So it's been simply forever since I updated. Nothing like being locked in your home with your children and dogs and cats to inspire you to do something besides find the end of Netflix!
Hope you are all well!
When the Dog Bites
Maria snapped the ancient buckles of her carpet bag closed and gave the one and a quarter room apartment a quick look. She had dashed up the steps to pack a few changes of clothes while the mysterious Mr. Lester waited downstairs for her, the stunning Rolls Royce catching the light and the attention of her nosy neighbors.
And probably a few thieves as well.
She herself had barely resisted the temptation to rub her cheek against the car seats and purr. Mr. Lester had made certain to offer her the contents of the mini fridge and the elegant little bar hidden behind an electric wall but she had been terrified to touch anything. Maria had been tempted to stuff some of the fancy refrigerated protein bars into her bag. Even the bottled water looked expensive in its glass bottles as opposed to the underprivileged plastic she was used to.
When they had pulled up to her building, the deceptively flexible Mr. Lester had lept out like a panther, hand hovering vaguely over his right hip, as though he expected to be car jacked immediately.
Maria winced, "I know, but it looks ever so much better on the outside than it does on the inside," she gave him a sheepish smile.
"Normally I would wait for you here, Miss, but perhaps I had better accompany you into the building?"
"Oh, no, thank you, I can manage for myself and I'll be out in a jiffy," she mocked him and started up the cracked sidewalk. Mr. Lester gave her a dubious look but allowed her to sweep past him with smooth steps.
Until she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and almost pitched forward into a concussion. Maria shot him another sheepish smile and wondered if she would ever manage a movie star quality exit...
After shouldering the door open and squish-crunching an inquisitorial cockroach the size of Rhode Island, she headed to her postage stamp room. Maria shucked off the ridiculous clothes and tossed them toward an overflowing hamper before surveying her meager closet. Everything she had come in contact with over the last few hours had been intimidating and overwhelming, her dingy little walls brought her back to a nice musty reality. She was looking hopelessly into the closet for an outfit that said, "professional au pair with her life entirely under control with a dash of erudite and sexy sophisticate."
She settled for a pair of clean but worn skinny jeans with frayed cuffs and the only decent blouse she owned. She paired the ensemble with some ballet flats that had seen better days but looked passable after a quick scribble of brown Sharpie at the toe. She glanced at the mirror and sighed.
She looked fourteen.
Maria tried to water the aloe plant in the corner but when the sink had made a groaning sort of sputter and a brown sort of ooze glugged out she realized that her water must have been shut off. Again.
She hit the bathroom next and dug under the sink for her trusty piggy bank, an empty tampon box, which in her personal experience was an excellent place to hide things in plain sight. Blindly running her hands against the cardboard she grabbed the few remaining paper bills.
Twenty eight dollars. She sighed.
"Bright side, have confidence," she muttered, gathering her toothbrush and a comb and jamming them into a Ziploc baggie that would have to pass for a toiletries bag. "Right, with what this man is paying you might be able to afford water and electricity! Hell, perhaps food that doesn't also have Youtube videos of it being used to repair furniture in a pinch."
Realizing that she was stalling and causing an enormous muscle bound man she was almost certain had a former life as an assassin to wait in the heat she gave the door a good slam, wrestled the lock into submission, and took a deep breath.
"Confidence," she told herself. If she repeated it enough it might come true.
"Uh, Mr. Lester, sir?"
Lester met her eyes in the rear view mirror. He had been visibly relieved to pull away from the curb.
"Yes, um, I know that I said that I just had the one stop but I really think I should check on my uncle. At his...home. I want him to know where I will be for the summer. Could you stop at Lemon Tree? The nursing home on 18th? If it wouldn't be too much trouble?"
"Of course, Miss," he acknowledged, taking a sharp left to reroute them out of traffic.
"I truly appreciate it, I know I should have said earlier and that you most likely have important things to tend to-"
"Mr. Von Trapp instructed me to drive you Miss, anywhere you would like to go."
"Is that what you do? Just drive all day?"
The corner of Mr. Lester's mouth quirked up a bit, "Among other things," he answered, tapping a finger to an earpiece she hadn't noticed before.
"What if I had asked to go to Vegas?"
