J. Mitch Hopper
Randall grinned. "Yea. A record, huh?"
"Wow. I wonder what the difference is between a D minus, minus and an F?"
Randall just shook his head slightly and looked back to the floor.
John turned back to the folder. "Physics and chemistry are a mix of low Cs and an occasional low B. You don't follow directions well and you seem to have a hard time paying attention. Based on that alone, I'd give up on you as a lost cause."
John met Randall's icy gaze. The boy had heard this line before and it showed.
John laughed quietly and showed a small smile. "I don't think so either. 'Cause look here. On the side they call vocational, I see a string of As in electronics and applied electricity. Now, back to the academic side. You've had physics in first hour and chemistry in fifth hour. Here," John flipped to another sheet buried in the stack. "Your mom says you stay up way too late tinkering in your basement shop, playing with, as she says, electrical gizmos. I'll bet you're hardly awake in physics, so that probably explains the lack of attention there. Good grades go to those who aren't asleep, eh? Have you gotten to the electricity part of your physics class yet?"
Randall shook his head slowly.
"I didn't think so. When you do, I'll bet the grades go way up. And, chemistry! Well, how do I say this?" John dropped the folder in his lap and cradled his chin in his hands. He looked as if he were mildly embarrassed to continue. "Well, since this all stays here between us, just between you and me, I know your chem teacher – not personally, but I know her, ah… Well… credentials. No prize there. I doubt that she makes things very interesting, does she?"
"No." Randall's flat voice carried a sense of exasperation.
"A better teacher would make all the difference, but that's not for me to deal with right now. I'm not sure she could teach her way out of a paper bag."
John met Randall's eyes again and they both started to laugh.
"See?" John said. "All that hard data without thinking about why? No wonder your parents and your teachers don't know what to do. They know you're smart, but your grades stink. You should have decent friends but you hang with losers. You're a quiet, gentle kid, but you get in fights. You build electrical gizmos but you can't get above a C in Physics. This wasn't the first fight, was it?"
"No." His eyes went back to the floor again. "But, I don't start them. The Chucky and Marky troops usually do."
"Your folks don't think so and neither does the school – it says here."
"It says wrong. They don't know."
"Wouldn't be the first time the official word was in error. But, for now, it's all I have to go on."
Randall started to look restless. His eyes were darting around, yet always coming back for a flash glance at John. John scooted his chair closer until the two were nearly knee to knee. "Randall, this is as good a time as any. Remember, you don't have to answer my question, but you can't lie to me. You must know that I have a folder here that has a lot of stuff in it from the school and a lot of that are the records of conversations with your folks and comments by the counselors… things like that. Now remember, whatever you say in here, stays in here. I mean, I'll have to tell someone if you say you murdered somebody or something like that, but for now, we're just having a private conversation – just between you and me. Temporary friends. Ok?"
John felt that he had a chance to start again, but he wasn't sure if the time was right. A long drawn out silence filled the room. "It says here that you hear voices. Is that right?"
Randall didn't answer.