Chapter no 3

Hidden Pictures

Packing my stuff takes ten minutes. I don’t have a ton of belongings, just some clothes and toiletries and a Bible. Russell gives me a secondhand suitcase so I won’t have to carry everything in a plastic garbage bag. My housemates at Safe Harbor throw me a sad little going-away party with take-out Chinese and a ShopRite sheet cake. And just three nights after my job interview, I leave Philadelphia and return to Fantasyland, ready to start my new life as a nanny.

If Ted Maxwell still has concerns about hiring me, he does a great job of hiding them. He and Teddy meet me at the train station and Teddy is carrying a bouquet of yellow daisies. “I picked these out,” he says, “but Daddy bought them.”

His father insists on carrying my suitcase to the car—and on the drive to the house, they give me a short tour of the neighborhood, pointing out the pizza shop and the bookstore and an old rail trail that’s popular with runners and cyclists. There’s no trace of the old Ted Maxwell—the unsmiling engineer who grilled me on foreign languages and international travel. The New Ted Maxwell is jovial and informal (“Please, call me Ted!”) and even his clothes appear more relaxed. He’s wearing a Barcelona soccer jersey, dad jeans, and pristine New Balance 995s.

Later that afternoon, Caroline helps me unpack and settle into the cottage. I ask about Ted’s abrupt transformation, and she laughs. “I told you he’d come around. He sees how much Teddy likes you. More than

anyone else we interviewed. It was the easiest decision we’ve ever made.”

We all eat dinner on the flagstone patio in the backyard. Ted grills his signature shrimp-and-scallop kabobs and Caroline serves home-brewed iced tea and Teddy runs around the grass like a whirling dervish, still astonished that I’ve come to live with them full-time, every day, all summer long. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” he exclaims, and then he falls back onto the lawn, deliriously happy.

“I can’t believe it, either,” I tell him. “I’m so glad to be here.”

And before we’ve even had dessert, they’ve already made me feel like a member of the family. Caroline and Ted share a gentle and relaxed affection. They finish each other’s sentences and pick food from each other’s plates, and together they tell me the charming fairy-tale story of how they met at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble some fifteen years ago. Midway through the story, Ted’s hand reflexively drifts to his wife’s knee, and she rests her hand on top, weaving their fingers together.

Even their disagreements are kind of funny and charming. At one point in the meal, Teddy announces he has to go to the bathroom. I stand to go with him, but Teddy waves me off. “I’m five years old,” he reminds me. “The bathroom is a private place.”

“Attaboy,” Ted says. “Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

I return to my seat, feeling foolish, but Caroline tells me not to worry. “This is a new phase for Teddy. He’s exerting his independence.”

“And staying out of prison,” Ted adds.

Caroline seems irked by the wisecrack. I don’t understand what it means, so she explains.

“A few months ago, we had an incident. Teddy was showing off to a couple children. I mean, he was exposing himself. Typical little boy behavior but it was new to me so I may have had an overreaction.”

Ted laughs. “You may have called it sexual assault.”

“If he were an adult male, it would be sexual assault. That was my point, Ted.” Caroline turns to me. “But I agree I could have chosen my words a little more carefully.”

“The boy can’t even tie his own shoes,” Ted says, “and already he’s a sexual predator.”

Caroline makes an exaggerated show of removing her husband’s hand from her knee. “The point is, Teddy learned his lesson. Private parts are private. We don’t show them to strangers. And next we’re going to teach him about consent and inappropriate touching because it’s important for him to learn these things.”

“I agree one hundred percent,” Ted says. “I promise you, Caroline, he’ll be the most enlightened boy in his class. You don’t have to worry.”

“He’s really sweet,” I assure her. “With you guys raising him, I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”

Caroline takes her husband’s hand and returns it to her knee. “I know you’re right. I just worry about him anyway. I can’t help it!”

And before the conversation can go any further, Teddy comes hurrying back to the table, breathless and wild-eyed and ready to play.

