Hey all! Welcome back to Flash Fiction Friday.
This week’s prompt was:
I spun this prompt into my story to work with what I have planned. For me this subject is touchy, and by that I mean religion. I just want to remind everyone that in no way does this story reflect my own personal views and this is a work of fiction. I hope you like this week’s installment. Enjoy!
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A Nanny Tale: Part 3
Chris is having a hard time leaving for work this morning. It’s Joey’s first day of school, and while most fourth graders are excited to reunite with their friends and show off their new backpacks and haircuts, Joey is not one of those kids. He whines and pleads and tries to fake sick. He tugs on his dad’s arm and begs for mercy. Chris is nearly in tears when he makes his last attempt to walk to the front door.
Grumpy doesn’t help matters in the least. He sits in his chair and barks out things he needs from the store to Chris while Joey is mid meltdown. Chris locks eyes with me. So many unsaid things go between us with a single look. “I’ve got this, I swear.” I hold Joey around the shoulders as tight as I can so he doesn’t make a mad dash for the front door. “He’ll be there on time. I’ll get the stuff from the store on my way back and take your dad to the doctor at noon.”
“All of the papers for Joey’s school are on the island. Dad’s insurance card—”
“Chris, we’ll be fine.” I yank Joey back a few steps. He continues to fight me. “Have a good day. I’ll call you later to tell you how it all goes.”
Chris’s brow puckers. His eyes close for a mere second before he glances back up at me. It’s not even six thirty in the morning and he looks dead on his feet. “When he calms down, would you take a picture? I always…”
“First day of school. Got it.”
Joey reaches for Chris. “Dad, don’t go!”
“Joey…” Chris groans.
I want to tell Chris to sit down, take off his kitchen bandana, and talk his kid down from the ledge, but I know he had two servers and a cook go back to college this week, and the morning shift hostess went on maternity leave as of two days ago. He has to get everything in order before Grumpy has his surgery in two days, before Chris takes a week off from his restaurant to help his dad adjust. This has got to be the worst timing ever for all of this to go down, but like with everything in my life I take it in stride and blast Chris with a reassuring smile.
“Go,” I order of Chris. “Leave while you still can, man,” I tease and use all my strength to hoist Joey up over my shoulder. “I must tame the beast.”
“Love you, Joey. Have a good day at school,” Chris calls as I walk away with his freakishly strong offspring.
“No!” Joey bellows and it’s game on.
The front door shuts. Grumpy chuckles like a jackass. I set Joey down on two feet in his room. We stare at each other, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. “So,” I begin. “How do you want to do this?”
“I’m not going and you can’t make me. You’re not the boss of me.” He squints and huffs from his nose like a tiny, chicken-legged dragon
Oh yeah? Want to bet I can’t make you? This ain’t my first rodeo, kid. “Why do you not want to go? We bought your school supplies. You got new shoes. You got a haircut. You seemed excited. Now suddenly you don’t want to go and you’ve yet to give me a good reason.”
He pushes out his bottom lip and tosses his sweatshirt onto the floor. “I hate that place.”
“But why? We took a tour of your classroom and met your teacher last week. I thought you wanted to go to school.”
Joey looks at me over his shoulder. He picks up his sweatshirt because he realizes he can’t stand to have something out of order in his pristine bedroom. Once it’s folded on his bed, his shoulders lift and fall with a heavy exhale and he becomes silent.
“Joey? Come on. Talk to me here.”
Joey shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter what I say. You’re gonna send me there anyway.”
I have an inkling of what’s wrong, but in my experience it’s best to get a child to tell you what the problem is outright and save yourself the energy. “It’s the first day. Whatever you didn’t like about last year can be different this year. This is a whole new start.” I touch his shoulder.
He yanks away from me. “That’s what dad said too. That’s what he always says and it never gets better. They hate me.”
