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afraid to call this place our own

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Clarke frowned at the notification on her ipad.  “Why does your history teacher want to meet with me?” she asked, but Madi kept her eyes innocently on her homework.

A little too innocently.

“Mr. Blake’s a hardass,” Madi said with a shrug.

“A hardass who wants a meeting with me barely a month into the school year?”  Clarke asked. Madi shrugged again and Clarke narrowed her eyes and scanned the email.  “He’s worried about your performance already.  Have you even had any tests?  What am I missing?”

“He just doesn’t like me,” Madi replied and erased something on her worksheet.

“Madison Grace,” Clarke warned.

Madi’s head snapped up with her jaw set into familiar defiance.  “He doesn’t like me, and...maybe I didn’t hand in some stuff,” she mumbled, faltering slightly at Clarke’s look.

“You didn’t hand stuff in?  Madi, we’re barely into September.  How far behind are you?”

“It’s just a stupid assignment,” her daughter protested.  “And it’s just History.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If I’m gonna be an engineer I don’t need to know about Ancient Greece or whatever.”

“You’re not gonna be an engineer if you fail out of high school and don’t get into a good college,” Clarke countered.

“You can’t fail out of high school, Clarke ,” she snarled.  Madi used Clarke  when she was feeling like pushing boundaries and Mom  when she wasn’t, so Clarke just crossed her arms and stared her down.  

“You really want to find that out the hard way?  And you’re definitely not getting into MIT if you fail World History your freshman year.  What didn’t you hand in?”

“Just some...stuff.”  Clarke raised her eyebrows and Madi sighed.  “We were supposed to read some old stuff and write what we thought about it.  I didn’t.”

“Didn’t read it or didn’t write it?”

“Either,” she mumbled.  

Clarke pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes.  “You can’t do that.  Do you have the assignment still?”  Madi nodded and avoided eye contact.  “And you’re done with the rest of your homework after math, right?  Nothing else?”  Madi nodded and Clarke waited for her to mutter a quiet yes .  “Then you’re getting started on it tonight.  No video games, and I take your phone until it’s done.  Do we have a deal?  Madi?”

“We have a deal,” she sighed, and Clarke walked over and took possession of the phone.  She hated this part of parenting but she made herself go through with it, because the alternative was probably worse.

Mr. Blake didn’t know it, but Clarke was dreading the meeting almost as much as Madi was.


 

Madi reached for the door handle as soon as they pulled into the parking lot but Clarke veered out of the drop off line and took one of the short-term spots in front of the doors.  “What room is Mr. Blake in?” she asked.

“What are you doing? Your meeting with Mr. Blake is this afternoon, right?” Madi asked, and then stole a glance at her beanie in the visor mirror.  Polis Academy required uniforms so she'd have to take it off by the first bell anyway, but Clarke remembered how important that sort of thing was at fourteen.  Madi twisted it to be a little more crooked and Clarke hid a smile.

“It is, but since you’re going to have that assignment done by tomorrow it shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes to clear up.  I have plenty of time before my meeting, so I’ll just run in now and explain it to him.  What room?”

“Uh...120, I think?  It’s by the front stairs and it’s got like, Egypt shit— I mean, stuff— all over.  Can’t miss it.”

Great.  You’ll still owe him a personal apology though.”

“I know,” Madi muttered, and Clarke punched her shoulder gently.

“We all screw up, kid.  We just do better the next time, remember?”  Madi had come to her when Clarke was in a dark place and for that Clarke could never be angry at her for too long.  Still, she had to try and parent this child as best she could.  So far Madi was a pretty good kid— a little feisty and prone to sulking sometimes, but she had a good heart and a brain to rival Raven Reyes.  Clarke was fairly sure she was doing okay at this parenting thing, at the very least.

“Yeah,” Madi said and then brightened.  “And I can have my phone back when it’s done, right?  Not when I turn it in; but when it’s done?”

“When it’s done and I’ve read it, yes.  Love you, kiddo.”

Madi rolled her eyes a little but still leaned across the console to kiss Clarke’s cheek.  “Love-you-too-bye,” she said in one breath and jumped out of the car.  

