Author:S. Walden

“I can’t, Cadence,” Gracie said. “You know I’m not allowed to—”


“What? Your mom and dad check up on you at school? How would they even know?”


Gracie bristled and huffed. “I’m not allowed.”


I knew I had very limited time. The bell was about to ring, so I decided to go with the most important thing I wanted to tell her.


“I’m sorry, Gracie,” I said. “I should have listened to you and not gone to that party. I wasn’t trying to ditch you. I was just curious. I made a big mistake. But it was one mistake. Why can’t your parents let us hang out?”


Gracie’s eyes went wide with disbelief. “You got high! You robbed a store! Why on earth would my parents ever let us hang out again?” she shouted.


I flinched, embarrassed by her reaction and the looks it garnered from nearby students.


“You completely ruined our friendship!” she cried, and then the bell rang loud and harsh. “And now you’ve made me late for class!”


She slammed her locker door and hurried down the hallway. I stood stunned, watching her round a corner and disappear. I considered my options: Go to class or skip school altogether. I was trying to be good, so I knew I should go to class. But I was tired and afraid and sad about Gracie—better reasons to skip instead.


I grabbed my book bag out of my locker and headed for the side exit. I could slip out unseen and walk somewhere. Anywhere, as long as it wasn’t home. My hands were on the door handle when Mr. Connelly called to me from behind.


“Where are you going, Cadence?” he asked.


I didn’t turn around. “Class.”


“The only class I know of that’s held outside is PE,” he said. “And you’re going the wrong way.”


I froze.


“And there’s a camera, by the way,” he said.


I looked up and to my right. No camera. I looked to my left. A camera. When did they install that?


“What’s going on?” Mr. Connelly asked.


I jumped. I hadn’t heard him move, and now he stood close behind me.


“I just don’t feel like being here today.” I continued to face the door. My exit. My freedom. Could I outrun my math teacher if he went after me?


“Cadence, you’re smart enough to know that you don’t have a choice. And you’re also smart enough to know that you’d get in major trouble with your parents,” Mr. Connelly said.


“I don’t care,” I mumbled.


“Yes you do.”


I nodded. He was right. I worked for an entire month since my release from juvie to get back into my parents’ good graces. I wanted them to look at me the way they used to. Mom was a little more forgiving, but she didn’t trust me. Dad wasn’t forgiving at all, and the harder I worked to show him I’d changed, the more unforgiving he became.


The irony was that I didn’t need to show either of them I’d changed because I hadn’t. I had always been a good girl, even when I made that mistake. Yes, it was a really terrible mistake—getting high and robbing a convenience store—but it didn’t alter who I was. I didn’t suddenly overnight become a drug addict or career criminal. I made one bad choice that branded me for life, at least in my parents’ eyes.


It wasn’t until my release from juvie that I understood my parents’ expectations. I was expected to always be perfect. I was never allowed to make a mistake, and when I finally did, I paid the ultimate price. Not only did they not forgive me and probably never would, but I don’t think they even liked me anymore.


“Come with me and I’ll write you a late pass,” Mr. Connelly said.


I reluctantly followed him to his classroom and hovered inside the doorway while he wrote a note. He handed it to me, and I pulled his handkerchief from my pocket.


“An exchange,” I said, offering him the cloth.


“I don’t need it,” he replied. “You can keep it since you seemed to like it so much.” He winked. And I liked it.


I smiled. “Have you ever given it to someone who used it and then gave it right back?”


“No. I’ve never let anyone use it until you,” he said.


I felt the heat prickle my skin. I wanted to ask him why he let me use it, but I thought better.


“Is it a special handkerchief?” I asked instead.


“My great grandfather’s,” Mr. Connelly replied.


“Oh my God,” I whispered, looking at the handkerchief. “I put it in the wash with the whites. On the regular cycle!”


Mr. Connelly chuckled. “It’s all right. Still in one piece.”


“Mr. Connelly, I cannot keep this. Please take it back. Something terrible will happen to it, I just know it. That’s my luck, you see? Please take it.” I shoved the handkerchief in his face.


“Go to class, Cadence,” Mr. Connelly said. He wouldn’t take it.


“Please,” I begged, waving it back and forth.


“Go to class,” he said gently. “I’ll let you know when I want it back.”


I walked to English holding his handkerchief, confused and frustrated over why he wouldn’t take it back. What did he want me to do with it?