“Speak of the devil!” Ted says, laughing.



Once we’ve finished dessert and it’s time to go in the pool, I’m forced to admit that I don’t actually own a swimsuit— that I haven’t been swimming since high school. So the very next day, Ted gives me an advance of $500 against future wages, and Caroline drives me to the mall to shop for a one-piece. And later that afternoon she stops by my cottage with a dozen outfits on hangers, really nice dresses and tops from Burberry and Dior and DKNY, all new or barely worn. She says she’s already grown out of them, that she’s

ballooned to a size eight, and I’m welcome to the clothes before she turns them over to Goodwill.

“Also, you’re going to think I’m paranoid, but I bought you one of these.” She hands me a tiny pink flashlight with two metal prongs sticking out the top. “In case you go running at night.”

I switch it on and there’s a loud crackle of electricity; I’m so startled I immediately drop it, and the device clatters to the floor.

“I’m sorry! I thought it was—”

“No, no, I should have warned you. It’s a Vipertek Mini. You clip it on your key chain.” She retrieves the stun gun from the floor and then demonstrates its features. There are buttons labeled LIGHT and STUN, plus a safety switch that toggles on and off. “It fires ten thousand volts. I tested mine on Ted? Just to see if it worked? He said it felt like he’d been struck by lightning.”

I’m not surprised to learn that Caroline carries a weapon for self-defense. She’s mentioned that many of her patients at the VA hospital have mental health issues. But I can’t imagine why I’d need a stun gun for jogging around Spring Brook.

“Is there a lot of crime here?”

“Hardly ever. But two weeks ago? A girl your age was carjacked. Right in the Wegmans parking lot. Some guy made her drive to an ATM and take out three hundred dollars. So I figure better safe than sorry, you know?”

She’s waiting expectantly, and I realize she won’t be satisfied until I get out my keyring and attach the device, and it feels like my mother’s looking after me again.

“I love it,” I tell Caroline. “Thank you.”



The job itself is pretty easy and I adjust to my new routine quickly. A typical workday goes something like this:



6:30—I wake up early, no alarm needed, because the forest is alive with birdsongs. I pull on a robe and make myself hot tea and oatmeal, and then I’ll sit on my porch and watch the sun rise over the swimming pool. I’ll see all kinds of wildlife grazing on the edge of the yard: squirrels and foxes, rabbits and raccoons, an occasional deer. I feel like Snow White in the old animated cartoon. I start leaving out platters of blueberries and sunflower seeds, encouraging the animals to join me for breakfast.



7:30—I walk across the yard and enter the big house through the sliding patio doors. Ted leaves early for work, so he’s already gone. But Caroline insists on serving a hot breakfast to her son. Teddy is partial to homemade waffles, and she cooks them in a special gadget that’s shaped like Mickey Mouse. I’ll clean up the kitchen while Caroline gets ready for work, and when it’s finally time for Mommy to leave, Teddy and I follow her outside to the driveway and wave goodbye.



8:00—Before Teddy and I can start the day in earnest, we have to complete a couple minor chores. First I need to lay out Teddy’s clothes, but this is easy because he always wears the same thing. The kid has a vast wardrobe of adorable outfits from Gap Kids but he always insists on wearing the same striped purple shirt. Caroline has grown tired of washing it so she went back to The Gap and bought five more of the same top. She’s willing to indulge him, but she’s asked me to “gently encourage” other choices. When I lay out his clothes, I’m supposed to offer a couple different options, but he always lands on the same purple stripes. Afterward, I’ll help him brush his teeth and I’ll wait outside

the bathroom while he uses the potty, and then we’re ready to start our day.



8:30—I try to structure every morning around a big activity or outing. We’ll walk to the library to attend a Storytime Hour, or we’ll go to the supermarket and buy ingredients to make cookies. Teddy is easy to please and never balks at my suggestions. When I tell him I have to go into town to buy toothpaste, he reacts like we’re going to Six Flags. He’s a joy to be around—smart, affectionate, and full of mind-boggling questions: What is the opposite of square? Why do girls have such long hair? Is everything in the world “real”? I never get tired of listening to him. He is like the little brother I never had.



