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 works to run her family's business while recovering from a recent robbery.
Jefferson woke to the sound of his name being called from somewhere in the house. He checked the time.
"10:08 p.m.," the clock's electronic voice recited.
Realizing it had to be one of the kids, Jefferson got up and found his pajamas. He threw them on and went to investigate.
Out in the hallway, he found Matthew coming up the steps. The boy stopped when he saw his uncle.
"What's up Champ?" Jefferson asked, trying to sound casual while his heart began racing. He had to redirect the boy.
"I'm thirsty," Matthew announced. "Could I have some water?"
Relief washed over Jefferson. This problem required a simple solution which could be found far from his bedroom.
"Sure," he said. "Come on."
He took Matthew down to the kitchen and handed him a glass of water. The boy drank it and Jefferson then took him back up to his bedroom and tucked him back in. Matthew was asleep minutes later.
Jefferson returned to his bedroom to hear the sound of ruffling clothing. Amy was getting dressed. He did not know what to say.
"I really should go," Amy said from across the bed. "I ... I need to ..."
She too seemed to be at a loss for words.
"I'm sorry," Jefferson said, standing still. "I never wanted to do this to you ... you or Eric."
The silence told him the mention of his friend and Amy's husband was not welcome at this moment.
"I really need to go," Amy said. She sounded different now, like she was bending down and the bed blocked her voice's otherwise clear path to Jefferson's ear. Jefferson figured she was putting on her shoes.
"I don't know what to say," he tried.
"We can't talk about this now," Amy said, sounding like she was standing up straight again. "I need to think about this. It needs to sink in. And, I really need to get home."
Jefferson couldn't begin to come up with a possible explanation she could give Eric about where she'd been or what she'd been doing, so he didn't try. He just nodded as she put on her jacket.
Their descent down the stairs was silent with Amy leading the way. Presley, who had slept until now, brought up the rear.
Amy grabbed the handle of the front door and paused. Then, she opened the door and walked out without a word, pulling the door shut behind her.
Jefferson sighed, locked the door, and headed back upstairs, Presley still following. The dog would probably be relieved to return to her bed. The last couple hours weren't life-changing for her.
* * *
On Monday morning, Jefferson got out of bed and went downstairs to find the twins already there and ready for school. He made them breakfast just as Matthew was coming down.
"What about me?" he asked, eyeing the twins. "What do I do today?"
"You and I are gonna hang out today," Jefferson told him.
Matthew seemed awestruck by this idea. The twins were too busy talking about their plans for their first day of school to notice ... well, Abigail was doing most of the talking while Taylor seemed to be listening.
* * *
After getting himself and Matthew into some more decent clothes, Jefferson, Presley, and the three kids left the house, the twins still chatting excitedly about what was to come. They had claimed to be old enough to walk to school alone, but Jefferson knew enough not to buy into that theory.
"Let me make sure you get there safely," he said. "You've never seen a city like this before."
Eric met them by the curb in front of the house.
"Morning," he said.
"Morning," Jefferson returned. it took pretty much all of his energy to greet his friend as though nothing was the matter. Thankfully, Abigail was kind enough to step in.
"What are you doing here?" she queried.
"I'm here to walk you guys to school," Eric explained. "Your uncle doesn't know exactly which way it is so I'm gonna help him learn it and then he can take you all by himself."
He looked at Jefferson.
"Isn't that right?" he asked, mockingly patting Jefferson's shoulder.
"Let's go," Jefferson said, not sure how to react at that very moment.
"All right then. Off we go."
As they walked, Eric pointed out various landmarks to Jefferson that were unlikely to change, such as signs, sewer grates, benches, and more. He explained to the kids that Jefferson would memorize all this and that would be how he would then be able to take them to school himself.
"Like this crack in the sidewalk," he said, pointing it out. "I'll bet the city never gets around to fixing it. It's big enough to give Presley there pause and your uncle will then know he's on the right track."
Presley indeed paused at this crack, only continuing when prompted.
Along the way, Jefferson found himself thinking about Amy and what had happened between them. He wondered how it had happened to begin with. It seemed like one minute she was giving him some brochures for a youth soccer program, and the next minute, they were in bed together. How on Earth did that happen? He was also wondering what, if anything, Eric knew or suspected. He hoped he wasn't acting to weird.
