The Professor and the Manny: Gay Romance - Trina Solet - ebook
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Ned needs a babysitter for his daughter, Mina. When he hires Jeff, he ends up with a manny and so much more. Mina is a vulnerable child who has endured too many losses. Ned has given her a new life, but she doesn't come out of her shell for just anyone. When Jeff comes into their lives, he wins her over and starts out babysitting for only a few hours a day. That's long enough for him to realize that he's incredibly attracted to Ned. Ned feels the same way, but he's a professor and Jeff is a student at his college. Ned is determined to keep his distance. That only lasts until he learns that Jeff has been keeping something from him. When Ned finds out that Jeff has no place to live, he invites him home and hires him as Mina's manny. There's no turning back now. Living in the same house, neither man can deny his feelings for long. But when danger disrupts their happy life, Jeff blames himself. Can Ned convince him to stay? The next time danger strikes, Jeff might be the only one who can protect what's most precious to them both.

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The Professor and the Manny: Gay Romance

By Trina Solet

Copyright © 2016 by Trina Solet

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locales or actual events is entirely coincidental.

All sexual activity takes place between persons eighteen years of age or older.

This novel contains material intended for mature readers.

Cover image is only for illustrative purposes. Any person depicted is a model.

The Professor and the Manny

Gay Romance

Trina Solet

Chapter 1

"We're going to class today, Mina," Ned told his four-year-old daughter while he helped her pick out something to wear.

"Anderson," Mina said. That was the name of the college where Ned was a professor. She knew the place well already. When Ned was working, he liked to have her nearby. Most of her babysitters had been students and they could watch her right on campus, sometimes between going to their own classes.

"Today is different," Ned told Mina. "You're going to watch me teach a class."

Mina peered up at him with a look he couldn't quite read. Sometimes she got that look when her knowledge of English had reached its limit and she didn't understand what he was talking about. Other times it just meant that she wasn't sure how she felt about something.

While Ned was trying to figure out this tiny puzzle he had adopted, Mina turned to her closet and tugged on the hem of a pink and white striped skirt with a ruffle on the bottom. Next she picked out a t-shirt with a big, loopy M on it.

"M is for Mina," Ned told her and helped her put the outfit on. "You look so nice. The whole class is going to be impressed."

Ned didn't usually take Mina to class with him. Having lost his babysitter and his backup babysitter in the same month, he was in a bind. He had to teach a class and he couldn't line up anyone to watch Mina. One of her babysitters had a family emergency. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence, the elderly couple who sometimes watched her, had a doctor's appointment. Every other possible babysitter was either in class or at work.

Ned didn't feel good about dropping the ball like this. He wondered if he would get better at being a dad once he had more practice. Mina had been his daughter only for six months. He wanted to spend as much time with her as he could and not leave her at home with a babysitter. When he was working in his tiny office in the Economics Department, keeping Mina with him was no problem. Mina was exceptionally quiet for a four-year-old, or for a child of any age. She had suffered three major losses in only a short time. The tiny child was somber and watchful when any other child would have been running wild.

That's why Ned was going to cross his fingers and take Mina to class with him. After all, she was as quiet as a mouse. She wasn't likely to cause any kind of disruption. And maybe he could inspire her to follow in his footsteps.

Mina was cheerful as they walked from the parking lot and then down the lanes that connected the different buildings on campus. Ned had liked the look of the place the very first time he set foot there. Mid-century modern appealed to him. The angles typical to the style were especially noticeable in the more prominent buildings. The library was a monument to Space Age ideas. With its sweeping lines, the place looked like any minute it might take off and fly away.

This was all stuff Mina had seen before. The walkways crisscrossed among the greenery. And now that it was early summer, there were plenty of flowers for Mina to fuss over like they were her little friends. Ned remembered how the appearance of the newborn spring flowers had sent her into a frenzy of happiness.

She loved to explore the campus, but she didn't like to go anywhere where it was crowded. That's why Ned was a little worried about taking her to class with him. But he figured that she would be OK since the students wouldn't be crowding around her.

