“What are you dooiiinnnnggg???”
My reflection in the mirror didn’t answer me.
My sanity was already in question. I didn’t need to add hallucinations to the list of What’s Wrong with Sookie Stackhouse.
It was long enough.
Granted, I’d made some questionable life choices over the years, but allowing Captain Beefcake to take off with my Cupcake could potentially be a huge regrettable one.
I didn’t know him from Adam.
Hell, for all I knew his name was Adam.
Because I didn’t even know his name!
At least with the other nannies – all seven hundred and fifty-three of them, or so it felt like – I had a manila folder filled with their resumes, their qualifications, their background checks, and letters of recommendations.
And you know what else was in those folders?
But those folders were something concrete I could physically hold onto.
And use to give anyone who gave me the stink eye over leaving my son with a virtual stranger, a papercut they wouldn’t soon forget.
The only thing I knew about Pam’s brother was that he was hella hot.
She hadn’t been at her desk when I got back from the parking garage, so I couldn’t ask her what name I should give the police for when the Amber Alert went out.
Calling him Captain Fine-Ass Kidnapper would just lead to CPS taking Jason away from me forever.
Wait. Was that what it was?
Not that he was hella fine-ass hot, but the fact he was a man?
Was I subconsciously questioning everything about what had felt absolutely right only moments earlier, just because he had man parts?
All of the other nannies had been women, but I hadn’t really known them either when I’d first left Jason in their care.
Oh my god…
Was I subconsciously discriminating against him?
Was I the 1869 to his Susan B. Anthony?
Did he not have the right to be Mrs. Doubtfire and The Pacifier all rolled up into one?
Shouldn’t he be applauded for breaking the diaper laden glass ceiling with his man bits?
Well, he was Pam’s brother and I trusted her, so I would trust him through osmosis for now.
Besides, if worse comes to worst, my SUV had LoJack.
But I would be damned if any amendments would have to made to the constitution because of me.
I was a big girl. I could deal.
I would even pull up my big girl panties, if I had any on right now.
Walking up the front steps to the house, I pulled the spare key from its hiding place, hoping I’d make it through the front door before I fell over.
But just as I stuck the key into the lock, the door was jerked open and I was confronted by Captain Come Inside.
I’d gotten over my earlier freak-out fairly quickly. Between being in court for most of the day and everything else that needed to be done in preparation for the following day, I hadn’t had much time to think about anything else.
I hadn’t even laid eyes on Pam since that morning and instead had been reduced to communicating with her through texts, emails, and the occasional Post-It note stuck to her computer monitor. But I knew she was still around somewhere thanks to the random pieces of chocolate she’d left on my desk throughout the day.
Looking a little puzzled, he quickly shook it off and said with a soft smile, “Hey. I wasn’t expecting you home this early.” And then pulling the spare key from the door, he added, “We were planning on going to pick you up closer to seven.”
“We?” I asked, wondering if he’d invited a friend over.
And if that friend was the kind with benefits.
Not that it was any of my business.
I was just curious.
So what if curiosity killed the cat. That’s why they had nine lives.
And that meant I had eight intrusive questions I could ask and still live to see another day. I just had to use them sparingly and be sure each one was worth it.
Finding out whether or not he was benefitting from any friendships he had certainly met the criteria.
The fine print, even.
But instead of verbally answering me, he merely stood up straighter and turned a little to his side, allowing me to see a very happy Jason strapped into a baby carrier on his back.
To be fair, my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, so I hadn’t considered the possibility Jason was the other half of his ‘we’.
To be honest, seeing Captain Oh My Captain carrying around my son like that, made sure my pistons down below were firing just fine.
On overdrive, even.
None of it was fair to be honest.
Jason babbled happily at me, while smacking a teething ring I hadn’t seen before against the back of Captain Conveyance’s head, as he took a few steps back so I could walk through the door.
And promptly drop my bag to the floor, as I looked around exclaiming, “Were we robbed?”
“What?” Captain Alarmed asked, looking…well…
Unable to do much more than wave my arms around, probably looking like I was doing the drunken Hokey Pokey, I couldn’t find the words.
They were all jammed up in my throat.
But where were the countless pairs of shoes that should be scattered all over by the front door?
