The Babysitter – Nancy Bush

Then . Jamie stuck her head under the coffee table, with its deep sides that made it damn near impossible to reach the tossed cards from the Memory Game she’d been playing with Serena and Teddy, the Ryerson twins. They were in bed for good now, God willing. The seven-year-olds had had their last drink of water, their last story, their last everything. Jamie was honestly sick of them. She’d been babysitting them for eons and she was supposed to be at the Stillwell party tonight. She’d been invited by Cooper Haynes himself. Coolest guy in school. He’d smiled at her this afternoon and asked if she was going to be there. And she was only a sophomore and wouldn’t be able to drive until the summer, but he’d specifically asked her even though he was in her sister Emma’s class. Emma was supposed to babysit the twins tonight. Jamie had begged and begged her older sister to take over for her. She’d promised her anything.

Emma had wanted to know what the big deal was. To her, the party at the Stillwells’ was just another senior get-together for her class, of which she’d been to kazillions. But Cooper Haynes had invited her, Jamie Whelan, specifically! “Please, please, please,” she’d begged Emma, dramatically prostrating herself on her sister’s bedroom carpet. “Jesus, what’s the big deal? There’ll be another one,” Emma said. Jamie would rather cut out her tongue than admit that Cooper had asked her to go. Emma would laugh or make fun of her. Emma and Cooper were friends, had once even gone together for a short time when they were in junior high. If Emma knew of Jamie’s secret, secret crush, it would be all over the school. “I want to go to this one,” Jamie said, rising into a squat, her hands in front of her in prayer. “Just, please, Emma. Take over for me.” “Mom won’t let you go to a senior party anyway.

” “She doesn’t have to know. And I’ll get there somehow.” “Oh, you will?” A smile played on Emma’s lips. She was the rebel and Jamie was the good girl, as far as their mother knew. And it was true, up to a point. Jamie worked on her grades and stayed in and babysat for extra cash because the Whelan family was damn near dirt-poor since Dad had his midlife crisis and took up with that bitch with the fake boobs and big hair and houseboat on the Columbia River. Jamie and Emma had visited him exactly once and it had been an epic fail. “What do you need from me to make this happen, Emma?” Jamie asked, rising to her feet and shifting into business mode. “Fifty dollars.” “What?” “I’ve got some things to buy.

” She lifted a shoulder and started to walk away. Jamie swore a blue streak in her mind, then said quickly, “Twenty. It’s all I’ve got.” “You’ve got scads in your savings account.” “I’m saving for college. I’ve got thirty. Please, Emma.” “I’ve got things to do and wouldn’t be there till nine at the earliest, so . ” “I’ll babysit them till nine, and you can take over.” “I don’t know .

” She made a face. “Fine. I’ll get you fifty!” “This must be really important,” Emma said, turning back to give Jamie a long look. “I can’t be the total nerd any longer,” Jamie said, the truth popping out. Emma’s popularity was legendary and Jamie, who’d finally gotten her braces off—which had taken for-effing-ever, thank you, God—had grown her hair out from the short bob Mom had given her since she was three, and was working on matching a little bit of that popularity. “Take my place at nine and I’ll give you the fifty and all the money from tonight’s babysitting, too.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” It had taken Emma a few more agonizing moments to consider, but then she’d finally agreed. “But if I get killed, it’s on you,” she said. “Yeah, yeah.

” She was referring to the two babysitters who’d been attacked that summer, one in Vancouver, apparently the victim of a masked robber who’d stabbed her during his getaway, and the other falling from a rooftop deck in Gresham, where she’d supposedly been trying to meet her boyfriend. Neither of those places was close to their River Glen neighborhood, a suburb of Portland’s westside. Now it was eight forty-six. Jamie had checked the Ryersons’ mantel clock before ducking under the table. About fifteen minutes to go. She had a brush in her purse to fix her hair and some lipstick and mascara. The Stillwell house, really an estate, was only about twenty blocks north of the Ryersons’, down a long, hedged driveway so the neighbors, noise, and cops wouldn’t be aware of the party, fingers crossed. As Jamie started to slide out from under the table, a shadowy figure standing to one side caused her to shriek and smack her head on the table’s underside. “Shii—ouch!” She just managed to stop herself from swearing a blue streak when she saw it was Serena standing there in a pale nightgown. “Serena.

