“Alright, very good, Mikah. I think we’ve got what we need.”
“Oh, great.” The actor in front of us changes drastically as he comes out of character. Gone is the dark, imposing dominant that had just been holding a whip over his head, ready to deliver the most delicious kind of punishment, and in his place is a welcoming set of clear blue eyes and an expectant smile. “Anything else?”
“Just the nudity. You can remove your clothes whenever you’re ready.”
An embarrassed smile creeps across my lips as the stranger in front of me pulls off his shirt. His arms are thick, his abs are toned, his chest impressive. He has the perfect body type, but it’s all going to come down to…
When his underwear falls to the floor, I have to glance up at the ceiling and take a breath to avoid losing my professional composure.
Keep it together, Anastasia.
“How do you feel about shaving?” The director asks, staring at the hair around this stranger’s penis as though she were asking his preference on a paint color. He shrugs, entirely nonplussed.
And the impressive package dangling between his thighs makes it clear why.
“Whatever you think is best for the role.”
“Hm. What do you think, Anastasia?”
“Great,” I chirp. “I mean, uh… I’ve got everything I need. Thank you, uh… Mikah.”
“Sure.” The actor picks up his pants, and I take a breath again. He moves to take the piece of paper the director hands him, then thanks us all for the opportunity and leaves the room. The women around me start fanning themselves.
“Thank-you for writing this book, Anastasia,” one of the studio execs says to me.
“And to think, all these guys are just trying to look like her husband,” the producer says. “How do you get any work done?”
I laugh, and because the grueling weeks we’ve already put into this production have made these women like sisters to me, I add, “Oh, make no mistake. I’m going home to night and fucking the shit out of him tonight.”
They all laugh, and the director raises her eyebrow. “Does he know that we’re casting his part today?”
“Oh, god no. I picked this week because I knew he’d be busy doing campaign work. That’s why we had to have final callbacks in Seattle instead of LA. He thinks we’re doing script rewrites today.”
I touch the tip of my nose, then point directly at her just as the door opens. Instead of another beautiful man coming in to read dirty lines and show off his crown jewels, my assistant hurries toward me.
“Mrs. Grey, the school just called. The kids are in the principal’s office.”
“All three of them. You’re gonna have to go down there, I’m afraid.”
“Oh god…” I shake my head and turn an apologetic look on the director. “I’m sorry, are we done for today?”
“Yeah, Mikah was the last one. We all agree it’s going to be Jason, right? He blew me away.”
“Absolutely,” the producer says.
“I agree. We’ll make a decision on our female lead tomorrow?”
“Yep, see you at 8.”
I thank everyone seated behind the long table while I gather my things, then walk with my assistant to my car. She can’t tell me exactly what they did, but she can tell me that a three day suspension is on the line and that they weren’t able to get ahold of Christian yet.
And since there’s a possibility of suspension, I consider not telling him.
Mother’s instinct to protect the lives of her children and all…
“Well, think of an angel and she shall appear,” he answers when I get into the car and ask the onboard system to call his number. He’s in a good mood, which means his interviews are going well.
That’s good news for my kids.
“Hey, baby. What’s going on?”
“I’m just sitting in front of a blank monitor waiting to debate this stooge on my dad’s economic policy.”
“Oh, do you need to go?”
“Not for a few minutes. What’s going on?”
“Well, not great news… I got a call from the school. The kids are in trouble.”
The good mood in his voice vanishes in the span of a breath. “Which kids?”
“All of them.”
“Jesus Christ…” I can hear his teeth grinding through the phone, and I brace myself for the full force of the storm before I continue.
“I’m on my way down there now. Apparently, suspension is on the table.”
He’s silent. And then he’s mad. “This interview is only going to take seven minutes, I’ll be right behind you.”
Christian hangs up without saying goodbye to me, and the chill in his voice makes me shiver. I press my foot harder against the pedal, coaxing more speed from the engine to ensure I’ll make it to the school before he does. When I pull into the parking lot, my eyes scan the cars around me for the familiar Lamborghini more intently than they search for an open parking space. When I don’t see him, I pull into a guest spot at the front, and take a moment to prepare myself.
I’m probably making more out of this than I should. I have great kids. How bad could it be, really?
