Joyce McDonald Hoskins
“You’re sorry I’m having a bad day?” Brittany snapped her phone closed, and threw it towards the couch. It rang. She fought back the tears, let out a long breath, gulped another, and slowly walked to the couch.
She stared at the phone, checked to see who was calling, gave in to the tears, and let them flow.
“Aren’t you going to answer, Mom?” Jillian clicked off the television.
“It’s just your father.” She looked out the window. “He’s here. Got everything?”
Jillian grabbed her backpack. “He’ll ask why you didn’t answer.”
“Brittany looked down at the towel she clutched around her naked body. “Tell him I’m in the shower. I will be by the time you get to the car.”
The door bell rang followed by intense knocking, followed by Andre’s bellowing voice calling her name.
“Go on to school. Tell him, I’ll call tonight.” She went into the bathroom, locked the door, and turned the shower on full force. As she feared, Andre banged on the closed door.
She clutched her towel with one hand, braced the door with the other, and let the tears roll.
He rattled the door knob and screamed at her. “We have to talk. Today.”
“Call me tonight at seven.” She laid her ear to the door and listened to his heavy steps. When she heard the slam of the door and the snap of the lock she got into the shower.
She managed to compose herself and process a plan for the day. When she arrived at work with two large mochas, her partner, Alicia, sat on a swing in the play yard with the first of the arrivals.
“And what are you hiding behind your back, Brit? Mochas, I hope.”
Brittany collapsed onto the adjoining swing. “As long as I can sit on these low swings, I have to be in fairly good shape. Of course, the getting up part isn’t easy. She handed Alicia her mocha. “Sorry I’m late—bad morning. Made the mistake of calling Mimi.”
“I never get used to you calling your mother, Mimi.”
“Perfect name. It’s all about her/her, you know/know.”
“You always manage to joke.” Alicia got up to settle a sandbox dispute. “Better take them in.”
After the final student arrived, they sat the toddlers in a circle for story time. Alicia read the story, while Brittany watched the children. Most of the children were engrossed in the story, but she occasionally had to intervene and stop a child from elbowing his neighbor. Toward the end of the story Brittany prepared the craft table. Crafts and coloring were followed by free play which flowed into lunch, and finally naptime. It was a smooth uneventful morning.
With the children down for naps Brittany and Alicia finally had time to chat. They got their lunches and settled where they could see the sleeping children.
“So cute when they’re all asleep,” Alicia said.
“Every little stage passes so quickly. Jillian started calling me mom instead of mommy this weekend. Probably wouldn’t have hit me so hard, if it hadn’t happened at such an emotional time. The divorce. Trying to sell the house. Andre being a jerk. And all Mimi can say/say is: ‘Sorry you’re having a bad day.’ And that was at seven-thirty in the morning. I feel like she cursed the rest of my day.”
“The morning has gone okay for a Monday. Getting them back on schedule after weekends can be hard, but today’s been easy.”
“Guess I should be grateful for that. Actually nothing that bad happened this morning. Just stupid stuff, like being out of coffee, burning the toast, Andre demanding to discuss something that can wait—will wait—but he’s an impatient man. I wanted a weekend without the endless discussions about selling the house, custody, and child support. Dodged him all weekend.”
A wakeful child got up and stumbled to Brittany. She allowed him to climb onto her lap. “Can’t sleep, Allen?” He snuggled into to her and put his thumb in his mouth.
As she reached around Allen to pick up her sandwich, the receptionist burst through the entrance way from the office. Brittany gasped when she saw there was a man behind Maria. He held a gun.
The man’s eyes surveyed the room as he shoved Maria. “Kristen Ellison. Get her things together. She’s mine and I’m taking her.”
Maria straightened her body and looked straight into the man’s eyes. “I do not—a— have the au—authority to release—b—bab—children.”
“I’m giving you the authority.”
“No speak, good English.” Maria clamped her lips together, and placed her hands on her hips.
The man shifted his eyes to Alicia. “Tell her to get Kristen and her things. Tell her to do it fast.”
Alicia kept her eyes on the man’s face as she spoke to Maria in Spanish.
