We ended up in the kitchen together once Carmen and I got my bags from the car. She helped me carry them to the bedroom, which was beautiful and spacious, and I made a trip across the room to the windows to look over the long beach before me. Carmen showed me the way downstairs, losing her shyness as she told me that we were going to make enchiladas with Aunt Becca for dinner.
I learned that their mother was Spanish and this recipe was an old family one. I watched as Carmen got involved with the process as much as she could at her age, amazed at her apparent acceptance of her loss. She didn’t break down when she told me that I looked like her mom, though there was some sadness deep in her eyes.
Everything was homemade, and I helped with laughter, knowing that my mom was the cook in the family. I tried with Sean, especially since I was at home during the day but the crock pot was my best friend. I pushed him out of my mind as we worked on shredding the chicken and getting the sauce down to a liquid form. Rebecca cooked the tortillas, and then Carmen filled them before they were placed in the oven to cook, at which point Rebecca finished the beans on the stove. “I might not let you go home, Bec. This smells delicious.” Nick told her warmly as his sister smiled at him.
“Do you cook?” Rebecca asked me as I laughed.
“Barely. I’m glad that there’s a chef here, but I wouldn’t mind learning a little along the way,” I said as I glanced at Nick. He was talking closely with Carmen at the table by now and focused on his daughter. “This kitchen screams for someone to work in it.” It was large and modern with all the latest appliances, something that Rebecca apparently loved.
“Tell me about it. My apartment has a tiny little kitchen, but I make it work,” Rebecca said, winking at me. “I’ll give you some of Mom’s recipes to play around with. We lost her right after Carmen came along and it’s a nice memory for Nick.” I vowed to do that as best as I could as I nodded and smiled.
Once we were sitting at the long table in the dining room surrounded by more windows, I took a bite of the enchiladas and sighed happily. “These are so good,” I told Rebecca and Carmen as they smiled.
“This is a nice way to celebrate the time with my family. I’m leaving on Friday to go back to Chicago,” Rebecca told me, holding Carmen’s hand beside her. That was in roughly a day and a half, and I frowned as I wondered if that would be enough time to adjust to everything.
I observed them the rest of the night, noting that Carmen worked on homework either before or after dinner. That depended on the day’s events, and after she was done and by seven-thirty, she was in a bath or shower and bed by eight fifteen. Carmen loved a bedtime story, and Rebecca told me over a glass of wine once she was asleep that her niece was trying to read them to someone while she learned to read at school. It was challenging at times but also excellent for her. “There will be wine in the fridge for those nights. I bought a bunch for you, not that you need to be getting drunk around my sweet girl.” She chuckled as I shook my head at her. “What brought you back here apart from the job?”
“Divorce. I was married for two years and it…ended. I wasn’t happy on my own there, and my mother caught wind of this job, so here I am. It worked out perfectly, and I hope that this is a good fit for all of us.” I looked around the living room with a smile. “I love my mother, but like the idea of being on my own, so to speak. She’s a beautiful girl as well.”
“She is, and Carmen liked you. I could tell. She doesn’t ask just anyone for a hug before bed,” Rebecca assured me as she gave me an encouraging smile. “This will be great.” I saw something in her eyes before she looked away and took another sip from my glass. “Just give it a bit of time. Tomorrow, we’ll go around after Carmen gets out of school and show you her favorite places and grab some dinner. One last hurrah until I come back for the holidays in a few months.”
“That sounds great,” I said as she smiled and told me that she tried to come a few weeks before Christmas, and her face fell as she mentioned that it might be longer this year. She had plans to come for Thanksgiving and stay all the way through New Years for her brother and niece.
I went up to my room after she excused herself to go to the guest bedroom on the first floor, not seeing Nick anywhere. It was quiet from the second floor, but I knew that Carmen understood that she could get anyone she needed. I made my way to the third floor and walked into the bedroom that was softly lit by the amber glow of the large lamp on the night stand. Rebecca told me that it was a salt lamp and that they reduced stress, swearing by them. It was pretty, and I walked to the window to look out at the cloudy, dark sky. I cracked it just enough to hear the waves, though I couldn’t see them right now. I knew there would be a beautiful view waiting for me in the morning and I smiled as I went to the bathroom to change into a large shirt to sleep in, looking around the strange surroundings slowly.
