School progressed easily for Tad, who enjoyed it as long as the teachers left him alone. When he was in second grade, his brother, Woody, began kindergarten. Tad sat with him on the bus and helped him find his classroom, telling him they could sit together in the bus on the way home.
Once that year, Tad had given a talk to the class about astronomy and the solar system.
“Are you saying that the earth is moving all the time?” asked Molly.
“Yes,” answered Tad. “If it wasn’t moving it would get sucked into the sun.” He saw a sudden look of shock on her face. “But you don’t need to worry,” he added hastily. “The earth’s been moving around the sun for billions of years, and it’s not going to stop for many more billions.”
In third grade he spent some of his math time helping his classmates. That released time for the teacher to check with him about his own math progress. He was beginning algebra.
Over supper one night in December, Tad remarked to his parents that as usual in that month, he saw many colored lights appearing in town. Houses had strings of lights, as did stores and buildings like the library and the fire station. While he had noticed the lights last year, he hadn’t asked his parents what they were for, although he heard many children talking about Christmas, and he thought the lights might be related to that.
Rachel answered him, saying that, as he knew, their family didn’t observe Christmas but did celebrate the winter solstice. “But,” she went on, “you should know that nearly all people in the northern hemisphere have always celebrated with light in December. The ancient people observed that the days were beginning to get longer, and they celebrated the return of more light after fearing that some year the days would simply get shorter and shorter until they were plunged into everlasting darkness. The Native Americans observed the same cycle.”
“Could we celebrate the solstice with lights?” asked Tad.
“I don’t see why not,” said Neil. “After all, the Christians certainly don’t have a monopoly on colored lights.”
The next day, Neil drove to town and bought several strings of colored lights as well as electric candles to put in the windows of the cabin. He also purchased several extension cords. Returning home, he thought about putting up the lights himself but decided the boys might enjoy helping him, so he waited until the boys arrived home from school.
That afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to set, the family engaged in stringing lights across the front of the cabin, some on the edge of the roof and some on the front railings of the porch and around the door and windows. Inside, they placed the candles in the windows and turned off all the other indoor lights before standing out in front of their home admiring their handiwork.
In the years from first grade through third grade, Tad became a lot more outgoing. He still sat on his bench at recess, although he occasionally played jacks or hopscotch with Molly and Sally. At first, the boys had teased him about playing with girls, but he wasn’t interested in the rough-and-tumble games the boys played and he learned to ignore the teasing.
The worst teaser was Wyatt, who didn’t seem able to leave Tad alone. He was the one who first called him ‘fairy’ or ‘queer’, probably without knowing what the words meant. Tad also had no idea what those words implied, but he knew they were meant to hurt him. Several times Tad was tempted to punch Wyatt in the nose, but he hated violence and so never went from the temptation to the action.
It was also in third grade that Tad became curious about why his mother never went into town. In fact, she never left the cabin and the area right around it. When he asked Rachel about that one day, she said that she was still afraid of being found by her parents. She knew she was old enough that they couldn’t do anything to her, but she simply didn’t want to have anything to do with them. That made Tad a little sad, because he knew that he had grandparents but had never met them. Somehow, when other children were talking about their families, he always felt a little deprived. The grandparents they talked about were loving and caring and he wondered just what he was missing. But he never said anything more about them.
Time passed, and Tad climbed on the bus for the beginning of his sixth-grade year, his final year in the elementary school. He looked around to see if there was anybody who looked worried and needed some reassurance. He found a little boy who was about to begin kindergarten. Tad sat with him and assured him that he’d help him find where to go when they got to school.
After he dropped the boy off in kindergarten, Tad proceeded to his own classroom. His teacher that year was Mrs. Tucker. She greeted him at the door before he hung up his bag and found his desk.
By fourth grade, Tad had become a legend in the school among both the students and the faculty. Often, he helped children during math and most of them accepted the help by then as a given.
Wyatt was different, and Tad couldn’t understand why. Sometimes, Wyatt was friendly, but other times he was almost angry. He didn’t want Tad’s help and he made that very obvious. “I don’t want help from a fairy,” he said at one point. Tad was not about to push matters, so he left Wyatt to the teacher.
He had continued to give occasional talks to the class. Sometimes they were on astronomy. Sometimes they were about other things in the world that interested him, like the seven wonders of the ancient world, or the beautiful cathedrals in Europe. Once, he gave a talk about different bases in math, but he totally confused most of his classmates.
The class was scheduled to go to a natural history museum in a nearby city, so Mrs. Tucker asked if he could give a talk about the trees, wild plants, and animals to be found in northern New York State. With Rachel’s help he gathered specimens of some plants, although, it being winter, there were no flowers to gather. He solved that problem by drawing pictures of them. He also found pictures in various books of the animals he wanted to discuss.
In the early spring, shortly before the class was scheduled to go to the museum, he gave two talks to the class, one about the plants and trees and another about the animals and insects.
