Duck Duck God by José Iriarte
“This boy is of my line, and on this day I recognize him and grant him his inheritance.”
For kindergarten teacher Monica Quintana, it seemed like any other day right up until the point when little Nicky Swanson became a god. (It might not sound like a big deal, but a five-year-old possessing the power to turn people into literal pests is a challenge even for the most seasoned educator.)
Between handling school bureaucracy, all the other mortal students in her class, and perpetually complaining parents, now Monica also needs to control the growing powers of an impetuous (if adorable) child-god.
Piece of proverbial cake, right?
Monica Quintana was on the playground supervising her kindergartners when little Nicholas Swanson became a god.
The bright April afternoon dimmed without clouding over, and a cold wind blew in from the west, scattering toys and making the swings jangle. Her pod-mate, Aubrey, stood from the bench they’d been sharing, drawing her sweater shut. “We’d better get everybody inside.”
“Why? It’s not even raining.”
Aubrey glanced down at her, her face creasing in a deeper frown. She drew a breath, but Monica didn’t wait for the reply.
“Never mind,” she said, holding up a hand. “If you say go inside, we’ll go.” Monica’s administration had paired her with the veteran teacher in an attempt to save her own embattled three-year career. You will do everything she does, when she does it.
Aubrey nodded, tucking steely gray-brown hair behind her ear. Turning toward the playing children, she clapped her hands together several times. “Boys and girls, time to go inside.”
The students shouted and groaned, but Monica worked to present a unified front. Honestly, something did feel off about the change in weather. Something she could sense in her skin, the way imminent lightning supposedly made people’s hair stand on end.
She headed to the far end of the yard, where a group of stragglers pretended not to have heard. Of course Nicky Swanson was in the midst of the bunch, chasing one of Aubrey’s girls around a circle of seated children. The curly-haired, dimpled little boy could be counted on to disregard authority under the best of circumstances. Today, still hyped up from the cupcakes his mother brought in this morning to celebrate his birthday, he was completely out of control.
She remembered being the same at his age. It was probably why she enjoyed teaching him so much, despite his cheekiness—he spiced her day up. His presence in her class had to be karma for her own childhood impetuousness.
“Let’s go, guys,” she called. “It’s about to—”
With an audible pop, a bright beam appeared from above, spotlighting Nicky.
A deep sound rumbled, less a voice than thunder itself, arranged into coherent syllables.
This boy is of my line, and on this day I recognize him and grant him his inheritance.
Her chest tingled and she shook her head, trying to clear it. A speaker. Somewhere off campus, somebody had accidentally turned their television up to—No, that made no sense. What television could possibly be heard at this distance?
Nicky looked as bewildered as she felt. Good: he’d heard it too. He blinked a couple times and said, “Miss Quintana, I don’t want to go inside.”
As abruptly as it began, the atmospheric disturbance ended, and the sky brightened. Monica turned back to glance at Aubrey; oblivious, the older teacher still herded kids toward the main building.
“I’m sorry, Nicky.” The words came out as a croak, and she had to clear her throat to continue. “Recess is over.”
He clenched his hands into little fists. “I don’t want it to be over!”
A vein pulsed in his forehead, and the wind returned, a localized maelstrom that seemed to include only Monica. His eyes widened and he took a step back. Still, the wind raged. If she didn’t get Nicky inside soon, somebody might get hurt.
The most effective technique with Nicky had always been distraction. “If you don’t hurry, somebody else will get to play with the guinea pig!”
He glanced at the kids making their way inside and gave a little gasp. “Oh yeah!” He took off at a run.
The tempest dissipated after a moment. Monica smoothed her clothes, ran her fingers through her hair, and trudged after him, trying to figure out what the heck just happened.
She was late to the emergency parent conference the next morning. Luckily, the attendants were more focused on the immediate crisis than on Monica. She slipped through the door and into the seat next to Grace, the counselor, without anybody reacting to her tardiness.
“Zeus? Fascinating.” Dr. White, the principal, nodded sagely at Nicky’s mother, Ms. Burton.
Monica rubbed her eyelid. Zeus? Like Mount Olympus Zeus? Or was this more like her neighbor Jesús?