The answer is bad enough that I spot them huddled together in a panic through the office window on my way in. Teddy is holding a towel against his face.
“Excuse me,” I greet the woman behind the desk. “My name is Anastasia Grey. I’m here for Calliope, Theodore, and Lucas.”
She glances up and her eyes morph with a very definitive you’re-a-bad-parent kind of judgement. “Yes, thank you for coming, Mrs. Grey. Right this way.”
She gets up from her desk and leads me to a door. On the other side of it, I find my children. Each and every one of them looks relieved when they see that their father isn’t half a step behind me. It’s actually a kindness that I pierce their shiny bubble of hope before he comes in here and stampedes all over it.
“He’s right behind me,” I warn them as the secretary disappears behind me. “Now, what did you do?”
It’s like watching a play I’ve seen 100 times. All three of them curl their lips beneath their teeth, and stare straight at me with blank expressions. There isn’t a guilty fidget or a nervous twitch among them. But this time, their stonewalling doesn’t matter because the vice principal opens his office door and motions for the four of us to come inside.
“Fighting!” he shouts, purple in the face. The vein on the side of his thick neck bulges through his skin and pulses with the thundering beat of his heart. “I tell you, Mrs. Grey. We put up with a lot from these boys. They’re often down right miscreants! But violence is absolutely unacceptable and I cannot tolerate it! Mr. King is being evaluated for a concussion, which puts him out of this Friday’s game. There were college scouts coming to see Mr. King play, Mrs. Grey. The actions of your children may have seriously jeopardized this child’s future.”
“I understand that, Dr. Wolfe, and I am very sorry. I am sure that none of this was their intention. I assure you, Mr. Grey and I will be taking this matter very seriously.”
“I don’t know that discipline at home will be enough this time, Mrs. Grey. I’m afraid I have no choice but to suspend Lucas and Theodore for the rest of the week. And Calliope will also be suspended pending the investigation of serious accusations that have been levied against her to the student ethics committee.”
“No!” Teddy shouts over me. “Mom, I can’t be suspended! My chemistry test starts in like five minutes. I can’t miss it, it’s a third of my grade!”
“They won’t let me play if I get suspended!” Luke adds.
“Harvard!” Calliope shrieks.
“Dr. Wolfe, there has to be some kind of middle ground here…”
“I’m sorry, but the decision has been made. Your sons may return to school on Monday. We’ll be in contact regarding your daughter.”
“What are the allegations against her?”
“Mom—“ Calliope’s nervous voice interrupts, but before I can answer, the door bursts open and Christian steps into the room. He looks livid. Enough so that the vice principal recoils when my husband’s eyes land on him. His eyes find me next, then finally, our children.
All three of them look at the floor.
“Dr. Wolfe, would you give us a moment alone, please?”
“Mr. Grey, perhaps you would be interested to know the reason your children are in my office this afternoon?”
Christian’s eyes glint with dire warning. “Yes, but I would like to hear it from them before I hear it from you. So if you wouldn’t mind…”
He moves to the door and opens it, effectively ordering the man out of his own office. It’s the kind of alpha move that makes the room feel suddenly hot. Although, that could be just my afternoon of casting coming back to haunt me…
The vice principal straightens his jacket, then stalks out of the door. Christian closes it and rounds on the kids.
Time for Act II.
Luke and Teddy turn in unison to look at Calliope, and she looks up at her dad with the same big doe eyes that have been getting her out of trouble since she was four.
“Daddy, Brighton King is a jerk. He is constantly following me around and harassing me to go out with him, even though I’ve told him he’s a creep about a million times.”
“Okay,” Christian says, nodding as he takes in the information. The intensity still burns in his eyes behind the calm, even tone. “Don’t like this kid already. Continue.”
“Well…” She seems to lose her words as she stares up at her father, which is a deviation from the performance that I’m not used to. Both of her brothers look at her like they don’t understand what she’s doing, and my husband’s gaze sharpens.
He thinks he’s about to break her.
“Calliope, tell me what happened.”
“He was waiting for her at her regular parking place this morning,” Luke jumps in. “He said something gross about her giving him a blow job.”
Christian’s face goes from dangerous to malevolent. “Excuse me?”
