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Babysat

I love kids. I love them so much. I love to play with them. I love to comfort them when they are sad or scared. I love to snuggle them and clean their messy faces.

I love kids.

I grabbed Grant and pinned him down on the bed as he squealed and wriggled.

“Lie down!” I commanded.

“I don’t want to!”

Elizabeth ran past, screaming at the tops of her lungs.

“Get back here, Elizabeth!” I roared.

My name is Harper MacKent.

Grant managed to squirm his way upside down and landed a kick in my face.

“Ungh!” I grabbed his ankles and shoved them down to the bed, just to be punched and elbowed by his flailing arms.

I am a college student.

Tucker glanced over the top of his book. The eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses were half closed as he watched his twin brother fight me like a wolverine.

Alright… I am an aspiring college student. I signed up for my first semester at the community college ten miles away from the suburbs in which I live. Unfortunately, without a job, I was having a hard time coming up with the last few hundred dollars for my tuition. That’s where these little angels came in.

I let go of Grant’s left ankle to reach for the front of his shirt, but he drove his heel up into my eye, knocking me backwards and onto my rear. He laughed maniacally and escaped the room.

“Augh!” I punched the bed with my right fist as I covered my eye with my left. “SON OF A—” I remembered Tucker and glanced over my shoulder, “unicorn.”

“There are baby aspirin in the cabinet over the oven,” Tucker said without looking up. “One of those and he’ll be asleep like that,” he snapped his fingers.

I scowled at him, “How old are you again?”

“Six and three quarters.” He lowered his book and stared at me in the eyes. “I am very mature for my age.”

“I can tell,” I mumbled and stood up. “Thank you for the advice, Tucker, but I am a professional, and I think I can get that animal down for the night without tranquilizing him.”

Tucker shrugged, “We’ll see about that.”

An immense crash sounded from the next room and my hair frizzed up at the noise. My eye twitched and I spun around, “GRANT! I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” I tore out of the room like a tornado.

I grabbed him as he tried to slip by me down the hall.

“Time for bed, Mister,” I carried him into his bedroom and tossed him on the bed. “If you take one step out of this room again, you better be on fire or I’m going to tie your arms up in knots and hang you from the ceiling fan, got it?”

I just love kids so much.

After another hour of intense warfare, I finally got the three children to settle down and fall asleep. I sighed in relief as I closed the door to Grant and Tucker’s room for the last time. I tiptoed down the hallway to the living room. I flopped down on the couch and turned the TV on. The day had been long and tiring, and I was excited to get some time alone to laze about.

I really did love kids, but I had never been very good at controlling them. Babysitting wasn’t my first choice for an occupation, but with a neighbor like Mrs. Clarkston, it was the best. Mr. and Mrs. Clarkston both worked fulltime and needed last-minute child care often. Mr. Clarkston was some kind of bigwig Hollywood movie director and was always away for a filming. Mrs. Clarkston worked for a real estate agency and was climbing her way to the top.

I had lived next door to the Clarkstons for seven years and learned almost everything there was to know about the family. Mrs. Clarkston was the busiest woman I had ever seen. She was constantly on the move and always seemed to be late for something. Mr. Clarkston was calm, laid back, and rarely around. Both parents were avid contributors to food pantries and homeless shelters. They were model citizens.

After two hours of TV time, I let out a ferocious yawn.

I turned the TV off and stood. I stretched my arms high above my head and then grabbed my dirty glass and plate to take to the kitchen. My eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness of the house, as I padded softly across the wooden floors on bare feet. I yawned again and passed the threshold of the kitchen.

FWUMP shhhhhhhhhhron

I jerked my eyes up from the ground to search for the source of the noise. Across the kitchen, above the sink, long legs clothed in dirty jeans were sliding through the window, followed by an upper body hidden beneath a large, baggy, sweatshirt.