Ms. Burton, seated under a motivational poster featuring a charging bull, quirked her lip. “I didn’t know when I met him. It was . . .” She trailed off, her eyes focused on something beyond the conference room. “It was a weird time.”
“I didn’t know Zeus was still in the come-down-to-earth-and-get-women-pregnant business,” Grace murmured.
“I didn’t know anybody actually believed in Zeus.” Monica stiffened at the realization that she’d spoken at normal volume.
Dr. White glared at her. “Miss Quintana! Rudeness toward parents is unacceptable!”
“You’d believe if you’d been with him,” Ms. Burton said softly, looking not at all offended. “He was a god, all right.”
Monica stared around the table. Why was she the only one who found this ridiculous?
Grace cleared her throat. “Regardless, the matter at hand is finding the best educational placement for Nicholas. It’s clear now he’s an extremely. . . gifted young man. In light of the new abilities he’s demonstrated over the last day or so, we need to consider the possibility that a standard classroom is no longer appropriate for him.”
Monica suppressed a shudder, remembering the rest of the afternoon after recess was shortened. Nicky winning a game of concentration in a single turn when every single card matched. Nicky insisting they should watch cartoons instead of doing arithmetic, whereupon the classroom television turned on by itself—and stayed on even after she pulled the plug. Nicky deciding he was ready for school to end at 2 P.M. and the clock hands magically advancing to three. Did everybody in the world lose an hour, or just the people in the room?
Ms. Burton sat up, her eyes flashing. “Oh? Then what kind of placement do you think is appropriate? Do you have a children-of-gods unit somewhere?”
“We, uh. . .” Grace looked perplexed, as if suddenly wondering why P.S. 1135 had no self-contained unit for children of gods. “We don’t,” she concluded weakly.
“Then it sounds to me like you’re just trying to wash your hands of this little boy.”
Monica did her best to avoid making eye contact with anybody in the silence that ensued.
Dr. White put up a finger. “Now, please—”
Ms. Burton leaned in, her expression softening. “Look, he’s a special boy. But unlike his father, he’ll need to live in this world. He needs to learn the same as all the other kids, and, most importantly, he needs to learn how to interact with regular kids. He needs to be in a regular classroom for that.”
That seemed to turn the tide. Monica had left work yesterday thinking Nicky would be moved out of her class, and her work life could return to its familiar—if dreary—former state. But as Ms. Burton, Grace, and the principal debated the finer points of classroom inclusion, Monica realized with a sinking feeling that it was clear the boy would remain.
Monica shook her head incredulously. “But how am I supposed to teach somebody with his powers?”
“Let that be a challenge for you,” Dr. White said.
“We have lots of resources on differentiating instruction,” Grace added helpfully. “It’s vital that we mainstream special children like Nicky as much as possible.”
The Pledge was underway when she got to her room. Aubrey stood in the door between the adjoining classrooms, supervising both classes.
“Sorry I’m late,” Monica said, panting. “Meeting wouldn’t end.”
Aubrey gave a slight nod, her heavily hairsprayed coif barely twitching. “Mmm hmm.” She disappeared into her own room as Monica headed toward her desk at the front.
She was halfway there when she felt a tug on her sleeve.
“Miss Quintana!” It was Zach, the class busybody.
She sighed. “What is it?”
“Nicky’s pretending to be Spider-Man!”
For heaven’s sake, so what? Kids pretended. Why did Zach need to get involved in everything? Then a blur of motion where she wasn’t used to seeing it caught her attention.
Nicky had scaled the wall and was transitioning to the ceiling, hands and feet sticking to the surface as if gravity no longer applied to him. Which it didn’t.
He glared at Zach, held a hand out, and flicked his wrist backward, just like Spidey. A stream that looked like silver Silly String shot out and hit Zach in the mouth. “Tattletale!”
Monica ran a shaking hand through her curls and swallowed. Sooner or later Nicky was going to figure out she had no real authority over him. Until then, the trick was to pretend she expected to be obeyed, and to avoid confrontation as much as possible.
“Come on, Nicky,” she said, stepping over to Zach and wiping his face with a tissue from her desk. Jesus, what was this stuff? “It’s time for reading. Get to your desk and take your book out. And please don’t shoot any more webs at people.” He opened his mouth to argue, and she added, “You can be Spider-Man at recess.”
