“Sookie?” I heard coming from the doorway of my office. “What are you…is everything okay?”
Glancing up at my assistant/best friend, I blew the stray lock of hair out of my bleary eyes and managed to roll them, seeing how put together she looked – as usual – and sarcastically asked, “What makes you think everything’s not okay?”
My sarcasm had a little more oomph to it since I had to sort of yell it, so she could hear me over the crying baby sequestered in the portable playpen beside me.
That was clue number one everything was not okay.
Clue number two?
I was dressed in a ratty t-shirt and yoga pants – the last of my clean clothes – knowing better than to put on the business appropriate attire I had hanging in a garment bag on the back of my office door.
It was my last clean suit.
Striding into the office like she owned the place and our roles were reversed, I didn’t take any offense.
Pam could stroll into the Oval Office and have POTUS deferring to her in a heartbeat.
That was just how she rolled.
Peering over the side of the playpen, she scrunched her nose at what she found and then eyed him like he was a hobo about to clean her windshield by taking a leak on it, as she said in a deadpan voice, “Sookie. It’s leaking.”
He only screamed louder in response.
A hysterical sounding giggle burst out of my chest, which immediately turned into gasping sobs when she turned to me and asked, “Why is he not with The Beast?”
“She quit,” I eventually choked out and tried to get a rein on my emotions. Wiping my makeup free eyes with both hands, I confessed, “She’d been hinting around that the hours were too long for her, so I tried to fix it by throwing more money at her. But then, yesterday…she went to the grocery store and some dickface got in her face and told her to tell me how easy it was for them to find my son and that I needed to back off.”
I left out the part where Maxine had actually pissed herself.
Pam would get caught up in a tangent on that one and I needed her to focus on the real issue here.
That issue being that I was a horrible mother and my son was in danger of paying the price for that.
“Back off of whom?” she snarled.
That was Pam.
No matter how mad she was grammar mattered.
“Either he wasn’t dumb enough to say or she was too scared to remember,” I sighed, with that being one of the first questions I’d asked her when she’d freaked the hell out on me when I’d gotten home the night before.
Working for the federal prosecutor’s office, I received threats all the time. It was why I’d gotten a concealed carry permit and always had my gun on me.
But I never thought anyone would go after Jason.
He was just a baby.
A baby who was screaming bloody murder at the moment, like he just knew what a shitty mom I was.
Reaching down and picking him up, I held him to my chest and patted his back, hoping to calm him down, but he’d been miserable all night long. Nothing I tried worked to make him happy.
I was a horrible mother.
He was going to grow up and become a serial killer and it would be all my fault.
And then I would have to prosecute him for his crimes.
Because I was a bad mother but a kickass attorney.
He would go away for life.
Stuck in my cyclical Circle of Hell, Pam eyed me like I was a hobo about to piss on her Audi and said, “Sookie. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, fighting off the want to wail right along with him. “But I need to figure out something. I have to be in court in a few hours.”
Holding him appeared to at least bring down the volume of his screams – that or else the inevitable hearing damage was kicking in – so I turned to Pam and said, “Can you get together a list of providers for me? I need a live-in. Someone who can take care of him, do light housework, and kick anyone’s ass who tries anything with Jason.”
And, preferably, someone with strong bladder control.
“And they can’t have a life of their own,” I added sarcastically, even though I really meant it.
I hadn’t planned on having Jason – not that anyone, even Pam, knew that – but he was here now and I needed someone whose life would revolve around his needs.
One of which was allowing his mother to work day and night to be able to afford it all.
“Is that all,” she asked with a raised brow.
“Yes,” I nodded primly. “Someone like…the Black Widow. Is she real? And, more importantly, is she available?”
Pam had a huge crush on Scarlet Johansson.
It wasn’t unwarranted.
She was hot.
“Don’t tease,” she glared back at me. “We made a pact. What’s said on Margarita Mondays is sacrosanct.”