Mr. Lester gave her a serious but unfriendly stare, "No offense Miss, but you cannot have more than twenty dollars on you if I had to take a guess. We wouldn't last very long in Vegas, unless you can count cards?" he asked, raising a brow.
Maria laughed, he was definitely more than just a driver, international spy maybe? Is this what happened when James Bond retired?
"If I could do that I wouldn't be on my way to nanny for seven children now would I?"
Mr. Lester almost smiled, which Maria took for a full out belly laugh where he was concerned.
"Speaking of being a nanny, can you tell me more about the children? Why do they have such bad luck with other nannies?" Maria asked, leaning forward in anticipation.
Mr. Lester simply tapped the earpiece again and smiled politely. "Best you find that out for yourself, Miss," he tapped a button on his console and the privacy divider began to slide closed.
"I'll just sit back here and talk to myself then, shall I?" Maria smirked at the black wall and worked up the courage to check out the contents of the mini fridge.
Maria took a deep breath, already feeling her heart begin to fill with leaden dread at the prospect of the visit. Her last visit a month ago had been an unmitigated disaster and she hadn't attempted another one since. She was suddenly nine years old, shivering in a shabby dress and clutching everything she owned in a plastic grocery bag. She felt absolutely sick with nerves.
Lost in her own head Maria didn't hear Lester calling her name, "Um, Miss Rainer. We're here," he gestured to the shabby building in front of them before he hopped out of the car, opened her door, and offered his enormous hand as though he was dropping her off in front of the Ritz.
He gave her another serious look, "Would you like me to accompany you, Miss?"
"No! Um, no thank you, sir," she mumbled, twisting her messenger strap into a pretzel.
"Not a sir, at least not to you, Miss."
She gave him a weak smile, "Well then, you must call me Maria then."
"Of course, Miss Maria. I'll be waiting for you whenever you are done with your visit," he gave a wary glance at the building, looking as though he was checking for rogue snipers lying in wait on the roof, "My cell is programmed into that phone that I know the Captain handed you. Use it if you need to. Take your time, Miss Maria."
"Right, thank you. I won't be long," she tossed over her shoulder as she held her head high and pushed the door to the home open, flooding her nose with the stale smell of despair and antiseptic.
Maria skirted her way over to the bank of elevators and pushed the button for the third floor and hummed to calm herself as she waited for the doors to chime open. Resisting the temptation to run back out the door she forced herself into the elevator car and tried to remind herself that she was no longer a lost motherless girl but a woman grown.
It wasn't working.
"Maria! It's so nice to see you, honey!"
"Tabitha, I love your hair! Red suits you!"
Tabitha patted her hair and smiled, "Well, they were out of my shade of blonde at the drugstore and I thought, why not be red for awhile? Makes me feel sassy!"
Maria gave her a smile and leaned into the desk whispering, "How is he today?"
Tabitha snorted, "You know him, he has bad days and worse days and not much in between."
"Why you visit that cantankerous old coot is beyond me! Are you sure he wasn't a Nazi?"
"Oh, he'll hear you!"
"Good!" she shook her red curls, "He doesn't treat anyone right but at least they pay me to listen to him. You on the other hand, well, you're too good for Herr High and Mighty. The way he talks to you, talks about you, calling you a useless child...awfully full of himself for someone who is just a few years away from needing diapers himself..."
"Well, I don't know about all that…"
"I do, and you know I know everything," she grinned, cracking her gum and tapping her temple for emphasis, "But if you just have to have your day ruined, he's down there in the book nook, just back from lunch so maybe you'll at least catch him while his blood sugar is up."
Maria hesitated only a moment before peaking around the door at the lone occupant in the book nook. A frail elderly man with a wizened face and perfectly trimmed silvery mustache reminiscent of Rhett Butler, assuming he had been a fool who never went back to Scarlett and became a vile self loathing recluse with a heavy German accent. He sat facing the wall of shelves, a sour expression of one who had a mouthful of something wretched and no place to spit it out. Maria noticed that he seemed to be swimming in his clothing even more than the last time she had seen him. His hands shook as he brushed the book spines with a twisted twig of a finger.
Maria took a last deep breath before rapping her knuckles against the moulding, "Uncle Franz? May I come in?"
