This story would fall early in Series 6, about the time Louisa’s school term began. It takes a look at how Martin might feel when meeting someone at his own level who faces similar issues.
by Karen Gilleland © 2014
Martin walked into the kitchen to find Louisa leaning back in the chair, eyes closed, a pile of papers in front of her. “Louisa, are you all right?”
She opened her eyes. “I am, yes, but I’m puzzled about Tristen Westmont. He’s seven years old, an absolute math whiz, but his reading and spelling skills are well below average.”
Martin pulled down the coffee bin, filled the expresso machine, tapped the button, and said, “Have you spoken with his parents?”
“A little. His mother brought Tristen to Portwenn two weeks ago when school started. His father’s a high-powered lawyer in London. Nancy thought Tristen would fare better in a small school setting, without so much peer pressure.”
While the coffee gurgled, Martin went to the cupboard and took down two mugs. He
glanced at Louisa, who was again marking papers. Martin filled the cups with the aromatic brew and set one cup in front of Louisa. He pulled out a chair on the opposite side of the table.
“Portwenn’s a long way from London,” Martin said.
Louisa wrapped her hands around the cup. “Yes, it can’t be easy for Tristen, changing schools and being separated from his father.”
“Umm.” Martin felt the stab of guilt that often assailed him when reminded of how close he had come to abandoning James.
Sipping coffee, Louisa continued. “Nancy and her husband are at odds over the boy’s development. I get the feeling the strain has fractured their marriage.”
Martin, uneasy on such subjects, remained quiet.
Louisa said, “I suggested that Nancy bring Tristen to see you to rule out a hearing or vision problem.”
Martin nodded, rinsed his cup and turned to Louisa. “It may be the boy has a learning disability. If I think that’s the case, I’ll refer him to a specialist.”
Late the next day, Nancy Westmont, an attractive woman with dark brown hair and blue eyes, brought Tristen into surgery. After examining the child, Martin said, “Teacher tells me you’re fond of math.”
Tristen smiled and nodded.
“I have some math problems I’d like you to solve,” Martin said. “Would you do that for me?”
Tristen nodded again.
“Good lad,” he said, lifting Tristen down off the couch. Martin took three sheets of paper off his desk, along with a pencil, and said, “Come with me. You can work at the kitchen table.”
Minutes later, Tristen walked back into the office and handed Martin the papers. That was quick, thought Martin. He pulled out another sheet and handed it to Tristen. “Would you try these word problems?”
The boy frowned, but took the papers and left the room. Martin looked over Tristen’s answers and said to the boy’s mother, “Perfect, and he completed the test much faster than average.”
“Yes, Tristen plays with numbers as if he were reading a comic book,” she said. “The trouble is, he doesn’t read comic books, or any other books.”
Mrs. Westmont’s eyes began to tear. Martin stiffened and cleared his throat. The woman looked at the floor and said, “His father is embarrassed because he thinks Tristen’s slow. What’s important to Jack is that Tristen keep up with his friends’ children, who, naturally, are super smart at everything.” She let out a deep sigh.
“Jack’s attitude was tearing me apart. That’s why I left London.” She sniffled, and Martin pushed a box of tissues toward her.
“I love Jack, but Tristen is so fragile. I must do what’s best for him.”
Martin fidgeted with papers on his desk and said, “I’ll check on Tristen. He’s had plenty of time to finish those problems.”
The boy was sitting playing with the pencil. “Tristen, how are you coming along?”
Tristen shook his head and held up the paper. He hadn’t answered any of the problems.
“That’s okay,” said Martin. “Give this set a try. Don’t worry about skipping answers.”
Martin walked into his office and sat down at the desk. He looked over at Mrs. Westmont and said, “I can’t be sure without having Tristen assessed, but I suspect he has dyslexia. It’s a condition where children have difficulty recognizing letters and word sequences. Curiously, he doesn’t have the problem with numbers. I’ll give you a referral to a specialist.”
“Is it curable?”
“It is a lifelong challenge, but most people, many celebrities and writers even, lead happy and successful lives. Tristen’s young, so he should make good progress.”
“What type of therapy is involved?”
“It’s a matter of setting a routine to practice oral reading, writing and drawing, as well as using computer technology,” said Martin. “I don’t want to say more until he’s been properly diagnosed.”
