Hillary, James and I got our own place shortly after Zeus and I broke up. It was a small two-bedroom rental near the school, which would be nice in a few years when Jj was old enough. Hillary was an author, so she did all of her work at home. That worked out perfectly for me, she could watch him while I took classes at the local community college.
“Hey, Thena?” Hillary said while draped over the couch, watching something or other on the tv.
“What’s up?” I replied, not looking away from my son sitting in front of me, happily playing with his toy.
“Have you talked to Zeus lately?”
“I haven’t. I mean I tried to reach out shortly after I moved out but he never answered. The ball’s in his court now, if he’s interested in seeing his son then he can reach out to me. If not, that’s his loss. And that just means we get more time with this little guy.” I smiled and reached out to touch Jj’s face gently. He was so precious.
“That’s true, but doesn’t he like, need to pay support or something?” Hillary inquired.
“I haven’t really thought about it. But I don’t need his help. He can be a deadbeat if he wants to be, I’m not gonna force him to be involved in any way if he doesn’t want to be.” I shrugged. Sure, we weren’t rich, but we had a roof over our heads and clothes on our back. We didn’t need much more than that.
“Maybe Zeus needs a little push.” Hillary suggested wearily. We still didn’t know each other very well and it seemed like she was afraid to upset me.
“Maybe. But I’m not his mother. It’s not my job to push him, y’know?” I responded, no hint of anger in my voice. “If Winter wants to push him, she can be my guest. Not my job though.”
“Don’t you want Jj to know his father?”
“Not if he’s gonna act like we don’t exist.” I chuckled, Jj was slamming away on his little xylophone without a care in the world. “I don’t want Jj to get his heart broken. He doesn’t need to get his hopes up just for them to be destroyed.”
“That’s actually probably a good idea.” Hillary mused while lazily reaching over to pet Dex. “My father always promised to show up to things, but he’d never show. It hurt every time. Probably best to save him the heartache.”
“Exactly.” I turned to smile at her, though she was still focused on the television.
I turned my attention back to my son when he threw his toy mallet. The ding from the xylophone startled me.
“Jj, what’s wrong baby?”
“I hungy” He frowned sadly, breaking my heart into a million pieces.
“Mama will get you a bottle right now.” I stood up and made my way to the kitchen, noting the time. It was six-thirty, half an hour later than I usually feed him. Time sure flies when you’re having fun…
As soon as I handed my little James his bottle, he stopped crying and smiled. It didn’t take much to make him happy at this age. I smiled to myself, I wished he would stay this size forever.
While he ate, I made my way over to Hillary and Dexter. She was draped across the couch, so I opted for the floor next to my cat.
“Are you sure you don’t mind us living with you?” I asked, constantly worried that she’d get sick of having a toddler around.
“I really don’t mind Athena. And besides, you guys don’t live with me. We all live here together. It’s not like you’re living here rent free.” She tried to laugh, but it came out as a weird snort due to her odd angle.
“Having Jj around isn’t a nuisance?” I looked over at him as he happily drank his bottle.
“He is absolutely not a nuisance. That kid is a gosh-darn gift to humanity.” She smiled. Hillary was a little rambunctious, but she’d been keeping her swearing in check in front of Jj. For which I was very grateful for.
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.” I chuckled. My son was the absolute light of my life.
“I should probably get dinner for us started.” Hillary flipped off the couch and headed towards the kitchen.
Life was really good.
“Are you gonna be a good boy tonight for mommy?” I held Jj in my arms, getting ready to put him down for the night. He’d recently started having issues sleeping through the night.
“But mama, da boogie man.” His eyes grew wide with fear. “He gonna get me tonight” He looked like he was about to cry.
“Shh, no he won’t baby. Mommy will be right here, I won’t leave the bedroom at all. I’ll protect you from any boogie man.” I rubbed his back, reassuringly.
“Mommy, you promise?”
“Of course my love.”
“Otay.” He smiled, and the two of us made our way to the bedroom to go to bed.
I didn’t think I had anything to worry about that night.
But I was wrong.
That morning I woke up feeling refreshed. Jj hadn’t made a sound last night, and I was hoping this was the end of his bad sleeping phase.
I stretched, yawned and got out of my bed. “Good morning, my love. It’s time to get up.” I spoke lazily as I made my way to Jj’s crib.
But he wasn’t there.
“Jj?” I called out, starting to panic. Maybe this was a new phase? Climbing out of his crib? He had to be hiding around here somewhere. He had to be.
I searched the whole room. Under the bed, in the dresser, even the attached bathroom. He was nowhere to be found.
After thoroughly searching the kitchen, garage and living room, I rushed into Hillary’s room.
“Hillary, wake up! Is Jj in here?” I yelled, while frantically looking over her room.
“What? No, of course not. He never comes in here.” Hillary replied sleepily as she climbed out of bed.
“Fuck!” I screamed, my heart pounding out of my chest. Hillary jumped out of bed, my swearing and frustration waking her up fully.
“Woah, what’s wrong?”
“Jj, he’s gone.” I panicked.
“Oh shit.” Hillary’s face dropped, along with my heart and stomach.