“Mom, which is better?”
Alyssa was holding two shirts. One, a white long sleeve t-shirt, the other a pink knit golf shirt with ruffled sleeves. Either would go with the kahki capri pants Alyssa was wearing. Katie laughed to herself. Alyssa never worried about what she wore to school before. Of course, she had a uniform before so there was no guess work.
“I would go with the white one. It’s a little chilly out this morning.”
“Thanks, Mom. Can you help me with my hair? I want to pull it back and I can’t get it tight enough.”
Wow, she is nervous, thought Katie. “Sure thing honey. Just let me finish getting ready and I’ll be happy to help you.”
Katie was having wardrobe issues of her own this morning. Alyssa wasn’t the only one who wanted to make a good first impression. Katie had the added pressure of being the owner, well almost owner, of a well known boutique. While that wouldn’t be known today, it would be soon, and she needed to, if not look the part, at least not embarrass herself. Unfortunately, her wardrobe still consisted of that Manhattan staple, basic black. Maybe she could fun it up with some jewelry. Yeah, that would work. And some flats. Definitely flats.
Now that she was ready, she could attend to Alyssa’s hair. She walked into her bathroom where Alyssa was busy wetting it down so it could be pulled back more easily. Alyssa had very fine hair. Mike had had fine hair, too.
“Just a ponytail today?” Katie asked.
“Please. Can I wear some earrings?” The sisters in New York did not allow jewelry at school.
“Sure, but keep them small, ok? We’re not sure of the dress code here yet.”
“Can I wear the hoops Grandma Evelyn gave me?”
“I think that would be an excellent idea.”
If Katie hadn’t already guessed, the earring choice would have told her just how nervous Alyssa was. She had been very close to her grandmother and took it very hard when she died about eighteen months ago. Alyssa seemed to understand that her grandmother had just given up, and that fact hurt Alyssa as much as anything else. Even so, whenever Alyssa felt like she needed a little extra strength, she wore the hoop earrings.
As much as she tried to make this move easy on Alyssa, it was still terribly difficult. New York may be a big scary place, but not if you were born there. Austin was just as scary to a native New Yorker as New York was to an Austinite. Alyssa would have no friends at this new school, well except for Jamie, and cliques started early and held fast with girls. It could be hard for her to fit in. This was also the first time Alyssa would have boys in her class. Alyssa wasn’t afraid to be smart at her old school, would the same hold true here? When did all of that “boy stuff” begin anyway? Was it this early? God, she hoped not.
Katie was done with the ponytail, an excellent one if she did say so herself. “Well, kiddo? What do you think?”
“Perfect. They’re gonna like me, right?”
“Of course, sweetie. Why wouldn’t they?”
“Girls can be really mean. There were a bunch of those at St. Bea’s, but they were never mean to me. I was lucky. I hope I don’t run into any girls like that today.”
That was the first time Katie had heard anything like that. This was something that would bear watching.
“Well, you like Jamie, right?”
“Yes, but girls can be different when they’re not with their group.”
Oh yes. Katie would definitely monitor this situation.
“Does Jamie seem that type?” Oh I hope not, thought Katie.
“I don’t think so. But I’ll wait and see what happens at school.”
Katie laughed. “Honey, with everything you just said, you’ve proven to me that you can totally handle yourself there. It’ll be just fine. Come on, let’s go eat some breakfast.”
They walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. They had managed to go to the grocery store yesterday after lunch and were pretty well stocked. Alyssa had packed her lunch last night before bed to make things easier this morning.
“We have time for poached eggs if you like. Does that sound good?”
Alyssa beamed. That was her favorite. Poached eggs and wheat toast. “I’ll get the toast on, Mom.”
While the eggs boiled, Katie poured some juice for both of them. She’d prefer to have coffee, but since she was meeting Liz, she didn’t want to over caffeinate. She was jittery enough this morning.
With breakfast complete, Katie and Alyssa walked over to their new breakfast table. The old condo didn’t allow for much in the way of kitchen furniture, so this eat-in kitchen was a real treat.
“I really like our new house, Mom.” Alyssa said.
Katie smiled. “So do I. What is your favorite part?”
Alyssa thought for a moment. “I don’t know. It’s all so different from New York. I do like our kitchen. It’s so big and pretty! What are we going to put in all of those cabinets?”