Clarke checked her messages to let Madi get a non-embarrassing distance away from her before she stepped out.  Normally she wore scrubs to the hospital but today she had a meeting with administration about scheduling in addition to her meeting with Mr. Blake, so she was in a dress and blazer and her hair was even washed and dried, which Madi would happily tell anyone was a feat in and of itself.  She’d made sure Madi finished the reading assignment and outlined her response before going to bed two nights ago, and Madi had been working on her essay ever since.  Clarke would apologize, thank him for letting her know, and assure him she didn’t expect any leniency on the grades-- just for him to let Madi know if there was any extra credit the rest of the semester.  If there wasn’t, she’d live with the zero. If MIT didn’t take her because of this, MIT didn’t deserve her.

Clarke figured she would be out of here well before the first bell and have plenty of time to grab a coffee before her meeting— no need to make a separate trip this afternoon for the scheduled meeting.  Mr. Blake would have his afternoon back and she wouldn’t have to make two trips.  Win-win, really.

She signed in at the office and navigated her way through the crowds of teenagers, who were an odd mixture of hyper and sleepy.  Some leaned against lockers lethargically and some were bolting around like it was a playground, but she found the social studies hallway without being run over and right by the stairs she caught sight of a room with a big pyramid on tacked to one wall.

Clarke knocked on the door and peered in.  Mr. Blake was sitting at his desk at the front of the room, head down as he marked something he was reading with a pencil.  Glasses rested on the bridge of his nose and he pushed them up automatically when he raised his head.

Oh wow .  She’d been expecting a middle aged white guy with an axe to grind, not someone her age with ridiculously untamed curls and a jaw that could cut glass.  And warm, golden skin.  And freckles.  And-- well, all of it.  

Mr. Blake was, unfortunately for Clarke, distractingly handsome.  “Mr. Blake?” she asked politely.

He looked confused.  “Can I help you?”

“I’m Clarke.  Madi Griffin's mom,” she said and strode in.

He stood up looking half-frazzled, half-confused.  “Wait, I thought— isn’t our meeting this afternoon?”

“It is, but I was in the area and figured I’d stop by to get this straightened out,” she said breezily.  His shoulders filled out his button down nicely, and god, men with their sleeves rolled up to their forearms should be required to come with a warning.  It was kind of a shame he was Madi’s teacher.  She walked up to his desk, heels clacking, and spotted a chair nearby.  With one swift move she’d pulled it beside his desk and sat down.

Just then he found his voice.  “I’m sorry Mrs. Griffin, I—”

“It’s just Ms.  Well, Dr., actually.” she corrected him.  “Anyway, thanks for your email.  Madi—”

“We have a meeting this afternoon, Ms—  Dr. Griffin.  Now’s not the appropriate time,” he said, a little more curtly than she thought was strictly necessary.

Clarke waved her hand at him.  “Don’t worry about it; like I said, I was around and had time.  But I’ve talked to Madi and she’s well on her way to completing the assignment--”

“I thought I said in the email that she wouldn’t get credit for that,” he interrupted, sitting down heavily.

“I know, but that’s no reason for her not to do it.  She’ll finish it and turn it in, and—”

“-- I said no credit,” he said flatly.

“And I heard you the first time,” she said, bristling.  “But I told her she had to finish it anyway, and if there’s—”

“--extra credit you want her to get first crack,” he completed, and she did not  like his tone.  Maybe Madi was onto something with him: he was a hardass.  And possibly a jackass too.  “That’s not how my class works, and I know you’re probably used to people doing whatever you tell them, but—”

“Excuse me?”

Mr. Blake’s dark eyes were flashing behind his glasses.  “I get it, your kid is a precious angel who never once did anything wrong and this is her first mistake, she needs to get into a good college and I need to take that into consideration, whatever.  I’ve heard this before, and that’s not how it works in my class.  She’s got plenty of other chances to get her grades up and if she wants to go see the play and write the report, that’s her chance for extra credit.  No exceptions.”

Clarke had blacked out somewhere around precious angel  and had barely heard a word after that over the roaring in her ears.  “What did you say to me?” she snarled and stood up.

