Precisely on time, Jolene ushered the girls into the car. She drove
Lulu to preschool, dropped her off with a fierce kiss, and then drove to
the middle school, which sat on the knoll of a huge, grassy hillside.
Pulling into the carpool lane, she slowed and came to a stop.
"Do not get out of the car," Betsy said sharply from the shadows of
the backseat. "You're wearing your uniform."
"I guess I don't get a pass on my birthday." Jolene glanced at her daughter
in the rearview mirror. In the past few months, her lovable, sweet-tempered
tomboy had morphed into this hormonal preteen for whom
everything was a potential embarrassmentespecially a mom who was
not sufficiently like the other moms. "Wednesday is career day," she reminded
Betsy groaned. "Do you have to come?"
"Your teacher invited me. I promise not to drool or spit."
"That is so not funny. No one cool has a mom in the military. You
won't wear your flight suit, will you?"
"It's what I do, Betsy. I think you'd"
"What ever." Betsy grabbed up her heavy backpacknot the right
one, apparently; yesterday she'd demanded a new oneand climbed
out of the car and rushed headlong toward the two girls standing beneath
the flagpole. They were what mattered to Betsy these days, those
girls, Sierra and Zoe. Betsy cared desperately about fitting in with them.
Apparently, a mother who flew helicopters for the Army National Guard
was très embarrassing.
As Betsy approached her old friends, they pointedly ignored her,
turning their backs on her in unison, like a school of fish darting away
Jolene tightened her grip on the steering wheel, cursing under her
Betsy looked crestfallen, embarrassed. Her shoulders fell, her chin
dropped. She backed away quickly, as if to pretend she'd never really
run up to her once-best friends in the first place. Alone, she walked into
the school building.
Jolene sat there so long someone honked at her. She felt her daughter's
pain keenly. If there was one thing Jolene understood, it was rejection.
Hadn't she waited forever for her own parents to love her? She had
to teach Betsy to be strong, to choose happiness. No one could hurt you
if you didn't let them. A good offense was the best defense.
Finally, she drove away. Bypassing the town's morning traffic, she
took the back roads down to Liberty Bay. At the driveway next to her
own, she turned in, drove up to the neighboring housea small white
manufactured home tucked next to a car-repair shopand honked the
Her best friend, Tami Flynn, came out of house, already dressed in
her flight suit, with her long black hair coiled into a severe twist. In her
flight suit and sand-colored boots, she looked almost exactly as she had
when they'd met twenty-plus years ago. Jolene would swear that not a
single wrinkle had creased the coffee-colored planes of Tami's broad
face. Tami swore it was because of her Native American heritage.
Tami was the sister Jolene had never had. They'd been teenagers when
they meta pair of eighteen-year-old girls who had joined the army
because they didn't know what else to do with their lives. Both had qualified
for the high school to flight school helicopter-pilot training program.
A passion for flying had brought them together; a shared outlook on
life had created a friendship so strong it never wavered. They'd spent ten
years in the army together and then moved over to the Guard when
marriageand motherhoodmade active duty difficult. Four years after
Jolene and Michael moved into the house on Liberty Bay, Tami and
Carl had bought the land next door.
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