The last time I saw Anthony, he was a complete ass. He had one task to do: show up for the meeting with the Head of School and make a lasting impression, one that would help determine whether or not our son would be admitted to The Peak, the preparatory school that had been ranked number one in the area since it had been founded twelve years previously. His father, Tom, had heard about it through several clients and had suggested the idea to the both of us. My first thought was 'That sounds expensive.' And it was. My mouth dropped at the tuition cost when I had decided to research The Peak the following morning. It was almost $9,000 for Ethan to attend Pre-K. I didn't have that kind of money, let alone the lifestyle to continue the act throughout the rest of the school year. Even if The Peak accepted payments, would the financial burden be worth it?
I researched other resources, read reviews, looked over The Peak's philosophy and what the curriculum consisted of and quickly realized why parents were willing to pay the cost for their children to attend this private school. I considered the idea, tried to calculate how much money I would need to set aside each month and even came up with existing expenses to eliminate in order to save more money. In the end, however, I simply didn't make enough to support the demanding cost of The Peak's tuition with the lifestyle we currently lived.
I called Tom later that day, already feeling stressed and frankly, like a bad mother who couldn't provide for her son. "Tom, it looks like a great school, but the tuition cost—"
"Oh, don't worry about it. We'll pay for it."
That was the last answer I was expecting to hear. "Do what now?"
"I want my grandson to have the best education. Money means little in comparison. Anthony agrees." I rolled my eyes. Of course he does, he doesn't have to pay for it. "I've scheduled an appointment to tour the school next week, if you're up for it."
"I don't know what to say," I replied, feeling more irritated than grateful that a decision had already been made without my consent.
"Let's start by seeing what the school is like, get a feel for it and go from there. In my opinion, I think it's in Ethan's best interest to attend a school with a top-notch reputation. Ultimately, it's yours and Anthony's decision, but money isn't the issue so don't let that factor keep you from denying Ethan the opportunity that could affect his future. Keep in touch." Click.
I stared at my phone with a look that could kill. Though there never could be enough words or actions to repay back everything Tom and his wife Laura had done over the years for Ethan and me, Tom was often straightforward and blunt. He could get on my last nerve pretty quickly, especially at a line like "it's yours and Anthony's decision," as if Anthony really has an equal say as to what should happen in regards to Ethan's future. Tom was overly forgiving of Anthony's negligence towards his one and only son. Golden boy could do no wrong in his father's eyes. It was sickening.
After gathering the opinions of others – including Ethan's – and my own considerations, I decided to give The Peak a chance. Both my parents, Tom and Laura came with me to tour the school. Anthony had something "last minute" come up and couldn't make it (no surprise there). Nick wanted to come but was swamped with work, but promised he'd make it to the open house. His words were: "That kid is a genius in the making. They'd be crazy not to accept him."
We went during the second to last week of school before summer vacation, so the energy in the place was amazing. I saw lots of smiles, impressive interactions between teachers and students, and I loved that each class had no more than 12 students. None of the grades were informed when prospective families could drop by announced, so I felt like I got an authentic experience instead of a staged one. I knew by the end of the tour that I wanted Ethan to attend.
We got the application, which took me three days to fill out. To say I was a perfectionist was an understatement.
After a lot of pacing around and a few restless nights, I got a call saying that Ethan needed to come in for a screening to see if the school would be a good fit for him. Ethan was excited to go to school and get to play with other kids while I remained extremely anxious until 1 p.m., which was when I could go pick him up. He was all smiles when I saw him. I had a chance to talk to the Pre-K teacher, Mrs. Craine, who said she had no doubts that if accepted, Ethan would fit right in. She kept gushing on about how sweet and polite he was. I was quite optimistic about the whole situation until I was informed that Anthony and I would need to schedule a meeting with the Head of School, Mr. Gronger, who would review our application and make the final decision.
"Couldn't I just come in by myself?" I asked, horrified at the idea of having to rely on Anthony for such an important decision.
Tammy Johnson, head of the admissions department, carefully chose her words as she stared at me with a sincere and empathetic expression. "You could, but showing up as a unit not only shows us how passionate you are for your child to succeed, it also shows us that personal conflicts don't matter in the larger scheme of what's really important – your child's future. Conclusively, it could make or break the chance of Ethan getting accepted into The Peak."
During the drive home, I was shaky. I was battling the urge of wanting to punch something or cry. Though it was hard at times, I preferred being a single mother. I didn't have to rely on anyone or feel disappointed when someone's word had fallen through. I hated that I was being forced into a situation where I had no other choice but to reach out to Anthony for a favor. A feeling of dread had settled into the pit of my stomach that told me this wasn't going to end well and didn't go away even after venting to my mom later that night.