He stood up and advanced on her.  “This isn’t my first year teaching,” he growled.  “And every year, parents like you come in to tell me that they feed their kid organic smoothies every morning so they can’t possibly have not turned in an assignment but let me assure you, they can, smoothies or no.  And when someone makes an appointment for the afternoon, showing up eight hours early because it’s more convenient for you  is a dick move, by the way.”

“Where the hell do you get off telling me how I parent?”

Something like guilt flashed behind his eyes and a muscle in his jaw flickered.  “That’s not the point.”

“Oh yeah?  Then what is the point?”  Clarke stared him down, anger coursing through her veins.  She wanted to scream at him, but a bell sounded in the hall, startling them both.

He looked at the clock behind his desk and swore under his breath. “My class will be here any second, Dr. Griffin.  You know where the door is,” he said through clenched teeth and turned away from her.

Clarke was speechless with rage for a solid ten seconds.  She knew it was exactly that long because she watched the clock behind his head tick from the one to the three while he ignored her.  But then a herd of students came trampling in, all of them staring at her like she was an animal at the zoo.  She barely remembered how she got out of the room and only dimly recalled signing herself out from the office before climbing into her car while adrenaline coursed through her veins.  

Her hands shook with anger as she started the car and decided to go straight to the hospital, dozens of plans to ruin that jackass flashing through her brain at lightning speed.  She dwelt on it all through the day.  She barely paid attention during the scheduling meeting and her charts took far longer than they should have, her mind bent on revenge.  But by the time the clock drew nearer 3:45, something else took up residence in her gut.

Guilt.

The time of her scheduled meeting with Mr. Blake slipped past and his words from this morning— the ones about it being a dick move, not the ones about her parenting— started to echo through her mind.  She’d just assumed it would be a small thing, stopping by like that.  She was saving them both time, she’d reasoned, and for another solid hour she convinced herself that she had been in the right, that he was just an asshole with an inexplicable grudge against her.

But the more she thought about it the worse she felt.  If someone showed up seconds before she started a shift to for an unscheduled meeting because it was more convenient for them...well, she’d probably be just as much of an asshole.  He was still an awful jackass, but a very tiny part of her had to concede that he might be an awful jackass with a point.

And honestly, that was the worst part.

 


 

“Did you apologize to Mr. Blake?” Clarke asked while Madi was clearing the dishes.  She’d put off asking about it as long as she could, anger and guilt warring in her chest.

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“It was fine.  He was weird today.”

Clarke’s stomach squirmed.  “Weird how?  Upset?”  She worried she’d just made things worse for Madi, that Mr. Blake would take his anger at Clarke out on her daughter.

“No.  He was actually pretty nice to me.  Said he appreciated me apologizing and reminded me there’s that lame trip this November for extra credit.  He was more just like... freaked out?  He kept forgetting shi— stuff.”

“Trip?” Clarke asked.  He’d mentioned something like that during their meeting— fight, really— but so much else had happened she’d skipped over it.

“Yeah, there’s some play up in DC in November.  If you go and write an essay about it it’ll replace your lowest grade for the semester.”

Clarke picked up her ipad and scrolled back through her email until she found it— an email from the PTA headed Chaperone Opportunities .  Halfway down the list was an item labeled 11/4/17-11/5/17:  History Field Trip: overnight, accommodations provided with fee .   One chaperone needed for every 10 students.  Viewing of the play Antigone at the Anacostia Arts Center.  Headed by Bellamy Blake, Social Studies.  “Then you’re doing that,” Clarke said.  “I’ll come with, okay?”  If she had  made things worse for Madi, at least she’d be around to protect her.

“Okay,” Madi said, a little sullen.  “Can I have my phone back tonight?”

Clarke clicked the link to the sign up page and got started.  “Show me the essay, then it’s all yours.  Is it done?”

“Almost.”  

“Then finish the dishes and get started, kiddo.”

Clarke filled out the chaperone form and swallowed back her groan.  Twenty-four hours with a man she’d just shouted at.

She couldn’t wait.