“Try it again,” Beth said, after school the next day.
They were sitting at the dining room table, and Jack had nearly worn the math worksheet through from erasing trial after trial.
“I just don’t get it,” he said, sitting back and running his hands through his hair. The throbbing behind his eyes was growing worse the more he worked at the math problem.
“And don’t you dare compare this torture to art,” he said.
“You keep forgetting the second step,” Beth said, turning her worksheet around so Jack could see her work: neat rows of numbers, straight even though there were no lines on the page, one after another.
“You’re… showing me your work?”
“See? Here, and here.” She pointed with the tip of her pencil, and then turned the worksheet back around, resuming her work halfway down the page.
She looked up. “What?”
“You just… You never let me see your work. You always make me figure it all out myself.”
“You already know it, Jack. You just keep skipping ahead. Now try it again.”
He was three steps into the problem when the sound of boots on the front porch pulled his attention away. He looked over just as Hannah came through the door, thrusting a large manilla envelope ahead of her, just out of reach as Charlotte made a grab over her sister’s shoulder.
“I said ‘no,” Hannah was saying. “You can just wait until I show them.”
The two girls stumbled through the door, and Hannah flicked her wrist, tossing the envelope on the dining room table, where it spun to a stop between Jack and Beth.
Hannah leaned backwards into her sister, leaning left and right as the younger girl tried to ease around to reach the envelope.
“Go on, Beth, open it,” Hannah said.
“Hurry up, I want to see!” Charlotte added, standing on tiptoes, resting her chin on Hannah’s shoulder.
Beth hadn’t looked up from her homework. “Just let me finish this last problem,” she said, still scratching away with her pencil.
“Jack, go on, open it!” Charlotte urged.
Jack hesitated, glancing over at Beth, and then settling his eyes on his own worksheet. “I… better get this problem done,” he muttered.
He kept working after Beth’s pencil had stopped. He frowned, and puzzled through another step as he heard her pick up the envelope, heard her unwind the red string from around the clasps.
He fought the urge to look up when he heard the girl slide the pictures onto the table, concentrating on his own rows of numbers, nowhere near as straight as Beth’s.
Three steps to go, and he heard Charlotte gasp. Beth’s breath caught, and he heard the glossy ‘swish’ as she slid the picture behind the others.
Two more steps.
“What in the world—” Charlotte began, but it was cut off as Hannah elbowed her in the ribs.
Last step, and another soft whisk of picture-behind-picture. Beth’s steady breathing paused. Kept pausing.
Jack looked up, not at the picture, but at Beth. Her eyes glistened, the gold reflecting off a tear that she quickly blinked away. She turned the pictures over, finally drawing a deep, shaking breath.
“Well,” she said, looking over at Hannah. “That was certainly… Unexpected.”