Sitting at the back of an ice cream shop, Jonathan carefully looked over every inch of the want ads he’d pulled from three separate newspapers. Once again he’d found himself out of a job due to change in management and lack of skills they deemed acceptable for positions he’d held and handled greatly, and he needed to find something quick.

Thinking of this new predicament, Jonathan was unsure how he’d made it through the last five years because luck was surely not on his side. If it were only himself that he had to worry about, it would be no major issue. He could always run back and forth between the few family members that cared enough to help, he could easily play up to the fact that he had aunts and great-aunts that would gladly let him mooch without ever looking for anything in return. But Jonathan had a daughter, and that was a responsibility he knew he had to take on to the best of his ability.

To protect, love, keep her clothed and fed was a promise he’d made, and Jonathan had every intention to keep that promise. He’d do anything, go to the ends of the world for his child, and if he had to go back to taking multiple odd jobs, he’d do just that.

 

He was just getting into his search when a little voice interrupted his thoughts. “Dad, what’s this song that’s playing now? Do you have it on cassette or CD?”

Jonathan quickly circled one ad with his red pen and looked at his daughter, smiling at the way she danced in her seat. Her long and curly hair was bouncing as she nodded her head to the beat of the song playing. She’d been doing small shoulder bops and head nods with her bottom lip poked out all of her life, and it was still the funniest and cutest thing he’d ever seen. Even at the age of eight. “I don’t know Avery, but when we see Cousin Lance, you can tell him the lyrics and he’ll probably know.”

Avery nodded, quickly finishing the last of her strawberry ice cream. “Yeah, he knows every song ever made.” She sat back, singing lowly as she began to think over her own personal affairs. “She’s playing hard to get… but she likes me, she liiiiikes me. Dad, do you think that if I start baking my own cookies again, they’ll sell just as well as they did the first few times?”

Jonathan shrugged, looking over his newspapers once more for any job that offered a paying rate that would assure he and Avery would be fine. “I don’t see why not. But Avery, I’ve told you before that I don’t like the idea of you working like that and hustling for money. It’s my job to take care of you, not the other way around.” He sighed. “I hate that you picked up that hustling mentality from me.”

“By any means necessary.”

He shook his head. “I hate for people to think that I have you out here working when I don’t.”

Avery looked at her father, catching a glimpse of disappointment in his face. Not towards her, but towards himself. He beat himself up a lot, and though he felt she was too young to understand, she understood perfectly. And she hated it. “Who cares what anyone thinks? You’re a great dad and even in bad times, they still can’t find a fault in how you raise me, that’s why they talk mess. Besides Dad, I like having my own little thing. It’s just as innocent as what the Girl Scouts do, but better. My teacher, Ms. Davidson, told me that she thought it was great that I had that entrepreneurial side of me already at such a young age. She said that when I’m older, I’ll be doing great things because I’ve already learned how to make money, and how to make certain things work for me. She said that she could see me running my own successful business, the boss.”

“She’s not lying about that and I appreciate her for encouraging you Avery, but still, you’re a kid. You should be worrying about homework and baby dolls.”

Avery rolled her eyes, pulling a pen from her backpack that was resting beside her. “I hate baby dolls. And what’s wrong with me helping a little Dad? If you don’t want the money, I’ll keep it for myself and save it for real bad times, but this is still something that I want to do. I like it.”

 

Jonathan sighed, looking at his eight year old. She was a spitting image of her mother, and just as smart and self-assured. He knew anytime Avery had her mind and heart set on something, it wouldn’t be so easy to stop her from doing it. “Avery, the Girl Scouts are going to get real tired of you cutting in on their corners and store fronts.”

Avery shrugged quickly, turning to a fresh sheet of paper in her notebook. She began making a list of different ingredients she’d need to get whenever she took a trip to the grocery store with her grandmother. “They’ll be alright. It’s not my fault people prefer great, homemade cookies. People can only eat so many packaged and tossed around trefoils, samoas, and thin mints.”

