Art takes his lunch break to buy a used calculus book, teacher’s edition, at the old bookstore on Pine Street in the small town of Birchwood, Colorado. When he returns to work at the exclusive seasonal golf resort and winter ski lodge, he cuts out the answer section. He thumbs through the book reveling in its musty air. He wonders if it could be this book that changes the world. His optimism runs deep, but his little girl gives him every reason to dream. He sits in his shabby office with the book and tries to decide on an equation. He works out the puzzle himself first using the answer guide to cheat. He writes the equation out on an old, small, wall hanging chalkboard where she’ll look when she comes to visit him.
During the winter, ski lodge members keep themselves busy on everything from bunny hills to half pipes to black diamond ski trails. Rescue crews work with snow machines, trolling the property for injured patrons throughout the season. Art snow plows for the lodge during most of the winter season but leaves the crew early in spring to start readying the course. Now, opened for a week, the golf resort buzzes.
The frost has long melted away from the golf resort, situated at the furthest base of the mountain, and golfers send their balls high in the air adjusting for windage more than other qualities. The driving range is full and a junior greenskeeper is out in his caged ball collector supplying members an easy target. The six-hole putting green is active, players walking up to drop three or four balls, trying to assess the speed of the greens for the day; some practice their short game at the chipping area or getting out of the sand at the bunker before heading out for their round. Art’s building is a well-maintained shed a long way out from the fairways. His personal office inside isn’t as pristine as its exterior would lead anyone to believe, but he keeps it tidy.
Right on time, Lilly enters the maintenance shed at the back of the golf resort and weaves her way through mangled weed-eater lines and past dirty mower blades to reach Daddy’s office tucked in the corner. She finds him in his usual position, hunched over a pile of paperwork doing inventory. Plastic boxes along with red drawers inside metal shelving all possess labels with a content count. Art insists he must account for everything at the end of each day. As Lilly shuffles along the cement floor he raises his head to greet her with a smile. He is slow to remove the reading glasses from the tip of his nose, revealing his deep blue eyes. He whirls his chair around.
“Come here, Lil’ Bit.” Art opens his arms wide. Lilly’s hair feathers as she jumps into his lap. She closes her light green eyes and hugs Daddy. Their new outdoor tans match perfectly. They giggle, and Art swirls his chair like their own personal merry-go-round. The warmth of his hug along with the aromas of dried sweat, fresh cut grass, and years of layered oil make him smell like a seasoned greenskeeper. After a spell, he slows down the chair. “Did your mother cut you loose already?”
“Yes, sir. Is the old lady giving you a tough time, again?” Lilly nods at a troublesome red mower. Art’s face crinkles.
“This darn thing has been on its last leg for years, but she keeps on kicking. My time may be better spent trimming the greens with scissors on my hands and knees.” Art complains to himself more than to Lilly. “You haven’t even been alive as long as this hunk of metal has been around.” He tosses a small wrench at it.
Lilly hops off Art’s lap, puts her kitty cat book bag next to the desk, and peers inside the drawer he left purposely ajar. She walks to the wall and studies the chalkboard. Her eyes dance with excitement across the markings as her tiny shoes leave footprints in the white, fresh fallen chalk dust. Each week Art puts a new equation on the chalkboard related to the topic she’s studying in mathematics.
“Daddy, what is this?” Lilly examines the chalkboard. Art points.
“These are graphs approaching infinity infinitely. It’s the math of limits called calculus. I picked out a new book you might want to start working on.” He leans back in his chair. Lilly looks back to the chalkboard and, then, back at Art in amazement.
“I thought I was almost done,” she continues in an awe-stricken tone. Her notion tickles Art, her innocence precious.
“Were you hoping to be done? Are you bored with math, Lilly?”
“No, sir. I just didn’t know the equations I work on match graphs like these…calculus. How come you didn’t tell me? This is astounding news.” She over exaggerates her words as her limbs flop around. Lilly tends toward melodrama. Art takes it like a champ.
“Honestly, Lil’ Bit, it didn’t occur to me you didn’t already know. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what it’s like to be brand new.” It didn’t occur to Art that she never heard the word calculus before today. Kids three times her age struggle with the subject. Lilly picks at the exposed cushioning in Art’s chair as she leans against his shoulder.
“How much longer will I be brand new? I’m getting pretty big now, Daddy.”
“Oh, you still have some growing to do, little one.” Art chuckles, tickling her.
“Daddy, I’m so far behind. How will I ever catch up?”
“Catch up to what, Lil’ Bit?” He takes hold of her hand. She puts a finger to her lip.
