But Ben didn’t even hesitate. “Claude. By far. I am most worried about what’s going to happen to Claude when he goes to school this year.”

Penn was increasingly, creepingly worried too, but he took his own advice. The kids who stared at Claude, the parents who gossiped, the classmates who laughed, the neighbors who sniped, the acquaintances who made brazen comments about what wasn’t remotely their business, the strangers who scowled, the brother who fretted, Penn boiled all those worries into a fine reduction he could put in a jelly jar in the back of the refrigerator and forget about, at least for the moment. It was easy to believe, as summer waned and school began once more, that all things would be new again, that old worries would turn and dry and float away like autumn leaves. Easy to believe but not necessarily warranted.

The next morning Claude came downstairs for his first day of kindergarten. He was wearing his tea-length dress—clean, pressed, and, his mother could not deny, appropriate for such an auspicious occasion—and he was in tears, holding a plastic cup of water with a very still upside-down goldfish.

Air Currents and Other Winds

While Rosie was puzzling how to talk him out of his dress, Claude accidentally, in his grief, spilled dead fish down his front. Through fonts of tears and snot and disappointment, he had to change out of the dress and settle for an old red patent-leather purse of Carmelo’s, which Rosie consented to as a compromise position in the hopes he could pass it off successfully as an ill-suited lunch box. She put his peanut butter and jelly, banana, pretzels, and, as a first-day treat, chocolate-chip cookies—plus a note—in the purse to give it lunch-box cachet. Claude’s kindergarten was full-day, six whole hours of sitting quietly and following rules and being away from home where someone—everyone—loved him best of all. Ben and Roo were off to their first day of middle school. Orion came down for breakfast wearing an eyeball sticker between his brows, and when she started to question him about it, he winked one of his other ones at her. So Claude’s lunch purse was only seventh or eighth on Rosie’s list of concerns that morning.

But when she arrived back at school at the end of the day, Claude was nowhere to be seen, and Orion and Rigel rushed out with the bell singing, “Claude got in trouble. Claude got in trouble.” Then the kindergarten door opened, spilling tiny children into their parents’ eager arms, all except Claude, who was being held to his new teacher’s side by what seemed a very firm hand on the top of his head.

“Mrs. Adams?” The kindergarten teacher’s name was Becky Appleton. At orientation, she’d told the parents to call her Becky, but Rosie just couldn’t. First of all, Becky was the name of a child, not a person in whose charge she put the care and education of her baby boy, and though the teacher did look to be about fourteen years old, Rosie still thought she should have the decency to go by Rebecca already. But mostly, kindergarten classrooms always made Rosie feel more like a child herself than the parent of five of them. She remembered her own first day of kindergarten with a clarity that really should have been foggy all these years later. She had been through this four times now, and it never got any less weird. The tiny desks and chairs, the bins of still-pointy crayons and pencils, the smell of new eraser, these made Rosie want to sit down and learn the alphabet rather than be on a first-name basis with the teacher. “You’re Mrs. Adams? Claude’s mother?”

“It’s Walsh, actually.” Rosie decided to let go, for the moment, the fact that it was Ms. not Mrs., and Dr. not Ms.

“Claude had a great first day, Mrs. Walsh.” Becky’s tone was belied by the look on Claude’s face. “But he had some trouble at lunch. The school does not allow peanut butter, so Claude had to sit and eat by himself at his desk in the classroom.”

“I read the kindergarten materials cover to cover,” said Rosie. “There’s nothing in there about not sending peanuts to school.”

“Oh, we just assume people know that. I guess we forget that not everyone is as aware as we are about skyrocketing peanut allergies among children today. No peanuts is implied.”

“Claude is my fifth child to go through this school. The one I made him today was perhaps the eight or nine hundredth peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve sent here. Is this a new rule?”

“We don’t check their sandwiches,” explained Miss Appleton. “It’s about good faith and respect. Doing unto others. The Golden Rule.”

“It’s a no-peanut honor system?”

“Exactly. We’d never have known Claude had a forbidden sandwich except he was bragging to his new friends about how ladies who lunch, lunch on finger sandwiches, cucumber usually, but in his case peanut butter because cucumbers make the bread soggy unless eaten right away.”

“That’s true.” Rosie wondered, vaguely at the time, more pointedly later on, whether the issue here was the peanut butter or the patent-leather purse it had come out of. Or the lesson about ladies who lunch. “Is anyone in Claude’s class allergic to peanuts?”

“It’s a precautionary rule.”

“Does his eating his sandwich in the classroom protect precautionary peanut-allergy sufferers better than in the cafeteria?”

“Well”—Miss Appleton pretended to hesitate to share the next part—“I skipped my own free period to supervise Claude in the classroom while he ate. I was able to make sure he didn’t touch anything.”