Runaway Mother chapter 21
When I pick Ethan up from preschool, he gives me a big hug.
‘How was school today buddy?’ I ask zipping up his coat.
‘A lady took me into a room and did homework with me!’ his little voice says as he rubs his sleeve against his nose.
‘She did?’ I say, hoping she was testing him for dyslexia.
‘Yea,’ he smiles, ‘then she gave me a cool dinosaur sticker!’
‘Yea,’ he says and looks deep into my eyes, ‘I’m going to give it to ducky!’
My heart melts at the innocence of the little boy in front of me. ‘I’m sure ducky is going to love it!’ I smile.
As we begin to walk hand in hand, I ask him if he wants to go on an adventure and meet some of my ‘new friends’?
‘What kind of an adventure?’ he asks, the cogs in his mind turning.
‘How would you like to go on a bus to see aunt Connie?’
‘Will there be ice cream again?’ he asks.
I giggle and answer, ‘no, but you can have some Fanta!’
‘Can I blow bubbles?’ his face lights up.
‘Sure!’ I answer and we take a right instead of a left to walk half a block to the bus stop.
‘Have you ever been on a bus before?’ I ask him.
He shrugs his shoulders and looks up at me, ‘will ducky be there?’
I shake my head no and watch his face drop. ‘But you can tell him you rode the bus when we get home!’ that seems to pick his mood up and his smile returns.
Its mere minutes before I see the bus in the distance and go down to Ethans level and point to it as it quickly approaches.
‘You have to put out your arm to tell it to stop, ok?’
I stand up straight and the pair of us put out our arms as the bus slows, the indicator suggesting it’s going to stop right in front of us. I have a handful of quarters ready and put them in the coin tray situated beside the driver, and he accelerates I grab hold of a pole and Ethans hood so we don’t fall over. We sit in the nearest seats to us, Ethan by the window, and he is content in just sitting there, watching the people get on and off at each stop.
After fifteen minutes I nod to him, ‘this is our stop buddy!’
‘Aww!’ he says sounding disappointed.
‘Do you want to push the button to tell the driver to stop?’
Ethans face lights up, ‘this button?’ he points to the red square that sits in a blue bulge of the pole I stopped us falling with.
I nod, and his little hand pushes it until its illuminated. We wait for the bus to slow down before getting out of our seats and I try to keep him upright as the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop!
We climb down the steps to the footpath and Ethan beams up at me. ‘Can we go on the bus again?’ he asks.
‘That’s how were going to get home!’ I reply.
‘Where are we going now?’ he asks as we hold hands on the busy street.
I don’t care who or what is around us, Ethan is my priority, and I decide to stop in the middle of the footpath and point to the big sign jutting out of the building a half of a block away.
‘That building is The Mint Leaf!’ I explain, ‘aunt Connie said she’d meet us in there!’
He smiles, ‘I like her, she put ice cream in your hair!’ he giggles.
I can’t help but join him, ‘that was funny, wasn’t it?’
‘Do you remember the man who came to our house a few weeks ago? The one who was wearing pyjamas!’
‘Why does he wear pyjamas if he’s not going to bed?’ Ethan asks a valid question, one I don’t have the answer to!
‘C’mon!’ I move my head in the direction of the place my mother spent so much of her time in and see Shadow smoking outside again!
‘Look Mary,’ Ethan points, ‘it’s the man in his pyjamas!’
‘His name is Shadow!’ I look down at him with wide eyes.
‘That’s a funny name!’
‘A lot of the people you are about to meet have funny names! But we aren’t supposed to let them know that their names are funny, ok?’
Ethan holds up his free hand exposing his baby finger. We do this all the time…make pinkie promises, and Ethan is very good at keeping them…most of the time anyway!
Shadow spots us approaching him and flicks the end of his cigarette at traffic.
‘Well hello!’ he smiles. He goes down to Ethans level, ‘do you remember me? I’m the guy in the pyjamas who came to your house!’ he laughs, making Ethan laugh.
I look down at Ethan and smile. ‘Oops!’ he says putting his hand to his mouth.
‘Its ok buddy. Shadow asked you a question and its not polite to not answer!’
‘But what about the pinkie promise?’ he asks, looking up at me doe eyed.
‘Its still intact!’ I reassure him.
‘It is?’ he asks looking confused.