Katie laughed. “I’m sure we’ll think of something. We have room for all kinds of stuff now.” Katie checked the time. “Come on, it’s eight o’clock. School normally starts at 7:45, but the registrar asked us to come after the morning rush so she would have plenty of time to help us get started. Are you ready?”
Alyssa sighed. “I guess so. I don’t suppose we could do this tomorrow?”
“No. Let’s get going.”
“Ok. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
The drive to school was very short, less than five minutes. Starting tomorrow, Katie was pretty sure that Alyssa would start walking to school with Jamie and the other girls she saw this morning. But it was the first day, so driving was the best idea. Besides, these flats were not made for walking.
“Are we gonna keep this car, Mom?”
“Why, do you like it?”
“Ummmm…it’s a little dinky.”
Katie had rented a car when they flew down. She rented it for the month so there wouldn’t be any pressure on her to buy something fast. Living in Manhattan, she obviously did not own a car, but in Texas, you could not survive without one. The buses rarely went where you needed them to and trains were non existent. So she had to have a car from the outset. The car was a Ford Focus, and while there wasn’t anything wrong with that, this particular rental had been driven like a rent car. It was in sad shape. But it was easy to drive and Katie was a bit out of practice.
“No. This is just until I have a chance to buy something new.”
“You’re gonna buy a cool car, right?”
Katie laughed. “I’ll buy the car I think we need.”
Alyssa groaned. “That means it’ll be lame.”
“I’ll try to stay cool.”
By this time they had entered the building and made their way into the front office.
They approached the receptionist. “Hi. I’m Katie McDaniel and this is my daughter Alyssa. We’re here to enroll and start school today. Well, her, not me. I’ve already done the fourth grade.”
The receptionist laughed. “Excellent! We’re happy to have you here! Do you have the paperwork from her old school?”
Katie smiled. “We sent it ahead last week.”
“Oh good. Then if Pat has had a chance, she’s filled out most of your paper work. One moment.”
The receptionist reached over to the intercom button. “Pat? We’ve got some people at the front for you.”
A voice came over the speaker, “Is it Alyssa McDaniel?”
“Good. I’ll be right there.”
A few moments later, Pat greeted them at the desk. “I’m Pat Mitchell. Welcome to Canyon Elementary. We’re happy to have you as a part of our family.”
Pat gave them both the once over and smiled. It looks like we passed the first test, thought Katie.
“I have a few forms for you to fill out, not too many. It was very helpful that you sent everything ahead. Anyway, you can take them with you so both you and Mr. McDaniel can sign them.”
Katie sighed inwardly. Well, at least she would get this over with right away. She looked around the office and noticed there were a lot of other moms in there. Oh goody. Let the rumors begin.
“There isn’t a Mr. McDaniel, at least not anymore,” said Katie. “He died several years ago.”
Pat was nonplussed. “Oh. My condolences. Well, you can still take them home and fill them out. No sense in wasting your time doing it here. Especially if Liz is going to take you out for coffee.”
Katie looked a little confused. Pat chuckled a bit. “Liz stopped by and let me know that you’d be by this morning and that I should try and put Alyssa in Jamie’s class if at all possible. Which I did, by the way. She also let me know that you’d be going out for coffee later.”
Katie still had a very puzzled expression on her face. Pat continued, “Liz is a very friendly sort. You could do much worse than to have her as a neighbor. And we are all one big family here at Canyon.”
Katie noticed she had left out the word happy.
“So, then, are we ready for the tour?”
The tour was very interesting. The building was, obviously, much newer than St. Bea’s was, but that was the unnerving part about Texas. Everything was very new, and not just because of the massive growth that had taken place over the past thirty years. Texans had a strange, well she thought, habit of tearing stuff down and rebuilding. Outside of historical monuments there were very few older buildings. But other than the newness, it was a school, and schools were pretty much the same anywhere.
They passed by the library and Katie could see Liz shelving books. Liz happened to look up and see Katie, so she waved and ran to catch up to them.
“Hey there!” Liz said. “Sorry for interrupting there Pat, but I wanted to verify this real quick. Are we still on for later?”
Katie replied, “Of course. I’m game if you are. Where should I meet you?”
Liz thought for a moment, “Well, I’ve got about another fifteen minutes in here, then I’ll be through. Why don’t I just meet you in the front office?”
“Sounds good,” said Katie. “Catch you then.”
“See, I told you. Very friendly.” Pat smiled again. Well, thought Katie, at least I know I’ve got a friend in the office if I need it.
