“Your brother started with one mistake as well,” she replied. “Which led to another. And another.”
“I’m not Peyton,” I said. It seemed crazy I’d have to say this, as all my life they’d made it clear it was the one thing they knew for sure.
“You’re damn right you’re not. And you won’t be, as long as I have anything to say about it.” She pushed back her chair, getting to her feet. “First thing Monday, we go meet with Perkins Day about transferring you. In the meantime, you go to school and nowhere else. I want you home by three thirty every day until we get this sorted out.”
“Sorted out?” My voice and panic were both rising. “You can’t make me switch schools.”
Suddenly, she was pouncing, lunging across the table at me, slapping her hands on the surface. “I,” she said, right into my face as I drew back, startled, “can do whatever I want. I am your mother, and I make the rules. From now on you follow them. We’re done here.”
She pulled back, straightening up, but I stayed where I was. I was still gripping the chair arms when she left the room.
For a moment, my dad sat there, not saying anything. We both knew he’d follow her, the way he always did. But it was the pause before that I’d recall later. Like if my parents were finally going to shift from their respective, decided responsibilities, this was when it could happen. Maybe he might have listened, if I tried to explain. It couldn’t have made things worse. I’d never know, though, because then he was getting to his feet, wearily, and pushing the chair in behind him. Court adjourned.
* * *
I had Peyton to thank for everything that happened that night. After our conversation, he had indeed reached my mom on her cell, just as my parents were checking in to the hotel. I could picture the moment of her answering, her face brightening as it always did at his voice. And then her smile wavering, followed by confusion as he told her, now adamant, that he did not want her there. I imagined her resisting, explaining, tears audible in her voice before filling her eyes. Then silence as Peyton told her he wouldn’t be attending the ceremony, even if she was, and hanging up on her.
All of this was so easy to imagine, as was the drive back home and the moment she came in and Ames told her what was happening downstairs. The weird thing was that even though what followed I had seen, with my own eyes, it was the part that still felt like a dream.
By Sunday morning, my mom was rested and ready to focus on a new project: me. It was obvious the moment I came down to breakfast and found her at the table with a shiny new folder, a stack of papers, and her coffee.
“So I’ve been in touch with Headmaster Florence,” she said, skipping a salutation, “and she’s of the mind that a midsemester switch is not in your best interest.”
I paused, right where I was, to give Mrs. Florence—a tall woman with birdlike features who had never been particularly fond of me—my eternal gratitude. “So I get to stay at Jackson?”
My mom picked up her coffee cup, taking a sip. “Until the end of the marking period, yes. After that, we’ll revisit the issue. In the meantime, there will be some modifications.”
That didn’t sound promising. I went over to the fridge, taking out the milk, then gathered my cereal and a bowl. She was waiting for me to ask her what was in store, I knew, and the only power I had was not doing so. So I didn’t.
“Starting tomorrow,” she said, “I’ve signed you up for tutoring and SAT prep at the Kiger Center. Monday through Friday, three thirty to five.”
The Kiger Center was where Jenn worked, in the strip mall just across the street from the Arbors guardhouse. “My grades are good, though. So are my prep test scores.”
“There’s always room for improvement,” she replied. “Additionally, there’s a Kiger study group that meets at Jackson each day at lunchtime. I’ve signed you up for that, as well.”
“I have to study at lunch?”
She leveled her gaze at me. “You’re a junior now. SAT prep is crucial. You need all the practice you can get.”
“But,” I said, realizing even as I spoke that arguing was probably futile, “all I’ll be doing is studying.”
She opened the folder, jotting something down on a sheet of paper inside. “Well, then you’ll be more than prepared to transfer back to Perkins, or to one of the other schools I’m considering, after the break.”
“Other schools?” This just kept getting worse.
“There are actually quite a few options since I last did this kind of research,” she said. She took out a sheet of paper, putting it in front of me. “Kiffney-Brown is my first choice, but you’ll need to really work to pass their entrance exam. There’s also a charter school that just opened with a focus on math and science that’s intriguing. But I’m just beginning to read up on it.”
I’d thought the dread I’d been feeling since Thursday night had already hit its maximum. Seeing the printed spreadsheet of schools—each listed with its average SAT score, tuition (if applicable), and requirements for enrollment—proved me wrong. I knew my mother in this mode. Peyton had finally succeeded in stopping her from organizing his life. Now she had her full arsenal of resources, not to mention all the time in the world, to focus on mine.
“She’s just reacting still,” Mac told me when I reported all this. My parents hadn’t taken my phone as part of my punishment—yet—so I was calling and texting him as much as I could while I still had the chance. “It freaked her out, seeing you with the bottle and all of us there. Too much like your brother.”