DEDICATION: This story is for you Michelle - because I wanted to tell you where I come from - in more ways than one.
PLEASE NOTE: Parts of his story have a high "yuck" factor. If involuntary bodily functions turn you off then I suggest you find another story. Don't read this over lunch, and if you have something in your hand while reading it I suggest that something is not your sandwich. In a central scene, George is looking after a very small, very sick child - and her mother. It's not for the squeamish...
" ... and if you want to have an assignment marked I must have it no later than Friday noon in my e-mail. I am away all weekend and won't have time Monday morning," the teacher said over the general noise.
Most of the students in the room were already getting ready to leave and they were every bit as noisy as the teenagers who would usually be taught this kind of material, that is to say senior high school students. But while such high school students at the end of class would head off to their afternoon jobs or hang out with their friends - and the swotty few would go home to do homework, this group of students had a range of different agendas as wide as their age-span which went from mid-twenties to late sixties. Many of them had families they needed to get home to as soon as possible - either to relieve a spouse, or to dismiss a babysitter. It was eleven thirty at night and they all seemed tired.
What also set these mature age students apart from their teenaged counterparts was their dedication to their school work. Mindful that they had gotten a 'second chance' and often having difficult circumstances, they were much better prepared for class and much more consistent in handing in written work.
The course syllabus stipulated a minimum number of written assignments; but George - as the young teacher was called - offered students that they could do more if they wanted more practise before the exams. Provided he got them in time, he always did a thorough job marking them with individual comments and suggestions for further study. Many students accepted his offer and in consequence his course always had exceptional pass rates and grade averages despite his young age.
For George was actually the youngest in the room, although that didn't faze him. Despite his only 23 years, he was already an experienced teacher. Way back in primary school his own teachers, having recognized an unusual intellect, used (and sometimes misused) him to assist his classmates.
During his high school years he was a popular and sought after tutor, always willing to share his knowledge and understanding and never expecting - or indeed receiving - anything in return. Many a pretty girl would bat her eyelashes at him to get help with classes she was failing - either because she was stupid, or more likely, too lazy and preoccupied with everything but school work. George would help them, but none of them would dream of going out with him. His social life was virtually non-existent. He wasn't exactly a virgin when he finished high school, but his experience was very limited.
At University he studied with people very much like himself. The gender distribution in engineering was extremely skewed and the few girls there were even more socially awkward than him, so he hadn't had a steady girlfriend ever and not even a casual one for years.
To support himself during his undergraduate studies he had applied for - and to his amazement got - a job at an evening school specializing in teaching senior high school subjects to mature age students wanting to enter tertiary education. That fact that a uni freshman could get such a job was merely indicative of a desperate shortage of qualified high school teachers.
The school's principal hadn't expected much from George - his impossibly high grade average didn't say anything about potential teaching skills and the principal was simply pleased that he didn't have to cancel the courses for lack of a teacher.
As it turned out, George was a natural. The first indication came when the drop-out rate for his course nosedived. That was money in the bank for the school since their public subsidies ultimately depended not on the number of students enrolled but the number actually sitting for the examination. And when those exam results came back with the highest pass rate ever in the history of the school, the principal knew he had a winner and he ensured that George was offered to return the following year - which he happily did.
He was teaching two courses, each with 4 hours on a single night. It was a tough way of doing it, but many of the students couldn't manage being at school too many nights a week and it suited George fine having two nights working (Mondays and Tuesdays) and the remaining ones free for his own studies.
When George graduated at 21, he went straight on to do a master's degree and although he had a state scholarship for that, the stipend wasn't very big.
Having tired of the Danish "kollegium" system - which are essentially just cheap student accommodations with their dirty shared kitchens and endless noisy parties, George had spent a small inheritance from his parents on a share in an "andelslejlighed" - a coop apartment in the curious Danish system where dwellings are owned by a cooperative of the tenants, usually in one or at most a few neighbouring apartment buildings in the major cities. The apartment was small, although bigger than what he had had before - but the cost was stretching his finances so he was happy to stay on as an evening school teacher and even happier when he got his first pay-slip that year and discovered that his graduation had meant a sizeable jump in his pay.