I dropped the plate and glass. Both shattered on the wood floor. Without hesitating, I lunged for the broom leaning against the wall to my right that I had used earlier to sweep up the broken lamp Grant had shoved off of the hall table. My hands wrapped around the handle of the broom and I swung it around towards the intruder.

“Don’t move!” I commanded, failing to hide the quiver from my voice. “I’ll kill you!”

The thief turned toward me, but his face was invisible in the darkness of his hood.

My eyes went wide. The only thought in my mind was that I had to protect the children at all costs. So I charged the thief, swinging the broom left and right in front of me.

“Whoa!” the invader jumped back and bumped into the counter, “Put that down!” he ordered me.

I lurched forward.

“Rahhh!” I brought the broom down with the force of a wrecking ball, aiming for a blow straight to the thief’s skull, but he dove out of the way at the last second, arm reaching out like a snake in the darkness for the light switch on the wall next to the refrigerator.

The light flared up and I was momentarily blinded. I struck the air with the broom. The intruder grabbed the bristles and yanked, but I had no intention of giving up my only weapon. I kept a firm grip and yanked back, just as strong. Blinking rapidly, my eyes finally adjusted to the harsh light radiating from the ceiling.

The thief reached up and tossed the hood off of his head. I took in random features all in a second. Shoulder length, tangled, blonde hair. Scruffy flush of beard. Wide mouth. Square jaw. Glaring steel eyes.

“Stop trying to hit me,” he snapped.

“Never!” I wrenched the broom but he didn’t budge.

The invader cursed. He yanked back and then shoved my collar with his other hand. “Stop it! I’m not going to hurt you, stupid!”

“Get out!” I kicked at his kneecaps. “Leave us alone! I’ll call the cops!”

The man shoved me again and I slipped on the wooden floors to crash land on my tailbone, still clutching the broom with white knuckles.

“You’re an idiot,” the man rolled his blue eyes. “I’m not a robber. This is my house. Or was. Until my parents kicked me out, at least.”

I ceased my fighting to stare up at him. His face finally hit a nerve. I had seen glimpses of that wild blonde hair and sharp jaw line in the rumpled photograph Tucker kept hidden beneath his pillow. Over the years, Mrs. Clarkston had brought up her eldest son randomly in conversation, but never long enough for me to understand where he was, what he was doing, or why his mother’s face always twisted up as if she had just drank pickle juice when she thought of him.

“You’re the prodigal eldest son?”

He scowled and released the broom, “Lincoln. Don’t call me that. You sound just as stuck up and pretentious as Mom.”

“What are you doing here?” I climbed to my feet, holding the broom close to my body, just in case. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“Oh, and you’re the professional, right?” The intruder, Lincoln, walked over to the refrigerator and opened it up. He leaned in to view the contents.

“I’ve lived next to the Clarkstons for seven years and have never once seen you,” I glared at him. “What are you doing here now?”

“Seven years eh?” Lincoln stood, holding a bottle of beer. He stuck the neck into the crook of his elbow and popped the cap off easily. It clinked onto the ground as he took a drink and slammed the refrigerator door. It suctioned shut with a whump. “And who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Stop being so loud!” I chided. “You’ll wake up the kids! You don’t realize how long it took me to get them to sleep!”

“You’re the one that dropped the dishes on the ground,” Lincoln argued, pointing at the mess of broken glass on the floor. “You also got blood everywhere. Might want to clean that up.” He headed towards the living room as I looked down at the bloody footprints painting a clumsy dance over the floorboards.

“And you never answered me. Who are you? Why’d you lock the front door?” Lincoln kicked his shoes off and slumped down onto the couch.

I followed him, “I’m the babysitter! Your mom had a job interview and your dad is—”

“Let me guess,” he interrupted. “He’s in LA? Filming a movie? Attending some charity ball? Walking the red carpet? Avoiding fatherhood at any cost?”

