“Why?” She steps away from me, her eyes so full of vehemence that I shrink a little. “Why would you do that?”
“I wasn’t snooping,” I tell her, my attitude automatically getting haughty. “I was looking for you and I happened to see your handbook and notebook out on the desk.”
“You looked through my notebook?”
I swallow and glance at the girls again. This time, Clara’s brows are halfway up her forehead, staring at me expectantly. “All I saw were notes that you jotted down from the handbook. That’s all. Nanny things.”
“And what if that had been a diary? What if I’d written down my personal thoughts and feelings in there? Does that mean nothing to you?”
I raise my hands in surrender, aware that her voice is cracking and I’m not sure what she’s going to do next. Would she hit me right here in front of the girls, in my own palace? “I meant no harm.”
“No harm?” she repeats, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You know what, Your Majesty? You expect me to treat you with respect but you give me none in return. We can keep dancing back and forth like this but the truth is, this won’t work until you and I are equals. I know where I stand with your family, don’t think I’ve forgotten my role, but my place in their lives isn’t as cut and dry as you think it is. Now I’m sorry that your daughters have decided to be vegetarians, but in the end it’s their choice what they decide to put into their bodies. In the end, it’s them who makes these decisions, not me, not you.”
“And now, if you’ll excuse me.” She clears her throat loudly, and with one hand makes a sharp adjustment of her hat. “I have a tea party I need to get back to.”
She turns on her heel, holding the rest of her long dress in her hands, and walks as gracefully as she can back to the table.
I swear Freja gives me the stink eye.
With a heavy sigh, I leave them and head back into the palace.
The sound of Clara’s yelling breaks through my dreams. What’s going on and what the hell is Tivoli? I quickly try and remember my dream and I’m pretty sure Jason Momoa was in it again, wearing a crown, and so whatever interrupted that better be damn good.
I roll over in bed and blindly reach for my phone to check the time. Then I remember it’s Saturday and there’s no reason Clara should be up at 8 am and yelling for whoever or whatever Tivoli is.
Bang, bang, bang.
My door practically comes off the hinges thanks to someone pounding incessantly at it. Come to think of it, it sounds like two people are pounding at it. Little people.
“What is it?” I cry out, and even in my annoyance at the wake-up call, I manage to switch to Danish. “Hvad er det?”
Even though I’ve only been living in Denmark for three weeks now, I’ve managed to pick up a handful of phrases, most of them via the girls. I can also say “Jeg orker det simpelthen ikke” which means “I simply can’t be bothered” which is what Clara often says, accompanied by her dramatically falling on her bed, when I ask her to help clean up their room.
“Tivoli!” they yell in unison and so I’m up in just my sleepshirt and boxers, padding across the dimly lit room to open the door.
Both girls are somehow dressed, though I think Freja’s dress is inside out.
“What are you girls doing?” I say, bleary-eyed, and then repeat my “Hvad er det?” for good measure.
“Hvad er det,” Clara corrects me, and her version sounds exactly the same as what I just said. “We’re going to Tivoli today, don’t you remember?”
I can barely remember yesterday as it is. Each day is getting busier and busier the more I fall into the groove of things. My schedule is pretty packed and even though I go over it often, the whole foreign language thing means that half the stuff isn’t sinking into my brain.
Blinking at them, I nod. “Sure. Tivoli.”
“And the autumn fair,” Freja says quietly. “I want to see the animals.”
“Okay,” I say. “But you know I have to get my coffee in me first before we do any of these things.”
“You and your coffee,” Clara says. “Sometimes I think maybe you’re named after the Goddess of the coffee bean.”
“You might be right about that,” I tell her. “Give me thirty minutes and we’ll be on our way.”
This pleases the girls enough so that they go skipping off to their room. I call after them, “And Freja, your dress is on backwards!”
“I know!” she yells back.
I get dressed quickly. With it being the start of October, the weather has changed dramatically compared to France. While the days are still warm and somewhat dry, it’s the light that I’m missing the most. While I’m sure I’ll be able to handle the cold, especially as they say Copenhagen doesn’t get as frigid as people think, I don’t know how I’ll be when it’s pitch dark at 3 p.m. My sunny Aussie roots will shrivel.
