Even the Score

by Beth Ehemann



“You two better knock that off before I send you both outside to do yard work.”

The stern warning coming from my kids’ nanny, Gloria, made me chuckle as I trotted down the steps and rounded the bottom of the staircase, heading toward the kitchen. I heard Logan quickly retort, “But she threw Froot Loops at me.”

“Well you looked at me!” Becca squealed back.

“Sounds like you guys are starting day one off with a bang, huh?” I laughed, walking through the kitchen door.

My kids were sitting at the table, frowning as Gloria stood in between them with her hands on her hips.

As soon as he saw me, Logan sat straight up in his chair and opened his mouth. “Dad, Becca threw—”

“Ah-ah,” Gloria interrupted, raising one finger in the air.

He looked up at her, crinkling his eyebrows as he continued pleading his case. “But she—”

“Nope,” Gloria said calmly, shaking her head. “Not today. It’s the first day of summer break, and we’re going to have fun. No whining, no fighting, no arguing. Got it?”

Logan huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Got it?” Gloria asked again as she gave his shoulder a slight nudge.

Still scowling, he nodded.

Gloria turned toward Becca. “And what about you?”

Becca stared up at Gloria and smiled sweetly. “Yes, Miss Gloria.” Then she turned her eyes toward me. “Good morning, Daddy.”

Cute little instigator.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Logan roll his eyes as he returned to his blueberry pancakes. I laughed and squatted down next to Becca at the kitchen table. “Good morning, baby girl.” She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed hard, not letting go.

“What’s up, champ?” I greeted Logan, holding my fist out to him behind Becca’s back.

He let go of his nine-year-old attitude slowly and fist-bumped me back while offering up a crooked half smile. “Hey, Dad.”

“What are you guys gonna do today, assuming Gloria doesn’t kill you first?” I joked as I freed myself from Becca’s grasp and walked over to the coffeepot, needing caffeine so desperately I was tempted to forget the mug altogether and chug it straight from the carafe.

“We’re going to the zoo!” Becca announced excitedly.

“Oh yeah?” I answered back as I poured hot, black coffee into the biggest mug I could find. I turned to face them, leaning against the counter.

“Yeah! There will be polar bears and a lion and kangaroos.” She jumped off her chair and started dancing around as she listed off all the animals she was hoping to see. “And tigers and elephants and dinosaurs—”

Logan’s face twisted as he looked up from his breakfast. “There won’t be dinosaurs there.”

Becca stopped dancing and turned toward him. “Uh-huh!” she insisted.

“No, they’re extinct.” He shook his head.

“They don’t stink!” Becca yelled back.

“Okay, okay,” I chuckled. “That’s enough fighting. If you two don’t stop, I’m going to have to give Gloria a raise this summer.”

“You have no idea,” Gloria said playfully as she shot me a wink and walked toward the fridge.

Suddenly Becca gasped and her face lit up. As she opened her mouth to speak, my heart sank. I knew exactly what was coming, and I was dreading it.

“Can you go with us?” she asked, her voice rising with excitement as she stuck her bottom lip out. Logan looked up from his pancakes and raised his eyebrows, hoping my answer would be yes, too.

I took a deep breath through my nose and let it out as slowly, stalling as long as possible. “I can’t, baby. I have to work today. I’m so sorry.”

The strap of her pink pajama top slipped off her shoulder as it slumped in disappointment, and her head dropped toward the floor. “You always have to work.”

I set my mug on the island and walked over to Becca, squatting down to her eye level. “I do always have to work, honey. I’m your dad and it’s my job to take care of you guys and make sure you have everything you need. To buy those things, I need money.”

Her blue eyes lifted to mine but her expression remained sad. “And to make money you have to go to work.”

“Exactly.” I brushed her soft, pale cheek with the backs of my fingers.

“But Mommy pays bills and she doesn’t work?” Her eyebrows lifted up in hopes that she’d just found a loophole.

Actually, Daddy pays Mommy’s bills, too.

I sighed. “I know, baby girl. It’s complicated. Trust me, there’s nothing I wish I could do more than go to the zoo with you guys today.” I stood up, gently kissing her forehead as I passed by. “Being an adult is a trap. Stay little as long as you can, okay?”

She blinked innocently and nodded as she sat back down at the table, shoveling a bite of pancake into her mouth. As she chewed, her eyes fixated on her plate, eventually drifting off. I knew she was sitting there, wishing more than anything that I could spend the day at the zoo with them.

I wished that, too.

To say that my job was demanding was the understatement of the century. Especially lately.

Hockey trades were just about to open and baseball trading was in full swing . . . literally. When you’re a sports agent negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts for some of the nation’s top athletes, you don’t get to call in sick to take your kids to the zoo, unfortunately. A missed phone call or an unanswered e-mail could mean a lost opportunity, and if my clients didn’t make money, I didn’t make money. And I definitely needed to keep the money flowing. Paying to keep two households running wasn’t easy.

A couple of years ago, I had a normal life . . . a wife, a home, and two happy little kids. Once I pulled my head out of my ass and realized my wife was a money-hungry vulture who was nasty to every single person on the planet, including her own children, I ended it as fast as I could. Now I’m a mostly single dad to those same two great kids, and I have an ex-wife who I pay an obscene amount of money to every month just so she’ll keep her distance and not screw up our kids any more than she already has. Even when we were married, she was more interested in shopping and getting her hair done than spending time with our kids. Per our agreement, she only gets them one weekend a month, and to be honest, I’d be willing to give her even more money if she would give up that weekend, too. There’s still a very tiny cell in my body, buried way down deep in my core somewhere, clinging to the hope that one day she’ll realize how bad she’s messed up and be a better mom for Logan and Becca’s sake, but that cell is shrinking every day.

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