Julia Rocchi writes prose, poetry, prayers, and picture books. She holds an MA in Writing (Fiction) from Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has appeared in Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems About Inanimate Objects. Julia lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

A Short Story

By Julia Rocchi


Carol, you shouldn’t have. Your first NoVa High bake sale, and you’ve already gone above and beyond by making a sheet cake. A soufflé? How kind of you, really, to volunteer your efforts as well as your time. What’s the saying—eighty percent of success in life is just showing up? Well, reliable people like you make heading the bake sale worth it, to see mostly everyone putting themselves out there on behalf of our Wildcats. You can put your soufflé over there. Yes, that table. Yes, the dark one.

All right everyone, huddle up! Haha, get it? Football team fundraiser, huddle up…When your son has played for twelve years, you’re bound to pick up the lingo. Okay, this will be old hat for those of you who read my planning emails, but in case you need a refresher, we open for business at ten a.m. sharp, twenty minutes from now, so set your watches. Each shift is two hours. If you need a potty break, come get me so I can cover your station. I expect a lot of people to come through our tent today, and it would not be fair to our boys—especially seniors like my Liam—to undercut their championship travel funding by allowing petty theft. Speaking of funding, you might have noticed we don’t have someone on the money box for this shift, as Hannah Nussbaum called me thirty minutes ago to tell me she thinks she’s coming down with a migraine. Again. So, that’s the deal there. Is anybody willing to volunteer? Anybody? Carol! Would you mind terribly? It’s easy peasy, I promise. Thanks so much.

Everyone, please say hello to Carol Haversham. She and her family moved here right before the start of the school year, and her son has already made the team on his first try, so kudos to him! We look forward to winning many, many games together. Let’s make sure to give them all a big NoVa Wildcat welcome.

Okay, back to business, team. Pie and cake tables, remember to cut even slices. Cookie table, please discourage patrons from picking up the goods and putting them down again. Ebola and all that. And please, everyone, push the ugly stuff. If a meringue has deflated, for example, or a gingerbread man has lost a limb, present them as if that’s exactly what their maker intended. Truly, though, I’m thrilled you’re all participating. I think that’s it. Go Wildcats! Break!

I really appreciate you stepping up in our hour of need, Carol. Let’s get you situated, shall we? Drat, the petty cash. I knew I forgot something. All that rush to get out the door, Liam complaining about having to get up early, Sophie going on about her time of the month as if she hasn’t been getting her period for two years already, and Richard, as usual, no help at all. Doesn’t even make his own coffee, and he’s the only one who drinks it. Never, Carol—it stains the teeth. Here, a couple hundred should do it. Let me put a reminder note right here inside the lid so we don’t lose track. Perfect. Best not to leave finances dangling at day’s end, you know? I learned that the hard way after last year’s Christmas craft sale.

Oh, I don’t suppose you would have heard this story, would you. Hannah—the woman I was mentioning earlier? Don’t know if you’ve met her—anyway, she was assigned to the last shift that day, but her husband John called her in a panic fifteen minutes before we were set to wrap up. His eighty-year-old mother had slipped on ice or something like that. And would you believe, Hannah immediately hands the cash box to me, packs up her stuff, and runs out the door. Barely even a wave goodbye! You can imagine the mayhem that followed. It turned out a few of the final sales weren’t accurately tallied, and I had to submit a variance report to the PTA. Quite embarrassing. No, the mother-in-law wasn’t badly hurt. Just a concussion. When Richard’s mother had her stroke last year, it was one hour before the annual PTA meeting. He asked me to put my phone away at the hospital, but how could I not check in? Once you commit, you commit.

Yes? Yes, about twelve minutes until we open. Station in the back right corner. You’re welcome.

Believe me, Carol, I fully appreciate the energy and sacrifice it takes to volunteer. But I think, too, that the urge to lead is genetic. I see it in Liam on the field. When he became first-string quarterback, he reminded me so much of my younger self, minus the pom-poms and Student President campaigns. Yes, in fact, he’s already heard from three schools—Michigan, Penn State, and Notre Dame. But I’ll be honest with you, Carol—those are actually his safety schools. He’s holding out for Duke, fingers crossed. “Student-athlete” is a potent combo. Frankly, I’m just pleased all that carpooling and SAT prep is about to pay off.

I heard Hannah saying at Monday’s meeting that her Justin is taking a “gap year.” He’s planning to travel around the world working at organic farms or sheep hostels or something like that. Call me old-fashioned, but you know what I hear when someone says “gap year?” I hear “gap in the resume.” Then again, Liam has been the star quarterback for two years while Justin only plays on special teams, so perhaps one’s work ethic does cut across all areas of life.