Stopping by his office first, he grabbed a few things. The office was very cramped, but it did have a tiny window. The window was so high that the only one who could see out was Mina, once Ned put her to stand on his shoulders.

The two of them said hi to his colleagues and then it was off to class. As they went down the corridor that led to the lecture hall, Ned noticed that Mina gripped his hand tighter.

She was still fine until he walked her into the lecture hall. That's when she saw his twenty-eight or so students. All of them had their eyes on her, and Mina promptly turned her back, hugged Ned's leg and shut her eyes tight.

Still hoping to turn things around, Ned introduced her and the class greeted her with various versions of hi. She still stayed turned away and didn't open her eyes. In fact she wouldn't move from the spot even when Ned wanted to take her back to his office. In the end he had to pick her up to take her out of the class. Ned left with her curled up in his arms, accompanied by a chorus of "Bye, Mina."

"Come back and see us soon," someone yelled.

Ned conferred with his TA real quick and had her start the class. He carried Mina to the department offices while telling her, "I guess there were too many big kids in there for a little kid like you."

So much for that brilliant idea. Once they were on familiar turf at the office, Mina seemed more relaxed so Ned set her down. He poked his head in Glen's office. Luckily he had come in early today.

"Oh good, you aren't busy," Ned said while Glen's huge frame was bent over a stack of papers he was grading.

"Very observant as usual, Conway. What are you up to?" Glen said in his booming but jovial voice.

"Me? Nothing. But Mina wants to hang out with you," Ned said. Glen was one of the few people who could put her at ease, though most of his students were scared to death of him.

"Still no babysitter?" Glen said. "No problem. Take a seat, young lady, and watch the master at work."

"Thanks a lot, Glen, I owe you," Ned said as he ushered Mina into his office. She was already looking around at all the books.

Glen wasted no time threatening payback. "I have four at home. When can I drop them off at your place?" he asked pointedly.

"Ouch."

"Ouch is right," Glen agreed. "Even when they're asleep, none of mine are as quiet as your Mina."

"Be good for Glen," Ned told her and blew her a kiss.

After his class, Ned made sure not to get caught up in any discussions with students and rushed to go and pick up Mina. At the department office, Glen was talking to a student a few feet away from his door. Ned waved to him and went to his office to see what Mina was up to in there.

Was she in there raising hell? Of course she was. Surrounded by floor to ceiling books on every side, she was sitting quietly on the floor of Glen's office. Mina was flipping through a book so she must have found something she liked among all the dry, academic stuff that lined Glen's shelves.

She smiled as soon as she saw Ned and showed him the book. "Cartoons," she said.

Curious, Ned leaned down for a closer look. It was a book about the earliest TV ad campaigns and there were quite a few cartoons among them.

"Looks good," Ned told her. That's when he noticed Glen motion him over for a talk.

"How was she?" Ned asked him.

"She was fine, but always looking at the door, wondering when you would be back." Glen nodded in her direction and told Ned, "I think your quiet little girl has something on her mind."

Ned sighed. "I'm not surprised. She had a little bit of a meltdown when I took her to class with me."

"I guess she's not college ready. Like way too many of these kids," Glen lamented. "At the beginning of the year, I heard this guy begging someone to show him how to use a washing machine. Can you believe it?"

Ned made a noncommittal noise. When he started college he didn't know how to use a washer and dryer either, but no one needed to know that.

"A kid starting college should have some basic life skills, don't you think?" Seeing that Mina had come to join them, Glen had turned to her for her opinion.

Mina shook her head, her favorite answer to almost any question.

"She thinks I'm being too hard on these kids," Glen said.

"Unfortunately she can't debate you right now. She has to eat lunch with me and help me write a whole new lecture on postcolonial British economy," Ned told him.

Mina nodded in agreement but she was probably just agreeing to lunch.

During lunch Mina still looked troubled. They were in the cafeteria and she was munching on tater tots.

"So you got to meet the class. Sorry they scared you," Ned said to her.

That's when Mina told him her worry. "I wasn't nice to class. Class say, 'Hi, Mina'. But I don't say hi back," Mina said in her halting English and her bright blue eyes looked mournful.

