Babysitting for Vampires E01P01
Babysitting for Vampires
by Meg Merriet
Episode 1; Part 1
The restaurant was about to close, but the stragglers were sipping their drinks and stretching out their nights along with mine. A young couple played footsies under the bistro table, the woman giggling as shrill as a cockatoo. A larger group pounded their fists and made animal noises before chugging their beers and refilling from the pitcher. I wiped down the bar over and over until my boss told me, “You’re taking off the finish, space cadet.” He liked to call me that. Every night he would go downstairs to count the money and leave me with the duty of losing the stragglers without upsetting anyone.
“Hey, everybody. We’re closing,” I said.
Rain streaked the windows up front and nobody was ready to give up their cozy seats and brave the storm just yet. The diners looked at me, nodded, and continued their conversations. I tried clearing old glasses at the big table and finally the large group walked out, leaving a stack of eight quarters as my tip for their table of nine. Not even a quarter per person.
“Great!” I called after them. “Thanks for your generosity!” I tried to sound more assertive with the couple that stubbornly remained at their table. “Come on, we’re locking up.” The woman shot me a dirty look, but they polished off their drinks, gathered their things and started to leave. No tip, but I didn’t care at this point. I wanted to go home.
Then the front door swung open and cold autumn air came rushing in. A tall man entered and tossed his wet umbrella into the communal bin by the door.
“We’re closed!” I shouted. His visage was disguised by a heavy scarf and a wide brimmed hat. His eyes pierced me like two arrows of grey fire and I paused. “Gentry?” My heart stopped and sank like a hot stone in my chest. “Would you like a table?”
“I prefer the bar,” Gentry said in his suave British accent. He removed his scarf and lay it over the back of the barstool with an elegant motion. He placed his hat on the bar in the same graceful fashion. The couple started to complain about the preferential treatment, but their words melted in Gentry’s presence. With one stern look from my imposing friend, the stragglers donned their scarves and hurried outside.
“How have you been, Gentry?” I leaned forward on the bar, deliberately exposing my cleavage. I sucked my lower lip and assaulted him with my eyes, hoping to God that he was here to take me home with him.
“Robin. Your eye shadow hides your beauty,” he said. I habitually pretended to wipe down the bar again. “I need a favor, love.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“I need someone to stay with my two daughters for the weekend. I had a governess, but she recently retired.”
“Daughters? You’re married?”
“No. My wife passed away a long time ago.”
“I’m sorry.” I tried to look very sad.
“It was a very long time ago. Anyways, Robin. Could you stay with my little girls for the weekend? They are lovely children. I would compensate you well, as I know it is inconvenient for you to miss work.”
“Gentry, I would, but I have to work Friday and Saturday or else Jack will replace me.”
“That’s not a problem, is it Jack?” Gentry said. I turned to see my boss standing in the kitchen door wiping dish fluid on his apron.
“It’s not a problem,” Jack said in a monotone voice. “I will manage with the trainees.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked him. Jack just stared at me. I thought he might be messing around.
“You deserve this kind of opportunity,” Gentry said. “I can pay you double whatever you would make here.”
“Yeah. It’s fine, Rob,” Jack agreed.
“Well, I guess there’s no conflict,” I said, squinting at my manager in disbelief. “I’d love to take care of your daughters.”
“Splendid,” Gentry leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “If the girls like you, this could develop into a full time position.” His whisper made me shiver. He handed me a business card. It was the strangest card I’d ever seen. It had a black and white sketch of Dracula and Mina on the back.
“Is that Dracula?”
“Yes it is. I am a fan of his… work.” Gentry grinned.
“You mean Bram Stoker’s work,” I corrected him.
“But of course.” Chuckling darkly, he stood and bundled himself up in his coat and scarf. “I shall not keep you. I will see you on Friday at seven, love. Ciao.” He tipped his hat and out into the night he went. I sighed in lovelorn adoration.
Jack snapped his fingers. “Lock that door behind him. Let’s clean up and get home.”