Can you believe Richard almost let Liam quit football last year? Right during college application season, too. He said Liam had told him he wasn’t enjoying playing anymore and wanted to try other things. I put my foot down immediately. Reminded them both that Liam would be throwing away his God-given gift, leaving his team in the lurch, giving up on scholarships. Richard and I didn’t speak for a week, but it came out all right in the end—Liam still starts every game, obviously.

Heads up, everyone! Seven minutes left. If you need one last run to the restroom, now’s the time.

Imagine if I quit the committee mid-year, Carol. Well, I suppose you can’t really imagine it because you’ve only worked one event so far—and we’re having such fun, aren’t we?—but I’m almost positive no one would be able to perform at the same level I do. What if the committee was about to conduct its annual elections or enter a tough budget season, and suddenly the chair up and left for a yoga retreat with her friends, as certain members are wont to do? Or what if, god forbid, she suddenly became afflicted with a migraine? Leadership requires presence and active participation. If one is too absent, people assume they have autonomy, and that’s a slippery slope. Case in point: Look at the slices on the cake table. I’m standing right here, ten feet away, and those slices are still uneven. Constant vigilance, Carol. Constant. Vigilance.

My last vacation? Two years ago, I think, during the off-season. Richard and I took the kids on a tour of Civil War battlefields to prepare for Liam’s AP History class. We downloaded each battlefield’s self-guided tour app before we went, and you wouldn’t believe how much the kids got into them. They were on their phones for the entire five days. Richard and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves, frankly…Carol! Stop, I’m blushing. We aren’t like that. Not much, anyway.

Speaking of that…yes, that, there I go blushing again…I had a particularly awkward conversation a few weeks ago when Liam came home from studying with Justin and said to Sophie that he’d heard Hannah and John having, you know, being intimate. Well, his exact wording is not something I feel comfortable repeating, but it roughly translated to, “Dude, the Nussbaums were going at it like rabbits.” He specifically used the rabbit image, too. Can you believe the vulgarity? Certainly nothing he learned from me. Richard, maybe. In any event, the minute I overheard this exchange, I stepped right into his room and nipped the conversation in the bud. One, it’s not polite to gossip, I said, and two, lovemaking is not a conversation topic for anyone under twenty-one. Of course, what I really wanted to say was, Hannah and John should exercise a little more restraint around impressionable teenage males. But who am I to judge other parents, other spouses? Everyone has their own style, I suppose.

Why, thank you, I got it lowlighted two days ago. You’re the first person to comment on it. I like to schedule my hair appointments before big events like this. I believe when I look my best, I feel my best too. A lesson for life, really. Oh, this old thing? How sweet of you to say. Typically I wouldn’t be so dressy for an outdoor event, but again, tailored outfits make the woman. It’s not like I’m out in yoga pants and a tunic top, going door to door soliciting signatures for the Main Street Improvement Campaign, wondering why people are looking at me askance because I’m not even aware a gray hair is sticking out of my chin…oh, look at the time! Excuse me.

Attention, everyone! We have two minutes remaining. Please return to your stations and adjust your plates, check your slices, all that last-minute business. Thank you!

One more look at the money box, Carol. An ounce of prevention and all that. Quarters, fives, my IOU…I’m sorry? The Improvement Campaign? Ah, yes, well, that is in fact an actual event. I’m sure you can guess who was involved. Yes, it was successful, but I think that’s a smidge beside the point, don’t you? Projects can succeed where their leaders might fail, and in this case, the leader came up rather short against the “personal image” yardstick. I don’t pride myself on many things, Carol, but I do pride myself on this: I have run this committee for going on four years, as long as Liam has been on the team, and in that time I’ve created a budget surplus, implemented three new fundraising events, and recruited twice the amount of parents to participate—all because I acted and looked the part of a leader. And unlike some of the more relaxed parents who appear to have developed their own bout of senioritis, I always strive to fulfill our core mission: to ensure our children’s success by whatever means necessary. But look at me talking your ear off! I’ll leave you to your job. Just wave your arms if —

Hannah. Goodness. I didn’t see you arrive. Feeling better, I presume? How fortunate for you. So glad you could join us, and not a moment too soon. Why don’t you head to the cookie table in…No, sorry, we went ahead and filled the cash box position in your absence. This is Carol, she very helpfully stepped up, but the cookie station is…Oh? Where exactly did you cross paths? Carol’s quite new to the area…Of course. Monday’s meeting. How strange that I never saw you two chatting, but then again, I was awfully busy with the agenda and PowerPoint and whatnot. Precious little time to shoot the breeze when you’re the one responsible, you know? Well, as I mentioned, the cookie station needs…Are you sure, Carol? For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly confident in your ability to handle the cash box solo. No need to tax Hannah’s poor hurting head with all those figures…Well. I see. I’ll leave you both to it then. If you need me, I’ll be at the front. Leading.