Copyright 2001 by Traci
The voice on the other end of the line wasn't exactly in tears, but Carol Ferndon could hear the exasperation in her daughter's voice. She knew, also, that three other teenage girls were with her daughter, so she wasn't alone, otherwise she may very well have been crying.
"Heather," Carol said calmly, "what do you mean you never got picked up?" She glanced at her watch. The carpool mom for that day should have been there 45 minutes ago, picked up the girls, dropped three of them home and one of them--Heather--to her dance class as planned.
"Mom," Heather Ferndon whined, "Ms. Starling never showed up!"
Carol sighed stressfully, the phone wedged between her cheek and shoulder, and hurriedly finished putting her dark brown hair in a ponytail for the tennis lesson she was almost late for. Dammit. What had happened? She wondered if Jenna Starling had gotten into an accident or something. Jenna's own daughter was away at an orchestra field trip, and wasn't with the group as usual, but still, the moms had gotten together and vowed to stick to the carpool schedule they had devised, and to always call if there was a conflict.
"All right, honey," she comforted her daughter, "just stay there, and I'll be there to get you girls in a few minutes."
Carol hurried out to the car, her short white tennis skirt dancing, and tossed her racket and gym bag into the back seat. She was at the school in five minutes, and four rather irritated teenage girls piled into the Volvo.
"Gee, I'm awful sorry girls," she said, dialing her cell phone. "I checked my calendar after you called, Heather, and it's definitely Ms. Starling's day today, not mine. Let me just find out what happened to her."
As the girls quickly forgot the foul-up and began gossiping about teachers and boys in the back seat, Carol Ferndon got an answer on Jenna's phone.
"Jenna? Hi it's Carol... what happened today? It was your carpool day, and the girls never got picked up."
Jenna wasn't a close friend. In fact, the curvaceous blonde had been the most aloof of the four women who shared the after-school chauffeuring duties. Maybe it was because she was the newest, having moved to the neighborhood just before the school year started, and wasn't as close as Carol was to the other two, who had been friends since their daughters were in sixth grade. Jenna had a bit of obnoxiousness about her that was unsettling at times, but Carol had tried hard to overlook it and find the good in her. Sometimes--and she wasn't the only one who felt this way--it was hard to do. She didn't know whether it was because Jenna was beautiful and knew it, or maybe she just had some hidden problems that affected her in a way that caused the occasional bitchy, self-centered attitude they had all seen in her.
"Ohhh, yeah, the carpool... aww shit. Well, sorry. Glad you could get them," Jenna spoke so rapidly that the "sorry" was almost inaudible. "Hey, I gotta run honey. I have a hair appointment." The phone went dead with a click before Carol could say another word.
She sat there, looking at her cell phone, unable to believe how totally flippant the blonde mom had been with her, and how empty her brief, hurried apology was. Carol dropped off everyone at their respective places, but was too distracted to carry on a conversation when the girls were telling her things about their day. When they got to the dance school, Heather frowned.
"Mom, you okay?"
Carol forced a smile. "Yes, honey, I'm fine, it's just... well, nothing. Go have a good class, and apologize to your teacher for being late, tell her what happened."
"Of course, Mom, I know," Heather said, rolling her eyes. Then she smiled her pretty smile and gave her mother a peck on her cheek. She could tell something was bugging her, so she added, "Still the prettiest Mom in my school by far."
"Aww sweetie, thanks. I needed that." Carol's smile wasn't forced now. Her pearly white teeth shined, and her face glowed from her daughter's compliment, her nearly flawless skin betrayed by a quick blush.
"Bye, Mom. See you at six-thirty."
Heather's comment had caused the thirty-six year old woman to look in the mirror of the Volvo before she left for her class. She met her own blue eyes and smiled softly. She had been told many, many times that she could pass for twenty-five, and she was proud of that. Her workouts and interest in tennis had kept her in good shape, slender with pleasant curves and men frequently gave her second and third looks. Often, she had been told that she could be Sandra Bullock's twin sister.
