"Wake up, sleepyhead. You don't want to miss the bus." Scotty rolled over and grumbled. He burrowed deeper into the rumpled sheets, barely batting his long black eyelashes. "I brought some orange juice." He rubbed at his still closed eyes.
I put the glass of orange juice on his night stand and switched on the lamp. Dawn hadn't quite broken through the clouds this morning. Shards of light from his race car lamp pierced the calm darkness, making Scotty squint his eyes shut tighter. He rolled away, clutching a stuffed Snoopy to his chest. "I know you're awake." I jiggled him a little. "I can always drive you to school. I know how much you wanted to take the bus, though." I stood to leave the room.
"NO!" Scotty shot out of bed and grabbed me around the waist. "I wanna ride the bus. You said."
I laughed, ruffling his little bed head. "Gotcha! I know I said you can ride the bus, I was just testing you." I picked up my seven-year old son, trying to balance him on my hip. He'd grown so much in the last year. Wasn't it only last year that I was able to carry him around like this?
He was getting so big. "Can I walk to the bus stop with you?" I kissed his freckled nose and smiled as he hugged my neck.
"Yeah. I guess."
"Good. Mommies need to do those things, you know. It's in the job description somewhere." Carefully I walked down the stairs leading from his loft bedroom. I stepped over the Lego jet fighter he left on the small living room floor, dumping him into his chair in our kitchen.
"Can I have waffles and chocolate milk?"
"And three cookies?"
"I'll put three cookies in your backpack for you to eat with your lunch," I compromised. We couldn't afford any luxuries so when he asked for something so simple like cookies, I found it hard to deny him.
I watched Scotty eat his breakfast as I sipped on my coffee. His straight black hair stuck up at funny angles. He looked up at me between bites, crystal blue eyes serene and cheerful. Sometimes I wonder if during my pregnancy he somehow knew the turmoil I was going through and adjusted back then, became this sweet, mature little boy, eager to help me, so lovable and dear.
I pushed away from the table to get his backpack ready. I slipped in his Hot Wheels lunch box and, as promised, a plastic bag with three cookies.
"I had a weird dream," Scotty said, finishing his milk.
"Yeah? Tell me about it." I looked over my shoulder at him, meeting his gaze.
He shrugged, reaching for a hot wheels car, rolling it back and forth on the formica. "My dad was there."
"Only I couldn't exactly tell what he looked like. I just knew it was him. He was flying in the sky, way up in the clouds. He was happy to see me and everything. He wanted to take me for a ride, you know, like around the clouds for a little while before bringing me back home. I was a little scared so I told him you had to be there." Scotty paused, draining his glass. "He said okay, that it would be a good idea for you to come along. He picked us up in his silver jet fighter. Then we flew over the ocean and watched some whales and then we were home."
"Sounds like a good dream." My heart ached.
"Yeah. I guess." Scotty continued to play with his car. He pushed his chair back with a screech and ran to the bathroom.
I had some time to collect myself. Scotty never knew his father. I did and I didn't. It's a long story, one I realized I would have to face one day.
I cleared the table, fighting back the emotions that were threatening to boil over. I ran hot water into the sink hoping the sound would drown out one little sob I couldn't hold back. The time was upon me to make a decision. I was terrified.
"C'mon Mom! Let's go." Scotty ran from the bathroom, grabbing my hand. He pulled me towards the door of our apartment. He had dressed himself in his favorite denim shorts and Dallas Cowboys football jersey. He even combed his hair.
"Whoa, tiger. Did you brush your teeth?" I asked him as I grabbed a dishtowel.
Scotty rolled his eyes comically, exposing all of his little white teeth, all except the one missing from the bottom row.
"Excellent. Let's go." I took a deep breath and succeeded in containing my tears.
We walked down the sidewalk to the designated bus stop, a little covered bench outside the leasing office door. I knelt down in front of my son and straightened his shorts which were twisted at an odd angle. "Okay, listen. Don't walk around on the bus, don't make loud noises. Bus drivers hate those kind of things. Stay in your seat. Sit with the kids your age, leave the older kids alone. Maybe if you sat at the very front of the bus that would be--"
"Mo-om." Scotty moaned in a sing-song voice. "I'm a big boy."
