A Tall and Small Collection | S2

Baby Sitting

Ashlynn sat on the couch, tablet in hand, and continued to write in her appointments and check her email. Her Borrower companions had left not too long ago, vanishing into the walls in search of a good place to set up their home and, possibly, find other Borrower residents. They wouldn’t be gone for long, but elected to leave Soren’s daughter, Mayzie, in Ashlynn’s care.

Ashlynn had been around kids before, but none of them were smaller than her thumb. Thankfully, at the moment, Mayzie was asleep. There was a significant amount of worry plaguing Ashlynn’s mind, but the Borrower toddler seemed to take a liking to her. This alone was what Ashlynn was relying on.

It was while she was sifting through her appointments and emails, maybe ten minutes after the brothers left, that Ashlynn heard the softest coo and a light shuffling in the small box the Borrowers were transported in. Nerves electrified, Ashlynn stopped writing and listened harder. She heard it again.

No.

What?

Mayzie should still be asleep, right? Rey said she would be asleep for at least another half an hour!

Ashlynn dared to lean forward to peer into the box. Sure enough, Mayzie was sitting up and rubbing her eyes, yawning as big as she could. There was an immediate, dreading panic that seized Ashlynn, making her feel like she had just been punched in the chest. There was a slight tremor to her hands.

It was in this split second moment that Ashlynn remembered reading something about how kids were able to sense emotions. It was probably some kind of subconscious insight meant for survival. Still, Ashlynn knew that if she was nervous, Mayzie might pick up on it and taint their already tentative relationship.

Ashlynn took a deep breath and relaxed. Her heart was still pounding in her chest, but she felt a little more at ease. She leaned forward and smiled just as Mayzie started looking around, obviously searching for her father or something familiar. Ashlynn reached out and tapped the top of the box very lightly until Mayzie looked up at her.

“Good morning, Mayzie,” she said as softly as she could, taking an involuntary sing-song tone. Mayzie’s eyes widened initially as she clutched her cotton ball bunny tighter to her chest. Her wavy brown hair, kissed with auburn, was tousled and messy on one side of her head, giving a comical exaggeration to the way she tilted her head to look up at Ashlynn. “Did you sleep so good?”

Ashlynn had never been more nervous in her entire life, but continued to smile at the Borrower baby. Several tense seconds passed before she heard Mayzie whimper. Her heart clutched.

No.

Please no.

The initial panic instantly flipped to unbounding joy as Mayzie clutched her bunny to her chest with one arm and raised the other to her, making a subtle grabbing motion. It was one of the things that Ashlynn recognized instantly.

Mayzie wanted to be picked up.

If she was nervous before, this interaction was making Ashlynn sweat bullets. Was this alright? Would Soren approve? What if Mayzie started crying and it made things worse? Also, the child was so small. One wrong twitch of her hand could be dangerous.

What was more dangerous, however, was showing Mayzie that Ashlynn wasn’t there to help.

Her mind was made up.

Ashlynn gingerly reached into the box and laid her fingers against the floor so Mayzie could climb on. The Borrower toddler looked at her confused.

“Climb on. You can do it,” she encouraged gently. Mayzie pushed herself up, toddled over, and laid against Ashlynn’s fingers, making a perfect little “L” shape for just a moment before rolling onto the tips of Ashlynn’s fingers and then sitting up.

“Good job,” praised Ashlynn. Mayzie looked back up to Ashlynn and gave her another insightful look before reaching over and petting the tip of Ashlynn’s ring finger.

“Goooood,” she cooed sleepily. Ashlynn was over the moon, but was far from out of the woods yet. The box was a bit cramped for Ashlynn’s hand and it was turned in a precarious angle. She dared to raise her hand those few inches out of the box and then placed it palm up on the table. Just in case, Ashlynn grabbed the contents of the box and placed them on the table nearby.

Mayzie seemed content for a few minutes, looking at the vast expanse of the coffee table in front of her, as she sat on Ashlynn’s fingers. She was content until she started babbling about something Ashlynn didn’t hear. Whatever it was in the toddler’s head, she was adamant and factual.

Mayzie slipped off of Ashlynn’s fingers and began walking across the table, looking around at the scene in front of her. Every few steps, she looked back over her shoulder to make sure Ashlynn was still there. Each time, Ashlynn would smile warmly and ask her a simple question.

