“Where the fuck am I?!” The young woman exclaims suddenly, giving the elderly couple passing her on the sidewalk a mild fright in the process. She looks up from her phone for a second, realising that probably came out a little louder and harsher than she’d intended, and attempts to give the pair a nervous smile.
Her efforts, however, are met with a cold glare and shake of the head as they continue to walk briskly away from her, tutting all the while. She simply rolls her eyes when they are too far gone to see and continues to scrutinise the tiny map on her phone as it continues to update at a snail’s pace.
Sighing loudly, she minimises the screen and pulls up her texts, reading the address details she’d been given for the millionth time, checking she has everything correct before trying to head on her way once more.
The text reads:
104 Rose Street, just past the large wall that leads to the Underground Services, you can’t miss it. I’ll wait for you outside on the porch swing. Thanks again! E x
But she can’t see any large wall…there aren’t any routes leading towards Underground Services…and to top it all off, her phone seems to be mocking her by not updating her steps and sending her in completely wrong directions. The street signs don’t appear to be making any sense to her either, the words all jumbling together into a big pile of mush. Despite the fact she’s been learning English since she was in Kindergarten, and been fluent since she was a teenager, that knowledge always just seems to throw itself out the window whenever she’s left in stressful situations.
Luckily, her phone finally calculates the distance to her desired location, and she finds she’ll make it just on time if she hurries, worst case scenario she’ll be a few minutes late. Not the best first impression to make when starting a brand new job.
So far since moving to the states, she’s bagged herself several cleaning jobs in retirement homes or specialist hospitals that care for the elderly in their last days, but it’s not been ideal, especially as she’s not been able to fully utilise any of the skills she acquired back in Germany while working as a nurse.
The healthcare system is vastly different here, and while she’s fully qualified and experienced in her field, so far, it’s been slim pickings when hunting for a full-time job to pay her ever increasing household bills. The only opportunities she’s had to put her skills to real use have been when she had been cleaning a room and the occupant had requested help going to the bathroom, or that one time she’d administered a dosage of painkillers to a woman who had been crying out in agony. She’d checked the paperwork thoroughly and found that the older lady had been waiting for hours for someone to come by her room and give her the medicine.
She felt it had been her moral obligation to help the poor woman, but of course it had in fact led to her immediate dismissal from her post without pay for the full day.
To her dismay, it has now started to rain and it’s beginning to soak through her very light, denim jacket she’d decided to wear despite the winter morning chill. That had been a dumb decision considering it had snowed only a couple of days prior, even her wool hat was becoming drenched. She sighs, nothing she can do about it now.
Her rather heavy backpack feels like it carries tonnes of bricks by the time she sees the little flag marking her destination just at the end of the road on her phone, and she almost visibly rejoices when she notices the outline of a figure sitting on a green, wooden swing on a well sheltered, well-maintained porch.
The person on the swing seems to notice her presence as she starts almost jogging towards the porch steps, almost slipping in her enthusiasm to finally get out of the rain.
“Oh dear, be careful! I’ve done that about a hundred times myself over the years!” The person says kindly, arms stretched out in front of themselves as if to stop the young woman faceplanting into anything on her first day, “Are you Anna?”
The young woman, Anna, nods her assent, taking off her soaking wool hat and attempting to squeeze any remaining water out of her baby pink hair. Who ever said space buns weren’t for 26-year-old women? They were cute and incredibly practical when it came to releasing rain from her head, as she was beginning to find out.
“Yes, I’m sorry for the way I look, I hadn’t expected it to rain so hard.” Anna says apologetically, the foreign words feeling wrong and heavy on her tongue, no matter how many years go by, she can’t help but feel self-conscious whenever she speaks English in front of a new person for the first time, “You are Ellen, yes?”
“Don’t worry about it, Dad always keeps plenty of clean towels inside, just remember to put them inside the washing machine when you’re done, or he’ll have a cow.” The other woman replies understandingly, “And yes, I’m Ellen, I trust my directions were clear enough? I wasn’t sure how else to describe the place.”
Anna isn’t quite ready to admit she’d been wandering around aimlessly for the better part of an hour in fear of sounding like an idiot or wiping the pearly white smile completely off Ellen’s pretty, welcomingly sweet face.
