Authors: G. J. Walker-Smith
Adam somehow managed to keep eating with the dead weight of a sleeping child in his arms. “Are you sure you don’t want anything?” he asked. “I’ll share.”
“No thank you.” I huffed out a long breath. “Your mum cooked tonight. I won’t be able to eat again until Wednesday.”
“I’m sorry I missed it.”
It had to be the fiftieth time he’d apologised in as many minutes, and judging by the grimace on his face, he was beginning to annoy even himself. I moved quickly to change the subject. “You look tired.”
He abandoned the frown in favour of a sly smile. “Not too tired.”
I smiled back. “How was work?”
“I don’t want to talk about work.” The frown set in again. “How was your day?”
Adam never talked about his job. I wasn’t even sure what he did during the long hours he spent at the office. I never pushed for an explanation. I knew he was unhappy there, and I also knew that as long as we were in New York he was never going to admit it to me. As a result, we had a lot of conversations that danced around the subject.
“It was okay. We spent the morning at Ryan’s making cake, had a quiet afternoon and then headed to the palace for dinner.”
Adam pushed food around his plate. “Dad gave you a hard time?”
I shrugged. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
I could see the tension in his jaw. “I don’t know what his problem is.”
“I do,” I volunteered. “You married her.”
Tired as he was, his dark blue eyes shone as he smiled across at me. “A mistake, you think?”
“A massive error in judgement,” I confirmed. “You’ll never amount to anything now.”
Adam reached for me. “You’re wrong, Charlotte.” He kissed my hand and then kissed the top of Bridget’s head. “I’m pretty sure I’ve reached great heights.”
After eight months of taking care of Bridget during the week, Mrs Brown was starting to become unreliable – and always at the last minute. Keeping up with Bridget was hard, and it was becoming more and more obvious that sweet old Mrs Brown just wasn’t up to the task any more.
“We need to find someone else, Charli.” I slipped my phone into my pocket. “Mrs Brown isn’t working out.”
“I know,” she agreed, kissing the top of Bridget’s head as she passed. “We’ll sort it out.”
If Charli had a plan, she wasn’t sharing. She was heading for the door as if our childcare problem didn’t exist.
“Stop right there, blondie,” I ordered.
She dropped her grip on the door handle and turned back. “I’m going to be late.”
“I’m already late,” I replied.
“Me too,” added Bridget.
Both of us looked across at the scruffy girl at the table eating breakfast. Some mornings we were organised, and some mornings we weren’t – like today. There was a puddle of milk on the table, Bridget was still wearing pyjamas, and even from a distance I could see oatmeal in her hair.
“One of us has to stay home.”
“I would love to.” Charli’s smooth tone would’ve sounded completely believable to Bridget, but I knew better. “But I have a meeting at nine.”
I didn’t even need to put my argument forward. There was no way I could swing a day off.
“He owes you a day, Adam,” she added. “You’ve worked late all week.” I shook my head but didn’t reply, mindful of little ears. “Fine,” Charli huffed, changing tack. “We’ll resolve this like adults.”
Scissors, paper, rock probably wasn’t the most adult way to settle who’d stay home, but that’s how we decided. Charlotte won because Charlotte always wins, but Bridget was confused by the result. “Who’s the winner?”
“Your daddy is,” she replied, grinning at me. “You’ve got him for the whole day, Bridge.”
“I just love that winner!” she squealed, whacking her spoon on the edge of the table.
Bridget scored the first kiss. I got one in the dying seconds as Charli was leaving. Even in heels, she had to stretch to kiss me. She wasn’t the least bit apologetic so I stood tall, making access difficult. “I love you both,” she said, straightening my tie.
As the front door closed, I looked across at my newly acquired sidekick, wondering how the heck I was going to tie the day together. I had a mountain of work waiting for me at the office, and not getting it done would mean another night of working back late.
“Bridge, what experience do you have in drafting stock purchase agreements?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I like giraffe stock.”
I smiled. “Perfect. You’re hired. Let’s go.” She clambered off the chair before asking where we were headed. “You can come to work with me today.”
