Chapter 3

The story so far: Allen makes a new friend, Dave Meyers.

On the first day of school, Allen approached his classes with uncharacteristic confidence. In each class he spent half an hour talking about the nature of the course and the subject matter to be covered.

In addition to the readings, he said, he would ask them to write several papers during the semester, assuring them that he would read them carefully, comment on them and return them promptly.

Then he sat down on the desk and addressed each student individually. He asked not only their names, but indulged in a little small talk as well — their favorite book (he quickly changed it to movie when he got little response), their favorite automobile, what they expected to do when they left school. Most of the boys said that basketball or football was their favorite sport, and he learned quickly that the star left halfback and star right halfback on the Stone Lake football team, Royal Knudson and Bill Erickson, sat side by side near the front of his first-hour senior class. He gathered that they were both highly popular.

When he asked students what they hoped to do when they left school, only a few said they intended to go to college. Many said they didn't know. One young man, with a smirk, said he hoped he wouldn't have to do anything — and got a little applause. Most of the girls, perhaps imitating each other, were inclined to get married and have children.

One lean and sullen young man slouched in the back of the room mumbled his name when asked, and said "I don't know" to all of the other questions. Allen was about to move on when he had an inspiration.

"What's your favorite song?" he asked.

The young man looked up. Then he mumbled something.

"I didn't quite hear you."

" 'Tennessee Border No. 2,' " he said in a rather defiant voice.

The other students turned to him with murmured approval.

"Can you sing us a couple of lines?"

"I don't sing so good."

"None of us do. Try it."

The young man sat up, cleared his throat, and sang with a rather good voice:

Her eyes were red, her name was Helen,

Her head looked like a watermelon.

Her hair was long, she had a Toni,

Her neck looked like a roll of baloney.

Everybody in the room applauded.

Allen hoped he'd made a convert.

And so it went, more or less, with his other classes. His second-hour senior English class was not quite as attentive or responsive as the first. Ray Nord, the young man who had helped him move into his room, sat in the back row and said little. Lois Knight, who proved to be the editor of the school paper, a lean and alert young woman, looked like someone he could count on to contribute to the discussion when he ran out of ideas. Most conspicuous, however, was a big, athletic-looking young man in the front row named Leo March, an ironic twist in his upper lip, who looked far more mature than his classmates. He surprised Allen by saying that his favorite writer was Ernest Hemingway.

His two junior English classes came at the end of the day, the last of which was by far his largest — 43 students — but pleased him by being the most responsive and energetic.

A charming little girl named JoAnne Winner sat in the middle of the first row and a bright little boy named Jimmy Kvist sat right behind her. He took to both of them at once. Who wouldn't?

His sophomores met in the middle of the day — just before lunch — and he could not help wondering what he would do with them all year. They looked and acted much younger than the sophomores he had encountered while practice teaching. There were pretty girls in every class, of course, many of them seemingly bright and clever. He thought he could have guessed with some accuracy who the cheerleaders were. And then there was Helen Vorgt, first hour, a dark-haired, fragile girl wearing glasses who sat at the end of the first row and said little. Her face, if not as superficially appealing as those of many of the other girls, moved him mysteriously. Never having seen her before, he felt he had known her all his life — and suspected that she would turn out to be the smartest person in the class. And at the end of the day, hers was one of the few names he remembered.

Tomorrow: Chapter 3 continues.