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Band of Mothers

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Quinn pulled into the driveway and parked. She checked the social media apps on her phone one more time, then eyed the house in front of her warily and wondered if she could come up with a last-minute excuse to bail. God. I'm feeling pissed off and I haven't even laid eyes on Sandi yet. Next time we get together, I'm smuggling in booze.

A plaintive "Are we there yet?" from the backseat interrupted her thoughts.

"Yes, Acai," she sighed, getting out of the car and letting her five-year-old daughter out before coming around to the other side to retrieve her one-year-old son, Bikram. While Acai skipped up the front steps, Quinn hauled a few plastic bags out of the trunk and followed.

She rang the doorbell, took a step back, and braced herself. Moments later, the door opened to reveal an impeccable Sandi Griffin with an insincere smile. "Welcome, Quinn!" she said, taking in her friend and the children at a glance. Quinn knew from experience that she was making mental notes of every clothing stain, crumb-coated face, and untied shoe for future use.

"Hiiii, Sandi!" Quinn replied, forcing as much cheer into her voice as possible. Acai scampered into the house in search of Colby, Sandi's oldest child, while Quinn set Bikram next to Sandi's youngest, Gideon, in the living room to play. "Are the others here yet?" she asked.

Sandi shook her head. "Stacy texted me to say she's dealing with a temper tantrum and will be a little late, and Tiffany...well, who knows what's keeping Tiffany this time, right?"

Quinn chuckled, glad to have someone else be at the receiving end of Sandi's scorn. "Where would you like these?" she asked, holding up the bags.

"Over here," Sandi said, pointed to a neat stack of labeled boxes in the corner of the room. "We'll start discussing what's acceptable to sell...and what isn't...when everyone arrives."

Quinn dropped the bags next to Sandi's things and pulled out her phone. "One sec," she said, turning her back to snap a quick selfie with the yard sale things in the background. "Before and after pics," she explained to Sandi's curious glance before turning her attention back to her phone. "What do you think is a better hashtag?" she asked after a moment. "#SpringCleaning or #Decluttering?"

"Why not both?" Sandi said, unsuccessfully hiding an eyeroll.

"Good point!" Quinn posted her update and stuck her phone back in her pocket as the doorbell rang. Sandi, shaking her head, went to answer it.

"Hi! Sorry I'm--Michael, put that worm down right now!" Stacy's panicked voice carried easily from the front door. "Come over here and get some hand sanitizer. You, too, William. I saw you touch the mailbox and who knows where that's been?"

"Are you suggesting that my mailbox is less than sanitary?" Sandi asked defensively as Quinn came over.

"Oh, no!" Stacy assured her quickly as she shepherded the kids inside. "I just want to be extra careful. Flu seasons's coming, you know?" She turned back to her sons. "William! Don't even think about eating that cracker off the floor!"

Sandi's eyes widened as she closed the door. "On the floor?" she gasped. "My kids never leave food on the floor!" She looked sideways at Quinn and said nothing more out loud.

"It definitely wasn't one of mine," Quinn replied. "I don't even let them eat those kind of crackers. They have..." she lowered her voice as though about to say a swear word, "...GMOs."

Stacy, meanwhile, had snatched the cracker out of her son's hand and was carefully examining the inside of his mouth for any sign of crumbs. "Go play," she finally told him and his brother. "Carefully."

Michael and William ran off to join the others, and the doorbell rang again. Sandi opened the door to find Tiffany, empty-handed and blank-eyed. "Did you forget something?" Sandi asked meaningfully.

Tiffany looked around. "Ohhhh," she said in sudden realization. She walked back over to her car and returned with a few boxes.

Sandi took the boxes from her. "I meant something more important...?"

Checking her purse, Tiffany shook her head. "I have my phone and my compact," she said in confusion.

"Your child, Tiffany," Quinn pointed out, exasperated.

