Happy Friday!After a much needed break, we're officially back on track for Flash Fiction Fridays. I'm happy to see everyone has enjoyed these posts as much as we do, and we're grateful you've allowed us to take a break from our normal blog content to bring you snippets of our imagination. In my experience doing these installments, I've been able to stretch my legs and run with these prompts in ways I never imagined, or saw coming if you want the truth.
This leads me to the story I'm starting today. It's different for me. It's sweet. It's sad. It's real life with a touch of silly drama thrown in. And I'm going to be completely unapologetic for anything that pops into of Logan's head, because he has opinions all his own that I can't control. That said, I hope you enjoy the new story and work with us as we start a new format to FFF.Hugs,
Because even you as readers know the mood hits us writers harder some days and leaves us hanging on others, we've broadened the FFF word count. Instead of a maximum limit, we now have a minimum of 800 words for each post. That way if we feel our post should continue we can write our little hearts out, and if we don't want a long post 800 words is managble for all of us.
If we don't feel like posting that week, or simply can't? We'll use one of two skip passes we've been allotted for each month. This also means we can post bi-weekly if we want, or just take a week off.
To use our own prompt or to use the one given. If that week's prompt is too out there for our story, and will ultimately ruin what we have going, we will share with our readers our own prompt inspiration for that week's post. It can be anything as long as it is crucial to the story. (Song, poem, movie, youtube clip, picture, quote, place) These are the new rules, and they will make writing so much easier on everyone's schedules. Don't worry, we will keep you posted every week to let you know if we're posting or not.
A NANNY TALE #1
Days like today I consider jumping out the window to my death. Wind rushing through my hair. A few glorious seconds of freedom when a child isn’t grabbing at my junk or whacking the back of my legs with a toy baseball bat. No one is screaming at the top of their lungs. No one is smearing peanut butter across my feet because it’s funny. I am not seeking shelter in my head, going to the “me zone” to get a reprieve from my surroundings.
I would be a grown man freefalling through the air.
But then I remember the death part with an inevitable smack to the ground, and my daydream vanishes as quickly as it came. I’m sure this is how most mothers feel at the end of a long day. But I’m not a mother. I’m a nanny—a word uttered like a slur for those who can’t get a real job and freeload off of rich people. Screw what everyone else says because I am neither of those things, and that’s why I prefer the term childcare professional. Sadly, putting my preferred title on a resume tends to confuse potential employers.
“Oh, you’re a childcare professional. Have you taught anywhere before?”
“What was the last daycare you worked at? Are you even certified?”
“What is your degree in? I don’t see one here.”
The list goes on.
It would be easier to be a teacher, honestly. Sure I’d be responsible for twenty-some brats all day. But that’s the key word: day. I could give them back to their parents and say “adios” until Monday rolled around. I would have nights and weekends to do as I pleased, which would include hours of recorded television and me in my underwear on a worn-in couch somewhere far, far away. At least in my head this is how I envision myself as teacher. I’m under no delusion I’ve created a fantasy position.
I don’t mean to disrespect teaching professionals. I know your job is harder than it looks and you’re under constant pressure from the powers that be and rotten parents and curriculum deadlines and… Well, you get my point. All I’m sayin’ is it would be easier. There would be help, structure, people around to witness the children’s insane behavior so I wouldn’t look like a lying fool when I confronted their parents and said, “Your kid is licking other kids in class and he’s peeing in the class plant.”
“What? Not Jimmy. He’s an angel.”
Yeah. Right. Not one child is perfect. Parents are just really good at denial, and kids these days should be given Oscars for their “I’m completely innocent” performances. So teachers of the world, this is me giving you mad props for your will to go on and mold young minds that fight against you every day. But me? I’m still just a lone ranger armed with nothing but my creativity and the patience of the Dahli Lama.
But back to the joy that is my real life. I’m a man. I’m a full time nanny. I’m gay. I currently live in an apartment above my employer’s summer home garage. I don’t have a car. I have about three thousand dollars in my savings account and maybe a hundred in checking. Most of the time, if I’m not imagining a different existence while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I can be found at the ballet studio watching six-year-olds attempt to pirouette, pull each other’s hair, and plop to the ground and cry when their teacher chooses Beyonce over Lady Gaga for freestyle.
I’ll be the one in the corner fending off the divorced mothers.
Because when you’re a relatively attractive man under thirty, and you’re gay, that means it’s perfectly all right for women to think you’ll be: One: their best friend. Two: an experiment in bed. Because I’m just going to agree to that, right. Or three: the guy that will make their husband jealous should the two of you just happen to be seen together at the gym, you all sweaty and fawning over their wife. I swear to God it never ends. Their little movie inspired fantasies… Please. Stop. Get something with batteries or shave your legs. Maybe your husband will get with the program.
And get it through your head, ladies, not every gay man goes to the gym to get buff and cruise. Okay?
So when I’m not at ballet with Sophia Lynne—not Sophia or Sophie, or heaven forbid Soph, but Sophia Lynne—I can be found ripping apart two twin boys in the grocery store while they fight over frozen chicken nuggets and ice cream flavors. Jack and Rory fight all the fucking time. It’s natural, I suppose, for brothers to fight. But fuck me, all the time? They even fight in their sleep.
Sometimes I imagine slamming one of their faces into the wall while the other one watches. So they would know who the big dog is in this house, but yes, that’s cruel and considered child abuse in almost every country on the planet. And I don’t plan on spending the rest of my days behind bars or being on one of those “When Nannies Snap” reality shows. Not even remotely worth it.
I can dream, though. Don’t you dare judge me until you’ve spent a day with these hellions disguised as cute little blonde children. I want to call them children, and love them and bond with them like all good nannies do, but if you’d met their mother you’d side with me on the fact that they’re actually demon spawn.
Then why do this, you ask? Because it was a way to escape small town life without going into student loan debt like every other guy my age, or being forced to work in a factory where the sweating would make me chafe.
Answering a want ad for a summer nanny was probably the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. In all honesty I didn’t think I’d get the job because I’m gay and most of the people looking were on the super conservative side of the fence. I mean, yes, the political climate of the world has changed since I was kid. And yes, a decent percentage of people are more accepting of same sex lovers as natural human beings with sexual interests that differ from their own.
Then are some people that don’t agree. A twenty-eight-year-old gay man that wants to watch your small children while you’re gone? Gasp!
“It’s against God.”
“I don’t want my child to be gay too!”
It’s… bullshit. That’s what it is.
The first ad I answered turned me down without so much as an interview after I confidently relayed I was gay and asked if it would be a problem. The second mother actually agreed to meet in person for lunch, but when she caught me checking out the waiter’s butt her interest fizzled. She said she’d let me know. I never heard back.
He was cute! What the hell was I supposed to do when an ass like that passed six inches from my face? I have a lot of control, but not that much. It was an artless glance. In her eyes I must have been on my knees wearing a dog collar while I licked his bare ass cheeks. Because I got dumped with the bill and a cursory look that made me feel I’d just been sent to the principal’s office.
Did her opinion change me? Yeah, but not in the way you’d think.
From there on out I made it my mission to get a nanny job just to prove bitch one and bitch two wrong. It was all I could think about between eating, sleeping and breathing. I wanted to be a nanny. Me, I wanted to take care of children. At the time it seemed perfect for me—a free place to stay, use of a car sometimes, a day off here and there, traveling on other peoples’ dime. But what I never fully realized was that I would have to be responsible for someone else’s children almost every hour of my life. Not that I really had a life prior to childcare, but I was still free to be myself.
