Grace sat across from Jillian and Scott, her hands folded primly in her lap and a bag of her things sitting beside her guitar case. The rest of her belongings had already been moved to a storage unit until she could figure out how to get them back to the states. What had been left--her toothbrush and hairbrush, clothes that had been in the dryer, and a couple cookbooks they had found in the kitchen--was packed in the homemade market bag and ready to go with her when she left for the last time.
“You have been such a joy to us, and truly part of our family,” Jillian was saying, her perfectly pressed white shirt stretched across her belly.
Grace knew Jillian wasn’t due for three months but she had taken leave of her marketing job already, in preparation for the baby and making the switch to stay at home mom.
“And Thomas is really going to miss you,” Scott added, his hands folded in his lap. He sat beside his wife on one of two couches in the small sitting room.
Thomas. Sweet seven-year-old Thomas, whom Grace had helped raise. As nanny for the Gebhart’s, Grace had been involved with nearly every aspect of their family life since Thomas was weaned at four months old and Jillian had gone back to work. Saying goodbye to him, and to his parents, was harder than Grace ever imagined it would be.
Truth be told, she hadn’t ever really imagined it. She’d assumed, as had the Gebhart’s, that Jillian would continue working indefinitely, and that Grace would be absorbed into their family until Thomas and any child they had after was old enough to not need a nanny. What had started as a decade and a half long job had now been cut short just shy of eight years.
It’s not that she blamed them. Jillian had worked hard as a marketing executive, and Grace knew people’s priorities changed. Now that Jillian and Scott had worked up a savings and were financially prepared to grow their family, they found that what appealed to both of them was having Jillian home with their children, and not working late at a desk job for a major London marketing firm, as she had been doing for the last fifteen years.
The problem--not theirs, but Grace’s--was that Grace was now twenty-seven and the only thing on her resume was Nanny and an ice cream scooping job she’d had through high school. She couldn’t exactly put on a professional resume that she had babysat under the table for four years as a teenager and had kept up on her first aid classes because of that. It might have helped her get this job with the Gebhart’s, but it wouldn’t help her in the outside world.
“I’m going to miss him as well, but he’ll do great as a big brother,” she said, swallowing past the lump in her throat that was threatening to choke off her air supply.
Jillian herself had tears in her eyes that matched Grace’s, and Scott was pressing his lips together in that emotional way men tended to do when they wanted to be sympathetic but weren’t as emotional as their female counterparts.
Jillian began to cry in earnest, which only made Grace do the same. They stood and embraced at the end of the table, Scott standing to add in his fatherly pats on Grace’s shoulder.
“We’ll keep in touch, send you pictures, and don’t forget to Skype Thomas any time. He’s going to miss you and your music. I don’t know how we’ll ever get him to go to sleep now.” Jillian held her hand as they walked towards the front door. Scott stopped to get Grace’s bag and guitar, while she carried her own purse. “That employment agency you signed up with has a glowing review from us, so if you don’t get a job right away, we'll know it’s because the other families are morons and don’t know a good thing when they see one,” Scott joked, breaking some of the tension.
Grace smiled through her tears, giving him a polite one-armed hug before being wrapped up in another of Jillian’s strong embraces.
They said a final goodbye and Grace got into the waiting taxi.
This wasn’t how she envisioned her life going, but being the primary caregiver of a young boy for years had taught her to expect the unexpected. This was a roadblock, and despite feeling weepy and sad, there was part of her that knew this could be an adventure, and that she should be glad to have this opportunity while she was still young.
As the taxi sped down the road to bring her to the hotel she would be staying in while she looked for employment, Grace looked out the window and wiped her eyes, smiling.
Chin up , she reminded herself. Things can only look up from here.
...Four years later...
“You should take the job,” Becca said, her voice slightly echoing in the large shower as she squeegeed the tile walls. They were smooth, a black marble that Grace was certain was authentic.
“I don’t know.”
The mirror now clean, Grace moved onto the double sink, the long counter stretching nearly the length of the room.