I almost started crying again. "Yes, you are. Remember that Grandma will pick you up from school today since tonight I work at the restaurant. Don't forget."
Scotty rolled his eyes, "Every Tuesday and Thursday you work at the restaurant, I know that already. I'm not a baby."
I kissed him on his soft little cheek, still slightly chubby with baby fat. I recognized that he was growing taller and the baby fat was slipping away. I hugged Scotty probably a little longer than needed, for him at least. "I love you, doodlebug. Have a happy day."
We watched the bus pull around the corner, yellow to red lights flashing. I checked my watch and noticed the bus was running late. Usually the bus was pulling out of the apartment parking lot just as I was finishing up my morning dishes. If I didn't hurry I would be late for work. "Did you pack my cookies?"
"See ya Mom. Tell Mr. Mayes I said hi!" Scotty yelled over his shoulder. He disappeared down the aisle of the old school bus. I stood at the entrance, unsure of what to do or say, not even sure I could restrain myself from hopping on the bus with him. The bus driver, an elderly woman wearing big round sunglasses and a denim shirt with apples painted across the front, must have sensed my anxiety. "Don't you worry none, Momma. I'll take real good care of him. We're running just a little behind today. The school's already been notified. Terrible accident on FM 280. Happened late last night or maybe early this morning. When I made my first run at 7:00 am on up to the high school they were still investigating. I'm afraid what might have happened with them kids couldn't have been good. But enough about that, your little boy is in Thelma McCrae's hands, he'll be taken care of. Yes ma'am." She waved at me before shutting the door. The bus pulled away with a shudder and a shriek, echoing the way I was feeling inside. A tear slipped down my cheek as I watched my little man drive away, smiling at me through the smudged window. One of those steps a mother has to face in her child's life. He was growing up. One day he would be gone.
"Enough of this, Torie," I chided myself, swiping at the tear. "You've got a living to make. Let's go to it." I had taken to talking to myself over the years, mainly because there was no one else around to talk to. It was better that way, I think. There weren't too many men willing to stay with a woman who already had a child. At least that had been my experience. Except for Charlie, but then that had its own complications.
Charlie had been my next door neighbor for almost eight months. We would pass by each other, say hello, make small talk. He was always friendly. He was a college student at the local university sharing an apartment with a roommate who also happened to be his girlfriend. I was attracted to Charlie in a physical sense and, since he was always so nice to Scotty, he held a special place in my heart on that count. But he had a girlfriend and I certainly wasn't going to get myself stuck in the middle of that situation.
One night when Scotty was spending the night with my mother I ran into Charlie. Apparently we both had a really boring weekend planned since it was a Saturday night and we were both waiting our turn for the lone working clothes dryer in the laundry room. We laughed about it. He explained to me that his girlfriend, Maribeth, was away for the weekend. She was attending a family reunion in Oklahoma. He wasn't invited since their relationship was kept quiet from her parents. Her parents didn't approve of their living together, he said. In fact, as far as they were concerned, Charlie was out of the picture long ago. I got the feeling he was a little depressed over the situation. He told me he had just mixed up a batch of margaritas and asked if I would like one. Of course, I wouldn't pass up an offer like that, I told him. He returned no more than five minutes later with a plastic pitcher of margaritas and two plastic cups.
The dryer was free at last and Charlie let me go first. I stuffed my load in the dryer and sat down next to him again. By that time I was feeling very relaxed, undoubtedly from the alcohol. I wasn't accustomed to drinking anything stronger than a single glass of wine on occasion and his margaritas were definitely heavy on the tequila. Charlie's company was very nice and he made me laugh. I loved his smile, how it reached to his eyes when he broke out in laughter, which was often. He didn't seem the type to come on to me if I wasn't giving him a signal first. I boldly decided to give him a signal. I don't know why exactly. I was attracted to him, despite his love for his girlfriend. And, in truth, I didn't want a relationship. For once, I reasoned, let me enjoy the company of a man again. No strings attached.
.... There is more of this story ...