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The only thing Hannah Hart hated more than mirrors was the spotlight.
"Class, this is Ms. Hart."
Hannah stared at the rows of young teenagers staring back at her, and offered a tentative smile as her best friend and art teacher, Sophia Davis, continued her glowing introduction.
"Ms. Hart is the owner of Hannah Hart Photography." She rambled on about Hannah's business and achievements. The kids didn't look all that impressed. One blew a bubble with her gum, which Sophia quickly confiscated with a piece of paper.
Hannah crossed her arms awkwardly over her navy suit jacket, feeling her face heat even as her skin grew clammy. Being a photographer didn't exactly qualify her to teach photography to a junior high fine arts class, but when Sophia had pleaded with Hannah to come, she couldn't say no. How could Hannah turn down the chance to share her lifelong love of photography with a whole set of potential future photographers?
Even if they were staring at her like she was some sort of sideshow.
Your scar isn't going anywhere, Hannah. You might as well get used to it. The car wreck that left a jagged line from her cheekbone to her chin might have happened two years ago, but the effects lingered. She pressed a hand to her stomach. All of the effects.
"Let's try to show her a little more respect than you guys show me, huh?" Sophia winked at the students as she tossed the gum-filled paper in the wastebasket, and a few of them giggled.
A petite blonde teen in the front row caught Hannah's eye, her hair plaited in thick braids. She wore a plaid dress that seemed severely old-fashioned compared to the stylish appearance of the other girls. Still, the outdated look didn't take away from her striking blue eyes and naturally thick lashes, all set within a cheekbone structure that would make many models jealous.
Hannah instinctively turned her head, tilting her good side toward the kids. Surely none of them would ask her about her scar. She was used to young children in their innocence and naivete asking personal questions while on a photo shoot, but this was different. These kids were old enough to know bettershe hoped.
"Hannah brought her camera today to show us a little about the technical side of photography." Perched on the edge of her desk, Sophia motioned for Hannah to take center stageas if it were that easy. Maybe if Hannah's skin was as flawless as her best friend's, her confidence level would be a few notches higher. But that wasn't fair. She wouldn't wish her insecurities on her worst enemy, much less the friend who walked Hannah through the first weeks after her accident.
Sophia pointed a finger at the kids. "Any questions you have along the way, go ahead and askby raising your hand."
Hannah swallowed the nerves rising in her throat and hoped her smile appeared more natural than it felt. They're just kids, Hannah. You photograph them all the time. The reminder did little to ease her anxiety. Kids still had eyesjudging, questioning, curious eyes.
"Hey, guys." Her greeting came out froggier than she intended. Hannah quickly cleared her throat, then pulled her Nikon from her camera bag. Simply holding the equipment in her hands gave her an emotional boost, and she looped the strap around her neck for safety before holding it out before the class.
"This is a photographer's best friendher camera," Hannah said. She pointed to each part as she defined the various terms. "And over here is a self-timer." Not that she used that feature much anymore. She preferred staying behind the camera to being on film herself these days.
"Can we hold it?" a brunette girl asked without raising her hand.
Hannah's mouth opened with uncertainty, but Sophia quickly intervened. "Not on your life. Next question?" She gestured to a boy in the second row. "Kent?"
"How much do photographers get paid?" He grinned, his freckles streaming together across his cheeks.
"That all depends on if a photographer works for a company or as an individual." Hannah smiled back, feeling a bit of tension finally ease from her neck with the honest questionsthat didn't involve her face. "Of course we could chalk it up to not enough, and leave it at that."
The pretty blonde she'd noticed earlier actually raised her hand, the first one to do so, and Sophia pointed at her. "Go ahead, Abby."
Abby brought her arm back down to her side. "Are we going to discuss lighting soon? I don't have a real camera, just the one on my phone. But I always seem to get shadows in the wrong place when I take pictures with my friends."
Hannah nodded, impressed with the depth of her question. "We'll discuss lighting techniques before the end of the course. That's one of the most important aspects of photography."
"Good." Abby sat back in her chair, excitement shining in her eyes. "Thanks."
Such a polite kid. Looking at Abby and the rest of the class, Hannah felt like she was staring at a page from her favorite childhood magazine. Which of these does not belong? Not only in appearance, but in intellect, manners and decorum. Abby seemed like she'd be a ray of sunshine during this course compared to the other students, judging by the disinterested expressions on the majority of faces.
Hannah finished her presentation and when the bell rang, Sophia dismissed the class without giving any homework. "Don't think this is a habit," she hollered over the sound of notebooks being crammed into backpacks and the scraping of chairs on the worn floor.
A multitude of groans echoed in the students' wake, and Sophia turned to Hannah with a sheepish grin. "So some are more interested than others. What can I say?"
