One morning. That’s all I wanted.
One morning to myself.
To sleep in. To sleep naked. To sleep with my bedroom door closed.
To wake up when I felt like it. To wake up and hear nothing. To wake up and do whatever the hell I felt like doing that morning—take a run or jerk off or go the fuck back to sleep.
“Daddy! Get up!”
This was not that morning.
Groaning, I rolled over onto my stomach and held my pillow over the back of my head. “Daddy’s not here,” I said, my voice muffled.
I heard giggling, then felt the mattress shift as one or more of my three daughters jumped onto my bed. Frankly, it was kind of surprising none of them had been here already. For months after their mother left, I hadn’t had my bed to myself. Sometimes it was eleven-year-old Millie with a stomachache. Sometimes eight-year-old Felicity with nightmares. Often it was four-year-old Winifred hiding from the monster beneath her bed.
Occasionally it was all three.
One of them jumped onto my back like I was a pony and tugged at my T-shirt. “We’re hungry.” Sounded like Felicity.
“Again? I just fed you.”
“It’s morning. You didn’t feed us since dinner last night.”
“It can’t be morning. It’s still dark.”
“That’s because you have a pillow over your head.” She giggled. “You were snoring too.”
“Can’t Millie get you guys cereal?”
“We don’t want cereal. We want pancakes.”
I sighed. “Can’t she make pancakes?”
“She doesn’t know how to use the stove. We need a grownup.”
A grownup. I was the sole grownup in the house. How the fuck had that happened? “How do you know I’m a grownup?”
More giggling. “Because you’re tall with big feet. And you have whiskers. And your name is Daddy.”
“I told you. Daddy’s not here.”
“Then who are you?”
I flipped over, tossing her onto her back. “The tickle monster!”
She squealed and squirmed while I tickle-tortured her, prompting Winifred to come running in and hop on the bed. “Me too!”
Winnie was the rare kid who actually wanted to be tickled, or at least she wanted the physical affection, and she scooted close to Felicity on her back, presenting her tummy like a dog who wanted to be petted.
I tickled them both for a second, then sat back on my heels and scratched my head. “You’re still in your pajamas. Is it Saturday?”
“Yes,” said Felicity.
“Your hair looks funny,” she told me.
“So does yours,” I told her. Recently she’d given herself a “trim,” hacking off the front of her hair in an attempt to create bangs like Mavis’s from Hotel Transylvania. She even wanted to be called Mavis for a while. The girls’ therapist assured me it was nothing to worry about and simply meant she identified with the character of Mavis, who also lived with her father without a mother in the house.
“You’re sure it doesn’t mean that she’s a vampire?” I’d asked. Felicity hadn’t bitten anyone yet, but she had taken to wearing black and asking if I could make her bed into a coffin shape. Talk about nightmares.
But the therapist had only smiled. “I’m sure.”
Millie appeared in my bedroom doorway in her nightgown. “Dad, I need a black leotard for ballet today and none of them are clean.”
“Damn. Are you sure?”
“Yes. I checked my drawer and my hamper. And that’s a quarter in the swear jar.”
I grimaced. That fucking swear jar was going to break me. “Did you check the dryer?”
“Yep. Not in there either.”
“That’s fifty cents,” said Felicity.
I poked her in the ribs. “At least my swearing is contributing to your math skills. Millie, did you check the washer? I know I put a load of darks in yesterday.” Which meant that I’d probably forgotten to put them in the dryer last night, and they’d have to be rewashed today.
“I didn’t look in the washer.”
“What time is ballet again?”
Millie rolled her eyes, an adolescent gesture I was already growing weary of. “Same time as always. Ten.”
“Right.” I looked at the digital clock on my nightstand. It was seven-thirty. “Okay, I’ll have it done by then.”
“And I need something for the bake sale this afternoon,” she added.
“What bake sale?”
Another eye roll, accompanied by a foot stomp. “Daddy! The fundraiser for the eighth grade trip to Washington, DC! I’ve told you about it a hundred times.”
