Christmas was just around the corner. One Saturday while shopping for Christmas decorations, Alessandra ran into her three friends once again, and she couldn't have been more relieved to see them. She practically shrieked with joy when she saw Betty Jane, Mary-Anne, and Laura shopping together. She came up to them and said, "Well, hello again!"
"How's it going, Allie?" asked Betty Jane.
"You guys Christmas shopping too?" asked Alessandra.
"Yup," said Mary-Anne. "Betty Jane, Laura and I planned to go shopping together. We would have included you too, Allie, only we know that you're dealing with......problems."
"Yeah, we're sorry," said Laura.
"Ah, no worries." Alessandra shrugged. "The divorce would be finalized on the 30th, so we still have a few weeks left to go."
"Good job," said Betty Jane. "You need to leave him, and fast."
"I will," said Alessandra. "And I'm taking the children with me. Not to also mention, I've filed a restraining order against him, so he cannot be fifteen feet near me or the kids."
"Smart," Mary-Anne said, grinning.
"We also went to see Dr. Rogers like you suggested, and she was amazing." Alessandra couldn't control her joy over meeting Dr. Rogers for the first time.
"Really? What'd she say?" Betty Jane said.
"She said that Quincy and I should give each other some time and space before we think about going our separate ways, and she is right."
"Well, are you sure you really wanna do this, Allie?" asked Laura.
"Yes, I'm sure. Quincy thinks I've made a hasty decision, but then again, what does he know? I'm just sick and tired of pretending with him. Thanks to him, Thanksgiving was ruined."
"Yep, the men are always to blame whenever the holidays are spoiled. Curse them," Betty Jane said in agreement, and the four of them laughed.
From that moment on, it was pretty simple for Alessandra and Quincy to keep their distance from each other whenever they could, and even though it wouldn't be very easy for them to try to get along for the holiday, they knew it was worth a shot. It was anything to keep the family together and the kids happy. During that time, Quincy was also considering where he might live. He met with his three friends from high school at a bar, and he was talking to them about all this.
"I just don't know where I'm supposed to live," he said to them, shrugging.
"Welcome to the bachelors club, Quince," said Peter Ruffin, one of his friends, who was formerly the star captain of Fort Chester High School basketball team. He took a sip of his martini. "Allie sure sounds like one tough chick."
"Can't you just imagine living with her?" Quincy scoffed. They were sitting at a table with their other two friends, Jerry and Spike.
"I don't know, Quince," Jerry said with a shrug. "She seemed like the coolest girl way back when."
"Well, not anymore she isn't," Quincy said.
"I know," suggested Spike. "You could try living with me." He grinned, very sure of himself.
Quincy gave him a playful punch. "Ah, you're nothing but a real slob."
"That's why Nikki left me, and I'm still doing fine," said Spike.
"Yeah, but seriously, I don't know where to live," Quincy said. "I'm gonna start New Year off living on the streets, acting like a thug or something. Allie is going to regret this---trust me, I know my wife very well, and I know she is going to regret making this decision."
"Ah, that's just the thing about them women, you know?" said Peter. "You can't live them, and you can't live without them. They just like to do their own thing, and they always think that their word is the final word. They're all alike."
"I know, right?" said Quincy in agreement. "Allie always has this freaking self-righteous attitude that her word is the last word. Like whatever she says, goes. Since when is this a woman's world, and who made her the queen?"
"Quincy, you need to make Allie realize that this is a man's world we're living in," Peter said. "Break it to her fractured ego gently that the men are the ones who are running this world, not her or her lousy friends. And if she can't see that, then she's right to run away back home to her mommy and cry like a little-bitty baby." He mimicked the sound of a crying baby, and Quincy, Jerry and Spike all laughed.
"Oh, Pete, you just never cease to amuse me," Quincy said, patting Peter on the back. "Glad to see you've still kept your sense of humor after all these long-gone years."
