BOYHOOD

I'mpekkable: Aww...! And after I sent him to speech classes!

1

Had anyone troubled to describe John Tracy, assuming anyone outside the family knew him well enough to try, they'd have said, after a moment's thought, that he was a great deal like his father; Calm, and occasionally ruthless. Thinking further, they'd have reached for words like cold, proud, brilliant, solitary and, especially, beautiful ( ...if that last word didn't sound too soft. John was like a flawless diamond; you might want to admire him, but you'd freeze to death, expecting any corresponding warmth.)

That matters had once been different would have surprised most; his professors, doctoral thesis advisor, and half brother, Alan, with whom he had far more in common than the younger boy realized. What hadn't changed was the emotional distance, the lack of much communication with, or interest in, others. What had changed might have filled the family Bible, though it wasn't deemed safe to discuss. It all came down, like real estate, to location. The west, with all its sere beauty, simply hadn't suited him. The forthright, 'here-and-now' denizens, still less.

Very little went right for him there, especially school, where he fit in like an emerald in a bubble-gum machine:

Candace Flowers was Burlington Jr. High School's one and only guidance counselor. A kindly woman, she was slightly overweight, slightly overworked, and more than slightly irritated with the quiet, unresponsive teenager who slouched into her small office that day and folded himself into the threadbare seat before her desk. He did not, she was completely unsurprised to note, look up; resting his thin forearms on his thighs and gazing, instead, at the stained grey carpet. She knew him fairly well, having hired him a time or two to help her son pitch hay to the horses, or do a bit of fence repair. He got the job done, on time and without complaint. As a ranch hand, though, he'd have made a damn fine accountant. But he wasn't here about odd jobs.

Once again, it was behavior. He just didn't make any sense. Test results that scorched the stratosphere, combined with all the motivation of something flat and blind lurking in sea mud. (Scotch that- most worms put in at least a little effort. They'd have starved to death, otherwise..., but someone kept feeding John.)

Candace sighed, tucked a strand of stubborn, red-brown hair back into its sloppy bun, and began her pitch. This time, she decided to try cheerfulness. Nothing else seemed to be working...

"Good morning, John! How are you, today?"

He shrugged. Too well brought up to completely ignore her stab at conversation, the 15 year old looked up through his pale blond hair and said,

"Okay."

Sure. She nodded, fiddling with a pencil, and staring at the boy's cumulative file as though it held some answers. BurlingtonMiddle School was tiny (housed in the same building, in fact, as Burlington High School), and in a student population that small, someone as determinedly non-conformist as John Tracy tended to stand out. He'd been caught cutting class, for the fifth time, and it was only mid-September. ...And this year, Candace just didn't feel up to another pitched battle with the Immovable Object. His string of "Fs" and behavior referrals extended clear back to elementary school, where he'd at least deigned to show up a few days a week. Repeating to herself, 'Every child can learn,' and still trying for optimism, Candace jumped into the breach once more.

"Well..., you've got a 'C' in metal shop, so far. That's something." Then, as he entirely failed to respond, "John, do you want to spend the rest of your life in the seventh grade!"

He shrugged again, bleak and withdrawn. If there was a key to John Tracy, Candace Flowers hadn't found it, after four years of earnest searching. Exasperated, she shook her head, lips tightly pursed.

"I just can't believe you're actually related to Scott Tracy!" she snapped, patience evaporating along with the morning's caffeine buzz. "Now there's a young man with some drive and ambition! He's going places, mark my words, John, while you're gonna end up walking your grandkids to school, 'cause you're in the same grade!"

She thought, for just a moment there, that he almost smiled, but then the flash of expression was gone again, just as quick as she'd imagined it. Not that it was easy to see or imagine anything through the lowered eyes and screen of longish blond hair with which John avoided the universe.

"Push that hair out of your face, why don't you?" Candace grumped. "You have such beautiful eyes, John. Why are you always trying to hide them!"

He gave her a brief, unreadable look, then dropped his gaze again, muttering,

"I don't know, Mrs. Flowers."

The counselor puffed out a long, tired sigh, aware that she was once more losing the battle, the war..., and her professional cool. Leaning back in her squeaking chair, she closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples with both freckled hands.

"Fine. You know what, John? Keep on building walls and setting up barriers if you want to, but it's gonna get awful lonely in there, and one of these days, folks are gonna stop trying to get through. They'll just walk off and leave you like you thought you wanted..., all alone, for the rest of your life."

Then, opening her eyes and pulling a pink hall-pass from the mess on her desk, Candace wrote up a brief note. "Go back to class. The right class, this time! I'll talk to Mr. Mathers about reducing that in-school suspension. And, John...?"

He'd gotten up and accepted the pass, but paused, one hand on the door knob, to hear her parting comment,

"...Give people a chance, will you? You'd be surprised how much they have to offer, if you just let 'em in? And please try to color inside the lines, for once. I'd really like to go a week without having to call you down here..., okay? Huh?"

A swift flash of blue-violet from behind silver blond hair, a quiet,

"Yes, Ma'am. If I can," and then he was gone. For now.

Candace added a note to the bottom of his cumulative folder, already jammed with the crabbed handwriting and frustrated comments of a legion of bewildered educators, then set the file aside. She knew better than to put it away entirely, though. The week was young, and John Matthew Tracy never long out of trouble.