“Yeah,” Teddy agrees quickly, pulling the towel away from his face. I see the bruising around his eyes and nose for the first time, and it takes everything I have not to go to him and pull him in my arms. My poor baby. “So Calliope said something really mean back and embarrassed him in front of everyone.”
Luke smirks. “That he could spend his weekends jacking off like he always does…”
Christian looks back to Calliope, and she flinches. “Is that true, Calliope?”
She nods at her shoes, then sniffs and looks up at her dad with tears glittering in her eyes. “He came up to me at lunch and called me a whore in front of the whole school. Everyone heard him, Daddy.” She blinks, her composure breaking as she’s overtaken by a sob, and looks down at the floor.
“So I hit him,” Teddy says. “Luke tried to warn him this morning that he needed to be more respectful. I gave him the chance to apologize, he chose to get fucked up.”
“Theodore!” I chastise him, but Christian holds back a hand to silence me. He looks at Luke.
“Did you hit him too?”
“No, I pulled them apart.” He points to the purple bruise forming around his eye. “I got this because Brighton sucker punched me while I was trying to keep Teddy off of him.”
“They’re all suspended,” I tell him. “The boys through the rest of the week, Calliope pending the investigation of whatever rumors are going around about her.”
“What rumors?” Christian asks.
Calliope’s eyes go wide with fear and she sinks down in her chair like she’s hoping if she can make herself small enough, her dad won’t be able to see her. “Well, uh…”
“That she cheated,” Luke blurts out.
“That she brought alcohol…” Teddy says over him. They look at each other and then back at Christian, talking over each other again.
“I mean, she cheated,” Teddy says.
“I mean, she brought alcohol…”
“Oh, god…” Calliope moans, dropping her face into her hands.
Christian glances back at me, silently telling me that I’m the one who is going to have to unravel that mystery. When I nod, he turns back to the kids, and Teddy slides forward to the edge of his seat like he’s ready to jump out of it.
“Dad, I can’t be suspended. My chemistry test is happening right now, I’m missing it.”
“You’re not going to miss it,” Christian says. “Pick up your stuff, I’ll walk you to your classroom. I’ll deal with you when it’s over.” He turns and points between Luke and Calliope. “You two can go home with your mother.”
“But Dad, what about football?”
“You don’t get to play football when you get in fights at school, Lucas. Go home!”
“Yes, Sir.” Both Calliope and Luke scramble out of their seats before he can change his mind and claim their punishments for himself as well. I slowly get out of my seat, keeping my eyes on Teddy, who looks like he was just handed a terminal diagnosis. Christian reaches out to kiss me goodbye, and after briefly brushing my lips against his, I stand up on my toes to whisper in his ear.
“Please remember that he’s only fifteen, and that you were a teenager once too.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I know exactly how I’m going to deal with him, Anastasia.” There’s no room for argument in his response, so I turn and kiss my now terrified looking son on each cheek.
“I love you,” I remind him. “Good luck on your test.”
The nod I get in response feels more like a tremble than anything else.
Calliope drives home like there’s a cop behind her. She maintains five under the speed limit, never misses a signal, pauses at every stop longer than necessary, and keeps her DADSGRL vanity plate right in the middle of the lane the entire way. They pull into the garage, head straight into the kitchen, and wait for me to come in behind them.
“Leave your phones on the counter and go to your rooms.”
“Now, Calliope.” Her face melts with misery as she places her phone on the marble, the same way a grieving mother would if she were being forced to lay her child on a burning pyre. Then she turns and runs for her bedroom, screaming about how she hates everyone.
“Camille’s going to call, Mom…”
“And you’re going to miss it.” I point at the counter and he drops his phone next to his sister’s, though without all the dramatics she used. Once I hear the second door close from the bottom of the stairs, I meander into the living room and collapse on the couch. My feet are pinched in my shoes, my butt is sore from sitting on a hard stool all day, and I could really use one hell of a drink. I have no idea what Christian is going to do with Teddy and as the worry starts to mount deep in my gut, my phone rings on the arm rest next to me.
I glance down, expecting the worst. But it’s Big-Luke.
“Hey, you won’t believe the day I’ve had,” I answer. He chuckles on the other line.
“I think I’m about to find out. Your husband has summoned me.”
“I don’t know. He asked me and Jade to meet him at the school. I’m on my way there now.”
“Hi, Ana” Jade says, but I don’t get to respond before Luke starts talking again.
