“Just throw him a regular birthday party. You know, balloons filling the living room, presents wrapped in colorful wrapping paper. Stuff like that” my boss, Jenny Williams, said, sitting behind her desk, studying this week’s numbers. “You don’t understand. This is my first year that I have custody the week of Owen’s birthday. It has to be perfect.” “You have him for the entire week?” she asked, closing the screen of her computer, more intrigued by the previous statement. “I have an idea.”
The checkout line in the local department store seemed to be moving slower than a bale of turtles. I had gotten what Jenny had told me to, having faith that this would be the best birthday and one Owen would never forget. I perked up, seeing that the older man, maybe early seventies, in front of me only had two items; a pack of eight sixty-watt bulbs, and a shower curtain.
“Hello, did you find everything you were looking for?” the happy-go-lucky cashier smiled towards his elder, scanning the two rather absurd purchases. “You got any lottery tickets?” the elder asked, ignoring the cashier’s question. My head sunk into my hands.
“Yes, in fact, we have quite the large selection. Cash for Life, Set for Life, $1 Million Royale, and more. I can show you if you’d like.” “No, that’s fine. I’ll just have one of each.” The cashier’s mouth widened, “One of each out of the ones I mentioned, or out of every ticket we have in stock?” He thought for a moment, “all of them, I’ve always liked the lottery.” “Oh, come on!” I nearly yelled, customers from checkout lines on either side of mine turned to stare. “My son is coming in,” I checked my watch, a horrified expression flooding my face, “forty-five minutes! Please, can you just hold off on the tickets for today?” the man had a thoughtful look on his face. “Okay… actually, I don’t want to miss out on winning the lottery. This could be my chance; I’m not going to give it up.”
“Good choice, Sir” the cashier, his name tag reading Travis, chimed in, fishing the different tickets out from the folder that held them in an organized matter.
I sped home, slowing down every time a police officer came into view. It was already 6:22 p.m., three minutes before my ex-wife, Sherri, was dropping Owen off for the week. I was nearly ten minutes away. This was already a disaster, my car was too old to be going 120 miles an hour, but I had to get home as fast as I could.
“Why there you are, late as always” Sherri almost laughed as I rolled down the window, “Not now,” I nearly growled.
“Daddy!” Owen ran down from the front door, the headlights on my car revealing a smile on his tiny face. I threw open the door, not listening to Sherri ramble on and on about everything that I had done wrong. “Happy early birthday, Owen!” I smiled, hugging the life out of him.
The smell of spaghetti sauce flooded out of the kitchen, where I stood over the stove, careful to keep the water from boiling over the edge. Owen sat at the table, occupying one of the three wooden chairs.
I slid on my oven mitts before grabbing the sauce filled pot in one hand, and the pot of noodles in the other. “Bon Appetite!” I said after placing the dishes both on their own trivet. “Spaghetti, your favourite,” I added, scooping some noodles onto Owen’s plate, before adding a small amount of sauce, knowing that he doesn’t like it too “saucy”.
“Daddy?” Owen looked up at me, sauce dripping from his face, his plate nearly bare. “Yes, Owen?” I responded, wiping the edges of his mouth with a napkin, the subway logo on the torn paper turning from green to a spotty maroon.
“The spaghetti is great, but I just want you to know, it’s not really my favorite meal anymore.” He looked at me apologetically, his glossy blue eyes bigger than ever. “Well that’s okay, but just out of curiosity, how come?” he shrugged slightly, “Mommy said that it could poison me, but I knew that you would never do that to me… right?” It took everything I had not to scream, “No, of course I wouldn’t. You’re my son, and I would do anything to protect you.” His face lit up, smiling brightly.
The spaceship clock on the tiny wooden nightstand in Owens room read 9:04 p.m. once I got him into bed. The Lightning McQueen nightlight beside the door provided just enough light for me to see Owen, he yawned, fatigued from a long day of school. “Goodnight, Owen.” I got up to leave after kissing him on the forehead, he was already almost asleep. “Goodnight, Daddy.”
“This isn’t fair,” I said, shutting my door. “What isn’t fair?” Sherri asked through the phone, an annoyed tone escaping with her words. “You can’t keep on manipulating Owen into not liking me.” “What the hell are you talking about, Kyle?” she asked, acting as if I had stated that I had an extra limb.
“You know what I’m talking about, the whole ‘spaghetti will poison you' and the ‘he’s always late’. I’m sick of it. It’s not my fault he has more in common with me than you.”
“I’m not manipulating him in any shape or form, did you not see that article on people contracting skin diseases from spaghetti?” Sherri scoffed, practically spitting her words through the phone. “Just give it a rest, I don’t want him telling his friends at school that his father tried to poison him.” “Well,” she started, “he won’t have any friends to tell once the poison kills him.” I hung up the phone, too angry to deal with her.
