Symphony 107

Rumors

The next ten days were the happiest of Neil’s life. He and Carmen spent every night together, at her apartment or his, and there was no end to her variety, her passion, or her joy of life. For ten glorious days and nights, it was as it the affair of Alice Hamilton had never happened.

Even school was better. Neil had always noted the difference between his two classes. The morning class was calm and easily managed, attentive and easy to teach. The afternoon class was none of those things. He had attributed it to a different mix of students and the fact that they were tired when they came to him in the afternoon. Yet as soon as Jesse was permanently gone, a change came over his afternoon class. Neil could not believe what a difference the boy’s absence made.

He did not know what other events were taking place at the same time.

Lee Boyd had a cousin in Oregon to whom he wrote occasionally. By sad coincidence, that cousin lived in the same town Neil had come from. The excitement of a Valentine’s Day party ending in a bar-room brawl prompted Lee to send a letter, and for the first time he mentioned his teacher’s name. The cousin laughed at Lee’s story, and read the letter to his older sister. She recognized the name McCrae and mentioned it to her mother. Her mother called Toni Boyd to make sure it wasn’t the same person.

Toni Boyd came to see Neil. She was waiting outside his classroom door when the students ran to catch their busses. Neil had only seen her once before, when she had come in to see why Neil was giving group grades. She had told him then how difficult it was for her to get off work, so Neil knew that something unusual was up.

She gave her son a hug and said, “Go on and ride the bus. I am going to stay here and talk to Mr. McCrae.”

“What’s the matter, Mom? I’m not in any trouble.”

“I know. Just go on.”

Toni was wearing a long navy blue dress of conservative cut and her short, black hair was flawless. She looked like an expensive lawyer’s secretary, which was exactly what she was. Neil ushered her in and they sat. She came right to the point. “Mr. McCrae, where did you work last year?”

“Why do you ask?”

Her eye sharpened and she pursed her mouth. “Please just tell me.”

“Oregon.”

“Where in Oregon?”

Sooner or later this had to happen. He told her.

Her face grew even more severe. “Why did you leave there?”

“Mrs. Boyd, I may not work for a lawyer like you do, but I do recognize cross examination when I hear it. What is on your mind?”

“Why did you leave Oregon?”

“You sound like a person who already knows, or thinks she knows.”

“I do, now. I couldn’t believe it at first, because Lee really likes you and thinks you are a good teacher. I got a phone call today from my sister-in-law warning me about a Neil McCrae who was dismissed from their school for forcing a student to have sexual relations with him. There can’t be two teachers named Neil McCrae from the same town. You can either tell me if it is true, or I will find out for myself. Without even trying, I can think of ten ways to find out, and the lawyer I work for would think of twenty more.”

Neil sighed and said, “I am the person you are asking about, but you don’t have your facts straight.” more Monday

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