AN: This is just one of those stories that keep you awake at night until you finally just put it on paper. Or in my case, on the computer. I know nanny stories have been done, but I haven't read any of them, so I hope this is somewhat original. I'm knee-deep in my story "Waterfalls" but I can't stay away from human stories, so here I am. Please let me know if it's worth continuing. I know it's going to seem very Nanny Diaries, but I promise to make it different. Trust me?
Disclaimers: I love GSN (the Game Show Network), Betty White, the Match Game, and The Sound of Music. But none of them are mine. The title for this story comes from Iron and Wine's cover of "Such Great Heights." I'll be using lyrics from various songs for the chapter titles.
Stephenie Meyer owns the characters.
Everything Looks Perfect From Far Away
I nestled under the blanket as I pushed the buttons on the remote. I settled on my new favorite channel - GSN - and lost myself in the mindless hours associated with watching old game shows and cringing at the hairstyles and fashions of the 70s and most of the 80s. Match Game was a favorite. I wasn't so out of it that I didn't catch the double entendres associated with the host's questions, and, lately, my only laughs had come from watching Betty White blush as she innocently filled in the blanks – answers that you'd never expect to fall from someone who seemed so wholesome and sweet.
Betty White is awesome. What is she now? 90 years old?
Contemplating the Golden Girl's age was just another indication that I was completely out of touch with the real world, and I honestly couldn't care less.
Surrounded by take-out cartons and pizza boxes, I had become the ultimate couch potato during this last week of self-wallowing. My cell phone's voice mail was full - and my home answering machine was persistently flashing red - both reminding me that there were indeed some nosy people in this world who just couldn't take a hint.
I just wanted to be left alone.
I never expected my first summer after graduation to be like this. I'd walked across the stage of the University of Washington only two months ago – my head full of dreams and my elementary education degree in hand. I'd wanted to be a teacher since I was old enough to write on the makeshift chalkboard that Mom and Dad bought me for Christmas when I was five years old. In my classroom/bedroom, I'd line up my stuffed animals, give them assigned seating along my twin bed, and teach them how to do important things like count to ten and sing the ABC song. So when it came time to pick a major, elementary education was a complete no-brainer.
I'd graduated from college with honors, and with Masters degree and resume in hand, I'd pounded the pavement. I'd dressed in my most professional blouse and skirt and started hunting for my dream job. I had a clear picture of what and where I wanted to teach - had a pristine vision of my classroom decorations and seating arrangement. Not for one moment did I think that my fantasy wouldn't materialize into reality.
I'd been naïve. I understood that now.
What I'd failed to realize was that there were over two hundred applicants in the Seattle area – all with honor degrees and teaching licenses – who were just as eager as me and hungry for employment. There just weren't enough positions for all of us, and most schools were salivating for teaching degrees in math, science, or special education.
I hated science. I despised math. And adding a special education endorsement would have taken an additional two years, which would have been impossible because my full scholarship ran out in four. My parents were always willing to help, but I couldn't ask them to foot the bill for another two years. Dad was a cop and my mom was a painter, and I'll never forget the serene look of relief when I'd been awarded my full ride to UW.
I couldn't ask them for two years worth of tuition.
So here I lay. Spoon in mouth, ice cream carton in hand, watching GSN. And I am one of the most highly recommended unemployed teachers in the greater Seattle area.
An incessant pounding on my apartment door interrupted my dozing. It wasn't the first time someone had knocked on my door during the past week, but it was the first time it had jolted me awake. I was in such a sleep fog that I didn't have the sense to ignore it.
"It's about damn time, Bella Swan." Rosalie pushed through the door with wine bottle in hand. "I was on the verge of calling your parents, and you know how much I detest calling parents. Any parents. Especially my own. Here…" She thrust the bottle in my hand and headed toward my kitchen, screaming profanities as she searched my cabinets and drawers for glasses and a corkscrew. Standing in the doorway, Alice was smiling while holding what appeared to be a cherry cheesecake.
