Her face was kind but tight with exasperation. “Please tell me this is the new nanny,” she said flatly.
“I doubt we could convince her to stay at this point,” he said with equal flatness.
He turned to me with a look that I could only describe as shame. But I smiled and reached for Maven.
Surprised, he gratefully handed her over. But when he turned for Sam, it was with thunder at his back.
Sam stopped kicking. His face turned to his father, eyes goggling and little mouth opened as a glob of jam dripped onto the floor and into the flour with a pat. Charlie relieved the woman of Sam and blew past me.
“Excuse me for one second, Hannah,” he muttered before disappearing up the stairs.
I turned back to the older woman, whose face had softened. She brushed an errant hair from her face and sighed, wiping her hands on a dish towel that she slung over her shoulder as she approached.
Her smile was warm, as was her hand when I took it.
“I’m sorry just won’t quite cut it,” she said. “I’m Katie. And you must be Hannah.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” I shifted Maven on my hip and reached for the paper towels. “Whatever happened?”
Katie sighed and walked over to the broom closet, coming back with the tool of the same name. “Thirty seconds, just long enough for Charlie to answer the door—that’s all it takes with these two. I’d just turned my back—I was making roux for a sauce, and you can’t stop stirring, or it burns—and Maven here retrieved the flour I’d just put away. Then, Sammy made thief’s work of the jelly. You know the rest.”
“Yes, I think I do,” I said on a small laugh as I tried to wipe up Maven, though I only succeeded in spreading the mess around. “In Holland, we have a saying that goes, Een kinderhand is snel gevuld. A child’s hands are easily filled. In this case, with flour, I’d say.”
Katie laughed, a friendly sound. “I have to agree. I suppose I should move it off the bottom shelf in the pantry.” Her smile fell when she saw the front of me. “Oh, Hannah,” she said like she’d single-handedly failed me, “what a mess Sammy made. Your sweater!”
I waved her off, though I did grab another paper towel, using it to mop up the excess that had slid a small distance down the knit fabric. “It’s all right. It’ll wash.”
“Well, let me at least get you something to put on that.” She stepped into a small room off the kitchen, returning with a little detergent patch in a packet.
“It’s the least I can do,” she said, going back to the broom. “I’m the cook and housekeeper. Been here since just after Charlie’s wife left,” she said openly and without discretion, catching me off guard. “We had a nanny,” she continued, “but she left last week for a family emergency. Jenny’s about my age, and her widowed sister is real sick. But she left Charlie in a lurch—not quite fair, if you ask me. I’m happy to help out since she’s been gone, but as you can see, I’m not quite qualified.”
Katie motioned to the kitchen with a genial, if not a little deprecating, look on her face. It was just her way, I realized—the openness—and I found I rather liked it.
She sighed and set the broom aside, picking up the bowl from the ground. “Guess I’m starting my cornbread over again.”
I chuckled. “Do you like working here?”
Katie beamed at that. “Oh, I do. Charlie’s a good man even though he works harder than Noah building the ark. He tries; he does. We all see it. It helps that he’s kind and generous. My last boss was a real piece of work.”
“I can relate.” I turned my full attention to Maven, taking care in cleaning her up as she looked up at me with bottomless brown eyes. “And the kids?”
That question elicited a sigh. “It’s been bad since Jenny left. Better than when their mom left but still not great. It’s not their fault, nor is it his. They just want their daddy, that’s all. And Charlie doesn’t have the time he wishes he had to give them. They’re good kids, and Charlie does the best he can.” She closed off the topic as footsteps sounded behind me.
I turned to find a freshly clothed Sammy, slope-shouldered and staring at his feet. Charlie stood behind him, brows low and with a hint of defeat in his eyes when they met mine.
He ushered Sammy forward. “Go on, son.”
Sammy stepped toward me, eyes still down, hands in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he said so pitifully, my heart ached.
I set Maven on the ground, and she toddled over to her father.
I knelt down to get level with Sammy. “That’s quite all right. Just a bit of fun, yes?”