THERE WERE very few events in the school calendar that I disliked, but on top of the list was parent consultation evenings. Three times a year we had to spend the evening meeting with the parents who mostly didn’t want to be there either. It was the school’s policy to get in touch with parents or guardians on or around these dates. This ensured most of them made the effort to attend rather than having the head teacher summon them with a stern letter afterward.

I had spent the evening so far mostly repeating the same observations and hearing the same comments back: “Well, I don’t know where she gets that from.” “He’s not like his older brother, he was the bright one,” or “I can’t help with the homework; it’s not like when I was at school.” My favorite of the evening so far was “You’re very young to be a form tutor. Not much experience with teenagers, I suppose?”

Now I sat facing two empty chairs with the head teacher walking in my direction.

“Is it a no-show, Rob?” he asked, rhetorically.

“It looks like it, yes. It’s Sam Reid’s dad who should be here now. I really wanted to see him too.”

“Ah yes. He’s a busy man, but I’m sure he’d want to be here. Why don’t you give him a call? Maybe he’s just delayed at work or something.”

I opened Sam’s file and found his parental contact details. Rather than walking to the school office, I stepped away from the table and placed the call from my own mobile phone. Sam himself answered the phone.

“Hey, Sam, it’s Mr. Cooper. Is your dad there?”

“No, sir. I thought he was there with you at school. I reminded him about the appointment this morning and he said he was definitely going.”

“Don’t worry, Sam, maybe he has been delayed on his way here. I’ve got his mobile number, so perhaps I’ll give it a try.”

“Okay, sir. Sorry.”

“Not your fault, Sam. See you tomorrow.”

I rang off and then dialed the second number, and sure enough this time I got the man himself.

“Oh shit. Sorry! I’m still at work and completely forgot about the parents’ evening.”

Of course. I tried to maintain my pleasant tone. “No worries,” I said, “but I do need to see you. Is there any chance you could come in later, or should we arrange another day?”

“Now you’re worrying me. Let’s do it tonight. What’s the latest time you can see me?”

“My last scheduled appointment is at eight forty-five, so can you get here before nine o’clock?”

“Yes, fine. My apologies again, and I’ll see you later.”