What the hell had I been thinking?
I’m an average guy, okay? I’m not the party boy type. I think clubs are revolting. Have you ever been in one of those bathrooms? One drink and I have to piss a gallon, but I’ll hold it until I get home just so I don’t have to step foot in one of those stalls. A toilet seat swabbed in any fluid other than bathroom cleaner is not my idea of a good time, neither is having to explain that I hate tight jeans because they squish my balls and that I loathe Britney Spears because I’m not into schoolgirls. I don’t have an ass to speak of to even fill out a pair of those hundred-dollar denim skinnys. And why do I need to enjoy a woman who wears latex, airline uniforms and sings in a nasally voice with the help of auto-tune? Simple. I don’t.
Apparently I’m not a very good gay man according to the Chicago party circuit.
I don’t have a boyfriend, so I don’t run the risk of exposing the kids to anything with a hairy backside. Although, I wish I had a boyfriend. Before this gig, I could have had a boyfriend. I had the choice. Now, well, I have a body pillow if that counts. His name is Sterling. Don’t ask. What Sterling and I do on our own time is private, okay? So that rules out rubbing my gay cooties off on the kids. To all those on the outside I’m just a single guy who gets paid to watch three kids who hate me. On the inside, it’s pretty much the same.
Before this life I chose to shackle myself to, I was able to lounge in bed until I was awake, enjoy a good below-the-equator scratching, and take the world’s longest shower. Now it’s a race to get out of bed before the alarm goes off so I can get in a decent cup of coffee and a quick shower before Succubus comes knocking on my door. Oh yeah, you caught that, I said Succubus.
Remember our little chat about ballet moms? Ballet moms have nothing on Torri Rice. The woman should’ve been born with a penis she’s so sexually aggressive. Her husband, my employer Jacob, is away a lot. He does something with solar storage I can’t really attempt to understand, but I know the job takes him to China, Denmark, and occasionally Germany every few weeks. This leaves Torri to fend for herself with her battery operated boyfriend and hump my leg when no one is looking.
She doesn’t even knock on my door for crying out loud. My earlier comment about being a succubus wasn’t all in jest. Because the lock has conveniently never been fixed, Torri throws open my door like she’s just finished having marathon sex, chest heaving and hair frazzled. Her eyes get all dark as if she’s summoning the second coming and she checks me over. I just stand there for a second, shocked and thinking “Seriously, woman?” I’m lucky if I have pants on before I get treated to her tenacious eye-fuckery. She saunters in like “Yeah I’m that bad chick” and I fight not to gag.
Every. Freaking. Morning.
Where most employers of nannies would kindly come over in the morning to confer about the children’s schedules and what was important for the day, Torri just doesn’t seem to care. She’s one of those people who had kids because it sounded nice, but when the twins arrived they were too much to handle. So she has another one…
Instead of dealing with the many problems her children have, teaching and nurturing them to the fullest extent, she chooses to dump them on me to get her mani pedis and have drinks with the girls at the hottest new lunch spot. And she likes to hunt with stilettos and Chanel number five as her weapons of choice.
It’s like living every day in that story The Most Dangerous Game. You know the one where the man brings another man out to his rich-as-fuck island to hunt his ass to death? It’s like that, but instead of a gun, she thinks using her lady parts will snag me in the end. I refuse to go out like that. I will not be consumed by her adulterating fanged nether region.
So I dance around the coffee table to avoid her. I accidentally pour hot coffee on her toes. I’d even tried a more flatulent tactic before she arrived one time, involving ten microwave burritos for breakfast. But apparently, her husband beat me to it, because she didn’t even bat an eye at the smell.
Damn her. I wish Torri Rice and her wicked children would just leave me alone. Then, I once again realize, I am at their mercy because Jacob Rice provides my source of income and I know I’ll never go back to that sad ass existence in that small town in the middle of nowhere I grew up in. I just won’t do it. No matter how much I love my mother.
Thus I am forced back into my current situation. Rory is bent over in the kitchen, trying to fill every gap in his lungs with air, attempting to mimic some kid at school back in Chicago who could make himself pass out and get sent home sick for the rest of the day. Jack is using his mother’s two hundred dollar candle sticks to jab into the air like swords. He grunts in concentration, and then wails a battle cry as his invisible enemy attacks. Sophia Lynne is slapping the counter, demanding my attention from her perch on the barstool. She throws a celery stick at my face when I don’t come out of my “me zone”.
“Yes, Sophia Lynne? What I can do for you, you tiny little...” I grind my teeth together, holding back that word that is too adult for her wee pierced ears; ears that hold diamonds bigger than my mother’s old engagement ring.
“I said I want strawberry milk in my glitter cup with the special straw!” Her little fist curls hard enough that I’m not above thinking she can call upon the devil. Her bottom lip covers her top one, giving her the impression of a grumpy old man wearing a zebra-print leotard. “Now.”
“That’s not the magic word.” I smile.
“I’m telling mom you’re using magic!”
“Go right ahead. And then you can tell her to…” Again, I refrain from using my adult vocabulary on her pretty little ears. “It’s please. When you ask for something, you need to say, “Please” afterwards. And when I give you your milk you say, “Thank you.”
“I do what I want,” she mimics her mother.
Rory becomes bored trying to make himself pass out and appears at my side with the Nerf bat again. He wails on my leg and I just stand there, numb to it all. “Rory, give me the bat.”
“I want my milk!” Another fist slam from the bite-sized Cruella and I laugh through my teeth, slowly losing my mind.
A candlestick drops onto the glass coffee table. I hear the crack before the shatter and I comb my fingers through my hair in an attempt not to throttle a little neck instead. “Jack!”
Whap! The bat hits me again. Jack looks at me with a smile from the other side of the room, dangling the other candlestick over the already broken table.
“Jack, don’t you do it. You’re already in big trouble, mister!”
“Make me,” he says and I lose it.
I rip the bat from Rory’s hands. I throw it to the other side of the room. Thank god it’s made of foam and plastic. Sophia Lynn screams at the top of her lungs for milk like it’s a martini to an alcoholic. I reach Jack just in time to catch the other candlestick before it falls. “This is not a toy. Do you understand? This coffee table costs more than your piggy bank could ever hold. How are you going to replace this? Why did you do this? Huh? I want to know.”
I look around at the three of them. “Why do you all do these things? What is wrong with you?”
The front door to Hell’s Palace opens and in walks Torri Rice. The smell of lavender massage oil and tanning lotion announce her arrival. Her heels click across marble, white pants swishing around her feet to a stop. She flicks her blonde hair over her shoulder and lowers her large black sunglasses in surprise. Her coral shaded lips form a perfect circle. “My table! What have you done?”
Out of all the mess happening around her—her screaming daughter, Jack now hitting the plant with his Nerf bat, Rory giving me the finger—she points to me, the one holding the candlestick. “What the hell did you do? That is an original Lugar Morrisey!”
Fuck Lugar and his ugly ass table. What about your kids, lady? “Torri, I think you mean what did Jack do?”
She shakes her head, glossy lips rubbing together in rage, and then she crouches down, holding her arms out for her precious Jack. “Oh, baby, are you all right? What happened?”
Jack simply points to me. “He did it.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
She fusses with his hair then gives him a disgustingly fake hug. Torri stands up and stomps her heel at Sophia Lynne who instantly quiets. Rory drops the bat. His blue eyes widen. He has enough sense to look guilty, even though he knows no punishment will come his way. It’s like a movie, a constant reel of terror. This house is its own campy, horror show and I’m an unpaid actor, the one who will be killed off by the end because I’m not a virgin. I stand there gawking at Rosemary and her babies, thinking about my plan of escape.
