Hope for a Child

Disclaimer - They are n't mine, never have been and never will be and I don't make any money so please don't come looking for me.

Summary - A teacher notices a child in her class.

Thanks - to Rae Artemis for her hard work.

Author's Note : I have never come across a school with the policy on books that the one in this story has myself, although I have heard of it happening.

Chapter 1

The class teacher glanced through the window at recess, drawn at first by the laughter and shouts of children playing happily. Her gaze settled though on the lone child sat on the steps, huddled in against the wall.

She'd been concerned for this child from the day his father had first brought him in to register, although he'd seemed happier then. There was a younger child with them that day, a pre-schooler, who had consumed the whole of his brother's attention. The father had not spared either a glance until the little one had laughed too loudly, then the father had turned his attention to the elder boy "Dean!"

"Sorry, Sir," came the response and the teacher had seen the child's shoulders slump as he pulled his brother onto his knee and tried to keep him quiet.

She left her classroom and made her way to the door. It was too cold for him to stay sitting on the steps without a coat. She would bring him back into class. It might be an opportunity to get him to talk.

He didn't react to the door opening but when she said his name, she saw him flinch. She moved alongside him. "Dean, honey, did you forget your coat again this morning?"

His gaze came up to hers and she saw the fading bruise on the side of his face, the ashen colour he'd been in the classroom and the blue tinge from the cold. She heard the ever polite response, "Yes Ma'am" and she knew he was lying.

"Come on inside, honey. It's too cold to sit here today." She watched him nod and stand slowly. She put her arm out to steady him as he wobbled and she wondered what he'd eaten so far.

"Would you sharpen some pencils for me?"

"Yes Ma'am." She moved a chair, sharpener and pencils over by the radiator hoping to warm him up and bring a healthier colour to his cheeks.

She worried about bringing him away from his classmates and keeping him inside. It did nothing to help him build a relationship with his classmates but then nor did sitting on the steps freezing in the cold.

She'd taught enough years to recognise a child dressed from Goodwill shops. She also recognised child-like stitching holding buttons on and gaping tears closed. She'd now read his file and knew his mother had been killed in a fire when he was just four. She knew from the confidential details that he'd witnessed the fire and had barely spoken in the eighteen months after. A note had been made indicating a suspicion that he had either raised the alarm or saved his brother from the fire but it was something the previous school psychologists had not been able to get him to talk about and so no-one was sure exactly what had happened.

It appeared that this was the fifth school, he had attended and she wondered if that in part explained his reluctance to get involved with his classmates. He'd been here for two months now and they had only just rounded up all the information from the previous school. Two of the four schools had made note of unusual bruising and she was reminded again of the fading bruise on his face. She thought of the lack of gym strip and wondered if it was a way of ensuring he didn't need to change in front of others where more bruises might be exposed. Then she remembered the lack of coat and knew which she would have bought her own children first. Some of the schools also noted unusual and excessive absence shortly before he had left their schools.

She looked across at him again and felt an ache in her heart for these lost children. She'd only come across a few in her career but each one had broken her heart, each one had left her with a knowing smile. The smile that said, "Thank you, I know you cared. I know you did your best, but this is my life and you can't change it." Dean was one of those children. She hated it more when they were so young. She could tell that in a nurturing environment, he'd be an intelligent and attractive child. He was lightening quick when solving math problems but struggled to read with fluency and had no confidence at all in his ability to ever be able to do it.

She realised then this was something she could help him change. On these cold days, she could keep him in and they could read together. It was a small thing but it was within her reach to change.

"Dean, I've had an idea. Why don't you bring me your reading and we could do a bit of it now."

"No, ma'am."

"No? Why not?"

"It's your break from class Ma'am. You don't want to hear me read."

"Sure I do."

"I'm no good at reading."

"Would you like to be?" She waited and received the barest of nods. "What would you like to be able to read?"

"Stories when Sammy goes to bed. I tell him ones I remember, but I don't remember many any more."

"Don't remember many? What do you mean?" He shook his head and withdrew again, focusing back on the pencils, as if he'd already let too much slip. "Okay. Tell me a story you'd like to read to Sammy and we could start with that."

"One about a caterpillar. He'd like that. He likes bugs and stuff."

"I know one that would be just the job. We could go borrow it from the library. If you get your..." It was so easy to say the wrong thing to a child like this. It was a school policy she had argued against. She loathed that each child had to pay a deposit in case of lost books, before being allowed a card. For children like Dean who didn't have access to books at home, they were denying them at school as well. A child who had no coat at this time of year, would never have the money for a library card. "I'll get you a card, Dean. You can borrow the books."

He shook his head. "That's not right. You shouldn't do that for me."

"Okay, how about you do me some jobs in return?"

His look shows some hope that she means what she's saying. "When can I do the jobs?"

