An Education


I don't give a good goddamn what you do!

The words were hanging on the end of Olivia's tongue, but she pursed her lips to keep them inside. She had never used that particular phrase before, only heard it proclaimed mightily by her Aunt Polly. It had been during the summer when she, Sierra, and Savannah had spent two weeks with Aunt Polly and Uncle Raymond at their home in Savannah, Georgia. Her mom and dad had taken what they called a grown up vacation, a cruise, without the kids. Under normal circumstances, the girls would have been angry about being left out, but their parents' constant bickering in the months leading up to the trip had made them anxious. Were they splitting up? When their mom had announced that they were going on a trip alone, Olivia's 12 year old heart surged with joy born of relief, shared in equal measure by Sierra and Savannah.

Unfortunately, they had traded one tension filled household for another. Aunt Polly and Uncle Raymond spent almost the entire visit trading insults and lobbing strategically launched barbs at each other. The only difference was the location and proximity of their arguments. While their mom and dad fought behind closed doors, Uncle Raymond and Aunt Polly fought out in the open without regard for for their audience. It was like watching a tennis match. Olivia remembered clearly how Aunt Polly had put her hands on her hips-reminding Olivia of her mother-and answered Uncle Raymond's threat to leave with, "I don't give a good goddamn what you do!" Apparently she did because she ran after him when he walked out the door and down the front porch steps into the balmy Savannah night. After that particular standoff, the next week had been filled with peace and calm.

Olivia didn't know why that particular phrase came to her mind now as she glared at Karen. She did, of course, care what Karen did, but she was frustrated that the equilibrium they'd achieved as a family since the Jake incident was crumbling.

There was silence between them now, but Karen's words were suspended between them like tossed up confetti that wouldn't fall to the floor. "You're not my mother! If you take my phone, I'm going to move in with her!"

That's when Aunt Polly's words crossed time and space and cropped up on Olivia's tongue. I don't give a good goddamn what you do! Olivia's eyes had widened in twin shock, at Karen's words and her own imagined response. Instead of acting on her thoughts, Olivia grabbed her pregnant belly in a familiar protective posture and sighed. Karen, too, seemed shocked at her own threatening words, but she recovered quickly, teenage bravado in tact.

So they stood there at cross purposes mentally and physically in Fitz's study. Olivia's laptop was, the evidence, the catalyst for this standoff. Earlier she had checked Karen's grades, something she'd neglected to do for awhile. Olivia knew Karen had two able-bodied biological parents, but she felt that something was off with Karen. There was guilt too. She still felt guilty about what Savannah had done to Gerry and to the family by extension.

With a sharp intake of breath, she'd discovered failing grades in two of Karen's classes. The 68 & 67 looked back at her like accusations. She'd immediately e-mailed Karen's teachers who immediately e-mailed back as if they had been waiting for someone to reach out. They expressed concerns about how distracted she'd been in class, her failure to turn in assignments, and her overall lack of effort. Olivia devised a plan. She would tell Fitz when he came home and then they would confront Karen together. Unfortunately, Karen had approached her first, bubbly and giddy, asking for help in convincing Fitz to let her plan a trip to visit Ethan at school during Fall Break. Olivia's emotions got the best of her. Before she knew she knew it, "How can you ask me that when you are failing two classes?" rolled off her tongue.

Karen had been spending an inordinate amount of time on her cell phone. It was a constant presence. She mostly studied with friends at the library in study groups which was understandable since she was enrolled in two AP classes where this sort of study model was emphasized at orientation as the key to success. Karen's mood went from joyous to shocked to pleading in the space of seconds: "This is too much pressure! I always get good grades! I slipped one time! It's just not fair! You can't take my cell phone! Give me a chance to bring it up! Just please don't tell, Dad! Please, Liv! Puh-lease...!"

When Olivia met each of her whines with evidence to support her reasons for taking the cell phone, Karen made her threat. It wasn't so much the threat to move out that unraveled her as much as its emotional calculus. It would be yet another issue added to their pile of drama. After the incidents with Mellie, Savannah, Celeste, Gerry, and Jake, there was only so much a body could take. Olivia felt crushed by the weight of it all. She had no more fight in her to battle outside forces. What she did have left she had to save for Little Grant. Her eyes watered wearily as she stared at Karen, a bundle of anger and sadness.

Karen's face softened. "Liv, I'm-" she began to say.

