XLVI. Keep it Together
I spent most nights with barely any thoughts.
The papers in my hands shake.
“Piper. I’m sorry, but I promise you will be compensated.”
“I can help you with-”
I stand up and the papers crumbled in my hands, “You expect me to believe that the company is struggling and they’re forced to lay off people?” I don’t need a mirror to know the crazy look on my face. “I’m one of the people who handle the company finances, and you expect me to believe that the company is low on money?!”
“Piper. Please, let’s sit down, and we’ll talk things through.”
“I can’t lose my job. I have two kids at home.” I see people in movies used that line before, but I never thought I would use that sentence.
My supervisor stood up and made his way towards the door. He looks around before he closes it, “Look,” he said in a low voice. He sits down on the chair beside me. This is an action that shows the wall between a superior and an employee is gone. “I didn’t make this decision. Piper, you’re the best employee I’ve ever had, and if it was up to me. I would keep you. Hell, I would promote you.”
“I don’t know. Yesterday, someone came in here and told me to fire you. That was it. They told me to find a reason, any reason to let you go.”
“They told me to find some sort of misconduct and fire you.”
The more he talked, the angrier I got. It doesn’t take a genius to know who’s behind this.
“So, I’m going to write it down as a layoff, okay? That way, you can get unemployment money, and it’ll help you stay afloat for a while.”
Being fire for misconduct and laid off are two different things. If I were written down as a fired employee for misconduct, I wouldn’t get unemployment benefits, and it would be harder for me to get a job.
“I’m sorry, Piper, but I need you to pack your stuff before lunch.”
At that moment, I didn’t know how I walk out of the office or even how it ends. At my desk, there was already a box. When I look around, everyone avoided eye contact. I swallowed the saliva in my mouth and packed up all my stuff. After I finished, I grabbed the box and made my way towards the door.
“Piper,” a few of my co-workers came up. “If there is anything we can do, please tell us.”
I know they don’t really feel bad that I got fired - it’s mostly empathy. And one day, they will forget that I ever worked here, similar to all the other employees that got let go.
I force a smile, “I would love gift cards to help me with my meals.”
Everyone laughs, but the awkward tension was still in the air. All because I know their emotions aren’t past empathy and they will stop talking about me next week, it doesn’t mean I’ll leave with bad blood.
When I walk out of the company, I could feel my phone buzz. I placed the box in the back of my car, closed the trunk, and grab my phone. There was a bunch of gift cards send to me. The gift cards had sort message of ‘We’ll miss you!’ to ’You’re the best!”
The laid-off happened too fast for them to set up a goodbye party or collect a signed card.
“Piper.” I turn my head to see one of my co-workers.
She looks around the garage before she walks towards me. “Look. I’m going to make this quick. A few days ago, we saw some people came in and talked to the big boss. The boss seems scared of him, and after that, he kept asking about you. He went around and asked why you kept taking days off. We all know he never cared before. I mean, which CEO cared about a small-time employee? We all think it’s unfair that you got laid off, and we think it has something to do with the men that met the boss.”
“I know,” I said.
I nod, “But, thank you. I appreciate it.”
“You’re one of the best employees. How could they do this to you?”
“Corporate. You know?” I tried to laugh it off.
No matter how light I tried to make of the situation, I know it’s not a laughing matter. Right now, I’m fighting for the custody of my children, but inconveniently I lost my job. My job is proof that I can financially take care of them.
“You’re home early,” Jackson said.
“Where are the kids?”
“Upstairs. They’re napping.” His eyes went towards the box in my hands. “What happened?”
I closed the front door, “Don’t you see? I got fired.” I know I shouldn’t transfer my hostility towards Jackson, and trust me, I’m trying my best to keep the monster down.
Jackson takes the box from my hands so I could take off my jacket. I grab the box from him and throw it in the hallway closet. When I close the door and turn, Jackson was right behind me with a frown of his own.
“He is gonna bring up how I’m unemployed to court,” I said.
Jackson embraces me, “That bastard,” he mumbled.
I couldn’t agree more.
After a few minutes, I looked up and smiled. Jackson released me from his hold so I could walk into the other room. I chuckled when I saw the mess on my table, “My dining room had turned into your office.” I set the purse down.
