Eye of the Beholder
Lois Cloarec Hart
An angry burst of epithets erupted from a nearby office, and Gina paused from filling her cup in the executive coffee room, looking inquisitively at her silver haired companion.
“Wow! It sounds like your boss is pretty upset, Libby. That’s a first. I didn’t think anyone but Nick could get under her skin like that.”
Libby gave her colleague a wry look. “That’s usually true, Gina. Bryn’s always been a little fiery, but she’s basically very fair. Nick’s known how to push his sister’s buttons since the day she was born, though, and since she joined the family business, he seems to take delight in doing so. Speaking of which, you’d better get back to your desk, because if it is Nick that she’s upset with, you can bet Bryn will be calling him pronto. Between the two of us, maybe we can run interference and head off any fisticuffs.”
“Will do.” Gina finished pouring her coffee and set the pot back. “If worse comes to worst, we can always call Jack in to referee.”
“Poor Jack. He must get so tired of running interference between his big brother and little sister.” Libby sighed sympathetically and glanced at her watch. “Guess my break is over, too. Catch you later.”
The two women parted company, as Gina headed down the hall to her desk outside of the CEO’s office, and Libby returned to her boss’ office, brushing imaginary crumbs off her crisp white blouse and immaculate navy blue skirt.
Stopping in the office doorway, she found Bryn staring angrily at the computer screen. A small, affectionate smile crossed Libby’s face as she regarded the younger woman.
“What’s up with the naughty words, Bryn? Did Nick lose the family business playing poker last Friday night, or was it something really serious ─ like the Laughlin Clinics account tanked?”
“No, my brother’s in the clear this time, but I am going to run over that useless, no-good nanny of mine with a tank!”
Libby groaned and stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. “Not again, Bryn. You’ve had just the worst luck with nannies! What’s this, the fourth one you’ve had in three months? Poor little Gideon barely gets time to bond with anyone before you have to let them go.”
“He’s only six months old; all he’s interested in bonding with is his bottle. Anyway, you were the one who suggested I have surveillance cameras installed. And after what I’ve seen, I’m damned glad I did!”
Libby came over to stand behind Bryn. Eyeing the monitor, she didn’t find anything out of order in Bryn Marshall’s bedroom. Music could be heard faintly in the background, and the baby appeared to be sleeping soundly in his crib. “I only suggested the nanny cams because you were so nervous about leaving Gideon with anyone. I didn’t think it would mean you’d end up firing every unfortunate nanny the agency sends over.”
“Unfortunate!” Bryn transferred her glare from the monitor to her executive assistant. “The first one they sent emptied my liquor cabinet, and I caught the second one going through my drawers.”
“I know. I agree that neither of them deserved a second chance, but what was wrong with the third one?”
“She smelled funny.”
Libby started to laugh. “You have got to be kidding.”
Bryn shook her head. “No, I’m really not. I’d come home after work, and the whole place would reek of something I never did identify.” She grimaced ruefully. “I think it was a combination of poor hygiene and garlic sausage, but when I started seriously considering buying gas masks for Gideon and me, I knew it was time to pull the plug.”
“Okay, I can buy that...I guess. But I thought this new one was working out.” Libby glanced again at the monitor where the baby had begun to fuss.
“So did I, until today.” Bryn turned back to the monitor and began clicking
through the screenshots of her upscale,
Libby frowned and shook her head. “Where is she?” The monitor settled on the nearly empty nursery, where a painter on a stepladder was stroking a brush along the edge of the ceiling.
“My question exactly, so I recalled footage from earlier this afternoon, and this is what I found.” Bryn looked grim as she entered a command and the screen showed a young woman talking on the phone. The time code at the bottom of the screen read She turned up the muted volume, and rolled her chair away so that Libby could get a clear view.
Libby’s mouth dropped open as she listened to the nanny’s end of the conversation.
“So, I’ll meet you at Starbuck’s in ten minutes, then? No, I’m not bringing the baby. The painter is here; she can keep an eye on him. Besides, he’s sleeping soundly and won’t wake up for another hour or two. We’ve got lots of time. Okay, love you, too.”
The women watched as the nanny grabbed her coat and left, without even going upstairs to check on the baby first.
“Oh, my God!” Libby stared at the screen in shock. “She just left him.” Stunned, she groped for an explanation. “Do you think she had already arranged with the painter to look after him?”
“I’m not paying the painter to look after him! I’m paying that useless tart to do her job, and that does not include leaving my son alone while she goes out to meet her boyfriend!” Bryn’s hand had clenched so tightly around the mouse that Libby feared she would break it. “Besides, I checked the footage, and that stupid little twit never went near the painter. I thoroughly doubt she even knows that she’s supposedly in charge of Gideon right now.”
Libby glanced at the time in the corner of the screen. 3:06. “For crying out loud, she’s been gone almost two hours!”
As if on cue, Gideon started wailing loudly. Bryn reached for the telephone and punched the speed dial for her home number. Both women watched anxiously as they heard the sound of the phone ringing in concert with the baby’s cries. The phone stopped as the answering machine picked up, and Bryn swore.
“I’m going to have to run home...” Bryn’s words were cut off as the painter walked out to the top landing, wiping her hands on a paint-stained rag. They watched as the tall, lean, dark-haired painter called down the stairs.
“Miss? Miss? I think the baby needs you.” The painter looked around quizzically, then entered the master bedroom. Crossing to the crib, she reached inside and rubbed Gideon’s tummy. “Hey, you, what’s all the fuss about? And where did your nanny go, eh?”
