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For the Love of a Dog

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I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore—not that I’d ever been there; I mean, I’d seen The Wizard of Oz like pretty much every girl I knew, and some of the gay guys I’d been friends with over the years, but… Well, I’ve never been to Kansas. I am originally a girl from Seattle, a place that I firmly believed should have been the capital of Washington State. I mean, why was Olympia the capital? You think you have the name equivalent to a Greek God and therefore…

Do not get me started on religion. I am a die-hard atheist. So much so that I was pretty much booted from my family. I worked my ass off through high school after I came out as an atheist so that I could go to college out of state—that was my goal from day one. As soon as I was accepted into Rhode Island College, I quickly wrote the acceptance to their acceptance letter, staying up till 3:00 a.m. in the process.

It was only half a scholarship, however, so getting a job would have to be in my plans as well, and I quickly scrolled through various classifieds as soon as I arrived—thankfully my scholarship covered board. I looked through and through the papers, until finally something stuck out at me: Nanny wanted.

I had plenty of experience watching children—I even wanted to go into teaching, and had even volunteered in a few classrooms back home. I quickly emailed by former clients and asked if they wouldn’t mind quickly writing me a reference letter. By the end of the week I had an interview, and three different reference letters—from the Harrison family, the Goldfield family, and the Young family. I packed them all up in my new briefcase—a last-minute parting gift from my aunt—and took a bus from the college to the neighborhood of Quahog, Rhode Island.

I got off at Laney Drive and pulled out my phone, easily accommodating Google Maps as I tried to find another block called Spooner Street. I make a right turn and, suddenly, there I am, walking down an unassuming patch of lower middle class suburbia. I keep walking and soon come upon a purple house, which my phone confirms is my destination. I quickly turn my phone to camera mode and, after making sure that my hair isn’t out of place, I make a beeline for the front door.

Reaching out, I make my hand into the customary fist and knock three times. Biting my lip, the door opens, and an African American couple answers the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Brown?” I ask, putting a smile in my face.

“Yes,” says Mrs. Brown with a pleasant smile. “How can we help you?”

“I’m Vivienne Shaw,” I replied. “I’ve been emailing with the two of you for the past couple of weeks. I’m here…”

“You’re here about the babysitting job!” Mr. Brown cries out, playfully clapping his hands like a small boy would. “Why don’t you come inside? We have a Cheez-It plate in the living room, just through here!”

“Cleveland!” cries Mrs. Brown, shaking her head. “Please excuse my husband, Vivienne—I can call you Vivienne, can’t I?” she asks, and, at my nod, continues. “It’s a variety of cheese and crackers. Why don’t you come in?”

“Thank you,” I reply, stepping inside to a normal-looking living room. I am invited to sit down and I thank them, sinking gratefully onto the couch. I look at the small coffee table in front of me, noting the three different kinds of cheese on the table, each with its own cheese knife. I notice that there are three kinds of crackers as well, but decide not to take anything for the moment.

“Vivienne, so nice to finally meet you,” Mrs. Brown says, smiling as she and her husband sit in a love seat to my left. “You mentioned that you have some child care experience?”

“Yes, I do,” I reply. “I worked as a babysitter from about thirteen until seventeen—just before my eighteenth birthday—but I moved here for school. I got my associate’s degree at a junior college in Seattle, so from eighteen until twenty-one I focused on classes, working odd jobs on campus and in retail.”

“And what do you intend to study?” asks Mrs. Brown.

“I want to be an elementary education teacher, and a writer,” I add, feeling a blush coming to my cheeks at my honesty.

“That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Brown replies. “Heavy class load?”

“Nine until three on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and nine until noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” I say promptly. “I have the weekends off, and the rest of those hours off—although I would need a couple of hours in the evening to complete homework.”

“You’re at Rhode Island College?” Mr. Brown asks.

“Yes, sir,” I reply. “Half a scholarship this year. That’s why I’ve applied to work for you. I have to be able to afford textbooks and such.”

“Rhode Island College is only about fifteen minutes away,” Mrs. Brown says. “How did you get here?”

“I took a bus,” I reply. “I have my license, and my parents are sending over my car. We didn’t part on good terms,” I say softly.