Two years later he was a Master of Electrical Engineering, having specialized in advanced circuit design. His university department really wanted to keep him on with a view to doctorate. Since that is actually a real job with a real wage in Denmark it would take some time to organize, but in the meantime he was kept on as a research assistant with a similar wage to what he had been getting from his master's stipend.
George happily accepted and started just before the summer holidays. He liked it well enough, but he never really hit off with his colleagues who were all a bit nerdy - albeit elite nerds. In consequence his social life remained the same, i.e. non-existent. So in August when the principal - with hope against hope - asked if he still wanted to teach even though he now had a job, George said yes and the principal almost leapt with joy, as did his students.
The way the courses were laid out, you could either do one or two years of mathematics depending on what level you needed for the particular tertiary education you had set your mind on. Tuesday was the first year/single year course and Monday was the second year course. A few highly motivated students would do both at the same time, but most took them over two years. When George walked into the classroom on the first Monday evening in September, he was greeted with surprise and real appreciation and they were quickly off to their first lesson on advanced math.
One of the students was a woman called Christina. She was a single mother of a 4 year old daughter named Lena. Christina was in many ways a typical student at the school. She had dropped out of senior high school - which is a 3 year course in Denmark - midway through the second year, thoroughly fed up with school. Her elderly parents - her father was now dead and her mother close to 70 - had been very disappointed with her and never understood that she needed a break. 13 years ago there were plenty of well-paid jobs in the booming economy at the end of the last millennium and Christina had had a ball.
A few years later things started to get difficult. She had uninteresting lowly-paid jobs and 5½ years ago she was living in a failing relationship with an abusive boyfriend - the latest in a string of equally rootless contemporaries. In a disastrously misguided attempt at 'patching things up', she had quit taking the pill and had fallen pregnant almost instantly. Before she could say 'I'm pregnant, ' he was out of there never to be heard of again - he wanted no contact with Lena and was notoriously inconsistent in paying the minimal support he was obliged to pay under law.
Maternity pay is fairly generous in Denmark compared with many other places in the world, but it certainly doesn't make you rich. The local council had found Christina a small subsidized apartment in a public housing estate and the day-care for Lena - which she started at 6 months - was also heavily subsidised.
While Christina had been on maternity leave, the job market had gotten even worse. She was notoriously under-employed and could only just make ends meet. Just. But the New Millennium had brought in a new right-wing government and her situation started to erode.
For more than a century all Danish governments - regardless of whether they called themselves conservative, liberal or social democrat, had been heavily influenced by N.F.S. Grundtvig - a 19th century pastor, political philosopher, and hymn composer who, it is fair to say, had a much greater influence on the Danish political way of life than Marx or Friedman. In a nutshell, Grundtvig's - and with him, Denmark's - political philosophy was summed up in a line from one of his hymns: 'Then we in richness have made it well - when few have too much, and fewer too little'.
The problem was that the new government broke with that idea. Unfinanced tax breaks to high income earners and severe cutbacks to social services started to increase - rather than decrease - the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Christina didn't quite understand the philosophical background for this - she didn't even vote, but she could see that the price of day care and rent and food and clothes rose far quicker than her pay.
Clothes were a particular problem. When Lena was in crèche, Christina made friends with the parents of one of the little boys there. He had two older sisters and Christina received endless amounts of very nice girls' clothes from them. But when Magnus' family moved away, Christina lost contact with them - and her source of free clothes for Lena dried up.
Now Lena was in kindergarten and Christina was painfully aware that most of the other kids were dressed much smarter than Lena. Realising that the only way to improve the situation was to get an education, Christina started to investigate how to go about that. In that respect she was doing exactly what the new government wanted her to, and since they had tried to ensure their re-election with an ostensibly generous program for people to 'catch up' with education, she hoped she would be able to start on a long road to financial independence.
She had always had a flair for life science subjects and wanted to become a bio-analyst at a hospital - not just because she found it interesting but also because she would receive an actual salary during her training. The entrance requirements were fairly high - senior high school level Danish, English, biology, physics, chemistry and advanced mathematics, but she worked out she could complete it in two years.
However the 'generous program' turned out to come with a lot of caveats. In reality, Christina could not afford to drop working to study full time, but she worked out that evening class three nights a week for three years would do the trick - and the money she got would just exactly cover her costs for a babysitter those three nights a week.