What are you doing up?” Jamie shimmied out from under the table and stood up, rubbing her head. Irked, she frowned down at the little girl. “I had a dream that I was dying.” “Oh, honey.” Jamie’s annoyance dissipated, and she gently put her hands on the girl’s shoulders, turned her around, and slowly marched her back to bed. “You’re fine. Your mom and dad are going to be back soon. Just try to sleep.” “Is your friend coming?” Her voice wavered. Jamie had told the twins that Emma might spell her and not to be scared if they woke up to find her there instead of Jamie.

“My sister. You’ve had her babysit you before.” “I want Mommy,” she sobbed, clinging to Jamie’s leg. “Don’t be a baby.” Teddy’s voice rang from down the hallway to his sister’s room, which made Serena cry even harder. It took Jamie till after nine to calm Serena down and get Teddy, who hadn’t wanted to give up chastising Serena, back to bed. Their mother had assured Jamie that the twins would sleep soundly because they’d been to the Oaks Park amusement center for the day and ridden on all the rides. Nadine Ryerson had said, “Don’t worry, they’ll sleep like the dead.” Ha. Jamie half-expected one or the other or both of the twins to get up again, but they seemed to have finally settled down for good.

But then, where was Emma? She was late. And because neither Jamie nor Emma owned a cell phone—they were too expensive and Mom didn’t trust that they wouldn’t lose them—Jamie was stuck waiting for her sister to show up. She paced the living room floor, her eyes on the clock above the stone mantel. It felt like the minute hand wasn’t moving at all. Where the hell was she? At nine-thirty Emma finally appeared, knocking on the door so loudly, Jamie flew to answer it in a panic. “Don’t wake the kids!” she shushed angrily. Emma just pushed her way inside. “You’re lucky I’m here at all,” she declared, nearly running into Jamie in the process. “Are you drunk?” Jamie demanded, panicked. “No.

God, no. I’m just . pissed.” “What happened?” “Nothing. Go on to your party. I had to walk from there and it’s a long, long way. You owe me. More than what you said.” “Whatever.” Jamie was out the door in a flash.

It turned out Emma was right. The twenty blocks or so, half of them up Stillwell Hill, to reach the entrance to the Stillwell estate, felt like forever. Her steps slowed as she climbed to the crest, her steps slowing even further as she headed across the last few yards to the wrought-iron gate set between towering laurel hedges. The gate was open, but now that she was here, she was reluctant to step foot on the ribbon of tarmac that led to the house. She could see lights at the end of that long drive, but suddenly she felt naked and alone. She desperately needed a girlfriend to be with her, Camryn or Rosie, but their parents would never let them attend an unsupervised senior party either. Maybe Gwen, whose Mom and Dad were like hippies or something and not as concerned with keeping tabs on their daughter’s every move, but Gwen was a weirdo and not a real friend anyway. Jamie hovered by the main road, loathe to walk between the hedges. Now that she was here, she felt like the uninvited. Cooper was the only one who’d really asked her to come, and what if he wasn’t here? She should have asked Emma about him, but that would have given the game away, and Emma would know and tease her mercilessly and probably tell Cooper to boot, so that was a no-go.

What to do . ? The answer was taken away from her when she heard the roar of a sparking engine and saw car taillights flash red far ahead. A car was backing out and turning toward her. Moments later, a dark blue Mustang, Race Stillwell’s car, came right at her, headlights blinding. She would have melted into the hedges if she’d been able, but as it was, she was pinned in the twin beams, frozen like a deer. The Mustang’s engine rumbled beside her. The passenger window rolled down, and Dug Douglas threw out a cigarette butt. It was late October, dry as a bone, and Jamie immediately stamped out the ember even though it had landed on the asphalt. “What’re yer doin’?” Dug slurred. A million excuses raced across Jamie’s brain, but in the moment, she just said, “Walking.

