The bell rang. It was the end of science class, third period. Everyone rushed for the one door leading out, papers flying and backpacks swinging in anticipation of lunch. As I swooped up my books, ready to join the swarm, Mr. Lennox’s voice beckoned me.
“Nathaniel? Can you come to my desk, please? I need to talk to you for a minute.”
I glanced up at him. He was a great science teacher, and a decent guy. We were on pretty good terms. Whatever Mr. Lennox wanted from me, I suspected it wouldn’t be a big deal. Dumping my books into my backpack, I crossed the now empty room over to his desk, where he was sitting.
“Yes, sir?” I asked.
Mr. Lennox leaned forward over the various knick-knacks scattered on his desk. “Listen, Nathan,” A look of slight worriment began to seep into his features. My palms began to grow a little slick.
He gave me a smile. “You’re a great student, probably one of the smartest kids I’ve ever taught. That’s why I need to ask you a favor.”
“Anything, sir.” I said without hesitation, mostly relieved that I wasn’t in trouble.
“Well,” His eyebrows furrowed. “There’s this kid in one of my classes. Jakob Bird. Do you know him?”
I shook my head.
“Well, he’s been having some trouble. He hasn’t passed this class since the beginning of the school year, and I’m beginning to be concerned. Would you be willing to help him out?” Mr. Lennox gave me a hopeful smile.
“You mean, tutor him?” I asked, surprised.
“It wouldn’t to be that long, just maybe once or twice a week. I know you’re more than capable. Would you be willing?”
I had never tutored before, much less someone I didn’t know. But Mr. Lennox was asking me, and I didn’t want to let him down. “Oh, of course, sir.” I said politely.
“Thank you, Nathaniel. It really is helpful. Oh, and he has the same study hall as you, so you could use that time to help him out. Remember, his name is Jakob Bird.”
I nodded. “Got it. Bye, Mr. Lennox. Have a nice day.” I tossed my backpack over my shoulder.
“Thanks again, Nathan!” He called.
As I left the classroom, the name Jakob Bird turned over and over again in my mind. I’d have to go find him.
He was sitting in the back of the classroom, hunched over in his thick black trench coat, brown hair flopping over his face. I slid into the seat adjacent from him.
“Hey, are you Jakob Bird?” I asked, my voice squeaking a bit because of my nervousness. It had taken me all of lunch to find someone who knew him; it seemed he blended into the background of the school better than the janitors. Even so, he wasn’t what I was expecting.
Jakob turned his head towards me, his greasy curls swinging out of his eyes. “Yeah?” His voice was so low it almost sounded like a grunt.
“Well,” I cleared my throat. “I’m Nathaniel Hartsoc. Mr. Lennox sent me. He said you were struggling a bit in his class…” I released a weighty science textbook from my hands. It landed with a slam. “so I’m here to help.”
Jakob gave me a look that I could only describe as a half-hearted glare. “Let’s just get this over with.” He muttered.
“Ah, ok,” I said, startled at his compliance. I flipped open the textbook. “Let’s, uh, start at chemistry, since we’re learning that this quarter…” I glanced at Jakob. His head was turned towards the window, where the rain was streaking down the glass. “Um, so what do you know about chemistry?” I prompted.
“Traditional chemistry starts with the study of elementary particles, atoms, molecules, substances, metals, crystals and other aggregates of matter. This matter can be studied in solid, liquid, or gas states, in isolation or in combination. The interactions, reactions and transformations that are studied in chemistry are usually the result of interactions between atoms, leading to rearrangements of the chemical bonds which hold atoms together.” His eyes never left the window.
I stared at him, eyes wide. Wait, what did he say? My eyes darted from the textbook, and then back to him. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. Did he really just say that? “Ah, well,” I fumbled with my words in the midst of my disbelief. How is it that he’s failing? “Could-could you tell me more about that?” I managed to get out.
Without turning his head, he said casually, “The atom is the basic unit of chemistry. It consists of a dense core called the atomic nucleus surrounded by a space called the electron cloud. The nucleus is made up of positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons, while the electron cloud consists of negatively charged electrons which orbit the nucleus. In a neutral atom, the negatively charged electrons balance out the positive charge of the protons.”
I blinked. This kid knew chemistry better than me. “Wha-? How-?” I stuttered.
Jakob whirled around, facing me with an impish grin on his face, one eyebrow raised. He didn’t break eye contact. “So you want to know my secret?” He said teasingly.