"What? Oh, yeahhh." Tiffany, unhurried, walked back to the driveway where her car was parked and came back with her three-year-old daughter. She set her down. "Go do whatever," she instructed the girl, who immediately picked up a crayon and started drawing directly on a coffee table.

"Er, Tiffany?" Sandi said, looking pointedly at the girl.

"Huh?" Tiffany finally looked at her daughter. "Uh, right. Nevaeh, take your shoes off in the house."

Sandi sighed and picked up a sheet of paper. She lifted Nevaeh's hand and slid the paper under the crayon.

"Ohhhhh," Tiffany said, then shrugged. "We usually just paint over whatever she colors on at home."

Sandi, Quinn, and Stacy all exchanged a silent, knowing glance. "Shall we begin?" Sandi asked, gesturing for everyone to sit down on the couches or chairs.

"One sec!" Quinn called out, holding up her phone. She gathered the friends together for a group selfie and had it posted online before they'd finished sitting down.

"Who wants to start?" Sandi asked pleasantly--too pleasantly. It was clearly a trap.

Quinn and the others looked warily at each other for a few moments before Stacy shrugged. "I'll go," she said, and to her credit her voice barely shook at all as she began opening boxes and displaying all of her potential shortcomings to the others. "First I've got a ton of onesies--"

"Don't we all?" Quinn remarked while checking her phone for updates. Everyone else laughed and nodded.

Stacy continued, "And these are some board books. I threw out the ones with bite marks, so these are just a little worn. They should be okay, right?" Her eyes darted around the room, waiting for someone to disagree.

"They're fine, Stacy," Sandi assured her.

"Nevaeh still chews on everything," Tiffany commented. "Soooo annoying. Sometimes I wish I could put a muzzle on her."

"Colby, Madison, and Gideon never chewed on anything they weren't supposed to, so I didn't have to worry about that," Sandi said smugly.

"Ow!" Acai yelled. "Gideon bit me!"

Stacy, wide-eyed, turned to check that her kids were out of biting distance. Sandi didn't even miss a beat. "It was just an affectionate nip!"

"But she left a really big bruise!"

"It. Was. Affectionate!" Sandi insisted at top volume. She quickly turned to Stacy. "All right, so what else did you bring?"

Stacy opened another box. "Okay, so these are all of Michael and William's old baby monitors."

Quinn leaned over to look in the box. "Stacy, there's like twelve baby monitors in there!"

"Right," Stacy said matter-of-factly. "One for each room in the house, including the attic, garage, and basement, plus two back-ups in case any of them fail and one extra in case a back-up fails."

"I...see," Quinn said, thinking better of the reply she almost made.

"William!" Stacy called out. "Don't get so close to that lamp. It's heavy and if you knock it over it could fall on you!" Not noticing the odd looks she was getting, she moved on to her last box. "And these are all bibs," she said, pulling out a few to show the others. "Isn't this froggy one cute? 'Hoppy to See You.'"

Sandi sniffed that sniff that made Quinn want to punch her in the mouth. "I'm so glad my kids were never messy eaters."

"Mommy!" Michael yelled. "Neveah keeps taking my toys away!"

"Tiffany...?" Stacy asked, visibly struggling to stay seated.

Tiffany looked up with a blank expression. "What?" She looked over at Nevaeh. "Uh, whatever you're doing, stop, I guess."

Quinn was using her phone to take multiple pictures of Acai flipping through one of Madison's copies of Junior Waif Magazine. "#futurefashionista!" she giggled, posting all of the pictures on Instagram. Seeing that everyone was waiting, she went to pick up her bags. "I'll go next. I've got a bottle warmer here, and we could probably put a pretty high price on it--it was featured on Oprah and I paid...." She paused and giggled. "Well, I'd rather not say that part."

Tiffany wrinkled her nose. "I always just used the microwave. Baby stuff always takes way too long. Isn't it a total drag?"

"Oh my god!" Stacy squeaked in horror. "The microwave? Didn't you know that could cause hot spots that would burn the baby's mouth? It was in all the baby care books!"