“Where are you going?” she asked. Mayzie walked over to the box she was in a few minutes ago and patted it with her chubby fingered palm.

“Box. This is a box,” said Ashlynn.

“Box!” repeated Mayzie. She toddled further across the table and tapped a tissue box that rested in the middle of the table.

“Box?” she said again. Ashlynn nodded.

“Yes, box,” repeated Ashlynn. Mayzie, amused with the word, began repeating it over and over in her toddler babble before starting to walk closer to the edge of the table. She was barely six inches near the table, but Ashlynn still leaned forward and placed her arm in front of the ledge.

“Careful,” warned Ashlynn. “You don’t want to slip. No slipping.”

“Slip, slip, slip, slip, slip,” babbled Mayzie while changing direction and making her way to another ledge. Ashlynn repeated this over and over to each of the edges as Mayzie approached. After a couple of times, Mayzie began giggling and running as fast as her little, clumsy legs would carry her.

This little game lasted for nearly five minutes before Mayzie approached the hand Ashlynn had used to lift her out of the box and petted her fingertips again.

“Gooood!” she cooed again.

“Good,” Ashlynn echoed. Mayzie wandered back to where Ashlynn placed her blanket that she was sleeping on, retrieved it, and wandered back to Ashlynn’s hand.

Ashlynn heard Mayzie babble something about “here” and “make it comfy,” but she didn’t hear anything else the toddler had to say before Mayzie climbed back on and laid down in the middle of her palm, thumb shoved into her mouth.

Ashlynn curled her fingers up and watched Mayzie lay there and suck her thumb. She was looking up expectantly, like something was supposed to happen now that she was laying down. What was it?

“What?” asked Ashlynn. “Do you want to hear a story?” Mayzie, thumb still in her mouth, smiled and gave a bashful nod.

“Okay, umm…” Ashlynn had to think of something quickly. The last time she read a fairy tale or a kids book was years ago. There were the traditional stories, but Ashlynn couldn’t think of a single one in that moment. Going with the first thing that popped into her head, she began.

“Well, once upon a time, there was a handsome traveler. He visited magical lands all over the world, fighting off vicious beasts to protect his family. He was very good at what he did, but he hadn’t seen everything in the world. The scariest monster out there made even the traveler shake. These monsters were the giants. One day, while protecting his family from danger, he was injured and found by one of these giants.”

Ashlynn looked at Mayzie to see how she was; and, oddly enough, Mayzie was listening intently. She decided to continue the story.

“The giant tended to his wounds, much to the traveler’s surprise, and he soon befriended her. He was so brave and faced his fears, and, in exchange, he earned a lifelong friendship. The end.”

Mayzie’s smile brought a smile to Ashlynn’s face. Ashlynn began rocking her hand subtly as she sat back against the couch and continued to work on making notes and appointments from her email. She wasn’t sure how much time passed, but it was a sudden call from the ground and the clattering of a hook against the wood.

“Ashlynn!” called Rey. “Ashlynn! We’re back!” Ashlynn looked up to see Rey pulling himself up onto the table. Soren wasn’t far behind him. There was something about his demeanor that instantly caught Ashlynn’s attention. Something was wrong.

“Hey, where’s Mayzie?” asked Rey as he spotted the tilted box. Soren looked to the box, obviously tense, as he looked back to Ashlynn. Had she done something wrong? She hoped not, especially after such a wonderful afternoon.

“Oh, here,” said Ashlynn as she leaned forward slowly and set the back of her hand against the table, uncurling her fingers to reveal the cuddly toddler. “She woke up and wanted to be held. We had a great time.”

Mayzie, hearing Rey, immediately sat up and gave a big smile when she saw her dad. Instantly, her arms reached out for him to hold her. Soren stepped up and picked up his daughter, just as she draped herself over his shoulder.

“Thank you, Ashlynn, for looking after her. I hope she wasn’t any trouble,” said Soren.

“No, she was perfect the whole time,” smiled Ashlynn. “Thank you… for trusting me to look after her.”

Soren smiled and held Mayzie closer to his chest, wrapping his arms around her tighter.

“Ashlynn,” sighed Soren. “We have a lot to talk about.”

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