Today's Reading

The next morning, Andrew thundered down the stairs ten minutes before the tardy bell and refused the muffin Julia shoved at him.

"I've got a bar in the car," Andrew said. Julia couldn't look to Henry, her husband, for support about the importance of breakfast because he'd left at 5:30am for his squash game.

"You need to eat!" she called toward the mudroom, thinking of Andrew famished and reaching for something sugary after second period. "The cast list will be posted today!"

"What does that have to do with anything?" Andrew said. Tracy breezed by and pecked her cheek.

"I'll take that." She grabbed the muffin from Julia's outstretched hand. "Love you, Mom."

Sweet, Julia thought. A twang of gratitude softened the nerves that suppressed her own appetite. She was so jittery, in fact, that she forgot to register Tracy's outfit as she headed toward the garage. Maybe she remembered pink? That Top Shop button down? Did she pair it with the mid-wash jeans that flattered her nonexistent waist?

"Have a good day!" Julia yelled, though they'd already gone. She grabbed her phone from the gray granite countertop and typed to Andrew, "Text me as soon as it's up!"

Julia's trainer, Ron, would be ringing the bell in five minutes. With only three weeks to go until the annual Theater Booster Club 5k, she desperately needed the cardio. She drained her can of Diet Mountain Dew and flipped on the electric kettle, which sat next to the Vitamix blender. She'd steep a cup of green tea and take a few sips as Ron lined up the weights in her basement. The trainer had lectured her so many times about the neurotoxins in artificial sweeteners that she'd started hiding her Diet Dew habit from him. "I did it!" she'd exclaimed a month ago after he'd asked how the quitting was going. She opened the recycling cabinet now and dropped the most recent can among six others just like it.

As she waited on her tea, Julia paged through a pile of graded work Tracy had left on the dining room table the previous night. She'd earned 18 of 20 on a recent math quiz, proving that Julia had been right to argue a space for her daughter in Honors Geometry after the dolt registrar had placed her in regular Algebra 2.

"Check your files," Julia had beseeched her, leaning across the counter in the school counseling office, her face inches from the clerk's. "Tracy Abbott has been a member of the Cirrus Program—which you must know is the gifted-and-talented pull-out—since second grade."

"I'll verify with her counselor and get back to you," the flushed fifty-something had mumbled.

And now Tracy was getting an A. Sometimes all anyone had to do was advocate for her child.

Julia paged past Mandarin character practice and a half-finished study guide on geology. And then she came across the posting schedule for Humans of Liston Heights, the Instagram account of the Liston Lights, a leadership team which Tracy had been tapped for that fall. Their posts mimicked the famous blog out of New York, portraits of community members and first-person stories pulled from interviews. Julia scanned it and found that Tracy wouldn't be set to post for several weeks. Maybe she'd be able to convince her to highlight Andrew, who'd certainly be deep in rehearsals for Ellis Island by then. She paused next on an assignment from English 9, a paper comparing Shirley Jackson's The Lottery to The Hunger Games.

Tracy's English teacher was a mostly attractive woman. Her hair, though, seemed to frizz over her ears in an unfortunate, slightly canine, way. Julia placed the teacher in her mid-thirties and noticed she'd pulled distractingly at the waistband of a too-tight skirt during her parent-night presentation. That skirt, though. Julia thought she recognized it from last season's Michael Kors collection. "Good start, Tracy!" Ms. Johnson had written on the Shirley Jackson paper. "Now, go deeper. What about 'unfairness' is important here? And, be sure to check for run-ons!" She'd scrawled the grade in pencil: B.

B? When Julia was in ninth grade she'd been summarizing the plot of The Odyssey via Cliff's Notes, and here was her fourteen-year-old, comparing themes of texts written fifty years apart.

And for a B?

Julia put down the paper and grabbed her cell. She'd already complained to Isobel Johnson about her methods at the Sadie's dance. Maybe it was time to mobilize some other mothers. "What do you think of this Johnson woman?" she texted to Robin. Probably, she mused, everyone was having problems with the English teacher.

The kettle beeped and the doorbell rang simultaneously. Oh well, Julia thought, leaving the mug empty on the counter as she went to the door. Ron could see her drinking green tea next week.

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