I blinked at him, “Mr. Clarkston is an incredible father. He skypes with the kids every day he is away and he always buys them gifts as souvenirs—”

“Shut up,” Lincoln turned the TV on. “Alright babysitter, why don’t you get to cleaning up your mess and leave me alone?”

“I have a name,” I scowled.

“And how would I know that?” Lincoln chugged the rest of the beer and tossed the empty bottle onto the rug in front of the couch.

“Stop it!” I stomped over and picked it up. “Your parents are going to think I’m the one drinking their alcohol!”

“So?” he belched and flicked his blonde hair.

“So,” I shook the bottle at him, “it’s illegal for a minor to consume alcohol!”

“S’that still a law?” he pulled the sweatshirt up and over his head and then dropped it on the ground as well.

“Ugh!” I carried the bottle into the kitchen and tossed it in the trash. I grabbed the broom and quickly swept up the shards of glass scattered all over the room. When I was finished with that, I grabbed the mop from the hallway closet and cleaned up the bloody footprints.

Once the kitchen was clean again, I washed the cuts on my feet and pulled socks on. I went back into the living room and stood in front of the TV.

Lincoln glared, “Move, stupid.”

“No,” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Are you supposed to be here? You said your parents kicked you out.”

“That’s right,” he sat forward. “They kicked me out. But I show up every once in a while. What are you going to do? Tattle on me?”

“Maybe I will,” I countered.

He chuckled, “Whatever. What are you, a kindergartner? I’m not scared of you.”

“If you are not supposed to be here, then you need to leave,” I commanded. I knew nothing about this guy, but if Mr. and Mrs. Clarkston kicked him out, then I knew he must be trouble. It was my responsibility as babysitter to keep trouble away from the kids.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he replied and stood. “And there’s nothing you can do about it. Just be a good babysitter and babysit.”

“Part of babysitting is protecting the kids!” I informed him. “I don’t know anything about you so for all I know you could be harmful—”

“Screw this,” Lincoln turned away from me and headed down the hallway, “I’m going to sleep. Piss off babysitter.”

“Hey!” I followed him to the edge of the hallway and stopped. “Don’t—”

He reached the door to Elizabeth’s room and repeatedly slammed his fists against it. “LIZZIE!” he screamed through the wood. “THERE’S A SPIDER ON YOUR FACE!” He turned and continued down the hallway as bloodcurdling screams erupted from the little girl’s room. Lincoln snickered evilly and disappeared into his room at the end of the hall.

“Jerk!” I shouted and then ran to Elizabeth’s room. I rushed inside to soothe the frightened toddler.

Several hours later, I woke from my place on the couch with a crick in my neck. I yawned and stood, rubbing the sore spot with a grimace. It was the blackest part of night and the house hummed with peaceful silence. I trudged down the hall towards the toilet but something gave me pause. The door to the twins’ room was ajar. I poked my head inside to check on the boys. Both beds were empty. I walked further down the hall to Elizabeth’s room and checked inside. Empty.

“What the—” Then I noticed the warm, soft glow leaking into the hall from Lincoln’s room. I tiptoed up to the door, which was also partly open. I knelt down and peeked through the crack. Nestled together in the small, twin sized bed were the Clarkston siblings. Lincoln lay on the bottom of the pile with a twin cuddled against each side, heads on his shoulders. Elizabeth was stretched out on his chest, with her nose pressed against the hedgehog hairs of his chin.

They were all fast asleep and for the first time, I noticed the similarities sculpted into their features. Although Grant and Elizabeth lacked Lincoln and Tucker’s fair hair, they shared the wide mouth and the midnight eyelashes. They each had an upwards lilt to the point of their noses and ears as big as Massachusetts.

