“Craig, will you take Richard to school?” Monica called to her husband from the garage. She rinsed the cat's bowl in the utility sink and filled it with fresh water. She brushed away the few drops of water that landed on her suit jacket and set the metal bowl on the floor next to the washer. The cat wound its way around her feet, tail held high, and began to lap at the cool liquid. Monica reached down and patted its head. “Nice Kitty.” She stepped back into the kitchen and glanced at her husband. “Never say 'yes' to kids who want a pet.”
Craig stopped in the kitchen doorway and frowned. “Hey, don't blame me for the cat thing. I said 'no', remember?” He set his briefcase on the counter with a thud and then tightened his tie. “Did that kid miss the bus again?”
“Yes, he did. He wouldn't get out of bed this morning.” Monica washed her hands, draped the towel over her shoulder, and shook her head. “He better work his way through this defiant phase soon. I am so over the nasty teenage thing.”
Craig threw his hands in the air and raised his voice. Small lines deepened between his eyebrows. “I'm tired of bailing him out. Let him miss school. Let him fail tenth grade. He needs to learn a lesson.”
Monica leaned back against the cool black granite countertop. “Sure, there's a good idea. He can stay home—eat, watch TV, and play on the computer all day—maybe throw a party while we're at work.” She flung the towel onto the counter where it slid into the toaster. “He'll learn a lesson all right—how to get his own way.”
“Don't they send a truant officer out or something?” Craig reached for the coffee pot. He gestured to Monica and she held out two mugs.
“No, Craig, they don't; that was in the dark ages when we went to school.”
“They never had to send one of those guys to my house. My ol' man would have thrown me out the door buck naked. There was no such thing as missing school.”
“Parents don't do that anymore either.” She pointed a finger at his chest. “I'm not going to wrestle with a 6 feet 2 inch, 230-pound teenager about getting out of bed—that's your job.”
Craig shook his head. “I'm tired of letting Richard's problems become our crisis. It's like we start our day with 'The Richard Show' every morning. I'm fed up with it!” He set his coffee mug on the table and sat down.
“Me too, but all I need to know right now is if you'll take him to school this morning. I have to leave early and take Francine to practice for her play.” Monica sipped her coffee while she set cereal bowls, spoons, and milk on the table. She looked up and watched as eight-year-old Francine lugged her backpack into the kitchen.
The girl set the backpack near the door to the garage. Her other hand was extended above her head holding a plastic garment bag, which trailed along the floor. Craig reached for the bag and folded it over a chair.
“Thanks, Daddy.” Francine reached up and kissed him.
“What's in the bag?” he asked.
“My outfit for dress rehearsal tonight.” Francine smiled and walked toward her mother.
Monica hugged her daughter and then glanced above the child's head at Craig.
Francine sat at the table and began to pour cereal into her bowl. She looked at her father through narrowed eyes. “Daddy, you didn't forget you have to pick me up tonight did you?”
Craig's eyes widened and he turned toward his wife, silently pleading.
Monica smiled at Francine. “Daddy didn't forget. He knows how important this is to you, Sweetie. He plans to be at the dance studio at 6:00 sharp tonight.” Monica smiled at her husband. “Don't you Honey?”
Craig let out his breath and inclined his coffee mug slightly toward his wife. “Of course, I'll be there.” He smiled at his daughter.
Francine set the cereal box down. “I think I left my hat in your car Daddy. I need to get it before you leave.”
“You better do it now.” He checked the time. “I'm heading out the door in a minute.”
Francine jumped up from her chair and took off into the garage.
Craig set his mug on the table. “Her dress rehearsal's tonight?”
“Yes, it is.” Monica didn't look at him.
“I hate to leave the office early. I'll miss my callbacks. Is there any way you can pick her up?”
Monica slammed down her coffee mug. Brown liquid sloshed over the edge and ran onto the table. “Absolutely not!” She raised her voice. “We discussed this last week. I have a working dinner with the big wigs tonight. They're flying in this afternoon for our annual corporate meeting.”