Maria began checking the sleeping children, slowly moving blankets away to check their faces. She gently tucked each child’s blanket back into place.
“Tell her to hurry up.” He pointed his gun at Alicia.
“I’m doing the best I can. I’m taking Spanish at night school. It’s not good.” She again spoke to Maria in Spanish.
Maria spoke back with fast long sentences keeping her voice low so she wouldn’t wake the children.
“What did she say?”
“That she didn’t put the children down, so she doesn’t know where Kristen is.”
“I don’t know where she is either. Brittany put them down while I cleaned up from lunch. If Brittany gives me the child she’s holding he’ll cry and wake the others. Allen favors Brittany. He just loves her to pieces.”
“I will shoot her to pieces if . . .” He pointed the gun at Brittany. “Point to Kristen. Point now.”
“Please, don’t hurt any of the children. You’re a father. Please don’t hurt the children.” She clutched Allen close. “Kristen is to the left of the one in the corner.”
He slightly turned his head toward Alicia, but kept his eyes directed to Maria. “Tell her to get my girl’s things and place them by the door.”
Alicia haltingly spoke Spanish, pausing often between words.
“Comprendi.” Maria answered. She went to the bulletin board and took down a drawing.
“Not those things. Her bag. No. Never mind the bag. Just get her.” His voice raised two octaves. “Get her now.”
Alicia said a few words in Spanish.
Maria went to Kristen and lifted her. Startled from a sound sleep the child began to cry.
The other children began to wake, cry, and run to Brittany and Alicia. Soon they were smothered with toddles. The ones who couldn’t get on their laps, clung to their legs and arms.
The man stuck the gun in the waist of his jeans and grabbed Kristen. “Hang on, baby.” He backed to the door. “Don’t try to stop me.”
They remained still until the door closed. Maria called 911 as she secured the door.
Brittany and Alicia began the task of settling the children.
“Plan worked.” Maria said as she looked out the window. “We’re surrounded by police cars and parents. He’s being cuffed now. I’ll send word out that we need a few minutes to settle the tikes.” She made the call as she walked to the DVD player and put in a movie.
Alicia wiped the tears from the last little face, and stood. “Walt Disney to the rescue.” She watched the children settle on the floor in front of the television screen.
“Go ahead and let the parents in. The sooner this is over, the sooner I can have a breakdown,” Brittany said.
“I’m first,” Alicia said.
“No. Employees get to breakdown before the bosses,” Maria said.
“My, my, but your English has improved, Maria,” Brittany said.
Maria laughed as she went to the door to let the parents in.
Andre arrived with Jillian just as they were closing. “Even though you reassured her by phone, she wouldn’t go home, insisted I bring her here. You ladies are heroes.” He quickly kissed Brittany on the cheek.
“Mommy.” Jillian ran into her arms. “Oh, Mommy, that was too scary.”
“It went well, honey.” Brittany stroked Jillian’s hair. “We know we have several high risk children and we’ve done endless drills.”
“We call it operation, you call/we stall. The best thing we did was alerting the parents to check in by computer as often as possible,” Maria said.
“Fortunately, it was lunch hour and most of them were watching,” Alicia added.
“You did a great job. Could I take you ladies to dinner?” Andre asked.
“Mom and Dad are expecting me home. They’ve called three times,” Maria said.
“Thanks, but I have a date with a new guy.” Alicia smiled. “Can’t wait for him to ask, ‘How was your day?’ Hope he hasn’t heard anything.”
“Guess I’m left with only two ladies for dinner?”
Brittany hesitated. When she opened her mouth to speak, she was cut off by Jillian’s, “Please, Mommy.”
“Where to?” Andre asked when they were in the car.
“Allison’s Diner?” Brittany suggested.
“I can afford better than that tonight.”
“No. But we’re doing it anyhow. Mid-priced steakhouse coming up on the right.”
“That’s fine,” Brittany said.
He flipped on the blinker. “The Steak House. What imagination.”
“And what would the advertising man have named it?”
