“Mr. Hawkins?” Sally Lehmann knocks on the open door and pokes her head into Alan Hawkins’ classroom at Orono High School in Northern Maine. Her husband Mark is with her. It’s after school and there aren’t any students.
“Yes, come in Mr. and Ms. Lehmann, It’s good to see you. Please shut the door.” He gets up, walks towards them, shakes their hands, and returns to his desk, standing and leaning back on it. The Lehmanns take a seat at desks in the front row.
“I hope it’s not serious?” Sally asks with a worried look.
“Not at all. Let me tell you something first. I’m dyslexic. I know it may seem strange for an English teacher, but I assure you that dyslexia hasn’t stopped me from succeeding. Fortunately, my first grade teacher spotted the symptoms. In fact, I became an avid reader and a great speller. I even won the California State high school spelling bee competition in my senior year. Now I’m a published writer. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway were both dyslexics? It’s nothing to be alarmed about.”
Mark looks astonished and annoyed, “But what does that have to do with Brook? Are you suggesting that she’s dyslexic?”
“Mr. and Ms. Lehmann, you’re Brook’s foster parents, and only since the start of the school year, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s correct.” Sally nods and smiles. “She’s been moved around from home to home since she was 5. If what you suspect is true, this could explain her mediocre grades. She’s a bright girl, but she’s always just gotten by in school.”
“That’s right. I’ve seen her school records; ten different schools in different cities with different foster parents in 12 years, and always passing with a “C” average. That’s exactly what she’s achieving now. It would be good to deal with this now and get her grade level up before the end of the year so she’ll have a better chance in college. Of course, it would mean taking a test to see if my supposition is right.”
Mark glares, “But she’s already hassled by her classmates, at least that’s what she told Sally. This will make everyone mock her even more! I say we just let her alone. She’s managed alright for the last 11 years, hasn’t she?”
“Mark dear, I don’t think anyone will make fun of her for getting good grades. Besides, the girls harass her because they’re jealous. She’s pretty, and she’s the new girl in town.”
“Ha!” The foster-father scowls, “When they all find out she’s a mental case they’ll bully her to death! That’s just what we all need!”
Alan bites his lip, the last thing he needs is a confrontation with one of the parents. Calmly, yet firmly, he counters the man’s aggressiveness. “Mr. Lehmann, do you seriously think that having dyslexia amounts to having mental problems? When I told you that I’m dyslexic, did you imagine that I’m not normal? Firstly, none of her classmates need to know, that is if the diagnosis confirms my hunch. Secondly, she’ll be much more likely to succeed and also to make friends if she improves her grades. I know how to teach dyslexics, and I’ll be happy to tutor her on my own time, and I won’t even charge you for it if you’re worried about the costs.”
“Mark, honey, please. I believe that Mr. Hawkins has done Brook a great service in speaking to us about this. Why don’t we give it a try? It can’t hurt. Mr. Hawkins, there’s no need to worry about the costs. Brook’s parents were wealthy, and when her parents died, the insurance payment and the rest of her fortune were blocked in an account until she reaches 18. Because she had no siblings and no other relatives, she’s the primary beneficiary. The judge in her case left an allowance for education and upbringing which we have limited access to; we just have to provide receipts. Money is not an issue. What worries me is how to bring this up to her. She’ll be worried about it.”
“No need to worry Ms. Lehmann, I know how to handle this. I’ll speak to her first, and everything will be fine.”
Mr. Lehmann is gives in reluctantly, his voice tinted with worry, “I sure hope it will be. If there are any problems you’ll have a problem with me. One more thing; is she going to have to see a head shrinker?”
“The diagnosis will be done by a qualified educational psychologist, and I’ll prepare her beforehand. Thank you both again for taking a moment to come here and meet me.”
As they’re walking back to the car Sally mentions to her husband, “Mark dear, have you noticed that Brook is always talking to herself in her room?”
“No, I don’t go around listening behind doors. So, you think she’s a nutcase?”
“I didn’t say that darling. But maybe the psychologist will find out other things too. It’s probably better for her. It’s strange that no one has ever adopted her all these years. I hope we can help her, she’s such a sweet girl.”
Mark is thinking, “Sure is sweet! Sweetest foster-daughter we’ve ever had!” but he just replies “I swear to God, if this goes bad on us I’ll get him fired and then bust his face.”
While her foster-parents are meeting her English teacher in the high school, Brook Bligh is in her room talking to her bestie, Raven Darnel, her only friend. The two girls are complete opposites; Brook is a pretty 17-year old blue-eyed blond with long wavy hair and a cute upturned button nose. She’s very talkative and seemingly cheerful despite the rejection she’s always known at school. She dresses fashionably; holey blue-jeans, miniskirts, revealing tops, make-up, painted nails, and accessories... Her friend Raven has black eyes and heavy brows, long straight black hair, a pointed nose, and a dark complexion. She talks very little, only the strict minimum, and wears simple unpretentious clothes; always in black, always with a hoodie, and no make-up. The only bit of fantasy she’s afforded herself is a large tattoo of a black bird with its wings stretched out across her shoulder blades. Only Brook knows about it.
