Today's Reading

She would have loved to send her children to a private school like the Wilsons, but the price tag was way too high. The Wilsons are high-earning professionals—he, a well-regarded oncologist and she, a dentist—but Maggie no longer has a job, and even though Craig makes good money selling luxury cars, it isn't nearly enough to cover the cost of two tuitions, especially now that he has two residences to maintain. Whatever savings they once had went toward the move.

"There's absolutely nothing the matter with public schools," she reminds herself, needing the confirmation of hearing her words out loud. She used to teach in one after all.

Used to, she thinks, setting the kitchen table, a white plastic oval that occupies the center of the small space. She boils an egg for Leo and puts two pieces of raisin bread in the toaster, glancing at the day's depressing headlines before turning to the puzzle page, the only reason she buys the paper anymore. "Erin!" she yells, and then again, "Erin! You better be up and out of bed."

"I'm up!" Erin yells back. "Chill, for God's sake!" Upstairs, the bathroom door slams shut.

I would if you'd let me, Maggie thinks, knowing she's being unfair. It's not the teenager's fault their lives have been turned upside down. "This is on me," she says.

"What's on you?" Leo says, entering the kitchen.

Maggie jumps at the sound of her son's voice. How did she not hear him come down? "Where are your shoes?"

Leo glances toward his bare feet. "Oh," he says, indicating the backpack on the floor beside him. "I think I packed them."

Maggie smiles. My little space cadet, she thinks, wondering if this is the reason he and Ben Wilson have never become more than casual acquaintances. She'd been so excited when she'd learned their new next-door neighbors had a son the same age as Leo, and hoped they'd soon become fast friends, but sadly, this has not proven to be the case. She suspects this has more to do with Dani Wilson than her son, the prevailing wisdom being that Dani Wilson considers herself too good for her surroundings, that she would prefer to live in a more upscale development, one with a prestigious address more fitting a family headed by two doctors. Perhaps she also resents the professional deference regularly showered on her husband by the residents of Carlyle Terrace, a deference that, as a mere dentist, she rarely gets to experience.

Or maybe she's just a bitch.

"Is it a spider?" Leo asks.

"Is what a spider?"

"What's on you," he replies, turning the question he asked earlier into a statement, his eyes growing fearful.

I put that fear there, Maggie thinks. "Oh," she says. "No. There's no spider."

"Then what?"

"Just some crumbs, I guess," she improvises.

This seems to satisfy him. He sits down in one of the four white plastic chairs, removes his sneakers from his backpack, and pushes his feet into them, struggling with the laces.

"Here. Let me help you." Maggie is already kneeling in front of him, hands outstretched.

"No, it's okay. Dad says I need to start doing things by myself."

"Your father..." Maggie bites her tongue to keep from saying something she'll regret. She has too many regrets as it is. She's running out of room. She hears the toaster pop out the two pieces of bread. "Do you want to butter your toast by yourself?" she asks. Surely he can't hurt himself with a butter knife.

"No," he says. "You can butter them."

"Okay." She fights the urge to thank him. "Erin!" she calls as Leo is taking his final few bites. "It's after seven. School starts in less than half an hour. We're going to be late." Why schools have to start so damn early is something she's never been able to figure out.

"I'm in the bathroom."

"I know you're in the bathroom. It's time to get out of the bathroom." She walks toward the stairs.

"God, could you be any more annoying?" Erin mutters, flinging open the bathroom door as Maggie reaches the upstairs landing, a blur of waist-length, light brown hair and long bare legs brushing past her down the hall.

"Probably," Maggie says as she enters her bedroom and opens the top drawer of the nightstand beside the bed. She reaches inside and extricates the Glock 19, turning it over in the palm of her hand and admiring it before dropping it inside her large canvas bag.

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