"Honey, I know this is tough for you, but you have to work things out with him. Anthony is always going to be Ethan's father and the issue isn't going to end here. You have to be the bigger person and learn how to compromise with him."
I knew she was right. I had to set aside my differences for him and work this out with him in a civil manner. After I put Ethan to bed and made sure he was asleep, I went into my closet and shut the door behind me. I stared at my phone for a long time, trying to remember the last time I called Anthony. I had resorted to texting him because an acceptable conversation with him only had to be a few words or a couple of sentences rather than a strewn out exchange that would usually lead to a heated argument.
I closed my eyes and tried to get a grasp of what I wanted to say. I knew there was a chance he wouldn't even answer. The thought had me feeling defeated and even more restless. I had gone through enough with this guy, was it ever going to end? Anthony was notorious for missing special events, like birthdays and holidays that somehow, miraculously, never had Ethan wavering the hope that one day his dad would show up for something. I convinced myself that this wasn't going to be anything different. Why would it be?
I wanted to be everything that colored me with anger but when it came to my son, he was my weakness. I would do anything for that kid, even if that meant bartering with the devil as I was about to proceed to do.
I took a deep breath. My heart was racing when I searched his name in my contacts. My finger hovered over the phone icon that was beside his name. I took in another breath, momentarily pulled myself together and pressed down on the call button.
I held the phone up to my ear, hearing ringing after ringing. My heart was pounding louder. I knew by the fifth ring, he wasn't going to answer. I felt resentful tears begin to build up in my eyes. I was about to hang up when I heard an abrupt and curt "Hello?"
"Anthony." I stated breathlessly. I cleared my throat and rushed out quickly, "Are you busy? I need to talk to you."
"Okay. Go ahead."
An awkward pause.
"It's about The Peak and Ethan's admittance to the –"
"The Peak," I repeated hastily. "The preparatory school."
"I thought he was already going."
I gritted my teeth together, trying to keep myself from losing my cool. Maybe if you actually cared about Ethan, you'd know what's going on in his life. "No, that's why I'm calling. We need to meet with the Head of School."
"Okay, so, when are you free?"
"What do you mean?"
"Anthony," I started, my voice beginning to show a coat of annoyance and impatience. "I've already filled out the application. Ethan went to school for the day and they think he's going to fit in perfectly. What's left is just…" I strained to get the last part out, "…you and me going to go meet with Mr. Gronger."
Silence followed. I had to look at my phone several times to make sure we were still connected.
Then the bastard chuckled.
"So, how long did it take you to call me?" he mused in a smug tone.
"Excuse me?" I snapped at him. "Don't do this right now."
"What?" he asked, faking innocence. "You never call me. I'm actually surprised as hell. We used to be able to talk on the phone for hours."
I winced, briefly remembering a memory of us talking until 5 a.m. on a school night. It was easier to forget, but to be reminded again was different, especially when I had only been exposed to one love and heartbreak by the same guy. I was thankful he couldn't see my face, but he knew by the silence he had crossed a line.
"I wouldn't be calling you if I didn't have any other choice," I said after a few moments in a calm and collected tone, hating the truth behind my words.
"I'll get back to you on a time that works for me."
I could sense that he was about to hang up. "It has to be this week," I lied then quickly added in my best impression of his father, "Keep in touch." Click.
The next day, he texted "Thurs 1?"
I replied with the infamous "K" and left the conversation alone.
Anthony showed up fifteen minutes late. I was waiting for him in my car when I saw him pull into the parking lot. He parked crookedly behind my car, almost door-dinged the vehicle beside him and stumbled out of the car while laughing at himself in the process. I drew in a breath, prayed to God for patience, then got out of my car. He hardly noticed my presence until I slapped his arm.
"You're late!" I hissed, startling him. Even with my three-inch pumps, he easily towered over me. He gave me a once over, his eyes lingering at my chest where the dress scooped and revealed just a peek of my cleavage before settling on my face with a sardonic smirk.
"I didn't know it was on your agenda to sleep with the Head of School. I always underestimate you, Rae."
"Don't call me that," I seethed, shooting him a deadly glare. "I'm dressed like this to make an impression, something you obviously don't give a damn about." I whirled around and began walking briskly towards the door.
I hated being late; it was one of my pet peeves but to be quite honest, I had also been preparing for the worst all morning. I had a feeling something like this would happen. As for Anthony's outfit, I suppose his years as a frat boy were beginning to show for something. He was wearing a plain gray polo with khaki shorts and Sperry's, but it was obvious that my tight-fitted sleeveless dress made me look absurdly overdressed next to him.
"I'd say we look like a perfect fucking couple."
I froze. His words slurred together horribly. He walked past me and was about to press the button on the intercom when I snatched his hand.
"Have you been drinking?" I asked incredulously, eyes wide.
