I can’t even believe this is happening. How is it possible the man who tried to get me to abort our daughter is now trying to take her from me. This is surreal. And full custody? How is that even fair, I haven’t shown in any way that I’m an unfit parent. Orla has always been clean, clothed, and fed. She is happy, well cared for, and meeting all her milestones. Just because sometimes I have some late evenings trying to keep up with all my orders doesn’t mean I love her any less. You’d think the judge would be happy my working my butt off to provide for my little girl. But somehow putting her to bed every night is more important than being able to put food in her belly. He’s such a sexist troglodyte. He would never expect a man to be home every night, making dinners and giving baths, if he was out providing for his child. Trevor never has, he’s always been working the night shift at The Rattlesnake. He’s come up with some crap about how he’s going to start doing the day shift while Orla is at daycare, but conveniently hasn’t mentioned how that will result in a drastic loss of income. Meanwhile, I’m trying to better my career by moving to a larger location in a nicer area, but the judge just hears it as taking more time away from my child. And don’t even get me started on the fact that I don’t have my own home right now, or that Dad is having to pay my lawyer’s fees. My lawyer, Oliver Bernhardt, has decided the best course of action at this point is to ask the judge to recuse himself from the trial. Apparently he has a history of going against single mothers. I just hope this works.
“C’mon Orla, we’ve gotta hurry hurry! Don’t you want to see all your friends at Li’l Cactuses?”
For the umpteenth time, London questioned the wisdom of taking Orla to a playgroup with dubious grammar right in the name. But since they were the only ones with spot at such short notice and London was desperate enough to do just about anything to prove she was a good mother, it would have to suffice. At the rate Orla was toddling to the class, however, they were never going to make it anyway. Orla stooped down to examine some ants as they marched across the sidewalk.
“Orla, we’re going to be late!”
London grabbed Orla’s hand to hurry her along, but Orla had other plans. She dropped to the ground, scraping her elbows and smashing some of the ants in the process. Orla began to wail.
“Give me strength,” muttered London. She picked up Orla and dusted the tiny ant corpses off her, then hustled over to the front door of Li’l Cactus.
“Look who’s here everybody! Hello to Orla! Hello! Hello,” Ms. Washington sung out. In response, Orla snuffled and buried her face into London’s shoulder.
“Uh-oh! Did Orla fall asleep on the way to class again?”
London tried to pry Orla off her, but Orla grabbed a pudgy little fistful of her mother’s hair.
“Ow! No, she took a tumble on the way to group today.”
“I see.” Ms. Washington seemed to notice the scrapes on Orla’s elbows for the first time. “Well, Orla, why don’t you and your mommy come up front and stand next to me for circle and we’ll see about turning that frown upside down!”
Orla slowly peeked her head up as London walked over to the coveted by-toddlers-only place next to Ms. Washington. As she let Orla slide down, London checked her shoulder for snot. The bells on the front door jangled. At least London and Orla weren’t the only ones late to class.
“Hello! I’m so glad you could make it! I was starting to wonder,” Ms. Washington cheerfully called.
“Yeah, well, as you can see, I’m not moving very fast these days, which makes it doubly hard to wrangle the kid.” The sarcastic tone tickled London’s brain, but she was still engrossed in inspecting her shirt.
Ms. Washington was undeterred by the cold response. “Everyone, say hello to our new friend Salem,”
Huh, that’s not a name you hear every day, thought London.
“And his mommy, Kara!”
London’s head snapped up. There, by the front door, was Salem, Kara, and Kara’s massively pregnant belly.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” groaned Kara, as she noticed London for the first time.
Several minutes later, after introductions and Salem and Kara had been installed on Ms. Washington’s other side, Ms. Washington announced the lesson of the day.
“Ok everybody! Today, we are going to learn the importance of saying please and thank you. First, we are going to read a story about saying please and thank you. Then, you and your child are going to practice saying please and thank you. Then, during free time, be sure to encourage your child to use please and thank you while speaking with their peers.”
Ms. Washington was only a few pages into the story when Salem climbed out of what was left of his mother’s lap.
“Salem,” Kara hissed, making a grab for him. He skillfully dodged her grasp, and headed for the bookcase.
“This book boring! I pick ‘nother,” he announced loudly.
