Authors: Deanna Lynn Sletten
"Actually, Andrew," she replied tartly. "Just how did she get the chance to skip school? If you were dropping her off and picking her up, there'd be no way for her to leave without you finding out right away."
"I wasn't dropping her off," he admitted. "She was taking the bus, which is exactly what she should have been doing all these years instead of being babied."
"That's the problem then. If you drop her at school, she won't be able to wander off. You'll know for sure she's in school. I know you have the time to do it, Andrew. You don't really have to be at work until nine o'clock. Would it kill you to take the time to drop your daughter off?"
"Wait a minute," Andrew said. "Don't blame her bad behavior on me. It's not my fault she skipped school. I'm the one who's here, remember?"
It was snide and cruel, and it hit Maggie just the way he knew it would, in the heart. She already felt guilty, walking out on them, but did she have to take the blame for everything?
"Kaia is a good kid and you know it," she said. "But sometimes good kids make bad choices. You can't blame me for this."
"Oh, but you haven't heard the best part," Andrew said, his tone flippant.
Maggie waited for Andrew to finish. All sorts of horrendous scenarios passed through her mind, like a car accident or maybe someone had hurt Kaia in some way. If anything terrible had happened to her, Maggie would never forgive herself for not being there.
"Your daughter pierced her eyebrow."
For a moment Maggie stood there, letting his words sink in. Pierced her eyebrow? After all the travesties she'd been thinking, this sounded absolutely frivolous. She couldn't help it when a laugh escaped her lips.
"What are you laughing about?" Andrew demanded. "Did you hear me? She pierced her eyebrow. The one thing you told her she couldn't do."
Maggie couldn't help herself. More laughter escaped from her at Andrew's indignant tone. Even through the airways, she could tell that Andrew was fuming at her. Finally, she calmed down enough to reply. "Honestly, Andrew. If the worst things Kaia ever does in her teen years are skipping two days of school and piercing her eyebrow, then I consider us lucky."
"What kind of attitude is that?" he insisted. "Don't you even care what the kids do anymore?"
Maggie sobered a bit. Of course she cared about the kids, but what Kaia had done wasn't the end of the world. "You know I care about the kids. After all, I've been the one taking care of their every need and want these past nineteen years. But to tell you the truth, Kaia piercing her eyebrow isn't that earth shattering. If that's really what she wants, then fine. It's over and done with. Ground her for skipping school and start driving her there yourself, and you'll solve the problem of her ditching. Maybe, if you spend more time with her and Kyle, you'll find out that they're actually really good kids."
On the other end of the line Andrew sat quiet for several moments. Finally, he said, "What has gotten into you, Maggie? First, you leave without telling anyone, then you act like what the kids do is no big deal. You aren't the same person you were only a few days ago. What exactly is going on with you?"
Maggie sat down on the bed and thought carefully about what Andrew had just asked. "You know what, Andrew? You're right. I'm not the same person I was only a few days ago. You know why? Because somewhere along the way, I lost the person I started out being. I became what you wanted me to become and what the kids wanted me to become. And I lost me. You know what has gotten into me? My true self. For the first time in almost twenty years, I'm finally back to being my real self, and I'm enjoying it."
Andrew sighed dramatically. "Is this about finding yourself, Maggie? Are you having some sort of midlife crisis? What the hell is this all about?"
"You can call it whatever you wish because I don't care what you think. I'm feeling good about myself for the first time in years, and I'm going to enjoy it. You had your fling. Now, it's my turn to have mine." Maggie hadn't meant to bring up his affair like that, but it just came out. Who was he to ridicule her for having a midlife crisis? At least she wasn't sleeping with someone while the whole town watched and whispered about it.
"It always comes down to that, doesn't it, Maggie?"
"Maybe it does, Andrew. Maybe it does." Maggie clicked the button and ended the call.
Andrew sat on his bed later that evening, thinking about how the day had played out. As soon as Maggie had hung up on him, Kaia asked him in a small voice, sounding contrite, "What did Mom say?" He really didn't know how to answer her. From what he'd gathered, Maggie could care less that her daughter had pierced her eyebrow, so what was he supposed to do about it? He felt useless and inadequate, and he hated feeling that way.
