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"Oh man, I thought I was late," the student says as he spots us in the hallway. He comes to a stop in front of the classroom.

"You are late, Javier," Will replies, opening the door behind him, motioning for Javier to enter. "Javi, I'll be there in a few minutes. Let the class know they have five minutes to review before the exam."

Will closes the door behind him, and we are once again alone in the hallway.

The air is all but gone from my lungs. I feel pressure building in my chest as this new realization sinks in. This can't be happening. This can't be possible. How is this possible?

"Will," I whisper, not able to get a full breath out. "Please don't tell me-"

His face is red and he has a disdained look in his eyes as he bites his lower lip. He leans his head back and looks up at the ceiling, rubbing his palms on his face as he paces the length of the hallway between the lockers and the classroom door. With each step he takes, I catch a glimpse of his faculty badge as it sways back and forth from his neck. He flattens his palms against the lockers, repeatedly tapping his forehead against the metal.

"How did I not see this?" he says as he drops his hands and turns toward me. "You’re still in high school?”

4.

"I am sick of wanting

And it's evil how it's got me

And every day is worse

Than the one before."

-The Avett Brothers, Ill With Want

Chapter Four

Will turns and leans with his back against the lockers. His legs are crossed at the feet and his arms are folded across his chest as he stares at the floor. The events unfolding have caught me so off guard, I can barely stand. I go to the wall opposite him and lean against it for support.

“Me?" I reply. "How did the fact that you’re a teacher not come up? How are you a teacher? You’re only twenty-one.”

“Layken, listen,” he says as he ignores my questions.

He didn’t call me ‘Lake.’

“There has apparently been a huge misunderstanding between the two of us." He doesn't make eye contact with me as he speaks. “We need to talk about this, but now is definitely not the right time.”

“I agree,” I say. I want to say more, but I can’t. I’m afraid I’ll cry.

The door to Will’s classroom opens and Eddie emerges. I selfishly pray that she, too, is lost. This cannot be my elective.

“Layken, I was just coming to look for you,” she smiles. “I saved you a seat.” She looks at Will, then back at me and realizes she's interrupted a conversation. “Oh, sorry Mr. Cooper. I didn’t know you were out here.”

“It’s fine Eddie. I was just going over Layken’s schedule with her.” He says this as he walks toward the classroom and holds the door for both of us.

I reluctantly follow Eddie through the door, around Will, and to the only empty seat in the room; directly in front of the teachers’ desk. I don’t know how I am expected to successfully sit through an entire hour in this classroom. The walls won’t stop dancing when I try to focus, so I close my eyes. I need water.

“Who’s the hottie?” asks the boy I now know as Javier.

“Shut it, Javi!” Will snaps as he walks toward his desk, picking up a stack of papers. Several students let out a small gasp at this reaction. I guess Will isn’t his usual self right now, either.

“Chill out, Mr. Cooper! I was paying her a compliment. She’s hot! Look at her!” Javi says this as he leans back in his chair, watching me.

“Javi, get out!” Will says as he points to the classroom door.

“Mr. Cooper! Jeez! What’s with the temp? Like I said, I was just…”

“Like I said, get out! You will not disrespect women in my classroom!”

Javi snaps back as he’s grabbing his books. “Fine! I’ll go disrespect them in the hallway!”

After the door shuts behind him, the only sound in the room is the distant second hand ticking on the clock above the blackboard. I don’t turn around, but I can feel most of the eyes in the classroom on me, waiting for some sort of reaction. It’s not so easy to blend in now.

“Class, we have a new student, this is Layken Cohen,” Will says, attempting to break the tension. “Review is over. Put up your notes.”

“You’re not going to have her introduce herself?” Eddie asks.

“We’ll get to that another time.” Will raises up a stack of papers. “Tests.”

I’m relieved Will has spared me from having to get in front of the class and speak. It’s the last thing I would be able to do right now. It feels like there is a ball of cotton in my throat as I unsuccessfully try to swallow.

“Lake,” he hesitates, and then clears his throat, realizing his slip. “Layken, if you have something else to work on, feel free. The class is completing a chapter test.”

“I’d rather just take the test,” I say. I have to focus on something.

Will hands me a test, and in the time it takes to complete it I do my best to focus entirely on the questions at hand, hoping I’ll find momentary respite from my new reality. I finish fairly quickly though, but keep erasing and rewriting answers just to avoid having to deal with the obvious; the fact that the boy I was falling in love with is now my teacher.

When the dismissal bell rings, I watch as the rest of the class files toward Will’s desk, laying their papers face down in a pile. Eddie lays hers down and walks to my desk.

“Hey, did you get your lunch switched?”

“Yeah, I did,” I tell her.