“Raven, can you keep a secret?”
“Are you kidding Brook baby?”
“It’s Mr. Hawkins… you know Mark and Sally are talking to him right now. I have to tell you, he’s so handsome… and he smiled at me when he told me he needed to talk to them… it made me tingle all over the way he looked at me! Don’t you think Alan is a sexy name? Do you think he’d mind if I called him Alan? But all the others would talk if I did.”
“You don’t have to tell me your secret, it’s written all over you. You’re head over heels. Don’t you think he’s a bit old for you?”
“He’s only 25, that’s just 8 years older. It’s not like he’s an old man.” Her face changes to a grimace “Not like Mr. Lehmann. And Alan’s nice and gentle, I’m sure he’d never hurt me.”
“You don’t have to talk about Mr. Lehmann, you already told me about him.”
In English class the next day, Mr. Hawkins embarks on a new subject. He puts a photo collage that he made on the interactive board and asks the students “How many of these famous people can you name?”
The students respond, and name most of them: “Mohammad Ali”, “George Washington”, “Magic Johnson”, “Richard Branson”, “Jim Carrey”, “Ernest Hemingway”, “John Lennon”, “Pablo Picasso”, “Robin Williams”, “Leonardo da Vinci”, “Keanu Reeves”, “Alexander Graham Bell”, “Walt Disney”, “Thomas Edison”, “Jennifer Aniston”, “Steven Spielberg”… the list goes on, and Mr. Hawkins adds a few famous names they don’t know.
“That was great! You all know a lot! What do you think is the common point with all these people? The dead ones were all dyslexics, and the ones that are still living are dyslexics. What do you all know about dyslexia? What if I told you that at least 1 out of every 10 people on this planet are dyslexic? In fact, I’m dyslexic, but I was able to become a reader, a writer, a great speller, and even an English teacher. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s just a difference in the brain. In this class, there are surely a few dyslexic people. I like to think of it as a gift, because it makes a person think differently. Every one of us is different, and we are all special. Your next assignment is to research dyslexia and write a short essay: minimum 500 words will do.”
Just before the end of the period, Mr. Hawkins signals, “Brook, I need you to stay after class for a few minutes. Don’t worry, it’s not a punishment.” He smiles, and she melts inside. When the other students have left and the door is closed behind them, he fills her in. “Brook, your foster-parents and I already discussed what I’m going to say to you. I have reason to believe that you have a special gift, like me.”
“You mean I’m like all those famous people?”
“I think so, but we can’t be sure though unless you have a diagnosis by a specialist who can tell us if you’re dyslexic. Is that OK with you?”
Brook’s thinking “I’d do anything for you!” but she answers with a simple nod and a smile.
A week later Brook has her appointment with Dr. Hanna Dietrich, the educational psychologist, and she confirms Alan Hawkins’ supposition. During the session, she has a strong gut feeling that there’s another psychological complication hidden deep within the teenager.
And so, having the confirmation of Brook’s need for special support to overcome her learning disability, Mr. Hawkins starts regular tutoring sessions with her every day after school in his classroom. Needless to say, Brook is euphoric.
Brook also starts weekly appointments with Dr. Dietrich, who is able to delve into her mind and her past, and the impression that she had at their first meeting starts to define itself. After another three sessions Dr. Dietrich is certain that Brook has been sexually abused, and perhaps is still enduring her torment, but doesn’t know the identity of the perpetrator. Afraid that it could be Mr. Lehmann, she doesn’t tell the foster parents, preferring to inform Ms. Campbell, the high school principal.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill at the high school is turning at full speed. “What’s going on between Brook Bligh and Mr. Hawkins? What are they doing together every day alone in his class after school? She sure does dress provocatively! They must be having an affair!” Soon the rumors are all over town and have reached some of the parent’s ears.
Saturday morning Brook’s in her bedroom having a chat with Raven.
“Everyone’s calling me names! They call me ‘Slut, Tramp, Nympho, Vamp, and lots of other names. But I don’t care what they call me! I get to spend time with Alan every day after school! I did tell you he lets me call him Alan, didn’t I? What makes me angry is that they call him names behind his back too. They say all kinds of nasty things about him. But he’s so nice! I can’t stand it when that mean old man starts putting his dirty hands all over me and doing all those horrible things, but Alan would never do that. He respects me.”
“I told you before, you should tell Dr. Dietrich about all of that. They’ll take you far away from him and you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“But I can’t! He said he’d hurt me even more if I ever said anything! And If they take me away, I won’t see Alan anymore!”
