I look up from the obnoxiously large stack of papers, that I had promised myself I would finish going through tonight, to encounter the slightly timid, blue eyes of my young son. He stands in the doorway of my study in his nightgown, clutching a stuffed bear against his chest. “Anatole, what are you doing out of bed?”
“I’m scared, Papa.”
Oh, God, what was it this time? God knows I wasn’t meant to raise a child. “Scared of what? Anatole, Madame—“
“Madame Blanc doesn’t believe me! She says I’m making it all up.” The boy pouts adorably and I can’t help but think of how much he looks like his mother and uncle. Sometimes I really wish the boy would listen to his governess just a little more. He doesn’t care much for her though, I suspect. Perhaps I shouldn’t have considered her attractiveness as one of the criteria on which I hired her – I think that might have blurred the overall picture.
“Alright, alright. What are you scared of?”
“The monster under my bed.” Anatole sticks his bottom lip out in a pout. I almost laugh.
“A monster under your bed?”
Anatole nods eagerly. “Mm-hhmm.”
He looks serious and seriously upset. Maybe I should give the boy a break; he’s only six after all. “Anatole, come here.” I beckon him over and manage to feel guilty when he dashes over to me and climbs onto my lap, obviously looking for protection and comfort. I put my arms around him and he drops his head to my shoulder, burring his face in the side of my neck. The wave of warmth and tenderness I feel every time I hold him still takes me by surprise even after all these years. “Anatole,” I say quietly, playing with the silky strands of his strawberry-blond hair. “Why do you think there’s a monster under your bed?”
He seems to think about it, chewing on his lower lip in the process. Horrible habit, I’ll have to point it out to Madame Blanc so she can rid him of it. “Well…Eugene said that there are monsters under the beds of children who eat too many sweets and-and I like sweets.” Anatole sniffs pathetically into my shoulder. I restrain a sigh of exasperation. I bet this conversation took place during dinner and the question arose who should get the last piece of apple pie. My godson isn’t even eight yet and he’s already causing trouble. Not unlike his father, I must add.
“Anatole, what have I told you about believing everything Eugene tells you?”
“Not to?” Anatole looks up, a sheepish expression on his face.
“But Eugene’s older and he said…I thought he’d know. I mean…oh.” I could practically see the wheels turning in the boy’s head as he tried to put everything together. “But then there are those sounds in the room at night…” Anatole sounds a little less certain, but he still has a death grip on the bear and my shirt.
“That’s probably Madame Blanc snoring in the next room.” Anatole giggles – shameless little brat – and seems to relax just a little. “Anatole, do you really think that if I thought there might be a monster under your bed I would leave you to sleep there or wouldn’t get rid of the monster first?”
“Well…no.” He’s chewing on his lip again, thinking hard. “But what if you didn’t know about it?”
“Oh, I don’t know, but Eugene does?” I raise my eyebrows at him in askance.
Anatole buries his head into my shoulder again, his ears turning read. “That’s not what I meant!” He looks up after a minute or so, still a little pink, and gives me a serious look. “So there are no monsters under my bed?”
“Or in my room.”
“Are you SURE?”
“Yes, Anatole, I am quite certain. The only place monsters live is in books and legends. So there can not possibly be any monsters here.”
Anatole nods, slowly, seriously. “Oh. Alright. Papa, can you put me to bed?” He latches his arms in a firmer grip around my neck, apparently so I don’t set him down. As I said – shameless.
“Alright, come on.” I carry him to his room and put him to bed, tucking the blankets up to his chin. I kiss his forehead softly, pushing stray strands of hair out of his face. “Goodnight, my little one.”
Anatole snuggles into the blankets and closes his eyes. “Night, Papa,” he mutters sleepily.
I give my son one last look and leave the room to return to my study and my work, which does need to be get done so I can go to bed as well. I wasn’t meant to raise a child on my own and I fear sometimes that I’m not raising him as I should. But I love him. That I know for sure. I love him more than anything or anyone in the world.