To Earn Your Love

My mom had come up with some really awful jobs, but this was by far the grossest. If I didn’t want to go to prom so bad, there’s no way I would be doing this. How did so many bugs die in a light fixture anyway?

But Brian Gibbons was totally worth it. He was totally hot with wavy blond hair, gleaming blue eyes, and the best sense of fashion to ever hit Haskins High. I’d been crushing on him for months, so it was a little surreal that he’d actually asked me to prom. It had taken a lot of hardcore strategy to catch his interest, but I’d done it. As it turned out though, getting my dream date was easier that getting my dream dress.

It really wasn’t fair. All my friends moms just took them shopping and swiped their card. Did my mom? No. I had to earn the money for my dress. And if I wanted shoes, jewelry, a manicure? You guessed it - I had to earn the money for that too. Unfortunately, with all of my extracurricular activities, I didn’t have time for a job so I was at my mother’s mercy. She was paying me to do odd jobs around the house. Most of them involved insects in some way or another.

Today I was cleaning out all the light fixtures in the house. Yesterday I’d washed windows and wiped out the window sills – which I’d decided were pretty much just fly graveyards. Last week, I’d cleaned out all the closets and found way too many crumpled up remains of spiders on their dusty webs. At least they were dead though.   The spider I’d found cleaning out the pantry had not been. My parents were seriously being ripped off by their pest control company.

I dumped all the dried up moth and fly carcasses out of the globe from the kitchen light into the trash and took it over to the sink to wash. I was still wrist deep in hot, sudsy water when my mom got home. She came in to the kitchen from the garage and smiled at me as she hung up her keys and tossed her purse on the counter. Her cheerfulness made me even grumpier.

“Hey there, sweetie! Did you have a nice day?”

“Yeah, except for that guy that’s been bugging me in choir. He thinks he’s so funny, always warning me not to “Butcher” my solo. I wish he had a last name that could be twisted around like that. There’s not much you can do with Adams though.”

She laughed and said, “Adams, huh? That’s funny. I was just about to tell you about a conversation I had with my friend Marcy Adams at work today – You know, the young one you met at the barbeque last weekend?”

“Uh… sure, but mom? I don’t really need to hear the office gossip again.”

“No, that’s not it. It’s actually good news for you.”

 I doubted it.  Her friend had probably just reminded her of another bug infested area of the house for me to clean. “What’s that?”

 “She’s been looking for a babysitter for her little girl.  She and her husband want to start having date nights now that Abby’s two years old, so I told her you might be interested.”

“Yeah, maybe. When would she need me?”

“Well, they want to go every Friday night, but she said they can be a little flexible if you have plans. I told her you don’t date much so it wouldn’t be a problem unless you had a choir concert or something.”

“Great. Now somebody I barely know thinks I’m a social loser.”

“No she doesn’t, Rylie. So, should I call her? She’d love to have you babysit tonight.”

“Tonight? I don’t know…”

“She pays better than I do,” my mom said, using her most persuasive tone of voice.

Considering my current job, she needn’t have bothered. I thought about it for all of two seconds and decided I’d take a two year old over bugs any day. “Why not? What time do I need to be there?”

“I don’t know. I’ll call her and find out.”

An hour later, I was ringing the doorbell at Marcy’s house, wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into. I didn’t even know these people.

I was wrong.

Colby Adams opened the door.

He looked as surprised as I was. “Rylie? You’re the girl they got to babysit Abby?”

“Yeah. My mom works with Marcy.” My eyebrows drew together as I tried to figure things out. Maybe the last name should have clued me in, but how would it have? From what I remembered of Marcy, she was way too young to be Colby’s mom.

Colby narrowed his eyes at me and said, “Don’t sprain something trying to figure it out. Marcy’s my stepmom.”

“Oh. Ok. That makes sense.”

“Yeah, if your dad marrying someone almost twenty years younger than he is makes sense. Well, are you going to come in?”

“I’m kind of scared to. I mean, do I really want to meet the rest of the Adams family? Do I need to watch out for creepy butlers or trap doors to your basement dungeons?”