He says hate like it’s a weapon he’s been stuck with many times. I feel his pain. I share those same wounds. We’re kind of like kindred spirits, Joey and I, but now I’m grown up and no longer stuck in Bumfuck, Illinois. I have the experience under my belt needed to guide my little protégé through the dark. It’s the getting him to understand he doesn’t always have to be a target that will give me trouble. Kids never think you were a child once too. They think you came out of the womb fully grown with a mouth full of bullshit. Telling a bullied nine-year-old it will get better in time is like telling them leprechauns live in their sock drawer. They think you’re fucking nuts.
“Why would anyone hate you, Joey? You’re such a cool kid.” I sit on the bed next to him and put an arm around his shoulder. “I’m sure you have some friends there you’d like to see.”
Again, Joey shakes his head. God, that’s devastating. “They don’t let anyone be my friend.”
“Who are they?”
He glances up with those big blue eyes and my heart lurches. “Those jerks Sister Grace made hall monitors for this year. They suck up to her and she treats them special. They get away with everything.”
First the Great Hell Speech of third grade and now with this? I was beginning to think this Sister Grace was a maker of nightmares. “Sister Grace seems to be a household name. I’m sure if you just talked to her about people bullying you then she would make sure it didn’t happen again. Do you need me to talk to her for you?”
He rockets off the bed and put his hands up like he’s trying to stop a fast approaching train. “No! Don’t do that.”
I capture his hands in mine. “Joey, you can’t let people walk all over you. Trust me. It will hurt worse in the long run. You can go to school and see how things go today, and if someone messes with you, you tell a teacher. If that doesn’t work, and you’ve made it clear you don’t like their behavior and a teacher isn’t helping you, then you come to me or your dad and we’ll take care of it.”
“You don’t understand,” he huffs. He pulls his hands from mine. “Sister Grace hates dad. That’s why they can be mean to me, because she doesn’t care. I only acted like I wanted to go back because I didn’t want to make dad mad, but when I woke up this morning, I got scared.”
I hug him closer and squeeze him tight. “It’s okay, buddy. Did Sister Grace tell you she hates your dad?”
“She said he lives in sin,” Joey whispers.
“She said what?” I stood up from the bed like my ass was on fire. Oh hell to the no, bitch. “Did she say that to your dad or to you?”
Joey’s eyes snap to me. He’s as infuriated as I am, as pissed as a nine-year-old can be. “She told him that during conferences last year. She said she was worried I would turn out the same way.”
“Why would she say that?” Tread carefully, Logan Davis. This kid might not even know his dad likes men.
Joey sighs. “Because dad likes boys and she says Jesus doesn’t like that and that he’s going to hell.”
I blink a few times. I can’t wrap my mind around this witch and her opinion. What shocks me the most is how she would try to turn a young child against their own parent for the sake of religion. “Joey, get dressed. You’re dad isn’t going to hell because he likes boys, but Sister Grace might if she says another word about it.”
His eyes widen. He clutches the hem of his t-shirt. “Are you going to say something to her? Please don’t, Logan.”
I stop at the door and turn to him. “I promise not to say anything if she doesn’t bring it up. Deal?”
He bites his lip and nods once.
“But … if something happens, you have to promise to tell us. I don’t care if those little heathens threaten you, you come tell your dad and I if they give you trouble, and by heathens, that includes Sister Grace. Don’t you ever think that just because someone is an adult that they have the right to treat you like dirt. That’s not okay, Joey. Not ever. You’re a cool kid. You don’t deserve that.”
I can see it in his eyes—that look; the one where someone other than his father has told him that he’s worthy and he just might believe it now. I’ll tell him every single day just to see some hope on his face. My mom was the one who did it for me when I was Joey’s age, and although Chris tries, Joey needs more reassurance than a simple here and there pat on the back.
“Be dressed in five minutes. We gotta roll out now if you want one of the good donuts.”