“What did you do?” asks a no-nonsense voice from across the room.

“Rallo!” Mrs. Brown shouts. “I told you to stay with Roberta and Cleveland Jr. upstairs. What do you think you’re doing down here?!”

“Wanted to take a look at whoever you’re entrusting us to,” Rallo replies, walking up to the couch to size me up. “Mm-hm,” he says approvingly. “Looks like we got ourselves a fine white bitch.”

“Rallo!” Mrs. Brown yells.

I lower my eyes down to Rallo. “Rallo? Is that your name?”

“That’s right, fool. What of it?”

“How would you feel if someone directed hurtful comments to you?” I asked simply. “Have you ever been called that word?”

“You afraid to say it?” he demanded.

I smiled and shook my head. “No, of course not. But there are certain things that aren’t appropriate in certain situations.”

“Like pulling my pants down at church?” Rallo asks, turning to his mother.

“If you’re into that sort of thing, yes,” I reply carefully. “But what you said to me was hurtful, rude, and inappropriate. The appropriate response would be to apologize.”

“She’s right,” Mr. Brown says. “Rallo, as your stepfather, I highly suggest that you apologize to Vivienne. She’s going to be your new nanny.”

“Well,” Mrs. Brown begins.

I turn and smile at Mr. Brown. “Sir, don’t you think that would be a tad irresponsible? I mean, you haven’t even checked my references yet.”

Mr. Brown laughs. “Call me Cleveland,” he says. “Yes, we should probably take a look at your references.”

I reach into my bag and hand over the paperwork to Mrs. Brown. I turn back to Rallo again, who can’t be more than five-years-old, who is looking up at me in shock. “Rallo?”

He lowers his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

I smile and pat his head. “Good boy. Thank you.” Rallo leaves the room and I turn back to Mr. and Mrs. Brown, who are looking approvingly at my reference letters.

“You know first aid?” asks Mrs. Brown.

I nod. “Yes. A copy of my certification for CPR should be in that pile.”

“This looks very promising,” Mrs. Brown says, and sees the final paper in the pile. “I see you’ve done your homework,” she says approvingly. “A background check.”

I nod a second time. “Yes. My father is best friends with the man who owns the company, so he was able to push my application for one ahead. Feel free to call him or do your own if you want to be one-hundred-percent sure.”

Mrs. Brown nods. “I think you’d better meet the children now.” She gets to her feet and goes towards the staircase, opposite the front door. “Roberta! Cleveland Jr.! Rallo! Come down here and meet Vivienne!”

I get to my feet as three people come down the stairs—two teenagers, and Rallo. Roberta is what you would call ‘cool’—she was sixteen, and had a streak of platinum blonde in her hair, a sassy perpetual pink mouth, and typical teenager clothing, complete with her midriff showing. Cleveland Jr. was a large child, but had a friendly air about him which led me to believe that he would be the easiest to deal with. And, front and center, was Rallo, who surprisingly came forward and took my hand.

“Roberta, Junior, this is Vivienne. She is a doll, if I do say so myself. Please, be cordial when you introduce yourselves.”

Roberta’s phone vibrates and she immediately goes to answer it. “Whatever,” she says to Rallo’s words, flipping back her hair to answer her text.

“It is so nice to meet you,” Cleveland Jr. says, putting out his hand; his voice hasn’t broken yet, and he has a sweet air about him. “Are you going to be looking after us?”

Not me,” Roberta says defiantly, unlocking her gaze from her phone to turn immediately to her parents. She was a classic, modern teenager in every sense, with the capability to command a room, to be bossy, rude, petulant, and controlling all at the same time. “I am sixteen! I do not need a babysitter!”

“Well, get used to it,” Mrs. Brown says firmly. “We’re sticking with Vivienne.”

I blink. “Whoa. Did I just get hired?”

“Yes,” says Mrs. Brown with a smile. “If you want the job.”

“I want the job,” I reply.

“Good,” says Mrs. Brown. “As soon as your parents send you your car, we’ll discuss long-term arrangements.”

“Long-term?” I ask.

“Well, you stated in your personal application to us that you fully intended to get a job here, if everything worked out. You want to teach in Rhode Island.”

I nodded. “Yes, that’s still the case.”

