#17 Picture time
Dorothy stirs when I check her vitals, and she sits up, wincing. “Chris?” she asks, her voice hoarse.
I sit down in the chair next to her bed. “Hey, Dorothy.”
She allows me to prop up a pillow behind her so she can get into a sitting position. “How are you?”
I breathe a laugh. “I think I should be the one to ask you that.”
“Do you ever sleep?” Dorothy asks softly, rubbing her eyes. “Every time I wake up, either you or Abigail is right here with me, taking care of me. Shouldn’t you… I don’t know… live your life?”
“Your boys are my life,” I say honestly, taking her hand in mine. “And taking care of their mother is very important to both me and Abby.”
She gives me a knowing look. “So… you like her, huh?”
Oh. God. Why does everyone see right through me? “She’s nice,” I say vaguely, looking away from her.
“Please,” Dorothy scoffs. “You’re madly in love with her. I may be dying, but I’m not blind.”
“I’m not-” Oh, who am I kidding? “Please don’t tell her.”
Dorothy laughs, but it turns into a cough. I grab her some water with a straw, but she fends me off and gulps down half the glass. “I won’t tell her. Just for the record… I think you’re both great. I’d rather, you know, live, but if I have to die, I couldn’t imagine two people better fit to take care of my boys.”
“Thanks.” I take her hand in mine, rubbing my thumb over it. “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”
“You and me both.” She sighs and rubs her eyes. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, and I want you to know it’s okay to say no. You and Abby are already doing so much for me by allowing me to live here with my boys, and I know I shouldn’t demand anything else of you, that would be too much, but I do have to ask…”
“Dorothy, whatever it is, just tell me,” I tell her softly. “You know I will try to help.”
She nods. “I do. That’s why I feel so bad adding even more shit onto your plate. It’s… it’s about Jagger.”
Oh, right, the oldest kid. The half-brother. With everything going on I completely forgot about him living with his aunt.
“Do you want to invite him over for Thanksgiving?” I ask. “He can spend the night, if he wants to. This house is big enough with all these spare rooms. His aunt can stay too.”
Dorothy’s eyes water and she clutches my arm. “Really? That would be amazing. I haven’t seen him in a while and this might be the last time I get to see him before I… well… die.”
“Of course, I’m sorry I didn’t think of it earlier. Can you give me his aunts phone number so I can make arrangements with her?” As Dorothy grabs her phone to send me the contact information, Abby knocks on the door, peaking around the corner.
“The boys want to come in. Is that okay?” she asks, smiling sweetly at me. God, she’s so lovely.
“Sure,” I say, getting up to step out with her while Yoah and Davy rush in. They’ve got a million stories to tell their mother about their day at school, where Abby just picked them up from. I walk downstairs with her and she makes us both a cup of tea, sitting with me on the couch while she sips hers. She’s a lot more comfortable with me than she was when she first moved in here, and I love that she doesn’t keep as much space between us as she used to. Touches have become more frequent and yesterday she hugged me without asking for permission first, feeling confident that I wouldn’t mind. That’s progress.
I think that night we slept in the same bed helped ease her nerves that I might be some weird creep or something. As hard as it w as for me – quite literally – I was the perfect gentleman that night. She slipped out before I woke up the next morning, but she’s been more relaxed around me ever since.
“What’s up?” she asks, looking at me expectantly. “You’re all broody.”
I tell her about Jagger, and she perks up, offering to take care of talking to his aunt and getting them here. She even tells me she will make sure the spare bedrooms will be ready for them, and she starts making a list of everything she needs to take care of before Thanksgiving, which is only two days from now.
“You know you’re amazing, right?” I ask, putting my hand on her knee while she types away on her phone. “This is in no way your job as the kids’ nanny.”
She puts her hand over mine and smiles. “I know. Just like it’s not your obligation as my boss to treat me as your equal partner instead of your employee. You’re the best boss I’ve ever had.” She pauses and glances at me with a weird look on her face. “Actually… you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”
It warms my heart to hear that. Aston would tell me that I need to get the hell out of the friendzone, but I’m not worried about that. I get Abby in a way I don’t get many people. There’s a lot about her that remains a mystery, but I know that she needs to be able to rely on someone, to be treated with kindness and respect, and to be asked what she wants rather than for someone to assume they know her. She’s strong and feisty, but there is something so vulnerable about this forceful woman that I can’t get over.
“I feel the same way.”
Abby clears her throat, starting to feel uncomfortable. “Okay, erm… so… Thanksgiving. I’m cooking, but I’ll need some help, because I’ve never made a turkey before.”
