“Just because it makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean I’m going to leave her by herself.”
I shut my parted lips. I can’t believe he said that. I didn’t leave her by herself per se. She was in the care of professionals.
I sulk in my hard, miserable chair while Estella wails down the emergency room. She looks pitiful and tiny beneath the beeping machines and wires that are snaking out from her small head.
Caleb looks like he’s on the verge of tears, but he has her in his arms, careful not to disturb the wires. Once again, I am struck by how natural he is. I thought it would be this way for me — that the minute I laid eyes on my baby, I would know what to do and feel an instantaneous connection. I bite my lip and wonder if I should offer to hold her.
It is sort of my fault that she’s here. Before I can stand up, the doctor pulls aside the curtain that separates us from the busy ER room beyond. He is middle-aged and balding. Before he greets us, he consults a clipboard in his hand.
“What do we have here?” he asks, touching Estella lightly on the head. Caleb explains her symptoms, and the Doctor listens while examining her. He mentions that she was taken to daycare, and I shoot him a dirty look.
“Her immune system needs time to develop,” he says, removing his stethoscope from her chest. “In my opinion, she’s too young for daycare. Usually women take a short maternity leave before putting their child into full-time care.”
Caleb shoots me a look. Seething. He is absolutely seething.
I focus on a box of latex gloves. He’s going to yell at me. I hate when he yells at me. I can guarantee my skin has already erupted into a splotchy mess; a telltale sign that I’m shitting myself.
“I’m going to admit her so we can monitor her for forty-eight hours. She could dehydrate otherwise. Someone should be in to take her up to pediatrics in a few minutes.”
As soon as he leaves the room, Caleb turns to me.
I stare at him with my mouth open.
“Don’t you take that self-righteous tone with me,” I hiss. “While you go traipsing all over the country, I’m stuck at home — “
“You carried this little girl, Leah, in your body.” He makes a motion with his hands that makes it look like he’s holding an invisible ball. Then just as suddenly, he drops his arms to his sides. “How can you be so calloused?”
“I — I don’t know.” I frown. I had never thought of it like that. “I thought it was a boy. I would have felt differently if — “
“You were given something … a life. That is so much more important than shopping and drinks with your f**king girlfriends.”
I jerk at his ‘f’ bomb. Caleb hardly ever uses profanity.
“I’m more than that,” I say. “You know I am.”
His next words spear through my soul, laying me out in the most profound hurt I have experienced.
“I think I’ve fooled myself into believing you are.”
I spring to my feet, but my knees fail me. I have to lean against the wall for support. He’s never spoken to me that way.
It takes a few seconds to coerce the words from my tongue. “You said you would never hurt me.”
His eyes are frigid. “That was before you f**ked with my daughter.”
I leave before I explode.
Forty-eight hours later, Caleb returns from the hospital with the baby. I saw him twice while he was there — both times to drop off breast milk. I am sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine and eating green beans straight from the freezer when he walks in carrying her car seat. He has more hair on his face than I’ve ever seen him with, and his eyes are dark and tired. He takes her up to her room without saying a word to me. I expect him to come right back down and give me a rundown of what the doctor said. When he doesn’t, I sneak upstairs to see where he is. I hear the shower running, so I decide to wait on the bed.
When he comes out of the bathroom, he has a towel wrapped around his waist. My first thought is of how gorgeous he is. I want to jump his bones despite what he said to me. He kept his facial hair. I kind of like it. I watch him drop the towel and pull on his boxer briefs. The best thing about Caleb is not his perfect body, or his half smiles, or his even sexier voice ... it’s his mannerisms. The teasing, the way he runs his thumbnail across his bottom lip when he’s thinking, the way he bites his tongue when he’s turned on. The way he makes me look at him when I have an orgasm. He can undress you with one look, make you feel like you’re standing na**d in front of him. I know from experience, it’s a pleasure to be na**d in front of Caleb. I think of the angles I could go with — an apology and make up sex ... a slap to the face and angry sex. I am extremely proficient at seducing him. It’s likely that he won’t believe any apology I try to offer. I go for something new.
“I’ll try harder.”
He continues getting dressed without looking at me … jeans, t-shirt. I don’t know what to do, and for the first time, it occurs to me that I may have taken things a little too far. I guard my true self so well from Caleb. I try to live up to his expectations. This time, he caught me with my panties down.
“I think I have postpartum,” I blurt.
He looks at me. I breathe a sigh of relief. The best way to manipulate Caleb is by lying about medical conditions. He’s had stress and shock-induced amnesia. If anyone could relate to an uncontrollable medical condition, it should be him.
“I’ll … I’ll go see a doctor about it. I’m sure they can prescribe something…” I let my voice trail off.
I can see his profile in the mirror. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows, and he rests his forehead on his thumb.
“I have to interview the nanny,” he says. “We’ll talk about this later.”
He strides from the room without a backward glance.
I refuse to hide when Caleb interviews Estella’s potential nanny. I dress in a blush colored Chanel suit and park myself in the formal living room to wait. Whoever Caleb called the other night is coming with the nanny candidate, and I want to see who he was speaking to with so much familiarity. I wonder if this person was a part of his life when he had amnesia. There is so much I still do not know about that time in his life, and I’m constantly wondering what he got up to without my supervision.
The doorbell rings. I stand to my feet, smooth out my skirt. Caleb eyes me suspiciously as he walks through the foyer. I hear him greet them warmly, and then seconds later, he appears around the corner. I see the man first. He is shorter than Caleb and stocky. He bears a striking resemblance to Dermot Mulroney — that is, if Dermot had a goatee, shaggy hair and dressed like a slob. I eye his jeans and tucked-in button down. He has one of those distasteful sleeve tattoos — which is peeking out of his cuffs. I immediately dislike him. He is a most unlikely owner of a nanny agency. He should at least iron his clothes.
