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Authors: Melody Mayer

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The Nannies

BOOK: The Nannies
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For the girls who were there with me –
the good, the bad, and the ugly.
You know who you are.

1

Kiley McCann: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“My name is Kiley but my friends call me Krazy, with a K.”

“Wow.”

Kiley McCann could tell by the way her interviewer had said “Wow” that she was impressed. Perfect. Kiley crossed her miniskirt-clad legs and shook chestnut hair off her face with a practiced gesture. From the corner of her eye, she could see the red light of the video camera that was recording every word.

“I’m totally wild,” Kiley declared.

“Really.” The multiply pierced interviewer leaned forward in her orange director’s chair. “So, Krazy, what kind of music are you into?”

“Classic rock, totally,” Kiley assured her. “Platinum, of course. ‘Coy Miss Interruptus’ is my fave. And Hendrix. Hendrix is the best.”

“Are you experienced?”

“Very.”
Kiley dropped her eyes to half-mast. “I’m up for anything. Anytime. Anywhere.”

“Well, wow all over again.” The woman put down her clipboard and stretched, exposing two taut inches of stomach above her how-low-can-you-go jeans. Then she dead-eyed Kiley. “You’re totally full of shit.”

Kiley blushed—
blushed!
—which was not at all the look she was going for. “No I’m not,” she insisted.

“Please. You’re a goddamn seventeen-year-old poser. Don’t yank my chain.”

Face burning, totally busted, Kiley slumped back onto her stool. So much for passing herself off as a girl hot enough to get selected for a new reality TV show.

When her best friend, Nina, had picked her up at three a.m. to drive to Milwaukee, Kiley had felt so hopeful. Halfway there, they’d made a pit stop, where Nina had applied smudgy black eyeliner and three coats of mascara to Kiley’s face. Ditto lip gloss. Then Kiley donned the microminiskirt, stiletto boots, and sheer camisole that Nina had swiped from her slutty sister Heather. Infused with donuts and truck-stop coffee, they returned to the car; Kiley rehearsed her wild child act the rest of the way to Milwaukee.

At first, the ruse seemed brilliant. When they arrived before dawn at the Milwaukee Center for the Performing Arts, where the interviews were to take place, there was already a four-deep line that snaked around the building. Over the next hour, while the sun rose, cute guy after cute guy chatted them up. That never happened in La Crosse, where Kiley’s hair was invariably in a messy ponytail and the rest of her in the Gap chinos/ T-shirt/Converse All Stars combo she favored.

And then, a miracle. One of the show’s associate producers canvassing the line singled her out and handed her a card that allowed her to be interviewed immediately. The producer escorted Kiley past the long line of glaring stares and right through the glass doors of the center.

It had all seemed too perfect. Apparently, it was. Damn.

The young woman peered over rhinestone kitten glasses. “So Kiley, oh, I mean
Krazy,
” she said, sneering. “When I asked ‘
Are
You Experienced?
’ I wasn’t referring to your sex life. It’s the name of a—no,
the
—seminal Jimi Hendrix album.”

“Oh.”

All around the rehearsal hall, which had been converted into an interview room, the show’s staff chuckled at Kiley’s gaffe.

“Let’s cut to the chase here, Miss Susie Cream Cheese. You’re from . . .” She scanned Kiley’s application.

“La Crosse,” Kiley offered meekly.

“Where the hell is La Crosse?”

“Down the river from Eau Claire.”

“Oh well, isn’t that soooo helpful.” The staff exploded in laughter again.

Kiley cleared her throat. “Okay. I may have embellished my application a
little.

“A
little
?” The producer ran three fingers through her Day-Glo red punk hair as she glanced down at her clipboard. “Starred in
Girls Gone Wild
video. Hitchhiked solo around Southeast Asia. Snuck into Eminem’s hotel room.” Her eyes flicked back to Kiley. “This would be at his big La Crosse concert?”

Kiley stood, slutty Heather’s too-tight boots biting into her toes. She faced the chubby cameraman, who was still taping her humiliation. “You can turn that off now,” Kiley said with as much dignity as she could muster. She headed for the door. “Sorry to have wasted everyone’s time.”

“Excuse me. Sit, please!” the producer called. “We’re not done.”

“What’s the point?”

“I said
sit
.” The producer stabbed a finger at the chair. Kiley stopped. Turned. Walked back to her chair. Folded her arms and stood there as the producer went to confer quietly with two middle-aged men.

Kiley couldn’t hear them. She felt ridiculous, on display in Heather’s stupid “do me” outfit. What ever had made her think she could bluff her way onto
Platinum Nanny
? In the tradition of
The Apprentice,
the show would feature an on-air competition— to become the live-in nanny to the kids of superstar rock ’n’ roller Platinum.