‘Yup!’ I nod, ‘Shadow was the one who said something about the pyjamas, not you!’ I smile down at him and even though I know he didn’t understand, I reassure him again that the pinkie promise is still intact. We even make a pinkie promise on top of our pinkie promise.
‘Are you guys coming in?’ Shadow asks enthusiastically, ‘we’ve been expecting you!’ he smiles.
Ethan looks up at me, ‘c’mon and see if we can find aunt Connie!’ I suggest. He nods and skips his way inside.
As we enter the dimly lit establishment, I hear a cheer coming from the booth the guys usually sit at. Aunt Connie makes a bee line for Ethan and he runs into her arms.
‘I missed you!’ she says and kisses the top of his head.
‘Mary said I can blow some bubbles with Fanta!’ was the first thing out of his mouth.
Connie looks down at him smiling, ‘do you like Fanta?’
‘I only get it on special treats!’
Connie looks up at me and winks. I nod back at her and we all go over to the booth to introduce Ethan to the gang.
‘Ethan, these are more aunts and uncles you never knew you had!’ Connie starts from left to right. ‘This is aunt Sienna, uncle Blaze, uncle Thumper and I believe you’ve already met uncle Shadow!’
I watch Ethans face as he smiles back to the gang. ‘Mary said I can have Fanta!’
They all say in unison, ‘hi Mary!’
I wave at them all, looking each in the eye one at a time and get a warm tingling feeling inside. Its nice to have people on your side.
Shadow takes off Ethans backpack and coat and brings him up to the bar for the long-awaited Fanta.
While he’s busy, sitting on a bar stool waiting for mike, the bartender, Connie envelopes me in a hug.
‘I was delighted today when you rang!’ she says. ‘Its about time you asked for help!’
‘But I didn’t…’ I start
‘…the fact that you’re here speaks volumes!’ she looks at me with sad eyes. My own eyes begin to fill up, Connie brings me over towards the stage and sits me down on a rickety old wooden chair, pulling another close.
‘What’s wrong pet?’ she asks rubbing a stray tear away with her thumb.
‘The last thing I want is for Ethan to see me cry!’ I say as the flood gates begin to open.
Connie looks behind her and sees that the others all got Fanta’s too and are having a bubble blowing contest. ‘He’s fine! The others have him distracted! Now back to you!’ Connie says in a loving tone.
‘Things are just so hard!’ I cry.
Connie pulls me in close and rubs my shoulder as my body begins to convulse with every sob.
‘There, there,’ she says, ‘let it all out!’
Eventually the waterworks stop and I look into Connie’s eyes which show nothing but kindness.
‘This is a safe place from now on, a place where you don’t need to be a surrogate mother, but get to be a sixteen-year-old kid again…ok?’
‘No buts!’ she places a gentle finger to my lips. ‘There are five people here who want to help to make both yours and Zach’s life easier! We want to help, but you have to embrace that and not push us away!’
I sit up straight. ‘I know motherhood comes naturally to me!’ I begin, ‘but now there’s a boy on the scene and the teenager in me wants to be able to both embrace motherhood and being a teenager at the same time!’
‘I can’t imagine the conflict that’s in your head!’ Connie says ‘damn that woman for putting this on your young shoulders!’ she shakes her head, ‘I could really throttle her if I knew where she is!’
‘And Zach’s big game is on Tuesday, and I’m supposed to be working but I have no one to watch Ethan so…
‘…I’ll watch him!’ Connie offers taking me aback.
I look at her and her kind eyes tell me that the offer is genuine!
‘You will?’ I ask graciously.
‘What’s good about having all these aunts and uncles if you don’t use us!’ she gesticulates towards the table behind us. ‘We’re all willing,’ she holds my chin, ‘every single one of us, to be here when you’re in a bind or need a sitter or even just a day off!’ She looks off into the distance for a minute, ‘in fact,’ her gaze is back on me, ‘why don’t one or other of us watch him on a Friday evening slash night?’
I sit up straight and look at her. I believe she’s serious!
‘I can’t ask…’
‘…you didn’t!’ she smiles, ‘I offered!’
I mirror her smile, ‘that would actually really help!’ I raise one eyebrow!
‘It would give you and Zach one Ethan free night where you can go out on the town and pay a wino to buy you beer and get so wasted that you get brought home in a cop car!’
