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Proper Professional Etiquette

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*

Though intimately familiar, the brown hair and brown eyes were not those he expected to see in his wife’s office on a Wednesday morning.

“Hi Daddy,” his daughter grinned up at him with her toothy grin, exposing the one recently fallen out baby tooth still waiting for its replacement.

Maggie returns studiously to her coloring, her feet swinging wildly back and forth as she sits in Peggy’s beloved (and hard won) leather executive chair. The image of his small daughter, dwarfed by the expansive walnut desk, devoid of its usual stacks of files in lieu of a box of colored pencils and a few sheets of paper all filled with doodles, was objectively adorable.

“Well, you are not the Margaret Carter I was expecting to see,” Steve says dropping down to kiss the top of her head.

Maggie grinned up at him, a proud bearer of her mother’s name, and then quick and clever as a fox, she tapped the Director Carter nameplate at the front left corner of the otherwise tidy desk.

“I could be,” she replied with that toothy grin again. “Director Margaret Carter, at your service.”

“Does your mother know you’re impersonating her again?” Steve asked teasingly.

Maggie giggled. “Well sort of…”

“What happened to your appointment sweetheart? I thought mom was taking you first thing.”

Maggie shrugged. “Something came up at work. Mommy called and the clinic said they could move our appointment later.”

Steve hummed to himself. He would have taken Maggie to her vaccination himself if he hadn’t had a mission start of the wee hours of the morning. Steve didn’t expect to be finished in time for the appointment. But Peggy had promised she had blocked off her work schedule for the few hours before dropping her off at the Jarvises for the rest of the day.

“And you promise you didn’t just convince mommy to forget about the vaccine entirely and beg her to bring you with to work today?”

Maggie sighed dramatically, which relieved him, because there was a time when Maggie wasn’t a fan of doctors. And definitely not needles.

“Daddyyyy… I’m not a baby anymore. I’m going to school this year. You can’t go to school without having all your big kid shots. And I’m a big kid now.”

He bit his tongue to stop from explaining that even if she was 25 and not just 5 years old, she would always be his little girl. But he was proud to have a brave kid who was looking forward to school.

“Besides, Mommy told me that you had to get all your shots to get big, and I want to be strong and big like you one day daddy.”

Steve couldn’t help it if his five-year-old had such supreme control over his emotions. He leaned over to press a smattering of kisses over her cheeks, his heart swelling at the sound of her usual giggles.

“I’m going to go check in on your mom, sweetheart. If she’s tied up in something I’ll take you to your appointment myself.”

“Mommy and I were going to go get frozen yogurt and pick out new books at the bookstore afterwards,” she said with a deep pout. “But I know Mommy is super important.”

“I’m sorry sweetheart, I know you were looking forward to spending the day with your mom.” He kissed the tip of Maggie’s nose. “Hold down the fort and I’ll be right back darling.”

“Okay Daddy,” she replied, refocusing on the colorful flowers in her current drawing.

Maggie was deeply engrossed in her drawing that the sudden loud ringing of the phone on her mother’s desk startled her. Maggie hesitated, not sure of what the right thing to do. And Daddy was no longer around to tell her if she was supposed to answer the phone or not.

The phone continued to ring as Maggie tapped her colored pencil end against her cheek, and finally she decides it would be rude not to answer.

“Director Carter’s office, this is Margaret J. Carter speaking.”

 

*

 

Peggy was deep into a sensitive conference meeting that Steve didn’t feel warranted him barging in about their daughter’s vaccine appointment. He knew his wife well enough to know there had to be some serious reason she was called into work, or that at the time she was confident there was a quick resolution that wouldn’t impede their schedule with the doctor.

Their partnership, and especially as working parents, was strong because of their understanding and agreement about give and take. They worked at it every single day.

By his watch, they still had twenty minutes before needing to leave for Maggie’s appointment. He’d give Peggy the full twenty minutes, before leaving her a note that he’d take care of the appointment and for her to call his cell when she was free.

Steve had anticipated an easy distracting of Maggie with some stories or giving her a fresh legal pad to doodle upon, but his heart dropped when he could no longer see Maggie through the glass door of Peggy’s office.

A large, looming figure stood in front of the desk, completing covering his view of who was behind it.

Despite having worked with him for nearly a decade at this point, the sight of Colonel Phillips, somehow always made him a little nervous. Especially when he stood in front of his daughter, at their place of work, which was definitely not a place for a child. Especially when he wasn’t previously made aware.

Steve took a deep breath, hoping that Chester Phillips remembered he was also a self-honored uncle and not just their boss.

Phillips didn’t turn around as Steve entered, but Maggie popped her head to check on the source of noise and to his relief she was smiling.

“Hi Daddy. Look! Uncle Phil came to visit!”

“Yes, I did see that,” Steve said cautiously, as finally the stoic-faced Colonel Phillips turned to look at him, his expression betraying exactly zero emotions.

“He called on the phone and obviously he didn’t think I would be answering Mommy’s phone, but now he gets to see me!”

Phillips continued his hard stare at Steve. “Yes. It seems someone taught the junior Margaret proper phone etiquette.”

