The machine moaned as it compiled my cash to spit it out. It made a click as it stopped, then the little door slid open. I reached in to grab my money.
Thumbing through it, I counted, just to make sure it was correct. My dad always taught me to do this, as he claimed he had been ripped off before. Five hundred I thought. Perfect, it was just enough to cover the rest of rent for the month. I had dropped off another five hundred dollars last week, and three hundred fifty the week before, but I had to stay on top of things every paycheck to make sure I could cover rent in the full amount. I got paid weekly, so I tried to pay in increments throughout the month. Between bills, school clothes, food and general needs of a child, rent was killing me.
It whrrr'd again as it printed my receipt. My stomach groaned with anticipation and anxiety as I grabbed the ticket.
Thirty-seven dollars and sixty-four cents.
Heyyy! I thought. Thirty-seven dollars and sixty-four cents! It took a minute before it clicked with me. I wasn't in the red this week! I was certain I was going to overdraft my account with this withdrawal, but I had to finish paying rent this week. I had gotten into the terrible habit of only checking my account balance when I got paid, or when I pulled out rent money, and even then it was only sometimes. But, hey, I wasn't going to get overdraft fees this week, so that was great enough news for me!
More than satisfied, I took the cash and crammed it into my pocket, tossed the receipt in the trash next to the ATM, and walked over to stand in line to get the money order for my landlord.
I dropped the envelope with our rent money in the drop box of our complex, and drove off to go pick up Liz from school. It was only about two miles away, but it was across a highway, so the school, and I think maybe the police, wouldn't let a nine year old walk home alone. So, every day after work, I had to rush over to her school to pick her up and take her home. It was the only reason that I took the job that I have, so that I could work early enough to get off early enough to pick her up.
Today, though, was a half day at school, and everyone got out at noon, so I had to take some sick time to leave early today. I didn't accrue vacation time at this job, and God knows my boss would get pissy if I tried to call out or ask for time off, so it was pretending to be sick to go home for me today. Couldn't just leave her there, and as a single father, I didn't have anyone else who could pick her up.
I pulled up to the curb of the school, and all of the kids came bustling out. I looked around for Liz, and like I always do, I had a brief feeling of dread when I didn't see her right away. And, as always, there she came running out, in her pig tails and overalls, then grabbed at the back passenger door to get in.
I heard a metal thunk and realized that I forgot to unlock the door, so I clicked the button and she got in.
“Sorry about that, kiddo!” I half-laughed. “I gotta stop doing that, huh?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, but didn't say anything else. She was usually pretty talkative, so this caught my attention.
“How was school?” I asked.
“Good,” she said with a bit of a down inflection.
I glanced in the rear view for a second. “It doesn't sound too good.” She didn't say anything. “Did something happen?”
“No,” she said, staring at the seat in front of her.
“Are you sure?” I asked, a little worried.
“No, Sammy just ripped a whole in my bubble popper.” She spoke like she was choking back tears.
“Your bubble popper?” I asked sadly, “You mean the kitty one?” I glanced back again. The bubble popper was a fidget toy that just had you push little bubble shapes inside out, back and forth.
“Yeah,” she said with a strong frown.
“Awe, that was your favorite one!” I said.
“Yeah,” she said as some tears started running down her scrunched-up face. My lower lip reflected her sobs.
“Awe, Sweetie, it's okay. We can get you a new one, if you want?” I offered. They were like five bucks, and they kept her hands busy. Plus, she was a good kid and I hate it when she's sad. It makes me sad.
“No, it's okay. I like the kitty one,” she stifled her sobs. But she still sobbed.
Awe, how do I make it better? I thought. I thought maybe we could play a card game or watch some Youtube when we got home. Normally I limit her time on Youtube and save it for after homework, but I could make an exception this time. She had a bad day. “You wanna maybe watch some Aphmau when we get home?” Aphmau, (pronounced AF-MOU, like mouse), was a nearly incoherent Minecraft show that some group of adults somewhere made for kids. It had a “storyline” usually, but it never made any sense, and the voices were insufferable. But, hey, she thought it was funny, and there wasn't really anything inappropriate in it, and she loved it. So, I limit that one especially, because I can only take so much, but I did allow it.
“Okay...” she answered, not very loudly.