“Well, Cleveland and I have made an apartment over the garage and expanded the garage to hold three cars. That means, if you would like to cut down on living expenses—we wouldn’t expect you to pay rent—you could stay there.”

“A garage apartment?” I ask.

Mrs. Brown nods. “Yes. Partially furnished, too. You would mainly need a mattress and a fridge and little things like that that we would help you with.”

“But, Mom, I thought that you were intending to give me the garage apartment,” Roberta said, stepping in between me and Mrs. Brown. “And the empty space in the garage was going towards my convertible…”

Mrs. Brown sighs. “Roberta, I know you want a car real bad. Hell, I wanted one as bad as you did when I was sixteen. The problem is, your father and I—”

Stepfather. He ain’t my dad,” Roberta snarls.

“Roberta! Respect. We’ll discuss this later, young lady,” Mrs. Brown says firmly before turning back to me. “When will your parents be sending your car?”

“Hopefully by the end of the week,” I reply. “Our communication has been sporadic of late, I’m afraid.”

Mrs. Brown nods. “I understand. Well, if you’re going to work with the family, you might as well get to be on a first name basis with us. Cleveland already gave you leave to call him so, and I’m Donna.”

“Nice to meet you officially, Donna,” I say with a smile.

. . .

Donna and I gab over wine and cheese after Cleveland heads out to a local bar to drink with some buddies. Donna and I share many childcare stories until suddenly it was after dinner time. It was Friday, so I didn’t have class the next morning, but if you lived in the dorms, you had an eleven-thirty curfew. By bus, it took twice as long to get there and, depending on traffic, I knew I ran the risk of being late.

“Don’t worry, Vivienne,” Donna said with a smile. “I called ahead for a pizza for the kids. It should be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you come across the street with me? One of my neighbors is having a girls’ night. You should come.”

“I couldn’t intrude,” I say quickly. “Really, Donna, I know you and I are getting to be friends, but I don’t know if it would be appropriate.”

“Psh,” Donna says with a smile. “Don’t you worry. Come on. We’ll go right now.” We both jump at the sound of the doorbell and Donna answers it, taking the pizza box and handing the driver a ten and a five for a tip. She calls the kids and tells them that Roberta is in charge while she’s across the street. She then motions for me to follow her and we walk directly across the street to a yellow house with blue-green shutters. Donna knocks on the door and a tall, attractive redhead answers it.

“Donna!” the woman cries, hugging her briefly before turning to me. “Who’s this?” she asks, not unkindly.

“Lois, this is Vivienne, my new nanny. She and I were visiting for a few hours and I thought I’d bring her by.”

“Well, wasn’t that nice?” Lois asks, turning to me with a smile. “Hi, I’m Lois Griffin. Please come in, Vivienne. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Griffin. It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Lois laughs. “Please call me ‘Lois’.” We walk into the living room where a small baby with a yellow shirt, red overalls, and pale blue shoes sits on the purple couch, watching a program called Jolly Farm Revue.

“Is this your son?” I ask, stepping forward.

Lois turns to the couch and nods. “Yes, this is Stewie,” she says proudly. “Stewie, say hello to our guests.”

“Fuck you,” the baby says under his breath.

“Well, I think Stewie’s a little cranky tonight. Let’s go into the dining room. I have games and snacks set up in there,” Lois calls over her shoulder as Donna follows her in there.

I turn back to Stewie. “You must really have some pent-up anger against your mother to say something like that to her,” I say.

Stewie’s eyes widen. “You heard that?” he asks.

“Of course. I’ve been told I have good hearing.”

Stewie stands up on the couch. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a device, pressing a red button and I freeze when he uses it like a scanner on my head. “Wow. Your brain is extraordinary,” he says, almost in an awe-like fashion.

“Was that…? Did you just scan my brain?” I ask as he puts the device back into his small pocket.

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

I shake my head. “No. It’s just not something I’m used to, that’s all.”

“And just what are you used to?”

“Being rejected for what I believe in,” I say without thinking.

“So, you’d classify yourself as misunderstood?” Stewie asks.

I nod. “Something like that.”

“My brain scanner was able to tell me that your ability to communicate with me has to do with your love for children.”