Then I wonder why Torri Rice is upset with me and not trying to weasel her way into my pants in her husband’s absence. It hits me. It’s Thursday. Torri went to pick up Jacob from the Grand Rapids airport because he just flew in from Germany. Jacob appears behind his wife. His lackluster eyes scan the living room from a foot above his wife, towering over her in his rumpled suit from hours of travel. He eyes me wearily and sighs, and then brushes a hand over his chin. Normally I’d be fantasizing about the sleepy, six-foot-something man with dark hair and a fantastic ass, but not today. He looks sad, downtrodden to point of no return.
He gestures for me to follow him with a tilt of his head. One bored housewife and three blonde children watch me like I have a target between my eyes as I move into the foyer and follow Jacob into his office.
Like the rest of the house, Jacob’s office is over decorated, fluffed and filled with chintz and pizazz that would give the Home and Garden Network reason to throw in the towel. Jacob hates it. You can tell by the way he carefully brushes aside the vase of fresh flowers on his desk as if it will bite him.
He melts into his rolling throne behind his desk and whirls about once in thought. “Close the door, would you?”
“Sure.” I close the door and sit on the teal “Stirling” sofa with its creepy floating leg frame. Yet another Torri touch neither of us guys enjoy. “Good trip?”
He grunts. “I suppose.”
“Not what you wanted to talk about?”
“Unfortunately, no. I would talk to you about it in the morning, but now is as good a time as any.” He scratches his head and looks at me. “In no way is this about your performance with the kids. God knows you try your best and we haven’t had a nanny stay this long since, well, forever. That said, our situation has changed, and more changes are coming, Logan.”
It doesn’t take Sherlock to figure this one out. “Am I being sacked?”
“Not sacked. Let go.”
I knew this day was going to be crap. I knew it from the moment I woke up and discovered I was out of coffee, the regular stuff that I could pour into a filter. Not the bitter cartridge packs Torri loads into that beast machine in the kitchen. I knew the day wouldn’t get any better when I couldn’t find the mate to my favorite pair of green socks. I knew… Who was I kidding? Every day sucked.
So why did I feel like shit being let go from a job I hated? That would be because I was supposed to see this through. I’d wanted to prove everyone wrong and become a nanny, a real fucking childcare professional for kids so I could one day say I had a part in shaping their lives. God knows I wasn’t about to pop out any kids of my own. This was the only vicarious living I could muster.
It sucked. Being let go from the job I’d wanted so badly. It really blew.
“Logan, Torri and I are getting a divorce.”
Say what? “Oh?”
He snorts. “Like you didn’t see that one coming. I know what she does when I’m not here. You’re not the only one she tries to persuade.”
“Oh.” He’s wrong. I didn’t say that coming at all.
“Torri is going to a retreat in Napa for six weeks to “find herself.” She’s under the misconception I’ll stay with her if she can calm down a bit. Can you believe that?” Jacob chuckles wryly. “She doesn’t get that I married her because I loved her at one time. She doesn’t see that all of this,” he gestures to the bigger picture, his house and life, “was for her and my children because I love them. She doesn’t understand the sacrifices I make, not being there to see my children grow up so I can support her frivolous lifestyle. She just doesn’t care about me anymore, and frankly, the only ones I care about now are my children and what’s best for them.”
I nod. Of all the Rice clan, Jacob could hit the nail on the head. He isn’t a dumb man. He couldn’t be dumb to acquire this kind of life. I envy him in a way and I pity him in another. In some other life, Jacob would have made my perfect gay husband. But that was just my imagination, and I was being let go of my job. These kids were being broken apart. Their parents were splitting up. This house wouldn’t be a home anymore. It would just be an awful memory.
“The kids act out for attention. They miss me and I miss them. They imitate their mother because they’re desperate for her affection, when she obliges them with what time she can spare between laser treatments and shopping trips. It doesn’t take a therapist to see, and I’m sorry I’ve put you in the middle of all of this, Logan. For what it’s worth, one day I think you’ll be a great father. You have the patience of a saint.” Jacob nods while drumming his fingers on the desk.
How fucking uncomfortable is this? Jacob speaking to me on the level as if we were equals and I wasn’t the help. Me sitting here trying to internalize the baring of his soul, and the fact that I was being let go.
I look at my lap, at the peanut butter stuck under my fingernails and further down to the dirty laces of my Converse sneakers. I’m unexpectedly overwhelmed with sadness. The more he talked about the kids, the more I realized not only was he losing his family, but so was I. The Rice’s, for all their demonic impressions, had been my life for a while now. I didn’t know where I would go or what I would do now that they were breaking up with me.
“Don’t worry about the money. You’ve got a fat severance coming your way for the shit you’ve put up with. I’m really sorry, Jacob.”
His apologetic blue eyes don’t make me feel any better. I twiddle my thumbs to help with the need to cut and run from his office. “What now?”
“I’ll write you a glowing letter of recommendation. Maybe put out some feelers at the agency we used to find you and give you a couple of weeks to pack your things. You can use Torri’s Lexus as if it were yours until you can find another placement. I don’t think you’ll want to stick around before she leaves for her trip. It won’t be pretty.”
“And the kids?”
“My mom and dad are coming down from the U.P. in the morning to come get them for a while, until the lawyers work out something. I’ll be working from home for the time being. So when they get back I’ll have them.”
Jacob lifts a shoulder. His eyes mist over and I squirm. This was not the kind of talk you wanted to have with your employer. “Torri signed a pre-nup before we got married. My father talked me into it and now I’m glad. I’ll give her something to get her on her feet, but if she fights me for those kids, I’ve got the means to take them away completely. Most courts side with the mother in these cases, but Torri lost any defense she had when she turned her back on our marriage and sought another lover, many others, and some she approached right in front of our children. I hope it doesn’t come to a fight where I have to shut her out completely. I’m not that guy. I don’t want to be that guy. She’s still the mother of my children and I want them to have a relationship with her. I just don’t want them to be her.”
“I hope it works out for you,” I say. What else is there to say?
He nods again. “Me too, Logan. I want you know you’ve been a joy to have around. I can’t thank you enough.” He pulls out a checkbook from the desk drawer and starts scribbling on it.
“You don’t have to do that right now. I mean it. I’ll start packing my stuff first and put in a call to the agency tomorrow. Maybe you should get some rest.”
Jacob keeps writing. He rips the check at the perforation and slides the paper to me. “Maybe you should too. Take a few days to yourself, Logan. You’ve earned them.”
Jacob Rice’s blue and gold embossed check teeters at the edge of the desk. I slowly take it, scared to look at the rectangular slip of paper. When I do look my entire world changed. A check for fifteen thousand dollars rests in my palm.
“I hope it’s enough.”
He hopes this is enough? Is he kidding me? That’s almost a year’s pay for me, and if I didn’t have free accommodations and use of a car, I’d be practically homeless in the city.
He continues, “It’ll float you for a few months until you can find something back in Chicago. We’ll probably try to find a seller for this house before the summer is up. You might want to get a quick start. I know it will sell well.” Jacob turns around to look out the window. A pristine view from Jacob’s office window makes my heart ache. Lake Michigan, warm and blue, laps at the swaying beach grass from where I’m sitting. For some reason, I know I’ll miss this place a lot more than I’m willing to admit.
I stand from my chair and pocket the check. I would not let my emotions get to me. I would go out with my dignity intact. “I best get started then. Thank you, Mr. Rice.”
