DONNY GOT off the bus and turned right, like his GPS was telling him to. The address was 3479 Blueberry Lane. Blueberry. He smiled and shook his head. When he’d first seen the ad, he’d thought it was a joke.
And a gay one at that.
He’d been interviewed for more jobs than he cared to count, and the only silver lining he could find was that at least he was now an expert at being interviewed.
When he got to 3479 Blueberry Lane, he’d expected it to look like a clone of its neighbors. But it didn’t. This one looked like someone had taken the time to do some planning before it had been built. It was beautiful. He couldn’t see anything in the fenced-off backyard, but the flower beds weren’t quite as neat and tidy as most on the block, and there was a little shovel and a pail sitting in the dirt. Of course, kids would do that to your lawn, leave you with no time to care about what was actually growing in the beds.
He made sure he was all tucked in and that he didn’t have anything stuck in his teeth before he headed up the walk and knocked on the door. There was a bell, but if there were little kids, there was always the chance they were sleeping, and he didn’t figure it would endear him to anyone if he woke the wee ones up.
“Just a second!”
Someone inside screamed, “No! No! No! Daddy Jeff. No!”
Then there was a crash, followed by the wail of an infant.
He hesitated for no more than half a second before he tried the door; they clearly needed help in there.
A dark-haired little boy came squealing toward him, naked, screaming, covered in what looked like marker, followed closely by a man hopping on one foot, blood dripping from the hand wrapped around the foot in the air. “Robin! Robin, are you okay?”
“No baths! No! No!” Bright blue eyes, filled with tears, met his. “I drawed!”
“I can see that. You know what the problem with no baths and using yourself as paper is?” The boy shook his head. “You run out of places to draw too quickly!” Donny looked past Robin to the good-looking, bleeding man and gave him an empathetic smile.
He got an exhausted grin, a mouthed “thank you.”
Robin frowned, chewing his bottom lip. “Daddy Jeff. Want bath. Now!”
“Okay, Robin. Okay. Let me grab your sister.” The man let go of his foot, and blood sprayed. “And a paper towel.”
“I-I don’t even know you. You—”
The baby started screaming at the top of her lungs.
“Watch the glass. The bathroom’s this way.”
“I’m Donald Gleason. I’m your three o’clock nanny interview.” He lifted Robin up over the glass as he followed Daddy Jeff down the hall.
God, blood was getting everywhere.
“Sit,” Donny ordered when they got to the bathroom. It wouldn’t kill the little one to cry for another moment as her father got his foot wrapped.
“I need to get Kimberley.”
“Daddy Jeff, you got blood everywhere,” Robin said, eyes wide.
The man sighed. “Yes, Robin, I know.”
“Sit and let me doctor that,” Donny said. “You’re not going to calm her down if you’re flustered.” He grabbed a washcloth, ran it under the water, and then wrung it out. He handed it to Robin. “I’ve got a really important job for you—can you hold this against Daddy Jeff’s foot while I find a Band-Aid?”
“I can. I’m big.” Robin beamed, bounced over, and placed the cloth on Jeff’s foot.
Donny got the child lock undone and found the gauze and the Band-Aids, then grabbed them and handed them over to Daddy Jeff. Jeff. He relocked the cabinet. “Just keep holding that there, Robin. I’m going to get your sister.”
He heard Jeff telling him he didn’t have to, but he followed the wails upstairs into a little room, half-painted, half-decorated, with the most beautiful, tiny, dark-haired baby in a crib, screaming her head off and kicking furiously.
“Well, hello there, beautiful.” He picked her up and leaned her against his shoulder, bouncing her a little. “Don’t you have a good pair of lungs?”
She hiccupped, sobbed a little, her baby head bobbing.
The bath water was running, Robin lecturing his father about temperature very firmly. “You have to make it right. Mommy says not too hot.”
“I won’t make it too hot, Robin.”
Donny hid his grin in the little girl’s hair. “Looks like things are almost under control here.”
“Hey, man, it happens. That’s why you’re advertising for a nanny, right? I’ll change her, and then you can hold her while I doctor your foot. Then we’ll get Robin de-markered. In the meantime”—he turned to Robin—“why don’t you get in and see how much water that tugboat can take on before it sinks?”
“Nice save.” Donny chuckled and set the little girl on the changing table in the corner, making quick work of her diaper. “What’s this beauty’s name again?” It was something with a K, he thought.