"See? I bring dessert. Don't shoot."
With a groan, I rolled my eyes and kicked the door shut.
"That's the spirit! I'll just grab some plates and forks!" Alice squealed excitedly. I ignored her enthusiasm and stumbled back to my couch. My apartment was a mess, and normally, that would bother me, especially with company arriving. But I figured they showed up unannounced, and I was in need of antidepressants. So my two best friends could just deal with my mess.
"When was the last time you showered?" Rose glared as she made her way into the living room with wine glasses in hand. She looked around my living room and shot me a glare. "Or cleaned house, for that matter."
"None of your damn business – to both questions. Why are you guys here? Which part of 'I don't have a job and I'm depressed so leave me alone' did you guys not comprehend?"
"We get that you're down," Alice sympathized as she collapsed on the couch next to me and offered me a slice of cheesecake. "But you've had a week to grieve. It's time to get back on that horse, Bella."
"And we are here to….umm…offer you a horse, so to speak. And a glass of wine. Drink up." I took the glass. Rose sipped her own wine as she glanced at my television. "Are you seriously watching Whammy?"
"Shut up," I muttered as I took a bite of cheesecake. I was honestly afraid to look at the scale. I could only imagine the damage I've done in the last week.
"We have a job opportunity for youuuu…." Alice sang in her high, lilting, annoying voice. Rosalie nodded seriously as she poured another glass.
"Is it a teaching job?"
Rose's eyes sparkled. "In a matter of speaking. Kinda. Sorta."
"Don't be picky, Swan. You need a job, don't you? I know someone who is needing help and is willing to hire you. The pay is excellent. Much more than you'd be making dealing with a classroom full of snot-nosed kids everyday. Plus, I gave you a glowing recommendation." Rose knocked back her second glass of wine, and even in my depressed state, I couldn't help but be impressed with her drinking prowess. She drank most men, including her boyfriend, under the table.
"And the best part is you'll be working with a child," Alice smiled gleefully.
"A child? As in one?"
"Yes," Rosalie smiled. "Cutest kid in the whole world."
"Wow. That's high praise coming from you. You don't even like kids," I mumbled as I polished off the rest of my cake.
"Well, I'm biologically required to love him. He's my nephew."
This surprised me. I knew Rosalie had a sibling, but she never really mentioned him, and she'd certainly never mentioned a nephew in the family.
"His name is Riley. He's five years old. Looks like his father, thank the Lord, or I'd seriously have difficulty loving him."
"Why? What's wrong with his mom?"
"How much time do you have?" Rose grunted. "But the long story short is she left my brother and their son for another man. So my brother is trying to raise his kid, plus work his normal hours at Dad's firm…it's really taking a toll. So he mentioned hiring a nanny…"
Ahh. This was suddenly beginning to make sense. I downed my drink.
"I'm not playing Mary Poppins. Forget it."
"Just shut up and listen," Rosalie snapped. "Riley has gone through four nannies in the last month. I mean, these girls have run screaming from the apartment. They don't even leave an address so that my brother can mail them their paychecks."
"I thought you said he was the cutest kid in the world?" Alice's eyes were wide with apprehension.
"Even the cutest kids are pissed when their mothers leave them," I answered automatically, and Rose flashed me a brilliant smile.
"See! You understand that and you haven't even met him. You are perfect for this job. He's not handling this well. At all. Edward is….indifferent. I hated Jessica, but I guess he loved her. But his main concern is his son. Riley just started kindergarten, and he's so smart. But the kid is dealing with a lot, and Edward is working so much….he just needs some stability, Bella. And my brother needs help. Desperately. And you need a job….." She glanced around my messy apartment. "……badly. So what do you say?"
I considered my options. I did need a job. And playing babysitter to a five year old couldn't be that bad. Suddenly, visions of The Sound of Music flashed through my head, and I shuddered.