“My parents are coming, along with my brother and his wife and kids, so I’m sure between all of us, we can figure out how to make a turkey,” I tell her with a grin. “Mom will be the boss of the kitchen within two minutes of walking in, trust me.”
“Oh thank God,” Abby sags against the cushions and blow on her tea. “I was totally freaking about. I’ve never cooked for so many people, let alone made a whole Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve never even had a big dinner like that except for when Brittany invites me over to her parents’ house for the holidays or something.”
“What about when you were a kid?” I ask, surprised to hear she never celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve with a huge traditional diner.
“My youth was… different,” she says vaguely. “It was just me and my mom.”
“What about your dad?” I ask carefully, not wanting to pry, but curious all the same.
“He got stabbed in prison when I was twelve,” she says like it’s no big deal. “Served him right, the bastard. He wasn’t much of a dad anyway.”
Oh wow. I reach out to touch her shoulder, but she jerks away from me. Her expression is neutral, but I know her well enough to tell she’s trying to keep her emotions at bay. Accepting comfort right now goes against her instincts, and I hate that she grew up believing that she needs to be strong and can’t show weakness. I want to hold her so badly, but instead I put some more distance between us. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Abby.”
She shrugs. “It’s okay. Mom did a good job raising me for the most part. There just wasn’t any money for fancy dinners, and I don’t have any other family aside from Mom, so it’s not like I ever went for dinner at my grandparents’ place or got invited over anywhere when I was younger. It wasn’t until I met Brittany that I saw for the first time what a real close-knit family looks like.” Her smile is genuine now, and she seems to defrost a little. “Living with you, Davy and Yoah is like having a taste of what it’s like to be in a family for real, you know? I mean… I know I’m just the nanny, but it feels like…”
“I know,” I assure her when she trails off. “You’re part of this family just as much as I am. The boys feel the same way. I could never do any of this without you, Abby.”
“Yeah, you could,” she replies confidently. “I’m glad you don’t have to, though. I’m happy to help. And I’m even happier your mother can teach me all about preparing this huge feast. What are your parents like?”
We chat about my family for a while, and I pick up the picture of my brother with his wife and two little girls, telling Abby all about them. She smiles as I talk about my childhood, my brother’s job as a marketing expert, and his wife who works parttime as a high school English teacher. Their daughters are 9 and 11, both beautiful little golden-haired angels. They live three towns over, and I don’t see them much since getting a family of my own started keeping me busier than ever, but I call them every week and I love my nieces very much.
“Oh, I’ve got something for you!” Abby says, jumping up. “Seeing that picture frame reminded me. Wait right here!” She sprints upstairs, coming back a minute later with three frames in her hands, and a small plastic bag. “I thought you should put these up in the living room,” she tells me, handing me the frames.
I put them on the coffee table, taking them in. The first picture is of me and the boys sitting on the couch, watching TV. I’ve got my arms around them and we’re all laughing at something. I’m in sweatpants and the boys are in their pajamas, looking cute. The second frame has a picture of just Davy and Yoah, playing on the swing set in the backyard. And the last one is of me and the boys taking a stroll with Titus, Yoah holding the leash while Davy is riding on my back, laughing as I do a weird jump.
“You…” I have to stop talking to make sure my voice doesn’t break. She captured all of us in the most perfect, genuine and sweet moments of the past months, and she actually took the effort to have the pictures printed out and got frames for them that match the ones already in the living room. “This is perfect.”
Abby smiles and pulls a huge stack of pictures from the plastic bag on her lap. “There are many more in here, and I’ve got some more frames as well. I like these three the most, but you’ve got options if you want them.”
I take the pictures from her, at loss for words. Careful not to smudge them, I leaf through them, feeling a lump in my throat as I look at Davy asleep with Titus sprawled over his feet, Yoah making meatballs with me, me and Davy in his single bed as I read a story to him… I didn’t even know she’d been making pictures these past months.
“These are amazing,” I tell her, putting the stack down. “There’s just one thing missing from all of them.”
“What?” she asks, looking a little worried.
“You,” I state simply, smiling at how flustered she gets when I saw things like this. “Let’s take one of us with the kids soon, okay? I want you in one of these frames as well.”
She gets a little misty-eyed, but she takes a deep breath and shoves the emotions to the side like they never existed. “Sure,” she says with a shrug, like it doesn’t matter to her. She’s not fooling me, though. “That’s fine.”