It was a difficult time - especially finding and retaining reliable babysitters for what she could afford to pay them. She often had to rely on her mother, but she was elderly and in poor health. Nevertheless Christina completed the first two years of her gruelling program - full time work during the day, then going to classes three nights a week, studying the two others and most of the weekends and still finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Her social life had dried up completely of course. She neither had the time nor the money to go anywhere and she felt trapped. The evening school had a student-run cafe and quite a few of her class mates would socialize for an hour or so after class, but Christina - like most of those with families - always had to hurry home.
Christina was preoccupied during that first class of math. A couple of weeks ago during the summer break - not that Christina had had any holidays, but the school did - she had received a blow in the mail. Pressed by a new round of government cutbacks, the municipality had 'reviewed her case, ' as they worded the letter. They had decided that the subsidy she was receiving to enable her to study was 'income' and 'under those circumstances', they would reduce the subsidies on her rent and Lena's kindergarten fee by the 'equivalent amount', meaning that she would in effect lose the money for babysitters and thus her chance to study. For the first time in years Christina cried. She kept her emotions in until Lena was in bed, but then she crumbled completely and cried inconsolably.
That same day Lena had been upset because two of the more affluent girls - little 'Queen Bees' in the making - had teased her about her clothes. It had begun, as Christina knew it would. 'But at 4 years, for crying out loud!' Christina thought. She was completely distraught.
As luck would have it, her mother rang her that evening. What the original purpose of the call was, Christina never learned and her mother forgot. When Christina was finally calm enough to explain what had happened, her mother offered to help. She was unable to manage three evenings a week but she offered to do one - which is more or less what she had been doing over the last two years, only on an irregular basis.
Christina was reluctant to accept the offer as she knew her mother was fragile, but she wanted desperately to save what could be saved of her plans for a better future, so she agreed to one fixed night a week and was now left with making the painful decision of which subjects to drop. To help with that, her mother would do all 3 nights this first week so Christina could talk to her teachers about the possibility of self-study.
"Can I have a word?" a quiet voice said while George was busy gathering his notes.
He looked up in surprise; he thought all the students had left.
The question had come from a woman of about 30 who had taken the first part of the course last year. George quickly racked his brain, 'Christel was it? No Christina, yes, definitely Christina. Quite a good student too, but very quiet.' The interval was so brief that she didn't notice.
"Sure Christina," he said with a smile. "What can I do for you?"
Christina was startled that he knew her name - she was used to being anonymous and he hadn't seen her for over 3 months. Haltingly, she explained her situation - as briefly and neutrally as she could - not wanting to take his time, nor unload her personal problems on a young teacher. But he was calm and friendly, signalling no hurry and his encouraging smiles made her tell more about herself and her background than she had planned.
"Sorry about the babble," she finally concluded. "The short version is I can only afford being away one night a week. Which subjects can be done as self-study, and which MUST I attend?"
He looked serious, but still smiled. "Well, I really ought to tell you to go see one of the school's study advisors," he started, "but I am fairly certain I know what their answer will be."
"Yes?" she prompted.
"You're doing physics, second year English and second year mathematics, right?" he said. She nodded.
"Well," he said. "If you can really only attend one of these then it must be physics because of the lab-work."
She hadn't even thought about that - physics being a new subject this year, but she had done biology and chemistry the first year and they had both included some lab work. She felt stupid and started to apologize.
"Sorry, yes, that is obvious. I'm sorry I'm wasting your time..."
He stopped her.
"You're not. Besides, there is the issue of doing two advanced classes as self-study. To be honest I'm not sure you're allowed to do that at all - even if you handed in all the required assignments - but listen: These courses are tough. We're doing a lot of theoretical stuff in math this year and I'm sure the English 2 class will involve a lot of the really difficult stuff, too. I can't recommend trying."
He was right and she knew it. She felt close to crying again. She opened her mouth to speak, but the helplessness of the situation overwhelmed her and she only managed a strange throaty sound. To George it sounded like a small wounded animal.
He decided to give her time to recover and thinking it would be cruel to look away, he studied her - discovering that she was in fact pretty - fragile but very pretty. She was not overly tall and her body was slender, but she had a charisma that he hadn't noted before. Her eyes, at the moment moist with tears, were the lightest hue of blue he had ever seen. And her hair was blond, almost flaxen. Somewhat unkempt, but looking completely natural.
