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Lauren Takes Leave
~ A NOVEL ~
Copyright © 2012 by JulieGerstenblatt.
Allrights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any mannerwhatsoever without written permission from the author.
Lauren Takes Leave is a work offiction. Names, characters, e-mail addresses, places, and incidents arethe products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Anyresemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirelycoincidental.
Coverconcept and design by Brett Gerstenblatt and Gary Tooth
Illustrationsby Liz Starin
Table of Contents
Questions and Topics for Discussion
About the Author
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tediousif it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.”
—ALGERNON MONCRIEFF, from Oscar Wilde’s TheImportance of Being Earnest, Act 1
“Hey, Cameron, you realize if we’d played by the rules,right now we’d be in gym?”
—FERRIS BUELLER, from John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’sDay Off
A Confession or Three
Now, this is going to sound crazy, ladies and gentlemenof the jury, but it’s true. All of it. Except for the parts that I made up, ofcourse. Those are false.
My first confession is this: I wanted to get placedon a jury. Yes, bizarre as it sounds, I longed for it.
Only, I didn’t know how badly I wanted it until it wasalmost too late.
Fact: I received a blue jury questionnaire in the mail inJanuary of this year.
Fact: I filled out the form and sent it back to the returnaddress, promptly forgetting all about it.
Fact: As luck, fate, or divine intervention would have it,in April I was called for jury duty at the county courthouse in Alden, NewYork.
This one act led to several random incidents, including abit of travel, some outpatient cosmetic procedures, and, of particular note, a briefadventure with a cross-dressed burlesque dancer named Dixie. It also led to myso-called incarceration.
I am standing before you now to beg your forgiveness. Itis my desire to explain, with almost complete candor, as much about the pastweek as I can recall. Those bits from when I was inebriated notwithstanding, Iwill do my best to piece it all together for you.
Why you? Because, dear reader, by picking up my story andcradling its contents in your hands, you have become my jury.
Unwittingly, perhaps, but isn’t that how all jurors cometo be? One minute you’re in your office cubicle, playing Scrabble against thebrain in the iPad, or running on a treadmill somewhere, trying to will yourthighs into submission, and the next, you’re responding to a summons from thelocal courts and deciding the fate of a schoolteacher who may or may not beguilty of the types of wrongdoings that we’re all guilty of, to a degree.
And so, please read without bias. The decision lies inyour hands.
Fact: I am mostly innocent.
“Ben, you need to change. Those pants are way too short,”my husband, Doug, says, passing Ben on the stairs.
My nine-year-old son checks himself out by looking down athis feet as he reaches the bottom step. “They’re fine,” he concludes. “I’m notchanging.”
Doug appeals to me, calling down from the second-floorlanding. “Lauren!”
“Okay,” I say, wondering for the thousandth timewhy it is automatically my job to clothe, feed, and bathe the offspring weproduced together.
“And did you get to pick up my shirts from the dry cleaner’syet?”
“Yes!” I shout. But then I remember a small detail. “They’restill in the trunk of the car.”
“Dad, I like my pants like this,” Ben calls up thestairs, daring Doug into a full-on, 7:30 a.m. brawl.
There is a heartbeat’s length pause as the house holds itsbreath, waiting for the next move.
I, for one, know what will happen next, because thisconflict occurs between them in some variation every weekday morning. Doug putson his glasses after showering and his critical eye wakes up, begins to focus.
It’s the hair not brushed, the dishes unwashed, the frogsunfed. The bed unmade, the shoes untied, the homework incomplete.
I nod and smile, brush the hair, clean the dishes, feedthe frogs, make the beds, tie the shoes, finish the homework. (Which is hard,by the way. Since when does third-grade math include algebra?)
The conversation between them goes on over my head, andsnakes between my chores. It always boils down to “You didn’t do this or that”from Doug and “Why do you care? You’re never home” from Ben.
Both have a point. I referee. I acknowledge to Doug thatBen is a bit spoiled and we’re working on it, and then, when Doug is out ofearshot, whisper to Ben that Dad’s stressed out because his start-up companyisn’t doing that well in this economy and we have to be understanding. I try tomake peace by cheerleading for both sides.
It’s almost enough to make a person want to run out of thekitchen to go teach middle school.
“Lauren? Did you call the electrician yet? And Ben needsto apologize.”
“No,” I call up the stairs.
“No, what? Electrician or apology?”
“Yes,” I shout back, emptying last night’s clean itemsfrom the dishwasher.
That should be sufficiently inconclusive. There’s no wordfrom Doug upstairs. Ben just shrugs and saunters into the kitchen forbreakfast.
Like in a finely choreographed ballet, the next dancercomes onstage just as the other one exits. My kindergartener, Becca, yells fromher room at the top of the stairs. “Everyone be quiet! I need my sleep so themonsters don’t come into my head!”
“What does that even mean?” Ben asks.
“Not sure,” I say, following him.
Ben sits at the kitchen counter and waits, like this is arestaurant and I’m serving up his favorite.
“We’ve discussed breakfast, Ben. You are old enough to getit for yourself,” I say, as I set up his breakfast for him—bowl, spoon, milk,Cinnamon Toast Crunch—the irony of which is not lost on me, and move on to themaking of lunches and snacks—mine, Ben’s, and Becca’s.
Becca stumbles into the