I sat on the edge of my bed, positioned in the corner furthest away from the door. I laid my head in my hands, completely exhausted from the stress of the day. The next day, even though I had the day off, I had to get up earlier than normal to take Owen to school and get the house ready for the rest of the week.
My alarm went off, interrupting my few hours of sleep. I sat up slowly, my shoulders aching painfully. The bottle of aspirin kept on my nightstand only had two tablets left, “how did I forget?” I groaned, frustrated.
After downing the remaining tablets and chasing the horrible taste with tap water, I got out of bed and grabbed an outfit to change into after my shower.
Passing Owen’s room on the way to the bathroom, I noticed he was already awake. “Owen, it’s nearly six in the morning, you don’t have to be up for almost two hours. Go back to sleep.” He shook his head, “Mommy has been making my get up at five in the morning to read.” I jaw nearly hit the floor, “Owen, you’re almost seven years old, you should be getting as much sleep as you can” I said, now in his doorway, turning the nightlight off. “Mommy said sleep is for the weak” he said, returning to a worn copy of The Magic Treehouse.
I couldn’t even enjoy my shower; Sherri was making me look like a horrible influence when she was practically training him for the army. Who knows, maybe she was doing that too.
While toweling off, I planned out what had to be done that evening. “Owen gets off school at a quarter to four, which gives me about two hours to clean the house, an hour to call his friends parents, and another hour to cook dinner,” I mumbled to myself, brushing my teeth raw.
I slid Owen’s brown backpack into the backseat of my 2000 white Sonata, buckling him in afterwards. “You got everything?” I asked him, going over everything he needed inside my head. “Yep! Let’s go!” he had a cheerful grin plastered onto his face. I smiled back, hiding the stress of the day behind the pale skin on my face.
We arrived at the school just short of nine, late. I came into the office to get him a late slip, apologizing to the headmistress before taking him to his classroom. “Bye, bye, Daddy” he said, giving me a hug before racing into his classroom to join his peers.
After vacuuming the living room, I moved onto mopping the floor. It seemed that no matter how much I cleaned, it always seemed dirtier than it had been before.
It was almost noon when I received a call from the school’s headmistress, I had gotten next to nothing done. “Hello, Kyle Brennan speaking,” my voice was shaky, what had happened at school? “Hello, this is the headmistress from Eldon Elementary, we are just calling to inform you that your son, Owen, has been getting teased by a group of boys in his class. He has been begging to come home, but Sherri doesn’t seem to be picking up her phone.” “Well that will be fine since it is my week with Owen anyways. Do you happen to know why these boys are teasing my son?” I asked, biting the inside of my cheeks until I could taste blood. “They seem to think that Owen may be a homosexual.”
The car ride home was silent on Owen’s part. “Do you want to talk about what happened at school today?” I glanced from the road back to him, hoping for him to respond. All he did was shake his head, looking out the window at passing cars. “Owen, bud, you have to talk to me. Okay? Please?” we were almost home now, if I couldn’t get him talking, I would certainly succeed at home.
When I backed into the recently paved driveway, Owen already had the door open before the engine was shut off. After locking the doors, I reached him at the front door, unlocking it so he could enter.
Once his shoes were off, he quickly made his way up to his room without a word. My heart sank down to the bottom of my feet, I had never seen Owen so upset in his life. Something was definitely wrong.
“Owen?” I knocked softly on his bedroom door before opening it slightly. “Can I come in?” he didn’t refrain me from coming in, so I took that as a yes. He was lying on his side, facing away from me. “Owen, honey, what’s the matter?” I asked, trying to make my voice as soothing as it could be.
I knelt down in front of him, noticing the dried tears running down his face. “Your principal informed me of what happened with the boys at school, and I just want you to know, that if you are what they say you are, then that is perfectly fine.” He finally opened his eyes after I was finished speaking.
All of a sudden, he launched himself at me, wrapping his arms around my neck. I hugged him back, he sobbed in the shoulder of my navy t-shirt.
“It’s okay, it’ll be okay” I said, rubbing soothing circles on his back. I could feel him shake his head against my shoulder, “it won’t be okay.” Pulling away slightly, I looked into his eyes, “why don’t you think things will be okay?” His blue eyes looked as if they were made of glass, the tears had slowed, but hadn’t stopped yet.
“Mommy doesn’t like people like me,” he held a sad expression on his face, his blond hair messy from lying down. “Now why would you think that?” I knew why he thought that, Sherri and I used to stay up late at night, arguing about the bible. She had always believed that being attracted to the same sex was a sin, obviously, I disagreed. Before Owen could answer, knowing that it would pain him, I spoke again.
