“I need to talk to you tonight. When’s a good time?”
“What? You need to make an appointment to speak with me now?” Alexis’s eyes looked bruised underneath, as if she was sleeping just as poorly as he was himself.
“I’d prefer to have your full attention. It’s important,” he said stiffly.
“If it’s about hiring a new nanny, don’t worry. Catherine already told me yesterday. So, have you found someone?”
She caught him on a back foot. “There have already been a few applicants.”
“That’s good,” she replied, rinsing a muslin cloth at the kitchen sink and then coming over to wipe Ruby’s face and hands before giving her a couple of slices of apple to occupy herself with. “I’ve been thinking, out of fairness to Ruby, it might be best if we have a two-week transitional period with both me and the new nanny here.”
“It makes sense, don’t you think? It wouldn’t be good for the new nanny or Ruby if my leaving disrupted her too much. She’s more aware of strangers now than she was when I arrived, less open to trust them.”
“Ruby’s going to need you more, too.”
“More?” God, he needed to stop with the monosyllabic replies.
“Of course, you’ll be her touchstone. Her constant. She needs stability.”
“She’s going back to Catherine’s soon.”
“Yes, I know. Catherine said. Are you seriously going to do that? Send her back to her grandmother?”
“Of course. She can’t stay here.”
Alexis looked at him fair and square. “Why not?”
“Because it’s not feasible, that’s why not.”
Saying the words caused a sharp hitch in his breathing. He’d mulled it over time and time again. As much as he was bonding with Ruby every day, he had to take a giant step back. It was the only way to stop the chance of being hurt.
“If she has a nanny, or even a rotation of nannies together with Catherine, I don’t see why you have to turf her out of her home.”
The words he was going to say dried on his tongue. He’d been about to refute that it was Ruby’s home but as he looked around him and saw the detritus that she spread about the place every day, he found he couldn’t bring himself to utter the words. Nor could he honestly say he didn’t want her here anymore. Sure, the idea of being solely responsible for her care still scared him witless, but for as long as she had a reliable nanny, or rotation of nannies as Alexis had suggested, then maybe it could work out.
He tried to think of what it would be like not to see her cherubic face each morning or hear her chant “Dad-dad” as she did whenever she saw him. Even the mere thought of it made him feel empty, lost.
“Raoul?” Alexis prompted.
“I’ll think about it. We’ll have to see what the job applicants are like first.”
She gave him a weak smile. “Well, that’s progress, I guess.”
Raoul continued to stand there, feeling at a loose end as she competently moved around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches to their evening meal and tending to Ruby.
“How are you doing...since Monday?” he asked awkwardly.
“Everything’s settled down,” she replied, keeping her back to him, but he saw her face reflected in the kitchen window and noticed how she hesitated over her task.
“When do you see the doctor again?”
“I had an appointment in four weeks’ time but if I’m leaving then I think I’ll see someone when I get home.”
“I’ll pay for your medical expenses, Alexis, and for the...baby, when it comes.”
“I’ll call you if I need help,” she said, her words clipped.
“I mean it. I will stand up to my responsibilities toward him or her.”
She made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a snort. “Except for the ones that really matter, right?”
He felt a flush of humiliation stain his cheeks. “I said it before, Alexis. You ask too much.”
“Do I? When I, Ruby, everyone in your life, basically, is prepared to give you everything in return? Is it too much to ask you to love us, to care?”
His hands clenched into fists at his sides. He felt his short fingernails biting into his palms and he relished the pain. It was the distraction he needed to remind himself not to reach out for her, to drag her to him and to show her exactly how much he felt for her. A fine tremor rippled through him.