The bus stops on Amanda Brennan's street.
She'd barely taken notice of this fact before she'd been forced to start riding the bus to and from work each day, but now she is immeasurably grateful for it. She can catch the bus directly in front of her work and get off less than half a block from her own white house on Willowdale Avenue.
Even before she reaches her own yard, she sees her car parked at the curb. It's a 1998 Ford Tempo, and it's red. Admittedly this is not the most glamourous car in the world, but Amanda owns it free and clear. That, she tells herself, is an accomplishment in itself. The problem is, this great accomplishment is nullified by the fact that the car is in need of serious repair.
Amanda trails her hand over the car as she passes it. She keeps telling herself that she should really have it towed away and sold for parts. Realistically, she cannot afford to fix it, re-insure it, and keep its hungry engine satiated with gasoline. Still, she holds onto the dream that someday she'll have enough money to get it back on the road again.
She dreams about a lot of things. She thinks her dreams are the only thing keeping her sane.
She climbs the steps and unlocks the front door, amazed that the kids have remembered to lock it for once. She always tells them to keep the door locked when they're home without her. It isn't that they live in a crime-ridden neighbourhood, but Amanda believes in not tempting fate. Inside the front door, she kicks off her shoes and drops her briefcase. She pads through to the kitchen in her stocking feet, already anticipating the relief of getting out of the rest of her work clothes and pulling on an old t-shirt and some jeans. She sheds her overcoat and tosses it casually over the back of a kitchen chair.
Jack, her youngest, is sitting at the kitchen table, reading a book. He looks up when he hears her. Jack smiles.
"Hey, Mum," he says. "How was your day?"
"It was okay," Amanda says. "How was yours?"
"I suck at basketball, but I decided to try out for a part in the school play," says Jack. "We had a math test this afternoon."
"How did that go?"
"I'll probably get an A."
"I think I'd be surprised if you didn't," Amanda says. "So, where's your sister?"
"Charlie's house?" Jack says dubiously. He pushes his glasses up his nose and turns a page in his book. "I don't really know where Kylie is. She wasn't here when I got home from school."
Amanda can feel tension gathering behind her eyes. "You've been home alone for two hours?"
'It's okay, Mum. Nothing happened," Jack says.
"That's not the point, Jack. Your sister—" She cuts herself off in mid-phrase. Jack doesn't need to hear another tirade from her about his sister. He's bearing a large enough burden on his small shoulders as it is. Amanda silently counts to ten before she speaks again. "No…never mind. I'll deal with your sister when she gets home. Are you hungry?"
"How do you feel about mac and cheese? I'm too tired to cook tonight."
"Did you have a bad day at work?"
"Not really. It's just tiring sometimes."
Jack nods sagely. "School is like that sometimes, too. I can help you cook the macaroni, if you want me to."
"Sure," Amanda says.
Jack puts down his book and slides off the chair. "Some lady from the bank called," he says. "I said you weren't here, and she said she's going to call back tomorrow. She didn't say what it was about."
"I know what it's about."
"Are you in trouble?"
"It's nothing you need to worry about. Did anybody else call?"
Amanda barely suppresses a groan upon hearing this pronouncement. "What did he want?"
Jack shuffles his feet. "What he always wants."
What he always wants, Amanda echoes silently. Dan only ever has two demands. He wants to see his kids and he wants money. Amanda has no extra money to give him, and there is no way in hell she'll let him near Jack. She knows Kylie sneaks away to visit Dan sometimes, but there's nothing she can do about that. At sixteen, Kylie demands independence. She's the image of her father, living by her own rules and listening to no one.
Amanda tries not to compare her children. Instead, she tries to convince herself that each of them needs to develop and grow in their own way. She observes her younger child for a moment as he stands there looking too grown-up for his mere ten years, and realizes that her effort not to compare her kids is futile. She loves her son and her daughter equally, but sometimes she just can't help wishing Kylie could be a little more like Jack.