That seemed to mollify him. With a last glare at Zach, he flipped down off the ceiling.
She stepped behind her desk and powered on her laptop to take attendance. “Okay everybody,” she said as the computer went through its boot-up screens, “take out your copies of Stone Fox. We should be able to finish today.”
She expected some hum of anticipation for the end of the book, but instead screams came from the back of the class. She glanced up at a bunch of boys and girls flailing out of the way of a huge beetle. The insect buzzed about angrily, dive-bombing one kid after another.
“Smoosh it!” shouted one girl, brandishing a shoe.
“Spiders eat bugs,” Nicky said, taking aim with his wrist.
“Do not eat the bug, Nicky!” Monica hurried across the room. “We can just let it outside.”
Something nagged at the back of her mind as she pushed the door open. Something she should definitely pick up on. One of the kids? Was one of them missing? How could she possibly tell—she hadn’t taken attendance yet.
She stood in the doorway as the kids used folders and whatever else they could find to shoo the beetle out. The pest wanted no part of it, though, dodging all the blows and doggedly regaining every inch it lost. Why was it so determined to stay?
One of the girls grabbed Monica’s oversized teacher’s edition off the desk, which she had to know was against the rules.
Against the rules. . .
Zach. Where was Zach?
“Nicky! Did you do something to Zachary?”
Nicky’s eyes flicked toward the bug and then to the floor. “No.”
The insect droned loudly in her face.
“Nicky, tell the truth.”
The boy crossed his arms. “He was bugging me.”
Crap. Monica imagined herself in front of Dr. White and Zach’s parents—who had already complained about her numerous times—explaining how she let their boy get turned into a beetle. Or how he’d been squished by a teacher’s edition.
“Nicholas Swanson, you change him back right now or there’ll be no recess today!”
Nicky bit his lip. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to defy her, but finally he rolled his eyes and waved his hand. A moment later Zach popped into existence several feet above the floor, and tumbled in the sudden absence of wings. He lay there for a moment, struggling to get his wind back, and finally started crying.
Monica felt off the whole next morning, as she led her class through morning song and vocabulary. She kept catching herself making careless mistakes or drifting off mid-sentence. It was a relief when time for “specials” rolled around. Today was art day, giving her forty-five minutes to catch her bearings.
She used the faculty restroom, bought a soda from the machine, and returned to her empty classroom, only to find Zach’s parents waiting outside. Norma at the front desk shouldn’t have let them through without checking first, but Monica could hardly blame her for deciding some fights were simply above her pay grade.
Monica would have been within her rights to insist that they make an appointment and come back, but they would probably just go find an administrator to yell at instead. Better to try and get out in front of this.
After a round of hardly-pleasant pleasantries, Monica tried to multi-task, juggling her preparations for the second half of the day with listening to the Thompsons’ grievances. She needed to write the learning objectives for the afternoon on the board—complete with their state-mandated alphanumeric identifying codes that meant not a thing to her students or to anybody else—on the off chance that an administrator came by looking for them.
“Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, I understand why you’re upset. I spoke to the other child about his actions and I believe he understands that he behaved inappropriately.”
Mr. Thompson crossed his arms. “But how will you prevent this from happening again? Did you punish the other boy?”
She picked up a marker. “I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to discuss another child’s discipline with you. I can only talk to you about Zach.”
“We are talking about Zach,” replied Mrs. Thompson. “We’re talking about what you’re doing to keep him safe. Sounds like the answer is nothing.”
Monica massaged her neck. “I assure you, ma’am, I’m doing everything I can to keep Zach and all the other children safe.”
Mr. Thompson leaned forward, resting his hands on her desk. “Such as what, specifically?”
“I. . . um . . .” She really could see where they were coming from, but that didn’t change the fact that her hands were tied. “We have interventions in place to help Ni—to help the other child understand how his actions affect his peers.”
“Miss Quintana, Zach woke up sobbing three times last night. Nightmares. This morning he ate five leaves off our tomato plant.” Mr. Thompson straightened. “It’s simply irresponsible to have a child with that much power in the same classroom as normal children.”
