Stephen sank a little lower into the booth when he saw the person entering the restaurant.
The absolute last person he ever expected to see in this shithole.
His sophomore English teacher.
The music on the ratty old jukebox jangled on and on, the CD skipping every now and then: never at the appropriate moment for ambiance.
Stephen ducked behind the menu, studying it more intently than he ever studied The Iliad. Mr Wagner’s teacher sense tingled, and he peered over the top of the menu to raise an eyebrow at Stephen’s discomfort.
Mr Wagner signaled to Mabel, the waitress leading him to a table of his own. “I’ll go ahead and sit with my friend here,” he called to her, eyes never leaving Stephen’s.
Mabel didn’t care; She’d been waiting tables at this dive for the past thirty-one years. You couldn’t faze her if you tried. And Mabel would tell you, people tried. Boy, did they ever try. She just kept the fake smile on her face and poured a fresh cuppa joe whenever anyone ran low. Such was the way of the world.
Stephen let the menu slide down to lie on the table between them as Mr Wagner took his seat across the way. Any other teacher, in any other town, he wished. But it was time to take that skeleton out of the closet and face it, once and for all.
“Hey, Mr Wagner,” Stephen’s voice trembled a bit as he greeted the older man.
Mr Wagner looked down his nose at Stephen and raised an eyebrow, questioning without a single word. Stephen knew the question.
“I’m sorry, Mr Wagner,” he offered, as an intro. “I’m sorry we did that to you. I’m sorry it was my idea. I’m sorry for how bad everything turned out. I’m sorry we all lied about it. I’m sorry I lied about it…” The words came tumbling out of Stephen’s mouth, and he hadn’t the foggiest where all of this was coming from. He thought for sure he’d blocked it all out, forgotten everything that happened before his family had to move here, away from the ghouls of Stephen’s past.
But he remembered everything.
And so did Mr Wagner.