"We can fix that. No problem. I know how you can say hi to the class twice. That will make up for it, won't it?" Ned told her.

He could see that Mina was intrigued. With her sitting across from him at the table, Ned made a video of Mina saying hi to the class in both English and Russian. She threw in a little wave too. Ned promised to play it for the class next time.

Mina did better when she interacted with Anderson College students one on one. Most of her babysitters were students, though Ned never hired anyone who was in any of his classes at the time. Currently he didn't have anyone who was willing to commit to babysitting on a regular basis.

And that wasn't the only problem. It wasn't easy finding the right person to watch Mina. Mina was painfully shy with everyone at first and warmed up to only a few people. Several prospective babysitters didn't work out because Mina hid from them under Ned's desk and wouldn't come out. She just didn't feel at ease with most people.

Because of that, Ned was left trying to piece together a babysitting schedule with different part time babysitters. He didn't want that kind of uncertainty for Mina. She lost her parents and her aunt so recently, and she was living in a whole new country.

Thankfully, she could speak some English. What she didn't already know, she picked up fast. Ned wished he could say that about his Russian. His knowledge started out as comically inept and remained there. At least he had a surefire way to make Mina laugh. All he had to do was say good morning in Russian and he would have her giggling. There wasn't a better way to start the day than that.

Mina was doing her part to brighten up his life. One day, Ned hoped to see every trace of sadness gone from her eyes. Finding the right person to help take care of her would be a step in the right direction. Ned really needed someone he could count on.

Chapter 2

Jeff never passed up the student center without taking a good look at the fliers that were tacked up on the message board. If there was a new job on there, he wanted to be the first one to snatch it up.

Most of the fliers were offering tutoring in various subjects. He wished he was that good at something. Jeff did OK in his classes, but not well enough to help anyone else. There were some new fliers offering to share rides and apartments, and even for shared beachfront rentals for the summer. That sounded nice. No new jobs though.

Every day without work made him more anxious. Paying rent had been out of his reach for the last few months. He was basically a charity case. A new roommate had taken his place at his old apartment a while ago. The guys let him crash on the couch until recently. Now the building manager had started to notice and complain.

Jeff found places to sleep on friends' couches or on the floor. During the day, he could sleep at the library or on one of the benches on campus. One way or the other Jeff had his mind set on finishing out the term. As long as he earned at least some money, Jeff could keep attending classes.

Unfortunately he hadn't had any work for days now and what little money he had was running out. That's why he was waiting to talk to his Chemistry Professor. It was a desperation move.

Jeff did some babysitting for Professor Alvarez before. That kind of work didn't pay enough for him to find a place to live, but it might help to tide him over. There was a painting job that was supposed to come through any day now. If not, he had to find some other, better paying work. Until then, babysitting money would keep him fed for a little while.

When Professor Alvarez arrived at her office, she didn't have good news for him. "Sorry, Cici and Noel's grandparents are in town for the month. They both just retired and now they're monopolizing their grandkids' every waking moment. I don't know if we'll ever get them back."

"That sounds nice," Jeff said though it wasn't what he wanted to hear.

"Sorry," Professor Alvarez said noticing how his face fell. "I do know of someone who needs help with his kid. Professor Conway just adopted a little girl a few months ago. Do you know him?"

"No," Jeff said though he thought he recognized his name from that time when Jin was telling him who was gay among the college faculty.

"Well it's better if you're not in any of his classes as far as hiring you is concerned. I'll talk to him for you and give you a good reference. He has his daughter, Mina, with him here on campus all the time, so you'll probably get to meet her to test the waters. But I have to warn you, Ned's little girl is so shy, don't take it personally if she doesn't take to you right away."

"I won't," he assured her.

"Once I've talked to Ned, I'll let you know how it went."

"Thank you so much."

Jeff tried not to get his hopes up too high. It wasn't even the kind of job he was after. Since Jin already gossiped about Professor Conway, Jeff texted him to see if he knew anything more.

Jin texted back, "Is someone going after the furry faced daddy of my dreams?"

"It's about a job," Jeff told him.

"Hand, blow, or rim?"

