I looked at the price tag and held back a groan. Why do clothes cost so much? I put the toddler sized pants back on the rack letting out a sigh.
"I wanna go home!" Toby tugged on my jeans.
"We have to buy you new clothes" I said, "you're growing out of the ones you have."
Toby began to whine. I tried to ignore him for a couple seconds before picking the toddler up in my arms.
"If you're good we'll go out for ice cream later."
Toby shut his mouth and I gave a small grin. He was a sucker for ice cream.
"Stay close or you'll have to hold my hand, okay?" I set Toby down beside me and he played around in the racks I looked at.
I picked out his outfits, asking for his opinion so he won't strip and run around the apartment naked. If he doesn't like the clothes I pick out for him he won't wear it. I had to struggle just to get him in the changing rooms and try on the clothes. But when I mentioned ice cream he behaved. After clothes shopping I bought him a pair of new shoes then we went out for ice cream. Vanilla ice cream with strawberry syrup and sprinkles for him and cookie dough for me.
"And then Ms. Courtney said she's going to take us to the farm!" Toby said excitedly.
"The farm sounds cool" I said watching Toby stick a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth. "You can see all kinds of farm animals."
"Yeah, like the oinkys, moo cows, and that animal goes baa."
"Yeah those! And the ones that go" Toby stood on his chair resting his wrists on his waist to form his arms into wings, "cockle doodle doo!"
"Those are called roosters. Now sit down."
Toby sat back down and shoveled the rest of his ice cream in his mouth.
"You're making a mess" I wiped his mouth with his napkin, he tried to squirm away. "Now listen, you're going to be starting preschool in a month, and you need to be potty trained. Those kids don't wear pull ups. They wear big kid underwear. Do you want to wear big kid underwear?"
Toby nodded his head rapidly.
"Whenever you need to go just tell me okay?"
"Alright little man, give me five!" I held up my hand and he slapped it.
Back at home Toby ran around the apartment screaming, making me regret giving him all that sugar. I finally closed myself off in my room and started on the bills. I ran my fingers through my hair stressed. I can barely afford to keep up with rent let alone bills. But even with the little money I have I had to work hard for Toby.
Toby was calling for me from the other room and I pulled away from the bills to go tend to him. We played with his toy cars, then I made dinner for him. He played with his dino nuggets pretending that the ketchup was a tar pit. He then settled down and watched some TV with me. He started sucking on his fingers and played with my hair like he always does when he's tired. I changed him for bed and I read him his favorite book. He fell asleep before I finished. I turned out his light and closed the door. I sat down finishing the bills before settling down for bed. I stared up at the ceiling what seemed like hours.
I was going to start College in a month. I started wondering how I'm going to juggle two jobs, a kid and school. Got through High School with top marks, and got enough scholarship money to pay my tuition and I'm applying for Financial Aid to pay for my books and classes. But this means I'm going to have to change my shifts around and Toby needs to stay at day care a little longer than usual. Plus the little side job I do for extra money I might need to push it around for a more convenient time. I rolled onto my stomach burying my face in my pillow. I don't need to go to College, I could just continue working full time at both of my jobs and raise Toby the way I've been doing. No. I'm only going because when I graduate I could get a better job to support both Toby and myself.
The thought of having to subtract some of my hours kills me. I need that money to pay rent and bills. My older sister Erica is the only one who still gives a shit about me and sends me a hundred dollars every month. And I work hard to pay her back each time.
I reached over and turned out my light, pushing all worrisome thoughts out of my brain. I needed to get some sleep.
I woke up at eight the next day. Toby came running into my room screaming he needed to pee so I escorted him to the bathroom. We took our shower then I made his favorite breakfast: blueberry and banana pancakes. For a three year old he had a hefty appetite.
"It's that time of year again" I smiled down at Toby.
Toby's face brightened. "My birthday!"
"Yeah! How old are you going to be?"
"Yep! So what do you want to do for your birthday? Do you want to go out to eat?"
"Ice cream!" Toby said bouncing in his seat.
I laughed. "We can get you an ice cream cake."
"Ice cream! Ice cream!" Toby paraded around the apartment chanting ice cream until I told him to sit down and finish his food. I then drove him to Day Care and I went to my first job of the day where I work as a waiter at a tiny diner in town. I work seven hours during the week and five hours during the weekends. I work the same amount of hours during the week and weekends for my second job at the bookstore. And my side job is whenever I have time, usually on weekends. It's tiring. Sometimes I get no sleep or any time to relax when I pick up Toby from my sister's. She picks up Toby from Day Care since I'm still working when it's time for pickup. As soon as Toby comes home it's all play and no work.
It's four when I get off work. I hated the lunch rush, you had to keep your cool when dealing with hungry and frustrated customers. I make my trip home to change out of my uniform. I collapse on the couch since I had little under an hour of time to myself. I take a short nap before pulling myself to my feet and driving myself to the bookstore. I put away books, checked the stocks, helped people find books, sold books, and chatted with customers until eleven at night. I was drained as I clocked out.
"See you tomorrow Andy!" My coworker called out as I locked up the store.
"Bye" I waved. I rolled my shoulders and cracked my back. I moved around heavy boxes full of books all day today, I'm going to feel it bad tomorrow. I climbed into my car and drove to Erica's nice suburban neighborhood where she lives happily with her husband Jack.
I knocked on her door before letting myself in. "Hey Erica" I called.
"Hey little brother!" She walked into the hall and had me in a bear hug. "You look exhausted."
I nodded. "Busy day."
"Come here" she took my hand and sat me down on the couch and gave me her famous back massage. "You're so tense hon."
"I'm working two jobs, both of them back breaking. But it's worth it."