“I don’t know what I am going to do with you. Behind that cute, unassuming, chubby face and those pretty brown eyes…. there’s a junior manipulator lurking.”

Avery smiled. “Oh Dad, I got it from you. Your skin tone and your hustling nature, that’s all I got from you. Oh, and this scratchy voice, or as you say, raspy.” Jonathan laughed, denying the hustling accusation. “Continue loving me and treating me like the princess that you’ve raised.”

He nodded, giving her a quick hug before he went back to looking over his newspapers one last time.

This wasn’t the first time they’d had the ‘No Hustling, Avery’ conversation. But, because he could never hide when something was wrong from her, it surely wouldn’t be the last. It always amazed Jonathan that she never looked at him as a failure, always had encouraging words for her father just to keep him going from day to day. He wanted to say that she was just being brave, but worrying or stressing over problems had never been in her nature. Something he was sure she’d gotten from her mother, as well as her assertiveness and ambition.

 

“I tell you what Avery.” She looked at him, smiling. “We’ll discuss this again and try to come to a compromise when I comb your hair tonight. For the rest of the afternoon though, once we get home, I want you to worry about getting your homework done and nothing else.”

“Alright. But may I call grandma to plan a trip to the grocery store? You know how she likes to plan that in advance if she’s not already going.”

“Yes, you can do that. Let’s get out of here; I’ve gotta stop at the bank and see how long we’ll be good for and then we can go home.”

“Why are you checking the account again?”

He sighed, gathering their things before leading Avery out of the ice cream shop after she threw their trash away. “Had to get the car fixed so we can ride around without breaking down again. We’ve got a good bit saved, but I still want to check before I plan out our budget for the month. Daddy don’t want to write any bad checks or overdraw when I try to get cash.” 

“That would be a very bad thing. Well, at least it’s only one major thing we have to worry about this time.” Avery shook her head. “Car problems, why are they so constant and expensive when you don’t have the hookup? Enough to make me want to take public transportation for the rest of my life.”

“It’s a car I’ve had for a long time. I’m literally going to ride that thing until the wheels fall off.”

“Yeah? Well let the wheels fall off when I’m not riding around with you, Dad. But really, car problems and nothing else, we should still count our blessings. We have each other, our health, and, finally, a stable home.”

For the first time in weeks, a semi-positive thought came to Jonathan’s mind after Avery’s comment. The last time he’d lost a job, they didn’t have a home once his money ran out. Though she didn’t mind them being there, he knew he wore out his welcome, for years to come, at his mother’s home. “Lucky for you and I, I kicked my pride out of the way and accepted that house from my grandparents. Now that was a true blessing.” He was thankful that when they retired and moved out of state, he was the first person they called to take ownership of the very first home they’d ever purchased. They’d always told Jonathan how much they trusted him, they believed he’d take care of the home better than their own kids would. And they were right. It was surely the only way he would be able to stay in San Francisco without having to worry about paying rent or a mortgage. All they’d asked was that he keep it in great shape, and he’d been doing just that.

Avery took her backpack and her father’s hand as they began walking towards the free parking garage where he’d left their car. “Gotcha. But Dad, my offer to help is always on the table.”

“I appreciate that, I really do. But you earn your money, you keep it and let me handle everything else.”

Avery sighed, shrugging her shoulders before finally saying okay. She knew that it was no use offering, her father’s pride spoke louder than anything and if he felt he could handle it, she’d just have to trust and let him. He’d always managed to pull them back to the top.

 

 

Once they made it home about an hour later, Avery dropped her backpack by the front door and headed straight for the kitchen.

“That bag is not to be left there all night.”

“I’ll get it when I finish, Dad.”

Jonathan shook his head,walking into the living room after closing and locking the front door. Plopping down on his tan couch, he let out a deep sigh and ran his hand down his face. His whole day of actively job searching, going to different places and asking for applications to fill out, before picking Avery up from school had been a bust. The only good bit of news he had was that they’d be good for at least six months, if he kept to his already strict budget, before he had to start worrying again. It still wasn’t enough for him to sit back and do nothing, or wait for something to fall into his lap. He knew that life had a funny way of messing up even the most thought out plans.

