After school, I creep back into the classroom. Mr. Stowe disappeared around the corner in the direction of the principal’s office; I see him in there every afternoon. I should have just enough time to replace the book before he returns. That will be the easy part. The hard part will be facing him and my friends tomorrow. Now I know the teacher’s secret, but I haven’t been able to tell anyone. I don’t know what to make of it myself. The closet door closes with a hush and I turn.
“Thank you for putting Jesse back,” breathes Mr. Stowe, sitting on one of the desks; my lips feel like sandpaper.
“Jesse?” I finally utter stupidly. He nods in the direction of the closet and rises from the desk. He seems taller than usual, or maybe I just feel smaller. “I’m sorry.”
“I hope so. Maybe I can trust you again.” That voice; the solemn whisper seems so familiar, but at the same time I feel like a stranger in my own skin. He continues as though there has been no pause. “That notebook was Jesse’s. She was in my class five years ago.”
I glance back at the closed door of the cabinet though I don’t know why. Half of me wants it to go away, the other half wants to know more. Wanting to fill the silence, I say: “She was really smart.”
“All of my students are.” He smiles, but at the cabinet, not at me. He used to smile at me like that. Will he ever smile at me again? “Do you keep all their reflection journals?”
“Only if they let me. I ask.” His response makes my face burn; I swallow with difficulty.
“Why do you keep them?”
“Why do you think?”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes at his typical teacher response. Something tells me this is anything but. “They remind you of better times?” I ask.
“Will you want mine?”
He smiles down at me at last. I feel about to burst. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow, after I read your reflection.”
“Which one?” I ask; though I think I know, and the notion fills me with hope.