Prior to the announcement of auditions, Kiley had barely heard of Platinum. That was when Kiley did what Kiley did best: her homework. Research revealed that Platinum was a vintage rocker whose outrageous behavior had made tabloid headlines in the late eighties and early nineties. Now the singer had supposedly reformed and was the mother of three children by three different fathers. Her who’s-my-daddy? family lived in Beverly Hills, California, on an estate she’d purchased from David Bowie.

As part of her research, Kiley had borrowed every Platinum CD she could find; Nina had even burned some bootleg recordings from Kazaa. Of course, now that Kiley had blown the interview, it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d memorized Platinum’s entire catalog.

The whole thing had been the longest of long shots anyway. It wasn’t as if Kiley had a sudden urge for her fifteen minutes of TV fame, or to enjoy the lifestyle of the rich and infamous by proxy. What Kiley wanted—needed, was desperate for—was to live in California and become a Californian.

When Kiley was in fifth grade, her parents had brought her to San Diego for an uncle’s wedding. Between her dad’s job at the La Crosse Brewery and her mom’s job as a waitress, money was always tight. In fact, that trip had been their first and only family vacation that hadn’t involved the car, multiple six-packs for Dad, and self-prescribed herbal anxiety medication for Mom.

The San Diego trip was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Maybe that was why Kiley found it so magical. Her father had stayed sober. Well, mostly. Her mother chilled out on kava kava. Well, mostly. They’d gotten along like the Brady Bunch.

Best of all, they stayed in an apartment that overlooked the ocean. That first evening, as Kiley watched the setting sun paint a canvas of cirrus clouds red and purple as it slid into the Pacific, she felt a magical sense of calm. The smell of the sea, the way the salty air felt in her lungs . . . everything was clean and new and
possible.

Her family was not the type to go on educational outings. Or any kind of outings, for that matter. But in San Diego, they went to Sea World. And drove up to the Long Beach Aquarium. They were supposed to go on the visitors’ tour of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, but Dad decided to see the Padres play a home game. So Mom took Kiley alone.

Disaster struck in the parking lot when Mrs. McCann had a panic attack. Kiley could often talk her mother down from these incidents. But that day, no way would her mother even leave the car. So Mom stayed behind while Kiley joined a large tour group—everyone assuming that the ten-year-old with the ponytail belonged to one of the grown-ups.

If that first night on the apartment balcony had been the courtship, the tour of the Scripps Institution sealed the romance. Kiley fell in love with the sea the way other girls fall in love with horses or boy bands. She made up her mind: she’d become an oceanographer or a marine biologist. It would be a career so far removed from La Crosse and the brewery and her mother’s panic disorder as to be on another planet. It was perfect.

Back in La Crosse, Kiley turned herself into an amateur expert on the oceans. When she was a high school sophomore, she ordered the Scripps catalog. Reading it was bliss . . . until she reached the page that listed tuition. For California residents, the cost was reasonable. For out-of-staters, there were two numbers after the dollar sign and before the comma, and they weren’t 1 and 0.

Who was she kidding? No way could her parents afford to pay for Scripps. Even with loans and a scholarship, she’d be lucky if she could afford La Crosse Community College. Her only hope was to apply to Scripps as a Californian. Which was ridiculous, since she wasn’t one, and had no way of becoming one. Until two weeks ago, that is, when Nina had raced over to Kiley’s house with the news she’d just heard on TV—
Platinum
Nanny
was holding a regional audition in Milwaukee.

There it was: a shot at California . . . albeit the longest shot in the history of long shots. But now, not only had she blown it, she’d probably end up part of the
Platinum Nanny Bloopers and
Stupors Extraspecial Episode,
immortalized on the air for all America to see.

The boots were killing her. What the hell. She sat down and pulled them off just as the producer returned. “You’re really seventeen?” she asked.

“Yep.” Kiley crossed one leg over the other and rubbed a throbbing foot.

The producer extracted a pink plastic file card from her clipboard and offered it to Kiley. “You know what this is?”

“Parking validation?” was Kiley’s retort. Why not? She didn’t have to impress anyone.

“Take it. You’re in.”

Kiley sat there, boots in hand, certain she had misunderstood. “B-but I lied,” she stammered. “I made everything up—”

“Yuh, we kinda got that,” the producer said, her brittle laugh revealing a lethal-looking tongue stud. “Little Miss Wisconsin Virginator who tried to bluff her way into
Platinum Nanny.
They’ll eat it up in flyover country. Congrats.”

“You mean I’m really a finalist?”

“Not unless you take this damn card.”

Kiley grabbed it. “Oh my God. Thank you!” She jumped up and hugged the young woman, boots still in her hand. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome. Now go home to La Whatever-it-is and get packed for Hollywood.”

