Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(5)

By: Sawyer Bennett

“Maybe Glenda can watch them tonight,” Tina suggests.

“Not an option,” I say firmly.

Because she is totally not an option at night. During the summer, my next door neighbor, Glenda, watched the kids during the day while I worked my primary job. Once school started—Levy and Rocco were in first and second grade respectively—she only had to watch Annabelle during the day and just for a little bit after Levy and Rocco got home from school.

It’s a good deal for me. She watches the kids so I can work my seven A.M. to four P.M. shift at Sweetbrier Nursing Home, and in return I cook and clean for her and her husband, Bill. Of course, Bill has no idea about the arrangement and assumes Glenda makes his dinner each night and keeps their small apartment tidy, but Glenda hates to cook—and even worse, hates to clean. Add on the fact that I don’t have money to pay her, much less afford daycare, it’s a good trade until I can get things figured out.

But while Glenda is sweet and competent and takes good care of them, her husband is a certified asshole as well as an alcoholic, and he’s at home in the evenings, so I don’t want the kids around that.

“I’m really sorry,” Tina says again. “But I’m loading up now to take Marshall to the ER.”

I hold back a sigh, because Tina doesn’t need guilt from me and it seems I sigh a lot lately and I need to change that. “It’s okay,” I tell her, but it’s really not.

I’m fucked.

At least I can still cuss in my thoughts, although that doesn’t give me much solace right now.

Annabelle lets out a cry of despair and I spin around to find Levy piling all of his carrots on her plate. She doesn’t like them either so she’s completely mortified to be given extra.

“Stop, Levy,” I tell him, but he ignores me. Six years old, and being the middle child, it somehow seems to give him license to disregard my directions. I haven’t figured a way to work around that yet, so I let it go by saying, “It’s okay, Annabelle. I don’t expect you to eat all of them.”

Annabelle smiles at me then turns and sticks her tongue out at Levy.

I take another deep breath, let it out…praying for God to give me patience and an understanding boss.

Then I dial my manager, Chris.

“Chris Bellis,” he answers his phone haughtily, as if he’s the most important man in the world. Asshole boss.

“It’s Julianne,” I say hesitantly, already dreading his response. “Um…my babysitter fell through and I can’t make it in tonight.”

He doesn’t say anything.

“Unless you let me bring the kids in,” I add hastily. “I swear they won’t cause any trouble.”

Please, God, don’t let them cause trouble.

Finally, he talks. “Unacceptable, Jules. Our policy is strict on having children here.”

“Well, then…I’m sorry, but I can’t make it. You’ll have to find someone to cover for me,” I say with what I hope is a firm voice, but I’m terrified I just screwed the pooch.

“Well, then I’m sorry too, Jules, but I’m going to have to let you go if you don’t show tonight,” he says just as firmly back to me. “That will be twice in one week you’ve had childcare issues and it’s obviously becoming a problem.”

“No,” I say quickly, and then try to add on reassurances. “It’s not a problem. Just bad luck. Chris, I’ve worked for you more than two months now and this is the first time I’ve asked to take off.”

“And I sense this won’t be the last,” he says crisply. “I’ve had single mothers work for me before, and they’re never reliable. I don’t have time to cover someone who doesn’t show enough responsibility—”

“Please, Chris,” I beg him, tears once again pricking at my eyes. “I really need this job.”

He’s not moved. “If you will come by tomorrow evening, I’ll have your final paycheck ready and you can turn in your store key.”

I don’t even consider arguing with him any further. At this moment I am beyond exhausted. Utterly defeated. I don’t have it in me to even care about how that extra money each week is what enabled me to feed and clothe three hungry kids that I’d never planned on having.

My head turns on the pillow and I look at the digital clock on the bedside table. Almost eleven o’clock and I can’t sleep. Annabelle doesn’t have that problem, and she’s pressed up against me with one arm wrapped around my neck. This has been her usual sleeping position since she came to live with me in this dinky little apartment four months ago, but I’m used to it so that’s not what’s keeping me up.