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 business while recovering from a recent robbery.
With the rain pouring as though from buckets outside, Jefferson worked to prepare breakfast and lunches for the kids while summoning an Uber on his iPhone to avoid the risk of anyone drowning on the way to school. Problem was, all of Greenwich Village seemed to have the same idea. It had been ten minutes and no driver had accepted his fare yet. Granted, needing the booster seat for Matthew limited the options, but Jefferson thought a place like New York City had the resources to make this work.
"Come on," he muttered, checking his phone again. "Somebody. It's a short trip."
He put the phone back in his pocket just as the twins and Matthew were coming down the stairs. the house was beginning to show the effects of the three newest occupants, who had been living there for almost five weeks now. More coats and shoes had been unpacked and now stood alongside his in the foyer, looking like the attire of dwarves next to the items which accommodated his six-foot, 2-inch frame. Likewise, small, colorful plates and cups stood alongside his in the kitchen cabinets. Two crates of toys occupied corners of the den and it wasn't unusual for him to find a stray toy which hadn't been put away again. The kids rooms were now painted, the walls being blue in Matthew's room and a light purple in the twins'. Only the third floor and the attic remained as they had before Jefferson received the news about Stan and Maggie.
Jefferson had eventually settled on a nanny and hired Anya Motkova. Their agreement included her living in the small bedroom adjacent to the den with its own bathroom, which he'd furnished and affixed with a lock similar to the one on his front door. She'd moved in two weeks ago, abandoning the basement apartment she'd previously occupied in Chelsea. With Jefferson still running the house, her job was to help him as necessary, particularly when his blindness became an impediment, and keep an eye on the kids. Previously, Jefferson had hired a house-cleaning service to help him keep the place neat, but that was no longer necessary with Anya around.
Anya proved to be easy-going, her only requested addition in her new home being a bookshelf as she liked to read when not working. She was easily twice as competent and industrious. She awoke at 5:00 every morning and went out for a thirty-minute jog, showered, and met Jefferson at 6:00 as he was getting his first coffee of the morning. She cleaned and ran errands while others were out and took a nap in the early afternoon. By the time Jefferson and the kids returned from work and school, she was prepared to hear about everyone's day. She also proved to be adept at math, a subject Taylor struggled with, and actually took notes when Abigail recited the foods she did not like. Jefferson wondered who'd been foolish enough to give her up.
"Do we have to walk in the rain?" Taylor asked, eyeing the horrendous weather outside as Anya followed them downstairs.
"I'm getting a ride for us," Jefferson assured her, though his fare had yet to be accepted. This had to be a record.
Having skipped her morning jog that morning for fear of slipping on the wet sidewalk, Anya had prepared breakfast before going to help the kids get ready for school and she now helped corral them towards the kitchen table. Jefferson kept checking his phone, resisting the urge to curse out ... he wasn't quite sure whom to target.
He was surprised when the doorbell rang. He went to answer it and found the visitor was Linda Carrows.
"Hey," she said, stepping into the foyer. "I just thought you guys could use a ride. I've got my minivan, so there's room."
"A minivan in Manhattan?" Jefferson asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't actually use it much. Just for days like this or when I'm traveling outside of the city. Besides, I'm not planning to do any parking. So, you want the ride? Because I've got the room. It's just me and my two munchkins right now."
"Sure," Jefferson said, deciding not to rely on Uber anymore. "That'd be great."
Among the parents of PS 41's student body, Linda was the closest to what he could call a friend. They chatted regularly outside the school and she'd advised him on how to handle several school functions due to occur before the end of the year.
Jefferson was canceling the Uber request when Anya came into the foyer. He didn't miss Linda falling silent upon her appearance. She hadn't met the nanny before, though she knew he'd recently hired one.
"Linda," Jefferson said, "this is Anya, my new nanny. Anya, this is Linda. Her kids go to the same school as the twins and she's being kind enough to give us a ride during this downpour."