"It's Maria," she called out, pushing open the door and stepping into the room, the smell of moth balls overwhelming her, "Does anyone else around her call you Uncle?" She smiled, attempting a joke to lighten the sudden downpour of tension.
"I wish there weren't any people that called me Uncle. You!," he spat, shoving a book back into the shelf so hard it pushed his wheelchair back an inch or two. "Why are you back? Come to ease your guilty little conscience? Though I told you last time not to return, damn waste of time I don't have left. Just put a check in the mail, if you can manage the check that is," he sneered.
"I-I sent the check, and I shouldn't have any trouble sending more. I came to tell you the good news!" she said with forced cheer as she found a stool to perch on.
"I took a job. Just today actually. It's really rather a funny story, you see I-"
"Got fired again, eh?
"N-no, at least not this time. I-"
"What is the nature of this job?"
"Another nanny job, sir, and the pay is, well, it's much better than anything I have had in the past. I should be able to cover all the bills. For this year at least."
"At least," he snorted loudly, which morphed into a brief coughing fit that sent Maria back out into the hall for a paper cup of water from the cooler. In her haste to offer him the cup she missed a step and sloshed a bit of water onto Uncle Franz perfectly creased trousers.
"Oh! Uncle, I'm so sorry I'll get you a-"
"Don't bother! You're so clumsy you might smother me with the towel, by accident of course. You always were a worthless girl," he snarled, reaching into his pocket and producing a perfectly starched and folded handkerchief.
He began blotting at the spot with a faraway look in his eye, "Not like my Tobias, a good boy. Would have made something of himself, a doctor or a lawyer if he hadn't gotten so sick," he narrowed his eyes at Maria, "You lived though, didn't you? And I got stuck with you after your no good mother decided to get herself killed."
Maria winced at the mention of her mother, "Well, God has given us all talents and all he gave me was music. I'm sure Tobias would have been many things to many people had he had a chance to be," she offered softly, reaching a hand out to pat her uncle on the back and then thinking better of it and pocketing the hand.
"Here you are," Maria slid a post-it out of her back pocket toward her uncle, "I wrote down the address and phone number, where I will be working. They, or rather, he, Mr Von Trapp that is, gave me a cell phone, one that I'm sure will work all the time. If you need anything."
He picked up the paper and adjusted his glasses as he looked it over, "Nanny, eh? Is that what they are calling these days? You said he gave you a cell phone. Finally decided to take a job in the oldest profession," Franz chuckled to himself.
"Of course not!" Maria exclaimed, horrified at his insinuation. "There are seven children. Their father is some sort of shipping mogul, trust me," Maria said, flipping the screen of her phone around so he could see a picture of her boss with a blonde whose legs started right after her chin at a red carpet charity event, "As you can see from the photos on the internet I am certainly not his type-"
"Clearly," he mumbled, scooting his glasses down his nose for a better look. "Looks like an actress."
"She isn't. Believe it or not she is a professor at the university."
"Oh, I prefer the ones who can read."
"Dyslexia does not mean I cannot read, it never did. Besides, I had an interview with him today and a more condescending arrogant man I have never met in my life. I wouldn't go out with him if he begged me."
"Judging by the photograph there it seems they probably have to beg him. Living with him though, aren't you? It looks improper."
"It's not. I don't think he's ever home, hence the need for me. I will be with them, the children I mean, all week but I assume I will return home to the flat on the weekends, if you need me."
"No one needs you," he hissed, crumpling the paper and dropping it onto the ground behind him.
Knowing a dismissal when she saw one Maria turned and fled.
"And you say that the entire chemistry lab caught fire or just the table that Kurt was sitting at?
"Just Kurt's table, Mr. Von Trapp. It was contained quickly but much of the lab material was melted during the incident."
"Fused actually, to the lab table. The chemistry teacher wanted to get a sample as the residue has interesting properties but the paramedics wouldn't let him in his condition. The real damage was done when the sprinkler system activated and soaked the classroom, and the students, and all the classroom materials."
"And the, uh, teacher's eyebrows?"
"The school nurse assured him they would grow back. In time."
Georg winced a bit.
