My thoughts upon becoming ful y conscious: first, shit, I’m in the hospital again, and second, how bad is the damage to my one-week-old Porsche?
“I see you’re awake.” That would be Dad, stating the obvious—a skil at which he excels.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad you’re okay.” A warm hand grasps mine, and I turn towards Mom’s voice out of a natural inclination to ignore my father. Especial y to his face.
My satisfaction lurches to a stop when I see Mom’s eyes, swol en and red-rimmed, and her mouth, clamped tight in a failed attempt to restrict the trembling of her lower lip. Unfortunately, this isn’t an absurd maternal response. If memory serves, I had a little too much to drink and then crashed my car into a house. Not one of my more reassuring exploits.
In a futile effort to divert attention from the bodily-harm part of my vehicular mishap, I ask, “Um, how’s the car?”
“How’s the car? How’s the car?” Dad’s eyebrows almost meet his receding hairline. “That’s what you choose to inquire about first, after this debacle? Do you have any notion of the destruction of property you’ve caused, not to mention what you may have done to your career?” Would it have been that hard to just tel me the damned thing was totaled?
“Mark,” Mom’s lower lip quivers, “he’s alive. Everything else can be fixed.”
I wonder if she means fixed, like the emergency appendectomy that landed me in the hospital last fal right in the middle of filming my last blockbuster, or fixed, like when I got busted a year ago at a party where everyone was smoking weed, but I got off for lack of evidence.
“Can it?” Dad shoots back, grabbing his jacket from the chair and heading for the door. “God dammit, Reid, I’m not sure if anything about you can be repaired. You’ve had a low regard for the needs of everyone else for some time—
and now you’ve extended that carelessness to your own life. I can’t imagine what you were thinking.” I don’t answer. I figure he doesn’t want to hear that not thinking was sort of the point.
*** *** ***
I try to keep my voice encouraging, even though I’m yel ing at the top of my lungs. “Okay, guys, let’s take it from the top!”
That thing they say about herding cats? Try herding eighteen five-year-olds into practicing a vocal finale for Vacation Bible School Parent Night when they’re intent on the swimming pool time they’ve been promised for good behavior.
“Miss Dori?” I feel a tug on the side of my denim capris.
It’s Rosalinda, from whom I hear Miss Doooooriiiii? at least a dozen times a day.
“Yes, Rosa?” I say, and before the words leave my mouth, seventeen five-year-olds are springing out of their seats and shouldering each other aside at the window to stare longingly at the pool shimmering just outside under a bril iant, haze-free June sky.
“I need to go.” Again? This kid has a bladder the size of a quarter.
“Can you hold it another minute, sweetie? We’re almost done—” A squeal sounds from across the room. Jonathan has scissors in one hand and Keisha’s braid in the other.
“Jonathan, drop it.” I bite my lip at the startled look on his face. Must not laugh. It’s not funny. Not funny.
He blinks, eyes shifting from scissors to braid. “Which one?”
I narrow my eyes. “Let’s start with Keisha’s hair.” He releases the braid and she runs to her friends, who gather around her while glaring at him. I’ve never had a group of girlfriends like that—a protective clique, a guardian posse.
“Miss Dori,” Rosa whines, tugging harder. I take her hand to keep her from pul ing my pants down. I’d never restore order if that were to happen.
“Just a minute, Rosa.” I squeeze her hand gently.
“Jonathan,” I say more sternly. “Bring me those scissors.” Eyes on his untied sneakers, he shuffles over as slowly as is humanly possible. “Where’d you get them?” He holds the scissors out with both hands as though presenting a gift to royalty. Not fal ing for his fake contrition, I arch an eyebrow.
He chances a peek at my face. “Mrs. K’s desk,” he mumbles, scowling at his feet again.
Our church secretary, Filomena Kowalczyk, speaks with a heavy Polish accent despite having immigrated to the US
about a hundred years ago. She keeps a huge jar of candy on her desk and wears creaky orthopedic shoes which have the same effect as a bel on a cat’s col ar. The kids hear her coming down the hal five minutes before she arrives. Judging by the smear of chocolate on Jonathan’s mouth, I’d say he sampled a Hershey Kiss or two before making off with her scissors.
“Do we take Mrs. K’s things without permission?” I fix a disappointed look on him.
He shakes his head.
“Is taking things that don’t belong to you what Pastor Doug means by good behavior?”
His wide, dark eyes snap up to mine. Bingo, kid. Pool time is in jeopardy.
“But Miss Dori!” he says. “I didn’t cut it!”
“We aren’t talking about Keisha’s braid yet. We’re discussing you taking Mrs. K’s scissors—”
“I’l put them back!” Tears fil his eyes. “I’m s-s-sorry!”
“You’re sorry because you got caught,” I say, and he bursts into tears. Oh, dear Lord.
“Miss Dori!” Rosa wails, cupping herself, one leg raised and pressing against the other.
I sigh in defeat, giving up on the program rehearsal for today. “Al right, everyone line up for the bathroom!”