Monica paused midway through writing the learning goals on the board, frowning. She had two students with IQs over 120. One who spoke limited English. One girl who never spoke at all. Zack himself towered over most of the other kids. Who was to say which of them wasn’t “normal,” and which should be removed for the sake of the other kids?
And yet, wasn’t this the outcome she herself had been hoping for in the staffing two days ago?
“Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, I don’t have any say over which children are placed in my classroom, but I promise you we are all taking every possible precaution to help all the students learn in a safe setting.”
Mrs. Thompson shook her head. “All I get from you are vague assurances. Frankly, that’s not enough. Why can’t you keep your students under control? That’s your job, isn’t it?”
Monica inhaled slowly before answering. “I’m doing the best I can.”
“That’s not good enough.” Mrs. Thompson took a step toward the door, her husband right behind. “Since you don’t seem to be able to help me, I will speak to somebody who can. Goodbye.”
The two of them marched out the door. Monica collapsed into her chair and rested her head on her arms, the half-written standards forgotten on the wall behind her.
The adjoining door to Aubrey’s classroom clicked open. “That didn’t sound like it went well.”
Monica’s pulse quickened. “It didn’t,” she acknowledged, sitting up.
“I’m sorry,” Aubrey said. “To be fair, the boy’s parents have a right to be concerned. You let their son be bullied.”
Monica stared at her. Bullied? “Aubrey, Nicky turned the kid into a beetle and tried to squash him. Please, tell me, what would you have done differently?”
Aubrey stepped the rest of the way in, carrying a thin paperback. “Well, since you ask, what you have is a classroom management problem.” She handed Monica the book: Positive Behavior Support for the Elementary School Classroom. “Here is something I found helpful when I was starting out, Monica. I hope you’ll take a look at it.”
A book. Jesus—or Zeus—in heaven, Aubrey thought what she needed was a book. “Did you not hear me? Nicky turned Zach into a bug.” For a moment, she daydreamed about Nicky turning Aubrey into a bug.
“He needs consistency and structure.”
“Controlling him is beyond any teacher!”
Aubrey shook her head. “We don’t get to choose who walks into our classrooms, dear. We need to work with the challenges we’re dealt. Every teacher does; you’re no different.”
Monica’s right eyelid twitched uncontrollably. “Every teacher? How many teachers—”
At that moment the main door burst open with children returning from art.
Aubrey turned toward her own rapidly filling room. “All teachers start out thinking the issues they face are unique. In time you learn the ideal classroom just doesn’t exist.”
Monica’s reply was cut off by Nicky running up to her desk, accompanied by Mrs. Valdez, the art teacher. “Miss Quintana! Look what I made!” He held up a kinetic sculpture of a thunderbolt made from aluminum foil and sequins. Monica gazed at the artwork as it twisted and rumbled, wondering what made it go.
Valdez tousled Nicky’s hair. “Nicky was such a pleasure in class today, I wanted to be sure and let you know. He seemed to really get what I was trying to teach. You are so lucky to have him!”
From the adjoining doorway, Aubrey raised an eyebrow and cocked her head before pulling the door shut behind her.
“I don’t want to miss recess! I don’t want to take some stupid test!”
Overhead, the sky rumbled. The other students lining the walkway to the computer lab took the scene in with interest. No doubt they wondered if Nicky would move the clocks again or make it permanent recess forever or gods knew what. Monica tried to project calmness.
“But Nicky, it’s on a computer! You love computers!”
“I don’t care!”
She bit her lip. For two weeks she’d done her best to manage Nicky’s behavior without letting her terror show. When all the food in the cafeteria turned into chocolate pudding. When hundreds of talking lizards infested the teachers’ workroom. When a carnival sprang up in place of the playground—complete with very confused carnies. Each time she had gently redirected him, while Aubrey frowned and clucked and offered more resources on classroom management.
For two weeks she’d also fielded near daily complaints about her performance from parents, and disapproving emails from her own administration. Here, with the annual state testing, Nicky’s powers could actually work in her favor, and now he was balking?
She squatted down to meet his eye. “It’s important to me that you do well, Nicky. I know you can.” She let that thought hang in the air for a second. “Can you promise me you’ll do your best?”
Nicky chewed his lip. “Sophie told me teachers get paid lots if their students do good on the tests.”