“I do love children…”

“It was also able to tell me that you possess a vast intelligence that not many people have been able to comprehend.”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I’m an educator, a writer, an atheist, the list goes on…”

“Writer?!” I hear from upstairs. “Atheist?!”

“Oh, god,” Stewie says, his eyes shutting halfway. “Run, while you still can.”

I hear the clacking of toenails as a scampering is heard on the staircase and a white dog comes clambering down the stairs. I raise my eyebrows at the excitement, and the dog—who is wearing a red collar—stops short in front of us. He looks from me, to Stewie, to back again, before his eyes widen.

“Stewie, did-did… Have you two been talking?”

“Yes, Brian. That’s probably why we’re standing in close proximity to one another,” Stewie replies, his tone bordering on annoyance. “Vivienne, this is Brian, the family dog. Also known as failed writer, college dropout, my baby daddy…”

Brian laughs loudly and awkwardly before coming closer to me and sticks his black nose out, sniffing me for a moment before putting out his hand. “Brian,” he says to me, his tone sultry. “Brian Steel.”

“Hi, I’m Vivienne,” I say, forcing myself not to faint dramatically into his handsome arms. “I’ll bet Stewie’s used his brain scanner on you, too.”

Brain does the awkward laugh again. “Well…”

“Brian, you know full well that the brain scanner wasn’t the only scanner—or invention—used upon you.”

“I think the logical question at this point—other than the obvious of what you meant by ‘baby daddy’, as well as which other scanners you used on him—but, in all seriousness, Stewie, how and why do you have a British accent?” I asked.

Stewie grinned. “I suppose I was conceived that way,” he replied. “And speaking of conception, Brian and I have quite a story for you…”

“You mean other than the time you predicted the gender reassignment surgery of Bruce Jenner?” Brian asked.

“Caitlyn Jenner,” I corrected him.

“So you’re a writer?” Brian asks, hopping up on the couch beside Stewie and patting the empty seat next to him. “What do you write?”

“I write about the past,” I replied. “I write about the fact that, despite a time period where men were perceived as gentleman, that women were frequently kept underfoot and not allowed to do as they pleased. Women were slaves, Brian, plain and simple.”

Stewie grins at me. “Do social movements play a large role in your stories?”

“Yes, many times,” I reply. “I’ve written about the Women’s Right’s Movement’s from a commoner’s point of view. I’ve written about grand princesses in England or France or Spain or Scotland and how they are forced to marry for the sake of their kingdom. I’ve written about Muslim women and about how they’re subject to brutal treatment—all done in the name of honor—so that their families can have what they think they deserve. I’ve written about many things, many times over, always with a hint of romance.”

“I wrote a novel that actually got published,” Brian says with a smile. “It’s called Faster Than the Speed of Love.”

“Brian, your novel sounds like a bad sitcom attempting to be dramatic on ABC Family with just a large enough budget to overshadow the hopeless cast who are only famous for being a character in a big-budget Hollywood film in which they only had a minor role,” Stewie says, shaking his head.

I do my best to hide my smile. “I’m so very sorry, Brian,” I say genuinely when he sees my amusement at Stewie’s monologue. “Stewie is just so entertaining.”

“Wow! I think we’ve found a third member of our group!” Stewie cries. “Hey, Vivienne, do you want to get some ice cream?”

“Sure,” I reply.

Stewie jumps from the couch and goes towards the hall closet. He takes out a nondescript sweater and hands it to me. “You’ll need it,” he assures me as he unexpectedly leads me upstairs, Brian following.

Looking up, I see a young girl, around Roberta’s age, maybe a little older, standing outside a bedroom door. “Dad, have you seen my trapper keeper?” she asks.

The door opens and a man comes out, grabbing his daughter’s face and pulling it towards his abnormally fat ass. He promptly farts on it, leading the girl to scream. The man then laughs and returns to the bedroom.

What was that?!” I demand.

“Peter and Meg,” Brian replies.

“We don’t engage,” Stewie says quickly. He leads me to another bedroom door and opens it, stepping aside to allow us to come in. “Do watch out for Bert, won’t you? He’s getting a cat-scan,” Stewie warns us.

“What is going on in that household?” Brian asks.

