1 - “You are remarkable.”
“Now put your left leg in the second one... there we go. Make sure it’s secure... fantastic. Now stand!”
“Have faith, Johnny. Stand up!”
Tessa’s eyes were glued to the tv screen. Her mouth was wide open as she stared in awe at the young paraplegic boy on television stand to his feet for the first time in his entire life.
“I’m doing it! I’m doing it, Professor Dwyer!”
“There you go, Johnny! Now walk!”
“Just believe in yourself, Johnny!”
Tessa’s eyes only enlarged as the boy who was born with a congenital disorder that inhibited his ability to walk took his very first steps. She remembered when she first saw articles about Professor Dwyer’s proposal to create artificially intelligent bionic legs for the boy. It quickly became the highest trending news on an international level. For Professor Dwyer was one of the world’s if not THE world’s greatest mind. He not only worked with but was admired by several other brilliant minds including Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing history in the making. This groundbreaking moment takes mankind to an entirely new level in artificial intelligence.”
“Oh mama, I wanna be like Professor Dwyer!” Tessa said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Suddenly, the smoke alarm went off and Tessa could smell something burning. She scrambled to her feet to turn off the stove burner as the alarm beeped loudly in the small house.
“Tessa, you burnin’ down my kitchen, girl?!” her father called out from the living room.
“No, papa!” she shouted as she shoved one of the kitchen chairs beneath the smoke alarm. She grabbed a piece of mail on the kitchen table and quickly climbed on top to start fanning the smoke from the machine.
“I got it, papa!” she shouted as she jumped up on the chair to hit the button. The alarm immediately stopped beeping.
Tessa breathed a sigh of relief as she climbed off the chair. She looked at the crinkled envelope in her hand and her face immediately fell. It was a second warning about her father’s late payment for his therapy session.
She dropped the envelope on the table and her face fell even further to see another warning from the landlord for late rent.
“Tessa Marie!” her father called again.
“Coming, papa!” she shouted. She quickly organized the envelopes and turned back to the stove. The spatula nearly bent as she tried to scrape the burnt french toast off of the pan.
“Darn it,” she muttered. She quickly grabbed a plate and scooped the burnt pieces of french toast onto the plate. She spread a thin layer of butter on the top and drizzled a bit of syrup. She grabbed an orange and quickly peeled it before placing it on the tray with the plate of burnt french toast. She rushed to the fridge and frowned to see they were out of milk.
And out of orange juice.
And out of everything else.
“I’ll make him tea,” she said, grabbing a pitcher of tap water. She heated the water up in the microwave and grabbed a peppermint tea bag.
Lincoln looked up from the newspaper in his hands and over his bifocals to see his daughter carrying a tray into the living room.
“’Bout time. Thought you forgot about your old man,” Lincoln grinned at her.
“Never, papa,” she smiled as she set the tray down. Tessa walked behind her father and moved his wheelchair towards the table near the other side of the living room.
“I could have done that, baby girl,” Lincoln said.
“I know, papa. What are you reading today?” she asked as she grabbed the tray and set it on the table before him.
“The circular came in today. There are some discounts on eggs, cheese, and cereal. I know we ran out a few days ago,” her father said.
“I’ll go after school tomorrow to pick some up once I deposit my next check,” she said sitting on the other side of the table.
Her father smiled at her and looked down at the burnt french toasts. “So, that’s why the alarm went off.”
Tessa bit her bottom lip and averted her eyes. “Sorry, papa...”
“Don’t be sorry, baby girl. Were you watching Professor Dwyer’s TV special?”
Tessa nodded. “He’s so remarkable. I can’t believe he was able to make that boy walk! It’s a miracle!”
“It’s genius is what it is. That man’s got a gift and he’s sharing it with the world. I’m so happy that boy finally got the chance to walk,” her father said, cutting into his french toast.
Tessa looked at her father and her face slowly fell as she looked at his legs sitting stiffly in his wheelchair.
“Don’t do that, Tessa,” her father said abruptly, interrupting her thoughts.
She looked at him startled. “Do what, papa?”
Lincoln gave his daughter a gentle smile. “Pity me, Tessa. Don’t pity me.”
Tessa swallowed hard as she looked down at the table. “Papa, we’re late on the payment for your therapy session...”
“I’ll call my insurance carrier,” he said slipping a piece of French toast into his mouth.
“We’re... we’re late on the rent too, papa...”
Her father froze for a moment and put his fork down. “They ah... there was a temporary freeze on the disability checks... I’ll call them again this afternoon.”