“Funny,” he said, scowling as he stepped back from the doorway.

“Besides, you never invited me in.”

Colby dipped into a low bow and said, “Would you please come in?”

“Since you asked so sweetly, thank you.”

I stepped past him into the house, which opened immediately into their living room. A little girl was sitting on the floor in front of the television watching a cartoon. I could only see the back of her head, but I was immediately impressed by the blond spiral curls that covered it. I would kill to have even a hint of curl to my hair. My hair was as blond as hers, maybe even lighter, but it was hopelessly straight.

I stood awkwardly near the couch as Colby went over to Abby and crouched down next to her. “Abby, someone is here to meet you.” He picked her up and when her big blue eyes saw me, she put a strangle hold on his neck.

Great. She was shy.

“Come on. Don’t be afraid of Rylie. She’s really nice.”

He thought I was nice? Since when? At school he seemed to tolerate being around me only slightly better than the big sweaty guy in the bass section who never wore deodorant. Of course, he was just saying I was nice for Abby’s benefit, but I kind of resented it. It wasn’t her fault that her brother annoyed the heck out of me though, so I stepped closer to them.

“Hello, Abby. You sure are a pretty girl,” I said, hoping I sounded friendly.

Abby wasn’t impressed. She pressed her face into Colby’s chest and stayed there. He rubbed her back and tried to reassure her by saying, “It’s ok, Abby. Don’t be shy.”

It was just weird hearing such a tender tone to his voice because it was so different from the way he always talked to me. I never would have suspected he had such a soft side if I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes. Of course, an adorable baby sister was a lot different than some girl who annoyed him in choir. Though I had never figured out exactly why I annoyed him.

I’d never done anything to him. In fact, I’d barely even talked to him. No one else thought I was annoying. I wasn’t popular or anything, but I had a lot of friends. I tried to be nice to everyone, but for some reason, I must have gotten on his nerves. I’d decided he was just kind of a punk, which was a shame since he was actually pretty cute.

I actually liked the deep brown of his eyes, though it was really unfair that a boy should have such long lashes. His nose was a little on the thin side, but it made him look kind of… I don’t, aristocratic. In fact, now that I thought about it, he looked a lot like the prince in my favorite fairytale book from when I was a little girl. I guess I’d never noticed before because he was usually sneering at me.

         I stood watching them, once again trying to figure him out, and I couldn’t help notice the contrast in their coloring. They didn’t look much like brother and sister, since his hair was as dark as hers was light and he had olive skin while hers was fair, but it was clear they were close. Whatever hang-ups he had with his stepmom, it was clear they didn’t affect his feelings for Abby

The front door opened behind me and a man came in who I assumed to be Colby and Abby’s dad. I smiled and tried to look confident. No parent would want to leave their little girl with a nervous teenager.

He came towards me with a hand held out. “Hello there. I’m Gerry Adams. Are you the babysitter or Colby’s date?”

I was so surprised by the question that I had a hard time answering. Luckily, Colby answered for me. “This is Rylie Butcher, dad. She’s the babysitter.”

I nodded and smiled again, but inside, I felt hurt because dating me would be the last thing Colby would ever want to do. But it wasn’t like I wanted to date him either, so why did it bother me?

“Well,” Mr. Adams said, “I thought so. Colby doesn’t usually bring his girlfriends around for us to meet. Makes me wonder about his taste in girls, you know?” Completely unaware of the awkwardness he’d plunged us all into, he reached for his daughter and said, “Come here, baby girl. Let’s go see if Mommy is ready to go.”

As he left with her, I glanced sideways at Colby and saw that there was a slight tightness to his jaw. When he saw me looking at him, he shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Well, I’ve gotta get going. Have fun. Hopefully you can manage babysitting better than singing a solo.”

I glared at him as he left, but he never turned around to see it. Hurt twisted me up inside, and I already felt a little sick to my stomach because I was nervous about being left in charge of a little girl who didn’t know me. It suddenly seemed like a bigger deal than it had earlier.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Adams handed Abby over to me and she immediately began to scream and reach for him. Meanwhile, Marcy was giving me last minute instructions about dinner, bedtime, and emergency numbers. I tried desperately to hear her over Abby’s wailing, but I knew I was missing stuff.

