As I drove on with Nell in the back seat, I got to thinking about what a nice day it had turned out to be. Finally, the weather had started to change. Less pronounced were the grey overcast skies and bone biting chill of winter. Spring was starting to show in everything from the buds of trees to children braving the milder chill in the parks and playgrounds. I looked into the rear view mirror and noticed my baby girl was taking out the card she’d made her friend. On the other side of her sat the overnight bag I’d packed for her this morning. “Be careful Nelly, don’t bend that card anymore.” I said as I returned my gaze to the light we were stopped at. “Ok Daddy.” Her voice melted me. In many ways, she was my spring.
Normally days like these were lost entirely on me. Since Jane was gone I’d missed very little of her. What was missed was her income. I had to work two jobs to keep things going. I’d be on my way to the second one if the boss hadn’t called me and said there were no hours for tonight. I was surprised because the school had always had late night work for someone who didn’t mind cleaning up.
“Don’t come in tonight.” Bill said.
“What? You sure you don’t need me?” I had originally been a little upset. I was also worried I’d done something wrong. “Is there a problem?” Bill didn’t answer right away, which made me worry even more.
“No, no you’re fine. It’s just that we don’t really have that much work to do tonight.” He paused again. “I’ll um.. I’ll call you tomorrow. I’m sure I can find you something. I promise.”
It wasn’t that I really needed the money to survive, but I hated not being able to provide Nell with the same comforts we had when Jane was around. “What was that?” I asked. My thoughts had gone to the financials. I didn’t hear what Bill had said.
“I’m.. Sorry again Richard. I’ll make it up to you.” I nodded absently.
“Umm.. yeah sure.”
I hung up. Seems I had some time to spare tonight. I looked up the Rockies baseball schedule on my phone, and my evening had nearly planned itself.
We pulled up to Maya’s building. Her parents were both employed with some tech firm and from the looks of it, did pretty well. The building looked new and chic with it’s boxy juxtapose color scheme and artsy patio exterior. The parking was even covered for the tenants, solar panels neatly disguised as awnings for the vehicles. I got out and went to the back door to open it for Nelly. “This looks nice huh?” I asked the 5 year old. She was already staring with enthusiasm at the large central clubhouse. That’s where they said the party would start, a few select girls were invited to stay the night. You could clearly see the pool inside the large glass walls that made up most of the ground floor. The pool had 3 slides going into it. There was a river snaking its way around the perimeter, a waterfall along the back wall, and a pirate ship beached in a shallows area with a small slide coming out of the side. I looked down at my daughter, it seemed she was in for a very good time.
I imagine my ex-wife’s confident persona and beautiful face were passed on to my daughter. Nelly had all the signs of being a strong child. She was one of the girls invited to stay the night. I had suspected she would be popular like her mother was. In some ways I was even scared for it. My daughter, in contrast, didn’t seem to have any fears. I wanted to meet mom and dad first. But unless I got a weird vibe, I knew Nelly would be just fine sleeping here. She wasn’t scared at all about staying in a strange place. When Jane and I had our worst nights Nelly would find the oddest places to hide. Sometimes a helpful neighbor would take her in if Jane got especially violent. Nelly never complained, never admitted to crying. Maybe she got some of my resolve passed to her too. That resolve helped her when it came to telling the judge what had happened that night. It helped me when I finally decided to sign those divorce papers.