“So what’s the story?” Madison asked, as she cornered Mr. Portnoy in his classroom after the final bell. “The one that’s gonna keep me out of trouble?”

Her teacher looked up at her and smiled. He rummaged through the papers on his desk and pulled one out. He held it out to Madison.

Madison took the sheet and looked it over. “Yeah, I saw this. About the new recycling program,” she said.

“The administration wants the Bee to do a story. Make sure all the students know about it. In particular that it’s just a white paper recycling program to begin with,” he explained. “No cardboard or plastics.”

“Hmm. Okay. What’s my angle?” she asked.

Mr. P. smiled. “I suppose you’re going to tell me that.”

“I mean, you wouldn’t be handing me this story if all you wanted was a reprint of this stupid flyer. What’s the story behind the story?”

He shrugged. “Maybe there isn’t one. I’ll be honest with you, Madison. I didn’t think of you at first when this request came down from on high. But when we were talking the other day at your house, it occurred to me that it might be a good distraction for you. I know you like environmental stories. Recycling programs seem to fit that.”

Madison narrowed her eyes. “Uh huh. Sure. Okay, I get it. There’s a story here, but you are going to make me find it on my own. I’m on to your tricks, Mr. P. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

He laughed. “No! Honestly, it could just be retelling the information in that flyer for all I know.”

“Hmm,” Madison replied, unconvinced.

“Hey I heard about Northwestern! Go Wildcats!” he said. “That’s so great! I hope my recommendation letter helped.”

“I’m sure it did,” she said. “And thank you again for that.”

“So is that where you’re going?”

“Definitely. The student loans are scary. But it’s the right place for me. I’ve known ever since I visited last year,” she said.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was the perfect fit for me. I think you’ll feel the same way.”

“I think so, too. To be honest, the whole party school, Greek life thing worries me a little. I’m not into that stuff, and I don’t want to start.”

“Smart. But it’s a huge school. You can get into that world or stay away from it. It’s up to you. I suspect things have calmed down since I was there. The drinking age being what it is now, it can’t be just a four-year party any more. But it’s still a Big 10 school. Sports is a really big deal there, and football, in particular, is an event.”

“Yeah. Not my thing. I can work around that, though, I think.”

“I’ll give you a bit of unsolicited advice,” he said. “Don’t decide right now what’s your thing and what’s not your thing. Give yourself the freedom to decide when you get there. Taste the menu a little. College is your best chance to really find yourself. You won’t be locked in to who you’ve been in high school. You’ll make new friends. Maybe different kinds of friends than you have here.”

“Are you telling me to try drugs, Mr. P.? Because it sounds like you are telling me to try drugs,” she teased with a little smile.

“No! Of course not. I’m just saying, you might enjoy the football games, even if you don’t like football. Maybe you’ll find a sport you enjoy, or maybe you’ll find out you are really into fourteenth century French literature. Just avoid making assumptions about what you’ll like or not like. Try everything you possibly can. Get a world view.”

“Yeah, okay. I see what you are saying. That makes sense. Did you know you were going to be a teacher when you went?”

“Hell no. I was going to be a reporter! And I was. And then I was an editor. And that’s when I noticed that my favorite part of being an editor was shaping young reporters. In fact, it was the only part of the job I liked. So eventually I decided to go back to school and get certified to do this job.”

“I’m glad you did. I’ve learned so much from you,” Madison said, a little tear forming in her eye.

“Oh geez,” he said. “Easy there, or you’re gonna make me cry, too. I’m an old man. I cry at dog food commercials.”

Madison laughed. “Sorry! Okay, I’ll set up an interview with Principal Anderson about this recycling thing. See if I can figure out what you’re hiding from me.”

Mr. Portnoy laughed. “I’m not hiding anything! Scout’s honor!”

“Mmm hmm,” Madison replied. “Sure, Mr. P.”

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