As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. Donna dropped her bag on a kitchen chair, then reached for a glass.
“Do you want to explain your grade?” Her mother’s voice came from the living room.
Donna held the glass under the sink’s spigot and let the cold water overflow. After a moment, she turned the faucet off and poured some water out. She took a drink before turning to face her mother.
“I missed two questions on the math quiz,” she said.
“Apparently. Why is that?” Donna’s mother gracefully stood and glided towards her.
“I made an error when I was calculating. I still have a ninety-five percent in that class.”
“Ninety-five is not one hundred, is it?” Now her mother was standing close, back ramrod straight.
“No,” Donna whispered.
“No, ninety-five is not one hundred, mother.”
“Humph. At least you know that much about math. Go to your room until dinner. Your father and I will discuss your consequences.”
Donna felt the heat of her mother’s gaze as she picked up her bag and walked up the stairs. Once in her room with the door safely shut, she plopped onto her bed, put a pillow over her face, and screamed. She refused to cry this time, and she stared at the bright white of her ceiling while taking deep breaths.
Her thoughts refused to calm, and she kept thinking of how beautiful and poised her mother acted, yet how overcritical and vicious she was inside. Willowbrook adored Donna’s mother and all the work she did for the historical society. Judy was a solid presence at every fundraiser and school event.
If only they really knew her, Donna thought.
Donna realized her mother wanted her to be the best she could be, hopeful that Donna will one day take over as chairperson for the historical society. But that didn’t relieve the pressure Donna felt every waking moment. I just want to be a normal sixteen-year-old.
Eventually, Donna sat up with a groan and went to her desk to work on her history project while she waited for the inevitable. Her friends teased about being told to “wait until father gets home,” but none of them had parents like she did. In Donna’s house, it was a definite warning. Jessica, one of her best friends, had parents that supported and loved her, no matter what her grades were like.
She’ll probably grow up to work in the bank or something else just as boring. At least I have a wonderful future ahead of me.
Donna sighed and reached over to turn on the radio. She usually concentrated better with music and she wanted to ace the history project. While writing several journal entries as if she was Abraham Lincoln seemed easy on the surface, Donna knew it would take something special to impress Mr. Adams. Deep in her work, she almost didn’t hear the car door slam.
Donna turned the music’s volume down and strained to hear her parents’ conversation. She caught a few words and tried to piece together what her punishment might be.
“… two questions… study enough.”
“Maybe we should… next time.”
“I think… Saturday’s game.”
“I don’t know… the squad needs her… extra credit…”
“That won’t do any good.”
“I just got home… after dinner.”
Then Donna heard her father’s footsteps on the stairs, and she bent over her desk again so he wouldn’t guess she tried to eavesdrop. When the knock came on her bedroom door, followed by the faint creak as it opened, she looked up with a smile.
“Hi, pumpkin. Your mother told me her concerns about your math grade.” Mike was always one to get straight to the point.
Donna’s smile faded. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Really, I am. I made two minor mistakes on the quiz.”
“Well, you’re allowed some mistakes.” Her dad crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed.
“Am I? She seems really mad this time.” Donna twisted in her chair to look at her father.
“I’ve postponed your sentencing until after dinner. Maybe she will feel more charitable after lasagna.” Mike tilted his head back and looked at the crown molding on the wall. His lips made a slight puffing sound that meant he was thinking. Finally, he looked back at her. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but we really want you to do everything with your future in mind. And working hard to be top of your class is one way to guarantee acceptance into Harvard.”
“I know,” Donna whispered. “But what if I don’t want to go to Harvard?”
“Do you not want to?”
“I don’t know. But I would like the option to find out.”
“You can have the option. When you’re eighteen and after you graduate. Until then, you need to do everything possible to get to Harvard. It’s your mother’s dream to see you there. Now, come on, let’s go have dinner.”
“It’s not my dream,” Donna barely whispered. If her dad heard her, he didn’t give any sign.
Dinner was silent, except for the clinking of forks on plates. Donna kept her eyes on her food, but she was aware of every motion her parents made. As soon as her dad put his napkin on the table and leaned back in his chair, she got up and began clearing the table. Without speaking, she loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. There wasn’t much else to do in the immaculate kitchen, so she squared her shoulders and went to the family room.
Donna’s father sat in his recliner, his feet up and the television remote on one leg. Her mother was sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, her posture perfect. A magazine was in her lap and a glass of bourbon in her hand. She gestured for Donna to sit next to her. Donna sat, doing her best to emulate her mother’s straight back and long neck.
“Your father and I have decided what your consequence for your poor grade is,” Judy began. “While we dislike allowing you freedoms when you are in error, we agree it would hurt the cheer squad for you to miss the game this Saturday. So, you will go to the game as planned, but on Sunday you will not go to the city with your friends. Instead, you will be here studying. And you will ask Mrs. Rodin for extra credit work to get your grade up to one-hundred percent. Any questions?”
“No, mother. Thank you.” Donna tried not to let her relief show. Her father must have convinced her mother that missing the game would be detrimental to their family’s public image. Otherwise, she was sure they would ground her to her room for the weekend.
“I expect to hear what Mrs. Rodin says tomorrow. Or I will call her myself.”
“Yes, I will talk to her first thing in the morning.”
Judy nodded and picked up her magazine. Donna looked at her father, and he winked at her before turning on the television. Donna watched the first few minutes of the news before fleeing to the relative safety of her room.
Author’s note: Donna is a supporting character in my upcoming novel, and I wanted to flesh out some of her backstory. She plays an important part as a catalyst for change for the main character, Jessica. Donna also grows and learns throughout the plotline. I needed to reach a little deeper for Donna’s motives. And this short story — while incomplete — accomplished that.