Stacie Shannon had dealt with volatile parents in the past but the level of Marti Kohnen’s anger in response to the minor inconvenience of being made to wait ten minutes at dismissal time was not something she’d even considered as she’d mentally worked her way through the necessary steps in following up on Skylar’s certainty that her dead father had visited the Interlachen playground. At school conferences when the focus of conversation had been on Sara’s school progress, Stacie had conversed almost exclusively with Mark Kohnen. When Stacie was praising Sara, Marti had remained largely unresponsive, so much so that the woman had checked her phone multiple times during that phase of the meeting.
When the conversations shifted from the myriad things Sara did well to the few areas of concern Stacie had for the little girl, Marti Kohnen had eclipsed her husband and become the couple’s driving force. The meeting’s dynamic had been so odd and unpleasant that at the end of conferences Stacie had mentioned to Louise Henagar how Marti became far more attentive when talk turned to the child’s weaknesses and had wondered to her fellow teacher about the toxicity of Marti and Sara’s interactions. The interactions that Stacie had with Marti left her feeling that Sara’s mother had what Stacie labeled a sugar icing personality, one that was sickeningly sweet on the outside but that covered over a most unpalatable interior. An exterior that, as today indicated, was easily washed away at the first sign of inconvenience to Mrs. Marti Kohnen.
Stacie consciously squelched her desire to lambaste Marti and tell her exactly what she thought of her saccharine exterior with its just beneath the surface poison and instead chose to remain plaintive and placating. “Oh, Mrs. Kohnen, I’m so sorry, it’s just that Skylar was deeply troubled, and I promised her that I’d follow up on what she thinks happened and I felt it best to let you know. I’ll call her mother and fill her in. Again, so sorry to have inconvenienced you.” Stacie diverted her gaze from Mrs. Kohnen and addressed the girls. “I’ll see you on Monday, girls. Have a great weekend together,” she said before turning on her heel and departing the scene before anyone could respond.
“Weekend?!” Marti demanded of Sara. “Who said anything about a weekend? I said overnight. Skylar, your mother knows that we’re dropping you off tomorrow, right?”
Skylar had stood frozen, head down and eyes tilted up, from the beginning of Marti’s tirade, hiding behind her friend in an unconscious attempt to be invisible to Sara’s marauding mother. In response to Marti’s sharp voiced inquiry the girl looked up the bare minimum required to make eye contact and responded with four minute nods of her head.
“Are you certain?” Marti demanded.
“Yes,” Skylar said in a trembling voice so soft that even Sara could barely hear.
“Was that a yes?” Marti asked harshly. “You need to speak up, girl. I can’t hear a word that you’re saying.”
“Yes, Marti,” Sara interjected. “She said yes. Er, I think you’re scaring her.”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I be scaring her?” Marti inquired, voice flinty hard. “Listen, if you’re scared, Skylar, I can drive you home now if you’d like. Is that what you girls would prefer?”
“No, Marti!” Sara wailed immediately as Skylar shook her head back and forth, eyes downcast.
Marti sighed, shook her head and said, “Wow. This is shaping up to be a stellar sleepover so far. Okay, put your helmet in your backpack and let’s go,” she added, staring at the girls.
Sara did as instructed and then looked back at her stepmother, head turned to the side and tilted, unsure what to do next. “Well?” Marti asked, “are you going to get your bike, or shall we leave it here?”
“Oh. Right. Okay,” Sara responded, nodding her head vigorously. “The bike. Okay,” she added as she twirled the bike lock’s tumblers to 0, 3, 1, 9 and freed it from the rack, “Okay. Ready.”
“Marvelous,” Marti responded the corners of her mouth downturned, shaking her head in dismay. “This is going to be the best sleepover ever,” she said sarcastically.
Skylar looked at Sara who said, “Come on, Skylar. It’ll be okay. We’re parked over at the church. Come on,” she added, following in Marti’s wake, “we’ll load the bike in the SUV and then drive home.”