In the back of his mind, he wondered if that was still the case. Neither he nor Anya were naive. In part thanks to Eric, they both knew she was smart, professional, blonde, slender, and stood on legs as long as her hair. Rumors had begun circulating in the neighborhood after she moved into Jefferson's home, mainly because she greeted early-morning commuters during her jog. She wasn't flirtatious, just friendly, and her jogging attire wasn't that flattering to the eye. But, the rumors spread and Eric had clarified the situation to Jefferson after meeting her for the first time and later claiming to have nearly suffered a stroke.
"She's every heterosexual guy's and homosexual gal's wet dream," he'd said. "Heck, I'm sure she can turn the heads of some gay guys and straight women as well. Think Jennifer Lawrence in that Russian spy movie. The woman could probably make garbage look appealing and she is living in your house. People are going to wonder if you two have a side arrangement going on."
"We don't," Jefferson replied firmly, "and we won't."
Between Anya's professionalism and his disastrous love life, he refused to compromise the arrangement they had made ... the only arrangement they had made. Plus, the kids loved her and Jefferson did not want to get in the way of that.
Eric had accepted this, though Jefferson suspected he too might have previously wondered if there was something going on between him and Anya. Linda's silence now suggested she too was suspecting the possibility.
"I will go clean up in the kitchen," Anya said, her accent not helping the situation. "It is nice to meet you. Stay safe in this weather."
"Nice to meet you, too," Linda returned and Anya disappeared. She looked at Jefferson.
"My kids are finishing breakfast back at the house," she said. "Want me to circle back in about fifteen minutes?"
* * *
Though her own words indicated she didn't drive often, Linda proved to be a typical New York driver, mainly in that she wouldn't let another motorist get the better of her. Jefferson was thankful she didn't crash or curse as they maneuvered through the dense morning traffic, hampered by the still-dark sky and the continuing rain.
Not that surprisingly, many cars had replaced the usual crowd of parents who walked their kids to school, most of them probably Ubers and Lifts. So letting out the twins and Linda's two kids became almost like an act normally performed by circus acrobats. There were aides outside to help coordinate the traffic, but their apparent lack of experience with such madness made them basically useless. Nevertheless, Jefferson and Linda got their kids to the front doors of the school, where they parted ways with them and hurried to drive away to keep from annoying too many people by holding up traffic. For both, it was the shortest drop-off ever.
"Where to next?" Linda asked as she drove away from the front of the school, her wipers on their highest settings.
"You don't have to," Jefferson told her. "Matthew and I can catch a cab or something from here."
He'd learned about a subway station near the Tate Sunshine Day Care Center and figured he could further avoid the rain by catching a train over to the law school's neighborhood. That'd be easier than trying to get a cab or Uber for that leg of the trip.
"In this weather?" Linda asked. "Yeah right. Come on, tell me where to go next. It's no problem."
* * *
After dropping Matthew off at the day care center, Linda continued by insisting she could drop Jefferson off at the law school instead of letting him take the subway as he intended. He again politely tried to decline her offer, but she again wouldn't hear of it, so he again gave in.
The ride to the New York University Law School buildings was longer than the previous trips, so the pair spoke as she drove. They'd exchanged brief snippets while dropping off or picking up their kids at school over the past few weeks, but this was their first real conversation.
Linda was a divorced mother of two who defined her relationship with her ex as "good love ... better friendship." Her husband was wealthy, so the alimony checks took care of the expenses. Nevertheless, she worked part-time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an assistant curator.
"I need to work," she explained. "I'd go crazy if I didn't have a place like that to go on a regular basis."
This made perfect sense to Jefferson, who didn't need his NYU professorship, even with the kids now in his home and life.
Linda went on to explain that her husband traveled a lot for work, so their custody agreement was based around when he was home. She was thankful he at least made an effort to be a part of their lives, even if he wasn't as involved as much as she would like.
"I have friends who have it a lot worse," she said.
Jefferson couldn't even picture having to share Abigail, Matthew, and Taylor with anyone.
"So," Linda then asked, "what's the deal with you and the Russian nanny? She seems very nice."
