Chapter 2

 

Let resolve be birthed from the depths of despaire. Fate shall often reward thy choice to meet her with open arms.

 

    Translated from Storia Di Incanto; circa 1493

 

Linda Gets A Blue Sheet

 

AT SEVEN OCLOCK IN THE MORNING, Linda Peabody checked her mailbox in the faculty room at Great Oak Middle School. She had become accustomed to doing this each Monday because it was critical to a teachers welfare; Mondays were when important notices showed up, like which reports were due by the end of the week. The notices came on orange sheets, so a teacher couldnt miss them.

      If you pay attention to your orange sheets, youll stay out of trouble, Eunice Bluestone barked during teacher orientation last month. In addition to being Linda's boss, Eunice was an intimidating woman. She looked more like a tackle on a football team than a school principal and had a personality to match.

At orientation, Linda also learned that a blue sheet might occasionally appear in a teachers mailbox. This was a bad thing because it meant Eunice was giving the teacher extra work. Blue sheets were the way Eunice punished teachers in her little school, one she ran like a military dictatorship.

      Receive more than six blue sheets in a year and the axe descends upon you, Eunice bellowed, moving her arm in a chopping motion while she marched in front of the teachers like a drill sergeant. Her eyes glittered brightly, as if she would enjoy hacking a teacher with an axe. Linda resolved never to get a blue sheet right then and there.

      So, as Linda removed the thin stack of papers from her mailbox, she stared with horror at the blue sheet lying on top. The words on the sheet made it even worse. Linda Peabody see Eunice Bluestone immediately. This means now!

      Good grief, what could I have done? Linda muttered. She had been teaching at the school for only a month and the blue sheet made her feel like a failure. Looking around, she hoped none of the other teachers had noticed the blue sheet. Tears formed in her eyes and she bit her lip to keep from crying, something she did a lot of lately.

      But Emily Watson, the kind of busybody who stuck her nose into everyone elses business, was watching Linda. She swooped over and snatched the blue sheet right out of Lindas hand. Doesnt resemble any blue sheet Ive ever seen, she announced, passing it around for everyones inspection.

      Me neither, said Bernice Baumgartner, a hook-nosed woman who had been teaching at the school for six years. Usually, the old battleaxe lists your mistakes and your punishment for making them. I should know she gave me five last year.

      You must have done something really stupid, Coach Dobson exclaimed. See Eunice Bluestone immediately? Wow, I feel sorry for you.

      Maybe shes going to fire you, George Mulroney whined. He taught history and seemed afraid of his shadow most of the time.

      The blue sheet had now reached Pamela Dickson. She was a large and bossy woman who thought she was the best teacher in the school. However, Linda had heard all of the comments she could stand. She grabbed her blue sheet from Pamelas hand and marched down the hall towards the principals office.

      Well, excuse me, Pamela said haughtily, offended Linda hadnt waited for her opinion about the deadly sheet.

      Linda was an attractive young woman. Her blond hair was usually tied up in a ponytail and the freckles across her nose made her appear younger than her twenty-three years. In fact, she didnt look much older than many of her students. All of her life, Linda had walked around with a perpetual smile. Unfortunately, she hadnt found much to smile about recently. A cloud of bad luck seemed to follow her around a cloud she couldnt escape.

Lindas problems had begun about six months ago. Back then, the most important event in her life was her forthcoming marriage to Michael Benson, a young man she started dating several years earlier. Both Linda and Michael were studying to become teachers at Wilson College when they met. Their ideas and interests were almost identical and they quickly became friends. Soon, they wanted to be together all of the time. This led them to develop a plan; they would get teaching jobs at the same school after graduation. That way, they could continue their relationship.

      The first challenge to their plan arose at the end of Michaels senior year. He had accepted a teaching position at Huddleston Academy, a prestigious private school two hundred miles away. Linda still had another year of college, which meant they wouldnt see much of each other for a while.

      Linda was a popular girl and Michael didnt want her dating anyone else while they were apart. After thinking it over, an idea came to him they could become engaged. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea; they could be married when Linda graduated the following year. All he had to do was persuade her to accept his proposal.

      Michael thought about how to ask her for days. Finally, he came up with a clever notion one so silly and romantic she would have a hard time turning him down. Right before graduation, he dressed up like a clown and hid in the bushes outside her dormitory. When Linda walked out the front door, he leapt from the bushes while singing her favorite song from the opera, Pagliacci. As he did this, he held out a sign reading: Marry Me and Ill Be Your Clown for Life. Everyone who witnessed the event thought it was hilarious, mainly because Michael had an awful singing voice.