The buzz of her daughter's lovely remark didn't last long. As soon as she got a few blocks away from the dance school, her thoughts drifted back to Jenna, and her irresponsibilty, rudeness and overall coyness over the appearent mixup. Attempting to keep her cool, she couldn't help but simmer inside thinking how guiltlessly the flirtatious and self-centered woman had inconvenienced five people, and had the gall to announce that she had an appointment at the hair salon to make. Shake it off, Carol told herself.
Her tennis lesson was a disaster. Her instructor, an attractive 43-year old woman with auburn hair named Iris, stood with her hands on her hips.
"What has gotten into you today, Carol? Last week you did so well. This week you can't seem to hit anything with proper form."
"I'm... I'm sorry, Iris. Just been a bad day, and my concentration is off."
"Obviously," Iris said, walking by her. "Let's end this one early. We just aren't getting anywhere, hon."
Carol sighed and looked down, surveying her flat tummy which was exposed just under her tight midriff top. The smooth lines of her hips and pelvis flowed appealingly into the tiny pleated skirt.
"All right," she conceded to her coach, "I agree."
After she got back into the Volvo she sat there, realizing that this woman, Jenna, had really screwed up her day. She simply had to confront Jenna about this, and resolve it. It could not happen again to one of the other moms, or Carol would feel guilty about it for not having headed off the problem. She again dialed Jenna's number.
"Your timing is good," Jenna said flatly, "I just finished my hair. So we can meet. What's it about?"
Carol had a hard time not laughing out loud. Jenna couldn't figure this out? "Jenna, I'll explain it when I see you, ok?"
They decided to meet at the park nearby, where they could walk. Carol preferred that over having coffee someplace where someone could overhear them. She wanted to wrap this thing up, get it over and done with, without involving anyone else. Jenna just needed to fully appreciate the rules and the importance of the carpool, and things would be fine.
When Carol pulled the Volvo into the parking space and spotted Jenna standing at the entrance of the vita-course that ran around the large park. She was in a short red silk slipdress and high-heeled dress sandals, looking infuriatingly preened.
Carol approached her and smiled. She would use honey, not vinegar, to convey this message, and give Jenna the benefit of any doubt. That seemed to work with most people, didn't it?
Jenna turned to Carol, her eyes hidden behind a pair of designer sunglasses. Her blonde hair, freshly styled from the salon, shone in the sunlight.
"Hi, Carol." The blonde glanced at her watch. "Can we make this quick?"
Carol fought to keep her positive attitude afloat. "I hope we can, yes. Shall we walk?"
Jenna Starling shrugged. "Ok."
The two women began strolling the vita-course, being passed by the rare jogger or fast walker, but it wasn't very busy there today, and for the most part they had the secluded path to themselves.
Carol cleared her throat and began as they walked slowly. "I guess... well, Jenna I guess I'm just kind of upset about the whole carpool thing today." She decided to pause there, hoping this would prompt some meaningful apology from the newest carpool mom, something she could digest, something that would clear the air and let them start again with a clean slate.
Jenna looked at her, reached into her purse, and wordlessly lit a cigarette.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, Carol realized her blood was hammering in her ears. "I know we get busy and forget, but... Jenna, it seemed like you didn't care."
They were rounding a bend in the paved path now, leaving the open expanse of the perimeter of the baseball fields and nearby tennis courts. Beyond them, the path began to wind through a dense stand of low shrubbery, mostly cabbage palms, palmettos, and scattered young pines.
Jenna shrugged, and exhaled a long plume of smoke through her full, red lips. "I told you, I had an appointment at the salon. You want me to beg forgiveness or something?"
Carol was dumbfounded. How could anyone be so callous and so inconsiderate? She struggled to keep her voice from becoming shrill. She was determined to handle this with grace. She had to really battle the anger that was swirling like a tornado in her now.
"Jenna, my daughter was late to her dance class, I was almost late to my tennis lesson, and the other girls, well, I don't even know what their plans were. I'm sure there were some worried parents, at the least. And you just shrug it off. It only takes a minute to call if you're going to be late or can't make it. That's common courtesy and part of your responsibility."
Carol paused, wanting to give her ample opportunity to understand the graveness of the situation.
The path curved again, into an area where rows of old oaks loomed high above, and provided a lush, pale green canopy over their heads as they walked.
.... There is more of this story ...