Grades

Craig sat in a wooden chair at the kitchen table. In front of him, in the middle of the table, crackers and cubes of cheese sat in a white bowl, ready for Eva to snack on when she got back from school. From his vantage point, Craig could see the front door. Soon, it would open, and Eva would make her way into the house.

Craig’s hand left the table, moving automatically toward where his phone hardened his pocket into a square. He closed his eyes. No. He brought his hand back to the table deliberately. Eva constantly reprimanded him for being on his phone too often. Ironic, considering the fact that it was her generation, not his, which people often stereotyped as being addicted to their phones.

Besides, he already knew everything he needed to know from his phone for the conversation they were about to have.

Today, Friday, was the last day of the semester. Eva would be bringing home her report card. If she had done well and improved her grades, that meant Craig was supposed to make good on his promise. He was supposed to buy tickets for her and a friend to go see their favorite musical.

For the first time since he had become a father, Craig hoped that Eva would disappoint him. She rarely did. She behaved well. She did as he asked her. She understood how difficult things had been for him since Lara passed away. She generally did well in school, but for some reason, this semester, her grades had fallen below what he expected of her.

He didn’t want to tell her that he couldn’t afford the tickets he had promised her.

The money had trickled away so quickly. He hadn’t even noticed it had vanished until he’d been looking over his accounts and his spending on his phone this morning. Little things added up: buying lunch from a restaurant, taking Eva out to dinner instead of cooking, lotto tickets, gas, the mortgage, bills, maybe a few too many drinks… He couldn’t tell Eva that. No, he hoped she gave him some other excuse.

He cringed at the thought. He felt like a horrible father. He promised himself that he would save up for the end of the year, so that he could send Eva to see a show then, since she couldn’t go now. Well, he had made that promise before, to himself, but this time he promised it would be different.

Craig heard the groan of the school bus trundling its way down the road. His heart beat faster. Breaking bad news to his daughter was worse than going to the dentist. He took a deep breath.

When the door opened, Craig made sure he had a smile on his face. Eva greeted him with a raised eyebrow. “Hi, dad.”

“Hello!” he said, forcing himself to sound cheerful.

Evan slipped off her boots. She slung her jacket onto the rack. She brought her backpack with her as she walked into the kitchen. She placed it against the low wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, where the table blocked it from Craig’s sight. She sat across from him.

“How was your day?” Craig asked.

Eva had her eyes on the snack, though she hadn’t yet reached for it. She had her mother’s eyelashes, and the shape of Lara’s eyes. The color, though, was Craig’s exactly: a dark, forest green, flecked with bits of gold. “Fine. Nothing too exciting.”

Craig scraped through the recesses of his mind, trying to come up with some tidbit of information he could ask about that would be completely unrelated to Eva’s grades. He didn’t want to know yet. “How’s that boy? Did you ask him out yet?”

“What?” Eva said. She rolled her eyes. “Dad, that’s not how it works.”

“It isn’t?” Craig asked, genuinely surprised.

“No, you don’t just ask people out,” Eva said. She made it sound like she was explaining the most obvious thing in the world. “You, like, just kind of hint for a while that you like them, and you tell all your friends about it, and then even though you tell all of your friends not to tell anybody, you hope that one of them slips up and it eventually gets back to the person you like, and then they ask you out.”

“That sounds… incredibly complicated,” Craig said.

“Nah,” Eva said. She took a cracker and cheese. Her fingers were long and delicate, like those of Craig’s mother.

“What happens if another girl asks him out before all this hinting gets back to him?” Craig asked.

“I dunno,” Evan said around her mouthful of food. “I’ll be sad, I guess.”

“What happens if you hear which of your friends leaked the information? Will you be mad?”

Eva shrugged. “Yeah, probably. But that’s just how it’s supposed to work.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Craig said. “I think it would be best just to ask him out on a date.”

“Dad,” Eva said, placing her hands on the table, fingers laced. Lara used to do that when she had something serious to talk about. Funny. Craig didn’t know where Eva had picked that up. Lara had passed away when she was barely old enough to walk. “With all due respect, I think it’s been too long since you did any dating for you to be giving advice about it to a teenager.”

“Ouch,” Craig said. “Low-key burn there, huh?”

“No, dad. No.” Eva shook her head. “You’re too old for those words.”

“Honey, ‘burn” is not a word exclusive to your generation.”

“Whatever.” Evan ate another cracker.

A pause. The curiosity about Eva’s grade burned at Craig, because he didn’t want it to be there. “How is band going? Are you ready for your next concert?”

Eva sighed. “Look, dad. I know what you’re doing.”

Craig’s heart felt as though it was striking at his lungs. “You do?”

“Yeah. You can tell, can’t you?” Eva’s shoulders slumped. “Or did you finally figure out how to check my grades online?”

Craig frowned. “I told you, I like to look at the paper.” A spark of hope had ignited within his burning curiosity. The warmth of that spark somehow soothed the burn.

“I swear, you’re like the only parent who even wants the grades printed off,” Eva said. She stood to retrieve her backpack. She fished out a piece of paper. The surface was divided into fragmented planes, as though it had been crumpled into a ball and then unfurled. Eva passed it to Craig without looking at him.

One glance at the paper told him what he needed to know. “Oh, honey. It’s alright. We’ll try again next semester.” He tried not to show the relief that flooded through him. He tried to disguise it as grief.

It didn’t matter, though. Evan walked away without looking at him. “Whatever, dad.” She retreated down the hall toward her room, leaving her backpack, her grades, and Craig behind.

2 thoughts on “Grades

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