There’s a swarm of butterflies in her stomach.
Leslie parks her car and wipes her palms on her slacks. They’re black, so she can show that she’s a professional, but her top is bright red with white polka dots to show she's fun. Or something. She knows red is a power color and that slacks and a good pair of shoes are a no brainer, but the polka dots are a risk.
“They’re fun! You want to seem fun, you know, with kids and stuff,” Ann said, squinting and shrugging as if she had no idea what she was talking about.
But Ann is so smart and wise and beautiful so Leslie is wearing the button up blouse with the loud color and the fun polka dots.
Leslie sighs and steps out of the car, smoothing her shirt and gripping her padfolio. She practices a good stance, her back erect and shoulders squared, her chin up in a confident angle. She is great, talented, fun, and organized. Responsible, caring, a real go-getter. This family would be lucky to have her.
Also she really needs this job.
Sure, she hasn’t technically nannied before but she could use the free housing and the extra cash. Going to grad school fell into her lap like providence and would put her more on the map for presidency.
But not long after celebration waffles over her acceptance letter, numbers started to add up and Leslie was running out of options. Student housing was just a bit too much for her grants to cover and the idea of roommates sounded awful. All her undergrad roommates were terrible and never studied and only partied and Leslie didn’t want to go through that again.
This could be the answer to all her problems.
Leslie picks a piece of lint off her pant leg and rings the doorbell. She likes this house already, with a bright red door and a three small square windows on the top. The doorbell is loud and chimy and the house is a bright, clean white with dark blue trim. A home, a beautiful one, one she no longer likes, but is now in love with.
The door opens and Leslie looks down at a small girl with a Belle costume on and her hair a mess of wild brown curls. The girl beams at Leslie, practically pushing on the balls of her feet with excitement and claps her hands together, the door swinging into the wall beside her.
“Leia, I said I would get it!” A voice in the back of the house booms, but Leslie doesn’t catch the source.
“Hi!” the girl, presumably Leia, says.
“Hello.” Leslie smiles, crouching. “I like your dress. Yellow is one of my favorite colors.”
“My favorite color is yellow, too. And pink. And green. I like all colors.” She taps her chin and the wind catches her curls, brushing past her brown cheeks. “Actually, my favorite color is rainbow.”
“Good choice,” Leslie says, nodding.
Leslie looks up and a man with Leia’s eyes looks down at her, a little frazzled but put together with a full suit, his hair throwing off his entire appearance. It is brown like Leia’s, but straight and everywhere as if it was styled that way.
He sticks his hand down to her and Leslie realizes she should stand. She does, grasping his hand, large and steady in hers.
“I’m Ben Wyatt, you must be Leslie.”
“Yes, Leslie Knope.”
He breaks the handshake and puts his hand on Leia’s head of curls.
“This is Leia--”
“Oh, yes, sorry.” Ben nods and bows a little to Leia. “I mean, this is Belle.” He shifts his eyes to Leslie, with a hint of knowing and almost a shine of play.
“Oh, right.” Leslie curtsies and Leia giggles, a high pitched wonderful sound that makes Leslie’s insides sing.
“Anyway.” Ben clears his throat and stands tall again, smoothing his tie and angling his chin in a way that makes him look suddenly very serious. Leslie tries to adjust her body accordingly. “Come in, have a seat on the couch, let me just get Leia set up with something.”
“No, Leia - I mean Belle - Daddy needs to talk with Leslie for a little while. You can even play with the iPad.”
Leslie listens to them bicker a little, while she takes in the house. The living room is clean except for a few stray toys and art supplies strewn around, but even those look perfectly placed. The couch looks plush and comfortable and the TV is big with an endless supply of DVDs next to it. There’s a large bookcase with many hardbound books and comic books and picture frames, all coated with the finest layer of dust.
She sits as Ben returns.
“Sorry, she’s, uh, very excited.”
“That’s okay,” Leslie says, placing her padfolio on her lap. She opens it and pulls out a resume and her references and hands them to him as if she hasn’t emailed them to him already.
“Great, let’s get started.”
Again his voice changes and his posture lengthens. He’s handsome, there’s no denying, his jaw hard and his lips small, but pouty in a way that is confusingly attractive. His eyes are brown and warm but the warmth seems to be specifically for Leia because now they seem darker and serious. His hands are huge, flattening over a piece of paper before he clicks his pen, locking it between his fingers, poised over his sheet..
She glances at it, seeing typed up questions with room for him to write his answers. If she wasn’t so nervous she would admire his attention to detail and organizational skills.
But she’s nervous and it is too quiet.