Craig raised his hands, palms out. “Okay, okay. I'll make arrangements.”
Monica sensed the tone of annoyance in his voice. She took a deep breath and turned her back to him. A tense silence invaded the room. Monica turned around and slowly pulled out her chair and sat facing him. “Did you forget I also work full time?” She glared at him. “Craig, how come I manage to take care of you, the cat, and two kids, but you can't go out of your way once in a while to do something for your family?”
He stood and reached for his briefcase. “Monica, don't start that again. I'm not out running around with women or drinking with the boys. We have a good life because I work hard.”
She stood and pushed her chair in. She took a deep breath. Their eyes met and she lifted her hand to his cheek. She lowered her voice. “You do work hard and we do have a good life, but I want you to be part of it.”
He kissed her fingertips. “I know. I'm trying.”
They turned at the sound of Richard shuffling into the kitchen. His bed-head hair was bent against the left side of his face and wrinkles crossed his cheek. His faded Tee-shirt hung over baggy pajama bottoms. His eyelids were half closed over sleep-filled eyes. Richard moved wordlessly past his parents toward the refrigerator. He opened the door wide and stared at its contents. He moved one hand to rest on top of the door and leaned into the cool air. He pulled out a carton of orange juice and put it to his lips. His pronounced Adam’s apple fluttered up and down, as a man quenching his thirst after emerging from a desert.
“Good morning to you too.” Monica took the container from his hands. “I've told you not to do that.”
“Yeah. Whatever.” He stared into the refrigerator again, his head bobbing as he searched each shelf. Without turning around, he called over his shoulder, “Hey Pops, you gonna' drop me off at school?”
Craig slammed his briefcase onto the counter. “No, Sonny Boy, I'm not!” His voice rose. “When you start to treat your family....”
The sudden blare of a car horn and screech of brakes refocused their attention. Craig and Monica looked at each other questioningly.
“Francine? Francine!” There was no response. Craig and Monica looked at each other with alarm. Monica ran through the garage calling for her daughter. She glanced around for the cat. The outside door was wide open and she could hear Francine screaming. She saw the child lying on the sidewalk, arms and legs askew. The kitten pranced over her twisted figure. Monica began to yell. “Craig! Craig! Francine's hurt.” Heart pounding, Monica ran to the child and knelt at her side.
Craig rushed up behind them, bent over, and held Francine's hand. “What happened? Are you alright?” He put one arm around Monica's trembling shoulder.
“I'm sorry, Mom.” Francine cried. “I opened the door and Kitty ran out. I chased after her and slipped and fell. She ran into the street and almost got hit by a car.” Francine's words ran together as she spoke. The cat licked at her tears.
“Can you move?” Craig asked.
Monica and Craig watched as Francine lifted her head and wriggled her fingers. She stretched out her arms. She pulled her legs out from under herself and struggled to sit up. Although dazed, her crying subsided. Blood oozed from deep scrapes on her elbows and knees.
Craig cradled her in his arms and then lifted her from the ground.
Monica stood and tried to catch her breath.
“Daddy, what about my play? Can I still go to my dress rehearsal?” Francine's voice faded as Craig carried her across the driveway, through the garage and into the house. He kissed her on the forehead.
Monica could hear Craig's muffled assurances. Tears of relief ran down her face. She pulled her arms tight against her waist, trying to calm herself and slow the beating of her heart. She filled her lungs with long, deep breaths.
Richard rushed toward her, his eyes wide with concern. He swooped up the cat in one hand and put his free arm around his mother's shoulder. She slipped her hand around his waist, grateful for the support.
Richard hugged her to him as they walked toward the house. “Everything will be okay, Mom,” he said. He kissed her gently on the top of the head.
Monica stopped and through her tears, searched the boy's face. She looked toward the open door where Craig had disappeared with Francine in his arms. Monica wiped the tears from her cheeks and nodded. She reached up, tousled her son's hair, and offered a weak smile. “Yes, I think it will.”
# # #
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Split Second Timing
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author.
~ ~ ~
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Split Second Timing
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