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Chapter no 29

The Teacher

ADDIE

MR. BENNETT IS PARKED CLOSE to the back entrance of the school, but he still produces an umbrella, and I huddle close to him to keep from getting wet. But not too close, obviously.

His car turns out to be a gray Honda Accord. It’s weird because I expected something flashier, like a bright red convertible or something, which is weird because it’s not like Mr. Bennett is flashy. But this car just seems so much like an adult car, even though Mr. Bennett seems like one of the kids.

Also, the inside smells like him. I don’t know what exactly the smell is, maybe a cologne or aftershave or something, but I have noticed that he has a nice smell. I can’t smell it when he’s at his desk, but when he comes around the side of his desk and I am in my seat in the first row, I get a whiff of it.

“Sorry it’s messy,” he tells me as he clears a few papers off the passenger’s seat. It’s not that messy, though, especially compared to my mother’s car. In all the time I have been getting into her car, I have never seen it without fast-food french fries on the floor.

I slide into the passenger seat and buckle my seat belt. When Mr. Bennett gets into the driver’s seat, that feels even more weird. It doesn’t feel like we are teacher and student anymore but more like two friends going home together. The only person I ever ride like this in the car with is my mother, and she is much older than Mr. Bennett. Like by at least ten years, maybe more.

And he’s not like any other adults I know. I rode in the car with Mr. Tuttle, but he was old, like my father or even kind of like my grandfather or something. But Mr. Bennett isn’t like that. He is really handsome—more handsome than basically all the boys in our class—and it’s hard not to notice that.

Of course, if we were friends, I wouldn’t call him Mr. Bennett. His first name is Nathaniel. Nathaniel Bennett. It makes me think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote The Scarlet Letter, which I had to read in last year’s English class. There’s something poetic about the name Nathaniel.

Nathaniel and Adeline. We sound like a couple from hundreds of years ago.

I’ve heard other teachers refer to him as Nate. If we were friends, that’s probably what I would call him. But since we’re not actually friends, I will still be calling him Mr. Bennett.

“Thank you again,” I tell him as he starts the engine.

“No problem.” He pulls out of his parking spot, the wiper blades furiously swishing back and forth. “Couldn’t let you walk home in this mess. And I’m not in any rush. Eve is going out with a friend tonight.”

I sit beside him as he navigates onto the road. I told him my address, and he seems to know how to get there without his GPS. So I sit there, playing with a loose thread on the seam of my jeans. I’m trying to think of something to say conversation wise, but everything in my head just seems so completely lame. I mean, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t think there’s anything interesting I can say to him. Usually, when we talk, it’s about poetry, but that conversation seems out of place here.

“So,” he finally says, “is the person who put shaving cream in your locker the same one who ruined your clothes?”

I hesitate for a moment before nodding. I submitted my letter to Kenzie in lieu of an assignment, although to be honest, some of the angry thoughts were aimed at Mrs. Bennett as well. Mr. Bennett never graded it or returned it to me, but when I handed it in, he said to me, I bet it felt good to write that.

It really did.

But not as good as it would feel to do all those things.

“I’m sorry that’s been happening to you,” he says. “You don’t deserve to be treated that way. Nobody does. And you should know, there’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself.”

“It’s kind of hard to stand up for myself when the other person has their own posse.”

I brace myself, waiting for some sort of motivational lecture like I get from every adult, but instead Mr. Bennett just nods. “I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes high school sucks.”

“I’m sure it didn’t suck for you.”

“Hmm. I don’t think you realize what it was like to be a sixteen-year- old boy who enjoyed writing poetry.”

Despite everything, I have to laugh. It’s hard to imagine Mr. Bennett being sixteen years old like me. But there are times he seems very young. I can almost imagine him being a teenager, sitting under that tree outside the school, writing poems.

“What was the first poem you ever wrote?” I ask him.

My face burns slightly, wondering if I asked him a stupid question, but he doesn’t act like he thinks it’s stupid. He purses his lips like he’s thinking about the answer. I give myself permission to look at him, and I notice a little healing cut on his chin from when he must’ve been shaving this morning. A lot of the boys in my class don’t shave yet, and they just have scattered strands of this gross scraggly hair on their chins.

“I wrote a poem when I was six,” he says. “For my mom, for Mother’s Day. She hung it up on the refrigerator, and it was there for years, so I still remember it. Let me think. I love my mom, and I know why. She makes me food so I don’t die.

“That’s, like, the cutest thing ever,” I squeal.

“I know. I was adorable.” He grins at me. “How about you?”

“I don’t think I wrote anything quite that cute. Anyway, I didn’t become a serious poet until I was in high school.” Now my face feels like it’s on fire. “I didn’t mean to say I’m a poet or anything. I’m not. I just mean that I didn’t start writing poetry seriously until then. Sort of serious.”

“You are a poet though.” The smile drops off his face. “Don’t say you’re not because you absolutely are. More than a lot of adults who claim to be.”

I squeeze my hands between my knees. Sometimes adults say things that are patronizing, but this doesn’t sound like that. He sounds like he truly means it.

I almost feel sad when my house comes into view. I feel like I could talk to Mr. Bennett in the car for the next hour or two. Usually when I’m in the car with my mom, I turn on the radio because talking can get awkward, but I didn’t feel the urge to do that at all with Mr. Bennett.

“Thanks for the ride,” I say as he pulls up to my curb. “It was my pleasure.”

He throws the car into park, and for a split second, it almost feels like the two of us are on a date and he’s dropping me off at home at the end of the evening. It’s so preposterous, but at the same time, it feels that way. And for a moment, I almost feel like I’m supposed to lean in for a good-night kiss.

But that would be ridiculous.

“Thank you again.” I grab my bag off the floor and open the door to the car. “Really.”

“Any time, Addie.”

As I dart from the Honda to my front door, trying to avoid the raindrops splashing down on me, I find myself smiling like an idiot.

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