Two hours on the couch, and my ass cheeks could well believe it. I wriggled around a little on the overheated couch cushion to try and get some feeling back into them, but to no avail. With a grimace and an inward groan, I peeled my eyes away from the miniscule television screen (and the painstaking episode of "Murder She Wrote" that I'd been surprisingly engrossed in), and eased myself into a standing position.
My knees and ankles cracked, in a worryingly loud fashion when you consider I'm only twenty. My posture is terrible too. I always blamed my parents for not correcting it when I was younger, or pushing me into some sort of sports.
Mine definitely weren't as strict as the parents of this family, that was for sure. I mean, you'd have to be strict to have your kids tucked into bed and sound asleep by seven thirty, no matter what age they were. And I hadn't seen nor heard a peep out of them since.
Hmmm. I decided I would make myself some tea, and then tiptoe upstairs to check on the kids. Mrs. Graham had smiled her dainty, sickly grin at me before she'd left and said that I needn't look in on them at all, if I didn't want to. But I'd heard stories of babies smothering in their sleep, and toddlers strangling themselves with plastic jewellery and such, and I was the sort of person who assumed that what could go wrong could go wrong. It was branded into me as a kid when I came down with every possible bug and virus over the years. My friends had invented the concept of Jeevers' Fever in my honour, and anybody who came down with any sort of flu was deemed to have it.
The Graham's kitchen was an unholy looking thing. No tiles on the walls or floors, paint peeling from the ceiling in handfuls.... and the kettle looked as though it'd been made before my parents were born. I filled it up from the tap anyway, and realising I'd be waiting a while for hot water for my tea, decided to plod along upstairs.
This being my first time in the Grahams' house, I had no idea which rooms the kids would be sleeping in, but I would check around anyway. Mrs. Graham had explained that the baby was called Bea and the toddler was called Dom, but other than that she'd been fairly sketchy about her children. She'd blabbed on for a good ten minutes about the benefit dinner she was attending with her gentleman friend (whose mention caused her cheeks to flush with adoration whenever he came up) but I was very in the dark about the family itself. I reckoned I would ask my friend Stacey about them at some point. She always seemed to know everybody's business, and might at least be able to tell me about the children's actual father.
I hit the landing of the house and froze. Had I just heard something? A snarl, or a growl? Must have been a dog in a neighbour's back garden. Sure enough, I stepped into the tiny upstairs bathroom and found the window gaping open into the night. I pulled it in, swatting away a couple of moths that darted into my face.
Still making a face and wiping my mouth to get rid of the mothy sensation, I shut the bathroom door behind me and returned to the landing. Only two other wooden doors lined the dingy wall opposite the staircase, and one (I could see in the slightly ajar door) led to Mrs. Graham's simplistic bedroom. The scent wafting from inside was like a toxic spill, and smelt bafflingly more like disinfectant than it did like perfume. Scrunching up my nose, I shut that door too but the aroma lingered on the landing and probably into the kids' room too.
Experienced in babysitting, I held my breath as I laid my hand on the doorknob to the second bedroom, wary of making any noise as I crept inside. Slowly I lowered the knob, and pressed my weight against the wood of the door in a sweeping motion.
But it didn't open.
I pressed again, a little harder, but to no avail. My heart thumped. She'd locked the door. What sort of woman locked her own children into their room? She hadn't struck me as the kind, and anyway what reason would she have to...?
Mrs. Graham had said that Dom was four. It wasn't impossible that the kid had clambered out of bed, came across the key for the door and locked it from the inside. Was it? It certainly seemed more likely than his mother doing so from the outside.
A sick feeling settled in the pit of my stomach as I pulled the doorknob hard. "Dom?" I called out, trying to keep the waver from my voice. "Dom, it's Jessie, your babysitter. Can you hear me?"
I knobbed hard on the door and called louder, "Dom, can you hear me?"
A slam against the opposite side of the door. The wood shook violently on its hinges and I swore there was a grunt too. I shrieked with shock and threw myself back from the door, toppling over onto my back just inches before the stairs. Wow, close.
"Dom?" I shouted out.
Bang. Another slam against the door. Bang, louder that time.
I lay frozen on the floor, unable to think, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to tear my eyes from the trembling wood -
Bang, bang, bang....