Tuesdays were Mark's one day for kid pick-up and meal prep, and Isobel knew Callie and Riley would likely be engrossed in the Disney Channel, homework ignored while Mark assembled something in the kitchen.
Things were just as she'd predicted when she opened the back door at 5:34.
"Hi, Mom," said Callie as she preemptively relinquished the remote to her eight-year-old brother and smiled widely. Isobel leaned over the couch and kissed both of their heads, her glasses slipping down her nose as she dipped.
"Mmm, Riley, maybe a shower tonight." He screwed his face into a frown.
"Bath," he countered.
Mark smiled over the kitchen counter, where a pile of green onions expanded under his knife. "How was your day?" she asked him, dropping her tote and down jacket on a chair. She headed toward the landline console at the end of the counter.
"Good," he shrugged. "Busy."
"Wait," Isobel interrupted, reaching for the machine. "I meant to text you. You have to hear this."
"What is it?" Mark looked up.
"It's weird," Isobel said. "Just listen." She hit play.
"First message," the machine's stilted voice said. As soon as the recording began, Isobel could hear the caller's breathing.
"Ms. Johnson." A tremor underlied her authoritative tone. "This is a concerned parent. I'm calling because many community members are alarmed about the flagrantly Marxist and anti-American content you're preaching in your so-called literature class."
"What?" Mark exclaimed, stepping toward her, knife still in hand.
The woman's voice continued. "I speak for a majority of Liston Heights families when I say we've chosen this community for the traditional excellence of the schools." The speaker took a breath. "I know you don't live here, and I'm not sure what you're aiming at, but we're asking you—urging you really, for the sake of our children and frankly, for the sake of your career—to stick to the board-approved curriculum." The speaker delivered the final line of what had to have been a pre-written statement. "I'm choosing not to reveal my identity for fear that you'll retaliate against my child, but do know that I speak for a large constituency of parents, not just for myself."
"What the hell?" Mark said as the machine beeped.
"Dad!" admonished Riley from the couch. "Language!"
"Sorry," Mark said, not looking at him. "Who was that?"
"I don't know." Isobel squinted at the water streaks on the outside of the stainless-steel dishwasher. "There's that one mom who said that thing to me at the Sadie's dance a couple of weeks ago. Julia Abbott?"
"Oh, right," Mark said. "That thing about, like, not being worthy of Liston Heights? What did she mean by that?"
"I guess it means I don't belong." Isobel pointed at the machine.
"Bizarre." Mark put the knife down. "Of course you belong. And how did that person get our number?"
"There's a directory," Isobel said. "You have to opt out, and I never do." She thought for a moment. "Let me listen again. Hey, Cal," she called to the couch, "can you turn that down?" She hit the play button without waiting for her daughter to comply and leaned toward the speaker. It didn't quite sound like Julia Abbott, with whom she'd talked several times. She wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched her shoulders, making herself smaller. The message represented a new level of aggression, for sure. Liston Heights parents had a wide reputation for overstepping, but the most she'd experienced in previous years had been the occasional nasty email. And now there was this, plus that Sadie's dance conversation.
"I don't know," Isobel said finally, turning back to Mark. She walked around to his side of the counter, grabbed a wine glass, and turned the spigot on the box of Cabernet they kept next to the fridge.