We're here to help you be successful again, Katherine.
If there was anything worse than having a dad who was a teacher, it was having your dad at the same school as you. And not just for a couple of years. A K–12 school. A small K–12 school, so you had thirteen years of absolute hell, no breathing space, no room to be yourself. And if that wasn't bad enough, have your dad be best friends with the headmistress for a gajillion years—Ann Zedman always over at your house, peeking into your life.
That was why Katherine loved the East Bay. It was hers.
At least, it had been until last week—the stupid cops separating her out, scolding her, asking what the hell she was doing with those people. She remembered the ride home from the Oakland police station, her wrists raw from the handcuffs, her anger building as her father glanced in the rearview mirror, insisting that she not tell her mother what she'd been doing at the party because it would break her mother's heart. Katherine had snapped. She'd told her dad everything—to hurt him, to prove it was even worse than he thought. She did have a life of her own. Friends of her own.
She hated herself even more than she hated him. She'd told him. She'd ruined everything. Now he would send her away to goddamn Texas.
Mallory tugged at her sleeve. “Come on, Kaferine. You got a double red.”
Katherine looked across the game board.
Mallory had been her dress-up doll, her pretend child, her toy self she could slip into whenever real life sucked too bad. But now that Mallory had started kindergarten at Laurel Heights, Katherine felt sad every time she looked at her. She never wanted to see them ruin this little girl, the way they'd ruined her. She never wanted to see Mallory grow up.
She forced a smile, moved her double red.
Mallory drew Queen Frostine and squealed with delight.
It was an easy skip from Queen Frostine to King Kandy. Mallory won the game while Katherine was still back in the Molasses Swamp.
“What can we play now?” Mallory asked. “Horses?”
“I have a better idea.”
“No,” Mallory said immediately. “I don't like that.”
“Come on. It's our little secret.”
“Nah. For a brave kid like you?”
Katherine went to the secret panel in the wainscoting, the storage closet that her grandfather had constructed when the bottom level of the townhouse had been his shop. He was a clockmaker, her grandfather. He loved gears and springs, mechanical tricks.
The door was impossible to see from the outside. You had to press in just the right spot for the pressure latch to release. Inside, the space was big enough for a child to crawl into, or maybe an adult, if you scrunched. The back was still crammed with clock parts—copper coils, weights and chains, star-and-moon clock faces.
She remembered her grandfather telling her, “Never wind a clock backwards, Katie. Never.” He had always called her Katie, never Katherine. Her father said it was because he couldn't bear to think of his wife, whose smoker's lungs had shut down while she was waiting for her namesake to be born. “Winding backwards will ruin the clock. Always go forward. Even if you only want to go back an hour, always go forward eleven.”
She wondered if her dad had been made out of clock parts, like the latch on the cabinet. She wished she could wind him backwards one week, to see if something would break.
She reached into the closet, to the little rusty hook only she knew about, and pulled out a copy of her Toyota key.
Ground me, Daddy. Go ahead.
She turned to Mallory, who was balancing Equestrian Barbie's plastic pony on her knee.
Poor little Mallory—the headmistress's daughter. She would have an even worse school experience than Katherine did. So what if she liked kindergarten? It was only a matter of time before she felt the walls closing in on her, that chasm opening at her feet. It sliced into Katherine's heart whenever she passed the lower school windows, saw Mallory wave a sticky hello to her, fingers covered in primary-colored gloop.
No, Katherine never wanted to see her baby doll grow up.
She smiled to cover the blackness. “Come on, Peewee. Let's go for a ride.”
Laurel Heights School blazed with light. Luminarias lined the sidewalk. Arcs of paper lanterns glowed red and blue over the playground, transforming the basketball court into a dance floor nobody could use, thanks to the weather.
Inside, the two-story building was buttery warm with jazz music and candlelight, waiters bustling about with trays of champagne and canapés, parents laughing too loud, drinking too freely, enjoying their big night away from the children.
For an outside party brought inside at the last minute, Ann had to admit the staff and the caterers had done a great job. Cloths had been draped over the teachers' supply cabinets. Banquet tables had replaced school desks. A hundred tiny articles of lost-and-found clothing had been taken off the coat hooks and stashed in closets, broken crayons and Montessori rods swept off the floor. Fresh-cut flowers decorated the music teacher's piano. The kindergarten teacher's desk had been converted to a cash bar.
The school was too small for so many people, but the cramped quarters just proved Ann's point, the purpose for the auction—the school needed to grow. They weren't the neighborhood school they'd started out as in the 1920s, with fifteen kids from Pacific Heights. They were busting at the seams with 152 students from all over the Bay Area. They needed to buy the mansion next door, do a major renovation, double the size of the campus. What better way to kick off the capital campaign than cram all the parents together, let them see how their children spent each day?
Despite that, despite how well the evening seemed to be going, Ann was a mess. The two glasses of wine she'd had to steady her nerves were bubbling to vinegar in her stomach.
