Coloring—that was easy enough.
Then, from around the corner, I heard a grumbling sound.
Claire sighed. “Here comes Little Miss Sunshine.” She turned to me quickly and patted the chair beside her. “Here, Ellie, come sit by me, and remember, don’t take anything personally with Karla. She doesn’t mean it, even if she says it.” She paused. “Especially if she says it.”
“Grandma, I really wish you wouldn’t come stomping into my room like that. It’s so annoying. Plus, I know how to wake myself up for school. I’m not a child.” Karla grumbled as she turned the corner into the dining room. Her limp was very noticeable, but I tried my best to not display any kind of reaction to it. She was dressed head to toe in black and her hair was still dripping wet from her shower, stringy and hanging in front of her face. She mostly kept her head down, and when she moved to the table, she didn’t look up at anyone. She didn’t make one sound.
“Good morning, Karla,” Claire said, walking over to her granddaughter with Karla’s meal and kissing her forehead.
“Whatever,” Karla muttered. She inhaled her food quickly as we all sat there in silence for a moment.
“Karla, this is Ellie, the new nanny.”
She looked up at me slowly, and I felt like a complete idiot because I quietly gasped as she moved the hair partially hiding her face.
Allison had prepared me for them, but still, I wasn’t prepared enough.
They were more intense than I could’ve imagined. They ran from all directions across her skin, but the one that was most noticeable seemed to start at her forehead and slice across her left eyelid, which appeared to be swollen. Her left eye had a red spot near her pupil that seeped into her potent blue stare.
I’d never seen anything like it.
God, her eyes were as cold as her father’s.
“Grrr.” Karla growled, clenching her jaw as she leaned toward me. My stomach knotted up and I wasn’t quite sure how to react, so I just kept staring. Oh, gosh. Staring was probably the worst thing I could do, because Karla kept growling. “Grrr! Grrrr!”
“Karla Marie, knock it off this instant,” Claire snapped at her granddaughter, yet Karla didn’t pull back.
“Grrr! Hisssss! Grrrr!” she hollered, keeping her eyes locked on me.
“Karla, that’s enough,” a stern voice snapped, making my stare move from Karla to her father. Greyson stood in the doorframe wearing his suit and tie with, coffee cup in his hand and his eyes on his daughter. “Quit it.”
“I’ll quit when she stops staring at me like I’m a fucking freak of nature,” she snapped.
“No, I wasn’t…you aren’t…” I started, my voice shaky as ever, but Greyson cut me off.
“Watch your language,” he scolded, and she gave him the most dramatic eye roll I’d seen in quite a while. Truly I hadn’t known eyes could roll so deeply.
“Sorry, Father,” she mocked, standing up from the table. She grabbed her bowl of cereal. “Since I used bad language, I should be banished to my room until it is time to be driven to prison by my servant.” And with that, she left.
Greyson didn’t look my way once, and I didn’t know why I expected him to do such a thing. He walked through the dining room toward the kitchen. From my seat, I watched him pour more coffee into his tumbler before he turned around and walked across the space. He didn’t speak as he walked back through the dining room.
“Bye, Daddy! I love you!” Lorelai said, to which Greyson replied, “You too.”
Then, he was off to work.
“I’m sorry about Karla. I won’t lie, she’s going to be the hard one,” Claire remarked. “I can’t blame her for her hardness, though. She’s been through more than most, though, for the most part, she’s physically handling her changes well. She’s adapted to moving around quite quickly and is pretty self-sufficient. Now, on the emotional front, there’s a bit of struggle. Don’t let her exterior throw you, though. She may act tough, but our Karla has the gentlest heart. She just gets hurt easily. Don’t take her moods personally. She’s working through a lot.”
I smiled. “Aren’t we all?”
Out of nowhere, Lorelai looked up from her breakfast and turned my way. “Hey, Ellie?”
“Are you sure I can’t wear my pajamas to school today? I’m really comfortable, and I think I’ll learn better with them on.”
I laughed. “Probably not, but I can help you pick out an outfit if you want. And then while we’re in your room, maybe you can show me some of your best artwork.”
Her eyes lit up and the biggest smile in the world filled her face.
That smile Greyson was missing?
The one I’d once known?
It lived on the lips of his daughter.
