Morgan, inexperienced nanny to 2 kids falls for their dad, Mike.
I jangled the keys in my hand and rang Anne Sellars’ door. I looked around at the beautifully landscaped flowerbeds around the front walk, full of flowers I couldn’t name. A new, wrought-iron bench sat under one of the trees. I shook my head. She’s been at it again, I thought. She opened the door and smiled, looking like the ex-hippie she was in a pair of flower-painted, boot-cut jeans, and oversized gauzy tunic top, and her gray hair flowing nearly to her waist. She extended her arms for a hug.
“Morgan West, I was getting ready to call you. Come in, but ignore my mess. I went on a shopping spree at an estate sale about an hour from here. They had some lovely deals I couldn’t pass up. Have you brought my Avon? I’ve been looking forward to the goodies I ordered.”
I stepped into the cool interior of Anne’s home. Knick knacks and furniture littered the room. A clipboard sat on the couch where Anne dropped it.
I looked down at the white carpet. My cheeks flamed, and I shuffled my feet. “That’s what I came by to tell you. I, uh, I’m sorry I haven’t been by sooner. I know it’s been a few weeks.” I was stalling. She was a nice lady, my best customer. In the months since she had been ordering from me, we had become friends. I hate to think I’d let her down.
She plopped down on the couch, folded her legs under her, and gestured for me to do the same. “My dear, you sound so distressed. Sit down and tell me about it. You’re not quitting Avon, are you?”
“Not exactly. You’ve heard about Utensils?”
Utensils was the biggest restaurant supplier in the state. Plastic and metal utensils, pans, steam table assembly, heaters and warmers, ovens, broilers and fryers. We had big name clients as well as small business owners, like my friend Whitney. The place employed hundreds of employees in its office and warehouse facilities.
“It was closed down. The weasel-rat who ran it cheated on his taxes, and now five hundred people are out of work.”
Actually, it was tax evasion and a huge number of fraud counts. The FBI hauled the man out of the office in handcuffs just as he was shredding the evidence.
I cast my eyes to the floor and picked at one of the silk fringed pillows. “I’m one of those people.”
“Oh, that’s awful. I had no idea you worked there, only that you were an office manager. How are you getting along? Okay, I hope.”
“I’m on unemployment, and my 401k is still intact, but it’s been tough. For the first time in years I’m having to watch every penny. And I-I had to use my Avon money to pay the rent. Now my account is on hold for a few weeks until I can pay them back. I’m not sure when your things will come in.”
I was normally so organized, especially with finances. But my rent was due, and I didn’t see anywhere else for the money to come from. I was embarrassed to tell Anne all of this. We had such a good business relationship, I didn’t want to ruin it. I don’t know how I expected her to react, but she just waved my concerns away with a casual shrug.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. It’ll get here when it gets here. I’m more concerned about you and how you’re holding up. Did you know anything about your boss’s shady dealings?”
“Nah, I didn’t have that much clout. I was just an underling. I supervised my little group of employees and took care of any customer service problems like a good little manager. It shocked us all.”
Talking about the shut-down was a drag. It only reinforced my employment problems, and depressed me. A small boy ran into the living room, clutching a Spiderman action figure. His blond hair stuck up in the back. He rubbed his eyes and plugged his finger in his mouth.
“Gramma, I tooked my nap. I wanna get up now, and watch Pokemon.” His words were garbled around the finger. Drool escaped from his mouth and dripped onto his Sesame Street t-shirt. I looked away, and wiped my own lips with the back of my hand, as if that would help erase the problem.
Anne sighed. “Jason, you were in there all of fifteen minutes. Go on back in there with your brother and get back into bed.”
“But I’m not tired!” he wailed. It was then that he noticed me. “Who’s dat?” He turned inquisitive brown eyes on me.
“This is my friend, Morgan. Morgan, my grandson, Jason.”
I scrunched my face up into what I hoped translated into a sweet smile. “Hello, Jason. How are you?”
“I don’t wanna take my nap. What you doing here?”
“I’m visiting with your grandma. I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“I’ve been busy, looking for a new job.”
I smiled blandly, and wondered how to answer this miniature person. He was all of three years old. He did not need to know all the junk going on in my personal life. It did not occur to me that he was being sneaky, using me to get out of taking a nap. I was saved by a booming voice coming from the back of the house. The boy’s father.
“Jason, if you‘re not in that bed by the time I get there, I will spank you.”
The walls of Anne’s place were plaster, not flimsy wall board. It gave the house a magnification factor I found interesting. Sounds were louder, more intense, and richer. Her tea kettle resembled a freight train, her wind chimes echoed like church bells.
I snapped to attention, as if I was the one in trouble. Jason glanced back at me before he headed off to the bedroom. The tilt of his head and the crooked grin on his little face somehow made us conspirators. I grinned back at him and winked, then nodded my head for him to go before his father returned.