12:00—After our morning activity, I’ll prepare a simple lunch

—mac and cheese or pizza bagels or chicken nuggets. Teddy will go into his bedroom for Quiet Time, and I’ll take an hour for myself. I’ll read a book, or I’ll listen to a podcast on my headphones. Or sometimes I’ll just lie on the couch and catch a twenty-minute catnap. Eventually Teddy will come downstairs and shake me awake and he’ll have one or two new drawings to share. Often he illustrates our favorite activities—he’ll show us walking through the forest or playing in the backyard or hanging around my cottage. I keep these drawings on the door of my refrigerator—a gallery of his artistic progress.



2:00—This is usually the hottest part of the day, so we’ll stay inside playing Chutes and Ladders or Mouse Trap, and then we’ll slather on sunscreen and go out to the pool. Teddy doesn’t know how to swim (and I’m not very good

myself), so I make sure he puts on floaties before we get in the water. Then we’ll play tag or have a swordfight with the pool noodles. Or we’ll climb atop the large inflatable raft and play make-believe games like Castaway or Titanic.











5:00—Caroline gets home and I’ll recap my day with Teddy while she starts preparing dinner. Then I’ll go out for a run, anywhere from three to eight miles, depending on what Russell recommends. I’ll pass all kinds of people out on their sidewalks or watering their lawns, and everyone assumes I’m a resident of Spring Brook. Some of the neighbors will even wave and call out hello, like I’ve been living here all my life, like I must be someone’s daughter home from college on summer break. And I love the way it makes me feel—the sense of community—like I’ve finally arrived in the place where I belong.



7:00—After running I’ll take a quick shower in the world’s smallest bathroom, and I’ll fix myself a simple meal in the cottage’s tiny kitchen. Once or twice a week, I’ll walk downtown to browse the local shops and restaurants. Or I’ll attend an open meeting in the church basement of Our Lady the Redeemer. The discussion leaders are very good and the participants are friendly but I’m always the youngest person in the circle by at least ten years, so I’m not expecting to make a ton of new friends. I certainly don’t stick around for “the meeting after the meeting,” when everyone walks down the block to Panera Bread to complain about their kids, their mortgages, their jobs, etc. After just two weeks of living with the Maxwells, safely cocooned from all temptations, I’m not even sure I need meetings anymore. I think I can handle things on my own.



9:00—By this time I’m usually in bed, reading a library book or watching a movie on my phone. As a gift to myself, I open a subscription to the Hallmark Channel so I can stream unlimited romances for $5.99 a month, and they’re the

perfect way to unwind at the end of the night. As I turn out the light and rest my head on my pillow, I revel in the comfort of happily ever after—of families reunited and scoundrels sent packing, of treasures recovered and honor restored.



Maybe this all sounds boring. I know it’s not rocket science. I realize I’m not changing the world or curing cancer. But after all my troubles, I feel like I’ve taken a huge step forward, and I’m proud of myself. I have my own place to live and a steady paycheck. I’m cooking nutritious meals and setting aside two hundred a week for savings. I feel like my work with Teddy is important. And I feel validated by Ted and Caroline’s absolute faith in me.

Especially Ted’s. I don’t see much of him during the day, because he leaves for his office at six thirty every morning. But sometimes I’ll see him at night, after I’m back from a run. He’ll be sitting on the patio with his laptop and a glass of wine, or he’ll be out in the swimming pool doing laps, and he’ll wave me over and ask about my run. Or he’ll ask about my day with Teddy. Or he’ll ask my opinion of some random consumer brand—Nike, PetSmart, Gillette, L.L.Bean, and so on. Ted explains that his company designs “back-end software” for big corporations all over the world, and he’s constantly seeking out new partnerships. “What do you think of Urban Outfitters?” he’ll ask me, or “Have you ever eaten dinner at a Cracker Barrel?” And then he’ll really listen to my answers, as if my opinions might actually shape his business decisions. And it’s flattering, to be honest. Apart from Russell, I haven’t met a ton of people who care what I think. So I’m always happy to see Ted, and I always feel a little charge when he invites me over to talk.

