Starting the car, Kate drove out of the parking lot and onto the main road. "You are supposed to be in school. Period."
"Oh. Like you'd never take me out of class to see a movie," Marah said. "I must have dreamed I saw Harry Potter on a school day."
"In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished category," Kate said, trying not to raise her voice.
Marah crossed her arms. "Tully would understand."
Kate pulled into the circular drive in front of the middle school and parked. "Okay, girls, they're waiting for you at the office."
Emily groaned. "My mom's gonna flip out."
When they were alone in the car, Kate turned to her daughter.
"Dad would understand," Marah said. "He knows how much movies and modeling mean to me."
"You think so?" Kate pulled out her cell phone and hit the speed-dial list, then handed it to Marah. "Tell him."
"Y-you tell him."
"I didn't skip school and go to the movies." She held the phone out.
Marah took it, put it to her ear. "Daddy?" Marah's voice instantly softened and tears filled her eyes.
Kate felt a clutch of jealousy. How was it that Johnny had maintained such a lovely relationship with their daughter when it was Kate who was practically the kid's indentured servant?
"Guess what, Daddy? Remember that movie I told you about, the one where the girl finds out that her aunt is really her mom? I went to see it today and it was totally . . . What? Oh." Her voice fell to a near-whisper. "During fourth period, but . . . I know." She listened for a few moments and then sighed. "Okay. 'Bye, Dad." Marah hung up the phone and handed it back to Kate. For a split second, she was a little girl again. "I can't go see the movie this weekend."
Kate wanted nothing more than to seize the instant's possibility and pull Marah into her arms for a hug, to hang on to her little girl for just a moment and say, I love you, but she didn't dare. Motherhood at times like this—most times—was about the steel in your spine, not the bend. "Maybe next time you'll think about the consequences of an action."
"Someday I'll be a famous actress and I'll tell the TV that you were totally no help at all. None. I'll give all the credit to Aunt Tully, who believes in me." She got out of the car and started walking.
Kate followed, fell into step beside her. "I believe in you."
Marah snorted. "Ha. You never let me do anything, but as soon as I can I'm moving in with Tully."
"When hell freezes over," she muttered under her breath. Thankfully, she and her daughter had no more opportunity to speak. When they stepped into the school, the principal was waiting for them.
The summer before Marah started high school was hands down the worst summer of Kate's life. A thirteen-year-old daughter in middle school had been bad; in retrospect, though, it looked a hell of a lot better from a distance. A fourteen-year-old girl getting ready for high school was worse.
It didn't help that for the last year Johnny had been working sixty hours a week, either.
"You are not going to wear jeans that show the crack of your butt to school," Kate said, striving to keep her voice even. In her busy end-of-the-summer schedule, she'd budgeted four hours to buy Marah's school clothes. They'd been in the mall two hours already and the only thing in their arms was hostility.
"Everyone is wearing these jeans at the high school."
"Everyone except you, then." Kate pressed a pair of fingertips to her throbbing temples. She was vaguely aware of the boys running through the store like banshees, but she let that go for now. If she was lucky, maybe security would come and lock her up for failing to control her children. Right now a little solitary confinement sounded heavenly.
Marah threw the jeans on a rounder and stomped off.
"Do you even know how to walk away anymore?" Kate muttered, following her daughter.
By the time they were finished, Kate felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator: beaten, bloodied, but alive. No one was happy. The boys were whining over the Lord of the Rings action figures she'd denied them, Marah was fuming over the jeans she hadn't gotten and the practically see-through blouse that had also gotten away, and Kate was angry that school shopping could so drain her energy. The only good news was that she'd drawn her line in the sand and defended it. Kate hadn't completely won the day, but neither had Marah.
On the drive home from Silverdale, the car was divided into two discernible halves: the backseat was noisy, boisterous, and full of fighting; the front seat was frigid and silent. Kate kept trying to make conversation with her daughter, but every sentence was an unreturned volley; by the time they'd turned down the gravel driveway and parked in the garage, she felt utterly defeated. That vague triumph over holding the line, being a mother and not a friend, had lost its luster.
Behind her, the boys unhooked their seat belts and climbed over each other in their haste to get out. Kate knew that whoever got to the living room first controlled the remote.
"Take it easy," she said, glancing at them in the rearview mirror.
They were tangled together like lion cubs trying to crawl out of a hole.
She turned to Marah. "You got some lovely things today."
Marah shrugged. "Yeah."
"You know, Marah, life is full of—" Kate stopped herself midsentence and almost laughed. She'd been about to offer one of her mother's life-is speeches.
"Compromises. You can go around seeing what you did get, or you can focus on what you didn't. The choice you make will ultimately determine what kind of woman you become."