Tessa looked up at her father with worry-filled eyes. “I can take another shift at the grocery store-”
“I’ll hear none of that,” he said waving her off. “You doin’ too much already for a girl your age. Takin’ care of her father and workin’ part-time at a dang grocery store when you barely outta high school. You focus on your grades and gettin’ into a good college and that’s all. Let me handle the rest.”
“Tessa Marie,” her father said sternly.
She swallowed her protest and looked down again. Her father took a sip of his tea and cleared his throat. “You heard about Professor Dwyer’s internship program this summer?”
Tessa shrugged. “Yes.”
Tessa looked at her father. “So, what?”
“So aren’t you going to apply?” he asked.
Tessa chuckled. “Papa, you know I can’t do that.”
“And why not?” he asked.
Tessa looked up thoughtfully. “Professor Dwyer... is a remarkable man. And this internship is for remarkable people.”
"You’re remarkable, Tessa. Ain’t that what your mother used to say? Do I gotta remind you?” her father said with a raised brow.
“I can’t leave you alone for the summ-”
“Tessa Marie, if you’re about to tell me the reason your big brain won’t apply for this incredible internship program is so you can take care of my old black ass, you might as well get the belt.”
“Papa!” Tessa laughed.
“You betta cut it out,” he grinned at her. “You got the highest scores on your exams out of everyone in your grade and you got straights A’s all 4 years of high school. Ain’t nobody betta for that internship program than you.”
Tessa shook her head with a smirk as she got up from her seat and grabbed his dirty dishes. “I have to leave for school, papa.”
He watched his daughter take the dishes to the kitchen before she reemerged with her book bag.
She leaned down and gave her father a kiss on the forehead. “I love you, papa.”
“I love you too, baby girl. Have a good day at school,” he said as she walked to the door. “Tessa Marie,” he called out.
She turned around to look at him. “Yes, papa?”
He gave her a large, warm smile. “You are remarkable.”
Tessa’s eyes shimmered as a smile came to her face. She nodded at him and headed out the door.
Tessa walked down the pathway to her high school. She stared at the sidewalk, watching herself place one foot in front of the other. Her mind was a flurry of thoughts.
Should she apply to Professor Dwyer’s internship program? Sure she was a hard-working student but so were many others. What made her so special?
And then there was her father. She was his primary caretaker. There was no way she could leave him alone for 3 months.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t watch where she was going and bumped into someone.
“Woah!” Tessa jumped startled and nearly fell with the books that slipped from her hands before the person she bumped into quickly grabbed her by the elbow to keep her from falling.
“S-sorry!” she said feeling embarrassed. She looked up to see who she bumped into and was even more mortified to find out it was her crush.
“Are you okay?” Kenny asked.
Tessa heard giggling from across the school’s courtyard and saw several girls from her classes staring at her and laughing.
“Y-yea,” she said crouching down to pick up her books. “Sorry.”
“It’s no problem,” Kenny said picking up her other book. He handed it to her with a smile.
“Thanks...” she said avoiding eye contact.
“Hey, you’re in my homeroom, right?” he asked her.
“Science, History, and Literature,” she said looking sideways.
Kenny looked at her startled.
“I’m... very attentive,” she said quickly.
“Right,” he nodded confused. “Well, I’m Kenny.”
“Tessa,” she said glancing up at him quickly.
“Nice to meet you, Tessa. Well... see you around?” he asked.
She nodded with a small smile. Her head followed him as he walked past her to join a few of his friends. She heard more snickering and glanced across the courtyard to see a few unfriendly stares. Tessa readjusted her bag on her shoulder and continued towards the building.
High school was a lonely feeling. Due to her introverted and shy nature, she wasn’t very good in social environments. She had a hard time striking up conversation with random people. She didn’t know if it was because she was an only child and grew up in a rather conservative home, but she knew it definitely impacted her ability to make friends.
Because she didn’t really have any.
School was her main focus anyway. She tried joining clubs in an attempt to make friends, and that almost seemed successful when she joined the ballet team.
But then the accident happened.
And she lost her mother.
And she didn’t ever see herself recovering from severe depression.
She imagined her inability to cope with her mother’s death drove many students away from her and any potential to make friends. Who wanted to hang out with the girl who looked sad and mopey all the time anyway? She couldn’t blame them.
The hallway was abuzz with students excited for the summer. They were a few days away from summer break and everyone had plans. She could hear girls talking about going to the beach and boys chatting about hitting the skate park.
But Tessa only had two hopes for her summer. To get an increase at her job at the grocery store and a scholarship for community college. She desperately needed the money to help with the bills. There was only so much her father’s disability checks could do.
“Maybe I can get a part-time job at the museum,” she said thoughtfully as she opened up her locker.
