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Nanny for the Neighbors: Chapter 42


All the noise around the table stops.

Ellen’s lips thin. “Sebastian. Don’t tell me you slept with some poor girl, got her pregnant, and then took her child and went off with the next floozy that looked at you?”

My eyebrows shoot up. Wow. I’ve never been called a floozy before.

I watch Sebastian’s grip tighten on his fork. “Don’t talk about Beth like that—”

“I’m just saying, dear, you can’t be too careful. You’re making a good salary. That makes you very attractive to young women.”

Blood flushes Seb’s face. “Mum—”

I step in. “It’s okay, Seb. I mean, I guess, in a way, Ellen’s right. I am using you for your money.” I smile at his mother. “I’m not his girlfriend; I’m his nanny. Sebastian’s very busy at work right now, and he needed some help looking after Cami on the weekdays.”

Ellen’s mouth drops open. “A nanny?” She asks, horrified.

Steve puts down his cutlery and finally speaks up. “What happened to the mother?” He asks, his voice low.

Sebastian studies his water glass. “We slept together casually just over a year ago, then lost contact. A few weeks ago, she sent Cami to me, and said that she needed me to look after her. It turns out that she was a drug addict, and was entering rehab.”

There’s a very long silence. Cami gabbles happily, poking her hand in her potatoes, then beams across at me.

“And is there a reason you didn’t tell us all of this off the bat?” Ellen asks at last, her voice acidic.

“Because I knew that you’d look at her differently, once you knew,” Sebastian says levelly. “I wanted you to see her as your grandchild before you wrote her off as some addict’s illegitimate child.”

“Well, that’s the truth, isn’t it?” Ellen looks at Cami, distaste all over her face. “Good lord. I suppose that means the mother was shooting up whilst she was pregnant! Is the baby addicted to anything? Are there any…” she shudders in delicate horror, “developmental problems?

Sebastian’s face goes white with anger. “If there were, she wouldn’t be worth any less! How the Hell is her mother’s addiction her fault?!”

“Cami is perfectly healthy,” I step in, smiling as sweetly as I can. “We had her checked out by her paediatrician.”

Cami waves her hands in the air triumphantly, then wipes potato onto Seb’s shirt. He catches her tiny palm and kisses it hard, his jaw tight with anger.

“And why is she here?” Ellen continues, not even bothering to look at me. “Why on Earth would you need a nanny? Really, you’re going to be one of those parents who hire help to look after their children?” She scoffs. “Well, I suppose I understand. It’s probably best that you get someone else to look after her. I doubt you could do it.”

I frown. I don’t like the tone of that. “Sebastian is more than capable of looking after his baby.”

“If he were, dear, then you wouldn’t be here,” she says dismissively. “I personally think it’s an awful thing to do to a child, foisting them off onto some stranger instead of raising them yourself. Even when your father left, I never put you in a creche or hired a babysitter.”

“No,” Sebastian says coldly, “you just shipped me off to American military camps. Maybe you’d prefer if Beth made my child run drills and do hard labour, instead of cuddling her when she cries and reading her story books? Would that be more acceptable to you?”

Ellen’s face flushes angry red. She leans across the table, almost knocking over her wine glass. “You were sent to those camps because you were behaving like a spoiled, violent brat,” she hisses. “That’s hardly my fault. You think I wanted to send my son away?”

“Oh, yes, you seemed heartbroken. You needed to cheer yourself up with a cruise in the Bahamas every time I left.”

“I didn’t have a choice! You were scaring me!”

“I was scaring you?” Sebastian repeats, a vein throbbing in his forehead. “I was a five-foot-two twelve-year-old who liked reading about trains and refused to kill spiders. How the hell did I scare you?!”

“You were so aggressive! You knocked one of Steve’s teeth out for no reason at all!”

“He was shouting at you! You looked terrified!”

“Oh, please, don’t make this about me. You weren’t being some heroic saviour, you were just an angry, violent child. Remember that Emile boy that you beat up?”

Seb frowns. “Emile—you mean Emile White? He was my best friend, I never beat him up!”

“That’s the one.” She turns to me, shaking her head sadly. “He almost broke the poor kid’s leg.”

“I tackled him while we were playing football. He fell, scraped his knee, and got right back up again.”

Ellen’s lips purse. “His mother complained to me that you were bullying him.”

“Well, he must have been some kind of masochist, considering how often he invited his bully over for dinner—”

“I’m just saying. You’ve always had a violent streak. I mean, look at you.” Her lip curls in disgust. “Here we are, trying to have a nice family dinner. I’ve spent all day slaving away in the kitchen. But you can’t even sit and eat for ten minutes without raising your voice at me. In front of your own child, mind you.” She turns to me. “Maybe you should take her out of the room. It’s bad for developing children to see their parents lose their temper like this. It can cause all kinds of trauma.”

