"If you don't clean yourself up, you're going to die, Frank."
Frank Young ran bruised hands and bleeding knuckles through cold water and splashed his face, green eyes open. A whiskey sigh washed out of him. "Ya know? I don't really care anymore."
"You haven't cared in three years. Where has that gotten you?"
Frank shook his head. He couldn't take May's condescending words anymore, even if she was giving him a place to stay. He snatched his jacket off the counter with wet hands and didn't meet her crossed arms or dark eyes. With purposeful stride, he headed back for the door.
She didn't move to stop him, just sighed. "Where are you going?"
"Doesn't even fucking matter."
The door slammed at the start of day and Frank disappeared into hazy dawn.
Ella's hand flashed out and captured a banana-width wrist in her thin fingers just in time, snatching the child back. She scooped the toddler into her arms and he stared at her with wide eyes. "No, Samuel! We do not play with the light socket!" She pointed at it. "Dangerous!"
The child stared at her open-mouthed. "Da?"
"Dangerous," she repeated, and sighed. "Go play at the car table."
She sent the child off and he toddled across the room on chunky legs, and she stood with another sigh. Her coworker, Hazel, re-entered the room and handed her a canned Diet Coke from the fridge. Hazel grinned. "You look so happy every time I come in here."
Ella turned to Hazel with deep unhappiness in her dark blue eyes. "Samuel just tried to stick his finger in the light socket."
"Jesus." Hazel shook her head and folded her arms, looking out at the daycare class of three-year-olds. "They're real monsters, aren't they?"
"Some days I love them, and some days I would rather kick them out the window than hear their voice."
Hazel chuckled lightly. "Well, corporal punishment is legal in our state."
"And against our daycare policies," Ella pointed out, watching one kid throw a dinosaur at another's head. She raised her voice. "Georgia! Say sorry!" The perpetrator of the dinosaur-throwing threw her arms around the child next to her. Ella shook her head. "If not for Maggie, I would never work at a place like this."
Ella's niece, a patch of gold hair and tawny skin and strawberry dress, was currently constructing a car out of blocks. Ella swallowed her unhappiness at the sight of Maggie; working where she could keep an eye on the kid was the best she could do right now. Workers got the daycare service for free, and with Ella's circumstances, she needed free daycare.
"How's the schooling coming?" Hazel asked, and then snatched a child, Nial, by the wrist as he dove for his cubby. She picked him up and rerouted him back to the play area.
"Not awful." Ella shook her head. "Not great."
She screwed up her face then as a smell hit her, and she groaned, turning to Hazel, who had just caught wind of it, too.
"Had to have been Nial," Ella said with a sigh. "He was just here."
She found the barely-potty-trained three-year-old and checked his diaper, only to recoil with disgust. Hazel sent her a sympathetic glance as Ella escorted the foul-smelling tyke to the bathroom.
Five minutes later, Ella had completed the grueling, unpleasant process of changing the poop-filled diaper of a hyperactive three-year-old. She dropped it in the trash with a grimace and turned to Hazel.
"I'm just going to go ahead and take the trash out; that'll stink up the whole daycare."
"Go right ahead," Hazel said, leaning away from the trash can containing the a-bomb.
Ella yanked the trash bag out and tied the top, and headed for the door. She passed her boss in the hallway and waved, forcing a smile, before heading outside. As she neared the dumpster, however, she heard something out of place:
Suspicion slowed her step and Ella threw the bag into the dumpster before edging around it. She nearly screamed to see a curly-haired man standing there peeing against the side of the dumpster.
As it was, she yelped and turned her head away and cried out, "Oh, my God! What the hell are you doing!"
"Pissing," he answered.
She gaped, still averting her gaze. "Are you serious!? This is a daycare! You can't just whip that out and pee here! We have a bathroom right through the door!"
"I really had to go." His words for husky with intoxication, she realized, and she groaned. Figures.
"Sir, you have to put that back up or I have to call the cops for indecent exposure."
The trickling sound of him peeing ended and she heard a zipper, and then he said, "Awesome, well, I was already finished anyway."
She looked up- thankfully, he had fixed his pants back- and glared at him. "You cannot do that. You're lucky you got me instead of one of the other teachers- they would've instantly called you a pervert and gotten you locked up."
"You don't get locked up for indecent exposure, you just get a fine."
He had green eyes and a smirk and she wanted to punch him in the face. She hadn't signed up for this. She hadn't wanted this job. Her day was going bad enough without some drunk guy pissing on the dumpster.
"Are you speaking from personal experience?" She snapped, and he laughed.
"Not my own, no."
"Oh, great, so you're drunk, pissing on a daycare dumpster, and you're friends with perverts."
He scowled. "Am not! Not drunk, either! Nor am I currently pissing on a daycare dumpster."
"Sorry, just pissed on a daycare dumpster," she deadpanned. "Anyway, you have to go. Like, you have to. Or I have to call the cops."
"Can I pick up my brother first?"
She stared. "I don't know if I should let you! Jesus Christ."
"Last time I was up here, there was some hooker who smelled like pot carrying out an infant," he said. "I don't really think your standards are that strict. Besides, I told you I'm not drunk."
"You smell like vodka and just pissed on a dumpster."
"Can we get past that? Please? I'm not proud of it, you're not happy it happened, we should just let it go."
"Yeah, no, buddy. Not how the world works."
He pouted. "Well, anyway, nice meeting you, Miss Feisty Pants. See you around!"
He strode off and she glared after him, debating for a minute whether or not to find something else to do. But the dumpster smelled like baby shit and now vodka urine, so she headed in after him, leaving some distance between them. She crossed back to the kitchen and grabbed a trash bag, and as she came out heard raised voices by the front door.
"No! I don't want you coming up here anymore, Frank! I can't rely on you!"
Ella froze. She recognized the voice- May Newman, mother of one of the two-year-olds, a cute blonde boy named River.
"May, c'mon, you can rely on me. I've picked him up almost every day for the past three months and the only days I haven't were the days you wanted to get him."
"You're not going to walk in here drunk! You can get us all kicked out and then I have to find a new daycare at the drop of a hat!"
Ella edged around the corner. It was the curly-haired guy again.
"You barely came home the past three days," May continued, her brown eyes blazing, "And this morning you stormed out without even telling me where you were going. I'm not entrusting my kid to someone I never know anything about!"
"I'm not going to just leave River- and he doesn't like it when we fight."
To be fair, the curly-haired guy had his voice at a normal level, while May was the one shouting. Ella spotted her boss, Fiona, glaring from the baby room. She decided it would be best if she stepped forward rather than leave it to Fiona.
"Excuse me? Miss Newman, please, we'd prefer to keep inside voices in the daycare," Ella said. May turned her fiery glare on Ella, and Ella stood her ground, though her chest pounded a bit. "If you really don't want someone to pick up your kid, you can take their name off the sign-out list. Just speak with our director when you have a minute. But we really can't have people fighting in the entryway."
Already, the mom of one of the infants had come in behind May and was staring wide-eyed. May took a deep breath and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose. She looked up at the guy, her voice quiet."If you pull a stunt like this morning again, I'll make sure River forgets who you are."
Ella felt the sting she saw in the guy's eyes in her own chest. That was harsh- but Ella supposed May knew the situation better than Ella did. The mother whirled off to find her kid, and the curly-haired guy glanced at Ella.
"Thanks for trying to quell the situation."
She couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic, and he headed out in a burst of air that smelled like whiskey. Ella glanced at the sign-out sheet.