Chapter no 38

The Teacher


WE SPEND the next forty minutes in the darkroom, and then Mr. Bennett—I mean, Nathaniel—drives me home after. It’s a bit risky, but if he doesn’t drive me home, I’m going to be late, and my mom is going to totally freak if she gets home from her shift and I’m not there. So it’s a risk we need to take.

As we drive home, I can’t stop thinking about what happened in that darkroom. The way Mr. Bennett—I mean, Nathaniel—touched me. The feel of his lips on mine set every single nerve in my body on fire. And really, all we did was kiss. He didn’t even try to do more than that. He told me he wasn’t going to. This is all I dreamed of doing with him.

That’s how sweet he is. He doesn’t care if all we do is kiss. He just wants to be with me because we have this connection.

When we stop at a red light, he reaches over and takes my hand in his.

He flashes me a nervous look. “Is this okay?” he asks. I squeeze his hand back to show him it is. “Yes.”

His shoulders relax. “Sorry, this is… It’s new territory for me. Honestly, I feel like a bad person. I’m your teacher…”

“I was the one who made the first move,” I point out. “You told me to go away.”

He lets out a long sigh, taking his eyes briefly off the road to look over at me. “I married Eve because it was expected of me to settle down. I never met anyone genuinely special before. And now I’m thirty-eight, and I’m meeting my soulmate for the first time, and she’s only sixteen.” He grimaces. “How cruel is this universe?”

He just called me his soulmate. It’s wild, because I feel the exact same way, but I would have thought I was imagining it if he hadn’t said it. “You can’t help who you form a connection with. Right?”

“Believe me, I wish everyone thought about it the way you did. But they’re not going to understand.”

He’s right. If anyone finds out about this, he would get fired. And I’m pretty sure my life would get much worse as well. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“You have no idea how much your presence in my life has changed me,” he says. “Before you came along, I was completely blocked. And now I’m writing poetry again! For the first time in a long time.”

That’s incredible. Especially because all I want to do is write poems about Nathaniel Bennett. I want to fill a whole notebook with verses about the way the lines crinkle around his eyes. “Will you show me one of your poems?”

“It’s all I want to do.” He smiles. “Eve… she has no interest in my poetry. She never did. Everything with her has to be practical, and she thinks poetry is such a waste.”

I never liked Mrs. Bennett, and now I almost feel like I hate her. Nathaniel loves poetry—what kind of wife wouldn’t be supportive of that?

Nathaniel pulls up on the curb a full block away from my house. “I don’t think I should get closer than this.”

I nod, knowing he’s right. I hate that we have to hide, but there’s also something exciting about it. “It’s fine.”

“Addie…” He reaches out to touch my face, and he pulls away at the last second. “You can’t tell anyone about this. Not a soul. Not your mom, not your friends—nobody.”

“I won’t.”

“I mean it.” He stares at me through the shadows in his car. “My entire career is in your hands. I’m counting on you.”

He had pulled his hand away during the drive, and I reach out to take it now. “You can trust me.”

I can tell how badly he wants to kiss me, but we both understand the wisdom of not kissing in a car in the middle of the street, even under the cloak of darkness. We can steal moments in the darkroom, but that’s it. Anything else would be too big a risk.

But maybe it won’t always be that way. Maybe there will be a time in the future when we can be together.

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