A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Angusta Ad Augusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas brings his young nieces and nephew to live with him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, local bookstore owner Monique Vasquez continues running her family's bookstore while pursuing a relationship with Jefferson.
"I've got cookies!" Kathy announced, holding up a large plastic Tupperware.
"Wait, are we your grandchildren now?" Frank asked.
"You're never too old for my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies," Kathy insisted, pushing one into his hand.
"Hey," Monique asked, eyeing the large number of cookies and getting an idea. "Can I have a bunch of those?"
She knew it'd be about one and a half weeks too late, but she could still tell Jefferson it was a present for officially getting full custody of the kids.
* * *
The cab pulled up to the curb. Nancy Caliban paid the fare and got out, adjusting her purse strap as she went. She walked up to Jefferson's front door. Fishing through her purse, she located the key he had given her so long ago and used it to unlock the front door.
"Jefferson!" she called. "Jefferson! Sweetie, it's me! It's Nancy! Are you home?!"
She got no reply and decided to wait for him to return. She set her purse down on the coffee table in the den and sat down on the couch. It wasn't long before she had her compact out and was checking her makeup. She then took the opportunity to survey her immediate surroundings, noting that not much had changed since the last time she had been here. True, there were some children's toys around, most of them sitting in a plastic crate in one corner, but those could easily be tucked out of sight.
Eventually, she got up and went to the kitchen for some water. As she was walking back to the couch with her glass, she heard knocking. Looking around, Nancy saw a woman in an elaborate-looking wheelchair on the back patio, knocking on the glass sliding door while holding a bag in her hand. She stopped knocking and stared as Nancy came closer.
"Who are you?" Nancy asked, opening the door.
"I'm Monique," the woman said. "Who are you? Where's Jefferson?"
"He should be back soon. I just let myself in with my key."
As she spoke, she stared at Monique and her wheelchair.
"Okay," Monique said, confused. "Who are you?"
"I'm Nancy," she said. "Jefferson's girlfriend."
Monique was stunned silent, her jaw going slack and her eyes widening.
"I can tell Jefferson you stopped by when he gets back," Nancy offered. "If you want to leave something ..."
She eyed the bag in Monique's hand.
Monique was still unable to speak. Nancy finally had enough and shut the door in her face. She then went back to the couch, turning her back to the door.
* * *
Left outside alone, Monique's face finally began to show some life as she began to sob. While covering her face with one hand, she clumsily steered her wheelchair back across the patio and out the gate. She maneuvered the chair back to the front of the house, where her cab was waiting.
Tears still rolling down her cheeks, Monique stared at the house, trying to make sense of everything that had happened. How could she have been so stupid? Jefferson had slept with married women. Who was to say he wouldn't have had another relationship she didn't know about?
She knew about it now. She tightened her grip on the bag of cookies and, with all the strength and control she could muster, hurled it at the house, sending the contents flying everywhere. She then got into the cab and left, crying again.
* * *
Nancy was still sitting on the couch in Jefferson's house when she heard the key in the lock of the front door. She could also hear voices on the other side, one of which she recognized as Jefferson's. She got up to go meet him.
"But why not?" Abigail was asking as she led the way through the door.
"Because you do not eat cookies that you find lying on the sidewalk," Jefferson told her as he got Presley out of her guide dog harness. "They're dirty."
"What if we washed them?"
"No," Jefferson said as he hung Presley's harness and leash on a hook.
He was expecting a response from Abigail, but the girl said nothing. Neither did Matthew or Taylor. Something was definitely up. Even Presley wasn't scampering around like she usually did when let out of the harness.
"Hello Jefferson," Nancy said with a smile.
Jefferson immediately recognized her voice and his face darkened.
"Who are you?" Abigail inquired.
Taylor and Matthew were still silent, apparently driven to their usual shyness around strangers.
"I'm Nancy," she explained. "I'm a friend of your uncle's."
"How come we never met you before?" Abigail asked, some suspicion clearly evident in her tone.
Nancy seemed to be about to answer when Jefferson stepped in.
"Guys," he said. "Go upstairs to your rooms and play. This lady and I need to talk."
Deciding he wasn't going to be more informative about this strange visitor, the kids headed upstairs with Presley deciding to follow them. Jefferson could soon hear them shutting the doors to their rooms.
"You've got a good handle on them," Nancy observed.
"What are you doing here?" Jefferson asked, ignoring her statement. He knew it was an empty compliment.
"I'm here to see you, Silly," Nancy said. "Where were you for so long? You're usually home around this time."
"I took the kids to the park," Jefferson replied. "Why is that any of your business?"
"I care about you, sweetie."
"We broke up five months ago. You remember that? I definitely do."