The last stop on the tour was Alyssa’s classroom. It was a bustling place of nineteen other fourth grade boys and girls. Alyssa, who had until this point been very talkative and excited, drew back a bit.
“Nervous?” asked Katie.
“Very. Do I really have to start today?” begged Alyssa.
“Yeah, you do. It’s not going to be any easier tomorrow, you know. Go on, you’ll be fine. See, look. Jamie’s already pointing you out to her friends.
Alyssa looked inside the room and saw Jamie huddled over with a small group of girls, gesturing toward her with a big smile. Alyssa relaxed.
“Ok then. I’ll go in. But please don’t kiss me.”
Katie and Pat laughed. “Ok. No kisses. How ’bout a hug?”
“Hugs are ok,” Alyssa agreed.
Pat and Alyssa walked in the room while Katie hung back a bit. Katie wanted to give Alyssa a chance to meet her new classmates on her own.
After the introductions were made, Pat walked back outside with the teacher.
“Ms. McDaniel, this is Mrs. Stone. She’ll be Alyssa’s teacher.”
“Great to meet you Ms. McDaniel. I can’t wait to get to know Alyssa. I’m sure she’ll have a great time this year with us. Is there anything I should know about right away? Any transition concerns?”
“Well, this might sound a little silly,” Katie started, “but this is the first time Alyssa has had boys in her class. She was a little nervous about that.”
Mrs. Stone nodded. “That’s good to know. I’ll keep an eye on that, but this is a pretty good group of kids, I don’t have any behavior problems. In fact, this is the first class in years that I’ve had where all of the kids came from two parent homes. It’s such a refreshing change.”
Pat looked a little uncomfortable at that statement and tried to change the subject. “Well, Mrs. Stone, we won’t keep you any longer.”
Katie peeked into the room to try to wave goodbye to Alyssa, but she was already engrossed in what the other kids were doing. A good sign.
“Thanks,” said Mrs. Stone. “Ms. McDaniel, just let me know if you have any questions. My email address is on the campus website.” She turned around, walked into the classroom, and shut the door.
Pat sighed. “Sorry about that. Mrs. Stone is a fabulous teacher, but she can be a bit much at times. She obviously didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I’m sure she didn’t. But I’m ok with it. It isn’t the first time I’ve heard stuff like that from a teacher. I’ve been a single parent a long time. Longer than I was a married parent.”
They started walking back to the main office. “How long ago did your husband die?” Pat asked.
I guess I’ll have to get used to telling this story again, thought Katie. “He was in the second World Trade Center tower. He was on the floor that the second plane hit.”
“Oh. Wow.” Pat seemed rattled by that. “I can’t imagine how that must have been for you.” She mulled over her next question a bit. “What brings you to Austin?”
“Well, I grew up here and my parents are here. It was finally a good time for me to come back and make a new start.”
“And, if you don’t mind my asking, what will you be doing?”
Katie didn’t mind at all. Time to start drumming up business. “I was a buyer for Macy’s back in New York, and I had always wanted to have my own shop. Kind of a dream. Anyway, my mother let me know that the owner of her favorite boutique wanted to retire. I contacted her, made a deal on the shop, and I’ll officially be the owner as of Thursday.”
“Not The Closet?” Pat asked.
“Yes, in fact, The Closet.”
“Wow! I really like that place. It has so many fun things. I got this there.” Pat gestured to her bracelet. “Any chance of getting a discount?” Pat joked.
Katie laughed. “Probably not. My mom has been really on me about that. But if I gave everyone a discount I’d go broke in no time. But I will give you advance notice on sales, how’s that?”
“Deal.” They were back at the main office. Pat held her hand out for Katie to take. “Katie, it’s been a pleasure meeting you and Alyssa. If you have any questions, let me know.”
Katie shook her hand and smiled. “Likewise. And don’t worry, you’ll be the first person I call if I have any problems.”
“What, and not me?” Liz piped.
While Pat and Katie were talking, Liz had emerged from the office to meet them.
“What? Oh, hi Liz. I’ll call you with non-school issues, how’s that?” Katie said.
Pat turned toward the office. “You two have fun. I’ll just go back to my dreary office and my crappy coffee. Oh, one last thing: how is Alyssa getting home today?”
“Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought of that one. Ummm, I guess I’ll just pick her up today?”
“Nah” said Liz. “Have her walk home with Jamie.”
“Ok then,” said Katie. “Home with Jamie.”