But because mornings are cold and I don’t know what to expect with Tivoli or the fair, I slip on thick leggings, socks, boots, and of course my uniform of a grey mini-skirt and navy blouse. This one has ¾ length sleeves and a Peter Pan collar, which I think is pretty whimsical.
Honestly, I didn’t think I would but I actually like having a uniform. It makes getting ready in the morning super easy when you only have a few varieties to choose from, plus I think it drives Aksel nuts that I wear these skirts. I know that when he asked me to get a uniform he was probably thinking something more classy and modest but hey, I think I look pretty good myself.
Not that I’ve seen him all that often. He’s kept his word to the girls and has been showing up for dinner on most nights. He doesn’t even say anything when Karla brings out two different dishes for the main course, although I can feel the resentment roll off of him like incoming waves. But other than that, he’s stayed clear of me.
Which I don’t mind, per se.
I mean, I do wish we had a different kind of relationship. Not like the relationship I had with my last “father of the house” since that went awry with inappropriate touching and come-ons. I think one of the reasons I even like Aksel is because he’s the opposite of that, like it disgusts him to even be in the same vicinity as me. He’s forever taking a step away from me like I have the bloody plague and yet it’s kind of nice to not be leered at.
But I wouldn’t mind it if I felt like I could approach him and talk to him about the girls and have a real heart-to-heart without all these stiff formalities in the way. Get to know the real him.
If there’s even a real him. At times he’s so larger than life, even when he’s right in my face. At others, he almost fools me into thinking he’s not a king of a prosperous country at all. That he’s just a normal single father, trying to take care of his daughters in a big, empty, lonely house.
That’s something that I don’t think they realize. How lonely the place is. Even with the staff living here as well, the halls seem to echo with memories. I may have not known Helena when she was alive but I feel her around us. Nothing vengeful or mournful, just ever-present in everyone’s minds. That loss of her, the lack of a mother figure, makes everything emptier.
So I’ve been doing what I can to fill that void. Aksel’s words still ring through my head from time to time, when he told me that I’m not the girl’s mother and they aren’t my friends and that I’m not part of the family. I mean, I know all that. I only just started working here, only just begun to scratch beneath the gilded façade of this family. I know my place very well—or, at least, I’m trying to.
But my place doesn’t have to be stagnant. I don’t have to fit into the slot that was carved out for me by the nanny before me. I don’t want to just be a Band-Aid to this family—I want to help them heal. Maybe that’s naïve of me, and maybe I should be a little more grounded with my goals, but that doesn’t change the feeling of why I’m here.
Before I got this job, I’d been feeling stuck in my own life. I’d done so much running and escaping, gone through so much tragedy and horror, that I just wanted something simple and stable. It worked, too. I was a nanny because it gave me the safety and structure I didn’t have back in Australia. But you can only run, only pretend, for so long.
Now that I have this job, however, I feel like I’m in it for the long haul. Sure, it might just be a year. It could be less, depending on how long Aksel can stand me. It could be more. But while I’m here, I don’t want to just be a nanny. I want to help them all get better, anyway that I can. I want to actually be useful for once.
“Well, you can start by getting these girls to whatever Tivoli is,” I say to myself in the mirror as I brush my teeth. I’ve stopped thinking that talking to myself is odd a long time ago.
After I braid my crazy hair back, knowing it’s going to frizz out on me later, I put on a touch of mascara and blush and then head down to the kitchen. Karla has the weekends off—lucky duck—and so Bjørn, the secondary cook, is in charge of breakfast, and he already knows how much coffee I require.
I quickly grab a scone and tuck it into my leather messenger bag for later (it joins my notebook, a wad of euros, some Danish kroner, a million hair ties, a compact, nude lipstick, gum, these salty licorice candies I’m currently addicted to, Band-Aids, antibiotic cream, gummy children’s vitamins and a tube of this strange mustard paste that Clara insists on putting on everything), then sit down at the table with a giant mug (in European standards) of coffee and wait for the girls.
Naturally, I barely finish mine before they’re running over to me excitedly, Clara with her backpack on like she’s going to school, yelling “Tivoli!” and a bunch of other Danish words, and I know they’re going to be a handful today.