Jeff sighed. Getting a serious answer from Jin was impossible. "None of the above. A job job."

It looked like he wasn't going to get any kind of useful information from him. But the way Jin described this Professor Conway did make Jeff curious. Maybe they would be some perks to this babysitting gig. Not that Jeff had time to ogle guys. No place to live, no steady job, he had enough to deal with.

"So you still living on the edge?" that's what Jin called it.

"Yeah, my life is an adventure," Jeff texted back.

It scared him to think that he was homeless. Most of the time one of his friends found room for him. He had just enough work to keep him fed. For now he was still managing to scrape by even if occasionally he spent the night sleeping on campus.

Moving in with his mom wasn't an option that he wanted to consider until he finished out the term, and maybe not even then. After grieving for his father for so long, she was finally finding some happiness. Jeff didn't want to mess that up for her.

She had remarried recently. Her stepdaughters liked her. They lost their mother around the same time Jeff lost his dad, and they were so little. The oldest one was nine. Jeff's heart just broke for them. He was seventeen when his dad died and he didn't know how he managed to get through it. He and his mom kept each other strong.

Now Jeff just had to be strong on his own. His situation wasn't hopeless. Any day he might find a decent job. And judging by Jin's description, babysitting for this Professor Conway might have some interesting benefits. Jeff was already looking forward to meeting him.

*

"I have a guy for you," Sarah Alvarez told Ned as soon as he answered her call. He was at home, making dinner.

"Since when are you a matchmaker? I'm kind of busy with Mina these days, you know. I don't really have time for a social life," Ned told her.

"What? No. I mean a babysitter."

"Oh, that I can use," Ned said as he mixed some green beans, strips of red and yellow peppers and carrot sticks into a colorful stew.

"His name is Jeff Snyder. He was babysitting Cici and Noel when I was doing that seminar, and he did a great job, helped them with their science projects. He was wonderful."

"Sounds like they would give him a great reference, but they're older than Mina," Ned pointed out.

"Older isn't better. No, not even when it comes to kids. Noel started my car in a closed garage. Do you think that's something Mina is likely to do?" Sarah asked, horrifying him.

"God, I hope not."

"I caught him before he did anything crazy or inhaled any exhaust fumes. After that, having someone responsible like Jeff watch those kids was a load off my mind."

"But you know how Mina is." Through the glass doors, Ned could see her playing in her dollhouse in the back yard. Looking at her right now, no one would be able to tell how many troubles she carried in her little heart.

"I know. And I know how overprotective you are. If you want to test him out, Jeff can start babysitting her only on campus where you can keep an eye on him. I know some of the other students did it that way," Sarah suggested.

"They did," Ned confirmed. He liked to have Mina close. She didn't take to most people, and she got scared so easily. "OK. I'll give him a shot," Ned decided. After talking to Sarah a bit more, he set up the meet and greet for tomorrow. He and Mina would meet Jeff on neutral ground, at the cafeteria.

Chapter 3

Ned liked to take Mina to lunch when the cafeteria wasn't too crowded. He didn't want her getting spooked. As they went to wait in line, Ned kept his eye on the door. Not that he knew who he was looking for. Mainly he had to tell himself to keep his expectations low. Most of the possible babysitters who came for a meet and greet failed the Mina test. It wasn't their fault. Mina just didn't warm up to most people.

Ned figured that being the only guy in there with a kid, he would let Jeff find him. While they stood in line, Mina glanced around expectantly and a little worriedly. Meeting new people wasn't a happy experience for her.

Ned kept an eye out for anyone who looked like they might be searching for him and Mina. When a tall, well-built young man came their way, Ned looked right past him. Then the guy stopped directly in front of them, and Ned couldn't ignore the possibility that this strapping young man might be Jeff Snyder.

"Professor Conway? I'm Jeff Snyder," he said.

Ned offered him his hand while Mina clutched at his other one nervously. "Hi. You can call me Ned. This is Mina, the best kid in the whole world. And, Mina, this is Jeff."

Mina ducked her head then peered up at him shyly.

"Want to say hi to Jeff?" Ned asked her.

