Four weeks passed since the divorce, and John had settled into single life quite well. It was weird being alone for the first couple of weeks, but he welcomed the change. Having his daughter on weekends cramped his social life, but he did not complain. He was grateful for any time he was able to spend with her.
Mary was no longer his concern, but sometimes he couldn’t help wondering about her. How was she coping with having to get a job and pay bills? He pictured her brooding around the house and whining to Asia about how she regretted her decision. Would she ever move on? If so, what kind of man would she go for next time? All weekend, he wanted to ask Phoenix about her, but he decided against it. Using their child to spy and mine information felt wrong, but he had to know. Sunday afternoon, before dinner, he got the courage to ask.
“So…. How is your mother? Has she made any new friends?”
“She’s fine,” Phoenix said brightly. “She works with the mayor!”
“The mayor?” What on earth does she do with him? She’s not political. “That sounds splendid. Does she…does she like working? With the mayor?”
“Yeah, I think so! She talks to a lot of people. She likes that.”
“Hmmm…. Well, good. Good for her.”
Her answer wasn’t completely satisfactory, but it sounded like Mary was getting along quite well. Getting §612 every two weeks in child support probably helped tremendously. It made him ill every time he wrote that check not because he hated the law (1% of a parent’s net worth per child who does not live in his household), but because it reminded him of how stagnant his career still was. He had only been promoted twice, and the pay was still meager. With the rent continually going up added to the child support payments, times were definitely hard for John. He had to keep telling himself the situation was not new. Life before Mary was just like this.
“It’s almost time for dinner,” he said. “Do you want to go play before we leave?”
“Ok!” She hopped up and ran into the apartment.
He smirked at how happy-go-lucky she could be when she wasn’t having a fit and wondered if she had been giving Mary a hard time. Her mother never responded very well to her outbursts.
The notification chime went off on his phone, and he took it out of his pocket. It was a text from a woman who wanted his attention.
Not right now. Still have my daughter.
Getting back in the saddle wasn’t hard, but it was different. He was different. Back in the days when he was cheating on Mary, there wasn’t much to think about. He was tired of her crap and needed an escape. It was how he made it through. He knew it wasn’t right, but she wasn’t right for controlling him like she did. In his mind, they were even. But, they weren’t. He learned that when she threw him out. That was the only time he ever truly understood the consequences of his actions. He had seen her hurt before, but not like that. Being cast out of his own home and not being able to be completely present in one of his kids’ life was troubling. If he should ever enter another relationship, he vowed not to be so reckless.
John let Phoenix play for a while before they went to the park to eat. She skipped ahead of him and scoped out the scene before she made a selection. It made him proud to see how mature she was getting. When she first came to visit him, he was so afraid of her running off or talking to some unsavory charlatans. He was new in town too and wasn’t sure about anything, but he learned. When she was around, they learned together.
The setting sun was their cue to wrap up their time together. Saying goodbye never got any easier for either of them.
“I love you. You know that, right?”
“I know, daddy!”
“Ok…. Don’t forget it! Be good.”
When Phoenix arrived at home, Mary was waiting for her like she always did. She knew saying goodbye to her dad was hard and wanted her to feel loved when she got home. Besides, she looked forward to not being alone in the house anymore. Knowing her young child was traveling alone at night was always unsettling and never got easier. Every time she heard her little feet trudging up the steps, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hello, darling! Are you all right? Have you eaten?”
She knew John wouldn’t send her home with an empty stomach, but it helped drive the message of love home.
Phoenix hopped on the chair next to her. “Uh huh! I got a Korean sandwich, and daddy had this spicy soup and burned his mouth! It was so funny!”
She was almost doubled over in laughter. Mary was surprised it tickled her that much.
“Phoenix! That isn’t right,” she said while stifling her own giggling snorts.
“He had fire coming out of his mouth and everything!”
Mary couldn’t hide the laughter anymore. The mental picture she had was outrageous. She didn’t often think of John, but when she did, she wondered how he was faring. Had he lost 20 pounds because he had no one to cook for him? Or, had he gained 20 because he was living on junk? Or, did he already have someone taking care of him? Whoever she was, hopefully he was decent enough not to have her around Phoenix. She was getting older and wiser, but she was still young. Mary didn’t want more complications added to the situation.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as she weighed her words carefully. “So, Phoenix…does your father have any friends over while you’re with him?”
“Nope! It’s just me and him allllllll the time.”
Mary breathed another sigh of relief. If there was one thing he was good at, it was keeping his affairs hidden…except for the two times he got caught. She hoped he would continue that discretion for the sake of their child.
“Ok, little one. Let’s make sure your homework is perfect and get you into bed…”