“If you ever need anything…”
I nod. “I know.”
And I do know. Jacob Rice is a good man. A man I wasn’t likely to forget in the future. He gave me the affirmation I needed—that I was a real nanny, that I could do this, that I could move on to another family after the initial upset subsided. I smile and push open the French doors to his office and walked out a free man.
The Helping Hands Agency was where I’d landed the job with the Rice family. They had a few offices up and down the lakefront, mainly in largely populated summer communities for the wealthy. West Michigan boomed during the few months that lacked snow, so I still had time to latch on to a family looking for long term help. I had everything I needed above the garage back at the house. I wouldn’t miss the two boxes of crap I’d stowed at the Rices’ townhouse in Chicago.
Surprisingly, I wanted to stick it out around here. See where the wind blew me. If all else failed I could go back to the windy city with my tail between my legs. But I had a good feeling as I opened the door to the agency. Something was waiting for me, or rather someone. Sabine Vander Zwaag was the head of the agency at only thirty-two. She’d been my contact since I first decided on becoming a nanny and I was happy to find she had settled in the small tourist town of Grand Haven, Michigan after tiring of Chicago.
I leave the sweltering heat and the smell of funnel cake behind me on the boardwalk and walk inside the air-conditioned office suite. Sabine motions me into a chair while she continues to nod to someone on the other end of the phone. She has this way of gesturing during a phone conversation that makes her appear to be conducting an orchestra. Her chin length white blond hair is immaculate as she moves; never stirring it’s so perfectly cut. Her intense blue eyes roam the window space. They sit atop her full, flushed cheeks so she looks like an elegant baby doll. Her red lips pucker and she sighs irritably.
“It says here,” she enunciates every word, dragging out “here” for a long ride. “You have a water park at your hotel. Now I look at these pictures and I don’t see a water park.”
I hide my laugh. Her Dutch accent is so cute it always makes me smile. She sounds like she’s getting ready to break into song, each word a bouncy note separate from the rest unlike born Americans who race to get to the end of a sentence.
Her face scrunches up. “It is a water slide? This doesn’t make a water park. My children wait all summer for a water park. What? Yes, I live on the lake. So? They want a water park, not the lake. They already have the lake. Gah.” She slaps the desk. “Sir, I can put a carousel in my garden, but it doesn’t make a carnival. Water slide doesn’t make a water park.”
She shakes her head at me, pointing at her phone. “I do not think so. No. No reservation with you.” She puts the phone on the cradle before settling her gaze on me. “That Idioot! Nothing is going right today for me. Tell me you have better news, or that I can do something right for you. I was surprised to get your call. Coffee?”
“No thanks.” I wave her back into her chair. “I got let go.”
She clucks her tongue. Her blue eyes soften. “I thought you got along well with the Rice’s. Apart from those kinderen being nasty little things, I hoped you could do them some good. When I did not hear from you for so long, I thought…” She frowns and puts her hand under chin.
“It wasn’t the kids, Sabine. It was a lot of things, but honestly, it wasn’t the kids. Torri and Jacob Rice are getting a divorce. They’re going to sell the summer home here and the kids are going up north to their grandparents until things get settled.” I kick back in the chair, letting the weight of the Rice’s misery pull me down.
The boardwalk outside is full of happy tourist families coming and going. A majority of them have ice cream cones in hand, they’re wearing chino shorts and flip flops, moms push strollers, and everyone is smiling. It makes me, the supposedly uncaring nanny, sad for the Rice children and the boardwalk summers they would be leaving behind, the summers they had never actually had to begin with. They would be shipped up north to their aging grandparents and life would never be the same again.
“Tragic.” Sabine stares at the window too. “But I see this all the time. It is part of what makes my business thrive—parents who do not adequate have time for their kinderen. When I first start this business I thought it made sense. Alleviate stress from parents. Everyone can enjoy their lives. But this generation is too focused on themselves. They forget what really matters, their babies, and how their little ones depend on their parents’ love for them.” She shrugs. “All I know for certain is that my kinderen are loved and my man makes sure they know that when I am gone.”
I smile. If there is one thing Sabine has a handle on it’s her family. She’s kind of a big sister to me, even though we aren’t especially close. It’s the wisdom she imparts upon all of her nannies that makes us feel connected to her. It’s the earnest sentiment she puts behind her business and that’s the reason we as nannies feel comfortable coming back to her. “I have no doubt they know that.” I wink. “So, got anything for me?”
“I do.” She hums and looks at her computer screen. “Although, I do not think it wise to dip your toes in another red flag situation after you have only just come out of one. Maybe a temporary position for you, yeah?”
“No. I need something permanent. I think… I think I’m going to stay here.” My smile grows as hers does.
“Really?” She beams. “No one ever stays here! I always do long distance work after September and I get lonely, Logan.” She claps her hands. “Wonderbaar! I will find you something good to keep you.” She stands and comes over to me. She leans down to kiss me several times on the cheek. For all of her business composure with clients, to people she considers friends, Sabine is honest with her true, colorful self. Unlike most of the American-Dutch people in the area, Sabine isn’t quite as reserved. She gasps off of me and grins. “I will find you something right away.”
And she does. After a blunt and passionate argument on Sabine’s part, I still take the red flag offer to nanny a nine-year-old boy with a single dad and a grouchy grandfather. It didn’t make sense to me why the grandfather wouldn’t watch the boy, but it sounds nice and different from my last job. Sabine sends me over right away for a quick chat with the dad. Apparently he’s in the middle of some project and doesn’t have a ton of time. I prepare myself for the worst.
This family lives in the city of Holland, a straight shot down US31 from Grand Haven in Torri’s zippy little Lexus. I don’t travel this way much unless I’m with the Rice clan going home to Chicago or coming up for the summer. There are a lot of blueberry fields, factories, and wide, open spaces. Oh, and traffic—there’s plenty of that too, but it still isn’t anything compared to back home.
Other visiting Illinois license plates weave in and out of the steady Michigan traffic, forgetting they aren’t at home. The longer I drive, the more I realize Illinois drivers are kind of assholes. I guess it isn’t exactly news to me, and at least they’re better than the Ohio guy in front of me going ten under the speed limit like he has all the time in the world.
I wonder what the locals think of all the tourist flow this time of year. They probably love the rise in local business sales, but hate their roads being subjected to large groups of bikers, flatland bound minivans, and fancy sports cars in on a weekend from Chi-town. Things seemed to run at a different pace around here. No doubt the locals like everything at a slower speed, hence a highway with a 55 mph speed limit.
I make my way into Holland, surprised at all the well-known chain stores I’m used to seeing back at home, intermingled with smaller ones I don’t. Traveling farther west proves to be a nightmare as the streets become narrower and mostly one way towards “the beach”. I’d quickly learned during my short stay on this side of the state that calling the water “Lake Michigan” in these parts ousted you as a tourist, if your “accent” didn’t give you away first. Everything on the lakefront was “the beach”.
Like I said, this place is a different world as far as I’m concerned. And I guess different is what I need.
I take the longest road ever towards the water. The factories in this part of the city are fewer. Mostly residential plots, colorful little one story and sometimes two craftsman style homes with yards full of green grass and either U of M or Michigan State flags. Further evidence these people take their college football very seriously. Like, really seriously.
Eventually waterfront cottages begin popping up. Stretches of sand decorate each side of the winding road. Tall tufts of beach grass sway as I drive by. Seagulls perch like sentries on aluminum guardrails lining the sandy sidewalks, watching me go with their beady black eyes.