"That was a fight," Nancy said in an innocent tone. "Couples fight, then they make up. I've done a lot of soul-searching, and I'm ready to give us another shot."
"Nancy," Jefferson said, "there is no 'us'. We're over. We've been over since my brother was killed."
"You were upset," Nancy said, stepping towards him. "Your judgment was clouded. I can understand that and forgive you for it."
She set her glass down on the small table in the foyer.
"Forgive me?" Jefferson asked, stepping away from her.
* * *
Abigail quietly opened the door of hers and Taylor's bedroom. The two girls crept out and down the hallway to retrieve Matthew.
"Come on," Abigail whispered. "Be very quiet."
Matthew didn't ask what they were doing. He followed his sisters, excited about this adventure.
The three kids snuck over to the staircase and around to the set that led up to Jefferson's bedroom and office. They scampered up a few steps and stayed there. This hiding place allowed them to easily hear everything being said downstairs while remaining out of sight. They listened intently while Presley settled at the bottom of the steps, watching them with interest.
* * *
"Come on," Nancy said. "Let's go out ... just you and me."
"Nancy," Jefferson said, "I don't know if you remember this, but I walked in with three young children just a minute or so ago. I can't just leave them."
"So?" Nancy asked. "Hire a baby-sitter."
"It's more complicated than that," Jefferson said. "How do you think they'll react if I suddenly tell them you're my girlfriend? It's not a change a child readily accepts."
"They'll get over it. Besides, what happened to me being the most important thing in your life?"
"That ended with our relationship. You refused to accept that things had to change."
Jefferson couldn't believe he was having this conversation. What on Earth had prompted Nancy to come back?
"Well, I didn't want the change," Nancy said, sounding angry for the first time. "You threw those brats in my face."
"I did no such thing," Jefferson corrected. "I never asked you to help me with them, just accept them."
"You never asked me about any of it!"
"I asked you when my brother and his wife asked me to become the kids' guardian if anything ever happened," Jefferson said, working to remain somewhat calm while she was losing her cool. "You didn't have a problem with it then."
"How was I supposed to know anything would happen? How often do these things happen anyway?"
Jefferson knew she had a point. He'd said the same thing. But, Nancy didn't need to know this. He seriously hoped that, whatever the kids were doing, they couldn't hear any of this. He did not want them coming downstairs to investigate. He was now kicking himself for not having sent them all the way up to his own room, where they definitely couldn't hear anything.
"And," Nancy went on, "as I recall, you never wanted kids to begin with. I know because we talked about it and agreed on that a long time ago. You can't go back on that now!"
Jefferson was silent. Nancy was right and she knew it. They had had that very conversation a long time ago. Only now, things were different.
"So what's it gonna be?" Nancy challenged. "Me or those three twerps?"
Jefferson didn't have to think about it.
"Leave," he told her. "Leave ... and don't ever come back."
Nancy was stunned, having seriously not expected that answer. She had thought that giving Jefferson the ultimatum would force him to see things her way.
"You ... you're kicking me out?" she asked in shock.
"Yeah," Jefferson said. "Out of my house ... and out of my life. There's no place for you here."
"W ... why? We have so much history. We've always been good together. You wanna throw it all away?"
Jefferson nodded with certainty.
"Yeah," he said. "I think I made that pretty clear last time around. I've got those three kids now. They've already suffered once. I'm gonna make sure they never feel that kind of pain again. You were never able to accept that."
"Well, who would?" Nancy asked.
"A great woman. Someone really special. And being with her makes me realize we never had anything. I'm just sorry I took five years to figure that out."
Nancy began to laugh.
"A special woman?" she asked. "You mean that prop dummy with the talking head who can't even sit up straight on her own?"
Jefferson stopped short, his facial expression giving away his question.
"Yeah, she was here earlier," Nancy confirmed with a sense of glee. "She seemed pretty dumbstruck when she saw me. Probably would have fallen right out of her chair if the straps weren't holding her in place."
"Get out," Jefferson hissed.
"Fine," Nancy said, resigned to the facts in front of her. "Fine, have it your way. But don't ever expect to get me back."
"I won't hold my breath. You know the way out."
"Have fun with your three orphans and your half a vegetable," Nancy remarked as she grabbed her purse and headed for the front door, laughing at her own joke.
"Hold up just one second," Jefferson said. "I want my key back."
"Oh really?" Nancy asked.
She pulled the key off of her key ring and tossed it across the room.
"Good luck finding it," she said with a final laugh as she left the house.
When she was gone, Jefferson locked the front door. He'd find the key later. The important thing was it was in the house and Nancy no longer had it. Too bad he'd forgotten to get it from her the first time around. Maybe he'd change the locks just to be sure this time.
