"No, no, no," I said, hoping that repeating it three times made it more forceful, but Gabby just ignored my words and set the sleeping baby in her car seat down on my front porch. A man in a dark suit was behind her and deposited a suitcase, a stroller and a big quilted bag next to the baby.
"I have to go," she said, waving to the driver to return to his car. "I can't miss my plane. Tell Peter it's on him. He's her father. I can't possibly take her with me without the nanny." She blew a kiss at the baby and rushed down the two steps and sprinted back to the waiting limo.
I stood in shock watching the black car drive away.
Just then Marlowe opened her eyes and began to wail. "I know how you feel," I said, pulling myself together and grabbing the handle of the car seat and going inside. I was greeted by my menagerie of dogs and cats, who had been hanging around the front door since the doorbell rang. Cosmo and Felix began to bark at the crying baby. Princess began to go in circles. Blondie took off for the bedroom to get away from the sound. The two cats swirled around my feet to make sure I knew they were there. Not sure of what else to do, I hung on to the car seat while I made repeated trips to bring the rest of the stuff inside.
This was not how I expected to start off my Monday morning. There had been no phone call or text to warn me about their arrival. Marlowe's mother-and my son's ex-not-quite-wife-had just shown up in a panic saying the nanny had quit just when she was supposed to leave for the airport. Gabby had made it sound like it was all about the nanny being irresponsible and unreasonable, but I knew Gabby well enough to figure they had more likely gotten into an argument caused by some demands Gabby made and the woman decided life was too short and walked.
And where was Gabby going that was so important? She had a position as an associate producer on a TV movie that was shooting in Vancouver. I got it. There was no way she could take Marlowe with her unless there was someone to actually take care of the eight-month-old.
All that seemed beside the point now. It was more about dealing with her crying and figuring out how I was going to handle my workday.
"You probably don't know who I am," I said, trying to determine what was bothering the baby. How could she know who I was since Gabby had kept her away from all of us. "I'm your grandmother, but you don't have to call me that. How about something like LaLa? That sounds like someone fun, doesn't it." I had Marlowe's attention and her crying had turned to more of a whimper. "I'm sorry we haven't spent much time together. Not my choice. But it looks like we're about to make up for lost time." I noticed she was wearing a dress that seemed all about looks and zero for comfort and appeared to have irritated the skin on her arms. "Maybe that's the problem. Let's find you something more comfortable." It took some fidgeting with the straps but I managed to undo them and got her out of the car seat. She regarded me with interest as I carried her and the quilted whatnot bag to one of the leather couches in my living room. I had a whole entourage of dogs and cats following me, curious about the small visitor. I checked the quilted whatnot bag and found a yellow stretchy one-piece number.
"I used to call these baby suits when your daddy and his brother were little like you. I think the real name is onesies." I felt around in the bag and found a diaper. "You probably need a fresh one of these too." It had been a while since I'd been dealing with diapers and baby clothes and I was a little nervous at handling it all.
It turned out to be like riding a bicycle. As soon as I started undoing the itchy dress it all came back to me and I had her all done up in a new diaper and the yellow stretchy suit in no time. The dogs viewed the proceedings from the adjacent couch, but the two cats had lost interest and gone off somewhere.
"I bet you're hungry. Babies are always hungry." There was a tin of formula and some new-style bottles in the bag. "You can have that later. I was just going to have breakfast and I'd be happy to share." I put her back in the car seat since I didn't have anything else to use and it seemed meant to be used as a general-purpose seat, and took her into the kitchen. "Lucky for you I haven't downsized as your father has suggested. And I tend to hang on to things." I set the car seat on the built-in table and arranged it so she could look out through the big window and see the backyard and the orange trees that were covered in fruit. I rummaged through a cupboard and found the old baby food grinder I'd kept from the time when my sons were small. It wasn't completely about nostalgia; it actually was great for making egg salad. I took some of the scrambled eggs that were waiting on my plate and put them through the grinder. I did the same with some strawberries. The three dogs had followed us into the kitchen and were keeping their eyes on the food. Marlowe obliged and dropped some of the eggs on the floor, which were hoovered up in no time. The three of them looked up at her hoping for more accidents as she ate her fill. She was drifting off to sleep as I finished my coffee.