Olivia walked around Karen and left the room without a word.

Olivia was miserable. A comfortable spot in the bed seemed as rare as a blue moon. Sandwiched between Fitz and her body pillow, she moved to the left and the right carefully, trying not to bring on a leg cramp.

"Mrs. Grant, you need more calcium to stave off those leg cramps. Honestly at this point in your pregnancy, they are pretty standard since the baby is requiring so much of your body right now. Your due date is getting closer. Excited?" the doctor had said at her last appointment.

Along with leg cramps, had come her elevated body temperature and her penchant for sleeping without a nightgown even in the middle of Autumn.

"Liv, are you okay?" Fitz said. He raised up and turned on the bedside light.

Olivia sighed heavily. "No, Fitz. I am tired of being pregnant. I want it to end now." She hadn't meant for her words do come out so harshly. Her level of comfort was greatly diminished by her pregnant belly, but she was still smarting from her argument with Karen. She'd fled to her bedroom for a good cry. When Fitz had come home she'd lied to him when he asked for an explanation for her red-rimmed eyes. She'd mumbled something about being scared of motherhood. He'd comforted her with words she hadn't really heard since she was trying to figure out how she was going to deal with Karen. She had retreated to her own room for the night to finish a paper. At least that's what she said. In the interim, Olivia decided to take up the issue again in a couple of days or as soon as she gave birth, whichever came first.

"You're due any day now, Livy. I was hoping you would go into labor at Sybil's Halloween party last week. It would have been priceless. You, dressed like an egg, giving birth," Fitz said, chuckling lightly.

"I don't think anyone understood our costumes," she said. The reminiscing replaced her mental angst with a fond memory and eased her physical discomfort. Fitz had been dressed like a chicken and Olivia, like an egg. It was an homage to the age old question: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? They'd even made their entrance at Sybil's house while repeatedly walking around each other, and saying, "You first. No, you first." Everyone had given them either blank or confused looks. Fitz's Dad who was in town with his mom in anticipation of the birth had said, "I don't know what the hell that get up of yours means, but I hope you hatch Little Grant soon, darlin'."

Olivia braced herself against Fitz to lift herself up. "I take full responsibility for all the flack we got for that costume. I don't know what I was thinking. It was corny and pretentious, honey. You should have talked me out of it," Olivia said even though he had warned her about this.

Fitz helped her up, thinking she needed to use the bathroom.

"I might as well make myself useful since I can't fall asleep," she said, standing to her feet and rooting around for her slippers.

Fitz yawned and rubbed his eyes. "It's 3 am. Make yourself useful doing what?"

"We have a dozen or so RSVP's for our reception that came in the mail today. I need to look at those and decide if we need to change venues. Why did we decide to have a wedding reception in November? And why did we decide to have a post-wedding reception at all? Whoever couldn't make it to Antigua should have been left out. What were we thinking?" Olivia said while pulling one of Fitz's t-shirts over her head. She threw on her robe.

Fitz stood and walked around to her side of the bed. "At the time we decided to have the reception Little Grant wasn't in the picture. We did it for your extended family mostly," he said.

"I wish we could cancel it," she said.

He rested his hands on her shoulders, slightly steering her back to the bed. "That's doable. Lauren, Sybil, or Karen can help with that. Let's go back to bed," he said.

She pulled his hands away. "No, you go to bed, babe. I can't sleep so I might as well get something accomplished. They're some things in the nursery I want to do too."

"The nursery, Liv? There's nothing else to do. It's ready," Fitz said, watching Liv through furrowed brows as she walked away from him and to the door.

Liv didn't turn around to face him. "Well, there are the gifts your parents brought with them for the baby. They haven't been put away, and-"

"Livy," he said, walking to the door, "It's a tricycle, a high chair, toys…things we don't need now. I'll put them away later. You…I…we need to sleep, honey." By now he was unable to hide his frustration.

"That's the problem. I can't sleep. Go back to bed. You have school tomorrow. I'll make up the sleep later," she said, turning to meet his gaze with a small smile before leaving the bedroom.

Fitz sighed heavily. He glanced at the clock, shook his head, and walked into the closet. After shoving on a t-shirt and sweats, he went in search of her.

An hour later, Olivia watched Fitz from the bottom of the attic stairs as he put the last of her boxes from school in neat rows.

"Make sure you turn them so the labels are visible just in case I need to find something later," she said, craning her head up to check in the dim light.

