Alex plods slowly home from school. In his hands, the seven-year-old redhead carries a report card, which must be signed by a parent. On it is a stain - an F in spelling.
"Here, Mom," he says, eyes dropping as he hands over the unfortunate piece of paper. He cannot stand to face her, to confront her sadness and disappointment.
"Oh, Alex," she murmurs, "wait until your father sees this report card."
It is not a long wait in ticks of the clock, but to Alex it is an age. It was hard enough to watch the look on his mother's face. How can be bear his father's letdown?
"Dad, I'm sorry," is all he can think of to say.
"Come with me," says his father, not angry, not even disappointed, but firm. "Come on," he repeats, and Alex follows him up the stairs to the attic.
In the fading light of the afternoon, his father shuffles through loose papers and pictures in an old trunk. Alex waits, scarcely breathing. The lump that has formed in his throat throbs.
At length, his father draws a yellowed report card, his own from years ago, from the trunk. Alex stares at it in disbelief, for it, too, bears the same awful mark.
"Wow! It happened to you, too?" The lump in his throat eases its ache, and Alex suddenly feels light again.
"Just once," his father says, giving Alex a pat on his head.
"And just once for me," Alex vows silently. In the glow of his father's understanding, there is no need for spoken promises.