Some women spend their whole lives dreaming of motherhood; Claire Beauchamp was not one of those women. There was a time when she’d imagined herself settling down and having children, but her life had gone another way and she couldn’t bring herself to regret the decisions she’d make to get there.
Aged thirty-seven, she was one of the youngest plastic surgeons practising on London’s exclusive Harley Street. Performing rhinoplasties and breast augmentations mightn’t have had the gravitas of heart surgery, but Claire enjoyed the challenge of helping people chase perfection. Not to mention it allowed her to live a very comfortable life in a terraced house that overlooked a park.
With a routine that ran like clockwork, a typical day started with a jog, cold pressed juice and scrolling through online medical journals. Arriving at her gleaming offices, Claire’s working hours consisted of consultations, surgeries, paperwork and plenty of black coffee in between. In the evening she favoured long baths with a bottle of Beaujolais. From sun up to sun down everything was ordered and efficient - just how Claire liked it.
A phone call in January changed everything. Mid-morning and Dr Beauchamp was consulting with a woman requesting several litres of fat removed from her thighs in time for her upcoming fiftieth birthday party. Claire had just pulled out her black marker to start mapping out the liposuction zones when her receptionist buzzed; there was a call on line two which he insisted most strongly that she take. With an awkward smile Claire excused herself from her patient and stepped into an adjoining office. The next few minutes passed in a blur: her dear friend Louise involved in a car accident... paramedics tried everything they could... pronounced dead before she’d reached the hospital...
Sinking into the leather desk chair with the handset still clutched in her hand, Claire struggled to process the news. She’d known Louise since their university days and although in-person visits were infrequent —with Louise living in Paris and Claire in London — they kept in contact via phone calls and emails. Now she was gone. Claire’s heart broke anew when she thought of Louise’s son Fergus: six years old and all alone, his father having left before the child was even born. Amidst the pain of fresh grief, she abstractly thought she must remember to send some money; perhaps the boy could put it towards school books or similar?
Several days later Claire travelled to France to farewell her friend. The service was sad in a way funerals for the young always are; a slideshow of pictures of Louise happy and smiling had everyone in attendance dabbing at their eyes. Afterwards the wake was held at Louise’s apartment. Chatting to some old acquaintances, Claire was approached by a man with a pencil moustache who introduced himself as Louise’s lawyer.
“Might we have a word in private? It’s concerning Mme de La Tour’s will”
Claire was intrigued but not altogether surprised. Having known Louise almost twenty years, it wasn’t impossible to think she might have left her a little something; a picture of the two of them together perhaps?
“Dr Beauchamp, I’ll get right down to it. With no close family, Louise felt the need to name a guardian for her son Fergus so that should the worst happen he’d be properly taken care of”
“Yes, very sensible. And does this person live far away? Did Louise ask me to assist with Fergus’ travel?”
“No. Louise has named you guardian”
The idea that Claire’s friend would have named her - a woman whose most recent experience with children was when she was one herself - as guardian to Fergus was unfathomable. Confused, Claire asked if perhaps there’d been some sort of error? Beauchamp was a French sounding name, perhaps the proposed guardian’s name had been incorrectly transcribed? Failing that, if this seriously had been Louise’s plan, why not mention something first? It just made—
Claire realised she’d been staring at the floor, muttering. Shifting awkwardly in her seat, she leaned forward and asked the question she felt she must.
“Is ah...is there any further provision in the will if I don’t accept custody of Fergus? I mean surely there’d be someone better suited?”
“In so far as the will, no. As I’ve said, Louise had no close family. If you are unable to assume responsibility for the child, he will become a ward of the state”
An uncomfortable weight settled in Claire’s stomach. The idea of sending a grieving child off to live with god-knows-whom was awful, but the notion that he’d be coming back to London with her was impossible. What about her business? Springtime was their busiest period; it wasn’t like she had the time (or the inclination) to be at caring for a child!
Taking her silence as acceptance, the lawyer handed over an envelope containing Fergus’ personal papers.
“You’re a good person Dr Beauchamp, I’m sure Fergus will be very happy in his new home”
And just like that, Claire became a mother.
Three days later and Fergus and Claire were on the Eurostar back to England. The boy was fairly quiet - understandable considering he’d just lost his mother and been told he was to live with someone he’d only ever seen over FaceTime. The problem was further compounded by the fact that he only spoke a smattering of English. As Claire’s high school level French consisted of asking for directions to the train station or ordering a baguette, communication was stilted at best.
As the snow-covered fields of rural France whizzed past the window and Fergus dozed, Claire watched him in amazement. Soft brown curls, not too dissimilar from her own; he looked the picture of innocence. How could she be responsible for an entire person? It had taken her the better part of thirty years to work out her own life - how was she going to navigate that for him? Opening her laptop she began making plans for the week ahead: increase to the weekly grocery delivery, enrolment application for the local primary school, a quick reshuffle of her own schedule to allow for school drop off and pick ups. By the time they’d emerged from the other side of the Chunnel Claire felt confident that she’d put in place the steps needed to take care of everything. If she’d known anything about children the notion would have been laughable, alas she didn’t.
