“What should we have for dinner?” Gretchen asked to the backseat.
“Pancakes,” the girl answered.
“Silly. We already had pancakes today.”
“Do you have to go to work?” the little girl asked. “My mommy always has to go to work.”
Shit. She hadn’t thought about that. What was she going to do about work?
“No,” she decided. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. We can play all day.”
And they did. All the next day. And the day after. And then for the rest of the week. No work. Lots of pancakes.
Eventually, the ladies moved on from breakfast sweets. Broccoli was less than okay, the girl had decided. There was more success with the organic cauliflower, but only because Gretchen had found frozen versions that were purple and orange. Food came pretty easily. Maybe she had the makings of a mother after all. Gretchen had never been sold on the whole thing. It was something they had talked about, her and him, in bed, late at night. That seemed like a lifetime ago. She hadn’t thought about him or those times in what seemed like ages. Her current life was better. She couldn’t believe it. The lonely was gone.
Luckily, it wasn’t time for Gretchen to figure out how to handle school yet. That was going to be a task for another day. It made her chest ache just thinking about sending the girl away for an entire day. Pushing her off to a cold cement building with teachers who would never appreciate this little girl in her green shirt? No. They would stay here at home. Settle into their life. The pair of them. Silly monkey and lazy giraffe dancing while teeth brushing. Naming their favorite city landmarks, the tower building, the funnel that glowed with the weather changes, while Gretchen combed the gnarls out of the girl’s hair. She slept beside her all night and Gretchen had no idea what that child did in her sleep. It looked like it involved having a goblin building nests for dragon eggs among the curls.
Bedtime was their only struggle. Probably what caused the knots and twists and brush-defying hair. The girl was scared. The first few nights, they slept with the overhead light blazing in the bedroom. The girl was still scared. They’d graduated to sleeping with the closet light on and the door open. She couldn’t bear to be alone. Gretchen once had a weeping sack in front of her as she sat on the toilet, when she’d gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night and the little one was devastated to find herself under the covers without her grown-up.
No. No school. She’d keep the two of them cuddles up here for as long as it took until no one was scared anymore.