“Oh, I don’t know, Brian,” Stewie replies. “Half the time I’m playing with them I’m so drugged out on cough syrup that I don’t know what’s happening anymore.” He goes over to a key pad on the opposite bedroom wall and types in a passcode. Little doors open and he gets out a controller, whereupon he pushes another button and the whole wall opens before us, a large, black, box-like thing appearing before us.

“Stewie,” I whisper, “what is that?!”

He grins. “That, my dear Vivienne, is a time machine. Well, Brian, now you can say that you took another girl in my time machine, this time with permission.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, turning from one to the other.

“Nothing, nothing!” Brian says quickly, glaring at Stewie.

“Come, Vivienne,” Stewie says, stepping forward so that the doors unlock automatically for him. As Brian and I join him in the time machine, the door automatically close behind us as Stewie types in the destination and time period: China, 200 B.C. He then claps his hands as electronic noises come forth and then there is a flash of white light and then we’re suddenly transported to China.

“Oh, my god,” I whisper, looking around. We are standing on the banks of a rather large rice paddy, many Chinese workers in the fields before us. “We’re really in China, aren’t we, you guys?” I ask.

“According to my device, we are,” Stewie replies.

“What are we doing here?” I ask, lowering my eyes. “Good Lord, we’re wearing authentic Chinese clothing of the period!”

“Stewie, what the hell?! Your time machine didn’t do this before!” Brian hisses at him, which is something I’ve always wondered about dogs doing.

“Ah, yes. After several mishaps of us finding clothes in a hurry, I’ve programmed various history programs into my time machine’s back-log. This way, the clothes are generated from our other clothes’ matter, because my time machine is programmed to always be one step ahead of me.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Brian asks.

“We’ll see,” Stewie replies, crossing the rice paddy to the east. We soon enter a small village where Stewie crosses to the biggest hut. He knocks on the door, sticking his face into the small living space. “我們是外地人, 但我們對你沒有壞處,” Stewie says in a solemn manner to the lady of the house.

The lady nods and beckons, and we step inside. She is warming something which smells sweet on her fireplace, and motions for us to sit at her table. Getting onto our knees, we kneel before her table, placing our hands in our laps.

“Stewie, what did you say to her?” Brian whispers as her back is turned.

“I simply informed her that we were outsiders but we meant her no harm,” Stewie replied. “I read somewhere that sincerity exists in all languages.”

The woman takes three bowls from her bamboo cupboard and begins ladling the concoction into them—it is white, and smells incredible. She produces bamboo woven chopsticks from a drawer and places each bowl and chopsticks onto the table. She bows her head and says to Stewie, “從遙遠的村莊一道新菜. 正如我的嘉賓,請品嚐吧,” she says before going to a prayer rug on the opposite side of the room and kneeling on it.

I lower my eyes to what is in the bowl before me. Picking up my chopsticks, I place their mouths into the bowl and open them very slowly. Daintily, I bring the now full-chopsticks into my own mouth, and sigh immediately in delight. “Milk, rice,” I whisper.

Stewie shakes his head at the mixture and picks up his bowl. Crossing towards the front door, he motions to the woman. He steps outside and grabs a handful of seemingly clean snow from the ground surrounding the woman’s home and shoves it into his bowl. Mixing his new invention together, he produces it to the woman. Taking a bite, her eyes widen and she bows to Stewie.

“你會成為一個偉大的戰士1天,” she informs him.

Stewie smiles at that and bows again to her. “謝謝你,蓮花. 我的朋友和我現在必須走了. 謝謝你的好意,” he tells her.

The woman nods, just as a young man of about my age steps into the house. He starts speaking to her, and immediately I know that he is her son. Stewie is staring at this young man and looks very interested. The young man suddenly sees me and steps forward, taking my pale hands in his.

“你看起來比任何我見過的更多的不同. 有了我的媽媽叫你從遙遠的村莊, 成為我的新娘?” he asks.

I turn to Stewie for an explanation.

“He’s asking if you were brought here to be his wife,” Stewie replies, looking dejected and rejected all at the same time.

“Tell him I wasn’t!” I cry out, shaking my head.

“Yeah, buddy, she wasn’t!” Brian cries.

“證明,” the young man replies.

