"Teddy," said my sister Kerrie over the phone. "You're not going to believe what Ashes did today."
I sat at my desk at work, and I could feel my stomach tightening.
Kerrie, in case I haven't mentioned it before, teaches Science at the Middle School that Ashes attends. It's been a nice arrangement, for the most part. These past two years, she's kept a careful eye on her niece, and even had her as a student in sixth grade, which made the transition from elementary school easier. She's also one of the prettiest and most popular teachers in the school, which doesn't hurt Ashes' stature, any.
But she doesn't usually call to warn me about something Ashes has done at school, so I knew that this one had to be pretty interesting.
"What now, my love?" I sighed.
"Well, first off, did you know that Ashes had detention this afternoon?" In fact, I hadn't. "She went up to the assistant principal after school, and told him that she couldn't make detention that day."
"She did?" I asked. "Why?"
"That's the thing," said Kerrie, drawing it out. "She told him there had been a death in the family."
"And not just any death. She told him her grandfather had died."
I sat there, amazed at the audacity of my middle child. Once again. "You're kidding!"
"But here's the thing," drawled Kerrie, who had inherited my father's gift for storytelling. "What Miss Ashes didn't realize was that I was on the same floor and turning the corner at the same time she was telling him this load of crap. And I heard her, too. So I just stopped in my tracks, and I said, so that she could hear me, 'Ashes, is there something that you want to tell me?'"
I started to grin, picturing the scene playing out. "What did she do?"
"She nearly shit her pants, is what she did," said Kerrie. "You should have seen the look on her face! And then I took her aside and asked her what the hell she was doing, lying like that. And also, placing a curse on her grandfather like that. That was bad luck, and she'd feel awful if something happened! Then she marched her ass into detention." In case I haven't mention it, Kerrie may be a public educator, but she has the mouth of a sailor.
I shook my head, still unable to believe the story. "She said that dad had died?" I repeated.
"Well, maybe not OUR dad. It could be Josie's dad, too."
"Was she alone at the time she spoke to him?"
"No. She was with Alexis." Ah, that explained everything. Alexis has been her BFF since first grade, and is a future Desperate Housewife in the making.
But the question was, what to do with the knowledge? Should I confront Ashes right when I walked in the door? Or should I wait just a little bit, and play with this...use it to my advantage.
I thought about what Kerrie had said, about "placing a jinx." And then, I made a quick call to Corb.
A few hours later, I arrived at the apartment, and unlocked the door. There was Ashes, spread out on the couch, doing her homework while watching an episode of the Gilmore Girls. Corb was sitting at the computer, playing Sims City, his current obsession. As usual, they were bickering.
"Ashes, you're so lazy!" he was saying. "Get your butt of the couch and throw that wrapper away!"
"I will, okay!" she said, angrily. "You're such a nag, Corbett!"
"Ashes says she doesn't have to listen to me because I'm not her father," said Corb, to me.
"I did not!" yelled Ashes.
"Then what DID you say?"
"Hey guys, can you quiet it down for a minute?" I said, trying to appear really sad. "I received some really bad news this afternoon. Someone called me at work, and told me something awful."
I had their attention. "What is it?" Ashes asked.
"Well, honey...I don't know how to say this to you, but..." I moved to the couch, trying hard to keep a straight face. "They told me that your grandpa passed away."
Ashes looked shocked. "WHAT?"
"It was a total freak thing," I continued. "One minute he was fine, and the next...well...he just keeled over. It was as if someone had placed a curse on him, or something."
Ashes shook her head. "No way. Dad, you can't be serious."
"And you know who it was who told me this, sweetie?" I continued, and suddenly changed tone. "Your assistant principal." And then I looked at Miss Thing, knowingly.
A grin immediately replaced her look of concern. "It wasn't that big a deal!"
"It isn't? You tried to lie about your grandfather's death to get out of detention!"
"So what? That's not so bad," she said, stubbornly. "Alexis lies all the time to get out of detention."
"What's so bad about lying to your assistant principal?" I asked. "Hmmm...let me think about that one. No, better yet, let me call your grandmother! Not only is her husband dead, but he used to actually BE a principal!"
"Dad...don't!" Protested Ashes.
Oh, no. I was seeing this one to the end. I took out my cell phone, and started dialing my mother. "Hey, Mom," I said, concern in my voice. "How are you feeling after...after what happened?" Yes, I had given her a call to let her know all about it, on the way home from work. "What's that you say?" I tried to look surprised. "Dad's ghost is there? In the room, with you? And he has a...a few words to say to his granddaughter?"
Suddenly, Ashes looked as though she had just seen a ghost.