She’s probably in her mid-thirties, but Anna can’t help but notice an almost girlish charm in her appearance, from her cherry red lips and wavy, chin-length, black hair to her beige fur-trimmed coat and brown, suede, knee-high boots with a conservative heel. And if the massive rings she wears on her left hand are anything to go by, she definitely comes from money, married into it most likely, based on the obscenely ostentatious and out of place white sport’s car parked in the driveway.
Anna realises she’s yet to answer Ellen’s question and has just been staring blankly for several seconds, “Ah yes! The directions were great, very…umm, transparent.” She answers dumbly, wishing she’d said nothing at all after seemingly losing the word “clear” from her vocabulary. So much for not looking like a complete moron in front of the new boss.
Ellen, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to pick up on her mistake or is simply too kind to point out the strange use of words and beams happily before instructing Anna to follow her into the house and through to the living room.
Anna had eagerly responded to the online advertisement that Ellen had posted several days earlier looking for a fully qualified, full time Nurse for her elderly father, thinking it’d be the standard run of the mill job she’d been used to back in her home country. She expected to be asked to cook, clean, administer medication and possibly provide help with bathing and bathroom activities when necessary, she wasn’t easily squicked out and those duties didn’t bother her in the slightest.
However, Ellen had been rather reserved when it came to answering Anna’s questions about her father’s state of being, or even what the job entailed in general, just that she was needed right away on as short notice as possible, and that she’d receive a salary paid generously above the standard minimum wage payable to someone in her profession.
What she hadn’t expected to see upon entering the living room, however, is an elderly man with a grey undercut and glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, on his hands and knees scrubbing harshly at the base boards of the wall.
Anna is just about masking her surprise when Ellen sighs audibly next to her and pinches the bridge of her nose, before approaching the gentleman still scrubbing away, not bothering to look up for a second.
“Dad, what have I told you about that? You’re going to hurt your bad leg!” Ellen complains, trying to pry the man from the floor with no luck.
“Ellen, I have lived in this house for almost forty fucking years, and in those forty fucking years I have cleaned these damn base boards every single weekend without fail, I hardly think some kneeling and a little bit of elbow grease is about to kill me, do you?” The gentleman replies exasperated, as if they’ve had this same conversation many times over, which going by the annoyed expressions on both their faces, they probably have.
“Can you please watch your language, Daddy? You have a guest!” Ellen remarks, gesturing to Anna and Levi creakily moves to stand before turning around to face her. He’s relatively fit for his age, Anna notes, standing with an almost unnoticeable bend to his back and knees, and he’s definitely able to move much quicker than many of her previous…she’d struggle to call him a patient in this instance, based on how independently he appears to live. Like the base boards decorating each wall, every inch of the house that she can see is spotless and well looked after.
The main thing strikes Anna as surprising, however, is how small the older man is. He’s probably around 5”3 if she’s being generous, and Ellen probably wouldn’t be much taller than him if she were to take her heels off. Anna has always been considered slightly taller than average, standing at a solid 5”8, but being in a room with these rather little people has her feeling like a genuine tower in comparison.
“Anna, this is my father Levi Ackerman. Dad, this is Anna, she’s here to help you. Remember we talked about getting you an extra pair of hands around the house?” Ellen asks Levi encouragingly, but the man says nothing, instead resolving to give her a cold, hard stare which she’s not completely unaccustomed to, she’s worked with many types of people in her time, and not all of them have been entirely welcoming. She decides after a beat that it’s her turn to say something now.
“Hello Mr Ackerman, my name is Anna Lehmann, I’m good at cleaning too and I’m a qualified…”
“You’re German.” Levi abruptly cuts her off, eyes narrowing in contemplation.
“Are you?” Ellen asks, looking surprised, “I hadn’t even realised.”
“Uh…Yes, I am.” Anna responds, confused, “Is that going to be a prob…”
“You have pink hair.” Levi interrupts her once again, as if the subject naturally progressed there on it’s own.
“Yes, I do.”
“Grown ups don’t have pink hair.” Levi remarks, assessing her with a cool, hard stare as he grimaces at her appearance, “I raised two teenage girls, I’ve been through the pink hair phase and…questionable fashion choices.” He says pointedly.
