by Kaite

She makes you feel uncomfortable, and you don't entirely know why. True, she's better with your children than you are, your husband is happier (if a little more exasperated) since she came. The whole house feels different now that she's here, and maybe that's the problem. Because you feel different, too. Jane and Michael are turning more and more into the kind of children you always wanted, and George is slowly regressing back to the man you fell in love with, which only leaves you.

Part of you wants to be her, which your rational mind knows is preposterous -- you with your perfect life, envious of a nanny! But really, she's so much more than you are. She's younger than you, you think. It's so hard to tell. Every time you think you understand her, she slips from your grasp. She doesn't have any wrinkles, and not one grey hair. But those eyes of hers are old, and know more than they should. They have an uncanny glitter at times, and suggest she knows all the secrets you'll ever have. Her manner borders on impertinence, and behind the mask of the perfect nanny, you suspect she's laughing at you. She always gets her own way with the children, with the servants, with George, with you, and you'll never know how she does it. Sometimes you're afraid of her, and more afraid of what will happen if she ever decides to leave.

She takes every second Tuesday off, and you don't know where she goes. She leaves before anyone else gets up, and gets in when everyone else is in bed, and no-one raises an eyebrow because no-one else would dare. From any other nanny, this would be a sackable offence. You have a half-formed idea in your mind of following her when she leaves the house, but she's always gone by the time you get up. You suspect she might see that chimney sweep man, and the thought makes you feel odd inside. You can't help feeling that she should be above all that nonsense. Love and sex. You don't associate it with her. Besides, you've known Bert since he was a boy and someone would have mentioned his having a female acquaintance like her. You don't like the thought of them together, but you can't stop thinking about it. He's always so dirty and she's always so pristine. You wonder if she makes him scrub with soap and water before she'll let him touch her. Ridiculous, really. A few nannies ago, there was one who walked out with the footman every Friday, and that never bothered you. Provided your staff don't actually do anything immoral, you don't care what they get up to on their time off. In fact, it wouldn't bother you if they did, provided George and the neighbours never found out. Someone in this house might as well be enjoying themselves. Of course she's meant to be instilling virtue and moral values in your beloved offspring, but half the time you're just glad that they don't get brought home by the local police constable anymore. She talks to the children in the kind of made-up nonsense you've never mastered and that always made George wince. It seems mean something to them that you can't grasp, no matter how hard you try. At least they're happy. At least someone is. Maybe she's the secret, maybe if you study her hard enough you can learn how to speak their language.

So one night you wait up for her, reading in the parlour. She lets herself in, and walks into the shadowed hallway towards the stairs, humming softly to herself. You call out, softly - odd that none of you ever think of calling her by her Christian name, nothing but Mary Poppins really suits her -- and she starts. She regains her composure almost instantly, and you wonder if that guilty little flinch was only a product of your imagination. She walks into the light and you can see that her hair is a little out of place beneath her hat, and a few cherry blossoms float from the brim down to the ground. A few steps closer and she's standing over you, and you can see a little black smudge of soot on her jaw. You know exactly where she's been, and for a moment you feel horribly, irrationally jealous.

"I didn't realize you'd still be up, Mrs. Banks." Her voice is cool and amused. She's caught you out, again.

"I couldn't sleep." That's true, you never can these days. George always snored, but it never bothered you until recently. You get the feeling she can read your mind and, today of all days, that's the last thing you want her to do. The image flashes into your mind of the two of them kissing on his bed -- fully clothed, of course. Hot, intense kisses, hands never straying further than below the waist. The kind of greedy, barely restrained passion you vaguely remember from before the children were born. You're spitefully glad that she has had to cut her evening short to come home and look after your brood. You couldn't bear it if your nanny, unusual and striking though she is, was out with her lover when you can't even stand to be in the same room as your husband anymore.

"Did you have a nice evening?" You try to sound polite, but you know it comes out like an accusation.

"Did I come back too late?"

"Not at all, Mary Poppins. It is still your day off, after all." The forced courtesy grates against your ears, and you glance up pointedly at the clock which points to fifteen minutes after eleven. She follows your eyes and then turns to you questioningly, a flicker of a challenge in her eyes.

"Can I make you a drink, Mrs Banks?" Her voice is gentle, soothing and it makes you angry. "I sometimes make the children a cup of hot milk with a dash of nutmeg in when they have a restless night."

"I'm not a child," you snap, sounding like one.

"You need your sleep as well." It's an order, but she softens it with a smile, and walks toward the kitchen without giving you a chance to protest.

She doesn't bother with the light, knowing where everything is by whatever instinct it is that makes her so good at managing your household. She is still humming as she moves around the dark room, a different tune now. You realize that she manages adults as well as she manages children. There's something achingly comforting about her presence, and all your anger melts away. She always manages to do this -- when she's around, you can never quite remember why it was you wanted her gone in the first place. You feel like a little girl again as she hands you the steaming mug, but all of a sudden it's alright. You sip, and it's warm and comforting. The nutmeg tastes slightly spicy, and there's a lower, more illicit taste as well. You hear her screwing the top back onto a bottle and slipping it into her bag, and take another gulp to hide your smile. It's relieving to know that she's only practically perfect.

You feel enormously vulnerable, the way you always do around her. Those piercing blue eyes miss nothing, and not for once you wish they would. You wish they'd miss how bored you are with your life, the way you have nothing to say to your children or your husband, and most of all you wish she didn't instinctively know how horribly lonely you are. You gulp down the last dregs under her watchful gaze, and say "Thank you." She leans in and kisses you on the cheek, her lips warm against your skin for a moment. "You need to get some sleep." Her fingers tingle with magic as they brush your skin, and she pushes you gently towards the stairs. You suddenly want to prolong this moment, enjoying the company of a woman you don't know whether to thank or envy. You know what it is the children see in her, it's the same thing that makes you want to cling to her and cry your troubles away, but you see something else, too. She's the answer to all your prayers, but you can't quite bridge the gap between the prim and proper governess and the giddily happy woman who's in love and will do anything not to show it. If you scratch the surface you might find a confidante, even a friend. Perhaps even an ally in the ongoing battle that wages in your house between father and children and servants, where you both occupy neutral ground. But for now, you'll settle for the heat of her body next to you, and the swishing of her skirts as they brush past yours.

"I meant it when I said I hoped you had a nice evening."

She smiles, wistfully. "I know." A pause. "Bert sends his regards."

She looks so normal, just for an instant. Just a pretty nanny in a happy house, talking about her sweetheart. But there's a tinge of regret there, as well, as though she's thinking about something that can never really happen. As though she already knows how this story will turn out and she's resigned to it, because happiness isn't what matters in the end. Mary Poppins never lets her guard down and never admits to needing anyone...but if she did, you think it would be now. You're sure that the brief pressure of her hand on your shoulder is because she's tired, and the trembling of her lips is a trick of the shadows. You lean into her touch for a moment, resting your head against the fabric of the coat she hasn't stopped to take off, and you can still smell cherry blossoms and soot and longing.

The clock strikes twelve, and you both glance up at it. Her day off has officially finished, and now you have to go back to being nanny and employer, and forget any tentative friendship you might have shared. You walk upstairs alone, and when you pause at the top, you look down and only see shadows.

It's late and you're tired and you know that when you open your bedroom door, George won't notice you've been gone.


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