Ironically, the only person at my new job who gives me any trouble is the one person who doesn’t exist: Anya.

Teddy’s imaginary BFF has an annoying habit of undermining my instructions. For example, one day I ask Teddy to pick up his dirty clothes and put them in his laundry hamper. Two hours later, I’m back in his bedroom, and the clothes are still scattered across the floor. “Anya says Mommy should do that,” he tells me. “Anya says that’s her job.”

Another time I’m frying crispy tofu squares for lunch and Teddy asks me for a hamburger. I tell him he can’t have one. I remind him that his family doesn’t eat red meat because it’s bad for the environment, because cattle are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. I serve him a plate of tofu and white rice and Teddy just pushes the food around with his fork. “Anya thinks I would really like meat,” he says. “Anya thinks tofu is garbage.”

Now I’m no expert in child psychology but I understand what Teddy is doing: using Anya as an excuse to get his way. I ask Caroline for advice and she says we just need to be patient, that the problem will eventually take care of itself. “He’s already getting better,” she insists. “Whenever I come home from work, it’s always ‘Mallory this’ and ‘Mallory that.’ I haven’t heard Anya’s name in a week.”

But Ted urges me to take a stronger stance. “Anya is a pain in the ass. She doesn’t make the rules around here. We do. Next time she shares her opinions, just remind Teddy that Anya isn’t real.”

I decide on an approach that’s somewhere between these two extremes. One afternoon while Teddy is upstairs in Quiet Time, I bake a tray of his favorite snickerdoodle cookies. And when he comes downstairs with a new drawing, I invite him to sit at the table. I bring over the cookies and two glasses of cold milk, and I casually ask him to tell me more about Anya.

“How do you mean?” He’s instantly suspicious.

“Where did you meet? What’s her favorite color? How old is she?”

Teddy shrugs, like all these questions are impossible to answer. His gaze moves around the kitchen, like he’s suddenly reluctant to make eye contact.

“Does she have a job?” “I don’t know.”

“What does she do all day?” “I’m not sure.”

“Does she ever come out of your bedroom?” Teddy glances across the table to an empty chair. “Sometimes.”

I look at the chair.

“Is Anya here now? Sitting with us?” He shakes his head. “No.”

“Would she like a cookie?” “She’s not here, Mallory.”

“What do you and Anya talk about?”

Teddy lowers his nose to his plate until his face is just inches above his cookies. “I know she’s not real,” he whispers. “You don’t have to prove it.”

He sounds sad and disappointed and suddenly I feel guilty—like I’ve just bullied a five-year-old boy into admitting there isn’t any Santa Claus.

“Listen, Teddy, my little sister, Beth, had a friend like Anya. Her friend was Cassiopeia, isn’t that a beautiful name? During the day, Cassiopeia worked for a Disney on Ice show that traveled all over the world. But every night she came back to our rowhouse in South Philly and she slept on the floor in our bedroom. I had to be careful I didn’t step on her, because she was invisible.”

“Did Beth think Cassiopeia was real?”

“We pretended Cassiopeia was real. And it worked out fine, because Beth never used Cassiopeia as an excuse to break rules. Does that make sense?”

“I guess,” Teddy says, and then he shifts in his chair, like he has a sudden pain in his side. “I have to go to the

bathroom. I have to make number two.” Then he climbs down from his chair and hurries out of the kitchen.

He hasn’t touched any of his snack. I cover the cookies with Saran Wrap and put his glass of milk in the refrigerator for later. Then I go over to the sink and wash all the dishes. When I’m finally finished, Teddy is still in the bathroom. I sit at the table and realize I’ve yet to admire his latest drawing, so I reach for the sheet of paper and turn it right-side-up.



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