She should have been schmoozing, but instead she was sitting in the corner of the only empty classroom, knees-to-knees with Norma Reyes on tiny first-grade chairs, telling Norma that marriage counseling was a great idea. Really. It was nothing to be ashamed about.
She prayed Chadwick would forget about their agreement—just forget it.
At the same time, she hoped like hell he had more guts than she did.
Norma kept crying, calling Chadwick names.
Parents streamed by the open doorway. They would start to greet Ann, then see Norma's tears and turn away like they'd been hit by a wind tunnel fan.
“I want to kill the pendejo,” Norma said.
Ann laced her fingers in her friend's. She promised that Chadwick was trying his best, that Katherine would be okay. Her therapist was sharp. There were good programs for drug intervention.
“Bullshit,” Norma said. “You love this. You've been warning me for years.”
Ann said nothing. She'd had lots of practice, diplomatically saying nothing.
For years, she had been the mediator between the family and the faculty, who would ask her—no disrespect to their colleague Chadwick—but why wasn't Katherine on probation? Why wasn't she taking her medication? When do they decide that they just can't serve her at this school? Ann endured the insinuations that if Chadwick hadn't been her friend for so long, if she didn't know the family socially, she would've jumped on Katherine's problems sooner and harder.
On the other hand, there was Norma, who had never seen the problem, not since seventh grade, when Ann had first pushed for psychological testing. Norma only saw the good in her daughter. Laurel Heights was overreacting. She'd never forgiven Chadwick for supporting Ann's recommendations for testing and therapy.
“You know what he's planning, don't you?” Norma asked.
Ann's heart did a half-beat syncopation. “What do you mean?”
“Come on. Me, he keeps in the dark. You, never. Asa Hunter. The school in Texas.”
Ann's shoulders relaxed. “He mentioned it.”
She didn't say that Chadwick had obsessed on it at length, been impervious to her reservations. A boot camp? Wilderness therapy? What was she supposed to say—yes, lock your kid up with drill sergeants for a year? Turn your back on everything Laurel Heights stands for—the child-centered philosophy, the nurturing environment—and give Katherine a buzz cut? The whole idea only underscored how desperate Chadwick was to be out of a failing marriage.
But she'd agreed to let him take time off for his trip to Texas, despite how hard it was to get a substitute around Thanksgiving, despite the fact that the eighth-graders hated it when Chadwick—their favorite teacher—was gone. It was in Ann's interest to let Chadwick get his thoughts in order—about Katherine, about everything.
What bothered her most was that she had been tempted to endorse the idea of sending Katherine away. In a selfish, dishonorable way, wouldn't it make things easier?
“We both know,” she told Norma. “He only wants what's best for Katherine.”
“He wants to use her as a fucking guinea pig.” Norma ripped another tissue out of her purse. “Christ, I must look like shit.”
Oh, please, Ann thought.
As if Norma ever looked like shit. She had that petite figure Ann had grown up hating. She wished, just once, she could look like Norma. She wished she could cry in public and call her husband a dickhead and not give a second thought how it would affect her public image.
Okay. She was jealous. She hated herself for it, spent hours at night thinking, That's not the reason. That's not the reason.
John appeared at the door, a margarita in either hand. He surveyed the situation, smiled straight through Norma's tears.
“You'll never guess,” he said. “The mayor thinks Mallory's panel is the best one on the kindergarten quilt. We're going to have lunch next week, go over some ideas for the Presidio.”
Ann fought down a surge of irritation. She hated the way John skated across other people's emotions—so completely incapable of sympathy that he made it his personal mission to pretend bad feelings didn't exist. You could always count on John to be the first to tell a joke at any funeral.
“Lunch with Frank Jordan,” Ann said. “Big prize, John.”
He raised his eyebrows at Norma. “I get a piece of the biggest development deal in the city's history—you'd think that would please my wife. Lots of money. Lots of publicity. But what do I know? Maybe it's nothing special.”
“Hey,” Norma said, dabbing her tissue under her eyes. “Tonight is supposed to be fun. Remember?”
John handed her a margarita. “Your husband got stuck with that pretty blond Mrs. Passmore—had a question about her daughter's history project. Can't take him anywhere, huh?”
Ann wanted to slap him.
“We're about to start, honey,” she said instead. “Why don't you go check with the cashiers?”
“Done, honey. Spreadsheet. Printer. Cash box. Don't worry about it.”
He gave her a smug smile that confirmed what she already knew—letting John chair the capital campaign was the biggest mistake of her life. It was a pro bono thing for him, a good tax write-off, and since the school could hardly afford a full-time development director, Ann truly needed the help. But as she had been slow to figure out, the charity work made John feel superior, affirming his belief that Ann's career was nothing more than a hobby. Raising her $30 million would be his equivalent to helping her power-till a tomato patch or driving her to yoga lessons. My wife, the headmistress. Isn't she cute?