I was tired from the driving I’d done over the last few days and found myself sleeping easily once I was under the covers. I wasn’t required to be awake for the morning routine tomorrow, but I felt like I wanted to. I needed an idea of how things went in this house so I would know what could shift as things do with a new person. I had some idea from what Nick told me, but we hadn’t spoken much since my arrival on our own. My alarm went off at seven o’clock, and I rolled over to see the windows bright with the morning sun, jumping up to run over and look at the water. It was stunning, and I smiled as I gazed at the long stretch of beach for a moment.
I went into the bathroom to pull on some jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, pulling back my hair before I went downstairs. Nick was in the kitchen making breakfast, and Rebecca was yawning by the coffee pot. “Good morning. I thought you might want to sleep in a bit today after the drive,” Nick told me as he stirred some eggs in a pan with a surprised smile.
“I wanted to get a feel for mornings around here,” I replied as he nodded and glanced at his sister.
“There is coffee there. Want some breakfast?” He asked as I looked at the pan. “Just eggs and toast with some fruit salad. Nothing too crazy.”
“Sounds good,” I replied as I went over to get a cup from the glass cupboard door and grinned at Rebecca. She poured me a cup and smirked as she handed it to me, gesturing towards the array of cream and sugar on the counter. I found the half and half and added some, stirring it in to soften the dark color of the brew as I heard footsteps.
“Hey there, princess,” Rebecca said as I looked over to see Carmen, dressed in jeans and a button up pink shirt. She gave her a hug and then Carmen went over to her dad for a kiss and a hug. She finally looked at me and smiled as Nick fixed her plate, coming over to hug me.
“Did you sleep well in your room?” She asked in her sweet voice as I nodded.
“It is such a cute room. I like hearing the waves,” I told Carmen as she grinned widely and nodded, going to the table as her dad told her that her breakfast was ready. Rebecca grabbed two plates, handing one to me as we took turns filling them and joining Carmen at the table while Nick got his food.
Once we were done, Nick took Carmen to school while Rebecca and I washed the dishes. The house was quiet, and I slipped the last dish into the rack as I looked around. “You and I will pick up Carmen today, so you’ll have an idea where the school is since you’ll be doing the driving a lot when he travels. You get some down time, but once she’s in the car, it is game on. That kid has a lot of energy.” Rebecca smiled. “She’s still a little bit shy with you but just wait.”
I took some time to go down to the beach after everything was clean, walking along the sand as I thought over the last few years of my life. I had my phone with me, calling mom as I walked along to tell her how gorgeous the house was. I planned to go to see her tomorrow after Carmen was at school and I had a little time. We talked the entire time I was walking, and she said that the job sounded like it was going to go well.
I hung up as I started up the steps that led to the house, walking into the kitchen to look around. I knew that Nick slept on the first floor, so I bypassed that and found the steps to the basement where Rebecca told me there was a full gym. I was pleased with what I saw, including all the machines that any big gym would have. It would be an easy way to get a workout in apart from my beach walks. I was welcome to the space, according to Rebecca and I walked back upstairs and took a closer look around the house.
It was homey and comfortable, as I’d noticed before. I noticed an absence of pictures of his wife as far as the two of them together, though there were still a lot with her and Carmen. Was that because of the accident?
I was in the kitchen fixing a sandwich when Rebecca came in. “Hey. How was your walk?”
“I am crazy about this location.” I smiled at her before offering to make a sandwich for her.
“Yours does look good. Thanks,” Rebecca told me as she sat at the counter and watched me. “I’ve been on the phone putting out fires back home. I’m the head editor of the paper, so my absence is bad. Necessary, though.” She gave me a smile. “I think you’ve got this, though.”
“I’m not sure. She barely knows me. What if this fails?” I asked as I slid the plate to her with wide eyes.
