Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl

4.6 8
by Kellie Coates Gilbert

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“The day my precious Pearl entered this world, I said goodbye to my heart. It would not be the last time . . .”See more details below


“The day my precious Pearl entered this world, I said goodbye to my heart. It would not be the last time . . .”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gilbert’s fiction debut is the intense tale of Barrie Graeber and her family. Barrie is a high school counselor, and her teenage daughter Pearl makes some bad choices that lead to her death in a car crash. The family’s grief takes a complex turn when they learn of Pearl’s involvement with an adult and Barrie pursues her desire for justice. The emotionally fraught plot unfolds very slowly, and certain key developments occur late in the narrative, blurring the novel’s focus: is it about grief or sexual predation? Gilbert, a former paralegal, is at her best with courtroom scenes, when deliberate pacing is both dramatic and appropriate. But characterization of several of the minor figures is too slight, and the overall tempo is so slow as to become more melodrama than taut drama that sinks under the weight of too many issues. Agent: Sandra Bishop, MacGregor Literary Agency (Sept.)

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Mother of Pearl

By Kellie Coates Gilbert

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2012 Kellie Coates Gilbert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-6131-7


Where's Graeber?"

I freeze. Guess it was only a matter of time before Coach Warren came gunning for me. I toss my coffee in the sink, listening while Bill Miller, the pudgy biology teacher who always smells of formaldehyde, rats me out. "Barrie? I just saw her heading for the teachers' lounge."

"Graeber," the coach barks as he storms through the doorway. "What's the deal with you pulling Dennis Cutler off the team right before our big game?"

Okay, here goes. I muster everything I've been taught about effective communication and look Coach Warren directly in those deep blue eyes. No way is he going to bully me. "I did not pull the Cutler boy. I simply asked Sharon to enforce what we all agreed upon last spring. His academic improvement plan requires him to attend the special tutoring sessions I put in place. As it stands now, he's not going to pass his core subjects and graduate. I already went to bat for him once, based on a promise he'd work hard this year."

Coach Warren shakes his head. "But—"

"But nothing. Sleeping through his classes and skipping tutoring sessions is not acceptable. I'm sorry, I really am. But we both know if Dennis is not on target to graduate, he's ineligible to play. Simple as that."

When I tell people I'm a school guidance counselor, they think it means I spend hours helping students fill out college application and FAFSA forms. And that's true. But my job is so much more. I'm here to advocate for my students, to look out for their best interests. Sometimes that means protecting them from a coach who has yet to understand that the one with the most trophies can still wind up a loser.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against a good football game. But why must education always take a backseat to sports? Truth is, in this town football reigns. Academics are often abandoned and left to drift to shore while the athletic program leans back, clipping along like a Kennedy on a sailboat.

Warren pulls his arms tighter across the chest of a jacket that reads Sawtooth High Cougars. "So, let me get this straight. You're going to let down a whole team, the entire town of Falcon, Idaho, for that matter ... what, so you can make a point?"

I huff. "That is the point. When Dennis failed to do his part and study, he's the one who let his team down." I feel myself gaining emotional steam. "And what does it say if we let Dennis flunk out? Will that prepare him for his future?" Satisfied I'd made my point, I smugly climb down from my imaginary soapbox.

Coach Warren unfolds his arms and leans forward. With a lowered voice he speaks, pausing between each word for emphasis. "I don't give a rat's tail about how nice little Dennis's future is. That's your job. Mine is to win football games."

Before I can respond, several teachers enter the lounge. Coach Warren instantly plants a smile on his face and works the room like a politician, assuring everyone that, yes, indeed, the Cougars will put the Vikings back on the bus after the game this afternoon with their heads hanging low. He glances back at me. Those striking blue eyes narrow to drive his point home.

Count on it, he says.

* * *

Nobody wants to admit this, but often adults don't understand how hard life is for teenagers these days. In this pressure-cooker life, young people need someone they can trust, someone who will encourage them to work hard so they can accomplish their dreams.

That's where I come in.

I head for my counseling office, a tight little room lined with bookshelves filled with college catalogs and FAFSA publications. Sliding into the chair behind my badly marred walnut desk, I pull a scheduling book from the drawer and assess what the rest of my morning holds.

A knock at the door alerts me to my first appointment—Cade Walton, a kid whose single mom is working two jobs so he can attend college next fall. I motion him in and have him take a seat. Then, lifting his file from the stack on my desk, I begin my work for the day.

By four o'clock, I've finished my student interviews and move to grab my coat and gloves. Today is the only afternoon football game of the season, and I'm anxious to join the cheering crowd I hear outside my window.

Moving quickly, I juggle my purse and coat while trying to lock my office door.

"Mrs. Graeber?"

I turn to find Emily Jorgensen, a rather high-strung girl who comes from a family of known achievers.

"Hey, Emily. What can I do for you?"

Emily bursts into tears.

I muffle a sigh, unlock my door, and invite her into my office. I hand the distraught girl a tissue, and she plops down in the chair at the side of my desk, apparently oblivious to the fact nearly every other student from Sawtooth High School is currently out at the football field.

