Today is SAT day -- our daughter's first. It's 6:10.
"You want the usual?"
"Um... yeah," she says, eyes on her phone.
As I pop the bagel into the toaster, my husband Bob scurries out of his office, still in his Life is Good pajamas. His up-tempo gives me pause. Then he signals for me to come.
"I don't know where her admission ticket is. Or the pencil sharpener I bought yesterday, or all those Number Two pencils. And her passport. I put all of that stuff together on my desk. Did someone move it?" he asks. The whites of his eyes gleam.
Weeks ago, after finishing Julie's arduous SAT sign-up, I had tucked the golden admission ticket into a folder and put it on Bob's desk, with a post-it note: SAT -- VERY IMPORTANT. He could be trusted with it. Unlike my desk, with its mess of unrelated and mysterious piles -- my neglected daily planner; our tabby's too-tight collar; a nice poem I found online; random and outdated iPod paraphernalia; my dead BlackBerry -- Bob's is immaculate. Make that his whole office. Tax documents, Verizon bills, charitable appeals -- all the soul-crushing daily crap that grown-ups learn to endure -- is examined and processed, then discarded or filed.
"I'll just reprint the admission ticket for her," I whisper, so Julie won't hear. He bounces back to look again in his office.
I search my email. "From: College Board." There, it says admission ticket, but it's a CC, will that work? I hit 'Print,' and my HP starts humming, then gulping. Ding dong, it rings, and a little yellow triangle with an '!' inside lights up: Out of Paper Load Paper in the Printer. I snatch a half inch of paper and stuff it into the tray, and the printer sucks in the whole wad. In seconds, it spits out blank pages before stopping, one sheet trapped half-way out of the printer, unable to escape -- Paper Jam. With two hands I seize the part of the page that made it out unscathed and pull it gently but firmly to avoid a tear (success!), then tap 'OK.' Minutes pass while the printer clicks, whirrs, and shuffles, and Julie's admission ticket, the CC'd one, emerges.
"I've got this," I yell with a little smile, and sashay right into Bob, who has called off his pencil sharpener pursuit to be the first responder to the smoke situation in our kitchen. He comes from a family of firemen.
"What the hell?" he asks. Her charbroiled bagel smoldering in the toaster is pumping out black fumes like a gas-soaked tire set aflame. Bob finds his way to the toaster and dumps the contents in the sink. I sprint to the back door, open it, and wave furiously with the day's Times, all the while yelling "the smoke detectors going to go off!" Thick haze fills the air, prodding Julie to lean closer to her phone.
"If a real fire breaks out, you might want to consider getting out of the house," Bob tells her as he cranks open the kitchen window.
"I thought it was the usual gross smell from the toaster oven," she says, face in phone.
After dropping another bagel into the toaster, I start mining all the drawers in the kitchen. Finally, beneath the Christmas cocktail napkins, a defunct Borders Gift Card, dead pens, and bamboo skewers, I discover my prize: a small plastic rectangle with a sliver of silver underneath latched to a tiny dome, the tell-tale shreddings of a previous Number Two still inside. Triumphant, I deliver my winnings to Bob, who is parked in his office chair.
"I'll do this while you get her breakfast," he says, taking the sharpener and then twisting the virgin pencils into the opener. He's still stunned by the morning's ruthless assault on his preparation. Yesterday, he'd driven out to the testing site to make sure he knew its exact location and to assess how much time to allot for the commute. He'd also bought Snackwells in case she had a glucose emergency and a fresh pack of AAA batteries for her Texas Instruments graphing calculator. (What if it died mid-test?) But this morning, after tipping out the ones that had been working for months, and deploying the tiny new missiles in their designated silos, Warning: Low Battery appeared on the calculator. He tossed them out and put in the old batteries.
Julie eats her half-a-toasted bagel and peanut butter while reading her phone. Five minutes pass, and Bob's frowning face motions me back to his office.
"This pencil sharpener doesn't get the tip to a point!" Half a dozen new pencils, each with a mere nub of lead at one end, lie abandoned on his bare desk.
"What time does Shop-Rite open?" he asks.
"Not til 8:00," I say. Fifteen minutes after she's supposed to be there! I don't have to say it -- he knows.
"7-11 must be open," he says, rallying. Do they even sell pencil sharpeners? Again -- not a word.
One more look around his desk, before he grabs his coat and heads out. I glance up at the shelves above my eye level. There: four pencils jut out. As I reach for them, a substantial new pencil sharpener, still encased in its plastic shell, tumbles to the floor. Her official SAT admission ticket floats behind. There's the passport, too.
"I knew you had put that somewhere for safe keeping," I tell him. Julie has finished eating, and puts her phone down at last.
"Shall we get going?" she asks.