The silent sleepy house was suddenly interrupted with a blaring “LADIES, LEAVE YOUR MAN AT HOME!” as her phone began it’s obnoxious ring. She groaned loudly as the song pulled her from sleep, and rolled over to check the time. 3:23 AM. She snatched the phone from her nightstand and her stomach dropped when she saw the all caps “MILTON ACADEMY.” She cleared her throat and clicked to answer.
“Hi Mrs. Novak. This is Stephanie from the Dean of Students office at Milton.
She didn’t bother to correct Stephanie; she just interrupted her with a slightly panicked, “Is Connor okay?”
Stephanie assured her with an, “Oh, he’s fine – I didn’t mean to scare you!”
She let out a sigh of relief. Connor was fine. “Then why are you calling me at 3 AM?”
“Mrs. Novak, your son was caught vandalizing school property with a few other boys late last night. We wanted to call you to inform you of the situation, and discuss our disciplinary plan with you.”
“Okay – where is Connor now?”
“He’s here in the office with us.”
“Please put him on the phone with me for a moment.”
Stephanie started to protest, but she silenced her with a stern “I’d like to speak with my son.”
She heard the phone being passed over, and then heard Connor’s embarrassed voice – “Hi Mom.”
“Connor … “
She paused – drawing as much patience as she could into her exhausted mind.
“Connor, will you please ask Stephanie if you can step out into the hallway to talk to me?”
He apparently got approval because she hears a door close about 30 seconds later.
“I’m outside, Mom.” He said it quietly, a shadow if his normally boisterous and loud personality. He knows he’s in trouble.
“Why don’t you explain to me what you did that caused someone from the Dean of Students office to call me at 3 AM?”
Her 15-year-old son starts babbling immediately – “It wasn’t my idea. Rick said we should do it and I thought it was a bad idea the entire time, but then we were there already, and ..”
She cut him off. “Look, Connor. You vandalized school property right?”
He sighed, and then, begrudgingly answered, “Yes ma’am.”
“Okay, then you’re going to have to face the consequences of that decision. We’ll talk about this more with your dad later. I love you.”
He murmurs, “I love you too.”
She sighs, ready to fight this new school administrator and once again lessen her son’s punishment.
“Hand the phone back to Stephanie.” She spits the name out as though Stephanie has personally offended her.
She spends the next 20 minutes convincing Stephanie that a full month of detention is excessive and would limit her son’s time to expand his mind through academics and extra-curricular activities. She instead suggests two weeks of detention and promises that she will work with his father to make sure he is adequately punished at home as well.
Stephanie finally relents, and they hang up. By now, it’s 4 AM. She has another hour to sleep before she has to get up and head to The Mindy Project, but she knows there’s no use trying to sleep anymore.
Instead she calls BJ. He deserves to be awakened just like she was.
He answers on the third ring with a gravelly but concerned, “What’s wrong Min?”
“Your son takes after you, that’s what wrong.”
“Fuck. What did he do now?”
“He vandalized some statue on campus with Rick and Matt. And now he’s getting two weeks of detention for it.”
They talk for an hour – first about Connor, and how they should handle his punishment, and then their conversation veers off course, as it always does. They talk about politics and her show and the screenplay that’s not “ready” for her review yet.
“Just let me read it Beej – you told me it was finished!”
“No,” he replies, firmly. “Just give me a week – then you can read it.”
She is about to protest again when she sees the time – “I have to get ready.”
She’s been shooting all morning in sky-high heels and her feet are killing her. Also she is wearing fake eyelashes in this scene and they are making her eyes water constantly.
She returns to her office to grab a quick bite and finds BJ there, sitting comfortably behind her desk, tapping away on her computer.
He looks up when she enters, smiles and pulls a bag of Thai food out from behind her desk.
“Thought you might be hungry!”
She smiles and drags a chair next to him to begin eating.
“Also, I texted Connor this morning. I thought we could chat with him before lacrosse practice.”
She sighs, knowing this is probably the best time to get their son on the phone.
Without further conversation, BJ pulls up her Skype account and calls Connor. It still perplexes her that BJ knows all of her passwords – she’s changed most of them over the years since they were married and living together, but it seems he’s just as embedded in her life as he was then.
Connor answers the phone with a sheepish grin. He has the expression that she saw on BJ as he tried to charm that cop out of giving them a ticket. She KNEW he was too much like his father.
She cracks a bit of a smile at this thought, but BJ remains stone-faced.
He sighs, and then begins in a stern voice “Why don’t you start at the beginning, son?”
Connor’s smile slides off of his face, and he begins – walking them through the tale that ended with toilet paper and spray paint and detention.
They listen, and once he has concluded, start ticking off the flaws in his “plan” one by one.