She was struck by his priority, not what, not how many, just when as if the rest were irrelevant. "How about after school?"

"Can I do them at recess and lunch? I"ll work hard, I promise. Just Sammy..."

"Sammy needs you after school, right?" He nods and she pictured again the two boys sitting waiting while the adults had talked. "That's fine. You finish those pencils while I sort the book." The shy grin he gave her made it all worth while.

The bell for class rang as she returned to class and the other children were coming rowdily back into class. She cast her eye round and found Dean silent, back in his place with everything tidied away.

She watched him on and off throughout the next lesson. He was a kind-hearted child, she thought as she saw him explain the Math work to the child next to him. Todd was a sweet child from a lovely home but he was never going to be a mathematician. Numbers just made no sense to him at all. She watched as Dean talked him through the stages of the calculations, never giving an answer, just explaining the method. She saw the grin on Todd's face when having finished the first question, he had pointed at the answer and received a nod from Dean. She saw the renewed effort as he'd started the second question, and her attention drifted elsewhere in the room.

When lunch time came, the children hurried to tidy their things away before rushing out. She looked in the mill of children for Dean and realised he wasn't there. Having escorted the class to the lunch hall, she headed back to find him. She stood at the door watching tidy all the maths equipment away that they'd used that morning. "Dean?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I didn't know what jobs you wanted me to do so I just thought I'd tidy this to start."

"Dean, it's lunch. Have your lunch first."

"It's alright, Ma'am. I'd rather do this for you." She heard the defensive tone to his reply and let it slide for the minute.

"Would you like to do that reading now?"

She saw the keen spark in his eye flash through before he replied, "I haven't done enough jobs yet."

"Plenty of time for that. Let's read this book while it's quiet."

He nodded again and came to sit beside her. Ten minutes later and she was sure that all he needed was time and encouragement. The statement from his previous school about inability to read and learning difficulties were wrong. He was a child no-one had been given the time to know or even the time to help. She wondered how long she'd have him before he'd be whipped away again. It was no life for a child.

She drew the reading to a close, wanting to make sure he had an opportunity to pack away before the other children returned. The last thing he needed was a careless remark from another child to knock his confidence.

"Which jobs do you want me to do now Ma'am?"

"Get your lunch first, Dean."

"I can eat it while I work. I'll be careful."

"I know you will honey. How about you tidy this bookshelf for me today and then take a break?"

"Okay, you can go though, I'll behave." If any other child said that she would have been immediately suspicious of their intentions but as she looked into his eyes she knew he meant it."

"Get your lunch. Don't take too long." He nodded as he turned to the bookshelf and started sorting.

She'd made it almost to the staffroom when she realised he'd made no attempt to fetch his lunch, she turned back but saw the other children coming back from lunch. She decided to leave it a few minutes so they could speak alone.

She made herself a coffee and returned toward her class. She saw Todd go in ahead of her and as she approached, she paused at the door to listen to the boys' conversation.

"Oh man! Did you get into trouble?"

"Not really."

"She making you tidy up. That's not good. How long for?"

"It's okay, Todd. She was cool."

"She's not bad really for someone so old, I suppose," she heard Todd say. "There are worse teachers here. You're lucky you missed Mrs Waller, she's just mean."

"I'm sure she's okay really, Todd."

"You can tell you weren't in her class. Anyway I saved you these." She risked a glance round the door to see what exactly Todd had been saving. She was horrified to see him hold out an apple and a pack of chips.

"I can't take both of them."

"Sure you can. My mom packs too much. I think she's trying to fatten me up and let's face it, I don't need it. Anyway, one's for helping me with Math and the other's for that business with James."

"James is just mean. You shouldn't let him treat you like that. If it happens again while I'm here, tell me."

"Okay boys, what are you two doing chatting in here? Dean, have you eaten your lunch yet?" She saw the horror in his eyes as if he'd been caught doing something wrong.

"I was just reminding him about it Miss. I brought it through for him." She was amazed at the calm response from Todd, but didn't fail to notice the blush of embarrassment on Dean's cheeks. She wondered how much the two boys had shared and if Todd would shed any light on his friend. She also wanted to know more about what James had been up to. She figured Dean's description of him as 'just mean' was unfortunately pretty accurate.

'So are you going out now Todd?"

"Yes Ma'am," he replied with a grin. As Todd left the room, she reminded Dean to eat his lunch, making no suggesstion that it was anything other than his. It aggravated the concern within her though when she considered here passing thought earlier in the day that he had had no breakfast. She thought again of the father who had brought Dean in. Surely even a single father could appreciate the need for a child to have a coat in this weather and breakfast and lunch for that matter.

She figured she would speak to the school counsellor about her concerns. It was a pretty dismal picture when you pieced the puzzle together.