Now that I'd managed to deal with the short term, there was the long term to consider, like I had to go to work. I grabbed my phone and called Peter to let him know that his daughter had been abandoned on my doorstep. That was a little more dramatic than what really happened. Gabby did tell me she was leaving Marlowe instead of just dropping her on the porch, ringing the bell and taking off. But I wanted to make a point to my son. Of course, I got his voice mail. There was no immediate answer to my texts either. I checked my watch and was running out of time. I made some more phone calls and sent more texts without success. I looked at the peaceful baby, wondering how long that would last. "I guess it's going to be 'go to work with Grandma Day.'" I'm not sure what was more jarring, the thought of dealing with a baby while I tried to work or calling myself grandma.
I knew that Gabby dismissed my work as not being on the same level of importance as going off to Vancouver and dealing with a movie set. I would be the first to admit that it wasn't brain surgery, but it was still important to me. Working at Shedd & Royal Books and More had changed my life and started a whole new chapter when my husband died. And it had kept me going recently when the bottom fell out of my life again. I pushed away even thinking about the details. It was still too fresh.
I had been hired as the event coordinator, which included arranging for the Tarzana Hookers to have a place to gather-that's hookers as in crochet hooks. The Tarzana part referred to our community in the San Fernando Valley. It wasn't long before I became one of the Hookers after teaching myself how to crochet with a kids' kit. We had all become friends and partners in crime when I'd gotten involved in some murders. Solving murders, not committing them. It had embarrassed my older son Peter no end that I had been referred to as Tarzana's super amateur sleuth and interviewed by a local news person a few times.
The point was that it had all started with my job at the bookstore. Recently, I had been promoted to assistant manager when Pamela Shedd and Joshua Royal got married. They were still involved in the bookstore, but spending more and more time taking long lunches and doing fun things like taking mambo lessons. So, it wasn't as if I could just call in and say I was taking the day off at the last minute.
It took me forever to figure out how to put the car seat in my vintage Mercedes, but Marlowe amused herself with the toy thing strung across the front of it and didn't seem to care that it was taking so long. The fact that I talked the whole time, telling her what I was doing, might have helped too. Once I finally got it installed, it took only five minutes to drive to the bookstore in what was considered the heart of Tarzana. It turned out to be a lot easier to unhook the car seat from the foundation. The parking lot was behind the bookstore and even with the bucket-like handle it was a hassle hauling the seat, the quilted whatnot bag hung cross-body, my purse, and the tote bag with my crochet project around to Ventura Boulevard and the entrance to the bookstore.
Normally, I would have checked over the display window before I walked in, but with all that I was lugging, I just wanted to get inside and make it to the information booth, which served as my office. It was an enclosed cubicle in the middle of the store and I figured it would work to contain Marlowe if I let her loose from the car seat. I had just made it past the cashier area and the entrance to the cafe when Adele Abrams Humphries came up next to me.
"What's going on, Pink?" she said, looking down at the baby girl and then at all I was carrying. Before I could say anything, her expression darkened. "Don't even think about trying to leave her in my area."
Where do I begin to explain Adele? Maybe I should start with why she insisted on calling me by my last name instead of Molly. Even though I think she has forgotten by now, it was her little way to annoy me. Adele had already been working at the bookstore and expected to be promoted to the event coordinator position. She was more than a little resentful when I got hired instead. She refused to even consider that I was more qualified. I had spent years helping out with Charlie's PR firm so arranging author events and community gatherings was easy for me.
To pacify Adele, Mrs. Shedd had given her the children's department, which was where she was afraid I was going to drop Marlowe off. Adele didn't have any children of her own and frankly didn't really like them, but they loved her. She was tall and amply built and towered over them, but it didn't seem to matter. Adele lived for drama and costumes whether it was a cape and crown for story-time or outfits that were overly embellished with crocheted flowers and motifs. Adele could have been the national spokesperson for the yarn craft. She dismissed knitting and knitters as unimportant in the yarn world. Crochet ruled as far as she was concerned. Needless to say, she was one of the Tarzana Hookers and had been with the group since they first started meeting at the bookstore.
First, I assured her that I had no intention of leaving the baby in the children's area, then I explained who Marlowe was and why she was with me. Adele eyed me with disapproval. "Pink, I never would have let that happen. Your family is always dropping something on you. How many dogs and cats have they left with you? And now a baby."