“Allright. I’ll let Mrs. Stone know. See you later, Ladies.”
“So,” started Liz, “Is Starbuck’s good enough for you? There’s one just up the street.”
Katie laughed. “There’s a Starbuck’s just up any street in the world. But yeah, that’s fine.”
They walked outside to the parking lot. “Do you mind driving?” asked Liz. “It was such a pretty morning I decided to walk.”
“Not at all, Liz. But, as Alyssa pointed out to me, it’s a dinky rental.”
Liz laughed. “As opposed to my mom-mobile with all kinds of crap in it? I’ll take dinky and clean over that any day of the week.” She sighed. “That has to be the single biggest thing I miss about my life before kids. A clean car. Well, maybe there’s other things, too, but the car? Way up on the list.”
“Well, this is the first time I’ve driven a car in about ten years. Manhattan doesn’t exactly lend itself to driving around. I’m having to totally change how I view things like distances. I mean the mileage from the house to the grocery store is greater than the entire length of Manhattan, just to put things in perspective.”
Liz looked incredulous. “I didn’t realize that it was so dense. I mean I knew, but never really thought about it before.”
They got into the car. Katie sighed. “Yeah, I have to totally teach myself how to drive again. I’m so used to walking everywhere. I’m afraid that I’ll put on a ton of weight now that I’ll be driving so much.”
Liz laughed. “Somehow I don’t see that happening to you.”
They pulled out of the parking lot and headed the three miles to the nearest Starbucks. There was minor chit-chat, mostly about the major differences between Manhattan and Austin. Katie could just tell that Liz was waiting to get to Starbucks before the major interrogation would begin.
“Welcome to Starbucks! What can I make for you today?”
“I’ll have a grande non-fat caramel macchiato and –ooooh- one of those scones,” said Liz. “What about you, Katie?”
“Hmmm…I’ll just have a venti coffee of the day, with room for milk please.”
“That’s it?” Liz asked.
“Yeah. That’s all for me.”
“Okay, that will be $7.93,” said the barista.
Liz handed him a starbucks card and waived Katie off. “Oh, no. Not today. I said I was taking YOU out for coffee. You can get the next one.”
Katie laughed. “Deal.”
Once Liz’s drink was called, they wandered over to some of the overstuffed couches that this location had.
Liz sat down first. “OOF! I think this couch is going to eat me!” She adjusted her posture to find a more comfortable position. “There, that’s better.”
Duly warned, Katie was a bit more gentle on the approach. But once she settled in, Liz started the interrogation in earnest.
“Alright, neighbor. Tell me all about yourself. Start at the top.”
Liz had leaned forward, elbows on her knees and head in her hands. She was giving Katie all of her considerable attention. Katie laughed. She couldn’t help but like Liz. She just knew that Liz would be a great friend and had no compunction about opening up to her. Even if she’d only known her about 24 hours.
“Well,” Katie started, “I was born here and lived here until I went to college. Then I went to Columbia. That’s where I met Mike. After graduation, we lived together for a while, got married in ’95, and had Alyssa in ’97. After Mike died, his mom moved in with us until she died last year. That’s when I decided to move back down here.”
Liz tilted her head, unsure if she should ask the next question. “So, how did Mike die?”
Katie sighed. “He was in the World Trade Center.”
Liz’s eyes bugged. “Oh my God! Really? That’s just, I mean, I don’t know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know.” Katie sighed again. “But it does get easier as time passes. Being here I think will finally put it all behind me. And it was really hard to move on with Mike’s mom living with us.”
Liz snorted her drink. “Oh yeah, that’s gonna help the ‘ol love life.”
“Exactly. And then once I decided to move, it wasn’t a good idea to date, either. Of course, now that I’m in Stepford and running my own business, I don’t expect to have a lot of time for that for a while.”
“Business?” asked Liz. “What kind of business?”
“I bought ‘The Closet’.”
“Really? I had heard she had sold it. Awesome! Any chance at a discount?”
“Not a snowball’s. Sorry. I have to pay for that new house I just bought, ya know.”
“Well, a girl’s gotta try.”
Katie took a sip of her coffee. “Now it’s your turn. What’s your story?”
“Well, my husband’s name is David. He’s a dentist in practice with his brother. I’ve got three kids, Karin, Jamie, and Drew. All girls. I grew up in Dallas, but went to school here. We got married in ’93 and moved to Stepford right after Karin was born. In my past life, I was an accountant. I do the books for the practice and volunteer up at the school.” She took a drink. “ That’s the short version.”