Heat roiled up from my chest and splayed out across my face. Sleep could bring innocence to any features. Even the harsh hoodlum face of Lincoln Clarkston. I gulped and retreated from the back end of the hallway. Maybe I wouldn’t tattle on him after all.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to. By the time morning rolled around, the universe had decided to take tattling into its own hands. Mrs. Clarkston arrived home four hours before I expected her. I had just woken up and was headed towards the bathroom when a glint in the corner of my eye drew my attention to the window. Mrs. Clarkston’s green Prius cruised across the front of the house and turned into the driveway.

A stream of curse words exploded from my mouth and I sprinted down the hallway to Lincoln’s room. If Mrs. Clarkston found him there when she came in, not only would he be in major trouble, but so would I. It was my responsibility to keep hoodlums like that guy away from the kids and yet I had let him waltz right in through the window and spend the night like it was some kind of luxury hotel.

I burst into Lincoln’s room and slammed the door behind me. The noise woke all four Clarkston siblings at once. I turned the lock on the handle as they all started squirming and fluttering their matching blue eyes.

“Your mom is home!” I whispered heatedly and ran up to the bed. I grabbed Elizabeth and pulled her off of Lincoln’s chest. “Get up! Get up! You gotta get out of here!”

“Mommy home?” Elizabeth yawned and rubbed her fists into her eyes. “Make waffles?”

Grant rolled onto the floor and Tucker climbed out of the bed as Lincoln sat up. He dragged his fingers through his tangled mass of hair and blinked at me with a scowl, “What are you blathering about babysitter?”

“You have to leave now!” I grabbed his wrist and yanked. He didn’t budge. “If your mom finds you, I’m so totally fired!”

“If Mommy finds Link then he’s going to go to prison again,” Grant wailed from the floor.

“Again?” I froze and stared at him. He rubbed the corner of his left eye and shrugged. I sighed and prayed for patience. “I don’t want to know. Now get up!”

“Yeah, okay,” he slid out of the bed and headed for the door. “Whatever, I’ll leave.”

“No!” I grabbed the neck of his shirt and pulled him back before he could unlock the door. “She’ll—”

A clung from the front of the house bounced against the walls and then Mrs. Clarkston’s sing-song voice called out, “Hello! Where are my babies?”

Lincoln turned to me with a tight lipped frown, “You waited until she was up the sidewalk to warn me? Whose side are you on babysitter?”

“Shut up! Just climb out the window! You’re good at that, aren’t you?” I pointed to the window and froze.

“Yeah,” he snorted. “Welcome to the last few years of my life in this house.”

“Who puts bars on windows?” I wrapped my hands around the cast iron bars drilled into the window frame and yanked.

“Don’t bother,” Lincoln pulled a rumpled pack of cigarettes out of his jeans and stuck one tube in the corner of his mouth. His white teeth clamped down on the cigarette and he lit the end with a lighter. “You don’t think I’ve tried to rip those things off before? They’re solid.”

“Ugh!” I released the bars and stomped over to him. “What are we going to do?”

“Harper?” Mrs. Clarkston’s voice floated down the hallway. Elizabeth ran to the door and reached for the handle.

“Mommy home!” she laughed.

“No, Lizzie!” Tucker grabbed his sister and pulled her away.

A puff of smoke bombarded my face from Lincoln’s disgusting mouth and I coughed. “What are you doing? Give me that!” I ripped the cigarette from his lips and tossed it onto the wood floors. I ground my socked foot into it and then kicked the remains under the bed.

“Harper?” Mrs. Clarkston knocked on the door. “Are you awake? Are the kids in there with you?”

I cursed under my breath and grabbed Lincoln’s arm, “Uhh, just a sec Mrs. Clarkston! We are just uhh—”

My mind was whirling for an excuse to give her.

“Cl-cleaning Linky’s old room!” Elizabeth screamed at the top of her lungs and then gave me a thumbs up.

Lincoln snickered and my eyes went wide. Yeah, now she could put together a coherent sentence. What crappy timing.

“It was supposed to be a surprise!” Tucker called and pushed Elizabeth away from the door. “We will be out in a little bit!”

