The first chapter is called:
Fourteen years later
Max Hamilton walked into the restaurant and looked around for a quiet, out of the way booth. Finding one in the back corner, he stepped over and waited for his nanny to show up. He’d left the house before her and ran to the hospital for a quick check on a patient.
He looked up when the young waitress came over. “Hi, can I get you some coffee?”
“That will be good. I’m meeting someone, if you can bring two over.”
“Sure, no problem.”
She walked away and he sat there dreading the conversation he knew was coming. One that he’d been avoiding for months. If he could find a way to avoid it altogether, he would.
“I hope you haven’t been waiting long, Max,” Jennifer said as she slid into the side opposite him.
“I just got here a minute ago. Coffee is on the way.”
“Thanks. I don’t have much time actually. I promised the kids I’d get them by ten.” She stopped and looked at her watch. “I’ve got about thirty minutes.”
“We can order as soon as our coffee arrives,” he said, not liking that she was going to rush out on him, too. Never a good sign. “What do you need to talk to me about?”
“Max,” she said patiently. “You know what. You’ve been avoiding me and this conversation for too long.”
He knew it, and hated that she called him out on it, but she’d been the kids’ nanny for years. And she was always to the point, one of the traits he admired so much.
They’d always gotten along so well and he knew this day would come—no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise.
“What can I do to change your mind? You name it.”
“Max,” she said, sighing loudly, then pausing while their coffee was delivered.
“Are you ready to order?” the waitress asked.
“French toast for me,” Max said. He’d been dying for it and he didn’t often get home-cooked food. At least not for breakfast.
“Scrambled eggs and toast,” Jennifer added.
Max watched the waitress write it down efficiently and then head off behind a swinging door.
“I’ll pay you more. Do you want more room in the house? I can redo your suite, add more space. You name it, it’s yours. Don’t leave, Jennifer.”
She reached over and placed her hand on his. “Max, this is hard for me too. I promised you one year and it’s been longer. I love those kids like they’re my own, but I need to leave.”
“Think of the kids then. They’re going to be heartbroken. Do you want to disrupt their lives even more?”
He knew it was a low blow and he was begging, but he wasn’t beyond doing what he needed to assure she stayed. He needed her too much right now.
She laughed lightly and he felt his teeth grind. It was the same little laugh she always gave when he knew he was going to lose. “The kids will be just fine. They’ve adjusted well to the move, and you know that.”
“They haven’t,” he argued. “They hate living here.”
That wasn’t technically true. They just hated riding the bus every day and having all their friends far away from their house on the lake.
“Well, so do I,” Jennifer said. “I hate this cold and I want to be gone before the next winter. I had planned on leaving this past summer and training someone new before the school year started, but you talked me into staying for that. I want to be home by Thanksgiving. I miss my parents.”
He knew she was close to her family and felt bad she didn’t get to see them as much, especially since they were getting on in age. “I’ll fly them here.”
“You know what I mean, Max. I understand why you left New York City. I get it. I get everything you’ve had to do and you gave me more than I asked for to make the move with you. I did it for the kids. They didn’t deserve what happened in their life any more than you did, and I thought coming along would help.”
“It did. It does,” he amended, running out of things to say to convince her not to leave.
“They’re old enough now. They don’t need me as much as you think.”
“Eleven and nine aren’t old. They still need someone.”
How was he going to find someone on such short notice? Thanksgiving was only a month away. How could he do this alone?
“You know what I mean. There isn’t much for me to do during the day. You don’t need a nanny anymore. You need more of a housekeeper, cook, and nanny combined. That’s not me.”
“I’ll hire someone to come in and clean the house.” He was getting desperate. “I’ll get you cooking lessons.”
She laughed out loud and he didn’t care if he’d insulted her. She wasn’t the best cook and he knew it, the kids knew it, and even Jennifer knew it herself.
“I’m sorry, Max. I’m not going to let you talk me out of it this time. I’m officially giving you one month’s notice. I will ask around to see if I can find someone and I’ll help any way I can, but I bought my ticket and I’m going home a few days before Thanksgiving.”
He watched as she stood up. “Where are you going?” She couldn’t just drop that bombshell and leave, could she?
“If I stay here, you’ll only try to talk me out of it.”
“It’s worked before,” he said, smiling briefly. Damn her for seeing right through him.
“It has, but it won’t again. I’m going to pick the kids up from their friends’ house and then we’ve got errands to run and projects to work on. I’ll see you home after you make your rounds.”
She walked away from him before he could say another word. Homework projects, too. This was getting worse and worse. Now he needed someone that could help with that.
A few minutes later their breakfast was delivered, and the waitress started to look confused. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Max said. “She just had to leave. Please give her meal to someone else if you’d like. It’s a cold day out. If you know of anyone in need of food, I’d hate to see it go to waste.”
“That’s very kind of you,” the waitress said. “Actually, we do have a shelter a few blocks away. I’ll just put this aside for them to send over with the leftover baked goods that don’t sell by the end of the day.”
Max frowned. He’d always had a good appreciation for food. “It’ll be cold by then. No, that won’t do. How many beds in the shelter?” he asked, curious.
“I believe ten,” she replied.
“Is it possible to cook up nine more meals and put it on my tab? I can drop it off when I leave if you give me the address and let them know I’m coming.”
“I can do that. Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”
Max watched the waitress walk away. It was nothing for him to do this, something he’d done often in New York.
Food was a simple thing and something that was easy enough for him to do. He’d seen his fair share of homeless and hungry kids during his residency. It wasn’t a sight he’d ever forget.
He dug into his French toast like a starving man, then fought to chew and swallow it past the lump in his throat, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.
He was trying to figure out how so much of his life had changed in the last two years. He never expected to be in this situation, let alone in a different city.
A single parent now, a demanding job, and even though he’d thought the move would slow his workload down, the opposite seemed to have happened. A small tourist town, combined with his reputation, and people were willingly traveling to see him now, using the excuse to vacation at the same time as they recovered. Why he never thought of that before was beyond him.
Still, he couldn’t do it alone. He couldn’t be there for his kids and support them at the same time financially like they were accustomed if he didn’t work. His practice would never survive. He had employees counting on him, too.
His children had already had their world upturned before the move. He’d needed Jennifer on board to create some stability in their life.
He would forever be grateful for her being there over the last eight years, but now he needed to figure out what to do when she left.
He picked up his coffee and took a sip. It was even better here than it was at home. Maybe she was right, maybe he did need to focus on a housekeeper who could watch after the kids, rather than a nanny that hated to cook and clean.
Maybe it was time for a change, even if it was one that was being forced on him.