Maggie preened unbeknownst to Phillips whose eyesight didn’t waver from Steve.

“Uncle Phil didn’t know Mommy was stuck in some big meeting either,” Maggie said helpfully when the silence continued.

“Peggy was supposed to have the morning off,” Steve finally said evenly to Phillips. “Maggie needs the rest of her school vaccinations. I would have taken her myself if I knew she had been called in.”

“Hmm,” is all that came out of Phillips.

“Uncle Phil also said that my drawing was getting better. He thinks one day I’ll be as good as doodling as you are Daddy. As long as I’m not drawing dancing monkeys. I don’t know why though. Dancing monkeys would make for a good story book.”

The beginnings of a smirk formed on Phillips lips, just in time for Director Carter herself to walk through the door looking flustered.

“Steve,” she said in surprise, before standing slightly straighter in the Colonel’s direction. “Colonel Phillips.” After a beat, when no one reacted, she continued to her desk. Peggy crouched near her occupied chair and pressed a kiss to Maggie’s hair. “I apologize for Maggie. I trust there’s been no trouble on her account.”

Steve opened his mouth ready to defend himself and his daughter.

“No trouble,” Phillips said. “Though you can imagine my surprise when I heard my honorary niece answer my top Director’s phone.” Peggy’s face blanches. “Proper etiquette is a good skill for a young girl to have when she is about to start school. Along with her vaccinations. I apologize on Thompson’s rash behavior. He was out of line to call you in.”

“Yes well… It seemed urgent,” Peggy replied cautiously.

“Believe it or not Carter, the organization will survive just fine without you for four hours. Take the rest of the day off Carter. Thompson is very eager to field your calls until you’re back in the office tomorrow. Besides, I hear my niece is owed ice cream and a new book.”

“Frozen yogurt,” Maggie corrected. “They have a toppings bar!”

“I stand corrected.” He took a step closer to the desk again. “Well Margaret J. Carter, it was a pleasure to be attended by you today.”

“It was a pleasure doing business with you Uncle Phil,” Maggie mimicked back and took his outstretched hand, shaking it with two pumps.

Steve was unable to hold in his laugh, watching his wife stifle her own amusement. Even Phillips had a faint smile.

“You’ve certainly got your hands full with two Margarets, huh?” Phillips said to Steve on his way to the door.

Steve grinned. “Like mother, like daughter.”

Phillips snorted.

“Well, the Missus and I will see you three at dinner on Sunday.”

“Absolutely. we won’t be late,” Peggy promised.

“See you Sunday, Uncle Phil!”

Once the Colonel was gone, Peggy eyed Steve.

“You let her answer my phone?”

“No I didn’t! I was out looking for you! You didn’t tell me you were leaving her here.”

Peggy huffed. “It was supposed to be five minutes. Jack Thompson is as usual an incompetent buffoon.” She rubbed her hand over her face. “Maggie darling, I’m proud to hear you were professional on the phone. But I’m glad it was only Uncle Phillips on the phone. Mommy made a mistake to not tell you to ignore any phone calls.”

“But I thought it was rude to not answer the phone when it’s ringing?”

“It is darling. But this is my work phone and the rules at work are a little different than our personal phone.”

Maggie scrunched her face in confusion. “Why?”

“Well sweetheart, here at work, whoever is calling your mom is expecting her to answer. Or at least an adult. Because a lot of the time, your mom gets called when someone needs a lot of adult help.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get into trouble.”

“You’re not in trouble darling,” Peggy reminded her. “It was my responsibility to explain the rules to you. You didn’t know and you did the best you could in the situation. And you did just that.”

Maggie grinned.

“Now come along darling we’ve got a busy afternoon.”

Maggie took her mother’s hand as Steve packed away her drawing supplies.

“Could I have a sign like yours Mommy? For my desk at home? I could work on my etiquette some more then.”

Steve glanced at his wife with an amused grin.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until Maggie had fallen asleep after being distracted from her throbbing arm by both Steve and Peggy taking turns reading from the new book Maggie had picked out earlier that day at the Strand, that the two were able to laugh about the near miss of a disaster from the morning.

Phillips had since sent her a recording of their daughter’s prim and proper answering of Peggy’s phone.

“It’s your fault you know,” Steve said. “Maggie thinks ‘mommy’s English accent is extra sophisticated’, no wonder she’s so happy to copy it.”

“It doesn’t help that she spends so much time with Jarvis either.” Peggy continued to laugh, before she shook her head. “I can only imagine if someone from the White House had called. I imagine Phillips would not have been so pleased.”

“You don’t know that. Cute kid with an even cuter phone voice? Now that just might be how we land world peace.”

Peggy leaned over and kissed Steve hard in a sudden wave of appreciation for her husband.

“I’m so glad we have this, Steve. Us. Maggie,” she said, burrowing into Steve’s chest. “It’s funny how I couldn’t imagine anything like this for so long. But now, I couldn’t imagine life any other way. Trouble making daughter and all.”

“Trouble making daughter like trouble making mother.”

“Pot, meet kettle,” she fired back at her husband.

Steve grinned and cupped her cheek pulling her in for another kiss.

“I love you too Peggy.”