by Tony Noland
"Danny, I'm a little concerned about your behavior."
She said it in her warmest, most caring voice. At least, she hoped that was how it was coming across. She didn't like Danny Young. It was a terrible thing to admit to, even to herself. But there it was. He was a strange little boy. None of the other kids in her class liked him, either. That was a shame, but not unheard of. Third graders can be picky and clannish, much more so than their parents realized.
However, Allison Clarksen always made it a point to find something likable about every child. Even the ones who had been truly terrible over the years, she'd found some way to at least pity them for their situations. She never blamed the child. It was brutish parents, poverty, or other circumstances beyond their control that made children difficult. She believed in every child in her class, every year. It was not just a saying or a pose. She cared about every child, and wanted them all to succeed.
Until Danny Young. She tried and tried to find some way to connect with him. After seven months, she finally admitted to herself that she did not want him to succeed. She just wanted him gone.
"What is it about my behavior that concerns you, Ms. Clarksen?"
It was like fingernails on a blackboard. The little bas... the little boy was always so calm! He never got upset or angry or out of line. He never misbehaved or spoke out of turn or turned his homework in only half-done.
But he never smiled. He never laughed. He didn't play with anyone. He was so... so... controlled! That was it, he was far too controlled for a nine year old boy. They should be wild, free spirits, eager to laugh or cry. Emotions should be running high in them, like waves crashing on a shore. But Dannny was like a still pond. No, even worse, she thought, he was like a frozen pond. Smooth, clear, motionless.
She shivered. She tried to call his parents to be a part of this, but got only voice mail at the regular telephone number. It wasn't worth the paperwork of using the emergency contact number. She had never met Danny's parents; they never came to conferences. They signed all the permission slips, and corresponded with her by e.mail, but she had never met them. There had been other families in the past that didn't care about their children. It was a tragedy, but she reached out to the kids, did her best to help them grow and ushered them on into fourth grade. She hoped that she made them better, but there was precious little a teacher could do for kids without a family.
She wondered what kind of parents Danny had.
She started slightly, as he interrupted her thoughts. So damned polite. What was wrong with him, what was it about him that bothered her so?
She cleared her throat. "Danny, you made our visitor uncomfortable with your behavior today. This was the first time I've had to speak to you about paying attention in class."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Clarksen," he said, "it won't happen again."
Too quickly. He agreed too quickly. All of the other kids were bored to tears by Hua Feng's father. He was an engineer at Cryodyne, the aerospace firm. A very smart man, no doubt, but his Chinese accent was so thick the class could barely understand him, and they were all chattering and twitching. Except for Danny. He'd appeared to be absolutely rapt by the tedious drone about circuits and electrons and surfaces and things. It made Danny's outburst even worse. Everyone had thought Mr. Feng was boring, but barking it out in the middle of his presentation! The entire class had laughed, and poor Hua, already embarrassed about her father's poor English, was crying over how shamefully her father had been treated.
"Danny, it looked to me like you were actually listening to Mr. Feng. You were writing notes down, copying some of what he'd said. Why would you be so rude to him? Why did you say what you did? That he was... was boring?"
"I didn't say..." Danny stopped.
For the first time, Danny's face flushed. He looked embarrassed!
Feeling terrible as she did so, the teacher pressed home her advantage, the first chink in the little boy's armor that she had come across. It was mean and it was petty, but she couldn't help herself.
"Tell me, Danny. Tell me why you did that. You must have known that calling Mr. Feng boring would hurt Hua's feelings. Why did you do it?"
"I didn't call him boring."
"Danny," she said, warming to her subject, "don't lie. If there is one thing I won't tolerate, it's dishonesty."
"I didn't call him boring. I didn't say he was boring."
"I heard you say it, young man. We all did. Don't try to deny it."
Danny looked her in the eye. Cold and still, unblinking. It took only seven seconds before she cracked and looked away.
"I didn't say he was boring. You misheard what I said." The little boy got up from his seat in front of her big wooden desk.
"And where do you think you're going? Sit down this instant!" She used her command voice.
It didn't work. Danny picked up his notebook, the twenty-nine cent spiral kind, opened it to the one of the last pages and dropped it on her desk.
"Goodbye, Ms. Clarksen. I don't think I'll be coming back."
Shocked, she watched him walk towards the door and she watched him leave.
In the silence, she looked down at the notebook.
"Clever idea, but he's going about it like an idiot using that chromatogenic infiltration system. He should be using a plasma coupled vapor deposition chamber to lay down his dipole layer - that would give him the charge drainage and electron flow balance he needs, while also containing the B-field!
And he shouldn't be using silicon, that's too big of an electron shell to adjust the containment. What element would be good for that? Erbium? Yttrium? No, boron! BORON!!!"
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