Jefferson had both accepted and dread this probe. But, he'd deal with it.
"Nothing," he said, hoping his tone indicated this was true and it was nobody's business.
"Okay. She a hard worker?"
Jefferson was surprised. Apart from Eric, anyone who dared to mention Anya to him never made such an inquiry.
"Absolutely," he said.
"The kids like her?" Linda asked as they stopped at a red light.
"Yes. I can't imagine what would happen if I got rid of her."
"Then, forget about the rest."
Linda and Jefferson exchanged a smile as the light turned green.
* * *
"All right," Linda said, driving through a huge puddle and leaving Jefferson wondering if the van was about to be flooded. "Here we are ... New York University School of Law."
"Thanks very much," Jefferson said, opening his door. "I owe you one."
He grabbed his briefcase and moved to get out.
"It's no problem," Linda said again.
"Then how about I take you out for dinner?" he suggested.
"Why Jefferson Thomas," Linda asked with a sly smile. "Are you asking me out?"
"In a manner of speaking," Jefferson admitted.
Sure, he remembered his personal pact from last month, the one where he'd decided not to date or enter into a relationship for a while. But, Linda wasn't the same as his mistakes. She was nice, unattached, seemed interested in him, definitely loved kids, struck him as intelligent and motivated, and, according to Eric's description, "Not bad looking."
"She could maybe challenge Amy in the looks department," Eric had once said over lunch. "And I'm not even including your new nanny in that calculation. Please never tell Amy I said any of that."
While his short affair with Amy still stung, Jefferson was now able to filter that out and see what Eric meant.
"So there's really nothing going on between you and your nanny?" Linda asked.
"No," Jefferson said, taken aback. He considered withdrawing his invitation for dinner.
"All right then," Linda said. "Dinner sounds nice. I'll call you and we'll work something out."
Jefferson paused for a few seconds, still considering.
"Sure," he said. "Looking forward to it. And thanks again for the ride."
* * *
"Hey Samuel," Monique said. "Go fetch another box for the science fiction section from the back room. The shelves are starting to look a little under stocked."
"On it," Samuel said and headed for the storeroom.
The storeroom was actually the space on the building's third floor, consisting of one large room turned into a labyrinth made of boxes and supplies. It was the only part of her own property Monique did not have access to, her ambulatory taking the stairs and unlocking the door. Her private elevator, installed upon her return from college at Syracuse, only went to her apartment on the second floor. A small lift had been installed to move newly-delivered books into storage or retrieve inventory to replenish shelves. But Monique never saw enough value to get a loan to rip out her current elevator, expand its shaft, and reinstall it. The only occasion for a prolonged stay up there was to do inventory. And how was she supposed to operate her chair while balancing a large box of the latest Game of Thrones volumes on her lap. It just wasn't worth it.
As she watched Samuel disappear between the shelves, Monique thought how the kid had become somewhat easier to work with over the past few weeks. He began to see her less as a disabled person and more like his boss, which made his quick responses to her instructions and requests a little amusing. At least he wasn't treating her like a china doll anymore, though he still had some work to do.
Monique was behind the cash register that morning, where Joan had once again set her up in her standing frame. The nurse would be back shortly after lunch, when she would get Monique down and then drive her over to her physical therapy clinic. Normally, Monique's appointments were in the morning, but one appointment needed to be rescheduled for that afternoon, warranting the change in the routine.
* * *
Jefferson sat in his office, looking out at the rain and trying to decide what to do for lunch. He was not particularly keen on the idea of going out there to get something to eat. But he was hungry and he had another class to teach before he could pick up the kids and go home. Since he wasn't going to rely on Linda giving them a ride back, he had already scheduled an Uber. A driver had accepted the three-stop fare ten minutes ago.
With that done, Jefferson focused on figuring out where and when to take Linda to dinner. True, her last question had stung, but he was getting over it. He did owe her for the ride and he genuinely wanted to pursue this and see what possibilities might come. His designs did not include the idea of marriage, but it'd be nice to have some regular female companionship. His personal pact about the halt on dating was officially abolished.