Doe… a deer…a female deer…
"You could just give it a shot," Alice encouraged softly. "If you last more than a week, you've already made it longer than the others. And you need the cash, although rent won't be an issue…"
My brows creased in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you'd be expected to live there, of course. 24/7. Edward has a high-rise apartment which is completely spacious and unbelievably gorgeous. He has a maid, so no worries there. But you'd have your own room and be waited on hand and foot," Rosalie smiled beautifully, as if being pampered was something I was used to.
"Oh, Rose…I don't know," I groaned. "It all sounds so very Nanny Diaries to me."
"But without the bitchy mother," Rose reminded me. "And I won't lie. Edward isn't very happy right now. But can you blame him? His wife just left him, and his child is running off the hired help. Maybe you can help both of them…"
"I'll stick with the five year old, if it's all the same to you."
Rose squealed with delight. "So you'll do it?"
This was all happening so fast. Did I really want to play nanny? I glanced at my Masters degree hanging on the wall. Taunting me.
"Doesn't your brother want to interview me first?"
"He doesn't really have time to be picky, either. He trusts my judgment. If I say you can handle this, then he believes me."
"But what if I can't handle it? What about all of those other nannies?"
Rose scoffed. "They weren't trained to do this, Bella. You went to college for five years so that you could handle kids and their various situations. You can do this. I know it." She finished off her third drink and glanced at me. "Besides, what do you have to lose….besides reruns of Family Feud, of course?"
It was a job. I could do this – just until a teaching position became available. It was just one kid. One sad kid who missed his mom. But if I couldn't handle this, what made me think I could handle a classroom just like him? If I had a class of twenty kids, they would all have problems of some sort. This could be on-the-job training, and if it didn't work out, I would probably need to consider my career choice.
This was just one kid. And one father.
And a maid.
I could do this.
"You bitches will help me pack, right?"
And with that, two high pitched squeals echoed off my walls.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," I mumbled as I punched the button for the 27th floor. Rose wasn't lying when she said the building was a high-rise. She did fail to mention that my new home was a penthouse. Not that it mattered. From the outward appearance and marbled lobby of Brookstone Towers, I doubted there were any apartments in this building that would be less than spectacular.
What the hell was I doing here?
Oh yeah. I needed a job.
Finding the penthouse was easy enough. The elevator opened right in front of the front door. Taking a deep breath, I readjusted my blouse and smoothed my hair as I exited the elevator. Pulling my suitcase behind me, I tentatively knocked on the door.
"Miss Swan?" A lovely, older woman greeted me with a smile. She was wearing a maid's uniform – pressed and tidy. Her graying hair was in a bun. She was probably in her fifties, and she reminded me of my Grandma Swan. I liked her immediately.
"Yes, but please call me Bella."
"Bella," She smiled warmly as she stepped back. "My name is Carmen. Won't you come in? May I take your coat and bag?"
"No, thank you," I replied as I stepped inside. I saw her face falter, and I was instantly contrite. Perhaps she was required to be hospitable upon greeting visitors? I certainly didn't want to get her into trouble. "I'm sorry. Would you be more comfortable taking my coat and bag?"
"Yes, Miss…I mean, Bella. I'd be happy to take them and then show you to your room before you meet Mr. Cullen and little Riley."
I thanked her as she led me through a long, winding hallway. Not a fingerprint on the pristine white walls. No toys laying around. Just the hallway was meticulously clean. I could only imagine the rest of the house. I looked for any sign of life – any indication that a small child resided here. But every door in the house was closed, and I wondered if that was because Mr. Cullen liked his privacy or because the house was symbolic to their moods. Closed-off. Cold. Unwelcoming.
"Here you are," Carmen smiled as she pulled my suitcase into a bedroom and that was bigger than my apartment's living room and bedroom combined. The bed was covered in a beautiful cranberry comforter and assorted pillows graced the mattress. Other than that, the room was completely bare except for the bedside table and dresser. There were no pictures on the stark-white walls. If the comforter hadn't been on the bed, there would be no color at all in the room.
