been cupcakes for Jenna’s birthday—her eighth. It hadn’t gone well.

“Quit that.” The deck stairs squeaked under Marina’s weight.


“You have that comparing-apples-and-oranges look. Speaking of which, did you know Debra can’t swim?”

“Please. Everyone knows how to swim.”

Marina shook her head. “Can’t swim a stroke. She’s so scared of water, she wears a life jacket around a pool.”

My childhood bulletin board had been crowded with hockey photos and blue ribbons from summer swim meets. I could do something better than Debra? Inconceivable. She was my opposite in a thousand ways—blond, where I was mousy brown; slim, which I hadn’t been in years; elegant in a way I only dreamed about. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Didn’t know until the other day. Which was the same day I ran into Dave Patterson. We were at the community pool for the ducky swim class, see, and—” Her smile was a little too wide, and she was talking a little too fast, clear indications she was trying to convince me to do something I didn’t want to do.

“I’m not going to date Dave Patterson.” I didn’t want to date anyone. All I wanted was to raise my children and to run my store. I wanted everything and everyone safe and sound: no traumas; no tragedies; no upsets or upheavals—a peaceful Goodnight Moon existence.

“He’s not bad looking.” Marina waggled her eyebrows.

“I don’t care if he’s Apollo reincarnated. I’m not ready to date anyone. Not yet.” Or ever. Men left the toilet seat up and complained about mowing the lawn. Why bother with them?

“How about—”

“No,” I said as firmly as I could, which must not have been firmly enough, because she looked ready to offer up another victim. “Maybe in the spring,” I said.

She looked thoughtful, and I was sorry I hadn’t said a year. Marina’s circle of friends was larger and more varied than mine. We overlapped solely because we’d been neighbors years ago, before Richard had decided to move us into a brand-new pseudo-Victorian house more suitable for his status as CFO of a large insurance company. Maybe living in a ranch house three blocks away from the elementary school didn’t fit Richard’s image, but it worked wonderfully for Marina’s home-day-care business. She watched two children during the day, and three more walked to her house after school.

“Okay,” she said. “No dating.”

I slid down a little in my chair. Safe and sound. No pressure. Just the peace and warmth of early fall. Leaves turning yellow, orange, and red against the bright blue sky. A tangy earthy smell in the air—that special autumnal scent that summoned memories of high school football games, trick-or-treating, and scooping wet stringy seeds out of pumpkins. I closed my eyes and breathed in fading images of Jenna in a princess costume and Oliver dressed as his favorite stuffed animal.

“Then how about being the secretary of the school’s Parent Teacher Association?” Marina ran the words together as fast as an auctioneer trying to unload a box of moldy books.

I opened my eyes and sat up straight. She couldn’t possibly have said what I thought she’d said.

“You’d make a great committee secretary. You’re organized. You do what you say you will. You know how to do things. You’re reliable. Responsible. People trust you.” Her smile stretched two feet wide.

“What makes you think I know how to do things?”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. You own a business, for crying out loud. Doing this little secretary thing would be a piece of cake.”

“If it’s so little, you do it.”

“My darling,”—“daah-ling”it came out—“think about what you just said.”

I did. I thought about it, visualized it, and rejected it. Marina, with her big heart and cheer and love and flamboyance, was not what you’d call efficient. Her husband and youngest son got fed on time, and her college- aged children got regular care packages in the mail, but her desk looked like a horizontal wastebasket. Paperwork was not her strength.

“What happened to the old secretary?” I asked. Though I was a member of the Tarver Elementary PTA, I’d skipped most of last year’s meetings. Raising money for handicapped playground equipment was important, as were most of the causes, but my children had needed me more than the PTA did.

“You’ll make a great secretary,” Marina repeated. “And you need more social interaction. Running that bookstore doesn’t count.”

“The kids—”

“PTA meetings are on Wednesday, and Richard has the kids that night, yes? I bet you’re not doing anything fun with that free time. I bet you do laundry. Maybe sometimes you go wild and balance your checkbook.”

Chores weren’t my typical Wednesday night, but I wasn’t going to tell even my best friend what I did do.

Jenna dropped out of the tree and tore across the yard. Oliver gave up his attempt to climb Tree Everest and tore after her, his shrieks joining hers. Marina’s surprise child, nine-year-old Zach, abandoned his pogo stick and followed. In seconds the yard was full of children playing a bizarre variety of tag. My flesh and blood didn’t look at me once.

A tiny piece of my silly sentimental heart shredded into pieces. My babies were growing up. Maybe it was time for me to grow up, too. “Okay,” I said, sighing. “I’ll run. For secretary. I probably won’t win, but I’ll run.”

“Hallelujah!” Marina clapped her hands, leaped out of her chair, and pulled me into a hard hug. “Bet you dinner and a movie that you win.”

“You’re on.”

A few days later I stopped at Tarver to drop off a box of special orders. Delivering to the local schools was one of the services the Children’s Bookshelf offered. I wasn’t sure it was cost-effective, but it generated a lot of goodwill, and that alone made it worthwhile.

I handed the box to the school secretary, then turned and almost ran into the wide body of Paul Richey, Jenna’s teacher. Paul was often at the store buying books and stickers for the kids in his classroom. All the purchases were out of his own pocket. Many teachers did the same, and I gave them what discount I could.

“So you’re going to be the new PTA secretary.” He grinned. “Who talked you into volunteering?”

Volunteering? I was getting a bad feeling about this. “I’m running, that’s all.”

“Gotcha.” He nodded sagely. “And because sitting on the PTA committee is such a coveted position, you’ll be competing against dozens of candidates.”

“There’s bound to be a couple.” I zipped up my coat. “Aren’t there?”

Paul’s grin got a little bigger. “In a perfect world, sure. But we’re in Rynwood.” He sketched a salute and walked toward his classroom.

Mother that I am, I desperately wanted to follow him, to peek in the door and see my daughter. Then I wanted to check on Oliver; I wanted to see his tongue stick out in concentration as he worked out math problems.

But since I also didn’t want to see their faces flush with embarrassment—“Mom, I can’t believe you waved to me in front of my friends!”—I headed back to work and left my children behind.

Two weeks after Marina’s not-so-subtle push, I sat at a table near the front of a Tarver Elementary classroom. A PTA-approved tape recorder and blank legal pad sat in front of me, a two-page agenda lurked to my right, and a bright blue portable filing system was on the floor next to my feet.

“Beef Wellington,” Marina said. She sat in the front row of the audience, her grin as bright as a shiny shoe. “And Halloween Two.”

That dinner-and-a-movie bet wasn’t going away. “The Lion King and pizza from Sabatini’s.”

She made a gagging motion. “The owner’s connected. You know, the mob? I wouldn’t trust any meat he

Вы читаете Murder at the PTA (2010)
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