Babysitting Emily

I always had the image of the perfect guest room, and now I had it. In fact, it was better decorated than my own bedroom. The white walls shone as the sunlight came through the clear windows. Chintzy is the only way to describe it. Sort of urban cottage look. Just right for a special little guest. There was a dressing table with a special tray for her to put her things on and the draws were lined with flowered paper and had lavender pomanders in them. She was going to love it. What little girl wouldn’t.
I had agreed to look after Emily a few weeks before I picked her up. I’d bought pink towels for her and a spare flannel just in case, everything was perfect, but something in the back of my mind was nibbling away. Was it the fact that there is a point in an eleven-year-old girls’ life where she suddenly becomes the demon from hell, or was it that I was feeling really out of touch with the youth of today. I had looked after her mum when she was that age, but I had Amanda back then. Emily was my great niece and I was a bit worried about what I was supposed to do with her.
I had some shopping to do, some fresh fruit and bacon, you can’t go wrong when you make a bacon sandwich for an eleven-year-old. Lucy, her mum used to love my bacon sandwiches. A strange thought occurred to me, what if she was a vegetarian, or even a vegan, or worse still a piscitarian. I’d heard of piscitarians, but hadn’t got a clue what they were. Enter the world of google. Search: I found that they are people that eat fish, but not meat, then I found veegans, vegetarians that eat eggs. Hopefully she’s a bacotarian, and she’ll eat bacon. Bloody strange world we live in today.
I went straight to Lucy’s house from shopping, and I was ten minutes early. Now let me tell you something I learnt that day, never, under any circumstances what so ever, never be early when meeting anyone under the age of thirty. Unless of course you’re a man picking up his girlfriend, in which case, be very early and wait, set your watch, phone or app, by the World Clock and be at the door no more than two seconds early nor late.
“Get your shoes on, now.”
I stopped short of pressing the door bell, I was that close to knocking as the scream bellowed from within. I’d never heard Lucy scream at anything let alone anyone. Must make a note not to piss her off, she even had me stopping in my tracks.
I hesitated and then tentatively rang the doorbell. Tell me something, why do we do that, is it a sense of arrival, a sense of just wanting to announce ourselves. “Dar dar, I’m here, I know you know I’m here, because you’re screaming at Emily, but I’m still going to make a big play for your attention. Here goes, I’m gonna ring the doorbell a second time, just in case you didn’t hear me the first time, after you saw me pull on to the driveway, heard my car door close and now…ding dong.”
Actually, it was more of a weak and wimpy buzz, like someone had muffled a bumble bee in a paper bag.
Lucy is a Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston type of gal, so I was expecting the door to open onto a luxuriously decorated hall way, sparkling white walls and a banister festooned with ivy and pink flowers, what I got was a dark and dismal, coat bearing, boot hoarding “whatever that tools is in the corner”, indescribable chaos. But each to their own, after all my place had not been that great when we first moved in. But really, maroon in a hallway, am I being bitchy?
“Aunty Jen, you’re early.”
“Yes, but only by a couple of minutes, I can wait in the car, if you like?”
Turning to look up the stairs Lucy called for her daughter, “Emmy, Aunty Jen’s here.”
“I’m not going,” came the defiant outburst from on high. That’s a good start I thought to myself.
“Ignore her, I’ll just…” as she trailed off she bounded effortlessly over the boots and that tool thing, still not sure what it was. It was obvious that it had been there for some time as Lucy expertly side winded and hopped over it like it belonged there, permanently.
I stood twiddling my thumbs, no literally, I have to keep them moving. Arthritis is setting in to the one on my left hand, so I’ve got this sort of thumb dance I do with them. If I put rara skirts on them I could do some awesome dance routines, I wonder if that would get me a place on Britain’s Got Talent?
“You’ll do as you’re told. Please Emmy, it’s only one night, it’s our anniversary.”
Eventually Lucy came down stairs looking exhausted with her daughter behind her. The difference between the two so glaringly obvious I almost dropped my jaw, but I held firm. “don’t show shock,” the first rule of dealing with a rebellious teenager.
Last month when Lucy popped over she had brought Emily with her and a nicer young lady I had never met, polite, well-groomed and very chatty. She was still wearing her school uniform and we had a discussion about the horrible bottle green colour. I went to the same school, as did Lucy and Amanda, and the uniform hadn’t changed in what seemed like a hundred years. More like fifty actually. We had discussed the work she was doing and the fact that the old maths teacher was still there, but they didn’t do math anymore, they did statistics and numeracy. Still bloody maths, one plus one will always equal two, no matter what New Scientist tells you. To say we got on well was an understatement. We had a connection.
It was the following week that Lucy had rung to ask if I would baby sit and I had willingly agreed. What I hadn’t agreed to was a Morticia look alike.
I’m a biker, I’m supposed to wear black, I’m not a power ranger, my leathers are black for a reason, they get dirty. I’ve been known to wear the odd dark red lippy from time to time, but only when I’m going out. I even like to listen to a bit of Bon Jovi from time to time, a bit of rock moves the soul, but what stood in front of me was horrifying.
From behind Lucy appeared an eleven-year-old Marilyn Manson. (I have been reliably informed that Marilyn Manson is a man, however I can’t really tell and I don’t think Emily would care.)
Don’t show shock, just accept it, just let it wash over you.
Lucy gave me that “I’m so sorry, please take my daughter, please, I beg of you,” look.
Stay calm.
