I’m a twenty-one-year-old girl he’s known less than a month. He can’t seriously be suggesting I’m the one who he’s going to tell—”
“The first time I saw Morgan she was picking a fight with a boy twice her size because he wouldn’t move his leg out of the aisle when she got on the school bus. She had room to pass, but nope, not Morgan …”
Nathaniel Hunt – Age 10
“Nate and Morgan sitting in a tree … K I S S I N G. First comes love, then comes—”
“Shut up before I knock your teeth out with my fist and you go crying to your mommy like a baby in a baby carriage.” Morgan spit on the kids below us as they marched toward the lake, fishing poles in one hand, tackle boxes in the other, dodging saliva bombs.
I ignored their snickers and smooching sounds. Morgan didn’t ignore anything. Her parents called her Little Firecracker, but not me—I called her Daisy because her middle name was Daisy and she hated it when I called her that.
“Have you ever hit anyone?” I asked as we continued our game of Go Fish, perched high in the old oak tree on the abandoned property a mile from our neighborhood. At least we thought it was abandoned. No one knew for sure. An old couple owned it, but there hadn’t been any sign of them in over three years. All that mattered to us kids was that we could hide from our parents in what had to be the best treehouse ever built and fish off their dock along the lake.
“Yes. I’ve hit someone. Do you have any kings?”
“Go fish. Who have you hit?”
She drew a card and grinned as she got her final match. Game over. “My cousin, Austin. He’s an idiot.”
“So you hit him because he’s an idiot?”
Morgan poked her head out of the glassless window. Her cheeks puffed out and rolled in waves as she collected more saliva for ammunition.
“Don’t.” I grabbed the back of her shirt and tugged her away from the window.
The cards on the floor scattered when she fell on them. Her giggles gurgled as she tried to swallow the excess spit without choking on it.
“Every time you act all tough, I end up in a fight, protecting you from them. I wish you’d hit them so I wouldn’t always be the one getting in trouble for fighting. I’m tired of my parents saying, ‘Why can’t you be more like Morgan?’”
“I don’t like them teasing us.” She sat up facing me, crisscrossing her legs. “You’re not my boyfriend. We’ve never kissed.”
“We did kiss.”
“That doesn’t count.” Her eyes narrowed at me.
“It counts.” I smirked because I could never forget the day I met Morgan Daisy Gallagher. We were seven. She’d just moved to Madison mid-school year.
“I whispered over your mouth. Remember? I asked you to scoot over and let me sit by you after I kicked Benji for not moving his stupid leg.”
“Our lips touched.”
Morgan’s brown eyes looked like marbles rolling around in their sockets. “The bus driver went over a speed bump and we…” she sighed “…bumped lips.”
“A kiss. You kissed me so I would protect you from Ben. You always try to fight with people bigger than you.”
More eye-rolling. “So what? You think you should be my boyfriend?”
“Yeah.” I grinned because Morgan was my best friend and pretty. Man was she pretty, like a real life princess with hair so long and blond it looked like a gold waterfall flowing down her back.
Boys chased her because they liked her, even if she kicked them in the balls, and girls wanted to be her—popular, pretty, smart.
“Fine. I’ll be your girlfriend, but only until I find a real boyfriend.”
“A real boyfriend?”
She pulled her hair over her shoulder and started braiding it. I could spend all day watching her braid her hair.
“Yes. A real boyfriend. One who brings me flowers and chocolate and opens doors for me like my dad opens doors for my mom. And one who kisses me right here.” She pointed to a spot on her neck just below her ear. “My dad kisses my mom there and it always makes her giggle.”
I shrugged. “I can get you flowers and chocolate and hold open doors for you.” My hand dug into the front pocket of my shorts and pulled out a half-melted candy bar. “Here, chocolate. And I call you Daisy which is better than giving you flowers.”
As if I were asking her to eat my vomit, she frowned in disgust. “Fine. But the next time your dad gets popsicles for you, you have to give me all of the good flavors.”
