All the Time in the World - Caroline Angell

PART ONE

Gretchen

The day she died was not beautiful. There have been a few world disasters in my lifetime, generation-defining events, and the ones I remember most clearly were marked with the hideous irony of a perfect blue sky. But the day Gretchen McLean died was miserable and drizzly, with periods of that nasty, keening wind that blows your raincoat hood straight back from your head and whips the garbage on Lexington Avenue into your face. It was appropriate, almost righteous. Towers fall, and the sun should not warm your skin; buses explode, and the breeze should not trace gentle ripples across the reservoir. But on the day that Gretchen died, even the weather seemed to understand its role. Because on the day that the mother of two little boys dies without warning, the wind should absolutely howl.

February, the day before

“I left the juice box on the counter. You might want to take a paper towel too. He squeezes them when he puts the straw in,” Gretchen tells me. “Right, George?” She pokes little George in the belly.

“All over me when I put the traw in,” he confirms. I’m pretty good at deciphering George-speak now, but it took me six or seven months to catch on. Gretchen understood it from the moment it started, which I’d prefer to chalk up to her intuitive mommy-skills, rather than to my slow-babysitter syndrome.

I walked in the door exactly seven minutes late today, which is an unusual occurrence. Of course, today is the day that Gretchen is in a hurry to leave, and now her meticulousness, which I normally laugh at, is giving me a complex. I’d love to give her an acceptable excuse for my lateness, but the wrong comment could lead to revelations I’m not willing to share. I don’t want to risk it, even though we’ve known each other for two years and, in some ways, are as close as family. The less you know about someone, the easier it is to make up the details, which is exactly what you want to do when it comes to the person who will help raise your children.

Gretchen hands George his shoes and then tears off a paper towel, folds it up, and puts it under the juice box on the counter. “Or would you rather I put it in the stroller, Charlotte?”

“The counter is fine.”

“Hey, I meant to text you,” she says, “and then I think I forgot—do you have plans tonight?”

“Do you need me to stay late?”

“We thought we might go out,” says Gretchen. “But no big deal if you can’t stay. We’ll do it another night.” I wonder if she means that, or if she made the reservation a while ago and took it for granted that I would be able to stay. I rarely say no to her, and I know I’m not the only one.

“I think it will be fine.” I calculate the extra hours in my head and console myself with the thought. “You should go out. I’ll stay.”

“Thank you! That’s great. Oh, before I forget, one of the stroller wheels keeps turning sideways. Makes it drag a little, just fyi…” She is back to business, and I pull out my phone to text Everett, who is probably still in my bed.

“Have to work late. Go back to New Haven if you want to. Will feel bad if you stay an extra day. Don’t be mad.” I send the text and then regret that last insecure sentence.

Everett, my good friend from grad school, had shown up unannounced at my door at 9:30 last night with two things on his mind, both of which kept me tossing and turning longer than preferable. I’m not used to having another person in my space all night, so at 6:37 a.m. I was wide awake and spinning, despite having slept for only a couple of hours. Mornings with Gretchen and the boys are more difficult if I make less-than-stellar choices the night before, but on the whole, I like my employment situation and would like it to stay as it is. I have no family in New York, and barely any of my friends from school have relocated here. Gretchen’s family has become somewhat of a refuge for me in this city, where everyone is in such a hurry not to look each other in the eye. Babysitting in Manhattan is a decent living, and since keeping a roof over my head is a priority for me, working for Gretchen has been ideal.