The spring that April turned seventeen, she fell in love. Not so much with a boy her age but with two little boys much younger than her. Sammy Mcintyre was six-years-old and his brother Finley was four-years-old, each with curly red hair and beautiful green eyes. They were ladykillers-in-the-making, rambunctious and strong and full of life.
The boys’ parents seemed positively evil. Even in front of the children or in front of April, they were always fighting about money. April couldn’t figure out why, seeing as they had plenty of it and lived in the best development in Lincoln Park on the North Side of Chicago. When April came to sit for them, she had to take the train for forty-five minutes from her Mom’s one-bedroom flat on the West Side. The building where the McIntyre’s lived was a beautiful modern structure inside and out. Everything inside was made of glass or steel or was an impossibly-clean ivory or celery color. It looked like a catalog for furniture was stupidly expensive to buy.
When she returned home to her mother at night, the fights over money were real. Babysitting money was April’s only income and on weeks where her Mom was having trouble at work, she didn’t even get to keep that. And it was no better with her Mom nagging her about snagging a boyfriend while she was on the classy side of town.
“Get yourself an established man while you’re gorgeous, honey,” Patricia Ewing would say. “And for God’s sake, get your hooks deep into him before he sees you get fucking old!” Then she’d take another drag on her joint and put her dark glasses back on.
April got plenty of attention from boys, so she knew that she had the goods that they liked: perky C-cup breasts, a flat and smooth tummy with a narrow waist and shoulder-length, and natural blonde hair the soft hue of autumn wheat. Her hips and legs had a slender but curvacious shape, she thought, and a petite gap between her thighs completed a chic, year-round bikini body. She worked hard for that body and was certainly proud of it.
She wasn’t all Barbie-doll, though. For example: her face was more on the soft and round Mandy Moore/Kelly Clarkson side which she wasn’t at all crazy about. She wished that she had the bone structure of an Emma Watson or Emma Stone but she did have full lips and a wide grin full of straight teeth like a young Julia Roberts. That mouth made her face stand out as pretty and fun and flirty when she smiled, so she did a lot of that (whether there was something to smile about or not). Blue eyes to compliment her nordic hair would have done her splendidly but apparently Karma had managed to defy the odds and let her inherit her deadbeat father’s chocolate-brown eyes. If she could only have brought herself to learn to play the guitar and pull on some daisy dukes, she might have had it made as a country music singer. But a girl’s gotta have some standards.
Still, she was very pretty and it was hard not to let it get to her head. Several times, she had been approached by people to pose for art classes, catalogs, budoir photography, etc. Every time that she asked her mother if she would sign a parental release, Patricia would scold her with: “A man who wants to take care of you doesn’t want to share you with every horny-toad boy in America, April!”
Such an uptight bitch, April thought as she shook her head. Knowing that there was a man out there who had just walked away had really done a number on Patricia’s psyche, April decided. Not just knowing that he had left but that he was out there living – at least, as far either of them knew – and probably moved on to the next pretty young thing or the next one after that and spending April’s child support money on his young prize, instead.
Either that or he was dead, somewhere. Neither April nor Patricia knew and they had both given up waiting on the hope that the asshole was coming back. At one time, Patricia must have loved him, April hoped. He must have thought she was pretty back then, too. Maybe he even saw more in her laugh or in her joyful smile – whatever those looked like. Maybe it was this bitchy hag that Patricia had turned into that drove her man to leave and not the other way around. April had no way of knowing.
Bill and Marina McIntyre, however, were the epitome of a marital mismatch. He worked from his home office while she spent most of her days and evenings dressed up like she was Heidi Klum, going to speeches and fundraisers for Michael Ferris, the Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois. She was his main fundraiser and answered directly to his campaign manager. That post couldn’t have paid well but it didn’t matter to Marina, who seemed to have come from big family money.
April’s Mom had recommended her when one of the ladies she cleaned for was asking for a part-time regular babysitter. The lady was one of Marina’s subordinates who had whined that Marina didn’t have enough time for their candidate because her self-righteous husband wasted his time for his sons shut in behind his office door – that Marina needed someone to help out. After a week of coming over after school, April quickly saw that those reports were sorely exaggerated. Sure, he was generally working late every day, but Sammy and Finley’s Dad was a really hard worker. He was always on the phone, talking to clients, even coming out to make a sandwich for his dinner, he would have to make the sandwich and eat it while virtually yelling numbers, projections and company policies over other callers in the conference calls. Upstairs, she could even hear him talking on speakerphone while he rowed on his rowing machine.