It was going to have to work. “That’s right Mrs. Clarkston!” I knelt down next to bed and looked underneath for a place to hide the hoodlum, but came up with nothing. There were boxes lined up underneath the bed. “Why don’t you get unpacked and we will show you when we’re done?” I stood again and pulled Lincoln to the folding closet doors on the left side of the room.

“Cleaning?”

I held my breath and pulled the doors open.

“Well okay then…”

The closet was also jam-packed full of cardboard boxes as well as two pairs of skis and an old computer monitor.

“Mommy! Waffles!” Elizabeth bellowed. Grant and Tucker were rushing around the room, picking up clutter from the desk to the right of the window, folding the sheets of the bed, using socks to dust the empty shelves on the walls.

“Okay, okay,” I grabbed a shoe and stuffed it in between the skis. “Think, Harper. Think.”

“Just send out one of the younglings to distract her and I’ll slip out the front door,” Lincoln leaned against the barred window and puffed on a new cigarette.

“Stop smoking!” I threw the second shoe at his head. It bounced off of his forehead and clattered against the wall. “There are little children around!”

“So?” he rubbed the new red spot on his forehead and leaned over to pick up the shoe. “It’s nothing they haven’t seen before.” He threw the shoe back at me and I did a Matrix limbo move to dodge it.

“I’ll distract Mom,” Tucker moved towards the door but I grabbed him.

“No, I need you to help clean. We’ll make Elizabeth do it.” She was worthless as a maid anyway. She had spent the last minute wiping her grubby hands over the walls as if she was erasing invisible chalk from a blackboard. “Lizzie, come here,” I knelt down and she thump-thumped over to me on uncoordinated feet. “Think you can do me a favor?”

She nodded. Her dark curls bobbed around her cherubic face and she gave me the most serious look a four-year-old could pull off. Her bottom lip pouted out and her light eyebrows screwed up over her blue eyes.

“I need you to go and bug your mommy into making you waffles,” I instructed. I spoke slow and enunciated as best as I could. “But you can’t say anything about Lincoln okay?” She nodded again and I said, “And you can’t let her leave the kitchen, alright?”

“Got it, Harper,” she clapped her hands.

“Tell me what I told you,” I took her forearms in my hands. “Repeat what I said.”

“You said to make Mommy make us waffles,” she said. Her eyes wandered away from my face and frolicked around her brothers. She looked at Lincoln, who was watching us with that stupid cigarette clamped between his teeth, burning slowly but surely. “Oh!” she turned back to me. “And not talk about Linky.”

“And keep her in the kitchen.”

“Uh huh. Not let her escape.”

“That’s right,” I stood and led her to the door. I pressed my ear to the wood and listened. A faint melody in Mrs. Clarkston’s sing-song voice floated through the door but it was far enough away to suggest she was in her room, unpacking. “Okay,” I took a deep breath and unlocked the door. I opened it a crack and peeked into the hallway. Empty. I opened it farther and then gave Elizabeth a little push. “Remember,” I whispered. “Don’t let her out of the—”

“Mommy!” Elizabeth didn’t wait around to hear the rest of my instructions. She clattered down the hallway and disappeared from view.

I closed the door again and listened. Elizabeth’s voice jabbered but I couldn’t make out words. She must not have been spilling the beans, however, because there was no furious exclamation from Mrs. Clarkston.

“It’s never going to work.”

I glared at Lincoln over my shoulder, “Shut your mouth and get ready to run.”

“The only thing that could get me running is you, chasing me,” he ground out his cigarette on the windowsill.

I opened my mouth to screech at him, but I noticed that there were other similar scorch marks in the white wood to match the one he stamped in. I scowled and pressed my ear back up to the door. I listened for a few more moments before I heard Mrs. Clarkston.

“Okay, okay, Lizzie. I’ll make you waffles.”

