Kim McCall bounded up the steps to the small brick house set back from the street. She rapped briskly on the door while checking her watch. Good, she was five minutes early. The black haired 20 year old Canadian girl bounced several times up and down on her toes, less from impatience than from her pent-up energy.
The door opened and Kim nearly laughed as the dignified older man standing in the doorway blinked at her several times rather blankly before asking "Can I help you?"
"Hi, Doctor Lake, its Kim. I'm baby-sitting your grandchildren tonight?"
The man's face animated. "Oh yes, Kim, please come in." He ushered her into the living room. Kim looked around. It was pretty much what she expected of a college professor's place. Filled bookshelves covered most of the walls. A table and desk seemed to groan under the stacks of papers covering them. He gestured to a worn, but comfortable looking sofa.
"Please sit down Kim. I'm afraid your charges aren't here yet. My daughter and her husband," Kim noted a scowl pass across his face, "Should be dropping them by any minute now. I was planning to stay with them myself, I really do love their company, but I have a faculty meeting that slipped my mind. Would you like a coke or a cup of tea?"
"Thank you Doctor Lake, a coke would be fine."
He returned in short order and handed her a cold glass. "Kim, I want to thank you for agreeing to this on such short notice. I was at my wits end until Professor Nolam learned of my dilemma and suggested you. She speaks very highly of you."
Kim smiled. "Professor Nolam is a wonderful lady. Her children are delightful, if a bit of a handful. It was fun and I have always enjoyed my time with them."
"Well, I happen to know that she and her husband were always pleased to get away and had no worries to interfere with their nights out together when you were with the children."
Kim smiled again. She wondered if Doctor Lake was aware of exactly how the Professor and her husband spent some of those evenings out. She had found out one night cuddled up with her roommate Pam.
"Do you know what I saw last night while you were babysitting?" the Southern US girl had giggled in her soft voice. "Professor Nolam was out at the Rodeo Round-Up Club. You would have never believed it was her. She was wearing a skirt neither you nor I would have worn, it was that short. She had on a low-cut blouse that was so tight you could not only see she didn't have a bra on, but you could see every little bump on her nipples. She was wearing nude pantyhose and high heeled boots. I nearly fell out of the booth I was in, in fact I had to hide behind Chad Daverling."
"I can't believe it," Kim had replied. "Professor Nolam? I thought she was out with her husband."
"Oh, she was," her roommate had assured her. "I didn't recognize him either. He was all decked out in tight jeans and boots and all himself. He sat beside her and struck up a conversation with her, bought her a drink and they acted like they didn't even know each other. I'll have to remember that. It looked really neat."
"Well," winked Kim. "Maybe I'll pick you up someday?"
"Yeah, right," came the reply, slightly muffled as Pam nibbled her roomie's bare shoulder. "Even in this day and age we'd probably get stoned. And not the fun kind of stoned" Then they had both forgotten about Professor Nolam and her husband and the Rodeo Club and Chad Daverling as their hands had begun to run over each other's bodies.
Kim brought herself back to the present just as a knock came on the door. Doctor Lake opened it to reveal a couple in their late twenties along with two little girls, one about six and the other four. She studied the adults. The woman was obviously Doctor Lake's daughter. She looked just like him.
She looked at the husband and then back at the wife. Something was definitely out of kilter here. They both looked unhappy, although they were making an effort to hide it.
"Hi Dad." The woman looked at Kim, curiosity on her face.
"Hello sweetheart. I'm afraid there's been a hitch in our plans. There's an unexpected department heads meeting tonight with the Dean that I absolutely have to attend. This is Miss McCall. She was one of my students last term and generously offered to keep the children when this conflict arose. She comes highly recommended and assures me she will watch the children carefully and won't be having visitors."
"I promise," said Kim brightly. "Nobody here but me and my math books."
In short order the two little girls were snuggled onto the couch, paying rapt attention to the flickering screen of the black and white television. The parents had gone and Doctor Lake showed Kim where the snacks were before going to get dressed. Kim settled herself between her two charges and made friends.
Lake reappeared, dressed neatly in a suit and tie. Kim had just risen to get some water for the girls and almost bumped into him on her way to the kitchen.
"Doctor Lake, you look very nice."
"Thank you, Kim."
"I suppose," Kim said thoughtfully, "That I will have to revise some of my assumptions. I guess I've always thought of you in those tweed jackets with the leather patches on the elbows and seen you trying to remember where you left the outline for the day's lecture. But that's just one side of you."
Doctor Lake laughed. Kim enjoyed his laughter, it was bright and cheery. She remembered him as so much more subdued in class.
"Kim, I'm sure that at your age you are quite sure that anyone my age, and a college professor to boot, must be befuddled and rather lost at the best of times. I'm sure I made that impression when you first arrived. I do confess that I am rather settled and a break in my routine tends to send me adrift. But I'm not nearly as lost as you might have thought."
"Well, I apologize, Doctor Lake."
"No need dear. I rather enjoy the role life has given me to play. I also enjoy stepping out of it sometimes."
The evening passed quickly. Kim got the girls to bed in the spare bedroom, a story and a soft song lulling them right off to sleep. She spread her books out on the kitchen table and became absorbed in her studies. Occasionally she shook herself free and returned to the bedroom to check on her charges.
Kim was almost surprised at how much time had passed when the parents returned. They looked a bit well, not happier, but more relaxed with each other. There still seemed to be an edge to their conversation that made Kim slightly uncomfortable, as though she was catching glimpses of something she shouldn't. Still, the happy smiles both of them gave their sleepy children reassured her.
They were still thanking Kim when Doctor Lake arrived home. He spoke to his daughter, kissed his grandchildren and waved until they drove out of sight. He came in the house and paid Kim the agreed upon amount, and added a bit more.
"You really earned it," he said. "The little ones really liked you. The hugs they gave you was proof of that."
"They're wonderful children and I enjoyed them so much I could have almost stayed with them for free." Kim laughed. "But I'm glad of the money."
Kim gathered her books and stuffed papers into the cavernous shoulder bag she used to carry everything around. She scanned the living room once more to make sure she hadn't left anything. Seeing nothing that belonged to her she went into the kitchen to tell her employer goodnight.
Doctor Lake was looking out the window. His gaze was not focused on the night. He seemed older, his shoulders a bit more slumped. And tired. The sensitive young woman felt a sense of weariness coming from him.
"Doctor Lake? Are you alright?" Hesitantly, she laid her hand on his arm.
"Oh I'm fine, my dear." Still looking out the window, he patted her hand with his. "Things seem overwhelming sometimes. When you find yourself on the down slope of life, things that you could shrug off when you were younger seem to carry so much more weight."
"Does it have something to do with your daughter and her husband? I'm not being nosey," Kim hastened to add. "Well, not much anyway. I just felt some really bad vibes when they were here."
"Well, yes. They dropped the girls off so they could go to counseling. The marriage is rocky. I'm afraid part of it is my fault. I never thought Alan was good enough for my daughter, and I'm sure I've showed it over the years. Of course I probably would have felt that about any guy." He turned towards Kim and gave her a lop-sided smile. "Just as I'm sure your father probably has thought about any young man you've brought home."
"Well, yes," Kim laughed. "I guess all Dads are protective." She sobered. "Its still more than that Doctor Lake. What else is making you feel like you do right now?"
His eyes took on the faraway look again. "Its Jean." Somehow he sensed more than saw her look of puzzlement. "My wife. This week it will have been four years since I lost her. Cancer."
"I'm so sorry," Kim said quietly.
.... There is more of this story ...