year.” I can’t help but think to myself that Jay would recognize these shoes.

“Yeah, right,” he mutters under his breath.

Nate climbs out of the car, and I hurry after him, although it’s hard to keep up in these shoes. They are absolutely gorgeous, but nobody is going to argue that they’re comfortable. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He doesn’t slow down to give me a chance to keep up. “I mean, we’ll see how new they are when we get the credit card bill, won’t we?”

I want to tell him how unfair that is, but the truth is, the credit card will have a few surprises on it for him. I hate that he is the one who always pays it. It’s this habit we got into years ago. When we got married, all our money was pooled together. I can’t do anything or buy anything without him knowing about it.

Me telling him that I want my own credit card and my own bank account might not be a step in the right direction for our marriage. Then again, he doesn’t seem to care about these things as much as he used to. When I would go out without him, he used to ask me so many questions about where I was going and what I would be doing, and now it’s like he doesn’t care at all. He’s just glad I’m out of the house.

Nate at least holds the door open for me when we get to the restaurant. I’ve already decided I’m going to get the most decadent dessert on the menu. I deserve one treat today, considering the only present I’ve received the entire day from my birthday is a key chain from Shelby that she got in Cape Cod.

“Table for two,” Nate tells the hostess. She’s a busty blond in her twenties, and I’m glad to see at the very least he isn’t staring at her breasts.

“It’s my birthday,” I blurt out.

I don’t know why I said that. Nate looks slightly mortified, but I’ve only got a few hours left of this day, and I just want somebody to acknowledge that it’s special for me. But it’s not that gratifying when the hostess flashes me a quick smile, says happy birthday, and then leads us to the same crappy table we were going to get anyway. She doesn’t take us to some special birthday table covered with streamers, not that I was expecting anything like that.

Just as we are settling into our seats, Nate stiffens. He’s looking at something across the dining area, his brown eyes widening.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him. “What are you looking at?”

“What? Nothing.”

He was definitely looking at something, although he doesn’t want to tell me. Did he see one of the employees come out of the bathroom without washing his hands? Did he spot a pair of shoes that I purchased without his consent?

“It’s one of my students,” he finally says. “Addie Severson. She must be eating with her mother.”

Now it’s my turn to go as rigid as a board. “I didn’t realize Addie was in your class.”

“Yes. Last period.”

I don’t know why the idea of Addie being in Nate’s class makes me uneasy. I can’t help but think of Art Tuttle’s warning when we were at the supermarket. That girl is not well.

“She’s really talented,” he says. “She could be a great poet someday.” “That’s not a very practical career.”

Nate’s face falls. He looks hurt by my comment, but what does he expect? Being a poet is not a practical career aspiration.

“I just think it’s something she might enjoy,” he says. “She has a lyrical mind. And her favorite poet is also Poe, although she’s partial to ‘Annabel Lee.’”

One thing I do know about my husband is that his favorite poet is Edgar Allan Poe, and he loves “The Raven.” If I were making a list of five important facts about Nathaniel Bennett, that would top the list.

It occurs to me that we haven’t even ordered dinner yet, and I’m already looking forward to being done with this meal.

“Listen,” I say, “you should be careful around Addie. You saw what happened with Art Tuttle. He was just trying to be nice to her, and look what happened.”

Nate’s eyes darken. “If you think Art Tuttle isn’t a creep, then you’re blind.”

I feel a flash of irritation at his comment. Art is not a creep. When I started working at the school, he was the first person to help me. And he never did or said anything inappropriate. He was just a good friend to me. I knew he was tutoring Addie and even saw them getting in his car together after school, but I truly never thought anything of it. Nobody did.

That all changed when a neighbor saw Addie skulking around the back of Art’s house and called the police. It doesn’t look good for a middle-aged

teacher when your fifteen-year-old student is found outside your house late at night.

But in the end, nobody could prove any wrongdoing on his part. As silly as it sounds, the only thing Art was guilty of was “caring too much.” He knew Addie didn’t have money for tutoring, so he was trying to help her through math class on his own. He gave her a ride home a few times because it was raining or snowing and he didn’t want her to have to bike home in inclement weather. And the dinners were about as innocent as it could get—he invited both Addie and her mother to dine with him and his wife.

As for Addie being found outside his house, that was one Art couldn’t quite explain. When he and I talked about it, he hung his head. I was trying to be nice to her because she lost her father recently, and I think she just got too attached. She became fixated on me.

I didn’t doubt him. It’s exactly the sort of thing that could happen to a troubled teenage girl.

“I’m just saying,” I murmur to Nate, “the girl is troubled. She recently lost her father, and she will cling on to anyone who gets too close to her.”

“So basically, we should keep her isolated?” “That’s not what I’m saying at all!”

I am forced to pause my rant while our waitress interrupts to bring us our water glasses. Our waitress is young and attractive, like all the waitresses here. She spends what feels like half an hour telling us about the specials, and every time Nate asks a question, she lays her hand on his shoulder. I have to say, I’m getting sick of women hitting on my husband right in front of my face.

“I’m just saying,” I continue after the waitress has finally left us alone again, “the girl needs friends her own age—not a teacher who is pushing forty. Just be careful.”

“Noted,” Nate says through his teeth.

But I can see on his face that his mood has soured. I don’t know what he’s so upset about though. I’m just trying my best to protect him from ending up like Art Tuttle.

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