“Lin, you just cut that guy off!” Bob shouted as Linda slammed her foot down on the accelerator. Bob flattened himself against his seat, reaching for the clothing hanger overhead.
Linda eased off the gas slightly, but this did nothing to ease Bob’s nerves, as she turned to look at him fully, barely glancing at the road. “Look, I’m sorry, Bobby, but do you want to be late to your son’s graduation?”
Bob heaved a sigh. He said it without thinking it through, like always. “It’s only fifth grade, Lin. He’s not even moving schools.”
The engine of their car revved as Linda sped up to pass someone else. She swerved in front of them, earning a long-winded blast of the horn. Linda brandished her hand in the rearview mirror saying, “I’m sorry!” as if that would help.
“Of course it’s important! He’s graduating, Bob.”
“I’m not saying it’s not important, just—” Bob sighed again. “We shouldn’t kill ourselves trying to be there.”
“Mom, Dad thinks you’re a bad driver.” Tina said from the backseat.
“Oh my God. Tina, that’s not what I meant.”
“Yeah, you did.” Louise piped up.
“Yeah, Bobby, I think I can manage getting us there in one piece.” Linda scowled at him as she took her eyes off the road yet again. Bob tightened his grip on the clothing hanger.
“Man, I’m so glad I got to skip school to see this.” Louise said.
“No,” Bob looked at her through the rearview mirror. “You didn’t get out of school today so you could witness your mother setting a bad example.”
Linda muttered something incoherent under her breath.
“You got out of school to see your brother’s graduation.” He finished.
“Just like you guys did for me.” Tina added.
“Yeahhh,” Louise drawled. “I don’t think that’s it.” She sat back in her seat, inspecting her nails.
Linda drew herself up in her seat to look at them through the rearview mirror. “We’re almost there! Oh, I’m so proud of him!”
“Lin, are you crying? God, at least wait until we’re actually there.” Bob chided.
Linda brushed a hand underneath her eye. “God, I’m sorry, Bobby. He’s graduating. I’m emotional.”
Bob leaned his head against the window and prayed this would all be over soon.
Of course it wasn’t.
They were late. Like, incredibly late. Wagstaff had a tendency to have a long opening at graduations. This typically involved having the kid’s perform some number along with a long opening address by Mr. Frond.
And they had missed all of it.
They rushed into the gym, Linda in the lead. Mr. Frond stood up from his post at the door, looking irritable. They had drawn a few angry and curious looks of their own from the other parents seated near the door.
“I’m sorry!” Linda whispered, but she was always bad at whispering, so one parent actually turned back to hush her. Bob had to hold her back.
“We had an emergency.” She glanced quickly at Bob, who groaned internally. “That’s why we’re late.”
“Well,” Frond put his hands on his hips. “We’re halfway through now. You missed Gene walking across the stage. He already has his awards so you can take pictures after the ceremony.”
Linda’s face fell and Bob braced himself for what was coming next. “What? What do you mean ‘after the ceremony?’ I wanted to get a picture of him walking across that stage!” She pointed to the stage for emphasis.
Mr. Frond sighed like he dealt with this on the daily. “Well, you can’t. We’re already on the G’s and last I checked, Belcher comes before Gregory.”
Linda was visibly shaking and not because there was a slight chill in the gymnasium. Bob rested a hand against her shoulder as Louise and Tina carefully shuffled forward.
“C’mon, Mom, let’s go find a seat.” Louise forced a laugh. “You heard the guy.”
“No.” She barked out. Once again, people looked back at her in irritation, but that was nothing compared to what they were gonna get.
Gene was already sitting back in the row of chairs set up before the stage and Linda called out to him, stopping the procession of students across the stage.
“Gene Bean! Honey!” Gene whipped his head around, lifting his hand up to wave at them. “I’m gonna need you to get up and walk that butt of yours back across the stage, okay? Just do it for one quick picture!”
Now every eye in the gym was either on Linda or Gene. Except Bob, who had his face in his hand. Even onstage, one student had stopped in the middle of her procession, staring questionably at Linda.