To his amazement he felt attracted to her in a way he had never been attracted to a woman before - not even the few, three to be precise, that had allowed him in their beds. Feeling like he was standing outside of his own body and observing the whole scene, he heard himself speak.
"Listen, there is an alternative. I've just started my doctoral studies and I need to do a lot of reading. A whole lot of reading. I would be happy to do that in your apartment while you go to class and your daughter sleeps."
She was stunned. "I can't let you do that," she said - she felt she had to, but even as she said it she knew she didn't mean it.
And still she carried on with the conventional reply to such an offer, thinking that was expected of her.
"I couldn't possibly pay you and besides, you have your own life - what would your girlfriend say if you spent two nights a week looking after some other woman's child?"
At the same time as she was saying that she was hoping he didn't have a girlfriend, hoping that he was serious about the suggestion, hoping that he would persuade her.
'Stop waffling girl - you've just been given a way out. But I can't. One doesn't. He is a complete stranger'.
She had stopped talking - her mind in complete overload. She looked up - for some reason she could see in his eyes that he read her inner thoughts almost better than he heard her words. A small smile formed on his lips.
'Darn, he is good looking in a strange, young, unformed way. How old is this guy?'
With an effort she dismissed the thought.
"I am alone," he said.
His voice wasn't exactly flat, but it wasn't emotional - not trying to persuade or solicit sympathy. Just honest and trustworthy, she thought - and those two words were strangely echoed in his continuation.
"Honestly, I have no private life of any kind. If you would trust me with looking after your daughter, I would be happy to help you. Payment is not needed; honestly - I might as well read in your living room as in my own."
"But how would it work?" she tried - one last feeble attempt at being conventional. "Don't you have to teach?"
He smiled again - tiny wrinkles forming around his grey-blue eyes. 'Jesus, he is gorgeous, ' she thought. 'Why have I never noticed?'
"It would work fine," he said. "I only teach Mondays and Tuesdays - and Monday you will come to my class while your mother looks after your daughter. As I recall English 2 is on Wednesdays and physics on Fridays - it fits perfectly."
There was a certain finality in those last three words. She nodded acquiescence. "How do we do this?" she asked.
"What do you usually do when you have a new babysitter?" he countered.
"Oh," she replied - admiring his practical intelligence. "The first time I usually ask the sitter over before Lena - my daughter's name is Lena - is put to bed around six thirty. Just so she knows who's there if she should wake up. Except she never does."
He nodded understanding, but she had noted a curious expression - almost pain - when she mentioned Lena's name.
"Later on, I just ask them to be there by the time I leave. I live less than 15 minutes' walk from the school, so ten past seven, quarter past seven is fine."
"Well, Wednesday at a quarter past six, it is then," he said.
"Yes," she smiled.
It had somehow sounded like a date, although it patently wasn't - he would come and she would leave. But he would be the first person in a very long time - besides her mother of course and the babysitters who were paid to do so - to visit her apartment. And for a while at least they would be there together.
She was about to leave, but he stopped her.
"I know I could look it up in the school records, but what's your address?" he asked with a slightly teasing smile. "Oh, and I'd better have your phone number as well - just in case."
She laughed - a sweet pearly sound so unlike earlier on - and took the proffered pen and pad of paper to write down her details. He took the pad back, looked idly at in and suddenly looked startled.
"You're kidding!" he said. "I live less than 2 minutes from you - just around the corner towards the big intersection."
"Oh," she said. "That's nice - it will make it easier for you and I shan't feel quite so guilty - I mean, only terribly guilty, not monstrously so."
The little jest was spontaneous, but she still chided herself.
'Don't try so hard - be natural.'
He smiled politely.
"You said you live less than 15 minutes' walk from here. Does that mean you're actually walking or riding a bike?" he asked.
"I walk," she said. "I don't like riding my bike after dark. Or rather, I don't like getting it out of the school bike yard at night; there are sometimes some unpleasant types down there."
"Yes, I noted," he replied, "besides I had my bike vandalised here once so I walk too."
He looked hesitant, but then made up his mind.
"Can I walk you home?"
"I'd love that!" she said, thinking afterwards that perhaps that had sounded much to keen.
'What is this - am I suddenly 13 again rather than close to 31?' she wondered.