"Books?" Tiffany blinked slowly at her friend.

"But what if--" Stacy sighed. "Oh, forget it." She looked over at her kids again. "Michael, you're playing too rough with that beach ball. Put it down before you put out someone's eye!"

Quinn reached into her next bag to pull out a small plastic tote. "And I've got a ton of Model Baby pacifiers, too. Four out of five models swear by them!"

Sandi smirked. "It's such a relief knowing none of my kids ever got hooked on pacifiers."

Quinn rolled her eyes. "Is that why Colby still sucks his thumb?"

"He does not!"

"If you say so."

Tiffany sighed wistfully. "I wish Nevaeh still took a pacifier. You think I'd get in trouble if I duct taped her mouth shut?"

"So Nevaeh doesn't live up to her name, then?" Quinn joked.

"What?" Tiffany blinked at her.

"Nevaeh. Heaven. You know?"

"Uh, no."

Sandi leaned forward. "You do realize that 'Nevaeh' is 'Heaven' backwards, right?"

Tiffany thought about it for a minute. "Oh. Huh. Cool."

"Umm...." Stacy was looking at the pacifier tote as though she expected a cobra to burst out of it. "Are you sure those would be okay to sell? I mean, you know." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Bacteria."

"Ahem." Quinn frowned. "I did wash them before I brought them, Stacy."

"But if they weren't fully sanitized then--"

"I also boiled them."

"Okay, but what if--"

"They're fine."

"Okay!" Stacy finally dropped the subject, but kept sneaking wary glances at the tote until Quinn finally put it back in the bag.

"I've also got a bunch of Val Magazine-approved sippy cups," Quinn added. "And before anyone asks: yes, I washed them thoroughly and they're completely germ-free." She noticed that Stacy was fidgeting silently in her chair and groaned, "I give up. What is it, Stacy?"

"It's-just-that-the-dentist-said-that-sippy-cups-are-really-bad-for-children's-teeth-and-I'd-hate-to-encourage-poor-dental-hygiene-because-I-don't-think-I-could-live-with-that-on-my-conscience."

Before Quinn could reply, Sandi chimed in. "That's so true, Stacy! That's one of the reasons why my kids never used them."

"Was one of the other reasons that they weren't smart enough to figure out how they worked?" Quinn grumbled under her breath.

"Mommy, I'm hungry!" William whined, running up to Stacy.

"Excuse me," Stacy said, getting up immediately to get a snack for him out of her purse.

Sandi was oblivious to anything but her own bragging. "Did you know that Gideon mastered a regular cup by the time he was seven months old?"

"But you liked goldfish crackers yesterday!" Stacy exclaimed. "Oh, darn it, I didn't bring anything else. Sandi, do you have anything I could give William to eat?"

"There's fruit snacks in the top cupboard," Sandi called back, pointing toward the kitchen. Turning back to Quinn, she said, "As I was saying, all of my kids learned to feed themselves without crutches far ahead of their peers. How old were your kids when they--"

"Nooooo!" William wailed from the kitchen. "Those are red. I only like the purple ones!"

"Um, Sandi?" Stacy asked. "Do you have any grape fruit snacks by any chance?" After an almost unintelligible yell from William she added, "Ones with Scooby Doo on the box?" Another yell. "Oh, and they should be fruit-shaped."

"There's a grocery store down the street," Sandi said, annoyed. Looking at Quinn again, she said, "Where was I?"

Quinn put aside the rest of her things, leaned back in her chair, and crossed her arms. "You were about to take your turn, because I'm done."

"Certainly." A smug smile told Quinn that she'd just given Sandi exactly what she loved most: a chance to brag. "First, here are the Li'l Hawking DVDs that helped make my children as brilliant as they are today. Even Gideon has moved on to more advanced subjects now, so I'm ready to pass them on to someone else who wants to raise high-aptitude kids."

