Chapter 1: An Unhappy Medium

I stepped off the bus with Lily balanced on my right hip, and my right arm holding her squirming body tightly. In my left hand, I held a venti cup of coffee that I had long since given up but was making an exception.

A four hour flight with a cranky two and a half year old and I needed something a lot stronger than coffee.

“Okay, honey. We’re almost to Grandma’s house.” I cooed to her, but she didn’t appear too excited. I knew that would change once my mother had a chance to spoil her rotten.

I walked two houses down from the bus stop trying to juggle a diaper bag, a toddler and a cup of coffee before turning down a driveway. The house appeared completely empty, which was a drastic change from when I had last lived there. Six years ago, the house had been so full of life, but it now appeared muted and dull.

I knew that would change the second my rambunctious child got in the door and located her multitude of toys. My poor mother’s house would never be the same.

I sighed heavily. It was warm out, and approaching summer, but I still didn’t like Oklahoma. If given the chance, I would have liked to stay in California, but with a child very quickly growing up, I needed all the help I could get. I needed to get a steady job so I could get out of my mother’s place and get a house of my own, but above all, I needed to get a good night’s sleep.
My mother had offered to help me out with Lily, knowing she was a handful, and even though I was reluctant, I jumped at the chance for a little help.

But as I walked up the driveway toward the front door, I was dreading the inevitable conversation about Lily’s father, who was still a mystery to everyone in my life. Even he didn’t know she existed.

The front door jerked open and my mother came running out screaming “My grandbaby! My grandbaby!” in a voice so loud I’m sure it woke the neighbors in an eight block radius.

Lily recognized her immediately and squealed in response, kicking her feet.

Not wanting to run the risk of dropping her, I placed her carefully on her feet, and she toddled off toward her Nana.

I stretched my arm to work the kinks out of it.

My mother was already fussing over Lily, kissing her and tickling her.

I smiled. “What? I don’t get such a warm reception?” I teased.

“Of course you do!” She hugged me tightly, but failed to release Lily. “Come in, come in!”

I followed my mother inside the house, kicking off my shoes at the door. Once inside, I follow her into the living room.

“Your stuff arrived yesterday,” My mother said, walking into the kitchen. I watched her through the open doorway as she reached into the cookie jar and produced a cookie for Lily.

Lily immediately stuck the cookie in her mouth.

I rolled my eyes. The stewardess on the plane had already pumped her full of cookies, no wonder she was squirming so much.

Exhaustion took over, and I flopped down onto the large arm chair in the living room. My mother had clearly already taken the liberty of unpacking much of Lily’s stuff when it had arrived. What was once an uncannily tidy living room was now littered with toys, some in particular I didn’t recognize. My mother had been spoiling her already by collecting new toys before Lily had even arrived.

“I thought maybe you two could share a room, at least until the third bedroom is refurbished. I hired some painters to come in and paint the room, but they ended up showing late and it still reeks of paint in there: definitely not safe for a little girl.” My mother said from the kitchen. I could hear her banging things around, most likely putting on a pot of tea. This was her solution to all of life’s problems.

There was a large part of me that felt a sense of remorse at loosing the room that would become Lily’s. It had always been my art room.

“Mom, I could have painted the room. It wouldn’t have cost you anything… of course, finding the time to do it would be a problem…” I sighed.

Lily came toddling into the living room to find me. She had just started walking a couple of months ago, and like her vocabulary, her assurance on her feet was rapidly growing by the day.

“Come and sit with mommy sweetie.” I urged.

Lily spotted me immediately, and her eyes brightened. She carried a cookie in each hand and ran to me, on a collision course with my knees. I caught her just before she collided and lifted her up onto my lap. She offered me her cookie by holding it to my mouth in her tiny clutched fingers, and even though I didn’t want it, I took a small bite anyway just to appease her.

My mother was still in the kitchen, and continued talking as I struggled to remove Lily’s shoes from her feet. She was kicking her legs contentedly, working on those leg muscles that she used to spend half the day running from me and shrieking with giggles on. I too got quite the workout simply chasing her around.