"I'll leave you to unpack. You'll let me know if you need anything at all?"
"I will," I smiled. "Thank you, Carmen."
"It's so good to have you here, Bella." Her voice was low, as if she was afraid someone might be listening. "I'm so hoping this….works out. For everyone involved."
"Me too. Thank you."
With a warm smile, she closed the door behind her. I sighed as I opened the double doors to the massive walk-in closet. I flipped on the light and began unpacking the week's worth of clothes I brought with me. While Rosalie was confident this arrangement would last, her brother had insisted that I only bring the bare essentials for now.
"Less to pack-up if this doesn't work out," Rosalie had reasoned. "Just go with the flow, Bella. Edward isn't optimistic, but can you blame him?"
Four nannies in one month.
After accepting the position, Rose had given me the lowdown on the babysitters. Two girls had each lasted exactly one week. Deciding gender was the problem, Mr. Cullen had then hired a male nanny. He'd been an older gentleman who had forgotten to place Riley in his booster seat before driving him home from school. Right through a school zone. The patrolling officer had given the nanny a ticket. He, in turn, had handed Mr. Cullen the citation, and Mr. Cullen had shown him the door. The final nanny was a college student. During their very first lunch, Riley had tossed a bowl of spaghetti over the man's head. He had apparently bawled like a baby, and he was packed and gone within the hour.
Rosalie promised that Riley isn't usually a behavior problem. He was just a little boy lost – his mother leaving him behind with a father who worked long hours and wasn't accustomed to being both mother and father to a five year old child. Of course, this child was acting out.
And his father. Would he be relieved to see me? Of course, he was hesitant about this arrangement. He'd hired four others just like me in the past thirty days. I was prepared for that. But would he be cold? Indifferent?
If the appearance of this penthouse was any indication, that possibility was there.
A knock on my door interrupted my mental musings.
"Bella, Mr. Cullen is in his study. If this is a good time for you, he'd like to meet you and introduce you to Riley."
"Of course." I closed the closet door and noticed my reflection in the mirror. Suddenly, I was very nervous. "Carmen, do I look okay?"
"Oh, you're lovely, Bella."
"Thank you," I blushed. "But I meant my attire. I'm not sure what I'm expected to wear?"
She smiled. "Mr. Cullen will explain all of that, but I assure you, casual wear is fine. Unless of course, there's a dinner party or a function in which you're asked to attend. But again, he will explain those things."
Dinner parties? What kind of functions?
I was going to kill Rosalie.
With one last look in the mirror, I followed Carmen down the hall and into the massive living room. The décor was very contemporary and, of course, immaculate. A grand piano rested in a corner that was flanked by windows overlooking the terrace. A plasma screen – at least fifty inches – graced the far wall. Intricate pieces of art were scattered about, and oil paintings surrounded the room. The place was like a museum, and I was literally afraid to sit down on the leather sofa. I glanced around, looking for any sign that a child actually lived here. But there was nothing. No coloring books. No toys. No stuffed animals.
"You look confused," Carmen noted as we made our way toward the study.
"I was just wondering….does Riley play? I haven't seen anything so far that would even signify that a child lives here."
"Mrs. Cullen required Riley to play in his room," Carmen explained, her tone hushed and clipped. It was obvious the sweet maid wasn't a fan of the wife, either. "Playing wasn't exactly encouraged until Mr. Cullen came home."
"Mr. Cullen likes to play with his son?" This surprised me. And encouraged me. "What do they do?"
"Oh, they paint. Read books. Color. Study French."
I stopped in my tracks. "French?"
"Yes. Riley is expected to be well-cultured."