 

Walking into the living room with a small glass of water in her hand, Avery looked at her father and the worried look etched across his face. “You know Dad, I’ve been thinking.”

“When aren’t you thinking and plotting?”

She smirked, leaning against the arm of the couch as she took small sips. “When I’m sleeping. But as I was saying, Dad, I’ve been thinking. Maybe we should move.”

“And go where, Avery?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Somewhere that doesn’t have a high cost of living. Let’s just be honest, California has always been an expensive state.”

“How do you even know that?”

“Really Dad, you’re asking me what I know and how I know it? Sometimes I prefer the news over cartoons, don’t judge me.” Jonathan just shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. “The point is; new place, new opportunities, new life.”

“We’ll get there some day, Avery, we’ll see the world but not any time soon. Can’t uproot on a whim and hope it works; when it comes to you, keeping you safe and having somewhere for you to live, that’s got to be thoroughly planned and thought out.” She nodded, sighing lowly. “It is a wonderful idea though. Now get started on your homework and make sure it’s all done early. You know it’ll take me an eternity to comb your hair after we have dinner, we both hate it, and we have to do better at getting you to bed on time. We’re gonna be on it tonight with the schedule.”

“Homework, dinner, shower, hair. If there’s at least twenty minutes to spare, may I watch a little TV before bed?”

“If your homework is correct when I check it, sure. Now get going.”

“Yes Sir.”

Avery quickly grabbed her backpack from by the door and headed to her room.

 

Once he heard her bedroom door close, Jonathan picked up the receiver of his house phone. Sitting next to it on a side table, he picked up a notepad that had a short list of numbers, all from the different places that he’d already applied to weeks before.

One by one, he dialed each number to inquire about the status of his applications since he’d heard nothing back. And one by one, they all stated that they’d already filled their positions.

Slamming the phone down after the tenth number, he groaned. “Damn shame when even a knock-off version of McDonalds tells you ‘no’.”

He was just about to pick up the receiver again when he heard a knock on his door. A second knock followed, and after that came knocks in a rapid succession, as if the person were making a beat. Answering quickly, already knowing who it was, Jonathan let stepped aside and let his cousin Lance walk in.

“Yo doe, what’s good cousin?” Looking at Jonathan’s face, Lance could see that he’d asked the wrong question. He also figured that he should tone down the cheerfulness in his voice. “Damn, who pissed in your cereal this morning?”

“It’s just been a rough day, Lance.”

“Still no luck?”

Jonathan shook his head, heading back into the living room after he closed and locked his door.

 

Lance followed, sitting in the recliner that had once belonged to their grandfather. “Look Man, it’s gonna get better, and it’s gonna get better soon. You’ve always been a quick thinker, hard worker, and you never let anything keep you down for long. Now where’s the mini-business woman? I know Avery’s gotta be around here working on her next business plan.”

“No, she’s doing homework.” Jonathan cleared his throat, looking directly at his cousin. “And you need to stop encouraging her with that ‘Business Woman’ stuff. You put her on to the idea of selling her cookies after your mom taught her how to bake and she’s been on grind mode ever since. It’s been three years since she started and she hasn’t stopped pitching sales ideas yet.”

Lance chuckled. “At least you know she won’t grow up to depend on nobody to do anything for her. She’s learned how to go out and get her own. She learned how to get back up after being knocked down, she learned that from you, and she’s gonna carry that with her into adulthood. Cookie stands, snack stands and lemonade stands, whether they do well or fail, it’s the same thing and it’s a great way to teach a little responsibility, hard work, and the good feeling you get when you earn something for yourself. Can’t knock Avery’s hustle, ‘cause she’s definitely a smart one and she handles it well.”

“I know, but I don’t want her to feel like she has to work or take care of herself. That’s my job, Lance.”

