Home for Dinner and Weekends
"Get me John Palafoutas from the Gazette, Danny. And Ellen Fisher from the Tribune, too. Tell them we story we want is that we're trending upwards in the third district."
"That isn't from an official poll, though," Danny told me, looking nervous, like interns always do when they disagree with me. I never understood why they did that. I may have been a powerful figure as a campaign director, but I wasn't in any position to fire them, and as far as I knew I'd never been mean to an intern for no good reason.
Maybe the multitasking intimated them, I thought as I signed off on some papers and checked the new second district polling statistics that had been left on my desk, all the while keeping an eye on the television in the corner and opening up a call. "Henry, the person you want to talk to is Jane Ralph, her extension's pound-eighteen. Say hi to the kids for me, I'm transferring you to her. Danny, the poll numbers don't have to be legitimate. If we pretend they are, the imaginary positive trend will give us a real positive trend, do you catch my drift?"
He shook his head, but headed out to his cubicle anyway. Another intern came in almost as soon as he'd left, Brian or Ben or something like that. "Ms. Salazar? Mr. Hersch said he's getting the graduation photo op in the Gazette. And he wants you to look at this."
"Great, leave it on my desk." I said, preparing another call before I noticed that I had a call from Hedrick Chapman. Hedrick Chapman, who I sometimes felt was the bane of my existence with his endless calling about my son. Probably another complaint about how Marco was "failing to realize his potential" in class, which was code for telling me that Marco was smart enough to know that he could completely slack off for two thirds of a quarter and then work moderately hard for the last third and still pass to the next grade. Most parents would have been frustrated, but my son was nine. I trusted that by the time his grades mattered, he'd apply himself. Nobody would ever care what grades he got in third grade as long as his high school grades were good.
I took the call. "Yes, Hedrick? How many times do I have to tell you that Peter's a much better contact than I am?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Laroche-"
"And how many times do I have to tell you I kept my maiden name?"
"Yes, yes, anyway. Since you and your husband missed the last parent-teacher conference, I was wondering when we could schedule the make-up conference-"
"We'll be at the next conference, Hedrick. For the moment I trust my son will do fine between now and then. There's no need for a make-up conference."
"But Ms. La- Ms. Salazar, Marco's grades are low enough that if continues at this rate, by the next conference he won't be able to go on to the next grade with the rest of his class."
"He'll bring them up at the last minute. He's playing you, Hedrick. He's got the system more figured out than you think. And now, if you don't mind, I need to use my phone for my actual job." I hung up before he could protest and started reviewing the folder the intern had left on my desk, while calling up another reporter to tip them off on another photo op.
How national, even state level campaigners did it was beyond me. They probably didn't have children, or school principals they were on a first-name basis with. What was worse, rumor had it that Hedrick was going to transfer to the local middle-high school, which would mean two years of freedom from him, but that we'd be dealing with him for all of Marco's teenage years.
Irritated, I kept reviewing the folder. The contents were very interesting, at least from a spin perspective. Part of my client's platform was police reform, and if the accounts provided here were true, many of the non-violent offenders who'd been picked up in the area weren't driven straight to the jailhouse. Instead, the cars had stopped at some building owned by a company called The Sharing. And all of the offenders who went there received reduced sentencing later.
Someone would have to figure out what The Sharing was. If it was a halfway house or counseling, it might be political suicide to attack the police station over it. But if anything shady was going on, we could use it to bolster our platform. Either way, it was very likely legally suspect.
I called up Mr. Hersch. "Randy, can you check out this Sharing organization? I've never heard of it and maybe we can use it."
"'Fraid not, Eva. Hey, you should go, you're our spin-master. I think it's open twenty-four seven, so you could go on the weekend."
"You know I don't work weekends. I have an actual personal life and I'd like to keep it that way," I said snippily. But then I thought about it. A numeration of criminal acts by the police could win us a lot of sympathy with black and latino voters. And Marco was going to be attending a birthday party on Sunday, and Peter was going up to visit his sister that afternoon. "Never mind, I'll check it out Sunday."
"Glad to hear it." He said, soundly oddly cheerful about it.
I didn't think any more of it, and hung up. There were more calls to make, more documents to review, more stories to spin, and I wanted out of there by six. No matter what was happening on the campaign trail, I wasn't going to have my husband and child eating cereal for dinner.
Peter was already home when I arrived. He was relaxing on the couch, as he usually did between picking Marco up and welcoming me home. A VHS of The Twilight Zone was on the television. He stood up to greet me, kissed me on the cheek. "Hey, honey. Rough work day?"
"Why, do I look frazzled?" I said, setting my briefcase down. "Don't worry, I didn't bring any of it home."
He grunted. "Wish I could say the same. Jerry wants me to look over some more code for the new satellite program."
"You need to ask him for a raise. You aren't valued enough there." I said pointedly. Peter grimaced. He never listened to me when it came to his job, nor did he feel it was my job to try and negotiate his salary. It had led to its fair share of arguments before, and I wasn't in the mood for it tonight, so I changed the subject. "You did remember to pick our kid up, right?"
"Sure thing. Brought Jake home too. They're playing in the backyard now."
"Let me guess, Civil War?"
"I think it's Revolutionary War, unless the ridiculous British accent Marco's trying for was actually a really bad Southern accent."
I sighed. "When I was a kid my friends and I played animal hospital. Why do boys always have to play war?"
Peter shrugged. "I guess boys will be boys. When I was a kid it was attack of the alien invaders. I think Jake'll be here before dinner, so you should make a portion for him."
