My Summer Job in Hell
I could hear the screaming all the way from my bedroom. High pitched, shrill, and furious. The kind of scream that makes you think of blood-sucking werewolves and demons that steal your soul.
I was lying on my bed, my feet propped on my pillow, facing my Kate Upton swimsuit poster. I wish she were my girlfriend but that doesn’t seem likely considering I was voted most likely to be overlooked by my high school class.
Okay, not really. For one thing, I’m a junior. I won’t be voted most likely to be overlooked until next year.
Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Fynn Hardin. I’m a sixteen-year old male with no girlfriend and no car. I have hair the color of dirt, a long face with a pointed chin and a smattering of freckles. If this brings to mind an image of an adolescent giraffe, you’re not far off.
I was throwing a ball against the wall and catching it with one hand. It’s something I do to entertain myself. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It helps to block out the screaming.
“Noooooo! No! No! No!”
This ended in a screech so loud I thought my head was stuck inside a Boeing 747. I sat up, grabbed my pillow from under my feet and flopped back down, pressing it over my head. Which made me wonder–could I still catch the ball if I couldn’t see, like, by using spidey-sense or the force or something?
Apparently not. I’d have to work on that.
I debated not going, but I was hungry. So I blew Kate a kiss and shuffled downstairs.
“Hi, Fynn.” My Mom was taking a chicken pot pie out of the oven and my Dad was wrestling a screaming Madelaine, aka Maddie, into her high chair. Sweet. I love chicken pot pie. I slid into a chair and helped myself to a large portion. The smell of hot, delicious, mouth-watering chicken met my nose. Ahhh….
“Fynn!” Dad barked.
I jerked my head up. “What?”
“Could you help me here, please!” Maddie had her feet on the edge of her high chair, her fists of fury flailing around my Dad’s head, her little body bending in an arc. I made a face at her, sticking out my tongue and crossing my eyes and then poking her in the stomach. She laughed and relaxed enough for my Dad to pop her into her high chair. When she realized what just happened, she got ready to scream again, but I shook some Cheerios onto her tray and she brightened.
“Thanks, Fynn,” Dad said, wiping the sweat off his forehead. Dad was ten years older than my mom and he always said that he totally lucked out when she married him. I could kind of see it. Dad’s balding and has a belly, plus he works long hours and has no sense of humor. He has a business with a couple of other guys–they make printer belts, like for industrial printers. Only about a year ago their best customer left and business had slowed to a trickle since then.
“You know, you’re very good with her.” Mom said. I could tell by the way they exchanged glances that something was up. Should I just pretend not to notice? Probably. I shoveled another forkful of chicken into my mouth.
My Dad made a sort of hmmf-ing noise.
“Okay, what?” I put my fork down.
Mom cleared her throat. “We were thinking, that for the summer you could hang out and take care of Maddie. You know, while I go to work to earn money for your college education.”
I stared at her, then at my father, searching for confirmation that this was a joke. My Dad smiled at me, like this was some fantastic opportunity that I would be a fool not to jump at. My brother Kevin looked at me and laughed. His mouth was full.
“Are you kidding?” I managed.
“No, actually we are not,” Mom said.
“I’m getting a job for the summer. You know, so I can save money and buy a car and…stuff.”
Did I mention Maddie was born fifteen months ago? Last summer, Mom was on maternity leave and could look after her own baby. Now that she was back at work, she wanted me to do it?
“You know, it won’t be so bad, looking after your sister. She’s a pretty easy baby.” My Dad said, as if I had not just witnessed the war to get her into her high chair.
“Seriously? How am I supposed to save for a car if I’m running around after Maddie all day? Are you going to pay me for my services?”
“Because everyone…” They both started talking at the same time so Dad stopped and nodded at Mom and said, “You go.”
“Because we’re a family and everyone has to do their part. We can save money not sending Maddie to day care for the summer. Money which we can then use to send you to college.” She brushed a lock of her cinnamon colored hair out of her face. She works nights as an ICU nurse at a local hospital. She’s always tired. “You can borrow my car when I’m not using it. They’ll be plenty of time for you to go out with your friends.”
“It’s not a bad deal at all.” My Dad said, as if he were trying to convince himself.
I sighed. My Mom drove a ten-year old minivan. Boy, I bet girls would be falling all over themselves to be seen with a guy who drove his Mom’s minivan.
There was another reason I really needed a job but I didn’t want to tell my parents.
Three months ago, they had given me a line of credit on one of their cards, for “emergencies”, gas and school expenses. Well, define “emergency.” Is it an emergency if all of my friends are playing the same video game and I am in imminent danger of becoming more of a social misfit than I was already? I thought so. Anyway, somehow I managed to spend $400 on Steam. Yeah, I know. But it’s not really my fault. Where did my parents get this misguided idea that I was responsible? Obviously, the credit card people wanted their money. I had been yanking the bill out of the mailbox before my parents got to it so far, but obviously that wasn’t going to work for much longer. I wanted to get rid of the debt before my parents noticed, or at least pay it down enough so that the total could be construed as gas and school expenses.
And I have to admit, I felt a twinge of resentment about this whole babysitting idea. Was it my fault they had a baby last year? No, it was not. So why was my summer going to be sacrificed? Because it was convenient for them?
“I didn’t ask for you to have a baby.” I said, and almost instantly regretted it.
“Well, if that’s how you feel, I’ll just quit my job to take care of the three of you. Of course, next year when you want to go to college, I won’t be able to help you.” She gestured at me with her fork, and the expression on her face said she would have cheerfully stabbed me with it.
“You know, Fynn, sometimes you have to step up. You have to make sacrifices for your family.” Dad said.
Peace and quiet? I thought. It seemed to me that was what I was sacrificing, not to mention steady income and self-esteem. Instead I grunted. Kevin looked at me and suppressed a giggle. Which brought up an excellent point.
“What is Kevin sacrificing, exactly?” Kevin kicked me under the table.
“Don’t you worry. Kevin will have responsibilities as well.” Kevin stuck his tongue out at me. Maddie waved her spoon around and flicked chicken pot pie all over the table. My Mom sighed and got up to get a cloth. Maddie smiled, pleased with herself and banged her sippy cup on the tray of her high chair.
“There’s a summer job fair this weekend at school. I was planning on going.” I glanced at Mom and then at Dad. This was the delicate moment, where my summer and my self-respect hung in the balance. Were they going to let go of this idea that I would be Maddie’s babysitter, or could I go be a normal high school student with a summer job, meeting summer girls and saving for summer cars?
“Fynn…” Mom appeared to be wrestling with saying what she really wanted to say, versus trying to be supportive. “Look, it’s only for this last summer. Believe me, looking back on this when you’re older, you’ll appreciate the time you spent helping your family.”
I sincerely doubted that. And it didn’t matter anyway, because I was definitely going to the job fair and I was definitely going to get a summer job, no matter what my parents said.