At first, Bill McIntyre had seemed reluctant about having April around the house. He had hardly said two words to her beyond “Hello” or “Thanks for your help” – which was fine with April – but things became strange when they accidentally brushed against one another as she was blindly racing out of the bathroom in the hall.
“Oh!” she said, her bum brushing against his thigh as she dashed out. His big hand caught her arm in case he had inadvertently knocked her over. He quickly withdrew it when he saw that she was firm-footed.
“Sorry,” he blurted, his face flushing red.
“No! You’re – I – didn’t see you there,” she stammered.
“No, no. I’m sneaky,” he smiled, coyly.
“Oh!” she said. “Sneaky? In that case, I accept your apology!”
He laughed. Strangely, that made April smile at him. He was enormously tall next to her, standing at least a foot taller than her five foot and four inches. His hair was definitely where the boys got their red locks, though his was more of a burnt copper, cropped short to his head and styled carefully. His body was athletic, especially for a middle-aged guy, and his hands we large and strong. He had a certain face, worn with years of worry and work. April thought it made him look a little older than he seemed to be, certainly a few years older than his wife, though April felt certain that Marina had some work done. Maybe a lot, in fact.
But when he laughed, a few years melted off of him, instantly.
“That hat is cute, by the way,” he said.
That was certainly unexpected! She had thrown a loosely-knit white yarn beanie over her blonde hair that morning when she hadn’t had time to condition.
“Oh!” she said. “Thanks. This is a beanie, actually…It’s for covering up the fact that you’re too lazy to take care of your hair.”
He grimaced, teasingly. “Is that right? You’re right: that’s just gross.”
She shrugged playfully, perhaps even flirtatiously: “you know…”
Then he had nothing else to say. And neither did she.
“I – I should…” she managed, pointing to the Kitchen.
“Yeah,” he said. “Me, too.”
As she heard his footsteps disappear up the stairs and then his office door close upstairs, she breathed out loud in relief.
Finley was a terror at dinner.
“You are such a sweet boy, Finny!” April said but in a scolding way as she crouched to his eye-level. “So why is my sweet little man in time-out, right now?”
“Mean Babysitter!” He pouted. “Mean! Stupid! Babysitter!”
April shook her head, “that language gets you more time-out, little man!”
His eyes went wide at the prospect of an extended sentence: “I’m sorry! Sorry! SORRY!”
She shook her head, “No, sir! This time, you sit until the timer dings or you get no bedtime treat.”
She set Marina’s steel egg-shaped timer to three minutes. Even an egg-timer was expensive in this house! The four-year-old culprit sat on the living room chair, staring at the wall and whining and tossing uncomfortably as if the three minutes would never end.
April ran her fingers through Sammy’s hair as he sat at the kitchen table and finished a crayon drawing.
“That’s so beautiful, Sammy!” April cooed encouragingly.
“It’s our family,” Sammy said. “You aren’t in it.”
She nodded, “Well, I’m not family, am I?”
April leaned in closer. “Why does your Mommy have her mouth wide like a giant O here?”
He looked sad as he answered, “She’s yelling too loud.”
April crouched down on her haunches and looked him in the eye, “She’s yelling too loud?”
“About what?” April asked.
“She says that Daddy is a pathetic asshole,” the six-year-old answered.
April shook her head, discouragingly.
“Those are her words!” he contended.
“When was this?”
“Last night when Finny and I were – well, we were s’posed to be sleeping.”
April put her arms around his little shoulders and pressed him to her bosom. “Sometimes grown-ups say dumb things, Sammy.”
He hugged her back, sweetly, his little hands tugging her neck tightly. The egg timer dinged.
“Babysitter!” cried Finny.
April looked once more into Sammy’s eyes. The corners of his mouth turned up for her with newfound reassurance.
“Babysitter!” yelled Finley, again.
“You can come out of time-out, little man,” April called, keeping her eyes locked with Sammy’s. She smiled at him and he genuinely smiled back.
“You’re such a good boy, Samuel,” she said. “You take care of your brother and your Mom and Dad take care of you both.”
“And you,” he said.
