Chapter 2: A Babysitter's Dilemma
Kaleidoscope lights and car exhaust gave Leah a headache. She tries to sleep, but it's like someone had cranked the stereo to maximum volume. Not to mention Paige hates it whenever she comes home tardily.
"Jesus fucking Christ." Leah groans. "I need some aspirin."
Holden gives her a sad frown. "You okay?"
"Nope." Leah sighs, rubbing her sore forehead.
Reaching a stoplight, Holden hampers the car to put on some music. Since Leah loves Stone Temple Pilots Holden played her favorite song "Creep" while he waits for the lights to turn green.
Despite her headache, Leah rocks her head to the beat until she feels tired. Reddish-brown curls slap her acne-ridden face; her blue eyes linger at the fog emerging on the windshield until Holden turns on the wipers.
"Thanks a lot for driving me home," she yawns.
Holden gives her a warm smile. "No problem. I just hope Paige doesn't mind."
"Seriously?" Leah snickers. "Paige thinks you are a saint."
Holden chuckles. He grips him around the steering wheel then speeds up underneath the fluorescent green lights. Feeling intrusive, Leah asks Holden what he was laughing about.
"Nothing," Holden replies. "It's just that I am surprised your girlfriend is a journalist."
Leah shrugs her shoulders. "Yeah, so?"
"I don't know, I kind of pictured Paige as more of a rebel." he went on. "Like the type who would swear at pigeons and wear a shit ton of black leather and old combat boots."
Offended, Leah punches him in the left shoulder.
"Ow!" Holden groans. "What the hell was that for?"
"Just because I used to be in a punk band doesn't mean I am into bad girls." Leah snorts. "Fuck, I don't even care if the person I am dating has a dick or not."
"Yeah, as long as they give a crap about me."
Dismissing the sharp pain in his shoulder, Holden changes course. He turns to the right and continues heading down Main Street. The frigid current of air sneaks inside the downtrodden Dodge Caravan. Small goosebumps rose on her bare arms; Leah covers her arms with her long, dark sleeves when a loud beeping sound alerts her.
"Sorry." Holden chuckles. "It's my phone."
"Is it your boss, again?"
"No, she's probably asleep," Holden replies. "Maybe it's from my sister. I'll check and see what's going on with her."
Seventeen-year-old Louise Faulkner yearns to get out of her babysitting job for two years. She hates kids, chores, and getting insignificant paychecks from absent-minded parents. But even though she wants to leave, she can't.
Her mom not only refused to pay her phone bills, but she also wanted her daughter to get out of the house for a change. Massaging her sore chin pimple with her left pinkie finger, she prays the kids' parents would return, so she can attend Jason Collins' birthday party on time. However, Louise has received no calls or voicemails from the parents.
So Louise shuts off her phone and shoves it in the pocket of her acid-washed jeans. Nimble strawberry blond curls dances in front of her eyes, interesting Louise to push them back.
Meanwhile, two kids are yelling incomprehensible shrieks in the kitchen. Louise groaned. She gave Riley and Tyler Evans thirty minutes of playtime after they devoured their bags of Halloween candy. Now Louise is regretting it. Getting up from the hideous green couch Louise tosses the remote between the cushions, then storms into the small kitchen.
"Tyler and Riley!" she shouts. "What did I say about making too much noise?"
The six-year-old kids stop fighting then gazes up at their deranged babysitter. After giving him a long bath, Louise dressed Tyler in a torn red shirt, brown cargo pants, and dirty socks. She also shaved his dirty blonde off, leaving behind sharp fuzz on his small head. Riley has curly blonde hair. She wears a large, faded pink shirt with Cruella De Vil on it and blue jelly slippers.
At first, Tyler and Riley seem like angels; they both have chubby cheeks, blonde hair, and baby blue eyes. But after the mother left to attend her divorce settlement, the twins gone from adorable angels to spawns of Satan. Tyler creates enormous messes for Louise to clean up, while Riley throws these hysterical fits.
"Tyler, stop drowning my Barbie dolls!" Riley yells.
"Then stop crying! I—"
"Enough." Louise interrupted. "Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you two?"
Riley points her accusing finger at her irritated twin brother. "Tyler keeps drowning my Barbie dolls in the sink!"
Louise's lips tighten. "Tyler, why would you do that to your poor sister?"
Slowly, Tyler looks up at the enraged babysitter and gives her a Cheshire Cat smile.
"They all must pay for their sins," he says in a menacingly low voice.
God, Louise thought. That's the same excuse Tyler told her when she caught him lighting firecrackers in the bathroom.
"There is nothing wrong with them," Louise reminds him. She grabs Tyler by the arm and pulls him close to her. "They are just plastic dolls."
Tyler crosses his arms. "That's what they all say."
Irked, Louise flickers her gaze at Riley, who is more interested in her dolls than her sexist twin brother.
"Tyler," she sighs. "Just leave her dolls alone, okay?"
"Fine," he mumbles.
"Good," Louise beams. "Now what do you say to Riley?"
Tyler peers at a snide Riley then grunts an awkward apology. After that, the boy turns his back to Louise and wanders toward the couch.
Meanwhile, the sultry babysitter collects Riley's Barbie dolls from the sink and dries them with a dishtowel.
"Here you go," Louise provides the plastic dolls to a delighted Riley, who gives her an affectionate hug.
"Thank you, Louise," Riley beamed.
Louise ruffles Riley's hair, then later follows her to the living room couch. The TV plays an occasional snippet of The Wild Thornberrys before it went to commercial break.