“Now he says he wants proof that you’re not brought here to be his wife,” Stewie tells me, lowering his eyes.

“Here’s your proof!” Brian says. He immediately grabs me by the collar of my borrowed sweater and kisses me.

I want to struggle—hell, I’d just met the guy! But my body was suddenly not my own. I threw my arms around his furry frame, and did not want to let him go. He tilted my head back ever so slightly so as he was able to get better access to my mouth. I knotted my fingers into his fur, even managing to scratch his ears in the process, while Brian’s tail wagged and he thumped his knee against the ground.

I pull away from Brian triumphantly, and the poor young man has to be consoled by his mother and is given Stewie’s bowl as a means to make him feel better. Stewie leads us back towards the rice paddy, and into a bamboo forest in the distance. He removes something from his pocket—something he calls a return pad—and gently throws it onto the ground. We all step onto it, and the flash of white light envelopes us again, and soon we are stepping back out into Stewie’s bedroom, in our regular clothes and time period. Stewie makes a beeline for his laptop, Googling something.

“What are you looking up?” Brian asks.

His eyes widen. “Oh, my…”

“What is it?” I ask.

“It seems as though the three of us have successfully created the very first suicide in Chinese history,” Stewie says softly.

“And that’s a good thing?” I ask, confused. “I mean, suicide isn’t a good thing, is it? I mean, what did he do?”

“Probably choked himself by a bamboo shoot or drowned himself in a rice paddy,” Brian replied darkly.

I gasped. “Brian!” I cry out, throwing the borrowed sweater at him.

“Too soon?” he asked.

“Never mind,” Stewie said, shaking his football shaped head which could not be normal in the slightest. “He stepped off a cliff behind his house. It worked out all right, though. It seems as though he was somehow connected to Hitler. He had a descendent who was one of the Nazi party’s most prominent members.”

I raise my eyebrows. Going across the room, I look outside, and am surprised to see that outdoors looks completely normal. “Who’s that?” I ask, pointing to a man with curly red hair and glasses.

Stewie comes up behind me and peers out. “That’s Mort Goldman,” he replies. “Look! I see a penny out in front of him…”

Mort walks towards the penny, inspects it without picking it up, shrugs, and walks onward down the sidewalk.

“Wow,” Brian says quietly, his eyes wide. “Even if it’s a penny, Mort always picks up loose change…”

“He even got drunk once at one of our parties and proceeded to look for loose change in our couch,” Stewie said softly. He climbs down from the windowsill and turns towards one of his baby chairs, where an orange bear sits. “Rupert! Don’t tell me you were getting turned on for Mort again!” he cries, picking him up. “We’ve discussed this!”

“Rupert is certainly a lovely name,” I say, stepping forward. “What does he enjoy doing, Stewie?”

Charmed at the notion of me asking about his teddy bear, Stewie smiles. “Rupert is quite the body builder, aren’t you?” he asks, referring to his bear. “He enjoys frolicking, hula contests, amusement parks, and those games you play at fairs. He so enjoys winning those plush toy prizes…”

“He sounds like a fascinating person,” I reply. “Nice to meet you, Rupert.”

“Hmm?” Stewie says, holding Rupert up to his ear. “All right, I’ll tell her,” he says, turning back to me. “Rupert has informed me that he likes you very much. He says that he would love to be your friend.”

I smile at that. “Thank you, Rupert. I’d love to be your friend, too.”

“Oh, there you are, Vivienne,” says Lois from behind me as I turn around. “Brian, have you and Stewie been entertaining Vivienne the whole time? You’ve been so quiet.”

“Yeah, well you know me,” Brian replied. “I just get to talking about atheism and writing and whoo—I’m off.”

“So you’re an atheist too, Vivienne?” Lois asks.

I nod. “Yes, Lois. Donna mentioned that you were Catholic, and I mean no disrespect. It’s just the way I feel.”

“Well, thank you for being so upfront,” Lois replied. “I know Donna doesn’t mind—she had a suspicion that you were,” she said with a smile. “Stewie, Mommy just spoke to Father Time as she came up the stairs.”

“What?!” Stewie cries. “But he only comes out when it is very late!”

“That’s right, it is late,” Lois says, picking Stewie up. “Do you want Mommy to read you a night-night story?”