“Accountant? You don’t strike me as a bean counter type?”
Liz laughed again. “Oh, I’m not. I just couldn’t think of anything else to major in.”
They both had a good laugh at that one. They continued on, talking about their girls, fashion, and general life topics for a good forty-five minutes. They discovered they had a lot in common and would be great friends.
“You know, Liz? I was so nervous moving back here since everything has changed so much, but now I’m so relaxed. Meeting you has helped me think I’ll actually fit into this neighborhood. Is everyone as nice as you?”
“Sadly, no. There are a couple of ladies around here who get all bent out of shape when there is a single mom in the neighborhood. They are real insecure. I’ll help you watch your back, but they can make your life a lot more difficult than it needs to be.”
Katie took another sip of her coffee. “We had those at Alyssa’s old school, too. Like I had time to steal their husbands.”
Liz laughed. “Exactly. And really? Having an affair would be way too much work. I barely have the energy to sleep with my own husband, much less trying to impress some other guy.”
“Well, I obviously don’t have the husband problem, but having to raise Alyssa on my own and running my own shop will keep my plenty tired, I’m sure.”
“Hey there, Liz!”
While Katie had been speaking, a group of women from the neighborhood dressed in tennis attire had made their way to the couches. Two of them had the same friendly demeanor as Liz, but the third seemed distant.
Liz stood up to greet them. “Well, it’s the tennis ladies! Let me introduce you to my new neighbor. Katie, this is Beth Andrews, Lisa Edwards, and Maryann Leonard. Ladies, this is Katie McDaniel. She moved in this weekend.”
“Nice to meet you!” said Lisa. “You are so lucky to have Liz as a neighbor.”
Katie nodded. “Totally. I was already missing all of my girlfriends up in New York, but Liz has made me feel right at home.”
“Oh. You’re from New York?” asked Maryann. It sounded more like a judgment than a question.
“Well, I’m from here originally. I moved back to get closer to my family.”
“Oh. I see. And what does your husband do?”
Okay, it was plain to see that Maryann would be no friend of hers. At all.
“I’m not married anymore. But I just bought ‘The Closet’. I rather expect I’ll be married to that for a while.”
Everyone laughed. Liz piped in, “Katie also has a daughter in fourth grade. I pulled some strings to get her in Mrs. Stone’s class.”
“Excellent! I’m sure she’ll get along with all of the girls,” said Lisa.
Beth, who had been drinking her coffee the entire time, finally spoke. “You know, we have a book club next week. You should come. Give you a chance to meet more people.”
Katie laughed and shook her head. “I don’t know. I am so terribly busy with the shop and moving in. Reading a book is just not on the horizon for now. Maybe next month?”
It appeared that Beth would not take no for an answer. “Oh, Honey. You don’t think we actually READ in book club, do you? That’s so sweet. Maybe people are smarter in New York, but here it’s just an excuse to drink and eat too much chocolate. There might be some “real” book clubs around here, but I’ve never been to one.”
More laughs. “Ok then,” said Katie. “In that case, I’ll consider it. But I can’t quite leave Alyssa alone.”
Liz eliminated her last excuse. “You can just send Alyssa over to play with Jamie. David won’t even notice the extra kid.”
“Well, I guess that settles it then,” said Beth. See you next Tuesday at my place. Liz will drive you, right?”
“Of course I will,” she said.
Maryann looked at her watch with great annoyance. “Ladies, we’re going to be late if we stay much longer. I am not going to forfeit my match just because we got distracted.”
Lisa and Beth rolled their eyes. “Ok, ok. We’ll leave now. Katie, it was great to meet you,” Lisa said as she stuck out her hand. “And we’ll see you at Beth’s on Tuesday?”
“Absolutely.” Katie shook everyone’s hand. As they walked out the door, Liz gathered her purse and got ready to leave as well.
“Hmph. Remember what I was telling you earlier? Maryann would be one of those.”
“I kinda figured. Time to go?”
“Yeah. I’ve got a ton to do today, and I’m sure you do as well.”
“That’s the truth. But thanks for the coffee. This was a great way to start my week.”
“Anytime. And I do mean that.”
They left Starbucks and headed out to Katie’s rental car.
Liz sighed. “I’m so jealous of your car. Not a goldfish in sight.”