Chapter 1/ Part one
Kristen let out a breath as she wrapped a hand around a mug of tea that sat on her dining table. She’d favor a cup as she sent her boys off to school. Kristen’s other hand went to pet the gray and black striped cat in her lap.
“Roll call!” she shouted.
Down the hall, two doors opened and closed. The sound of irritable grumbles and slow, dragging feet followed. Kristen turned herself from the table and faced towards the open living room. She smiled some as she watched her two sons line up in front of her.
Her youngest teen, Chauncey, kept his head down and gray eyes on his phone as he picked at his coily, honey-brown hair. Parker, the oldest by two years, waited with his pale brown hands folded in front of him.
“Book bags,” Kristen said.
Chauncey tugged on the shoulder strap to his bag. Parker took his off and held it up.
“Keys,” she said.
They each held up a key.
“Finished,” Parker said.
Chauncey stayed quiet per usual.
Kristen eyed Chauncey over as she sipped her tea. She sat the mug on the table and went on with her checklist. “Bus or car?”
“Bus,” Chauncey answered.
This time, Parker stayed quiet. He never had a preference one way or the other.
“Have a good day, mama” Parker’s light voice said. He walked over and pecked her check as he leaned down to wrap an arm around her shoulders.
Kristen returned the gesture. “You too.”
“Bye, ma,” Chauncey said with a passing wave as the pair made their way to the door.
“Bye. Tell Hiro I said hi.”
The two left out the front door behind her.
Kristen unlocked her tablet and searched through her digital library. One of her favorite graphic novelist released the last book in her thriller series Then The Shots Rang Out. A soft smile sat on her face. Her attention became enveloped in the dark and gritty world built by the author and illustrator.
Kristen frowned as her cell phone rang and vibrated. She dug around in the baggy pocket of her sweatpants. Her mood dropped further after reading the name displayed across the screen, but she answered the call anyway. “What do you want, Isidore?”
“Morning, Krissy,” the cheery voice on the other end sang to her in a sickeningly sweet tone.
Kristen cringed and repeated, a little slower this time, “What do you want, Isidore?”
The man on her phone line laughed a bit as he said, “For you not to call me by my full name. That would be great.”
“You’ve got some nerve, pissing me off this early in the morning before I gotta go to work.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I just love getting to hear your voice sometimes,” he said. “I like talking to you when you let me.”
“I shouldn’t have ever let yo hoe-ass talk to me again after the divorce, but unfortunately, we have kids together, so hearing from you is inevitable.” Kristen switched her finger back and forth behind the gray and black cat’s ear. “As of right now, though, you’re wasting my time, so get to your point. Why are you calling me?”
“Okay. Well, uhm, I kind of have a favor to ask that might seem like a lot to ask. Which it is! It is. I’ll admit that.”
“The fuck do you want?”
“Would it be alright if I left Andy with you for awhile?”
Kristen stayed silent for a moment. She closed her eyes as she rubbed a hand against her face. “Issy, stop playing with me.”
“I know it’s asking way more than just a lot of you.”
“You are not serious.”
“It would help me out so much if you could!”
“Do I look like a fucking babysitter?” Kristen said, trying hard to keep her tone of voice down. “A nanny? I sure as hell don’t look like that boy’s mama! So why in the fuck would you even think to ask me some stupid shit like that?”
“Alright, alright, alright! Kristen, please. Just calm down for a minute.”
Kristen took in a single deep breath. She held it for a second.
“I don’t have anything to do with that boy,” Kristen said in a softer and milder tone.
“It’ll just be for a little while.”
“I don’t give a damn if it was for twenty minutes,” she snapped. She took in another breath and held it as she held her eyes shut as well. “I. Am not. Concerned. With. That. Boy. He’s not mine. We’re not married. I have nothing to do with him.”
“Please, Kristen,” Isidore begged. “I have no one else to leave him with.”
Kristen scoffed, “You better call his mom up then.”
Isidore paused. Kristen knew why, but she was too pissed to care.
“If I trusted his mom with him, I wouldn’t have taken full custody,” Isidore said.
“And you trust this kid with me?”
“Of course I do. I don’t trust anyone like I trust you, Kristen.”
She huffed and rolled her eyes.
“Please,” Isidore went on to say, “I know I don’t deserve your help, but I really, truly need it.”
“…How long?” Kristen asked.
“So, you’ll do it?” Isidore’s tone brightened.
“How long?” she repeated.
“Not that long,” he said. “Just…you know, until I get him back.”
“Do not fuck with me right now, Issy. I’m already boarding on whether or not I want to punch you in the face next time I see you.”
“Okay, okay. So,” his voice dropped a couple of notches as he said, “Three months.”
“Three—!” Kristen stopped. She took a moment to focus on her breathing. A deep breath, in through the nose— she held it for a few moments— then out through the mouth.
In. Hold. Out.
“Boy,” Kristen said with forced restraint. “What in the fuck do you take my patience for?” Her reserved demeanor became harder to keep the more she spoke on the situation. “Huh? Why in the hell would you even need me to take care of him for three months? You’ve lost your damn mind, huh? That has to be it!”
“Remember all that trust? So much trust! You trust me, right?”
Kristen’s face bunched together in disbelief as she moved the phone back to check the name on the screen. She brought it back to her ear. “Fucking— hell no!”
“O-okay. I understand that, but just this one last time,” Isidore pleaded. “I promise it’s for a good reason. I’ve really changed a lot.”
Kristen casually brought up, “The last time I trusted you, I ended up being best friends with your side bitch.”
“Technically, that wasn’t even my fault that you guys got along so well, b-but that was years ago! You know how sorry I am for that. I never meant—”
“Last time I trusted you,” Kristen went on to say, “we ended up evicted from our house, and I had to beg my older brother to let me and my newborn baby stay with him.”
“Again, years ago,” he debated. “I didn’t think I could get that behind on the rent, and I apologized for it just about every time I went to go see you at your brother’s house.”
“The last time I trusted you,” Kristen said over Isidore once again. “You came home, after months of being gone, with a baby a few weeks younger than the one I had just given birth to before you left.”
“Okay, okay. I get it.” Isidore sighed. “I’ve made it hard for you to trust me. I’ve done a lot of stupid shit, I know. I’m a selfish, inconsiderate asshole.”
“Your words, not mine, but yes.”
“I…I know I wasn’t the greatest while we were together. I had a lot of bad habits, you know? And I’ve tried! I’ve tried to kick them since that day you left with the boys.”
“Why are you telling me this now?” Kristen asked. “You’ve been clean for years. Please don’t tell me you—”
“I-I was clean for over ten years, Kristen. I promise, I really was!”
“’Was’? The fuck do you mean ‘was’?”
“I-I’m really trying to get better.”
“Issy, the fuck did you do?” Kristen raised from her seat, startling the cat in her lap who quickly jumped down and ran off.
Kristen heard Isidore sniff over the phone. “I-I relapsed two years ago…I-I was stupid. Being drunk and careless. I uhm…smoked with these girls. I didn’t know what it was until I was already gone.”
“Fucking how old are you? Huh?” Kristen clinched her teeth as she held her face in her free hand. “Fuck!”
“I-I…I want to fix it. I want to get better. I-I know I can’t keep doing this again. Please, Kristen. Just this last time. Can you help me?”
A long moment of silence developed.
“I’ll take him,” Kristen said.
“But you better get the help you need, cause I swear—”
“I will, Kristen,” Isidore said with no hesitation. “Thank you so much. I really don’t deserve to have you around.”
“I know you don’t,” Kristen said. “As long as you know it too.