At the museum, there was a docent who was assigned to take the children through the museum and talk about the various exhibits. She was surprised to observe how much the children already knew, and she asked them how they had learned it all. They told her about Tad, who had, until then, remained in the background. After that, she sometimes pointed to an insect or flower and asked Tad if he could identify it. By the time the class finished the tour, she told him that, if he ever wanted to volunteer as a docent, she was sure he would be quickly accepted.
Soon after that, a new boy appeared in the class and was seated beside Tad. The right side of the boy’s face was badly scarred. The scar began at his hairline and disappeared down into his turtleneck. He wore glasses, and the right lens was blacked out. He looked both sad and bored.
Tad still did not know the meaning of the word ‘bored’, but he did know unhappy and he felt sad for the boy. Looking at the boy, he said shyly, “Hi, I’m Tad.”
“So what?” asked the boy.
“So I wondered if you needed help with anything.”
“No, I don’t. And you should mind your own business!”
“Sorry,” replied Tad, turning away from the boy.
When Mrs. Tucker took attendance, she mentioned that the new boy, Marco Bartolucci, had just moved from New York City. Tad had seen pictures of New York City in some of his magazines and knew that it was a very different place from where Marco presently lived.
Marco had black, wavy hair which sometimes fell over his forehead. His eye was almost hypnotic and seemed to match his hair. When Marco did smile, which was seldom and never at Tad, the left side of his delicate lips turned up in a little bow.
Throughout the day, Marco sat, looking bored. If he knew everyone was staring at his scarring, he didn’t react. He did his work with apparent ease, but never said anything. He ate alone, reading a book during the lunch period. At recess, he stood aside, watching the other boys. Tad invited him to sit with him and the two girls, but Marco simply sneered and walked away.
Tad observed that Marco must live in town because he didn’t get on any of the busses at the end of the day.
The children were working on fractions, and Tad sometimes walked around the room to help a struggling student. Coming up behind Marco one day, he saw that the boy had made an error. He leaned down to help him, and Marco erupted.
“Get away from me,” he yelled. “I went to a good school in the city and I don’t need help from any country hick!”
Tad walked away, but there were tears in his eyes. All I wanted to do was help, he thought. Why is Marco so angry? Why wouldn’t he accept help?
During the morning recess, Mrs. Tucker pulled him aside for a ‘little chat’. “Tad,” she said, “I’m sorry about what happened in math this morning. I guess you’ve figured out that Marco is very unhappy. His family lived right in New York City, and his father died recently.
“After that, Marco’s mother decided to get as far away from city living as she could, so she and Marco moved here. I think Marco is still very sad about his father, and he resents being taken from everything he knew and where he was comfortable. Give him some time. I think he’ll come around eventually.”
That gave Tad a good deal to think about, but he resolved to stay away from Marco until the boy felt better.
Tad continued to do well in school. He was presently reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, having read The Hobbit over the summer.
Occasionally during class, he looked over at Marco, who still seemed angry and sad but had no problem keeping up with his schoolwork.
One day during math, Marco turned to Tad and challenged, “Why aren’t you doing the same math as the rest of us? Can’t you keep up?”
Tad looked at him and said, “I’m not doing fractions because I figured out about fractions at the end of second grade and the beginning of third. Now I’m learning trigonometry.”
That infuriated Marco, who suddenly realized that Tad was way ahead of him. He stood up, grabbed the ‘Restroom’ pass from the hook beside the door and stomped out.
Mrs. Tucker had observed the exchange. She went to Tad and told him not to feel badly, that he had answered Marco’s question honestly and Marco had to learn to deal with it.
On the way out the door for afternoon recess, Marco slammed into Tad as he ran out of the building. Tad stumbled but didn’t fall. Wyatt, of all people, helped to steady him. Tad watched Marco run away, wondering if the boy had done it deliberately. He thanked Wyatt, who gave him a funny little grin before running off to join the others. Hmmm, Tad thought. I think that’s the first time Wyatt has ever smiled at me.
At home in the evening, Tad told his parents about Marco. Neil told him that Marco’s mother had bought the closest thing to a mansion there was in the town, but he had never met her. People said that she didn’t do her shopping in town and nobody seemed to know anything about her. When Tad told them about Marco’s father dying, Rachel frowned and said, “Maybe that explains why Marco and his mother are keeping themselves apart from everyone.”
Tad didn’t really understand what she was saying, but he did know he had to try harder to avoid Marco.
To Tad, the strange thing was how he felt about Marco. While he was a little afraid of him, he found himself being strangely attracted to him and he didn’t understand why he felt the way he did.
At night, when Tad lay in bed stroking himself, he thought about Marco and wondered what the boy would look like without the scars. As he lay rubbing his penis, he felt an odd sensation there and his penis began to grow hard. Then it throbbed a little bit. That was new, and Tad decided he liked the feeling. At last, he rolled over and went to sleep, still holding his hard penis.