Home > Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me
Author: Nina LaCour

 


ON THE MORNING OF MY INTERVIEW I slept until eight, went downstairs to the kitchen, and poured myself the last of the coffee. I stood at the counter, watching out the window as I sipped, and then pushed up my sleeves and turned on the water to wash the breakfast dishes that Amy and Jonathan had left stacked in the sink.

   In just a few days, I would leave them.

   Amy had bought a crib and tucked it into the garage. A few days after that, she came home with a bag from a toy store. A stuffed bunny peeked over the side. She asked me how my English final went and I told her that I wrote about the collapse of social mores in a couple of short stories and she said it sounded great. And then she took the bag into their bedroom as though it were nothing.

   She was only being kind. I knew that. They hadn’t asked me to stay.

   The sink was empty. I scrubbed it until it was perfectly white and then I turned off the water. I tried to breathe. I tried not to want this so badly.

   My phone buzzed.

   “Are you ready?” Karen asked. She’d been my social worker for four years and even though I could tell she was in traffic, probably dribbling coffee on her skirt and checking her email as she talked to me, she calmed my racing heart.

   “I think so,” I said.

   “Remember—they read your letter. I’ve told them so much about you. They’ve talked to all your references. This is just a final step. And you get to make sure you really want it.”

   “I want it.”

   “I know you do, honey. I want it for you too. Call me as soon as it’s over.”

 

* * *

 

   ___

   He knocked at ten thirty, exactly when he said he’d arrive.

   “Mila?” he asked when I opened the door. He stuck out his hand. “Nick Bancroft. So nice to finally meet you.”

   I led him into the kitchen, where a round table sat beneath a window in the sun and the chairs were close enough for friendly conversation but far enough apart for strangers.

   “How are you doing?” he asked after we sat.

   “Well, finals are over, so that’s good,” I said.

   “Yes, congratulations. Your transcripts are solid. Have you considered college?”

   I shrugged. “Maybe I’ll go at some point.”

   He nodded, but I saw that he felt sorry for me. My eyes darted to the window. I didn’t know how to talk about my life with someone who understood. I clenched a fist in my lap and forced myself not to cry. I was ready to prove my work ethic, talk about the hours I spent volunteering at the library, and assure him that I was not afraid of dirt or messes or children throwing tantrums—but I was not ready for this.

   “So, let me tell you about Terry and Julia and the farm,” he said, taking mercy on me. “They adopted me when I was three, so it’s been home basically all my life. I haven’t lived at the farm in a long time, but I help them run the finances and I do all the interviews.” I felt my fist unclench and I settled into the chair and listened to him tell me about the things I had already learned from talking to Karen and reading a San Francisco Chronicle article from fifteen years ago with the headline MENDOCINO COUPLE ADOPTS FORTIETH FOSTER CHILD. He talked about the farm and how everyone contributes to running it, from the children to the interns, and how as an intern I would spend my weekdays teaching in the schoolhouse and my Sundays waking up at five a.m. to run the booth at the farmers’ market. He told me about the holidays when all the grown-up children come back to visit. “It becomes home if you let it,” he said. “Even for the interns. I know that might sound hard to believe, but it’s true.”

   “When do I find out?”

   “Oh!” he said. “I thought you knew. You’ve been chosen already. It’s yours if you want it.”

   My hands flew to my face. “Thank you,” I said. And then I couldn’t say anything else. He nodded, that look of sympathy again, and kept talking.

   “Most of your hours will be spent in the school. They’ve designed a curriculum and your job will be to learn it and teach the six- to nine-year-olds. There is only one of them right now, I think, but more will come soon. And Terry and Julia will be there to help.”

   “Would you like some tea?” I blurted. I had meant to ask him when he got there but had been too nervous. Now that I knew I was chosen, I wanted him to stay and tell me everything. Maybe that way I could hold it inside me—a real, live thing—in the days between that one and the one of my arrival.

   “Sure,” he said. I filled the kettle and set some boxes in front of him. He chose peppermint, and as I poured the steaming water over the leaves I breathed in the scent and it was like starting over already.

   “I want to make sure you understand what this is,” Nick said. “Quite a few people have turned it down. And some people haven’t known what they were getting into and it hasn’t worked out. You need to want it. It’s a farm. It’s in the middle of nowhere—to one side is the ocean and in every other direction is nothing but rocky hills and open land. It’s almost always foggy and cold and there’s no cell service and no town to shop in or meet people—Mendocino is forty-five minutes away. Farmers’-market days are the only times you’ll interact with the outside world, and you’ll be weighing squashes and wrapping flowers most of the time.”

   “That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

   He warned me that the cabins where the interns live were tiny, only one room with wood-burning stoves for heat. He said that there was a landline but no cell service, and that everyone ate meals together three times a day and took turns with prep and cleanup.

   “The main house is comfortable and you’re always welcome in it. They have tons of books and a bunch of instruments. There’s even a grand piano in the living room.”

   “I’ve always wanted to play the piano,” I said. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him about all my years of lessons and the songs I knew by heart. “Someone to Watch Over Me” began to play in my brain, and the kitchen filled with music. My grandmother was sitting next to me, her fingers showing me where my fingers should go. Nick kept talking, and I listened over the sound of piano notes, full and rising. I had been so young. I didn’t tell him about the terrible thing I’d done. He didn’t ask those kinds of questions. Funny, when interviewing for a job to work with children, that a person would ask about college and remoteness and not say, Tell me the worst thing you ever did. Tell me about your wounds. Can I trust you?

   Had they known the truth about me they might not have given me the job, I thought, even though I was determined to be good. Even though I held on fiercely to my own goodness.

   By the time he finished his tea, we had it all planned out. He asked if I wanted to wait until after the graduation ceremony and I said no, that I didn’t care about wearing a hat and robe and walking with the other students. Okay, he said, then he would pick me up on Sunday and we would drive up together. He gave me a thin volume called Teaching School: A Handbook to Education on The Farm and asked me to read it. He said, “Mila, I have a good feeling about this. I think you’ll be a perfect fit with all of us.” And I told him I had a good feeling about it, too. And I told him that I felt lucky, and he said, “You are lucky. We all are.”

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