"Smile"


“Where are you sitting today?” Kathy asked her son. She already knew the answer though; the discussion was had before the tutor arrived. But instead of responding on cue, the son continued picking at his braces with his fingers. She motioned toward the long corridor off of the kitchen and said, “You’re going to sit in there, right?”

Her son, Ryan, allowed for an uncomfortable silence to enter the room before he nodded his head, his thumb still dug deep in his mouth.

“Oh, so we’re moving today,” the tutor said. “Sounds good to me.”

Although his optimism was somewhat forced, his readiness to move was not. He didn’t care much for the workspace that hosted their first two sessions—a granite island in the middle of the kitchen—because the stool he sat on did not have a back. He left each session with a dull pain running down his shoulder and neck.

The stool at the island also faced sliding glass doors, which led to a deck overlooking the tree-lined property at the edge of their manicured lawn. On the deck, Kathy reclined on a chaise lounge chair for most of the session with a crime novel on her lap, standing only periodically to preen one of the dozens of potted plants arrayed throughout the deck. Her proximity made the tutor slightly anxious. He felt as if he were being assessed or auditioned for future sessions.

The tutor felt that Kathy, or Kathleen Brantley Pennington as it appeared on her checks, had not yet given him a reason to believe that he was being scrutinized. But he knew better than to trust the intonations of the amenable greetings and departures, or to search for clues in facial expressions in order to uncover the opinions of the town’s parents. Kathy’s countenance was especially confounding because she possessed a flat alacrity. When the pitch of her voice changed, nothing on her faced confessed excitement.

“All right, gentlemen, let’s see where we’re working today,” Kathy said as she walked the tutor through the corridor to a room at the other end of the house. Adjacent to the room’s entrance, another door, which opened to a space with a vaulted ceiling and a brick fireplace, immediately caught the tutor’s attention. Before Kathy moved past him to close the door, the tutor noted a long, green stretch of putting turf that spanned the length of the room.

“Would you like a bottle of water?” she asked the tutor.

“Yes, please.”

She turned to her son. “Ry?”

“What?”

“Bottle of water?”

He shrugged and said, “I guess.”

The tutor placed his book bag on top of a folding table and removed his computer and books. Ryan sat in one of the chairs, crossed his arms, and leaned back, balancing on the chair’s hind legs.

“No books?” the tutor said. “Why don’t you go get them?” The front legs of the chair returned to the floor, and Ryan left the room.

The tutor scanned the new environment and decided it was not a designated office or den. He recalled passing something of the sort when he was escorted through the house to the kitchen. Instead, the room seemed to be more of a dumping ground for the home’s oddments. The portable table and chairs, the kind brought out of storage for parties or card games, were placed among assorted pieces of furniture that did not synchronize with the aesthetic intent he noticed in other parts of the house. However, paint swatches scotch-taped to the wall—Autumn Pumpkin, Harbor Fog, and Chestnut Mood—led him to believe that the décor’s incongruity might only be temporary. Next to Harbor Fog, a post-it note with a trio of question marks awaited judgment.

A series of empty hooks still remained, while its picture frames leaned against the mahogany wainscoting.

On the folding table’s vinyl top, freshly sharpened pencils pointed out of a metal cup. Several spiral notebooks and colored folders fanned out across the middle of the table. Two fluorescent highlighters had also been placed next to neatly folded copies of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But when Ryan returned, he immediately swept the contents onto the floor to make room for the books he then dumped all over the table.

“How was your weekend?” the tutor asked.

“Good.”

After a pause, the tutor followed up with another question. “What did you do?”

“Connecticut.”

“Oh, cool. Where in Connecticut?”

“Danbury.”