They’re good at lecturing him, she thinks. They have a back and forth – they don’t yell, but actually call into the question the logic and morality of his transgression.
After about 30 minutes of lecturing and apologizing and punishing, they hang up – assuring Connor that yes, they still love him, and yes, they are still planning to come up and see him this weekend.
BJ presses the end button, and they both sigh, leaning back in their chairs. They sit in silence. They are constantly talking, but they have developed a habit of sitting in silence for a few minutes after a stressful talk with their son. Neither of them like the “discipline” part of parenting very much.
BJ is the first to break it – he stands, mumbling something about going to the bathroom, and slips from the room.
She shakes herself from her stupor, and throws the rest of her – now cold – food in the garbage. She actually needs to get some work done. She pulls the latest version of a script that one of her writers had submitted to her earlier that morning. She still needs to review this to give them time to make edits. She opens her desk drawer, hunting for a red pen to start marking up the draft, but she can’t seem to find any. Frustrated, she opens each of the other drawers in turn, disturbing their contents with her impatient fingers.
Unsuccessful, she sinks to her hands and knees, and peers under her desk, hoping one of her precious red pens had rolled under it. No luck. As she starts to stand, she spots BJ’s bag, carelessly thrown near their shoes under her desk. She is suddenly consumed with the urge to open it. She tells herself that she’s looking for a red pen, but the pen is long forgotten – she now just wants to see if his screenplay is in there.
She sits up, glancing at the door again, and then unzips his bag before she can talk herself out of it. Jackpot! She spots a thick stack of pages, held together with huge binder clips. She glances at the door again – toying with the idea of locking him out so she can finally read it. She thinks better of that plan, and resolves to spend just a few seconds flipping through and to put it back before he realizes anything.
She glances down and page one, and the title knocks the air from her lungs. There in large, black, indelible font are the words “BABY DON’T by BJ Novak.”
Her vision blurs. Her mind rockets back to that night all of those years ago. They’d both known that it was a matter of time –they fought too much, they weren’t happy enough, they couldn’t sustain this marriage. But neither of them had expected the quiet heartbreak of their last night together as husband and wife.
He’s said something hurtful – and she’s spent an hour whisper –berating him, so angry but also determined not to wake their 4-year-old son who slept peacefully in the next room.
She’d sat back, utterly exhausted by the argument and said under her breath “Maybe this isn’t worth fighting for anymore.” The tears that filled his bright blue eyes when he heard that were almost enough to make her want to take it back. But she didn’t.
He’d opened his mouth a few times – desperate to say something to save them, but he seemed at a loss. Finally he opened his mouth and croaked, “Baby, don’t … “
She shook her head – this was over, as much as she didn’t want it to be.
He’d crawled across the bed to her, and they held each other, intermittently crying for hours.
At some point, they must have fallen asleep, because when she woke up the next morning, he was gone.
She got up and walked to the kitchen, determined not to let her son see her cry. But the house was quiet – Connor was gone too. She found a note on the counter – “Took Connor to brunch. We can talk more about the details of how all of this will work later. I will always love you. – Ben.”
She’d crumpled the note in her hands and let out a strangled sob and she sunk into a heap on the cold tile in front of the refrigerator.
But she wasn’t in her kitchen – she was in her office. She desperately tried to shake this memory, and wipe away the tears that had been streaming down her face. She hoped her crying had disturbed the adhesive on her false eyelashes –that would be a dead giveaway.
She heard footsteps in the hall, and desperately shoved the screenplay back into the bag – kicking it away from her.
BJ walked back into the room – a slice of cake on the plate in his hands.
“Someone was having a birthday! I thought you might like some rewrite fuel! And it’s –“
He stopped, a few feet away from her. She’d tried to school her features into a grin, but he’d always been able to see the pain behind her smile. He dropped the plate onto her desk and knelt in front of her.
“You okay, Min?”
For a split second, as she saw him kneeling in front of her and staring up into her eyes, memories of the day he proposed threatened to consume her – but she shook her head and smiled – determined to get through this moment.
“I’m fine, Beej. I just don’t like when Connor does stuff like this.”
His smile softened into a look of commiseration. “I know – but we shouldn’t be surprised. He is our son.”
She chuckled, hoping he would leave.
Seemingly reading her mind, he reached across her to grab his bag from the floor. He leaned back and pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth.
“I should go – I have to work to do, and I know you have to review that rewrite.”
He headed for her office door, but turned back just before he reached it. “So I’ll see you tonight?”
She’d forgotten – they’d planned to go out with some friends.
“Yes, pick me up at 8:30.”
“Okay, Love you, Min!”
He said it so openly and freely – it almost sounded like he was still in love with her. In moments like this, she could pretend that night never happened.