” “Go on up to the party,” Race said, leaning past Dug to get a hard look at her. “Who’re you?” “Emma’s sister. Jamie.” “Well, there’s booze up there. Help yourself. We gotta little thing to do,” Race said. “Later.” And then they pulled onto the street and roared away. Jamie trudged the rest of the way toward the house. SUVs, sedans, and one or two minivans that had to be parents’ cars were parked along the drive.

She heard the thump of music from outside, the bass resonating inside her, as she let herself in the front door. Kids were standing around holding red Solo cups full of drinks. They eyed her as she walked by, into the kitchen. All her desire to attend, the raging torrent that had been building inside her ever since Cooper asked if she was going, was leaching away, and she was almost embarrassed to be there. For hours, all she’d thought about was being at this party. Now all she wanted to do was turn tail and leave. But not before finding out where Cooper was. “Beer?” a guy in the class ahead of her, Ken somebody, asked. He was standing by the keg, leaning an elbow on the counter. “Sure.

” It was a relief to be treated as if she had a right to be there. He straightened to pour her a foamy capped cup of beer. She accepted it and stood to one side for a few moments. Icky Vicky, one of the girls in Emma’s friend group, was making out with her boyfriend in the corner by the back windows. His hands were running all over her and she was riding his thigh. There was a lot of heavy breathing, smacking noises, and moaning. Half-embarrassed, Jamie sidled out of the kitchen and up some back stairs, hoping Vicky wouldn’t notice her. If Vicky recognized Jamie, she’d probably make a big deal of it, because she was fierce about keeping the line separated between grades. She’d pretty much slept with all the senior guys when she was a sophomore and had been excoriated by all the senior girls for poaching, so she wasn’t about to let any underclassmen get away with what she already had. Jamie wandered the second floor, looking for Cooper, then went back downstairs and checked out all the rooms down there as well.

“Looking for something?” It was Race’s younger brother, Deon. He was a junior, one year behind Race. And he was smaller and meaner and looking at Jamie with cold suspicion. “I was hoping Gwen was here. Gwen Winkelman?” “Don’t know her.” Of course he did. Everybody knew Gwen. She’d made a name for herself by reading fortunes and selling crystals. Normally, Jamie steered clear of her one-time grade school friend because she was so odd, but now she was desperate to make a connection. “I don’t see her,” Jamie said, moving away.

She yelped in surprise when his hand shot out and he dragged her to him. His other hand went right to her crotch. “Hey!” she snapped, immediately grabbing that hand and flinging it away from herself. “Babe, you asked for it.” He leered, white teeth gleaming. She wrenched herself out of his grasp and practically ran out the front door, shaken. No Cooper. She stood at the front of the house, drew several deep breaths, then looked up at the white, threequarter moon. October 21, or maybe 22 by now, and all she wanted to do was be home in bed. And then Gwen suddenly appeared.

Running up the driveway, laughing, her long, brown braid swinging behind her, a guy chasing her whom Jamie didn’t immediately recognize. “Hey, Jamie!” she said in surprise and delight. “What’re you doing here?” Now she saw the guy was their classmate, Nathan Farland, and he said, “Where are your books? There must be some test to study for.” “Shut up,” Gwen said good-naturedly. “Jamie doesn’t study all the time.” She grabbed Jamie’s arm to propel her back inside. “What’re you having? Beer? Nah. Let’s have some vodka. Nate’s got some.” “Sure,” he said.

Jamie really didn’t want to go back inside with them, but she didn’t have a ride home, and it would feel like a lot longer to get to her house alone in the dark than the trek she’d just made to get here. She’d had some hazy idea about cadging a ride, but that hadn’t been looking so good until Nate appeared. He had a driver’s license and an older Toyota Celica. Back in the foyer, Jamie made certain to steer clear of Deon Stillwell. She hung close to Nate and Gwen, who was really being nice, which made Jamie feel kind of bad for thinking she was such a weirdo. Hours slid by. At one o’clock, Race Stillwell returned alone, his Mustang roaring back up the drive just as Jamie, Gwen, and Nate were getting ready to leave. No Cooper. Jamie had consumed one beer and two glasses of vodka and Sprite, but the slight buzz she’d gotten had already worn off. Race was wild-eyed as he burst into the room.

