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Authors: Ainslie Paton

Unsuitable

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Unsuitable
Ainslie Paton

 

 

It’s a truth universally unacknowledged, that a
single women in possession of a good job must be in want of a wife.

 

 

 

This story is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places and events that happen are the product of the
author’s vivid imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, places, organisations or people, living or dead is purely co-incidental
and beyond the intent of the author and publisher.  Copyright © 2014

 

 

 

 

Unsuitable

Ainslie
Paton

 

Can they make
trailblazing and homemaking fit, or is love just another gender stereotype?

 

Audrey
broke the glass ceiling. Reece swapped a blue collar for a pink collar job.

She’s
a single mum by design. He’s a nanny by choice.

She
gets passed over for promotion. He struggles to find a job.

She
takes a chance on him. He’s worth more than he knows.

There’s
an imbalance of power. There’s an age difference.

There’s
a child whose favourite word is no.

Everything
about them being together is unsuitable.

Except
for love.

 

 

 

Dedication

 

B is for beta hero and beta readers
and bloody good editors and brilliant proofreaders.  None of which I could do
without.

Unsuitable is for anyone who ever struggled to earn
a place doing work they loved.

 

 

1:       The Break Up

 

Audrey
cried. She wasn’t proud of it. It was the shock. Cameron had been with her from
the start. From those first brain-numbed, endorphin-high, dizzy days and nights
where up was down, sleep was awake, and white was most definitely an alarming
shade of Dijon mustard with a side of green froth.

Audrey
had her first genuine panic attack over the green froth. Cameron knew the green
froth did not mean Mia was dying.

Cameron
knew what to do about the green froth, and about proper nipple attachment and
nappy rash and sleeping patterns and teething and night terrors and controlled
mayhem.

Cameron
knew about crawling, bouncing off furniture, teething, toddling and walking. About
potty training and only wanting to wear a purple, sparkly fairy dress, and
lying on the floor in the middle of a supermarket aisle screaming while wearing
the unwashed purple, sparkly fairy dress. Cameron knew how to make a small, stubborn
child who’d had all her joints stiffened with unfathomable rage, bend to get
into a car seat.

Cameron
knew about tantrums, tricycles and learning to talk. About fabulous lies and
biting, scary monsters and crayon on the wall. Cameron was good with stain
removal and reading
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
, sometimes just one page
of it, over and over and over without committing a serious crime.

And
Mia knew Cameron. Went easy into Cameron’s arms in the morning and told her
secrets and poked her face and smeared food on her. She trusted Cameron to be
there for her when Audrey was at work. Mia loved Cameron, had known Cameron her
entire life. And Audrey worshiped at the altar of Cameron.

So
she cried. Big ugly, snotty, gulping, gut-wrenching sobs.

This
was a lot worse than the green froth, than the sleepless nights, than those
inexplicable soaring temperatures, and the constant checking that Mia was still
breathing.

This
was the worst day of her life.

Worse
than the day her father closed the door in her face, and her mother watched
through the sheer curtain, or when Barrett was late to the clinic and wanted
out of their deal. Worse than the day Mia’s lips went blue. Worse than
returning from maternity leave to find she’d been restructured out of her job.

Without
Cameron, there could be no Mia because it hardly mattered what job Audrey did,
she couldn’t do this alone without support.

And
now Cameron was leaving, so Audrey blubbered. And she didn’t do that as a rule.
She was a planner, not a thrill seeker. She was practical, pragmatic, reliable;
not emotionally unstable. But tears were the only rational response left after
offering more money, less work, more everything, less everything.

Cameron
held out the tissue box. “You’re making me feel such a rat.”

Audrey
reached for the top tissue and took the whole box instead. The one box might
not be enough. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d cried. “I don’t mean
to, but I never thought you’d leave. We’ve been together three years.” Three
years and three hundred milestones, every single one of them enough to turn
Audrey inside out if she’d had to do this by herself. “I don’t know how we’re
supposed to go on without you. We love you.”

“Audrey,
God.” Cameron snuffled into a tissue. “You always knew I’d eventually have to go.”

“I
wilfully forgot that part around about the time you made our lives so
wonderful. I was so lucky to find you, and I can’t imagine what we’re going to
do now.”

Cameron
played with her engagement ring, twisting it around and around her finger. This
was difficult for her too.
But not that difficult
. Moving to London
wasn’t difficult; it was a walk on the Commons, a tube ride. Raising a three
year old alone, when you worked full-time, that was difficult. It was laying
the turf on the rotten Commons, digging the bloody tunnels for the underground,
and hand-making all the Thomas the Tank Engines needed for peak hour.