I started boiling water for pasta. "God knows that kid can eat. I think he's hitting another growth spurt. Might be a good thing for his dreams of NBA stardom."
As much as I disliked the war games Marco and Jake played, I was glad that they were friends. Jake was a good kid, an honest, dependable, responsible child even at a young age. Quiet, but that was alright, because Marco chattered enough for both of them. Jake just gave off the vibes that parents could trust him to do the right thing. I'd have trusted Jake to call the ambulance if someone got hurt, or to lead his friends from doing something wrong. And I knew of more than a few instances where Marco had mouthed off to bigger kids and Jake had been able to defuse the situation before it got violent.
"Mom, Jake told me he wants an Super Nintendo for his birthday." Marco ran in, his new pants covered in what I assumed was mud.
Jake followed, significantly less dirty. He only sported a few grass stains. "I did not! Marco's only telling you that because it's what he wants to play with."
"Not true. Jake totally said he wanted the Simpsons game that came out."
"I'm sure he did," I said patiently. "But we're not going to the store until Saturday. Right now you need to take off your shoes and switch pants. I told you not to get those dirty."
"Told you." Jake said smugly. "I told you your mom would get mad if you jumped in that mud."
Marco stuck his tongue out. "It was funny when I did it."
"Marco, get!" I chided. He pouted but took off his shoes and ran upstairs to switch clothes. "So, happy birthday, Jake."
"Thanks, Miss Marco's Mom. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say I'm ten yet, though. Since my birthday party isn't till Sunday and all."
"Well, you're ten years old either way, so I say you can celebrate it now. I think I have some Li'l Debbies in the cupboard, if you want me to put some candles on one."
"That would be nice, Miss Marco's Mom." He said politely, but he looked a little concerned.
"You can call me Eva, Jake." I said, pulling them out of the cupboard and grabbing some birthday candles from the cabinet. "Peter, you wanna light this?"
Peter was outside, having a pre-dinner smoke. "In a minute."
"I'm afraid I can only fit one candle on here and not ten, but you get the idea." I told Jake before turning back to finishing the pasta and steamed vegetables.
Suddenly Jake said, "are you mad at me because I didn't stop Marco from getting his clothes dirty?"
It caught me off-guard. Maybe Jake was just a little too much of a good kid. "No, honey. Marco's not your responsibility. I'm not even all that mad at him, much less you."
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew. Okay. I just thought that since I should've known better, it was kinda my job."
"Oh jeez, no fair! How come Jake gets a Li'l Debbie for dinner?" I heard from the doorway.
"It's his birthday," Peter said, coming in with his lighter. "You can have one if you eat all your vegetables."
Marco still didn't look pleased, so I promised him that I'd make him my renowned home-fried tacos for his birthday, and he seemed to soften up after that. He'd be turning ten in a little less than a month.
Dinner went fairly smoothly. Peter and I let the boys dominate the conversation, as they undoubtedly didn't care much about what we'd done at work. The conversation mostly revolved around the new arcade games at the mall, and Marco teasing Jake about some girl Jake was fond of. After dinner, we let them play outside some more, after making them promise to come back before it got too dark and to stay in the yard. If it were Marco alone, we probably would have made him play inside, but with Jake he was probably safe.
While they were out playing Peter and I relaxed on the front porch, him with a cigarette and me with a half-glass of wine. As cheesy as it was, we still enjoyed watching the sunset together.
"If I get a raise…." Peter started, then stopped. "Never mind."
"If you get a raise what?"
"If I get that raise you always want me to get, would you consider working part-time?"
My eyes widened. "You're serious?"
"I've done all the calculations and we could move to a different neighborhood and still live very comfortably. And you're always talking about how you wish you didn't have to work as much," he said quickly.
"Well, I – that's a really big decision. I'd have to think about it. If there was some way to make it work so we could stay in this neighborhood, maybe. I wouldn't want to just uproot Marco. Constancy's important to kids."
"He'd still go to the same school. And you could spend more time home. You always said you wanted to garden."
I could hear the kids playing in the backyard. Some game with pretend guns again. It sounded like Marco would probably be dirty by the time he came back in, if Jake's loud complaints about Marco climbing trees and crawling under the patio for cover were any indication. Naturally, my son was finding ways to bend the rules, and infuriate his best friend.
I clicked my tongue. "It's a big decision, honey. And I love my job. I worked hard to get it. And if this campaign's successful, I'll have a lot more jobs open to me. And more flexible hours."
"Yeah, but your guy's down eight points in the polls."
"Ah-ah. Maybe not for long. I'm checking something out on Sunday that could give us a bump in minority communities."
"Eight points big?" He looked skeptical. He killed his cigarette.
"I don't know. But it might be a big scandal for the police, so it could be big."
He sat back. "Sunday, huh? I thought you didn't work weekends."
I could tell he didn't believe me. I didn't entirely believe myself either. A big scandal would be a godsend to the campaign, but it almost sounded too good to be true. "Tell you what. If Sunday's a bust, I'll work part-time on the next campaign. If it works out, I get to work full-time as often as I want and you don't have to ask for a raise."
"That'll be a relief. You know I hate confrontation," Peter said. Then, still suspiciously, "You think this thing you're doing on Sunday might be that important?"
"Maybe not. But if it is, it could change the whole situation."
I finished my wine. From the backyard, I heard Jake yell "Marco, when you die you have to stay dead!"