"I just want to fit in," Marah said in a voice that was unexpectedly small. It reminded Kate how young her daughter really was, and how frightening it was to start high school.
Kate reached out, gently tucked some hair behind Marah's ear. "Believe me, I remember the feeling. I had to wear cheap, secondhand clothes to school when I was your age. The kids used to make fun of me."
"So you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean, but you can't get everything you want. It's that simple."
"It's a pair of jeans, Mom. Not world peace."
Kate looked at her daughter. For once, she wasn't scowling or turning away. "I'm sorry we fight so much."
"Maybe we could sign you up for that new modeling class, after all. The one in Seattle."
Marah jumped on that scrap like a hungry dog. "You'll finally let me go off-island? The next session starts Tuesday. I checked. Tully said she'd pick me up from the ferry." Marah smiled sheepishly. "We've been talking about it."
"Oh, you have, have you?"
"Daddy said it would be okay if I kept my grades up."
"He knows, too? And no one talks to me? Who am I, Hannibal Lecter?"
"You get mad pretty easily these days."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Can I go?"
Kate had no choice, really. "Okay. But if your grades—"
Marah launched herself out of her seat and into Kate's arms. She held her daughter tightly, reveling in the moment. She couldn't remember the last time Marah had initiated a hug.
Long after Marah had run into the house, Kate was still sitting in the car, staring after her daughter, wondering if the modeling class was a good idea. That was the sly, ruinous thing about motherhood, the thing that twisted your insides with guilt and made you change your mind and lower your standards: giving in was so damned easy.
It wasn't that she didn't want Marah to take the classes, precisely. It was that she didn't want Marah on that difficult road so young. Rejections, corruption, beauty that went no deeper than the skin, drugs, and anorexia. All that lay beneath the surface of the modeling world. Self-esteem and body image were too fragile in the teen years. God knew a girl could fall off the track even without the burden of constant beauty-based rejection.
In short, Kate wasn't afraid her gorgeous daughter wouldn't make it in the world of runways and taped-on clothing. Rather, she was afraid she would, and then her childhood would be lost.
Finally, she left the car and went inside, muttering, "I should have held firm."
The mother's lament. She was trying to figure out how to backtrack (impossible now) when the phone rang. Kate didn't even bother answering. In these last few weeks of summer, she'd learned one true thing: teenage girls lived on the phone.
"Mom! It's Grandma for you," Marah screamed down the stairs. "But don't take too long. Gabe is gonna call me."
She picked up the phone and heard the exhalation of smoke on the other end. Smiling, she ignored the groceries and plopped onto the couch, curling up under an afghan that still smelled like her mother. "Hey, Mom."
"You sound terrible."
"You can tell that from my breathing?"
"You have a teenage daughter, don't you?"
"Believe me, I was never this bad."
Mom laughed; it was a horsey, hacking sound. "I guess you don't remember all the times you told me to butt out of your life and then slammed the door in my face."
The memory was vague but not impossible to recall. "I'm sorry, Mom."
There was a pause. Then Mom said, "Thirty years."
"Thirty years what?"
"That's how long before you'll get an apology, too, but you know what's great?"
Kate groaned. "That I might not live that long?"
"That you'll know she's sorry long before she does." Mom laughed. "And when she needs you to babysit, she'll really love you."
Kate knocked on Marah's door, heard a muffled, "Come in."
She went inside. Trying to ignore the clothes and books and junk scattered everywhere, she picked her way to the white four-poster bed, where Marah sat, knees drawn up, talking on the phone. "Could I talk to you for a minute?"
Marah rolled her eyes. "I gotta go, Gabe. My mom wants to talk to me. Later." To Kate, she said, "What?"
Kate sat on the edge of the bed, remembering suddenly all the times this very scene had played out in her own teenage years. Her mother had started every reconciliation with a life-is speech.
She smiled at the memory.
"I know we've been fighting a lot lately, and I'm sorry about that. Most of the time it's because I love you and I want the best for you."
"And the rest of the time, what's it about then?"
"Because you've really pissed me off."
Marah smiled at that, just a little, and sidled left to make room for Katie, just as Kate had once done for her own mother.
She moved more fully onto the bed and cautiously reached down to hold her daughter's hand. There were lots of things she could say right now, conversations she could try to knit out, but instead she just sat there, holding her daughter's hand. It was the first quiet, connected moment they'd spent together in years and it filled her with hope. "I love you, Marah," she said finally. "It was you, more than anyone else, who showed me what love could be. When they put you in my arms for the first time . . ." She paused, feeling her throat tighten. Her love for this child was so enormous, so overwhelming. Sometimes in the day-to-day war zone of adolescence, she almost forgot that. She smiled. "Anyway, I was thinking we should do something special together."