Lance leaned forward, clasping his hands together as he spoke. “And you do an amazing job. Think about it; you’ve got yourself a third grader that makes straight A’s, she pushes herself to excel. She’s not spoiled or bratty, very respectful to all adults, even when they try to make her feel bad. Always got a kind or positive word, always looking to help others. And instead of questioning your choices, which she shouldn’t anyway, she happily goes along and supports whatever you decide. She trusts you to take care of her because she knows her dad has her best interest at heart. Y’all got a tight bond; father and daughter, but friends as well. And I think because y’all have that tight bond, she knows she can offer you that help or do her own little thing without feeling that you’ll take advantage or try force her into actually working to help provide. Jonathan Wade, Sir, you raised a brilliant child.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Lance.”

“I am right. Let Avery do her thing, and you stop stressing so much. I know it seems like nothing good will come your way, but just pray and wait for it. Everything takes time.”

 

Jonathan nodded, thanking Lance as he finally kicked his shoes off. “And in the meantime, in between time, you already know that if you need something, I got you. When I made that resolution for New Years ‘94, to help my immediate family out more, I meant that. You and Avery, whatever you need, just ask.”

“Appreciate that, Lance. How soon can I take you up on that offer?”

“Whenever. What’s up?”

Jonathan yawned, covering his mouth for a second. “Nothing big. I just need someone to watch Avery while I drive a couple hours outside of San Francisco, see if I can find something. Doing anything had always been an option, but looks like I’ve gotta add going any distance to that. Gotta get it together for my daughter.”

Lance smiled, knowing his cousin would stress no matter what was said. He admired Jonathan though, readily admitting that he wouldn’t have been able to grow up as quickly as Jonathan did.

 

When Avery was born, Jonathan and her mother, Cara, were only seventeen years old, just beginning their senior year of high school. Jonathan immediately stepped up and handled his responsibility, assuring Cara and their families that they would be fine. He took two jobs, while working towards graduating from high school, so that he could provide for them. Once Cara was kicked out of her parents home, he took another step to give their ‘relationship’ a real try, moving them into a small apartment so that their family could be together once they both graduated at eighteen.

College had never been on his agenda so, with the exception of his mother watching Avery while they worked, Jonathan happily gave up his personal time to be home with his daughter while Cara continued her education, working towards a career in nursing.

The situation and lifestyle worked out perfectly for them for just over a year, allowing them to live as comfortably as two young adults with a toddler could. When he and Cara broke up, she moved out and they opted to co-parent. Getting a good schedule going seemed to elude them for a few months, but they managed, even coming to terms with the ending of their relationship and learning to act civil towards one another for the sake of their daughter. They’d become good friends, and had an easygoing co-parenting system until, a few months after Avery turned three, Cara lost her life in a car accident. It was something Jonathan had a hard time coping with, even feeling guilty because of a small argument they’d had that very night, but he kept himself together for Avery, making sure he kept the promise he’d made to Cara when she first announced she was pregnant; to always take care of their daughter.

After that, it seemed as if nothing but bad luck came his way, mainly when it came to keeping a job. 

 

Lance, and a few others in their family admired Jonathan greatly, often commending him for never being the type to just sit back or mope and complain about life being unfair. If he felt that way, he kept it to himself and moved forward, worked harder with every new opportunity that came his way.

Clearing his throat, Lance nodded. “Yeah Man, I’ll watch Lil’ Bit for you. I promised to help her build a new stand for her business anyway, we can spend the day doing that.”

“Stop enabling my child.”

“Do you not understand how great her baking skills are?” Jonathan looked at Lance. “Man, don’t tell my mama I said this, but Avery’s peanut butter cookies are better than hers.”

“Aww man, don’t go hyping my daughter’s skills up.”

“They deserve to be hyped. I’m telling you, mark my words; if she doesn’t become some type of teacher or go into politics, she’s gonna have her own bakery. Making a killing somewhere in the Bay Area or along the coast.”

Jonathan laughed, picking up the receiver of his phone so that he could check on the status of the other applications he’d put in.

One thought on “On The Hustle by Cortney Joseph #ShortStoryAugust

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