I peeked out of the door in time to see Elizabeth dragging her mother by the hand across the hall and through the doorway of the kitchen. When they were gone, I whirled around and hissed, “Okay! Come on!”

Lincoln sighed and grabbed Grant as the little boy tried to run past him with arms full of dirty socks. The socks bounced onto the ground as Lincoln lifted the boy effortlessly with hands under his armpits. Grant wrapped his arms around his big brother’s neck and Lincoln kissed him on the cheek.

“Later big guy,” Lincoln squeezed him and then tossed him onto the bed. Grant squealed as he bounced against the mattress. He moved then to the other twin. Tucker gingerly set down the alarm clock he had been shining with his shirt sleeve and threw his tiny body against Lincoln’s legs.

“I don’t want you to go!”

I watched a change distort Lincoln’s features. His blonde eyebrows slammed together and deep wrinkles formed on his forehead. He squeezed his eyes shut for a tense moment and then opened them again. And I swear they shone with unshed tears. My mouth dried up like the badlands and the urgency to get that greasy haired hoodlum out of the house shriveled up.

“Hey, hey,” Lincoln grabbed Tucker’s bicep and lifted him like he was made of Styrofoam. “Remember what I said about crying?” Tucker latched onto his torso and Lincoln rubbed his back in slow circles. “I’m not leaving forever. You know that. I always come back, don’t I?”

“Yeah b-but—”

“Shh,” he rubbed his cheek against Tucker’s blonde head. “I’m never far, Bud. You know I’m always looking out for you guys, don’t you?”

“It’s not fair! Why does Mom make you leave?”

Warm fingers slipped into my palm and I looked down at Grant. His cheeks were slick and he sniffed as he watched his two brothers. I squeezed his hand. The sadness was contagious. Suddenly, I didn’t want Lincoln to leave either. How could Mrs. Clarkston do this to her children?

“It’s alright,” Lincoln’s voice was rough as gravel. “Someday I’m gonna be better for you, okay? One day I’ll convince Mom to let me see you. I’m gonna fix myself up. I promise.”

He sunk to his knees and gestured for Grant. The little boy dropped my hand and ran into his arms. I backed away to the bedroom door. I pulled the door open and stared into the hallway. I heard the clatter of activity from the kitchen and was momentarily regretful that Elizabeth wouldn’t share a farewell moment with her eldest brother. I listened hard for any conversation but if there was any, it was drowned out by the clinking of kitchenware.

“What are you waiting for, babysitter?”

Lincoln’s breath tickled my ear and I jumped. I gave him a good glare over my shoulder.

“Are you ready?”

He sighed and forced his fingers through his tangled blonde hair. “Hell,” he lifted another cigarette to his lips. His blue eyes flashed past me and into the long hall beyond the door. “I guess.”

“Light that cigarette, and I’ll light your hair.”

The ruffian grinned, “I like you more and more every second, babysitter.”

“Stop calling me that,” I grumbled and turned away. I wanted to hide the blush from my cheeks before he decided to tease me about that too. “Let’s just go before your mom finishes with breakfast.”

I slipped into the hallway and crept lightly on socked feet across the wooden floors.

“I’ll tell you what,” Lincoln walked behind me. “If there’s one thing I miss about that woman, it’s her cooking. Are you sure I can’t stay for a little while? I’ll stay hidden. You can feed me under the table—”

“Shut up!”

Lincoln ceased his babbling and I listened for Elizabeth’s. We were just a couple of yards away from the doorway to the kitchen.

SSSSSZZZZZZZZ went the waffle maker.

“Hmhm, hmhm,” went Mrs. Clarkston.

“And Grant he ran and pushed and the lamp it broke and Harper used the broom and cleaned up and then she chased Grant around and around and around and—” went Elizabeth.