“Okay! Come on!” Lorelai said, leaping up from her seat. She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off to her bedroom to pick out an outfit.
Well, at least not all of Greyson’s children were completely underwhelmed by my existence. One out of two was good enough odds for me.
When it was time to get the girls off to school, I was thankful that Lorelai was so chatty, otherwise the car ride would’ve been extremely silent and awkward. Faithful Lorelai talked and talked and talked about everything and nothing at all while Karla’s head was down and in her phone. Her hair was no longer wet, but she’d straightened it and it hung directly in front of her eyes, blocking her face. A pair of shockingly huge Beats by Dre headphones sat over her ears, and the nosey part of me wondered what she was listening to. The logical part of me thought I should never ask, because I knew she would never tell me.
Unfortunately, my first drop-off was Lorelai, which left me in a car alone with Karla and her grimaces.
When we were about three blocks away from the high school, Karla hollered. “No! Stop here!”
I glanced back at her and raised an eyebrow. “What? Why?”
“No nanny has ever pulled up to the school and dropped me off in the past ten months.”
I laughed. “What? That can’t be true.”
“It is true. The last thing I need is to be embarrassed by having an adult drop me off in an expensive-ass car like a freaking ugly diva and then have everybody watch me limp into the building. It’s high school—everyone’s an asshole, even to the crippled girl. So, if you could please just stop the car,” she ordered, her tone filled with nothing but attitude and sass.
I pulled over to the side of the road and placed the car in park.
I felt bad for her, even though she would’ve hated my pity, but she was just so young and so…angry. I didn’t know much about her because she seemed to mainly keep to herself, and whoever it was she’d been typing nonstop to online. Even when I cleaned her room, there wasn’t much to tell me about the girl who lived in that space. She didn’t have any posters, no books on her shelves, no personality. The room was as cold and distant as the girl who lay her head there.
I wasn’t one to give up easily, though. I’d break through to Karla somehow, some way, even if it took forever and a day to do so.
As she began to climb out of the car, I turned to face her. “Listen, I know people in high school can be jerks, and if there’s anyone who is bothering you, you can talk to me. I can be your safety net,” I offered. “Or I can talk to the principal. Whatever you need, Karla, I’m here.”
She rolled her eyes so hard, I wasn’t sure if she’d ever see correctly again. “Can you not do that?”
“Act like the ‘cool’ nanny. Listen, just because you work for my father, it doesn’t mean you get to act like you know me. We’ve known each other for like, two hours. You’re nothing to me, and I’m sure it won’t take long for my father to find a reason to fire you, too. So, don’t get comfortable. You’re just another temporary thing.”
Without even another breath, she got out of the car and started off in the direction of school, leaving me sitting there completely dumbfounded.
Being a nanny might turn out to be harder than I’d expected with Karla East as one of the children. Being cutthroat was in her nature, and bruising easily was in mine.
We were in for quite a ride, that was for sure.
“What do you mean she growled?” Shay laughed on the other end of our call as I prepped for dinner. I’d been quick to call my cousin, who was nice enough to take her lunch break early to listen to my crazy life.
“I mean exactly that. She growled at me, over and over again.”
“No, no, no. Wait, like a literal growl?”
“Shay, she went grrr! Grrrr!” I attempted to recreate Karla’s beautiful sounds. “Grrrr! Like a freaking lion.”
Shay kept giggling nonstop, completely overtaken by the comedy of errors that had been my morning. At least someone was getting a kick out of it. “I’m not going to lie, I think I really like this girl,” she commented.
“Yeah, well, wait until the day she growls at you.”
“Well, hey, at least you’re working again, you know. It’s just crazy that you’re nannying for Greyson’s kids. I mean, holy crap, Greyson East has children—plural, as in more than one.”
“I know. Isn’t it nuts? They look just like him, too.”
“So, is it still there?”
“Is what still there?”
“The chemistry between you and him from all those years ago.”
I snickered. “You mean that teenage chemistry of hormones and grief? Uh, no. I’m pretty sure I left that in the past with most of my cardigans.”
“I still think you should be rocking cardigans. It was your signature look! No one could pull off those sweaters like you could.”
“Yeah, but you know after they got ruined in my last relationship, I kind of let the cardigan idea go.”