“That’s good. I was worried you’d finish your first east coast winter with a Vitamin D deficiency.”
“Nope. All good here. What about you? What’s happening with the fires?” Wildfires had been wreaking havoc on the west coast for the past few weeks. It’s been making me antsy knowing my mom’s out there breathing in all that crap.
“Oh, well, you know. Last couple weeks I’ve been putting up plastic and taping the doors and windows shut to keep the smoke out. Bought four brand new air purifiers that are supposed to suck up anything bigger than an atom. I think they’re drying out my skin, though. But maybe it’s just the lack of humidity lately. Anyhow, the fires down this way are out now, they said, so the smoke’s mostly cleared. Which is good, because I just started a new sunrise beach yoga class.”
“Oh, God, I know, right?” She laughs at herself. It’s an infectious sound I hadn’t realized I’d missed so much. “But Christian’s partner Richie—you remember Christian from across the street—he just started teaching the class. He invited me and I didn’t know how to tell him no, so…”
“So now you’re a yoga lady.”
“I know, right? Who woulda thunk it?”
Certainly not me. Mom used to spend sixty, seventy hours a week on her feet in a salon then came home to chase my ass all over the neighborhood. If someone had invited her to sunrise beach yoga back then, she probably would’ve punched them in the throat. Making the transition from LA working single mother to HBC housewife was a tough one for her. She spent a lot of energy trying to fit in with a certain idea of herself and then resenting the inadequacy as a result, at least until she figured out how to stop giving a shit.
People who say money doesn’t buy happiness aren’t using it right. But hey, if Mom’s at the point where she can take some joy in waking up at the crack of dawn for frivolous shit, I’m happy for her.
“I told Max if he starts seeing Goop charges on the credit card statements to stage an intervention.”
“How is Max?” Not that I care, but it makes Mom feel better when I act like I give a shit.
In my defense, I’m certain my stepdad only asks her about me for the same reason—to score points. Max tolerates me because he loves my mom, but he’s never bothered trying to get to know me. Dude’s kept his distance from day one. I suspect he was relieved when I told them I wanted to transfer to an east coast school. He was so happy to get rid of me he pulled every string possible to get me into Briar.
And I was equally relieved to go. Guilt has a way of pressing down on you until you’ll do anything to escape.
“He’s terrific. Out of town for work right now, but he gets back Friday morning. So we’ll both be cheering you on in spirit Friday night. Any chance the game will be televised?”
“Probably not,” I reply as I near the parking lot. “If we make it to the final tournament, then for sure. Anyway, Mom, I gotta go. Just finished practice and need to drive home.”
“Okay, sweetie. Text or call before you leave for Buffalo this weekend.”
We say goodbye and I hang up and approach the beat-up black Jeep I share with Matt. Technically it’s mine, but he chips in for gas and pays for the oil changes, which means I don’t need to dip into the account Max tops up for me every month. I hate being dependent on my stepfather, but at the moment I have no choice.
“Everything okay?” Matt asks when I hop into the passenger seat.
“Yeah, sorry. Was talking to my mom.”
He looks disappointed.
“What?” I narrow my eyes.
“I was hoping you’d say it was your new girl and then I could make fun of you some more. But moms are off-limits.”
I snicker. “Since when? You mock Bucky about banging his mother practically on a daily basis.”
Although speaking of my “new girl,” I haven’t heard from her since last night, when she replied “LOL” to a hilarious video I sent her. Just an LOL. To a video of a surfing Chihuahua! What the hell.
As Matt pulls out of the parking lot, I shoot a quick text off to Taylor.
ME: Whatcha doing, hot stuff?
She doesn’t respond for nearly thirty minutes. I’m home and in my kitchen making a smoothie when she finally gets back to me.
TAYLOR: Working. I’ve got co-op at Hastings Elementary.
Ah, right. She’d mentioned she was serving as a teacher’s aide as part of her degree requirement.
ME: Dinner later?
HER: Can’t :(
HER: Have plans with friends at the diner. Talk later?
Well, shit. Been a while since anyone turned down a date with me, and even that was only so she could get me into bed faster. Taylor’s rejection hurts more than I know what to do with, but I’m very good at pretending not to care about stuff. Fake it till you make it, right?
ME: Sure thing.
I’m neck deep in construction paper butterflies and pipe cleaner caterpillars when the end-of-day bell rings. The kids drop their scissors and glue sticks to run for their cubbies where their backpacks and coats are kept.
“Not so fast,” I remind them. “Come put your supplies away and hang up your projects to dry.”
“Miss Marsh?” One of the girls taps me on the arm. “I can’t find my shoe.”
She stands forlorn in one purple waterproof boot and one cartoon character sock.
“When’s the last time you had your shoe, Katy?”
“Did you and Tamara trade shoes again?”
Another shrug. This one with some bottom lip protruding and eyes cast down at her mismatched feet.
I swallow a sigh. “Go find Tamara and see where she left your shoe.”
Katy scurries off. I watch her progress while picking up scraps of paper and pushing desks back into their proper arrangement. With Tamara’s guidance, who herself isn’t wearing any shoes, they find the missing footwear in the reading corner with the costumes Mrs. Gardner uses to have the kids act out characters while they read aloud.
The thing about first graders, they lie as easy as breathing. They’re just not very good at it yet. That, and it’s damn near impossible to keep all their clothes on them. Half my job is just making sure we send them home wearing only what they arrived in. Yup. It is a thankless and unending battle against the Lost & Found box.
“If there was such a thing as foot lice,” Mrs. Gardner says as we see the last stragglers off, “this classroom would be quarantined by the CDC.”
I grin. “At least it’s still cold enough outside that they’re wearing socks. I hate to see what happens when it gets warmer.”
She heaves a defeated breath. “That’s why I keep anti-fungal spray in my desk.”
There’s a lovely thought.
Hastings Elementary is just a ten-minute walk from my three-story apartment building. There aren’t any high-rises in Hastings, only little buildings and shops, and residential streets lined with townhouses or rambling old Victorians. It’s a cute town and everything is in walking distance, which I appreciate because I don’t own a car.