He hisses in quiet glee and runs to his closet. I shut the door and sag against it in the hallway. Sister Grace and her minions are on my mind all the way to breakfast. And as I look over at Joey, quietly eating his donut about twenty minutes later, I can tell they’re on his mind too.
Joey keeps his head down as he walks away from me to class. His bony fingers are wrapped around his backpack straps with a white knuckled grip. He weaves through the packed hallway without saying a word. Not one kid waves at him or calls his name.
Joey takes a piece of me with him, a little chunk that this time I am willing to give away. I hope he trusts me. I hope he knows that I’m only a phone call away.
Breaking away from the tragic scene, I walk the hallways of Our Sacred Heart like an outsider. It’s not like I haven’t been in a school before, and I wasn’t opposed to expanding my already open mind to the prospect of a religious school, but this place gives me the creeps.
Most elementary schools had tacky paper borders around stained bulletin boards. Those schools smelled like lemon floor cleaner and sawdust. There were supposed to be teachers waiting in the hall to greet their students, teachers who wore happy little sweaters with kittens on them and necklaces made of wooden blocks that were gifted by past students.
Oh no, not this place. There were nuns in baggy polo shirts tucked into their pressed floor length skirts. Their eyes were cold and calculating as they marked off names on a clipboard as each child entered their class. There wasn’t an air of welcoming excitement or a nurturing vibe, just a drafty hallway full of kids in pristine uniforms who composed themselves far beyond their years.
The fact that parents were paying for their kids to go to prison stunned me. The fact that Chris thought this was where his son would thrive nauseated me.
With that thought, I hit up the door marked Front Office and walked inside. A plump woman with a crucifix bigger than my palm around her neck looked up from her computer. “Welcome to Our Sacred Heart. How can I help you?”
I put on a charming smile and lean on the counter. I slide the folder containing Joey’s paperwork to her. “I’m here to turn this in.”
“And your name?”
“Logan Davis. I’m Joey Wyzak’s nanny. His father wanted me to update his information to make me a designated ride to and from school, and an emergency contact for Joey.”
“I see.” She looks over the information and glances up at me from behind her lashes. I brace myself for a flirty smile or a coy look, but I get a fat sack of nothing. She doesn’t seem pleased in the least that a man is trying to give her attention. Then again, she is a nun. “Will you wait here for a second? I’ll be right back.”
She wanders down a hall to her right where I assume more offices are. She takes forever. I start to worry. Maybe even sweat a little. I’ve never liked school offices. Every time I’d ever been in one I’d always been there to get a detention or a scolding from the principal. This kind of felt the same, like they were intentionally holding me up to feel the wrath of the Virgin Mary on a poster behind me. Every time I glanced over my shoulder, she was staring at me.
“Mr. Davis, I presume?”
I met the eyes of a nun in a suit coat and it was then that I knew I was looking at the female Voldemort. I’d take Flavor Flav with her crucifix over this lady any day of the week. “Uh, yes, that’s me.”
“Do you have a moment to spare?” She’s holding the envelope. Crucifix looks guilty as all get out as she slides back into her rolling chair. This is not going to be good.
“Of course.” I flash her my beauty pageant smile. This is for the kid, I remind myself. You are doing a good thing. Do not fuck this up, Logan!
She crooks a finger. I expect it to fall off like some rotting appendage of the Crypt Keeper. “Follow me.”
Less than a minute later I’m seated across from Sister Grace, Our Sacred Heart’s principal and resident witch. She glowers at me with eyes the color of ice before she looks down her pointed nose to the paperwork across her desk. “I hope you don’t mind. I always take a minute to introduce myself to our students’ caregivers when they come into the picture.”
“Have a few nannies I take it?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” She smiles. I anticipate fangs. I get what look to be dentures. “Children are not raised the way they used to be. It saddens me.”
“Oh don’t apologize. You’re merely an employee doing your job. It’s not your fault you don’t have a family to tend to of your own. Our Father has a role for all of his children.”
