“Johnson and Carnahan Landscaping,” I said, thinking about how I really needed to remove the Carnahan from the name of my company. “How can I help you?”
I was sitting at my breakfast counter, waiting for my daughter to get moving. She was seven, but her attitude screamed seventeen, just like her mother. Kayla had a tough time when her mother, Christina, or “the bitch,” as I liked to call her around friends, took off with my best friend, Dale. How was I supposed to tell Kayla that was why her mother abandoned her? What was I supposed to say? “Sorry, your mom left us because she’s selfish.”
It was the truth, but it would break Kayla’s heart, and I would do anything to keep my baby girl from getting hurt.
I turned my attention back to the phone call. The lady on the phone was serious about getting this landscaping done by the weekend. Although it was a huge job that I would have to bring in a pretty big crew for, the money was so good, I couldn’t turn it down. Kayla was going to have a field day with this one, especially since it meant I wouldn’t be around for the weekend, which was our time together. At seven, I couldn’t be mad at that mentality, but she had no idea what it took to keep a family and a household together all on your own, nor should she. I was just going to have to figure it out and make it up to her later.
“Yes, Mrs. Taylor,” I said, writing down her list of demands. “No, it won’t be a problem to get it done in that amount of time. Yes, I understand this is a big deal for you. No, we will make sure that there is not a single crewman left on the day of the event.”
As I finished up the conversation, Kayla walked in, rolling her eyes at me and grabbing a bowl from the counter for her cereal. She was dressed and ready for school, and I was supposed to cook breakfast, but I got this call. I gave her a pouty face and shrugged my shoulders, motioning to the phone. She sighed and filled her bowl. When the phone call finally ended, I put the phone on the table and let out a deep sigh.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“First of all, nothing,” I said, looking at her. “Second, is that any way to talk to your father?”
“I thought you were going to cook breakfast this morning,” she said, holding her spoon up and letting the cereal plop back into the bowl.
“I thought you were going to be more understanding of dear old dad,” I said, looking up at her. “I had a call for a rush emergency job that needs to be done by the end of the weekend.”
“That’s cool,” she said, trying to sound happy.
“Well, I have to be there for the whole thing,” I said, waiting for the explosion.
“What?” she asked. “You said that we were going to do movies, and you were going to help me with my homework.”
“If I don’t go, I can’t trust that the guys will get this done on their own,” I said with irritation in my voice. “I’m going to get you a babysitter, and they will help you with your homework.”
“I can stay by myself,” she said. “It’s not like you will be gone that late.”
“I am not leaving my seven-year-old daughter home alone,” I scoffed, picking up the phone again.
“I miss Mom,” she grumbled.
“Yeah, well next time she comes around, you can tell her that,” I said, tired of the attitude. “I am doing the best I can here, Kayla.”
“Whatever,” she said, with tears pulling at her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I sighed. “I promise to make all of this up to you. I’m sorry that your mom isn’t here.”
“I know,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “Just call Jessica. She’s my normal babysitter.”
“I’ll give it a try,” I said sarcastically, as if I didn’t know who her babysitter was. I swore seven was going to be the end of me.
I dialed Jessica’s number and waited for her to answer. It made me feel strange every time I called because she was like sixteen-years-old. I told her what was going on and asked if she was available. She apologized and told me she’d already made plans for the week and the weekend. I thanked her and hung up, Kayla watching me intently. If she thought I was going to change my mind about her staying alone, she was crazy.
“What about Grandpa?” she asked.
“He’s still gone,” I said.
My father had gotten married to a really nice woman, Lisa, after being widowed for nine years. My mom was a great lady, and she passed away after years of battling breast cancer. We were all happy to see my father happy when Linda came into the picture. After they got married, they went on their honeymoon, a cruise tour of the world, something that would take three or four months at a minimum.
Suffice it to say, they would be very little help in this situation, but I had to figure something out. I couldn’t pass this contract up. It was moments like these that I really hated Kayla’s mother. She ruined everything. We had a really good system going, something we had worked hard to achieve. She took care of Kayla, I ran the business, was off most weekends, and then we would do family stuff together. It was what she wanted, to be a stay at home mom and wife. I never pushed it on her.