“What’s going on?”
“Some boy at school called Calliope a mean name and Teddy punched him. All three of my kids have been suspended.”
“Oof, that’s a shame. I really liked your kids. I’ll remember them fondly after their passing.”
“That’s not a funny joke, I’m worried that’s why Christian called you. You’d tell me if he asked you to hide a body, right?”
“You know you’ll always be my number one.”
“Good,” the phone beeps and I pull it away from my ear. The contact displayed on the screen tells me it’s my kids’ school again, and the small bit of reprieve I’ve taken talking on the phone with my best friend vanishes all at once.
What if Christian tracked down that Brighton kid…?
“Hey Luke, I gotta go. The school is calling again.”
“Yikes. Good Luck.”
“Thanks.” I hang up, then answer the next call cautiously. “Hello?”
“Hello, is this Mrs. Grey?”
“Yes, may I ask who’s speaking?”
“This is Dr. Sutter, I’m the sophomore chemistry teacher at your sons’ school. I’m actually grading Theodore’s test right this moment.”
“Yes, Dr. Sutter,” I breathe in relief. “I remember our meeting from parent/teacher conferences a few weeks ago. Thank you for allowing Teddy to take the test this afternoon. He’s studied so hard, he was devastated when he thought he was going to miss it.”
“Oh, yes his efforts are very obvious. He doesn’t seem to have missed a single question on the entire test, and for any other student that would raise serious questions for me. But Theodore is a gifted student.”
“Yes, I agree. And thank you for telling me. He’s been so stressed about this test, he’ll be very relieved to know he did well.”
“Curious, though. Lucas also did very well. Exceptionally well, in fact.”
“Oh, yes. In fact, his test is identical to his brother’s… down to the handwriting.”
My heart sinks. “Oh no…”
“Mrs. Grey, I trust I don’t need to remind you that cheating is an offense that this school deems worthy of expulsion, do I?”
“No. Dr. Sutter… I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into these boys. Truly… I know that Luke has been really worried about his grades because of football, I’m sure Teddy just thought he was helping his brother.”
“Yes, I understand. Theodore is my best student, and I would hate to have one lapse in judgement shatter his future. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. An impressive score like Theodore’s should be kept, his actions with Lucas aside, that’s a score that’s earned. I will allow him to keep his grade and his brother to retake the test next week, and I won’t report him to the ethics committee for cheating. In return, I would like both of them to write me a 10,000 word essay on the importance of academic integrity, and they will both spend one hour after school in my laboratory conducting inventory for me for the rest of the semester.”
“That’s more than fair. Thank you so much for your understanding, Dr. Sutter. I promise you, it will not happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t. Good-bye, Mrs. Grey.”
“Goodbye.” I hang up, and ask the ceiling why I can’t be the kind of mom who doesn’t care what her kids do at school. Then I get up and drag myself and the weight of how much I don’t want to have to do this up the stairs.
I go to Luke’s room first.
“Come in,” he says after I knock softly against the door three times. I ease my way inside and find him laying on the bed, tossing a football into the air and catching it.
“We need to talk, Mister.”
“I don’t know what’s going on with Callie, you’ll have to ask her.”
I sigh, and pull the chair from his desk to the side of his bed to sit. The floor is cluttered with so much junk, it’s almost an impossible task.
“While I don’t believe that for a moment, I’m not here to talk about Calliope. I just got a call from Dr. Sutter.”
He turns to me, slowly, and raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Anything you want to tell me?”
“Luke.” This time, he hears the seriousness in my voice that tells him I know what he did. He doesn’t make excuses, he doesn’t try denying it any further. He just lays back in bed and starts to toss the football again. “Do you want to tell me why your test this morning was in Teddy’s handwriting?”
“Come on, Lucas. You know that cheating is wrong. You could have been expelled and the only reason you aren’t going to be is because Dr. Sutter is being very kind and generous to the two of you. Why would you do this?”
“I was going to fail. I didn’t want to blow my season…”
“You don’t think cheating could have blown up your season?”