“Fuck no, bitch,” Stewie says, beginning to struggle. “I want Vivienne to read to me!” he demands, reaching for me.

“Oh-ho-ho, isn’t that nice? He seems to have taken a liking to you, Vivienne,” Lois says, smiling at me.

I shrug. “He’s an exceptionally well-behaved baby, Lois.”

Stewie smiles at that. “No thanks to that cow,” he says, referring to Lois.

Lois smiles. “Well, why don’t I just give you a diaper change before Mommy goes back downstairs? Then Vivienne can read you a night-night story.”

“Oh, I don’t mind changing—”

Yes, you do,” Brian assures me softly. “I ate one of those things once… I could swear it was Indian food. Trust me, you do not want to go near there.”

“What a handsome boy you are!” Lois says, blowing raspberries on Stewie’s belly, causing him to giggle and demand for her to stop. She removes his diaper and cleans him, before throwing the diaper away. She powders Stewie’s baby bottom and then slips a fresh diaper onto his little frame. Then she slips him into a fresh pair of PJ’s before rubbing alcohol-based hand sanitizer onto her hands before she hands over Stewie to me. “Read anything you want from the bookshelves, Vivienne,” Lois tells me. “Stewie’s favorite book is Goodnight Moon.”

“I love that story, too,” I reply, walking over to the bookshelf to get the copy as Lois leaves the room. I sit in the adjoining rocking chair and switch on the reading light, positioning Stewie comfortably in my lap. “‘In a great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of a cow jumping over the moon’,” I begin, smiling as Stewie snuggles into my lap. I continue reading the classic tale, all the while Stewie’s eyes slowly begin to grow heavy, and his head relaxes back against my chest. Finally, I begin to lower my voice so that it only becomes a lull as he drifts off to sleep. “‘Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere’,” I whisper. I hand over the book to Brian and gently take up Stewie into my arms. I carry him over towards his crib, decorated with stars and moons and gently kiss his forehead before settling him down. I reach out and turn on his dancing mobile before Brian switches off the light and I close the door.

“We make a pretty good team,” Brian says softly, leading me downstairs to the living room and to the attached indoor patio beyond.

I smile, sitting in one of the provided chairs. “Yes, we do, don’t we?”

“So, what about you, Vivienne?” Brian asks, sitting across from me and crossing his legs in an attempt to be a gentleman.

I blink. “What about me, Brian?”

He smiles a bit, almost as if he is feeling a combination of awkwardness and confidence at the situation. “Well, do you drink?”

I raise my eyebrows. “No, I don’t.”

“Really? Why?”

“Alcohol addiction runs in my family,” I reply. “I feel that you should either smoke or drink and I do the former.”

“Cigarettes?” he asks.

I wrinkle my nose. “God, no. Weed.”

He sighs. “The last woman I met who was an atheist who liked weed broke my heart,” he said softly.

“How did she do that?”

“She slept with Cleveland,” Brian replied. “Her name was Carolyn, and she was everything I ever wanted in a woman. Cleveland and Carolyn were supposed to get married but she cheated on him with Quagmire—all before giving Cleveland genital warts.”

“Who’s Quagmire?” I asked.

“A guy who hates me,” Brian said softly.

There was a bang from outside then and then a scurrying of footsteps. The front door opened and slammed and then the scurrying began again. Then the door to the patio opened and a middle-aged man who was tall with black hair and thin as a reed entered the room. “Who said they didn’t know me?” he demanded playfully.

I raised my hand. “I did.”

Immediately, the man ran over to me and grabbed me. He laughed twice, the sound never escaping his throat, as he gazed down at me. “Glenn Quagmire. How are you doin’?” he asked, his eyes roving over every inch of me. “I’m an airline pilot, so maybe someday I’ll let you sit on my plane—among other places—for free. OH!”

I managed to disengage myself from his fawning hands. “Excuse me, sir, but whoever told you that they liked being groped by a stranger was probably messed up in the head,” I say matter-of-factly.

“Come again?” asks Quagmire. “Do you imply that I sleep with women who are brain damaged? Because I do that. Kind of a fetish of mine,” he says, and does the throaty laugh to me again.