When she left, she made a scene, telling me it was my fault for stifling her and keeping her locked away in the house. I never told her what to do. She always made her own decisions. If she wanted to work, she worked. If she wanted to take a class, she took a class. In reality, it was just an excuse to make her feel better for sleeping with, and then running away with, Dale.
“I could always go with you to work,” Kayla said.
“And do what? Rake some leaves? No, I can’t have my seven-year-old daughter hanging out at a landscaping site.” I shook my head. “It’s illegal to have you work on my crew anyway. Otherwise, I might fill my crew with you and all your friends to keep you busy.”
“Yeah, right,” she said, laughing. “And get dirty and blistered hands like you? I think I’ll stay with my second-grade math problems.”
“Probably a good choice,” I said, chuckling.
I looked down at my watch, realizing that it was almost time for Kayla to catch the bus. She had missed it three times the week before, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with the endless line of cars dropping kids off at her school. I grabbed her backpack and walked over, handing it to her.
“Come on,” I said, putting my hand out. “The bus will be here any minute.”
She pouted and put her backpack on, hopping down from the stool and putting her bowl in the sink. We walked out of the front door and down the driveway where the bus would pick her up. I looked down and waved at the women standing at the end of their driveways, trying to be friendly. Apparently, our family was the talk of the town since Christina left, and it had made it even tougher to keep Kayla from finding out the truth. These women had nothing better to do with their time than gossip and make up stories about other people’s wives. Now that I was a single dad, I was starting to loathe living in suburban America. It used to be great. We were your typical family with a big house, one kid, hopes for another one day, and considering a dog for our fenced-in yard. These days, it was more like keeping the one child I had alive, cutting the grass so I could see the fenced-in yard, and trying to remember to take the trash out on time.
I waved and smiled at Kayla as she climbed on the bus, her legs stretching to get up the stairs, reminding me just how little she still was. Sometimes, I forgot that she was still a kid, caught up in the drama of an adult world. Damn her mother for doing this to her, for abandoning both of us because she wanted to have some fun. To make it even worse, it completely blindsided me. She hid it so well that I didn’t see it coming at all.
I wondered if good old Dale knew she and I were still having sex up to the day before she left us. I wanted to knock his teeth down his throat for being half the problem and not the solution. He couldn’t just be content with what he had. He had to take what I had, too. He had always been that way, though: jealous when I hit the jackpot. I could tell it bothered him that Christina and I were happy, even from the moment I married her.
I walked back inside and sat down back at the breakfast bar, going over my notes and trying to get Christina out of my mind. I needed to focus so that I could find a babysitter for Kayla, someone I could trust, maybe someone in the family. As I thought about family, a lightbulb went off in my head. I had a sister now. Well, step-sister. Two, actually. Although the older one, Bella, wasn’t really my first choice as a babysitter. I hadn’t spent more than two seconds with her, but I could tell she was a free-spirit in more ways than one. Alissa, however, had told me at the wedding that we were brother and sister now, and if I ever needed anything, I could call her. This would be one of those times where I needed her.
I flipped through my phone and stared down at her phone number, thinking about how strange it would be if I called her out of nowhere. My father and her mother had gotten married months ago, and this would be the first time I called for anything, including a “hello, how are you” type of conversation. I almost felt guilty for pushing everyone out of my life when things went down with Christina. Now, I was left with my tail between my legs, trying to decide whether to call these people or not. I put the phone down and started making the list of workers I was going to call in on the unscheduled rush job. I wanted the best ones for the money, and I would be paying them overtime on the weekend, so they needed to be efficient.
Once my list was done, I walked over to the coffee pot and poured myself the last bit in there. I mixed in sugar and light cream and sat back down at my spot. I needed to start getting these guys ready to go since I was examining the space today and would like them to start first thing in the morning in order to get it done on time. I grabbed my phone to call the first guy and remembered that I still needed to find a babysitter for Kayla. I sighed, looking down at Alissa’s number, still apprehensive about calling her. If I had stayed in touch, I could have avoided all of this with a simple text, but that wasn’t going to work. I took a deep breath and pressed send, pulling the phone to my ear.
I was nervous, but not because I hadn’t kept in contact, or because I had to ask for a favor, but for other, way more complicated issues in my head. The fact of the matter was, Alissa was gorgeous, and every time I was around her, I could feel a lump in my throat and a heat in my stomach. I had promised myself that I would stay away from her, for my own good, and for hers.