OMG, she’s a mess, she’s not sleeping in my bed until she washes that muck off her face. I do hope that black hair dye is permanent, I don’t want it all over my Egyptian cotton bedding. As for her clothes, an iron, for God sake, teach the girl to iron.
OMG, I’m turning into my grandmother, no, stay calm, let it go.
“I’ve got bacon,” is all I could say.
Nothing, phew got past that hurdle, at least she’s not a piscifairy.
Second attempt at communication, it was like trying to reach an alien that had just landed. “A bit different from the old-school uniform?”
“Yeah, well, I’m not at school,” she grumbled. Was this really Emily.
Lucy gave her a shove and told her to be polite and Emily rolled her eyes. Eleven year olds are good at that, they all congregate in the toilets at school and practice at each other. The eye rolling champion of the day becomes the Queen Bee.
Being a mother, I wasn’t going to be beaten so I turned on my heels and led the way to the car, throwing her back pack into the boot. I know I thought, I’ll buy her a nice floral suitcase for Christmas, much better than this thing. I must admit that was the quietest, longest, loneliest fifteen-minute journey off my life. During which time, I decided that as soon as we were in the house I was going to get to the bottom of the grumps.
“So, Emily, are you going to tell me why you are so miserable or are we going to play this game until you go home.” I think she was suitably shocked by my directness. Round two to me.
“I’m supposed to be going to the pictures with my friends today and mum made me come here instead.”
“Why didn’t you say, I’ll take you, that’s Ok I can pick you up when it’s finished, there that wasn’t too bad was it? You only had to ask.”
I felt as if I’d just won an Olympic medal.
“You ring your friend and I’ll take you.”
She brightened, I think, I couldn’t really tell under all the black makeup, but I’m sure there was a small twinge of a smile.
Now I’m not thick but when I grew up there were two kinds of films, ones I was allowed to go and see and one’s I wasn’t. Ones that said 18 on them I didn’t and the others I did. That simple, Oh and X films of course but I was well past 21 when I discovered them, have you seen that one…never mind.
Now they have 12’s and 12A and 15 and 18 and god knows what else. It never occurred to me that Emily would be stupid enough to get in to see a film that wasn’t suitable for her. Would she?
I dropped her off, walked around town, and went for a coffee. I was talking to the young girl behind the counter and mentioned that I was waiting for my great niece who had gone to see this film.
“Oh, I’m going to see that,” and she proceeded to tell me the film’s plot. I’m not sure at what point I started to get a bit worried, but it definitely didn’t sound like the sort of film for an eleven-year-old. Did I mention Emily was only eleven, I think I have, maybe once or twice?
The miracles of technology I praise thee. I checked the local cinema website and found that the film was rated a 15. Not even a moron needed to be told that Emily was too young to get in.
What if she hadn’t?
What if she was standing all alone outside the cinema?
What if she had been kidnapped?
What if…?
Shit, what if Lucy found out?
Pulling up in the car park I didn’t so much park as just stop and I must say it was the straightest my car has ever been in a parking space, ever. I noticed two other women waiting outside the cinema and was surprised when one smiled and greeted me. “You must be Emily’s Great Aunt.”
“Yes.” I was a both a bit shocked and annoyed, why couldn’t she just say aunt, Great Aunt always sounded so old.
“I love Emily’s costume, really good.”
Now I was just confused.
The door to the cinema opened and a group of Gothic clad young kids came out, then another couple and then more until at last Emily appeared giggling with two of her friends.
“So, you enjoyed the film?”
“Yes, I did thank you Aunty Jen. Thank you for letting me come.”
“And what film did you see?”
“Hotel Transylvania.” She proudly announced.
“Not Woman in Black then?”
“Eh no, I mean, I’m sorry, I was just, I just wanted to see if you would let me come to the pictures.”
Sheepishly she put her head down and looked up at me with her big sorrowful brown eyes. Yes, I melted. But that didn’t mean she was going to get away with it.
“Mum said you were Ok, but well you seemed a bit, sort of, well you know?”
I did, I suppose. The chintzy bedroom was as far-fetched as you could possibly get for being a cool aunty.
“You cow,” I said and cuffed her gently around the head. It seemed the others had been in on the joke as well, because they laughed with us as we walked towards the cars and said our good byes.
Now don’t think I’m a push over, because I’m not. In fact, I got my own back the next day.
It was 5am and the Sun hadn’t even woken up. I had warned Mark what I was going to do so when I got up, he buried himself deeper into the duvet with his usual grunt.
Quietly I opened the spare room door.
“That’s one thing she’s inherited,” I thought to myself as Emily lay snoring gently.
Ready steady, “Fire, quick, everybody out, Emily, quick the house is on fire.”
How was I supposed to know that Emily only slept in her knickers? I’ll give her, her due, I’ve never seen anyone move so quick in all my life. She flew out of bed and down those stairs so fast, I didn’t have time to stop her, even if I’d have wanted to.
I reached the front door just as a casual jogger passed the house, he didn’t even look up, but his head lamp shone bright as the young girl stood in her undies in the middle of the garden.
“I don’t know if she’ll ever forgive me,” I told Lucy as I handed over the back pack when I dropped Emily off later that day.
“I did warn her,” Lucy laughed.
Lucy was in hysterics and as I left Emily gave me a hug and laughed about her ordeal, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such profanity come from a young girl’s mouth as I did that morning, even though she was trying not laugh at herself.
Lucy recalled how she’d lost her first baby tooth at my house whilst playing keepyuppy with a balloon, and I left feeling that I was still the master of the game.
That was five years ago, I baby sat a few times after that, but Emily was always the model child. I wonder why?

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