Melanie is in my advanced class at Timerole High School, but she's slipping. I'm losing her. I know from her mother that she's dating this kid Matt in Carol's remedial class, and I'm not too happy about that. But I can't really voice my concerns. I'm only her English teacher.

The student to teacher ratio at Timerole is better than most, about 20 to 1. I have advanced in the morning and remedial in the afternoon, 9th graders who are not interested in Romeo and Juliet even if they get to watch the Leonardo DiCaprio version on tape. But we still are required to teach it. Right around the part where Mercutio is killed, Melanie started skipping. Matt stopped showing in Carol's afternoon workshops.

I'm sitting now on her private balcony at her parents' house, overlooking the canal and the nickel plant. It steams and whistles through the night; I had read about it in her journal submissions last fall. Melanie reminds me of Angela from My So-Called Life, always lost in space and thinking hard but not telling anyone, only with her there are no voice-overs to clue me in.

I may have been wrong to do it, but I brought a pack of cigarettes with me. Her eyes widened in the corner of the balcony where the street light couldn't reach her when I lit one up and passed it to her. My husband would kill me if he saw what I was doing. I haven't smoked in years, but she means too much to me, so I reach out to her where she is at. She takes it and puffs away. I look out onto the shallow water.

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