Her sarcasm didn’t escape his notice. “Something else.” He laughed in an attempt to lighten the moment. “I promise not to bring up any unpleasant subjects, if you don’t. You had a difficult day and I want it to be a nice evening.” He got out of the car and went around to open the doors. “A date with two gorgeous ladies. I’m a lucky guy.” He took each by the hand, escorted them in, and picked a corner booth.
“Would you like a drink to settle your nerves?”
“No. Thank you,” Brittany answered.
He passed around the menus. “Order whatever you’d like.”
Brittany’s phone rang and she checked the number. “It’s the child’s mother. Excuse me. Go ahead and order for me. I’ll make it short.”
She answered the phone as she walked outside to talk.
“That didn’t take long.” Andre said when she returned. “She okay?”
“Yes. She said the gun wasn’t loaded, but he’s still in a heap of trouble.”
“I figure. Have to feel a little sorry for the guy.”
“She does. Very little.”
“I’m getting Jillian a cell phone this weekend. I know you wanted to wait, but I want her to have one.”
“I promise I won’t abuse the privilege.” Jillian said as she put the straw in her soft drink. “Promise.”
Brittany laughed. “That sounded rather rehearsed, dear.”
“She’s not getting it because all of her friends have one. She’s not getting it to send endless text messages. She’s getting it for safety and my piece of mind.”
Brittany’s phone rang again. She checked the number, but didn’t answer. “It’s Mimi. I’ll call her later.”
“Isn’t she on a cruise?” Andre asked.
“Yes. She and husband number four.”
“Don’t suppose she’s heard about it. Do you?”
“Let me text her, Mom. Please. Just to tell her you’re okay, and that you’ll call later. Please.”
Andre handed her his phone.
They ate in silence, each displaying their best manners, attempting small talk, and commenting on the food.
When they arrived home, Andre asked if he could come in.
“Just for a few minutes. Lots of things to do before bedtime,” Brittany answered.
Jillian took the cue and went to her room with permission to make a couple of phone calls after she did her homework.
“If I promise not to lose my temper, could we talk?” Andre asked.
“You talk. I’ll listen.” She motioned to the chairs and they sat.
“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to try again?”
“It wouldn’t happen again. We could try counseling.”
“Perhaps I could forgive you the affair you admitted to. It’s the ones you didn’t confess that destroyed my love for you. And it is destroyed. No amount of counseling can restore it.”
Andre’s head dropped. He silently stared at the carpet for a few long moments. There were tears in his eyes when he lifted his head. “You won’t try? Not even for Jillian?”
“Jillian will be okay. You’re a good father. And you’ll continue to be a good father.”
Andre sighed. “In that case I have some suggestions. Requests actually. I’ve been talking to a friend who has a good arrangement. He and his ex are in the same financial situation we are. They’ve drawn up a contract and are sharing the house. All I need is a place to sleep. I’ll eat out. I’ll stay out of your way. Promise. We’ll put everything in writing and it’ll just be until the economy turns around.”
Brittany sat silent.
“Honey—I mean Brittany—I don’t know any other way I can swing it. I used to make twice as much as you. Now I probably make half.”
“I’ll think about it. I haven’t forgotten that you helped me start my business. I don’t want to sell the house. Maybe this is a way I could buy out your half.” She stood. “I’m not making any promises, but I’ll think about it.”
“Could we each make a list of rules and expectations and talk it over later?”
“Yes. I need to get some rest. Trying day. Very trying. And I still have to call Mimi.”
“How on earth did I ever get a mother like Mimi?”
Alicia laughed. “Don’t know.” She took a drink of her mocha. “These drinks could become habit forming.”
“Open marriage? Can you believe she suggested I stay with Andre and have an open marriage?”
“I guess some women would find that fulfilling.”
“Not the example I want to set for Jillian. But I do think Andre’s plan could work.”
“Speaking of plans, after lunch we have to come up with some new ones. Ours is public knowledge now.” Alicia finished her mocha and stood to take the children in.
Brittany stood and took Kristen’s hand. “You are the line leader today.” She bent and kissed her on the cheek. “All week.” She stood and smiled at Alicia. “Maybe for the rest of her life.”