When Gideon didn’t stop crying, the painter carefully reached into the crib and lifted him out, cradling him tenderly on her shoulder as she rocked him. “Shhh, shhh. It’s alright now. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Libby chuckled as she saw the painter wrinkle her nose.
“Whew! You’re pretty stinky there, little man. Let’s get you cleaned up, okay?” As the painter carried him to the changing table, she continued to murmur soothingly to him. “Yeah, I don’t blame you a bit. Who could possibly be in a good mood with such smelly pants?”
Bryn gave a relieved sigh, and Libby patted her on the shoulder. “Good thing you hired a jack-of-all-trades there, Bryn.”
Bryn dialed down the volume so she could talk with Libby. “Pure dumb luck, believe me. Considering it took me almost a year to even find a reputable contractor to take on the renovations I wanted, I would’ve accepted an ape who knew one end of a hammer from the other.”
Libby watched the painter’s actions approvingly. “Well, she’s certainly no ape, and judging by the way she’s handling Gideon, I suspect she’s probably got kids of her own. What’s her name?”
Bryn shrugged. “No idea. I’ve been waiting for a week, since they finished the last of the construction, and I wasn’t exactly in the mood to exchange pleasantries with her when she finally arrived this morning.”
“Oh, Bryn, you didn’t go off on her, did you?” Libby frowned at her boss, who had the grace to look shamefaced. “You did, didn’t you? For heaven’s sake, Bryn! I’ve never seen you as short-tempered as you’ve been since you came back from maternity leave. This just isn’t like you.”
“I know, and I felt terrible about it afterwards, but I was running late, and the nanny hadn’t arrived, and Gideon still isn’t sleeping through the night...”
“No excuse,” Libby said sternly. “Your father, God rest his soul, created this company from nothing, but Bradley Tyler Marshall treated everyone ─ from janitors to junior executives ─ with dignity and respect, and he would expect nothing less from any of his children.”
Bryn’s mother had died when she was fourteen, and Bradley Marshall had often called on his longtime personal assistant and confidant to stand in for his late wife when it came to counseling his only daughter. As a result, Libby had developed a near maternal relationship with the younger woman. That might have made for a difficult passage when Bryn eventually became her boss, but both women handled the transition with grace. Their affectionate, irreverent relationship had survived and flourished, and Bryn was openly and generously appreciative of her indispensable executive assistant.
Libby had intended to retire seven years earlier when Bradley handed over control of the medical technology firm to his children. She had reached sixty, was recently widowed and had served nearly four decades with the company. But a personal plea and a substantial raise from her longtime boss kept her on as Bryn’s executive assistant.
She had been pleasantly surprised to watch how quickly the one-time wild child mastered her position by absorbing Libby’s experience and knowledge of the business. Within five years, Bryn had built the artificial joints division into the profit leader of BTM, and even Nick now acknowledged that she was a vital part of the firm.
Bradley’s untimely and unexpected death
sixteen months earlier had been the only thing that Libby had ever seen derail
Bryn. Always her father’s favourite,
Bryn had seemed unable to deal with her profound grief, and with no notice, had
She had come home a month later ─ quieter, more contemplative — and pregnant. Libby wryly remembered the day Bryn found out she was expecting; it had been a toss-up as to who was the more shocked — the executive or her assistant.
Much to everyone’s amazement, Bryn had chosen to carry the child to term, though in her customary fashion, she had returned to work several weeks after delivery. And had been searching for a suitable nanny ever since.
“You’re right, and I promise I’ll apologize, Libby...honest. But right now I have to figure out what to do for another nanny, because I’m firing that useless bitch the moment I get home!”
Libby sighed. After what she had seen, she certainly didn’t blame her boss, but she wasn’t looking forward to Bryn’s continuing search for the perfect nanny. She had lost track of how many candidates had been interviewed and rejected, often for no discernable reason other than that Bryn hadn’t gotten the right “feeling” from the women. Having raised two sons of her own, Libby completely understood and even admired Bryn’s caution, but she was becoming convinced that Gideon would be in high school before his mother found someone she trusted.
She was about to ask Bryn if she wanted her to put through a call to the nanny agency, when she noticed that her boss’ attention was riveted to the monitor, where the painter was now carrying the baby down the stairs and out to the kitchen.
“Turn it up, Bryn.”
Bryn did so, and both women were able to hear the painter talking to Gideon.
“So, little guy, I’m guessing you’re probably hungry about now. Let’s see what we can find. I sure hope your mommy left some milk, because I don’t think the half a meatloaf sandwich I’ve got leftover from lunch would appeal to you.” Opening the fridge, the painter sighed in relief. Snagging one of the bottles lined up neatly on the shelf, she put in on the counter. “I have no idea if this is breast milk or not, sweetie, but I hope so. After all, you know what all the studies say ─ your mommy’s milk is much healthier for you, and we want you to grow up to be big and strong, don’t we?”
Libby was amused to see Bryn blush, and she chuckled aloud as her boss muttered at the monitor where the painter was one-handedly filling a small pot with water.
“Twelve hour work days and breast feeding don’t go together, so don’t lay a guilt trip on me, damn it.”
While the water heated, the painter continued to talk softly to the baby, and by the look on Gideon’s face as he babbled back at her, he liked the sound of her voice. Just as the painter was testing the warmth of the milk, the sound of a slamming door could be heard and the truant nanny rushed into the kitchen.
“Shit! I meant to be back before he woke up. Here, give him to me!”
The nanny grabbed for the baby, but the painter appeared to hesitate for a moment before handing him over. Then with a shake of her head, she walked out of the room.
The nanny called after her, “Hey, don’t rat me out, okay? I just lost track of time; it won’t happen again.”