“Yeah, I’m not brain damaged, last time I checked,” I reply. “But I can see why someone could be while talking to you.”

Quagmire stops laughing. “Excuse me?”

“You’ve got to be the stereotypical, low-life creep that preys on women because you yourself have nothing going on in your life,” I tell him. “I’ve heard about you—your other mother gave a talk at my junior college back in Seattle. Ida Davis, right?” I ask, and see immediately that I’ve touched a nerve. “Your mother is a whore turned born-again Christian, your other mother is empowering—although he has to work on his table manners—and your sister has co-dependency!”

“What about my brother?!” Quagmire demands. “You gonna say something negative about him next?”

“Gary?” I ask. “No. My mother is fluent in ASL and they had a great many conversations when I was in Seattle last.”

“So…you’re not interested?”

Definitely not interested,” I reply.

“Fine! I’ll just go back home and rent a dirty movie!” Quagmire says like a sullen child before sobbing and wailing like a baby before taking himself out of there.

“Wow. That was something.”

I turn back to Brian. “Are you being sarcastic right now?”

“No.” He gets to his feet. “You turned down the Glenn Quagmire. Why?”

“Honestly?” I ask. “I don’t want my first time to be wasted on someone so insensitive and potentially degrading to women.”

Brian raises his eyebrows. “Wait. You’re a virgin?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “Why?”

“I just… I don’t understand why someone like you could be.”

“I’m going to be upfront with you, Brian,” I say, lowering myself back into the chair. “I pinched pennies from birthday money and odd jobs from the time I was eight until I was eighteen to have a particular surgery.”

“What kind of surgery?” Brian asks.

“Liposuction,” I reply. “I couldn’t lose weight, and my family wouldn’t do anything to help me, so I saved the money and did it myself.” I raise my blouse up slightly to expose my midriff where the scar still is. “There’s your proof. And that’s why I’m still a virgin. Because, despite the fact that I lost the weight—with a significant amount of help—everyone in Seattle knew about me. They saw me as a liar and a cheater and didn’t come anywhere near me—they thought I was a monster. I was unacceptable to them when I was fat, and just as intolerable to them when I was thin. I couldn’t win.”

Brian sighs and takes my hand. “I’m so sorry.”

I give him a sad smile. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

“I just think that maybe you should consider… What I mean to say is… I know we’ve just met, Vivienne, but I would really like to—” We are interrupted by his phone ringing, and he sighs. “I’m sorry.” He takes it out of his pocket, and I see the name JILLIAN reflected on his yellow I.D. tag. “Do you mind if I…?”

“No, of course not,” I reply, easily withdrawing my hand from his.

He swipes the green phone icon to the right. “Hello? Hi, Jillian. Yes, I know it’s been over six years since Derek died. What?!” he demands then. “Jillian, I… You know that I wanted you back on your wedding day, but…” He turns around as he begins pacing back and forth. “I’m sorry you had a miscarriage after Diane Simmons killed Derek, really I am. But that doesn’t mean that I… Jillian, don’t talk that way. Of course you’ll find someone else. Yes, I still like you. Did I ever…? Jillian, you know the answer to that question. Yes, I loved you,” Brian goes on, and I can’t hear anymore. “Jillian, please. No… I still care for you, really I do, but it’s not that easy…”

I get to my feet and walk out to the living room just as Lois, Donna, and another woman come out of the dining room.

“Oh! Bonnie, this is Vivienne,” Donna says. “Vivienne is our new nanny. I hear that you might steal her away from me, huh, Lois?” Donna asks.

Lois chuckles. “Well, Vivienne was good with Stewie, I’ll give her that.”

I smile and pick up my bag from the hall table. I pull on my own jacket and slip my bag over my arm. “Well, Lois, it’s been wonderful being in your home. Bonnie, a pleasure to meet you, although it was brief.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Bonnie replies. “I have a baby, too—Susie. I just might have to borrow your childcare skills sometime.”

I smile. “I’d like that. You live in the gray house next door?” I asked.

“Yes,” Bonnie says with a smile.

“Ready to go?” Donna asks.

I turn my ear towards the patio, where I hear Brian on the phone. Pushing it from my mind, I turn back towards Donna. “Yes, I’m ready,” I reply.