#BlogBattle is a weekly short story challenge using a single word for inspiration.
The originator is here.
Lights blazed through every window, but there was no party. No music blared; no glasses clinked; no voices droned over each other. No car in the driveway and no garage to hide it. Julie’s father had offered to drive her but it was 1963 and the town was small. Julie arrived on her bicycle. She jumped off and leaned it against the house. Crickets asleep; the silence grew.
A boy across the street called out into the balmy June night. “Hey, are you the babysitter?” An eight- or nine-year-old criss-crossed the road and climbed the driveway, copper hair and freckles warmed by the street light overhead.
“I live here.” An impish grin washed over his face. Julie’s mouth dropped. “My name’s David.” He held out his hand.
“Where are your parents?”
“Gone a couple hours ago. Come on. My sister and the baby are inside.”
“It’s after eleven. Where have you been?”
“Went to see my pal for a minute, over there.”
He dashed ahead, up three cement steps, across the veranda, and swung the screen door open with a flourish. “That’s my sister, Karen. She’s six.”
“Nice to meet you. Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I waited for you,” the girl said, eyelids drooping.
Julie kneaded her forehead and surveyed the kitchen. Not too messy. “You said something about a baby?” She shut and locked the wooden front door.
“Come on, I’ll show you.” The three traipsed down the hall to the parents’ bedroom. The reek of stale pee hung to the air like a blinding fog. Julie’s world shifted. The baby’s been drenched for hours. What have I walked into? Everything is wrong here—it’s cosmic neglect. What if I hadn’t shown up?
“Get ready for bed, you two. I’ll check on you in a minute. Where are the diapers and the linen closet?” The baby fussed but didn’t waken as she washed and changed her—an angel of a girl—probably less than a year old. The runny nose might be teething.
The children in bed and fast asleep, Julie called and woke her mother though it was long after midnight. She needed to talk to a rational human being.
To think she’d considered not showing up. After all, the Swaines didn’t know her. Claudia had talked her into this. Set. Her. Up. With too many babysitting requests, sometimes two sets of parents begged her to cancel the other. Julie had heard of her bidding wars. Either Claudia had a date tonight or a better paying job.
The desperate phone call had come the night before.
“Wanna make some money this weekend?”
“Friday night to Sunday.”
“I’m going to the high-school dance Friday.”
“You’ll just sit there like a wallflower like you always do. Take the job.”
“No, I’m going.”
“I figured as much. Look, I already asked Mrs. Swaine. How about you babysit after the dance?”
“Really? What time are they leaving?”
“When you get there she said so. They have tickets and a hotel room booked and can’t cancel at the last minute.”
Julie swept her shoulder length hair into a ponytail and bound it with a dime-store elastic band. Meanwhile she blew a giant Double Bubble, which collapsed and deflated on her nose. “Okay after the dance, eleven o’clock. I don’t know how you talk me into these things.”
The children behaved better than most. Could they make cookies? Julie said no, but Karen showed her the frozen kind in the freezer you cut and bake. David complained of boredom and begged to visit his friend across the street. The baby coughed now and again and frazzled Julie. She concocted breakfast, lunch and dinner from meagre supplies. The day over at last, the children enjoyed the slumber of innocents. As the previous night, she made her bed on the sofa, but though exhausted, sleep wouldn’t come. What if the Swaines don’t come back tomorrow?
The words ricocheted in her head all day from the moment the baby woke her the next morning. Their pinging blossomed into a headache.
“When are Mommy and Daddy coming home?” Karen asked at lunch, cheeks bruised with color. David glanced at his sister but didn’t comment.
After supper, a new intensity swept through the house. High heels clacked on the kitchen floor. The Swaines had returned. Julie’s heart leapt. She sprang from the sofa where she’d been reading The Velveteen Rabbit to the siblings.
“There you are.” A tall blonde in a knit skirt and sweater set floated in on a cloud of expensive perfume, a hand probing in her purse. She withdrew a twenty dollar bill and thrust it at Julie.
Julie gawked at the money, then at Mrs. Swaine who tapped her high-heeled shoe.
“You slept here didn’t you, and ate my food. I think this is just right.”
Julie backed away, eyes twice their normal size, a horrified howl stuck in her throat. “No thanks.” Her voice came out scratchy as sandpaper.
“Go on. Take it. I guess you earned it—didn’t you?”
Yeah, I showed up—I showed up—and where were you? You were supposed to wait. She stepped back and shook her head. “I don’t want your money.”
“Babysitter will you come again next time?” Karen asked with a lisp.
Julie caressed the little girl’s hot cheek. “The baby’s fed, bathed and asleep for the night. Did you know she has a cold? David and Karen have eaten.” Brother and sister held hands and appeared confused. “Bye kids. Nice meeting you.” With a sharp wave she spun on her heel and rushed for the door colliding with a man toting a bulging suitcase. The last words she heard were Mrs. Swaine’s. “What’s wrong with her?”