She took off down the hall, heading for the bathroom. If her excitement had anything to do with spending the day with giraffes, she was out of luck. The only animals working at my office were lions and the odd snake.
I usually spent the long elevator ride up to the office in silence, daydreaming of all the ways I could tell my dad to shove his stupid job. This morning was a little different. There’s nothing silent about a little girl protesting at having her hair brushed. “Stand still,” I demanded.
“I can’t stand still,” Bridget replied. “My feet need to move.”
I shoved her hairbrush into her backpack, admitting defeat. “You look like a street urchin, Bridge.”
I watched her through the mirror, sweeping her messy hair from her eyes. “Yes, I do,” she proudly agreed.
A bell chimed and the doors opened onto the forty-third floor, home of the law offices of Décarie, Fontaine and Associates.
I firmly held Bridget’s hand as we walked through the reception area, successfully ignoring Tennille’s disapproving stare as we passed her desk.
“In here, baby,” I said, leading Bridget through my office door.
I had no clue how I was going to occupy her for the day. Bribery was my best bet. “If you’re a good girl I’ll take you out for lunch,” I offered, closing the door. “Anywhere you want to go.” I was prepared to endure a meal of chicken nuggets if necessary.
Bridget was loud and fidgety and had no place in a law office, but she did look the part as she dumped her little backpack down on my desk and took up residence on my chair. Perhaps her outfit had something to do with it. After getting her showered, dressed and semi presentable, she had made me wait ten minutes while she raided my closet for a tie, settling on a blue silk number that she claimed matched her pink boots nicely.
She grabbed one end of her tie and flapped it at me. “Can you tie it better, please?”
I spun the chair so she was facing me. “Is a Windsor knot okay?”
“No, I need a girl knot.”
I looped the tie around her neck. “A girl knot it is.”
There must’ve been something wrong with my technique. She asked me to redo it, and I obliged as if I had nothing better to do with my time. My father stormed my office a moment later to remind me otherwise.
I wasn’t worried about bearing his wrath. As long as Bridget was in the room, I was untouchable. She scrambled off the chair and ran to greet him. “
Dad scooped her up at the last second, saving them both from certain collision. I reclaimed my chair.
“Why are you here today, my love?” He sounded calm and cheerful, but wasn’t. “Little girls don’t belong here.”
Bridget picked up the end of her tie and waved it at him. “Yes I do. I have a tie.”
Dad glared at me. “Your mother could watch her if you’re in a bind,” he suggested. “Call her.”
“She’s fine, Dad,” I muttered. “She brought plenty of toys to keep herself occupied.”
The mention of toys reminded Bridget of her backpack. She wriggled free of her grandfather, rushed back to my desk and upended the whole lot, scattering severed doll parts everywhere.
For Dad, it was the last straw. “Call your mother,” he demanded, exiting the room.
“Poor Papy,” said Bridget, piling onto my lap. “He’s too busy to play with us today.”
It would’ve been logical to call my mother to babysit. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Any time spent with my daughter was precious, even if it was spent trying to stop her rifling through my desk.
I pulled her hand free of the drawer and closed it – for the third time in as many minutes.
“I need something in there,” she insisted.
“What do you need?”
Bridget replied as if it was a silly question. “All the things that are in there.”
It should’ve been a conversation that annoyed me, but it wasn’t. I was more pissed at the prospect of having to do some actual work. I leaned back in my chair, resting my hands behind my head while I plotted my next move.
“Look,” I said finally. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“I love deals!” She bounced on the spot. “I just love them.”
“You’re in luck then.” Her bright blue eyes widened as I pulled open the top drawer of my desk. “You can have one thing in here – anything you like.” I glanced inside and instantly regretted the offer – she was likely to choose the stapler. I continued negotiations anyway. “All you have to do in return is sit quietly and let me get some work done.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when she made a grab for the calculator.
“Do we have a deal, Bridge?”
She nodded too many times to be believable. “Yes, a lovely deal.”
With the exception of the quiet chatter directed at the pile of dolls spread out on the floor in front of her, Bridget kept to our arrangement.
