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“Are you sure you want to move out?” My sister, Elle, exchanged a look with her husband, who was manning the pancakes on the griddle.
A cartoon played in the living room where her daughter, my niece Amelia, watched TV.
“I think it’s time.” Three years ago, I’d moved here to escape my life in California. Elle and her husband, Gray, had needed help with Amelia, and I’d needed the distraction.
Elle poured coffee into a mug and slid it across the counter to me. “You don’t have to do this. You’re welcome to stay.”
Elle and Gray had been understanding, especially after the mistakes I’d made in the past. But I couldn’t stay in their home rent-free any longer. I wasn’t moving forward or dealing with my past.
“Amelia is getting older. She’s starting preschool full time. You won’t need my help as much.” And if I stayed here, I wouldn’t move on with my life. I’d continue using Amelia as my excuse for pressing the pause button on my life.
It was past time that I figured out where I wanted to go next. Whether that was staying in Telluride, where I felt needed, or moving home to California to chase an empty dream.
There was no question that Amelia loved me unconditionally. She didn’t know about my past or how I’d hurt her mother and father. For her, life was simple. But I knew better. I had a long way to go before I was worthy of anything as amazing as Amelia for myself.
“I don't want you to think that you have to move out. You’ll always be welcome here,” Elle said, her voice wavering.
After everything we’d been through, I was happy that she’d seemingly forgiven me for my screwups.
Tears stung my eyes as I stood, rounded the counter, and hugged her. “I know. It’s just something I need to do.”
“What are your plans?” Elle asked when I pulled back.
“To start looking for a job and a place to live.” It was scary to contemplate when I’d never lived independently. I’d lived off my parents’ wealth and then my sister’s charity. I’d never applied for a job or searched for an apartment.
In high school, my sister was offered a spot on a reality show in high school, and it changed my perspective. I thought life was full of amazing opportunities like that. If I could just catch the eye of the right person, I’d get my big break. But that never happened. Instead, I attracted the wrong sort of attention.
“We’re going to miss having you here,” Gray said to me, his expression genuine. He was a good guy.
I grinned. “Don’t worry. I’ll visit often.”
Elle sat next to me as Gray handed her a plate of pancakes. “Amelia will demand it. What kind of job are you looking for?”
That was the issue. I wasn’t qualified for anything. I had a high school education and watched my niece for three years. I couldn’t even say it was a nanny job. I hadn’t interviewed and been hired for the position; I’d just sort of fell into it. “I guess I’ll look for another babysitting job.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” Elle asked as she carefully cut her pancakes and then placed some on the smaller plate between us where Amelia would sit.
Gray slid a plate across the counter toward me. “Thank you,” I said to him, before addressing Elle. “I’m not qualified for anything else.”
Gray braced his hands on the counter between us. “What about doing something with your art?”
My heart thudded painfully in my chest at the thought of that. Other than spending time with Amelia, it was my favorite thing to do. “That’s just a hobby.”
Elle shook her head. “You’re talented.”
“It’s something I do for fun.” It cleared my mind and let me forget about everything else.
Elle sighed. “I might have something for you.”
I ate a bite of my blueberry pancake.
“One of my clients, Sam Fletcher, came in yesterday saying he’s having trouble finding someone to watch his daughter. I think she’s three or four. Anyway, he runs a contracting business with his brothers. He needs someone who can be at his house early and stay late.”
I was afraid to get my hopes up. “You think he’d hire me?”
“You won’t know if you don’t try. He said he’s had issues with finding nannies who could work those hours. He wants someone to be there for his daughter. Who can be consistent. He doesn’t want his daughter to have to go through a string of different nannies.”
I frowned. “Yeah, that’s not good for her.”
Elle called for Amelia to come to the table and then asked me, “Should I reach out to him?”
I moved the pancake around on my plate. “Did you say anything about me to him?”
“Just that you might be looking for something. That you were reliable.”
“Yeah, but you’re my sister. It’s not the same.” Of course, I was there for Amelia. She was my niece, and I loved her.
“You’ve done an amazing job with Amelia. You’ll be great for his daughter too,” Elle said firmly.
Amelia ran from the living room and scrambled onto the high stool with Elle’s help.
Watching Amelia hadn’t felt like a job. Maybe this position with Sam’s little girl would be the same. “You’re right. It can’t hurt.”
“We’re going to miss you around here,” Gray said gruffly.