The rest of that month had been pretty hectic for Alessandra as she struggled to balance her time at work and dropping Joanna to and from choir and play rehearsals at church. She felt overwhelmed, having to go through all that driving around. What's worse is, there was an upcoming movie that was coming out in theaters sometime in early February, and she wasn't even halfway finished with writing the screenplay yet. There were too many distractions that kept her from writing. And the worst part of all was, she had a parent-teacher conference with one of Zeke's teachers at school. She wondered what kind of trouble Zeke had gotten himself into now.
It was a Friday afternoon, with some amount of traffic on the road. Alessandra was in an exhausted, groggy mood. While Alessandra was on her way to Zeke's school, Zeke was in Ms. Kessler's office discussing his behavior. Ms. Kessler said to him, "Ezekiel, while we are waiting for your mother to come over, I want you to tell me something. What has gotten into you lately, dear?"
"I'm sorry, Ms. Kessler," Zeke said. "It's just, I don't know how to focus on my schoolwork anymore."
"Well, you don't seem to be getting into anymore fights, and that's a good thing," said Ms. Kessler. "The only problem right now is your grades for this semester." She gave him his report card, which he immediately opened, only to see that he'd gotten a pair of C's, D's, and F's. His grades were really dropping now.
"I don't understand," he said as he glanced over at them.
"Neither do I, Zeke," said Ms. Kessler. "You used to be such a very extraordinary student during the past few years. You know that if you're unable to prove yourself worthy by next semester, then I'm afraid I would have to expel you, and you won't be able to graduate the eighth grade with your classmates."
"Zeke, are you having trouble at home, by any chance?"
"What do you mean?" Zeke asked.
"Now, don't take it the wrong way, dear. I know that when most students don't do well academically, it's because they are going through some kind of problems. And you know you can tell me anything." She seemed interested.
"Should I really be telling you all this?" Zeke said dubiously.
"Zeke, come on. Please tell me. I'm your principal; of course I would understand."
Zeke sighed. "Well, if you insist. It's just that---it's just that everything is so difficult now, you know? Mom and Dad are splitting up, and Mom wants to take me and Joanna with her, and she's kicked Dad out of not only the house but also out of our lives as well. We think he's gonna start living on the streets and all that. They've ruined Thanksgiving, and now they're going to ruin Christmas too!"
Ms. Kessler seemed understanding. Zeke started banging his head in frustration as Ms. Kessler gently patted his shoulder. "There, there now," she said soothingly. "Now I understand the reason behind your behavior lately. You have personal issues, therefore that is your main distraction from your academic work. Is that correct?"
"Hmm-hmm," Zeke muttered in response.
"I'm so sorry, dear," she said in a whisper. "I know how difficult domestic issues can be. But I can assure you, Zeke. You can do better next semester; you just need to apply yourself even more. You need to learn to put your heart in the right place."
"And how am I supposed to do that?"
"I don't have a definite answer for that, Ezekiel," she said. "It is up to you to find out for yourself how you can pick yourself up and bounce right back. You need to learn to count on yourself when you feel like you have nobody else to count on." She smiled at him, and he smiled back, suddenly feeling a little better.
Just then, Alessandra came right through the door, feeling a little breathless from the constant traveling back and forth, from one place to another. "Sorry I'm late," she said, wheezing a little. "So much traffic on the road."
"Hey, Mom." Zeke waved to her.
"Don't give me that." She glared at him as she sat down on the chair next to Zeke, across from Ms. Kessler's desk. "Hello, Ms. Kessler, how are you?" She shook hands with Ms. Kessler.
"Mrs. MacKenzie, I'm glad we have met again," said Ms. Kessler. "I suppose you are wondering why I have called you here at this time on a Friday afternoon."
"That would be correct," Alessandra replied.
"It's about your son's grades this time. His grades are dropping now, and he just explained to me what was going on at home."
Alessandra glanced at Zeke. "Did you really tell her everything?"
"I'm sorry, Mom; I had to. If I don't say something, my life would be in a state of eternal hell."
"Now don't you use that word while you're in the presence of your school principal," scolded Alessandra.
"It's okay, Mrs. MacKenzie," said Ms. Kessler calmly. "But the thing is, Zeke has all of next semester to really prove himself, and if I see that he's still having problems at home, I'm afraid I may have to expel him, and he will not be able to graduate from Fort Chester Middle School. It seems as though that with the 'issues' you and your husband are currently facing, you seem to have very little time to encourage your children to do their very best, yet alone become their very best."