I jumped off the bed and hitched up my flannel pajama pants. “Eighth grade! What the fuck, Millie, you’re only in sixth. That trip is two years away—no wonder I filed that under Forget This Immediately.” I went over to my dresser and grabbed a USMC sweatshirt, pulling it on over my T-shirt.
That earned me a heavy sigh. “That’s a dollar in the jar, Dad.”
“No, it’s not! I was only at fifty cents.”
“The F word is a whole dollar, Daddy,” Felicity informed me.
“Oh, right.” I paused. “You know what? It’s worth it.”
“So what am I going to bring for the bake sale?” Millie pressed.
“I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.” Somewhere between doing the laundry and getting your hair in a bun and feeding you all something that won’t rot your teeth or kill your brain cells and getting you to ballet on time and checking in at work and filling the swear jar and grocery shopping for the week and making sure each of you is getting enough time and attention to feel secure and loved and—I went over to the window and looked out—shoveling the snow that fell overnight.
Goddamn, it was only the beginning of February—Groundhog Day. And it was cloudy, which meant spring was supposed to come early (according to the lore), but right now it felt like spring was never going to get here. Winter in northern Michigan was always long and cold, with perpetually gray skies and knee-deep snow, but this one had felt particularly grueling. Was it because it was my first as a single parent?
The girls and I trooped from my first-floor bedroom to the kitchen, where I put on some coffee for myself, pulled frozen pancakes from the freezer for Felicity and Winifred, and scrambled an egg for Millie. They sat in a row at the breakfast counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room. There used to be a wall between the two rooms, but my friend Ryan Woods, who’d lived in this house before us, had remodeled the kitchen, making it more modern and open. In fact, we hardly ever ate at the dining room table. Mostly I used it to fold laundry.
“These taste like the freezer,” said Felicity, making a face at her pancake. “Don’t we have any muffins left over from Mrs. Gardner?”
“We ate them,” I told her, pouring orange juice into three glasses. Mrs. Gardner was the ninety-four-year-old lady who lived next door, a widow who’d become sort of a surrogate grandmother to all of us since we’d moved into this house last summer. She loved to bake and often brought over delicious homemade muffins or cookies, which never lasted long. In return, I made sure her yardwork was taken care of in good weather and her driveway and front walk shoveled in the winter. The girls weeded her garden, brought in her mail, and drew pictures for her, which she proudly displayed on her refrigerator door.
“Do you want a banana or apple?” I asked the girls. The fruit, at least, was fresh.
“Banana,” answered the younger two.
“Apple,” said Millie.
“Anybody want bacon?”
All three nodded enthusiastically. Bacon was one of those rare things we all agreed on.
I sipped my coffee and tossed some strips into a pan, then ran down to the basement to rewash the load of darks I’d forgotten about last night. While I was down there, I scooped a load of whites from the dryer into a basket and noticed there was a decidedly rosy hue to everything. That’s when I saw Winifred’s red sock in the basket along with everyone else’s white socks and underwear.
Great. Just what I needed—pink socks.
Cursing under my breath—at least no one heard me this time—I left the basket there and went back to the kitchen, where I flipped over the sizzling strips of bacon, gulped more coffee, and watched Winifred smear maple syrup all over her mouth. “It’s lipstick,” she said proudly.
“You’re getting it in your hair,” said Millie, moving her counter stool away from Winnie’s.
Someone dropped a fork, and it clattered noisily onto the floor. A couple minutes later, someone’s elbow knocked over a glass of juice and it spilled over the edge of the counter down the front of a cupboard. After cleaning that up (and adding fifty more cents to the swear jar total), I was supervising Felicity slicing up her banana at our tiny kitchen island when the kitchen began to fill with smoke. I turned off the gas under the bacon, pulled the pan from the burner, and opened the window.
“Ew, it’s burnt,” said Millie.
I closed my eyes and took a breath.
