The guidance counselor left her office, pointedly shutting the door behind her. Danny was baffled. Was she leaving him alone with his file, giving him the opportunity to look into it? Or was he misinterpreting the gesture? Was he being videotaped? Was he making a terrible mistake?
He listened for her footsteps returning. His heart began to pound with excitement as, leaning over Mrs. Jameson's desk, he tried to read upside down the document lying on top of the manila file. Not hearing footsteps, he dared to go behind the desk to peer at it; it had the letterhead *biotechinc* at the top and "neuworth, Daniel S. *BD* 11 1 86" heading a pagelong column of densely printed information that appeared to be a mixture of scientific terms and mathematical symbols, incomprehensible to him. Danny had to suppose that this was coded data having to do with his grades at Mt. Olive High and the results of the numerous tests—IQ, "cognitive," "psychological"—he'd taken over the years. His ranking in his class, possibly statewide, even nationwide, was probably indicated too. At the very bottom of the page was a mysterious numeral of a dozen digits followed by a blank space and "*BD* 11 1 86-6 21 05."
What "BD" meant, Danny didn't know. But 11/1/86 was his birthday and, he recalled after a moment, 6/21/05 was the date of his high school graduation.
They expected him to graduate, then. This was good news!
Something else in the file must have distracted Mrs. Jameson. Teachers' confidential reports on Danny Neuworth. Information about him he wasn't allowed to know, beyond the blandly positive remarks invariably noted on his report cards: "Danny works hard," "Danny is cooperative," "Danny is promising," "Danny is reliable." But Mrs. Jameson would be returning; Danny couldn't risk looking further.
He was sitting very still in the chair facing Mrs. Jameson's desk when she reentered the room briskly. She didn't appear so distracted now. Her face was less flushed, as if she'd dabbed cold water onto it. She had catalogues for Danny to take away with him: "Stockton College, Fallsburgh State, Atlantic Cape College. Tuition is low for state residents, and these colleges don't demand high SAT scores." Danny took the catalogues from her gratefully. Maybe Mrs. Jameson liked him after all.
As he prepared to leave, the guidance counselor called after him, as if this were an old joke between them, "Remember, Danny: you have only to be you."
This strangeness. Like invisible, odorless gas seeping into his life in the fall, winter, spring, of his senior year.
When he'd thought that nearing graduation, he had a right to feel good about the future.
After Mrs. Jameson's perplexing behavior there was Coach Diedrich, who became embarrassed and uneasy when Danny asked if he would write letters of recommendation for him, laying a hand on Danny's shoulder with a warning not to be disappointed if he didn't get accepted: "'The race is not always to the swift.'" (What did that mean? No one had ever suggested that Danny Neuworth was the swiftest runner on the track team.) Ms. Beckman, Danny's history teacher, gazed at him for a long, startled moment as if trying to recall who he was, and finally agreed to recommend him for college if he applied to regional state schools. Mr. Fackler, who'd often encouraged Danny as a reporter on the school newspaper, smiled strangely, sighed, and said yes, he supposed he could recommend Danny—"If you really want to go to college." (What the hell was the alternative? Danny wondered. A job at McDonald's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, at the minimum wage? Enlisting in the U.S. Army and getting his legs blown off in an Iraqi desert?) And Mr. Lasky, Danny's biology teacher, shut his eyes, shaking his head slowly as if Danny's request were beyond him. Lasky was known for favoring only a few brainy students with what he called "natural genes" for science. "Hey, I know my grades aren't the highest," Danny said, trying to smile, though his heart was beating with resentment, "but colleges want to know about other things, too—how hard a person works, good citizenship, and like that." Danny's grades in biology were B-/C+, and he felt that he was learning a lot; he'd thought that Lasky knew this, and liked him. On a school expedition to BioCorpLabs, in Princeton, where the class was given a guided tour, Danny Neuworth had been one of the few guys who hadn't cracked up at the sight of some of the "donor animals" in their clean, fluorescent-lit cages: a normal-size but immobile gray mouse sprouting a human ear out of its back, like a grotesque tumor; a glum-looking baboon with several human noses growing out of its face; chimpanzees with human fingers and toes instead of chimp fingers and toes; a dozen sheep genetically altered to allow human embryos to gestate in their wombs, all in their eighth month of pregnancy; enormous hogs altered to grow human hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, even eyeballs, which would be "harvested" to benefit needy human beings. Danny had been struck by the sadness in the animals' eyes, as if, though lacking language, they did not lack the intelligence to guess at their fates. But he was canny enough not to include such a naive, unscientific observation in his report, and only stuck to the facts. Lasky had given him a B on the paper and scrawled Good work! in red ink; but now he seemed to have forgotten, confounded by Danny's request for letters of recommendation. The biology teacher had removed his glasses and was rubbing his watery eyes with the fingers of both hands, as if he was very tired, and murmuring what sounded like "'Good citizenship' we can do for you, Danny. The least we can do."