“Salem! Get back here!” Kara struggled to get up and go after him. Salem began pulling books off the shelves, tossing them behind him. One hit Ms. Washington, who had, up until that point, been ignoring Salem’s outburst.
“Salem, can you join us back in circle? You are making it hard for everyone else to be able to hear the story,” she said calmly.
“No! Wanna read ’bout Boris Bat!” Salem stomped his foot for emphasis.
“Salem, we don’t have that book here. But maybe you can bring it next time and share it with us?”
“Good, I look forward to hearing it. But for now, can you please come join the rest of us in circle, so we can finish this week’s story?”
Salem rejoined the circle, but Kara didn’t move.
“Salem, please come back here. You need to pick up these books.”
“It’s fine,” Ms. Washington waved her hand.
“No, it’s not fine, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell me how to raise my son. We are trying to teach Salem that if he makes a mess, he has to clean it up.”
“Is it fair to make the other children wait while he cleans up his mess? He will have to lose some of his free time and do it then.”
Kara glared at Ms. Washington, but Ms. Washington simply smiled serenely at her. Finally, Kara had to choice but to back down. She waddled over to the circle. As she slowly sat down, Salem pushed her bulging stomach.
Salem plopped himself down on Kara’s legs. She winced and groaned, rubbing her belly.
“Everything ok,” Ms. Washington queried.
“I’m heavily pregnant and sitting on the floor. But that’s fine,” she replied through gritted teeth.
Ms. Washington continued the story, but Salem quickly lost interest again. He fidgeted through the rest of the story, stomping his feet, playing with Kara’s fingers, and sliding off her lap until he looked like he was melting.
“The end,” read Ms. Washington.
Before she could continue, Salem rocketed out of Kara’s lap, making a beeline for the TumTum Teddy Doctor Playset.
“Salem!” Kara didn’t even bother to get up this time.
“Salem, it’s not free time just yet. Can you come back to circle, so you can practice saying please and thank you, please?”
Salem’s face lit up as he realized Ms. Washington was using the very word she was teaching everyone about. Momentarily placated, he drifted back towards Kara.
“Thank you,” Ms. Washington smiled. This caused Salem to giggle.
Miraculously, the practice time went on without anymore interruptions. When Ms. Washington finally announced free time, even London felt the urge to get up and run around after being glued to one spot for so long.
“Come on Salem, you need to pick up the books you pulled off the shelf earlier,” Kara grunted, heaving herself off he ground.
“No! Wanna play wif teddy!” Salem strained against the firm hand Kara was using to steer him toward the bookcase.
Orla watched wide eyed.
“C’mon Orla, let’s go play with Yvette,” London coaxed, hoping Salem’s bad behavior wouldn’t trigger another meltdown in her daughter.
“No,” she whispered then marched over to the pile of books and began to to put them back on the shelf.
“I help you, Sawem.” Salem watched Orla, at first unsure, but then joined in. Kara glowered.
“Very good Orla! When we work together with our friends, we can get our hard work done faster. That way, we can have more time to play together,” Ms. Washington crowed.
The books were re-shelved in no time.
“Tank you,” Salem said shyly.
“Very good, Salem; using the lesson of the day!”
“Wanna pway bwocks wif me,” Orla asked Salem.
“Salem, come play with TumTum Teddy with me,” Kara interrupted.
Salem looked conflicted, but eventually toddled over to the other side of the room where his mother was. London sighed and guided Orla over to the blocks. Zoe Kalani was already there, with her son Leighton.
“Geeeeez, what’s up with her,” Zoe stage whispered.
“Probably has something to do with our beef on the Royal Bachelor.”
“Whaaaat? She was on the Royal Bachelor with you?”
“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”
“Girl, you know I don’t watch reality tv. I got enough of that myself to last a life time, before I had Leighton,” Zoe rolled her eyes and shook her head as she gestured to her son. London nodded, remembering their previous conversation where Zoe had described her life living with three guy roommates.
“So what’s it like having your ex-lover who now has a daughter with famous comedian Johnny Zest in the same playgroup as you?”
“Nuh-uh, first you gotta dish on all that happened between you and Mommy Medusa over there.”
London made a mental note to hang out with the only person to who seemed to have not seen her humiliation on the Royal Bachelor more often, before launching into the whole sordid story.