Soon, the man appeared. His six-foot-something frame filled the doorway. He leaned against the door frame, arms crossed. His eyes caught my attention first. They were decadent. Rich, dark pools of fine chocolate, full of discipline and kindness and love for his boy. I wanted to reach in and…I blushed and looked back at the carpet. But not for long. I was compelled to look again. I saw the firm set of his jaw, his brows creased in a frown and the well-tended beard
that gave him a distinguished look. He wore a sweat-soaked work shirt, rolled at the sleeves, jeans that stretched across well-muscled thighs, and work boots.
Jason scooted past his father before he could swat the boy’s behind.
“You two ladies having a nice chat?” He smiled, and his eyes crinkled in the corners.
“Yes, we’re just catching up on all Morgan’s news. This is my son, Mike.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you,” I said.
It was true. Anne gave glowing reports of her three children. I knew her daughters both worked in the health industry, one a nurse, the other a physical therapist. And Mike was an artist, with a beautiful family. But this was the first time I’d met any of them. I usually came by on weekday afternoons. Anne would alone, pottering around the house or garden, or using the internet to sell some of her antiques. This was the first time I’d dropped by on a Sunday. It was nice to see Anne interact with her family. It was all so friendly and natural, I felt a part of it. Comfortable, and welcome.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, too. So much so that Dad dreads it when you come over with another book for her to look at.”
“Oh, stop. That’s not true, and you know it. Bruce likes it when you come over. Seeing you brightens my day every time, and my husband likes to see me happy.” She patted my knee, then turned her attention to her son. “So, how’s it going out there?”
Mike nodded, rubbed his beard. “It’s going well. We got the area dug, and that’s the hardest part.”
I looked out the window, saw the mound of dirt and the big hole in the middle of the yard. Bruce was out there, leaned against a tree in the shade, wiping his forehead with a bandana. “What are you working on?”
“Mother wants a lily pond in the backyard. Dad and I are installing it for her.”
Anne’s whole place looked like a spread from Southern Living, or Better Homes and Gardens. “Why do you want a lily pond?”
She grinned impishly. “To go with the antique gazebo I bought.”
“Oh, of course. Do you think you’ll finish it before it rains? It looked pretty stormy when I drove up.”
“We might, if we don’t stop for lunch. We just have to install the water pump, put the tub in the ground, and fill around it.”
“Hard-working men need food to keep them going. Of course you’ll stop for lunch. Why don’t you get washed up? It’ll be ready in a bit.”
I checked my watch. It was almost two. “I should get going, too.”
“Don’t rush off on our account. Stay for lunch. I made tortellini soup.”
“I don’t want to impose.”
“Morgan, you are welcome here anytime. Please, stay and share a meal with us. There’s plenty. I made a huge pot. It’s Mike’s favorite.”
I looked to Mike. He hadn’t moved from the doorway. “What can I say. I dig Italian food. You’ll love Mother’s soup.”
That settled it. I stayed. Everyone sat down at the huge butcher block table which was the heart of Anne’s kitchen. She had a dining room, at the moment was filled with stuff, but that was for more formal affairs, not a casual lunch with friends and family.
Anne alternated between taking bite of her own soup, and feeding Mike’s younger son, Alex. This kid was adorable. He was a year and a half, with big blue eyes and hair as dark as Mike’s. He didn’t say much, but I got the feeling that he was a cool little guy.
Jason just shook his head when offered lunch. “Don’t want none.”
“Fine. Go hungry,” Mike mumbled.
“So, Morgan, how’s your car doing?” Bruce asked. He always asked me this, every time I saw him. He had a separate garage at the back of the house where he fiddled with old cars and motorcycles.
I shrugged. “It’s doing fine,” I said, and it was. For the most part. It ran well, considering it was over ten years old and up in mileage. I had this problem with the instrumentation, though. Probably just a short. No big deal, and with no extra money to fix it, it was a problem I could live with.
“Have you had any success finding a new job?” Anne asked.
“I’ve applied for a few jobs online, had an interview or two, but so far no one has responded. This soup is divine! I wonder if Whitney has a recipe similar to this. I’m sure she does.” I saw the puzzled look on Anne’s face and clarified. “Whitney’s my best friend. She’s a chef.”
A jagged lightning bolt ripped the sky apart. A few seconds later, loud thunder shook the window. The baby whimpered, and Jason plugged his ears with his fingers.
“Looks like you’re stuck here for awhile,” Mike said. “You don’t want to be driving in a storm like this.”
“You got that right. My wipers don’t work.”