“The rest of it…” Her voice trails off as if already pondering the journey in her mind. Art is far from perfect, yet he takes every opportunity, be it by tantrum, disappointment, or victory, to convey his lessons to Lilly. She is his little sponge and she’ll never forget.
“In time, Lilly. You’ll learn one after the other in stages to comprehend the next lesson.” Art releases her hand. “Why don’t you grab your new book out of its drawer?” He smiles. Lilly rushes around his chair and finds the used red and orange teaching manual. Her mother, Jennifer, home-schools Lilly but does all the official work online for her. It’s far too simple for Lilly. Still, they must keep up appearances. Jennifer possesses three master’s degrees: liberal arts, linguistics, and history. What Jennifer doesn’t teach Lilly, Art adds to with his own lessons. It’s always Art who reveals the next exciting math subject with their special chalkboard.
“How does calculus fit in?” Lilly wonders aloud as she reads the title on the chalkboard, again. Art seizes the opportunity to reinforce his teaching moment.
“Well, back in ancient times, mathematicians discovered geometry, and, then, much later in the 17thcentury, another mathematician used it to make calculus. Remember, it’s one after the other.” She’ll understand. His Lil’ Bit can make connections in ways he hasn’t fathomed, or perhaps can’t because of his own preconceived notions. Lilly clasps her hands together and stands on her tip toes.
“Maybe this time I can learn calculus with the kids at school down the mountain.” Art feels the room spin at high speed while his daughter watches him with wide eyes and a hopeful grin.
“If that’s the way you want it, I will discuss it with Mommy. What do you want to do with this calculus book?” He tries to placate her; she doesn’t bite.
“I’ll take it to school with me, of course,” Lilly announces, hopping. Art tries to settle her down.
“Before we decide, how about you take a quick read through what is in front of you? Let me know afterward.” Art takes a deep breath while Lilly continues to bounce.
“Daddy, I want to go to school.” Art shudders at the thought of his daughter living in an adult world while still a nine-year-old child. He needs some air to clear his head.
“I’ll be right back.” Art stands and walks out the back door. After he leaves, Lilly drops the book on the ground and kicks it. Warm air enters Art’s lungs but offers no relief. Even at the back of the sprawling golf course with a blue sky overhead, Art feels claustrophobic. Inside, Lilly begrudgingly picks through the pages of her new book as she sits Indian-style with one tiny fist under her chin. Her knees poke out from under her dress. She enjoys reading the teaching tips for instructors.
Lilly lifts her head for a moment and stares at Daddy’s desk. She knows better than to search out the other textbooks waiting in a drawer somewhere. He notices everything. Those books are probably more advanced; she already knows calculus. She scans the chalkboard. Daddy picked out a worthy question. She’ll work it out for him the way he wants. She finds a lot of trick questions in calculus that annoy her.
Coming over the back nine, Art sees a pudgy man whose broad shoulders fill out his expensive suit, which he wears with cowboy boots. He appears much older than Art, even though they are only a year apart in age. He stands Art’s height at 6’2. He used to be in decent shape. Hell, they both were back then. Though this is a surprise. Harry Lowensteen, Art’s best friend from childhood approaches. It’s been a week since their last staff meeting. He notices Art’s discomfort.
“You look green around the gills there, old chum. I hope it’s not on my account. I should have called to tell you I would be here today. I’m sorry to pop in on you.” The summer wind washes over the men in a sweet fragrance. Wind chimes in the distance jingle. Art cracks a smile.
“Hell, Harry, it’s your mountain. You can come and go as you please, don’t you agree?” Art tries to tame his mess of salt and pepper curls. Harry watches, slow to speak.
“I’m not here on business. I’m here about Lilly.” Harry fiddles with the buttons on his suit. The wind gusts and dies out repeatedly, fluffing and flattening his polished, deep brown hair. His light olive skin glows in the bright daylight. Art rubs his hands back and forth, each clutching at the other.
“Funny you should mention her. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. She wants to attend school down the mountain, again.” His knuckles turn white as he continues to wring his hands. It was apparent at nine-months-old Lilly was special when she spontaneously began to read. Her first book was Alice in Wonderland. Jennifer started reading it to her while Lilly sat on her lap, but then, one day, Lilly just began reading it herself to Jennifer. She talked, walked, and potty-trained early. Harry pops Art back into the moment.
“She wants to experience the outside world. Why not let her? You’ve kept her hidden like a hermit on this mountain for long enough. I’m getting sick of this, Art.” Harry’s not sure how he’s supposed to broach the confession he came to make. Art is none the wiser.