With a vicious swipe of her finger, Bryn killed the sound on the monitor. “You’re damned right it won’t!”
“I’m guessing that you want me to get the nanny agency on the line,” Libby offered.
“Yes! No, wait a minute. First, get me Keeler Construction.”
Surprised, Libby left the office and put a call through to the construction company. After connecting her boss, she warred momentarily with her conscience, then let her curiosity overrule etiquette as she listened in on the conversation.
The man was clearly concerned, and Libby wasn’t surprised. Bryn had blistered the lines to Keeler Construction several times during the extensive renovation process that had converted her elegant condo into a baby-friendly environment.
“No, there’s no problem, Mr. Keeler, but I did have a question about the painter you sent over.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’s fine. I just wondered...well, I didn’t see her with the crews that had been working earlier.”
“And you’re certainly not getting one now, Mr. Keeler. In fact I wanted to compliment you on the quality of her work.”
“Wow! Well, geez, Ms. Marshall, thanks. I’ll let
Libby almost snickered aloud at the surprise in the man’s voice, and she was proud of Bryn for making the call.
“Has she worked for you long, Mr. Keeler?”
“Since high school, yeah. Must be almost seventeen years now.” The man’s voice saddened. “She got messed up pretty badly, though, and the doctors don’t know if she’ll ever return full-time. She’s applied for retraining through Worker’s Comp, and she’s just waiting to hear on that. I only have jobs for her every now and then, and I know it’s been a rough go for her.”
“Does she have a family? Children?”
Keeler’s voice grew curious. “Children? No, not of her own, but she’s always had kids up the wazoo...you should pardon the expression, ma’am. What I meant is that she was the oldest, and she helped her mom raise half a dozen little ones. My own kids think the sun rises and sets on her head. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I just noticed when she came over this morning that my infant son was charmed by her.”
“Thank you very much, Mr.
Keeler. Please don’t mention our
“Not a problem, ma’am. And once she’s finished the painting, I’ll be out to go over everything with you and make sure you’re fully satisfied with Keeler Construction. If you’ve got any issues, we’ll work things out until you’re satisfied.”
“I know you stand behind your work, Mr. Keeler. It’s the reason I was willing to wait until you could fit me in. I trusted the word of mouth on your results, and you’ve certainly lived up to your reputation thus far.”
Libby quietly cut off the connection, and leaned back in her chair. What is Bryn up to? Before she had much time to analyze the possibilities, Bryn stood at the door of her office.
“Libby, would you please get the nanny agency for me, now? Oh, and Lib, if you’re going to listen in on this one, you might want to stuff your ears with tissue first.”
With a grin, Bryn disappeared back into her office, leaving Libby to shake her head as she looked up the agency’s number. Couldn’t put one past her when she was four, don’t know why I thought I could do it now.
As it turned out, there was no need for her to listen in, because the volume of Bryn’s voice quickly escalated to the point where half of the seventh floor could have heard her.
“...and you’re lucky I don’t sue you for sending someone so careless and irresponsible! You’d better believe I’ll be putting out the word about the kind of incompetents you have on staff. You can just send me the final invoice and consider our business concluded.”
The sound of a phone being slammed down was quickly followed by Bryn’s appearance at her office door as she shrugged on a raincoat. “Lib, I’m going to work out of my home for a couple of days while I find another nanny for Gideon. Forward me anything you think I need to deal with, and let my brothers know where I can be reached, okay?”
“Okay, Bryn. Good luck!”
As Bryn strode out of the office, her briefcase in one hand and umbrella in the other, Libby spared a fleeting moment of sympathy for the wretched, soon to be ex-nanny. She had seen her boss take a strip off those who fell short of her expectations, and she wouldn’t have been in the nanny’s shoes for anything.
Finding it incomprehensible that
the nanny had walked out on the child,
“I gotta go. My agency just called, and there’s an emergency. Can you keep an eye on the kid?”
“Well, what the hell?”
The baby’s eyes were focused on the
mobile of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Roo turning slowly over his head. He
seemed contented, so
Ms. Marshall had made it clear that
morning that she expected the painting of the new nursery, bathroom and guest
room to be completed by the time she returned from work.
“That’s why it’s his name on the
company, right, little man? But how am I
supposed to work and look after you, too?”
It took a couple of trips, but Cam soon had the baby set up in his playpen outside the master bedroom, where she could continue her work and still monitor him. The third time she checked on him, he was beginning to fuss, so she picked him up and sat on the top stair as she cuddled him.
He quickly quieted in her arms, and
She heard the door to the sub-level open, and within moments, a stern looking woman was staring up at her from the base of the stairs. Before she could offer any explanation, Ms. Marshall snapped, “Where’s the nanny?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. She ran out of here about an hour ago. Told me there was some kind of emergency and asked if I’d keep an eye on the baby.”
“That gutless coward. Didn’t even stick around to face the music. Well, I guess that should come as no surprise.”
Suddenly Ms. Marshall looked so
“Would you mind bringing Gideon down here, Ms...?”
“Could you bring the baby down, Ms. Keeler?”
“Would you mind sitting and talking for a moment, Ms. Keeler?”
“Uh, well, I haven’t finished all the painting yet, ma’am.”
“It doesn’t matter. I just need a few minutes of your time.”
Following Ms. Marshall to the
“Ms. Keeler, would you tell me what happened here today?”
“I can’t believe she would do
that.” Ms. Marshall rolled her eyes.
“What am I saying? Of course I
can believe it. I’ve had the worst luck
with that agency.” She looked at
Ms. Marshall smiled at
Her train of thought was cut off as Ms. Marshall spoke again.