Surely people didn’t need this kind of opulence. She was happy being paid to clean it, but wouldn’t necessarily want to own it. Excessive wealth didn’t sit well with her, not after the last four years of dealing with the owners of the multi million dollar mansions her agency hired out personnel for. Grace’s position was often multi-layered--sometimes nanny for rich kids, sometimes personal chef for young socialites, most often housekeeper for people who had long ago forgotten what it meant to do for themselves what they shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for someone else to do.
It annoyed her, but at the same time it put food on her table.
“You know you want to. Scotland--can you imagine? ”
As a matter of fact, Grace could. At one point she had imagined herself to be an international employee, jetting around the world to different locations as nanny to the rich and famous. Or simply settling down with another nice family like the Gebhart’s, in a beautiful country like Spain or Norway or yes, even Scotland.
But that was years ago, before the recession that had made her employment agency release hundreds of employees. Grace had done what she could to make herself indispensable, knowing not many of her fellow maids had the skill set she had to offer.
“Yes,” she said, catching sight of herself in the mirror as she rubbed cleaner over the surface of the counter. “But it’s on a yacht--”
“A dream come true for you,” replied Becca, laughing a bit harshly.
It wasn’t Grace’s fault that she was often offered more lucrative jobs and unique positions than Becca, but that didn’t stop her from feeling slightly guilty about it. Becca was great at what she did, and nice and honest and hard working to boot. But what she was good at was cleaning. She couldn’t cook, couldn’t deal with kids, and didn’t have the patience that Grace did.
“A dream come true? How could spending long lonely days on a yacht be a dream come true? It sounds lonely, and like there wouldn’t be much to do.”
Becca pshh-ed her dramatically from inside the shower, knowing it would make Grace laugh.
“But the pay is comparable to what you’re getting now, is it not? And wouldn’t working two hours for that pay be better than working eight? Think of how much time you would have for music, cooking, exploring the countryside!”
“Geez, Becca,” she said, eyeing her friend in the mirror as she laughed. “Make it sound like I wouldn’t be a complete idiot to turn down the job, won’t ya?”
She was certain if anyone walked in on the two maids in matching black uniforms laughing and giggling as they were, that they would probably be written up. Thank goodness the owners were away.
“But seriously, you just want an excuse to come visit me.”
Grace pushed a stray hair out of her face with her forearm before she went back to scrubbing, wondering how it had escaped from her severe high bun.
Becca laughed again, turning towards Grace with her hands on her hips.
“You’re damned straight I do! I want to get out of California every once in a while. And I can’t think of anywhere better than Scotland!”
Through more giggles and conversation they worked, passing away the afternoon as they went from room to room. It was always nice when the two of them were placed on jobs like this together, because they got along so well. Grace liked the company, even though she felt she worked fairly well by herself.
As they moved to the large living room Becca remained on one side, humming to herself, and Grace stood on the other, wiping down the large windows, she had a moment to think on the job offer Becca had referred to.
A week ago, word had come into the employee break room that a new long term job had been posted in Scotland. Since Grace’s residential hospitality services company was world renown for the quality of its staff and their record for catering to the upper classes, not all jobs were worthy of mention. But to have one come in from Scotland, on a yacht where the owner’s presence was sporadic, was a job many of the other employees wished to be chosen for.
But Grace was one of only a handful who were asked to come meet with their regional supervisor, and the first to be offered the position. If she didn’t take it in the next forty-eight hours it would be passed to the next eligible candidate.
At thirty-one she felt that it might be time to do something for herself--she just had to decide what exactly that would be. She had some extra money the Gebhart’s had given her as a bonus set aside, and hadn’t decided on what to use it for yet. She had chosen the day they’d given it to her not to squander it on anything like shopping or a house. She had too much wanderlust in her blood for that at the time. But she also wasn’t interested in college or paying for her own way travelling the world, like they had suggested.
So it sat in her savings account, earning her a meager interest rate until she could figure out what to do with it. Someday she would spend it, or else it would all be dumped into some type of long term investment.