They walked home, talking about the neighbourhood they both lived in. It was quite nice and retained most of the older buildings, many of which had been restored as cooperative apartment houses like George's.
Christina's public housing estate was one of the nicer in town - which otherwise had some monstrosities in that category. And unlike many of those, Christina's hadn't been built after razing whole blocks of old buildings that ought to have been preserved but instead was built on a former industrial site. She worried a bit about that, but the janitor had assured her that the site had been thoroughly cleaned. There was a membrane below the sandbox in the playground and in addition the sand was changed every year, but that was mainly because of cats.
"How long have you had your coop apartment?" she asked before her mind drifted too far off.
"Only 2 years," he replied. "I inherited a little money from my parents. Not a lot; they weren't wealthy, but there was only me and it was enough to cover the share - so now I only pay a cheap rent and the cooperative is well-run, so I expect the share will be worth quite a bit more if I ever decide to move."
"That sounds nice," she said - referring to his present circumstances, but then felt she had dropped a massive brick.
'Smooth girl, smooth. You've just told him it is nice he's an orphan. Darn - what is it with me today?'
She racked her mind to find an elegant recovery line, but failed miserably and just added. "About the apartment, I mean. I'm sorry about your parents."
In her ears it sounded lame, but there was no indication that he had felt offended.
"Yes, indeed. That was a shock. They were wiped out in a traffic accident. The police think the truck driver must have fallen asleep; he was killed too so we shall never know. But they said at the morgue that it must have been instant."
It was his turn to feel strange. He had never told this to anyone, having lived with the loss for 3 years without ever being close enough to any person to share it. ''Am I close enough to this woman all of a sudden?' he wondered.
"So you have no family at all?" she asked and immediately wished she hadn't.
'Why are you poking your nose in his private life? You'll scare him off'
But once more he took no offence.
"My dad's cousin lives in Jutland. She and her husband have 4 children, but they are all older than me. But I've spent Christmas with them the last couple of years. They're lovely."
They came to a halt outside her door. They were standing very close without saying anything. It was one of those silences that are a precursor to most relationships. Not that all such silences do lead to a relationship, of course. But they were both feeling strange, unsettled, not wanting the moment to end, but not knowing what do to next. And, again completely according to the script, when they finally spoke, they spoke at the same time and with the same word - "Well..." They both froze again.
He recovered first.
"Better let your mother get home," he said. "See you Wednesday at a quarter past six. Good night." He walked off.
"Good night," she said quietly.
'Don't be a fool girl, ' she said to herself. 'He is just being friendly. Yes, friendly. But why is it I would so have liked him to kiss me?'
Her mother had fallen asleep on the sofa and Christina felt a pang of regret not having a spare room so she could spend the night rather than having to take a night bus home. But she knew that the sofa was not fit for a night's sleep. If either of them tried, they would be wrecked in the morning. So she gently shook her mother who woke up quickly enough.
"So what did you work out?" she asked.
Christina told her the gist of George's offer. Her mother was amazed, but also slightly sceptical.
"Do you trust him to be alone with Lena?" she asked.
Christina had honestly not given that a thought and her gut reaction was one of annoyance. On the other hand, her mother's question was fair enough - so Christina's reply was neutral and practical.
"Do I trust him?" she said. "Yes - I trust him at least as much as the complete strangers I have hired over the last two years. I know more about him than any of those - and I have spent far more time with him, having gone to his classes every week last year. So, yeah. I trust him enough to give it a go."
"That's fine," her mother said while putting on her coat. "I just wanted to ask. And it is really a god-send if it works out."
She checked her watch.
"Well, I have to leave now if I don't want to run to catch my bus. I really hope this works out and I'll see you again next Monday rather than on Wednesday. Lena was a little angel as always."
She kissed her daughter and left the apartment.
George was deep in thought walking the few hundred meters from Christina's place to his own.
'What on earth was I thinking?' he thought to himself. 'Christina is lovely, but I won't exactly be seeing her much so this won't do anything for my social life. And it's true that I need to read, but what if the kid is a brat and I can't get any peace to read at all? And what if she dislikes me?'
He dismissed all of it as theorizing ahead of his data - not good for a doctoral student. But then, as a completely irrational afterthought the burning question 'And why did she have to be called Lena?'
