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“You’re what—fifteen? Sixteen?” He shoved his feet into a pair of sneakers.
“You’re not that old.”
“I’m your teacher. And you’re the one who decided to sleep on top of me all night.”
“I’m sorry.” She swiped her nose with a bare arm. Maybe he really did hate her.
“You need to leave. And for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone about this.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” she repeated and unzipped the tent.
Tiff and Stacy were standing just a few feet away. Stacy whooped. “Holy shit, we thought we heard your voice. Did you totally have sex? Was he good?”
“Shut up.” Josie pushed past them.
“Wait, are you crying?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Stacy grabbed her shoulder. “Did he like rape you or something?”
“It’s not like that, okay? Leave me alone.”
“God, you’re a slut. Who sleeps with their teacher? I mean, who does that, unless you’re a slut?” Stacy pushed her. “Did you hear me, Josie? I just called you a slut.”
She didn’t have the energy to respond. She’d already told Stacy to shut up. That was the last of her strength, and now the well was dry. Her eyeballs were sore from sleep deprivation. Even her skin hurt.
At breakfast, she couldn’t tell whether everyone knew or if she was just being paranoid. A group of girls whispered to each other, and it might’ve been about her, but she had no way of knowing. Out of nowhere, the red-faced boy from the bus sidled up to her and handed her a donut.
“You want this?”
Josie wondered whether it was some sort of prank since he had never talked to her before, but she couldn’t imagine what the joke would be. The donut looked okay, and she was a little hungry. Maybe he was a nice guy after all. She took a bite. He erupted into laughter.
“Get it? It’s cream filled.”
Red Face sauntered back to his friends, who all laughed. One of them looked at Josie and jacked the air near his crotch. Josie turned away. Mr. Franklin was setting out pre-wrapped muffins on the picnic table. The usual crowd of kids who gathered around him was nowhere in sight. She tried to catch his eye to see if he still hated her in daylight, but couldn’t. It seemed like he was trying not to look at anyone.
She pictured accusations hanging in the air, the words themselves: Whore, Rapist, Slut, Molester, Pervert, Cradle-Robber, Bitch, Cocktease, Nympho, Freak. Kids at her school reserved the last two for girls they thought were both slutty and weird, as in: She’s a Nympho-Freak. Now she would certainly be a Nympho-Freak, unless she had surpassed even that, and they had to make up a new term.
She was careful not to get too close to Mr. Franklin while other kids were around, but she lingered after everyone else left to strike the tents. He was clearing the table of muffin wrappers, and she went to throw her napkin in the trash closest to him. He didn’t look up. Josie took a few muffin wrappers and made to toss them in the trash.
“I don’t need help.” Still, he wouldn’t look at her.
She set the wrappers back on the table, and he jerked his hand away, as if even the wrappers she’d touched were contaminated. Dirt was caked underneath his fingernails, and the nails on his right hand were raggedy, as if he’d been chewing them. Already, it was getting too hot. Her forehead was slick with oil, and her chin was probably breaking out. She could smell herself. The table was almost cleared, she couldn’t think of an excuse to keep hanging around, and just standing there made her feel creepy and pathetic.
“Why are you still here? Go help take down the tent.”
“I don’t think Stacy and Tiff want me to bother them.”
“Well, neither do I.”
It seemed impossible that just hours ago, she’d slept against him. That he’d put a blanket around her shoulders.
By the time she went back to the tent for her duffel, the bus was waiting. Before they could leave, there was some group bonding activity involving everyone standing in a circle, holding candles. Josie slipped away and sat in front of the bus with her bag, weedy grass scratching her thighs until the driver was nice enough to let her on.
At home, her mother had a plate of brownies waiting, as though she’d been gone for a month. Her mother asked how the trip was, and Josie said that it was fine but that she was so tired, her head hurt. There was nothing to tell her mother that would have made any sense. Josie’s mother let her take a brownie to her room as long as she promised to be careful about crumbs.
Upstairs, she swallowed some Advil, ran a bath, and wondered what it would take not to go to school the next day, or possibly ever. She dunked her head underwater. Had she taken advantage of Mr. Franklin? Could a girl violate a grown man? She opened her eyes and looked at her wobbly underwater legs. If she had done something really bad, Mr. Franklin would’ve woken up. And if it was bad enough that Mr. Franklin woke up, he could have easily shoved her away.
Back at school, there was a meeting scheduled with the administration. The principal had gotten wind that there’d been an incident on the camping trip. When Josie passed Mr. Franklin’s classroom during lunch period, she made sure not to even look in his direction and so was surprised when he called her name. He motioned her in and shut the door.
“I shouldn’t even be talking to you,” he said. He was drinking a Dr. Pepper and offered her one. She accepted it just to have something to do with her hands.
Josie didn’t know what to say, but he continued: “I’m sorry if I ruined your camping trip.”
“It was pretty much ruined before,” she heard herself say, then stop. She couldn’t believe he thought she cared about the camping trip being ruined. It showed how little he knew her.
“Did you talk to your parents about it?”
She shook her head and fiddled with the soda tab until it broke off.
“Look, I have to know what you’re going to tell them at the meeting.”
Bubbles fizzed onto the rim of the can, and she slurped at them. “Why does there even have to be a meeting? Can’t we just forget about it? Besides, I’m not even sure what happened anymore.”
He raised a hand as if to pat her shoulder, then let it drop back at his side. Then he gulped his soda. “You have no idea how these things get construed. I could lose my job.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve thought about it.”
“I should never have let you sleep anywhere near me. I should’ve never let you in my tent at all.”
“I wasn’t trying to be a pervert,” she blurted, then thought the word pervert sounded weird and, well, perverted.
Mr. Franklin looked startled. “I know that.”
She nodded and drank the rest of her soda. She crushed the can and threw it in the trash. “What am I supposed to tell them?”
“Tell them the truth. Tell them nothing happened.”
But those two things were different, and she’d never be able to explain what happened in a way that made sense. She’d have to say that she and Mr. Franklin had fallen asleep—that was all—and in a way, it was the truth. There was the other piece of it, though, the part she’d never be able to speak aloud, and that would trail her like a scent for the months and years to come.