tagRomanceWhile We have This Moment Ch. 01

While We have This Moment Ch. 01

bynageren©

"This wasn't supposed to happen," he said, clenching his eyes shut, as if thinking of something painful.

"What wasn't?" I asked, knowing the answer, but wanting only to keep listening to him talk.

"You... Me... This..." he sighed deeply, his breath hot on my face as our noses nearly touched. "It was the opposite of what I planned." His eyes opened again and searched mine, seeking something like forgiveness, but for a sin I couldn't identify.

"Of course it wasn't supposed to happen, but it did. And is that so bad?" I asked, my voice cracking slightly, wishing I knew why he was still so conflicted over this.

"It is," he said softly. "Because I was using you. But not for this. This wasn't what I intended."

"And what exactly did you intend?" I whispered, running my hand across his brow to wipe away the sweat.

"Something I hope you don't hate me for," he confessed.

*******

Eight Months Earlier

"I know it's been hard for you, Denise," Macy assured me over a cup of coffee at her kitchen table. "I'm not as available as I was back in Florida. I tried to warn you when you said you'd follow us here, but..."

"I'm not blaming you, babe," I cut in. "I'm just saying... I've got a lot of time on my hands."

"But another job? Doesn't the clinic keep you busy enough?"

It felt awkward talking to Macy about being busy. Even as she spoke, her youngest child was insistently patting her leg, asking for something in language indecipherable to an untrained ear. Without breaking eye contact with me, Macy reached across the table, picked up a bowl of dry cereal, and handed it to the grateful toddler. And this was her day off from her full-time job as a chef.

I shook my head to refocus. "It's not that. I could probably work more hours, but Dottie won't let me. She doesn't want me getting swallowed up in my job."

"And the pot calls the kettle black," Macy smirked with a roll of her eyes.

"But that's not the point," I continued. "I need something different. And it feels like more than a coincidence that I saw the ad the same day I decided to look for more work."

Macy took a long sip of her still-steaming coffee. Her eyes were tired, but they still shone with a contentment that made her look perpetually young. She looked towards the other room, making sure that there were no sounds of children in danger. "But nannying?" she asked, twisting her face. "I'm the last one to question your competence at that, but doesn't it feel... like a step back?"

"You're just worried you'll lose your free babysitter," I teased, poking her leg with my toe.

She looked at me and smiled wryly. "No, it's not that. Randy and Emily are getting old enough to watch the younger ones; and as long as Ernst is working nights, we don't need you that often any more..."

"Except for the occasional romantic getaway," I commented as the fruit of one of their last weekend getaways scampered past with a giggle.

Macy blushed and tried to turn the tables on me. "And what about Jared?" she ventured.

At the mention of Jared's name, my heart skipped a little. We had only been dating a few weeks, and there was still that nervous excitement of standing on the precipice of possibility.

"Jared... is still new," I concluded. "I'm not ready to plan anything around him yet."

"Yet?" Macy picked up on every word, every nuance. We had known each other too long to think we could hide things in our words.

"I don't know," I answered truthfully. "He's an hour away, and we only see each other an evening or two a week, so things are moving slowly. No red flags yet, but it's so early."

"But you like him?" Macy asked, half-statement, half-question.

"I like him as far as I know him, which isn't far."

"I get it," she sighed, looking wistfully out the window. "Neither of us moves quickly on that front. And it's been so long..."

I shrugged. "Time doesn't bother me. Not yet at least. But I guess the longer I wait, the more special the guy needs to be."

"That's all I was saying," Macy said with a soft smile.

We sat in the contented silence that only the closest of friends can enjoy without awkwardness. Macy ran a few fingers through her auburn hair. Then she gave me a look of genuine concern and said, "I just thought you were seriously considering more education, maybe becoming a nurse practitioner."

"I think that's still on my radar," I said, looking into my almost empty mug. "But not yet. And there's just something about this job that... intrigues me. I don't even know why."

"Well, it's your life," Macy said in defeat.

"And I value your input," I replied.

"Just... don't do anything rash, that's all I ask."

"Says the woman who married a guy who was spying on her while he pretended to fish," I teased.

"Hey! That's not how it happened and you know it," Macy shot back in mock anger as she stood up and took my mug from my hand.

