Chirping children were pretty hard to stomach. Never having been one, Leo could not understand them or how they came into being, had their mother’s reared them on milk laced with sugar and spice? Leo was suddenly struck by a memory of himself lying on his stomach beside Tommy Redding, the pair of them hidden between tall blades of grass, and watching with grim fascination as the other boy sprinkled piles of salt upon a newly homeless snail. He shuddered. So, what if he wasn’t made from all things nice? Few people were and it was better to be prepared for the rough edges in life. If the tiny sunbeam in front of him hadn’t belonged to the teacher standing at the front of the classroom, Leo might have taken the opportunity to tell the child that Santa, the Easter bunny, and unconditional love were all a pack of lies and did not exist.
But because Leo didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of losing his Head Boy badge so soon in the academic year and because crying children made even the most cold-hearted soul uncomfortable Leo said nothing. He even managed to hold back a laugh when Madeline referred to McKindy as “Aaron-dad” without a trace of humour. She was actually quite cute with her wide smiles and bubbling excitement, markedly different from Eugene’s - which always emitted a manic energy which suggested something was about to go terribly wrong, and that Leo would be the one left cleaning up the mess. She reminded him a little, of a smarter, more grown-up Amybeth.
He glanced at the professor and tried to picture him in a kitchen baking pies and cakes with Madeleine. He was probably the sort of baker who used exact measurements and had to make sure everything was perfectly level. He wondered if Madeleine got to lick the bowl and supposed she must do. As a child that had always seemed like it would be the best part of baking.
“That’s great Madeleine, because to be totally honest with you, I can’t bake.” He pulled an expression of exaggerated worry and continued, “Like nothing. Not even brownies from the packet. I know, I know, that’s bad isn't it?” He shrugged his shoulders and pulled out a smile, as he looked Madeleine in the eyes. “But I think we’re gonna do good. I have a feeling you’re a really great teacher.”