People not from the area would think beach and imagine wide open views of the water straightaway, possibly some palm trees to go with it. But Michigan is very different in that aspect. Thick clusters of trees—and no, not palm trees—block most of the water views from the road, unless you’re at a state park where you’d get the open scenery you would have imagined. While pretty, I’m not here for the beach or to take pictures of the landscape. I’m here for a job.
The GPS guides me into a more secluded area of the neighborhood, a richer area where the cottages are bigger and more spaced apart with their own private drives and hanging signs out front with family names or, if they were really someone special, the name of their house. The GPS tells me to take a right to my destination and I get a little rush of excitement, gazing out the windshield at the steep uphill drive before me.
When the hill levels off about a quarter of a mile later, I find the two-story house in perfect seclusion. It’s a bright, welcoming white with a weathered, beach wood paneled bottom. An open porch in the front and a screened-in porch to the side give it relaxing retreat look. I like the no-fuss landscaping, other than the U of M flag waving proudly in the yard that tell of the hardcore fans living here.
Frankly, I like how the place feels like home the minute I get out of the car and step onto the gravel drive. Waves crashing in the distance. Fresh air. Jetskis hitting the water nearby. It’s all so different than city life, yet absolutely amazing. I already can’t wait to see the inside, to meet my possible employer and get the hell out of the situation with the Rice family.
I almost skip up the porch I’m so eager. I rap on the red front door a few times, anxious to get this meet and greet over with and start something new. I can do this, I tell myself. I’m a damn good nanny, I chant in my head. I start to lose courage when I’m still standing here a few minutes later with no one to talk to.
“Whaddya want?” someone finally asks on the other side of the door.
“Uh… I’m here from the Helping Hands Agency? I’m supposed to talk with Chris.” I lean over to peek in one the windows framing the door. “My name is Logan Davis.”
“Don’t know any Davis’.” The door opens a bit. An older man squints at me. “You a man nanny?”
“Uh… Yes, sir. I’m a nanny.”
“Don’t know any man nannies.” He eyes me up and down before pushing the door wide open. The man stomps his cane between us like a warning not to come closer. “You’re here because of my son? Well to hell with him. I’ll take care of Joey just fine. You can be on your way now.”
His thick Michigan accent is a bit hard to decipher because of how fast his words slur together, but I gather from his tone and the anger in his eyes that I’m not welcome. “Sir, if I could just speak to Chris—”
“Damn Fudgie to boot. Lookitya, all city and what have you. You smell like a tourist.” He grinds his cane into the black hardwood floor.
Was that a gay joke? “A Fudgie? Sir, I’m from Illinois.”
“Even worse.” The Ancient One shakes his head. “No grandson of mine is gonna be watched by no Illinois Fudgie.”
“What the hell is a Fudgie?” I lose my cool. Gramps is starting to piss me off. He and his cane are blocking me from what could be a great opportunity, one I can’t afford to pass up. One I refuse to walk away from. I sigh. “Look—”
“No. You look here, son—you get in your fancy car and be on your way. Don’t be lookin’ for trouble now.” The man squints until his wrinkle framed blue eyes are barely visible.
“Dad, who is at the door? Sabine called and said to expect Joey’s new nanny.”
A tall blond man rounded the corner from down the hall. His steps increased in tempo as he nears his father. Jacob Rice had been hot, taken daddy kind of hot, but this guy was a different kind of sexy. Not that he could see it. It wasn’t like he sported some suave outfit, just black board shorts and an old Western Michigan t-shirt. But the rest of him had it going on. He’s not ripped by any means. More of the lean body of a swimmer, but he still has power to his long legs and tanned arms. And I especially like his black-rimmed glasses, which magnify the blue of his eyes.
What can I say? I’m an observant kind of guy.
“I’m sorry. You must be Logan.” Daddy dearest offers me a hand. I shake on it just to feel those fingers wrap around mine. He has a strong, sure grip that pumps blood into my cock. Man, either I’m riding out the high of being a free man, or it has been a long damn time since I’ve gotten any action.
“And you must be Chris,” I manage to say without looking like an idiot.
Chris shakes my hand one more time before letting go. “Chris Wyzak. It’s nice to meet you, Logan.”
“Don’t matter who he is.” Grandpa waves his cane, narrowly missing his son’s face. “Don’t need ya. That’s a fact.”
Chris slants a glance at his father. “You’re having knee surgery in three weeks, Dad. You’ve fallen twice already. It takes you an hour just to find the phone. And Joey is faster than you can keep up with. I’m done talking about this. So please go sit in your chair and relax. You’re not supposed to be on that knee for Pete’s sake.”
“He’s a Fudgie!” The old man’s temper flares.
“This isn’t the U.P. anymore, Dad. Stop saying that. People around here will get the wrong idea.” Chris ignores his dad’s irate expression. He smiles at me instead. “Come on in, Logan. It’s a bit warm out there.”
“Gettin’ warm,’ The Ancient One sneered. “Back in my day we—”
“You had to walk five hundred miles through the Sahara Desert to get to school. Yeah. I know.” Chris pats his dad on the back. “Go sit in your chair. Game’s on and you’re missin’ it.”
“Why didn’t you say so? Kripes Almighty! Are we on the board yet?” The old man shuffles down the hall as fast as he can. I notice the grimace on his face as he falls into his chair and slowly stretches back in his recliner to relieve the pain in his knee. “Joey boy, the game’s on.”
“I don’t care,” a small voice flitters through the house.
“How can ya not care? It’s the Wolverines, you little heathen.”
“I root for State!” A door slams somewhere in the house.
Chris turns a wide eyed look on me and holds up a finger for me to wait as his father barks a series of colorful curses. Apparently, rooting for State is a sin in this house. “Make yourself at home in the kitchen. I’ll be right there.”
I had no idea where the kitchen was, but I used my sleuthing skills to find it through the makeshift office in what was supposed to be the dining room. This was definitely a home belonging to men; white walls, a little dirty, no one cared if anything matched or if the place was decorated. But then I went into the kitchen and the place popped as if it were the heart of the house.
Blue and green glass tiles splashed between the white cabinets and the smooth, cement style counters. Wide open windows looked out over the lake. The smell of cookies hung in the air and my mouth watered. It was an absolute mess on every single surface. The kitchen looked lived in with bits of recipes and bills and bowls full of ingredients. A child’s artwork and school pictures clung to the refrigerator with tacky magnets made out of macaroni and those little puff balls from the craft store.
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. And this certainly isn’t the Rice house either. I’d landed in another dimension compared to their Crate and Barrel palace of extravagance.
Through the kitchen I saw Chris bent over his father, whispering to him. His dad seemed to quiet once he was given a drink and full use of the large flat screen television. Everything was so normal in this house, the open arguments and the mess around me. It was unlike anything I’d ever pictured a nanny client’s lifestyle to be.
I loved it. I felt like one of the guys.
“Sorry about that. Again. My dad’s a real treat sometimes,” Chris says as he joins me in the kitchen.
I lean against the counter, trying to keep up with his intense eye contact. “Everyone has a father story for you. Don’t sweat it.”
“I suppose that’s true, but he’s fussier than most. We just moved him down here from the U.P. Uh, that’s the Upper Peninsula. Way up north.” Chris smiles and picks up a bowl of flour. He sets it down near his work station and sprinkles a bit on the counter. I’m both shocked to see him baking and to find him at ease doing so. This is what Sabine must have meant by project. “He’s lived up there his entire life and he hates this part of the state. Says beaches should have rocks, not sand. He says a lot of things. And he’s not used to being around kids much anymore, hence the reason you’re here.”