"You're doing a wonderful job, Andy. But you need give yourself a break or you'll work yourself to death."
"I have to, I'm barely making ends meet. And when I start College it's only going to get worse."
"You don't have to go to College right away" she said kneading my shoulder blades, "take your time."
"I want to, if I go to College I can get a better job that pays more."
Erica wrapped her arms around my neck, resting her chin on my shoulder. "You can always stay here with Jack and me again."
"I don't want to impose on you guys anymore, plus you already give me that hundred dollars a month. That's more than enough."
Erica nodded. "Toby tells me he can go to the bathroom all by himself."
I smiled. "We just started today."
"He's pretty excited about it. Can you believe he's going to be turning four in two weeks? Seems like yesterday he was just born."
"I know, now he's running around and talking instead of crawling and crying."
"Daddy!" Toby ran into the living room and jumped into my lap.
"Where you good for Aunt Erica and Uncle Jack?" I asked mussing up his hair.
Toby nodded. "Me and Uncle Jack colored then we baked cookies with Aunt Erica."
"That sounds like fun. Did you tell Aunt Erica that you're turning four?"
Toby gasped and turned to my sister. He stared talking and talking about what he wanted for his birthday and what he wanted to do for his birthday.
Erica gave me a smile and I returned it with an uneasy smile. I never can give my own son what he wanted for his birthday and I end up turning to my sister for help. She plans all of his parties. She invites the whole neighborhood, buys the cake, the decorations and the food. And what do I do? Nothing but stand there and watch my sister be the better parent of my kid instead of me. I feel bad, having her spend all this money. And I feel bad that I can't spend all this money on Toby. He deserves to have nice things, to be spoiled a bit. He's a good kid and I love him with everything I have. But I can't give him nice things like my sister can.
Erica ruffled my hair. Her way of saying she's cool with throwing parties for Toby.
"Stay for dinner" Erica said, "we're having lasagna."
"You want some lasagna Tobes?"
"Come on" Erica took Toby's hand, "help your Auntie with the cooking."
Jack walked into the living room with two beer cans, he handed me one.
"I'm eighteen" I said, "and Erica will kill you if she sees you giving me alcohol."
Jack smiled. "What she doesn't know won't hurt her."
It's not like I'm new to beer, I used to go to a bunch of parties and get drunk with friends. But that all came to an end when Toby arrived.
I liked Jack a lot. He was tall with short light brown hair, always had stubble which made him look older than he actually is. He has dark brown eyes, a strong build, and a square jaw with high cheekbones. He's a very attractive man. He's some big shot of some trading company I never heard of. He seems like a serious guy, but he's actually a giant kid. He's cool to play football with, really easy to talk to, funny, very social, and just an overall cool guy. He's like the brother I've never had.
Erica and Jack met in College four years ago, it was love at first sight. Or that's what my sister told me. They got married two years ago and plan to have kids. They both make a very attractive couple. With my sister's long honey colored hair that hangs down to the middle of her back. Her long slender body with all the right curves. Her beautiful green eyes and a few freckles across her nose. She's a very beautiful woman. Like a model. She takes after our Mom, I take after my Dad. Instead of the blonde hair, I have black hair with bangs too long, eyes the color of sea foam, really pale, and I've always been tall and thin, like, really tall. And I hated that. I used to be the tallest kid in my class all through middle school. In high school I was then reduced to the third tallest in my class. I was fine with this. I don't like being tall.
My sister and I have always been close when we were kids. Actually she was close to me, I thought she was pretty annoying until I hit fifth grade. She helped me through a lot of shit. Especially through the fiasco with the whole pregnancy thing, and my coming out. When our parents kicked me out Erica housed me until Toby was born and I found my own place to live and got myself through high school even with a baby. I worked hard to get my grades despite the fact I pulled all nighters to work on homework and to take care of Toby. I worked hard to get my scholarships for College, I worked hard at my jobs to support my son. I'm not that big of a disappointment my parents think I am.
"How're you holding up?" Jack asked when we sat down in his Man Cave.
"I'm doing fine, for now" I opened my beer, "just a little worried when College starts."
Jack nodded. "It's going to be tough having to manage a child, two jobs and school. But you've been taking care of Toby for four years by yourself."
"You guys helped me along the way, letting me stay here with a crying baby until I was old enough to go out on my own."
"What happened when you were fifteen is a mistake that most teenagers make."
I gave him a small smile. "Even though what happened four years ago wasn't planned I never thought of Toby as a mistake."
Jack smiled and patted my back. "You're a good kid, which makes you a good Father. So when the time comes I'll be coming to you for parenting advice."
I took a sip of my beer. He didn't have to, he helped takes care of Toby when I'm out working. I'm sure he got the hang of it.
Erica called Jack and me to dinner fifteen minutes later and we sat down at the table to eat. Toby told me about his day at Day Care and with Jack and Erica. We talked about Toby's upcoming birthday. Erica was almost as excited as Toby. Jack wanted me to come over this weekend to have a guy's night. I told him I have work and he called me a workaholic. Dessert were those cookies Toby and Erica made. They even decorated them. Toby told me Auntie Erica helped him spell my name on one of the cookies. I found it really cute.
"Thanks for dinner" I said helping Toby into his shoes.
"No problem at all" Erica kissed my cheek when I stood and gave me a hug. "You take care alright? Call us if you ever need anything."
"I will, thank you."
"Bye Auntie Erica" Toby said.
Erica bent down and hugged Toby tightly and planted kisses all over Toby's face making him laugh. "You be a good boy okay? What over your Daddy."
I took Toby's hand and we walked out to the car. I buckled him in his car seat and we drove back to our apartment. Each time I leave Erica's place I always get this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like I'm leaving a part of myself behind.