A month later, Jill is tending to her sprouting plants when there’s a knock on her door. She finds Rick standing on her doorstep. “You didn’t answer your cell phone,” says Rick.
“I didn’t see you called,” Jill says, which is the truth. She left her phone downstairs after dinner, hoping she could disconnect for the rest of the evening.
“May I come in?” Rick asks. His brow is furrowed and his mouth is missing its usual carefree smile. It doesn’t surprise her. The road crews he supervises are gearing up for the warm weather, which means he’s been working full five-day weeks. Rick hates going to work, so he finds this stressful.
“What’s this about?”
“Christina,” Rick says.
Rick enters the apartment but does not sit down and she does not invite him to. He pulls out an envelope and hands it to her. She sees the blue silhouette of a wildcat on the return address.
“Got this in the mail last week,” Rick says.
Inside the envelope she finds a letter from her English teacher, Mr. Brown. “I’ve become increasingly concerned about Christina’s lack of motivation,” Mr. Brown writes. “The quality of her work has dropped considerably in the past six months. It seems as though she has made a conscious decision to stop doing the work. I’ve enclosed a copy of her most recent essay, which has elevated my level of concern.”
Jill skips the rest of the letter and flips the page to Christina’s essay. On one double-spaced page, Christina has written a single paragraph: “I’m sorry Mr. Brown, but I didn’t have time to read the book. In general, I think I’m doing well enough in class to skip this assignment. No offense but I just don’t want to do it. Maybe the next one. Sorry.” She then signed her name, with a small heart above the “i.”
“What grade does she have in this class?”
Rick points to the letter. Mr. Brown points out that Christina’s average for the term is a sixty-three; for the year it’s seventy-five.
“What do you want me to do about this?” says Jill.
“Mr. Brown wants you to meet with him.”
“He says he wants to meet with one of us.”
“I was hoping that would be you,” says Rick.
Jill sighs. “Why not you?”
“Busy season is staring up and—“
“I work too, you know,” Jill says. “I have a busy season, too. It’s called my life.”
Rick snatches the letter from her. “Fine.”
“No, seriously, I want to know,” she says. “Why should I do this, when she won’t even talk to me?”
“Fine, whatever,” says Rick. “Just thought since you’re not supervising her all day—”
“Some supervisory work you’re doing,” she said. “Her grades reflect well on your parenting skills.”
Rick shrugs. “I’ve brought the horse to water.”
“I’ll do it,” says Jill. “God knows you won’t.”
As if admitting this is true, Rick hands her the letter.
“Have you said anything to her about this?” Jill says.
“She told me her new grades are much higher.”
“Did you check online?”
“Her grades. You can check them online.”
Rick paused. “Oh,” he says.
“Is this all you wanted?”
Rick nods in a way that seems sad to her. He has not shaved in at least two weeks. The scruffy beard gives him haggard, beaten-down look.
“You can leave now,” Jill says.
He puts his hand on the doorknob, then stops. “You know, it didn’t have to be like this,” Rick says.
“I think you’re done here, Rick.”
“You could’ve waited another couple of years, until Christina was out of high school.”
Jill’s heart pounds. “We’re not discussing this.”
“I’m just saying—“
“What I hear you saying is that this is all my fault. Am I mishearing this?”
“That’s not how I meant—“
“Go now please.”
“—it, Jill. What I mean is that for Christina’s sake—“
“I will call the police if you don’t leave my house right now.”
Rick looks at her, his eyes shining and wet. “You’re the mother of my child.”
“And you’re the man who took her away from me,” she says. The room seems to spin and her stomach feels weak. It feels like the time she hid behind the locked door of their bedroom in their former home as he shouted from the hallway about how sorry he was and how he’d never see that woman again and how they could work this out if only she would put in some effort and help him not cheat. Jill remembers how the police came and told him to calm down and get a motel room while things cooled off. While Rick was out renting the room, Jill took Christina to Farrah’s cabin and explained to Christina why dad was shouting and why they were getting a divorce.
“Don’t ever let anyone walk on you,” Jill told Christina that night.
Standing in her living room, with Rick’s pitiful eyes filling with tears, his whole life one careless act of self-gratification after another, she feels a tiny bit of pity for him, but nothing more. “You have one job. Take care of our daughter. Now go,” she says.
And he goes.