Jefferson's thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door and Eric entering without waiting for a reply. The smell indicated he was carrying cartons of Chinese food. Eric set the cartons down on Jefferson's desk and pulled up a chair.
"Thought you might not want to go out," he said. "I also wanted to remind you that there are other cuisines besides Italian. Sweet and sour chicken?"
"Thank you," Jefferson said, taking the carton being offered.
"So," Eric queried in a muffled voice, his mouth full of lo mein, "any developments in your love life?"
"Nothing yet. It's kind of hard when you're not married but have kids waiting for you to come home."
"What about the places where you take the kids? Like their school? There's bound to be a few good-looking single moms around."
Jefferson sometimes seriously believed his friend was psychic
"I did ask out this one woman," he confessed. "She's got two kids in the girls' school."
"There you go!" Eric exclaimed. "That's something. That's a start. Heck, it's a 'development'. I know her?"
"The one who thought we were gay?."
Eric shook his head and smiled.
"Not bad," he said. "I mean, she ain't bad-looking, though your nanny is an Olympic gold medalist compared to everyone else on Earth. Black hair, always wears a blouse and slacks, pink fingernails ... do I have that right?"
"Sounds like how you've described her before," Jefferson said.
"Where are you taking her?"
"I have no idea," Jefferson replied with a shake of his head.
"You'll figure it out," Eric assured him. "Just, whatever you do, don't fixate on Italian food."
* * *
By the late afternoon, the rain finally let up, so Monique decided to wait outside for the cab that would pick her up from her physical therapy session. She sat near the clinic's front doors, attracting the occasional stares from passing pedestrians as she watched the traffic.
Her session, though rescheduled, had gone well. In her case, no news was always good news. The only real problem she was having was that she wanted to spend more time in one of the clinic's pools. The facility had two, a heated therapeutic pool and a regular lap pool. Monique was willing to settle for the therapeutic pool just as long as she got to spend more time just moving around in the water. To her, the lack of gravity offered some sense of freedom from her chair, even if she was then confined to the water. She had frequently asked her physical therapist to give her more time and he was promising that it would happen soon, so she now settled for pestering him about the matter every chance she got.
"Excuse me," a voice said, pulling Monique out of her thoughts. "Do you need help?"
It was probably the tenth time she'd been asked this.
"No, thanks," Monique said, pulling up one of her usual responses. "I'm just waiting for my ride home"
She'd been asked this question thousands of times in her lifetime and she always had a response prepared so she would be left alone.
"Oh, sorry," the voice said. "It's just that I walk by this place every day and I've never seen you before, so I wasn't sure if ..."
Monique looked up to see the speaker was a handsome man about her age who was dressed in a dark-gray suit. He seemed friendly enough and Monique decided he shouldn't just be blown off.
"I'm normally here in the mid-morning," she explained. "My appointment was rescheduled."
"That's too bad," the man said. "I was kind of hoping you were a new face here and this would be your regular time."
"Oh, really?" Monique asked, surprised and slightly cautious. "Why's that?"
"So I could get to know you a little bit before I asked you out for dinner or coffee or something," the man explained. "But now you've forced me to accelerate my plans. I'm Brad Myers, by the way."
He didn't move to extend his hand to shake, seeming unsure if Monique could reciprocate.
"Monique Vasquez," she said, extending her own hand as best she could.
Seeming more confident, Brad Myers now shook her hand, though a little too gently for Monique's taste.
"So," he said, "you come here in the mid-morning, right? Meaning you would get out around lunchtime?"
"Yeah," Monique replied, suddenly feeling very hopeful. Could he really be interested in her?
"Then how about lunch?" Brad suggested. "There's a great diner just around the corner."
"Sure," Monique agreed. "That sounds great."
They exchanged phone numbers before Brad insisted he had to run. Monique's cab arrived and she said she had to likewise get going, giving him one more smile before he kept walking.