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Chapter no 54

The Teacher

EVE

ADDIE SEVERSON IS in my kitchen.

I’m certain that it’s her. There’s no other teenage girl who would be sneaking around my kitchen at nine o’clock at night. She’s already done it once before. Maybe she thinks that Nate is still here and wants to see him. I have no idea if he informed her that their relationship is over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t.

At this point, I abandon my attempt to put on my sneakers. I don’t want to call the police on Addie. She’s already been through it once, and none of this is her fault. This is Nate’s fault for misleading her. For not telling her that a thirty-eight-year-old man has no business kissing a sixteen-year-old girl.

I haven’t been kind to Addie this semester, and now I feel a flash of guilt. She was struggling all semester in my class, and I could have done more to help her. I should have done more to help her. I resented her, because she destroyed the reputation of the man at the school who I looked up to the most, but ultimately, it wasn’t her fault.

That girl has been crying for help all year, and I could have helped her.

My husband simply took advantage of her.

I’m going to make this right.

I walk in the direction of the kitchen, my footsteps quiet on the wooden floor in my bare feet. I open the door to the kitchen gingerly, not wanting to startle her. Sure enough, there she is, crouched on my kitchen floor. It looks like she knocked over the frying pan I had on the stove, which contained the remainder of last night’s dinner. I must not have cleaned it up, with all the excitement of finding Addie hiding in the bushes.

When she hears the door swing closed behind me, she looks up sharply. She scrambles to her feet, blinking furiously. Addie is a couple of inches taller than I am, with a sturdy build. She looks like she could be an athlete, but she hasn’t joined any teams. In the time I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her in anything besides baggy sweaters and jeans that are a size too large, her face scrubbed clean of makeup. She’s pretty, but in an unassuming sort

of way. She does not look like the sort of girl who you would think would be having an affair with her teacher.

And yet I saw it with my own eyes.

“Mrs. Bennett,” she gasps. She snatches the frying pan off the floor and places it down on the kitchen counter. “I…”

I hold up a hand. “It’s okay. I know why you’re here.” “You do?”

I nod. “I know about you and Nate.”

She squeezes her hands together, her eyes not quite meeting mine. “We’re in love, Mrs. Bennett. I’m sorry.”

“Addie…” This girl is so far gone. Maybe I should go to Higgins after all. Maybe it’s the only way to get this to stop, but I do want to try to spare her that. “You have to understand that Nate is a lot older than you. A lot older. And he’s your teacher. It’s so inappropriate to be in a relationship with him, and honestly…he’s taking advantage of you.”

She doesn’t like hearing this, which is not a surprise. “He’s not taking advantage of me. I promise. You just… You don’t understand. Maybe you’ve never experienced anything like what we have, but if you had, you would understand.”

Oh, Lord. She is so brainwashed.

“I do understand,” I tell her gently. “I know how you must feel, but it’s just not healthy. You should have a boyfriend your own age.”

“It’s not about having a boyfriend.” Her round cheeks turn pink. “You don’t understand. Nathaniel and I have a connection. I know he’s older than me, but I understand him in a way that I’m not sure you ever will. I’m sorry, but it’s true. And…it’s cruel for you to keep us apart.”

“You think that, but—”

“It’s true,” she says through her teeth. “I’m sorry you’re the kind of person who can’t understand the love that the two of us have for each other, but that’s not my fault. You don’t have to rip us apart. If you care for Nathaniel at all, you’ll let us have this.”

It’s like talking to a person programmed by a cult. I thought I might be able to talk sense into her, but I’m not certain anymore. Maybe it’s best to be straight. “Nate has been lying to you, Addie. He’s telling you what you want to hear. A man his age is not capable of having normal adult feelings for a teenage girl, especially not one of his students. He’s manipulating you.”

No, he’s not!” The pink in her cheeks has morphed into a bright red color. “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

“Addie, I’ve lived a lot longer than you, and I’ve known Nate a lot longer than you. And I’m telling you, he—”

“No!” she screams at me. “You don’t know him at all!” Oh my.

I take a deep breath. I can’t let myself lose my cool because Addie is getting hysterical. She needs to know that this “relationship” has to end. “Addie,” I try again, “I think the best thing to do would be to talk to Principal Higgins on Monday. I wanted to avoid that, but I think it would be for the best.”

I didn’t want to do it to her, but I can see now it’s the only way. Her mother and the principal need to know what has been going on, because she clearly needs help. I wanted to spare her the embarrassment, but there’s no other way.

Addie’s face is now purple. “You can’t do that! You can’t tell the principal!”

“I have to,” I say quietly.

Addie lets out a heart-wrenching scream. The sound of it chills me to the bone—it almost sounds inhuman. I take a step toward her, reaching out a hand to attempt to comfort her, even though I recognize I’m the last person she wants near her. But just before I can touch her, she snatches the frying pan off the counter.

It all happens so quickly, I couldn’t react if I wanted to. Addie brings that frying pan down on my head with all the force in her young teenage body. It connects with my skull with an eardrum-shattering impact. And a split second later, everything goes black.

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