She heard that familiar voice again and looked past her locker to see Kenny walking down the hallway with a few of his friends. She couldn’t help staring. She loved the way his brown hair swooped in front of his brown eyes. And he had such an adorable chuckle. How could a chuckle be adorable? Tessa used to wonder but she stopped questioning it.
“Take a picture it’ll last longer.”
Tessa glanced to the other side to see one of the girls from homeroom giving her a mocking grin. She swallowed hard and quickly closed her locker before heading to class.
Tessa stared out of the classroom window. She was once again lost in her thoughts.
Professor Dwyer’s Summer Internship Program. It was a dream.
An unattainable dream.
She quickly looked up at her teacher sitting at her desk.
“Yes, Ms. Courie?”
“I don’t know what’s so interesting, Ms. Marie, but I suggest you focus on your exam,” her teacher said annoyed. Several students in the classroom snickered as Tessa felt a wave of embarrassment wash over her.
“I’m... I’m actually done, Ms. Courie...”
The teacher looked at her startled. “Tessa, the exam started less than 20 minutes ago.”
Tessa wanted to shrink into her seat. “Yes, Ms. Courie, I know.”
“...and you’re telling me you finished this 50-question exam worth 40% of your grade in less than 20 minutes?”
Tessa wanted to hide under her desk. She hated all of this attention she was getting. Why did Ms. Courie have to call her out like that? Couldn’t she have just pulled her to the side?
“...Yes, Ms. Courie...” she said meekly.
There were several whispers that accompanied the dirty looks shot in her direction.
Tessa loved school.
Without the gossiping students.
And without the condescending teachers.
“Bring me your exam,” Ms. Courie said firmly.
Tessa felt a lump form in her throat as she reluctantly grabbed her test and walked to the teacher’s desk. She felt like she was doing the walk of shame.
“Stay here while I grade it,” Ms. Courie said.
Tessa looked across the classroom to see several eyes on her. Not a single one was friendly. She quickly averted her gaze to look out the window.
She had always been appreciative of her parents for fostering a hunger for learning within her. Their family time together was often spent at a museum, aquarium, zoo, or planetarium.
But she wished it didn’t make her come off so... weird. No wonder she had no friends.
She heard her teacher huff and looked down to see her red pen frozen in her grasp with no marking on her exam.
“Did you cheat, Ms. Marie?” her teacher accused abruptly.
Tessa looked at her startled. “No, Ms. Courie, I-”
“It doesn’t make any sense that you would get every single question on this exam correct in less than 20 minutes without cheating,” her teacher said firmly.
Tessa felt her eyes brimming with tears. “Ms. Courie, I would never cheat,” she choked out.
“I’m taking you to the principal’s office,” her teacher said standing from her desk.
“But! But, Ms. Cour-” Tessa started before her teacher grabbed her by her wrist and dragged her to the door.
“I don’t want to hear a word out of any of you! I’ll be right back,” Ms. Courie snapped at the class as she dragged Tessa out of the room.
Tessa had full-blown tears streaming down her puffy dark brown cheeks as she stumbled after her teacher who dragged her down the hallway as if she were a criminal. She hated the principal’s office. It was the most dreaded place for her to be.
“Principal Withers!” Ms. Courie called out as she stepped into the administration’s area.
“Uh, Ms. Courie, Principal Wither-” the secretary said quickly.
“I need to speak to him,” Ms. Courie said dragging Tessa to his office. She ignored his secretary and barged through the doors. “Principal With-... what the hell are you doing here?”
“Well, hello to you too, Cindy.”
Tessa felt a wave of relief wash over her to see the school counselor, Ms. Bell, sitting at the Principal’s desk.
“Where’s Billy?” Ms. Courie said annoyed.
“Principal Withers is currently on trial for misconduct,” Ms. Bell said sipping her coffee.
“Well, then why are you in his seat?” Ms. Courie demanded. “You’re just a school counselor.”
“I got a promotion,” Ms. Bell said giving her a sarcastic smile. “May I ask why you’re manhandling this young girl like she’s a criminal?”
“She cheated on her test,” Ms. Courie snapped. “I want her on suspension.”
Ms. Bell looked from Ms. Courie to Tessa whose face was wet with her tears.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Tessa consistently been on the A honor roll for the past 4 years she’s attended this school?” Ms. Bell asked.
Ms. Courie looked at Ms. Bell annoyed. “Yes, but-”
“And was she not the only student to receive perfect scores on both the ACT and SATs,” Ms. Bell cut her off.
“I still think-” Ms. Courie said flustered.