“I know this might sound odd, but your cousin mentioned your injury and inability to return to full-time work, at least for the time being.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up painful
A little tight? That’s putting it mildly.
“And I thought I might have a solution that would serve both our needs. Look, you need work that won’t break your back...”
“...and I need a nanny that I can trust.”
That’s gotta be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! “A nanny? Ma’am, I’ve never...I mean all I’ve ever done since high school is carpentry. I don’t have any qualifications for being a nanny.”
“Don’t you? From what your cousin told me, you’ve been around children all your life. He said his kids think the sun rises and sets on you.”
“Well, I like kids, and I get along with them great, but─”
“He also said you were heavily involved in raising your younger siblings.”
“Sure, I was expected to help out...”
“Are you honest?”
“You’re obviously competent with babies — Gideon appears to have been quite contented in your arms. Your cousin values you so highly as an employee that he’s kept you on long after he would’ve let anyone else go. And I strongly suspect you have an excellent work ethic. All of those things mean far more to me than any formal qualifications. Ms. Keeler, what I propose is a four-month trial period. I’ll double what I paid the last nanny, and throw in free room and board. If at the end of the four months either of us isn’t pleased, we can walk away from our deal, no harm done. I know your cousin’s only able to throw piecemeal work your way, and even if this turns out not to suit you, you’ll have earned enough income to carry you through the winter. As for me, I’ll at least get some breathing space to find someone decent to care for Gideon.”
Having made her case, Ms. Marshall
rocked quietly, allowing
I guess I could do this. I’ve certainly been around enough babies to know one end from the other. And God knows I could use the money to knock down that pile of bills. I know Jake and TJ would jump at the chance to sublet my place. They’re always bitching about being so far from the university. I dunno, though...a nanny? Me?
Finally it was the thought of
digging herself out of debt that swayed
“Alright, Ms. Marshall. I’ll give it a try.”
“Excellent!” The woman leaned forward and held out her
Libby finished tidying her desk, then stood up and stretched. “Friday, yes!” Most of the other staff had left by five, but Libby valued the quiet hours to catch up on her perpetual backlog. Bryn had long ago quit trying to get her to go home when the others did, finally yielding to Libby’s pointed observation that she didn’t leave when her brothers left, either.
Though Bryn had gotten much better about leaving at a more reasonable hour in the last couple of months, the lights in her office were still burning, Friday night or not. Grabbing her coat and purse, Libby crossed to Bryn’s office and stood in the doorway. She was surprised to see her boss engrossed in watching her computer monitor where she could see Gideon and his nanny playing on the floor. The figures moved silently on the muted screen.
“Hey, are you still checking up on
her? I thought you trusted
Bryn swiveled and smiled at her
assistant. “I do trust her, Lib. Honestly, these last three months, I swear my
stress levels have plummeted to almost nothing, thanks to
Libby walked over to stand beside
Bryn. The sound was off, but she could see
Gideon laugh as
“I’m not watching her, I’m watching
them both, and it’s not because I don’t trust
Concerned, Libby settled a hand on Bryn’s shoulder. “You’re not jealous, are you?”
Bryn patted Libby’s hand. “You’d think I would be, wouldn’t you? But for some reason, I’m not. It just feels so good knowing that I don’t have to worry for a moment when I can’t be with him. I’m trying to figure out how to keep Cam on until Gideon goes to school.”
Libby chuckled, remembering the traumas her own two boys had occasionally put her through. “You might want to keep her on right through high school and let her deal with the teen years. Trust me, overnight that little angel of yours will turn into a stranger with weird hair and even weirder clothes. And don’t even get me started on the music he’ll listen to.”
“No, not my Gideon. He’s going to be a perfect gentleman, even at thirteen. We’ll discuss philosophy over breakfast, the stock market over lunch, and geo-politics over dinner. He’ll be a prodigy who’ll graduate with his MBA and be ready to step into his mother’s shoes at BTM by the time he’s twenty-one, so I can retire early and travel the world.”
“No teenage rebellion? With you as a mother? Dream on, Bryn!” Libby shook her head, but enjoyed the sound of Bryn’s laughter. Though she might be the only one close enough to see it, her boss had relaxed noticeably since her nanny situation had been solved. Bryn was her old self again, and it was as it had been before the death of Bradley Marshall, and Bryn’s unexpected pregnancy. “Hey, you want to go grab a bite to eat before you head home? I’ll even share my wisdom on adolescent boys, so you can start getting prepared. Trust me when I say it’s never too early.”
Bryn shook her head, still
smiling. “Thanks, Lib, but I think I’ll
head home. We’re taking Gideon to
“Okay. See you on Monday, then.”
Bryn gave a wave, then swiveled
back to face the monitor as the assistant left.
Libby stopped at the door and glanced back. Bryn was leaning forward, a soft smile on her
face as one finger traced the image of
Crossing the Lion’s
Though it still made her
uncomfortable, Bryn recalled an incident from three days earlier when she had checked
the surveillance cameras in mid-afternoon.
Audio off, as usual, so as not to disturb any of the office staff, she
noted that her son was napping peacefully in his crib, but then she hadn’t
immediately returned to her work. It was
only when Libby forwarded a call to her that she realized she had been watching
Startled, Bryn had plunged back
into work, and not left the office until after ten p.m., knowing she would
arrive home after both Gideon and
That day, Bryn had forbidden herself
to check the cameras, a resolution she managed to honour until her lunch hour,
when she entertained herself by watching
With traffic at a crawl on the bridge, Bryn had plenty of time to contemplate why she found the surveillance footage so fascinating.
Because she’s so fascinating.
