“Gah!” I woke up to find Banana sitting on the edge of my bed, watching me. She wasn’t making any sound or moving; she was just watching me. “Banana, honey. You scared me.” I smiled, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. “Have you been up long?” I glanced at my clock and saw it was seven-thirty in the morning. As I hadn’t gone to bed until after one, I was definitely hurting.
“I just got up, Auntie,” Banana said, hurrying to hug me. “I’m hungry.” She plopped herself back down, this time right by my face. “Can you make me breakfast?” She sounded so wistful, I didn’t have the heart to tell her to go away.
“Give me five minutes, love.” I struggled to sit up, conscious of my nudity. “Um, why don’t you go wake up Uncle Matt? I’ll be right there.”
“Ok!” Banana jumped off my bed and raced out the door. I knew Matt would give me hell for telling her to wake him up, but that wasn’t my problem. I got out of bed and threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, figuring it was enough to go get started on breakfast. I trudged out the door, trying to wake myself up. Banana was dragging Matt out of his room, and he stopped to glare at me. I suppressed a smirk as I made my way to the kitchen. If I had to be up, he had to be up.
I opened the fridge, hoping that there was something edible. I saw some eggs and decided to scramble them. I’d make whole wheat toast and some sausage patties and call it a day. So it wasn’t the healthiest thing she could eat—it was homemade. That had to count for something. I went to work, making enough food for three. I pulled out a carton of orange juice, sniffing it to make sure it wasn’t past its prime. It was just fine. Matt and Banana walked into the kitchen, watching as I cooked. They knew better than to ask to help as I preferred cooking solo. I started the coffee as well as I needed at least three cups.
“It smells good, Auntie,” Banana said, her eyes wide. “Mommy doesn’t cook food like this.” Of course not. Julia wouldn’t sink so low. She was strictly haute cuisine, and I was a meat and potatoes gal. Could be why she liked fashion, and I liked sports. “Is it ready yet?”
“Almost,” I said, waving my hand behind me. Matt took the hint and herded Banana to the living room. I could hear the television from the kitchen, which meant he had the volume too high. I slugged down a cup of coffee almost raw while I was cooking just to jumpstart my brain. When I went into the living room, Matt and Banana were rapt in the world of the Justice League. Matt had the DVDs of the first season, and it was one of his favorites. I wasn’t sure it was appropriate for someone Banana’s age, but she appeared to be enjoying it.
“Food!” Banana jumped up and grabbed a plate from the tray I was carrying. I set one down in front of Matt before grabbing the last plate for myself. Matt and Banana thanked me before turning back to the television. I kept one eye on what they were watching and one eye on Banana. It was wearying to take care of a kid because you had to constantly make sure she didn’t come to any harm. As she sat there eating, I envisioned the food going down the wrong way and getting stuck in her esophagus.
“Man, I love Batman,” Matt said blissfully, shoveling in the eggs.
“Hawkgirl!” Banana retorted, eating her fair share of eggs. “She rules.” She turned to me and asked, “Who’s your favorite, Auntie?”
“Yes, Scar,” Matt said, his eyes amused. “Who’s your favorite.”
“Wonder Woman,” I said, sticking out my tongue. I followed it up by swigging my coffee. I could feel the caffeine starting to kick in, which meant I should be human around noon. “She’s got that great lasso and big…eyes.” I blushed as I realized what I’d almost said in front of Banana.
“Yeah, I like her eyes, too,” Matt said, smirking at me. He knew I lusted after bigger breasts, even though I wasn’t obsessed with it. I just thought it’d be nice to have a little more on top, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it short of getting boob implants.
“Uncle Matt, can I have some more ice cream?” Banana sure knew the soft touch in the house. Ice cream? At eight in the morning? Even I knew not to give a child ice cream that early in the day, but Matt was a different story.
“Sure, sport,” Matt said, getting up from the futon. “Wait here while Batman saves the world. I’ll be right back.”
Banana leaned against me, giving out a sigh of contentment. I realized that for the first time in days, she wasn’t tense. Her eyelids drooped as she snuggled into my arms. I had to admit it was nice holding her, and I briefly wondered again why I was so adamant about not having kids. I stroked Banana’s hair, marveling at the silkiness beneath the coarse texture. There was something about the freshness of a child that was cleansing. My arms tightened reflexively around Banana before releasing. I silently thanked her for the gift of her.
“Here we go!” Matt came back holding three bowls of ice cream. I grabbed one before it fell, and he set one in front of Banana who woke up immediately.
“Banana, huh,” I said, gingerly tasting my ice cream. To my surprise, it wasn’t half bad.
“Just like me,” Banana said, laughing a bit. The three of us ate in companionable silence, feeling like a real family. Suddenly, Banana set down her spoon and looked at me. “I wanna call my mommy.” I got up to get my cell phone, and I called Julia.
“Hello?” Her voice was low, as if she were afraid of waking someone.
“Hey, Jay. It’s Scar. I have someone who wants to say hi to you. But first, how are you doing? How’s Peter doing?”
“Not so good,” Julia said, her voice trembling. “He’s so tired most of the time. I—I think I’m coming home to get Banana. Or—no, I can’t ask you do that. Of course, I’d pay for your ticket.”