Where was the junk mail Jenga pile that normally sat on the small table by the door, just waiting for that one last flyer offering a free car wash with oil change to bring it all crashing down?
And what was that smell?
Was our burglar Mario Batali?
I didn’t see any bright orange crocs lying around, but that only meant he was still in the kitchen and hadn’t left yet.
And I hadn’t missed dinner.
Had he ordered Italian for dinner?
And – more importantly – did he order enough for me too?
I was starving, like a runway model at New York City’s Fashion Week.
But before I could ask for a table for two and a half, Captain Cleanup spoke up and explained, “Oh, I just uh…tidied things up a bit.”
Did he have the crew from Hoarders come help him or had the neighborhood woodland critters been enough?
Because seeing the spotlessness my house now possessed – one it hadn’t possessed even on the day when I’d first moved in – there was no doubt about it.
He was Snow White.
And Jason was his dwarf Happy.
At the moment, at least.
While my overtired brain pondered the nonsensical legal ramifications – Snow White was the property of Disney and the cinematic rights to Captain America belonged to Universal – Captain Breach of Contract just gave me an apprehensive smile – like he knew the two entertainment powerhouses wouldn’t be happy with him – and said, “If you want to go and change into something more comfortable, dinner won’t be ready for another half hour or so.”
Was that code for naked?
I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it.
And not just because I didn’t have any other clean clothes to wear.
But he cooked. He cleaned. He cared for my son.
He house-husbanded like a boss.
And he looked like that.
I didn’t need to know his name to know I was in big, big trouble.
So I hoped by completing the first half of his statement – the ‘go’ part, as in away from him – it would be enough for my common sense and reason to return.
And then I’d grasp onto that mofo, like it was the last gallon of rocky road on day two of Shark Week.
I wasn’t talking about the one on the Discovery Channel either.
Knowing I needed to at least take a quick shower – I’d been catching whiffs of sour formula all day long – I hoped Jason’s good mood would last the five minutes it would take for me to shampoo, lather, and rinse.
If not, I could do it in two.
I knew, having done it before.
Nodding at Captain Considerate, I went to take Jason from him saying, “A shower would be great right about now.” Or eleven hours ago…but who’s counting? “Just let me get him and…”
But that was as far as I got because the Captain Planet my tiny moon of a son was currently held in the gravitational force of, rotated around so that it looked like I was reaching for his pecs.
Which I wasn’t!
Not that they weren’t reach-worthy.
Because they were.
The straps to the baby carrier were pulling his shirt tight across his chest, making them even more prominent.
Not that he really needed help with that.
Because he didn’t.
“He’s fine,” he smiled softly, giving voice to my exact thoughts at the moment, albeit in a different context. “Go and enjoy your shower. Dinner will be ready when you come down.”
Enjoy my shower…
When you come down…
Either my libido was showing or else he was a telepath.
I’d been thinking a little quality time with my pulsing shower head would do me some good.
It was extra dirty down there anyways, thanks to my errant thoughts of him all day long. Stray thoughts of Captain Cucumber had left their mark.
And that mark glistened.
But since he was offering – to watch Jason, because I wasn’t so far gone to think he’d been offering to help clean up the estrogen spill in Aisle Y – I gave him a quick, “Thanks,” and left the room to trot up the stairs.
Thinking I would just take the least smelly set of clothes from the top of my hamper to wear for now, I soon found out that wouldn’t be possible.
Because my hamper was empty.
Which shouldn’t be possible.
And not only that, but my closet was full.
My drawers too.
With my drawers…
Which meant at some point in the day he’d touched my unmentionables, both dirty and clean, and put them away in the empty drawers of my dresser.
Should I mention it?
Should I be feeling horrified?
Because all I felt was disappointed that the first time he laid hands on them, I wasn’t wearing them at the time.
But all of the clothes that had been left lying all over my room that morning had been magically cleared away and returned to their rightful places.
Standing at my closet and flipping through the hangers one by one in complete bewilderment, I discovered my bewilderment wasn’t yet complete.
Because hanging at the end of the rod were the plastic covered clothes I’d dropped off at the dry cleaners weeks ago and hadn’t had the time to pick up yet.
He’d picked up my dry cleaning.
Without being asked.
Yeah. That about covered it.
Maxine had been good about making sure Jason always had clean clothes to wear. And she would even do mine, if I brought my laundry down into the laundry room.