“So please tell me why you think she would possibly cheat on your exam if she’s already proven herself on every level and in every capacity?” Ms. Bell asked seriously.
Ms. Courie’s nostrils flared. “Do you honestly think this girl is telling the truth?!”
“Oh no, of course not. Clearly she’s manipulated every teacher she’s had for the past 4 years and bribed the board of exams with all that money and wealth she doesn’t have. Surely that’s far more believable than you accepting you have a living genius in your class,” Ms. Bell said.
Ms. Bell looked at Tessa. “Or maybe the unbelief for you is how can a black girl possibly be this smart?”
Ms. Courie immediately turned red. “That is unfounded-!”
“Before I was promoted I was a school counselor, remember? I can’t tell you how many black students made complaints about you, Ms. Courie. You have a file the size of a history textbook. Don’t think these trials stop at Billy Withers. You’re next.”
All of the color drained from Ms. Courie’s face. “....L-Lizzie.”
“It’s Principal Bell to you. You can leave now. I’d like to speak with Ms. Marie,” Ms. Bell said shooing her away.
Ms. Courie swallowed hard as she looked down at Tessa. Tessa didn’t dare return her gaze. She quickly exited the room leaving the two of them alone.
“Wipe your face, Tessa,” Ms. Bell said with a tone much softer than the one she had with Ms. Courie.
Tessa quickly wiped the tears from her face. “You didn’t have to do that, Lizzie”
“What? Tell that racist bitch off? Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to do that?” Ms. Bell chuckled.
Tessa chuckled as she wiped her tears. “Are you really the new principal?”
Ms. Bell shrugged. “Acting. It’s not exciting. I barely got a pay increase. But at least I get to sit in this big ol’ chair and tell people what to do,” she grinned. “It’s bad enough you had to deal with that racist jerk. You can take the rest of the day if you want.”
Tessa smiled fondly. “You can’t play favorites, Lizzie.”
“I’m not playing favorites. I just like you best,” Ms. Bell teased.
Tessa chuckled. “I’d rather stay for the day. I have ballet practice afterward and I don’t want to go home just yet...” she trailed off.
Ms. Bell’s face turned serious. “How’s your father? Is Lincoln being consistent with those therapy sessions.”
Tessa took a deep breath. “Yes, but... we’re late on some bills.”
“I can cover it,” Ms. Bell said quickly.
“Lizzie,” Tessa said shaking her head. “You don’t have to-”
“Tessa, I promised your mother I would look after you if anything happened to her,” Ms. Bell said quickly. “Just let me do this.”
Tessa choked back a sob and nodded in gratitude. She watched as Ms. Bell took out her checkbook and scribbled with a pen.
“Do you want me to look over your application?” Ms. Bell asked.
Tessa looked at her confused. “My application for what?”
Ms. Bell looked at her as if it should have been obvious. “Your application for Professor Dwyer’s Internship program. Duh!”
Tessa let out a deep sigh. “Lizzie-”
“ARE YOU TELLING ME YOU DIDN’T APPLY?! TESSA, THE DEADLINE IS TONIGHT!”
“Lizzie, I can’t! I have to work during the summer-”
“Tessa, this internship program provides free room and board IN ADDITION to weekly payment. It’s a PAID INTERNSHIP, Tessa. Are you crazy?!”
Tessa looked at her startled. “But I can’t leave my father-”
“Tessa, I will literally kick your butt! I swear you’re so much like your mother in so many annoying ways. I wanted to kick her stubborn behind too! Ugh!” Ms. Bell said throwing her hands in the air. “Gosh, this reminds me of that time back when we were in high school and I had to basically threaten her to audition for her first ballet troupe. She fought me tooth and nail.”
Tessa watched as Ms. Bell shook her head with a grin on her face. She frequently rambled about her mother as she got lost in nostalgia. Tessa had practically memorized all the things the two of them used to do together when they were much younger. Before her mother got married and had a daughter. Before Ms. Bell became a school counselor. Before her mother left her far too soon...
She believed her mother’s death hurt Ms. Bell the most.
Ms. Bell looked at Tessa and smiled. “Tessa, no one is more perfect for that program than you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you’d be crazy to pass it up.”
Tessa hesitated. “But-”
“At least... apply... I can send in your transcript and test scores for you as well as a recommendation letter. All you have to do is fill out the application and answer the essay question.”
Tessa sighed in submission. “Okay...”
“Tessa,” Ms. Bell said garnering her attention. “You’re one of the most brilliant students I’ve ever met. Your mind is a gift. I need you to have more confidence in yourself and the impact you can have on this world. What is it that your mother used to say to you every night?”
