Chapter no 34

The Teacher


KENZIE HAS CHEERLEADING practice until at least five o’clock, maybe later. Her parents with their high-powered jobs won’t be home until late as well.

I, on the other hand, have absolutely nothing to do with my time while I wait to find out whether Principal Higgins is going to kick me out of school tomorrow.

I park my bike down the block from Kenzie’s house, chaining it to a lamppost. I take my backpack with me as I walk up the street to her large house, the weight of my books causing the straps of my bag to dig into my shoulders. I walk purposefully, like I’m supposed to be here. Like I’m a friend of Kenzie’s, coming to visit her.

Even though that couldn’t possibly be further from the truth.

I ring the doorbell, waiting for the sound of footsteps. I ring a second time for good measure, but I am met with only silence. Just as I suspected

—nobody is home. The house is completely empty.

I glance at the adjacent houses, which look just as dark and silent as the Montgomery house. When I feel confident nobody is watching me, I slip around the side of the house, tromping through the lush green backyard.

When I reach the back door, I dig around in the pouch of my backpack. I pull out the set of keys inside. I ditched the diamond-studded Kenzie key ring, but I kept the keys. Of course, it’s entirely possible that when Kenzie lost her keys, they decided to change the locks on the door. Then again, she lives in a safe neighborhood. Maybe her parents assumed she dropped her keys somewhere, and it wasn’t worth the stress of changing the locks.

Well, either way, we’re about to find out.

There are three keys on the ring, but one is larger and looks most like a house key. I take a deep breath and slide the key into the lock. I count to ten in my head, then I attempt to turn the key.

It turns.

I pause for a moment, listening for the sound of a barking dog. I don’t hear anything. So I turn the key the rest of the way in the door, twist the knob, and push inside the kitchen of the Montgomery household.

The first thing I do when I’m inside is look around to see if there is an alarm system. I’ve seen those before in other people’s houses, and what it would mean is that if I don’t disarm it, either an alarm will start sounding, or else the police department will be quietly notified. Either way, I don’t want that to happen. But I don’t see any keypad or signs that the house has an alarm.

Which is stupid on their part, because this house needs an alarm. As I step into the Montgomery home, I am taken aback. They have an open floor plan, so from their gleaming new kitchen, I can see the huge expanse of space and expensive furniture in the living room. Our house was built over one hundred years ago, and I doubt the interior has changed much since then. We have had the same refrigerator for my entire life, and I feel like it might outlive me and everybody I care about.

I leave my sneakers by the back door because their carpet is super light in color, and I’ve already made a few stains on the kitchen floor with my dirty shoes. I creep across the living room, over to the carpeted stairs. And then I start to climb them.

I can’t believe I’m doing this. It was bad enough that I cheated on an exam for the first time in my life (and got caught). And now here I am, only a few hours later, breaking into a house, for God’s sake. But this whole thing is Kenzie’s fault. She didn’t have to tell on me to Mrs. Bennett, and she didn’t have to do any of the things she’s been doing to me all semester. She deserves what’s coming to her.

When I get to the top floor, the first room I encounter is a bathroom. I step inside, admiring the gleaming white fixtures and the multicolored toothbrushes lined up on the sink counter. Oh my God, is that a seat warmer on the toilet? Would it be weird to try it out?

Yes, it probably would.

For a moment, I stare at myself in the vanity mirror of the sink. This is the same mirror Kenzie uses to look at herself every single day. Except when she looks into this mirror, her reflection shows perfect cheekbones, clear blue eyes, and silky blond hair, rather than my own nondescript features, with mud-colored eyes and hair.

I tap open the medicine cabinet with my index finger. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s filled with various skin creams and hair products. There are a couple of orange bottles of pills on the top shelf, and I pick up the first one.

Ondansetron. Take one tablet three times a day as needed for nausea.

Before I have a chance to wonder why Kenzie needs to take a pill for nausea, I turn the bottle and see that the prescription is for her older brother. Of course. Kenzie doesn’t get nauseous. She’s probably never vomited in her whole life.

It doesn’t take me long to find Kenzie’s bedroom. There are several bedrooms upstairs, but one of them is clearly the master bedroom, the other seems to belong to a teenage boy—her brother, presumably—and Kenzie’s is the one with the canopy bed and the large pink jewelry box on the desk. It is for real the nicest kid’s bedroom I’ve ever seen.

I sit down at Kenzie’s white desk, sinking into the leather chair. Kenzie sits in this very seat, and she does her homework, and she probably just takes for granted how lucky she is.

I pull open the top drawer of her desk. There’s a torn piece of notebook paper stuffed inside with a note scribbled on it: I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t wait to see you tonight. Ugh, just what I wanted to find—a love note from Hudson. I still can’t believe he’s dating her.

It was so weird with me and Hudson. When we were younger, I adored him and thought he was cute in a general sort of way with his eager smile and white-blond tousled hair, but I didn’t have a crush on him or anything. We played together the way any two kids would, playing Nintendo or doing homework together. When it was summer, we would toss a ball around in his backyard, walk together to the nearest store to get candy, or wriggle under the fence to get into his neighbor’s yard to use their swimming pool.

But then when we got to high school, Hudson shot up in height so that he was finally taller than me—a lot taller than me—and suddenly, I started thinking about him differently. I started fantasizing what it would be like to kiss him. And I got the feeling he was thinking about me the same way.

Not that it was Kenzie’s fault that my best friend stopped speaking to me. That was all because of what happened with my father and what I made Hudson do. But it doesn’t make it any less painful to see them together.

I look over at a ceramic figure on her desk. It’s a bird, painted light blue and violet. When I pick it up, I can see her initials, KM, etched into the bottom, which means that she made it in ceramics class, even though it looks professional. Kenzie is even amazing at ceramics. On a whim, I hurl the bird to the floor, where it shatters into five pieces.

I thought breaking something in her room might make me feel better, but it doesn’t. At all. And weirdly, I don’t feel as upset about her and

Hudson as I used to. I still miss Hudson as a friend, but when I fantasize about a guy who I would like to be with, it isn’t him anymore.

It’s Nathaniel Bennett.

Not that anything could ever happen between me and Mr. Bennett. That is just beyond stupid. But I think about him all the time. At night, when I’m drifting off to sleep, I imagine him smiling at me, his eyes crinkling like they always do. The thought of him finding out about me cheating is so humiliating. There’s nothing more important to me than what he thinks of me.

I stand up from the leather chair and walk over to Kenzie’s closet. She has a ginormous walk-in closet, because of course she does. I sift through all the sick designer labels she’s got stuffed inside. In addition to being pretty and popular, she’s also a lot wealthier than most of the kids in the school. It just feels like life isn’t fair sometimes, you know?

I pull out a pink top from her closet. The material is soft, and I can tell that it would cling to my chest in all the right places. It’s about the right size too. If I took it, she would never even know. I mean, she has about five zillion shirts in this closet. She probably hasn’t worn this one in years. Really, I’d be doing her a favor. I’m helping her declutter. In fact, I could do even a little bit more decluttering here.

And then just as I’m sifting through her shirts, I hear a crash from downstairs.

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