So honestly, she’d been skating by because mine rarely made it that far in advance of me running out of clean clothes. Usually I wouldn’t remember I had nothing to wear for the next day, until I was climbing into bed in the middle of the night, which would then make me climb out of bed and take my laundry downstairs to do it myself.
And never all of it at once.
Sleep won out over getting all of it done.
This…this was unprecedented.
I know I’d told him he could snoop, but I meant normal snooping.
You know, looking to see where things were kept and to figure out which room would be his. Maybe check out my medicine cabinets to see if I was taking any medications for some sort of embarrassing coochie rash, fungus, or STD.
I never thought he would do this.
This felt like Christmas in August.
I knew that wasn’t a thing, but it really should be.
And I needed to keep myself in check with Captain Crush or run the risk of my crush-like feelings developing into more of a thing for him.
Because I really shouldn’t.
Pacing back and forth between the stove and the kitchen table, I kept waiting to hear something.
A horrified gasp?
Things getting angrily thrown against walls?
Furious footsteps stomping down the stairs?
Instead, after about five minutes, I only heard the shower come on upstairs.
While she did say I could snoop, I didn’t know for sure if she would feel like I’d hopped, skipped, and done the long jump over the line by going into her room.
Repeatedly, if I was being honest.
When I’d first walked into her house – and tripped over the various landmines that were her shoes all over the place – once I got the baby settled, I picked them all up and put them away.
Looking for a broom and dustpan to sweep up by the front door, led to me seeing the piles of clothes that needed to be washed, so I threw a load into the washer.
Thinking I should probably hang up her dry cleaning, instead of leaving it draped over the back of her couch, led to me walking into her bedroom and something worse than Louboutin landmines.
A hellfire missile had clearly detonated in the room.
That or the guy who’d threatened her via the last nanny was in actuality an overzealous stadium worker and he’d broken in and gone ballistic in her bedroom with a t-shirt gun.
I take that back.
They weren’t everywhere.
Her closet and – I found out by permissible snooping – her dresser drawers were empty.
The sheer amount of clothing she possessed put Pam’s wardrobe to shame, I believed until that moment an impossible feat.
No wonder my sister liked her, Cookie built like a Brick Shithouse aside.
Even if I’d once possessed the inclination to be a slob – which I hadn’t – the military would have driven it out of me years ago. So I did what they’d trained me to do.
Square everything away.
For a hot second I hoped to fool myself into believing I’d finally found something to turn me off of Cookie Brick Shithouse because seeing the state of her room was making me twitch in a different way.
And then I picked up what turned out to be a pair of her underwear from the floor.
A tiny pair.
Among other things, it served to remind me that I’d called her ma’am her when I first saw her. It was a habit ingrained in me from my years in the service.
But that little scrap of lace did not belong to a ma’am.
And turned off, I was not, no matter how much my mind kept telling me thinking about her in any way that wasn’t in a professional capacity was a Very Bad Idea.
Capital letters fully warranted.
Something I kept having to constantly remind myself of, finding at least a dozen more just like them, when I was sorting her laundry. I wasn’t being a creeper or anything, but sorting through unfamiliar garments, I knew enough to read the tags. And I was aware enough to know the fact they were female garments meant there would possibly be articles of clothing that required handwashing, line or lay flat to dry.
I had a sister who liked to bitch about – among other/every things – the unfairness of it all. And some part of my brain had retained the knowledge, despite the fact I’d never done anyone else’s laundry before.
I’d had girlfriends in the past, but I’d never lived with any of them. Never even gotten close to something like that. Not with the uncertainty of my given profession at the time. At any given time I could be called away and gone for months. Shipped halfway across the world and then relocated to another part of it at the end of my tour.
I hadn’t come across anyone at the time that had been willing to put up with it. Nor had I come across anyone I had been willing to fight to keep in my life.
So while the attraction I felt for her was nothing uncommon, doing her laundry was new territory for me. I just hoped I hadn’t overstepped.
Being jarred back into the here and now by the half-frozen teething ring smacking the back of my head, I took the carrier off and strapped Jason into his highchair. Wiping the drool from his face with a wet cloth, I swapped the teething ring with another one from the freezer and put one of those baby toast sticks in his other hand for him to chew on.
