|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Deals With Life, Part 6|
Rowena answered the phone to find her mother at the other end. “I was wondering,” her mother said, “if you'd like to pick up some extra money.”
Rowena couldn't imagine. She tried to keep her voice level. “How?” she asked, and waited.
“My friend Libby Antwerp needs a babysitter for her grandkids—”
“No,” said Rowena.
“Rowena, dear, you haven't even heard—”
“Mom, I'm not fifteen any more. I don't need—”
“Rowena, you'd be doing poor Libby a favor. She has—”
“Mom, I really—”
“Just for a few hours, Rowena. They'll be no trouble at all.”
“I've seen their pictures; they're adorable. Libby's supposed to watch them, but she's had this emergency—”
“What about Kimberly Chen? She must need money for college.”
“Oh, no; Libby wouldn't like that. Not—you know—an Asian girl.”
“Absolutely, positively NOT.”
“Rowena, she doesn't mean anything by it; she's just a bit set in her ways.”
“She can leave the kids with David Duke. I—”
“I already told her you'd be happy to.”
“I'll pick you up and take you there. It won't be any trouble; I have to drive Libby anyway.”
“Mother, listen to—”
“Noon Saturday. Thank you, dear.”
And Rowena's mother hung up.
“This is so good of you,” said Mrs. Antwerp. Rowena smiled a little feebly. “Damon!” Mrs. Antwerp called. “Belinda!” A moment later two rather sullen-looking children appeared. “This is Damon,” said Mrs. Antwerp solemnly, “and this is Belinda.”
“Hi,” said Rowena. She'd figured out for herself which was which. Damon wore a grubby baseball cap, from which trailed one of those skinny little braids; his sister sported three pairs of earrings and a miniature purple Spandex thing. They both muttered hello at Rowena after their grandmother poked then a couple of times. “There's some sandwiches in the fridge. Their parents are taking them out to dinner afterwards; won't that be fun?” They did not respond. “Be good, now.” And to Rowena, “Don't let them watch any monster movies.”
“Their parents should be back by eight.”
“Well, then,” said Rowena's mother brightly. “Are you ready?” And the two of them left.
The kids stared sullenly at the door. “Okay,” said Rowena cheerily, “what do you want to do?” She hadn't babysat in years. In many years. Damon glared at her and wandered off. His sister followed. Rowena went after them into what turned out to be the living room.
“He is NOT!” Belinda shrieked. Seeing Rowena, she demanded, “Who's better, Beavis or Butthead?”
Rowena took a breath. “Which is Beavis?”
She thought they would fall over. “God,” said Damon. “How stupid can you get?”
“They don't even have the same color hair!” said Belinda disdainfully.
“I'm sorry; I—I really don't watch that show.”
“Especially Butthead!” A scuffle broke out. Rowena waded in and got them separated, suffering only minor damage in the process.
“Now,” said Rowena, “you sit over here, and you sit over there.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Belinda complained. Rowena looked at her suspiciously. “Yah, yah,” Damon said. Rowena sent Belinda away (not without misgivings) and watched her brother pick a scab on his knee.
After Belinda had been gone a while, Rowena went looking for her. She heard a screech from behind a door and found Belinda with a pair of scissors in one hand and a cat in the other. She was holding the cat by the throat.
“Put the cat down,” ordered Rowena. “And the scissors too.”
“I was giving him a haircut.”
“He doesn't need a haircut.”
“Ashley's dog got a haircut.”
“Cats don't need haircuts. Anyway, let's see your hairdressing license.”
Belinda looked at her doubtfully, then brought the scissors closer to the cat. Before Rowena could intervene, the cat took a swipe and Belinda let out a yelp and dropped scissors and cat both. The one fell with a clatter; the other shot off out of sight. Belinda began to wail, and a drop or two of blood dripped onto the carpet. Rowena took her into the bathroom.
“It's your fault!” Belinda said. Rowena cleaned her up and bandaged her, then went back to mop at the carpet. By the time she was done with this, the children turned out (eventually) to be in the kitchen, looking at the stove. Rowena thought she smelled something singeing. She went to investigate and found an entire newspaper, neatly folded, on one of the burners.
She dropped it smoldering-side down into the sink and ran a little water. She turned the burner off, grateful it was an electric stove, and told the children, “Don't.”
“It was yesterday's paper,” argued Damon.
“You could have burned the house down. The curtains could have caught, and then the walls . . .”
“We have a potful of water.”
“Absolutely, positively Not,” said Rowena.
“God,” said Damon. “You won't let us have any fun.”
“Is there anything you want to do,” asked Rowena, “that doesn't involve destroying anything?”
They thought it over. “There's nothing good on TV yet,” said Belinda.
“There's the videos,” suggested Damon.
“Why don't you go pick one out?” Rowena asked. He disappeared, returning just as Rowena began to have misgivings. She took one look at the box and said, “Why don't you pick out a different video?”
“Aw, come on,” said Damon.
“Grandma lets us,” said Belinda.
“I don't believe you,” Rowena told her. Belinda looked at her with tragic eyes.
“She called me a liar!” she yelped. Her brother smacked her.
“You want her to tell?”
“So? Grandma won't believe her.”