‘Whoa there Connie!’ I stop her! ‘There will definitely be no cop car!’ I ensure her.
‘But that’s what sixteen-year-olds do!’ she smiles, ‘I just want you to get to make mistakes for one night and not have an Ethan shaped figure in the back of your mind. I want for you to be free of all parental obligations and be a kid!’
I look at her and realise that she’s serious.
‘Whoever comes will sleep in your mothers room, presuming that’s ok with you and Zach, so that you can stay out as long as you like and we can look after the little dude on Saturday morning when you are both nursing your hangovers!’
‘Would you believe me if I told you that I actually don’t drink?’ I wince, waiting for a nudge to start.
‘No judgements here!’ Connie says to my surprise. ‘I actually got my ten-year AA chip last month!’
‘You did?’ I can’t help but look amazed. ‘Congratulations!’ I say and hug her.
‘Yea, see, I was the kid who was brought home in a cop car and who paid wino’s to get me booze! It ultimately ended my marriage and my kids were taken off of me!’
‘Oh Connie!’ I look into her eyes which are filling up.
‘That’s one of the main reasons I’m so angry at Caro! She voluntarily gave up three wonderful kids when I would have killed for more time with mine!’
‘Do you get to see them at all?’
Connie shakes her head. ‘They resent me for picking the booze over them!’ The day they were taken away from me was the last day alcohol passed these lips!’ she points towards her mouth. ‘They are all grown now, the last one in college!’
I close my eyes and am speechless. ‘Their father and step mother poisoned them against me and the day I got my five-year chip was the day I found out my eldest was pregnant. She had a little boy! He’s the same age as Ethan is now! I send things to him every now and again, but they always get returned! I just hope that some day they will forgive me and accept me back into their life, on their terms of course!’
I shake my head and pull Connie in for a hug. She wraps her arms around me tightly. When we break away, the two of us have tears rolling down our cheeks and we smile
‘We’d better go over and see who won the bubbles competition!’ I say and Connie nods in agreement.
‘Thanks!’ she says. I feel puzzled. ‘Thanks for listening to me ramble on!’
I smile, ‘you do the same for me! aunt Connie!’
She grins at that and we walk over to the booth, our arms interlocking.
‘Mike!’ Connie summons, ‘I think we’ll have a burger and fries all round!’ Ethan looks up. ‘Are you hungry Ethan?’ he nods his approval.
We stayed at The Mint Leaf until I saw Ethan yawn. I looked at my watch and was shocked when it read 7:57!
‘I’m sorry to be a party pooper but I have to get this little guy home!’
‘Do we have to go?’ the little voice who is sitting on Thumpers lap watching him do card tricks said.
‘I’m afraid so buddy! Ducky has been in the house on his own since breakfast and I know he’d love a cuddle from his favourite person in the whole world!’
‘C’mon Ethan,’ Thumper says, ‘I’ll drive ye home!’
‘Theres no need…’
‘…I insist!’ Thumper says and I smile at him. ‘Besides, I want to make sure you get home safely to ducky!’ I nod my gratitude and with that we say goodbye to all in The Mint Leaf.
‘Before you go, I have to ask Ethan a very important question!’ Connie smiles.
Ethan looks up at her expectantly, ‘would you like me to collect you from school on Tuesday so we can watch Zach play his very important basketball game!’
Ethan climbs over Blaze and Sienna to get to Connie and gives her a big hug. ‘Would you like that?’ she asks.
He smiles his irresistible cheeky grin and says ‘yes please!’ and rubs noses with her!
After Thumper drives us home, I sit in the back with Ethan who happens to fall asleep!
‘I’ll carry him in!’ Thumper offers as we pull outside the house.
‘Thanks, I’d really appreciate it!’
I go ahead and open the door and get ducky from the kitchen table.
Thumper reaches in for the little guy and I point him in the direction of his room, where he gently lays him down and I take off his shoes, placing ducky on the pillow beside him.
‘Thanks so much!’ I say as he’s leaving!
‘He’s a good kid!’ Thumper smiles, ‘you both are!’
I watch as he gets into his car and drives away.
Connie’s story really resonates with me. It takes me back to Wednesday when Taylor confided in me about her father. I decide to reach out and give her a call. After all, there are olive branches everywhere, you just have to wait for someone to extend one. If I am to learn anything from today, it’s that!