I turned to Lincoln and put a finger to my lips. He rolled his eyes, cigarette still hanging limply in the corner of his mouth. I tip-toed up to the doorway and drew in a giant breath. I held it as I pressed my cheek to the wall and lolled it around the edge to peer into the kitchen. Mrs. Clarkston was at the sink, arms up to the elbow in soapy water as she scrubbed a large bowl. Elizabeth was sitting on the counter in between the sink and the waffle maker.

“And then Harper had to throw a blankie on Grant and then she- she- she- catched him like a butterfly and dragged him out of the attic and—”

I leaned back and waved my hand at Lincoln. I sprinted past the doorway and turned to him. I waved my hand again, urging him to hurry while Mrs. Clarkston had her eyes in the right direction, but instead of running like I had hoped, he flicked his hair and sauntered up to me with hands in his dirty jean pockets as if he had all the time in the world.

I suppressed an exasperated sigh and grabbed his wrist. I yanked him the rest of the way down the hall and into the living room. “Get your shoes, hurry up,” I gestured at the muddy sneakers on the floor next to the couch and thanked God Mrs. Clarkston hadn’t noticed when she walked through the front door.

Lincoln slid his feet into the shoes without untying the laces and then followed me to the door.

“Alright,” I grabbed the handle. “We’re here. Now hurry up and get lost, fast!” I pulled the door open and immediately slammed it. I shoved my back against the wood and cursed.

Lincoln cocked an eyebrow and moved his cigarette to the other side of his mouth, “What? Let me out.”

“There’s someone coming up the sidewalk!” I shoved at him. “Hide!”

“Hide?” Lincoln ripped the cigarette from his lips. “Where am I supposed to hide?” he gestured at the living room. It was too open. There was no place to hide.

“Ugh!” I gripped my hair with tight fingers. Then I saw our way out. “The window!” I pointed to the window on the left wall, looking out on the large front yard. “Go! Go! Hurry!” I pushed him again and we both ran across the room.

Lincoln threw the window pane up and immediately straddled the windowsill.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” I hissed and grabbed his arm as if to help him. I really just wanted to shove him with all my might right into those thorny rosebushes along the front of the house.

Lincoln slid out of the window and landed on his feet in the flower bed, crushing Mrs. Clarkston’s purple azaleas underneath the soles of his sneakers. He turned towards me and grinned.

“Now get out of here!” I hissed and grabbed the window pane.

“Yeah, yeah, I will.” He lifted a lighter and lit that poor cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. He puffed once and used it to point at me, “Hey you know what, babysitter?” I hesitated with my hands clamped around the window. He winked a blue eye at me and I remembered the way I saw him last night, covered in children, long black lashes resting ever so gently against the curve of his cheekbones. I wanted to turn away to hide my blush, but he said,

“You’re not as bad as I thought.”

I scowled at him, “Oh! And you thought—”

Knock knock knock.

“Go!” I shoved his shoulders and he tumbled back into the rosebushes. I slammed the window shut and whirled around just in time.

Mrs. Clarkston rushed into the living room. She noticed me standing in front of the window and cocked an eyebrow, “Done cleaning, are you?”

“Oh!” I cleared my throat. “Pretty close…”

She went to the door and opened it. “Oh! Sandra! Come in!” Mrs. Clarkston’s sister entered the house and hung her cowboy hat on the hook next to the door.

“Out of the way, Martha, I’ve got to pee like a donkey on steroids,” she pushed past Mrs. Clarkston and rushed into the hallway.

Mrs. Clarkston chuckled and headed after her but paused. Something caught her attention near the wall straight across from the window I stood guard at. Her eyes darted to me and I realized what she had discovered.

Oh no.

“Harper…” Mrs. Clarkston walked over and picked up the grey hoodie that was lying on the floor like the body at a crime scene. “What is this?”

“Oh!” I joined her on the other side of the room. “That’s… uh… that’s my sweatshirt. Sorry I just kind of left it there on the floor…” I reached for it, but she pulled it away.

