She was a child when they met. Not even a teenager – a child. She was all pudge and braces and big glasses and frizzy hair; her mother still chose her clothing. She was quiet and shy, but she was smart. She read on something like a tenth grade level, even though she was only ten. She could analyze and think abstractly. Teachers try their best not to play favorites, but of course, they always do. She was one of his.
She was also the kind of girl who gets made fun of in middle school. She wasn't especially attractive; her geekiness and big smile were somewhat endearing, but that's not the kind of thing that would have been noticed by her peers. She had a few friends, but most of the students, especially the boys, teased her incessantly. She put on a brave face, but he could tell it bothered her, and it bothered him that none of the other teachers or administrators would step in.
"As long as it's not physical, there's not much we can do," they'd say. "She needs to learn to stand up for herself."
Yes, he thought, but she needs a little help, too.
So he provided the retorts she was too polite and sweet to make.
"You know you're going to be working for her one day, right?" He'd say with a raised eyebrow and a pointed look at the hooligans in the back row of his seventh period Advanced Sixth Grade Social Studies class. Then he'd look her way and give her a wink and a smile. Her eyes were full of gratitude, and maybe more than that.
Her name was Laurel Anderson. To him, she was "Laurie."
He was already old when they met; a father, a husband, in his forties. He was all snark and sarcasm and biting wit, trying to get these kids to understand philosophy and religion and military tactics and the "why" and "why do we care" behind history. He made them laugh and didn't assign much homework, mostly because his dyslexia made him avoid reading when possible and because he'd hated school and busy work as a child, so he avoided assigning it to his own students when possible.
She'd never had a male teacher before; there generally aren't many in elementary schools, so it was just one of the many new experiences that came with middle school. She was afraid of him when they first met; he was tall and broad-shouldered and loud and crazy. Eventually, he became her favorite teacher, and later, her knight in shining armor.
Years later, when she closed her eyes, she could still hear his laugh. She could see his ink-stained hands, his brown eyes with their laugh lines and wire-rimmed glasses, his wavy dark hair, his silly ties, his grin, his goatee, his ugly handwriting.
In her eighth grade yearbook, before she left for high school, he wrote: "You are an extraordinary young woman. Carpe diem."
And her heart soared as she thought: "Am I really extraordinary to anyone? To him?"
His name was Greg Jones. To her, he was everything.