Jefferson knew this wasn't as simple as him having slept with his best friend's wife. These things were never that simple. He'd had a crush on Amy ever since he and Eric, then second-year law students, met Amy, then a junior, in the law library, where she was working. While becoming friends with both of them, she'd chosen Eric. Jefferson didn't fault either of them for this outcome, but he did wish things had happened differently.
* * *
The walk to school wasn't a long one, so Jefferson wasn't able to dwell on his thoughts for very long. He needed to listen as Eric was describing the route to him. He snapped back to attention as they approached an intersection. Based on the traffic sounds crisscrossing ahead of him, he could tell the light was red. Eric, who knew his friend could easily figure these things out, didn't say anything as they waited to cross.
Soon, the light changed and they could cross the final intersection before they'd reach the school.
"would you like me to hold your hand while we cross?" Eric asked with a smirk. Jefferson thought about possible comebacks, but he decided to let it go. The girls giggled as they began walking while Matthew had missed the comment altogether.
"here we are," Eric announced once they were across.
The group found themselves among the other parents and kids arriving at the school that morning.
"All right you guys," Jefferson said to the twins. "This is where I leave you. Good luck and I'll see you here this afternoon."
"Bye Uncle Jeff," the twins chorused in unison and hurried towards the school building's front doors.
"Nice," Eric commented. "I'm what exactly?"
"Merely a guide," Jefferson said. "Like with Presley, they shouldn't interact with you when you're working."
Eric rolled his eyes as they turned to head back the way they came.
"You're new in the neighborhood, aren't you?" someone commented.
Jefferson stopped and turned to learn it was a mother who had just dropped off her son and daughter. He could hear her sending them off, her attention briefly diverted. Eric waited, interested to see where this would lead.
"Your family's new here, right?" the woman asked once her kids were heading into the building. "I haven't seen you around here before."
Jefferson couldn't be sure if this woman was flirting with him or not, but at the moment, he had too much on his mind to care. He was sure Eric wasn't going to get him out of this. If there was even a hint of flirtation, His friend was probably enjoying the show.
"No," Jefferson explained. "I've lived here for several years. Those are my nieces. They're new."
He had never interacted much with the families who lived in the neighborhood, so it wasn't too surprising that he was an unfamiliar face now.
"Oh," the woman said. "You two aren't ..."
It took a moment for the implication to sink in.
"No," Jefferson said, wondering if his denial would somehow sound offensive. These days, one never knew.
"We're not together," Jefferson clarified. "My friend Eric is just helping me learn the route."
He could imagine the gigantic grin Eric was trying to conceal. His friend would have a joyous laugh about this later.
"Well," the woman said, "new or not, it's nice to meet you. Your nieces are very pretty."
"Thank you," Jefferson said. "You have a nice day."
He walked away with Matthew and Eric.
"Well," Eric said when they were a block away. "That made my year."
He began laughing. Jefferson let him be, figuring the secret he was holding on to would probably obliterate the man's current joy.
"Who was that?" Matthew asked eagerly.
"Just another parent," Jefferson told him, glad for the diversion. "Don't worry about it. Come on."
"She was cute though," Eric said, recovering.
Jefferson ignored him.
* * *
Abigail and Taylor walked down the hallway together, surrounded by the swarm of their new fellow students. Both were somewhat apprehensive but Abigail was clearly the more excited of the pair.
"Here's my room," she said, pointing the number out to Taylor. "See you later."
She disappeared before Taylor could say anything.
Now alone, Taylor kept moving down the hallway, checking the room numbers against what she had been told hers was. Unfortunately, she felt more alone now than ever before. She didn't even have her uncle to turn to.
Then, to her relief, she found room 11. Her nerves still strong enough, Taylor entered the classroom.
Some students were already there but didn't seem to notice her. She saw the teacher, a young-looking man, sitting behind his desk. He seemed to be checking something on his computer. She made her way over to him.
"Excuse me," she said in a timid voice.
The teacher turned and smiled down at her.
"Can I help you?" he queried.
"I ... I'm Taylor," she said, still nervous. "I'm new here and ..."
Without looking, the teacher snatched a piece of paper off of his desk. He pulled a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket and put them on. Taylor waited as he studied his note.
"Taylor Thomas?" he asked.