Tristen walked in with the test; he’d solved all the problems. Martin compared the answers to a sheet on his desk. Remarkable, Martin thought. He’s figured out the algebra. “Good job, Tristen.”
The doorbell rang. “Excuse me,” said Martin and left the room.
At the door stood a tall, handsome man with blond hair, dressed in a three-piece, gray suit. “Hello, Doctor Ellingham, I’m Jack Westmont,” he said. “My wife’s neighbor said that Nancy and Tristen came to see you.”
Martin stepped outside and closed the door. “Yes, they’re here now.”
The man lifted his hands, palms up. “May I come in?”
“I’d like a word first,” Martin answered. “I’ve examined your son. Physically, he’s fine, but I suspect he may have dyslexia.”
Jack frowned. “I had a school chum with dyslexia, but he grew out of it.”
“Most likely, your friend still works at it.” The expression on the banker’s face caused Martin to add, “You must know your son is extremely gifted in math.”
Jack blinked and said, “His mother’s always said Tristen was quick with numbers. I’m afraid I haven’t taken time to notice.”
“I gave him a test generally given to kids 10 years older than he is. He aced it. His talent is wired in, not learned.” Martin paused and said, “You should be very proud of your son.”
Jack Westmont’s face grew crimson, and his eyes lowered. “Yes, I feel ashamed that I let him and his mother leave. I came down here to take them home — if I’m not too late.”
The men looked at each other a second. Martin tilted his head to the side, opened the door and said, “Please, come in.”
Martin led Jack to the office and then walked into the kitchen and sat down, tapping his thumb on the table, wondering how he would cope as his own son grew older.
Louisa came through the door with James. She set the infant in the highchair and glanced
at Martin. “You seem thoughtful,” she said, reaching for a cereal box.
“Mrs. Westmont and Tristen are in the office with Mr. Westmont.”
“Really,” said Louisa, pouring cereal into a bowl. “I didn’t realize her husband was in Portwenn.”
“He just arrived and wants to take his family back to London.”
Louisa set the bowl of dry cereal in front of James, who grabbed a handful and tossed it into the air.
Martin looked at James and sighed. “I think Tristen has dyslexia,” he said. “If he stays in Portwenn, you’ll need to modify his lessons. He’ll require extra time to complete reading and writing assignments, help with note taking, that sort of thing.”
“Of course,” Louisa said, bending down to pick up the cereal off the floor.
“No, James,” she said. “Cereal is for eating, not throwing.” The baby grabbed another fistful, but Louisa guided his hand to his mouth.
“I’ve had friends with dyslexia who are thriving,” she told Martin.
“Yes, several colleagues at med school had it,” Martin said. “Surgery is an ideal field because it doesn’t emphasize language skills.”
Louisa flashed him a questioning look.
“What?” Martin asked, perplexed, then said, “No, Louisa, I don’t have dyslexia.”
“Of course not,” Louisa said, but Martin saw her lips twitch before she turned her back to set the bowl in the sink.
A door opened, and voices floated into the kitchen. Martin picked up James Henry, and Louisa followed them into the reception area.
Jack was carrying Tristen, his arms wrapped tightly around the child. Jack set the boy down and extended his hand, “Thank you for your help, Doctor Ellingham.”
“Yes,” Martin said, shaking hands.
Nancy Westmont looked at Louisa. “I’m afraid we’ll be moving back to London at the break. Jack has agreed that Tristen can attend a small school there. We’ve explained to Tristen that he may have dyslexia. ”
Louisa walked over to Tristen and sank down on one knee. “We’ll miss you,” she said, “but while you’re in Portwenn, we’ll give you any special help we can.”
The boy nodded and looked at Martin. “Dad said you think I’m extra smart in math.”
“You have a gift–” Martin started to say, but James Henry stuck his hand into Martin’s mouth, holding onto his teeth. Louisa, Nancy and Tristen laughed at the sight and walked toward the door.
Jack Westmont hung back, watching Martin and James. “A mouthful of fingers,” Jack said. “You’re lucky. You seem to understand what’s really important.”
Martin looked at the man and felt a bond with this stranger, who, like himself, was trying to balance a demanding career and family, and coming up short.
Lowering his voice, Martin said, “Really important, humm. I don’t always get it right.” He shifted James, and the baby touched his face. “I have to remind myself, everyday, not to let the world step in front of what’s really important.”
— THE END —
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