Chapter 2.2 - Margaret

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Margaret scratched her head. "You want to talk about it?"

Ronald's face glowed an alarming shade of red. "Nope. Want to eat my dinner."

In silence, they mixed everything together in the big noodle pot and set it on the table between the two sturdy white plates already there. Robert uttered a single sentence of blessing over the food and dished up two big scoops for each of them.

"Saw John Lewis today," he said, out of the blue.

Her fork froze in mid-air, halfway to her mouth. "My student, John Lewis?"

"Only John Lewis I ever knew."

"And you're only just now telling me about it? How is he?" Back in her teaching days, she'd found her heart torn in a thousand directions. This child served as a pawn in a messy divorce, that one had no winter coat or boots, a third suffered through his school day with a learning difference the parents failed to acknowledge, let alone accommodate. Margaret wore herself ragged trying to advocate for each of them. She was a realist. Some of the children were doomed to fall through the cracks in the system and face adulthood poorly equipped to handle the challenges of life. But maybe, just maybe, one or two could be empowered to rise above.

John Lewis showed up in town halfway through first semester, fifteen years old with a black eye. He had two shirts that he wore on alternating days. One sported a faded version fo Pink Floyd's famous rainbow pyramid. The other had a cartoon camel from a cigarette commercial on the breast pocket. Despite her repeated attempts to draw him out, he refused to share any details of his life or even answer her questions beyond vague polite responses. The boy couldn't take a test to save his life. On his best day, he might score fiftey percent. His homework, though, astonished her--page after page of flawless research, sources noted in small, neat handwriting. He handed in worksheets that were unfailingly complete and accurate. Once, he'd used a red pen to correct the grammar in one of the questions.

She kept him after class that day. "Thank you for helping me, John. You were right. I made a mistake."

He watched her with narrowed, suspicious eyes and said nothing.

"You can relax. You're not in any kind of trouble."

He remained as tightly wound as a wild animal, aware of a nearby predator.

She placed his most recent test in front of him. A few of the spaces bore messy, misspelled answers. Most remained blank. "Can you tell me why a young man capable of this," she gestured toward the homework, "so often turns in tests like this?" She pointed at the test.

He shrugged and stared at something just to the left of her.

"I'll tell you what I think. I think you cheat on your homework."

His narrow brown eyes finally made contact with hers. She smiled at him. "I'm teasing, John. Just making sure you're in there, somewhere. I suspect you're one of the most intelligent and meticulously careful students I have ever had the privilege of teaching, but something about taking tests stresses you out."

He frowned at her.

"I'd like to help you overcome that. We could meet two or three days a week after school. You have more than two years of high school left. If you can get your test scores up, combined with your other work I suspect we could get you into just about any college you want. Maybe even get some scholarships to pay for it.

His gaze wandered off again. His shoulders fell. He gave a tiny, almost imperceptible shake of his head.

With the leaden weight of failure settled into her gut, Margaret walked around to her own desk chair and sat down. "Very well, then. I can't help you if you're not willing to help yourself. You're free to go."

He neither moved nor spoke.

She folded her hands on her desk and waited with a little spark of hope flaring up in her heart.

"I have to..." a deep crimson flush rose upward from the collar of his ratty old shirt. "I could come before school." His voice cracked, unable to settle on either the high pitched tones of childhood or the lower tenor of the man he was becoming.

Trembling with the effort of restraining herself from jumping out of her chair and hugging him, she agreed. "Let's say Tuesdays and Thursdays at seven?"

He slumped out of the room after agreeing and two years later Margaret sobbed like a baby when he graduated as a National Merit Scholar headed to the University of Michigan with a full academic scholarship.

Ronald chewed and swallowed before answering. "Seems fit. He's doctoring up at the hospital."

The kitchen dimmed behind a veil of tears. "He's a doctor?"

"The new heart guy."

"A heart surgeon?" She pressed a hand against her breast.

"There some kind of an echo in here?" he teased. The corners of his mouth twitched.

Margaret shooed his words away like a troublesome insect. With her other hand, she covered her eyes.

Robert ate in silence for a moment, giving her a chance to compose herself.

Finally, she wiped her cheeks with her napkin and took a shuddering breath. "I wonder if he's married."

Ronald sighed. "Woman!"

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Margaret loves being married so much she can't seem to help herself from trying to marry off everyone else, too! Wonder who she's picturing that doctor with. Any guesses?

Up next, a peek into Lisa's world and a bit more about that mysterious, upsetting envelope Seth delivered.

And don't forget about the ghost! 

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