My eyes glance at the wall clock. Pearl's dance team is performing during halftime, and I don't want to miss seeing my daughter execute the moves she's been practicing all week.

"Okay, sweetie, why the tears?"

"It's just that Mr. Baxter won't relent on my grade in English comp, and if I don't score at least a ninety-seven, my chance to get accepted to Harvard will be ruined."

I lean closer, slightly amused at her melodrama but silently wishing all students I counsel cared this much about their academic careers. "Emily, I know you worry." I look her directly in the eye to make sure she feels validated. "But, you are an excellent student. A single grade on one paper this early in your senior year won't affect your university plans. I promise. Besides, a ninety-five is still impressive."

The plain-looking girl, who has yet to come out of her shell and even wear makeup, looks unconvinced.

After sneaking another look at the clock, I opt for a different approach. "But tell you what, I'll talk to Mr. Baxter and see what extra credit opportunities he'll be offering this semester." Mindful of the no-touching rule imposed on educators these days, I still stand and give her a brief hug, "In the meantime, focus on doing your best. That's really all you can do."

The teary-eyed girl nods and moves for the door. "Thanks, Mrs. Graeber. I really appreciate it." She gives me a little wave as she leaves.

After cramming her file in my drawer, I gather my things for a second time and head out to the big game.

Stepping into crisp fall air, I hurry past lines of parked cars toward the sound of band drums and referee whistles. Slowing, I flash my staff badge at the tired-looking security guard at the gate before continuing toward the stands. My eyes pan the crowd until I finally locate Joe and Connie Anderson and my son, Aaron. I wave and make my way up the bleachers.

"Where've you been?" Connie scoots over, making room for me.

I roll my eyes. "Don't ask."

Connie's expression turns sympathetic. "Well, we're about to finish second quarter."

My son greets me without pulling his gaze from the field. "Hey, Mom."

"Hi, sweetheart." Glancing around to see if I can spot Pearl, I move to give my son a hug before I remember my eleven-year-old hates any public display of affection.

I turn to Connie's husband. "Hey there, Joe."

Joe Anderson is one of Steve's closest buddies. They go way back, football teammates from when they attended Sawtooth years ago.

No one loves football more than Joe. Despite his respected position on the school board, he's been known to yell like a banshee when the Cougars' score falls behind. I dip my hand in his container of popcorn, painfully aware I should never have skipped lunch today. "Where's Steve?"

Joe nervously scans the field. "No sign of him yet."

"I'm not surprised," I eye his popcorn but decide it'd be rude to grab another handful. Instead, I check my phone for messages. "My husband is always running late these days. If he doesn't quit burning the candle at both ends, he's going to wind up with a heart attack before he turns forty."

The scoreboard at the south end of the field flashes twenty-one to twenty. Too close for comfort. Barely in our favor. Joe tells me we'd run the ball well so far, but the Vikings' place-kicker had been hot. Now, with just a minute left in the second quarter, they'd punched up the grass into field goal range. Lowering my gaze to the forty-yard line, I breeze past the action to the sidelines.

"Oh look, there's Pearl." Beaming, I pull up my cell phone and shoot a photo. I watch as she waves at number thirty-two as he jogs back to the sidelines from the line of scrimmage.

Pearl has been going out with Craig Ellison, the team's quarterback, for a little over a year. Together, they look like the Ken and Barbie dolls I played with growing up. At times, I worry they might be getting a bit too close. She has a whole lifetime ahead of her, and I certainly don't want her duplicating my mistakes.

I'd worry a lot more if she wasn't with a boy like Craig. He's a polite kid from a good family. When Pearl was in junior high, I cochaired a school carnival with his mom.

Back at the field's edge, Coach Warren and his assistant huddle with the defense, barking out orders. With a slap on the back of number forty- two, he launches the players out on the field.

"C'mon! Hold the line!" Aaron screams.

I join the rest of the crowd already on their feet when the Vikings' quarterback takes the snap and drops into the pocket. He scans for an open receiver as he pats the ball once. Twice. Then he whips the ball past his ear and a perfect spiral soars forty yards into the straining hands of the Vikings' tight end. He cradles the ball tight and sprints for the goal line.

"STOP HIM!" the diminutive woman in front of us belches out, causing more than a few of us to look at her in surprise.

The crowd across the field explodes into cheers. I snap my head back to the action just in time to watch the Viking receiver cross the goal line and slam the ball on the end zone grass. A routine extra point a minute later cements their lead at halftime.

Joe curses and I reach for my phone, thinking I'll text Steve to see if he's going to make it in time for Pearl's halftime show.

"Mom, can I have some money for popcorn?" Aaron holds his hand outstretched.

"What happened to the twenty I gave you yesterday?"

He explains in detail, reminding me buying his vintage Joe Namath card cleaned him out. I hand him my wallet. "Put it back in my purse. And only take a twenty."

He follows my directions, then starts down the bleachers. "And get me some," I add.

Connie gives me a nudge. "Barrie, the dance team's taking the field. Hey, there's Pearl." She points.