“Don’t worry,” Marcy said. “This is the first time we’ve left her with someone besides Colby or her grandparents, but I’m sure she’ll calm down soon. Call us if you have any questions.”

When the door shut behind them, Abby was struggling so hard to run after them that I was afraid I would drop her. I sat her down and she ran to the door and pounded it with her little fists, screaming, “Momma! Momma! Momma!”

 She was terrified and so was I.

Maybe dead bugs weren’t so bad after all.

 

*****

 

I’d given up on “Hush Little Baby” because I didn’t know all the words. There were only so many times you could sing “Rock-a-By-Baby.” I started singing “Twinkle Little Star” in a soft voice, my breath stirring the little curls under my chin from Abby’s sweet little head. There had been about fifteen minutes when her parent’s first left when I’d doubted her sweetness, but once I’d calmed her down and made friends with her, she really was a darling. We’d had a good time until I’d tried to put her to bed.

Marcy had assured me that all I had to do was put her jammies and sleeping diaper on and she would settle right down. She’d even said that she usually cried for about five minutes but to just let her cry. When she’d screamed for fifteen minutes though, I hadn’t been able to take it anymore. I’d gathered her up with her blankie and we’d been rocking on the glider in her room ever since. For a while, she’d shuddered with the aftermath of her screaming, but she’d calmed down when I’d started singing and rubbing her back.

Unfortunately, every time I’d thought she was asleep and stopped singing, she’d sat up and looked at me with wide-awake, accusing eyes. I’d completely lost track of how long I’d been trying to put her to sleep.

I was just singing “like a diamond in the sky” when I heard the front door open downstairs. I was both relieved that her parents were finally home and extremely frustrated that I hadn’t been able to get Abby asleep before they got here. Plus, I hadn’t had a chance to pick up the toys in the living room or straighten up the kitchen.

I was afraid to stop singing, so I started the song again as I waited for Marcy to find us. However, it was Colby that leaned in through the doorway to my left and peeked in at us. His eyes seemed to be assessing the situation, and a brief smile glanced across his lips before he left again.

Suddenly I felt cranky. Of course Colby had come home and heard me singing lullabies. I could already hear him teasing me over it. I desperately wanted to stop, but I knew Abby would scream the place down if I did. So, I kept rocking and singing, telling myself that I didn’t need to be ashamed of my voice, whatever Colby said about it.

Needing to focus on something so I could calm down, my eyes drifted to the moonlight streaming through the blinds on the wall opposite to me. I’d opened them a little to give enough light that I wouldn’t trip getting Abby in her bed but not so much that she wouldn’t go to sleep.

I didn’t know Colby had come back until I heard a whisper of a chord being strummed on a guitar. I looked over at him, surprise halting my song, and Abby popped up to stare at him as well.

“Keep singing,” he murmured as he sat on an ottoman nearby. “Abby loves the guitar.”

I started over, secretly thrilled at the gentle tone of Colby’s guitar. His fingers barely brushed the strings, giving what was really just a hint of the sound they could make. It was perfect for the lullaby though. When we came to the end, he whispered, “Again.” This time he joined in, perfectly harmonizing with the melody I was singing. It was crazy that Colby was voluntarily singing a duet with me, and even crazier that our voices blended so well.

“Do you know Moon River?” he asked when we were done, his soft voice barely reaching me from where he sat. I nodded. We’d sung it for a choir concert last year and I’d loved the haunting song so much that I still remembered all the words.

As much as I’d loved it before, I’d never gotten to sing it to the original guitar accompaniment. It was beautiful, and when Colby sang harmony on the verse that began “Two drifters off to see the world…,” I completely forgot that we were trying to put Abby to sleep. I got lost in the song and the thrill of blending my voice with Colby’s deeper one.

When the last strains of the song died away, we sat quietly, looking at each other in the near darkness. I couldn’t see his features well because his back was to the window, but I could feel a ribbon of connection between us - the bond of sharing music.

“Your hair’s the same color as the moonlight,” Colby whispered.

