I stood outside, staring up at the warehouse. Do I go in? The invitation didn’t say much. I heard through the OA grapevine that it was a gods-only event. I shifted on my feet, trying to decide if I wanted to go in. I had better things to do than go to another family party. The only reason I even came here was to see if Atë would be here. She hadn’t been returning any of my calls, and she had yet to return to the beach house. I thought by now she would have heard about my latest escapades. Maybe I was not bad enough for her. Or maybe she doesn’t give two shits. I kicked at the ground, deciding to go in. Everyone from the usual crowd seemed to be in attendance. That is everyone except her. I turned to leave, but Nike flew down, blocking the exit. I gritted my teeth and smiled, swirling around as I walked into the warehouse.
“Who the hell throws a party in a warehouse?”
The consensus was no one knew who was throwing the party. Some assumed I was playing host. But I had more taste than a dingy warehouse. I grabbed a drink of ambrosia and waited to see if Atë was coming. I’d give her five minutes before blowing this popsicle stand. I looked around at the waiters serving us. They seemed so formal and out of place against the warehouse. It was a couple of minutes yet before Atë showed her face, Hekate was guarding her like a mother goose hoards her eggs. I tried making eye contact with her, but Hekate kept standing in the way. I was circling the floor, trying to get closer to her when Zeus started talking. Ah, another grand speech. Blah Blah Blah. I had stopped listening, my attention focused on Atë, but when everyone started looking around and asking questions, I tuned back in. It seemed Zeus hadn’t called this special get-together. My shadows felt it a second too late. The lights dimmed, by no account of my own, as loud chanting music played over hidden speakers. My feet started moving quickly.
“Atë!” I yelled to her, but the awful chanting drowned out my voice. A mirror dropped down in front of me, blocking me. I was locked into a weird sensational pulse, my mind a blank all of a sudden. Then nothing.
The radio alarm clock is ringing, the sound of an infant crying from another room mixes in with the alarm, while children fighting over who gets control of the remote control can be heard from a distance.
“Derrick!” I heard her call from the kitchen. “Derrick! Wake up! You’re going to be late for work. We can’t afford for you to lose another job.”
I rolled over in bed, covering my head with the pillow. I dreaded life and the world beyond this bed. I didn’t want to get up. I hated my job.
“Derrick!” My wife’s voice was closer now. Lydia yanked the bed covers away from me. She’d always hated me and lived to torture me. At least that’s how the last year of marriage to her had felt.
“What!” I screamed back at her. I gave her a death stare that would have killed her right there if I had any kind of superhuman powers, but I didn’t. She crumpled the comforter into a ball in her arms and refused to give it back until I got out of bed.
“Get up.” She rolled her eyes at me. “God, you’re worse than the children.”
“Woman! I don’t need your lip right now.”
“No, what you need is a good ass-kicking. Get up or don’t come home when you are fired.”
Was that an actual option? I smiled at the thought.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” I snapped at her as I got out of bed. Lydia disappeared, returning to whatever corner of hell she crawled out from. Soon after, the cries from the baby subsided.
“Daddy, Daddy!” Charlie came running into the room, tears streaming down her face. Her cute little blonde curls stuck to her flustered cheeks. She was my sun in this cold, dark world, the constant glow in my life, and the only reason that I stayed in this shit hole.
“Billy, told me you aren’t really my daddy.”
I wiped away her tears and sat back on the bed as I took her into my lap. “Sugarplum, how many times have I told you not to listen to your brother?”
Her tears didn’t stop. She was inconsolable.
“Billy, get in here!” Charlie wiggled on my lap as my fingers tickled her sides. “Billy!”
“What?” The four-and-a-half-foot pre-teen with jet black hair walked through the bedroom door.
“How many times have I told you not to lie to your sister?”
Billy stood in the doorway, his phone in hand. He was only half paying attention, still focused on a video game. He looked up for half a second, sneering. “Well, she’s not my sister.”
Anger boiled through my veins. I gently picked up Charlie and sat her down on the bed, kissing her on the forehead before standing. It took me two seconds to cover the floor to the door. I grabbed Billy by his ear and yanked on it hard. He screamed as I directed him out into the hallway and out of Charlie’s earshot.
“She is your sister,” I said through gritted teeth. “You may not like the fact I married your mom, but you will treat the rest of this family with respect.”
He rolled his eyes at me. He looked exactly like his mother when he was disobedient. “Whatevs, can I go now?” He yanked out of my grasp.
“Help your mother get the twins ready for school and put that phone away!”
I went back into the bedroom to find Charlie spread out in the oversized bed. I looked around at the room. It was as if a tornado had ripped through it. Clothes laid on the floor and cascaded out of laundry baskets that were yet to be washed. Dirty dishes were piled up on either side of the bed. Things I hadn’t noticed when I came stumbling into bed at 2:00 AM from my night job. Why did this place always look like a wasteland when Lydia was home all day? Before I used to give her the benefit of the doubt, I mean, with four kids at home under the age of five, I knew it was hard to keep up with the workload. But now the twins were in kindergarten, and it was only Charlie and the baby, Miles. And let’s face it, Charlie was pretty self-reliant these days.
I walked over to her, brushing the hair out of her face. Her tears long gone, replaced with a goofy smile. She had found the blanket Lydia threw on the floor and brought it back into the bed. She buried herself deep in the blankets. There was something about being in your parents’ bed, surrounded by blankets and pillows, that brought a sense of comfort. At least I assumed that’s what it was like. I didn’t know my parents. Mine had dumped me off at an orphanage when I was just a toddler. Eventually, I became a product of the foster system. I vowed that when I became a father, I would never leave their side, no matter what. Hence the reason I stayed in a loveless marriage. I could never live a life without my children, even if some days I wondered if Miles was even mine.
