Wendy watched as Jimmy race down the school’s front steps. His backpack jumped on the too loose shoulder straps, the bulk threatening to bowl him over. He skidded to a stop and pulled open the backseat door.
“Hi mom,” he shouted, tossing the backpack onto the floor and hopping inside.
Wendy waited until he had buckled his seat-belt before lowering the parking brake and merging into the rest of the traffic from the afternoon pick up.
“How was your day?” she asked, her eyes flicking between her son’s reflection in the rear view mirror and the road.
“Fine.” He scrubbed at his nose and stared out the window.
“What did you do?” she prodded.
“Same old stuff.”
He sighed and picked some dried mud from his jeans. “We did more multiplication today. Susie Jacobs beat everyone as usual. Um…We read more of that book with the dog. Had to practice again for the end of the year concert.” He shrugged. “Same stuff.”
“Mrs. Anderson told me something happened to your homework?”
“Yeah.” He scratched at his neck like the back leg of a dog. “It got torn up in the fan.”
Wendy raised her brows but kept her tone skeptical. “Really?”
“When I went to turn it in,” Jim said, rubbing at his eyes and yawning, “the fan by Mrs. Anderson’s desk just sucked it right up. Cut it into a million pieces.”
Wendy managed to keep her face expressionless.
“That’s not what Mrs. Anderson told me.”
Her son’s face paled and he tugged at his wrinkled shirt collar.
“What did she say?”
Wendy pulled up to a red light and looked over her shoulder, her voice and eyes both stern. Jim froze as if she had caught him, like a squirrel, in headlights. “Why don’t you tell me the truth? I bet the two sound the same.”
“Mom,” Jim crossed his arms and pouted.
“Jim,” Wendy said mimicking the whiny octave.
He mumbled behind his hand.
Wendy turned back to the road as the light changed. “I didn’t catch that.”
His hand flung into his lap. “It got soaked.”
“Now how would that happen on such a fine summery day?”
“You know already, why do I have to say?”
“Because you lied first,” Wendy said her tone serious.
Jimmy heaved a sigh weighted with the rest of the world. Wendy allowed the silence to linger until it grew uncomfortable. Her patience however stretched longer than her sons.
He sank deeper into the backseat before he began talking again.
“Billy Johnson and I were making water balloons during recess. My homework got soaked when they started bursting in my bag.”
Wendy let out a soft exhale. “What were you going to do with the balloons?”
“Toss them at Susie Jacobs…”
“She’s always making us look bad with all her ‘Oh I know Mrs. Anderson’, ‘Pick me Mrs. Anderson'”. He shook his head.
“And how would you like it if she tossed balloons at you?”
Jim rolled his eyes and fogged up the window with a breath. He began tracing figures into the mist.
“Jim. Answer me.”
“I wouldn’t like it at all.” he muttered.
“So maybe it serves you right for getting your homework wet when you were going to do something so mean.”
He rubbed out the drawing with an angry fist. “Guess so.”
Wendy shook her head and gripped the steering wheel. “I want that done first then when we get home.”
“Your assignment. You still have to turn it in.”
“But I did it already!”
Wendy caught his exasperated expression in her mirror. “Did you turn it in?”
“No,” he muttered, banging his legs against the seat.
“Mr. Anderson gave me a new assignment for you, too.”
“It’s just one problem.”
He slouched again and folded his arms with a huff.
“Mrs. Anderson wants you to come up with how many water balloons you’d need for each person in your class to have 3.”
Wendy held up a silencing finger and her son, for once obliged.
“But every student in the fourth grade also gets 3 and then each third and fifth grade student needs to have 2. And the teachers each get 4.”
Jim’s mouth hung open, ready to argue but his brow furrowed in obvious thought. Wendy almost heard his brain cells chewing on the answer.
“She wants the number on the top of your assignment tomorrow.”
Jim began counting on his fingers and then gave up. He dug into his bag and withdrew a damp notebook and stubby pencil.
“Don’t you think that’d be a lot?” he asked, scrubbing his eraser end in his hair.
Wendy smiled and turned another corner. “More than you could fit in your bag.”
Jim rolled his eyes and whined another “Mom…” before burrowing back into the question.