Bryn shook her head and gave a chagrined laugh as she recalled how worried she had been about allowing a stranger to share her home. She had initially offered the free room and board in part as an additional incentive, but also because her schedule made maximum flexibility imperative. She didn’t want to have to worry about getting home by a certain time in order to release the nanny from her duties, so she was willing to put up with the inconvenience of a live-in employee, though she hoped to find a better solution eventually.
Now, much to Bryn’s amazement, she
found herself going out socially far less often, just because she thoroughly enjoyed
being with Gideon and Cam. Her condo,
littered with toys and resounding with the music of
“God, Bryn, what’s happening to you? When did you become this woman who...” Bryn couldn’t finish the question, even to herself, so she changed the inquiry. What do I find so fascinating about her?
A chat several weeks earlier about B.C.’s Fraser Valley Bible Belt had
led to the not unexpected disclosure that
Despite the charms of those friends, however, Bryn was now reluctant to leave the warmth of her home for the intellectual and chemical stimulations that had once drawn her like magnets.
A fender-bender on the bridge just up ahead brought the crawl to a standstill, and Bryn shifted into park as she prepared to wait it out. Sighing, she dug her cellphone out of her purse and called home.
“Not a problem. Gideon’s been fed and he’s about to have his bath. He’ll be ready for his bedtime story by the time you get here.”
Bryn smiled. She knew her son didn’t understand many of the words, but she loved reading to him while he pawed at the brightly coloured pictures. “Okay. But don’t keep him up if I’m delayed too long. You’ll just have to fill in for me.”
“Sorry, Bryn. Gideon has informed me that no one can read a story like his mommy, and he refuses to accept any cheap imitations.”
“Cheap, eh? He obviously hadn’t seen your paycheque!” Bryn was delighted by the laughter that greeted her quip. “Hey, have you eaten yet?”
“Nope, though Junior offered to share his pureed bananas.”
“Want me to pick something up?”
“You can, but we have lots of leftovers in the fridge, too.”
“Your choice, Bryn. You know what I like.”
“Alright. See you soon, then.”
Bryn ended the call, her mind going over
But it wasn’t
Traffic began to inch forward, then to pick up speed, and Bryn concentrated on driving. Though she could practically make this trip with her eyes closed, she didn’t want to have to analyze her self-revelations. It raised far too many unsettling implications, and she wasn’t yet prepared to deal with those.
After a stop at a nearby Thai restaurant, Bryn was home within half an
“Here, you go read Junior his story, and get him tucked in. I’ll put these in the kitchen so we can warm them when you’re ready to eat, and I’ll bring his bottle up in a few minutes.”
Undeniably pleased that
“No, no, Gideon. That’s far enough.” The baby had crawled too close to the bed’s edge for comfort, and Bryn hastened to block his progress as she pulled on her socks. Gideon immediately turned and scrambled for the other side of the bed, and she tackled him, turning him on his back as she buried her face in his belly. His gleeful chortle entranced her, and Bryn rolled over on her side, snuggling him against her body. He decided that was a good spot and popped his thumb into his mouth as he wriggled closer.
Bryn softly sang him a lullaby as she stroked his back. Lost in the moment, it took her a few minutes
to realize that
Returning the smile, Bryn held out her hand.
When the bottle finally dropped out of Gideon’s hands, Bryn eased herself away, careful not to disturb her drowsing son. Deciding that he could go without his story tonight, she carried him to the nursery and laid him in the crib. Tucking the blanket around him, she stood watching as he fought sleep for a few moments until his eyes gave up the struggle and closed.
Bryn felt a current of desire shoot through her as she stood absentmindedly watching her son and wondering what Cam would’ve done if she had reached for her hand, inviting the nanny into her family and into her bed. The hunger for it almost overwhelmed her.
She crossed her arms on the edge of the crib, lowering her forehead to rest as she sought balance in the sound of her son’s breathing. Finally, Bryn resolutely pushed the urgency away, and stood on unsteady legs. Turning on the baby monitor, she shut off the lamp and left the room, determined to display a normal mien but keenly aware she was going to have to deal with the situation soon.
Both women were quieter than usual as they ate dinner, and when Bryn
offered a post-prandial drink,
The comfortable silence went on so long that Bryn almost dropped her drink at the sound of Cam’s voice.
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
Bryn felt like all her muscles had seized at once. I’m not ready for this! But she managed to nod her head. “Sure, go ahead.”
“Who’s Gideon’s father?”
Like air going out of a balloon, the tension immediately ebbed and Bryn took a deep breath.
“I mean, I don’t want to butt into something that’s none of my business, but I have kinda wondered.”
Bryn stood up and, with a small grin, extended her hand for
Bryn nodded and settled back, pulling her feet up on the cushions as she
twisted to face
“Where to begin,” Bryn mused aloud. “Well, I guess with my father’s death. It was such a shock — he’d always been in great health, at least as far as we all knew. He skied, and sailed, and even ran the Vancouver Half Marathon the year before he died. He and my stepmother were really enjoying his retirement, and they were always busy with one thing or another. So when he was struck with a massive heart attack and died before he hit the floor, I simply couldn’t believe that he was gone.”
She paused to take a deep swallow of her wine, and was almost undone by
the compassion in
“I’m not proud of my behaviour then, but I couldn’t deal with going to Dad’s
company and working out of his old office every day. I had to get away. I took off for
Bryn raised her glass to her cheek, seeking to cool the flush she could feel as the memory of that day rushed back. “We talked as he worked. He admired my French, but I know he was just being kind. Eventually, I found myself telling him about my father’s death; I ended up sobbing. He opened a bottle of wine and got me calmed down...”
She broke off, and
“Sort of, yes. I mean, I don’t remember making a conscious decision about it, but it just...happened.”