“Who’s teasing?” I sighed, trying to rock Jason into unconsciousness, lest I beat him to it. “That’s what I need. Someone who can be the little woman in the house and a big old scary mother fucker out in the streets.”
The thought of having to interview for a new nanny was daunting enough.
The thought of having to interview for a bodyguard in addition to a nanny threatened to make me have my first, albeit well-deserved, mental breakdown.
There was always something that needed to get done, be it legal briefs, depositions, or just doing the damn laundry.
I was going commando at that very moment because I’d only managed to get two of the three done last night.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had the chance to soak in the tub. Or sleep longer than four hours at a time. I was running on empty.
Unlike my laundry hamper.
I’d been staring down at Jason’s puffy red face, silently willing him to please calm down, so I didn’t see her expression and only heard Pam say, “If not the Black Widow – because we agreed, I have dibs – how about Captain America?”
“Don’t tease,” I repeated and then gave her my own glare, which was really just a baby glare in comparison, before reminding her, “Sacrosanct.”
Chris Evans was a wet dream, wrapped up in an orgasm, and topped off with his flag of patriotism steadily thrumming against my g-spot.
Captain Come and Get Me.
“We agreed. You have dibs,” she readily acquiesced.
Readily, because Pam’s flag didn’t fly that way.
“But I was actually talking about my brother,” she quickly added.
“Your brother?” I asked, while my mind pulled up my Pam File and quickly flipped through the highlighted pages.
Then skittering to a stop on the one marked Pam’s Brother, I read the mental highlighted portions aloud, “The one you called G.I. Joke, where the G.I. stood for Gigantic Ignoramus?”
“Sacrosanct, Sookie!” she admonished. “He’s my brother. Of course I think our mother should’ve drowned him as a baby! And, to be fair, when I’d said that he’d just sent me a Louboutin shoebox filled with Afghanistan sand for my birthday!”
And it was hilarious.
I knew Pam was the product of her mom’s second marriage and her brother came from her first. But he was a few years older than Pam and had spent most of their childhood in some sort of military boarding school.
I didn’t even know his real name.
Pam always just referred to him as Brother Doofus.
It was his contact name in her cell phone. I’d seen it.
“Is he like you?” I asked, not really caring if I came across as offensive. And to let her know I was actually trying to be offensive, I added, “You know, walking around and scaring kids like it’s your job.”
Pam was nothing if not proficient at her job.
Her given one or any other she aspired to.
“I’m not scary!” she denied, which only made Jason wail harder in rebuttal.
“Now, now,” I chuckled. “Let’s not say things we don’t mean.”
“You’re right,” she laughed. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course I’m scary. I’m so scary I should be Mel B.”
“Oh please,” I laughed. “You’re nothing if not Posh Spice and Scary Spice combined.”
And not really wanting to know which Spice girl she thought I was, she let me know it anyway by saying, “And, by default, you’re Baby Spice. But I can rectify that with one phone call.”
The first question to pop up in my mind was what were his qualifications?
For all I knew he would show up and think just giving Jason an order to shape up or ship out would be the extent of his child rearing style.
But that was the exact moment when Jason decided it was time to play show and tell.
By showing me his breakfast in reverse and vomiting it all down my back.
“Sookie,” Pam deadpanned. “It’s leaking again.”
So the first question – or rather questions – I actually asked, in rapid fire succession were, “When can he start? Will he be opposed to living in the house with us? Will he be willing to swear his life and fealty to me to do with as I choose, until Jason’s off to college?”
I might have felt a little more apprehensive about having a strange man move in with us, but the fact he was Pam’s brother mostly did away with that.
The fact he’d sent her a shoebox filled with sand for her birthday, did away with the rest of it.
But the last I heard he’d been in Afghanistan.
Filling said shoebox with sand.
I couldn’t afford to wait until his enlistment ended, even if it was only due to end next week.