“That’s okay, Daddy,” said Felicity. “I like my bacon black.”
Winifred coughed, and I opened one eye and looked at her. “Are you choking?”
She shook her head and picked up her juice.
“Good. No choking allowed.” I put the overdone bacon strips on some paper towels. “Guess we’re eating it extra crispy this morning, girls. Sorry.”
“Oh Daddy, I forgot to tell you. Millie broke my glasses,” Felicity announced as she returned to her spot at the counter with her sliced banana.
“I did not!”
“You did too. You sat on them.”
Millie scowled at her. “Maybe you shouldn’t leave them on the couch.”
“Maybe you should look where you put your big butt.”
“I don’t have a big butt! Daddy, Felicity said I have a big butt!”
“No one in this house has a big butt,” I told them, setting the extra crispy bacon in front of them. “Now finish your breakfast. Felicity, I’ll look at your glasses in a minute.”
I managed to get everyone fed, repair Felicity’s glasses, clean up the kitchen, fold some laundry, get dressed, shovel my drive and Mrs. Gardner’s, and start my SUV in time to drive Millie to ballet—barely.
“Okay, let’s go!” I shouted from the front door.
“But my hair’s not done,” Millie cried, hurrying down the stairs in her black leotard and pink tights, her blond hair still a tangled mess.
“And Winnie never got dressed,” said Felicity from the couch in the living room, where she was playing on her iPad.
I looked at Winifred, who was lying on the floor in her Hufflepuff pajamas watching cartoons. “There’s no time now. Winnie, put your boots and coat on over your pj’s. Felicity, get ready to go and make sure you and Win both have hats and gloves. It’s freezing.” Then I looked at Millie. “Go get the bun stuff. I’ll get snow everywhere and I don’t want to take all my crap off.”
Felicity pointed at me as she slid off the couch. “That’s another fifty cents, Daddy.”
“Crap isn’t a swear word,” I argued.
“Can I say it at school?”
“Then it’s a swear.”
I sighed heavily as Millie came down the stairs with a hairbrush, ponytail holder, and a dish of hairpins. Five minutes later, I’d managed to wrangle her thick honey-colored hair into something resembling a ballerina’s bun. I frowned at it. “Not my best work today, Mills. Just gonna admit it.”
“My bun is always the worst one there, Daddy. The other girls laugh at it.”
Something tugged at my chest. “Sorry. I do the best I can.”
“We’re ready,” said Felicity. “But my boots are so tight, I can barely get them on. And Winnie can only find one mitten.”
I closed my eyes for one moment and took a breath. “We’ll get you some new boots this week, and there are a million mittens in that bin. Go get me one, please.”
“It won’t match.”
“It doesn’t matter. Hurry, or your sister will be late.”
“I’m late every week, what’s the difference?” Millie muttered, slinging her bag over her shoulder. She was about to move past me out the door when I caught her by the elbow.
“Hey. I’m sorry. I’ll try harder to get you there on time from now on, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.”
I let her go, hurried Felicity out the door in her too-small boots, and stuck a random mitten on Winnie’s hand before picking her up and carrying her out into the snow, pulling the door shut behind us.
I’d had way more disastrous mornings in the last nine months, but I’d had more successful ones too—although not many. I really was doing the best I could, but goddammit, Millie deserved a better bun and Felicity deserved boots that fit, and Winifred deserved a dad that had remembered to dress her and get the syrup out of her hair before taking her out of the house.
And they all deserved a mother who hadn’t deserted them—she’d only seen them twice in the last nine months.
As for me, I’d take a morning to myself. One morning without being entirely responsible for anyone else. One morning to feel like a man and not just Daddy. One morning to curse without putting money in a jar, to remember there was life beyond laundry, lunches, and little girls. Was that horrible of me?
One morning. That’s all I wanted.
IRRESISTIBLE will release LIVE in Kindle Unlimited on February 25th! It will also be available in paperback and on Audible!