"TV is the best," Tiffany said with a nod. "It's, like, the only thing that shuts Nevaeh up for an hour so I can get anything important done like my hair or my nails."

"Oh, dear," Stacy murmured, coming back over after having given up trying to find something suitable for William to eat.

Sandi looked wary at her tone. "Yes, Stacy?"

"Er, well...it's just that I don't let Michael or William watch any TV at all. I know the experts say that an hour or two is okay when they're old enough, but I just don't want to risk poor sleep quality, obesity, or decreased cognitive skills." Stacy sounded like she'd memorized the appropriate passage from one of her books.

"Cognitive skills?" Sandi said angrily. "I'll have you know that Colby, Madison, and Gideon all reached their educational milestones well before the expected age. Colby learned to read before he was four! Madison's only two but she already knows all her colors! And Gideon--"

"--discovered a cure for cancer?" asked a bored Quinn, tapping out a new status update on her phone.

Sandi, taken aback, only said, "I'm sure that, given time, he could!" She looked around at everyone's dubious expressions. "Well, he might!" She growled slightly and picked up the next item. "I stopped needing these swaddle blankets months ago, but they're still in great condition. I'd say we could get at least five dollars apiece for them."

"Hmm," Quinn interjected, peering closely at the blankets. "I'd say three dollars, maybe four. Now, if they were Dr. Daisy blankets, like the ones I used, then they'd definitely be worth at least five, if not more."

"Just because you paid double the price for an inferior product--" Sandi started.

"Are you kidding?" Quinn exclaimed. "Dr. Daisy is practically an expert in the field of baby products! Do you not follow my Twitter feed? I mention her regularly!"

"Actually," Stacy cut in, "I think you'll find that the reigning expert is--"

"No one gives a crap!" both Sandi and Quinn snapped.

"Language!" Stacy cried, launching herself at her children to retroactively cover their ears.

Tiffany, who had been staring at her smartphone for the past few minutes, looked up. "Should I go next?"

"Please do," Quinn said with a sigh.

"Okay. Uh...." Tiffany opened one large box and looked inside, blinking in surprise at the contents. "Oh, yeah! I brought Nevaeh's old car seat."

"Um...pretty much every childcare book ever written says that you're not supposed to buy those used," Stacy pointed out, sitting down again.

"Why not? I bought it used," Tiffany said.

"What?" Stacy cried, sounding almost hysterical. "But what if the previous owner got into a car accident?"

Tiffany looked the car seat over. "Well, I don't see any blood stains, so the seat must be really safe, right?" Stacy just stared at her, open-mouthed but speechless. Tiffany, not noticing, moved on to the next box. "And this is Nevaeh's potty seat."

"Oh, does that mean she finally mastered potty training?" Sandi asked, her voice dripping with condescension.

"No," Tiffany said. "It got hard, so I gave up and went back to diapers."

"But Nevaeh's three," Stacy pointed out.

"Exactly," Sandi cut in. "Did I mention that Madison's already fully potty trained at two?"

"Only every single freaking chance you get," Quinn reminded her.

"Remind me, Quinn. How long did it take to potty train Acai?" Sandi asked innocently.

"I notice Gideon's still wearing diapers," Quinn icily pointed out. "What's up with that?"

"Gideon's not even a year old yet!"

"Yeah, but your kids are so gifted that shouldn't be a problem!"

"Just for the record," Stacy cut in as she returned to the group, "William wasn't potty-trained until last year and his pediatrician not only said that that was completely normal, but that pushing children to master it too quickly can actually be detrimental to their development."

Sandi recoiled. "Are you implying that I push my children too hard?"

"Duh," Tiffany said, crossing her arms.

"Like you're one to talk," Sandi snapped. "I mean, do you even like being a mother?"

"Nah." Tiffany picked at a piece of lint on her shirt.

The others glanced at each other, surprised by the abrupt answer. "Then...why did you decide to have kids?" Quinn asked.

Tiffany shrugged. "Everybody else was, right? I didn't know the rest of you were going to be so annoying about the whole thing, though."

