“You came highly recommended from our friend Kelly, so I wanted to make sure you were available for February 16. It’s a Friday.”
The voice on the other side of the phone hesitated for a few seconds, soft noises of fingers tapping on the screen filling in the silence.
“Yes, I’m free,” the answer finally came. “At what time would you want me to come?”
“Would six work for you?”
“Sure, Mrs. Stevens, six will work.”
“Call me Martha, please.”
“Very well, Martha, see you in about a month, then.”
Martha was running around her apartment to make sure everything was ready before Julia’s arrival. She had prepared on her bed the clothes and jewellery she wanted to wear for the night; she had placed the non-refrigerated food and all bowls and spoons already on the table; she had taken her black heels out of the box where they had spent the last ten months of her life. She couldn’t believe it was already ten months.
The doorbell interrupted her thoughts, and she opened the door to a young woman in her mid-twenties, a bright smile illuminating her smooth skin.
“Nice to meet you, Martha.”
“Nice to meet you, Julia,” she shook her hand. “Come in, please.”
“I’m a little stressed,” Martha kicked it off once they were sitting on the sofa. “I have never done this, so I’m not sure how this is going to work and what information I need to give you. That’s why I asked you to come here at six, even if I need to leave at seven.”
Julia smiled and she lightly patted Martha’s hand, “Don’t worry, Martha. I understand how hard the first time can seem, but I’m sure Kelly told you that I have quite a great deal of experience, really with all ages.”
“You just need to tell me what’s the plan for the night, and I will take care of everything,” Julia further reassured her.
A sudden scream interrupted their conversation. Julia stood up immediately, and she followed Martha in the baby’s room.
“She just woke up from her afternoon nap,” Martha explained. “She eats at seven and then she goes to bed between seven thirty and eight.”
“Perfect,” Julia smiled, while receiving the baby from Martha’s arms. “You go get ready for your night out: we’ll be great here.”
Martha looked at her image in the mirror one last time before she left. She still had some baby weight on her belly and thighs, but the high-waist dress she had picked was doing a good job in concealing her imperfections. Her wedding band and engagement ring sparkled on her finger, like a memory from a brighter past. She sighed and she grabbed her purse.
Her heels echoed on the walkway as she got off the taxi. Martha’s husband, Robert, was already waiting for her in front of the restaurant.
“You look beautiful, sweetheart,” he greeted her with a kiss.
She answered with a half smile, her hand still firmly holding the phone, whose screen was showing the image coming from the nanny cam they had installed in the living room a couple of days before.
“Everything will be fine,” Robert soothed her, before he opened the door and he waited for her to put her phone back in her bag and enter the restaurant.
He had booked one of the fanciest places in Manhattan to celebrate the first night out they were allowing themselves after the baby had been born, ten months before. He had called almost two months before, to be sure to find a table the first Friday after Valentine’s Day, to make the event even more special for Martha.
“Do you think Emma will be ok?” Martha asked as soon as they were seated.
“Emma is a big girl already: once you feed her and change her, she is perfectly happy,” Robert squeezed her hand with a smile.
“But Julia doesn’t know her at all, Emma just met her tonight. See, that was a mistake, I should have planned for a dry run last week. I should have had Julia come over and play with Emma, with me sitting on a side and observing.”
“I don’t think Julia would have agreed to this…” Robert sighed and he opened the menu to change subject. “I think the four course menu with wine pairing will be perfect for us.”
“Sure. I should have at least met her before tonight. I don’t know why I was so stupid!”
Robert held her hand on the table, “Kelly has been using Julia as a babysitter for her girls for four years now, don’t you trust her?”
Martha took a deep breath, “I don’t know. I don’t want Emma to get scared, or to think that we’re never coming back.”
“Did she cry when she saw Julia?”
Martha looked at Robert with her eyes wide open, “No.”
“Did she cry when you left?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“Then please don’t worry. Let’s focus on our date night. Let’s enjoy.”
“Right,” Martha whispered, to herself more than Robert.
After the foie gras and tuna tartare appetizers, Martha’s stomach was feeling better, but her mind was still far away.
“Martha, stop peeking at the nanny cam, I can see you.”
Busted, her eyes turned watery, “The girl is feeding Emma. See, she’s crying,” she showed him the screen.
He grabbed the phone from her hands and he took a quick look, before putting it in his own pocket, “Emma always cries towards the end of her dinner, you know she’s always tired around this time.”
He caressed her face, and she tried to abandon herself in his confidence.
She let him talk about his day at work during their first dishes, a mushroom risotto and a branzino, while she sank her nails deeper and deeper in her palm not to think about Emma, alone at home, in her bed without her parents in the apartment, a stranger in the living room.
They gossiped about friends and acquaintances while eating their second dishes, a lamb chop and a rabbit stew. Martha now had to hide the thick red marks on her hand, but she failed when Robert took her hand again.
“What’s going on here?” he sighed as he kissed her palm.
Tears started to form at the corners of her eyes, “I’m so worried. What if Julia is hurting Emma?”
Martha could see a flash of fear in Robert’s eyes, but she couldn’t tell if he was sharing her preoccupation for Emma or if he was afraid that she was losing her mind.
He fished for her phone in his pocket, and he handed it to her so that she could check the nanny cam. Emma was sleeping in her bed, the quiet smile of babies.
Tears of relief rolled down Martha’s cheeks, and Robert came closer to her on the sofa they were sharing, to hug her and kiss her hair.
“Everything is fine, my love. Nothing bad is going to happen to Emma.”
“I know, but it’s so scary to think she’s not with me,” Martha whined.
Robert held her by her shoulders to look at her straight in the eyes, “I know. But rather than fixating on how she’s not with you, think that for once you’re not with her, and it’s just the two of us. For once, for the first time in a long time, we’re enjoying a night out, just the two of us. Let’s fully appreciate each other’s company. Let’s not forget that we still love each other, as a couple.”
She nodded, tears flowing free.
He hugged her again, “Remember why we’re here.”