"Jeff. Hi, Jeff," Mina said. She seemed to be testing out his name. By the look on her face, she liked the sound of it.

"I don't know about you, but your name is a hit," Ned told him.

"You have a very nice name, Mina," Jeff told her.

She smiled but then looked down at the floor and stuck close to Ned's side.

Seeing her like that, Jeff seemed a little worried by her shyness, so Ned told him, "Most babysitters fail the Mina test. She won't even say hi. You're doing fine as long as she doesn't go to hide under a table."

Mina looked up at Ned with an accusing frown.

"Sorry. I misspoke. She doesn't do that," Ned said and grinned at Mina.

Now they were closer to the front of the line and Mina was standing on her tiptoes to peer into the display cases.

"So, what are we having?" Ned asked her.

"Pie," Mina said right away. She pointed further down where the desserts were.

"You have to have something before pie," Ned told her. He picked her up so she could have a better look at all the food she had to choose from. Instead of looking at the food, she peered at Jeff then turned away as soon as he smiled at her. She didn't seem to be too intimidated by him, maybe because he had a friendly, open expression and good-natured, blue eyes.

Ned was a little intimidated though. Jeff was a really good-looking guy with an amazing body. His shoulders were broad, the muscles of his chest and arms clearly visible under his t-shirt. He was tall, with short, light brown hair and the face of an angel. Sarah could have warned him.

With food on their trays they went to grab a table. Mina had her pie with a side of carrots and peas, but Ned had to confiscate the pie to make sure she actually ate her vegetables. She did, but she didn't take her eyes off the peach pie the whole time.

Since this was actually a job interview, Ned asked about Jeff's experience babysitting Sarah's kids. Jeff spoke of them fondly and told Mina about the stuff they liked to do. He seemed to know just how to engage her. He told her how Sarah's kids had riding lessons. At the mention of horses, her eyes went wide.

"Keep that up and you'll have her asking for a pony," Ned warned him.

When Jeff smiled at his words, Mina almost smiled too then she ducked her head and ate the last of the peach pie filling from inside the crust.

"It looks like you like that pie, or some of it," Jeff said noticing that she was leaving the crust. "Aren't you going to eat the crust?"

Mina shook her head.

Jeff tried again. "You're not gonna eat just a little bit of the crust?"

Mina shook her head again to confirm it.

"But the crust is good too."

Another head shake from Mina.

"She's a hardheaded little pipsqueak," Ned said and Mina looked at him like she wasn't sure if she should get mad or not. He kissed the top of her head, so she decided not to get mad and smiled shyly down at her plate.

"You guys can walk me to my class," Ned said when they were done eating. He was pleased with how things were going so far. Lunch with Jeff was a success. Mina was shy but not scared. Jeff did look a little scared when he saw Ned putting a generous amount of hot sauce on his spaghetti. But the cafeteria spaghetti needed all the help it could get.

When they left the cafeteria and went for a walk around the campus, Mina walked between him and Jeff. Usually she liked to use Ned as a shield between her and people she didn't know well. That was another good sign.

The scent of freshly cut grass was all around. They went by the L-shaped math and science complex with the lab buildings connected to it by walkways on three floors. Mina liked to go up there sometimes. Now they were in view of the Economics Department in the boxy Business Administration building, which wasn't a very interesting sight.

"Professor," Mina said and pointed at the building where Ned's office was located.

"Professor?" Jeff asked since there weren't any professors to be seen over there right now.

"She means me. Most of Mina's babysitters have been students. They all called me professor so that's what Mina started calling me too," Ned told him.

"Is that why you told me to call you Ned?" Jeff wondered.

"I told the others too, but they didn't listen."

"I'll call you Ned," Jeff told him.

They stopped in an open area with grass and tiny flowers. Mina liked to play there. The two of them stood and watched her scamper around, looking for any new flowers that might have poked their heads out of the ground. Then she went to peer into some bushes.

"Is it there?" Ned asked.

Mina shook her head but she still kept looking.

"There was an orange cat there once, and now Mina checks every time to see if it's back. She's tenacious," Ned said proudly.