"Speak of the devil..." I said as Ernst walked in the door after his night shift.

While Macy greeted her husband at the door, I chatted briefly with Emily, who was still young enough to think a single girl in her early 30's was cool. I knew Ernst would be heading to sleep soon, and my shift at the clinic would begin in another hour, so I said my goodbyes and headed to my car. Arriving early to the clinic, I once again stood in front of the public bulletin board, reading carefully the ad that had caught my eye a few weeks earlier:

Help Wanted: After school and evening care for my two precious kids, ages 8 and 6.

Some light housekeeping and cooking.

Certifications and references helpful but not necessary.

Pays well. Women only.

I entered the number into my phone, saving it under "Aaron- nanny job." I considered calling right then, but I realized it was probably too early in the day for most people. The sun was just rising. I pocketed my phone and turned my attention to the day ahead. There was something about the ad that made it stick in my mind, but I had to push those thoughts aside until lunch, at the earliest.

*******

It was a coincidence - or fate, if that's your thing - that set events in motion sooner than I had planned. I was between patients at the clinic and had a financial question while I was doing inventory. I needed to call Andrew, who knew our finances off the top of his head. Alphabetically, Andrew is usually the first name that comes up when I scroll through my contacts, and so my thumb scrolled and dialed from memory without me ever looking at the phone.

Instead of Andrew's familiar voice, a deeper, slower speaker answered, "Hello?"

"Uhh... Andrew?" I brightly responded.

"No, wrong number. This is Aaron," came the polite but tired reply.

Aaron? Who was...? Then it hit me. "Oh! Aaron. I'm so sorry. I did dial your number by mistake. But since I've got you on the line, I saw your ad for a nanny and I was interested in hearing more about it." Good recovery, Denise. You don't sound totally helpless.

"Really? You're calling about the ad? Uh... sure. Let me think... When can you come over to talk about it? Or should I come to you? That doesn't make sense, you should meet the kids. When can you come over?"

He sounded about as flustered as I was. Feeling a sudden urge to avoid doing anything rash (thank you, Macy), I asked, "Well, what can you tell me over the phone?"

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "I guess that could work, too. No sense in making a trip if you... Anyway..." He went on to discuss the basics of the job: the typical hours, the responsibilities, the pay. It all sounded pretty good. The only downside was the location - a neighborhood deep in the suburbs. It would probably take me a good thirty minutes each way. Nevertheless, by the end of our conversation, I was interested in meeting the kids... and their dad, who seemed gentle and kind and a bit overwhelmed. We arranged a time for me to visit that weekend. Just then, I spotted Dr. Tom walking down the hall and remembered I was supposed to be doing something else. I hastily wrapped up my conversation with Aaron and dialed Andrew.

"Almost done?" Tom asked as he passed. "I'm going to need your help in room seven."

"Just a minute," I assured him, holding up a finger as I waited for Andrew to answer. Tom nodded and continued down the hall. I squinted at the ad. What was it about those few simple phrases that caught my attention? The tone of the words seemed... sad? desperate? But then Andrew picked up and I moved on to other thoughts, letting Aaron and his kids sit on the back burner until the weekend.

*******

Late Saturday morning found me pulling into the shaded driveway of a house on the edge of a suburban development. I could see that the back yard bordered the beginnings of a forest, lending nice shade to the scene. It was early spring, and the air still had strong hints of a chill. I enjoyed the cooler air at times, something I hadn't gotten much of growing up in Florida. I could do without the minus zero temperatures, but they came seldom enough that it felt like a fair exchange.

Those were my thoughts as I zipped up my sweater while heading towards the door. The yard was not kept well, I noticed. There were signs of life - toys and bikes strewn around - but no sign of anyone caring for the shrubs and vines and overall cleanliness. I tried not to judge, but a clean yard had always been important in my family.

I heard children yelling and thumping around after I rang the doorbell. The thumping got closer and two hands fought to be the first to open the door. Four curious eyes stared up at me - a boy whose hair was in sore need of a trim and a slightly older girl who had been unsuccessful in braiding her own hair.

"Daaaaad! She's heeeeeere!" the girl yelled, not taking her eyes off of me. I smiled awkwardly, knowing I was being evaluated already.