“It’s
only two years and she’ll be at school,” Cameron said. It was possibly the
singularly least helpful thing she’d ever said after, Audrey, we need to talk,
and, Audrey, it’s time for me to move on.

Audrey
sniffled. “Only.” Seven hundred and thirty days, that was longer than some of
her staff stayed in their jobs before wanting to travel or take sabbaticals or
go volunteering. What happened to staying in your job long enough for a gold
watch, for long service leave? That’d gone the way of the fax machine, of the
camera that wasn’t also a phone, of CD Rom drives and DVD players. Now there
were pens that could print 3D. Now you stayed in your job five minutes and you
asked for a promotion. Or you moved to London to nanny for people who lived in
a ruddy castle.

Audrey
and Mia did not live in a castle. They lived in a very nice bungalow cottage in
a good suburb, with a huge mortgage on it and a backyard that needed serious
reality renovation show attention.

So
what if Cameron was getting her own two-bedroom apartment in her new job. Yes,
it made the guest bedroom she used when she stayed over seem mean, but the
bungalow had Mia in it. The castle, which was probably not actually a stone
building with ramparts and turrets given it was in Belgravia, had unknown
English preschoolers in it, but it might as well have had a moat and ghosts, it
was such a bad scene.

“I’ll
organise a short list for you. All you’ll have to do is interview a new nanny
and pick someone wonderful and it’ll all be fine.”

It
wouldn’t be fine. Mia would be devastated, emotionally disturbed.

“Or
maybe you want to consider kindy, now she’s three.”

Maybe
enough kindys for the waiting list that snaked around the suburb had opened
since Audrey checked—but probably not. She shook her head.

Cameron
was a mind-reader. “Or family day care?” Cameron was following her heart, or
rather following Miles, which was the same thing. Why did she have to love the
only Paddington Bear English boy in the world who couldn’t live without pea soup
weather and warm beer?

Having
Mia cared for with a small group of other children had always been a option but
it didn’t help when Audrey had to work late or travel, so even if she could
find a local family day care arrangement that worked, she’d still need a nanny
for the nights she had to be away. Mia needed someone she was comfortable and
secure with, not a different person every time.

Audrey
blew her nose. “This is really happening, isn’t it? Do I have make-up running
everywhere?”

Cameron
nodded. They both knew it was smarter not to let Mia see them crying. Fortunately
Peppa Pig was attending Edmund Elephant’s birthday party in the other room, and
that was pretty absorbing stuff. Pig noise. Otherwise there would be so many
tears the house might flood. Snort.

Telling
Mia was going to require a strategy. Probably a morning activity with lots of
distractions planned for the remainder of the day to combat horrendous,
meaningless guilt, followed by alcohol to enhance the wallowing. Mia would need
Disney. Lashings of Ariel, Rapunzel, Snow White and Jasmine. There would need
to be quite a bit of singing along with Elsa before either of them was going to
be able to let Cameron go.

 

 

2:       Dating

 

Mia
wasn’t happy about the strangers. It gave her a chance to practise her
whispering. Her whispering needed work.

“Mum,
Cam,” she said, while Audrey was interviewing Jessie. Mia wasn’t easy to ignore
or talk over, and her repetition skills were professional level.

Jessie
was one of Cameron’s hit picks. She smiled at Mia, who had a death grip on the
sleeve of Audrey’s shirt. “Is Cam your favourite toy?”

Mia
gave a violent full body shake. “My nanny. Mine.”

“Would
you like me to be your new nanny?”

Ooh,
Audrey knew what was coming. Jessie might’ve looked good on paper but that was
a rookie move.

“No.”
Mia bashed her forehead into Audrey’s shoulder. “Don’t like you.”

There
it was.

“But
I like you, Mia. I could read you a story.”

There
was a hand flap as Mia said, “Go way,” but Audrey wasn’t quick enough to
salvage her sleeve, the peanut butter fingers were back.

Jessie
smiled. “She’s so cute.”

Mia
was covered in gobs of something sticky, most of which she was grinding into
Audrey’s shirt. She was ornery as an old man with haemorrhoids on a day his
arthritis was playing up. She was wearing her limp, tattered fairy dress over
jeans and a stripy wool jumper. She’d refused to wear shoes or socks. She had pink
highlighter on her face. She looked like an escapee from an old-fashioned
lunatic asylum.

If
that was Jessie’s definition of cute, big tick.

Huge.