"She's so quiet," Jeff noted.

"Right now she's feeling shy so she isn't speaking that much, but she speaks English pretty well considering she hasn't been in the country that long. It's thanks to her mom. Her mom taught English in Russia. Mina isn't exactly fluent. But her English is much better than my Russian."

"You speak Russian?"

"Not so that anyone can tell. I learned a few things. Or tried. Apparently my Russian is only good for laughs," Ned said, but languages were just not his thing.

Since they were so close to the Economics Department, Ned got down to business. "If you'd like to babysit for us, I'd like to hire you."

"Thank you," Jeff said and smiled.

"It's not a lot of hours, mostly when I'm in class or get really busy. I like to keep Mina with me whenever I can. We're still bonding and she's been through a lot," Ned told him.

"OK."

"And if you have time you can start right now."

"Really?" Jeff was surprised but he quickly agreed. "I have time."

"I was going to leave her with Mariah. She used to babysit for her all the time, but her schedule this term clashes with mine most days. Right now she's buried in research. She was going to keep Mina with her in that study area outside the library. Mina is so quiet, she wouldn't have bothered her, but if you could watch her that would be better."

"I can do it, no problem."

"Don't take her anywhere where it's crowded," Ned warned him. "If she has a bad reaction, just bring her to me right away."

"OK," Jeff said, looking a little worried.

"If anything happens, you can just text me or call me and I'll talk you through it. We'll exchange numbers, and I'll text you every two minutes to check on her. I might or might not be kidding about that. You can just take her on a walk around campus. She likes that." They got each other's phone numbers. Then Ned put away his phone and got some money from his wallet and handed the bills to Jeff. "This isn't for babysitting. This is just your walking around money."

"Am I going to a strip club?" he asked seeing that they were all singles.

No but you could work in one, Ned wanted to say. Bad, dirty brain. Instead he explained the singles to Jeff. "You know the vending machines that are all over the campus, I believe every ten feet or so?" he exaggerated, but only by a little.

"I might have seen them," Jeff deadpanned.

"Mina can't pass up one of those monstrosities without wanting to press those glowing buttons with her tiny, grabby fingers. That's what the singles are for." Ned figured that it was a good way to help her and Jeff bond.

Jeff looked from Ned to the singles in his hand. "So my job is to help her spoil her dinner and rot her teeth?"

"You are not to let her eat the stuff the vending machine spews out."

"She'll be OK with that?" Jeff asked.

"You will be the one in charge," Ned said then he relented a little. "Maybe let her eat one thing, something semi healthy. One of those snack mixes with dried fruit and yogurt raisins. You can help yourself to whatever you want. Bring the rest back here. I'll feed it to Glen, Professor Swensen. He'll eat anything. Sometimes even the wrappers."

"OK," Jeff said and stuffed the stack of bills in the pocket of his jeans. As he did, Ned couldn't help picturing sticking the bills down the front of his jeans instead. It was really hard to rein in his imagination around him.

Chapter 4

Jin's description didn't quite do him justice. Ned Conway was very professorly with his beard and suit, all he was missing was a pipe. Though Jeff tried to keep those kinds of thoughts out of his head, he couldn't help but notice that Ned was attractive, with a strong build and those kind but mischievous hazel eyes. A guy like Ned had no right to have such an adorable kid too. It was too much. And the way he was with his daughter, the guy was born to be a dad.

Now that he had this babysitting job, it was time for Jeff to take charge of Mina. He was worried about how she would react when Ned left her alone with him, but she seemed fine. Jeff was more nervous than she was.

She looked up at him expectantly. When he didn't move, she took his hand but wouldn't raise her eyes from the ground. They went on a walk heading for the Humanities Department.

A circle of metal benches stood in the courtyard of the three-sided building with a fountain in the center. Sometimes outdoor classes were conducted there and even a few plays and recitals performed. Only a handful of students sat there reading, so Mina was free to play around the fountain.

After what Professor Conway told him about Mina's fear of crowds, Jeff was extra watchful, but she seemed all right. Of course they never passed more than a couple of people as they walked around campus. Mina was pretty much leading the way, her eyes getting big every time they spotted another vending machine.