I needed someone now.
This was a 911 situation.
Pam was still eying me with disgust and clearly trying to breathe only through her mouth. I knew it was thanks to me and the lovely scent of partially digested formula I was emanating, when she finally answered, “He can be here in twenty minutes. He will be grateful to have a place to stay, since he can’t stay where he’s at now for a second longer. And he will swear his life and fealty to you if he wants to remain alive. He can also swear like a sailor when the situation calls for it.”
“Where’s he staying now that he needs to get out?” I asked, still processing everything that seemed to be happening all at once.
“On my couch,” she answered, with a tighter purse of her lips.
“How long has he been staying with you?”
She hadn’t mentioned it. Or maybe she had and I’d just been too wrapped up in my own messed up life to have heard her.
Whipping her phone out, she glanced at the time and said, “About twelve hours now. He needs to go.”
Then glancing at me, she shooed me away with one hand, as she brought the phone to her ear with the other and said, “You need to go too before your smell attaches itself to my clothes.”
Pam could be such a bitch sometimes.
It was one of her best qualities, as far as I was concerned.
Walking over to the corner of my desk, I hoisted the diaper bag over my shoulder and took it into my private bathroom, hoping G.I. Joke wouldn’t end up being a massive mistake.
If it didn’t work out, I didn’t want it to affect our friendship. But Jason’s needs came first.
Even if sometimes I didn’t appear to act that way.
Sounding as sarcastic as ever, she asked, “Did I wake you?”
“I was up when you left for work,” I reminded her in between gulps of water.
Then holding the phone away from my head to whip off my t-shirt, I used it to wipe the sweat from my face and chest before teasing, “I’m sweating up your designer couch at this very moment.”
I was actually leaning against her kitchen counter, just back from my run, but she didn’t need to know that.
What kind of big brother would I be if I didn’t tease my baby sister?
“About that,” she chimed in and then declared with no fanfare, “You need to get out.”
Pam and I joked around all the time. It was our default setting, but without being able to see her, I couldn’t be sure if she was joking right then.
She’d grumbled good-naturedly when I’d shown up on her doorstep unannounced the night before, but she’d been happy to see me. Between PCSing to bases all across the globe, training exercises, and a shit ton of deployments, the last time we’d actually been face to face that hadn’t necessitated a webcam had been nearly three years earlier.
But more than just missing her, I needed to see a familiar face that didn’t remind me of war and every other hardship I’d been living with for my entire adult life.
I needed to be around something good. Something easy.
Something that could easily put a smile on my face.
My sister fit the bill to a tee and now that I was officially out of the military, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I’d been taking college classes online throughout my military career, with the latter half of that time leaning towards early childhood development.
Kids were innocent. Pure.
I was still one class shy of completing my degree, but I had time.
Nothing but, actually.
But wondering if maybe Pam wanted me gone because she had a new girlfriend she wasn’t prepared to introduce to the family, I asked, “Is someone about to walk in to your apartment unexpectedly?”
Finding a six plus foot sweaty shirtless strange man in Pam’s apartment would cause any woman alarm.
And an alarmed call to 911.
It was something I really didn’t want to have to deal with, so I was relieved when she snorted, “No. My playthings don’t get to know the address to my apartment, much less the keys.”
That was Pam.
The brother I never had.
“So why do I need to get out?” I asked, when she didn’t say anything else and then jokingly threatened, “If you just don’t wanna share, I’m gonna tell mom.”
“Go ahead and call her,” she volleyed back. “That way she’ll know just how awesome her second born is compared to her first.”
“And you’re more awesome because…?” I asked, waiting for whatever asinine punchline she was about to deliver.
But she was delusional if she thought she was our mother’s favorite.
“Because you’ve been home – and by home, I mean squatting in my home – for less than twenty-four hours and I’ve already found you a good paying full time job and a place to live,” she declared. “Go ahead. Commence with the praise I’m due.”