2

Lydia Chandler: The Amazon Basin, Brazil

“Cup his scrotum,” Lydia Chandler suggested, which made Dr. Butkowski turn the same bloodred shade as the fresh monkey meat he’d eaten at lunch.

Lydia rolled her eyes. She’d have thought that the visiting doctors would read up on the mores and folkways of the indigenous populations of Amazonia before they came to South America. But most of them arrived utterly ignorant; expecting their penchant for charity work in the depths of the rain forest would suffice to charm the natives into their graces.

Dr. B. was simply the latest variation on the theme. On the motor-launch ride upriver, the portly physician had waxed poetic about his thriving medical practice in suburban New Jersey; how he’d volunteered for Doctors Without Borders because he wanted to use his medical training to Help Mankind.

Yeah. Like
that
would last here in the land of no electricity and no toilets. In fact, it was evident that the stomach-churning, puddle-jumping bush flight into Amazonia, followed by the long boat trip up the Rio Negro, had taken a toll on Dr. B.’s beatific mood. Or maybe it was hearing the word “scrotum” from a sixteen-year-old girl clad in cutoffs and an ancient Houston Oilers football jersey that she’d macheted into a sleeveless belly shirt. Or maybe it was being scrutinized by a five-foot-two, mostly naked Amazon tribesman whose penis was tied up to his abdomen with a cord. Or, all of the above.

“This man is an Amarakaire tribesman,” Lydia explained, only a trace of her native Texas accent left after eight and a half years in the bush. “Ama warriors greet strangers by cradling their testicles. I suggest you do it promptly, and with a big ol’ friendly smile on your face. Trust me. You don’t want to piss him off.”

“I—I—s-s-s-ee here—” the doctor sputtered.

Lydia gave a long-suffering sigh. This was all her parents’ fault. They
sucked
! She engaged in this stupid exercise every month at their behest—escorting a visiting medical missionary up the Rio Negro, with stops at every little village along the way. It was especially irritating because each tribe had its own shaman whose herbal medicines were capable of competing with nearly anything an American doctor might have in his pharmaceutical black bag of tricks. In fact, lots of the drugs that required a prescription back home were derived from flora right here in the Amazon.

But Lydia knew if she didn’t play tour guide, her parents wouldn’t fork over her allowance—not that there was much to buy in the Amazon basin, anyway. Without said chip, however, her thrice-yearly visits to Manaus—where she scooped up every American fashion magazine in sight—would be a worse waste of time than these doctor-escort jaunts. When luck was with her in Manaus, she was even able to order Sephora cosmetics, which were held for her at the American Express office until her next visit. (Half the time, the makeup never arrived, but it was better than regular mail. She’d tried that delivery system, but the parachute pack dropped from the mail plane had gotten snared in the jungle canopy. The next day, she swore she saw squirrel monkeys mincing around in MAC lip gloss.)

Lydia glanced at the tribesman. He was blinking rapidly, never a good sign. She put her hand on Dr. B.’s arm. “He’s an Ama, doctor.
Cradle his balls.
Unless you want him to eat you.”

“Eat me?” Dr. Butkowski squeaked.

“If you’re into that kind of thing—they’re pretty much ambisexual. They’re also cannibals. Although less than they used to be.”

The doctor licked his parched lips. “Now see here, I can’t just—” Suddenly, the small Amarakaire warrior’s right hand flashed out, heading directly for the doctor’s crotch.

“My God!” the doctor yelped as the warrior made contact. The tribesman smiled, revealing a mouthful of stained, broken teeth. Meanwhile, Butkowski looked as though he wanted to sprint all the way back to Paramus.

“Okay doc, handshake’s accomplished, do your thing. I’ll be over there.” Lydia tilted her head toward a dried-mud-and-rough-hewn-wood hut. She held up the latest issues of
Vogue
and
In Style.
“Thanks for the magazines you brought me.”

“You’re welcome. But Lydia, I don’t know this man’s language. Aren’t you going to interpret?”

“I could. But he’d be offended. Sexism Without Borders, you know,” Lydia quipped. “You’ll be fine. You’re not the first Western doctor he’s ever seen.”

The doctor nodded warily as a group of curious warriors formed a ring around the doctor and their brother.

Lydia headed off toward the hut. “One more thing, doc,” she called over her shoulder. “Don’t be surprised if they have deviated septums. Some really strange shit goes up those nostrils.”

She pushed into the empty hut, kicked aside a nest of fire ants, leaned back on a log, and opened
In Style
—knowing it wouldn’t be long before the July humidity turned the pages to mulch. Reading these magazines was always bittersweet. She loved the glimpses of her former life, but each article and advertisement reminded her that she was trapped in the Amazon with her parents for another 469 days, until her eighteenth birthday. At which point she would be happy to doggy-paddle back to America—piranhas be damned—if she had to.

