Authors: Penelope Douglas
The woman shrugged with a polite smile and walked off.
I narrowed my eyes, studying Easton. “It’s just a friendly shot for the school paper,” I assured her, having seen the woman’s school sweatshirt. “A parent and teacher talking isn’t scandal-worthy, Easton.”
She didn’t make eye contact or say anything, and before I could pry, she smiled widely, seeing Christian heading over.
“Hey, great job,” she exclaimed. “You did amazing.”
“Yes, you did great,” I told him, seeing his smile fall when he looked at me.
“Were you even watching?” he shot back.
I dropped my eyes, thankfully disguised behind my glasses. I didn’t think he’d realized I was here, since I’d been late. But he’d known, and he’d seen that I was, again, distracted.
Inhaling a deep breath, I lifted my chin. “I thought we could go to Sucré for some dessert before dinner,” I suggested. “To celebrate.”
He shook his head, brushing me off. “I’m going to hang out with friends.”
“Your friends can wait an hour,” I pressed. “If Ms. Bradbury came, would you be less bored?”
No sense in coddling him with a softer approach. My son wasn’t an idiot, and I wouldn’t try to play him like one.
“Thanks, but I need to get home,” Easton interrupted.
“Christian?” I prompted him for an answer, ignoring Easton’s protest.
He looked between his teacher and me, seeming to consider it. “Can I drive?” he asked.
The corner of my mouth lifted, actually liking his boldness.
When I didn’t answer right away, Easton stepped in, urging me.
“No, he can’t drive,” she answered for me. “Ty—” She stopped and corrected herself. “Mr. Marek, he doesn’t have a permit,” she pointed out.
I eyed Christian. “Have you ever driven before?”
“Not in the city but yes.”
I nodded, giving in.
He turned and started walking for the parking lot, and I followed, glancing behind me to a baffled Easton.
“Get in the car,” I ordered. “Don’t act like you’re thinking about saying no.”
“No, wait,” Easton burst out. “That’s a light!”
“Shit,” Christian cursed, and I shot him a glare. I didn’t have a huge problem with swearing, and I didn’t mind him working me a little, but I didn’t want him taking advantage. Fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t swear, especially not in front of their parents.
He’d stopped at the red light, just like a pro, but after a second he started to go through it, thinking it was just a stop sign.
“It’s confusing,” he barked. “There are so many stop signs, it throws me off when they have a light instead.”
“And half the streets are only one way,” Easton added from the backseat.
“And land in the wrong pothole,” I contributed, “you could total your car. My car,” I corrected, shooting him a warning look. “So be careful.”
After Patrick had tossed the keys to Christian, we’d offered to give him a lift home for the night, but he’d said he’d rather take the streetcar, so the three of us just left together. Christian drove with me in the passenger seat, and Easton sat in the rear-facing seats behind Christian. All I had to do was look to my left and there she was.
“So many issues with the streets.” She shook her head. “I don’t suppose fixing any of these problems are on your platform.”
“No, but I can get you in touch with the mayor,” I replied, resting my elbow over the back of the seat.
The light turned, and Christian pulled forward, cruising the streets easily but looking a little nervous. I suspected he’d driven four-wheelers out in the country but never a big SUV on busy city streets. Thankfully, we were off the main avenues and coasting through the quieter, less-populated neighborhoods.
I glanced back at Easton, seeing her watching the road as well. With both of us, we were probably making Christian more nervous, but she was right. He was only fourteen, and if he got into trouble, he might find being Tyler Marek’s son finally somewhat useful.
“There’s no parking.” He scowled, scanning the space in front of the shop.
Easton pointed to the right, just a few yards ahead. “Right there.”
Christian jerked the wheel right and slid into the spot between two cars, his front end in the clear, but the back end still sticking out into the street. I turned away, not wanting him to see my smile at his attempt at parallel parking.
This was a big car. For a space that tight, he’d have to back into it.
“Shit,” he cursed again. “This is ridiculous.”
I shook my head. “First, stop swearing,” I ordered. “And second, you’ve lived here your entire life. Haven’t you ever paid attention to your mother while she drove, or were you too busy playing on your phone?”
“And what do you do while Patrick carts you around town?” Easton blurted out.
Christian laughed, and I pursed my lips in annoyance.
“Hey, how’d you know our chauffeur’s name?” Christian asked, looking at Easton through the rearview mirror.
I caught Easton’s eye as she clearly realized her mistake.
But she blew it off and changed the subject. Looking out the back window and seeing a car go past, she instructed Christian, “Okay, back out and pull up right next to the car ahead of you.”
Christian gripped the wheel, looking worried. But he followed her instructions. After backing out, he pulled ahead and lined up with the car next to him.
“Okay —” Easton started, but Christian cut her off.
“But I’m in the driving lane,” he protested. “There are people behind me waiting.”
“And they’ll wait,” she assured him patiently.
I watched as she instructed him and led him back into the parking space with ease, and I was surprised by how different she was with him from with me.
Not that our interactions were bad, but she was almost never calm. With him, she stayed controlled and relaxed, easing his nerves about the cars behind us waiting to get by and stopping and correcting him without sounding brusque.