"Are---are you saying that I don't encourage my children well enough?" Alessandra challenged.
"That is quite what I am saying," replied Ms. Kessler, "and I hate to break it to you, Mrs. MacKenzie, but nobody can raise your children but you. Zeke needs all the support and encouragement that he can get, and he's lacking in that, so I suggest that you do what you need to do. The holidays are coming up, for crying out loud! I think it's that time of year where people learn to act less selfish, and think more about others. Unless you never learned that sort of thing growing up, Mrs. MacKenzie?" She smirked.
Alessandra was now enraged. Was she really going to allow a middle-aged woman to talk her down and make her feel insecure? "Listen up here, Ms. Kessler. I'll have you know a thing or two about selflessness and manners, which I grew up with. I grew up in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the time where manners were prevalent and very important. So if you want to be judgmental toward me or my family, you're gonna have to try a lot harder than that because I certainly know what's best for my children, and to hell with you about Zeke's inability to improve! I believe that Zeke has a lot more potential than you will ever know, and I know that he can do his very best without your judgmental remarks. If anything, Zeke is the one who is way too good for all of you, and that's saying something coming from me, because I attended this freaking school in the late nineteen-fifties! You got that, you judgmental bitch?!"
Zeke and Ms. Kessler were just shocked speechless by Alessandra's defensive attitude. Ms. Kessler gasped and said, "That's it! Even though your son is completely innocent, I will suspend him for a week, due to your nasty use of language toward me, his head principal."
"What? No!" cried Zeke. "This isn't fair!"
"I'm sorry, Zeke," said Ms. Kessler gently. "I know it's not your fault. Your shrewish mother here needs to learn to take her medications once in a while and calm her titters down." She glared at Alessandra.
Now Alessandra was extremely offended. "You're calling me a shrewd? And telling me to 'calm my titters down'? At least I'm not the one going around flunking my son!"
"Mom, please!" Zeke said, trying to stop her from embarrassing him even more.
"If you don't leave within the next fifteen seconds, Mrs. MacKenzie, I will call the police on you," threatened Ms. Kessler, now furious. "Just so you know, this is your fault that I'm choosing to suspend your son." To Zeke, she said in a friendly way, "Have a happy holiday, dear."
"You too, Ms. Kessler," Zeke said, smiling as he shook her hand. Angrily, Alessandra grabbed her purse and took Zeke's hand as she stormed out of the principal's office.
When they got inside the car, Alessandra tried to control her anger. "Zeke, I wasn't really expecting you to tell Ms. Kessler everything, you know."
"Well, maybe you shouldn't have blown up at her," snapped Zack. "She's my principal, and she knows exactly what's she doing!"
"Oh, so you think she made a clever choice when she decided to suspend you for one week?!"
"Hey, at least I get an early vacation, one week earlier than my classmates. I've got you to thank for that," he said cynically. "Oh, wait."
"You need to change that sardonic tone of yours, young man. I don't like it, and you need to knock that off."
"Oh, really? Now you complain?" retorted Zeke. "You know, that's really ironic that you tell Joanna and me that we should never use foul language, yet you go around swearing at Ms. Kessler like you're dealing with an angry pro wrestler or something!"
"Okay, you've got a point there," Alessandra said, now sounding a little calmer. "But Zeke, you know that I love you. Your father and I---we both love you and Joanna, and we would never do anything to take away your happiness. I'll always be the one to protect you two. I'll bring you two up in my best way possible."
"And just how am I supposed to believe that?"
Alessandra sighed in frustration. "You know what? Just forget about it, Zeke, all right? You don't have to believe me or anything, if you choose not to. I'm through having this conversation with you, your sister, or anybody else who asks."
"Well, geez, Mom, I'm sorry if you're in a really sour mood this afternoon. Just don't take it out on me," Zeke said sardonically.
Alessandra glared at him, then shook her head in frustration. "Let's go pick your sister up from church, okay? I'm not risking coming home late today." And the rest of the drive to the church was now silent.