“Oh, great,” Lydia muttered as she stared down at
In Style
’s featured city:
Hot Nights in Houston—the Best Places to Shop, Eat,
and Party.

Houston.
Her
Houston.

Though it had been more than eight years since she’d been ripped from her privileged life, she recalled it perfectly. Her home in the tony River Oaks neighborhood had been as large as a castle; she’d been the resident princess. Everyone would tell her how pretty she was, with her long blond hair and startlingly pale green eyes. A future Miss Texas, they’d said. Lydia and her oil-money-rich mother used to go on monthly shopping expeditions to Neiman Marcus, where she’d parade outfit after outfit for the admiring clerks. When Lydia couldn’t decide which one she most wanted, her momma just bought her all of them.

And the
toys.
Her grandparents had an Italian master craftsman hand-tool a dollhouse for her that was an exact miniature of her family’s mansion. Even the teensy furniture inside was identical. For her seventh birthday, her parents had rented out an amusement park so that Lydia and two hundred of her closest school friends could ride the rides and play the games without waiting in line. The games had been rigged so that every child won, and the prizes had all been ordered from F.A.O. Schwarz, the best toy store in the world.

It still shocked Lydia that these exact same parents, who had bestowed this perfect life upon her, had ripped it away. It happened after her father’s heart attack. He was only thirty-seven when he keeled over in the operating room at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center after performing thyroid cancer surgery on an accountant who was later implicated in the Enron scandal.

That heart attack changed everything. Her father recovered, as did the accountant, but the incident made her parents take a long, hard look at their lives. Also at their daughter, who was nagging them for another palomino pony so that her first one wouldn’t be lonely. That self-examination led to some kind of joint spiritual epiphany: their privileged Texas lives were empty and meaningless. Which was how it came to be that six months later, the Chandlers sold their worldly possessions, donated the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, and moved south. Way south. Dr. Chandler would practice medicine in the bush. Mrs. Chandler would be his learn-on-the-job physician’s assistant. Which was fine for them. Hey, they picked it. But Lydia had not. What really bit Lydia’s butt was that her parents were the rare ones who, once they decided to Help Mankind, never looked back.

Hours later, after Dr. New Jersey finished ministering to the natives and Lydia piloted the boat back downriver to the squalid hamlet that she called home, sweet home, she trudged into her family’s hut. She never failed to notice how its square footage was roughly equal to her old walk-in closet.

“Airdrop today, there’s one for you,” her mom said. She was busy sterilizing some medical equipment on a bed of hot coals. “How’d it go with Butkowski?”

“The usual,” Lydia replied as she reached for some dried and salted snails—junk food in Amazonia. “Love was in the air, though; one of the Amas fell for him.” She pawed through the mail and spotted the aerogram addressed to her, in her aunt Kat’s loopy handwriting.

Before Lydia’s parents had lost their minds, Aunt Kat had been the blackest sheep of the Chandler clan. An excellent athlete, Kat was the best female tennis player in Texas by age fourteen, with a feature story in the
Houston Chronicle.
However, when she came out as a lesbian at fifteen, no such press coverage ensued.

Kat didn’t let the moralizers stop her. She attended the University of Texas as a broadcast journalism major, captained their tennis team, and left after her sophomore year to join the women’s circuit. She reached the round of sixteen at the U.S. Open twice, but sustained a serious knee injury at twenty-four that sidelined her forever. After she retired from competition, she went to work as a tennis commentator for ESPN.

Kat’s longtime domestic partner, the Russian tennis star Anya Kuriakova, had been a chief rival for years. There were good-natured titters when Kat and Anya announced that they were a couple; their marriage in Massachusetts had made national news. Now, Kat did her broadcast thing, and Anya coached promising young Russian players. The couple lived in a Beverly Hills mansion with a son and daughter who’d been conceived with the aid of a sperm donor. Which meant—sexuality aside—that Lydia’s aunt and her family were now basically living Lydia’s old life.

Lydia tore open the aerogram and scanned the usual news of home and family. But she nearly choked on a snail when she got to the next paragraph.

“ESPN has made me a terrific offer to double my on-air time. If I accept, I’ll have to travel quite a bit more. Anya and I have decided it’s time that we hire a nanny for the kids—I’ve always been more the hands-on mom type, you know. So I thought you might want to come back to the States and take the job.”

Holy shit. A lifeline. One that led to 90210.

The engine in Lydia’s brain kicked into high gear. Her parents had to say yes. If they tried to stop her, she’d hike into the rain forest and go on a hunger strike. She’d threaten to get it on with an Ama—not that any of them found her skinny, pale flesh, or the lips that had never been pierced by sticks, very appealing. But still. She’d do whatever the hell it took to get out of the jungle.

Goodbye, rain forest. Hello, Beverly Hills.

BOOK: The Nannies
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