“…And last I’d heard, Luke had been swearing up and down Salem wasn’t his, so Stellan had told Kara she and Salem could stay as long as she wanted.”
“Well, if Luke said Salem wasn’t his, whose baby is she having now? Could it be this guy Stellan’s…?”
“No, no,” London quickly cut Zoe off. “Stellan’s not that kind of guy.”
“Ok, everybody! Playgroup is over! You know what that means,” Ms. Washington’s voice boomed across the room.
“Clean up time, clean up time, everybody knows it’s clean up time.” As the whole room half shouted, half sang, London wondered if she’d ever be able to clean again without hearing that song.
“Orla is a helper, a helper, a helper. Orla is a helper, she’s picking up blocks,” Ms. Washington sang, naming Orla in her song.
“Mama, mama, I cwean! It me!” Orla was incredibly proud to be named in a song designed to make her want to clean up.
“I heard, I heard,” London grinned, scooping Orla up. “Good job, babycakes.”
“Good bye now, good bye now, the clock says we’re done! We’ll see you next Wednesday for more playtime fun!”
Orla flapped her hand joyfully to the song. London heard the door open; apparently someone wasn’t sticking around for the syrupy sweet toddler singing. London glanced over to the door and was unsurprised to note Kara was making her getaway.
After a few more good byes, and a promise to text Zoe, London and Orla walked out of Li’l Cactuses into the sunshine. As they headed toward their ancient SUV, London noticed Kara further down the sidewalk, struggling to carry Salem. London rushed over to her.
“Kara, let me help you!”
Kara whirled on London, her face immediately stormy.
“Get lost, Caliente! I don’t need your help,” she spat. Salem’s face twisted in distress.
“Yes, you do. You know you shouldn’t be carrying Salem, especially this late in your pregnancy. Let me help you,” London insisted.
“I don’t need your help Caliente. We’re not friends.”
“Kara, what happened,” London blurted out, gesturing to her belly. Kara smiled wanly, in spite of herself.
“I would expect you of all people to know how this happened, Caliente.” Kara stared at the ground, as if she were replaying the last few months in her head. London waited quietly for her to continue.
“At the advice of his privy council, Luke took a paternity test. When it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Luke was Salem’s father, it was decided that Salem would officially become Luke’s heir.”
“Kara, that’s great news! Salem will grow up with his father, and you will get to be Queen, like you wanted.” But Kara shook her head.
“That’s what I thought at first, too. What mother could ask for more for her son? But Luke is a terrible father, he can’t stand Salem. And I know a lot of people have said a lot of terrible things about me; some go as far as to call me evil. But I love my son and he deserves better. And so Luke and I fight about it, constantly. Enough that he has refused to make me Queen.”
“Kara, that’s awful. I’m so sorry.” London glanced down furtively at Kara’s belly. “I-is the baby Luke’s, then?”
Kara laughed bitterly. “That’s the thing. Luke and I still get along great. When we’re not fighting, we’re fucking.”
London cringed at Kara’s crassness, but was relieved when she noticed Orla and Salem were deeply immersed in their own nonsensical toddler conversation.
“I swore I would never put another child in the same situation as Salem. But Luke is insatiable, not to mention incredibly…talented.” Kara leered. “And careful as I tried to be, I guess it wasn’t careful enough. Now, because of my stupidity, there’s going to be another prince or princess with an absent father.”
“Wow, Kara, I don’t know what to say. Is there anything I can do?”
Kara rolled her eyes. “Caliente, you’re so good, sometimes it makes you dumb. No, there is nothing that a pleeb such as yourself can do for a prince. We won’t be back next week, so you can go back to being Queen of the Playgroup. We’re just in the area for a visit and I needed to entertain this guy, who’d had enough of royal decorum. But there is something you can do for me.”
“Anything, wow, I’ll have to keep that in mind.” Kara grinned wickedly. “But what you can do is promise me, before you jump into bed with someone else, get an IUD.” And with that, she spun around and was gone.
I can’t believe Kara is in such an awful position. She loves her son and Luke so much, but she can’t get them to love each other. Still, she has such incredible strength for the sake of her children, and she will do anything for them. In fact, she’s kind of given me an idea on how to handle Trevor.