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“Are you sure she should even start school yet? It seems so soon.” Nicole’s voice sounds a little tinny on the phone. She’s out on patrol I think, so she’s probably using a headset. The sun is bright outside—it’s going to be another hot, humid day. The light streaming through the windows looks wavy where it lights up uneven rectangles on the bare floor. Some of the windows are original handmade glass. All of the windows are dirty. Mom and Dad were both always to busy with academics or their personal pursuits to worry about the fine details of coursework.
I sigh. In some ways Nicole is absolutely right. It is too soon for Jasmine to go back to school. But right now, there is no right answer for Jasmine. “I’d agree, but she actually asked to go back. Which is a lot coming from an eight-year-old. I think she needs some normality in her life.”
“I get it,” Nicole says. “I just wish I could… I don’t know… go back in time a week, and … well, you know.”
“I know,” I whisper. “I do too.”
“What are your plans?” she asks.
I shrug, even though she can’t see me. “I don’t really know. I’ve got a meeting with the veterans’ services office at UMASS tomorrow. It’s too late for this semester I’m sure, but maybe I’ll go back to school.”
Nicole’s response is predictable. “You know, there’s an opening in the department. I’m sure you would be a shoe-in for the academy.”
“Nicole, I’m not really interested in being a cop.”
“Why not? You were a great MP.”
I snort. “Bullshit. I went along with it because that’s what you wanted to do. I liked the civil affairs work. But riding around in a patrol car and dealing with traffic violations and drunk college kids? No thanks.”
“So what’s your plan then?”
“I don’t know,” I snap. “Right now it’s to get settled and get Jasmine back into school. I haven’t even buried my parents yet, all right?”
“Jesus, Zoe, I’m sorry.” Nicole’s voice is low and repentant.
“It’s going to take me a little while. Three days ago I was expecting to have a career in the Army. I liked what I was doing. Tokyo was gorgeous, and I was good at what I did and it just… everything has been turned upside down, all right?”
Nicole’s sigh is drawn out. “I get it, Zoe.”
“Anyway,” I say. “I’ve got a meeting with the counselor and her second grade teacher in about an hour. Jasmine’s going to come, so she can see the classroom and get a little comfortable before school starts.”
“It’s a good idea. You want them paying attention.”
“Okay, now—I won’t nag you about your plans. But talk to me, okay? Why don’t we go out and grab some drinks tomorrow night?”
I feel relief settle on me at the thought. That sounds wonderful. “I’d love to, where?—wait—”
“What is it?” she asks.
It hits me there, yet another way my life has irrevocably changed. “I don’t have a sitter, and … Jasmine needs me here. She hasn’t slept through the night yet. How about you come over here for drinks?”
I can hear the hesitation in her voice. Or maybe I can’t. Maybe I’m just imagining it. She says, “Sure, that sounds great. Should I, uh… bring anything?”
“No! Unless… maybe something to drink.”
“You got it. And Zoe?” She sounds tentative.
“Get some rest. I know you’re taking care of Jasmine. But you gotta take care of yourself too. She’s not the only one who lost her parents.”
I close my eyes. She’s right, of course. I do need to take care of myself. I need to rest. I need to get some time to grieve. But I don’t have that kind of time. Right now Jasmine’s needs override everything else.