“You don’t have a problem with my being here? As a man, I mean.” I turn around. The waves are too alluring not to look at, and I want to hide my face when the other shoe drops and he tells me I’m not what he needs. Maybe Chris has changed his mind after meeting me in person.
“Should I? Sabine recommended you, talked you up so much I had to beg her to stop.” He chuckles. I like his uneven laugh. It’s awkward, yet sexy and infectious. People probably make fun of his laugh at first, and then smile because it’s the genuine sound of a happy man. “Hope you don’t mind Sabine saying, but don’t worry about the gay thing. It doesn’t bother me a bit. Nothing new in this house.”
“Nothing new?” My brows climb and I itch to hear what he means by that. I still can’t look away from the sandy slope of beach in the backyard. It’s nothing like the shoreline back home in Chicago. Even better than the view from the Rice’s summer home. I almost lose interest in his reasoning. Almost.
“Never mind, I only meant don’t worry about it. So tell me about yourself, Logan. If I’m supposed to leave my kid with you all day, I think I’d like to know something about you.”
I finally was able to turn around and walk to the kitchen island. Chris is still flouring the surface in preparation for rolling out the dough he’s made. Watching him work gives me the idea he’s somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to baking. Everything is perfectly measured, spaced, and ready to go before he ventures on to the next step. “I was a small town Illinois boy who wanted to escape and move to the Chicago to be somebody.” I smirk.
“Ah, makes sense now. You can always smell a foreigner.” He chuckled. “I’m just joshin’ ya. What brought you to the beach then?”
“The family I was working for summers here. They have a home in North Muskegon. It’s nice. Big.”
“Big money then, those parts…” He glances up. I’m caught off guard by his bright blue eyes. I have to look away, because although he means nothing sexual by looking me straight in the eye, I find it too intense to keep up with. So I let my eyes wander instead. Flour dusts his jaw. His large hands are covered with it too. I notice his ringer finger is virginal, no tan line or callous. Hadn’t been married then. He clears his throat and I blush a bit.
He asks, “Why did you decide to stick around these parts if you’re from a big city now? I can’t promise much action here, unless you get your entertainment from a grouchy old man and Joey. My son, Joey, he’s a little, well… unpredictable. I think it’s just the age. Yeah.” Christ nods to reaffirm this. “It’s a phase.”
Oh no. A phase? That could mean anything. Last time I heard the word phase I was ten and my grandmother was sure I would grow out of liking boys. I hoped Chris wasn’t under the same impression. Gay is not a phase. Trust me. “Sabine said he’s nine?”
“Mm hmm, nine is whole lot of fun.” Chris works the dough over the island as if it’s an extension of his body that needs to be relieved of tension. He has nice hands, tan with long fingers and traces of fine blond hair near his knuckles. Just watching his fingers rub the soft mound makes me relax like he’s working my shoulders instead. “School is about to start up. Joey still hasn’t made any friends since we moved into this house from the old one on the Southside last year. I’ve tried to help him find some at school, but… He’s just different, is all.”
His eyes storm behind his glasses. He kneads the dough harder like he’s trying to make it moan for him. I’ve seen enough angry in my years to know he’s about to let something loose. “And don’t get me started on those yuppie parents at that damn private school. Christian my ass. Those people make my life harder than necessary. And then my dad, taking him in was a big commitment. My brother refused to have him and my mom’s been remarried a long time now. Hell, I don’t even know why I said yes, because my old man has hated me since as far back as I can remember.”
Wow. This guy had been itching for someone to pop the lid on his bottle of messed up for a minute. He fizzes around the edges with barely concealed failure and exhaustion. Either that or he’s teeming with need for adult talk with an easy listener. I let him go and keep any judgment from my expression. Truth is I enjoy his casual flow, like nothing is private between us, even though he’d only laid eyes on me ten minutes ago. The best part is Chris doesn’t realize how captivating he is while he talks and works, pouring his heart out in a way that doesn’t send me running for the hills or worse, handing him a phonebook to look up a therapist.
“My Dad and Joey don’t see eye to eye and Grumpy’s health isn’t the best. I don’t trust them alone together. Don’t know what I’d come home to. I guess I need some help.” He shrugs, but it’s a forced nonchalance. I see a micro-flash of fear in his eyes. He plays it off, stiffening his shoulders and rolling them back to get the kinks out.
The timer on the oven goes off. Chris looks at his doughy fingers and curses under his breath. After turning the timer off, I steal the oven mitt from him. “I think you just might.” I pull a tray of sugar cookies out of the oven. “And I will totally stick around to help if I can have one of these.”
“I’ll save you boys some later,” he says without looking up. “I’m sure there will be plenty of oddballs that I won’t be able to box.”
Later? There was a later? That had to be a good sign. Or maybe it wasn’t since he’d called me a boy, and he couldn’t look me in the eye.
“And after they’re iced,” he finally explains, giving me a tired look. He sighs. “I need three hundred of these ready to go by eight in the morning and another two hundred chocolate chip. One of my clients is having her son christened tomorrow. I’m going to be at this all day. And the walk-in at my restaurant went out some time during the night, so I’ve been dealing with that all morning.”
“A big refrigerator at the restaurant.”
“Right. I think I knew that.”
He grins, taking years off of him instantly. “Fine if you didn’t. But, yeah, it’s out of commission until I can finagle the repair guy down a bit. A grand is pretty steep, seeing as how I’ve done him plenty of favors in the past.”
“Favors?” Heat crept across my cheeks. Okay, so maybe I deserve to be called a boy because sometimes my mind is a dirty gutter full of penis jokes and sexual innuendos.
He has enough grace to pretend not to notice. “I catered his daughter’s open house, my repair guy. One of those graduation parties the kids have for high school. I also gave him three sheet cakes free for his mother’s ninetieth birthday party. And I didn’t wring his kid’s neck when he accidentally hit Joey in the face that time the garbage disposal went out. That kid is a bigger asshole than my father,” he whispered. “A self-entitled mama’s boy, if you ask me.”
Chris rolls his eyes. “I had a leak in the roof of the restaurant dining room and my repair guy brought his kid along because he didn’t have anyone to watch him on such short notice. Joey was there with me. The boys got to playing. The repair guy’s kid stuck a few of Joey’s plastic dinosaurs down the disposal and flipped in on, and when Joey tried to stop him, the kid hit him in the face. Blamed the entire thing on Joey too. Can you believe that crap?”
I was pissed off for Joey and for the ugly death of his plastic dinosaurs. That’s just not right. “If that was my kid he hit, and he didn’t get in trouble for it, I’d find a new repair guy. Not only does it sound like he’s playing you cost wise, he sounds like he needs to get his kid in line too. I wouldn’t put up with it, and I certainly wouldn’t be giving his mother free cake.” I immediately regretted sharing my opinion. Chris just stared at me until I felt like I had to say something. “I mean, that’s just my point of view. I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”
Chris’s eyes smile for him. He sniggers under his breath. “No, you’re right. I know he’s taking advantage, and I know I should’ve let him go years ago, but when you run a business like my family has for this long, you have to do things a certain way. You have the repair guy that is the son of the old repair guy your grandfather used to do business with. They had a deal going. You have to continue this deal so you don’t step on toes. The repair guy’s grandmother is remarried to a guy who is also my produce supplier. He gives me fresh ingredients at the best price in town, delivers them every day before open, and he never fails.