She pursed her red lips and blinked her blue eyes, “If this is yours… then whose cargo jacket is that over there on the hook?”

I stared at my olive colored jacket in disdain as I searched for a lie to sell her. “Uhh… mine. I thought it was going to be cold so I wore both…”

“Harper.”

I met her gaze and my heart sank. She knew.

“Did you have your boyfriend over here last night?”

Damn that stupid Lincoln. If he had never shown his stupid hairy face, I wouldn’t be in this situation. I was in so much trouble. Mrs. Clarkston was going to fire me and then how would I ever pay for my college? Babysitting these kids was the best job I had ever had in my life. I got to spend time with the kids that I loved like my own siblings, and got paid handsomely for it too. Why should I go through so much trouble to save Lincoln’s sorry butt? Why did I have to sacrifice my future for that hoodlum? If I was smart, I’d sell him out and save myself.

“… Yes,” I ducked my head. “Yeah, sorry.”

She gave a heavy sigh, “Harper…” I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared for those two terrible last words that would doom me into unemployment. “I hope this doesn’t happen next time.”

I jerked my head up. My jaw dropped.

“Next time?”

Mrs. Clarkston handed over the sweatshirt. It smelled thickly of tobacco and was stained white in spots with bleach.

“Don’t worry,” she winked. “There’s no way I’d fire the best babysitter we’ve ever hired just because she snuck her boyfriend in for one night. Good help is hard to find these days, don’t you know?” she rested a hand on my shoulder. “Besides, the kids would never forgive me.”

She smiled and walked away. I hugged the sweatshirt to my chest and let out a breath that I felt like I had been holding since I had woken up that morning. Thank God! I looked down at the sweatshirt and sighed. What was I supposed to do with this thing? It smelled and looked like it belonged in the trash.

I glanced over my shoulder at the window. Maybe Lincoln was still nearby? I walked across the room and peered through the glass. I couldn’t see him. I pushed the glass up and leaned out. I stared down the street and sighed. He was long gone. I’d probably never see him again. Gone. So fast and so sudden. I was amazed when creeping disappointment tickled down my torso.

Gone. Forever.

A cloud of grey smoke billowed around my face and zipped up my nostrils. I coughed and jumped back from the window. Lincoln stood up from his hiding place under the sill. His wide mouth stretched wider into a grin and his blue eyes glinted with fiery evil.

“Stupid!” I hissed and threw his sweatshirt at his face. “I hope those things rot your teeth!”

He chuckled and slung the hoodie over his shoulder. “Try not to take life so seriously, babysitter.” He held out his hand. Pinched between two fingers was a red rose. Its petals were rumpled and the stem was bent but I accepted it anyway. My cheeks burned in the third degree and I cleared my throat.

He winked and hopped over the bushes and onto the lawn. “Watch those kids for me while I’m gone, okay? Until next time.”

“Yeah right!” I leaned out of the window as he strolled away. “There won’t be a next time, Jerk! And my name’s Harper! Not babysitter!”

“Whatever babysitter!”

I watched him go for long minutes with my nose buried softly in the rumpled petals of his parting gift. I watched until his outline disappeared down the street.

Good riddance, I thought.

What a nuisance, I thought.

After all trace of him was gone, I closed the window and peeked down at my lopsided rose. I’ll get him to call me by my name, I thought and smiled. Next time.

“Harper, there’s waffles if you are hungry!” Mrs. Clarkston stood in the hall and called to me.

My name is Harper MacKent.

I am an aspiring college student.

“Harper!” Elizabeth burst out of the kitchen and stood next to her mom. Her blue eyes were wide as she gaped her mouth open and practically screamed at the top of her lungs, “Did it work? Did Linky leave yet?”

I squeezed my eyes shut as one of the thorns of the rose’s stem sliced my finger.

“Lincoln?” Mrs. Clarkston’s voice was perplexed. “My son was here?”

I just love kids so much.




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