Mina chose just a thing or two from each machine, but it all added up. Soon Jeff was loaded down with every kind of snack. As Mina fished out a candy bar from yet another vending machine slot, she looked from the candy bar up at Jeff.

"Are you hungry?" he asked her.

She nodded.

"That's what happens when you don't eat the crust," Jeff lectured her then picked a granola bar for her to eat. She was still eyeing the chocolate bar as she ate the granola, but Jeff had his instructions.

They moved on and raided more vending machines. This was some weird babysitting he was doing. Mina was having a lot of fun though.

"Mariah," she said suddenly and held up a bag of pretzels.

He was a little surprised to hear her speak. "She likes those?" he asked.

Mina nodded then she looked toward the library. Obviously she knew her way around.

"You think she might need a snack break? You want to take that to her?" Jeff asked and Mina nodded again.

Just as he was ready to take Mina over to the library, he decided he better ask Ned if it was OK. It seemed harmless, but on his first day, he would rather ask permission, not forgiveness. Jeff texted him and got the go-ahead. Mina was happy that he said yes.

When they got to the outdoor study area next to the library, it was up to Mina to find Mariah. Jeff didn't know what she looked like and he couldn't exactly walk around yelling her name. Mina was such a quiet kid. Even when they found Mariah sitting at one of the tables, Mina only pointed at her. Jeff was surprised she could spot her at all. She was nearly obscured behind a stack of books and hunched over a laptop as well.

After she pointed her out, Mina stayed put, not going any closer. It seemed like she didn't want to disturb her at all. She just hung back and watched Mariah while she typed into a laptop and read from a book almost simultaneously. Jeff had to take the initiative and take Mina over to Mariah's table.

"Hi, Mariah," Jeff said. "Mina has something for you."

A girl with black-rimmed glasses and cornrows looked up at Jeff blankly then she spotted Mina and smiled. "Pretzels. Girl, you know me. Hand those over."

Mina couldn't have looked more pleased as she gave the little bag of pretzels to her.

"And who's this tall guy?" Mariah asked as she looked up at Jeff again.

"Jeff," Mina said in that cute way she had of saying his name.

"It's my first day babysitting," Jeff told her.

Mariah gobbled up the small bag of pretzels pretty fast so Jeff told her, "You want to lighten my load a little more?" He leaned down to let her choose something else from all those snacks he was carrying.

"You got a drink there?" Mariah asked.

Mina gasped and looked alarmed.

"Don't worry. We're not done yet," Jeff reassured her. "We still have money. We'll get some drinks too."

"Oh, you don't have to," Mariah said.

"It's no problem. We're just supposed to kill some time and burn through some singles," Jeff said then he looked at Mina's eager expression. "And it will make Mina happy," he added.

"You're getting the hang of this babysitting pretty fast for your first day," Mariah told him and grabbed some peanut butter cups from the armful of snacks he carried and thanked him and Mina.

After they got an assortment of drinks, they headed back to the library. Mina was so happy, she was ready to run over there.

"Hold up. I can't run with all these. I would drop them," Jeff told her.

"Don't drop," she warned him, looking very serious. She was carrying two sodas and she held them protectively.

"I won't. I'll be careful," he promised her, but he felt like he was promising her a lot more. He was telling her that he would take good care of her.

After they delivered the sodas to Mariah, who downed one of them practically in one go, they hung around inside the library for a while. Jeff even got a chance to find some books for an anthropology paper. He couldn't believe how close it was to the end of the term. Still, without a real job, he didn't know what he was going to do after that.

Going to stay with his mom and crowd her, her new husband and his three girls in their little two bedroom house was something he wanted to avoid as long as he could. They were still practically newlyweds, and he really wanted his mom to be happy.

For now he had this babysitting gig. So far it was a breeze, but the money wouldn't go far. As they were walking out of the library, Jeff got a text from Ned. Since all his texts today had been from Ned, Mina perked up as soon as she heard that he was getting a new message.

"Yes, it's your dad," Jeff told her. "He said I can take you over to his office now."