“You’re leaving?” Amelia’s eyes were round as she looked at me.
I grinned and poked her in the arm. “You’re leaving me, silly girl. You’re going to school, remember?”
She shifted so her knees were folded under her. “I can’t wait. I’m going to meet my best friend there.”
“How do you know?” I asked her.
“I just do.” She took a large bite of her pancake, the syrup dribbling down her chin. I dabbed at the spot with my napkin. Amelia was so confident. It was admirable, but then, she was only four. She hadn’t experienced the bad parts of life.
Talk turned to school and Amelia’s new outer space backpack. I wished life were as simple as choosing the perfect book bag, but it was so much more complicated. I’d avoided thinking about the future for the past few years. But it was time to take control of my life, whatever that meant.
A week later, I drove to the address Sam gave me for his house. We’d talked on the phone after Elle connected us, and he’d invited me to meet him and his daughter, Maggie.
Nerves had me fidgeting in my seat. Never having interviewed for a job before, I didn’t know what to expect.
Parking in the driveway of his nondescript suburban home, I smoothed a hand over my skirt, took a deep breath, and made my way to the front door.
I knocked, my heart thumping in my ears.
Heavy footsteps sounded on wood floors. Then the door opened. My gaze was immediately drawn to the little girl in the man’s arms. She tucked her head into her daddy’s neck as if she were shy, her blonde curls covering her face.
“Hey there,” I said with a smile.
She lifted her head tentatively.
“I’m Alice. It’s so nice to meet you.”
“She’s a little shy when she first meets someone.” Sam’s voice was deep, his bicep bulging from holding his daughter on his hip.
Too late, I realized I’d addressed the child before the man. “I’m sorry. I’m Alice Carmichael.”
“Elle’s sister,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.
“That’s right. We talked on the phone.”
He stepped back. “Come inside.”
I quickly scanned the foyer and what was visible in the living room. Toys were strewn across the rug, but it was homey. I drew on the manners my mother had instilled in me over the years. “You have a beautiful home.”
“Thank you.” Sam set his daughter down, and she immediately began playing with a dollhouse as she kept one wary eye on me.
I dropped to my knees on the floor next to her. “It’s so nice to meet you, Maggie.”
Sam sat on the couch, his legs spread, his elbows resting on his thighs. “I need someone who can start right away.”
“I’ve been watching my niece the last few years, and she starts school next week. So, I’m available to start then.” I kept my gaze on Maggie, watching her as she organized the furniture in the house and set up her dolls on a chaise.
Sam drew in a long breath, drawing my attention to him.
“I don’t have any formal experience. I haven’t nannied for anyone outside my family. If that’s not enough experience, I’ll understand.” It was hard to believe anyone would want to hire me when my résumé consisted solely of babysitting my niece.
I wanted to be honest with him. I didn’t want to give anyone a false idea of my abilities. I was done with pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
When he didn’t answer, I continued. “I don’t have any certifications, and I haven’t taken any college courses. My skills are all from on-the-job training.”
“I would think watching children is on-the-job training,” Sam said.
Relaxing slightly at his words, I asked Maggie, “Do you mind if I play?”
When she nodded eagerly, I picked up one of the dolls that looked less loved, figuring it wasn’t one of her favorites, and said in a high-pitched voice. “May I come over to play?”
Maggie covered her mouth and giggled.
It was lovely. I let the sound fill my chest.
Maggie moved her doll in front of mine. “Would you like tea?”
“I’d love some.” We played like that for a few minutes. I was aware that Sam was watching me. I wasn’t sure what was appropriate for an interview like this, but I figured he’d want to know if I was good with kids, and I was more comfortable playing with Maggie than facing him.
Finally, Sam cleared his throat. “I go to work early. I need to leave by six a.m. Most of the time, I’m home by four, but sometimes I might be late, depending on what’s going on at the job site.”
“Okay.” I was used to Gray’s long hours and Elle’s changing schedule. Other than making time for my art, I didn’t have any other commitments.
“Most of the other nannies didn’t like the schedule. I’d prefer to know before I hire you whether that will be a problem.”
“It won’t be. I don’t have anything else going on.” I preferred to work on my art in the evenings, so it might work out perfectly. “It would allow for me to spend time with my niece too.”
He nodded. “I don’t want to change nannies this frequently. I’d like consistency.”