"You know," Sandi snapped, "just because I actually care about my children's achievements--"

"Care?" Quinn exploded. "You don't just 'care,' Sandi. You. Are. Obsessed."

"I am not!"

"Oh, you sooo are!" Stacy replied, and Quinn and Tiffany nodded.

"You want to talk about obsessed?" Sandi shot back. "How about posting constant updates about your kids on Twitter and Facebook all day long?" Sandi mimed texting on a phone. "'Here's Acai at her dance recital!' 'Check out the twentieth picture today of Bikram napping!' 'I just posted my one millionth selfie where you can maybe see my children in the background!'"

Stacy giggled. "#mykidjustpickedhernose!'"

"Don't you start, Stacy," Quinn growled. "At least I'm not terrified of every single germ that might cross my kids' path!"

"I just happen to care about my children's well-being!" Stacy said.

"So, like, we don't?" Tiffany asked, sounding annoyed. From somewhere in the house, Nevaeh let out an anguished howl, to which Tiffany didn't react in the slightest.

"I care enough about my kids to want them to succeed," Sandi said, glaring.

"And I--" Quinn stopped as her phone beeped quietly. She looked down at it, tapped a few things, and frowned. "Oh, she did not!"

All anger forgotten, the others eagerly leaned forward. "What happened?" Sandi asked.

"Brooke," Quinn said bitterly. There was a general nodding of understanding.

"What did she do now?" Stacy asked, straining to look at the screen of Quinn's phone.

Quinn held up the phone to show a photo of her kids that she'd posted online earlier. Reading out loud, she quoted, "'Wow, Quinn, Acai is sure looking chubby these days. Hope it's just a phase, like Bikram's weird crossed eyes.'"

There was a collective gasp. "She didn't," Stacy said in shock.

"Oh, she did," Quinn said, waggling the phone slightly to make her point.

Sandi snorted. "You know she's just jealous because hardly anyone ever likes the pictures she puts up of her kids."

Tiffany nodded. "So ugly."

"And did you know her son is almost a year and a half and isn't walking yet?" Sandi added with a small smile.

"Oh my god, really?" Quinn asked.

"She tries to hide it by talking about how good he is at cruising," Sandi explained.

"Gee, it'd be terrible if that kind of information get out, wouldn't it?" Stacy said, pulling out her own phone and opening up Facebook.

"Just terrible," Tiffany said, doing the same.

"Especially if someone mentioned that her oldest almost had to repeat the second grade," Sandi said, already typing something on her phone.

Quinn, looking back at her own phone, smiled with satisfaction at the oncoming wave of social media terror poised to wash over Brooke. "You guys are the best."

Sandi shrugged. "We moms have to stick together."

"Yeah," Stacy chimed in. "United in the bonds of motherhood!"

After basking in Brooke's onslaught of public humiliation for a few more minutes, Quinn finally looked up from her phone. "Hey...is it me or are the kids being oddly quiet?"

Stacy jumped to her feet and began trying to run in every direction at once. "The front door is open!" she suddenly shrieked in horror.

Tiffany nodded. "Yeah. They left a little while ago."

"And you didn't say anything?!" Sandi demanded as she headed for the door.

Tiffany shrugged. "Like you said, it was so nice and quiet when they left."

"It's okay," Quinn said, looking out a window. "I can see them in the front yard."

Stacy let out a huge sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness!"

"They're making mud pies," Quinn chuckled, getting out her phone and taking twelve pictures.

"What?!" Stacy screeched, launching out the door to meticulously wipe each of her sons' fingers clean.

Sandi followed to appraise the children's work. "Look at how smooth the texture of Colby's mud pie is compared to the others," she pointed out. "I wouldn't be surprised if he grows up to be a world-famous chef!"

Tiffany, meanwhile, watched as Nevaeh stuffed handfuls of mud into her mouth. "Oh, good. Now I don't have to feed her a snack."