When we meet at a formica table in that echoing hall, I do all the talking. He sits in silence, studying something in his lap, his hands neatly folded and out of trouble. I’ve known him only a week. He is an unexpected mid-year replacement. The last relationship spun far out of my reach; I wonder where this one will lead.
In spite of the sudden change, I find this new one’s demeanor soothing to my psyche, which is in recovery. How could the last one, who was such a charmer, have been so unreachable? That blinding white smile. That great booming laugh. Those linebacker shoulders and arms that pulled you in but never answered your questions. Not a one.
Minutes into our second meeting in the hall, the new guy begins fidgeting in his chair as if he’s sitting on something alive. Every noise, passing person, draws his eyes away from me. Last week’s silence was really a swollen reservoir on the brink of bursting. Today, the dam gives out, gushing thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, and how much he likes robots. He really likes those robots.
Touching his hand lightly, I ask him to look at me. I ask him to listen.
Let’s make this work, I whisper. Let’s be a team.
He stops. His brown eyes lock with mine.
Is this going to work? I ask myself. Will I be able to shine a bright light through the fog?
I look away and count to 10, studying the beige ceramic tiles racing toward a vanishing point. I give him time to compose himself, to settle his hands and feet.
“I have something for you,” he says.
He leans to the side, digs into his navy blue pants pocket and pulls out a small, opalescent object. He sets it on the table.
“What is it?” I say.
“It’s a gem. I found it on the gym floor. It’s for you.”
You know what? I’ve been at this for almost three years now, tutoring children who, if they had a chance and prayer, could work their way through the dense fog and shape something of their lives. I hope they do with all the hope in the world. I hope in spite of the odds against them.
I pick up the gem, which is really a sweater button, but I’m not going to say anything to him about that, and tuck it in my pocket.
“You know what?”
He shakes his head, brows lifting in anticipation.
“You are the gem. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”