Adventures in Babysitting
I have a secret. It’s not a big secret, really. Nothing twisted or dark. It’s a goofy thing I do that I don’t want anyone to know about because, if the newspapers got a hold of it—or worse, if a video were taken of me doing it—it would be world news within a few hours.
That fact that anything I do is newsworthy has nothing whatsoever to do with me and everything to do with the man to whom I’ve recently become engaged. I’m an exceedingly ordinary woman. Well, apart from the fact that I tend to make a spectacular arse of myself on a regular basis. But that all has to change because, as of one week ago, I’ve started toward a whole new life—one I never imagined for myself, even as a little girl. Okay, well, maybe as a little girl. And a teenager. And possibly after too much wine on occasion.
I am now the fiancée of Arthur Langdon, Crown Prince of Avonia. The second he slid this gorgeous, enormous diamond ring on my finger, I knew I could no longer be Tessa Sharpe, clumsy blogger/struggling reporter. Instead, I must transform into an elegant, fabulous princess such as Grace Kelly (whose very name was even graceful).
Oh, this ring is really very shiny.
Anyway, as soon as I said, ‘yes,’ I vowed to myself to no longer do things that will cause me to humiliate myself. From now on, I shall conduct myself with the utmost sophistication and decorum at all times.
Except for right now.
At the moment, I’m in my brother Finn’s old room at my parents’ house (where I now live after a series of publicly humiliating events caused me to lose most of my money, my flat, as well as the lion’s share of my income). Living with your parents at the age of twenty-eight is no treat, let me tell you. Especially not my parents, Evi and Reuben Sharpe, who not only have a very active and adventurous sex life (shuddering while sticking my tongue from side-to-side), but who also believe me to be incapable of almost any worthwhile accomplishment.
I’ve been living here for close to five months now, and if I had my way I would move out this evening. But that’s not going to happen, not with the tiny salary I earn each month for my part-time job at The Weekly Observer, Avonia’s leading independent weekly newspaper, with a whopping circulation of ten thousand units.
My main source of income comes from my two remaining blogs. (I used to run a fairly popular blog called The Royal Watchdog until I fell madly in love with the prince I had spent years criticizing. Whoops!) Anyway, I shut it down for obvious reasons, but still have my photography website and my Smart Runner blog, on which I review clothing, shoes, and devices used by jogging enthusiasts. This is not without its dangers, of course, and if you caught the video of me testing out the Shock Jogger earlier this spring, you’re already well aware of the perils involved in demonstrating running equipment.
Oh, crap! Look at the time. I only have forty-five minutes to get ready for my big date, and I definitely have more than an hour’s worth of preening. Arthur and I haven’t seen each other for six excruciatingly lonely days. He’s had to go to Genovia for the annual EU currency conference—and I’m finding it hard to believe it’s possible to miss someone this much. We’ve gotten into some very naughty texting to see us through this torturous week apart. Hmm…what was that thing he wrote last night about the first thing we’re going to do when we’re alone?
Oh, right! Back to my secret. Before each date with Arthur, I like to put on the song ‘Then He Kissed Me’ by The Crystals and dance around singing into my hairbrush like Elizabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting—which is what I’m doing right now when I really should be getting into the shower. But I am multitasking by laying out my dress and tights on my bed while I sing.
“Auntie Tessa? What are you doing?”
I turn to see my six-year-old nephew, Knox, standing in the doorway of my room, watching me as I dance around and sing like a lunatic. “Nothing. Goofing around, but I’m done.”
“Grandmum says you and Prince Arthur are going on a big date. Are you guys going to smooch all night?” He wrinkles up his nose and starts to giggle.
I gasp, pretending to be scandalized by the notion. “Of course not. We’re not married yet. We’ll probably just have some dinner and polite conversation. Anyway, out you go.” I clap my hands in the manner of a school teacher herding a class in from recess, but my clap must be broken because it has no effect on him. He remains rooted in the doorway, grinning up at me.
So, instead, I shimmy past him and hurry down the hall to the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later I’ve been buffed, shaved, shampooed, and covered in lotion. Nuts! I forgot my bathrobe. I wrap a towel around myself, pick up my dirty clothes off the floor, and scurry down the hall as quietly as possible—hoping none of my other nephews or nieces will see me. When I arrive back in the dank cave I call home, I find two of my nieces, Tabitha and Poppy, sitting on the bed, giggling hysterically. Grr. They’re sitting on top of my dress, no doubt wrinkling it beyond my limited capabilities with an iron. In Tabitha’s hand is my mobile phone. Oh, this can’t be good.