“Yes, and I do, too,” she admitted. “Sometimes.”
“Babysitter!” Finny cried again.
Annoyed, April turned to the end of the Kitchen table only to find a flying mountain of red spaghetti noodles arcing down straight for her head.
Mr. McIntyre’s office door had no sooner opened at her soft knock than suddenly a burst of laughter escaped him. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed.
April’s hair was covered in spaghetti and sauce that had dried in place while she was putting the boys to bed.
“I’m glad you’re amused,” April said, “But I am going to need to borrow your shower – I’m kinda a big sticky mess,” she pouted.
The pout was a mistake, she quickly saw, as his eyes lit up like a little boy who just acquired a new toy. Or maybe it was “I’m a sticky mess” that he liked? You dirty, “sneaky” old man! She thought.
“The downstairs bathroom shower is broken,” he said.
“Oh!” she exclaimed embarrassed. “Weird, I gave the boys a bath in it, yesterday.”
“Yeah, of course, but,” he answered. “It’s just – you know – recent. You can use the Master Bath. It’s nicer, anyways.”
“I – Oh! – I – I couldn’t intrude,” she stuttered apologetically.
“Don’t be silly,” he answered. “It’s just a shower. The boys are down and I have some things to wrap up. Take your time.”
She smiled, “that’s sweet. Thank you.”
The shower had to be almost as big as April’s entire bathroom at the apartment. It had two enormous chrome rain-showerheads embedded into the ceiling on opposite sides so that a couple could shower together. One side of the shower had a Loofah, some pink/gold herbal shampoo and the other had a waterproof electric razor and silvery electric blue sports shampoo and conditioner, though April had a hard time imagining that Marina and Bill McIntyre actually showered together in the mornings. The enormous chrome square that had more girly stuff with it cascaded warm, delicious soft water onto April’s naked body. The coffee-colored flagstone at her feet gave good traction without being rough on her skin. It climbed the wall to the ceiling on one side while the other three sides were all glass.
Shower-jets along the stone wall could be activated by pressing an air-button, wrapping her in water from above and from one side, head-to-toe. In an instant, she was naked in a cocoon of warmth and her muscles sang her a love-song of relaxation.
She never wanted to get out.
As she gazed over at the other shower-place, she saw immediately that it was Bill’s – er – Mr. McIntyre’s. She had never shown her body to a man, before. She had worn bikinis and she had taken naughty selfies that she deleted right away, but she had never really and truly shown a man her naked flesh. Seeing his sports-shampoo and his razor and non-fog shaving mirror, it almost felt like he was there. She wasn’t sure why, but she left the sweet embrace of the shower-cocoon and picked up his shampoo. Walking back to the full-body kiss of the water, she pressed the cap open and smelled it.
It had to be expensive just for the smell of it, she decided. It was musk and manly and oddly familiar. She wanted it to fill her nostrils all night long. Jesus, she thought, what the hell do they put in a man’s shampoo! Or was she just that eager to get laid? As Finley’s spaghetti rinsed off of her blonde locks, April inhaled the scent of Bill McIntyre’s soft red hair as if she were – her eyes fluttered open and met with her reflection in his non-fog shaving mirror – as if she were holding him to her breasts.
She poured a small dime’s-worth of the shampoo and ran it through her hair. She watched his manly shampoo lather in her long blonde strands and drip down her neck and onto her chest. His manly scent on her girly – even womanly – body. Her heart raced and her breath quickened…
It was when she got out of the shower that she realized that she had been in there for half an hour and now she was probably going to miss her usual train. It was while she rummaged through drawers for a blow-dryer that she heard Marina’s voice downstairs. She was home early.
By the time that April was done in the bathroom, Marina was undressing angrily in her walk-in closet. April tip-toed out of the room. She felt embarrassed to realize that the scent of Bill’s conditioner really came alive when it was blow-dried. Her hair was delicious around her face and she just knew that Marina would notice it if she got close.
Bill was in the kitchen, brooding over a bowl of ice cream.
April cleared her throat gently.
“Oh!” He said as he turned around. “I thought you had snuck out. Tell me you didn’t hear any of that bullshit just now?”
She shook her head, “Oh, I – I didn’t hear – anything.”
