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"Peanuts, you could get all A's if you put your heart into your school work. Couldn't you?"
Mom stood over me at the round kitchen table. Her long, brown curls brushed my cheek as she bobbed her head up and down in front of me. She tried to drill her words into my head by powerfully pumping hers. It reminded me of the time I played the chicken in the third grade play.
"Sarah, love, we all know that you're an intelligent young woman. Don't we, Sweetie?" I listened to her breath, inhale ... exhale ... inhale ... "Listen. Your father and I are just a little ... confused. We just want to know what we can do to help you, Princess?"
Her voice flowed. I put too much sugar on my Cheerios and now it oozed across the bottom of my empty bowl; like her voice. I stuck my finger in it and tried to write my name.
"Are you patronizing me?"
The shrillness returned to her voice and I realized I had been grinning like a foolish cat in the movie, "Alice in Wonderland." I stared down at my hands. I had bitten off my nails and writing covered my palms.
"Oh, Sarah." Mom sunk into my father's empty chair. At first I heard her whimper like when the puppy next door wanted food, but then large, heavy tears started rolling down her face. The mascara from last night made little paths down her cheeks and finally jumped onto the collar of her pale blue bathrobe. I waited to feel some form of sympathy for the woman whom I had called "Mom" for over sixteen years, but my heart was untouched. My voice came out strained and a bit coarse as I tried to calm her. "Mom, if it's that important to you, I'll make more of an effort." Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her sit up in her chair, and her hands loosen on the dish towel she had been choking. She flattened her pale, white hands on the Sesame Street place mat. I had always loved to watch those hands. She was blessed with long graceful fingers and beautiful, strong nails. But today they looked old and worn. I felt my heart beating faster and I noticed that the room was really warm. I felt guilty.
"You mean you really will try harder?"
I nodded, raised my eyes into hers, and waited for the next question.
"How?" I knew it was coming, I don't know why it startled me when it did. I tried to map out my strategy like I mapped out which streets to buy in Monopoly. I wished I were playing Monopoly instead.
"I will request extra help in pre-calculus." Mom jumped up from her chair and refilled her coffee mug. With the mug elevated to her lips, she nodded at me expectantly. When she realized that I wasn't planning on expanding, she asked me to continue.
"I could ask Karen to tutor me after school in anatomy before Drama Club. She has an A."
She hadn't stopped nodding, and I went on. "I will always do my homework and I won't get anymore detentions." The tears on her face had dried and wrinkles appeared at the edges of her thin smile. She raised her eyebrows and I knew what she wanted me to say. "And I won't skip any more classes." She leaped out of her chair and threw her arms around my stiff shoulders.
"Oh honey, I've missed you. And I know you'll do your best and make good on your words." She glowed at me and I felt my face cracking as I tried to smile back. "Well, you'd better speed it up a bit or else you'll miss the bus. Here's some money for lunch and a little extra for yourself." She handed me a wrinkled twenty dollar bill and kissed my forehead with her chapped lips. I swung my bag over my shoulder and slammed the door behind me.
Looking back I could see my mother staring through the blinds. With a final wave, I rounded the corner and headed toward the bus stop. There were already a group of freshmen talking and laughing in the cold wind. I tucked my head deeper into my black, puffy jacket and hummed an old Beatles tune as I walked past them. I held my hand against the lump of the wrinkled bill in my pocket. My mother's voice echoed in my head, carried into my hood by the deceiving wind. Up ahead I could see the Jefferson Library, the bricks solid and stable against the clouds. An old friend; my best friend, I had spent many days there resting, relaxing, and forgetting. I looked forward to spending the day engrossed in mysteries, living someone else's life and dealing with someone else's problems. Then I would walk into town and buy myself an ice cream sundae for lunch. My troubles disappeared in Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. I settled into a bean bag and leaned back for the ride. I had already forgotten about English and Spanish tests ... I was a different person for the time being. And besides, tomorrow was always another day. fl