She schooled her face to keep from laughing at the suggestion of teachers getting paid lots. “Don’t worry about that, Nicky. You should do your best for you.”
He patted her shoulder, an odd gesture from someone half her size. “It’s okay, Miss Quintana. I’ll do good. You’re my favorite teacher, and I hope they give you lots of money.”
She stared at a tree in the courtyard, leaves rustling in the wind. “That’s, uh, really sweet, Nicky. Don’t worry about me though. Just try your best, okay?”
He smiled, a big toothy grin bookended by dimples. “You got it, Miss Q.”
She closed her eyes for a second. Finally, something would go right. She hugged him before standing up. “Thanks Nicky.”
She left her students with the testing coordinator and returned to her empty classroom in high spirits. Even Aubrey coming by to brag about her amazing dinner party last week couldn’t bring her down. She responded with automatic “uh huhs” as her colleague babbled, and managed to catch up on grading.
When she returned to the lab to pick up her class, they were in a great mood. Rather than being tired from ninety minutes of questions on the computer, they were energized.
“Miss Quintana!” “Miss Quintana!” A couple dozen hands grabbed at her while high-pitched voices called her name discordantly. “That was sooo easy!”
She knew from past experience that whether her students thought the test was easy or not had little to do with their actual performance, but she allowed herself a bit of optimism.
Things were looking up.
She tapped on the open door of Dr. White’s office. “You wanted to see me?”
Monica squinted to see into the dim office. How could anybody get work done in this cave?
White had a visitor; a tall man in a suit. Monica’s chest tightened.
“Yes, come in please,” Dr. White said. “Shut the door.”
Her stomach rolling, she did as instructed. She sat across the enormous, uncluttered desk, in the stiff-backed chair next to the stranger.
“Miss Quintana, I’m Dr. Erdstrom.” He pronounced the U in her name, like the beginning of quintuplets. “I’m from the Department of Education.”
“Nobody said that anything is wrong,” Dr. White noted. “Is there a reason you expect something to be?”
Monica carefully refrained from rolling her eyes.
Erdstrom frowned. “Miss Quintana, I’m here looking into some, ah, irregularities in your class’s testing.”
It was Nicky. Of course it was Nicky. What had he done this time?
“What kind of irregularities?”
“It seems somehow the questions were changed for your students, and only for your students. While kindergartners throughout the rest of the state answered questions legitimately pertaining to their curriculum, your pupils received questions such as these.”
He handed her a printout. Reluctantly she skimmed the paper. The first question to catch her eye was Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
“You don’t—” Her throat had gone dry. She did her best to swallow and began again. “You don’t think I did this?”
“Miss Quintana, I understand you have a rather special young man in your care.” He drew out the word “care,” making it sound sinister. “A young man with extraordinary abilities? Nicholas Swanson?”
She leaned on her armrest. “He’s got special abilities, yes. But I’m not sure—”
“Is it true you told him you would be paid more if your students did better on the test?”
“What? No!” She noticed herself rocking slightly and stopped. “I only told him it was important to do his best.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Important for him or for you?”
She tried to remember her exact words. But she didn’t have any godlike abilities—just her own hazy recollections.
“Both! Is something wrong with that? Aren’t we supposed to be motivating the students to do their best?”
“Miss Quintana, there’s a broad line between motivating students and enticing them to cheat.”
She crossed her arms. “I didn’t entice anybody to cheat.”
His chin jutted out. “My job is to decide whether that’s true or not.”
He stared her down like a cat playing with a captured lizard. The silence hung between them, almost palpable.
A muted bell chimed. “I need to get to class,” she said.
“Of course,” agreed Dr. Erdstrom. “We’ll speak again.”
Monica threw her textbook across the sofa. She couldn’t concentrate on her lesson plans. What did it matter? Erdstrom would decide she violated the security of the test and she’d lose her license. In a month, who would care if she’d written her stupid plans?
She grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a spoon from the kitchen, flopped back on the couch, and picked up the remote. Crime procedural: nope. Basketball: nope. News: Jesus, nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Disney Channel: hmm, maybe. Then the commercials ended. Hercules. Ugh. Anything but that.
She paused with her thumb on the Channel Up button.