“Thanks
for your time, Jessie. I’m interviewing a few people today and I’ll make a
decision by Monday and let you know.” Audrey stood with some difficulty, given
the lead weight of a manic fairy attached to her clothing. She offered Jessie a
hand to shake, and the girl put her water glass in Audrey’s hand instead—awkward.
Perhaps it wasn’t the done thing to offer to shake hands with a nanny
interviewee in your own home like it would be if you were interviewing in your
office. But whoever Audrey hired was going to help raise her daughter, live in
her house, do her shopping, prepare her food, occasionally sleep in her guest
room and be part of their lives. And that help raise her daughter thing, big,
so big—ginormous—so the handshake, the eye contact, the whole vibe of the
person was critical.

Audrey
was parent central evenings for a few hours and weekends. The new Cameron would
be on duty for ten hours a day, five days a week, and longer if Audrey was
travelling. So the new nanny needed to be a special person; not only paper
perfect, with the right skills and experience, but with a slew of personal
qualities that would make them an appropriate influence for Mia in what
everyone said were her formative years.

Of
course, what Audrey really needed was a wife. A wife would know exactly what to
do, to make a household work, to help raise a little girl with laughter and
leniency, with the kind of ninja cleverness that would trick Mia into eating
vegetables hidden in meatballs, and make drinking milk fun.

Someone
who brought to the job a total commitment to forming a partnership designed
around Mia’s needs: singing and playing and learning to talk in full sentences,
playgroup and kindy gym and patting safe puppies in the park.

Someone
who was happy to take direction but had their own initiative that was simpatico
with Audrey’s views. Someone Mia could feel secure and happy with. Who’d wipe
her nose and patch her knees, hold her hand and remind her Mum would be home
soon.

Cameron
had been such a wife, and like any break up getting over her was a messy hell. Not
hiring on the rebound was another problem. Jessie had all the qualifications
needed, all the personal attributes and stunning personal and professional
references. But was she wife material? And only someone who was, would allow
Audrey to be halfway around the country, or cope for a week in a steamy Asian
capital without being out of her head worried about Mia.

Oh
God
.
Cameron. She wanted to weep for their loss in front of Mia and Jessie. How did
women do this when it was their husband who walked out the door, taking their
hopes for a happy family with them? She couldn’t fathom it. It’d been so much
smarter to plan to do without that.

It
was bad enough most of the men at work thought she was a bad mother, not that
they said it, but it was implied Mia would be ‘trouble’ in that pregnant and on
crack before she was sixteen way. Some of the older women thought the same
thing. And they were vocal. They’d done it differently, taken career breaks. Why
wasn’t that good enough for Audrey? How could she take on being a single parent
by choice, wasn’t she worried all the time about leaving her kid with a
stranger, what made her decide to have a child on her own anyway? It was brave,
by which they mostly meant what Esther meant—it was irresponsible, and therefore,
she had no right for it to come easily.

It
wasn’t easy. It was what it was, parenting in the age of digital everything,
where if you were a thirty something career women who’d never found the one, or
even the one to settle with, you did what you had to do to get close to a life
you dreamed of, and hang what anyone else thought.

It
was a haze of uncomfortable judgements, toughing it out and guilty good times. It
was the constant worry the critics were right. Raising a child wasn’t something
anyone should voluntarily step up for alone without a lot of thought. The whole
it took a village thing was probably true. But there weren’t a lot of villages
in the city these days and Mia wasn’t alone being raised by a single parent,
and Mia’s single parent had the economic means to provide the best for her
daughter, even if that meant a much prettier, cleaner fairy dress with the most
amazing detachable wings hung in Mia’s wardrobe, unworn.

And
right now it meant more interviews.

While
Mia coloured in, refusing crayons for the highlighter she’d stolen from
Audrey’s briefcase and Audrey wondered if pink highlighter would come off the
polished floorboards, she interviewed Michelle. Michelle was awesome, she’d
worked as a birthday party fairy as a teenager. Audrey could picture Mia’s
fourth birthday as a fantasy of tiaras and sparkles.

Mia
watched
The Little Mermaid
for an entire fifteen seconds of the
interview with Bethany, and clung to Audrey’s leg for the remaining forty-five
minutes, eyeing Bethany as if she was a black belt in mother trafficking and
would whisk Audrey away with plastic ties on her wrists and feet any minute. Bethany’s
black belt was musical, she was an accomplished guitarist.

Mia
grizzled for most of the interview with Lee, who was also an experienced chef, while
Lee demonstrated exceptional capacity for selective deafness and stoic calm.