Anna feels her blood beginning to boil at his demeaning gaze and words, and she doesn’t mean to snark back at an elderly man, but she’s always had a temper and the words slip out before she can stop them.
“Well, this grown up has pink hair, lets call me an exception, yes? And as for questionable fashion choices, I always thought that cravats belonged on corpses, if you’re looking for extra morphine to tip the scales in your favour, you’re going to have to pay me a lot more than you are currently…”
Ellen has begun to look slightly pale, unsure how to handle or comprehend the exchange, and begins fidgeting with the hem of her coat in a nervous gesture. Levi, on the other hand, shows no emotion except the slight twitch in his eyebrow at her words, gaze unwavering until the atmosphere in the room starts becoming awkward and uncomfortable.
Anna gives in first, addressing Ellen once again.
“Look, thank you for your time today, but maybe I better go…”
“I don’t need a nurse.” Levi speaks up unexpectedly, “I’m not an invalid and I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”
“Nobody is arguing that Dad!” Ellen reassures him, “It’s just that you clearly can’t do as much as you were once used to and that’s a hard thing to accept. I can see the stairs are becoming a struggle and I know you don’t want to leave this house…and I would never force you. But I’m worried about you Daddy, Tom is worried about you, you know he thinks of you as like a father to him…and believe it or not, Olivia worries about you too, even if she would never admit it.”
“Olivia is about the only person in this goddamn family that doesn’t treat me like a dying cripple.” Levi snaps coldly, causing Ellen’s eyes to droop to her tightly clasped hands. Levi glares for only a second more before he sighs and continues,
“Having said that, I will admit that yes, it has become a little more difficult recently with the stairs and the cleaning since your Aunt Mika had that fall last year. Hell, she’s in a hell of a worse state than I am and you’re insisting I’m the one that needs the nurse!”
Ellen’s next words are muttered so low that Levi can’t hear them, but Anna manages to catch “Yeah, but she has Lexi there with her.”
“So, with that in mind…” Levi starts again, this time looking directly at Anna, “I will accept help with the daily chores and the groceries, which need picked up twice a week. And while that doesn’t sound like much, I run a tight ship around here, and I expect you to work to a high standard at all times. Otherwise, I have no need for you. The choice is yours.”
Anna is left stunned for a stretch, still not quite believing that Levi is relenting! She had fully expected to walk out of the door with an apology for her wasted time and to be back on the job search by tonight. Ellen gives her a shrug, indicating that she’s just about as shocked as Anna at the turn of events and looking at her imploringly, as if silently begging her to agree.
“I…well…if you are happy for me to come and work for you Mr Ackerman…then I would be grateful for the opportunity. I work well with direction…”
“Instruction.” Levi offers automatically, clearing his throat in embarrassment straight after.
“Yes, instruction…I will do my best to meet your expectations.” Anna says with a final nod, to which Levi simply grunts in acknowledgement.
“Well then,” Ellen exclaims suddenly, “It seems like I’m no longer needed here, I’ll make myself scarce and let you two get better acquainted. I need to pick Olivia up from practice anyway.”
“Lacrosse?” Levi asks with piqued interest.
“Football, actually.” Ellen replies, seemingly a little uncomfortable with the topic, “She’s insisted it’s what she wants to do, and there’s nothing I can do to change her mind.”
“Well you know Livvy, she’s strong willed and she’ll always do what she wants to do no matter what you tell her. It’s a good trait to have…” Levi says, trailing off and looking away sadly. Anna doesn’t know why that look sticks with her, but it does, and in that one look she finds herself wanting to know all about Levi Ackerman.
“Yeah, well, I’ll see you later okay, Dad? I’ll come and visit in a couple days, make sure you have everything you need.” Ellen assures, giving Levi a kiss on the cheek before making to leave, “Anna, do you mind walking me to the door?”
“Of course.” Anna says quietly, timidly following Ellen’s clicking heels all the way through the pictureless hall and to the front door. Ellen gives her a sheepish smile as they step just outside, the rain has died down since before and Anna’s hat looks to be drying well enough on the porch steps.