“Mom, you don’t get it!” he shouts, sitting bolt upright and rounding on me like he’s ready to fight again. “Everyone was ragging on me this morning for spending time with Camille and not studying, but the truth is that she was trying to help me learn the material for the test, and never got anywhere. I can’t keep up! I don’t understand any of it. I’m not smart enough. I’ve tried, and tried, and tried, and all trying does is make me feel like an idiot when I fail. There was no way I was ever going to pass that test. Teddy could, and he wanted to see the test before he had to take it this afternoon.”
He throws himself down on his bed and turns away from me, his words still hovering between us like an angry swarm of bees. I push out of my chair and crawl on the bed behind him, running a comforting hand over his arm.
“You are smart enough, Luke.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“Hey.” I pull on his shoulder and until he rolls back on his back. There are tears swimming in his eyes. “Your daddy told me about the talk you had this morning. He and I think that it’s a good idea to take you to the doctor for some tests. It shouldn’t be this much harder for you, and the fact that it is might mean there’s something else going on.”
“What, like Dyslexia?”
His face sours. “So you think I’m so dumb I have mental problems?”
“No, I think you might be playing with a set of rules that no one else is. How far do you think you’d get if your team only got one down on offense and the other team got four.”
“Exactly. Getting you into the doctor and getting you on the right plan is just about getting those three extra downs back.”
He sniffs, and wipes his nose with the back of his hand, then nods. “Okay.”
I lean forward and kiss him on the forehead, then get up and walk back to the door. Before I leave, I pause and turn back to face my son. “You’re grounded, by the way. You will put your Xbox and all of your devices on my bed by 6 PM, do you understand me?”
“All of them?!” I nod, and a look of horror crosses his face that, without context, could suggest I asked him to smother a baby. “Mom, what am I going to do?! I don’t get to go back to school until next week!”
I smile. “I wouldn’t worry about being bored. You’re going to write Dr. Sutter a 10,000 word essay on why academic integrity is important, in additional to the hour you’re going to spend an hour after school helping him upkeep his lab for the rest of the semester.”
“Ten thousand words?!”
“And, you’re going to write me a 15,000 word essay about what this has taught you, and how you’re going to grow from this experience. Once I have those papers and you retake your test, you may have your devices back.”
“But that’s not fair! Camille will break up with me if I don’t talk to her for that long.”
“Oh that’s more than fair. If you’d like to talk to your girlfriend, I suggest you get writing. Six PM, Lucas. Do not make me send your father to track you down.”
“I won’t.” I give him a look to communicate how serious I am, then step out into the hall and close his door behind me.
One kid down, one to go.
I take two steps down the hall, and knock on my daughter’s door. Unlike my son, she doesn’t invite me in. Privacy is a big thing with me and my kids. I know their dad doesn’t respect theirs, so I always make an effort to overcompensate and give them the space they wouldn’t otherwise have. But after I knock for a second time and still get no response, I reach down and slowly push open the door.
“Calliope?” She’s on her bed too, but she’s lying with her face in her pillow. Her shoulders shake violently, and without the door between us, I can hear her muffled sobs. “Calli Lily?”
I pick her up so that she’s sitting, and the wails of pain that pour out of her rip my soul apart. Her makeup is ruined, leaking down her face in long steaks. She’s beet red, and soaked in her own tears,
“What’s wrong?” I ask, rocking her back and forth. She just whimpers mom and continues to break apart in my arms. It’s devastating. I can feel my heart breaking more and more as each long minute passes, and my daughter continues to cry her eyes out. It takes nearly fifteen minutes for her to calm down enough that I can wipe her eyes and get her to look at me.
Her lip trembles, and she shakes her head. “I can’t tell you.”
“Yes, you can. You can tell me anything, Calliope.”
“Not this.” She looks up at me, eyes bright red and so full of tears they start to leak over the corners again. “Daddy will kill me.”
My next breath takes the wind out of me. I lean into her, pressing my forehead against hers, and my hand over her heart. “Nothing you could ever do will make me or your dad stop loving you, or make us not want to help you. I’m always on your side. Please, just tell me what happened?”
It takes a minute, but after staring at me helplessly through her tears, she finally breaks and starts to sob again. “Mom, everything’s so bad. Everyone is talking about me, everyone is lying about me, Izzie and Lizzie abandoned me…”
I lift her chin to look in her eyes. “Why?”