“No, but Daddy will.” This quieted her.
“Let's pick out another video,” Rowena said again.
“You ever do this?” asked Damon with interest, holding the picture up.
“Don't you have any cartoons?” asked Rowena.
They finally settled on a Ninja Turtles movie, which the kids watched almost without fidgeting for twelve whole minutes, until Damon made a derogatory comment about Belinda's favorite turtle. Rowena couldn't understand this, the energy they put into such things.
“Come on, guys,” she actually found herself saying. “All the turtles are cool.”
“She doesn't even know Beavis from Butthead,” she heard Belinda hiss. Maybe if they both hated her they would stop arguing with each other, Rowena thought. She rejected this as too easy to actually work. Nevertheless, they stayed pretty much under control until after the movie, at which point they announced that they were hungry. They all trooped into the kitchen, where Rowena opened the fridge and found the sandwiches—two of them. There was a breadbox next to the fridge, but it was empty. Rowena looked again at the two sandwiches. The bitch. Probably a bitch; she wasn't sure exactly who was responsible. She rooted around a bit until she came up with an apple and a cup of yogurt.
“That's Mom's,” said Belinda.
“There's a couple more left.”
“They're Mom's too.”
Rowena ate the yogurt.
“Yuck,” said Damon.
It was when Rowena returned from a bathroom trip she'd put off for as long as she could that she found the curtain rod broken—bent, anyway. It was while she was putting the more-or-less straightened rod back into place that Belinda got ahold of the scissors again and tried to make “one of those books where it's hollow and you can keep stuff in it.” It was Damon who tried to see whether he could make the cat hang from the ceiling by its claws; Rowena was alerted not just by the animal's complaints this time but also by the sound of the bedsprings as the little scientist tried to gain the necessary altitude. The kids had evidently hit their stride. She set Damon down in the southeast corner of the living room and his sister in the northeast. She herself sat against the west wall and glared at them both.
“Bitch,” muttered Belinda, watching Rowena to see what she would do.
“It takes one to know one,” said Rowena. She wasn't going for soap at a time like this. Nobody was going anywhere until their parents got back.
They were taking an awfully long time. Rowena hoped Libby Antwerp's emergency had been nothing serious.
“She always does that,” said Damon.
“She's gone shopping,” said Belinda grumpily. “She always goes shopping and she never buys us anything.”
“That so,” said Rowena.
“She's mean,” said Damon. “Everybody's mean to us.”
“Can't imagine why,” said Rowena.
“I gotta go,” said Belinda.
“You just went.”
“I'm gonna wet my pants,” said Belinda, and did. Rowena was sure she'd done it on purpose but let her leave the room. She ignored Damon's sniggering.
Whatever mischief Belinda had been planning Rowena never found out, for the children's parents returned to save her.
“Not again,” said their mother.
“Hello,” said Rowena.
“Need a ride?” asked their father.
“Um, yes, I do.”
“Come on, then.” He dug his car keys back out of his pocket and started for the door. His wife snorted.
“Aren't you going to pay the young lady, Biff?” Biff pulled out his wallet and extracted a ten-dollar bill, which he handed wordlessly to Rowena. Rowena looked a moment at the bill she was holding. It was hardly compensation.
“Come on, then,” Biff repeated, and Rowena trudged behind him out to his car. Five minutes later, as she removed his hand from her knee for the second time, Rowena decided she'd had enough.
She informed him that he was committing sexual harassment, and threatened him with Sammy's law firm. She told him his kids were monsters and that she'd been overworked, underpaid, and underfed. She told him she'd been tricked into sitting in the first place, that she'd had things to do, a life to live. She told him all the way to her apartment building and he didn't say a word; only drove faster in response. As she opened the car door to escape he thrust a twenty-dollar bill at her; Rowena, who wasn't really interested in dragging anybody to court, accepted it without comment. She felt, actually, that she had just warmed up. As soon as she got back to her apartment, Rowena called her mother.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” she said. “You owe me big time.”
“So how was the emergency shopping trip?”
“I bought you the cutest dress—”
“You want to bribe me, you're going to have to do better than that. Say, a house.”
“Just think of poor Libby; she doesn't get out much—”
“She gets out every chance she gets, from what I understand. Mother, you lied to me—”
“And I got you a lovely necklace to match, and there's a silk scarf I hardly ever wear that—”
“Dammit, Mother, will you listen to me?”
Her mother let out a gasp. “Rowena! Watch your language!”
“Don't you ever again—”
“Your father and I didn't raise you to talk like that. It's not ladylike.”
Rowena took a deep breath. And then she repeated for her mother, a bit forcefully, every rude word she knew. When she paused for breath her mother did not interrupt. Rowena listened. She could just hear shallow breathing.
“And if you ever do this again, Mother, I will teach every one of those words to the little monsters in question. Do you hear me? Every one of those words.”
“Ohhh,” said her mother weakly. Rowena suspected that these particular kids already knew all those words, and maybe more, but she kept that to herself. “Understand?” she demanded.
“Ohhhh,” her mother said.
When Rowena was finished with her mother, she found she was still shaking. She wanted more than anything to call Sammy and let him calm her down, but she knew her job wasn't finished. She lifted the receiver again, and called her sister instead.
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