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[End Page 64]
Shar took the afternoon off work to sit in a circle of student desks with four of her daughter's teachers. Mrs. Burrows, who had called the meeting, handed her an attendance record and pointed out the seven days her daughter had been late for first period just this month. Mr. Garcia added that her grades were slipping, and one by one the teachers showed Shar the zeroes in their grade books next to her daughter's name. They passed her a few of the girl's shoddy essays and unfinished homework assignments and talked about Jemma quitting her extracurriculars, which Shar considered mostly pointless clubs anyway—the dance decorating committee, the new-student welcoming club, the unseen branch of the pep squad that made posters to promote upcoming football games. Shar didn't grieve her quitting those, but she couldn't deny that something was off with the girl. [End Page 65]
"You might have to dig a little to find out what's really going on," Mrs. Burrows said toward the end of their meeting in a soft voice that Shar imagined she reserved for when she really wanted to make a point. "Be her friend, to a degree. Be on her side."
Shar sighed and stood. Be her friend. That was exactly what was wrong with parents nowadays.
"I appreciate your concern. I'll look into things." She shook the teachers' hands firmly, taking in the "No Sniveling" poster and the student- drawn ancient history timelines tacked to the walls, another assignment her daughter hadn't completed.
As she was leaving, Shar spotted a flyer advertising a dance class on a bulletin board of community events. Ever since she was little, Jemma had wanted to take one of those expensive classes, and Shar had always turned her down, saying it was too costly, though the real reason had more to do with her own dread of sitting with a bunch of beaming mothers, looking on as their tutu-clad daughters received praise for twirling in circles. She would have preferred that her daughter ask for a basketball hoop, or a horse, or even a dirt bike, something with some teeth to it. Now, she sighed and tucked the flyer into her purse.
When she got home, the girl was asleep on the couch with the TV on. Shar shook her awake.
"Oh, God," Jemma said, covering her face with her hands. "How did it go?"
"How do you expect? Your teachers think you're a wreck."
Jemma flushed and sat up. "Well, it's going to stop today. I'm not going to be tardy again, I promise." She pursed her lips as she yanked her backpack open. "I'm getting it together, starting now. I need to do my math homework, for one thing."
She set her book on the coffee table and leafed through it, took out a notebook and dull pencil.
"Sounds like you need to do more than that. Do I need to ask again what's going on with you?"
Shar had told the teachers she knew she was supposed to suspect drugs in a situation like this and that she would investigate it, but it just didn't add up. The girl's room was still splattered with princess décor and horse posters, and the wildest music she listened to was her late stepfather's old Guess Who albums. Her friends were the same nervous little rule-followers she'd hung out with since elementary school. [End Page 66]
Jemma yawned and rubbed her eyes, then groaned in frustration. "Why can't I wake up?"
"Come on, girl," Shar said, slapping her back. "Let's get to work."
Shar sat beside Jemma as she did her geometry. Not that she could help—she had never even memorized her times tables and was fortunate that it hadn't affected her ability to make a decent living, thanks to her mechanical skills. But Jemma enjoyed school, even the subjects she wasn't great at, and she loved sitting and working out proofs for half...