Soft jogging approached, and Aaron slipped past the kids to invite me in. His feet covered only in white socks, he nearly slipped on the hardwood floor of the entryway, catching himself with a hand on the doorframe.

"Denise?" he asked, a little breathless.

"All day, every day!" I answered, just like my dad used to do. Growing up, I had never thought it was funny when he said that, and yet I found myself unable to avoid saying the same thing now and then.

"Come in, come in," he urged, backing up. "Kids, let her through. Miss... Ms... Denise and I are going to talk for a bit. You guys go play."

"OK," the young boy said eagerly, preparing to rush off. Before he could dart away, his dad grabbed his arm.

"Hold on," he ordered gently. Then turning the boy to face me, he said, "Derek..." eliciting a small wave and a smile from the brown-haired boy, "and Maya."

The girl with tangly blonde hair leaned towards her dad and whispered in awe, "She has three earrings in one ear!"

I became suddenly self-conscious about my appearance, and Aaron blushed. "Yes, baby, she does," he said softly after glancing at my piercings. "But don't you get any ideas yet. Remember our deal." Maya pouted and turned to leave. Derek was already down the hall, running towards more interesting places, no doubt.

Aaron led us to the kitchen, which was a bit of a mess. Clearing some space at the table, he looked around and apologized, "Normally it's not this bad, but I tried to get the kids to help make pancakes this morning. They are eager but..."

"It's OK," I assured him. "I've seen worse."

Aaron smiled and began to sit across from me, then suddenly stood back up. "Can I get you a drink or anything?"

"No thanks, I'm fine," I answered.

"Really, it's no trouble," he assured me. "I was just about to pour myself some hot tea. Would you like a cup?"

"Well, if you're already pouring some..."

He moved quickly to get two mugs and a tray with sugar, honey, and spoons. Bringing a pot over to the table, he soon had a steaming cup of tea in front of each of us. "I guess I'll get right down to it," he began, "so you know what the deal is."

"Sounds good," I said, taking a sip and wincing as it burned the tip of my tongue.

"Their, uh," he looked back towards the hall and lowered his voice, "their mom left about a year after Derek was born. Didn't like being a mom, she said. Wasn't made for domestic life. Anyway, she's military but had always been stationed nearby. We divorced and have been sharing custody. Then a few months ago, she got notice she was being shipped out. Overseas assignment, at least a year. Kinda messed up the custody plan. But that also affects my work schedule. I can't always be here when they're around. I've taken a little time off to try to make it work, but if I'm going to keep my job, I'm going to have to get back on my regular hours. So I'm looking for someone to watch the kids a few hours after school and some evenings while I try to keep up with other things."

"Other things?" I asked, trying to mask my skepticism. I wondered what higher priorities he had than his own kids.

"Well... you know..." said, looking around. "The house needs some upkeep, the yard's a mess, dentist appointments, errands, doing my taxes..."

I cringed at the mention of taxes. I hadn't even started mine yet!

"OK," I jumped in, "so you just want someone to keep an eye on the kids? Or do you have expectations for that time?"

He paused, holding the steaming cup of tea close to his face. "I don't know for sure. I guess the main thing is to keep an eye on them, play with them, maybe help with some of Maya's homework if you can, make some dinner now and then. Derek wants to start playing soccer, so depending on the schedule, you might need to take him to practice... I don't know. This is new for me, I'm kinda making it up as I go." He shifted around in his seat, then leaned forward and looked deep into my eyes. "The important thing, Denise, is to just be with them. To spend time with them. That's all I really care about. I want someone who is going to do more than just make sure they don't run off or hurt themselves."

I held his gaze a few seconds longer than I probably should have. His eyes were a light blue, almost gray. I could tell he hadn't shaved that morning, and I could imagine how scratchy that squared jaw would feel if I touched it. It reminded me a little of Tim. Even when he would shave in the morning, you could see his stubble by dinnertime. Before I got too lost in my thoughts, Aaron's eyes flinched, breaking my concentration.

"Yeah," I said, "yeah, that makes sense. So you said some light housework?"

"Oh, I don't know. Just try to keep the house from getting messier than it was when you arrived. But that's no biggie. It's really about being there for Maya and Derek. I won't always..." he paused to clear his throat, "I mean... I can't be home all the time. They need someone they can trust and someone who will be good to them."