“His cousin runs a kitchen supply warehouse in Grand Rapids where we buy our stuff. They cut me a discount because we’re all connected. I let go of the repair guy and shit hits the fan. Word will spread through the grapevine, and I’ll probably have my car repossessed or something like that.” He laughs harder. “It’s so ridiculous! It’s like blackmail.” I laugh with him. The entire ordeal is too funny not to. I take ease in his sated sigh and the warm smile he gives me. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“No crazier than the rest.” I hand him a box of parchment paper that he reaches for. “Well, some people are crazier than the rest. Take my most recent employer for example.” I tell him about Torri Rice and he grips his bowl to steady himself as his eyes widen.
“She actually tried to… Really?” he asks with deep concern.
“Oh yeah, she did. Those poor kids. I mean, they were pretty horrible to me, but it wasn’t their fault they acted that way. They were taught to act like that.” I shrug.
He nods passionately. “I agree. Divorce was probably the best option for all of them. No reason to stay in a relationship just for the kids. That’s bull in my opinion. It’s not like those kids don’t know what is going on, even that young. You think they were happy watching their mother hate their father, and trying to flirt with other men? I doubt it.”
“I don’t know much about divorce. My mom wasn’t married when she had me and she didn’t even get married until about seven years ago, wasn’t to my biological father either. Worked out well that way I guess.”
Chris looks at his dad in the living room, and then back at me. “I know plenty about divorce, and let me tell you, it worked out better for all of us.”
“I take it you lived with your mom?”
“Yes. My brother and I had to spend summers with him up north until we were both over eighteen, and then we decided not to anymore.”
“Can I ask something personal?”
“Haven’t you already?” He wraps some dough up to put in the fridge. “I’m kidding. Ask away.”
“Why did you take him in if you don’t like him?”
Chris froze with his back to me. His shoulders slump a little and his hands fall to his sides. “Because no matter how mean he was to me, he never hit me, and he still went out of his way to defend me when others started talking crap. When I freaked out after Joey was born, I had to get away. He took me and my son in without asking any questions. Because I owe him for that, no matter how small a favor it was, I won’t turn him out when he doesn’t have anyone else to run to. I won’t let him die in some home either. And because he’s my dad. Just the way it is.”
“That’s nice,” I murmur. I walk around to his workspace and steal a chocolate chip. “I’d do anything for my mom too, no matter how crazy she is sometimes. I love her to pieces though.”
“My mom always says you can tell a lot about a man by how much he loves his mother,” Chris remarks in passing. He makes sure to push the chocolate chips out of my reach, but winks as he does so. “There are men who love their mother more than they should, and I’m supposed to leave those alone. There are men who accept all of their mother’s flaws and praise their talents, who fall somewhere in the middle, and those are keepers. Then there are the unfortunate few who shun their mothers for no damn good reason. Those are the ones without a heart, and no matter how much you try, you can’t spread your heart thin enough for the both of you. Never works.”
Chris bestows his mother’s wisdom graciously as he puts warm cookies on cooling racks. What he doesn’t realize is that he has linked two crucial pieces of information together for me. Or maybe he intended to do so to put me at ease. Whatever his plan, I now know Chris has no problem with me being gay because he is too. The way he shared his sexuality was new on me, like it shouldn’t be a secret, but being gay wasn’t all that he was and not as important to him as it was to me. To him, he was simply Chris. To me, being gay was the first thing I put on a resume, like a skill of the trade.
This man I’d met twenty minutes ago, this man in his board shorts making cookies for some baby who would never eat them, he made me think. He put his life into perspective and somehow made my life appear artificial. Was I pushing myself on people too hard, being too outspoken about my sexuality that if they hadn’t been put off by the idea before, they were now. Was I that guy?
I sincerely hope not.
“You look a thousand miles away. Did I upset you?” He pushes a warm cookie over on a napkin as a peace offering. He adjusts his glasses right before I can fully study the anxiousness in his eyes. One thing is certain, Chris knows what I’ve just put together and the comfortable air he’s casted in the kitchen has changed.
“Of course you didn’t upset me. I’m just thinking about a million different things. It’s been a long day already,” I assure him.
He’s not quick to accept my half-truth, but doesn’t dwell on it by forcing everything out of me. Chris gives me a flat smile and wipes his hands off on a towel. “Well, how about you meet Joey and we can take things from there.”
“You don’t want to see my resume first?”
“Sabine already emailed it to me. I’ve seen what I need to see, and heard from you in person. Joey will be your jury today.” Chris’s brilliant smile returns. “So be warned, he’s picky.”
“I take it he’s had other nannies before me?” I follow him through the living room. U of M makes a touchdown as I pass the television, but Grumpy is already snoring up a storm in his chair. He misses what looks to be the play of the day.
“We’ve had two actually. The first was Melanie, and she was a babysitter looking to be a nanny during the summer. She was too flaky and sometimes didn’t even show up before I went to work. And when I told her she could have the guest suite downstairs if she promised to wake Joey up on time, she thought I was crazy. I think she thought I was coming on to her or something. I dunno.” Chris waves the thought off and stops at the end of the hall. “She lasted about a month, and then we tried Mrs. Stittler who lives down the road. She’s been watching Joey up until now.”
Chris steps away from the door. “Joey hated everything about that one, and truthfully so did I. She’s nosey, gossipy, and she hates the fact that Joey would rather read a book than be, and I quote, “normal.” Can you believe her? The nerve.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “That is pretty shitty.”
“Language,” he warns with a playful wag of his finger. “Come on. This is Joey’s room.” He knocks on the door twice. “Hey, Joey, can I come in?”
“Enter,” comes a quiet reply.
Chris opens the door to the cleanest room I have ever seen. Like it was straight out of a decorating magazine, Joey’s room is immaculate, colorful, yet somehow more mature than any nine-year-old boy’s bedroom should be. Painted a stormy blue, his room has a distinct nautical theme, complete with a collection of anchors hanging on the wall.
Not a speck of dust. Not an item out of place. Not even the large area rug strays from the parallel lines of the floorboards. It’s perfect—too perfect if you ask me.
The boy sits at his window seat, leaning against the warm glass as he curls up with a thick book that could be a volume of the encyclopedia for all I know. He has the same dirty blond hair as his father, and the same innocent blue eyes as he looks up at me, but that is where the similarities end. His childish scowl is nothing his father could achieve if he tried. It’s a look I’m familiar with having worked with the Rice family. It is the look of hate.
Dear powers that be. Don’t let this be a repeat.
“Fine,” Joey says and returns to reading. He draws his knees up to his chest and curls his fingers around the book’s edges, hiding from us. “Can I read now?”
“Joey, could we please have a moment of your time to talk? I promise I’ll let you read all you want until bed time, if that’s what you want to do.” Chris smiles at his son, but his body reads like he’s already frustrated, like he’s been through this before and knows the answer he’s about to get.
“I said he’s fine. You’re gonna get a new nanny for me anyway, so what does it matter?” Joey cuts a look at his father, and then thinks better of it. He does this cute little thing where he puffs his cheeks out and lets his breath out in a whoosh. “Okay. What?”
“What did I tell you about the attitude? Don’t what me. I don’t care if we have a guest, you know better.” Chris puts his hand on his hip and scrubs his other hand over his chin.
Well, this is different. Torri would’ve let her children get away with that for sure. Chris didn’t, and he wasn’t afraid to upset his child for the sake of manners and respect. I could get used to this.
What happens next kind of startles me. Joey puts his book down carefully and hangs his head. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he whispers like it was a last plea on his life.
Chris shoots me a pseudo panicked look before he kneels in front of his son. “You’re not in trouble, buddy. I just wish you wouldn’t cop an attitude with me like that. You understand?”