Tessa swallowed hard. “You are remarkable...”
A wide smile crossed Ms. Bell’s face. ”You are remarkable. Never forget that, Tessa.”
Tessa nodded with a smile before quickly exiting the principal’s office.
Tessa lay down on her bed, kicking her feet behind her. She nibbled on her thumb as she stared at the computer screen.
She didn’t get past typing her name.
Why was this so hard all of a sudden?
She thought that if her shift at the grocery store didn’t allow her time to decompress, her ballet practice would.
But it didn’t.
Shaking her head, she put fingers to the keyboard and attempted to fill out the rest of the application. She glanced at the clock. She had 4 hours to meet the deadline.
“Darn it,” she groaned as she plopped her head on the pillow. She could hear her father watching TV in the living room. She rolled out of bed and headed towards the living room.
“Excuse me? What exactly are you doing missy?” Lincoln asked as he watched Tessa head towards the kitchen.
“I was gonna make us dinner,” she said.
“I’ll make dinner. Lizzie told me you were going to apply for that internship program,” her father said.
Tessa groaned. “Pa-”
“You better march yo behind back to yo room!” her father said lightly tapping her backside with a rolled-up newspaper.
Tessa rolled her eyes with a chuckle and headed back to her room.
Plopping down on the bed, she stared at her computer screen again. She flexed her fingers and finally got to typing.
An hour later, she could smell fried chicken from the kitchen. She took a quick break to grab a plate of food.
“You made this, Papa?” Tessa asked staring at the plate of food.
“Delivery is a beautiful thing, baby girl,” her father grinned.
Tessa chuckled and kissed her father on the cheek before quickly heading back to her room to finish her application.
She had one more question to go.
The essay question.
“‘Describe your hero. Explain your choice.’ Seriously?” she groaned. “I would have expected a more scientific question.”
She nibbled on her thumb as she pondered. “I feel like every applicant would say him, wouldn’t they? I mean... who wouldn’t see Professor Dwyer as their hero?”
She glanced at the large poster she had on the wall of him. It was an earlier picture of him in his younger days that she kept as memorabilia.
Tessa’s admiration for Professor Dywer was a borderline obsession. She had bought and read every book he wrote. She had read his memoir so many times she could recite whole passages.
Inside the Brilliant Mind of Orion was the best 20 bucks she had ever spent. She would read the pages late at night until her mother came to her room to force her to go to sleep.
His writing touched her soul. Every word on paper felt personal. Like it was his diary. A mirror into the enigma that was his incredible mind.
Professor Orion Dwyer was her hero as he was to millions of other people around the world.
She looked from his poster to the collage of pictures she had put up of her mother. Some of them included Lizzie from back in their high school and college days. Several of them were pictures of her mother dancing in front of thousands of people. Her mother was a revered ballet dancer who had several adoring fans. Her biggest fans being her daughter and her husband whom she left the day she died in that dreaded car accident that maimed Lincoln paralyzing him from the waist down.
Tessa got off of the bed and picked up her mother’s old ballet shoes. They were worn and withered, missing its lifelong dancer.
A tear slipped down Tessa’s cheek as she held the ballet shoes tight to her chest.
“You are... remarkable...” she said to herself. She opened her tear-filled eyes and stared at another professional picture of her mother in black and white that she had saved from a playbill of one of her shows.
“You are my hero, mama...”
Suddenly, Tessa’s eyes widened. She placed the ballet shoes back down and jumped on the bed, quickly getting to work on her essay.
Tessa slowly opened her eyes.
“TESSA MARIE! GET OUT OF BED OR YOU’LL BE LATE FOR SCHOOL!” her father shouted from the living room.
“Huh?” she groaned. Her eyes squinted at the bright bedroom light she never turned off. She rolled a little too far off the bed and landed hard on the floor.
“TESSA, DID YOU JUST FALL OFF THAT BED?”
She stumbled around the floor trying to adjust to the light. She reached for her phone and checked the time.
“Oh shoot! Oh shoot! Oh shoot!” she squealed as she rushed for her closet to get dressed.
Her clothes flew out of her closet like a tornado before she hopped out trying to stick her legs in a pair of jeans.
“I’m coming, Papa!” she shouted, rushing to grab her things. Suddenly she heard a bing from her laptop.
“Oh shoot dang it! Did I even make the deadline?! I don’t remember falling asleep!” she panicked. She fell to her knees and grabbed her laptop. There was an email in her inbox.
Her eyes widened. Congratulations! You’ve made it to the second round for Professor Orion Dwyer’s Internship Program.
Tessa screamed her excitement at the top of her lungs.***