I envied Gentry’s confidence. He was so very intrepid. A table of nine wouldn’t dare leave him a stack of eight quarters. Something about that man was so alluring it drove me crazy. I never swooned for anyone, especially long haired weirdos in trench coats. But this long haired weirdo had the most powerful presence. When he came to the bar, he hardly talked about himself, yet I felt like I knew him as one knows his or her best friend. I rushed to the front door and turned the bolts. As I peered through the glass, I caught one last glimpse of Gentry disappearing into the back of a cab. The streets glistened with rainwater pools that reflected the stoplights that swayed in the mild storm.
I felt his card inside my apron pocket. The edges felt crisp between my fingertips. I wanted to be perfectly prepared for the engagement. If this became a full time thing I wouldn’t have to argue with drunks all night or stay up until four a.m. I could be a governess.
A frightful gale roared down the lane of brownstones, bending the bare winter trees. Gentry actually owned one of these stunning edifices. When I discovered his door had a knocker shaped like a bat, I had to stifle my laughter. Suddenly a beautiful man swung open the door and snarled in my face.
“I’m five minutes early,” I said.
“Forgive me,” Gentry said, helping me with my coat and suitcase as he surreptitiously scowled at his grandfather clock. “Good evening, Ms. Lesune. Come in, come in. I will walk you through everything.”
Gentry’s palatial home combined East and West with its Chinese wallpaper and loveseats adorned with brocade and crystal trim, a treasure trove of red and gold. A cloisonné vase rested precariously on black marble. Only tame children allowed their parents such blithe placement of heirlooms. I’d hit the nanny jackpot.
“Here is some money for food.” Gentry handed me three hundred dollar bills. “My girls can have hefty appetites.”
“Any rules I should know about?”
“Ah. Yes. Please stay out of their bedroom. Since their mother passed, the family therapist says they need their own space.”
“Okay. What about TV?”
“We don’t have one.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. “They don’t mind?”
“You will have to forgive me,” he said, smiling with that same charming energy that he often brought into my bar. “I’m quite traditional. We don’t even have a computer. They’ve lived without it their entire lives.”
“You have a cell phone, don’t you?”
“Yes. The number for that is on the refrigerator. I apologize Ms. Lesune. Time is short.” Gentry checked the grandfather clock and exhaled a nervous puff of air. “The girls are allowed to stay up late, so please don’t force them to go to bed. They’re spoiled because I want them spoiled. Take them out. Buy them sweets. I really must be going. Girls!”
Soft footsteps sounded on the stairs. I turned and saw the most delightful little porcelain children descend. They looked precious in their satin dresses with puffy cap sleeves. They were nearly identical in everything but height and hair color. The taller one had golden blonde ringlets while the littler possessed unkempt white-blonde hair that hung loose and free. “My eldest Mirabelle and little Charlotte.”
The children ran to their father and kissed his cheeks, throwing their arms about his neck.
“Goodbye my little devils. Be good to Robin.” Gentry gave each child a kiss on top of the head and then he dragged his rolling suitcase outside. I closed the door behind him. The girls backed away from me, the elder eyeing me from head to toe.
“Are you girls hungry?” I asked.
“Lottie and I have already eaten,” Mirabelle replied. The way she made direct eye contact and carried her head high made her seem very mature for her age.
“But I’m still hungry,” Lottie whined. Their accents melted my heart.
“Do you want to order a pizza?” I asked.
“Ew! No!” Lottie sniffed. “I want to have a tea party with petit fours and sandwiches.”
“Oh let’s!” Mirabelle chimed. “Would you take us to the grocer?”
I nodded. I had to spend Gentry’s money somehow. The girls tittered with excitement.
“Tea party! Tea party! Tea party!” they cheered, running about the living room like hens. It was a funny idea to have tea at such a late hour, but Gentry did tell me to spoil them. They skipped around the house, donned bonnets and velvet mantles that tied into pretty bows at their collars.
Like Dickensian carolers, we strolled to the corner market where the girls picked out fresh fruit, bread and an assortment of baking supplies I never knew existed. They wanted earl grey, but I insisted we get a decaffeinated tea.
“How about this white pear tea?” I suggested.
