Leah’s mind would not let it go that she was this close to talking to someone who did design back in the day and would have been successful at it had some unfortunate circumstances not happened. Also, ripping the veil off of the Murder Death Kill house and its occupant started a whole different curiosity track in her mind. Finally, despite Peter’s quiet dismissal from his house two weeks ago, she was taken aback by his evident kindness and tenderness at her situation with her foot (which had no issues) and that sort of positive attention was something she did not experience much, if at all. All of these swirled in her mind since the events happened, and as a result of the mix of curiosity, investigation, and some other tender feelings, her grades started to slip in math and science. She was adequate in both, but with her mind now preoccupied every time she passed by Peter’s house – no longer in her mind, the Murder Death Kill house – she wondered what he must be doing. Her looks lingered on the windows, hoping to see a glimpse of him in them, looking out at her – that was the tender feeling, somedays – other times, she would quietly stride up the walk, almost to the porch, then turn around and head back home – those were the technical curiosity days – and sometimes she walked quickly past his house to get home – those were the days where she was thinking of everything about the encounter, and was frustrated at it all. It was when her mom got the email notice that Leah’s grades had fallen to below average, a month after the encounter, that she rounded on Leah and gave her the ultimatum.
“Leah, look at this, why are you doing so poorly in school?” her mom interrogated.
She looked away from her mom’s angry glare. “I dunno,” she mumbled.
“This is unacceptable. I’m getting you a tutor.”
“Mother!” Leah cried out. “I don’t want a tutor! I can handle it!”
“Obviously you can’t, by the looks of this!” her mom pointed to her phone with the email on the screen. “I’m calling around to find one this afternoon. You will have a tutor, I will not allow your grades to falter like this!”
Leah huffed at her mom’s indirect discipline and went to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
A few days later the first tutor arrived. Leah was uncharacteristically spacey and ditzy with this college girl, to the point of annoyance. She purposely made mistakes and asked the stupidest questions she could think of. The tutor lasted a week before she had had enough and told Leah’s mom that Leah was hopeless. The second tutor was a guy. Her mom figured that a male figure may drive some different sense into her daughter, but Leah was prepared for this one by pretending to flirt heavily with him. This partially disgusted Leah, because the guy was average-looking, but it made him uncomfortable enough that he left within a few days. Leah’s mom watched her daughter fight the tutoring, but her grades did not improve either on her own, so her mom tried a different approach.
“Leah, if your grades do not improve, I will take away your phone and tablet.”
“You’ve gone through two tutors, and you said you would improve your grades, and they haven’t. Why? What is wrong?”
Leah’s mind flashed about. Peter’s rundown house, the computer and setup in his basement, and sad, tired face, flipped in and out of her memories. “Nothing, I can handle it,” she said hotly, and ran upstairs to her bedroom, slamming the door. But it was obvious she couldn’t. Her mind and heart were suddenly in this tug-of-war that she didn’t realize was going on for several weeks. She bounced on her bed, crossing her legs under her, and looked at her unopened bookbag. Leah envisioned where the card was stuck to her bag, the boxes, the computers, Peter, her teacher’s words about him, and then something snapped into place. She bounced back off the bed and opened the door to yell out at her mom.
“I’ll find myself a tutor!”
The plan was in motion.
The next day was the weekend, and Leah dressed up as if she were going to school – fashionable, cute. Her bag was full of her math homework that she barely felt like touching, the concepts were challenging, and there was no slowing down the onslaught of information that the teacher was throwing at them. Her mom saw this as Leah left in the afternoon, and questioned her before she hit the door, “Leah, where are you going?”
“To the library, I’m going to find a tutor,” she lied partially.
Leah’s mom looked at her curiously, and said, “I want to see your completed homework when you get home. I will check it!”
Her heart skipped a beat. What if he refuses to help me? She didn’t consider this. Now her mom has thrown a potential roadblock into her plans. She had to succeed in this! Leah left the house and walked purposefully down the street to Peter’s house. Once there, she strode up to the door, went to knock on the door, and paused. What if he’s not home? She continued to hesitate at the door, one fist outstretched, her heart hammering in her chest. What if? What if? Oh god, what if? An eternity stretched out before her, and suddenly the door flew open.
“Leah, right?” Peter quizzically glared at her from the entryway.
She jumped at hearing her name and the sudden change in the mood. “H-hi, Peter, right? Hi. Um… I was wondering if um… you could um… help me?” Now that she said it all, it sounded so lame! He’s going to refuse this because I can’t talk to him like a normal human being, he must think I’m a silly, stupid girl, why would he consider helping someone like me after everything that’s happened?
Peter’s hand tensed on the open doorknob. Curiosity mingled heavily in his next question, “How can I help you, Leah?”
Leah’s breathing quickened, her heart hammering harder and harder in her chest. Can he see this? Can he see my chest beating so hard? “I… I need a tutor. A math tutor.”
Peter’s gaze narrowed, examined her full bookbag, the scared rabbit look in her dark brown eyes, wondered what Leah was getting at. What was her angle? Part of him wanted to refuse, to go back to being a hermit. Another part, the hope that flared briefly weeks ago when she was here, flared again. In all his years, he had always helped out when he could, to the best of his ability. Those days were gone, he wanted to be alone, but here was this young girl who was curious about his stuff, and now apparently needing his help. “Why can’t you get a tutor through the school?”
“I want you.” Leah heard her words, blushed heavily for some reason, and amended them. “I want you to tutor me. I want to learn from you.”
Peter laughed, a sound that sounded like it hadn’t been used in many years issuing from his throat. “You want me, to tutor you. Why?”
“Because people said you’re really smart, and I need someone really smart. This is complicated math!” She shook her bookbag. “Besides,” Leah’s confidence grew slowly, “the other tutors couldn’t handle it.”
The bluff danced around in Peter’s mind. It found that spark of hope, made it grow a touch brighter. “I haven’t done ‘complicated math’ in a very long time, I’m going to be pretty rusty.”
“I have faith in you.”
Peter thought fast and hard, Leah was awfully determined to be tutored by him, no doubt to see his old computer technology and work again, but if this was indeed a legitimate cry for help, turning her away would probably make him feel more of a heel than anything. If there was anything in this world that he had a soft spot for, it was when a woman – or in this case, a girl – requested his help. It had been so long since anything of the sort happened, so when the next sentence came out from him, he was as surprised to hear it as Leah was.
“Fine. Come inside. Let’s see what you have.”