“It will be nice to have a little one in the house again; the backyard hasn’t been used in ages! It’s fenced in and there’s plenty of room for her to run around in. Perhaps we can even get a play center for her to play in.”

“I don’t know where I’ll find the money for that, mom.” I admitted, helping Lily off my lap. She discovered a new toy on the floor and abandoning her half eaten cookie on the carpet crawled toward it. Once I was satisfied that I could take my watchful eye off her for a minute, I picked up the sopping wet cookie from the carpet and carried it into the kitchen. I left in on the counter, knowing she would probably want it again.

“What about her father? Doesn’t he pay any child support at all?” My mother asked, her brow knitted in question.

“Mom, you know he doesn’t even know she exists. I’m not going to barge into his life and say ‘Surprise! You have a daughter! Give me money!’…” I sighed. “He has another family, and I’m not going to disrupt that. You raised me mostly on your own and I turned out okay.” Going for a the complete support of pity on this one, I embraced my mother tightly.

“Your father paid out the ass with child support and alimony.” My mother replied on my shoulder.

“We’ll make it on our own, I’m sure of it. We’ve done alright so far… as soon as I can get a job, I should be making top wages, which will be more than enough to provide for us. I’ll be out of your house before you know it.”

“Andy, that’s not entirely the issue here.” She replied. I could feel her eyes on me as I went to the kitchen door to check on Lily. She was singing something I couldn’t understand and trying to play with a teddy bear and a large toy bus at the same time.

My mother appeared at my side to watch. “What will you do when she gets old enough to start asking about her daddy?”

I pursed my lips tightly to dispel the threat of tears. “I don’t know yet, mom. I guess I’ll just be honest with her that he has another family and that she was a complete accident and that-“ I felt my voice choke with emotion. “I’ll tell her he’s dead… that way she won’t ask questions. I’ve got a few years; I’ll come up with an elaborate story. He died in a boating accident.”

My mother’s left eyebrow arched several degrees higher. When I was a kid, we used to call it the fish-hook-expression. It proved she was not impressed. “In Tulsa?” She demanded. “There isn’t a lake or a boat around for miles!”

“Alright, that was stupid.” I admitted. “I’ll think of something when I’m less tired.”

My mother placed a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. “You don’t think this guy, whoever he is, deserves to know he has a child out there?”

“He already has a child, with his wife.” I put emphasis on the last word, hoping it would drive home the point. “I would destroy his life, his marriage, the life of that kid; who would finally see his father as the father of a bastard kid out there?”

“I don’t like that word.” My mother said.

“Neither do I. Look, I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to tell him. We’re all just happier not knowing.”

“What about his other kid? You don’t think he or she would like to know that they have a half sister out there somewhere?”

“No.” I admitted. “They’ll be much happier without us interrupting on their perfectly happy little family.”

“Mommy!” Lily screamed from the floor. “Uh-oh!”

I recognized this expression and sprang into action. I grabbed the diaper bag and swung it over my shoulder, and lifted her off the ground before she could even get her arms up in the air signaling that she wanted to be picked up. “Where can I change her?” I asked with my back still to my mother.

“Your room. I haven’t unpacked your stuff. I imagine you’ll have to buy a new bed for her and a change table and everything…”

I sighed. “Right.” After the plane tickets and the cost of shipping our stuff from California to Oklahoma, I was left with a whopping $158 in my savings account.

I carried Lily down the hall toward the bedrooms, and opened the door to my old room. The room was much smaller than I remembered, barely large enough to accommodate my double bed. I practically had to wrestle Lily to the bed so I could change her. She was still wanting to play with the stuffed animal she had brought from the living room.

“I can lend you some money if you need it,” My mother said from the doorway.

I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see that she was standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. “Handouts, mom? You know I don’t like charity.”

“It won’t be a hand out. You can pay me back when you get it… or it can be an early Christmas, Easter and Birthday present.” This brought a smile to her face.

“Fine.” I said, strapping a diaper onto my kid’s squirming body. “But only for the necessities, food, clothes, furniture…” I paused, looking down at a smiling Lily who already wanted another hug from me. “And maybe that play center for out back.”