Finally, the other parents seemed to be moving toward the door. Brent rose. A few more time-consuming pleasantries and he was sitting with Ms. Ramirez and being offered coffee.

“I’m glad you could finally make the time for a face-to-face meeting regarding your daughter, Mr. Sanderson.” There was no malice in her voice, but Brent felt annoyed by the “finally” anyway. She continued, setting a folder in front of him: “As you can see, Cara is an excellent student. She finishes her work far faster than the other students – I think so she can go back to her book or daydream. But there are no subjects she’s currently lagging in.”

“So she’s on track for her level?” Brent took a moment to look through the papers, where he saw his daughter’s neat but utilitarian handwriting. The girl had learned cursive but always refused to write with it.

“She’s definitely above level with most of her subjects. Math is a struggle, but she is keeping up with her class. The Homework Club seems to be helping her there.” Ramirez paused and looked Brent over. “And she’s keeping up, in spite of her focus on her athletic activities.”

“So she’s doing very well, it looks like.” He gestured to the folder. “Her grades are excellent. Why did you call me in today?”

Ramirez sighed. “Cara doesn’t socialize much. You know that La Jolla focuses on making students into the best, most well-rounded citizens that they can be… However, she’s not interested in talking with her peers during breaks or at lunch. Most days, she’ll find an empty table and sit to read. I’ve noticed her twice trying to approach a group of girls and walking away without having engaged.”

She hesitated.

“Have you noticed a change in her behavior at home? Is she more withdrawn than usual? Or has something happened that might cause her to turn inward?”

“Cara is the same as she’s always been. If the girls at your school won’t be friends with her, that seems like an issue with the girls and the school,” Brent said sternly.

Ramirez folded her hands in front of her. “Mr. Sanderson, I think Cara needs better socialization. She doesn’t know how to talk to people and gives up quickly when she tries. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t have any friends. She’s lonely, Mr. Sanderson.”

“Is that so? Where is she, by the way? Shouldn’t she be here for the conference?”

Ramirez raised her brows. “I’m sorry, but I think the email did mention that we don’t have the children attend these meetings unless it is a case of redirecting behavior of the student. I wouldn’t consider this a behavioral problem, but it could be a developmental one if she continues to feel alienated and separated from her peers.”

She hesitated again.

“I think that she is spending too much time alone at home. She has her school activities, but those mostly provide a structured environment for physical activity or completing her schoolwork. Afterward, she goes home, where she has mentioned she has the penthouse to herself and sometimes doesn’t see you that evening at all. If you have an early meeting, she doesn’t see you in the morning.” Ramirez held a hand out. “Cara is remarkably adaptable, and you should be proud that she manages so well on her own, but she may need much more time with you than you’ve been able to offer, as a single working parent.”

Heat rose through Brent’s chest and neck. “You’re telling me that I need to spend more time with my daughter?”

“I’m suggesting that Cara simply needs more time with another person. A maid around cleaning, a butler, or additional tutors won’t cut it.”

Brent frowned. Ramirez must have asked Cara about her home life. She smiled, an expression too warm and practiced to be entirely free of judgment, and slid a few pamphlets over to him.

“I have some suggestions for after-school activities that require more one-on-one social interaction. Or if she’s too busy for that, having a nanny at home or to accompany her to activities when you’re not available might help her come out of her shell a bit.”

Brent tensed his jaw but took the pamphlets.

After pressing Ms. Ramirez further about Cara’s performance in math and extended tutoring, they parted with civil goodbyes, and Brent strode down the hallway in search of his daughter. After peering into a few windows, he spotted her in a classroom that had to be the Homework Club.

Of all the “clubs” Brent had ever heard of, he had imagined this one would be the least popular, but La Jolla was competitive, so sessions tended to be pretty full. He saw Cara sitting by herself, frowning determinedly down at her paper as two girls beside her chattered incessantly. The teacher came over to get in between the girls and redirect them to their work, but their obedience only lasted until he had gone to help someone else.