I don’t do kids. I know I was one myself once. Technically, that is. But my mom had always said I had an “old soul.” I’d preferred sitting with my grandmother and talking with her friends rather than playing Barbies with the pig-tail crowd. I’d choose a day strolling through antique shops over roller blading every time. My thirteenth birthday party had been to see An English Patient. All my friends snuck over to watch 101 Dalmatians showing in the next theater over.
So if I don’t do kids, why was I chaperoning twenty-six hot, tired, and grumpy fourth graders at the
Zoo? Because my sister’s interview with a new software development firm had been postponed from yesterday to today, and she’d begged me to fill in for her with her daughter Jocelyn’s class. It had seemed like a perfect excuse to delay my root canal. San Diego
“Miss Nichols, Brandon pinched me,” Kara whined for the seventy-ninth time.
I should have stuck with the root canal.
“I’m hungry,” Annarosa whimpered. “When do we get to eat?”
“I don’t know. Ask Mr. Hannigan.”
But Mr. Hannigan was busy. On his hands and knees, he was tying Jocelyn’s shoe while serving as a resting place for three weary students and explaining the difference between African and Asian elephants. “Asian elephants have smaller ears. An easy way to remember is that when an elephant waves his ears back and forth, it cools his blood and acts like air conditioning for his body. It’s hotter in
Africa, so they need bigger ears.”
I’d been watching him all day and had concluded he was a saint. He had the patience of Job. And the looks of Paul Newman. Well, a forty-years-younger Paul Newman.
“Who wants to go into the reptile house?” Mr. Hannigan asked. It was unanimous among the boys. The girls split fifty-fifty. “If you’d rather go with Miss Nichols to watch the meerkats, I hear Shakespeare will be there.”
Six students defected from the reptile line to my meerkat line. Mr. Hannigan was going to pay for this.
“Who’s Shakespeare?” I asked as he pointed on the map to me where we needed to go.
“Don’t tell me you don’t watch Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s the Big Brother of the animal world.”
Mr. Hannigan smiled at me and I didn’t hear any more. If I weren’t careful, I could fall for a guy like him. Except he loved kids and I didn’t. That was a deal breaker in any forever-and-ever-amen relationship.
* * *
At two o’clock we headed for the school bus, taking the long way through
so the see them one more time. I lagged behind, captivated by the two grizzly cubs playing an innate game of tackle-me tag. Bear Canyon
I turned and found Mr. Hannigan’s face just inches from mine. Cute didn’t do him justice. “Oh, you mean the bears,” I said, then giggled like the school girls I’d been hanging around with all day. “Yeah, can I take them home with me?”
“They’d be fun for a while, until they grew to thousand pounds and decided they wanted to eat you for dinner.”
I giggled again. “I guess I’ll settle for a cuddly koala bear.”
“You weren’t paying attention today, were you?”
Busted. During our stop at the Koala Encounter I’d been watching the way his dark hair curled against the collar of his golf shirt, which led me to study the way his shoulders stretched against the confines of the knit fabric, which led to thoughts of being wrapped in those strong, tan arms.
“Koala’s aren’t bears, they’re marsupials. Maybe I should make you stay after school and write that on the blackboard a hundred times?” His voice and smile were teasing. My heart went all gooey, like a fresh-from-the-oven chocolate-chip cookie.
“In all seriousness, thanks for your help today. You’re a natural. Are you a teacher?”
“No way. It’s a calling, and I have an unlisted number.”
He smiled again. My insides gooeyed, again. “What do you do?” he asked.
“Would you believe rocket scientist?”
“You’re too pretty to be a scientist.”
First giggling, now blushing. What would I do next, swoon?
“You have the aura of an artist,” he said with a smile that reached up to his sea-green eyes.
“But the brain of a rocket scientist. Really.”
Most men run screaming for the hills when they hear what I do for a living. Not Mr. Hannigan. Without missing a beat, he booked me for career day in April.
Once all twenty-six kids were seated on the bus, he slipped into the seat next to me. School buses were made for little people. When two adults--especially one of Mr. Hannigan’s impressive size--squeezed in together, their arms and legs couldn’t help but touch. Cozily. Intimately.
“Can I buy you a drink when we get back? It’s the least I can do since you didn’t strangle Nicky when he dropped a worm on your head. I’ve had chaperones bail on me for less than that.”
* * *
A drink turned into two, accompanied by soft havarti cheese atop crunchy savory crackers while sitting on the deck of his condo overlooking the ocean. I didn’t think things could get any better than that. Until he kissed me. Soft at first, testing, then responsive to my urgings for more.
I’m not sure where we would have ended up had the phone not rung. Saved by the bell, I thought, because I was in danger of letting my heart go, even though I knew the only outcome would be heartache. He loved kids. I didn’t. Deal breaker.
