When I get back, Maja passes Freja off to me and leaves, telling me to call for Agnes, the head housekeeper, if I need anything, and I suddenly feel bereft. The truth is, compared to most of the places I’ve been a nanny, I’ve never had this level of guidance before and I’m eternally grateful that Maja has been here to show me the ropes, even if she’s a bit stuffy at times. But now with her gone, the panic and fear is starting to set in. I feel like all my years of experience have just disintegrated in my hands and I have no clue what I’m doing.
Freja is especially quiet and I’m still not sure if that’s how she always is or if she’s just that way around me. I ask her what she wants to do and she has zero suggestions, so, considering her interest in all things “Gods,” I take out my iPad and start telling her stories about the Goddess Freya before going into the Greek gods route which I know well. For a moment I think that maybe this is considered paganism or something and Aksel would blow a gasket if he knew, but she’s so enthralled by my every word, that I know it’s worth it.
The rest of the day goes by fairly quickly, just Freja and I roaming around the palace halls or playing with her “dolly” collection in her room, which is actually a hodgepodge of plush animals, American Girl dolls and Barbies. Both girls have enough to open up their own toy store but I guess I can’t fault them for being a bit spoiled. Their tragedy and princess title aside, they’re both so darling that it would be hard to say no to them.
But even after I pick up Clara from school, I don’t see Aksel or Maja anywhere. I know it’s dangerous to ask the girls what they normally do before dinner, lest they suggest they play the infamous game of hide and seek or ride mattresses down the grand staircases, so I catch Clara up on some of the Norse and Greek gods stuff she missed and then ask if she has any homework she wants me to go over with her.
Of course, everything is in Danish but at least I can help with math problems. We’re just finishing up in their room, seated at a low play desk in the middle while Freja plays with her dolls, idly glancing at us from time to time, when there’s a knock at the door.
Agnes pokes her head in. “Undskyld mig,” she says. “Dinner will be served in five minutes.”
Then she leaves down the hall.
I don’t know why I’m suddenly nervous, but I am. “Okay girls, better wash up.”
Clara squints at me. “A bath?”
“No, come on, wash your hands,” I say, helping them both to their feet. “You can’t eat dinner with dirty hands.” They begrudgingly head over to their large bathroom. “And straighten out your dresses and run a brush through your hair.”
“Mama always brushed our hair,” Clara says when she comes back out. She doesn’t seem upset, she’s just stating it as a fact.
“Would you like me to brush it?”
Clara nods. “Yes. And I want braids.”
“Me too,” Freja speaks up.
I sigh. “Okay, braids it is. But I have to be quick, I don’t want to be late for dinner on my first day.”
“No one will notice,” Clara says as I grab their brush from their pink vanity counter and a couple of scrunchies. “We’re usually eating alone.”
“Or with Tante Maja,” Freja says.
“Not with your father?”
Clara shrugs. “Sometimes he does.”
This shouldn’t surprise me. In the past, it was rare that the family would ever sit down together and I can’t imagine a king having a load of free time on his hands. As a nanny, it was usually just me and my charges every night, only I was the one preparing the meals as well. But even so, this bothers me. I guess because Aksel told me he’d do anything for his girls and yet they eat without him. They aren’t a family. He probably doesn’t realize how much they’d appreciate it.
I do know he wouldn’t appreciate me telling him this so early in the game, so I decide to just keep it to myself. For now.
Once the girls are all set, we head downstairs to the dining room. I probably should have cleaned myself up a bit, at least attempted to get out of this bloody skirt or put on some makeup but I’ll have to do as I am.
Maja is already at the table and giving me a tepid smile. “I was just about to come find you,” she says as Karla comes out, placing oil and vinegar beside the giant bowl of salad in the middle of the table.
“Sorry,” I apologize, not about to throw the girls and their hairdo requests under the bus. “I lost track of time. Wow, this salad looks amazing.” And it does—crisp romaine, tomatoes, bacon, the whole lot.
“I should probably print out the schedule for you, so that you can refer to it,” Maja says as I take my seat beside her, the girls on the opposite side of the table. “Dinner is always at six. It’s good for the girls to have routine, you know.”
“And is Aksel joining us?” I ask. The girls look at Maja hopefully.
“Probably not but Karla always sets a place for him and puts food aside, just in case,” she says as she dishes salad onto the girl’s plates.