Wow, that didn't even do it. We were almost home when I had an idea. It was an idea that I usually brushed off, but I reconsidered it today. A couple of frozen yogurts would only cost us maybe fifteen dollars, max. There was one a few blocks away and Liz begged to go there often, but I usually turned it down because we just couldn't swing it. Sure, I didn't get paid again for another two days, but Hell, I was expecting to be broke today anyway. “You know what?” I said. “We have something else we gotta do before we go home, okay?”
“Okay...” she didn't care.
We pulled into the froyo parking lot and I parked. I looked back and she was staring out the window, longingly at the shop. “Hungry?” I asked.
She lit up, but then hesitantly asked, “Where are we going?”
I forced a chuckle. “Well, where do you think we're going?” I motioned my head toward the froyo shop.
She bounced in her seat. “Really?!” she asked happily. Thank goodness.
“Yeah!” I said with emphasis. “C'mon! We better get in there before the froyo melts!” I joked.
She bolted out of her seat belt and through the car door as if it were one single movement. I came around and took her hand, and together we walked across the parking lot to get to the store. Well, I walked, she skipped.
When we got into the store, she ran ahead of me, over to the levers that dispensed the goods. Next to the first one were the cups. “Go ahead!” I told her as she waited patiently near them. She turned and grabbed the biggest one and giggled. “Ah-ah,” I said with high eyebrows and a smile. She knew what she was doing.
“Just kidding, Daddy!” she laughed and grabbed a smaller one. Not the smallest, but much better.
In a joking around voice, I nodded, “Uh-huh! Sure!” I grabbed a smaller cup than hers.
We made the rounds and I got two flavors; Vanilla and Strawberry Bundt Cake. Liz got a little bit from every single one. “We gotta get our money's worth, right Daddy?” she said. She was laughing, but it did give me a twinge of sadness to hear her say it.
Regardless, I joked back, “That's right, Sweetie.”
We walked the counter with the toppings and I let her get whatever she wanted. She got sprinkles, mini-peanut-butter cups, boba bubbles (I didn't even know what those were), and candy corn. Wait, candy corn? Why would you put candy corn on a frozen dessert? “Candy corn?” I asked.
She seemed like I was questioning all of her life decisions when she answered, “Yeah!” She nodded her head with great exaggeration and raised eyebrows. “I love candy corn!”
“Yeah, but Honey, it's gonna be rock hard by the time we sit down!” I countered.
“You want me to put them back?” she asked. That kid was whitty when she wanted to be, and I gotta admit, she got me there.
“I guess not,” I conceded. She smiled and continued on. “But I will be judging you,” I said in jest.
“That's okay,” she said confidently. She really was her own person. I was so proud of that.
We made it to the pay counter and put our cups on the scale. They charged by weight here. “Oh!” I said while it was still calculating. I started reaching into my wallet, searching. “I think...” I trailed off for a moment until I found it, “...I have a coupon!” It was for five dollars off. I checked the expiration. Still good! I handed it to the clerk.
“Alrighty!” she said in a sing-song voice. “I'll make sure to get that added on for you!” She gave so much more life to her customer service than I could ever muster. “Looks like that comes out too...” she peaked over to the scale, “...ten dollars and eleven scents.”
“Perfect!” I said as I pulled out my card and inserted it into the chip reader. “Sounds good to me.” It was perfect and not only that, but it was extra satisfying to know that I would have been correct in my estimate, too! It's those minor victories that get me through the day.
We took our froyo with copious toppings over to a table and sat down by a window. “How is it?” I asked, knowing that she started scooping it in the moment I paid. I asked before I even saw her, and before she could answer, I saw that it was already all over her face. I smiled.
“Good,” she answered, much more genuine this time. She took another bite.
I laughed a bit, “I think you missed your mouth!” She giggled, and without a drop of remorse, she smeared a bit more around her lips on purpose. We both laughed. “Ew, you little stinker!”
“I am a little stinker!” she announced proudly. I shook my head, smiling, and reached into my pocket. I took out my phone and pulled up Youtube.
“Where did we leave off?” I showed her the screen.
“Um,” she looked and pointed. “That one.”
“This one?” I clicked on it.
“No, that's the last one we watched. We need the next one,” she said.
“Oh, which one is the next one?” I asked. I backed out of it and she pointed again, her mouth full. “Oh, okay.” I clicked.
And we sat there for a little less than an hour and watched as Aphmau did some kind of episode about an under water mermaid school or something, and shared some more giggles. I wondered in the back of my head what kind of bill or streaming service didn't get paid for which left me with money still in the bank, but I pushed that thought out for now. I can figure it out tomorrow.