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One problem with being a genius-and there are many problems-is that there is an overwhelming need on the part of adults to "assess" you, which is just a tricky way of saying they want to figure out exactly how smart you are and why you are smart and where your smarts come from. (And silently ponder the unspoken question that doesn't appear on any test but hangs heavy in the air-"For heaven's sake, why can't I be as smart as you?")
Conrad Harrington III was in the middle of his third assessment of that day by yet another ninny, who called herself an expert, and even though he was only seven years old he still had better things to do than answer her silly questions, which not only were boring but took up a lot of his valuable time.
"In a candy store there are two times as many jelly beans as there are gummy bears and four times as many licorice whips as there are jelly beans," said the ninny. "If there are a hundred and thirty-six lollipops and there is the same number of lollipops as there is licorice, how many jelly beans are there?"
"You build a house with four square walls each with only southern exposure. A bear shows up. What color is the bear?"
"How many of each animal did Abraham take on the ark?"
"None, Noah built the ark."
"In this number sequence-"
"I don't know."
"I haven't finished the question."
"I still don't know." Conrad slumped back in his chair and glared.
"Complete this number sequence: one, eight, twenty-seven, forty-eight," the ninny persisted. She introduced herself as Dr. Hilda Hamish and she was short and puckered. At some point in her life, probably when she was five, her face pulled itself into a concerned question mark and it had never managed to free itself in all the time that followed.
"I don't know," Conrad repeated, and looked out the window.
The ninny pursed her lips anxiously; she had promised to complete her assessment that evening, but if she couldn't get the boy to cooperate she would be stuck. He was a scrawny seven-year-old with a head that was too large for his body, serious eyes, and a sad mouth. At that moment he had his arms crossed over his chest and a stormy look on his brow. She considered how to proceed and decided on a different tack.
"Your father told me that you like numbers."
Conrad turned on the poor woman. "And did you believe my father?"
The ninny was taken aback, but instead of dismissing the question out of hand she actually thought about it. "Your father is a very smart man."
"No, my father is an important senator and he is powerful in Washington, but that doesn't make him smart; there is a difference."
"Oh," she said nervously, and looked down at her assessment test, trying to figure out which question to ask next and how to get this process back on track.
"Do you know why you are here?" Conrad pressed-he would be the one asking the questions now.
"Of course," she sputtered. "Your father wants to know how he can better help you grow and learn."
"Wrong again." Conrad rolled his eyes at her obtuseness. "Today is my seventh birthday, but my father canceled my party because he's angry with me."
She looked at him questioningly and he admitted, "I hacked the Defense Department mainframe and reprogrammed an orbiting satellite. The president found out, and now my father sees me as a threat to his political career." Conrad leaned forward in his chair and bore down on the flustered woman. "He is using you to help control me."
The ninny's face flushed bright red and her mouth puckered into four different questions before giving up completely and turning her eyes back to her forms.
"Perhaps we'd better go back to language comprehension." She quickly flipped her pages about.
"There is something you should know about my father," Conrad whispered.
The ninny shifted uncomfortably, her face almost cracking in half as it endeavored to fully transform into the question mark it longed to be. "What is that?" she asked.
"My father has a terrible secret."
"A secret?" she whispered.
"Yes. He tries to hide it, but I'm going to find out what it is."
A forest fire of goose bumps exploded up her neck. "What sort of secret?"
Conrad held her gaze. "He's-"
Suddenly the door to the room flung open, causing Dr. Hamish to jump out of her skin. Standing in the doorway was Senator Harrington. He was a man who'd been packaged to perfection-tall, blond, athletic, and topped with a walloping serving of charm and charisma. He was John F. Kennedy crossed with Brad Pitt, and when he smiled, he dazzled.
"Thank you, Dr. Hamish, that will be all for today," said the senator, smiling.
"Oh, Senator Harrington?" The ninny scrambled to her feet, even more flustered than before. "You surprised me."
"He was listening the whole time," said Conrad. "He does that."
"Oh," she said. "Oh."
"It's been a long day." Senator Harrington took Dr. Hamish's hand and guided her toward the door. "My assistant will show you the way out."
"But the assessment...?"
Before Dr. Hamish knew what was happening she was escorted out of the mansion and deposited, with all conceivable politeness and charm, of course, onto the sidewalk of their Washington, D.C., brownstone. From his playroom window Conrad could see her still shuffling her papers on the street and suddenly found himself feeling sorry that she was gone and sad that he would never see her again: there was an honesty about Dr. Hilda Hamish that he was thirsty for. With his father looming over him he had little time to consider this, though.
Folding his arms across his chest, Senator Harrington leveled Conrad with a hard stare. "There is a woman downstairs. Her name's Dr. Letitia Hellion and she wants to take you away to her school. She says that she can help you-make you better."
"Mother won't let you send me away."
"Because you're my son, I'm going to give you a choice," the senator continued. "You can go with this Dr. Hellion right now, or you can come with me and I'll take you to the president. You will tell the president that you didn't reprogram that satellite and that it's all been a big mistake."
"But Father, that satellite was falling out of its orbit," Conrad explained for what he knew was the third time. "If I hadn't reprogrammed it, it would have crashed over Seattle."
"I will provide the president with credible evidence that someone else was responsible and that they used you as a patsy. You'll act like a normal seven-year-old boy and make him believe it."
"You mean act stupid."
Once again Senator Harrington completely ignored Conrad's remark and pressed his own agenda. "From now on you will do as I say, when I say, and stop this." He pointed to his head.
"Just stop?" Conrad repeated, thinking about how he would stop thinking.
To Conrad's surprise Senator Harrington suddenly softened, reaching forward and taking his young son's hand. "Connie," he said gently, and smiled encouragingly, and his smile dazzled: it said "you're my guy" and "come be on my team" and "you and I share a special secret" and also a little bit of "agree with me and everything will be okay."
"I can help you. But you have to work with me, not against me. I forbid you from ever interfering like that again. You have to understand: bad things happen and no one wants your help. Who cares if the satellite crashed? They're called accidents for a reason. Why make it into a problem?"
Conrad sat back in his chair and looked at his father with amazement. "But if people get hurt doesn't that make it wrong?"
"Why don't you let me decide what's wrong?" The senator's smile now coaxed. "Don't you want to have your birthday party?"
Conrad looked at his father and for one glorious moment thought that he would let him decide, would stand at his side and be his best buddy and grow in the warmth of his companionship and approval. He would go to the president, and while his father lied about what happened to the satellite he would play with a small truck, making loud engine noises; he would look the other way and act as his father told him to. He would get his big birthday party.
The moment passed.
"I guess I'm too old for birthday parties now," Conrad said finally.
Senator Harrington's smile melted into a hard line and he got to his feet. A pain began bubbling in the back of his head and he pushed it with the fingers on his right hand. "There's a reason these things happen, reasons you don't understand," he barked with a strange, angry voice. "No one wants you to get involved."
"You mean someone wanted that satellite to crash?"
"No! No." The senator's composure was slipping and with effort he took himself in hand by straightening his tie and brushing the creases from his pants.
"You leave me no choice, Conrad." Senator Harrington turned away. "I'm sending Dr. Hellion up now."
Senator Harrington walked out of the room and out of Conrad's life without missing a beat. As Conrad stood alone and helpless, despite the vast resources his genius provided him, he wondered what he was going to do without a father to father him.
Copyright © 2015 by Victoria Forester