Death-Wish Kids

05.

At dinner that night Ryder sat across the table from me. She had her cellphone attached to her finger tips like it was going to explode if she let go of it.

"Put it away, Ryder," Dad stated before taking another bite of mashed potatoes. "This is family time."

Ryder looked to the head of the table. "Seriously, Dad? I'm in the middle of a conversation." She set the little phone on the table next to her plate and smacked Noah's hand away as he reached for it. "Knock it off," she demanded of him, giving him a pointed look.

Noah rolled his eyes. "No phones at the table, Ryder!" he shouted back, reaching again for the little piece of metal. He pulled it from the table and sat it in his lap, grinning at Ryder like he'd just won.

"Don't make me get it back," Ryder demanded, holding out her hand, "Because I will."

Noah's eyes widened and he quickly reached for it before she could. He slid it across the table and over to dad, who pocketed it and gave Ryder a look as it vibrated.

"Dad," she groaned, drawing out the word, "Don't you have bigger problems to solve?"

He ignored her and offered a secret smile to Noah, who brightly returned it before eating again. "How was your day?" Dad questioned all of us, looking at our faces.

"Great!" Noah shouted, curling his feet under him all at once, "Ian ate a real spider during recess!"

Ryder and I both looked expectantly grossed out. Dad just frowned and pointed a finger at his only son. "You can watch, but if you put any bugs in your mouth then you're grounded."

Noah smiled crookedly. "Spiders are arachnids, Dad, not bugs," he corrected cheekily.

Dad rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean." He then turned to Ryder and asked her about her day, trying to pull her away from her attitude.

"It was fine," she grumbled, "I dropped Noah off and then drove to school. I sat through seven classes and then I came home... So here I am." She shrugged her shoulders and looked at him as if she was waiting for some excited reply.

He just glared at her. "Thanks for sharing, Ryder Elise Alexander."

"Full names? Really?" she grumbled, paying no attention as our dad turned his attention to Micah and I. Micah sat in his high chair at the end of the table with food on his separated plate and his plastic fork on the floor.

"My day was fine," I said before he could ask, "Micah got to finger paint." I reached over and lifted the bib off of his shirt, showing many bright colored splotches of temporary paint. "It washes out, they promised," I added.

"What'd you do today?" he questioned, furthering the conversation. "Anything special?"

I shrugged. "Mikey and Frank invited me over to Mikey's tomorrow so I was hoping you could watch Micah for me," I replied, holding my breath as I waited for him to reply, even though he'd already okay'd it.

He frowned instead of reassuring me. "I'm working tomorrow night, Cyren. I'm staying late at the restaurant to train our new chef, Javier."

"Seriously?" I questioned, dropping my elbows on to the table, "You said that I could go to Mikey's house one day after school."

He sighed loudly and shook his head. "I've got to be there. Maybe Ryder could watch Micah for a little while?"

Ryder looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "What?" she asked, swallowing her food. "You want me to babysit the baby?"

I was about to decline when Dad nodded and answered for me. "Why not?" he questioned, "Micah loves you. You two would have fun together."

"I'm here, too!" Noah replied, sitting on his knees, "I'll help you, Ryder!"

My sister glared at our little brother. "I don't need help, Noah. I just have plans already." She glanced at Micah and then at our dad to gage his reaction.

"I can babysit little Micah on my own," Noah offered, looking between the three of us.

I shook my head. "Oh, well, alright. I'll just ask them if they're free another day. It's no big deal," I explained, offering a smile to my dad, who continued to watch me anyways. Ryder smiled politely and gathered up her dishes. She took them to the sink and then held her hand out for her phone.

"Thanks," she said as our dad reluctantly handed it back to her. "I'll be in my room, in case you need me." She hurried out of the room, her hair falling over her shoulders as she tried to evade doing the dishes again.

Noah was sitting in front of his empty plate, his legs tucked under him on the chair, and his arms folded over his little chest and resting on the table. "Why can't I watch Micah?" he questioned, looking from Dad to me and back again. "I promise he'll be fine. We'll play games and eat dinner and then watch a movie or something."

"Go upstairs, Noah," Dad suggested, lifting the boy's plate from the table, "Only an hour on the games and then I want your homework done."

Noah nodded quickly, pushing himself from his chair. His sock-clad feet slid on the tiled floor as he raced out of the kitchen and across the living room, trying not to waste a second of his video game time.

Dad looked at me from where he stood at the sink. "Come on, I'll wash, you dry," he encouraged, holding a dripping plate over the tiled floor.

I laughed softly and grabbed my and Micah's plates. The little boy pushed a piece of food off his tray and onto the floor as I walked away.

"I'm going to see if Cade can cover for me tomorrow night," Dad said as he handed me another plate.

"I thought he was taking some time off?" I asked, thinking of the man who'd been my dad's business parter and best friend for years.

Dad shrugged. "He'll do me a favor if he knows it's for you," he replied, offering me a smile as he bumped his shoulder against mine.

"I don't want to bug him," I muttered, setting the plate in the cupboard, "It's not very often that a man gets married for the first time."

"It's even less often if it's the only time," he joked, washing Micah's baby plate in the dishwater.

"Cade really likes her," I stated softly, "I think they'll last awhile."