“I have no plans to leave.” I wasn’t from Telluride, but until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, this job meant security, and I needed that.
“Elle said you were looking for an apartment. You’re welcome to stay in the guest room. That way you can sleep in and get up when Maggie does. She usually sleeps until about seven.”
I was thinking about getting an apartment, but after I looked at the rent prices in the area, it wasn’t possible. “That would be perfect, actually.”
I’d get out of Elle and Gray’s home and be on my own. Somewhat, anyway. It sounded like Sam wasn’t home often, and I could visit Amelia in the evenings.
“I’d prefer it if you weren’t out late. I go to bed early.”
I almost laughed at that. “I haven’t had much time to meet people since I moved here. I’ve been taking care of Amelia.”
I held his gaze, needing him to know I was responsible. Or at least as responsible as I’d ever been. I was trying to make up for my past.
“I’m not saying you can’t go out. You’re young.”
For the first time, I allowed myself to take him in. He was muscular. It was obvious he did something physical as part of his job. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty-seven or twenty-eight, so just a couple of years older than me.
“You don’t have anything to worry about. I’m boring.” It was funny to say that, because when I was a teenager, I was out all hours of the night, following Elle and the production crew around. She tried to shield me from the show, but I always found a way to be there. I wasn’t going to miss out on the excitement. Now, I wanted nothing to do with partying or going to a bar. I was done with that life.
I didn’t have any friends in Telluride, other than Elle’s. And I didn’t think they trusted me, not after what I’d done.
“Did you have any other questions?” I was happy to alleviate any of his concerns.
“Let me walk you to the door.”
My stomach dropped. He didn’t think I was right for the job. It was what I’d thought, but the reality hurt worse than I expected. “It was so nice to meet you, Ms. Maggie.”
“Will you come over to play again?”
“That’s up to your daddy,” I said, rising to my feet. I followed Sam to the door, dread pulling at me with each step I took.
“Thank you for coming by.”
I walked through the door and faced him. I knew I wasn’t good enough for a position like this. Parents wanted someone they could trust. Not someone with no résumé or education.
He rested a hand on the top of the frame, leaning slightly toward me. “If you could start on Monday, that would be great.”
“Are you saying I got the job?” The question was out of my mouth before I could retract it. I was just so surprised that he wanted to hire me. He’d wanted someone reliable, and despite how much I’d worked at it over the last few years, I wouldn’t exactly call past-Alice reliable.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself. I’d like to offer you the job.”
“I’d love to.” Pleasure flowed through me. I’d gotten my first real job.
“Can you start on Monday? I know it’s soon.”
I chewed my lip, wondering if it was okay to ask for a favor on my first day. “I’d like to see my niece, Amelia, off to her first day of school. Would it be okay if I brought Maggie?”
He nodded his head. “That’s not a problem.”
“I should have asked if we could have playdates with Amelia, too. Elle would be there, of course. I wouldn’t be watching both kids at the same time. That’s not what you’re hiring me to do.”
Sam gave me a measured look. “If you need to watch Amelia, I don’t mind. Just let me know.”
“You hired me to give all of my attention to Maggie.”
His brow furrowed. “It would be good for her to have friends. None of the other nannies took her on playdates.”
Nodding, I said, “I’ll clear it with you first, of course.”
Dropping his hand, he asked, “Would you want to move your things this weekend so that you’re settled?”
“That would be great.” I probably should have asked to see the room, but I was so nervous, I forgot.
“Just let me know when you’re coming by. I’ll have a key ready for you.”
“I appreciate it. I’m looking forward to working with you.” I held out my hand, and he looked at it for a second before taking it.
His hand was larger than mine, his skin rough, probably from working with them all day. The slight squeeze sent a jolt of tingles through my fingers and up my arm to my elbow.
I was aware he was an attractive man, but the charge from touching him was unnerving. I had no interest in dating, especially not the man who was now my boss.
I let go of his hand. “Thanks again. See you on Sunday.”
I got into my car, aware that he was watching me from the doorway. What did he see when he saw me? I’d worked so hard to scrub myself of the old socialite image. Did he see glimpses of that, or did he see a responsible woman in her place?
I’d strived for the latter, but sometimes it felt like I’d never escape the former.
I’d made mistakes in my past, but I’d learned from them. I hoped I wouldn’t revert to my old ways. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my future here because there was nothing left for me in California.
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