“Sweet. I’ll save you a seat,” she says as she turns to leave. She stops at Will’s desk and he looks up at her. She removes a red tin from her purse and pulls out a small handful of mints and sets them on Will’s desk. “Altoids,” she says as he stares questioningly at the mints. “I’m just making assumptions here,” she whispers loud enough for me to hear her. “But I’ve heard altoids work wonders on hangovers.” She pushes the mints toward him.

And again, just like that, she’s gone.

Will and I are the only ones left in the classroom at this point. I need to talk to him so bad. I have so many questions but I know it’s still not a good time. I grab my paper and walk over to his desk, placing it on top of the stack.

“Is my mood that obvious?” he asks as he continues to stare at the mints on his desk.

I grab two of the altoids and walk out of the room without responding.

As I navigate the halls searching for my fourth period class, I see a bathroom and quickly duck inside. I decide to spend the remainder of fourth period and my entire lunch in the bathroom stall. I feel guilty knowing Eddie is waiting on me but I can’t face anyone right now. Instead, I spend the entire time reading and re-reading the writing on the walls of the stall, doing my best to somehow make it through the rest of the day without bursting out in tears.

My last two classes are a blur. Luckily, neither of those teachers seem interested in my ‘about me’ either. I don’t speak to anyone and no one speaks to me. I have no idea if I was ever even assigned homework. My mind is consumed by this whole situation.

I walk to my car as I search in my bag for my keys. I pull them out and fidget with the lock but my hands are shaking so bad I drop them. When I climb inside I don’t give myself time to reflect as I throw the car in reverse and head home. The only thing I want to think about right now is my bed.

I pull into my driveway and kill the engine. I don’t want to face Kel or my mother yet, so I kick my seat back and shield my eyes with my arms as I begin to cry. I replay everything over in my head. How did I spend so much time with him and not know he was a teacher? How can something as big as an occupation not come up in conversation? Or better yet, how did I do so much talking and fail to mention the fact that I was still in high school? I’m angry at the whole situation. I told him so much about myself. I feel like it’s what I deserve for finally letting down my walls.

I wipe at my eyes with my sleeve, trying hard to conceal my tears. I was getting pretty good at it. Up until six months ago, I hardly had reason to cry. My life back in Texas was simple. I had a routine, a great group of friends, a school I loved and even a home I loved. I cried a lot in the weeks following my father’s death until I realized Kel and my mother would not be able to move on until I did. I started making a conscious effort to be involved in Kel's life more. Our father was also his best friend at the time and I feel Kel lost more than any of us. I got involved in youth baseball, his karate lessons and even cub scouts; all the things my dad used to do with him. It kept Kel and I both preoccupied, and the grieving eventually started to subside.

Until today.

A tap on the passenger window brings me back to reality. I don't want to acknowledge it. I don't want to see anyone, let alone speak to anyone. I look over and see someone standing there, the only thing visible is their torso…and faculty I.D.

I flip the visor down and wipe the mascara from my eyes. I divert my attention out the driver side window as I press the automatic unlock button, focusing my gaze on the injured garden gnome who is staring back at me with his smug little grin.

Will slides into the passenger seat and shuts the door. He lays the seat back a few inches and sighs, but says nothing. I don't think either of us knows what to say at this point.

I look over at him when he finally does start speaking. His foot is resting on the dash and he's stiff against the seat with his arms folded across his chest. He's staring directly at the note he wrote this morning that is still sitting on my console. I guess he made it by four o'clock after all.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

I sit up and turn toward him, pulling my right leg up into the seat, hugging it with my arms. “I’m confused as hell, Will. I don’t know what to think!”

He sighs and turns to look out the passenger window. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault,” he says.

“It’s nobody’s fault,” I disagree. “In order for there to be fault, there has to be some sort of conscious decision. You didn’t know, Will.”

He sits up and turns to face me. “That’s just it, Lake. I should have known. I’m in an occupation that doesn’t just require ethics inside the classroom, they apply to all aspects of my life. I wasn’t aware because I wasn’t doing my job. When you told me you were eighteen, I just assumed you were in college.”

“I’ve only been eighteen for two weeks,” I reply. I don’t know why I felt the need to clarify that. After I say it I realize it sounds like I’m placing blame on him. He’s already blaming himself; he doesn’t need me to be angry at him too. This was an outcome that neither of us could have possibly predicted.

"I student teach," he says as he begins to explain. "Sort of."

"Sort of?" I ask.

"After my parents died, I doubled up on all my classes. I have enough credits to graduate a semester early. Since the school was so short-handed, they offered me a one year contract. I have three months left of student teaching. After that I'm under contract through June of next year."

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