And
then there was one to go. By the end of the day, Audrey would’ve met five
highly qualified Cameron approved candidates for the role of Mia’s nanny.

There
was no doubt Jessie, Michelle, Bethany and Lee could all do the job. None of them
so far had the illusive Cameron quality that made them the obvious choice, but
they were all young, highly qualified, star referenced, personable, well adjusted,
sociable, pleasant people Audrey could happily employ.

Cameron
had given two months notice, so there was still time. Audrey didn’t have to
choose from this batch of candidates, though it had taken time to collect these
r
és
umé
s
and ideally the new hire would spend at least a fortnight with Cameron before
she shipped out.

She
watched Mia put one foot on the colouring book and then move it back and forth
across the wood floor. She had to wiggle her entire body, arms out at the side
like a tightrope walker for balance. She had this look on her face that said,
see that, bet you can’t do it. And when it came to replacing Cameron, Audrey
wasn’t sure she could. Part two of the interview process would include a trip
to the park so they could test drive the new relationship, maybe that would
help clarify her decision.

Objectively
this shouldn’t be so hard. She made big decisions with widespread implications
for other people every day with less mental torture. But she’d misplaced her
objectivity about Mia the moment the midwife placed her tiny, squalling body
into her hands. On Monday she had to sign off on making fourteen people
redundant, today she couldn’t be decisive about getting off the couch.

She
checked her watch. Half an hour before the next candidate arrived. Reece was a
certified swim coach, had advanced life saving qualifications including a
Bronze Medallion, excellent references and was older than the other candidates.
Reece would only make the decision harder.

She
sat watching Mia talk to herself about, well, who knew really, it was as if she
saw things other mortals had no access to, and when the phone rang her wish was
granted. A few minutes sanity in the form of Merrill.

“I
was thinking Joe and I would bring Thai around tonight.”

Merrill
was a genius. “I would be your bestest ever friend if you did.”

“You’re
such a crawler. How’s it going?”

“I
want my Cameron.”

“Those
days are over, Aud. Get with the program.”

“Easy
for you to say, when you finally pop a sprog you have duelling grandmas on
hand.”

“Yes,
and someone could get killed in the rush. Have you seen how sharp the elbows on
Joe’s mum are? Could take an eye out. Seriously, how’s it going?”

“They’re
all wonderful.”

“Fantastic.”

Audrey
let a cartoon-like sigh rip.

“Oh.
I see. I’ll bring wine.”

They
rang off and there was just time to negotiate with Mia about washing her face
and hands—dealing with union reps was easier—before the doorbell went.

It
wasn’t the next interviewee though. Audrey stood back from the open door,
wanting to get away from the man outside and whatever he was selling without a
fuss. “No, thank you.”

“Audrey
Bates?”

That
voice, a kind of rumbly resonance, made her stop. She stepped closer to the door.
He was a good-looking young man in a watermelon coloured polo shirt. There were
four steps between them that made her taller, but not by much, he crowded the
doorway in a block out the light way. It wasn’t fair of those companies that
sold house to house to hire someone like him. If she was older, alone and
unused to issuing instructions that other adults habitually obeyed, she might
be intimidated. “Whatever you’re selling, we don’t need it.”

“But
you are Audrey Bates?”

His
voice was like a chocolate coloured Labrador, richly coated and waggy happy. He
was probably an excellent salesman. “Goodbye,” she said, hand to the knob of
the door. She’d close him out. She needed to think about getting a security
screen door.

“I’m
Reece McGovern.”

She
stopped, peered at him. He couldn’t be Reece. Reece was a girl’s name, like Lee
and Jessie, like Reece Witherspoon for goodness sake. Women applied for nanny
positions, not men. Certainly not men who looked like The Hulk with a suntan. In
winter.

“I’m
sorry, what did you say?”

“I’m
Reece McGovern. I have an interview for the nanny job at 3pm with Audrey
Bates.”

She’d
read all five résumés backwards, sidewards and often, how could Reece be a man?
“You’re Reece McGovern?”

He
smiled and he could be the number one salesman, straight to the top of the pack,
billion dollar roundtable, win a trip to the Bahamas. She wanted to be a cocker
spaniel and wag her tail at him. “She spells it with an s.”

“Sorry?”
Very sorry she’d been that transparent. Audrey adjusted the expression on her
face, hopefully exchanging vaguely horrified for the look Mia got when she
suspected hidden carrots in the mincemeat—considered, with a leaning towards grave.

He
cocked his head and smiled again. “Reese Witherspoon spells it with an s.”

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