Leah looked around at all of the dust-choked pictures on the walls, tiptoed quietly along the halls, took in all of the faded decorations and paint, unused furniture and such that littered the home’s interior. Peter guided her past a patched up hole in the floor to a table, and started to clean it off since its last use some time ago. Dishes went into a sink, a hasty pass was made with an old washcloth to clean it and a chair up, and he offered Leah a seat, while he went for things to help out. Peter came back with paper and a mechanical pencil, and a dark blue, slim calculator. As he slid the cover off of it and reslid it to the back of the calculator, he mashed a button on it a few times. Then he rubbed the top of the calculator. “Come on, I know you’re in there,” he muttered to the device. He proceeded to walk to a wall and flick a switch to turn on the chandelier light above the table, and hold up the calculator to the light, tilting it towards himself. A few more button presses, and finally he said, “Aah, there you are. Welcome back, old friend.” The sound of a wooden chair scraping against the wood floor brought Leah back to her senses a little bit, as Peter laid down the solar-powered calculator next to the rest of the implements. He looked expectantly at Leah.
“Ok, so, what math are you doing?” he questioned, one elbow leaning on the table as he sat next to her.
“Oh, um, this math,” she said, and dug into her bookbag for the tome entitled ‘Geometry’.
“Geometry, this brings back memories.” Peter’s gaze drifted a bit as he took the book reverently, flipped open to a random page and scanned its contents. “Amazing. Some of these diagrams are still the same from when I took it so many years ago,” he said, as he flipped further pages. He handed the book back to her. “So, where are you in this book?”
Leah dug out a spiral-bound, small notebook, and tossed pages back and forth until she found here assignment, then did the same in the Geometry textbook. “Here,” she said finally. Peter read the concepts, and moved back and forth several pages around where Leah had started. “Wow, this does take me back.” He sighed, and looked Leah in the eyes, “So what you’re learning here is…”
The time slipped away as Peter patiently explained what Leah was supposed to do. Several times he had to backtrack to a previous concept and go through that quickly, to bring her up to speed, but Leah listened to each word as though it was gold. The geometric concepts suddenly made more sense, coming from him – better than her actual teacher ever could present them. He guided her through the homework, pointing out errors, leading her through it all gently, never getting mad at her for making a silly mistake, or making the same mistake a second or third time. It felt right, to her. The sun made its way around the sky, and at one point, Leah’s stomach grumbled loudly.
“Hungry, huh? Let me make us something quick. Learning doesn’t work well on empty stomachs,” Peter offered. “Continue going through odds until 37 while I do this.”
A simple sandwich and soup for the both of them later, Leah’s mind was getting as full as her belly was, and she called for a stop for the afternoon. Peter had gotten on a roll with helping her, and with each problem that she started to get right on her own, his own confidence regrew, and a piece of the wall crumbled. As he walked her to the door, he asked her, “What did you think? Everything you expected?”
Considering when the day started she was feeling pretty stupid, and now she felt that nothing could stop her, as well as spending the day with what was rapidly turning out to be a patient, kind gentleman, she blushed a bit when she said, “Yep, thank you so much for your help, Peter, you really helped me out a ton. I can’t thank you enough for all your patience.”
Peter asked, “Is this all the homework you needed help with?”
“No, I really need more help, my grades are not so good, and my mother is threatening me with further punishment if I don’t get them up.”
“What are you going to tell her when you say that you’re with the Murder Death Kill man, getting help?”
Leah pondered this. “She thinks I’m at the library, she won’t know. Can this… be our secret? Please?”
Looking into the sincerity, and worry in Leah’s eyes, the ice around Peter’s heart melted a touch more. “Sure, Leah. Our secret. Come over when you need help, ok?”
“Do you have a cell phone?” Leah’s heart beat a touch faster after this question.
“I’m not going anywhere. Just knock on the door.”
“Ok. Thank you again, Peter,” she said tenderly, and waved behind her as she left the house.
Over the next few weeks, Leah stopped over two to three times a week. Any time a new concept was presented, she showed up. Any time before a quiz or test, they would review. Sometimes she would come over with a question that Peter would ask a counter-question to, where Leah would then answer properly, and he would tell her such things as, “See, you know this stuff, you don’t need me!” but she would still stop by with large and small math problems. Her grades shot back up, and passed her normal average to hover around a low A, a first for her in math. Leah’s excitement grew as her grades did, and Peter even took to cleaning himself up, and the house, a little bit more in preparation for her arrivals. Each visit started to take on a friendlier tone; Peter became funnier, and smarter in Leah’s eyes as time moved on. Her thoughts towards him felt soft, fuzzy, admirable. Here was a man who genuinely cared for her well-being. Better than most of the other guys in her class, and some of her teachers too. Leah showed Peter her quirky side, and to her astonishment, he showed her his. It made her even more comfortable around him, someone who understood and accepted her as-is. She presented him with a handmade card one day to show her appreciation. It sat nearby them on a small shelf on the wall, with other knickknacks that he had.
One day, as Peter was explaining a concept, his gaze was focused on the material, running a finger along key points to illustrate them. They were sitting close together to share the book better. Leah wasn’t looking at the book, she was looking at the few gray hairs around his temples and ears, the eyes that were focused on helping her, his gentle fingers that once held her foot in concern. She was quirky, he knew and accepted that, but would he accept this part? Her heart beat faster as she leaned in to look at what he was pointing to, and laid her head on his shoulder, looking down at the book.
Peter paused, and turned his head to look Leah straight in the eyes. He could feel her heartbeat through his arm that she was resting up against. He said softly, “Are things ok, Leah?”
She saw the mild concern in his eyes, tinged with a warmth that she had come to know. “Mmhmm,” she said quietly. “Don’t… mind me?”
Having experienced some of Leah’s quirks before, Peter mentally shrugged and blinked, reading her face. His lips pursed briefly before responding, “Ok. If you need a break, let me know, alright?”
“I’m good. Go on.”
The lesson continued, Leah leaning more on his arm and shoulder. Her soft chest started to press into the back of his arm, and she threaded her right arm underneath his to wrap around his arm and hug it. He paused here again. She filled the silence with, “You’re so nice to me, Peter.” She sighed. “No boys are as nice to me as you are.”
“That’s a shame, Leah, because you’re a fun, attractive, wonderful young lady! They’re definitely missing out.”
“Yeah, well, they’re not as smart or as caring as you, anyway.” She leaned on his shoulder with her head, close enough that he felt her warm breath, softly looking deep into his light brown eyes. An overwhelming feeling of security flooded Leah, and she opened her mouth in an odd way, to Peter, and licked his cheek.
An eternity passed for Leah.
Finally he said softly, “If that happened with anyone else but you, Leah, I would consider it weird. But from you, I think that this is the highest compliment I could get from you.”
Her heart felt like it was going to explode. Did I just do that?