I smile through gritted teeth. “Cami doesn’t look particularly traumatised.” We both glance across at the baby. She’s happily playing patty-cake in her potatoes, kicking her legs in her high chair. When she sees us all staring at her, she squeals with laughter and flops face-down onto the food tray. Seb gently pulls her upright, cleaning off her cheeks, and she looks at him with complete adoration.

Ellen sniffs. “Well. It’s only a matter of time. If I were you, I’d keep a close eye on my son. He can control himself for the most part, but it only takes one little incident. Honestly, with his anger management issues, I can’t help but worry about whether or not he’s a suitable parent at all. I’d hate to see something… happen to the child.”

My mouth falls open. There’s a loud, sudden crack. I jump, turning to see Sebastian holding his shattered wine glass by the stem. His grip was so hard, he accidentally crushed it to pieces. His face is white with horror as he stares down at the glass shards on the tablecloth.

For a second, no one says anything.

“Excuse me,” he mutters, pushing back his seat and almost running out of the room.

“And, there it is,” Ellen sighs, watching him go. “It’s been, what, fifteen minutes? If he can’t last that long without breaking my glassware, I don’t see how he can handle a child.” She sits back, crossing her arms over her chest. “If I were you, dear, I’d think seriously about calling the authorities, and informing them of this behaviour. I know it’ll put you out of a job, but it’s what’s right for the child.”

I slowly put my cutlery down, taking a deep breath. “What’s wrong with you?” I ask quietly.

She blinks. “What?”

“What’s wrong with you?” I repeat. “Why would you imply that Sebastian will hurt his baby?”

She sniffs. “Because I know him, dear. I know what he’s like.”

I snap. “You don’t know him! For his entire teen years, you shipped him away!”

“He was an aggressive child. We couldn’t handle him.”

“You should’ve! You don’t fix pain by ignoring it or beating it out of someone! When a kid is hurt, you don’t punish him for it.” I shake my head. “You know, most studies show that behavioural boot camps are actually damaging to young children? Military camps, like the one you sent your son to, focus on physical punishment and forcing complete obedience, instead of giving the child the therapy they need to make correct decisions.” She opens her mouth, but I interrupt her. “And I can tell you for a fact, there is no behavioural correctional residential that would take a kid every holiday for six years straight. If it takes that long, it obviously isn’t working. Which either means that you were paying the programme off, or you sent him to an unregulated camp—in which case, you were putting your son in real danger. Kids have died at unauthorised behavioural residentials. They’ve been physically, mentally and emotionally abused. But you didn’t care, did you?” I wave around at the walls. “You know what I think? I think you were stuck in a relationship for over a decade, and when you finally got a divorce, you wanted your old life back. You wanted to be single and unattached again. You wanted dates, and parties, and expensive holidays. So you sent your own child away, over and over and over again, just so you could mess around like a woman in her twenties, instead of a mother with a son who needed support. He’d just lost his dad! Of course he was going to be angry! If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be human!”

There’s a footstep in the doorway. Sebastian stands watching me, a dustpan in his hands, his eyes dark. I know I should shut up, but I can’t. I feel like I’m on fire. Back when I was in care, I saw hundreds of children get abandoned by their parents. Parents who’d promise to visit on weekends, but never show. Parents who’d offer to take their kids out on their birthdays, then cancel last minute. Parents who swore they still loved their children, but treated them like inconveniences.

And it’s not fair.

Ellen gapes at me. “Don’t speak to me like that! You have no idea what he was like—”

I cut her off. “I know that he was a kid, and you punished him for his emotions. You punished him so badly, he’s still scared to feel things. For God’s sake, the man practically had a panic attack when I asked him to burp his baby. You’ve made him believe he’s some kind of a monster, when really, you were the one treating him like utter shit. Sebastian is a perfect father to Cami. He’s been adaptable and loving and gentle with her. He’s not a bad parent. The only bad parent here is you.

I break off, breathing hard.

No one says anything. Steve and Ellen’s faces are slack. Sebastian is leaning against the doorframe like he needs it to stay upright. In the middle of it all, Cami’s falling asleep with mashed potato all over her cheeks.

As the seconds pass, embarrassment starts to rush through me. What the Hell is wrong with me? This whole trip was about building a relationship between Cami and her grandparents, and I just ruined it. I ruined it.

My chest suddenly feels too tight. My cheeks are burning. My throat swells. I have to get out of here.

I take a step back, almost tripping when my foot tangles with the leg of my chair. “I. Um. Could you please tell me where your bathroom is?” I croak.


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