“No problem,” I said, like I was accustomed to solving student problems. “What kind of kid is he? What’s he into? Sports? Music?”
Her body once again tensed as if a key had been inserted. “Jason Wolf.”
“What about him?”
“That’s what he’s into. Jason Wolf. He’s become obsessed with him ever since his disappearance. He cuts out articles about him and hangs them in his room. He draws pictures of him in the woods, living in a cave and fishing.”
“They were in Scouts together until Cole decided scouting was stupid and dropped out. Jason was always the top scout. The newspaper’s right: He is a regular Daniel Boone. He had more merit badges than anybody. Cole is convinced that Jason is alive, that he planned the whole thing, that he’s living out in the park and cemetery like some savage. And right now, unfortunately, the idea of living in the woods, away from his family situation, is very attractive to Cole.”
“Are you afraid he might sneak off during the expedition? To try to be with The Wolf …Jason?”
Her chin quivered as she nodded.
“I’m sorry, Pat,” I said, and reached out and stroked her warm arm, her arm so richly tanned I imagined her massaging coconut-scented creams and lotions into her skin until it glistened in the summer sun.
She took a deep breath, recomposing herself, before she continued. “My second favor is if I could co-chair the science part of the expedition with you. If I’m involved in all the planning, if I know what’s to take place and when, if I’m there as a chaperone to keep an eye on him, it would make me feel as if I’m in control somehow.”
“Sure. Absolutely,” I said, imagining us working closely together and getting to know each other.
“Thank you,” she said.
I looked at the clock running 12 minutes fast. “It’s getting late. Do you want to go for coffee or a drink and figure this expedition out? I have the folder Mrs. Durant started on the expedition we could go through,” I said, and half turned, pointing to a stack of folders on my desk with my thumb. I was almost certain I saw a folder on the expedition in the pile.
She hesitated for a moment, weighing the pros and the cons, the implications, the messages, real or perceived, which were being sent, and then, finally, said no.
My students were confused on the first day of school. They’d walk through my door, take two steps into the classroom, then stop when they saw my posters of Dickens and Steinbeck hanging on the wall, the bust of Hemingway on the lab table in front of the room, and my “Read Banned Books” bulletin board. They would look down at their class schedules, check the room number, and then look up at me, uncertainty and a touch of fear splashed across their faces.
“Come in,” I said to them. “You’re in the right room if you have Science this period. I’m Mr. Sanders.”
“What’s with all the stupid book posters then?” one boy said, slouching his way to an open desk. He wore his hair long, and it hung in his eyes; he’d flick his head, tossing his hair aside so he could see. Even if Pat hadn’t showed me the picture she carried in her wallet, I would have recognized her son right away. They shared the same dark, almond-shaped eyes, and identical cheekbones. He was a sullen version of her.
“Those posters will be replaced with more science-oriented ones as the semester goes on. I just wanted to have something on the walls for now.”
“Weird,” Cole muttered as he slid into his seat and began immediately to draw.