“Oh, now you have a problem with it? This whole thing was your idea.” Art isn’t taking any grief off Harry, even if he’s the boss. They’re talking about Lilly, not work. But Harry doesn’t take guff off anybody, especially not from his best friend.
“I never imagined you’d keep her locked up in some ivory mountain tower. She was young and vulnerable when she was a baby. She’s growing up, Art – whether you face it or not. Let her roam. Take her off the grounds. At least, find her some playmates. Plenty of the staff have children. Invite them over. She’s nine, without a single friend her own age.” Even as he lobbies against it, Harry takes advantage of the fact, too.
With no friends, Lilly absorbs and applies her advanced education faster than even Harry realized she could. It takes her under a year to progress through a set of tutors. Now, where does he start? Art is clueless to all he’s done. Harry loses the conversation for a moment, wrapped in his own thoughts. Art continues to balk at Harry.
“She has plenty to do on the grounds. We buy her a new snowboard every year because she’s growing so fast. And the hockey. We can’t forget about the hockey.” Art points his finger at Harry. “She might lose her little fool mind if she didn’t have these ponds to skate circles on from daybreak to dusk. Does it remind you of anybody?” Art feels the stress building pressure behind his eyes and blinks wildly, as if blinded by the sun. Harry ignores it.
“What do you want to do, Art? Do you want to sit here and reminisce about our days growing up playing hockey? Or, are you ready to admit Lilly deserves more than what’s on this mountain?” Art doesn’t know about the tutors. At first, Harry wasn’t trying to take full control over Lilly’s education. At least that’s what he tries to believe.
“Oh, please, Harry.” Harry’s ears become red, fuming.
“It’s summertime, Art. All the kids are out from school. She has plenty of things to do and no one to do them with,” Harry yells over the wind. Art walks in small circles, pacing back and forth, a caged puma losing its mind from an unfit enclosure.
“It’s my job to protect Lilly. Besides, those kids have parents I can’t trust around her. You have no idea what it takes to raise a gifted child,” Art snaps back. Harry’s face jumps alive.
“Is that so?” The tutors at the mansion answer directly to Harry. He’s gone to great lengths to keep it hidden in the shadows. Art loses his cool.
“She has plenty of things to do on her own, Harry. You own an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a paved track, the golf course, the tram – you even built her that damn tree fortress last summer. This is a child’s paradise.” Art flails his arms around as if Harry built the world himself. Harry’s voice loses its resolve as his eyes drift toward the ground.
“It’s lonely without anyone to share it with.” Harry grew up on this land an only child. He didn’t enjoy all the bells and whistles he added over time; he experienced how isolating this mountain can be. Art has no idea what it’s like. Harry isn’t cutting him anymore slack for it. He can’t afford to at this stage of Lilly’s life. Art pauses, puts his hands on his hips and faces Harry.
“Besides, she’s not up here for playtime, Harry. She’s here to study. None like her exist out there in the world. Believe me. I checked.” Art has a massive surprise coming his way, though now Harry isn’t sure he’s in the proper state of mind to hear it. Harry’s been using that excuse for as long as he can remember to justify his secrecy, even to excuse himself for it.
“You’re right, Art. The isolation here works perfectly to provide her time to focus on her educational growth, but you say it’s you and Jennifer doing it all, right? Nobody else?” Harry already knows the answer to the question more thoroughly than Art can imagine.
“No. You pay for the language tutors and the piano lessons. I allowed you that because Jennifer wouldn’t stop bitching at me until I did. Just because you’re a billionaire with endless resources doesn’t mean I am, because we’re friends. Don’t you understand?” Art puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder feeling sorry for him. Sometimes it seems to Art that Harry believes his fortune is his only defining attribute. Art knows better.
“Don’t be a mule, Art.” Harry can tell their conversation, thus far, has made Art dig in his heels even more than usual. Harry holds back the truth about what he’s done. He’ll wait for a better time. Disappointment sets into his bones like screws. He failed again. Art has no trouble with his own confidence.
“I know what’s best for Lilly. I’ll talk to Jennifer when I return home from work.” Art stares at Harry, who lets out a frustrated sigh. Art takes a step back and glances at Harry sideways, with an eyebrow raised.
“It’s strange timing that you’ve come by now, Harry.”
“Jennifer called me. She knows it’s time, bro. Something’s got to give.” Harry sees the conversation has gone circular. “Call it an early day and take her home to Jennifer.” Harry points to the greenskeeper’s shed. Art glances back at the shed where Lilly is waiting inside.
“Thanks, Harry.” The old friends bump knuckles. Harry pivots and walks away the same way he came.
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