“Sugarplum, Daddy has to jump into the shower. You’re okay here?” I didn’t wait for her to answer. I knew she was.
I walked into the hallway and tripped on one of the twins’ toys. “For fuck’s sake,” I mumbled under my breath. I stopped to peek in the kitchen to make sure Billy was helping his brother and sister get organized for school. “Hurry up. The school bus will be here soon.” The only response I received was grunts from all three. I shook my head and ducked into the bathroom.
This house felt smaller and smaller each day. The seven of us crammed into a three-bedroom bungalow in east LA wasn’t the greatest housing situation, but it was all I could afford these days. Lydia’s employment insurance ran out months ago, and with two little ones still at home, work wasn’t an option for her. Billy and the twins were from Lydia’s first marriage, and the child support payments that came from her ex were few and far between. Even with my full-time electrician job, it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. I worked two jobs just to make sure the bills were paid, and we had food on the table.
After I finished up at Thor Electric, I headed over to a night security job in downtown LA. After a long day, I would come home completely exhausted and get a few hours of sleep before having to do it all over again. I stepped into the shower, dreading the day ahead.
By the time I got out of the cold shower, Billy and the twins were gone, Lydia had laid down with Miles, and Charlie was watching cartoons in our bedroom. I wished I could stay home with her, spend the day making blanket forts, and playing tea party. But I had responsibilities, and I wanted her and Miles to have a better life than I had. The next day was the weekend, and I could play with the kids all day.
“Okay, sweetheart, you be good for your mom.” I patted Charlie on the head and left for work.
The bus ride to work was less than eventful. The smell of sweat and flatulence mingled in the warm LA air. I tried not to focus on it. Instead, I would use the time to write. It was a little hobby I picked up that not many people knew about. Currently, I was working on a science fiction story. It was about a man who discovered time travel that took him back to when he was a kid. He tried changing his future, but everything went awry when he tried to make his way back. I wasn’t sure about the plot. It was a work in progress. The bus pulled up to work just under the wire.
“Rick, cutting it a bit close.” My boss loved to point out that I never showed up for the required fifteen minutes before my shift.
“Until you pay me for those fifteen minutes, you will see me here at exactly five minutes to.” I grabbed a quick coffee before looking at the jobs I had lined up for the day. Three in the hills and one in the valley. Argh. It would be another day of being stretched thin, another day of going to wealthy homes of the rich and fabulous. There was nothing like having your shortcomings rubbed in your face. I knew my employer charged a pretty penny for our services but only paid us in chump change. I hadn’t been with Thor Electric too long. The last two jobs I worked at let me go. Apparently, some of the clients had complained about me, claiming the work I had done was only subpar.
In between jobs, I stopped to eat my bagged lunch alongside the road. I walked up to some shops and spied through the windows. Charlie’s birthday was coming up. Lydia and I couldn’t afford to throw her a big party, but we did agree we would have cake and one present. I knew Lydia would want to get her a doll or a toy, but she had enough of those. The last thing we needed was more toys clogging up the halls in our little house. I walked into the antique store, not knowing what I was looking for, but when I came across the charm bracelet, I couldn’t help myself. I scooped it up, handing it to the sales clerk. It was perfect. There was a heart-shaped charm that could be engraved. It would cost a little bit more than I had planned on spending, but the keepsake for my little girl would be worth it.
My night security job was less strenuous than being an electrician. Mostly I sat behind a desk and watched monitors. Occasionally I had to do sweeps of the building, but any security risks were relatively low. I took the opportunity to write more of my story. One day I hoped to publish it. Maybe I’d even make it big. It was a pipe dream, but everyone is entitled to a fantasy of their own.
The bus ride back in the middle of the night was long, and half the time, the bus driver had to wake me up, or I’d miss my stop. When I got home, I tucked the jewelry box inside my sock drawer for safekeeping. My head hit the pillow, and I was out in seconds.
“Derrick!” I was woken by Lydia’s shrill screech, followed by a pillow hitting me in the head. “What the fuck is this?”
I blinked my eyes open. Lydia had a basket of laundry at her feet and the jewelry box in her hand. She looked furious.
“Who is she?”
I closed my eyes and rolled back over. “You’re being crazy. It’s a present for Charlie.”
“She’s turning four, not fourteen.”
I pulled the pillow over my head. It had felt like I’d only just fallen asleep. I was still tired, and being subjected to the madness of a jealous wife was not the way I wanted to wake up.
“Green is not becoming on you.”
“You spoil her.” I could hear the bitterness in her voice.
“Lydia, it’s 6:00 AM,” I pleaded with her to let me sleep.
She picked up the laundry basket, put the box on the dresser, and left the room. It was Saturday, and I was able to sleep in. When I finally climbed out of bed, it was mid-morning. The house was unusually quiet. I pulled a shirt from a drawer and walked out into an empty living room. Everyone was gone. The room had been cleaned spotless. Quite the difference in a matter of 24 hours. What had happened here?
I walked around the house searching. Miles wasn’t in his crib, and the twins’ bunk beds were made. Maybe they had gone for a walk or were playing in the backyard. I poked my head out the door, but the yard was empty. I checked the garage. The car was gone. Closing the door, I went back to the kitchen. A lone note was taped to the fridge.
“I’ve taken the kids to my mothers, don’t come after us.”
I stood staring at the note in my hand. My whole body had gone numb. She had taken the kids? Quickly I went to the closet where we kept the suitcases. All of them were gone except one. My knees buckled underneath me. I grabbed onto the door handle, trying to keep my balance. I felt like I was going to be physically ill. Why would she leave? What was going on?
I didn’t know what to do. Everything around me went dark. I slumped to the floor, my head in my hands, and began to cry.