Poppy looks up at me, her sweet little seven-year-old eyes dancing with excitement. “Who’s Excalibur? And why is he dying to get you naked?”
I grip the towel with one hand and cross the room in two steps, then swipe my phone out of Tabitha’s hand. “Nope. Not For you. Those are private messages and they are not for little eyes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get dressed.”
Tabitha stares up at me from under her eyelashes, clearly trying to act both innocent and hurt. “We only came in to see if you had some Jelly Babies for us and maybe to see if you needed any help getting ready for your date.”
“Nope. No Jelly Babies today, remember? Now that I’m living here and you come every single day after school to be babysat, I really can’t afford to buy thirty-five packages of candies every week.” I turn my back to them and slide my ratty old bathrobe over my shoulders and tie it up, not bothering to remove my towel.
“Dad says that’s bollocks,” says Poppy. “He said Prince Arthur will be giving you a large clothing allowance now that you’re engaged.”
“Oh, does he now? Well, tell your dad he’s dead wrong. It’s only been a week and fiancés don’t give you money, anyway. Husbands don’t, either, so make sure you study hard so you can get a good job and support yourself when you grow up.”
“Like you?” Tabitha asks, her eyes hardening. Oh, she’s developed quite the attitude since she turned eleven. It’s like she went from my little darling to nasty preteen witch the moment she blew out the candles. “Maybe I’ll be like you and live with my parents until I’m really old, then find a prince to marry me.”
I take a deep, calming breath. She’s only a child. She’s only a child. “I have a job. It just doesn’t pay very well. You know what? I don’t have time for this. I really need to dress now.”
I shoo them with my hands but they just stare. Sighing loudly, I try to regain my patience. “Listen, girls. There really are very few handsome princes left in the world. In fact, there’s a very good chance I may have snagged the last one but, even so, I’m never going to live off his money. I’m going to have my own career and you should, too.”
“Really?” Poppy asks. “I thought your job would be to be a princess.”
“Well, there’s no reason a princess can’t be a hard-hitting reporter at the same time, is there?” Is there? Now that I say it, I’m not completely certain that I’m right about that one.
“If the ‘I Hate Tessa’ people have their way, you won’t ever be a princess,” Tabitha says.
“You haven’t heard of them? It’s all over Twitter. Their hashtag is #Brookeisbetter. They’re starting a movement to convince Arthur to marry her instead of you.”
My stomach does an awful, flippy, twisty thing, and my knees go weak. “Brooke is better? As in, Lady Dr. Brooke Beddingfield?” I tap on my mobile, opening my Twitter app, only to see that Tabitha’s more up on the news than me, apparently. Quite embarrassing, really, since she’s eleven and I’m a reporter. I search the hashtag and scroll through, seeing hundreds of I Hate Tessa tweets, several with photos of me being shocked and my face wrinkled up in pain. “Oh, fuck,” I mutter.
“You said ‘fuck!’ I’m so telling Grandmum!” Tabitha screeches.
“Shh! Please don’t.” I glance at her, then continue scrolling, each tweet making my stomach twist a little more.
“What will you give me if I don’t tell?” Tabitha asks.
My shoulders drop. “You can’t just keep it our little secret because I’m your auntie who loves you very much?”
“Fine. Just tell her then. I don’t—” I glance down at the floor and see something black moving under the bed. “Are those my…”
Crouching, I see Mr. Whiskers, my parents’ cat, clawing the sheer fabric of my tights furiously. “Oh, bugger.” I yank them away from the scrawny tabby, which only results in more tearing since his claws are firmly affixed to them. He displays his unwillingness to relinquish the tights by hissing at my face.
“No, Mr. Whiskers!” I give one final tug, determined not to let him win, and land on my butt with my prize, which will now be deposited into the trash bin. Mr. Whiskers jumps from under the bed, hitting me square in the face with his belly, his front paws landing on top of my head and his back legs wrapped around my neck.
“Ack! Shit!” I shriek just as he flings himself off me and darts out the door.