I let my cell phone drop back into my purse and crane my neck around the tall guy in front of me. Nobody gets between me and the halftime show.

My daughter takes her place in the formation with the rest of the group at the edge of the field. She's been practicing for this routine every night this week, working hard to master the complicated moves.

On the field, girls in gold-colored glittery tops and short black skirts march in precision formations to the Star Wars theme song. My daughter snaps her head left in unison with twenty other girls from her spot, third from the end.

When the dance team finishes their final number, uniformed band members follow the girls off the field, playing the last strains of a snappy march. I am applauding with the rest of the crowd, when Steve juggles his way past the Andersons and moves in next to me on the bleachers. "Sorry I'm late." He kisses my cheek. "What'd I miss?"

Joe shakes his head. "The Vikings just crept ahead. I hate to say this, but I hope Coach cleans clock at halftime. That Baker kid especially."

"Honey—" Connie looks at her husband with disbelief. "How can you say that? You know Vince Baker's mother is battling cancer. Cut the poor kid some slack."

Brushing his hand across his shaved head, Joe continues looking out at the field. "Well, another wrong move and we won't even have a chance at play-offs."

Connie rolls her eyes, leans over, and says in a low voice, "I swear, he'd sell his grandmother to win a football game."

Steve's eyes lock with mine, and we share a smile.

Aaron climbs back up in the stands, his hands juggling a hot dog, two bags of popcorn, and cola. "Hey, Dad." He hands one of the popcorns to me.

"Hi, Scoot." Steve ruffles our son's hair. A flicker of guilt crosses my husband's face as he leans over to me. "So, did I miss Pearl's halftime routine?"

"Afraid so, honey." I smile and offer him some popcorn. "But don't worry, she'll understand. I almost missed her routine myself because of a meeting with a student."

"I thought you didn't have any afternoon appointments?"

I lean toward him and lower my voice. "A student showed up in tears."

Steve nods. "Ahh."

I stretch my hand out toward Aaron. "Hey, where's my change?"

My son grins and juggles his drink while he reaches in his back pocket. I relent and tell him he can keep the money if he'll help me rake the leaves tomorrow. His face brightens. "Sure!"

Minutes later the players take the field, and the third quarter begins.

A sense of palpable excitement throbs in the bleachers as the Vikings kick off to the Cougars' line of receivers. I find myself holding my breath as the Cutler kid lines himself up with the soaring ball. Wait—?

I shade my eyes for a better look. "Steve, is that Dennis Cutler out there?"

"Yeah, why?"

A wave of frustration hits me like a tsunami. Looks like Mr. GQ Coach got his way after all. No telling what strings he'd pulled this time.

I shake my head. "Long story." Miffed, I tell myself that Michael Warren may have won for now, but I'll make sure this issue is revisited.

On the field, Dennis catches the ball and races down the field, advancing thirty yards before a Viking slips past one of our blockers and tackles him to the ground. Joe and Steve high-five each other. The ref blows his whistle, and Pearl's boyfriend, Craig, jogs out to the field and gathers the team in a huddle. Seconds later, they break and move to the line of scrimmage.

My attention diverts to our daughter, gathered with her friends on the edge of the field. Her laughter fills my heart with joy.

It's true. A mother loves all her children the same. But I have to admit I feel especially connected to my firstborn. Maybe because for the first four years of her life, it was just the two of us.

Steve leans over and whispers in my ear—"Where're you at?"—which is his way of telling me he notices I've been deep in thought and not plugged in to the game. I smile and weave my fingers in his, enjoying the feel of his calloused palms against my own.

Just before the game ends, our receiver sprints into the end zone. The extra point a minute later hands us our victory.

Joe lets out a whoop followed by a rather colorful expletive. Connie slaps his arm. "Watch it," she nods toward Aaron. "We have young ears nearby."

"That Craig sure has an arm," Steve says, his face beaming as if Pearl's boyfriend were his own son. And he might as well be, for the amount of time he spends in our home.

After a few parents in the stands mutter, great game, and knew Coach Warren would pull off another one, I gather my things and trundle down the bleachers with the Andersons and Steve. Aaron trails close behind.

We make our way out to the parking lot before Joe turns to Steve. "The Kiwanis are holding a reception for the coach Tuesday night. You guys going?" Holding my breath, I wait for Steve's reply.

"Naw, can't. Got a meeting with my new business partner, and it'll likely run into the evening."

At least I've been spared that misery. The last thing I want to do is join a mob of Coach Warren worshipers.

We wave our good-byes to the Andersons, agreeing to try to get together for dinner soon, when Pearl rushes up, breathless. "Hey, Mom. Craig isn't going to be able to take me home. Something about a team meeting with the coach. He said he'd pick me up later, so can I catch a ride with you?" Without waiting for a reply, she turns to Steve, looping her arm in his. "So Dad, what did you think of my routine?"

Coming to Steve's rescue, I jump into the conversation. "We're both very proud of how you did, sweetie." Pearl grins and says she'll gather her things and meet me at the car.


Excerpted from Mother of Pearl by Kellie Coates Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 Kellie Coates Gilbert. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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