Somehow, her life started getting back on track. She had hated the feeling of dependence, especially when her son looked at her like she was the only person in the world that mattered. In a few months, she had felt the kind of fierce love and possessiveness she had only heard of. She had thought that once upon a time, she had loved her baby’s father, but looking into the soft brown eyes of her innocent little boy, she knew that was nothing compared to what she felt now. If life was to work out, she would make every effort, if only for the tiny human being that depended on her.
After another late shift waiting tables, he had a pocket full of cash from direct tips. The dive shop had even rendered some cash for good service, and he was eager to buy something for his son. It was a feeling that gnawed at him: wanting to do everything for the one person who was so dependent on him for a good life. He wanted to give him everything he never could have.
While he walked through the store, looking at the impossibly tiny clothes and shoes that he wanted to buy, he could feel eyes on him. He turned, and saw his mother walking by, staring at him inside the store. He had promised to pay for some repairs at the house, but this time around, he felt he should spend more on his son than at home. He worked for it, he earned it the hard way, he should be able to buy it.
He grabbed the nearest set of shoes, hoping they would be the right size, and went to the counter. There was one person ahead of him, so he stood waiting. While he stood, he debated with himself whether spending such an amount of money on one tiny item was wise. The person ahead of him turned to leave, and it was time to pay. He hesitated as his hand went into his pocket to withdraw his wallet. For a few seconds, he thought of walking out empty-handed, but the memory of his tiny son as he had lain gasping for air that terrible night, made him pull out his wallet. A few crumpled bills fell on the counter as he tried to pay, and the salesgirl smiled kindly at him.
“For your little brother?” she asked, smile pasted on her face, knowing full well what the real story was. She had heard of him, of his conquests, and how he had abandoned that little rich girl even when she was pregnant.
“For my son, actually,” he said, not returning the smile. She was like so many of the women he had been through. He could tell she knew exactly who the shoes were for, but it was all a game to them.
Having paid, he turned and walked away, not looking back.
It started with the tiny shoes. Soon, he would come over bringing some fruit, some snacks, often, he was armed with her weakness: a bottle of icy cold coke. There was always a little something for the baby, besides the formula, the wipes or diapers. The shoes were the beginning of his slow courtship of their child, and somehow, in the process, their second courtship began.
Sometimes, he would bring her a matching piece – if the baby got a new hat, she would get some silly colorful trinket to match. They never cost more than a few dollars, but they went a long way in making her feel better about everything. She was now 16, and even though she was wiser beyond her years – she still was that little girl who wanted approval, and love.
Her mother had even warmed back up to him. The older woman had known of his life, how hard it was; her disappointment had been seeing him walk away and choosing his old life and family over something new that could change their lives for the better. But here he was again, trying. She could see it in his face. And still, she felt he would be gone soon again. He was one of those people who genuinely wanted to change but had a missing piece that they had to fill with other vices, until the right piece found its way home, completing them.
It happened sooner than later.
In the middle of the night when he came home, exhausted from work.
His mother had stayed up waiting for him, sitting on the top step of their rickety staircase. She made him see the house with all its flaws, his siblings with all their needs. She went for the jugular, sharing a rumor about the young mother’s infidelity. The child may be his, but it would just as easily have been someone else’s.
Forget what she knew of her son’s promiscuity, she wanted him back in their life, easing her burden of raising children she had no business having in the first place. She used the umbilical cord that had never been cut off, and dragged him right back in.
The little visits stopped; the sleepovers, when each parent took turns tending to the fussy baby – they too, stopped. She was on her own again. She waited it out, knowing he would be back someday. She braced herself to turn on him and make him see the error of his ways. Sitting alone on the sofa while her baby slumbered in his crib, she plotted and planned.
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