“I’m not sure if you notice it or not, but you have only one table in your house.”
“Coffee table?” I point at the small table in the living room.
“And kick Mr.Pointy Horn and his friends out of tea time?” He chuckles, “By the way, Crystal has an amazing imagination.”
I walked towards the living room and picked up all the toys. I don’t know why I bother to clean up the house when they’re going to mess it up again. Jackson went down and helped me.
“You sure this is okay?” I put away Dustin’s car toys. “Being here.”
“I choose to be here.”
I organized the tray of toys, “You’re not going to give up, are you?”
My body freezes when I feel the warmth from behind. Jackson places the fake food toys into the bin, “Give up on what?” He grabs the toy from my hand and sorts it. “I told you. I don’t expect anything.”
“Crystal and Dustin aren’t yours.”
“But it doesn’t make me love them any less.”
“I don’t want the burden of the thought that the reason why you don’t have a family is because of us.”
Jackson turn me around, “It’s not anyone’s fault. I choose this. I want to be here.”
“Jackson. One day...I’m going to move on.” Move on from Emerson...from Jackson.
“And when that day comes, I won’t bother you anymore.”
The more he comforts me, the heavier my heart felt.
“I know it’s hard to be with me,” he said. “Because of my background. It’s not easy. I understand that. So, I won’t push you to be in a position where it’s unbearable for you.”
“Why do you have to be so considerate?”
He smiles, “To make up for my shitty behaviors in the past?” Jackson holds me, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you.”
“It’s the past now. Why bring it up?”
Jackson wasn’t always so sweet towards me. It’s understandable. In my youth, I was an annoyance. I would push into his personal space without permission.
Even when he said he doesn’t want me, I ignore it.
I didn’t respect his boundaries.
No wonder why after he slept with me, he said it was a mistake.
I don’t blame his behavior.
I wouldn’t want to take responsibility for someone like me either.
“Mommy,” a groggy voice appears. Immediately, Jackson throws himself off of me and onto the ground to clean the rest of the toys.
Crystal drags her giant unicorn towards me. “Dustin,” she yawns. “He had an accident.”
I released a deep breath, “I got it,” I said.
“Why are you home? What about work?”
“You’re not happy that I’m home?”
She shakes her head, “Happy,” she said with her eyes still closed.
I watch as Crystal rub her eyes before she stumbled towards Jackson. It’s odd for a young girl her age to take naps in the middle of the day, but if anyone knew about her trauma, they would understand why. Crystal can’t sleep well at night.
She would sleep, but she would also wake up constantly.
I caught her sitting on the couch before with warm milk.
She told me she didn’t want to bother me, so she tried to make herself fall asleep.
It makes me wonder how many times she wakes up in the middle of the night without my awareness.
Crystal slaps Jackson’s face lightly before she grabs his shirt and cuddles inward.
The presence of someone familiar gives her a sense of security.
When I got upstairs, Dustin was curled in the corner of the bed. “Soweii,” he whisper. His eyes went towards the wet spot.
I smile lightly, “There’s nothing to be sorry about.” Recently, Dustin started toilet training, so he’s not used to not wearing diapers.
I lift him from the bed, put on his hearing aid, and made our way into the bedroom. “Do you still need to pee?”
He shrugs, “I dunno.”
I help him take off his pants and put on the small seat on the toilet. “Let’s try, okay?”
While I rinse his clothes in the sink, the side of my eye watches him. His hands clenched onto the edge of the toilet seat, and his face turned a deep shade of red. He’s trying.
When a small leak came out, he smiles. “Did it.”
I chuckled, “Yes, you did.” I turned off the sink water and got the bath ready.
I took off Dustin’s earpiece and got him into the bath. While I wash him, Dustin stared at me.
I wash all parts of his body.
The sound of water seem to be louder than most days, but somehow it was soothing.
“It okay,” Dustin said.
My attention went back towards him.
Dustin places a wet hand on my cheek, and his brown eyes sink into mine. Whenever I look at Dustin, my heart aches in a brutal amount. Each day, he grows to look more and more like Emerson.
“It okay, mommy. It okay.”
I should hold it in - keep it together.
Tears don’t fix anything.
But, when Dustin wraps his tiny arms around me and with his soft voice, he said: “Oweii. Oweii. Go away.”