My mouth gapes open. I feel dirty words rolling up my throat like wild stallions on a mission to trample this woman and her blackened soul. “I—”
“I see you’re working with Joseph Wyzak. Are you a friend of the Wyzak family?” She threads her fingers together and stares a hole into my face.
I begin to squirm in my seat. The back of my neck is hot as I scratch it. “Not until recently. I just moved here from Illinois.”
Her brows lift. “Ah, so you aren’t familiar with Christopher’s grandfather and all the wonderful contributions he made to this institution?”
“I’m sorry, no. It’s been a crazy few weeks and I’m still getting up to speed.”
She points to a matted photo collage on the wall. “Top row, third from the right, that is Franklin Wyzak, Christopher’s grandfather. He faithfully served the church for many years before he was taken from us. He spoke highly of his grandson, and simply adored Joseph when he came along under tragic circumstances. Without Franklin’s presence in Joseph’s life, I fear he would already be a lost cause.”
Do you know how hot your skin gets when you’re really angry? How your hands shake. How your head seems light and your ears are burning and probably red? You know that feeling? I do. The worst part about being angry at this moment is there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it, or say about it, because my anger doesn’t belong here.
I can’t just voice my opinion, go off on this woman like she deserves because that would create problems for Chris, for Joey, and my job is to keep the balance. Not tip it in one direction. And for that reason alone, I have to curb my nasty tongue and come up with a response that will both nip Sister Grace’s opinion in the bud and leave a tactful taste in my mouth.
I have to be the bigger person. I have to delve deep and hold strong to the little boy down the hall who is counting on me to make things better. I also have to push away the little boy I used to be, who like Joey, faced demons like Sister Grace for a long time. I can’t be scared of people like her anymore. I’ve come too far to let my fears hold me back.
“Excuse me, Sister Grace.” I stop her from digging her hole any bigger. “While it’s nice to hear about Christopher’s grandfather, I think I know where this is going and I don’t feel comfortable continuing this conversation. If you wish to talk about Joey and his education, then by all means, let’s talk. Anything other than that and you’ll have to speak with Chris. After all, I’m just an unfortunate caretaker.”
Her scowl is minute, and it slips away with her next breath, replaced with a smug, porcelain smile I want to shatter with a baseball bat. “It seems you already know of the problems this institution finds with Christopher in regards to raising Joseph with such liberal views. Our doctrine is very clear, Mr. Davis, homosexuality has no place in the church, and certainly no place within view of impressionable young children. Whatever your opposition to our doctrine might be, our teachings at this school are mandated by the church and they are firm. As you will be spending a great deal of time with Joseph, I thought I might make things very clear from the start.”
“Because I’m a nanny? I’m sorry, Sister, but I don’t believe your doctrine has anything to do with me. I’m here to bring Joey to school, bring him home, and feed him dinner. Whatever problems you have with Joey’s upbringing can be directed to Chris.” I stand up and point to the paperwork she’d taken from Crucifix up front. “As I’m sure you and I will be seeing a lot of each other, I thought I’d make things very clear from the start.”
“I’d say you offended me, but you’ve chosen your words very carefully, which means you’re a smart man. I hope you don’t do anything foolish to ruin my first impression of you. That would be rather detrimental to Joey’s future here at Our Sacred Heart.” She stands and offers me her wrinkled hand. It’s soft and warm as I fit my palm against hers, but the strength of her grip proves she isn’t some delicate grandmother. “One last warning, Mr. Davis, if I may...”
“And what would that be?”
“I have to say I find it disappointing for one of our parents to be homosexual in nature in the first place, but I find it stranger still he employs a handsome man to watch his son. As I said, we have a no tolerance policy for homosexual couplings at this school, and that includes parents, as well as caretakers. Should we gain such a reputation in the Catholic community for upholding what our doctrine states as a disgrace, things will not go well from there.” She squeezes my hand and releases me, leaving behind a chill in my palm.