Tabitha and Poppy collapse in fits of laughter, forming a heap of squirming, giggly girls on my bed. “You said ‘shit’!”
“Mr. Whiskers jumped on your face!”
“Out. Now!” I point furiously at the door until they both slide off the bed and move in the desired direction, laughing hysterically.
I usher them out the door and shut it, wishing my dad hadn’t taken the lock off back when Finn was sixteen and developed a liking for weed and girly magazines.
My heart sinks when the whole ‘Brooke is better’ thing comes popping back into my head. No, don’t think about that now, Tessa. You’ve only got ten minutes to dry and style your hair, put on some makeup, and figure out what to wear.
All of two minutes later, my phone dings to inform me of a text message. When I swipe the screen I see it’s from my mum, who, as of three weeks ago, has her own smart phone and is thoroughly enjoying the new world of texting.
Tessa, It’s me, Mum. Xavier wanted me to let you know that the prince will be here in T minus five minutes. Xoxo, Mum
The problem is that she doesn’t quite trust that the texts will actually make it up to space and back so, in about thirty seconds, she’ll be knocking on the door to ask me if I got her message.
Knock, knock. “It’s me, Twinkle.” My mum pokes her head in the door. “Just wanted to see if you got my text.”
“Got it, thanks.” I wink at her confidently.
“Good. Can you imagine that my message could make it all the way up to space and back like that? So quickly?”
“Hard to believe.” I open my mouth extra wide so I can apply my mascara.
“Will That Handsome Xavier be joining you, or staying here this evening?”
“Probably coming along, I guess.”
She’s taken to calling my new bodyguard ‘That Handsome Xavier’ for obvious reasons. I’m still trying to get used to the fact that I have a bodyguard assigned to me at all, but having one that looks like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast (on steroids) is a whole different level of craziness.
The first thing that my future father-in-law, King Winston, did when he found out about our impending marriage was to assign Xavier to me. I take this as his version of throwing down the gauntlet. He wants to go toe-to-toe with me to see if he can get rid of me before I make it down the aisle to his son. But I have news for him—it’s not going to work. He could hire the entire cast of The Thunder from Down Under to guard me, it won’t make a bit of difference. I’m completely and utterly in love with Arthur, and nothing is going to change that.
The ladies in my neighbourhood, however, have spent a significant amount of time ogling Xavier under the pretense of pulling those last few weeds before winter starts. Abbott Lane has never seen such tidy front gardens. And it’s the first time in history that not one set of hair rollers has seen the sun on our street for a full week.
My mum crosses the tiny room and peers out the window so she can get a better view of Xavier, who is probably doing another set of one-armed push-ups on the sidewalk. “I just love how he says, ‘T minus five minutes.’ So clever, that one.” She turns, then looks me up and down and wrinkles up her nose. “You’re not wearing that, are you?”
“What’s wrong with this? I think it looks nice.” I stare at myself in the mirror, suddenly unsure of the wraparound knit dress paired with the tall black boots. Do princesses wear tall black boots? What would Brooke-who-is-so-much-better-than-me wear for an evening out in the autumn?
“Well, if you’re going to wear that, at least put on some chunky jewelry. Grace next door told me that she saw Veronica Platt on that morning talk show saying that chunky jewelry is back in this fall.”
I turn and rummage through the shoebox that holds my costume jewelry, searching for a silver chunky necklace that I bought a few years ago. As much as I don’t love taking advice from Grace next door, she does manage to keep up on the latest fashion trends a lot better than I do. My mum appears next to me and starts digging through the box to help me out.
“What’s his name is here!” my father hollers up the stairs. Arthur has gone from being called Artie and being quite a favourite of my dad’s, to being called ‘what’s his name’ since he proposed to me without checking with my father first. I had no idea that my dad would take it so hard but, as my mum explained to me, I’m his only daughter and this would have been his one chance to thoroughly intimidate a young man.
My mum rushes off to greet Arthur while I finish applying my mascara. As soon as I’m alone again, that sick feeling comes back over me. I stare at myself for a second in the mirror and say, “Forget them, Tessa. They don’t matter. Only Arthur matters.”
Hurrying out of my room, I resolve not to tell Arthur about the ‘I Hate Tessa’ movement. No need to have him know about it. Who knows? Maybe they’ll manage to convince him I’m not the woman for him…