His One and Only

By: Theodora Taylor

“Well, you got me. How are you, ma’am?” Her mother was dead, but Josie still couldn’t keep the deference out of her voice when talking to Kitty Prescott. That was how thoroughly Loretta had trained her.

“Not well, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Prescott answered. “Beau Jr.’s had a nasty accident, and he’s coming home to Alabama. But I’m on an around-the-world cruise. As a matter of fact, we’re about to dock in Madagascar. So I won’t be able to get back to the States to take care of him any time soon.”

Josie shook her head, still confused. From what she had seen growing up, even if Kitty Prescott hadn’t been on the other side of the globe, she wouldn’t have been the one taking care of her son. That had been Loretta’s job since the day they’d moved in with the Prescott family when Beau was four years old, and Josie was two.

One of Josie’s first memories had been her mama explaining to her how yes, Beau was with them almost 24/7, but no, he wasn’t a really, really light-skinned black person related to them by blood. “He be with us, but he be a Prescott down to the bone. You see that clear when he grow up,” her mother had said with bitterness in her voice.

And she had been right. Everything had come easily to the Prescott’s golden boy: looks, accolades, money, and an almost preternatural athletic ability. And one day, Beau morphed from the fun boy she’d grown up with and eventually come to secretly love into a total prick.

But Josie’s mama had trained her well. She managed to say to Kitty in her politest voice: “I’m sorry to hear Beau’s doing so poorly. Please send him my best wishes, ma’am.”

“Oh, we need you to do more than that, dear,” Mrs. Prescott answered. “You see this accident of Beau’s has left him temporarily disabled.”

“Temporarily disabled?” Josie repeated. “What happened?”

“Well, you know, I can’t watch him in those terrible football games of his. It just about wrecks my nerves. But from what I understand, he was about to throw the ball when a bunch of gorillas from the opposing team attacked him. And they blinded him!”

Now Josie felt bad about her previously unkind thoughts. Beau wasn’t the nicest person she’d ever met, and she doubted his current stint as the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Suns had made him any nicer, but she wouldn’t wish such a life-changing accident on anyone.

“I’m real, real sorry to hear that,” Josie said, this time with sincerity.

“Beau says this blindness is only a temporary condition, but you can’t imagine how stressful this news has been for me,” Mrs. Prescott said.

Josie shook her head again, a small smile appearing on her face. Same old Mrs. Prescott. A former Miss Alabama, Kitty had never stopped believing the world revolved around her. Josie’s mama, Loretta, hadn’t been able to take so much as a weekday off for a funeral without having to hear the next day about how much it had inconvenienced Kitty. And apparently her son’s going temporarily blind was more stressful for Mrs. Prescott than anyone else, including Beau.

“I’m sure I can’t,” Josie said, once again falling back on her mama’s lessons in domestic diplomacy.

“Carol, his L.A. assistant, arranged for a home aide to come in every morning to attend to Beau’s most personal needs, but somebody has to cook his meals, and help him get around the house. And of course, he’d have to get hurt like this when I’m on the other side of the world.”

Josie had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something sarcastic, like, “How thoughtless of him.”

“But that’s why I’m calling you, dear.” Beau’s mother said. “Please tell me another family hasn’t already retained your services now that you’re back in Alabama.”

Josie’s eyes narrowed. She was about to explain that although Loretta had worked as a housekeeper and caretaker for years, that didn’t mean her daughter had grown up to do the same. But then she realized what Mrs. Prescott was really saying.

“Are you offering me a job, ma’am?”

“Yes, at least for a little while. I don’t know exactly when this temporary blindness situation is supposed to end, but until it does, I want you to come to our house and take care of Beau,” Mrs. Prescott answered. “I mean, I could try to call in a service, but who knows what they’d do without me there to supervise? Your mama was the only one I ever trusted to run my house properly and now that you’re all grown up, you’re the only one I could trust to take her place. Please say you can do it.”

Then, taking Josie’s answering silence as indecision, Mrs. Prescott said, “We’re willing to pay you a whole two dollars more an hour than we paid your mama, and of course you’ll have Loretta’s old room to live in along with free board.”

It was on the tip of Josie’s tongue to say no. Her mother had scrimped and saved and made all manner of sacrifices so Josie would never have to work for a white family like Loretta had.

But then Josie quickly assessed her current situation: she was shivering in her grandmother’s old trailer because she didn’t have any heat, and she was fighting back heartburn from her less than satisfying dinner. Plus, Mrs. Prescott had said it would only be for a little while, just until Beau Jr. recovered. Why not take the job, especially if it came with free room and board, not to mention electricity and heat?