Lance pulled up at Rancho Amigo Elementary School at three- fifteen p.m., joining the Volvos and Saabs and occasional dusty-blue Valiant waiting behind the school buses in front of school. He was the only father in the pickup line.
Through the passenger window, Lance saw a flock of Girl Scouts separating from the main building, walking side by side toward the cars. They were tall and short, pressed and raggedy, in green skorts and white blouses and green sashes, sneakers and platform sandals. The neighbor’s daughter Jade held the middle—blondes to her left, redheads to her right— her blue- black Apache hair swinging down her back. She had wildly outgrown her peers— and she bore the training bra to prove it.
Lance’s daughter Belle wandered behind, sweaty and neglected. Her dark curls clustered beneath a green felt beret tilted at a drunken angle, her white shirt half untucked, the eczema twining her forearms exposed. With only the troop number and Girl Scout insignia sewn on, her sash was a bare canvas awaiting badges— Aerospace, Adventure Sports, Art in the Home, and Being My Best; and, someday, Becoming a Teen, if she lived that long.
Belle flunked Jade’s finely calibrated scale of playground fabulousness. Her Keds and Lee jeans were fashion crimes. Jade had skewered and categorized Belle swifter than an entomologist with a moth: geek. In her low-slung jeans and beaded chunky Target mules, Coco’s daughter was leading the troop on a hormonal rush out of girlhood. When she tossed her Apache mane, otherwise repressed male teachers feared for their licenses. The sole factor that stemmed her quest for dominance was her disinterest in the opposite sex; she still wanted to be a star among girls, rather than join the experimenters behind the science bungalow.
Watching Belle, Lance sympathized with his daughter; the move had been hardest on her and he felt at a loss for a way to ease the transition. He had no nostalgia about being a kid— elementary school was a tough job with intense politics. But the Belle walking toward him today wasn’t the daughter he had brought from Barstow last January, the cheery little soccer- playing cowgirl who always met his eyes with a smile, whose mouth rounded upward even when he woke her for breakfast and she gave him a sleepy hug and whispered, “Lucky Charms,” or “Fruit Loops.” She used to laugh in her sleep; he loved that. Now she didn’t want to get up in the morning. Sunday night after bath was the week’s bleakest hour.
The flock of Scouts scattered. Girls broke off in twos and threes. Belle slunk toward the pickup line, alone. “Hey,” Belle said with a sigh when she reached the van and climbed in.
Lance keyed the engine and asked “How was school?”
“Fine,” Belle said. She pulled the Harriet Tubman biography from her backpack, feigning interest. Here came the third degree. “How was home?”
“I did some exciting laundry,” Lance said. “I discovered the lost underwear of King Tut.”
“Smelly, I bet.”
“Luckily I found them after the wash cycle.” [Read more…]