With everything settled down, Jefferson let out a long breath. He sighed with relief as he headed for the kitchen in serious need of a drink.
Then, he heard the sound of a door being slammed shut upstairs, which was soon followed by a second identical sound. Great, He thought as he changed course and headed for the stairs.
He now knew that, during his argument with Nancy, the kids had left their rooms without him realizing it. He wondered how much they had heard.
Presley was waiting for him in the hallway on the second floor, where both bedroom doors were closed. Jefferson decided to check the girls' room first. The immediate silence told him they were either hiding or trying to not make any noise.
However, despite their efforts, the girls couldn't fool Presley, who went right over to the large closet and began sniffing at the crack beneath the door. Taking the hint, Jefferson came over as well and pulled the door open.
Taylor and Abigail were sitting close to one another on the floor, their backs against the wall. They both looked up at Jefferson and he could tell from the way they were breathing that they were on the verge of tears.
"Hey," he told them. "it's all clear now. She's gone."
"Who was that?" Taylor asked.
"I'll explain in a minute. First, we have to get your brother. Come on."
"Was she telling the truth?" Abigail demanded. "Did you really not want kids?"
Jefferson let out a long sigh.
"You guys heard all that, huh?" he asked. "Guess I've got a lot of explaining to do. Come on and I'll tell you everything."
They headed over to Matthew's room, where they found him hiding under his bed. With some similar coaxing, he too came out.
Jefferson took the three kids up to his room, where he had them sit on his large bed. Presley followed them and rested her chin on the edge of the mattress as Abigail began absent-mindedly petting her.
"Okay," Jefferson said, also sitting on the bed and facing his audience. "I'm just gonna assume you guys overheard pretty much everything."
"Who was that lady?" Taylor asked.
"That lady used to be my girlfriend. That was before you guys came to live with me and before I met Monique."
"Why isn't she your girlfriend now?" Matthew asked.
"That's complicated. You see, when I got the call to come and get you guys, she was upset because things were going to change. We had a fight and I told her to leave."
"Was she telling the truth?" Abigail pressed. "Did you really not want kids?"
Jefferson knew this question was coming, and now he had to answer it. He took a deep breath.
"Yeah," he said. "That's what we were fighting about."
hearing movement, he managed to reach out, find, and grab Taylor's arm before she could get off the bed. That had to be the luckiest grab in human history.
"Hold on a second," Jefferson said as Taylor tried to pull her arm free. "Let me finish."
Taylor seemed ready to protest but stopped. She sat back down on the bed and looked at her uncle, as did Abigail and Matthew.
"I thought I didn't ever want kids," Jefferson said. "But, when I heard what happened to your parents and that you guys needed a home, that was the last thing on my mind. You guys are my family and you needed help. That was all that mattered. And you know what? Having you here has been pretty fun, so I was wrong about not wanting kids. I have you three and I wouldn't want to change that. I love you guys."
The three kids looked at him for a long time. None of them were sniffling anymore but they were still quiet.
"Come over here," Jefferson encouraged.
It took an eternal ten seconds before Matthew became the first to move. Abigail quickly followed while Taylor waited another couple seconds before also moving. they scrambled forward to hug him, pushing his back against the headboard in the process. Presley bounced around next to the bed, waiting for someone to be close enough to reach with her tongue.
"I love you guys," Jefferson said as he hugged all three kids at once. "And you don't have to worry. You guys aren't going anywhere and that lady is not coming back ... ever."
"We love you too Uncle Jeff," Taylor said and her siblings echoed this sentiment.
They finally broke apart and the kids looked at him expectantly, wondering what would happen now.
"Hello!" someone called from downstairs.
For one heart-stopping moment, Jefferson thought Nancy was back again. Then, he realized it was Anya, back from the grocery store. Boy had she missed something.
"We'll be right down!" Jefferson called, turning back to the kids. "Go wash up. I've got to make a phone call and then we'll figure out what we'll have for dinner."
The kids got off the bed, finally giving Presley the much anticipated opportunity to lick their faces. As they all headed out of the bedroom, Jefferson went over to his office, intending to make this important call in private.
He shut and locked his office door and sat down behind his desk. He picked up the receiver and dialed Monique's number.
His heart was racing. Monique had come over while he wasn't there and met Nancy. He didn't even want to think about what the latter had said in that meeting, but he knew he had to talk to Monique.
"Hey," the recording for Monique's answering machine said after several rings, "it's Monique. I'm not in right now, so just go ahead and leave a message and I'll get back to you soon."
She sounded so cheerful on that recording. There was a beep and Jefferson began speaking quickly.
"Monique," he said. "It's me. Listen, we need to talk. Something happened today and I need to explain ..."