CHAPTER 2 Living in Lambertville
“Hey lady! Is that your little girl on the jungle gym? She’s stuck at the top and crying!” Sarah snapped out of a light doze when an authoritative voice boomed and a boot nudging her lawn chair broke through a dream. She been dancing over the rooftops with a handsome man just like Mary Poppins when her eyes opened to register nothing but panic on the empty blanket in front of her.
Where was Annie? She shook herself awake and half fell out of the lawn chair only a few hundred feet from the playground as music blared from nearby speakers. Sure enough, her Annie was dangling her feet as a large man tried to coax her down with his own toddler squealing at his ankles as he attempted to climb up to Annie from the outside of the structure.
Sarah gave the man a half-grunt of thanks and apology but failed to even register him with Annie’s precarious perch in her sights. She slipped inside the metal structure and awkwardly scaled about six feet above the wood chips until she was below the girl’s feet.
She eased herself next to the child with her next lunge upward and forced a soft, cajoling tone, “Let’s go, Annabelle, my love.” For a split second, Sarah caught a glimpse of the dramatic sunset that had probably lured the little girl higher.
Annie stopped crying when faced with the teasing her aunt did to get her to bed. Sarah had learned the little girl reacted to scolding just like her dad; she’d either flee or turn into a turtle. Either reaction would be dangerous ten feet off the ground. The soothing tease worked because the little girl giggled when Sarah added, “Climb down a step there and hold onto me like a little monkey, you imp.” Sarah felt every joint in her body tense the moment Annie’s hand shifted from its stiff hold on the bar above her. The child carefully climbed next to Sarah who let go of one hand to position the two year-old into tight comfort.
When she was less than three feet off the ground and with her joints popping, Sarah said again, “Hang on, my little monkey,” crisscrossed her arms around the child and then pulled in her legs to drop with a gentle spring. Her heart was hammering in her chest, and she felt as though she’d aged ten years in the minutes it had taken her to retrieve her niece.
A man with the toddler chuckled at first then stepped forward to admonish Sarah, as Annie buried her face in Sarah’s neck. “You need to keep your eye on that one! She got away too fast.” His condescension made the little girl tense immediately, and Annie began to whimper. Sarah heard the appreciative grunts and murmurs of agreement from other adults in the playground area.
Sarah, frazzled from the long work day and the demands of substitute motherhood twelve hours a day, grouched out, “Yes, it would be so much easier if they were all attached to us by little leashes.” She gestured from the ridiculousness of his child who would not step away from him to Annie who seemed plastered to wild-haired, sweating Sarah. She swayed a bit in relief, “Sorry, there. I’m exhausted, and I’m still half-asleep.” She finally looked up to the irritated man to find the harshly divided features of Jason Lambert frowning down at her. Sarah wanted to choke over being rude to her new employer.
The deep crease seemed to grow along the right side of his face as his anger licked red. “I can see that. You were asleep in the chair in less than five minutes.” He felt satisfied that as she calmed down from her quick but frightening rescue; her eyes filled with tears. “You shouldn’t bring them out when you’re running on empty.” He toned down the scold a bit, but it was still there.
Some other man muttered, “Hey, Jason. Give her a break.”
Any other time, Sarah could have recovered her humor, but she had spent the entire day in his sticky kitchen with no air conditioning being tested by the taciturn head chef and being treated like she didn’t belong in their fancy mansion. She choked when Annabelle shifted to look up into Sarah’s face and ask with a pitiful whine, “Do you really want me on a leash?”
The other man with Lambert laughed, as Sarah regretted her harsh sarcasm with Jason Lambert in the child’s presence. She let her voice warm, “No Annabelle, my love. They do not make leashes for little monkeys like you. I do want you stuck to me like glue for the rest of the evening. It’s so dark here in the country.” She ran a hand down the little girl’s back grateful for no broken bones or hysterics. She turned gracelessly away from the large man and scanned the crowd in the fading light, “Let’s gather your brother and sister back from friends. I should have brought a flashlight.”
As she stepped away she heard Jason Lambert grumble, “Should have stayed in Boston.”
That comment broke the spell of embarrassment; she grumbled back, “I heard that.” Her face colored with the blush of knowing he now watched her find and bring back to the blanket the other two children. He might watch her manage their drink boxes or see the slow droop in her shoulders as she finally sat back again and watched the chimney sweeps dance as her five year-old niece copied the steps madly or her nephew leaned his head on her shoulder and rubbed his face. She finally relaxed into singing all the songs with the crowd after it was truly dark;the hell with Jason Lambert and his judgmental attitude, Sarah thought.
Sarah looked about her as the old movie played in a large bowl-shaped park at the base of a valley between a series of hills. The moon was obliterated by clouds, so the stars were also hidden, and the night felt like warm, blue velvet. She gathered the blanket and the basket, her chair and the children well before the end of the movie afraid they all might sob as the beloved nanny packed her bag and left. They stood at her battered hatchback to see the very end as lightning raced across the hill to the left, her hill, Lilac Hill. She wasn't even surprised when the rain fell in sheets ten minutes after she merged onto the state road on the way home from the community center.
J D Cooper
Author of the Lilac Hill series, The Portia Journal, other novels and countless short stories