He’d already had his dinner and been bathed. The latter a necessity when we’d had a diaper mishap and gotten christened with the end result of his lunch.
So it was a good thing I was already doing laundry.
And it was an even better thing that he couldn’t talk yet and thereby rat me out.
Cookie Brick Shithouse had enough to worry about.
In between cleaning up the house and the countless loads of laundry, I’d been googling the hell out of what I should be doing with a baby his age. The milestones he should be reaching soon and what he needed me to do to help him achieve them.
My original plans had involved working with young kids, but not quite as young as him. And reading about the how’s and the why’s of it from my bunk in the desert was a far cry from being in the thick of it.
Studying and doing were two very different things.
I hadn’t been around babies much, but when I’d been stationed in Germany a few years back, a friend of mine had a young family, so I got to see a little of what it was like.
But again, seeing and doing were two very different things.
Overall, it had been a good day. So far Jason had been pretty laidback, not putting up any fuss when we’d stopped by the cleaners to pick up Cookie’s clothes or when we’d swung by Pam’s place so I could pick up mine.
He’d been a happy spectator from his perch on my back when we’d gone back out after his nap and in between laundry loads to hit up the supermarket, after I found the shopping list written on an envelope full of cash, that I assumed had been left with the previous nanny.
After what had gone down the day before, I guessed finishing up the grocery shopping hadn’t been a priority for her. Not that I could really blame her.
It still had to be done though, but their confrontation had been in the forefront of my mind the entire time we’d been out. My guard had been up, but the only person who had approached us was a woman.
A friendly one.
A little too friendly, given the way she’d been checking me out, even as she offered her help when I’d been staring at various infant items a little too long. I’d already grabbed some Orajel to soothe his gums and was looking to get a few of those freezable teething rings for him to chew on.
So I blamed my already heightened guard for why I didn’t correct her when she’d assumed Jason was my son.
His parentage was none of her business.
Nor did I correct her when she mentioned how lucky my wife was to have such a doting husband.
My marital status might have nothing to do with the baby’s identity, but he would never tell.
And Cookie Brick Shithouse had enough to worry about, so neither would I.
But other than her, no one else approached us or even gave us a second look, really. So I hoped it was more the nanny they’d recognized and not the baby.
Pam had referred to her as The Beast – which if taken at face value, would suggest she was at the very least recognizable – when she’d emailed me earlier, with the details of my employment. Apparently I was getting paid more than The Beast because I would also be shouldering the added responsibilities of being a bodyguard in addition to her son’s caretaker.
Or, as Pam had put it, my role as The Manny.
Yes. In italics and bold font.
I had half a mind to tell mom.
But even so, it seemed like she was paying me more than what would be considered fair. Especially when you factored in that I would be living there rent free.
Since she worked for the government and not a private law firm, I had to wonder just how much she made to be able to afford to pay me what Pam’s packet had contained.
I wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable enough to bring it up though, so I set those thoughts aside for now and finished putting our dinner on the table. Aside from a few leftover takeout containers and condiments, the fridge and cupboards had been pretty bare except for baby food and formula.
Given the stack of takeout menus on the counter, I had to guess cooking wasn’t a priority for her.
But after spending so much time eating MRE’s and in mess halls, cooking was a luxury I was absolutely going to take advantage of now that I could.
And if that was one less thing for Cookie Brick Shithouse to have to worry about, then all the better.
Once I had everything laid out on the table, I pulled the house key from my pocket – the same one I’d pulled from the lock when she’d first gotten home – and was setting it on the table in front of me, just as she reentered the kitchen.
My plan had been to ask if it was a spare she’d kept in her purse or if she normally left it somewhere out front.
Where anyone could’ve gotten it and made a copy.
Step two of Plan A had been to suggest changing all of the locks regardless of where she normally kept the spare key because the one on the front door wasn’t especially hard to pick.
I knew because I had layers.
Some of them were darker than the others.
Step three of Plan A was to suggest having a house alarm installed. The fact she was a single woman with a baby and didn’t have one made me twitch.
And not in a good way, like earlier that morning.
That had been Plan A anyways, until she walked back into the kitchen and I felt that twitch again.
Like earlier that morning.
Her hair was still damp and she was back to wearing no makeup. When I’d first opened the door, prepared to do damage to whoever may have been thinking to break and enter into her home to lie in wait for her, I’d been more than surprised to find her standing there.