On the verge of tears, Joey nods. He accepts his dad’s hand like it’s made of gold and squeezes. “Yeah,” his voice catches.
What the hell is this? I didn’t know much about abuse, and I didn’t think Chris had it in him from what I’d seen, but never in all my years had I witnessed a child nearly fall at their parent’s feet to get back into their good graces over something so small. Either Chris was a lot stricter than I saw, or Joey wasn’t like any child I’d ever known. Chris can’t be hitting his kid. There isn’t a mark on him that I can see. I refuse to believe my first rash suspicion. It just can't be.
Chris hugs Joey close. He turns his head and mouths “later” to me. I nod because that’s all I can do. “I’m not a baby anymore,” Joey appeals quietly. “Grandpa’s here if something happens. I can do it, Dad, I swear.”
“Grandpa can’t take care of you, Joey. It hurts for him to move these days, let alone keep up with you. You have to be to school on time. You have to get picked up on time. You need to get out of this house once in a while when I’m at work. When you have homework questions and I’m not here, you think Grandpa is gonna help you? Joey, it’s not fair to ask Grandpa to do things you know he can’t do. He needs to rest and you need to play. Logan is here to help everyone out.”
“You’re always busy.” Joey pouts.
Joey tried hard to keep up the fight, but in the end, he knew Chris had won. It broke me a little to hear how much he missed his dad. Most of the time, kids in my line of work had grown up with a nanny and didn’t know any better. This kid knew the difference, and he was vying for his father’s affection. Chris had plenty of adoration for his little boy, but he didn’t have all the time in the world to show Joey. The world sucked.
“Think of it this way,” I butted in. “When your dad gets home from work, everything will already be done. You’ll have homework done. You’ll be fed. We’ll get your clothes ready for school the next day and get you cleaned up. Chores will be done. Grandpa won’t have anything to nitpick over. And by the time dad walks through that door, the only thing left to do will be to spend time with him. You’ll see him before school. You’ll see him after school. And the weekends for sure.”
“Uh…” Chris grimaced. “I work weekends.”
Joey reached out to me with a pitiful stare. “See?” his poor little eyes asked. He doesn’t have time for me. What he really said was, “That’s okay, Dad. I know you work hard for us.”
Oh my god. Talk about your heart being ripped from your chest. What did this little read-aholic know about the realities of the world? And how painful was it to watch Chris silently accept his fate and know he couldn’t do a thing about it. He had to work. He had a business to run. His kid was a severe introvert who worried the entire family. Grandpa made things worse.
The negative energy finally catches up with me and now I have a clear picture of what is really going on here. And isn’t it so perfect that my job is made for this exact situation. “Joey, I’m Logan, and I’m going to be your childcare professional.”
“Is that like a psychologist, the doctor guy? You don’t look like one.” Joey peels away from his father.
“You been to one?” I sit down next to him at the window seat.
Joey nods. “They think I’m weird.”
“Are you weird?” I run my finger up the spine of his book. A Tale of Two Cities. A nine-year-old was reading this?
“No. They are.” He gently takes his book away from me. His skinny legs swing against the bench seat in a slow rhythm.
“Good answer.” I raise my fist and casually wait for the fist-bump to be reciprocated. A minute later, bony little knuckles knock against mine and I smile. “So, Joey who isn’t weird at all, do you go by anything else or is it just Joey?”
Joey shrugs. “My Pa used to call me Joseph. No one else does. He’s dead now, but he still pays for my school.”
Before I can question what the heck that means, Chris puts his hands up with a smile. “He has an inheritance that was part of my grandfather’s will. It gets used for Joey’s private school tuition.”
“I see.” Thank fuck we weren’t dealing with “Pa writes me checks from heaven” or some other bullshit. Lying to kids about anything other than the three biggies—Santa, the Tooth fairy, and the Easter Bunny—wasn’t good for them. At least that’s how Sabine had trained us. “So what are we gonna do for the next two weeks while Dad is at work and you don’t have school yet?”
“Read?” Joey shrugs again. How the kid doesn’t pull something I have no idea, but he’s unsure about everything.
“We could do that. Or we could go to the movies. Maybe go to mall and get school shoes. You done that yet?”
Joey shakes his head. He looks up at his dad. Chris groans. “I totally forgot. Joey, do you know where I put that sheet with the new dress code on it? It changes every year, I swear.”
Joey slips down from the bench and goes to a cabinet in the wall. He pulls out a file, yes a file, and opens it carefully. “The Fall Winter sheet or the Spring Summer one?” asks Chris’s nine-year-old secretary.
“Fall, I guess.” Chris takes the page from him. He groans again. “All white tennis shoes for fall and winter? Are they kidding with this? Ah,” he purrs happily. “Black dress shoes or boots. That we can do.”
“Why can’t I wear tennis shoes?”
“Because they’ll get dirty when it starts to snow. We’ll get you some for gym class, okay? But you can’t wear them around all the time.”
“I hate dress shoes. They hurt my feet,” Joey whines. “And I look dumb.”
“You do not look dumb.” Chris tries to tuck the paper into a pocket he doesn’t have. He sighs and settles for holding onto it.
“I bet the guys in this book wear cool dress shoes.” I held up Joey’s book, trying to persuade him. “I bet they look great.”
Joey puts a hand on hip. “Everyone gets their heads chopped off in that book, and they didn’t have tennis shoes to buy back in the old days.”
Chris huffs. “Joey, what are you reading that people get their heads chopped off? Is that why you haven’t wanted to sleep in your own bed this week? I don’t want you reading about people getting hacked up.”
“It’s history,” Joey cries. “And Sister Grace said Jesus died the most vicious death of all, and we we have to read about that every day!”
“Joey, don’t start with me. When Sister Grace gave you all the hell talk you had to sleep in my bed for almost two weeks.” Chris snatches up the book, reads the title and cuts Joey a warning look. “This is not on the list we agreed on, and it may be related to history, but this is fiction. It’s not real.”
I decide then that there is no way Chris is an abusive parent. Joey is purely a kid who desperately wants to please his father and is struggling between wanting to be an adult while still being a child. He is torn and somewhat broken, but still young and viable enough to be taught in the ways of life. He is his father’s son, of that there is no doubt in my mind. Watching them yell at each other, it’s like seeing a man split in two on either side of a mirror—one part older and wiser to the world, and one young and teetering on the edge of puberty, pleading to grow up too fast.
They are so alike it’s hilarious. Father and son carry on for another fifteen minutes as if I’m not in the room. Somehow I feel like I’m spying on a private moment in Joey’s childhood, spying on Chris as he learns the ups and downs of parenting. Yet I also discover how needed I am. How much Chris needs me to continue his teachings while he’s at work. How much Joey needs me to learn to loosen up and have fun. How they need me to make this work before one of them snaps.
This is the moment I have dreamed of since making the craziest decision in my life—to become a nanny. This right here, wrapped up in this beachfront home, breathing in this family’s love for each other and the struggles they’re facing, this is what I signed up for. I didn’t know this is what I wanted until a minute ago. At first it had been about proving myself—making others see me in a different light.
But that’s not what this job is about. It’s about lending your heart to a family, putting your needs aside for their needs. It’s about that little boy right there being different and thinking that’s a bad thing. It’s about his father who wants nothing more than to spend every second of every minute with his son, but circumstances prevent him from doing so.
So you know what? I’m going to make this work. I’m going to put on my childcare professional hat, ditch my “me zone” for a little while, and do something great. Because from the moment I stepped into this house, I knew it was where I belonged.
To be continued...