Zoe entered the garage wearing a very long face.
"What's wrong, Zoe?" I said. "I can tell by your face something's up. What is it?"
"Nothing." Zoe has mastered the art of using as few words as possible. It could be because she's twelve and in the tween years. It could be because that's just a side of her. Either way, it annoys the stink out of me. Sometimes, I let it go, but the face she'd chosen to put on that day urged me forward.
"No, before we go pick everyone else up, tell me what the problem is," I said. I opened my car door and slid into the driver's seat.
"Mom, I don't want to do my gym presentation."
I felt relief, as always. So many other, far more wicked and egregious alternatives, pirouetted through my mind in the few seconds it took her to answer. This one, this simple answer, I could handle.
"Why not?" said Talia. "It's not that bad."
"And your presentation is good," I added.
"I don't know," Zoe said. "I just don't." She lugged her backpack into the car and slammed the door, then adjusted her belongings and leaned to get the seatbelt. I couldn't move the car until she was strapped into the seat.
"Well Zoe, think of this," I said, craning my neck so that our eyes could meet. "In April, when I go to that writing conference with my friends, most of the day I will be sitting and listening to speakers tell me how to be a better writer and what I need to do to get my work published. But there will be a small sliver of time where I will be speaking because I signed up for an agent pitch."
"And?" said Zoe.
"During those few minutes, I have to get up, in front of an agent I have never met, and attempt to sell her my story. I need to make her want to read my book so badly that she says, Yes, send it to me. The chances of her doing that are really slim, though. I'm sure I'll be sweating bullets, don't you think?"
A thoughtful look passed across Zoe's face and she whispered, "Yeah."
"And you get to get up in front of a group of friends to give your presentation, a group you know will be kind. That isn't so bad now, is it?"
I turned the key of the ignition. Time was ticking by and I had to get the other carpoolers. "So when you do get up there, think of me and what I'll have to do. If you do, you'll get through it. I promise."
"I know. Thanks, Mom." Zoe smiled again at me.
"You're welcome." We drove away.
But not before enormous bells began to sound off in my head. I had successfully transferred Zoe's panic out of her own body, but had sent it in the wrong direction, into my own.
A pitch! I need to get my pitch together! Sweet holy manna from heaven, I need some help. I gripped the steering wheel and hoped against hope the girls didn't notice how white my knuckles had become.