How did Philoctetes manage in the movie? He had more or less the same job—training a son of Zeus. Except he was a satyr and had Hercules’s respect. Credentials. A recommendation from Zeus himself. Whatever he had was beyond her.
Or was it? Monica pulled her laptop off the side table. Time to do a little research.
The next day she pulled Nicky’s address off the gradebook software and headed there after dinner. She’d heard of teachers visiting students’ families at home, the way she’d heard of dragons and unicorns and the city of Atlantis. She hadn’t ever done it herself, nor did she think any of her colleagues had. She hoped she wasn’t crossing a line, but at this point who cared? She caught herself humming “One Last Hope” as she drove and tried to quash the earworm.
Nicky’s home was in a neighborhood of tiny duplexes crammed together like old books in a library. She consulted her phone for turn-by-turn directions, until a five-story castle with ladders and slides popping in and out from one opening to another came into view. She put away her phone—that could only be one person’s house.
The lot strained to contain the castle, leaving barely enough space in the driveway for Monica to park next to a Lamborghini with flames painted on the side. It seemed unfair for Nicky to be granting his own every wish while her professional life was turned upside down.
She walked up to an enormous oak door and knocked. Whatever sound her knuckles made was absorbed by the door’s thickness—it felt like knocking on the tree itself. She pushed a button by the doorknob instead, and a heavy-metal guitar lick rang out.
After a moment Nicky’s mom opened the door, looking harried. Monica supposed this was no picnic for her either.
Nicky rode up behind her on a pony. “Hi Miss Quintana!”
Monica glanced from Nicky to his mom and back. “Nicky,” she said, “I need to speak to your father. Can you make that happen?”
“Excuse me?” Nicky’s mother leaned on the door jamb, positioning herself between her son and Monica. “I’m the custodial parent.”
“I understand that, but you’re not the one who can shape-shift and control the weather.” Monica reached for the other woman’s arm and then thought better of it. “Please, I’m just asking for some help here. Work with me.”
Nicky’s mom sighed, but she stood aside and let Monica in. Turning toward her son, she said, “Go ahead and call your father.”
Monica wasn’t sure what she’d expected him to do. Some kind of prayer? An invocation? Start speaking in tongues with a supernatural echo? Instead, Nicky just raised his voice and said, “Dad, my teacher wants to talk to you!”
A moment later a whoosh, like a new package of coffee opening, only louder, came from deeper in the house—er, castle.
All her muscles seemed to clench at once. It had made sense before she drove here, but somehow she hadn’t considered the reality of being face to face with a god. What would he even look like? Some white-haired toga-wearing giant?
Whatever she’d imagined, it wasn’t this.
A rhinoceros appeared at the far end of the foyer, making Nicky’s pony sidestep nervously. “What is this about?” asked the rhino.
Despite his animal form, somehow his face was as expressive as a human’s. Glancing at Monica, he cocked his head and said, “Well, hello!” He drew out the last syllable and winked as he said it. Even though he was a giant talking rhinoceros, somehow he managed to remind her of every dudebro creep she’d ever encountered.
He turned a bit and she caught sight of his gigantic—Monica averted her eyes quickly. Jesus, his son was right here.
Her flesh crawled and yet somehow there was something—Oh Christ, he was doing something to her, wasn’t he?
He reared up, changing forms as he did, and suddenly she wasn’t looking at a rhino anymore but at Dwayne Johnson. Fortunately, he was dressed. She’d be happy to see more of “The Rock” in a movie, but maintaining her concentration and composure in this meeting was going to hard enough as it was.
“Um, hi,” she said, bumping into the wall behind her.
Nicky’s mother crossed her arms. “So, did you come here for something in particular, Miss Quintana?”
“Miss Quintana, is it?” Johnson took her hand and raised it to his lips.
Monica blinked. “Ah, yes! Yes, I did.” She took a breath and glanced toward Nicky, currently riding his pony. “I need you to give me powers too.”
Nicky’s mom snorted. “Opportunist, much?”
The Rock—or Zeus, rather, harrumphed and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not,” she said. “Teaching a child with Nicky’s abilities presents unique challenges. Even with talented children of the mortal variety, it’s important to have support from the parents, and parents need to know that I can help their child.” Monica paused for emphasis, looking directly into Zeus-the-Rock’s eyes. “I’ve got the experience and the knowledge to teach Nicky, but I need you to give me the tools to keep up with him.”