"Our world traveler," the teacher said, beaming. "Don't worry, you're in the right place. Welcome. I'm Mr. Wallace, but you can call me Mr. W if you want. Just take that seat over there for now and I'll introduce you to the class when I make my morning announcements, all right?"
Taylor nodded and quietly sat down at the desk he pointed out for her. She felt a bit better knowing she was in the right room and that the teacher was nice.
* * *
Having left Matthew downstairs with a coloring book and some crayons, Jefferson sat in his office, deep in thought. So many things were running through his head, not least of all being his worries about how the girls were doing at school. Though she tried to hide it, he'd noticed that morning how Taylor was apprehensive about the whole thing. Then there was the fact that she was known to suddenly break down in grief over her parents' deaths. All that worried him. Thankfully, Abigail was a bit easier, not that he didn't worry about her as well. He was just glad he didn't have two emotionally unstable kids to deal with.
He was also still thinking about his one-night-stand with Amy. One thing was absolutely certain about it. Intended or not, he'd done something he'd hoped to do for years. She'd lived up to his fantasy, at least until the guilt sank in for both of them a few hours later.
He replayed the previous evening's events in his head. Amy had eaten dinner with them. Then he, she, and the kids had talked before Matthew and the twins went to bed. After that, the two of them talked a bit more, standing in the foyer as she gave him the information about the soccer program. They'd stepped closer and closer to one another. Jefferson supposed he was motivated by the wine they'd been drinking. Neither was drunk, but they were definitely buzzed. With three inches left between them and a four-inch height difference, he'd leaned down and kissed her. Though initially shocked, Amy soon kissed him back, their lips mashed and tongues dueling. When they broke apart, they stared at each other, breathing heavily as their hearts raced. That ought to have been a good opportunity for sense and decency to sink in. It didn't.
"Upstairs?" Jefferson had asked.
"Okay," Amy had replied.
With that, Jefferson fulfilled his dream of bedding Amy Billings, now Nelson. Was his guilt worth it? He knew he'd kept Matthew away from his bedroom for than just wanting to prevent a four-year-old from walking in on two naked adults in post-carnal dozes.
Jefferson sighed. He finally gave up on getting any work done and went downstairs to spend time with Matthew. Very soon, he'd be interviewing candidates for the nanny's position he needed to fill.
* * *
"Okay class," the teacher, Ms. Turner, said. "We're now gonna find a partner and you will work on these math problems together."
Not knowing anyone didn't stop Abigail from getting out of her seat and going around the room. Most of the kids were quickly pairing up with friends of theirs, but she had little trouble finding a girl who did not yet have a partner.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Abigail."
"Hi," the girl replied. "I'm Mallory."
"You wanna work on these math problems with me?"
As the two girls pushed their desks together, Ms. Turner watched from afar. The new student seemed to be fitting in just fine and she was glad for it.
* * *
The phone rang. Monique, who happened to be in the office, hit the speakerphone button to answer the call. Since she was in the room alone and the door was closed, she could do it this way no matter who it was, a method she preferred over using a headset or trying to handle the receiver.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Miss Vasquez?" a male voice asked.
"Speaking," Monique said, not recognizing the caller's voice, though it sounded vaguely familiar.
"This is Detective Brian Casslebeck," the caller said.
"Oh hi," Monique said, remembering the detective. "What can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to give you an update," Detective Casslebeck said. "Unfortunately, there isn't much to report. Since only a small amount of money was taken, we really have no way of tracing it. I'm sorry I don't have any better news for you."
"That's all right," Monique said, though she couldn't help feeling slightly depressed.
"I assume you've spoken to your insurance company about the damage done?"
"Yes, and I've had all my locks changed."
"Well, that's the best you can do in these situations. The truth is that the longer a case like this lingers, the less likely it is that we'll ever be able to catch the guy who did it. In all honesty, I think it was some punk who just got lucky. I doubt he'll come back."
"We'll keep looking," Detective Casslebeck assured her. "I'll let you know if we find anything. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions."
"Thank you," Monique said, though she didn't feel very thankful.
When the call was over, she pressed her head back into the headrest of her wheelchair. She felt numb all over, different from how she usually felt.
True, the thief hadn't gotten much out of his heist. Just the little money that was left in the cash drawer. He hadn't gotten the safe open and he hadn't found Monique's purse. He also hadn't stolen any books. The insurance Monique had put on the store a long time ago covered the minimal loss and the repairs and modifications to the security system. So, all in all, no real harm was done.