“I’m really sorry about that, Anna.” Ellen apologises, “I would have told you more about Dad and how he can be before you got here. I know he can be…intense, he always has been, and I know it can be overwhelming, but I love him so much and hate seeing him struggle…I guess I just wanted you to give him a chance.”
“Wait, you’re apologising to me?” Anna asks surprised, “I thought for sure you were going to tell me to leave for speaking to your father that way before, I’m sorry about that too. I don’t know why I did it.”
Ellen chuckles at that, “Oh please! That was nothing compared to the things I’ve heard come out his mouth before. Between you and me, I think he needs someone willing to challenge him, he hates when anyone takes his shit wordlessly, he needs to be put in his place every so often.”
“So, you’re not mad? I’m not fired?” Anna questions hopefully, already feeling far more elated that she ever has in all her time since arriving in the country.
“No, of course not! I actually just wanted to let you know that I’m still willing to pay you the full amount that we agreed on. I know it’s not EXACTLY the role we’d discussed and you’re not going to be his nurse as such…but he could really use the company. He’s been so lonely for years, since…well…and it only got worse when Alexia and I moved out for college.”
“Alexia?” Anna enquires curiously.
“My sister, Lexi, she’s a couple of years younger than me.” Ellen clarifies.
“I see.” Anna nods in understanding, “Should I expect to meet her any time soon?”
Ellen smiles sadly, “No, I don’t expect that you will. She doesn’t come around here…much.”
Ellen doesn’t elaborate, she doesn’t have to, Anna has seen it time and time again. Children who lose touch with their much older relatives, off to live their own lives and forgetting the ones who gave them it in the first place. It leaves a bitter taste in her mouth when she thinks of it, if her own parents were alive, she’d be taking care of them until the day they reached their graves.
They part with a kind goodbye on both sides, Ellen zooming off in her fancy car, looking a million miles away from where she should be as Anna heads back inside to see Levi, said man leaning back in a comfortable armchair and awaiting her return.
“Are you any good at making tea, Pippi?” Levi asks as she re-enters the room.
“Excuse me?” Anna questions, raising a quirked eyebrow.
“Tea? I take it you’re familiar with it? Or were you just taking a shit for so long that all the brain cells in your head have magically fallen out your ass?” He smirks as he says it, and Anna thinks it makes him look much younger than he is. 75 years old, if Anna remembers what Ellen had told her in the texts.
“I’m familiar with tea, Mr Ackerman, I was asking why you called me Pippi?” Anna asks in confusion.
“Because you remind me of Pippi Longstocking.” Smirk still painting his features in defiance.
“Well, I happen to find that offensive and incorrect, for one Pippi is Swedish, and secondly, she had braids. I don’t have braids.” Anna responds petulantly, pointing to her head and almost pouting at his teasing of her looks once again.
“Well, you’re the exception. You did say that, right? Now tea! And I’m telling you right now, nobody has made me a decent cup of tea in 26 years, so I will be incredibly disappointed if you screw it up. Cups are in the kitchen cupboards over the sink, and not the fine China! Your fingers have destructive oils.”
“As you wish, sir.” Anna responds, placing the emphasis on the Sir.
“But before you do any of that, take your shoes off and clean the floors, you’ve been trailing rainwater and mud inside since you walked in, it’s been giving me a twitch.”
“Okay, fine.” She says tightly, picking up a bucket from the floor and readying herself to fill it up.
“Hey Moron! I was just using that to clean the base boards, you have to disinfect it first! Seriously, are you always this disgusting?”
And honestly, Anna would have forever denied cursing out an old man in her native tongue when her back was turned…if he hadn’t called her out for it himself.
“I can hear you! Don’t think you can pull that shit with me, I was married to a German, I know every word in the fucking insult directory!” Levi bellows from behind her, and Anna expects him to be red hot with rage when she looks at him, only to find him barely suppressing his sheer amusement at her wide-eyed expression following her mistake. She reckons she must look like a doomed fish, too tempted to reach out and take the bite that she completely missed the hook embedding itself in her face.
And with that, Anna Lehmann is absolutely convinced that Levi Ackerman is, and always will be, one of the biggest contradictions she’ll ever be faced with in her life.