“The baby’s in her crib and both boys had a bath and are in their pajamas,” I say as I slowly inch toward the door.
“How were they today?”
“Great. I think they’re excited about school on Monday.”
Ms. Caldwell studies me for a moment. “You’re home-schooled, right?”
“Did you ever go to, uh, normal school?”
“I did, until the 6th grade.”
“Can I ask why you stopped going?”
“My mom and I just felt like it would be a better fit.”
She sighs and leans against the kitchen counter. “I’m just worried about the public schools, but I can’t afford private and the charter school is a total long-shot to get in because it’s so great…”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine.” I take another step backwards. I’d been there since seven and it’s now six. I’m beat. “My situation was kind of specific. They really seem ready.”
The boys are going in first and third grade. Other than being a little smelly, I see no reason for her to be concerned. But maybe that’s just what moms do. Overprotect their kids about schools.
“I should go, my mom gets worried when I’m late.”
“Oh, of course. Oh and wait!” She rummages in her purse on the counter and fishes out an envelope. “Don’t forget this.”
It’s my paycheck. The last full one of the summer.
“No, Starlee, thank you. When my nanny quit mid-summer, I was in a huge bind. You really helped me out.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
It’s not true. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be back in California in my grandmother’s house, working at her lodge, next door to my four amazing boyfriends.
But when do I get what I want?
I had it, I think, walking down the sidewalk toward my house a block away. I had a taste of freedom. Of normalcy. But like everything else, my mother snatched that away.
I see our house in the distance. The olive green-painted slats of wood. The cream trim on the porch. It’s a little bungalow, not that different from Leelee’s. The irony isn’t lost on me that my mother ran across the country to a house similar to the one she grew up in.
I push through the little picket fence and past the wildflowers, the petals drooping with the heat. In Dexter’s last letter he said it was already starting to cool in Lee Vines.
I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the hem of my shirt. I can’t imagine.
Bracing myself for the low burning anger that rolls over me every time I’m in my mother’s presence, I climb the stairs to the porch.
My mother may have taken me away from Lee Vines, my grandmother, and the boys I love, but she hasn’t been able to pry them from my heart or me from theirs.
That’s the problem when you give a caged animal a taste of freedom.
They just want more.