“I like a boy,” she admits in a whisper, and the confession actually makes me look nervously at the door to make sure her father isn’t hovering there listening. It’s not hard to make the connections between ‘I like a boy’ and another boy calling her a whore. I just do my best not to jump to conclusions about the details.
“A boy,” I repeat.
She takes a breath, like I’ve lifted the weight of the world off her chest, and nods. “His name is Pete, he goes to my school. We started talking at this party I went to with Lizzie and Iz back in August and…” She shrugs. “I like him.”
“Okay, tell me what you like about him.”
“Well…” She bites her lip, and I feel an unwelcome wave of foreboding. “He’s really funny and smart, almost philosophical. He doesn’t care about what people think about him, and I think that’s so cool. He’s his own person, you know? And he’s so hot. He’s got dark hair and these dark eyes that I swear see all the way down to my soul. He gets me.”
I clear my throat. “That’s intense.”
“You have no idea.”
“Is there anything I should know about him? Or you? Or what you may or may not be doing together?” She doesn’t respond, but I can see the guilt spelled out plain as day on her face. I know her well enough to know that she’s not going to give it to me freely, but if I walk her there, she won’t lie to me. “Were you at Elizabeth’s house last night?”
“Where were you?”
“I was with Pete. He drove me up to the north side of the lake and we… parked.”
Breathe in. Breathe out. “Did you have sex with him?”
“No!” Her denial comes out shrill, defensive, and a few more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
“Okay, I believe you,” I assure her. “What did happen?”
“Well… we made out.”
“And… he felt me up a little bit.”
“That’s it. He wanted to go further, but I… I didn’t want to. Yet. I mean, maybe I do… I don’t know.”
“You’re not ready,” I tell her, and her eyes start to glisten again.
“But he is.” She lets out a long, burdened breath. I want to push her on what she just said, but I think I see her warring with the decision to tell me in her head as I sit and watch her, so I try to give her the space, and let her come to me.
“We meet up every morning under the bleachers in the football stadium. At first, it was just a place he and I could talk without everyone gawking at us and being in our business. He’s not part of my circle, and my friends don’t like him.” She swallows. “I knew it was going to be bad when people found out about us.”
She pauses, almost like she’s going to stop. So I press her on the part I actually care about. “You meet him every morning under the bleachers?”
“It’s where we had our first kiss, and ever since that happened we’ve been doing a lot less talking and a lot more kissing. This morning, when I went to go meet him, he asked me to… to…”
The look she gives me in her reticence pleads for understanding, so I reach out and take her hand. Even though I’m not sure I’m ready to hear what she has to say, I give her my warmest, most understanding look and say, “It’s okay, Calliope.”
“He asked me to give him a hand job.”
She bites her lip, and nods again. “I think… I think he might have real feelings for me and I was afraid that if I didn’t, then he would think I was lame and never talk to me again.”
Flames roar to life in my gut. “If that’s how he reacts, then he’s fucking loser and you should never talk to him again. A boy who really cares about you will wait until you’re ready. And a boy who doesn’t, is not a boy you need to be involved with in any way.”
“But I want him to like me back, Mom. So much.”
“I know you do.”
She takes another shaky break and looks down at her fingernails. “Two girls caught us right in the middle of it, and they told everyone. Now the whole school is talking about me, lying about me. Calling me names. Teddy said someone told him that I was giving him a blowjob. Luke told me he heard that I was having sex with three guys. Then Brighton called me whore in front of the whole school so now everyone thinks it’s all true… everything is so horrible, I wish I could just crawl into a hole and die!”
She falls onto the bed and starts sobbing again, so I gently rub a hand over my back to calm her down. “No, you don’t, Calliope. This isn’t the end of the world, I promise. People have said awful things about me, and about your daddy, to the whole world, and we made it out the other end. It can feel like the universe is collapsing in on you, but I promise it isn’t. People will move on.”
“You don’t get high school, Mom. People have been waiting for the moment they can take me down. They started hashtags on Twitter! “CancelGREYtion” and “DisGREYce.” I had everything, and I’m going to lose it all!”
“You know, Cal. You said the thing that you liked most about Pete is that he didn’t care what other people thought. That he got to be his own person. Maybe, the reason you like that about him is because, deep down, you want to be more like that. Maybe the truth is that all the popularity, and followers, and sponsorship, don’t actually make you happy. In fact, I have a suspicion that they might be making you miserable.”