"He's five! He's just learning English!" I snapped angrily and immediately covered my mouth with my hand. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Carmen chuckled. "I agree with you. You are going to be a breath of fresh air around here. I just know it. Here we are…"
Carmen ushered me into the study, another huge room that was lined with shelves full of books and journals. I felt as if I was standing in the middle of a library. I carefully walked around, letting my fingers trail softly against the spines of some of the books in the collection. My eyes flickered to the titles, and I was surprised to see some of my favorites.
I was in heaven, and I could just imagine pulling one from the shelf and hiding in my bedroom for hours as I lost myself in the pages.
His voice was soft like velvet, and I slowly peeled my eyes away from the books and settled them on quite possibly the most handsome man I'd ever seen. His eyes were brilliant emeralds. His jaw was chiseled. His hair was dark and neatly trimmed. He looked tired. Almost apprehensive. But he was still gorgeous.
And did I mention his eyes?
Rosalie neglected to tell me that her brother was sexy as hell.
"Are you okay?" He asked as he closed the book he'd been reading. "You look a little flustered."
Oh, right. I'm supposed to string words together and actually greet this man.
"No, no…I'm fine. And please call me Bella."
"Bella." The way he said my name made me go weak in the knees. "Please have a seat. Riley will join us shortly."
I looked back at Carmen who was trying to hide her smile as she closed the door behind her. I took my seat across his desk and tried to get my hormones under control.
What was wrong with me?
"Thank you," I stammered, and I knew I had to get it together or he was going to question Rose's glowing recommendation. "And thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Cullen. I promise to do the very best I can for your son."
"Well, that would be refreshing," Mr. Cullen acknowledged with a tight smile. "It would be especially refreshing if I hadn't heard that same promise four times during the last month."
"Umm…." I stammered like an idiot. "I understand the last month has been a challenge for Riley."
"You could say that," he replied as he stood and walked over to his window. His eyes gazed out into the Seattle sky. "Rosalie is very fond of you. You came highly recommended. I don't usually hire my sister's friends for…..well, any position."
"I understand that," I nodded.
"You hold a Masters degree from UW?"
"Yes," I answered quietly. "In elementary education."
"Yet you couldn't find employment in one of Seattle's hundreds of schools?"
My heart fluttered in my chest. "No, there were too many applicants and not enough positions."
"Hmmm…" he mused as he turned his penetrating gaze to me once again. My heart began hammering. "Perhaps you didn't try hard enough."
What the hell?
"I was one of two hundred applicants, Mr. Cullen. Supply and demand." My temper was getting the better of me, but his suggestion that I hadn't "tried hard enough" had struck a nerve.
"Applicants must find a way to set themselves apart. Make themselves invaluable to perspective employers. Perhaps you weren't persuasive enough."
What was his deal? Was he trying to piss me off?
My subconscious nagged at me. No. He's testing you. If you can't handle him, how could you even begin to handle his kid?
I took a deep breath and stared straight into his gorgeous, glowing green eyes.
"Mr. Cullen, I graduated Magna Cum Laude. I have quite impressive letters of recommendations from my advisors and professors – all of which I will be happy to share with you. I am a licensed, highly qualified teacher - according to the stupidity of the No Child Left Behind law - and I am quite qualified to play nanny to your son. Give me one week. From what I hear, if I make it any longer than that, I'll officially be your son's longest surviving nanny. If after a week, I haven't run out of here screaming, we can revisit this conversation. You need help. I'm offering to give it. I'll even volunteer my services this first week. If it doesn't work out, you don't even have to pay me. But I would like the chance to prove that I can be invaluable to you…and to your son."
He seemed dazed by my little rant, but I could see a slight smirk play at the corner of his lips. It was amazing how much his face changed with just that small grin.
"Very good, Miss Swan. We have a deal."
I exhaled a deep breath. I was on a roll, why not push my luck?
"And I would prefer you call me Bella….Sir."
"Well, Bella…" he smiled slightly as he stood from his chair and walked around to the front of his desk. He sat on the edge, and I couldn't help but notice how tall and handsome he was. "….you've handled this little interview quite nicely. I think it's time to see if you can handle my son just as efficiently."