“I like your tie.”
“Tell me about the families you’ve worked with before.”
“Oh, uh,” Leslie grips the sides of her padfolio but keeps her chin up. “Well, this would be my first nanny position, so--”
“You have no experience as a nanny?”
Crap on a crayon.
“No, not exactly, but I have worked with children before. For example, I have worked in many summer camps, have taught preschool through middle school rec center classes, I babysat a few times when I was in high school--”
“And when was that?” Ben starts writing.
“When I was in high school.” Leslie watches his pen move and talks faster. “So that would be almost ten years ago now.”
That probably doesn’t sound promising.
“But the classes and summer camps I do every summer when I am home. And, I am CPR certified. I also have successfully wrapped a twisted ankle on more than one occasion and have fought many raccoons in order to save the lives of children.”
“I’m sorry, raccoons?”
“Yes. They are dangerous.”
There’s a tense silence as Ben looks over his other questions. He flips the page and scans those options as well. Obviously her answer to question one wasn’t conducive to the rest of his sheet.
“Well, Ms. Knope--”
She smiles, hoping there isn’t a tremble to her lips.
“Please call me Leslie.”
Ben opens his mouth but loud, fast feet thump on the hardwood floors. Leia rounds the back of the couch in a new outfit, a doctor’s coat and a stethoscope around her neck and papers in her hands. She shoves them into Leslie’s hand.
But she ignores Ben and watches Leslie look through the pictures. They’re messes of yellow with pink scribbles. There’s a head with a smile and two arms sticking out of it and a mess of brown hair on one paper. And a crooked, wobbly circle that almost looks like a heart on another. Leslie flips through them and nods like a distinguished art collector.
“Wow, I like the colors here,” Leslie says. She gasps as she turns to another one. “This one may be my favorite.”
“They are for you, all of them.”
Leslie looks between Ben and Leia.
“Oh, I don’t know if I can take these--”
“I just made them, I created art, Daddy says I’m an artist.”
“Well that is certainly true,” Leslie agrees, flattening the papers on her lap. She keeps the one with the face on top. “But are you sure?” She is asking Leia but she really wants the permission from Ben, but he won't look at her. He only eyes Leia with admiration and the tiniest hint of frustration.
“Yes!” Leia says and leans back on her heels and springs forward on her toes, her arms out wide in the most gracious and loud act of agreement Leslie has ever seen.
“That’s very sweet of you, but Daddy isn’t done talking to Leslie.”
Leia doesn’t seem to hear her dad.
“Who is your favorite princess?”
Leslie ponders for a moment. “Hm. Princess Fiona, from Shrek.”
“Really?” Leia and Ben say in unison.
“Yeah.” Leslie wonders if she should pick someone else, but she stays true to her choice. Fiona is funny and sassy and gets stuff done and isn’t superficial and fell in love with an ogre.
“Do you go to ballet class?” Leia asks.
“Oh, no, I never did ballet. Do you go to ballet class?”
“Yes!” Leia jumps with her answer and runs off.
“She’s going to come back with her tutu on.”
“I figured,” Leslie laughs.
Ben smiles, but clears his throat and looks back at his sheet.
“Well, tell me more about these summer camps. How many children did you watch at a time, did you have help?”
“I oversaw a group of twenty kids at a time sometimes, but it really depended on the age range and activity. I did some crafts with five year olds with a group of twenty kids with another counselor.”
Ben nods, writing.
“I also taught rec classes with smaller class sizes of preschoolers. Like gymnastics with about eight children.”
He keeps writing, not looking up.
Leslie lets out a breath when Leia returns, tutu on her waist, the stethoscope still around her neck. She rocks back and forth, twisting her waist, suddenly bashful, like showing Leslie this outfit was a big risk, but very necessary.
“What moves do you know?” Leslie asks.
Leia doesn’t answer. She carefully places her arms above her head and turns, her small toes pushing on the hardwood floor and her little body turning with precision and a seriousness that matches her father. When she completes her circle, Leslie claps and Leia bows.
“Do you know songs?” Leia asks, suddenly confident and bubbly again.
“Did you lose all your baby teeth?’
“I did, yes, a long time ago.”
“I have a wiggly tooth, see?”
Leia steps up to Leslie and she smells like peanut butter and jelly and a small hint of watermelon shampoo. Leia pushes a tooth with her tongue, but it doesn’t budge. Leslie nods anyway.
“A lot of kids at school are losing their teeth, it’s a big thing. Leia hasn’t lost anything yet,” Ben explains.
“But when you lose a tooth, the tooth fairy comes! Michelle said the tooth fairy left her a doll,” Leia jumps again, eyes wide.