Taking pity on him, Mrs. Fenstamacher tried to say something positive to cheer him up, "You know, Kurt really is a sweet boy, though he does seem to be accident prone. I wouldn't exactly call it malice aforethought, sir. He just seems to court disasters on a regular basis. Rather like that time with the emergency shower or the electrical system in the cafeteria. This time I believe it was simple negligence in that his attention was elsewhere."
"Mmm, elsewhere, as in on the lovely blonde ringlets of Samantha Waterford and not the Bunsen burner in front of him, resulting in the damage done to the lab," Mrs. Fenstamacher sniffed as she slid an itemized bill across the table for Georg to peruse. He rolled his eyes and slipped his checkbook out of his jacket pocket, grateful that Max had reminded him to bring it along.
"Of course…," Georg didn't bother to look at anything but the total. He started to reach into his lapel for a pen but stopped himself.
"The other children? Any accounts to settle, you know, while I am here."
"Liesl is a lovely young woman. Such a talented addition to our theater program. Freidrich gets excellent grades and is a promising athlete, as I am sure you are aware, and your Brigitta is charming, wearing out her library card that one."
"Well that's something. The others?"
Mrs. Fenstamacher sniffed and began flipping pages in her startlingly thick notebook rapidly, "Well, Louisa apparently released an entire tupperware of crickets into 5th period English to cover for the fact that she hadn't completed the assignment. When that plan backfired she apparently purchased fifty alarm clocks and set them all to go off at the same time and then hid them about the school. It took the custodial staff hours to turn them all off. We are certain she must have had accomplices for that particular transgression but she refuses to name names. There is also the matter of the hacking of the school website which displayed a picture of Vice Principal Burress and many of the other staff as villainous characters in the Harry Potter books," she chuckled at that but quickly recovered her sour expression.
"We also have a number of other transgressions that we are fairly certain she committed but are unable to prove that she actually committed. However, she remains brilliant, as you well know, her grades are stellar and we only wish you could convince her to use her considerable talents at some legal activity around the school. Perhaps the chess club?"
Georg squirmed a bit on his small blue plastic chair, certain his arse would be numb for days after this. He rubbed a thumb across his forehead to ease the headache he could feel lurking in the shadows.
"Marta still isn't contributing in class and has to be coaxed to speak aloud."
"She didn't speak for almost six months after her mother passed. Any speaking at all, especially in public, is a positive sign for me."
"Of course, I'll just, um, have a word again with her teacher about reasonable responses from Marta in the future."
"See that you do," Geprg pinned her with a look that had weathered many a titan of the industry but Mrs. Fenstamacher just shrugged. "Shall I just make the check out to the school then?" Georg asked, adding an extra zero to the amount listed on the bill and signing his name with a flourish.
Mrs. Fenstamacher eyed the check with barely disguised glee. "That would be excellent Mr. Von Trapp."
Georg rose from his plastic torure and gave the matron a curt nod, "Until next time I presume?"
"Let's be positive Mr. Von Trapp, perhaps they won't the next time?"
"I highly doubt that, ma'am," Georg said with a wink. "We seem destined to continue these little soirees, do we not?"
Mrs. Fenstacher blushed and stammered, "Well, uh, yes it does seem likely…"
"I shall look forward to it then," Georg shot her a wry smile and opened the door, already celebrating the shortest, and cheapest, ever visit to the principal's office since his children began attending the school.
"Oh. Mr. Von Trapp?"
"You're headed the wrong way, sir," she handed him a piece of paper with a list of names and room numbers. Gorg shot her a confused look.
"Your children's teachers? The parent teacher conferences? You play the key role of 'parent'."
"But I thought we just attended to all of this."
"Oh my no! You have to meet with them all individually of course. See, Miss Grace's class is up first. She will want to tell you all about your sweet Gretl. And then you'll move on to.."
Georg pitched the bridge of his nose as Mrs. Femstamacher droned on through the list of teachers and took his phone out of his pocket to send Max a rude text and another to his personal assistant to cancel everything he had for the remainder of the day.
Georg realized he would be lucky to be home for dinner. At least the nanny that he had hired would have had a chance to get the children well in hand by then.
He looked forward to an uneventful and peaceful dinner.
Next up Maria gets to meet the charming children and they get to meet their match…
As for Georg's peaceful dinner...well you all know about the best laid plans :)