“I don’t think I can, Julia,” I said regretfully. Then a thought hit me. “Hey, I’ll ask my mom. I’m sure she’d love to take a little trip to New York. She loves that city. You talk to Banana, and I’ll call my mom on my landline.”
“Thanks, Scar, you’re a lifesaver.” I handed the phone to Banana who started gabbling instantly. I went to the landline and called my mother.
“A-ya, how did things go with your detective?” My mother wasted no time with frivolities when it came to my love life. “He seems like a nice man, but I like Matt better.”
“Mom, I have a huge favor to ask.” I sidestepped the question of Martinez versus Matt and plunged into the reason I was calling her. When I explained to her what I wanted, she was more than willing to accompany Banana to New York. She refused to let Julia pay for her ticket because she knew someone who worked for Northwest Airlines who could help her out. My mother knew many people, mostly Taiwanese, and I found it best not to inquire too closely about these connections. She rang off after telling me she’d find a flight and call me back as soon as possible. I managed to tell her to call me on the landline before she hung up, otherwise she’d get a busy signal. Through all this talking, Matt stayed absorbed in the world of the Justice League, which was for the better.
“Auntie, Mommy wants to talk to you again.” Banana handed me the phone and returned to the futon. I wondered if Julia had told her, but she didn’t seem any different.
“Jay, my mom says she’ll do it. She’s going to talk to a friend at Northwest and get two tickets for as soon as possible. How does that sound?” To my consternation, Julia burst into tears. “Jay….” My voice trailed off. Really, what was there to say? Sorry that your ex-husband, the father of your child is dying. Sorry that he’ll never get to really know the wonder that is Banana. Sorry that I can’t do more to help you.
“I’ve never been around someone dying before,” Julia whispered, still in tears. “I don’t know what to say, what to do. I feel as if I’m doing everything wrong.”
“You’re there, and you’re loving him. That’s all you have to do.” So spoke the one who had no experience in this realm, either. I seemed to be good at giving advice about things I didn’t understand—I certainly had done it about Banana more than once. Just call me Ann Landers.
“I wish I could do more.” I could hear Julia blowing her nose, which was another first. She usually took care of pesky bodily functions in the bathroom, away from the general public. “Rick, that’s Peter’s partner, he’s doing most the work. It’s been so hard on him. I try to spell him whenever I can, but it’s not nearly enough.” I didn’t know what to say, and the landline ringing distracted me. Matt answered, indicating that it was my mother.
“Hold on a second, Jay. It’s my mom.” I handed the cell to Banana, who was more than willing to talk with her mother some more. My own mother had worked miracles. She and Banana had seats on a flight to La Guardia which would leave at seven tonight. That didn’t give us much time, but it should be doable. Of course, they would arrive in New York at some ungodly hour, but they could sleep in the morning. My mom was turning right around in the morning and coming home—she was a saint. I knew I had to cancel my date with Martinez or at least postpone it. I was half-relieved not to have to face him, but that just made me feel guilty. I thanked my mom and told her I’d see her later.
“Banana, I need to talk to your mom again.” Banana handed over the phone without protest and went back to Hawkgirl. I thought Hawkgirl was one of the weaker characters, but who was I to question the taste of a three-year old?
“Jay, it’s me. My mom got a flight out to La Guardia at seven tonight. They’re going to arrive in New York around eleven, New York time.” I gave Julia the particulars. My mother had gotten a one-way ticket for Banana and a round trip for herself. She figured Julia could take care of Banana’s return ticket. I told Julia to talk to my mother if Banana’s return ticket turned out to be exorbitant—my mother would take care of it.
“Thank her for me, will you? I’ll see them tonight. Will you tell Banana for me? I’ll just cry if I talk to her again. Oh, and can you stop by my house to pick up some clothes for Banana?” I was worried because what did I know about packing? Julia wasn’t too worried about it because she could always buy whatever Banana didn’t bring. Julia was in the shopping capital of the country, and it was one thing she could do to take her mind off Peter. “Give her my love.” With that, Julia rang off. I caught Matt’s eye and motioned for him to pause the DVD. He did, causing indignation in Banana.
“Why did you stop it, Uncle Matt? It was just getting to the good part.”
“Hon, I need to talk to you,” I said, cuddling her to my body. I needed every bit of warmth I could get, and nothing provided it more than a child.
“Is something wrong with my daddy?” Banana asked, her eyes downcast. “Is that why Mommy wanted to talk to you?”
“Your daddy would like to see you,” I said carefully. “Your mommy decided it was a good idea. My mom is going to take you to New York tonight so you can see your daddy. What do you think of that?”
“I love you, Auntie!” Banana squealed, throwing her arms around me. “I love you, Uncle Matt.” Banana launched herself at Matt and fortunately for her, he was great with the glove. “I love your Mommy, too, Auntie Scar!” Banana beamed at me from Matt’s arms. It nearly broke my heart to see how much she was anticipating seeing her father, especially when he was so ill.
“We need to go to your house to pack,” I said, standing up. “But first, I have to make a phone call.” I ignored Matt’s smirk as I took my cell phone to my room. I called Martinez, whose number I knew by heart now.