      The sight filled Linda with so much happiness that she said yes immediately. Then she collapsed in a muddle on the front steps and cried for thirty minutes. Hoping for their support, Michael had secretly told Lindas friends about his plan. They rushed out behind her, cheering while he danced around and played the fool.

      Their engagement required Michael and Linda to become serious about their plans. Since Linda was the top student in her class, they believed she had an excellent chance of landing a position at Huddleston Academy too. Therefore, their next objective was to secure her a job there, one that would start the following year.

      To their amazement, everything worked out perfectly at least initially. Just as they had hoped, Huddleston announced several openings at the beginning of Lindas last semester. Linda quickly applied, and three weeks later, Percival Smith, the head of the English department, invited her for an interview. After it was over, she knew Percival had been impressed. Sure enough, she received an offer of employment within a month. Linda graciously accepted and immediately turned her attention to planning her wedding. A few weeks later, Linda learned she would be Valedictorian of her class. Marveling at her good fortune, she wondered if life could get any better.

      Of course, Michael and Linda weren't together every day during her last year of college. Still, he visited on weekends, telephoned every night, and sent e-mails whenever he had a spare moment. Everything seemed to be fine, but several months before her graduation, Linda noticed Michaels attitude was changing. The nightly telephone calls began to dwindle and the e-mails slowed to a trickle. Then various excuses for missing his weekend visits came along. After Michael hadnt come to see her for a month and the telephone calls and e-mails had stopped completely, a letter from him arrived.

      Linda carried the letter around for several hours before reading it. By then, her hands were shaking so badly she could barely open the envelope. In the end, it really didnt matter. She already knew what was in it. Tears streamed down her face as she read his words. He was so very sorry. He had met someone else, another teacher who was truly his soul mate; their engagement was off. The big rat, he didnt even tell me in person, Linda thought.

      After Michaels letter, Linda became a wreck. A grim expression replaced her perpetual smile and her eyes clouded with tears at the slightest provocation. Her friends gave her hugs and gently prodded her to move on with her life, but that wasnt easy for Linda. Her heart was broken. Of course, she could no longer consider teaching at Huddleston Academy. She wrote Percival Smith an apologetic letter and rejected his offer of employment, thank you very much.

      Linda was clueless about what to do after her graduation. She had only applied for a job at Huddleston Academy. All the other teaching jobs she might have considered were no longer available. Not that it mattered as far as Linda was concerned. She couldnt muster enough energy to interview for a job anyway. Instead, she moved back into her parents house and moped around.           

      While her parents were sympathetic to Lindas plight, they were a tough, no nonsense sort, and didnt hold with a lot of self-pity. They firmly believed Linda would snap out of her depressed state if she got busy and found a job. So her father sent out a message to their relatives around the state. Linda needs a teaching job, preferably as an English teacher. Let us know if there are any openings at your local school.

      Much to everyones surprise, Lindas eighty-two year old Great Aunt Gilda responded right away. She reported that the English teacher at Great Oak Middle School had broken both legs in a motorcycle accident and could no longer work. The school was in a bind because the kids were starting school in a few weeks. No one had showed the slightest interest in the job, let alone anyone who might be qualified.

      Without telling Linda, her parents mailed her resume to the schools principal. Almost immediately, a letter offering her the position came from Eunice Bluestone. Her parents opened the letter and were ecstatic. The job was Linda's no interview was necessary. Of course, such a quick offer might have made some people suspicious. However, Lindas parents felt her circumstances required immediate action, so they investigated no further. Their next challenge was to persuade Linda to take the job.

      That evening, her parents explained the whole thing. It was a simple decision really all the pieces were in place. Great Oak was only a few hours away, so Linda wouldnt be far from home. There was plenty of room for her in Aunt Gildas old rambling house and the school was close by. Linda would be doing the family a big favor too. Aunt Gilda was getting along in years and needed a little looking after. As an added incentive, Lindas dad offered to put new tires on her old yellow Volkswagen and fix the transmission, which refused to go in reverse no matter how much she begged.

      Linda could hardly say no. She needed a change, something new and challenging to help her forget Michael. The job in Great Oak made perfect sense. Nothing else had come along and Aunt Gilda was one of her favorite relatives. It was an easy decision, one requiring little thought. She sighed, blinked out a few tears, and said, Ill do it.

