Bring Your Parent to School Day is Claire’s favoritest day of the year.
Not because of the parents that show up. Seriously, Krissy’s dad waits for forest fires and Alex’s mom is the sheriff of a town a long ways away. Big deal. Claire’s papa fights fires and gets to boss people around. In her eyes, that’s the coolest thing since that magician at her fourth birthday party made her coin disappear. (Claire’s actually kinda mad about that, come to think of it, because she never got that coin back. That coin was worth a whole chore, and cleaning her room is not easy, nor enjoyable.)
Anyway, Papa’s supposed to stop by after his first shift. Daddy told Claire not to be sad if he doesn’t show up on time, that Papa’s been going through a rough time for a while. Claire thinks it has something to do with all those penguin people with cameras that were outside Daddy’s old work last year. He says Papa just has the boogie monster on his back at the moment.
Claire hasn’t seen the boogie monster because she checks under her bed every night before bed. Maybe Daddy meant to say the Cookie Monster, because if the Cookie Monster’s on Papa’s back, he’d shower him with cookies.
Maybe Papa should start checking under the bed more often.
“Thank you, Mr. Devereaux, for that very… insightful speech about the correct way to insert a floppy disc.” Miss Hanscum’s just being nice. Sometimes, you don’t always have to mean being nice to people, as long as you say it like you mean it. At least that’s what Papa says. “Next up is Claire’s dad—”
“Papa!” Claire pipes up. “We call him Papa.”
Miss Hanscum turns pink, but not in a bad way because she’s smiling. Like Pinkie Pie. “Oh,” she says, “that’s, um, that’s actually really cute… okay, welcome class, Lieutenant and Papa Dean Smith.”
“Sorry I’m late,” a voice deep enough only to belong to Papa’s announces over the intercom. “I’ll be right down… okay, how do I turn this thing off?” The class collectively giggles and then Claire’s the one turning pink.
A minute later, Papa bursts through the door, still in his firefighter uniform, which has something like those black pastels Claire uses in art class thrown all over it. It’s not just him, either. There are three other big guys behind him, like the President being escorted to a fancy, presidential thing. Claire recognizes the big one with the brown beard as soft-looking as the trees in The Lorax as Benny, the short one with the hairy chest and the funny accent as Richie, and the tall, Jack Skellington one as Garth. They look like one of those boy bands on her wall, the way they huddle around Papa in the front of the classroom. But he doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, Papa looks like the Cookie Monster paid a visit after all.
“Hola, class of 2012!” he greets with a cheeky grin. The class yells back, “Hi, Mr. Papa!” before Papa goes on, “I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a juice box right about now! We just came from a house fire.”
Lucas blurts, “A real life house fire?!” to which Papa chuckles.
“That’s right, a real life house fire. Pretty cool, huh?” he says before pointing to Claire in the front row. “But nothing’s cooler than my daughter over there.” The class erupts in applause while Claire hides her face. Even the other parents laugh. “Alright, okay, I got the ‘ducking behind the desk’ act, so I’ll cut the chick-flick moments and get right to it: I’m Hulk Hogan’s less famous, but way handsomer younger brother, but for the sake of time, you can call me Dean. I’m a Firefighter Lieutenant at Station 29—”
“The best,” Benny confirms with a nod.
“It’s true,” Garth adds with a smile that bobs the apples on either side of his cheeks, “he lets me read Marmaduke before anyone else on the crew.”
“He introduced me to my wife,” Richie pipes up. “I mean, before that, women were like candy, you know—”
Papa cuts Richie off for some reason with a laugh, “Anyway, I’ve been watching over these knuckleheads for almost a year, and I couldn’t love it more. I respond to fires, make sure people are safe before they’re sent to the hospital and get to talk about the thing I love the most, which is helping people. And I get to talk to you guys, which, I’d have to say is the coolest part.”
“Do you guys have any questions for Dean?” Miss Hanscum chirps.
Hands pop up faster than Rice Crispies.
“Do you wear that suit all the time?” a student asks.
“No,” Papa says, chuckling as he wrinkles his suit even more shaking off some of the black stuff, “I would if I could, but it gets pretty hot inside these, so I wear PJs.”
“Do you get to use the hose?”
Papa nods. “Sometimes. Depends on the situation.”
“Do you guys have a dog?”
“I wish!” Garth scoffs, “But he’s allergic. Or so he says."
“Were you there last year during that big thing?”
Papa’s laughing stops. The thing they must be talking about is the thing about Daddy’s old work, because Papa never looks like this—not even when they run out of Cheerios.
The room goes totally silent. His friends turn to him like they're checking for boo-boos. But like a true hero, Papa takes a deep breath and tackles the question head-on: “I, uh…”
Just then, someone else comes through the door. Claire’s face immediately lights up seeing Daddy. So does Papa’s. Daddy gives Papa a big, big smile before joining the other parents in the back. Papa smiles back like he found the prize at the bottom of the cereal box before anyone else. “No,” he says more surely, facing the class again. “No, I wasn’t.”
“Why not?” another student asks.
“Well,” Papa says, locking eyes with Daddy in the back, “because, as awful as that, uh, thing, was, I spent that morning with my beautiful husband, and every morning after it. Then I realized things weren’t so awful.”