After taking my things back to my room, I head downstairs. I didn’t get a formal tour last night—that would have required Ethan to speak to me, and I don’t think he was interested in exchanging any more words with the “easy screw” than necessary. But Lilly showed me around after she finished her dinner. Ethan’s house is a large country-style home with three bedrooms upstairs. Ethan’s room is on the main floor, and there’s an apartment behind the garage, where his mother lives. Lilly didn’t show me her father’s room, but she insisted on showing me every toy in her room as well as the basement, where there’s a big-screen TV, a comfy-looking sectional sofa, and a play kitchen set.
This house definitely has what most people would call “a woman’s touch.” There’s a cute little sign above the coffee pot that says, “But first, coffee!” There are words painted onto the wall in the breakfast nook that say, “Eat Well, Live Fully, Love Completely.” I’m sure Ethan’s capable of doing this kind of decorating, but my instincts tell me these are touches his wife left behind.
I have a couple more hours before I need to wake up Lilly, and since no one’s watching, I take my time as I walk through the living room. I pause at the pictures of Ethan’s wife on the mantel, taking in her dark hair and smiling face. I don’t know how long she’s been gone, but Lilly doesn’t look older than two or three in any of the pictures.
I brush my fingers over an image of Ethan and his wife kissing baby Lilly’s forehead. They look so happy, and my heart aches for them. What did Kathleen say about Lilly’s mother? Elena had her own kind of slow death.
I wonder if she had cancer like Kathleen. That would explain why Ethan’s mother is so set on keeping her disease a secret. I bet Ethan was a happier man before he lost his wife, and knowing about that loss helps me understand the sadness that never leaves his eyes. No one can blame him for grieving. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your spouse, the mother of your child.
I study another picture of the happy family from when Lilly was a toddler. Ethan’s smiling, but I see the same sadness in his eyes I noted that first night I met him. As surprised as I was to find out he was the doctor I’m supposed to be working for, I somehow wasn’t surprised to learn he was a widower. It just made sense. It explains the hurt he seems to hide behind his quiet demeanor.
But in this picture, that hurt is already there. The sadness is already creeping into his features. And his wife is standing right by his side.
“Every one of your references had nothing but praise for you,” Kathleen says. She’s sitting at Ethan’s kitchen table with a cup of coffee, the newspaper spread out in front of her. I just got back from running Lilly to school.
“I’m glad you were able to reach them so quickly.” I pour myself a cup of coffee—my third for the day, but who’s counting?
“I think they’re all quite jealous we stole you away.”
I smile. “I’ve always been lucky to be placed with kind people.” Until now, I think, but I have no interest in telling Kathleen my opinion of her son.
“Your background check won’t be back until tomorrow,” Kathleen says. “But I don’t have any concerns.”
“Oh.” I’d forgotten she was going to do that. “Good.”
“How’d the morning go?”
“It was smooth.” Since Ethan woke me up so early, I used my extra time to work on a menu for the week and check the kitchen’s inventory. I thought I’d need to go to the grocery store today, but the kitchen is well stocked, so a trip was unnecessary.
I woke up Lilly at the time Kathleen suggested in her notes. Lilly had picked her clothes out for school the night before, and she dressed herself and brushed her teeth without a hassle.
Kathleen didn’t come out of her apartment, and I suspect it was because she wants me to have a chance to go through the morning routine on my own before I really am on my own.
“Lilly is really easy to work with,” I tell the girl’s grandmother. “She’s very independent for a six-year-old.”
“She’s like her father,” Kathleen says. “I always said he was born a self-starter. He never needed me to remind him to do his homework or study for a test, and he always held himself to high standards in everything he did. Lilly takes after her daddy like that.”
“What about her mother?” I ask before I can stop myself.
Kathleen looks down at her newspaper.
My cheeks heat when I realize how personal that question is. “Lilly’s very compassionate. I bet she gets that from her mom.”