Leslie doesn’t fake her surprise. Last she heard, the tooth fairy just gave quarters. She looks at Ben and he only raises his eyebrows, rubbing his shadowed jaw. He must be a newcomer to the world of dolls and anything over 25 cents in exchange for a tooth.
Leia bounces over to Ben and jumps in his lap. The paper and pen fall from his grasp and he holds on to her. He smooths the curls from her forehead and smiles at her, his first genuine smile that doesn’t feel rushed to get back to the serious, hard hold of his jaw.
For a flash, Leslie misses her father.
“Anyway,” Ben says, standing up. He swings Leia behind his back in a flawless move that only comes with being a practiced father. She wraps her arms around his neck and legs around his waist. “That’s enough for now. Thank you for coming by, Ms. Knope.”
“Right, sorry. Leslie.”
Leslie stands and thanks him profusely and reminds him her information is on the top of her resume. He nods and Leia waves and says bye over and over.
“When you come back, can we play with my hot wheels?”
Leslie shares a look with Ben.
Probably. Definitely. She’s golden. Leia loves her, that’s all that matters.
“Thanks again, Leslie,” he says, opening the door.
Leslie steps out, her gifted art in her hands and waves behind her back. Ben shuts the door and she hears the click of the deadbolt and Leslie lets out a long, hard breath.
“I like her,” Leia says.
The window is open and she can hear them walking around and more importantly, she can hear Leia’s excited little voice.
“There are more people to meet, padawan,” Ben says.
Leslie’s shoulders drop, her heart falling with them. He’s right, of course, but she’s great, he should just hire her.
“But why? She likes princesses. And I like her.”
“Padawan, this is a grown up thing, okay? I don’t want you to get your hopes up. You might even like the next woman who comes over.”
Leslie hears the house shake with Leia’s stomps and a door slam, but Leslie is already walking. Her chest is tight and her eyes sting but this isn’t worth crying over so she pushes it all back and gets in the car and drives fast, far away.
Somewhere along her route, her sadness turns to anger. It bubbles underneath her skin and makes her scowl with the glare of the sun coming through the windshield. She slams her door shut and stomps up the walkway to Ann’s apartment in a way that would make a tantruming toddler look tame.
She’s overreacting, she knows that, but she needs this job, and after meeting Leia, she wants it.
“I deserve that job,” Leslie growls, flying through the door.
“I did everything right, his kid loved me.” Leslie opens Ann’s fridge and pulls out a can of whipped cream, shaking it. “I know, I know, he’s being sensible and exploring all options, but come on.”
“And he had the nerve to tell me thank you like he actually enjoyed meeting me. If he did, then just give me the job already.”
Ann pulls out a bottle of wine and starts pouring, Leslie grabbing the glass automatically.
She takes a sip and another and many more and a couple more glasses before Leslie finally slows down. Her heart beats a little calmer and she can breathe evenly and she finally feels light and airy, the world holding a delightful tilt. She’s still mad but it is a passive frustration.
“Leslie, you will find a job because you are amazing and talented and caring and any child would be lucky to have you kind of raise her.”
“Yeah,” Leslie agrees. She nods and relishes in the dull heat that tickles through her. Ann’s words are slurring but she’s so beautiful and wise. “But, Ann,” Leslie whines, “what about Leia? She does deserve me. We would have so much fun, I am fun.”
“You are so fun.”
“I am fun!”
They lay back on the couch and Leslie throws her legs over Ann, her eyes drooping and her anger diminishing completely into the sadness she left in the car.
“What am I going to do?” Leslie asks, her eyes closed, her words a sloppy mess. “I need a job. Why is school so expensive? I just want to be the first female president and inspire young girls everywhere while changing the world.”
“You’ll find a job, and you’ll do all those other things, too.”
“But I want that job. I want Leia to be my other best friend.”
Ann rubs Leslie’s leg and tells her she’s allowed to complain about this for the day, but tomorrow they keep looking.
Ann is right, she’s always right, but Leslie can’t help how much she wants this job. Ben is a little serious and no fun, but his home is beautiful and Leia is… perfect. She’s imagined herself in that home already, living there and inspiring Leia by telling her about all the amazing and powerful women in the world. She could braid that wild curly hair and walk to ballet class with a tutu hitting her legs with each excited step.
Ben calls an hour later to tell her she didn’t get the job. Ann watches her as Leslie nods and her stomach sinks the ground.
“We decided to go a different direction,” he says, without a hint of remorse.
Ann has another bottle of wine open before Leslie hangs up the phone.