"Okay," he mumbled, "but I'm sure it won't matter since I'll be the one rifling through this shi-stuff…if you need something later."

"It does matter, Fitz," she said. Olivia knew she was being unreasonable, but she couldn't help herself. It kept her mind off Karen and gave her a direction for her nervous energy.

He climbed down the steps and pulled the attic door shut. Peering down at her, he said, "All your boxes from school are out of the garage and put away. Can we go to sleep now?" He was unable to mask the irritation in his voice.

Olivia peered back at him. "I was just thinking about the kitchen cabinets. They are overflowing with our combined dishes, containers, and the wedding gifts so…," she said. Her voice trailed off when she observed his face, a mixture of incredulity and frustration. A couple of times she'd considered broaching the subject of Karen's poor grades and the comments from her teachers. Now, looking at him, she decided to stop the late night chores. "Fitz, you know what? That can wait. Let's go to bed." She grabbed his hand and led him back to their bedroom.

Fitz yawned for the third time and then took another sip of coffee. "Granny, I didn't think she was ever going to stop finding projects to complete last night," he said.

Granny patted his shoulder. "She's just nesting. Little Grant is getting ready. She's definitely close…any day now. Be patient with her."

He looked excited and worried. "Really? I don't remember Mellie doing any of that with Karen or Gerry. Maybe I should stay home today-"

"No, That's not necessary, Fitzgerald. I'm not letting her out of my sight. I'm sure FJ and your mom will come by. At the first sign of anything, I'll text you," Granny said.

He topped off his coffee and walked to the door. "Don't let her try to paint the house or anything. Please tell her that I'll get Karen from practice today. She's sleeping right how."

"Go Fitz. Don't worry. She'll be fine," said Granny.

"Where is Liv?" Fitz said frantically to Granny when he and Karen rushed into the front door later that afternoon. When Karen had hopped in his car after practice, he'd received Granny's text that Olivia was missing.

"Fitz, calm down," Granny said calmly walking to him.

"My wife…my pregnant wife is missing. There's no time for calm. What happened?" he said.

"Well," Granny began slowly, "as we expected from our morning talk, she was adamant…kept insisting on childproofing the house...not tomorrow...not after the baby was born...but today. I thought I had convinced her to hold off on buying the locks and socket covers. When she said she would do some writing instead, I took Rolfo for a walk down the block and back. You know I needed to make up from missing my water aerobics class. That's why I left her. I wasn't gone more than 30 minutes or so, but when I got back she was gone. I was concerned because she didn't leave me a note. Just not like her at all. I saw her cell phone on the credenza, but her purse, keys, and the car is gone."

"You have her phone? Let me have it. She keeps everything in that phone," he said.

Granny pulled it out of her pocket and handed it to him. "There is a lock on it. She's probably at the store trying to get those locks or maybe she's at the grocery story. I think she forgot to leave a note or she thought she'd be back before I got back," Granny reasoned, patting her hands together with each word as if willing it to be true.

Fitz punched in the lock code and flipped through the screens to check the text messages. He looked up slowly, with a confused expression on his face. "I think she went to meet Mellie, he said."

Karen, who had been silently observing the exchange between them, turned on her heel and headed toward the kitchen. Fitz couldn't help noticing how Karen's departure was more escape than exit. She didn't seem concerned.

"Karen, did she say anything to you about meeting your mom?" he said.

"N-no, Dad," she said without stopping, "I need to shower. Practice was a beast. I'm so tired."

Granny and Fitz stared at her as she retreated up the stairs.

Granny shook her head. "Teenagers can be so self involved. Sheesh! I know it may not be the time right this very moment, Fitzgerald, but I can't tell if Karen is coming or going these days. Her face is always in that phone of hers. And she's so unpleasant to be around. She's changed so much-"

"Granny, I agree. Her grades are going south fast. I checked them today. I was going to talk with her on the way home, but when I got your text…" Fitz said, stopping short as if he'd been enlightened.

He pulled opened the front door. "Granny, I'm going to find Liv. Tell Karen to stay put. I don't want her to leave the house until I get back."

"Are you heading to her house?" Granny asked, brow furrowing with what looked like worry. It wasn't worry so much as planning.

"Yes, I'm going to Mellie's," he said.

"Maybe I should come with-" said Granny.

"I'll be fine. Stay with Karen and don't let her leave," he said.

Fitz had his own plan.

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