“With no protection?”
“Stupid, I know. I’d been on the pill for almost twenty years, but I’d left them behind when I’d fled after Dad’s funeral. I certainly hadn’t planned to have sex that day, least of all with a stranger and no condom!”
“And wasn’t that a surprise! At 36, I figured the whole ‘kids’ thing
wasn’t in the cards for me, particularly as I’d never been in a long term
relationship.” Bryn was very aware that
“I’m surprised you didn’t name
the baby after your dad.”
Trying to focus, Bryn took another deep swallow of her wine. “I would’ve, but Nick beat me to it fifteen years ago, and I thought two Bradley Tyler cousins might be confusing.”
Bryn wondered if
Covering up as best she could, Bryn brushed aside the first question that popped to mind — would you come to bed with me? — and posed the second.
“So, what about you,
“Your partner?” The thought was like a bucket of cold water
as Bryn wondered if that was where
“My ex. The day after B.C. legalized gay marriage, she left without a word. Guess she figured there was too much danger I might pop the question, and she didn’t want to have to deal with it.”
“Damn, that’s harsh,
“Nope. She sent her best friend to pick up her stuff, and I haven’t seen her since. She didn’t even come see me in the hospital last year, and I know my family told her what had happened.”
The pain of that rejection was
still evident in
“Pete had run short of men on a
project. He was getting close to
deadline, so he had to hire a couple of young jerks who had very little
experience. He put me in charge of
watching them to make sure they didn’t kill themselves.”
“Things happen, right? It was the first time I got hurt on a site, and I sure made it a good one. Rehab was a bitch, and I’ll never be 100% again, but on the bright side, if I hadn’t taken that fall, I probably wouldn’t have met you and Gideon.”
“I’m not sure that’s much compensation.”
Bryn literally didn’t know how to
to either the words, or the look in
“I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll call it a night. See you in the morning,
Feeling every bit as awkward as
she was sure she had sounded, Bryn made her way upstairs. Pausing on the landing, she looked back.
Torn between guilt and desire and fear and longing, Bryn watched for a long moment, then headed for her room and a restless sleep.
“I know I’m starting to sound
like a broken record, Gideon, but you really haven’t been offering me much good
advice, you know.”
Lifting Gideon off the changing
Setting the basket aside,
Reaching up to put Po-po onto a
long shelf crowded with stuffed animals, she caught a glimpse of Gideon crawling
at top speed into the adjoining bathroom.
“Whoa, you!” In her haste to
catch up with the small traveler,
Sweeping him up in her arms, she
admonished, “Oh, no you don’t, buster!
Last time it took me half an hour to clean up the mess you made.”
“No. It couldn’t be.”
“Oh, God! You don’t trust me?” Shaken to the bone,
Picking the child up,
could she? I’ve never given her reason
not to trust me! A terrible thought struck
Finally, breaking through the
inertia of shock and betrayal,
“Stephie? You’re not working today, are you? Can you come over right away? I really need your help.”
By the time her cousin arrived,
When the doorbell rang,
“No, no, it’s not my back, Stephie, but I do need to leave right away. Can you look after Gideon until Bryn gets home?”
“Yeah, of course I can,
my head…my heart. “I really can’t talk about it right now.”
“Hey, what do I tell Bryn?”
“That’s the last of them, Bryn. What a day! And it’s only Monday.” Libby handed over the file with a shake of her head. “It hasn’t been this busy since the day you announced the new generation cobalt and chromium hip implant.”
“I know. I swear if I don’t get a cup of coffee in the next five minutes, I’m going to drop.”
Libby chuckled sympathetically. Bryn had looked tired even when she’d arrived that morning, and now, eight hours later, had the appearance of a cat dragging itself in after a long night’s prowl. “I could use one, too. Be back in a moment with a couple of double-doubles.”
On her way out of the coffee room, Libby heard a cry from her boss’ office. Startled, she spilled one of the cups and yelped as hot coffee scorched her hand. Retreating to the coffee room, she set the cups down and grabbed a piece of paper towel, drying her hand as she hurried back to find out what was responsible for the disconcerting sound.
“Bryn! What’s the matter?” Libby’s mad rush came to an abrupt halt as she looked at her boss who was staring at her computer screen, her face twisted in anguish. “Bryn! Talk to me. Is Gideon alright?”
On the monitor, Gideon was crying as a young woman tried to comfort him. Libby didn’t recognize her. “Who’s that?”
“Gone.” Bryn entered a command, and the picture
switched to a close-up of
Bryn entered another command and
the image changed to the front door opening and
Bryn turned off the monitor, and Libby’s heart sank. “Oh no, Bryn. She discovered the cameras?”
“All of them; I checked.” Bryn’s voice was dull. “I’m never going to be able to explain this.”
Libby tried to comfort her
boss. “Now, not necessarily, Bryn.
“Before, that might have been enough. Not now.”
Shaking her head in confusion, Libby closed the office door and pulled up a chair. Taking Bryn’s cold hands in her own, she said sternly, “Tell me what’s going on. All of it.”
“What are you talking about, hon? A chance for what?” The light was beginning to dawn for Libby, but she needed Bryn to open up if she was going to offer any kind of help.
“Love. I love her, Lib.”
Libby gave a small whistle. Given what she knew about Bryn’s life, it wasn’t a complete surprise, but her boss had always been casual about affairs of the heart, none of which had ever left her devastated. As gently as she could, she asked, “Were you lovers?”
Bryn shook her head. “I hadn’t worked up the nerve, and I think
“So, she feels the same about you?”
“I think she did. Friday night...I think if I’d said anything, done anything... We were so close...but I got scared.”