In the end, he'd quietly told Kaia to go to her room and do her homework while he made dinner, and they'd talk later. But he never did talk with her. They'd eaten dinner in silence, and she'd gone off to her room again while he washed the dishes.
Kyle didn't come home until after nine o'clock again, but Andrew was too distracted to say anything. "One problem at a time," he'd told himself. After all, Maggie was right. Kyle was old enough to have a little freedom. The fact that Andrew thought she was right was very hard for him to swallow. In fact, it had made him angry all over again.
Sitting on his bed, he decided he needed help if he was going to have to drive Kaia back and forth to school. He picked up his phone and called his mother's house. He felt he didn't have any other choice.
"Hello?" Andrew's mom, Marcia Harrison, answered her phone. She still had a home landline and no caller ID, so she never knew who was calling before she answered.
"Hi Mom. It's Andrew." The fact that Andrew had to say it was him said a lot about their relationship. He was an only child, so there was no one else who would be calling her "Mom". But with Marcia, everything had to be formal and upright, and she expected Andrew to announce who was calling.
"Andrew? It's late. Why are you calling me at this hour?"
"I'm sorry, Mom. I hope I didn’t wake you," Andrew said. It was a little past nine o'clock, but Andrew knew his mother went to bed early and rose early. She generally had busy days packed with volunteering and attending local board and committee meetings that she was involved with, so she started her days with the rising sun.
"I was just going to bed. What is it you need?" Marcia was curt and to the point, and this didn't go unnoticed by Andrew.
Andrew took a deep breath. He rarely asked his mother for favors, especially for help with the kids. Although she lived in town only a few miles from their house, she rarely saw him or his family. The kids saw their grandmother three or four times a year at holidays and birthdays, but no more than that. His mother had always had a busy schedule with volunteer work, but since his father passed away ten years ago, she'd added even more to her load. And at the age of sixty-nine, she showed no sign of slowing down.
"I have a favor to ask of you," Andrew began. He hesitated, not quite sure how to word the next few sentences. His mother could be very critical, and he didn't want to give her a reason to blame him for his predicament.
"Yes?" Marcia asked impatiently.
"Maggie had to go back to Washington for some family matters, and I need help with Kaia," he finally said.
"What on earth is Margaret doing in Washington
? I thought all of her family was dead."
Andrew's mouth dropped open, stunned by his mother's harsh tone. "Well, yes, they are. No, I mean, her father and sister passed away, but her cousin and her family still live out there. She went to help out her cousin, Cassandra," he said, knowing the last bit was a lie. Clearly, he should have thought this conversation through a little better.
"Whatever for? Can't her family do anything without her help?"
Andrew frowned. Even though he was mad at Maggie for leaving him in a pinch, he didn't like when his mother talked about her negatively. "Her family is very close, Mother," he said sharply, then caught himself and softened his tone. "Anyway, Maggie is gone for a week or two, and I was wondering if you would mind picking Kaia up from school three days a week and staying at the house with her until I come home from work." He figured he wasn't asking too much with only three days a week. The other two days Kaia had tennis practice after school and he could pick her up.
Marcia let out a long, heavy sigh. "Andrew, you know I'm very busy with my volunteer and committee work. I volunteer at the hospital gift shop two days a week, at the senior center two days a week, and at the food shelf once a week. On top of that, I have meetings at least two nights a week for various committees. I certainly don't have time to run around and pick up Kaia, who's old enough to take the bus and stay home alone."
Biting the inside of his cheek, Andrew held back the sharp retort that threatened to spill from his lips. Yes, he knew all about his mother being too busy to help with children. Even though she had never worked outside of the home, she had always been so involved with community activities that he'd spent most days after school, and even some weeknights, alone at home when he was growing up. His father had been a loan officer at a local bank for thirty years, had volunteered for many different organizations, and had rarely been home either. So while the entire town looked up to the Harrisons for their selfless giving of their time to the community, he'd sat home alone, eaten cold dinners, and gone to sleep many nights in a quiet, empty house.