Her parents breathed a collective sigh of relief. They were sure everything would work out fine, perfectly peachy keen. Linda was getting back to normal, and the rest would take care of itself.

      The first sign that life in Great Oak might not turn out exactly as imagined was when Linda caught her initial glimpse of Aunt Gildas house. Her father had said the house was roomy, which was true, but he had not said the house was so old it resembled a haunted mansion in a horror movie. After living there for a month, Linda still hadnt gotten used to all the creaks and groans of the house during the night.

      As for Aunt Gilda, she needed a lot more than a little looking after in Lindas opinion. Oh, she was a sweet and kind old woman and Linda truly enjoyed her company. Nevertheless, she was so full of wacky ideas and quirky behavior, Linda constantly worried about her mental state. Sometimes, Aunt Gilda seemed perfectly normal. Then she would do or say something, which made absolutely no sense. For example, she wore her pajamas backwards whenever she wanted to dream about her deceased husband, or painted her fingernails and toenails green before working in the garden so the plants wouldnt be afraid of her. Every morning when Linda left for school, she wondered what weird things Aunt Gilda would do while she was away.

      Her father just laughed when Linda phoned and told him about some of Aunt Gildas antics. We always thought she was a bit batty, he said, in between her stories.

      Linda didnt find much humor in the situation. Dad, you dont understand. She believes her husband, Charles, still lives here. She talks to him all the time, and hes been dead for ten years.

      This little tidbit only made him laugh harder. Dont worry, Charles was a good man. If hes still around, he wont hurt anyone.

            However, Linda was worried...and not only about Aunt Gilda. Her teaching job was a disaster, Eunice Bluestone wasnt the least bit friendly, and the other teachers mostly ignored her. That is, unless Linda asked a question at a teachers meeting. They all laughed gleefully whenever this happened because Eunice acted as if Linda was an idiot.

      The school building itself was a half-century old and resembled a prison more than a school. Tall towers stood at each end of the two-story structure, serving no apparent purpose. Linda sometimes thought guards should be up there, armed with machine guns to keep the kids in line. That would be more in keeping with the high chain-link fence surrounding the grounds and the schools oppressive air.

      The students desks and other furnishings, although still useable, seemed even older than the building. They bore the scars of many years of abuse. All of the overhead projectors, computers, and other equipment were so obsolete; Linda doubted if repairs were even possible should anything break. The school had no budget for repairs anyway, and the other teachers didnt seem to care whether things worked or not.

      Still, the students were what really aggravated Linda. They were rude, lazy, undisciplined, and just plain mean. All they wanted to do was waste time or pick on each other. In short, they were a horrible bunch of brats who quickly shattered her fantasies about the rewarding life of a teacher.

So the appearance of the unexpected blue sheet pushed Linda past the breaking point. She had gotten her fill of Eunice and her demeaning ways. Not only was she ready to tell Eunice what she thought about her school, she was ready to quit and move back home with her parents.

      Claire Smithson, the schools secretary, sat hunched over a computer in the outer office of the principals suite when Linda stormed into the room. Claire was a tall, thin woman with a long neck and a vulture-like nose. Her personality resembled that of a vulture too, or so Linda believed. Well, well, Linda Peabody, just the person were waiting for, Claire said wryly.

      Linda shook the blue sheet furiously. I received this, she said.

      Claire giggled as if she had done something terribly funny. Got your attention, didnt I? Sorry, but Eunice wanted you right away. You really didnt earn a blue sheet at least not yet. Go on in, shes expecting you.

      But Linda protested, her anger withering like a dying plant.

      Hurry, no time for chitchat, Claire interrupted, pointing towards Eunices office. Get in there!

      Eunice smiled broadly when Linda entered the room. Then she thrust a slim file-folder in Lindas direction. You are about to have a wonderful experience. We have a new student transferring from New York, and Im assigning him to you. Sit down and read the boys records.

Lindas mouth opened and she stared at Eunice. She was speechless.

      Come on girl, hop to it. The boy and his aunt will be here any minute, Eunice barked.

      Without a word, Linda sat down and scanned through the file. Besides grade records and aptitude test scores, it contained a psychological profile identifying the boys strengths and weaknesses. After noticing he had an astonishingly high IQ and perfect grades, Linda focused upon a few of the boys personality traits. His teachers wrote that he was exceptionally bright, articulate, and a pleasure to teach. He was also shy, insecure, nave, and overly sensitive about his poor athletic ability.

