When I pull away, Ava looks at my face with open curiosity. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
I hadn’t even noticed. I quickly wipe my tears on my shoulders and give her a shaky smile. “I’m fine, angel,” I tell her.
Lisa is standing up, wiping her hands on her jeans. I get to my own feet, close the door behind me and put my hand on Ava’s ash-blonde head. Normally my hair is long and dark brown, many shades darker than Ava’s, but Steph recently chopped it off to shoulder-length and put lots of highlights in it. I tell her when she’s done with running her own business she should become a hairdresser instead.
“Everything okay?” Lisa asks, peering at me through her glasses. Tall, reed-thin and sporting an ever-present ponytail, Lisa’s a whip-smart student who seems wise beyond her age, sometimes more mature than me. She’s been looking after Ava for two years now, whenever she can fit it into her schedule. I don’t want to let her go and I have no idea how I’m going to even broach the subject, but the fact is I don’t see how I can possibly afford her while I’m out of work.
Shit, if I ended it a bit better there’s a chance I could have at least worked the last week and gotten more money. I doubt I can even put Rusk on my résumé now after the way I yelled at Ross. No one wants to hire a crazy person.
I give Lisa a small shake of my head and tell Ava to go into our shared bedroom and put her doll to bed. She runs off and I collapse onto the couch with a hard exhale.
“What is it?” Lisa asks, sitting on the arm of the couch.
I chew on my lip for a moment, avoiding her gaze. “I got fired today.”
She breathes in sharply. “What, are you serious? Why?”
I shrug. “They told me a whole bunch of bullshit about closing down some of their stores, but they weren’t the stores I worked at anyway. I think they just wanted cheap labor.”
“Dude, that sucks,” she says. “What are you going to do?”
I eye her apologetically. “Look for another job. But until I find one, I’m afraid I can’t afford to pay you anymore. Money is going to be really tight around here.”
Her face scrunches up for a moment but it quickly becomes sympathetic. I forget that she may have depended on me the same way I depended on her. “I understand. And I’m sure you’ll find something really fast.”
“I hope so,” I tell her. “I kind of have to.”
She gives my shoulder a light pat. “Well, I better get going. I guess you don’t want me to sit tomorrow night?”
I give her a quizzical look and then quickly remember. “Shit,” I swear loudly while hoping Ava doesn’t hear me. Linden’s birthday is tomorrow night and he’s celebrating it on a Tuesday instead of the weekend like any normal human being. I eye Lisa. “No, I guess not. It’s best I stay home.”
She nods and picks up her purse from the counter. For a moment she looks like she’s going to cry.
“I’ll text you as soon as I’ve got something lined up,” I tell her and she gives me a quick smile before she walks out the door and closes it behind her.
The apartment is silent for a few moments and I can’t even hear Ava playing in the bedroom. Then comes her small voice, “Mommy?”
I get up, feeling extremely old all of a sudden, and shuffle over to the bedroom. I lean against the doorway and see Ava putting her doll in her bed. She looks up at me, full-cheeked and proud.
“See, I take care of her. Like you take care of me.”
It takes all that I have not to break down in front of her.