"I've got my fingers crossed," Dad replied, physically crossing his fingers as the words left his mouth. "But he won't mind, Cy. He loves you kids and he'd want you to go out and have some fun, you know that."

"Just not too much fun," I answered, knowing it would make him feel better about letting me have a longer leash.

"Exactly," he confirmed, kissing the top of my head before pulling away completely and motioning to Micah.

The night was the same as any other. I bathed Micah, dressed him, and put him to bed in his crib. He almost slept the whole night, only waking me up earlier when my brother tossed his backpack down the steps.

"Noah," I growled as I padded out of my room.

The little boy, still clad in his pajamas, looked at me with wide eyes. Micah was screaming in his room and Noah looked like he was terrified. "Sorry," he whispered, although it was pointless now, "Dad wanted to check my homework before he left."

I glared at the eleven year old. "Just stop throwing stuff," I demanded before I pushed Micah's bedroom door open and stepped in, closer to the noise of the screaming baby. I called his name as I softly lifted him into my arms. His eyes were glossy from the tears and his little fingers clasped onto my shirt as if begging me not to let go of him.

The two of us went into my room and I laid on my bed with him on my chest. He wasn't hungry or wet, just seeking affection. "You're alright," I promised, running my fingers up his little back, "You're going to spend the night with Grandpa later."

Dad came in to say goodbye not long after. He sat on the edge of my bed and kissed my forehead and then Micah's, brushing the little boy's hair back. "I'll see you later, Slugger," Dad said to Micah, "There's a game on tonight. You've got the whole day to get pumped." He smiled at me and stood up from the bed.

"See you later, Dad," I called after him, "Thanks again."

"See you, Cy," he replied, waving back into the room as he walked out of it, dressed casually for the restaurant.

I rolled out of bed and padded downstairs in my shorts with Micah wrapped in my arms. Noah sat at the kitchen table with his backpack on the floor next to him and Ryder sat across from him, her arms folded and resting on the table.

I glanced at the clock on the stove. "Aren't you going to be late?" I asked, situating Micah in his high-chair.

Ryder turned her glare from Noah to me. "Yes," she stated simply, "But this monster won't leave until he finishes every bite in his bowl."

I peaked over Noah's shoulder. The bowl was almost completely full of cereal and my brother had a cheeky smirk on his lips. "I don't like leaving early," he said with food in his mouth, "I want to finish my breakfast."

I patted his shoulder as I moved past him to get Micah's breakfast. "Go for it, Kid," I encouraged, ignoring the look Ryder shot at me.

I got Micah's food and then sat down on an empty seat next to Micah's high-chair. Ryder was glaring at Noah and I, both. It seemed that Micah was the only one she didn't have a problem with at the moment, although she was too busy to hang out with him when I wanted to hang out with my friends - something she got to do everyday before and after school.

Micah and Noah finished around the same time, Noah having taking as much time as he possibly could to gobble down just one bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

"Okay, Noah, lets go!" Ryder demanded, pointing in the direction of the front door. "If you make me late, I'm going to kill you."

The eleven year old rolled his eyes. "Whatever, Ryder."

She gently shoved him towards the door, leaving his bowl in the sink as they hurried out of the house, slamming the door behind them.

I took Micah upstairs and dressed him. He sat on the floor in the bathroom and fiddled with one of those hanging toy sets as I showered and then laid on the floor of my room as I pulled clothes on. I grabbed my bag and slung it over my shoulder before scooping Micah from the floor. I put little shoes on his feet and a tiny jacket on to cover his torso.

The two of us headed out of the house together and I locked the door behind me, leaving a quiet house sitting vacant among other quiet houses in the neighborhood.

Micah played with a set of plastic keys as I buckled him into his car-seat. I climbed into the driver's seat and started the car. I walked Micah into his daycare and smiled friendly smiles back at the woman who sent them towards me.

"I'll see you later, Micah," I murmured, leaving him in his room with other kids his age. "You're going to meet mommy's friends after school, so look cute, Sweetheart." I kissed his face and said goodbye to the woman working in the room.

I hurried past the front desk, where Micah's name was written in my handwriting on a sign-in sheet, and out to the parking lot where other parents were trudging out of their cars with their kids, and back into them without them.

To say I wasn't nervous about Mikey and Frank meeting Micah would've been a lie. I didn't know how they would react to seeing me with my son. I'd become a completely different person around Micah - a person who was changed, or at least trying to change, for the better.

Frank and Mikey were waiting for me outside of our english classroom with large grins on their faces. Their excitement was as evident as my nervousness was. Frank crossed his arms when he saw me and Mikey smiled reassuringly.

"We're probably just going to watch movies tonight," Mikey told me as we walked into class, "Nothing too haphazardness."

Frank nodded adamantly. "Yeah, Gerard bought a whole bunch of new ones for some college thing." He rolled his eyes. "So we're going to watch them and see what's so special."

"It's one of his projects, Frankie," Mikey replied rationally, "So they're probably nothing special. But we've got a whole bunch of other ones."

"Yeah," Frank added, standing by my desk, "Gee has whole walls full of them."

Seeing the confused look on my face, both boys shook their heads and promised to show me later. They slid into their seats as the teacher walked in and gave them strict looks, daring them to act up during class, again.

They both looked back at me and grinned, a silent way of taking my nerves and replacing them with a growing excitement.
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