“Fruit tea is the devil’s tea,” Mirabelle replied. After much deliberation, we settled on a box of ginger peach. The girls skipped home, hand in hand singing a nursery rhyme. Their effervescence made me smile. When we reached the door, I commented on the knocker.
“Your dad likes vampires, huh?” I said. The poor little things went silent. I imagined Gentry, the clueless dad, terrorizing them with horrific tales of the undead. He was an eccentric man with eccentric children, but the kids could still have their own innate fears of the unknown. Everyone is afraid of the dark at that age.
We went inside and the girls replaced their caps and mantles with aprons, scurrying into the kitchen to bake. I filled the kettle, but Mirabelle told me to put it down until they finished the petit fours.
“You’re going to make petit fours?” I asked incredulously.
“That takes a lot of talent.”
“We have years of practice,” Mirabelle said. “Well, I do anyway.”
“I do too!” Lottie pouted, struggling to see over the counter.
“You can read in father’s study. We’ll call you when everything is ready.”
I complied with their demands. The study was extremely inviting. It was the warmest room in the house and it smelled of parchment and cedar. I lost myself in the rows of bookshelves, everything alphabetical by author, sections for fiction and non-fiction.
In time, Mirabelle came to fetch me.
“Can I ask you something personal?” she said.
“Are you afraid to die?”
“That’s a pretty serious question,” I said plainly. Mirabelle circled me, her hands folded behind her back.
“And what if you didn’t have to?”
This kid made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, but I remembered that she had lost her mother. Though I didn’t believe in heaven, I tried to console her in the only way I knew how. “There is a place for all of us, where we can all be with our loved ones forever, without fear, without sorrow.”
“Not all our loved ones,” Mirabelle said. “Father is so lonely since mother died. I hate to see him like this.”
The younger sister cleared her throat in the doorway.
“Tea is served,” Lottie said, curtseying.
Mirabelle held my hand and led me to the dining room. By the table, a large window exposed a garden of evening primroses. The petit fours looked professionally done, topped with handcrafted flowers made of icing. They decorated the table with sliced apples, grapes and figs. When I saw the cucumber sandwiches on an elevated tray, I helped myself. Mirabelle poured me some tea and Lottie clapped her hands, whispering, “Tea party, tea party, tea party.”
Everything tasted incredible. The girls took a few snacks, but they were such ladies, they didn’t gorge themselves on sweets at all. I on the other hand couldn’t stop eating. The petit fours came out better than anything I’d ever tasted.
“When you grow up, you should open a bakery,” I said. The girls sipped their tea and eyed one another across the table.
“You could teach us about the business end of things,” Mirabelle suggested.
As I finished my tea, I noticed a little blue rose painted in the bottom of my cup. It was lovely. Everything about this place was lovely. I never wanted the weekend to be over. I took out my phone to take a picture to post online, but when I glanced at the screen and saw that it was already past ten, I panicked. “It’s getting to be bedtime, don’t you think?”
“Let me play you the harp.” Mirabelle jumped up. She went to the golden harp in the corner. Her fingers danced across the strings and the most exceptional music filled the room. The child was a virtuoso. Lottie cleared the table and when I tried to help, but she insisted that I remain seated and enjoy the music. The child had a step stool in the kitchen so she could wash dishes in the sink. Even though she was so young, I trusted her completely with all that fine china.
The song ended and I gave Mirabelle a standing ovation. She bowed her head in humble acknowledgment. A child could accomplish so much not having television in the house. When I agreed to babysit Gentry’s daughters, music, dinner and table clearing were the last things I expected. A feeling of vertigo came over me suddenly.
“You look tired,” Mirabelle said. Something about her voice was not so sweet anymore. She tossed her golden hair over her shoulder, her catlike eyes fixing on me. I stumbled into the living room, toppling over onto a fainting couch. Mirabelle and Lottie joined me, Lottie resting her head on my shoulder.
“Are you sleepy?” Lottie asked. I nodded, my eyelids so heavy. “Let’s sleep out here. All together.”
“Like a family,” Mirabelle said. The antique sofa wasn’t the most comfortable resting place, but I didn’t care. I closed my eyes. “That took forever! How much laudanum did you use?”
What was laudanum? That was the last thing I pondered before everything went black.