Lena was not a brat and she did not dislike the new babysitter that came round on Wednesday evening just as she had finished eating and was getting ready for bed. She was used to Mummy finding different babysitters all the time, but since she rarely saw them except the first time, she didn't really care. Mummy was going to school in the evenings and someone else would be there if she woke up. But she never did - simple as that. It was nicer when Grandma came over. She would come early and have dinner with them and read her stories - more stories than Mummy ever did.
This new one was called George - a name she had never heard before - and at first glance he looked a lot like the others - a grownup, but not quite as grownup as Mummy and certainly not old like Grandma. And he was a 'he' - most of the others had been girls. He was tall. Well, much taller than Mummy and he had kind eyes. She noted he had taken his shoes off. Mummy and she never wore outdoor shoes indoors, but many of the other babysitters did. And he squatted down next to her.
"Hi Lena," he said. "I'm George". Lena giggled.
'Silly, I know that. Why do grownups always repeat themselves?' she thought.
"I'll be right here in the living room reading my books."
She looked at the stack on the coffee table - they looked boring.
"If you need me for anything, I'm right here until your mother comes home."
Lena just nodded and Christina shooed her off to the bathroom to clean her teeth and then in to her room to be read to and tucked in.
When Christina came out of Lena's room just after seven, George was already deeply immersed in one of his books.
'He looks so concentrated when he reads, ' she thought studying the lines of his face.
He must have sensed it and looked up. Christina felt her face get warm.
'Blushing like a schoolgirl! Get a grip!' she thought, and then 'Well, you are a school girl, aren't you?'
That thought was so absurd that she giggled slightly. George smiled inquiringly. She shook her head, as if to dispel the merriment.
"If you want coffee then just make some. There are mugs and Nescafe in the cupboard over the sink and milk in the fridge," she said.
"Thank you," he said, "but I don't drink coffee at night - I can't sleep if I do."
"There are some tea-bags too," she countered. "Anyway, I will be off - see you just after eleven thirty."
"Fine," he smiled. "And you don't have to run home - I'll be alright; this book will keep me occupied for quite a while."
She didn't exactly run, but she was first out the door when the class finally finished. No easy start there - it was full on from the word go. George had been right about the level. The teacher had outlined what they would be working on for the first half year and it sounded pretty exacting. She wondered if she could do it, but reminded herself that she only needed a pass-grade.
She set a brisk pace and was home around ten to midnight. He was still sitting in the sofa reading when he heard the key in the door and went to meet her, the book still in his hand. He looked so relaxed that she almost knew the answer to the question before she asked it
"How did it go?"
"Fine," he said. "Absolutely fine. I have done exactly nothing except reading and making myself cups of tea. I don't know what you paid those other babysitters, but it was too much for the work involved!"
She smiled with relief. "I'm so glad. I can't thank you enough."
"That's alright," he said. "And how about yourself? How did English 2 go?"
"Fine, I suppose. You were quite right - it's going to be very intense. There is no way I could do it as self-study." She looked a little pained.
'I owe you - and I can't pay you back, ' she thought.
As if George had read her mind, he replied gently "I am so glad I am able to help you. And honestly all it costs me is a two minute walk."
"Speaking of which," he said and briskly put his books in a bag, took the tea-mug out in the kitchen and rinsed it, and went to get his shoes and jacket in the tiny entrance room.
She was following him silently, trying to find something to say, something that would prolong the moment. But she couldn't think of anything and she knew they both had to work in the morning.
'Christ, it is nearly midnight!" she thought.
Her alarm clock would go off at six; she had to have Lena fed and clothed and ready so she could be at the kindergarten when they opened at seven. She always felt a pang of guilt having Lena there for so many hours, but her current work was quite a way away from their apartment - a 20 minute ride on her bicycle and she had to be changed and ready at seven thirty sharp, so it was touch and go every morning. He had said something, but she was miles away.
She looked up startled.
'Smooth girl, now you are being rude to him too.'
He put a hand gently on her shoulder.
"Honestly, I am happy to help you. Goodnight."
He held her eyes for a moment. It felt like time stood still; she could feel warmth at the pit of her stomach. She knew she would have to get her dildo out when she went to bed.
'This is insane, ' she thought.
"Goodnight," she managed. And he was gone.
