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Aren't You Proud of Me?

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The snickering was the first thing he noted.

 

Then the crowding around of a paper.

 

Then which paper it was.

 

He paled.

 

There was a reason he had an accountant.

 

“Hey, Drew, is this why we’re not bankrupt to you?” Shawn noticed him, red faced and choking on laughter. “Because thirty six divided by four is eight?”

 

Joey felt his face explode dark maroon.

 

“Yeah, haha, and the square root of one hundred is fifty?!” Susie laughed. He bit his cheek. “Oh god, I knew you were an idiot, but simple multiplication?!”

 

“Joey, Mr. Drew, my good sir,” Bertrum was struggling to hold back a grin. Joey swallowed roughly. “I beg your pardon, but since when does six hundred forty nine and seven hundred eighty four make fifteen hundred ninety six?”

 

“Hey, hey Joey, Mista Drew, hey, can ya answer this?” Wally’s smirk was smug and overbearing. Joey felt tears in his eyes he could not dare shed. “If ya can’t, I’m outta here! What’s one plus one?”

 

“Two…” He obediently answered turning away, not hazarding to look at the paper in Henry’s hands. All the equations on it were scribbled on, tear stained, with rips in it when he could not scratch out the numbers enough. He paused by the door, saying softly, in a voice everyone could hear, “Eight plus fourteen is twenty two… I’m quite young, aren’t I? I feel so old… and I still know some math. Aren’t you proud of me?”

 

Johan carefully selected a flower to give to his father, holding it tight to the paper in his hand. He tugged on the grey suit pant before him.

 

“Look! Papi, look!” Joey held up his math test to his father. A big red D- was on it. His father took it and the flower carefully, ceasing his pruning of the flowers in the greenhouse. “Look, I got a D!”

 

“I’m so proud of you,” his father said, beaming, kneeling to him, looking at the paper. Joey’s eyes shone. “Look at you, that’s so much improvement! And what will we do now?”

 

“We’re gonna go through the problems I got wrong and see why I got them wrong,” Joey replied, smiling. “Then see how to fix them!”

 

“That’s right, and then?”

 

“I practice piano and guitar with Mr. Bachmann,” Joey continued, “With learning more english and german if there is time. Then you and I will come back here to the flower room and pick the best ones to set the table with for dinner!”

 

“Good boy, and now?”

 

“You tell me how proud you are of me!”

 

A silence.

 

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

 

“I’m so proud of you,” he wrapped an arm around his son. Johan hugged him tightly, smiling. “You are learning so well.”

 

***

 

His face was slammed against his desk. He felt his glasses crack again. His left hand ached from being wacked all day. His eyes hurt from reading. His brain hurt from numbers. Numbers made no sense to him. He felt his bag being pulled from his shoulder, he watched his papers rifled through, his stories ripped up and his drawings torn to shreds.

 

“Hey, guys cut that out!” one of Johan’s only friends pushed the other kids back. “Stop messing with his stuff!”

 

“Shut it Harlen,” the bully growled, raising a fist, “or you’ll get the same treatment!”

 

“Earl’s right,” the other of Johan’s friends added, standing tall for a child, “you can’t just pick on Johan!”

 

“Close your mouth, Palmer. Or should I say, pass-me-down?”

 

“Back off, all of you,” a teacher snarled, pushing away the children that had destroyed the vast majority of his items. “Johan might be stupider than a rat, but that doesn’t mean you can treat him like that. You can only do that when he’s in la la land.”

 

“But that’s always!” Another teacher grinned wolfishly. “And he’s Doc Atabulus’s kid. You can treat him anyway you’d like, his papa Ramirez isn't gonna come around to protect him when he’s so busy! Your daddy’s busy, right? Gonna come home soon. What’re his office hours? Forever?”

 

“... he is home.”

 

“Right, and what’s one plus one?”

 

God, not again, not one more question. Still, he frowned, trying to recall the information.

 

“Answer, Johan.”

 

Blank.

 

“How did a doctor have such an retard for a child?!”

 

He did not know.

 

But they insulted his papa.

 

So he mumbled, taking all the blame onto himself,

 

“Zero.”

 

Laughter erupted around him.

 

“That’s all you’ll ever be!”

 

He blazed with the embarrassment, and waited for it to stop. And waited. But it never did.

 

“Cec, Earl, it’s alright,” Johan murmured. His friends reached to help him, but he waved them off, picking up a specific paper from the ruins of them all. Guffaws and slurs were hurled at him. “I’m alright. See you guys tomorrow.”

 

He left the school, his eyes bright with tears and hope. He went to where his father was, where his father was waiting for him every day after school, resting and waiting for him, surrounded by his favorite flowers. Johan picked a flower to give him.

 

“Papi, papa, look…” he held up his his test, smiling. “Look, I got a C+!”

 

He set the paper and the flower down for his father to take. He did, taking them away in his swirling fashion.

 

“And I’m going to practice piano soon, and I learned a song for guitar in English,” he continued. “I will play it for you in a moment.”

 

“First I will go through the math problems,” he added. Atabulus ruffled his hair. “And then set the table. But I will sing to you now… Mr. Bachmann helped me with the words.”

 

“Please listen…” he implored, picking up his guitar.

 

He sang , and his father whispered along.

 

Johan set his guitar down.

 

Johan put his hand over the heart.

 

“Well papa…?”

 

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

 

He knelt next to the tombstone.

 

Atabulus means wind.

 

Tears dripped.

 

“Aren’t you proud of me…?”