He rolled his eyes, “Yeah, sure,” he said sarcastically. “Stupid, right? It’s mostly her money, anyway and she can spend it how she wants but all I ask for is to be able to invest in the boys’ future first! She can be such a…” He stopped himself. “That was incredibly inappropriate. I apologize.”
April shrugged, “No! I – I think you’re right,” she whispered. “I only caught a little bit of the – exchange – so…Don’t worry about me. I understand.”
He smiled. “You’re just an angel, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she laughed. He laughed, too, his eyes conjuring that fountain of youth that she had noticed before. It was a nice levity between them.
“My god,” he said, a realization suddenly striking him like a sledgehammer. “Are you waiting because she stormed in and forgot to pay you?”
“Well,” April confessed, “I kinda avoided her, upstairs, so yes and no.”
He nodded as he dug into his pocket for his wallet.
“But actually, the train at this time of night can be kind of…” her voice trailed off.
His eyes widened. He set his ice cream down in the sink, grabbing one last bite.
“I’ll drive you!” he declared. “Of course!”
She suddenly panicked, “No, that’s too much trouble. I meant maybe like a cab or something.”
“Don’t be silly!” he said, grabbing his keys off the table and wiping his face with a napkin. “Let’s get you home.”
Not a surprise to April, Bill McIntyre had a gorgeous black Cadillac Escalade. She felt like a 5-star lawyer or a trophy-wife sitting in the shotgun seat of that SUV and driving through the high-rises of downtown.
“I could take the freeway,” He said, breaking the silence.
“Whatever,” she said, apathetically gazing out the window.
“You – uh – seem to be enjoying the view there so I don’t mind the surface streets. I guess it depends on what you have to get home to?” he asked.
April chortled, very unladylike. It made him laugh.
“That bad, huh?” He asked.
“Like Auschwitz,” she murmured.
He nodded without pointing out the obviously unnecessary hyperbole. “Yeah, sounds terrible.” He put on the XM radio and turned it to a variety hits station.
She scowled at him. “Mr. McIntyre, do you not know real music?” she teased.
He was stunned, “Hey! This is what all the hip, groovy kids dig these days, baby!” he mocked, snapping his fingers like an ensemble actor in a scene from Westside Story.
“Yuck,” April spat as she usurped his radio and tuned it to an old classics station. April held her fingers over the dial protectively to show he was forbidden to change it back. That amused him.
April leaned back and silently crooned as Ella Fitzgerald sang “The Man I Love”. Bill listened with a pleasantly-surprised look on his face. This was old music even for him.
Something about the old brick buildings of Chicago came alive in the pale light of the city reflecting on the glass of April’s window with every enchanting note of the smooth and dulcet tone of Ella’s voice. The landscape melted in the dancing melody of a jazz piano accompanied by the gentle clashing of a high-hat that made April’s foot tap and her fingers drum on her blue jeans. From memory, she mouthed the lyrics to herself in exact time with Ella’s voice:
Someday he’ll come along
The man I love
And he’ll be big and strong
The man I love
And when he comes my way
I’ll do my best to make him stay
He’ll look at me and smile
And in a little while
He’ll take my hand
And though it seems absurd
I know we both won’t say a word…
Bill smiled broadly at her, “you really are something else, aren’t you, little lady?”
She turned, flipping her freshly-shampooed locks to give him a flirty wink and then abruptly showed him her traffic-finger.
He ate up her sassiness with a hearty chuckle that made her heart flip-flop. She inwardly scolded herself for acting like a lovesick schoolgirl swooning over her teacher. Technically, she was a schoolgirl and had never been twitterpated over a teacher. Not even the cute ones.
As they silently listened to the rest of the song, she tried not to think about him watching her in his peripheral vision. She tried to pretend that she wasn’t terrified that he would smell his shampoo in her hair.
“That was a sweet song,” he mused, playfully.
“That’s Ella,” April answered matter-of-factly.
“It seems almost – sexual,” he said with a nervousness in his voice.
April nodded, “well, that’s her, too.”
He grinned and said nothing else until they arrived in front of her dilapidated old building under the cover of late night. An awkward pause lingered between them. Slowly, April turned to look up to him and wondered if he had forgotten about paying her.
He was staring out the windshield, drumming his fingertips on the steering wheel to the sound of Sarah Vaughan singing “Misty”.
“Can I ask you something?” He said.
“Yes,” April answered carefully.
“Can I ask you something that stays between the two of us?” he asked.