“Listen, as a hypothetical situation- a hypothetical situation is when-” he cut me off, explaining that he knew what it was. “Okay, as a hypothetical situation, mom doesn’t accept you, you can come stay with me. Permanently. Now how does that sound?” a smile lit up his tiny face, Owen nodded happily, hugging me again.
“So how about this; you read while I finish cleaning the house and start dinner. Good?” “Good!” he agreed before going to his red bookshelf, picking out one of the few unread books he owned.
After finishing the laundry, and cleaning the house, I began cooking dinner. The smell of my famous chicken casserole filled the kitchen. The smell must’ve wafted upstairs because, within minutes, Owen was making his way down from his bedroom.
“Hungry?” I called from the kitchen, turning the oven off. “Very!” the enthusiasm in his voice couldn’t be faked, neither could the smile on his face, his two front teeth missing.
“Well, eat up!” I said, laying the dish filled with casserole on a trivet in the center of the circular table. He sat down across from where I sat soon after, practically drooling. “This is for the beautiful boy in the room who is about to turn seven!” I smiled, scooping some of the cheese covered dish onto Owens plate. “Thank you, Daddy!” he blew onto his food, it had been so hot that steam was floating up from it.
We both managed to finish off the entire dish, which had been a decent size dish. He helped me wash the dishes before heading upstairs to take a bath.
Since it was only a quarter past six, I took advantage of being alone and called the parents of Owens closest friend’s parents. Unfortunately, the list had never been that long. Not as long as most anyways.
I finished making the calls a while before Owen got out of the bathroom. Within seconds, I went into full panic mode, realizing that I still had so many things to do before his friends got here the next day. I had to get started now otherwise the entire day would be a complete and utter failure.
Just as I got to my bedroom, closing the door, the sound of the drain from the bathtub startled me, causing me to nearly slam the door behind me. The feeling of panic returned, as well as the pains in my heart. I gripped my hand to my chest, trying to take deep breaths. “Daddy?” Owen called from down the hall. “I’m in here,” my voice was painful to even hear, “I’m changing, but I’ll be in to tuck you in soon.” “Okay,” he shut his door, changing into his pajamas.
Once my breathing was under control, I left my bedroom and met Owen in his own. He laid on top of the covers, waiting for me to tuck him in.
“Guess what?” he said, clearly excited. “What?” I asked, sitting on the side of his bed. “I’m going to be seven in less than ten hours.” I laughed, “are you excited?” he nodded, smiling uncontrollably. “Well, tomorrow is a big day, so make sure to get some rest” I said this, knowing that I wouldn’t be getting any.
Blue, red, purple, yellow, and green balloons filled my bedroom, the only place to hide them since Owen had been known to snoop around in search of presents.
Just like the day before, Owen had been awake at the brutal hour of five in the morning. I had been too; the only difference was that I hadn’t gone to bed. The table cloth with the words “happy birthday!” and many different cartoon cakes covered the dining room table, adding a festive feel to the day.
Sneaking up to his closed door, I counted down in my head; 3, 2, 1. Bursting through the door, I yelled happy birthday. Owen sat on his bed; the clear expression of shock was spread on his face. That was soon replaced with pure joy and happiness. Owen squealed with delight, running over to me before wrapping his arms around my neck. “Happy birthday,” I said again, hugging him in return.
He raced into the school, nearly ten minutes early. Owen had said that his friends were all outside playing on the pavement. I waved goodbye, knowing that he was absolutely oblivious to the worry that was filling me to the brim. I worried that the bullies would return and beat the living hell out of him, knowing that at his age, that’s what people would’ve done to me.
It took nearly half an hour to get all of the balloons from my bedroom down to the living room, at least ten popping in the process.
With the red velvet cake, Owens favorite, in the oven, I raced into the shed that was built in my backyard, remembering that I had kept the long, white, folding table in the back. As I struggled to carry the table back up to the house, I noticed the neighbor that lived to my left, watching me while enjoying a king can of Coors Light. Why I wish I could have a day like that.
The cake turned out perfect, besides the bottom right corner that had burnt slightly, easily fixed when I cut it off. I set the cake on the foldout table, in the spot of which the tiny table had been. Using decorative icing, I spelt out happy birthday in blue on the cake. Blue had always been his favorite color, so I figured that he would appreciate the extra effort.
After placing the presents for Owen on the table beside the cake, I checked the time, realizing that I had to leave now if I was going to make it on time to pick him up.
Owens face was priceless once he opened the door to the house, seeing his friends, the beautiful cake, the balloons, and the presents.
“Happy birthday, Owen.”