The girls look absolutely crestfallen. I wish there was something I could do or say.
“Eat your salad,” Maja tells them. Talk about tough love.
Clara folds her arms in defiance, shaking her head. “No.”
“Clara,” Maja says. “Must we do this?”
Clara lets out rapid-fire Danish which makes Maja sigh.
“What did she say?” I whisper to her.
“She won’t eat bacon,” she says. “She has an obsession with pigs at the moment.”
Actually, that’s kind of admirable. I don’t mean to undermine Maja but I tell Clara, “Pigs are very smart, very loyal animals. Almost like dogs. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to. You don’t have to eat any animal if you don’t want to.”
I can feel Maja’s eyes boring into my head. Whoops. Totally stepping on everyone’s toes here.
“Really?” Clara says brightly. “Because Papa said that I need to eat meat or else I’m going to stay this size for the rest of my life.”
I cock my brow. “Did he now?”
“I don’t want to eat bacon either,” Freja says in solidarity, pushing her plate away. “I don’t care if I’m small forever.”
Now I know for sure that Maja is giving me the stink eye.
“How about you pick around the bacon and just eat the rest of the salad,” I say quickly. “A compromise, okay? That way you’ll still grow.”
The girls exchange a look with each other and then shrug in unison. “Okay.”
While they pick out the bacon and start munching on the greens, Maja says to me under her breath. “I hope you know what you’re doing. We eat meat at every meal and if this gets back to Aksel…”
Ah shit. I give her a sheepish smile. “I’m sorry. I was trying to help. I’ll be sure to explain to him.”
Maja gives me a loaded look that says I can explain all I want but it’s not going to help me.
I also hope that Clara will forget what I said but the moment the main course comes out—some kind of lamb casserole—Clara full-on refuses. Karla has to go back into the kitchen and whip up macaroni and cheese instead. Thankfully Karla doesn’t seem to mind as much as Maja does.
I’m in the middle of helping Karla clean up the table—much to Maja’s protest—and running empty plates between the kitchen and the dining room when I hear the deep, low voice of Aksel speaking Danish. “Godaften.”
I poke my head into the dining room and see him come in from the hallway. The girls immediately squeal “Papa!” and clamor out of their chairs, running over to him.
He smiles—the first time I’ve ever seen him fully smile—and scoops them both up into his arms. “Hvordan har mine små engle det?”
The girls both start talking excitedly all at once, and while they have his rapt attention, I linger back in the doorframe to the kitchen, watching him.
Even though he’s still an imposing figure with his large, tall frame in a sharp grey suit with a white dress shirt underneath (no tie), and his hair perfectly arranged, there’s something about him that seems more real. His features seem less sharp and when his eyes are focused on his daughters, all the ice and chill seems to drain from them, becoming something warm and bright. I didn’t think it was possible for him to get more handsome, but there you have it.
And seeing him doting on his girls might be setting my ovaries on fire.
Then Clara says my name, and his gaze goes across the table over to me in the doorway and the fire is quickly put out. His eyes freeze over in total disapproval. Perhaps for a moment there he forgot I existed and now I’m just harsh reality.
“Good evening, sir,” I say to him, offering a quick curtsey, which I know is totally not necessary at this point. “How was your day?”
He frowns as if I shouldn’t be speaking at all. Maybe I shouldn’t be. Too late.
“Just fine,” he says, clearing his throat, and then his gaze drops from my face down to my legs, with a brief, confused in-between stop at my boyfriend cardigan. I’m not sure he likes what he sees or … no … no wait, that’s definitely a look of disdain for my short skirt.
“Aurora did very well with the girls,” Maja says, helping Clara and Freja down from his arms.
He makes a dismissive sound and manages to tear his eyes away from my legs to look at Maja. There’s something about the arrogant set of his jaw that makes him look like he’s perpetually seething. “Where’s Karla?”
Maja nods at the kitchen. “In there. There are a lot of leftovers,” she adds, then gives me a knowing look. I suppose that’s my fault.
Aksel walks toward me and I quickly step out of the way as he brushes past me to the kitchen and starts talking to Karla in Danish. I can’t help but breathe in deep through my nose. He smells like salt air and pine and things that are bracing and invigorating, and my god, I need to stop this right now.