The report card has what her parents have been asking from her for years: straight As, all in a row with her behavior unremarked upon. Molly could hardly believe it when her teacher had given it to her, smile lighting up her face in excitement. She had clutched onto it tightly, waiting at the bus for her mother's car, only for her father's car to come rolling up.
It makes her even happier.
He opens the door and comes around with a smile that he's always said matched hers, sweeping her up into his arms. "Hey, Molly Dolly! How was school today?"
(she's too young to see that his eyes linger on the teachers congregating close by or the fact that he only comes to pick her up on certain days where a teacher with a blue ribbon in her hair is omnipresent.)
"I got my progress report, look, look," she pushes the paper to him, waiting with baited breath for the approval she's wanted since the reports had been given to her. They had always come with C's and B's, and remarks of If Margaret would just apply herself, she could be a wonderful student.
She doesn't get what she's hoping for: a whoop and a holler and promise of gifts.
What she gets is her father's smirk, as he says, "Well, look at that. Looks like you've finally applied yourself."
It stings. She understands it's a compliment, that she did good. Yet it worms under her skin, shoulders deflating by inches.
He must have noticed, because he sweeps her up into a bigger hug than before. There are not apologies of course; her father was never good at apologizing to anyone, lest of all, her. He pets her hair, and for once, he does stop by the McDonald's close to the house and lets her go inside. (She wonders if it was guilt or because he wanted to flirt with the women there or if was really for her benefit.) It's better than the time she'd gone to Stephanie Gilmore's sixth birthday party that she had begged to go to.
They sit down, her father smiling at her as they both eat ice cream. Hers even has toppings, much to her delight, while her father satisfies himself with just a singular cone. (Her memory plays tricks on her; she thinks that it was hazy, that day. She remembers him calling her Molly-Dolly in almost every sentence, and the feel that something good was going to happen. She remembers his wedding ring fit snug and that maybe he didn't have the wandering eyes her mother claims. Then again, Molly's never been good with the past.)
She remembers that the ice cream is cold and delicious, and her father allows her to play in the playground until she's tired and her shoes are scuffed. They go home, and her mother allows her to stay up a little later, long enough to watch a movie.
The progress report goes up on the fridge. Molly sees it there for weeks going home, and aims to put up another. She struggles to get another one, pushing herself to keep up in class even when she'd rather be on her own or passing notes.
This time, her mother picks her up. She does not whoop or holler either. She only says, "Keep it up."
It goes on the refrigerator. There's no ice cream, and no staying up late even when she asks.
There are B's, after. Her parents only admonish her once. She struggles to pay attention and when the C's come, Molly doesn't feel disappointed. She only plays with her brothers while her parents whisper behind closed doors. she thinks she understands where trying gets her.