"They'll warm up." Hannah packed her equipment in her camera bag and rested the bag on Sophia's wooden desk. "Besides, didn't you say you only needed me once or twice a week?"
"Not that you're counting," Sophia teased. "But yes, that's what I said. We'll see if I meant it." She winked. "Don't forget you promised to help me carry over some of the lessons and applications into CREATE so we can get more hands-onat least with the kids who want to."
CREATE was an after-school club Sophia had started last year that was a big hit with some of her more motivated students, the ones who wished to dive deeper into the fine arts. Hannah smiled. "I won't forget. Today might not be the best indicator of group interest, but some seemed more into it than others. Abby actually looked excited about it all."
"She's a good egg." Sophia slid several colored binders into a tie-dyed tote bag. "Most of the time, anyway."
Hannah frowned. "What do you mean? She was an angel today compared to the rest."
"Her father is Judah Bradley, the assistant principal. That doesn't exactly make her class favorite." Sophia shrugged, her curly red hair cascading around her shoulders. "Besides that, I think she's finally starting to realize she's Little House on the Prairie compared to the other girls, if you know what I mean."
"Well, she's beautiful regardless." Hannah rested her weight against the desk. That was the other thing that made Abby stand out from the rest of the girls in the classshe didn't seem to realize how gorgeous she was. From Hannah's side of the camera, that was almost unheard of. Most teens wanted to cake on the makeup and reveal as much as possible, not realizing the depth of their young beauty was still natural.
Sophia tugged the straps of her tote over her shoulder. "Jude's a single dad, and she's at that age now where they're butting heads over everything. I've overheard more than a few teachers discussing conversations they've overheard."
"It could be rumors," Hannah pointed out. She'd had enough of those to last a lifetime.
Sophia shrugged. "Either way, it's obvious they're having a rough time of it lately. But thankfully Abby's a really smart kid."
"I think so, too." A deep baritone sounded from the open door of the room, and Hannah jerked upright as a man in a dark suit strolled toward them. His sandy brown hair, short and gelled, brought out the deep blue of his eyes that had obviously been passed down to Abby. He shoved his hands casually in his pockets as he came to a stop beside Sophia. "Are you going to introduce me to your new assistant, or just discuss my family life?" A soft smile took the edge off his words, though his expression still meant business.
"Principal Bradley, I'm so sorry." A rare blush crept up Sophia's neck and Hannah felt one of her own crawling up her chest. "This is Hannah Hart."
"Nice to meet you." Jude extended his hand. "Please, call me Jude."
Hannah shook it, and an instant spark jolted from her wrist to her elbow. She quickly pulled her hand back and forced a smile, hoping the blush hadn't made its way to her ears yet. A red face only made her scar that much more obvious.
"Nice to meet you, too, Jude." His name rolled off her lips too easily, and her stomach churned a reaction she hadn't felt in years. Don't be ridiculous, Hannah. You were caught gossiping about him. You don't stand a chance. Not that any man that looked like Jude would glance at her twice anyway, unless they were ogling her scar. Her ex-fiance had made that clear enough.
He crossed his arms over his dress shirt. "How was the first class on photography?"
"I think it went pretty well, considering." Hannah willed her stomach to settle. "Some of the kids seemed more interested than others." She gestured to Sophia. "We were discussing how attentive Abby was."
"Glad to hear it. She's a good student." Jude nodded briskly. "And it was nice of you to volunteer to do this for our school. I'm sorry we can't pay you for your help."
"I'm happy to do it," Hannah answered honestly. Maybe she wasn't so thrilled at first, but she couldn't help but feel especially happy about it now while standing in front of Jude. His gaze lingered on hers for a moment, and despite his polite smile and clean-shaven, professional appearance, a shadow lingered in his eyes. Hannah tilted her head to one side, recognizing the emotion she'd lived with for yearsregret. She couldn't even imagine the struggles of life as a single parent, much less as a single dad. No wonder Abby seemed so out of fashion. Jude probably had his hands full keeping them above water, never mind trying to pay attention to the latest styles.
Eager to brighten Jude's obviously overworked day and make up for her embarrassing gossip blunder, Hannah gestured toward her camera bag. "I couldn't help but notice how photogenic your daughter is. I'd love to do a portrait session with her, for free of courseor even a family photo, if you'd be interested. It'd be great for my portfolio." Not to mention their own personal collection of memories. She doubted family pictures were something a single dad would think of keeping up with over the years. Her excitement grew at the idea of helping them out. "Would you be interested?"
Jude's smile slowly faded and his eyes darkened as a sudden storm clouded the depths of blue. "No, I wouldn't. But thanks."
Shock cemented Hannah's mouth shut, and before she could react, Jude turned and nodded at Sophia. "See you ladies tomorrow." Then he strode away as quickly as he'd appeared.