“Next time you come over and it’s not raining, I’ll take a look at that for you. It’s probably something simple like a fuse or relay.” I knew Bruce was dying to get his fingers dirty under the hood of my car. I felt funny about taking him up on the offer. I’d been independent for so long, able to pay my own way for anything, including car repairs. I didn’t want to be rude, so I shrugged and said, “Sure, okay, if you want.”
Mike put a Pokemon movie in the DVD for the boys to watch. I helped Anne clear the table. Bruce went upstairs to do some work, and Mike disappeared somewhere in the house.
Jason wandered into the kitchen. “Morgan, come play with me.”
“What happened to the movie?”
“I sawed it afore. I’m bored. Come play with me.”
I smiled. Jason’s brown eyes were filled with such innocent longing that I found it hard to say no. “All right. What shall we play?”
“Bulldozers! My truck is in there. See, it’s the big yellow one. You can play with this red one. I don‘t like it, cuz it‘s little.” Jason took my hand and led me back into the living room. Anne shot me a look that said, “You don’t have to do this.” I shrugged in reply. “I don’t mind.”
The red truck was a quarter the size of the yellow one. I dutifully pushed it around the carpet making engine noises with my lips while the rain beat down on the roof. What a way to spend an afternoon, though I found myself enjoying the company of this child.
Anne echoed my thoughts. “What a way for you to spend your afternoon. I’m sure you have a million other things you’d rather do. Can I play too?”
“No, Gramma, I have a new friend. You go play with your furniture.”
“Well, alrighty then. I’ll be in the dining room. Call me if you need me.”
The storm abated an hour later. Mike emerged from his hiding place and gathered Jason in his arms for a huge hug. I watched, amused, as Jason squealed in delight. He put Jason down and the little boy ran over to me. I sat cross-legged on the floor, so I was eye-to-eye with the preschooler. “Morgan, will you be our new mommy?”
I froze. How the heck was I supposed to answer that question? Sorry, kid, I just met you. I can’t be your mommy. I don’t want to be anyone’s mommy. I’m too young. I’m not ready yet. I don’t know anything about how to be a mommy. I’d probably do something dumb and end up killing you and your little brother in the process. Absolutely not! I couldn’t voice all that. I’d have the boy running back to his dad in tears. I opened my mouth, but no sound came out.
Mike chuckled. “On that note, I think its time we go. Gather up your toys and I’ll go get your brother.”
“Go on, do as I say.”
Anne heard the whole exchange and explained. “I don’t think that’s what Jason meant. Mike’s wife died a year ago. It was cancer, poor thing. Mike’s been struggling with a job and raising the kids alone. I help out as much as I can, as does Amanda’s mother, but it’s not enough. We’ve been kicking around the idea of hiring a nanny. I think that’s what Jason meant. You know how kids get things mixed up sometimes.”
I nodded. Poor Mike. Poor Alex and Jason. I couldn’t imagine what sort of life they’d have, growing up without a mother. This was all news to me. I’d only known Anne about six months. I was about to say something profound, like how sorry I was, when Anne’s dark, gypsy eyes shot open wide.
She toyed with the ends of her long, gray hair. “Oh my goodness, Jason just gave me a wild idea. What if you became their nanny? Just temporarily, until you can find something better for yourself. I’ll have to talk to Mike, of course, but it’s got to be better than using Avon money to pay your rent.”
A nanny? Me? Was she insane? “I don’t know about that, Anne. I really don’t think-”
“Hold that thought. I’ll be right back.”
I heard them talking in low tone in the other room. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I didn’t intend to stick around to find out. I picked myself up off the floor, found my purse, dug around in the bottom for my keys. Mike walked into the room, baby Alex in his arms.
“Leaving so soon?” he asked. Those dark chocolate eyes smiled down at me, and I could see where Jason got his mischievous side.
I was afraid I‘d get lost in those eyes if I looked up at them. I cast my gaze downward. “I have some errands to run. I think I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
“Mother is convinced I should hire you. I trust her intuition. Just one question. Can you cook?”
“I know how to cook, but-”
“Great, you’re hired. You start tomorrow.” He pulled a card from his wallet. “This is the address. See you then.”
“Mike, wait!” I cried, panic in my voice. I desperately wanted to convince him that I wasn’t up to this, but he held his palm up to stop me.
“Morgan, I understand your reluctance, but I saw you with Jason. He doesn’t take to new people well. He liked you immediately.” He rocked Alex in his arms. “And this guy, well, he’s easy. You’ll be fine, I promise. No experience necessary. So you’ll be at my house, seven-thirty in the morning?”
I sighed. Shanghaied! Ganged-up on. Railroaded. In the end, it was the eyes that got me. Mike’s, Jason’s, and even little Alex’s. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
I drove across town to Whitney’s shop. It was closed for the day, but she was preparing food for an event being held that evening. I pulled out my cell phone. “Let me in.”