Jeff stood and limped to the linen cupboard to retrieve a fresh washcloth. The bathroom was well-appointed, fancy and fabulous and marble, and incredibly not kid friendly. All that marble would be hell on falls and bumps. While there was a lock on the medicine cabinet, there wasn’t one on the toilet.
“What a lovely name for a lovely girl.”
He took the washcloth when Jeff gave it to him and cleaned her up, got a new diaper on her. “Sit back down, man, and I’ll give her to you, get that foot checked out. And Robin can tell me all about this boat you took him on.”
Robin was laughing and splashing, making a mess and generally ignoring him, which worked too.
Jeff sat on the toilet, held his hands out for the baby. God, the kids looked just like him, both of them.
“This looks pretty deep. You should probably keep off it.”
“Yeah. He broke a lamp, and it just shattered.”
“You probably don’t need stitches or anything, though.” He smiled at Jeff. The man was good-looking.
“I don’t. It’ll heal. It has to—I have to work tomorrow.”
“I’m the head chef at Dejeuner.”
The restaurant was a famous enough Ottawa spot that Donny’d heard of it, though he couldn’t afford to eat there. “Wow, that’s cool. What’s your wife do?” He finished wrapping and used a clip to keep the gauze in place before settling back on his haunches to look up into Jeff’s face.
“I’m not married.”
Jeff shifted Kimberley, and the baby gurgled. “This has got to be the weirdest interview for you ever.”
“It’s more like a trial by fire than an interview, eh?” Donny grinned up at Jeff, patted the baby on the butt, and turned his attention to Robin. “And how about you—are you ready to help me show your daddy that I know how to do bath time properly?”
“Yes!” Water went flying, the little boy as joyous as he had been hysterical. It was a beautiful thing about that age: emotions were big and swift, and bad moods were usually easy enough to take care of. Even when the “terrible twos” lingered into the threes.
Laughing, he wiped the water off his face. It was too bad he hadn’t brought along a change of clothes. He would next time. If there was a next time; he was hoping like hell that he was proving his worth right here and now.
Between the two of them, they got Robin clean, dry, dressed, and sitting at the kitchen table with a snack of apples and cheese. Jeff fixed Kimberley a bottle and then offered him a tired smile. “Would you like some coffee? Water?”
“I’m good, man. I can feed her if you want, while we do the interview.”
“It’s okay. You’ve helped a ton already. Come on, let’s sit at the island, and you can tell me about yourself.”
“Sounds good. This is a gorgeous kitchen,” Donny added as he sat on one of the stools next to the island. Of course, Jeff was a chef—it made sense he had a great kitchen. This one was bigger than most kitchens Donny had seen, though. A table big enough for six sat next to a large window that opened onto a covered porch, which held another table with four chairs around it. The island was fabulous, but the corners hadn’t been covered and would probably do some damage to a little head if it careened into them.
The counters were light marble, and the cupboards were dark with gold knobs. A double oven sat next to the stovetop, and the fridge had one of those ice dispenser things. There was a door out to the porch. The whole thing was bright, and while it was fancy, it was inviting to sit in, and he’d bet to cook in as well.
“Thank you. I had it built just last year.”
“Must have been hard with a little one underfoot.” He gave Robin a grin, the little boy munching away on his apple slices.
“Oh, they just moved in… three weeks ago? Kimberley was only nine weeks old.”
“I thought she looked little-little.” This was clearly not your standard family here. The kids were definitely Jeff’s—they looked too much like him not to be—but Jeff wasn’t married, and they’d only moved in a few weeks ago. “I’m not prying, but I do need to know the family situation if I’m going to work for you.”
“Okay.” That was a pretty big thing, no matter how good a friend the lady was. He gave Jeff an encouraging look.
Oh God. Oh damn. That was… God. “I’m so sorry, Jeff. Man, that’s… I’m so sorry.” What could he say?
“Yeah. It sucked. And I’m their godfather. They came to live with me.” The godfather and the actual father. It made sense, given the circumstances, but at the same time, wow.
“So how long have you had them?”
“Since March twenty-third. Three weeks. My sister, Jillian, she came for ten days at the beginning, but….” Jeff suddenly looked desperate. “My leave at work is short, and what if one of them gets sick? And potty training. He’s wet the bed since he came.”
Someone needed a nap. And it wasn’t Robin. Or Kimberley.
“Sounds like you really need a nanny. Good thing you put an ad in for one.” He gave Jeff a grin. “How many people have you seen?” Was he still in the running? How many of them could have displayed the hands-on skills he had right now? That had to put him in the running, right?