“Mrs. Belcher,” Mr. Frond scolded. “You are way out of line. Now, I’m kindly asking you to take a seat and wait until the ceremony is over.” He motioned for Gene to sit back down and waved a hand back at the stage to get things moving again.
Bob lifted his head to walk behind Linda, his hands on both her upper arms. Her shoulders were bunched up and her back was rigid. She was livid and he knew he was gonna get it later.
He steered her towards a row of four open seats. Louise and Tina were speechless as Linda grumbled to herself, her arms folded tightly across her chest.
“Look, Lin,” Bob mumbled into her ear. “You heard Frond. We can just take pictures on the stage after the ceremony.”
She didn’t even look at him when she said, “It’s not the same.”
Bob sighed as he sat back in his seat.
“You’re not gonna get diarrhea the day of my graduation, are you, Dad?”
He looked down at Louise beside him and sank lower in his seat. “Oh my God.”
She snickered as she tugged down on her ears.
“A party, Tina? What for?” Bob asked, raising his eyes from where he was previously cleaning the counter.
“You know, for graduation. I was thinking we could have it here.”
“Aw, what a great idea, sweetie!” Linda said, retying her apron behind her.
“You’re not seriously considering this, Lin.”
Linda shrugged. “Sure! Tina’s old enough to throw her own little graduation party. Bob, she’s going to high school. She’ll be going to plenty of parties soon enough.” She leaned forward to mess with Tina’s hair.
“Uh, no she won’t.”
Linda leaned back to look at Bob. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
“Well, I never went to any parties in high school.”
“No. I mean, there was Tommy West’s sixteenth birthday party, but there wasn’t even, like, alcohol there, so does it even count?”
Linda put her hands on her hips. “Of course it counts! A party is a party and Tina’s gonna have one here after her graduation ceremony!”
Bob ran a hand down his face. “Oh my God, Lin, can we even afford this?”
“I’m sure we can afford to throw in some money for it. Anything to make our little Tina happy.” Linda leaned her arms on the counter. “So, who were you thinking of inviting? The whole class?”
“Jimmy Jr.,” Tina said immediately, quickly adding, “and some friends.”
“I think that sounds great. Don’t you, Bobby?”
“What do you mean you don’t feel well? You looked fine during the ceremony.” Bob glanced warily at Tina through the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, you’re right, Dad. Don’t worry about me.” But even still, Tina was leaning against the window, her knees pulled up to her chest.
“Ugh, well, if you are sick, don’t throw up on me.” Louise slid further down the seat away from Tina.
“Maybe it was something you ate, honey.” Linda said.
“Like those doughnuts they were giving out before the ceremony! Those were delicious, but all beauty comes with a price!” Gene added.
Linda turned fully around in her seat. “Honey, those were for the students.”
“Well, they sure weren’t appreciating them!”
“No, Dad’s probably right. I’m probably just nervous for my party.”
“Aw, don’t be, sweetheart. It’ll be fun!” Linda assured her.
Tina got changed into her new party outfit (a dark blue dress that flared out at the waist) and she still wasn’t feeling any better. But almost everyone (including Jimmy Jr.) had arrived at the party and she was the one throwing it, so she had to be there.
She groaned as she threw her head back. Linda stopped in the middle of french braiding her hair and frowned.
“Mom, do I have to go to my own party?”
“It is your party, Tina.”
“Ugh, you’re right.” She lifted her head back up. “I already looked it up on Yahoo Answers and almost all the responses told me I was a selfish bitch if I didn’t go.”
“Those were all probably Louise.” Bob said from the other end of the couch.
Linda finished tying off her hair. “There! Now you’re party ready!”
“Linda, I don’t know if we should let her go down there.” Bob said cautiously as Tina made her way downstairs, letting out continuous groans with each step she took.
“Oh, she’ll be fine.” Linda waved a hand. “It’s just nerves.”
It wasn’t just nerves. Tina had taken barely three steps inside the restaurant when she threw up all the lining in her stomach by the counter.
Louise had sighed and said, “I’ll go get Mom and Dad.”
