I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with the nanny.
When my wife left, she took the illusion of happiness with her, and I’ve been caught in a free fall ever since. For nine long months, I’ve been fighting to figure out how to be a single dad, how to be alone.
For nine long months, I’ve been failing.
When Hannah walked through the door, I took my first breath since I’d found myself on my own. She slipped into our lives effortlessly, showing me what I’ve been missing all these years. Because Hannah made me smile when I thought I’d packed the notion of happiness away with my wedding album.
She was only supposed to be the nanny, but she’s so much more.
The day my wife left should have been the worst day of my life, but it wasn’t. It was when Hannah walked away, taking my heart with her.
A Little Too Late was a sweetly decorated love story between a man trapped in his insecurities and the worldly au pair he hires to take care of his children. Hart’s poetically romanticized language brought an additional layer to the story, evoking equal levels of helplessness and growth throughout. As the story progressed, her presence in the household was less about the kids and more about the family as a whole entity bringing with it a wonderful charm.
If you’ve read A Thousand Letters, it might hit you that Charlie and his then-wife had a small part in that story–you certainly don’t need to read it to understand this story as it’s casually explained within it, but it was a nice surprise to have that prior connection. With Charlie’s situation involving his kids, Hart very adeptly and non-judgmentally handled the topic of a father having very little knowledge of how to care for his kids on his own. His level of naivete was very clear, but mixed in with it was this strong epiphanous moment of clarity in realizing how very far out he had traveled emotionally from his family–and his desire to do something about it. Hannah’s calming patience and big heart in showing him the way, both with his kids and in opening his heart again, was very much enjoyable to experience as a reader. Oftentimes male characters don’t have this level of vulnerability and an openness about it, and Hart’s way of tackling that was unabashed and moving.
A Little Too Late was a beautiful addition to Hart’s versed list of novels. She eases the reader into the story very organically and her characters, crisp and original, become larger than the pages. With low angst and a wonderful build to a fresh-feeling romance, this was easily the kind of story that anyone can escape into and get lost with.
The next morning, I was up and in my office before anyone was awake, attacking my work with newfound enthusiasm and a plan in mind. Because I wanted to feel like I’d felt the night before in the kitchen again, and there was only one way to get that back.
Today, I would take a few breaks and be present. Today, I would change, work be damned. Today would mark the first real attempt. Because change wouldn’t happen on its own. I had to make it happen. And to make it happen, I would have to put boundaries in place, starting with my weekends.
I checked the clock around eleven that morning and closed my laptop, pushing away from my desk and heading up the stairs in search of my children.
When I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I found them sitting at the table with their lunches. And when they saw me, their smiles validated my grand plans with unwavering certainty.
“Hey, guys,” I said, smiling back as I walked over to them, ruffling Sammy’s hair when I passed him.
“Hi, Daddy,” he said.
Maven’s mouth was full, so she just waved, and Hannah smiled at me from the island where she was setting up a spread for sandwiches.
I snagged a grape off Maven’s plate and popped it into my mouth. She handed me another, which I accepted.
“Are you done working?” Sammy asked hopefully.
“’Fraid not, bud. But I thought I’d come have lunch with you. Is that okay?”
“Yeah! Want a Nilla Wafer?”
“Psh, obviously. And I thought we could play for a little bit before I have to get back to work. What do you say?”
He nodded, grinning. “We can play trucks! You be the bulldozer and I’ll be the tractor and Maven can be the monster truck and Hannah can be the ambulance because she helps people.”
“Perfect,” I said on a chuckle.
A burst of color caught my eye. A vase on the windowsill behind the table held a spray of red and orange tulips.
“Those are beautiful,” I said, gesturing to them. “Where did they come from?”
“Oh, I picked them up this morning,” Hannah said with that ever-present smile.
“Always a little. But I love having fresh flowers in the house, something bright and delicate and alive. Well, maybe not alive anymore, but it feels alive, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” I said as I moved to her side.
“Can I make you a sandwich?” Hannah asked.
“Nah, I think I can manage, thanks. How’s it going this morning?”
“It’s good. We went to the park this morning.”
“I rode my bike!” Sammy crowed.
“Did you? No bumps or scrapes?”
“I’m impressed. Maybe next time I can come too,” I said, hoping it was something I could deliver as I reached into the bread bag for a stack.
Hannah turned to the cupboard, returning with a plate for me.
She was still smiling, standing at my side, assembling her sandwich. It was so mundane, something completely and utterly boring, but like the weirdo that I was, I found myself watching her hands as she folded cold cuts. We worked around each other—not that it was complicated, but there was a sort of rhythm between us, a natural pace wherein I used what she wasn’t and finished just as she needed what I had. I wasn’t sure why I noticed it, but I did, and I appreciated the simple synchronicity of the moment, a breath where things were easy.
I passed her the mustard as she handed me the ham. “So, I was thinking …” I paused.
“Oh, were you?” She glanced over at me with a hint of mirth at the corners of her lips.
“I know. I almost sprained something.”
Hannah laughed gently.
“If it’s okay, I think I’d like to try to handle bedtime tonight.”
“Of course it’s okay; they’re your children.” That time, her laughter was sweet.
“Do you … would you … do you think you could maybe …”
She shifted to face me, her eyes full of encouragement.
“Would you mind … helping me?”
Hannah nodded, her smile opening up. “That’s what I’m here for. Just let me know what you’d like me to do.”
I smiled back. “I’m sorry. I know it sounds stupid. I just … I haven’t done this much on my own, but I’d like to start.”
Her eyes softened, caught by slanting light, lighting up with sunshine. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said simply.
I didn’t speak.
“There’s no right or wrong, and they don’t care about anything other than you being there. It’s simple enough; you only have to try.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“It really is. You’ll see.” She reached for my arm and gave it a squeeze that wasn’t meant to be anything but friendly but held something more, something in the pressure in her fingertips and the depths of her eyes.
It was something I did my very best to ignore. But I felt the heat of those fingertips long after they were gone, even as we sat across the table from each other eating lunch, the tulips in the vase behind her bowing their long heads as the sunlight illuminated them, exposing what was hidden within their petals.
♦ABOUT THE AUTHOR♦
Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey.
From roots in Houston to a seven year stint in Southern California, Staci and her family ended up settling somewhere in between and equally north, in Denver. They are new enough that snow is still magical. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.