"Mother," he said gently, trying his hardest to brush aside his lonely childhood memories. "I realize it may be an inconvenience, but I really need your help. I never ask you to help with the children, but I'm asking now."
"Children?" Marcia huffed. "I'd hardly call Kaia a child. What is she now, thirteen? Fourteen? Kaia is certainly old enough to stay home alone a couple of hours after school. You did it when you were much younger than that. I can't ignore my responsibilities to babysit a grown girl. It's ridiculous."
Andrew sat silent, not trusting himself to speak. He'd never spoken harshly to his mother in his life, and he didn't have the energy to do so now.
Marcia harrumphed. "And another thing, Andrew. You really need to reign in that wife of yours. My goodness, she was flitting off to Seattle several times the past couple of years, and here she is, gone again. That isn't very responsible of her."
Andrew bristled. "Her father and sister were sick and died, Mother," he said tightly, feeling the need to defend Maggie. "She wasn't taking a vacation. She was helping them."
"Be that as it may, she has enough to do here at home. It's late. I'm going to bed. Good night." Marcia hung up the phone before Andrew could even say goodbye.
Andrew sat, stunned, staring blankly at the opposite wall of their bedroom. He hadn't expected much from his mother. After all, she'd never been involved much with the children even when they were younger. And he knew she never really approved of Maggie either, since Maggie was considered an outsider to his mother. But would it have killed her to help out even a little? Apparently, it would have, because she'd said no.
As Andrew sat there, his eyes focused on the framed family photos arranged on the wall. They were of all sizes, arranged in a circular order, displaying scenes from their life. There was one of Maggie and him clowning around on a beach when they were younger. One each of Kyle and Kaia as babies, a family Christmas photo in front of the tree, and a group photo with all of them, including Maggie's father and sister, taken when they'd visited Seattle years ago. Andrew zeroed in on that photo. He'd always liked Maggie's dad, even from the very beginning. He had been a tough guy but fair, and there was never any doubt that he loved his two girls unconditionally. He'd also been good to Andrew, welcoming him into the family the very first time he'd visited when they were in college. Maggie's family was the warm, caring family he'd never had growing up, and it was comforting spending time with them. That openness and warmth was one of the many things that had drawn Andrew to Maggie in the first place. But after he and Maggie had moved back to Woodroe, Andrew became caught up in his own past and hometown and forgotten just how much he'd enjoyed Seattle and Maggie's family.
Andrew stood and walked over to get a closer look at the framed photos. He smiled slightly when he examined the photo of him and Maggie in their early twenties. Maggie was pretty, carefree, and adventurous then. She'd surprise him with impromptu weekend trips to Reno, Tahoe, and other fun places. He hadn't been any more spontaneous when he was young than he was now, but at least then, he'd been open to following Maggie anywhere.
As he stared at the photo, his reflection stared back at him in the glass. He looked tired, his brown eyes dull, and there were lines around his eyes and mouth. Silver tipped his dark hair at the temples, and he saw strands of gray peppered among the black. The contrast between how he looked in the picture over twenty years ago and how he looked now startled him. Until this minute, he'd thought of himself as
forty-five years old, but now he realized that even though he thought he was still young and vibrant, he really wasn't.
Andrew backed away from the photo so quickly he hit the back of his knees on the bed and almost toppled over. He headed to the bathroom, quickly washed his face, and readied himself for bed while trying hard not to look closely in the mirror. Once in bed with the lights out, he felt a little better but couldn't help replaying his conversation with his mother in his head. It hit him that his mother had said almost the exact same thing that he'd said to Maggie about taking trips to Seattle over the past couple of years. When his mother had said it, he'd automatically come to Maggie's defense. As he lay there, he realized just how horrible it must have sounded to Maggie for him to say those words, to accuse her of taking vacations to Seattle when her father and sister were dying. And for the first time in years, he felt how deeply painful his words must have felt to Maggie.