She looked a hell of a lot different, dressed for work and with her hair and makeup done.
Both looks were good on her, but I preferred her this way, looking like…
Whatever it was, I shouldn’t be looking at her like that.
Or smelling her like that.
Causing me to twitch like that.
And I really should have had a backup Plan B.
Not having one, I quickly averted my eyes from her and focused on the baby, who immediately reached for her and squealed with delight, when he saw her walk into the room.
I wasn’t jealous.
It was more of a syncing of our emotions really.
I kind of wanted to reach for her too.
Maybe make her squeal in delight.
“You fed him and bathed him too?” she asked in disbelief.
With her eyes closed and her face pressed against his head as she kissed him, I couldn’t be sure what was so surprising about that.
I was The Manny – or so Pam’s obnoxious email had proclaimed – so why wouldn’t feeding and bathing the baby be factored into that?
Especially considering how much she was paying me to do it.
“Yes,” I eventually replied, and even I could hear the incredulity in my tone, with me wondering just how inept her previous nanny was.
She’d mentioned the woman was older, so maybe she hadn’t done as much as she should have, given any limitations due to her age.
And size, if Pam was to be believed.
And she’d tried to take the baby with her, when she’d obviously wanted to take a shower and change, instead of leaving him in my capable-as-far-as-she-knew hands.
But remembering the name on the dry cleaning slip, I wondered if there was more truth to that than I’d thought, and asked, “Should I not have?”
Maybe she wanted to do everything?
Everything except her own laundry, that is.
“It’s not that,” she offered timidly and then gestured to everything around us, adding, “I’m just not used to it?”
And at my arched brow, she explained, “The cooking, the cleaning, the not shoving the baby in my arms the moment I get one foot in the doorway and disappearing until the morning.”
Then lifting her own brow in return, she smiled sadly, “You know, the usual.”
“Coo…” I began and then felt my cheeks flush red at what I was about to address her as, when I did an about-face and admitted, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know your name.”
“That’s okay,” she laughed. “I don’t know yours either.”
“Really?” I chuckled. “Pam didn’t tell you?”
“Nope,” she grinned, popping the ‘P’. “She’s only ever called you Brother Doofus. It’s your contact name in her cell phone.
“That bitch,” I grinned in return and something in my expression had her narrowing her eyes back at me, asking, “What does she call me?”
“Besides her boss?” I asked, trying to temper the urge to fan my face.
It was ridiculous.
Both what Pam always called her and my reaction at the thought of telling her what it was.
“Mmhmm,” she groaned, having taken a bite of the pasta in front of her.
There went that twitch again.
Subtly adjusting in my seat – it wasn’t squirming, it was adjusting – I admitted in a quickly clipped out, “Cookie Brick Shithouse.”
Nearly choking on the food in her mouth, she covered the lower half of her face with her hand and laughed, “That bitch!”
“Told you so,” I grinned.
I wasn’t flirting.
Because that would be a Very Bad Idea.
“Is that what you’ve been calling me in your head all day long?” she asked, with a slight upturn of her lips.
“Maybe,” I admitted. And then hoping to change the subject from what I had most definitely been calling her in my head all day long, I asked, “So tell me, what is your real name?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged with another mischievous smile. “This could be fun. How about we just keep guessing until one of us gets it right?”
There was something in the way she’d said it that made me believe I would never guess her real name in a million years, but I never backed away from a challenge.
I wasn’t about to start now.
Nodding my silent agreement, I eyed her suspiciously and went with my gut instinct that maybe her Wonder Woman dry cleaning slip had more truth than fiction to it.
So I went with it and guessed, “Diana?”
Shaking her head, she was clearly enjoying the game, and smiled at me – not looking sorry at all – when she said, “Sorry…Steve?”
“Nope,” I repeated, popping the ‘P’ with a grin.
Snapping her fingers in an aww shucks way, she shrugged and then looked back up to say, “But that reminds me, thanks for picking up my dry cleaning and you know, everything.”
I could’ve sworn I heard her mumble something about washing her unmentionables at the tail end of it.
So that was likely why I felt my skin turn hot again, when I smiled down at my plate and shrugged with my reply of, “Don’t mention it.”