But plenty of harm had been done. Monique could still remember how the intruder had come into her room and threatened her. She remembered how he had touched her. Had the police not shown up when they did ... Monique didn't even want to think about what could have happened.
Though she was making no big deal of this in front of other people, it was a very different situation when she was alone. Before heading up to her apartment for the night, Monique was making it a point to double and sometimes triple-check to make sure everything was securely locked up. Nevertheless, she was always worried that the thief would return and she'd had more than one nightmare about the matter. She considered the idea of seeing a psychiatrist but was always putting it off. She was still functioning, and the store was okay, so she saw no need to rush. But, when she admitted it to herself privately, Monique knew she was scared.
* * *
Jefferson heard the doorbell ring. He got up from the kitchen table, leaving his laptop behind. He was sure this was another woman sent by the agency he was using to find a nanny. She would be his fourth interview that day. He hadn't seen much wrong with the first three, but at the same time, he hadn't seen anything really outstanding about them either. And true, two were somewhat put off by his blindness.
Briefly stopping to check on Matthew, who was playing with blocks in the den, Jefferson answered the door to a woman who, according to the information the agency had sent, was in her late 20s. She introduced herself as Anya Motkova. There was no doubt she had an accent and that it was Eastern European, but it wasn't so thick that she couldn't be understood. Her English was clear and she sounded intelligent.
"Come on in," Jefferson said.
Presley was waiting in the foyer, armed with a toy to show the newcomer. Anya Motkova smiled.
"She is beautiful," she said. "She looks well taken care of."
"Thank you," Jefferson said. Though he did pride himself on doing whatever he could to keep Presley, and her two predecessors, as healthy as possible, he did pause to wonder if the compliment was a line to try and win his favor.
"May I pet her?" Anya Motkova queried as Presley danced around her feet.
"Go ahead," Jefferson said. They were at home and Presley wasn't wearing her guide dog harness. It was perfectly okay for her to be a dog.
After a couple pets, Jefferson and Anya Motkova sat at the kitchen table.
"They told me that you are blind," Anya said, taking a flash drive out of her purse. "I brought a copy of my resume on this flash drive."
She gave it to him and he promptly inserted into his laptop. After a quick, automatic virus scan turned up no threats, he was impressed. He opened the document and skimmed it to refresh his memory.
"You're an immigrant?" he asked, quickly scrolling through the resume while his screen-reading software read the text to him via an earphone.
"Yes," Anya said. "I am from Saint Petersburg. I came to America seven years ago to study at the City University of New York ... the Lehman College specifically. I was given a scholarship to study psychology and I took cooking classes for fun."
"Psychology," Jefferson said, slightly confused. "How'd you wind up becoming a nanny?"
"I understood the subject and liked it," Anya explained. "I especially liked the children. But I found that being a professional in the field was not for me. I liked cooking and I still liked the children I worked with during my studies, so I thought to combine the two ... I began working as a nanny and found I liked that."
Jefferson was skeptical, but her resume backed up her statements, so he decided to believe her. Plus, she had already scored points with the flash drive.
"The agency told me you've been doing this for almost three years," he said. "Tell me about your experiences."
* * *
Not needing Eric to show him the route this time around, Jefferson arrived at the school shortly before dismissal with Matthew in tow. He did his best to blend in with the parents who were there to pick up their own kids and found himself running into the woman he had spoken to that morning.
"I never did introduce myself," she said almost immediately. "I'm Linda. Linda Carrows."
"Jefferson Thomas," he said, shaking her hand.
"Our third president flipped around," Linda commented with a chuckle.
"So I've been told."
Jefferson had heard the observation many times before and was indifferent to it.
"Well Jefferson," Linda said. "I have a question. How is it that you've suddenly enrolled your two nieces here and are walking them to and from school with, I presume, your nephew, coming along?"
"It's a long story," Jefferson told her.
"I hope I can get a chance to hear it someday," Linda said with a smile as the first students began trickling out of the building.
Jefferson said nothing to this, sure she wouldn't be so curious if she had a clue about that story's context. Plus, having made three serious mistakes with the opposite gender in the past five years, he'd made the decision to slow down in that area for a while.