The thought of taking a job in Scotland did appeal to her, she wasn’t going to lie about that. But it wasn’t the kind of job she wanted. It wasn’t a family with young children, nor one in a house large enough where she would have her own room. This was a day job in which she would be required to find suitable lodging, although the company would pay her rent and give her a stipend for food and expenses. There were no kids, only a single owner. And it was a yacht , not a house.
The thought of working on a yacht was interesting, and if she really thought hard about it, it seemed like an adventure. It just wasn’t the perfect job for her.
“Well? What do you think?”
Becca had come around, gathering up her cleaning supplies as they wrapped up at the house for the day. Grace piled her supplies into her bucket and walked with her friend towards the front door, locking it as they exited.
“I don’t know,” she replied, shrugging when Becca looked at her. “I’m just not excited about it.”
They put their things in the back of the company vehicle and climbed in. As Becca put the car in gear and pulled around the circle in front of the house, she turned towards the long driveway and headed out.
“Well, best think about it fast because they’re not going to give you forever to decide.” She shot Grace a wry look as she drove up to the automatic gate that would let them out. “And we don’t want any of the other girls getting such a gravy job, you know?” she said with a wink, and she turned back to the road, while they both laughed.
As it turned out, deciding to take the job was easier than she had thought. Once home that night, Grace had looked around and decided there wasn’t a single thing she would miss if she packed up and moved to Scotland.
She had her guitar and her photo album of her time with the Gebhart’s, including the empty pages she was still slowly filling with photos of Thomas as they sent them to her.
Tomorrow morning she decided she would call them and tell them of her decision. It would mean for the first time in four years she had a chance of visiting their family and meeting their three year old, Lynn, in person.
A quick perusal of her small apartment showed a kitchen in desperate need of renovation, a bathroom that held nothing special, a bedroom devoid of personal effects, and a living room that had become her only sanctuary in her dull little world.
She had a comfortable chair in which she could sit and play her guitar, her music stand, and a small bookshelf where she kept the fiction and cookbooks she regularly cycled out at the local literacy council. In her kitchen she had a nice set of pans because she loved to cook, and a few more cookbooks. But there was nothing else--no pets, family spread out all over the US, and only really Becca, who was a great person to work with but not exactly best friend material.
Maybe Scotland was just the next step. Maybe this job on the yacht was going to be what propelled her into the life she had always dreamed of--that of a mother, wife, homemaker. The role she had been practicing for since she was a young girl on her first babysitting job.
She was thirty-one. Her dreams were going to slip through her fingers if she didn’t take initiative.
Before bed that night she sat down at her laptop and shot off an email to her boss.
Please inform me of the next step. I will begin to research lodging, and can be ready to leave in one week. Thank you for this opportunity!
When she sent it, she had a smile on her face.
By the following evening she had a small apartment booked for six months a mile from the harbor where the yacht was docked. For the summer she would walk back and forth to the marina, and would deal with winter when it came. She also had printed out instructions from her agency on international travel, verified that her passport was up to date since she had last travelled with the company, and had tucked away all materials provided by the owner of the boat. She would read that on the plane.
Her ticket was booked by an agent within the company, and she wasn’t looking forward to the thirteen hour flight with a two hour layover in Dublin, but the closer she got to the departure date, the more excited she became about seeing Scotland. She did research, explored Google Earth maps of the area, and familiarized herself with landmarks marking the route from her apartment to the harbor. She wrote an email to her parents, with whom she wasn’t very close, notifying them of her plans, and paid the early termination fee on the lease for her apartment in Los Angeles.
Then, when the day came for her to leave for the airport, Grace took one last look around the apartment that had been her home for the previous four years.
It was bittersweet to see it go, although not enough to cry over. Always the emotional one, Grace was surprised to find the mounting excitement over this new adventure surpassing the sadness of saying goodbye to this part of her life. But with her guitar hanging over her shoulder and her carry-on bag in hand, she shut the door and locked it before dropping the key in the drop box on the bottom floor.
When she walked out the front door of the building, she never once looked back.