Bryn gave a hollow laugh. “Because nothing with
“And you weren’t ready to give your all to a relationship?”
“So I end up with nothing.” Libby felt Bryn’s hands tighten into fists. “I’m such an idiot!”
“Bryn, listen to me; it’s not too late. Go talk to her. Tell her you had the cameras installed because you’d been having such problems with nannies. In fact, blame the whole idea on me. Tell her you just forgot about them and never looked at them again once you were sure she was good with Gideon.”
Bryn shook her head and closed her eyes. “I can’t lie to her, Lib. I won’t lie to her. She deserves better than that.”
Her heart aching, Libby slid her chair closer and put her arms around the distraught woman. “Oh, hon, I’m so, so sorry.”
Bryn looked forlornly at her son, playing listlessly on the floor with his plastic blocks. “Twelve days, Gideon. She’s been gone twelve days and not a word. I don’t think she loves us anymore.”
She turned her head to stare out
the window at the steady drizzle. The
grey skies suited her mood, and apparently her son’s disposition, too. Unremitting
gloom had settled over the household since
Sliding off the couch, Bryn settled beside Gideon, who promptly crawled into her lap and began sucking his thumb. “It’s not like I haven’t tried, sweetie. I’ve called and called, but she never picks up, and she hasn’t returned a single message. I’ve even driven by her house, but her van’s never there. I think she’s avoiding us. No, not you; she’s avoiding me, and I don’t blame her. But don’t think she doesn’t love you, Gid. I saw the way she was with you. She thought the sun rose and set on your sweet little head.”
She rubbed her cheek against his
downy hair, musing sadly how its colour was much closer to
“She does love you, Gideon, and
if I know anything about
Just then Gideon gave a plaintive whimper, and Bryn’s surging maternal instincts overcame her reservations. “Okay, sweetie, I’ve got one last idea. I can’t guarantee it’ll work, but at least we can say we tried, right?”
Bundling Gideon into a warm jacket, she grabbed her keys and headed downstairs to load him into the car. As the garage door opened, Bryn promised herself she wasn’t going to return without some sort of satisfaction. She just hoped that like many small business men, Pete Keeler would be at his office on a Saturday morning.
The parking lot around the office of Keeler Construction was depressingly empty, but there was a red pick-up truck parked by the door, and lights were on inside. Bryn pulled in next to the truck and got Gideon out of the back seat. The door of the office was locked and the shade pulled down, but she knocked loudly.
Ignoring the shout from within, Bryn knocked even harder.
“Jesus, what part of...oh, Bryn.” Pete Keeler looked at her in surprise as he held the door open.
“Can I come in?” Bryn brushed by the man without waiting for an answer.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Pete closed the door and turned to regard his unexpected company. “Can I do something for you?”
“Yes, you can tell me where
“Shit, Bryn, I don’t know exactly
what happened between you two, but I do know
Bryn sat down on the hard
visitor’s chair and rocked Gideon as her eyes filled with tears.
“Aw, don’t do that.” Pete grabbed a tissue and awkwardly held it out to her. “Look, I can’t tell you where she is, but if maybe you have any other questions?” He looked at her hopefully.
“Is she alright?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that. But on the bright side, she has been accepted into the retraining program. She’s going into architectural design. Says if she can’t build the houses anymore, she can at least design them.”
“That’s great.” Bryn was genuinely glad that
Pete sighed and scrubbed at his unshaven chin as he circled his desk to take a seat. “Lousy. She’s been as miserable as a cranky old grizzly. She wasn’t even this bad when that bitch, Whitley, dumped her. Hell, she was more cheerful the day after the accident in the hospital than she’s been this last couple of weeks! You’d think her whole world just ended.” He gave his visitor a shrewd look. “And maybe it did.”
Hope struggling to survive, Bryn
tried a new tack. “Pete, if you won’t
tell me how to reach
She gave him time to ponder
“Ah, what the hell. Go ahead and give me the note. If
Bryn jumped to her feet, handed her startled son to an equally surprised Pete, and grabbed for a pen and piece of paper.
She wrote feverishly, not pausing to censor herself, then folded the paper and traded it for Gideon. “Thank you, Pete!”
As Bryn started for the door, she
heard him call after her, “I can’t promise anything.
She smiled at him over her shoulder before leaving the office. For the first time in twelve days, Bryn felt a lightness and growing sense of optimism.
Many hours later, the optimism
had faded and the gloom had re-established itself. Though Bryn had fed Gideon supper, she’d had
no interest in eating anything herself. Surveying
the mess her son had made, as he insisted on feeding himself, she sighed. It seemed like just yesterday she and
“Come on, sweetie. Let’s get you into the bathtub.”
Stripping off his bib and wiping
his hands, she gingerly extracted him from the highchair and held him at arm’s
length as she carried him upstairs to the bathroom he and
“Come on, my big boy. In you go.”
Bryn quickly took care of the actual bathing, so they could get to the
part Gideon really enjoyed — playing with the hundred and one bath toys
Sitting on the floor by the tub,
Bryn idly flicked water at her son as she looked at the bottle of shampoo
Gideon started slapping his hands against the water, sending up small geysers as he laughed and kicked his feet.
Bryn wiped the water from her face and gave her son a raised eyebrow. “What? You think I need a bath, too?” Then she realized that Gideon was looking past her, and she turned her head.
Don’t punish Gideon for his mother’s foolishness. Please, please, let me try to explain and beg your forgiveness. We love you, and we miss you so very much.
Gideon the Terribly Sad, and Bryn the Deeply Contrite.
Looking up from the paper,
Her voice shaky, Bryn demurred. “I’m not playing at all.”