“What the fuck?” Deon muttered. He was waaayyy loaded and staggering by then. “Shit. The cops. Get everybody out. Everybody out!!” His bellow reached to the upper floor. The smart kids, the ones still sober enough and aware, didn’t wait to be asked again. They trampled down the stairs and out of the house, running for their cars. Jamie, Gwen, and Nate did the same. All of them tore down the driveway, nearly rear-ending each other in their haste.

Only when he was well away and driving out of town did Nate heave a sigh of relief. “Think we’re okay. If the cops come, they won’t find us.” “You know where my house is?” Jamie asked. Now she was anxious to be home. Her mom worked graveyard at the hospital, but anything could happen time-wise and she could come home early. Nate grunted an assent. He dropped Gwen off first at her family’s sprawling ranch with the trees adorned with fake Spanish moss and the birdhouses and the whole crazy garden thing. Jamie’s house was a two-story Craftsman style with a wide porch and a mostly trimmed yard. Mom was death on weeds.

After their father’s defection, she’d gotten out the edger and beaten back the crabgrass and dandelions and thistles as if her life depended on it. Gardening seemed to be her way to get out her frustrations and put her life in order, and she spent most afternoons working on their grounds before heading to her job. Jamie lightly ran down the driveway to the back of the house and jogged to the right in front of the detached garage toward the back steps. She was pretty sure Mom was still out, but she didn’t want to explain herself just in case. She picked up the gnome near the bottom stair, the only whimsical piece to the yard, saved by Emma when Mom had tried to throw it out in her never-ending need to put things right in the yard. She shook the gnome and the key fell into her hand. Quickly, she tiptoed up the outdoor steps, turned the key in the lock, and let herself inside, grimacing at the soft creak the door made. She paused. Nothing but the familiar tick of the clock on the wall. Hurrying upstairs, she passed her sister’s room.

Emma’s clothes were tossed about, some hanging on the chair, others on the bed, a pair of jeans on the floor. Mom’s door was closed, but it always was. Jamie’s room was next to Emma’s, which was at the end of the hall. She let herself inside, slipped off her shoes, ripped off her clothes, and slid into an oversize T-shirt with a picture of the Hollywood sign on the front before climbing beneath the covers. She was wide awake. Unsettled. She’d given up her babysitting job to find Cooper Haynes and he hadn’t even been at Race Stillwell’s party. She recalled Deon’s hand on her crotch and her blood boiled. She punched the pillow several times, furious with herself and the world as a whole. Emma was the one who’d scored tonight, which really pissed Jamie off.

The Ryersons always stayed out late, which made for good babysitting money, and Emma was reaping the benefits. Jamie was still awake when she heard the distant sirens. An auto accident? Her mom was an ER nurse. Saw all kinds of bloody, mangled victims. Ugh. She covered her head with her pillow. Brrrinnnggg! Jamie jumped when the landline down the hall started ringing. Middle of the night. Mom? Reluctantly, she climbed out of her warm bed and scurried down the hall to her mom’s bedroom and the phone. She opened the door and nearly ran into her mother, who was standing by the side of the bed, nearly right in front of her.

“Oh, God!” Jamie gasped, surprised, as Mom, who was still fully dressed apart from her shoes, was reaching for the phone. “Hello . ” she answered, hitching her chin to let her know she was handling things and Jamie could go back to bed. Jamie, who’d hoped she wouldn’t have to explain why she was home and Emma wasn’t, turned back toward her room. “Oh, God . oh my God!” Mom gasped. “What? What?” Jamie stopped cold, her hand to her throat. “Okay, I’m . on my way. Right now.

Right now!” Mom slammed down the phone, reeling. “What is it?” Jamie cried. “It’s Emma. She’s been hurt. Attacked. The police are there.” She whirled around, staring at the floor, searching for her shoes, grabbing her coat. “At the Ryersons’?” Jamie’s voice was a squeak, but she was shrieking inside. “Yes. Emma’s at the hospital.

.

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