And Jimmy Jr. had broken the silence this event had caused by saying, “Ew, Tina, are you sick?”
Zeke had responded to that with, “Are you blind, J Jew? ‘Course she’s sick! Hey, are you alright, T-girl?”
And Tina had groaned, ignoring his question and choosing instead to sink down on the floor with her back against the counter. She lowered her head to her knees.
At that point, Linda and Bob had rushed into the restaurant. Bob headed to the back for the cleaning supplies and Linda knelt beside Tina, careful to avoid the mess she had caused.
“Oh, Tina, I’m sorry. I really didn’t know you were that sick.” She laid a cautious hand on her shoulder.
“I knew I shouldn’t have come to my own party.” Tina said, her voice muffled. “I never should have listened to Yahoo Answers.”
Louise laughed from where she was seated above them. “Oh, yeah, that was me.”
“Dad, I’m one hundred!” Louise practically yelled, hitting her hands against the counter.
“But you don’t look a day over eighty!” Gene said as he walked by.
“No, Gene, that’s not what I meant!” she held her head in her hands. “I mean I’m ranked one hundred. Exactly. Out of the three hundred and twenty people in my class.”
Bob ran the towel around the inside of a glass. “Wait—I’m…confused. That’s like the top third, right?”
Louise lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know, Dad. That’s why I’m number one hundred.”
“But I thought you didn’t care about your rank.”
“Ugh, God, I don’t. But, like, Rudy’s thirty-something and I managed to get in the triple digits and,” she shrugged again, “I don’t know.”
“Well, Louise, it sounds to me like you care.” Bob withheld a smile.
“I don’t! God, Dad, why do you have to be so gross? Just…make sure we make it on time to graduation. It starts at seven.” She hopped down from the stool.
“Wait, you’re not gonna try something at graduation, are you, Louise?”
She turned back and scowled at him. “What do you mean ‘try something?’”
“Do you not remember the Frond situation from middle school?”
Louise laughed, remembering how she had managed to sneak a wad of gum on the bottom of Frond’s seat, so that when he got up to give his address in front of the class, everyone could see it on the back of his pants. She’d asked around all morning in preparation for making a gigantic gumball so that it would be obvious even from a distance.
“Oh, yeah. That. No, I wouldn’t do something like that again. I’m eighteen, Dad.”
“Okay, Louise. But you better promise.”
She scoffed. “I promise.”
It was childish, but she had her fingers crossed behind her back.
“Bobby, where are the damn heart emoji’s?”
“The heart emoji’s. I’m textin’ Louise.” Linda held up her phone in explanation.
“Lin, you know I don’t know that stuff.”
“Oh, poo, you’re no good.” She waved a hand at Bob, deciding to try and find them on her own. She scrolled through her recently used emojii’s (which mostly consisted of the wine emoji) before finally settling on a purple and red heart combo. She added in what she thought was a hand telling Louise she was number one, but was really holding up the middle finger. Just for good measure.
louise (6:47 PM) mom, you just texted me the middle finger
linda (6:47 PM) aww crap, really???
louise (6:48 PM) um, yeah. but i guess i love you, too.
louise (6:48 PM) YOU CAN’T SHOW THAT TO ANYONE!!
linda (6:50 PM) oh alright. now stop texting your mom. your graduations about to start
Number seventy two ended up with the stomach flu, so technically, for the night, Louise was ninety-nine. And everything ran smoothly. Until the music died down and the graduates took their seats.
“Oh my God,” Bob groaned.
Linda didn’t hear it at first, but as more people sat down, it sung from the seats like a symphony of its own. And there was Louise, grinning wickedly over a sea of blue caps.
“How did she—I didn’t see any—” Linda started.
It was a wonder, really, how she had managed to convince the janitor to let her stay after school that Friday and fixate three hundred and nineteen touch-sensitive fart makers (courtesy of Gene) into each and every graduate’s seat.
But it had worked. Linda had laughed it off to the other parents nearby and Bob had mourned another unsuccessful Belcher graduation.