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  • Hovering

    When Jeff’s family exited the temple from the Bar Mitzvah service, a girl charged at his

    daughter with her arms opened wide. The girl knocked Madison backward, but Madison wasn’t

    fazed. As soon as she regained her balance, she returned the embrace with equal exuberance. Jeff

    had never seen this girl but knew that didn’t matter. The seventh-grade set exchanged hug-hellos

    with mere acquaintances. Even the boys hugged each other. He was glad he’d grown up in a

    simpler time when a routine handshake sufficed as a greeting.

    When the girls released each other, Madison surveyed the other girl’s dress, which was

    cellophane-wrap tight and low-cut enough to reveal far more cleavage than any thirteen-year-old

    should have. Jeff’s wife, Sharon, had vetoed Madison’s initial choice for a party dress and had

    only approved one with a high neckline and bell-shaped bottom. The envy that dripped from

    Madison’s voice when she said, “Rachel, you look gorgeous,” made it clear she wished she

    hadn’t been forced to wear something so prim and proper.

    Rachel pointed at a bus that all the kids who’d come to the service without parents were

    piling into and asked Madison if she’d like to join them for the ride to the hotel for the reception.

    Rachel moved toward the bus, but Madison hesitated.

    The night before, Jeff had complained to Madison about how little time he got to spend

    with her now. If she wasn’t sleeping over at friends’ houses, she was on her computer, chatting

  • HOVERING 2

    with them. He nudged Madison toward the bus. “It’s okay. Go ahead and ride with them if you

    want.”

    Madison didn’t respond. With the bus driver nowhere in sight, boys were standing in the

    aisle, taunting and shoving each other, while the girls kneeled in their seats and shouted to one

    another across the rows. Madison probably didn’t know many of the kids. The Bar Mitzvah boy,

    Jacob, was the son of Sharon’s best friend, but they lived in another town. Madison must have

    met Rachel at one of the Friday night teen skates Jacob had invited her to.

    On the steps of the bus, Rachel turned and took one last look, but Madison told her, “Go

    on, I’ll check in with you guys as soon as we get there.”

    Once they were settled in their minivan, Jeff tried to make eye contact with Madison in

    the rear-view mirror, but she was staring down at her iPod. Sharon was adjusting her bangs as

    she eyed herself in the sun visor’s mirror. He reassured her, “This cut looks great.” She frowned,

    still convinced her stylist had gone too short.

    He liked it when her thick curls were cropped close to her head. It showed off her delicate

    ears and the nape of her neck. The last time the three of them had been this dressed up was for

    his fortieth birthday, the summer before. He’d had both of them all to himself for the whole day,

    as they toured the art galleries and antique shops in Newport and had dinner in a spectacular fish

    restaurant.

    He leaned forward to eye the cloudless sky through the windshield. “Such a gorgeous

    day. Seems like such a shame to waste it inside a hotel function room that probably won’t even

    have any windows.”

    Sharon arched an eyebrow. “Promise me you’ll make at least a minimal effort to have a

    good time.”

    “Sorry if I’m not as pumped about this as you are.” Sharon had known Jacob’s parents

  • HOVERING 3

    since college, and while Jeff had met a number of Dan and Elaine’s friends and neighbors at

    dinner parties or barbecues they’d hosted, he hated making small talk with people he saw only

    once every year or so. “It’s just that you know these people a lot better than I do.”

    “Yeah, because I make the effort to get to know them.”

    Madison told her, “Mom, you’re doing that nostril flaring thing again.”

    “Yes, I’m mad because your father’s not being fair.” Sharon turned her eyes back to Jeff

    but kept her head facing straight. “I don’t complain when we go to parties with your friends. And

    believe me, your friends’ wives are not the easiest lot to get along with.” She examined herself in

    the visor mirror again and popped her lips to freshen her lipstick with a vigor she wouldn’t have

    if she weren’t so mad. “So, I swear no sullen faces today. I’m not going to have any patience for

    your mope act.”

    Madison sighed. “Geez, Mom, that’s harsh.”