I glanced at a strand of it that had fallen over my shoulder. For some reason, I felt shy and had a hard time meeting his eyes. He’d sounded almost… reverent.

I don’t know how long we sat there in silence with strange new currents passing between us, but finally Colby murmured, “She’s asleep.”

“Oh. Good,” I whispered. But I still had to lay her down without waking her up. I stood up as slowly as I could, trying not to jostle her, and carried her over to her toddler bed. I bent and eased her onto her bed, carefully pulling my arm out from under her. She moved a little, but only to get comfortable on her pillow.

Colby was right next to me, watching. He pulled another blanket up from the foot of her bed and tucked it in around her. Then he bent and kissed her cheek.

I was completely unprepared for the twinge of jealousy and hurt that shot through me. He was obviously a sweet and tender guy, so what was it about me that brought out his mean side?

And why did I suddenly care so much?

I was still trying to puzzle it out when I realized Colby was motioning that we should go. Jolted out of my thoughts, I went to the window and closed the blinds while he picked up his guitar. He motioned for me to go out first then followed, shutting the door softly behind us like a pro. He’d clearly done this many times before.

Standing awkwardly in the hall, I said, “I know your mom said to let her cry it out, but…”

“Yeah, I can’t do it either. I don’t rock her or anything, but I sing her to sleep a lot.”

“I didn’t know you played the guitar.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” he said, a hint of his usual sarcasm returning.

Flustered by the change of mood, I desperately wanted to leave. “So, what time is it? I didn’t think you’d get home before your parents did.”

A shade of something that might have been embarrassment flashed across his face. “Yeah, well, they must be having more fun than I was. It’s only about 9:30.”

I raised my eyebrows, wondering if he was going to offer any more information. Apparently not though. “Well, thanks for helping me with Abby. I’d better go pick up our mess.”

I didn’t wait for him to respond before I turned to go downstairs. I went to the kitchen and started cleaning off Abby’s highchair tray. I put her plastic cup and plate in the dishwasher, and put a package of snack crackers in the cabinet where I’d found them. With the kitchen in great shape again, I went to the living room and found Colby picking up the building blocks that Abby had scattered and thrown all over the room.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I said, kneeling down to help him finish.

“I don’t mind. So, I didn’t know you were a babysitter,” Colby said.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” I said, mocking him.

He rolled his eyes and said, “Ok. I guess that was fair. But really, do you do this a lot?”

“No. This is my first time. I’m just trying to earn some money to pay for prom.”

“Oh.” He was quiet for a minute as he worked, then he asked, “So you’re probably going with Brian Gibbons, huh?”

How did he know about Brian? “Yeah. He asked me last week.”

“Took him long enough.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, you’ve been throwing yourself at him long enough. What finally did the trick? That picture on Sienna Whitfield’s blog?”

By now, I was nearly bursting with embarrassment and something perilously close to rage. “I haven’t been throwing myself at him all year!” Ok, I had been, but how dare he say so. “And who says he didn’t notice me before the photo?”

“Well, did he?”

My face flushed because what could I say? He hadn’t. Sienna’s photo blog was known for making people more popular, so I hadn’t hesitated to ask her to help me get Brian’s attention. It kind of bothered me that it had actually worked though. I suspected that Brian didn’t care so much about how I looked in the picture as how it helped raise my social status closer to his.

We were both still kneeling on the floor, staring at each other over a tub of building blocks. Colby’s eyes burned into mine, daring me to answer honestly. Something about him compelled me to say what I didn’t want to admit to anybody, even myself. “No, he never paid much attention to me before. I wasn’t cool enough before.”

Ugh! Why had I just said that?

The fire in Colby’s eyes dampened a little. “See. You deserve better than that.”

“That’s funny coming from you. You don’t even like me.”

“Yeah, well, I said you don’t know much about me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Think about it, Kylie,” he said, before abruptly standing up and walking out of the room.

I stayed where I was, stunned, blindly feeling for blocks on the floor. My fingers found one and I dropped it into the tub. What did he mean? The only thing that made sense didn’t make any sense at all.