“The red ones?”
“And the orange.”
“That only leaves the purple. Nobody likes the purple.”
“Do you want me to be your girlfriend?” She finished her braid and tossed it back over her shoulder.
The grin that slid up her face was equal parts evil and sweet. “Then you’d better learn to like purple popsicles.” She thought she’d won. Morgan’s personality bled of competitiveness and confidence.
“Now the kiss.” I licked my lips and rubbed them together.
Everything that wasn’t her idea came with a heavy sigh. “One kiss. For two seconds.”
I leaned forward.
“Wait!” Her head jerked back. “Let me get ready.”
“Huh? What’s there to get ready for?”
She straightened her back, drew in a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “Now.” Her lips drew into a tight pucker.
As my lips neared hers they decided to take a last-minute detour landing on her neck just below her ear. In that moment, the best thing ever happened. Daisy giggled.
Nathaniel Hunt – Now
The smile from my face fades. The memories? They haven’t faded one bit.
“I should go.”
Swayze blinks but her smile doesn’t fade. “You’re a romantic, Professor Hunt.”
“I don’t know about that.”
She pushes off the edge of my desk as I head toward the door. “Look…” she holds out her arm “…I have goose bumps from your story.”
I continue toward the garage. “You have goose bumps because I keep my office five degrees cooler than any other room in the house—except my bedroom.”
“Well, at least now I know why you were so weird about me calling your daughter Daisy.”
As if she hears us, Morgan starts to fuss.
“I won’t be long.” I open the door.
“Has she met her?”
“What?” I turn.
Swayze rubs her lips together as her eyes narrow into a slight squint like she’s afraid to say anymore. “Has Morgan met Morgan?”
“One is dead and the other is a newborn.”
“Yet … you visit dead Morgan’s grave.”
“Do you talk to her?”
“What does it matter? She’s crying. You’d better go pick her up.”
“She’s barely fussing, and I will get her in a second. Your best friend … you named your daughter after her. Hello? Of course you should introduce them. I introduced my boyfriend to my dead father.” Swayze cocks her head to the side. “It went much better than I expected. My father didn’t say much, and I felt certain he’d have something to say about my boyfriend’s tattoos.”
“You’re morbid.” I don’t want to laugh. It’s not the right time, and the context of this conversation has taken a wrong turn. She’s crazy. I’ve hired a crazy young woman to watch my child.
“Says the guy who has a skeleton standing next to his desk.”
My jaw clenches to keep myself in check. I refuse to laugh. “I’m an anatomy professor. Now, go do your job. She’s crying.”
“I’ll grab her, a bottle, and the diaper bag. You get her car seat.”
“No. I’ll see you both in about an hour.”
Swayze turns and jogs away, her voice fading as she retreats farther down the hall toward the nursery. “We can stop for iced coffee on the way. I need a pick-me-up. My treat.”
I’m the boss, yet no means yes in the nanny world. If I weren’t convinced Swayze is a true baby whisperer, firing her for insubordination would be the next logical step. But she’s magical with Morgan. I’d say it’s the breasts. Women have nurturing pillows that babies seem to love. But Rachael has them too, and Morgan fusses with Rachael as much as she does with me. That can only mean one thing: Swayze has magical breasts.
“What’s that smirk for?” she asks as we pull out of the garage.
I clear my throat and remove the grin from my face. Magical breasts. What is wrong with me? The thought entered my mind in the most maternal, anatomical way possible, yet … now that she’s unknowingly calling me out on it, I feel like a dirty old man.
“I didn’t realize I was smirking.” I slip on my sunglasses to hide as much of my face as possible from my scrutinizing nanny who doesn’t miss a thing.
“Were you thinking about Morgan, your friend? I can’t stop thinking about her. She sounds like everything I wasn’t. I’m a little envious of her.”
“She died.” I give her a quick sideways glance, my glasses hiding the slight raise of my brow.