He raised an eyebrow at the word need. “Why would I want to do that?”
A wave of dizziness passed through her. She’d come this far; she might as well go all in.
“Because you want the same thing that I do—a good education for your son.”
Nicky trotted over, evidently curious about the conversation. Monica put a hand on his shoulder and continued, “You don’t want uneducated super-powered offspring running around, causing chaos everywhere.”
A vision of the marketplace scene from the Disney version of Hercules popped into her mind—rampaging animals, broken pottery, teetering pillars—and she nearly giggled hysterically.
He shook his head. “I can’t give you what you want.”
“Yes you can.”
His eyes flashed—literally. Part of her screamed to forget Nicky and all of this, to turn and run out the still-open door. But Monica stood her ground. She’d done her homework and knew how to deal with pushy, opinionated parents.
“You dare to contradict me?” he demanded, his voice echoing down the hallway.
“There’s precedence,” she said, hoping she sounded cool and calm. When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Apotheosis. You’ve done it before: Alexander, Helen, Psyche, Isis, Leucothea—”
“Enough. I get the picture.” Zeus/Johnson wrinkled his forehead. Fortunately no goddesses sprung out.
Monica pressed on. “You want an educated son, don’t you? I’m the best teacher for that job. You can help me, or you can stay on Earth and teach him yourself, I guess.”
His eyes widened. “You make a compelling argument. Come. Let’s talk.”
A note sat in her box Monday morning. “See me. -Dr. White”
When Monica stopped by the office, Erdstrom was there.
“Good morning, Miss Quintana,” said the DOE man. “Thank you for stopping by.”
“I only have a minute before class.”
White leaned back in her chair. “That won’t be a concern, actually.”
Erdstrom closed the door. “We’ve decided to give you non-classroom duties pending the outcome of your investigation.”
She met his eyes. “Is that so.”
“Now Monica,” White put in, holding a hand out. “No need to get worked up.”
She shook her head. “There’s nothing to get worked up over. The investigation has been dropped. Haven’t you checked your email?”
“Miss Quintana, please,” Erdstrom began, “I’m in charge of—”
From White’s computer came the ding of an incoming email. Turning away from Erdstrom, Monica nodded toward the workstation.
White glanced at the screen and frowned. “Uh, hang on a second, Jack.”
Erdstrom—Jack—stepped around to look for himself. “How. . . Why?”
Monica choked back a giddy laugh. She had to work with these people. Well, with Dr. White, anyway.
White frowned as she stared at the computer. “Well, that’s a relief for everyone.”
“Yes, well, if it’s all settled, I’m heading to my classroom.”
“Actually,” White said, holding up a hand, “I think it’s still a good idea to place you in a non-instructional setting while we sort things out.”
“This isn’t the first time concerns have arisen with you. We’re still fielding calls over the bug incident. I think it’s best if we don’t return you to your classroom right away.”
Monica clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms. She’d been around long enough to see how this ended: once they removed you from the classroom, you never made it back.
“You can’t do that,” she said.
“I beg your pardon?”
Her mind raced. “I’m the only one who can teach Nicky, because I’m the only teacher on staff with the, ah, supergifted endorsement.”
Erdstrom’s lip curled. “‘Supergifted endorsement’? I’ve never heard of that.”
With good reason, considering she’d just invented it. “Pull up my certificate; you’ll see. If I’m not teaching him, you’re out of compliance. And I can guarantee there isn’t another teacher in the state with the endorsement.”
White tapped on her computer. After a moment she muttered, “I can’t believe this.”
“You’ve got to be joking,” Erdstrom said.
“No, she’s right.” Dr. White turned the monitor so Erdstrom could see Monica’s file. “Endorsements: social studies, literacy, basic math, and—here it is—supergifted K – 12.”
Monica didn’t need to read it herself to know what it said: whatever she wanted it to. She stepped toward the door, away from the bewildered administrators. “Are we done then?” she asked, tugging the door open.
Her principal nodded slowly while continuing to stare at the screen.
Monica exited the office and walked briskly down the hallway toward her room, nodding greetings to her colleagues and humming a Disney tune as she went.
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