Her ringtone erupted just as she was pulling into the school parking lot. Evan and Maddy were arguing in the backseat.
“Shush guys. This is an important call.”
They ignored her.
Lacking the necessary energy for convincing threats, she rolled her eyes as she swung into an open space and shut off the engine.
“Hi Blane,” she said into her phone. “As you can hear, things are a little chaotic on this end.”
“Sounds like someone needs a hot bath, some Vivaldi, and a glass of champagne.”
She slammed the door on her bickering children and walked out into the road, her heels already killing her. “I wish. I’m at the school. The kids have open house tonight.”
“What are you doing afterward?”
Besides a cup of milk, a Lunesta, and hopefully six hours of uninterrupted sleep? “I can’t. The sitter has school tomorrow.”
“You know, if I were a less confident man, I’d assume that you were avoiding me.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Isn’t the boy old enough to look after them?”
She frowned at the phone. “Evan is eleven years old.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” he sighed. “Well I could come over.”
“I’m sorry, Blane. The kids just aren’t ready for that yet.” Behind her, their argument spilled into the parking lot. “But I’m looking forward to Friday.”
“Not nearly as much as I am,” he said. “Guess I’ll see you then.”
“Bye.” She slipped the phone in her purse.
“Ooohh, Blane,” Evan taunted, wiggling his butt. Maddy joined forces with her brother, the argument apparently over. “Yeah, Blane, would you be my Mommy’s boyfriend?”
The musical sound of their laughter filled the night as they walked up the steps to the school. Just inside the doorway, a father knelt at eye level before his son in what was clearly a heart-to-heart. Although his words were undecipherable, his tone was firm and masculine. The boy nodded at his counsel.
Brooke noticed her own children watching as they passed. A familiar ache bloomed within her. She squeezed their hands.
Evan’s fifth grade classroom was at the end of the hall. A fortyish woman in a long pleated skirt and her hair in a bun greeted families at the door. “Hello Evan … and you must be Ms. Tyler.” Her voice was so faint it was almost a whisper. “I’m Ella Styles.”
Brooke smiled. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Evan spotted a friend and bolted into the classroom. Maddy ran after him. She was about to follow when the teacher touched her arm.
“May I have a brief word with you?”
“Of course,” said Brooke.
The teacher led her a few steps down the hall. “I don’t mean to pry, but … is everything all right at home?”
An alarm went off in her head. “That’s an odd question.”
“It is. I apologize for being intrusive. I’m just concerned about Evan.”
Defensiveness rose like bile in her throat. She did her best to swallow it. “Well I assure you that everything at home is perfectly fine. My children are my life.”
The teacher nodded slowly. “I’ve offended you. I hope you know this wasn’t my intention. Your love for Evan is not on trial here. I was just wondering if there’s been some recent upheaval in his world that would explain his behavior.”
“What kind of behavior?”
“Tantrums, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to concentrate.”
Brooke leaned against the wall. Sometimes it was all so overwhelming.
“His grades are suffering,” she continued. “He’s falling behind. I’ve tried to speak to him but he does this fake machine gun thing. He seems obsessed with war and soldiers.”
Brooke wiped a tear with her wrist. “His father was killed in Afghanistan when he was five.”
“Madison was only one. She doesn’t remember. But for him, it hasn’t been easy.”
“Of course it hasn’t.” The teacher touched her arm again. “I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for you either.”
The tears were now falling freely.
“Have you ever considered Ritalin?”
Brooke shook her head.
“Well I’m obviously no doctor, but I’ve had enough students with ADHD over the years to know it when I see it. Ritalin could save his life.”
A fake machine gun erupted from inside the classroom.
“I’ll look into it.”