“What job?” I asked, wondering if she’d fallen from her ridiculously high heeled shoes and banged her head.
If so, it clearly hadn’t knocked any sense into her.
“You’re going to be my boss’s new nanny,” she replied, like because she’d said it out loud, it made it true. Then pausing for a moment, she seemed to reconsider when she added, “Or rather, manny. You know, because of the man-ness of you.”
“I am well aware of my man-ness,” I said with an eye roll she couldn’t see. “But a nanny? Really?”
I’d been thinking more along the lines of teaching.
No matter how glorified the title might be.
“No,” she snarled.
And then sounding like she usually did, whenever I pretended to confuse Jimmy Choo with Jackie Chan, she repeated, “A manny, with a side of bodyguard. You know, like Kevin Costner, but without the Whitney Houston part. And with more ass wiping involved, less singing. And by less, I mean none whatsoever. No one needs to be subjected to the atrocities you call music.”
“Why do your boss’s kids need a bodyguard?” I asked, ignoring every other asinine thing she’d just said and instead focusing on that part, while feeling my spine straighten and my shoulders broaden.
Threatening little kids…
Well, I wouldn’t stand for that.
“Kid,” she clarified. “A small one. It still leaks from both ends.”
I could hear the distaste in her tone, but she sounded a lot more serious when she added, “But the previous nanny was approached by some thug in the supermarket yesterday, leveling threats against my boss by using her kid against her. The nanny quit.”
I knew Pam was the executive assistant to some lawyer in the federal prosecutor’s office, so it wasn’t any real surprise to hear she’d been threatened.
The fact they chose to use her kid as a threat against her made my blood boil.
I hadn’t been around to have met Pam’s boss yet. I didn’t even know her real name.
Pam always referred to her as Cookie Brick Shithouse.
But it was Pam, so yeah.
It was to be expected.
But I knew they were good friends and if anyone could put up with Pam’s antics for any amount of time, they were okay in my book.
“You’re serious?” I asked. “About the job? The living situation? The threats? All of it?”
“As a heart attack,” she replied without hesitation. “Like the heart attack I’m about to have if she doesn’t get him out of the office before she’s due to be in court in a couple of hours.”
Then whispering into the phone, I could hear the fear in her voice when she added, “She’s going to make me watch it, Eric. No one needs that. No good will come of it.”
The fact she kept referring to the kid as an ‘it’ said it all, really.
Taking a second to contemplate the offer – and knowing my sister like the back of my hand – I had to ask, “Does she know you’re offering me this job?”
It was a legitimate concern.
Pam was highhanded.
It was a family trait.
“Her exact words were ‘When can he start’,” she answered in a knowing tone.
Knowing full well I knew what she was like when she wanted something.
The word unstoppable came to mind.
Thinking it all over, I didn’t see much of a downside. It was a job, which fulfilled my first need. It came with somewhere to live, which fulfilled my second.
And it was close to Pam, which fulfilled a need I hadn’t realized existed until that very moment.
I’d missed her. Given our childhood separations, I’d always missed her.
It would be nice to be able to see her whenever I wanted.
Because no matter what she wanted, I could be an unstoppable force too.
It was a family trait.
Besides, I didn’t like the idea of someone threatening little kids. If ‘it leaked from both ends’, then it was likely still small enough to be in diapers.
That shit wasn’t copacetic.
And I wasn’t talking about it not being potty trained yet.
“She needs me to start right away?” I asked for confirmation.
“She needed you to start yesterday,” Pam replied, with her relief evident in her tone.
Nodding, I took a quick glance around and only then remembering I was a sweaty mess, I said, “I’ll be there in thirty.”
“You’ll be here in fifteen,” she replied, somehow sounding both demanding and amused, before she hung up.
Moving towards the bathroom, I made a quick detour to my duffel bag to grab my toiletries, and grumbled to no one in particular, “I’m telling mom.”