“Twelve.” Jeff sighed. “Ten people who told me I needed to give them to their grandparents, one who wanted to be my live-in lover, and one who lectured me on the evils of butter.”
Donny frowned. “People suck, man—how you decide to raise your children is your business, and dude, butter is awesome.” He thought he definitely had a chance here. For the first time since about his twentieth interview, he had hope that he might get the job. “I’ve got my degree in early childhood care, but no practical experience, unless you count being the coolest uncle to my sisters’ kids. I can start tomorrow—well, even today, I guess. What kind of hours are we talking?” If Jeff was a chef, he was going to work afternoons and evenings, right?
“I work from two in the afternoon to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday. I know that’s like a lot of hours for you, but I’ll provide room and board and a good salary. You’d have Sunday and Monday off, and….” Jeff trailed off. “Do you have references? I should probably ask for those.”
“I do. I have written references in my bag, which I left in the hall, and you can call them too, if you want. It is a lot of hours, but if I’m living in, I’m saving transit time.” And money paying for his own place. “I’ve met the kids and like them, and they don’t seem allergic to me.”
“No. No, they don’t.” Jeff offered him another half smile. Robin was falling asleep in his snack, and the baby was sleeping again. “I’ve never done this before. She wasn’t supposed to die.”
“You don’t want to see your room or anything?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Jeff. I’ve been to a lot of interviews, and most of the time I barely make it past the first two minutes because I’m a guy. And if I do, well, then I tell them….” He took a deep breath, hoping like hell Jeff wasn’t a homophobic prick. “I tell them I’m gay, and they can’t get rid of me fast enough.”
“You’re family?” Jeff’s eyes went wide.
His own mouth dropped open at Jeff’s words, and then he grinned, nodded. “How about that?”
“I…. Seriously? Are you fucking with me, man?”
“Daddy Jeff! Bad word!”
Donny had to bite his lip, hard, to keep from laughing. “That was a bad word, wasn’t it?”
Robin nodded, then teared up. “Mommy says no bad words.”
Shifting his chair closer to Robin, Donny took the little boy’s hand in his. “Sometimes people forget they aren’t supposed to say bad words. That’s what Daddy Jeff did. He’ll try very hard not to say it again, okay?”
He got a solemn nod from Robin, the little boy still sniffling.
“I bought a bunch of sh—stuff. They lost everything. It’s been crazy.”
“Okay, it’s all good. Why don’t you go put Kimberley down and then put your head down yourself? You look like you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while. Robin and I will check out your DVD collection together.”
He’d bet this job that Robin would fall asleep in front of the TV if they found something gentle to watch. He would also bet that if Jeff got some sleep and relaxed, it would help Robin relax as well.
“We’ll all come rest together.”
That was fair—Jeff didn’t know him from a hole in the wall. Donny had no problem with his needing a little more than a bit of help in an emergency to leave the kids alone with him.
Jeff led him to a huge great room, the furniture heavy and leather and masculine, the little child’s beanbag chair next to the dark brown couch looking incongruous. There were shelves full of books and DVDs, a coffee table, and a couple of little tables next to the each of the recliners that bracketed the couch. Knickknacks were all chest height and above, but Donny knew how easy it would be for them to tempt Robin into climbing the shelves to get to them.
He would have to sit down with Jeff after he had managed to get some sleep and talk about some of the things that needed doing to properly childproof the place. Clearly an attempt had been made, but it was amazing how much more was needed. Especially when the baby got old enough to be mobile.
Jeff sat on the couch, the baby on his chest. Before Donny could get a movie on for Robin, the man was sound asleep.
“I…. That’s my big boy chair.” Robin pointed to the beanbag.
“Oh, it looks comfy. Is it?”
Robin nodded, chewed his bottom lip. “You can’t fit.”
“No, but I could sit next to you? Or we could sit on the couch together.”
“Okay. With Daddy Jeff?”
At the sound of his name, Jeff twitched.
Robin crawled up and settled beside him, little hand on his father’s knee. His thumb popped into his mouth.
Donny held his hand out by Robin’s thigh. “Hold my hand?”
The little boy stared at him for a long, long time; then the thumb came out, fingers placed in his. Donny smiled gently and curled his fingers around Robin’s, then turned his attention to the TV, to getting the DVD going.
Soon the gentle sounds of Max & Ruby filled the room. It took seven minutes before Robin cuddled into Jeff’s side and fell sound asleep. Donny nodded—nap time.
Donny looked at the three of them. The family he was here to take care of. He felt like this was meant to be; they were his family.
Pretty fu—no, not fucking—pretty darn cool.