“Nick had a feeling about you, and so do I. You’re young but mature. I can see that you have Carmen’s best interests at heart and this is a good situation for everyone.” Rebecca took a bite of the sandwich. “Mmmm. That’s good. I am always here for you if you need anything. You can call me, and we’ll make sure that we have each other’s info before my flight. I am so in love with that little girl that it’s ridiculous.”
“Were you close to his wife?” I asked carefully as she frowned and looked out of the window.
“We weren’t best friends or anything along those lines,” Rebecca finally said before she focused on finishing her sandwich. She fell quiet, and I ate as well, wondering what she meant by that.
We left shortly after that to go to the school and pick up Carmen in a new SUV that was parked in the driveway. Rebecca explained that it was for this purpose and I was free to drive it anytime. She acknowledged that my car was fine as well as she laughed, telling me that Nick was protective of Carmen.
The school was a small one about two miles away, and we parked and chatted as we waited for the bell to ring. Rebecca was thirty-three whereas Nick was forty-three, and they were close despite the years between them. He took good care of her growing up and was every bit the protective big brother, still threatening anyone she dated once Rebecca broke the news to him. She was currently single and busy but had some hopes for a child of her own someday.
I looked up as a bell rang and kids started to leave the building as Rebecca and I found a tree to lean on to wait. She explained that Carmen’s class was in the back and it always took her a few moments to come out, so I’d have time. This was where they met every day though that might change as time went on. I smiled as I looked over all the little bodies streaming past us as chatter and laughter filled the air, making me take in the joy of the innocence in the sounds.
I stilled when Carmen walked out, her big eyes searching for us as she smiled brightly. She was a beautiful child, and Rebecca hugged her tightly before Carmen looked at me, wrapping her arms around my legs. I stared at Rebecca as time seemed to stand still and the woman placed her hand over her mouth as tears filled her eyes. Carmen pulled away after a brief hug, and we made our way to the SUV, the conversation all about any homework and how it affected the shopping and dinner that we had planned. This was unfamiliar to me, and I grinned as I listened to the two of them talk easily together. Carmen was a smart girl and got most of her homework done at school, making me think that she would be in an accelerated program in the future. I had been with every English class that I took, and I thought back to the online school that I’d looked into a few weeks ago. I planned to see how much time this took out of my day and allowed myself time to adjust.
Rebecca drove to Mendocino, and we walked through some of the shops that overlooked the headlands, making me smile towards the blue water. I was only back for a few days, yet it already felt like I was home all over again. Carmen clearly loved it here, and as the sun started to set, we drove into the Nyack Harbor to a small place that overlooked all the fishing boats and the occasional seals that passed by.
Nick met us there, and the young woman sat us outside since it was still nice. We sat at a large picnic table, and Nick sat with Carmen on one side while I joined his sister on the other. It was a pleasant meal, and I found myself laughing several times. We went home to get Carmen into the bath and bed before Rebecca excused herself to pack for the flight in the morning. Nick looked at me across the living room thoughtfully as I smiled at him, intimidated by his good looks for a faltering moment. “So, are you ready for tomorrow morning?” Nick would be taking his sister to the airport while I was leaving to get Carmen to school.
“I think so. It seemed like it went smoothly today and though she’ll need to adjust, I believe that Carmen and I will find a routine,” I replied after a moment, remembering the hug earlier as well as before bed tonight. Rebecca told Nick about the exchange at school, and I watched his face soften for a moment as he looked across the table at me.
“I think so, too. Carmen likes you, and that’s good to see after her loss. I’m glad that you’re here, Celia. I feel like I can relax a little bit,” he told me as he opened the fridge to grab a beer, offering me one. I shook my head with a smile, watching him twist the cap off and take a long sip as something stirred inside of my body.
I was a woman that was ending a marriage and no stranger to sex, but it had never been with a man like Nick. They were always closer to my age, a little immature and maybe inexperienced. Sean was great at first when we were dating and then newly married, and I was pleased with the relationship as a newlywed. I wondered why I’d never felt this way before as I excused myself to get some sleep for the following day, blushing as I headed up the stairs and allowed my mind to wander.
I could never cross that line, not with my new employer.