Good smells wafted from the kitchen along with Latin music. I found Whitney dancing the merengue as she sprinkled fresh herbs into a simmering pot.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
“Dance with me!” Whitney grabbed my hand and twirled me around the kitchen, her ample hips swaying to the beat. “One of my best clients ordered a Cinco de Mayo party.”
Dizzy, I rested against the counter. “You’re kidding. In the middle of July?”
“Yep. The guys’ll be here in a little while to transport this stuff. They’ve got chili cheese dip, chicken enchiladas, black beans with yellow rice, and caramel flan for dessert. None of it is all that Mexican in origin, but it‘s what the client wanted.”
“Smells great.” I picked at an enchilada and nibbled on it.
Whitney slapped my hand. “Stop that! This is a business, not home. That is so unsanitary! I’ll pan some up for you. There’s tons.”
“That wasn’t a solicitation.”
“I know, but I like cooking for you. So what’s new with you?”
I felt like I needed to brace her for the impact. “Got any margaritas to go with these enchiladas?”
Whitney whistled. “This is serious. I got virgin ones. Give me a sec to whip them up.” She put margarita mix and ice into a blender and let it whir for a minute, then poured the green concoction into sugar-rimmed glasses and took a big swig. “Ah, that hit the spot. So what’s up?”
I took a slow sip, swirled the glass, and stared into it as if the icy liquid held the answer to all life’s problems. “I got a job as a nanny.”
Whitney nearly choked. She sputtered, trying to form the right question. “What? How? Why would you take a job like that? You know nothing about kids!”
I didn’t know what to tell her. Something passed between Mike and me in that brief moment when I tried to protest. We both knew I wasn’t suited to the job. Was he was being nice because he knew I needed the money, or it was something else? Something more basic and elemental, like mutual attraction?
“The job was offered to me as a favor to his mother. He wouldn’t let me refuse. He asked if I can cook, and I told him yes.”
“Have you got grits for brains? Morgan, you can read the directions off a box. I’m sorry to have to say this, honey, but mac and cheese and those weird boxed casseroles do not count as cooking.”
“Stop being so dramatic.” I took a slow sip of my drink. “It’ll be fun, playing nanny to two motherless kids. Jason is three, I think. He made me play trucks with him. And Alex is so cute. He can walk, but he doesn’t say a lot. He just stared up at me with these soulful blue eyes. I think there lurks the heart of a poet.”
“Oh man, you’ve got it bad,” Whitney replied, shaking her head.
“What? What have I got?”
“Stars in your eyes. This Mike, what’s he like?”
“He’s nice. He’s a good father; I can tell that by the way he acted with the kids. He was helping his dad put in a lily pond for Anne. He’s tall, with dark, wavy hair. Has a neatly trimmed beard, but it doesn’t hide his smile. He has this booming voice, and he laughs really loud too. He’s just…a nice man.”
I laughed, because I could hear it in my own voice. I did have it bad.
Whitney sighed, and shook her head again. “I’ve seen that look on your face before. Remember when all you could talk about was that guy named Jeremy you worked with, and later when you dated that brick-head Troy who broke your heart? You’re on your way to falling in love with this man, and his kids. Isn’t that dangerous, if you work for him?”
“I suppose you have a point.” I had no clue how this whole scenario would work out for better or worse. But it didn’t matter. “It’s a temporary arrangement, anyway. Just until I find another job.”
“So what is he paying you?” Whitney asked.
“He caught me just before I pulled out of the driveway. We agreed upon a little less than half my salary.”
I’m pretty sure discussing salary was only an excuse for talking to me one last time. Although we did negotiate for awhile before agreeing on the numbers.
Whitney guffawed. “I thought they outlawed slavery in the eighteen-hundreds.”
I picked up a towel and threw it at her. “That was uncalled for. It’s not wonderful money, but it’ll pay my rent. I’m grateful for that, ya know. Why are you being so negative about this?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to jump in your puddle. I don’t want you to get started with this and then realize it’s more than you can handle.”
“It’ll be fine. I’m just the baby-sitter. How hard can it be?”
“The baby-sitter who does the laundry and cooks the meals and does the grocery shopping. Can you deal with that?”
I shrugged. “Except for the meals, I don’t see why not.”
Whitney took me by the shoulders and held me at arm’s length. “Look at me. I know what’s going through that shrewd little mind of yours. I don’t mind helping you out, but I refuse to perpetuate a lie.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I will not cook elaborate meals that you take credit for. It’s not right.”
I gasped. I wasn’t thinking that, really I wasn’t. “I would never-I mean…”
“Darn right, you would never. Tell you what I’ll do. After I’m done here, I’ll teach you how to cook a few very simple things that will impress the heck out of your new boss. Okay?”
“You’re the best, Whitney. By the way, he likes Italian food.”