      Linda closed the folder and stared at Eunice, her eyes brimming with excitement. Why, hes practically a genius, she said.

      Isnt it marvelous? Think how his ability will improve our academic ratings. Well put him on the Scholars Team right away.

      Linda frowned. Hell have a tough time fitting in here.

      Eunice ignored Lindas comment and continued. Imagine how surprised Hickory will be when we unveil him our secret weapon. They have slaughtered us in the regional contest for the last fifteen years. Delia Smoot, the principal, treats me as though Im running a knucklehead farm up here. This is my chance to show her.

      Linda shook her head. Id be worried about other things if I were you.

      What do you mean?

      Well, uh, you know. Our kids are an ill-mannered bunch and fight with each other constantly. You can imagine how they will treat an outsider from New York, especially one as unusual as this boy.

      Nonsense, Eunice roared, slamming a beefy hand down on her desk. Theyre a little rambunctious, thats all. She glowered at Linda for a few seconds. Besides, its your job to make sure the boy fits in here.

      Abruptly, the door opened and Claire Smithson appeared. She made quieting motions with her hands, but only succeeded in looking like an ungainly bird trying to take off. Then a young woman and a boy entered the room. Claires voice assumed a dignified tone as though announcing the Queen of England. Mrs. Bluestone, permit me to introduce Sally Winston and her nephew, Hamilton Davis Boehm.

      Davey, the boy said. I prefer to be called Davey.

      So wonderful to have you in our little family, Eunice said, sweet as sugar. Come in and meet Linda Peabody, Hamiltons home room teacher.

      Davey, the boy repeated, much louder this time.

      Eunice almost exploded for a second. She didnt tolerate interruptions, but she managed to retain her composure. Well, all right, excuse meDAVEY. As I was saying, Miss Peabody will make you feel welcome here wont you, Linda?

      I certainly will, Linda said, studying Davey with interest. He was a nice looking boy, but a bit small for his age. A pair of oversized glasses hid most of his face. His brown hair was of average length and neatly combed across his forehead. Hanging over his shoulders was a rather empty looking backpack.

      Look how nicely you are dressed, Eunice continued. I wish our other students would dress half as well. Maybe your example will inspire them.

      Davey shrugged nervously. Its what I always wear to school.

      Linda felt a sudden impulse to strangle Eunice. With her typical lack of discretion, she had embarrassed the boy. Even so, she was right about his outfit. He was dressed like a model from a prep-school catalog. Covering his slender frame was a navy-blue blazer with a crest on the front pocket, a crisp white shirt with a tie at the collar, and a pair of pressed khaki slacks. Brown loafers completed his ensemble. If the other kids see him this way, theyll laugh themselves silly, Linda thought.

      Linda, why dont you take Davey for a quick tour and show him where his locker is, Eunice suggested. Ill go over a few parenting type things with his aunt.

      Linda was relieved because Eunice had finally said something sensible. Davey seemed reluctant to leave his aunts side, so Linda quickly turned him towards the door and gave him a little shove. Come on, Davey. Lets have a look at your new school, she said cheerfully.

      When Davey stepped into the main hallway, he looked longingly at the schools front entrance. On his face was an expression of despair. Maybe I should make a run for it while I have the chance, he thought.

      For some reason, Linda could sense what he was thinking. Perhaps it was because a similar idea had occurred to her a short time ago. She put her hand on the boys shoulder and gently pointed him towards the classrooms. Its this way, she said.

      Davey kept his head down and remained silent as they walked along.

      Linda did her best to help him relax by chatting merrily. I know youre probably anxious about starting a new school. Trust me; the feeling is perfectly understandable. Ive only been teaching here for a month and I still get nervous. The feeling usually hits me first thing in the morning, so whenever you feel that way, come and see me. Ill think up something fun for us to do something special. After all, I want you to enjoy it here.

      A faint smile fluttered across Daveys face. Thanks, Id like that.

      Linda felt her heart go out to the boy. Fate, as though sensing her loneliness and frustration, had given her a new purpose. Im going to help this unusual boy. Somehow, Ill find a way for him to thrive in this horrible school, she told herself.

      Linda didnt know that her decision marked a milestone in her life. Nor did she realize something very important. Davey Boehm was a lot more unusual than she thoughtlot more unusual than sh

 

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