She was still distracting me, but it wasn’t her fault. Hearing her narrate emails to Ryan as she typed them up on her calculator was far more entertaining than anything I had going on.
“I love today, Daddy,” she said out of the blue.
“Me too.” I meant it.
“Can we go home now?”
I glanced at my watch. Skipping out early would earn me a two-hour lecture from the king the next day. On the plus side, he might fire me at the end of it.
“Yeah,” I replied, closing my laptop. “Let’s get out of here. We’ll go to the park.”
Playing in the park and chicken nugget lunches were always going to trump mind-numbing hours in the office, but that hadn’t always been my mindset. Having Bridget changed everything. I’d learned to find joy in small things, and my daughter was the ultimate small thing.
Her take on the world was just as left of centre as her mama’s, only louder. She was bright, sweet and unintentionally funny – and by far the greatest gift Charlotte had ever given me.
We slipped out of the office stealthily, turned onto Broadway and just kept walking. I had no idea where we were heading, and Bridget didn’t seem to care. Her focus was on more important things, namely her plans for the rest of the day. “We need to go shopping,” she told me.
I tightened my hold on her hand as we waited for the crosswalk light. “Why, Bridge?”
“I have too much money.”
Spoken like a true Décarie
, I didn’t reply.
“My bag is full of paper money,” she added.
The light turned green but I stood firm, much to Bridget’s annoyance. “We can go now,” she said, tugging on my hand.
“Wait.” I slipped her backpack off her shoulders. “Show me where the money is.”
She pointed at the front pocket. I nearly choked when I unzipped it. It was stuffed to the brim with fifty dollar bills. Working hard to keep the alarm out of my voice, I questioned her about it.
“Papy gave them to me,” she explained.
She shrugged. “All the time.”
I was livid. Charli and I went to great lengths to keep Bridget grounded and unspoiled, which wasn’t easy to do while living in Manhattan. Having her grandparents undermine us didn’t help. Mom did it in the form of toys and clothes. I had no idea Dad was corrupting her with cold hard cash.
I wanted rid of it, and I didn’t care what she spent it on. As far as I was concerned, it would serve my father right to find out that his money had been blown on frivolous junk.
I zipped the bag closed and reached for Bridget’s hand. “Let’s go.”
Anger determined my pace as we crossed the road, which was unfair. The second I realised that Bridget was skipping to keep up with me I stopped walking. Ignoring the fact that I was loading my daughter up with hundreds of dollars on a public street, I hooked her bag over her shoulder and picked her up.
“What do you want to buy, Bridge?” I asked.
Her eyes bored into mine while she thought it through. “A treasure map,” she finally replied. “One that squirrels can’t read.”
Every ounce of anger I felt dissolved in an instant. It was going to take more than a pile of money to taint her. No matter how much Décarie my kid had in her, the Blake part of her always shone through.
Art is subjective. What some consider sheer perfection is unappealing to others. My boss, Bronson Merriman, was subjective too.
Many people disliked him. He was loud, animated and insulted someone every time he opened his mouth. I, however, adored him. He was kind, generous and extremely supportive of up-and-coming photographers and artists. Those traits explained why he hired me to do a job that I was nowhere near qualified to do.
“Passion for art cannot be taught,” he told me during our first meeting in Melbourne. “You have it here,” he put his hand to his heart, “and here,” he added tapping his temple.
Not all his words of wisdom were as insightful, but all were memorable. He once told Adam that his mother should’ve cut out his eyes and bottled them at birth. “Cobalt blue is my favourite Wedgwood colour. They should be kept in a gallery and admired by all.”
Adam hid his horror well, but he did make me promise never to let him near Bridget. He’d also never been back to the gallery since.
Bronson knew his people skills were zilch. As a result, I handled most of the sales and had recently been entrusted with the task of buying new pieces for the gallery. It was a very big deal, and I always gave my best – a far cry from the girl I used to be. There’s a certain confidence that comes with knowing you’re on the right path. I was headed in the right direction. The tricky part nowadays was keeping Adam from wandering off course.