Swallowing and squinting at him skeptically, she answer: “Well…Okay.”
“What do you think of my wife?” He asked.
“I don’t want to be rude,” April said.
He scoffed, “Okay, that’s fine.”
But she thought for a moment and then answered: “Well – just between us – it does seem like she could spend more of the downtime that she does have with your boys, you know, instead of…” She trailed off.
“Instead of…?” He prodded her.
She sighed, “Instead of fighting with her husband.” That was it. She was definitely never getting hired by him again. “Over her stupid shit, too!” she continued, resigned to her fate. “You’re never wrong in those silly arguments. She just doesn’t care abut anything but herself and her opportunities to climb the social ladder. It’s like she’s become so – so…cold!”
“Yeah,” he grumbled “well, you should see how she is in the sack!”
“Ha!” April laughed a little too loudly, “I’ll bet!” This conversation was wildly inappropriate but for some reason, she didn’t object to it. As dirty as it made her feel, with him there suddenly seemed to be a confidence – a trust.
“I hope I haven’t just ruined everything,” she admitted.
“I asked,” he said. “I feel better knowing I’m not the only one who sees this.”
“Well, you’ve got me in your corner,” she beamed reassuringly.
Bill smiled at his naughty conspirator and without another word, he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.
“Whoa! Mr. McIntyre!” April exclaimed as her hands stopped him by his shoulders. “Whoa, guy! What’s that about!” she scowled.
“I-” he stammered. “I-I-I’m sorry! Did I…?”
Her face flushed red as a beet, she could tell without a mirror. “I hardly even kiss boys my own age!”
“I thought that we were having a – a…”
“A what? Affair?” April shot at him, repulsed.
“…a moment,” he corrected.
“You’re old enough to be my Dad! Gross!”
He sighed, “I really fucked up right there, didn’t I?”
She turned to look back out the window, thoughtfully. She couldn’t help feeling guilty for reacting the way that she did, given what she had done in the man’s shower while he was fighting with his wife. THen how she really had flirted with him all night.
“You know what? It’s okay,” she finally conceded. “I’m sorry I said that it was gross. I mean, you’re just barely old enough to be my Dad and – and – it was just mean. I’m sorry.”
He smiled, embarrassed, “no apology necessary.”
She shrugged, “No. No, I’d be pissed if I got rejected like that. But my Mom or your wife would be pissed to think that you tried to kiss a minor, so…let’s just pretend like it never happened.”
He nodded, “that’s – more than fair.” He reached into his wallet. “What does, uh, Marina usually pay you?”
Suddenly, she felt very uncomfortable. “Oh, you know – just – whatever.”
“No, there must be a rate of some kind?”
“Usually it’s six bucks per hour plus a little extra for fare,” she said.
His hands fell into his lap, “are you kidding me!”
“What?” she asked, terrified.
“She scarcely pays you twenty-five bucks a night and you have to ride that train all the way across town?” he asked.
“Hey, a hundred bucks a week goes a long way in my world, big guy!” She smiled.
“When I was your age, it did,” he said, nostalgically. “Now you can hardly take someone to a movie for that kind of money.” He pulled out a crisp fifty dollar-bill and handed it to her.
She looked at it, wide-eyed. “For babysitting!” she exclaimed.
“Please take it,” he said. “And forgive me for being an old fool.”
She took it and folded it in half. “Well, I’ll take it – but my silence is free, just so you know. You’re certainly welcome to be as generous as you like, though.”
He nodded approvingly and reached into his wallet and grabbed another fifty and handed it to her.
“Are you making fun of me?” she asked.
He shook his head, “you’re good to my boys. It helps me to concentrate, knowing that because they’re with you they are safe and they are better off.”
“Than with their mother!” She said with shock.
“Well,” he frowned, “than with me, anyway. At least when I’m distracted. And like you said: a hundred bucks goes a long way.”
She took the money and opened the door. Climbing down, she turned to him and said, “Take it from me, Mr. McIntyre: those boys never have a better moment than when they’re with you. Kids need their Dad. Trust me.”
He smiled, “You can call me ‘Bill’, you know?”
She rolled her eyes, “I’m not your girlfriend, old man!” Then she smiled so that he knew it was a joke.
“Good-night, Mr. McIntyre,” she said, warmly.
He nodded soberly: “Good-night, April.”