“Think about that, okay?”
She doesn’t respond at all that time, so I get up to leave. Her voice stops me at the door.
“Are you going to tell dad?”
“Don’t worry about your dad, okay? I’ll handle it.” She nods, and looks up at me with trust shining in her eyes that wasn’t there before.
“Anytime, Calli Lily.”
After my talk with Calliope, I take the kids downstairs and sit them at the table to do their homework while I cook dinner. I’ve allowed them temporary access to the WiFi so they can email their teachers and ask, plead if they have to, for the work they’re going to miss during their suspension.
A suspension I now fully intend on marching into the school tomorrow and getting overturned. That is, if Christian has already done it for me.
Luke is dismayed that every one of his teachers sends him plenty of work to go along with the essays he has to write, and pouts miserably over his open Algebra book while he tries to get through the new chapter without any help. Christian’s better at the math and science stuff than I am, so I promise him his dad will help him with his work after dinner… except he still isn’t home by the time I get dinner on the table.
And my child hasn’t come back either.
I call three times, and get increasingly shorter iterations of rings before being sent to his voicemail. Teddy doesn’t answer his phone either. The kids finish their dinner and help me clean the kitchen before we finally hear the ominous rumble of the garage door.
Luke and Calliope exchange nervous looks. I dry my hands on a towel and walk to meet them in the garage, preparing myself to take in and roll with whatever punishment Christian has dealt out. He was a wild teenager, maybe he’ll surprise me. Maybe he’s actually uniquely qualified to deal with hormonal teenagers acting out on their rage.
I come through the door to find my husband climbing out of his Lamborghini and a wash of horror overcomes me when I realize that Teddy isn’t with him.
“Christian Trevelyan-Grey! Where is my child?!” I shriek. Luke and Callie poke their heads through the door then turn pale as a sheet, as though their greatest fears have been realized. Christian smirks.
“Relax, he’s just a little bit behind me. I drive a Lambo, remember?”
“What did you do?”
“He gave a kid who called his sister a whore in front of the whole school a concussion today. I gave him the punishment I thought adequately fit the crime,” he says, though the last of his words are drowned out by a deep rumble that starts up the driveway. I look in time to see a brand new, cherry red Porsche pull into my garage.
“What?!” Luke screams behind me. “No fucking way!”
“Language, Lucas!” I jab him with my elbow, but keep my eyes on the shiny heap of metal coming toward me. The car stops, and Teddy climbs out from behind the wheel, while his Uncle Luke steps out from the passenger’s side. His face is bruised and swollen, but his smile stretches from ear to ear.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Calliope says in disbelief. Her eyes move to her baby pink BMW, then looks at her dad like he’s betrayed her. Luke looks like he’s about ready to explode.
“So I get grounded and he gets a PORSCHE?!”
“He stood up for his sister,” Christian says. “You tried to stop him instead of backing him up.”
“Teddy also cheated on a test today,” I add, giving Christian a hard look. The arrogance on my husband’s face melts away, and he frowns. Teddy loses his smile and turns sharp eyes on his brother.
“Dr. Sutter called,” I continue. “It seems our sons thought it would be a good idea to switch places this morning so Teddy could take Luke’s test for him…”
“Which I did to help my brother,” Teddy argues. “Family first. Right, Dad?”
Christian sighs, the utter lack of agreement plain on his face, then turns to look at me. “So, what? Are they expelled?”
“No. Thankfully, Dr. Sutter is willing to give them another chance. Teddy and I can have a discussion about his punishment upstairs.”
“But, Mom!” Teddy complains.
“You heard your mother,” Christian sighs. “Now, get inside.”
“There’s dinner in the fridge,” I tell him.
He makes a helpless sound, looking between us with his mouth agape. But he trudges forward without another argument.
“Teddy.” Our son turns morose eyes back on his father. Christian holds out his hand. “Keys.”
“You can have them back when you get your license,” he says. “Now go eat, go wash up, and go to bed.” Teddy drops his keys in his dad’s hand and stomps into the house. I nod to the other kids, and they fall in line behind their brother. The door closes behind them, and I turn to face my husband.”
“Cheating?” He scoffs in disbelief. I nod.
“I already talked to Luke about it, but you and I need to talk about Calliope.”