"I look forward to it, sir."
"And if you insist that I call you by your first name, I would prefer that you didn't call me sir. That's my father."
"Of course, Mr. Cullen." I was positive he wasn't giving me permission to call him by his first name. Nodding, he motioned me toward the door and led me toward the hallway with the closed doors. He stopped at the room right next to mine and softly pecked on the door.
"Come in," a little voice called out.
Mr. Cullen opened the door, and I was instantly devastated to see that Riley's bedroom looked just like the rest of the house. White. Cold. Unwelcoming. There were toys, and they were all stuffed in the gigantic toy boxes that lined the walls. There were books - all nice and neat and arranged by author's last name on the bookshelf. The comforter on his bed was black. Solid black.
And nestled against the one pillow was the cutest five year old I'd ever laid eyes upon.
"Who are you?"
His voice was pained and just….hateful. I glanced at Mr. Cullen. He nodded in encouragement.
"I'm Bella. I'm your new nanny."
He stared at me for a few moments, and I felt like a science experiment in a beaker. His eyes roamed up and down before settling back onto my eyes.
"Go away," he spat angrily as he pulled the pillow out from under his head and tossed it in my direction. I turned my head as the pillow nearly hit me in the face, and I watched in surprise as it fell to the ground.
I glanced back at the little boy. He was glaring at me with this father's beautiful green eyes, and I immediately understood what was happening here.
This was Riley's test.
How fast could he get rid of the new nanny? How quickly could he scare away this one?
I squared my shoulders and looked at Mr. Cullen. He was watching me expectantly, as if he was willing me to work my voodoo. Wave my magic wand.
Make myself invaluable.
I crouched to the ground, picking up the pillow. I tossed it carefully onto the bed.
"My first rule…" I announced daringly. "….is we don't throw things, unless they are things that can't hurt others."
His eyes brightened. This seemed to pique his attention, excited at the prospect that he could throw something.
"Like what things?"
"Soft things," I replied. "Like popcorn. Or feathers."
"Pillows have feathers…" he reasoned as he climbed upon his knees. I could feel Mr. Cullen's eyes on me.
"That's true," I nodded thoughtfully. "But pillows can sometimes have hard edges, and they could hit someone in the eye. But I think pillow fights are okay. What do you think?"
Riley considered this. "Pillow fights are okay because we aren't throwing them?"
"I think so," I agreed. "As long as we don't hit too hard."
He nodded, effectively ending that conversation.
"Riley…." Mr. Cullen's voice was quiet as he continued to stare at me. His eyes were conflicted, and it immediately made me anxious. Had I done something wrong? I blinked nervously, and his gaze finally turned toward his son. "Mrs. Reed will be here shortly for your piano lesson. Please wash your hands and head to the living room. Bella and I will meet you there."
"Okay." Riley climbed down from his bed and walked toward his adjoining bathroom. He shut the door behind him.
Mr. Cullen's eyes were on me again. "Well done, Bella. That's the longest conversation I've ever heard between my son and a nanny."
"Really?" I was surprised. What was that? Thirty seconds?
"Come," Mr. Cullen motioned toward the door. "I'd like for you to spend the rest of the day with Riley. He's sometimes…a handful….for his piano teacher. Perhaps you will have a calming affect on him. And if not…well…you'll have the chance to see why you're my fifth nanny."
I took a deep breath and followed him into the living room. Mrs. Reed was already there – flipping through sheet music and looking apprehensive and distraught. Within moments, Riley appeared. I watched as Mr. Cullen helped his son onto the bench, and then I watched in horror as Riley pulled the cover down – hard – against the piano teacher's fingers. Her screams sent chills down my spine.
And then Riley turned those blazing green eyes toward me.
And he laughed.
What the hell have I gotten myself into?
Worth continuing? Let me know!