"I wouldn't call it that. I have a high tolerance for hard liquor. It's pretty impressive, really." As if on cue, his breath blew into my face and my nose was instantly flooded with the stench of distilled spirits. I clenched my fists as my blood began to boil. I couldn't believe this son of a bitch.
Just before I could have the chance to explode, a voice interjected and asked, "May I help you?"
My heart dropped. I hadn't realized that the secretary had a clear view of the two of us standing at the door. I swallowed hard. Had she heard everything? I began to stammer, but I couldn't form anything into coherent words. I could only stare at her with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
Anthony cleared his throat. "We have a meeting with Mr. Gronger."
"Oh, sure. Come right in."
We heard a buzz and as if Anthony had rehearsed this a thousand times, opened the door for me and placed his hand on my lower back and guided me forward. I forced my feet to move and even after the door closed behind us, he had the nerve to wrap his arm around my waist and keep it securely in place. I had to make a conscious effort to keep myself from smacking it away or flinching from his touch but knew it was in our best interests to portray ourselves looking like the perfect fucking couple.
The secretary had such a contagious smile that mine went from being forced to a little more natural. It gave me the reassurance that she hadn't heard a word.
"If you guys follow this hallway, his office is to the right. He's been expecting you."
"Thank you," Anthony replied and smiled politely, faking sobriety and surprising me at how well he could do it. Anthony removed his grasp from my waist and grabbed my hand, leading me down the hallway. It was sweaty and warm; I wondered briefly if he was as nervous as I was.
Once we were out earshot, I looked up at Anthony. "Please don't ruin this," I rushed out, my voice rising slightly. "This is not for me or you, it's for Ethan. Mr. Gronger is ultimately the one that decides if he's accepted, regardless of how much money your father has."
His smile had disappeared. "I was never meant to be a father."
"Well, you are. You can redeem yourself a little today. Please." I was desperate. I would have said anything to get through to him to make sure this meeting went smoothly and without any more complications.
"That doesn't change anything."
My heart was racing. Where the hell was he going with this? We reached Mr. Gronger's office before the conversation could continue. Upon hearing our footsteps, the Head of School looked up at us. The corners of his mouth turned briefly upwards before a permanent stern expression stayed on his face. I squeezed Anthony's hand and flashed him a look.
"Have a seat, please."
The meeting only lasted fifteen minutes and went by in a blur. Anthony, surprisingly, did most of the talking. It was all bullshit, but he was charming nonetheless and never gave the Head of School any reason to suspect that he was under the influence. Mr. Gronger was aware of our "situation" and asked how that would affect our capabilities as parents. Anthony made it clear that our sole priority, despite being 'separated,' was Ethan and that we would never let our personal issues interfere with his education or his future. Anthony was so convincing that I had to remind myself that being hopeful to see an actual change in him was completely futile.
After we were both out the door of The Peak's back entrance, Anthony walked in the direction of his Cadillac, seemingly forgetting my presence. I let out a breath, relieved that it was over and already feeling impatience washing over me. Mr. Gronger never quite said when we would find out if and when Ethan would be accepted, but I had to believe that everything that had happened and was said pointed to a promising outcome.
"I moved back for the summer," Anthony said out of the blue. I looked up at him. He was leaning up against the passenger side of my car, his eyes gravitating towards anything but my gaze. "I'd like to see Ethan." He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as if he was talking about seeing a movie that had okay reviews. A flame flared up inside of me. I wanted to scream, He's your son! You should want to see him every second of every day! But I knew that it would only cause an argument and I didn't exactly want to make a scene in The Peak's parking lot.
When I didn't say anything, he looked up at me. His green eyes held a flash of anguish before they glazed over and didn't quite match the cheeky expression that was forming on his face.
"You look good, Rae."
"You're an ass," I muttered under my breath, rolling my eyes at his remark but discreetly wondering what was going through his mind. He nodded his head slightly as if in agreement, his eyes becoming distant. He stood against my car for another brief moment before he pushed himself off of it and without saying another word, climbed in his vehicle and drove off.
I stood there for a moment, wondering if I should had said anything like 'Are you okay to drive?' or even a 'Thank you' that may had left strained from my lips and undoubtedly strange. Three days later a nagging guilt would develop inside of me upon receiving the call that revealed the exciting news of Ethan's acceptance to The Peak. I had told myself that the next time I saw Anthony – which I was mentally preparing myself that it could be any day soon since it seemed like I might see him more frequently now that he was back home – I was going to muster up the courage to tell him thanks for having a part in making this happen. However, it wasn't until three weeks later that Anthony miraculously found the time to see Ethan and I was so pissed off by this point that I couldn't even bring myself to see his face.
Anthony had proved that though he had plenty of opportunities to make impressions, he no longer had any left to make on me.