We talked for about ten more minutes, Aaron asking me questions about my job as a nurse, my family in Florida, and my plans for the future. He asked about my living situation and about my experiences with kids. I had Macy and Ernst's contact information ready to give him, since I had been watching their kids off and on for 10 years. He took the information and looked thoughtfully at the paper.

"Wellll..." I said, looking down at my tea lest I get lost in those eyes again, "can I go see the kids? See how we get along?"

"Yeah," he sighed, standing up slowly. "I can show you..."

"No, it's OK," I said standing up. "I can find them. You should probably clean up the dishes before the batter gets caked on."

Aaron half-smiled and agreed. "Top of the stairs, both rooms are on the left," he directed me.

I walked quietly up the stairs, pausing to look at family pictures hanging on the wall. Most pictures were of the kids at various ages, and a few had Aaron with them. Only one picture had the mom. Aaron and his ex-wife were smiling, each holding a child, posing in front of a lake. The woman was thin, evoking a flash of shame at my own body, which I knew was healthy and attractive, even if it wasn't as thin as hers. Her hair was cut to just above her shoulders and her bare arms were lean and muscular. Aaron seemed much fuller and more vibrant in the photo. The man I could hear moving about the kitchen seemed to have lost a bit of weight, and not necessarily in a good way.

Noting the size of Derek in the picture, I guessed the photo was taken only a few months before his mother left. She was probably already planning her exit by the time the picture was taken. The sudden sound of footsteps on the landing above turned my attention back to where I was headed. I got to the top of the stairs just in time to see Derek running out of Maya's room, carrying a stuffed dragon and giggling.

"HEY!" Maya shouted angrily, giving chase. I walked into Derek's room to find them wrestling, Maya having the size advantage but Derek keeping a solid grip on the disputed object.

"I'm going to play knights!" Derek insisted.

"That's my dragon!" Maya hollered.

"Can I play knights, too?" I asked, alerting them to my presence and causing them to freeze mid-tussle. They both looked at me and Maya got off her brother.

"You want to play knights?" Derek asked with a hint of confusion.

"Sure," I answered. "Why not?"

"Because he won't let anyone else be a knight," Maya answered angrily. "He says I have to be a princess. And it's always the same. Kill the dragon, save the princess. It's boring and I don't want to be a princess right now."

"Wellll..." I suggested, looking around the room, "what iiif..."

A few minutes later, Aaron came upstairs and found us running around Derek's room. He stood in the doorway and watched a moment. When Derek caught sight of him, he pointed with his sword and shouted, "It's the wizaaaaaard!" Two small knights charged the wizard, poking swords in the air while I, their trusty squire, cheered them on.

"Whoa whoa whoa, what gives?" Aaron laughed.

"You hafta change the dragon back into a princess!" Maya insisted.

"Yeah, or we'll..." Derek paused, looking at his play sword. I picked up on the fact that there was a no stabbing rule in the house. "We'll... feed you to the dragon!" he concluded.

"OK, OK," Aaron agreed, holding up his hands in defense and laughing my direction. "Abra-cadabra! Poof!" he shouted. The kids turned to look at the dragon, but I had switched it for a princess doll while their backs were to me.

"He did it!" Derek yelled in amazement.

"Denise switched them," Maya said with a giggle.

"Again!" Derek shouted, charging at me to find the dragon. I tossed the stuffed animal at him as I stood to leave.

"You'll have to go to battle without your squire," I said. "I need to talk to your Dad."

I followed Aaron down the stairs and to the table again. I told him I'd be willing to try it. The kids seemed fine, the pay was acceptable, and the hours worked well for me.

"Well, I'd still like to check up on you, get a background check and all that, but assuming it all checks out, I'd like you to do more than try," Aaron said nervously. "These kids... they have had enough rejection with their mom passing them off to babysitters half the time they were with her, and now she's leaving the country. I just... I don't want another person who is quickly going in and out of their lives. I'd like them to connect with you."

"Well," I said, trying not to feel awkward, "I can't promise anything. I mean, I just met your family. I don't plan to just up and leave, but if it's not working out..."

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