At that moment, Gideon, who had gone
into paroxysms of delight at
Grabbing a towel,
As she brushed her hair, Bryn
realized that she had unconsciously chosen a shirt that
Padding from her room on bare
feet, Bryn heard
“Okay.” Walking downstairs, Bryn wanted nothing more than to lose herself in memories of the past when things had been so easy between the women as they shared baby care duties. But as she warmed up Gideon’s bottle, she cautioned herself against such fantasies. We’ve got some serious issues to talk about, and I refuse to be a coward this time. I’ll take whatever she has to throw at me, and if I have to beg for another chance, then I’ll bloody well beg!
Returning upstairs, Bryn heard
the soft murmur of
That’s what I want. She’s what I want. Please, God, let me say the right thing so I don’t lose this! So I don’t lose her again and for good.
Without breaking eye contact with
Finally Bryn broke the noisy silence between them. “Have you eaten yet?”
“No, I wasn’t hungry.”
“Can I make you something?”
“Alright.” Bryn rose to her feet, and left her son to finish his contented reunion with the woman they both loved.
“Yes.” What I want is absolution...and your love.
“I figured that out, but what I don’t understand is why you thought you had to keep watching me. All but one of the cameras I found were working, which means you had to have changed batteries fairly regularly. Did you really not trust me after getting to know me?”
Bryn could hear the hurt and
“So why, then? Why act like the Gestapo or KGB? Do you have any idea how that feels?”
Ashamed, Bryn dropped her gaze to her wine glass, her voice barely audible. “That wasn’t it. I wasn’t checking up on you.”
“Then what were you doing!”
“Falling in love with you.” Bryn raised tear-filled eyes. “At first I would only check in every now and then, to make sure everything was alright, but it got so I just enjoyed watching you with Gideon so much that I couldn’t stop. I felt like I was looking in on my family, like I was a part of it even when I was at work, and it made me happier than I’d been in a long, long time.”
The startled look on
“I knew I should stop, but I’d tell myself that I wasn’t doing any harm. It just lifted my spirits when I’d stop for a few moments in the middle of a busy day and remind myself what I got to go home to that night. If it helps, I never monitored your bedroom.” Much as I considered it and much as I would’ve liked to watch you sleep.
“Mmm, that was the one camera
that was inoperable.”
Bryn blushed furiously. She was happily familiar with that particular
“I guess if the tables were turned, I’d have enjoyed watching you, too.”
The frank gaze that swept over
her body sent a shiver through Bryn.
With unsteady hands, she set her wine aside and moved closer to
“Am I forgiven, then?”
“I think I already know. I’ve thought about it so much since you left. I just wish I’d thought it all out before you found the cameras, because then I think I’d have understood why it was so wrong of me.” Bryn leaned forward urgently, resting against their clasped hands. “You saw it as me breaking faith with you, just as Whitley deceived and betrayed you. You must’ve seen me as no better than the woman who broke your heart. It’s no wonder that you hated me.”
“Hated you? You couldn’t be more wrong, Bryn.”
Puzzled, Bryn shook her
Bryn could feel
Bryn knew this was the moment she had been longing for. Putting everything she felt for this woman in her voice, she answered. “I’d have said I was the luckiest woman in the world. I’d have said nothing could ever make me happier than knowing that you loved me. I’d have said…I love you, too.”
“Yeah?” The smile on
The air was electric between them, but neither woman made any move toward the other. Finally Bryn broke the loaded silence.
Bryn shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. And besides, I solved the nanny problem.”
“I talked Nick and Jack into starting up a daycare program at work. Our employees love it, and Gideon can hardly wait to go play with the other kids every day.”
Bryn couldn’t help an involuntary
flinch, but she gamely pushed on. “And I
do, at least a couple of times a day, but one thing is missing.” She inched closer on the couch, as
“Oh, most definitely.” Bryn was close enough to reach out to
The words ignited a carnal
“Uh uh uh, patience, my
The murmured words blew like a
hot breeze across her burning flesh, and Bryn tried to still the clamorous
hunger within by pulling
Bryn lifted her hips, helping
A light teasing touch drove Bryn
higher and higher, then, much to her distress, retreated. No, don’t stop! Wild-eyed, she watched
badly as she needed
Bryn’s short burst of laughter
faded as she thrust feverishly against
As Bryn wriggled higher,
This time there was no stopping
the escalation of pleasure, and Bryn thrashed wildly as
Bryn felt the softness of the
cushions beneath her, and the heat of
They were still for long moments
as Bryn’s breathing calmed, then
Their eyes locked, and Bryn
gloried in the desire her lover’s eyes reflected back to her. It was so easy to read
Bryn slid one hand down
A sharp cry ripped into the air
and plunged deep into Bryn’s heart.
Time seemed to stand still as the
lovers lay entwined, until finally
A wordless nod answered Bryn, and
she lazily ran her fingernails down
A small laugh burbled against Bryn’s neck. “I knew even when I ran out of here that I couldn’t stay away for long, Bryn. Your letter just gave me the excuse I’d been looking for to come back.”
“And I believe you said something about demonstrating how strong your back is?”
But as they kissed, the sound of Gideon’s cry echoed from the baby monitor. They looked at each other ruefully, then grabbed for their clothes.
Bryn was first into hers and
called out as she began to climb the stairs, “Hold your horses, Gideon. We’re coming!” She heard
“I know. I guess we’d better get used to interruptions, eh?”
They stopped for a moment in the
doorway of the nursery. Bryn pulled
And as Gideon’s vociferous
complaints reminded them that their little prince awaited, Bryn followed
© Lois Cloarec Hart