What’s for breakfast?
I scrounged through the cabinets in search of something—anything—to make for Reese. We used our last eggs and sausage links for dinner last night, and we wiped the side of the peanut butter jar nicely with a spatula to have an after-dinner snack while we read books from the library.
Think, think, think, Emery.
I pulled out a loaf of bread along with an almost emptied jar of jelly and set it down on the countertop.
We had one piece of bread left in the loaf along with the two end pieces, though Reese refused to eat the end pieces, no matter how much jelly I’d slap against them.
“That’s not real bread, Mom,” she’d argue again and again. “Those are the butt ends. That’s what the birds by the lake eat.”
Though she had a point, she didn’t have much of a choice that morning. I had only $12.45 in my bank account, and payday wasn’t until tomorrow. Half that money would go toward rent, while I’d use the other half for budget-friendly meals. We didn’t have much wiggle room in our lives at the moment, since I’d lost my one job at the hotel as a line cook.
Ever since then, I’d been working nights at a sporadically busy hole-in-the-wall bar called Seven. Needless to say, the job hadn’t been pulling in the money much, and I was still waiting to hear back from the unemployment office about income from losing my job.
I took out a knife and shaved off as much of the “butt end” as I could to make it look like a normal piece of bread. Then, I covered it with grape jelly.
“Reese, breakfast!” I called out.
She hurried out of her room and came rushing to the kitchen table. As she slid into her chair, she wrinkled up her nose and grumbled. “This is the end piece, Mom!” she sassed, completely unimpressed by my gourmet meal.
“Sorry, kiddo.” I walked over and messed up her wavy charcoal hair. “Things are a bit tight this week.”
“Things are always tight,” she groaned, taking a bite before tossing the rest of the sandwich down on the plate. “Hey, Mama?”
“Are we poor?”
The question echoed in my ears and hit me in the gut. “What? No, of course not,” I answered, a bit shocked by her words. “Why would you even say that?”
“Well, Mia Thomas from camp said that only poor people shop at Goodwill, and that’s where we get all of our clothes from. Plus, Randy always gets McDonald’s for breakfast, and you never let me get McDonald’s breakfast. Plus, plus, plus,” she exclaimed excitedly, as if she was getting ready to list the biggest bit of proof to showcase our poverty level, “you gave me the butt ends!”
I smiled her way, but my heart began to shatter. It was something my heart had done over and over again for the past five years, ever since Reese came into this world. It shattered because every day I felt as if I was failing her. As if I wasn’t enough, and I wasn’t giving her the life she truly deserved. Being a single parent was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do in my life, yet I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. The father was definitely never going to be in the picture, so I’d learned to handle everything on my own.
Even though I’d worked hard to make ends meet, lately it seemed that the struggle bus was driving down the road faster and faster. Each day it felt as if I were seconds away from crashing.
I hated that things had gotten so tight lately, but business was slow at the bar I worked at, which meant less tips. Plus, every job interview I came across never led anywhere. Rent was also late, and I hadn’t yet informed Reese that I wouldn’t be able to make her next camp deposit that was coming up; therefore, no more summer camp. She’d be devastated, as would I for breaking her heart. I wondered if kids knew that when parents had to break their hearts, ours shattered more.
I didn’t know when we’d catch a break.
I stared at my girl, who looked so much like me. Some characteristics I was certain belonged to her father, but I was thankful I didn’t see them. I only saw a beautiful little girl who was perfect in every way.
And her smile?
That smile was kind of like mine. More like my mother’s. Along with the deep dimple in her left cheek.
Thank God for that smile.
She was also blessed with my bad eyesight, which was the reason those thick-framed, round glasses sat against her face. I loved that face so much. It was almost impossible to remember a day when she wasn’t in my life.
You know how my heart shattered daily due to feeling like a failure? Each time Reese smiled, the cracks began to heal. She was my Earth angel, my reason for existing, and every broken crack that my heart suffered, her love fixed.
I moved over to her and ruffled her already messy, tangled brown hair. I’d need to give her loosely coiled hair a deep conditioning session along with a twist-out sooner rather than later, but my urgent concern was dinner that night and how it would come to be. It was a private concern, a secret mental struggle I couldn’t let touch Reese. “You can’t listen to everything everyone says at camp, Reese.”
“Including Ms. Monica and Ms. Rachel and Ms. Kate?” she exclaimed, excited for almost getting permission to ignore her summer camp instructors.
“Everyone except the camp instructors.”
“So,” she said, cocking an eyebrow and picking up her sandwich, “we’re not poor?”
“Well, let’s see. Do you have a bed to sleep on?”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“And a house to live in?”
“A car to get us around?”
“Yeah . . .”
“And even if it’s the butt ends of a sandwich, do you always have food to eat?”
“And do you have a mama who loves you?”
She smirked her little shy smirk. “Yeah.”
“Then there is no way we are poor. We have clothes on our backs, a roof over our head, a car to drive, and each other’s love. No one can be poor if they have love.” I said it, and I meant it too. When Reese came into my life, I learned that true wealth was wrapped in her love.
And with her love, I was rich. With her love, I’d never lose hope in tomorrow.
Reese lowered her eyebrows and gave me a stern look. “So, you’re saying Mia and Randy are both full of baloney?”
“Oh yeah, lots and lots of baloney.”
“Mmm, fried baloney sounds good,” she said, biting into her sandwich. “Can we have that for dinner?” she asked.
“Maybe, honey. We’ll see.”
There was a knock at the front door, so I stood to my feet and headed over to answer it. As I opened it, I saw a familiar friendly face standing there.
“Good morning, Abigail.” I smiled at my neighbor. Abigail Preston had lived in the apartment across from me ever since Reese and I moved in over five years ago. She was in her early sixties, lived on her own, and had been nothing but a saint to both Reese and me. On the days when I had to work the night shift, she was more than willing to watch Reese for me. She never asked for anything in return either. Even when I tried to pay her for her kindness, she told me that people shouldn’t be kind in order to reap rewards.
“You do good for the sake of good doing, Emery. That’s how the world keeps on keeping on—because there are good people doing good things for the simple sake of doing them.”
Abigail was a good thing—a great thing, even.
Not only was she kind, but she was a retired therapist, which came in handy five years ago when I was a new mother. Abigail was there to help talk me through my anxiety, through my fears, all free of charge.
I once asked her why she stayed in our apartment building when it was clear that she had plenty of money to live in a nicer location. The story behind her choice was more than enough reason to make my heart smile. It turned out the apartment was the first place she’d ever lived with her now-deceased husband. After he passed away, Abigail went searching for a new place to live, and when she saw that the old apartment was up for rent, she knew she had to get it back.
She said it wasn’t just an apartment, it was her life’s story, and without that life story, she would’ve never crossed paths with Reese and me.
Thank goodness for a person’s life story and how it sometimes intermixed with others.
“Hey, darling.” She gave me her sweetest smile. She was decked out head to toe in vibrant forms of yellow. Her silver hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her glasses hung on a chain around her neck. She also held a box in her hands. “I thought I’d stop by with some extra doughnuts I had for dinner last night. I had a craving and couldn’t eat a whole dozen on my own, so I thought I’d leave the extras for you two.” She opened the box for me to see the sugary treats.
She never knew it, but her door knocks were always right on time.