Chapter no 40

The Teacher


THE MEETINGS of Reflections used to be the best part of my day, but now all I want is for it to be over so that I can sneak off with Nathaniel to the darkroom.

“This whole poem,” Lotus says to me, “it’s too…sappy.”

“Sappy?” I repeat. The poem she’s looking at is one that I wrote while thinking about Nathaniel. It’s a love poem, but I didn’t think it was sappy.

Your eyes are brown like freshly fallen autumn leaves

I crave your embrace in the misty night

I see you every day

But when I can’t be with you I long to be in your arms

My love for you is like a black hole

It is so deep

and I can’t stop falling

“Yeah.” She crinkles her nose. “I mean, look at this. ‘My love for you is like a black hole.’ Seriously, Addie? It sounds like some lovesick teenage girl wrote it. You don’t usually write shit like this.”

I snatch the poem away from her, my face on fire. I had been considering showing Nathaniel the poem today, but now I’m not so sure. I didn’t think it was sappy. I didn’t think it made me sound like a lovesick teenage girl. But then again, Lotus knows her stuff.

“I’m just trying to help,” Lotus says. “You need to have thick skin if you want to be a writer. People are going to tell you way worse stuff than that.”

“Yeah…” I look across the room, where Nathaniel is talking to another student. He notices me watching him, and he flashes a ghost of a smile. “I guess you’re right.”

She looks down at her watch, noting that it’s 4:30 now. The meeting is just about over. Thank God. “Hey,” she says. “You want to go grab some pizza?”

It’s the first olive branch Lotus has extended to me in a long time. Except I don’t want it. Becoming friends with Lotus would make it harder for me to meet up with Nathaniel. And no friendship is worth jeopardizing that.

“I have to be home for dinner,” I tell her.

“Oh. Okay.” Lotus looks disappointed, which surprises me. I thought she hated me. “Well, let’s go then.”

She grabs her bag, swings it over her shoulder, and waits for me. Except I can’t leave with Lotus. I’m not missing my opportunity to be with Nathaniel.

“Actually,” I say, “I need to talk to Mr. Bennett about something real quick. Maybe I’ll catch up with you later.”

Lotus gives me a funny look, but she doesn’t push me further. She doesn’t really have interest in being friends with me.

I let her leave first, but I don’t wait for Nathaniel. I leave the classroom and go directly to the darkroom. After all, it would look suspicious if we keep sneaking in there together.

While I wait for him, I smooth out the creases on my shirt and run my fingers through my hair. The last time we were in here, which was our third time, I took off my shirt, but I was kind of embarrassed about my bra. It was this tan-colored utilitarian bra that was basically the opposite of sexy. I wish I could take off my shirt and be wearing something cute and lacy, but I don’t own anything like that. And it’s not like I can get my mom to buy me a sexy bra. If I even asked for it, she would probably ground me on the spot. Mostly, we have just kissed and he put his hands on my breasts. Other times, we will just talk, and sometimes he recites poetry for me. He knows so many poems by heart, including his personal favorite, “The Raven.” He is super patient with me, and he keeps telling me that we don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. He just wants to be with me. He told me it was okay if we never had sex. I think we probably will someday, but I love that

he is so patient.

While I’m waiting, my phone buzzes inside my jeans pocket. I pull it out and notice a message waiting for me in Snapflash. A lot of kids use Snapflash so their parents won’t invade their privacy and read all their text

messages, but I only use it to communicate with one other person: Nathaniel. It was his idea, because the text messages disappear after sixty seconds. It’s the safest way to communicate.

I read the message that he sent to me:


Just finishing up. Will be there in two minutes.

I stare at the message until it disappears from the screen. I love the messages he sends me. Every time I get one, I read it and reread it for the entire sixty seconds.

After the message vanishes, I take out the poem I wrote for Nathaniel and read it one more time. Lotus said it was sappy, but I don’t think it is. It really does feel like my love for Nathaniel is this endless black hole. Lotus just doesn’t understand because she has never been in love. Really, I feel sorry for her.

The door to the darkroom cracks open, and I get that jolt of excitement like I always do practically anytime I see Nathaniel. But especially in here because I know he’s going to touch me. And I love the way his face lights up when he sees me.

“Addie,” he breathes. “My sweet Adeline.”

“Hi.” I always feel weirdly shy when he comes in here. It takes me a few minutes to warm up. “How are you?”

“Really good now that I’m here.” He crosses the small space and wastes no time in kissing me. Good thing he doesn’t get shy. “And there’s something I want to show you.”

“What is it?”

In the dim light, his cheeks color. “I wrote a poem—for you.”

This absolutely takes my breath away. He wrote a poem for me? How could that be? I’m not the kind of person who men write poems for. And yet he means it. Nathaniel Bennett wrote me a poem.

I’m going to faint from happiness.

“Do you want to hear it?” he asks, now shy himself. I nod. “Very much.”

He pulls a scrap of notebook paper from his pocket. I recognize his handwriting now, and I can see the scribbles on the page. Words he wrote just for me. I listen in rapt attention as he recites the verses:

Life nearly passed me by Then she

Young and alive With smooth hands And pink cheeks Showed me myself

Took away my breath With cherry-red lips

Gave me life once again

When he finishes the last line, I can barely breathe myself. It’s such a beautiful poem. Nobody has ever written anything like that for me before. Hudson was my friend, but he was no poet. Even if something had happened between the two of us, he never would have written anything like that for me.

“I love it,” I whisper. “So much.”

“I mean it,” he says softly. “You gave me my life back. You have no idea how dreary my world was before you came along.”

He laces his fingers into mine, and we just stand like that for a moment, staring at each other. I can’t even bear to show him what I wrote for him after hearing his beautiful verses. It seems so stupid and immature by comparison. I’ll have to keep working on it. Until I write something worthy of him.

“I think about you all the time.” He reaches out to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “Do you think about me?”

“Every moment of the day,” I answer truthfully.

He kisses me again, and he starts tugging my shirt off. He did this last time, so I expected it. But what I don’t expect is the way he attempts to unbutton my jeans. I take a step back and smile apologetically, but he doesn’t catch my eye—he is wholly focused on getting my jeans open. I take another step back, this time bumping into the table behind me, and now there’s nowhere to go. Nathaniel successfully gets the button open and then lowers the zipper as I suck in a breath.

He raises his eyes to look up at me. “You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, Addie.”

I hold in that breath as he tugs down my jeans and then my panties. But I don’t tell him not to do it, because…well, how can I? Yes, he told me he didn’t care about sex, but I knew on some level it couldn’t be true. I’m not totally stupid.

I lose my virginity to Nathaniel in the darkroom that afternoon, and the whole time, I recite his poem in my head, written just for me.

Life nearly passed me by Then she

Young and alive With smooth hands And pink cheeks Showed me myself

Took away my breath With cherry-red lips

Gave me life once again

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