She was good with him and slid into her role with ease. I smiled to myself.
It was funny that I liked her being so calm with him while hoping she would never be that way with me.
Christian put the car in park and broke out in a huge smile. “I did it.”
I shot Easton an appreciative glance and turned to Christian.
He shut off the car and took the keys out of the ignition. “Thanks,” he said quietly, handing me the keys.
He didn’t look at me, but it was a start.
After entering the shop and picking out a selection of macaroons and homemade marshmallows, we took our desserts and drinks to a small table perfect for watching clientele breezing in and out of the quiet atmosphere.
Easton had picked out some gelato, and I loosened my tie, drinking some coffee.
“I got an e-mail from your mother today,” Easton told Christian, and I narrowed my eyes, not realizing that they were in contact.
I didn’t know why I hadn’t thought of it. Of course Brynne would be in touch with all of Christian’s teachers to make sure she stayed abreast of his progress. I guess I had figured Christian was keeping her informed during their weekly video chats.
“She’s thrilled with your progress,” Easton went on. “We thought you might like to test for an AP class.”
“Really?” Christian’s eyebrows pinched together as he thought about it.
“Like an honors class?” I asked.
“Yes.” She nodded. “It would be with a different teacher and the class would be even more demanding, but I think he’d be challenged more.”
“You’re pretty challenging,” Christian retorted, and Easton laughed.
“Well,” she inched out. “It’s also about being with
that challenge you. Braddock Autenberry has an excellent student body full of students that excel, but there are always a few who could use a more stimulating environment.”
Why hadn’t I known about this? I’d stayed up on all the social media groups and e-mails from all of his teachers. I may have been late to his soccer game, but I wasn’t dropping the ball on everything.
And it’s not like I hadn’t seen Easton. She’d had opportunities to tell me.
“Thanks.” Christian shook his head. “But I like being in classes with my friends, and I like your class. The activities are fun.”
She tried to hide her smile, but I could tell she liked hearing that. And I wasn’t so sure I wanted Christian out of her class.
Of course, if she were no longer his teacher, our relationship wouldn’t be such an issue, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice a good teacher that made him happy just so I could have what I wanted. If I had to make the sacrifice, I would. But not him.
“You could just take the test,” Easton offered. “To see where you stand in case you change your mind.”
“Does my mom want that?” he asked.
Easton’s eye flashed to mine for a moment, and I knew she felt awkward talking about Christian’s mother as if my thoughts didn’t matter.
But I guess Christian had every right to trust his mother’s opinion more than mine.
“Your mother wants to see you reach your full potential,” she answered.
Christian sat silently for a moment, staring at the table as he chewed his macaroon.
And then he looked to me, his eyes thoughtful. “What do you want me to do?”
My eyebrows shot up, and I opened my mouth but nothing came out. He’d just asked for my opinion.
I searched my brain, trying to think of what he wanted me to say. Or maybe what my father would say.
This was an opportunity to not fail, so I struggled with what to tell him, because I honestly didn’t feel strongly about the advanced-placement class. He’d have a bright future no matter what classes he took. I only wanted him to know that he was free to choose, and in my eyes, I’d be okay with either choice.
I locked eyes with his and spoke with certainty. “I want you to do what you want,” I told him. “Just remember, you’re the only one who has to live with the decision, so whatever you decide, just have a good reason for it.”
And that was all I wanted him to learn. Bad decisions were made from either not thinking them through or for the wrong reason. As long as he had a good one, he’d feel confident about his choice.
He let out a breath and looked to his teacher. “I’ll do the test,” he told her. “Just to see what it says.”
“You did a good job today,” I told Christian, grabbing a couple of Gatorades out of the refrigerator and tossing him one.
I’d driven us back to the school tonight and watched while Easton got safely into her car and drove away. Bringing her home with me had been all too tempting, but it was impossible.
“Would you like to practice again tomorrow?” I asked. “Driving, I mean.”
He twisted the cap and turned away, heading out of the kitchen. “I’ll be busy.”
He was pulling away again.
I rounded the island. “You forgot you hated me for a little while today,” I reminded him.
He stopped and turned around, his eyes faltering as if he was trying hard to stay angry because his pride wouldn’t let him forgive.
“Come on,” I urged, brushing past him down the hallway.
I pushed open the door to the den, hearing his reluctant steps behind me, and I headed straight for the cue rack, taking out two sticks.
He hovered in the doorway, slowly inching inside as he took in the large, darkened room. I’d told him my den was the only place off-limits when he moved in. It was two rooms joined, my office and the billiards room, great for entertaining and bullshitting with guests over cognac and cigars.
But I rarely used it, since I almost never had people to my home; last Sunday’s luncheon was the first time in more than a year.
I racked the balls and then grabbed the pool cues and handed one to Christian.
He reached, looking annoyed as he took the stick.
“This is stupid,” he grumbled.
“It’s what I know,” I told him. “My father always talked to me over a pool table.”
Men and women were different creatures. My mother, before she passed away when I was fifteen, tried sitting with me and talking to me about her being sick. About the fact that she wasn’t getting better and she wouldn’t be around for very much longer.