The first time I saw Charlie Parker, I didn’t see one thing at a time; I saw all of him. It was an assault on my senses, an overwhelming tide of awareness, and for a moment, the details came to me in flashes over what was probably only a few seconds but felt so much longer.
His hair was blond and gently mussed, his face long and nose elegant. I could smell him, clean and fresh with just a touch of spice I couldn’t place. I tipped my chin up—he was tall, taller than me, and I hovered just at six feet—and met his eyes, earthy and brown and so deep. So very deep.
And then he smiled.
He was handsome when he wasn’t smiling. He was stunning when he was.
I was so lost in that smile, I didn’t register the flying gob until it whapped against my sweater. Tiny splatters of something cold speckled my neck.
This was the moment the clock started again, and the sweet serenity slipped directly into chaos.
A blond little boy looked up at me from his father’s side with a devilish gleam in his dark eyes. The spoon in his hand was covered in blood-red jam and aimed at me like an empty catapult.
Several things happened at once. Charlie’s face morphed into embarrassed frustration as he reached for who I presumed to be his son. The boy—Sam, I guessed from the names I’d been given by the agency—spun around lightning fast and took off down the hallway, giggling. Another child began to cry from somewhere back in the house, and a bowl clattered to the ground, followed by a hissed swear from what sounded like an older woman.
I glanced down at the sliding, sticky mess against my white sweater and started to laugh.
Charlie’s head swiveled back to me, his face first colored with confusion, then in horror as he looked at the Pollock painting on my sweater.
“Oh my God,” he breathed, his apologetic, wide eyes dragging down my body. “Jesus, I am so sorry.”
I was still laughing, almost a little hysterical. I couldn’t even tell you why.
I waved a hand at Charlie, and he took my elbow, guiding me into the house as I caught my breath. Another crash came from the kitchen, and a little girl came toddling out into the entry, leaving powdery footprints on the hardwood.
Charlie’s face screwed up. “Sam!” he called, stretching the word, a drawn-out promise of consequences.
A riot of giggling broke out in the kitchen.
We both snapped into motion. I followed him as he scooped up his crying daughter and stormed toward the kitchen. The little girl watched me over his shoulder with big brown eyes, her breath hitching in little shudders and her small finger hooked in her mouth.
Charlie stopped so abruptly, I almost ran into him.
When I looked around him and into the kitchen, my mouth opened. I covered it with my fingers as laughter bubbled up my throat.
A bag of flour sat in the middle of the floor, the white powder thrown in bursts against the surrounding surfaces and hanging in the air like smoke. The floor next to the bag was the only clean spot, shaped like a small bottom—the little girl’s, I supposed. A bowl lay upside down, its contents oozing from under the rim and slung in a ring from ceiling to cabinet to floor, as if it had completed a masterful flip on its way to its demise. And in the center of the madness stood an older woman with flour in her dark hair and dusted down the front of her. Clutched under her arm was a wriggling Sam, offending spoon still in hand.
Her face was kind but tight with exasperation. “Please tell me this is the new nanny,” she said flatly.
“I doubt we could convince her to stay at this point,” he said with equal flatness.