While Louise watches an Ad about toothpaste, Riley plays with her Barbies whereas her twin brother Tyler entertains himself with his father's lighter. His fat fingers push and pull the tiny lever. Precious eyes follow the small flame's movements when Louise snatches the lighter off his hands.
"For Pete's sake," she moans. "Don't do that, Tyler."
"Why not?" complained Tyler.
Louise opens her mouth to speak when suddenly, she hears the doorbell ringing behind her.
Huh, she thought. Could it be their parents?
Lifting her weight off the couch, Louise approaches the window, pulls back the translucent curtains, and examines the stranger standing on the front doorstep. Dark brown curls cover his ears as the disgruntled current toys with the stranger's hair.
Hazel brown eyes examine the door with intense boredom. And though Louise cannot make out the rest of his face, she recognizes the man's black bag covered in grunge pins.
"Holy shit," Louise mumbles. She quickly hurries over to the entrance, where she unlocks the silver latches then hugs her startled older brother, who directs his gaze on the sleepy kids.
"Don't you think you should put them to bed?" he asks.
"Oh please," Louise snorts. "They're fine as they are."
Holden scowls. He marches over to the couch, picks up the remote, and turns off the tv. Next, Holden carries the sleepy children up to the rooms where he calmly puts them to bed. Last but not least, he comes downstairs with a bitter look on his face.
"For fuck’s sake, Louise," he growls. "You haven't been feeding those kids."
"I fed them MacDonald's, but they wouldn't stop yelling at each other."
Holden squints at his careless little sister. "You need to be responsible."
"I am trying."
"Try harder." Holden insisted. "If you don't, you'll get fired again."
"Whatever," Louise replies in a low voice. "I am getting sick and tired of being around these shitty kids, anyway."
Holden rests his back against the door then rubs the skull tattoo on his neck. "Alright, we'll talk about it in the morning."
Grinning, Louise disappears into the living room and returns carrying her red Jansport backpack. She follows her older brother out of the house and into the worn Dodge Caravan, where Leah is waiting for them in the front seat.
"Finally!" she shrieked after the siblings arrive inside the car. "What took you guys so long?"
Sour, Louise flips her middle finger at the impatient girl then crawls in the backseat. In the meantime, Holden said nothing. He starts the car and backs out of the driveway. Warm glow blossoms from the headlights as it dances across Holden's nose and lip piercings. Seconds after they are on the road, a furtive Louise stretches the hems of her pastel yellow American Summer t-shirt. She tries to cover her belly button piercing, but Holden notices it in the rearview mirror.
"Louise!" Holden screeched. "Did you get a fucking belly button piercing?!"
"Uh, maybe?" said Louise nervously.
Holden slaps his head in frustration.
"Don't be a dick," Louise snaps. "You and Leah have piercings and tattoos!"
"Yeah, that's because we're in our twenties!"
Leah bobs her head solemnly. She glares at Louise's shameful expression in the mirror and expresses her disdain.
"He has a point, Louise." Leah agreed. "What you're doing is kind of fucked up. And besides, you don't even know what your body is going to look like in thirty years."
Slowing in front of the stoplight, Holden turns his head to meet face to face with Louise. "As soon as you get home, you are going to remove that piercing."
"Coming from the guy who got a tattoo of The Smiths behind Mom's back!" Louise responds angrily.
"Ooh." Leah taunts Holden. "You got a tattoo behind your mom's back?"
"I was eighteen and stupid," Holden admits. "But that's not the point, Louise. Mom told you to stay away from piercings."
The unexpected rain pours on New York City. Sallow droplets glide across the ice-frosty glass, prompting Holden to switch on the wipers. As soon as Holden makes a right, he reaches Bayside — one of the most expensive streets in Queens. Their restaurants are as clean as a whistle; several coffee shops look like fancy bookstores while some patrons are neglected. Holden hears their parks are magnificent—but it's not as famous as Central Park.
"Paige's loft has to be here," Holden thought. He and some friends from writing camp hung out at her place twice during summer breaks and holidays.
Leah yawns. Her blue eyes drift over Holden's head and watch the affluent streets alter into friendly neighborhoods. But when she notices Paige's ivory-white loft approaching her left, Leah informs Holden.
"Cool," Holden smirks. He waits until the cars disappear before he steers towards the loft.
Louise presses her hands against the cold, wet glass. Her eyes widen with interest. Questions swirl inside Louise's head like an unpredictable tornado until she opens her mouth.
"What's it like dating a rich girl like Paige?" Louise asks Leah.
"Paige is the sweetest girl I have ever met," Leah beamed. "She bought me my first guitar when I was eighteen, makes chocolate chip pancakes, and she always keeps shit real with me."
"Oh," said Louise. "How long have you two been dating?"
"About two years." Leah grins.
"Yep," Leah unbuckles her seatbelt, collects her things, and opens the car door. "I mean, we fight sometimes, but Paige has always been there for me. Anyway, I have to go before she kills me. I'll see you around, Holden."
After they exchange a brief handshake, Leah hurries to the building while Holden starts the car and drives home.
* * *
Clinging onto her jacket, Leah trudges over to Apartment 231 where she and Paige lives. Leah pulls the key from her jeans pocket, shoves it into the lock, and opens the door to see Paige on the couch, kissing a random blonde. Soft red drains from her cheeks. Tender blue eyes study Paige's voluminous brown locks brushing against the blonde French woman's bare shoulders.
But once her green eyes saw Leah, the passionate embrace stops. Paige pushes the blonde woman and began blubbering an awkward apology to Leah. Nevertheless, she shoves the keys into Paige's hands, storms out of the apartment, and shuts the door behind her.