The girl that follows behind him gets my catty seal of approval. She is a petite blonde with a pretty oval face. She looks innocent enough, except that she has heavily lined come hither eyes. Unlike her sloppy employer, she is wearing Dolce’s newest pants suit in sage green with an exact pair of snakeskin Louboutins that I have in my closet. How can a nanny afford to buy such expensive clothes? And then I realize she probably has one nice suit that she saves for interviews to impress potential employers. I won’t let her wear makeup like that when she’s with Estella. I don’t want my neighbors thinking that I got my nanny from an escort service. And besides, in my house, I get to be the most beautiful woman. I make a mental note to tell her that her uniform needs to be khaki pants and a white polo, and then I smile at them politely.
“Leah,” Caleb says in a clipped voice. “This is Cammie Chase.” The nanny smiles — one of those smug, puckered smiles where one corner of her mouth dips in. I immediately dislike her, too.
“And this is Sam Foster.”
Sam extends his hand towards me.
“How do you do,” he says slowly, maintaining uncomfortable eye contact with me. His hands, I notice, are rough and calloused; something I’m not used to feeling. The men who run in my circles have the smooth skin of businessmen, their only work being to type rapidly on keyboards. His hand lingers in mine, and I have to pull away first.
I offer them something to drink. Sam declines, but Cammie smiles boldly at me and requests a Perrier. I look from her employer to her and wonder if he will reproach her for such a rude request, but he is talking to Caleb and doesn’t notice. I decide to play nice. I’m not going to give her the job anyway, so why not send her away with a few sips of Perrier.
I excuse myself to the kitchen and come back with a tray carrying the green bottle of sparkling water, a glass and two frosty beers — one for Caleb and one for Sam — even though he declined a beverage. They look at me as I set it down on the table.
As soon as I’ve taken a seat, Cammie looks at me expectantly and asks: “Do you happen to have a wedge of lime?”
It takes all of my control to keep my mouth from falling open. Surely this time Sam will say something. But, he smiles at me politely and ignores the little witch’s outlandish request.
“We have some in the drawer of the fridge,” Caleb presses. I glare at him for encouraging this sort of behavior from the potential help and stand up to get it.
When I return with my neatly sliced wedge of lime, Cammie takes it from me without even saying thank you.
I sit down in a huff, not even bothering to smile.
“So—,” I say, turning my body away from Cammie and directing my attention to Sam, “ —how do you know my husband?”
Sam looks confused. His brows dip together and his gaze shifts from Caleb to me.
“I don’t,” he says. “This is the first time we’re meeting."
I blink in confusion.
Caleb, who is reclined casually on the loveseat like he is visiting with old friends, smiles at me knowingly. I know that smile. He is amused at my expense.
I look at everyone’s faces and slowly the picture pieces together. Cammie’s audacity, the expensive clothing …
I try not to let my shock show as everything suddenly makes sense. We are not interviewing Cammie for the position of Estella’s nanny — we are interviewing Sam!
I can see on their faces that they know about my mistake. It's embarrassing. The little blonde bitch, who I see in a new light now that I know she owns her own company, smiles, showing her teeth for the first time. She is evidently delighted by my blunder. Sam looks slightly more abashed. He looks away from me politely, and I clear my throat.
“Well, I suppose I got it all wrong,” I say generously, though I am inwardly fuming.
There is collective laughter — the loudest being from Cammie — and then Caleb turns to Sam.
“Tell me about your experience,” he says.
Sam rises to the challenge, listing his childcare experience. He has a Master’s Degree in child psychology from the University of Seattle. He practiced clinically for two years before deciding that he didn’t like the politics of being a counselor — how cold and impersonal it felt. He decided to move somewhere sunny — South Florida — and get a new degree in Music, which he intended to use when he opened a rehabilitation center for abused children.
“Music heals people,” he says. “I’ve seen what it can do for a broken child, and I want to heavily incorporate it into the center, but I need to have a degree in it first.”
“So,” I say more skeptically than I intend. “You spent seven years getting a master’s degree and now you want to be a nanny?”
Caleb clears his throat and takes his arms off the back of the sofa where they were resting. “What Leah means is, why not practice part-time while you finish up the degree? Why nanny when the financial benefits aren’t nearly as great?”
I lift my nose and wait for his answer.
Sam laughs nervously and rubs the hair on his face.
“Actually, being a counselor doesn’t exactly line your pockets, if you know what I mean. I did it for reasons other than money. And, I don’t come cheap as a child care provider,” he says honestly. “Notice I’m sitting in your living room, which is a significant step up from middle-class America.”
I sniff at his mention of our money. I was taught it was bad manners to point such things out verbally.
“I have a daughter,” he adds. “Her mother and I split up two years ago, but you can say I am well versed in taking care of babies.”
“Where is your daughter?” I ask.
Caleb shoots me a warning look, but I ignore him. I don’t want some wild kid running around my house on the days that he has her. And besides, she might get the baby sick. Something I can’t point out in lieu of my latest escapade.
“She’s in Puerto Rico with her mother,” he says.
I picture a beautifully exotic Latin woman that shared his home, but not his last name. Their daughter would probably have her mother’s hair and her father’s light eyes.
“Her mother moved back there after we split up. That’s part of the reason I chose to come to Florida — so on weekends I can fly over to see her.” I wonder what type of woman takes her child so many hundreds of miles away from her father, especially when she can use him as a babysitter on the weekends.
“Sam,” Cammie finally speaks up, “is my cousin. I promised him my best job, and when Caleb called I knew it would be a perfect fit.”
“And, how do you know Caleb?” I say, finally getting the opportunity to address the question that’s been on my mind.