“It’s the best thing to do dear. Don’t you see that Alan might get in trouble too? You know how rumors spread. Remember what happened last year in Boston at the gym?”
“But that was different. I didn’t love him, it was just a fling. I Love Alan. And who will help me to get better grades if I don’t see him anymore?”
“I still think you should tell on the dirty old man. But you’ll do what you want to do after all, like usual.”
Alan, for his part, is doing what he thinks is right, but he’s become addicted to seeing Brook, and each weekday he finds himself looking forward to their daily tutoring session. The weekends are long without her, but he knows that everyone will think it’s strange if he sees her outside of school. Brook is advancing rapidly and making considerable progress because she wants to succeed for Alan. In her teenage mind she imagines them living together, happily married.
The school has had complaints from several parents about a possible affair going on. Alan Hawkins is summoned to the principal Monday morning and confronted. After a long discussion, the principal confides with the teacher.
“Mr. Hawkins, in fact, I already knew that you were innocent. I’ll let you in on two secrets, but they mustn’t leave this office.”
“My lips are sealed, Ms. Campbell.”
“Firstly, we installed hidden cameras in all of the classrooms just in case something like this would arise, so we can prove that you were only doing your job. I’m glad to hear that Brook is starting to deal with her dyslexia, and we have you to thank for that. Secondly, Dr. Dietrich has informed me that she believes Brook is suffering from sexual abuse. She suspects her foster-father Mr. Lehmann. Except Brook hasn’t accused him, and she seems hesitant to tell Dr. Dietrich any details about her abuse. I know that you’ve formed a special relationship with Brook, and perhaps she’d be willing to tell you about it. What do you think? Can we give it a try?”
“You said that rumors have spread all around town concerning Brook and me.”
“Yes. All of this needs to be cleared up.”
“It’s very possible that Mr. Lehmann has heard the rumors, don’t you think so?”
“I think that it’s a very sound assumption. And knowing him, he’s likely to throw oil on the fire. Another reason to act quickly. We need her accusation.”
“I don’t think that this can wait for our regular after school session. It could blow at any time. Mr. Lehmann could come bursting in here without any warning and make a fuss. Do you have a suggestion?”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m going to suggest something completely unthinkable if the situation was not so critical. You need a quiet space and some time alone with Brook straight away. I’ll cover for both of you. You live close by, near the University of Maine, right?”
“Yes, I rent a small studio at Orchard Trails Apartments, it’s a 5 minute drive.”
“I’ll have Brook sent here to my office now. You go warm up your car and I’ll accompany her to the parking lot. Take her to your apartment and get her to talk if you can, and I’m pretty sure she’ll open up to you. Take as much time as you need. I have complete confidence in you. When she’s ready to talk to her psychologist and tell her everything, give me a call. I’ll pick her up and drive her straight to Dr. Dietrich’s office.”
Brook is alone with Alan in his apartment, and she’s thinking “This can’t be true! I must be dreaming!”
They settle on the couch and Alan asks her “Do you have any idea why we’re here?”
“Not at all, but it’s fine with me. If Ms. Campbell says it’s OK, it must be!”
“I’m going to ask you to be very truthful and not hide anything from me, OK? I promise that everything is going to be alright.”
Brook’s thinking “I’d tell you anything!” but she just nods and smiles.
“Has someone been hurting you?”
“Yes, he’s a mean man, not like you. He’s disgusting. But if I tell he’ll hurt me even more!”
“You’re safe now. He’ll never be able to hurt you again if you tell me everything.”
Brook breaks down sobbing and Alan takes her in his arms to comfort her. His heart leaps. At the same time, he’s overcome with pain for her. She continues to weep, nestled against his breast for a long time. Alan remains silent and just holds her tight. Finally she manages to get out the words she’d been holding back “But they’ll take me away from here, and I’ll never see you again!” Their eyes are each searching the soul of the other. “I love you Alan, I never want to leave you!”
“Listen to me dear Brook. This mean man has to pay for what he’s done. We know who he is, and you can’t go on living with him. But you have to tell us. You have to tell Dr. Dietrich everything so we can protect you.”
“That’s what Raven said.”
“Is that her nickname? There aren’t any students named Raven at our school.”
“She’s been my best friend ever since my parents died. I talk with her every day. No one can see her or hear her but me. But she’s real I swear. Please don’t think I’m crazy! She told me to tell the doctor about the bad things Mr. Lehmann does to me.”
“And are you going to do like she told you to do now?”
“If they don’t take me away. I want to stay near you Alan.”
Alan finally gives in to his repressed emotions. “Maybe you can. You’ll turn 18 in 2 months, right?”
“Yes, my birthday’s January 28th.”
He’s a bit worried about Raven, but still manages to pop the question.
Mr. Lehmann was charged, Raven flew away and Brook never saw her again.