“You’ve made yourself perfectly clear, Sister Grace.” I step away from her desk while keeping my eyes on her hers. “Have a wonderful first day.”
“You as well, Mr. Davis.” Her curdled grin is so sour I almost taste it in my mouth. Before I throw up across her desk, I storm out of her office and shoot Crucifix what I hope is the vilest scowl she’s ever seen. She has the decency to scoot back into the wall and put a hand over her heart as if her necklace holds magical powers of protection. I would say she had the grace, but that word has been spoiled for me. Just like it had been ruined for Joey a long time ago.
I worked out my anger by doing the shopping after leaving Our Sacred Heart. By that I mean running into other carts, glaring at innocent shoppers, and throwing Grumpy’s Rolaids into the basket like I was pulling a slam dunk. I worked it out some more by taking Grumpy to the doctor, sitting with him in the waiting room, and not budging when he almost tripped and went down in the lobby. It was mean. I know. Nevertheless I gained some satisfaction from the terror on his face when he had righted himself and looked at me like he knew I could have just let him break a hip and would have.
I wouldn’t have. I was less than a foot from him, but that wasn’t to say I didn’t think about it. He deserved it, didn’t he? For the way he’d shunned his own son, just like Sister Grace, just like countless others. Maybe he deserved it for breaking Chris down in front of his son, for trying to show Joey how much of a fairy weakling his dad is.
I knew Grumpy didn’t deserve the pain of breaking a hip and Chris would never forgive me, but for that single second I thought about it. That meant Sister Grace was winning. She’d somehow attached herself to me and was eating away at my mind. She was ruining any chance I had at fixing this family because she’d become one of the main problems. That much was clear to me.
The only way I could give myself peace of mind was to confront Chris head on, and after dropping Grumpy off at the house, I headed over to the restaurant to do just that. It was between lunch and dinner, and I’d chosen the perfect time to arrive. Maybe a dozen patrons were seated in the three open dining areas and there were more than enough to staff to handle them.
I found Chris hurrying from one counter to the next. He pushes out a grin like a dollar from an ATM to some lady browsing the bakery display. For whatever his smile is worth, this one wasn’t the real thing so it was worthless, yet it said everything. There are bags under his eyes in this lighting that tell of his restless nights and tossing and turning, of his stress and baggage he can’t let anyone put away.
But he works that counter like a pro, sending the lady off with three white boxes of treats for her bible study class that night. The moment she hits the exit, and the door chimes with her passing, Chris exhales heavily and put his hands on the glass top. He closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths.
“Hey,” I greet him.
He glances up and goes straight to attention, no doubt cracking his spine the entire way up. “H-hey. What are you doing here? Something wrong with Joey?”
“Well that remains to be seen. He’s fine for now.” I approach the counter with caution, one foot in front of the other because I have to. It isn’t my line to walk, but if I had another choice and the devil wasn’t feasting on my soul I would have taken a detour to spare him the added grief.
“What does that mean?” His eyes flick back and forth, searching mine for a clue. He puts up a hand to me and says, “Hold it. Let’s talk outside.”
He goes to the young guy at the register and whispers something to him. The guy nods and waves at me like we are somehow acquainted, but I return the gesture out of respect for Chris. I’ve been shot down so many times today that maybe I was being a dick for not recognizing kindness when I saw it, instead instantly scrutinizing anything nice because I was paranoid and pissed off.
Chris comes around the counter and shows me out to the porch. He takes his time walking around the side of the building to find us a perfect set of rocking chairs tucked back into a corner. This small haven nestled away from the busy road symbolizes a lot of Chris’s life. He was hiding. Always. Everything. Because he had to be someone else in private and what everyone wanted him to be in public.
Which is why I feel terrible being the one who has to draw him out to face the facts.
“I met Sister Grace today.”