On Monday Fergus didn’t want to get out of bed and when he did he flat out refused the kale and wheatgrass smoothie Claire had prepared for him. Against her better judgement they’d gone to Fergus’ school via McDonalds and by the time they arrived (late) he had egg McMuffin all down the front his shirt. Things went from bad to worse when what had Claire assumed would be a quick interview with the principal to confirm everything turned into a three-hour meet-and-greet and tour of the campus. By the time she made it into the office it was already midday and half her appointments had needed to be rebooked. Tuesday wasn’t much better; trying to learn from yesterday’s debacle, Claire had shifted all her face-to-face appointments to the afternoon. Unfortunately they’d run over and at 7pm she received an irate call from the after school-care programme advising that they had closed an hour ago and that needed to collect Fergus immediately. Dinner that night was eaten in sullen silence; the only time Fergus even raised his eyes was when Claire offered him her iPad to play with. He retreated to his room, slamming the door behind him and Claire poured herself a large glass of wine. It was clear then that parenting wasn’t going to go as smoothly as she’d anticipated.
After almost a week of Claire coming into work looking like she wanted to stab the next person that got her coffee order wrong, her surgical nurse (and best friend) Joe felt he had to step in.
“You do know there’s no medal for trying to do this all on your own, yeah?”
“If you’re suggesting boarding school I already checked. Most of the major schools won’t take students until they’re at least seven years old...”
Joe began to laugh but pressed his lips together when his boss shot him a murderous look.
“You don’t need to ship the kid off just yet; what about hiring a nanny?”
“Joe, I know to an American Mary Poppins may seem like real-life, but we’re a long way from a Disney movie here”
“Ya don’t say? Look, I’m not talking about some Edwardian woman showing up on a flying umbrella; this would be a modern-day professional that knows what makes kids tick. She could pick Fergus up from school, cook him dinner, help with homework...”
“Really? There’s people that do that?”
Seeing Claire look something other than highly stressed for the first time in days, Joe opened his desk drawer and took out a stack of papers.
“Yes there are. In fact...your amazing friend Joe has already gone to the trouble of contacting London’s most reputable nannying agency and requesting resumés”
Eyes lighting up, Claire eagerly reached for the documents.
“You’re a lifesaver!”
Giving up on the battle to have something healthy for dinner, Claire ordered pizza and while Fergus sat munching, began to go through the resumés Joe had obtained. With amazement she read about the vast range of qualifications the twenty-first century nanny had. In addition to the usual cooking and childcare skills there was singing, fencing, calligraphy, swimming...one even claimed she could teach unicycle riding!
After carefully reviewing each of the dozen applications, Claire had settled on one, but considering her less-than-stellar start to parenting she decided to call Joe for his opinion first.
“Ok Beauchamp, I’ve got the list they emailed in front of me, which one did you decide on?”
“Janie Fraser’s her name”
“Short for Janine I assume; anyway - can you read her resumé and let me know what you think?”
“Ok, lets have a look: Scottish, degree in child psychology, fluent in French - a definite plus - proficient in knitting...oh that’s interesting. ‘I prefer kids to learn to make things with their hands rather than being cooped up in front of video games all day.’ Old school, I like it. She sounds perfect”
“Excellent; glad you think so too. Doesn’t say how old she is though, hopefully young enough to be able to take Fergus to the park when the weather’s fine”
“Well even Mrs Doubtfire could take the kids to the park and she was like 80 years old”
“Very reassuring Joe; I’ll be sure to mention that when she arrives”
The next morning - after an argument with Fergus about why ice cream wasn’t a breakfast food (mostly one-sided as she didn’t even know the French word for ice-cream), Claire called the agency to engage the services of Janie. After she’d explained her rather unusual parenting situation, the manager assured her that all kinds of families utilised their services and that the nanny would be fully briefed ahead of their arrival. The agency’s policy was to arrange an obligation-free trial so the family and the nanny could see if they were a good fit; with much relief, Claire set it up for the following day.
Dr Beauchamp was a big believer in making a good first impression so with renewed positivity she arose early to make sure everything was running smoothly ahead of Janie’s arrival. Of course she hadn’t accounted for Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will.
The baked beans she attempted to make Fergus for breakfast had burnt, their charred remains filling the kitchen with smoke. This in turn set off the fire alarm which made Claire choke and Fergus scream thinking the house was about to burn down. Big brown eyes staring at her, she bit back the wave of panic rising in her stomach. With a grunt of effort, Claire forced the kitchen window open, knocking the jam jar onto the floor in the process. It shattered - covering them both in big globs of sticky raspberry and as the boy was barefoot she had no choice but to stand him on the worktop while searching for a broom. It was at this point the doorbell rang.
“Bugger! Ok, Fergus stay there... s’il te plait!”
This was not the way Claire had intended to meet the new nanny, fearing at this rate she’d more likely report them to child services than agree to take on the job. Hopefully Janie was a kindly old lady who understood the trials of parenthood....or at the very least how to make some damn baked beans. With a deep breath Claire opened the front door, but instead of a Mrs Doubtfire-type stood quite possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Well over 6 feet tall, russet waves and piercing blue eyes; were she not covered in burnt beans and jam she might have appreciated his good looks, but now was definitely not the time.
“Good morning, I’m—“
“Look I’m terribly sorry, but whatever you’re selling I’m not interested”
“No, I’m here to—“
“That’s great, but we’re actually expecting someone, so if you wouldn’t mind?”
Frazzled and annoyed, Claire began closing the door; a large hand reached out to stop her.
“I’m Jamie Fraser. The nanny”