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Five In A Row
By Jan Coffey
MIRACopyright © 2005 Jan Coffey
All right reserved.
The eight-year-old Honda's windshield wipers slapped back and forth, struggling to keep up with the sheets of rain battering Emily Doyle's car. She peered through the watery smear covering the windshield. The beams of the headlights reflected blindingly off the bumper of the SUV ahead of her.
"Come on," she whispered. The line of cars inched slowly through a maze of dirty orange cones toward the Exit sign of the high school parking lot.
The whole darn place was one major construction site. The school renovation project, which had started two years earlier, had only advanced about as far as tearing up the lot and forcing parents, teachers and older students to park a half mile away. Earlier tonight, Emily had heard more than a few of the other parents grumbling about it as they slogged through the mud and gravel to the old building. She promised herself that she'd stop nagging at her son, Conor, about tracking ten pounds of dirt into the house every day after school.
The four-wheel-drive in front of her stopped to let another line of traffic join in. Emily glanced at the green LED numbers glowing on the clock on the dash. 8:51.
"Nine minutes. Plenty of time," she said under her breath, pressing the defrost button and turning the heat up to high.
Her button-down shirt and dress pants were wet and sticking to her body. She was cold and uncomfortable. Emily gave herself a cursory glance in the mirror and cringed at the way her shoulder-length dark brown hair was plastered against her head. The little mascara she'd put on tonight had run down onto her cheeks. She took a soggy tissue out of her pants pocket to wipe the smudges.
Emily's sister Liz had warned her about the impending storm, but she was too thick to take an umbrella. Liz had also told her about the temperature dropping off tonight, but Emily simply refused to admit that wintry weather was just around the corner. It was only the first week of October.
"Come on!" She banged her hand on the steering wheel as the driver in front of her seemed content to let the whole line of cars from the other lane cut in front of them.
Her cell phone rang, and she checked the display. It was Conor.
"So, how was back-to-school night?" her son asked in a cheerful voice.
"You've already made a name for yourself, you womanizing heartthrob. I met Mr. and Mrs. Gartner, Ashley's parents. They couldn't say enough nice things about you."
"That's because they're in shock over their daughter getting a good grade on anything. She's my lab partner. I think this was her first hundred percent ever."
"So, is she cute?" Emily asked, actually tapping the horn for the car in front of her to move.
"She's blond, beautiful, a foot taller than me and outside of the four walls of the biology lab, she doesn't even know I exist."
"She's not a foot taller than you," Emily replied reasonably. She was relieved as the traffic started to crawl again. "I saw the parents. There's no way she could be over six feet tall."
"Mom, I'm four-ten."
"Four eleven and half," she corrected. "And the last time we had you measured was August. I bet you're five-three by now."
"No, I've shrunk since August," Conor said. "But I'm cool with it. So how did you like my teachers?"
Emily knew he wasn't cool with being the shortest kid in the ninth grade, but there wasn't anything she could do about it. She was five-two. Her ex-husband David was five-seven with his shoes on. She knew she didn't have to remind Conor again that what he lacked in physical size, he more than made up for with intelligence.
"I like your teachers. Our time in the classrooms, though, was cut way short because of your rather long-winded principal."
"I guess that's because Mr. Peterson is new."
"Though I do think he likes to hear himself talk," Conor added.
"I met his wife, too. She was really nice. The quiet type."
"Their son Jake is a freshman like me," he commented.
"Awesome kid. We've been sitting at the same lunch table. I was going to ask him if he wants to catch a movie with me this weekend. By the way, where are you?"
"Still in the parking lot."
"You're going to be late."
Emily glanced at the clock. It was 9:01. She was late. "I know. Where are you?"
"At the café."
The Eatopia Café had been a joint venture for the two sisters. Emily had come up with the start-up money, Liz the expertise. The health food sandwich and coffee shop faced the quaint village green of Wickfield, Connecticut. Liz took care of the operation of the restaurant as Emily saw to the books and the financial end. She was not usually trusted up front, where the customers gathered.
"Is Aunt Liz gonna drive you home?" she asked.
"No, she left half an hour ago for a hot date. I closed the place up for her, and now I'm in the back."
"She left you alone?" Emily asked loudly.
"Mom, I'm fourteen years old. I'll be driving in twenty-two months. I'll be going to college in four years. I'm responsible enough to turn a lock and press a handful of numbers on an alarm keypad."
Conor was definitely responsible enough for all of that and a lot more. Still, it didn't lessen Emily's worry. This was who she was. A single mother of a teenager, and a complete worrywart.
"I'll see you at home," he told her.
"How are you going to get there?" Emily asked.
"You're going to walk two miles in the rain? I don't think so. I'll pick you up."
"You're already late for your online chat or class or whatever," Conor protested. "Remember responsibility? How about punctuality? Do you remember lecturing me about that stuff?"
Yes, she did. The speech came up whenever Emily had a hard time getting Conor out of bed in time to catch the bus, which happened roughly five days a week.
"There are probably about two hundred ultra serious geeks from around the world in that chat room, waiting breathlessly to hear about hear about what're you talking about tonight?"
"Securing e-mail using AspQMail software."
"Yeah, that," the teenager replied. "You'll waste sixteen minutes coming to get me at the café first, and you're already let's see eleven minutes late. Jeez, what a rip-off, Mom. You're robbing these guys of half of their session."
Emily finally turned out of the parking lot and onto the country road. "Nice try laying on the guilt, buddy. Get off the instant messenger and log me in. I'll save myself eight minutes by getting into the chat from there."
Excerpted from Five In A Row by Jan Coffey Copyright © 2005 by Jan Coffey. Excerpted by permission.
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