“Your sister thinks I fed you to the tigers,”
said, holding out the phone in my direction. “Would you please reassure her that you’re all right?” Chad
I took the proffered phone, ignoring the spark between us when our hands briefly touched. “I’m fine,” I told my sister.
“You were supposed to come for dinner. I have Barrett Davis here. Remember? The guy who is perfect for you?”
Oh, yeah. A match made in heaven. He was a partner at the public accounting firm that serviced my sister’s company and had done very well in the dot-com explosion on Wall Street. He was tall, dark, handsome, and old enough to have already raised his children. My perfect man. “I can be there in twenty minutes.”
“Hurry.” Sue Ellen hung up.
“I need to go,” I told
. “I forgot I’m supposed to help my sister tonight. We’re going through our mother’s kitchen things. She died two months ago. The garage sale is Saturday, and I need to help her price the stuff. There’s a potato masher I want to keep. Sentimental value and all...” The first rule of lying is not to give too much information. I’d blown it and we both knew it. Chad
“Are you free this weekend?”
I looked at the collection of framed pictures hung on the wall. A child in every one of them. Often more than one. I shook my head, said goodbye and let myself out the front door.
I tried not to think as I walked the five blocks to my sister’s house. My feet still ached from traipsing all over the zoo, and my lips still tingled from Chad’s kisses, but I focused on putting on a happy face to meet Barrett.
* * *
My first real date with Barrett was a sunset sailboat cruise on
bay. The second was a limo trip to Temecula wine country. Third was a weekend sojourn to San Diego via private jet and included Broadway shows, five-star restaurants and shopping at Macy’s. Barrett served me the world on a silver platter, and I was enamored. So enamored, in fact, when he dropped to one knee and proposed to me in the middle of LAX after a quick trip to Vancouver, I accepted. New York City
Jocelyn was the first person to notice the three-carat ring on my left hand. “Oh, Aunt Carrie. It’s beautiful.”
Beautiful was an understatement. I thought it blinding
“Can I be your flower girl?”
“You better believe it. What color do you think the dresses should be?”
“Pink with purple polka dots.”
“That might look a little silly. How about lavender?”
“That sounds pretty.”
“Then lavender it is. We’ll go shopping this weekend.”
And we did. Just the two of us. It was the first time I’d been alone with Jocelyn, and I was impressed with what a smart, fun girl she was. She had a little bit of my old soul, but plenty of youthful spirit. We laughed the day away. I got to thinking if I were guaranteed to have a child just like Jocelyn, I might rethink my no-kids policy. But the odds of that were slim to none, because Barrett and I had made a solemn vow to keep our marriage childless.
* * *
I picked Jocelyn up from school for her final dress fitting.
“We’re going to get fitted for our wedding dresses, Mr. Hannigan,” Jocelyn explained. “Mine’s lavender, with a big bow that ties in back, and a matching head band. Aunt Carrie says I look like cotton candy in it, and good enough to eat.”
I smoothed my niece’s blonde hair. I swear she was more excited about this wedding than I was.
“I understand best wishes are in order,”
My eyes met his. They didn’t reflect his words in the least.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, not meaning it either.
“Jocelyn, could you please take these papers to the office for me?” he said, speaking to my niece while his eyes remained locked with mine. “I’d like to talk to your aunt for a minute.”
“Sure, Mr. Hannigan. I’ll meet you by the swings, Aunt Carrie.”
I pulled my gaze way from
and watched her skip down the hallway and disappear around the corner. Silence fell heavy between us. Chad
“I wish we’d had more time together. I think it would have been our wedding you’d be planning right now.”
“It wouldn’t have worked. We want different things.”
“You know that after the few hours we spent together?”
“You love kids. I don’t. Well, I do love Jocelyn, I just don’t want any myself. It was a deal breaker.”
“Who said I wanted kids? I’m around them all day long. I like my solitude at night. That’s one reason I’ve never married.”
“Oh. I just thought...” I looked at the art work on the walls, the fluorescent lights above my head and my toes peaking out from my sandals—anywhere but at
. I was afraid of what would happen if I did. Chad
“Sometimes women think too much,” he said and then turned and walked away.
* * *
The wedding went off without a hitch. “I now pronounce you man and wife,” Reverend Thompson said. “You may kiss the bride.”
He lowered his lips to mine and pressed the softest of butterfly kisses. They held promises of more. A lifetime of more.
We were pulled apart when Jocelyn, in her cotton-candy-purple garb, grabbed each of our hands and twirled is in circles in the aisle. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be a kid. A happy, carefree kid who had just promised to love, honor and be faithful to the love of her life.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Reverend Thompson said. “May I present to you Mr. and Mrs.
The crowd erupted in spontaneous and heartfelt applause.
Chad and I honeymooned at DisneyWorld, which was only the beginning of our happiest days on earth.