He stiffens in his chair. Moments later he pushes off with his toes and begins to rock back and forth. “And?”
I turn in my seat and stop his rocking with a hand to his arm. “Why, Chris? Why would you subject your family to that?”
“Are we talking as friends or as boss and employee? Because I’m not really sure what you are to me anymore and I’m certainly confused as to how you think this conversation is any of your business—even as my friend.” He nudges my hand away and resumes rocking. He refuses to look at me, keeping his eyes on the back of a minivan in the parking lot instead of facing me head on.
“I guess not as your friend, because I don’t have friends that would knowingly stick their son in that fucking place.” Boom. The silence after dropping a bomb that you can’t take back is deafening.
His chair comes to a halt. The weight of his stare is like a thousand pounds ready to crush me at his command. “What do you want from me, Logan? You’re getting paid. You’ve got a sweet little setup in my basement. You got a free fucking Rover, your insurance paid for, and you don’t offer a dime for food. All I asked you to do was watch my kid. That’s it.”
I sniff at his defenses and point a finger at him. “You can make me sound like a freeloader. You can push and push and push me away, Chris. The fact still remains that although that’s what you asked of me, that is not all you want from me. You say you want me to watch out for your kid, well, I am. That place, Sister Grace, they will haunt Joey forever because eventually they will burn him out and he’ll always wonder what kind of person he could have been had he been given a chance to be himself. A chance to choose, not be told, who his father is.
“And I’ll tell you right now, I’m not gonna hide who I am for that bitch. No, I’m not going to go and flaunt a rainbow flag up and down the halls, but eventually I might find someone who loves me and I won’t turn that down because I’m Joey’s nanny and his school’s code of ethics states I should be stoned for seeing another man in public because I’m associated with you.”
He runs a hand through his hair. His chest works overtime as his breathing comes faster. “Logan, you don’t understand.”
I lift my hands and let them fall into my lap with a slap. “I do understand. I understand more than you ever will. When I was younger, I was you. I was kicked and punched and oppressed because I was different. I hid it. I denied it in public to survive. Eventually I had to get out of there because I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t live another damn day hiding who I was for the sake of other people’s opinions. There will be people like that everywhere you go, I know that, but now that I know who I am, I will never be forced back into that dark place, Chris. No matter how much I care for Joey, no matter how much I’m starting to care for you, I won’t do it and neither should you. That’s your kid. That’s the person who should look up to you for the rest of his life because you are his hero. Heroes don’t run away. They stand and they fight.”
“You’re wrong, Logan.” Chris stands and puts his hands on hips as he looks down at me. “I am his hero.”
“No.” I stand up and get in his face. “You do the standing part just fine, but you’ll never fight for him. You’d take in your bigot of a father, yet you won’t save your own damn son, the one thing in your life that supports you no matter what. Whatever ties you have to your grandfather and that school, they’re in the past. Joey doesn’t have to be dragged down with them.”
I hold my breath as he fists the front of my shirt and yanks me forward. His nose is inches from mine. His breath hot on my face as he faces his demons. “You have no idea what I sacrifice for my son. You have no right to tell me how to parent my child or what’s best for him.” Tears surface in his eyes, magnified by his glasses. His grip tightens. “But you’re right,” he whispers and his fingers loosen from my shirt. “You’re right.”
Chris turns his face away and heads back into the restaurant. It starts to sprinkle out of nowhere. Clouds move in from across the water to blanket the sky a murky gray. The small drops of water turn fat as they splatter the parking lot, soaking me to the bone as I walk to my car at a languid pace. I feel every single drop pummel my body. I feel every single thump of my heart in my chest and I know that somehow this rain is a sign from the powers that be.
Someone knows I’ve broken the ultimate nanny rule. Someone wants me to feel that pain, because as a nanny, thou shalt not tell a parent how to raise their child. You will undoubtedly get burned and others will be broken as punishment for your offense.
To be continued…