    “Sorry, I just want to make sure you father doesn’t ruin this afternoon for me.”

    Jeff let it go. She wasn’t ready to hear his explanation of why that accusation wasn’t fair,

    and at least Madison had scored a point on his behalf. It drove Sharon crazy that Madison had

    reached the age when girls find fault with everything their mother says and does, but he was

    grateful. He now had an ally to come to his defense.

    Things were quiet until Sharon looked up in her mirror and then snapped at Madison,

    “What you do you think you’re doing?”

    Jeff looked in the rearview mirror to see his daughter’s lips were red and she had lipstick

    in her hand.

    Madison answered, “I thought you said I could wear it on special occasions.”

    Sharon shook her head. “I don’t remember saying that.” She turned to Jeff. “Did we ever

    agree to that?”

  • HOVERING 4

    He couldn’t remember, but he didn’t respond with even a shrug. He’d been as opposed to

    Madison wearing makeup as Sharon was. But all through seventh grade, Madison had insisted all

    the other girls wore it, a claim he didn’t believe until he stayed in the parking lot one morning

    after dropping her off at school and was amazed to see every little girl marching into the building

    looking like Tammy Faye Baker. They’d finally caved before she started eighth grade, but they’d

    agreed only to eyeliner and mascara – blush and lipstick remained on the forbidden list.

    Sharon grabbed a tissue from the glove compartment and handed it to Madison. “Take

    that off. I’m not going to show up at this thing with my daughter looking so cheap.”

    Madison pounded the seat with her fist. “Mom, you are so mean.” Her voice was

    trembling. Jeff checked the rearview mirror for any sign of tears, but her eyes were dry and her

    lower lip puffed out in defiance.

    Jeff put his hand on Sharon’s thigh. “I think it’s okay.”

    “I need your support on this, Jeff.”

    “It’s just one afternoon.”

    “Yeah, but then she’s going to want to start wearing it to school. And I think the teachers

    can’t help but make judgments about these girls who don’t look like serious students.”

    “Tell you what, Madison, we’re going to let you wear it, but if we show up at the hotel

    and none of the other girls are wearing it, you need to go into the bathroom and take it off. Will

    you do that?”

    “Yes.”

    Jeff asked Sharon. “Is that okay by you?”

    She sighed. “I guess,” then added, “I can tell this is going to be a great day.”

    Looking into the rearview mirror, Madison mouthed, “Thank you, Daddy.”

    When they arrived at the hotel, a greeter inside the door let everyone know the kids-only

  • HOVERING 5

    pre-party was being held in the ballroom. Madison bolted across the lobby along with a half

    dozen other kids who arrived at the same time. A number of hotel guests were wheeling their

    luggage toward the front desk. They looked alarmed as the kids swarmed around them. Jeff

    called out for Madison to slow down, but all the conversational chatter across the crowded room

    drowned him out. He mustered a “these kids today” frown for anyone who might have noticed

    one of those kids was his, but it was still hard for him not to be impressed by the kids’ agility.

    They pivoted and spun around every obstructing guest or piece of furniture, letting nothing

    impede their progress. A raiding army couldn’t have staged a more effective onslaught.

    The ballroom was off limits for adults while the kids partook in their games, but a corner

    of the lobby had been cordoned off with velvet ropes, and it offered an open bar.

    Jeff whispered to Sharon, “So we get the adult version of airbrush tattoos and musical

    chairs.”

    Sharon didn’t seem to hear. She was grinning wide as the ladies from her book club

    noticed her and waved her over to their table. Sharon took a step forward, but then held her

    finger up in the one-minute sign.

    “Do you mind if I go chat with them for a bit?”

    He gazed across the room. Half the faces were familiar. He took a deep breath and told

    her, “Sure, go ahead.”

    “And you’ll make an effort to talk to people and not just hover around the edges?”

    He couldn’t tell if she genuinely wanted to ensure he’d have a good time, or if she was

    just worried about being associated with a guy who appeared antisocial. He reassured her,

    “Look, I can make small talk as well as anybody.” The book club women were smiling at them,

    eager fo