The alarm blared.
It was a high-pitched, terrible beeping that filled all three floors of the house. Maddie leapt from the couch, her Lays chips and Canada Dry Ginger Ale spilling onto the red and gold paisley rug underneath her slippers.
Maddie couldn’t hold it in. A small gasp escaped from her mouth as she rounded the couch, passed the floor to ceiling windows that led to a blanket of freshly fallen snow on the deck and peered down the hallway toward the front door. The hallway was dark aside from a blinking red light at the end, temporarily lighting the darkness with the angriness of the alarm. She pushed her glasses up and turned her eyes to the staircase; Joey and Stella were sleeping upstairs. The Harrisons had trusted her. Finally, she’d had the opportunity to babysit and the Harrisons had chosen her, the Harrisons; the most coveted babysitting gig in the neighbourhood. And somehow by just sitting down to eat barbeque chips and watch a rerun of the Office, Maddie had ruined everything.
“9628,” she whispered and repeated to herself. “9628.”
She shuffled down the hall, quickly and quietly, her slippers sliding against the dark hardwood floors that were gleaming with a fresh swiffer job. A hot flash of nervousness rushed over her and Maddie’s armpits immediately began to dampen as she entered the black hall, stepping over a sharp line of lamplight. The Harrison’s house was so large and long that the front door felt like it was a football field away from the living room.
Maddie froze at the high-pitched call of Stella. She backtracked, taking three large steps back into the light and out of the hall. 7-year-old Stella stood at the top of the open staircase, staring down at Maddie and holding a foam sword in one hand. She rubbed her wide brown eyes with the back of her hand, yawning but keeping her weapon at the ready.
“I heard the beeping alarm, Maddie,” Stella called down.
“I know, Stella,” Maddie whispered. “It’s okay, honey. Go back to bed. I’ll be up there in a minute, okay?”
Stella didn’t answer, just stared, blinked and gripped the sword tighter as the alarm continued to beep and send flashes of red down the hall.
“We’ll read more of Charlotte’s Web when I get up there, okay? We can find out if Wilbur wins the blue ribbon, okay?” Maddie knew she sounded repetitive and desperate but she was.
She couldn’t screw this up. If she screwed up the Harrisons, she would never find a babysitting gig in her neighbourhood again. Her mom would be furious. She had contacted the Harrisons through her boss and Maddie was horrified at the idea of embarrassing herself and her mom in front of the people that she worked with.
“Okay,” Stella replied, stretching out her ‘ay’ and swinging her sword in a circle before lumbering back to her room.
Maddie turned back to the hallway; the alarm still warning her of imminent disaster. She bounded forward, trying not to think or hesitate this time or else she would never get to the alarm because she’d be stuck in her own head.
She passed the door to the garage, hopped over Joey’s snow boots and Stella’s ballet slippers and placed a hand on the doorknob. She peered through the glass in the door. All she could see was the night air filled with slow-falling snow.
Maddie shook her head and sighed. She faced the angry red light of the alarm and stuck out her tongue at the potential-life-ruining device.
“Not today, sucker,” Maddie muttered and entered ‘9628’ into the keypad of the alarm. For the first half hour that the kids had been asleep, she had made sure to memorize the document that the Harrisons had left behind.
She was going to be the perfect babysitter.
The alarm chirped three times and then the red flicker faded to a steady green.
And just as she stepped away from the front door, the garage door opened.
Maddie screamed and ran.
“Woah. Woah!” Mr. Harrison lifted up his hands and turned in a semicircle as Maddie flew past him. She squinted into the darkness, her jaw frozen open and her fingers clutched into tight fists. “Oh, Mr. Harrison!” Maddie exclaimed. “I’m sorry. So sorry!”
“No issue, Maddie,” Mr. Harrison laughed as he closed the garage door behind him. He flicked snowflakes off of his wool peacoat and wiped his chestnut brown shoes on the hallway rug. He walked past her, chuckling to himself, Maddie followed on his heels, quickly standing in front of the mess she’d made on the living room rug.
“I texted you, you know? I was just coming back because we forgot the gift. I parked on the driveway and went through the garage door. Did the alarm go off?” Mr. Harrison asked as he clicked across the hardwood floors, past the living room and into the diving room. “Where is that damn card?”
Maddie heard him mutter. Her shoulders dropped and she let out a heavy sigh of relief. She placed a hand over her chest feeling her heart slow to a semi-normal rate.
“Yea it did b-but I turned it off. Sorry about that. I hadn’t checked my phone,” Maddie called, sweeping some of the chips she had dropped underneath the coffee table with her feet. She fanned herself and pulled the fabric of her sweater away from her moistened underarms.
Mr. Harrison reappeared holding a gold envelope in his hand and using his other hand to slick back his already slick brown hair.
“You must be the only girl in your generation who hasn’t, Maddie.” Mr. Harrison laughed again as he walked back to the hall and to the garage, barely even looking in her direction. “We’ll be back around 2 and then I’ll give you a ride home. Feel free to take a nap on the couch if you need!”
The garage door closed behind him, Mr. Harrison had already mentioned that she could sleep on the couch before he had left the first time. He either really wanted her to be comfortable or he was just a forgetful man. Based on the fact that he’d had to come back for the wedding gift, Maddie assumed he was the latter.
She flopped back down on the couch.
She let out another sigh and even chuckled at herself. She had been worried for no reason, she hadn’t ruined everything. Maddie was going to clean up, check on Stella, finish the Office and fall asleep on the couch, accomplishing everything that a perfect babysitter would.
And as she stood to get a damp cloth from the kitchen to clean up her spilled Ginger Ale, distracted by her ideas to impress the Harrisons, Maddie didn’t notice the footprints in the freshly-fallen snow on the deck.