Every day could use a little love story.
Carlos had bounced from foster home to foster home by the time he'd reached 8th grade. The only memories he had of his real parents were dark and painful. His mild cerebral palsy and autism necessitated him taking all his classes in a self contained special education unit, where he began to thrive. Carlos read voraciously. He was also selectively mute, only using gestures or on the rare occasion, a simple spoken word. He self-soothed when he became nervous by fluttering his hands near his face, as if they were silent doves. His expression was always serious, never loosening into a smile.
Rachel had lived with her grandmother most of her life. She was a happy, bubbly girl, grown large with her grandma's delectable cooking. Although in 8th grade, she had the mental age of a 6 year old. Her speech was limited, but she also loved coming to school in the same self contained unit Carlos attended.
On a grade level field trip to a state park, their regular teachers were unable to attend. I kept a close eye on them, both to ensure their safety and because I didn't know how the other kids would treat them.
I was proud of the other 8th graders. They were kind to Carlos and Rachel and went out of their way to include them in the tour groups we had. Carlos and Rachel both seemed a little overwhelmed, but kept up well with all we did that morning.
Our scheduled lunch was a picnic near the river in a scenic spot canopied with enormous oak and elm trees. The other students grabbed their lunches and gobbled them down, eager to play and explore our area. I sat at a picnic table with Carlos and Rachel.
They shyly and quietly ate their lunches. Rachel giggled a few times as I tried to engage them in conversation, but Carlos kept his grave expression as he finished his sandwich. He stole a few glances at Rachel and his hands began fluttering.
He turned on the bench and faced her. She had her eyes on her food, still smiling, oblivious to Carlos' attention to her.
"Rachel," Carlos murmured softly. She continued to look at her food.
"Rachel," he said louder. This time, she swung her head towards him.
His hands fluttered even faster.
"Rachel, you are my heartbeat," he said clearly, without cutting his eyes from her.
"Huh?" she asked, uncomprehendingly.
"You are the air I breathe, Rachel," Carlos said with fervor.
No one had ever heard this boy say more than two words together. I felt like I was intruding on a sacred moment. I held my breath.
Rachel moved her head slightly towards Carlos.
"What it mean, Carlos?" she asked.
"I love you, Rachel. I love you," Carlos replied. His hands finally stilled themselves, his gaze intently fixed on her.
"Aw, I wuv you, too, Carlos," Rachel answered. She giggled and pulled open a bag of chips, crunching one loudly.
Carlos' expression softened and he exhaled a long, satisfied sigh. A small smile curled up at the corners of his mouth. The other teachers and kids loudly jumbled back to where we were and it was time to load the bus.
They did not sit in the same seat on the bus, but he looked back every now and then and grinned at her. She giggled back at him. His whole frame loosened and his hands rested calmly in his lap.
As we unloaded back at school, they still did not walk close to each other, but each time he looked at her, she smiled and giggled and he crinkled his eyes and beamed tenderly as they made their way back to class.