On Friday, Lena was upset again when Christina picked her up. The 'Queen Bees' had been after her again, inventing a game you could only play if you wore 'the right' clothes. The staff had intervened when they discovered it, but it was too late - the damage had been done and Lena still had streaks of tears on her little face when Christina came to get her.
At least she got off earlier on Fridays so they had some time together before dinner and the bed-time rituals. Her daughter really needed her tonight - it was nearly ten past seven when she finally emerged from Lena's room and heard a faint knocking on the door. She rushed to open it; George was outside.
'Darn, ' she thought. 'I've kept him waiting.'
"I'm sorry, it took forever to get Lena to sleep," she blurted out.
But he looked his usual friendly calm.
"That's fine. I guessed as much and didn't want to ring the bell for fear of waking her. You'd better get going."
He was carrying two large bags - obviously it was going to be a heavy reading session.
She rushed round to find her things and was out the door just in time to make it to class if she walked very fast.
"Bye," she called over her shoulder - already halfway down the stairs. "See you just after eleven thirty."
Class ended early. As with the other subjects they had a full program already on the first day, but they ended up with some lab work and she and her partner completed the experiment quickly. The partner - another woman in her thirties - also had a family and was keen to get home. When the teacher had reviewed their results and OK'd them, they were free to leave.
There was a drizzle when she walked home. Not cold; September was unusually warm this year, but she hadn't brought an umbrella and her coat wasn't waterproof. She walked home as quickly as she could, but she was quite wet by the time she put the key in the door and opened it. She was absurdly disappointed that he didn't come to meet her; he wasn't even in the living room.
'Well, perhaps he is making himself a cup of tea or he could be in the bathroom, ' she thought.
But then she heard a faint sound. Tiptoeing to the door of her daughter's room she could hear a voice - a pure baritone of exquisite sweetness - singing a Danish children's song. She hadn't heard that song since her father had sung it to her when she was a little girl. He had also had a warm baritone - until the throat cancer took first his voice and then his life.
She switched off the light in the living room to avoid disturbing Lena and then very slowly opened the door. The song was coming to its end.
"One more," a sleepy little voice said and George started at once on another children's song.
This time it was a more well-known one. She noted he sang all the original verses and not just the ones recently recorded when a number of popular pop and rock singers had made a CD of 'updated' children's songs.
The room was quite dark, but a faint light was filtering in through the blinds. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that George was sitting in an awkward position on the floor next to Lena's bed. She realized that Lena was clinging to his right arm - having pulled it close.
George ended the song and this time Lena didn't speak - she was breathing regularly, presumably finally asleep, but she was still holding on to George's arm. Christina squatted down on the floor and nearly overbalanced. George steadied her with his left hand, in the process the hand grazed her breast before coming to rest on her arm. He seemed unaware, or unembarrassed, and leaned in close, speaking quietly in her ear.
"She had a nightmare and woke up. I've been singing her back to sleep."
"That's sweet of you," she whispered back - realizing the whispers are actually louder than quiet talking when Lena stirred. They both held their breath.
When she had settled again and resume her regular breathing, George spoke again.
'In more places than one, ' Christina thought - embarrassed but excited by her reaction to his chance touch of her breast.
"It started raining just as I was going home," she said.
"Poor you," he replied in a low tender voice. "Better go and find some dry clothes while I try to get my arm back."
He ended with a low chuckle.
'God, he is wonderful', she thought as she felt herself getting even wetter somewhere the rain hadn't reached.
When he emerged, rubbing his right arm with a bemused grimace, she had changed into nightclothes and a dressing gown.
'You hussy, ' she thought to herself, but it did make sense.
And as usual he didn't mind or object, but expressed understanding.
"That looks cosy - what a good idea."
She blushed faintly and looked away. Her eyes fell on a large teapot on a tea light standing on her coffee table. He followed her gaze and let up a small - almost apologetic - laugh.
"Oh, that. Yeah, I noted you didn't have one and I actually have two, so I have 'parked' one of them here. I like to drink a lot of tea when I read so making it by the mug is not practical."
He was just so immensely down to earth and practical - 'A lot to be said for engineers', she thought.
What she actually said was a lame "That's fine!" and then added "It's a very good idea."
"I had only just made it when she woke up," he said. "So the pot is still quite full and the tea light keeps it warm. Would you care for a cup, or do you want to go to bed right away?"