I couldn't believe I was so attracted to her. She was only fourteen. What a lovely creature she was, though. She seemed tiny to me, a few inches under five feet. Black hair with ringlets surrounded her pallid face. She had high cheekbones, little pink lips, and the loveliest blue eyes. The hem of her cream colored dress was tattered, and it was obvious that a seam had been amateurishly mended, probably by her. She strutted into the kitchen. She looked at me straight on, without a hint of shyness. Her name was Claire.
"Oh good, this is Claire," her mother said, "Claire, meet Vanessa. She'll be looking after you and your sister while I'm in France."
If her mother had read my thoughts, she'd have been horrified. I was afraid the sudden flush of my cheeks would give me away. I'd liked girls for a very long time, but never one so much younger than myself. I was tempted to turn and leave, to run away, before I did something abominable, but I needed this job.
"Hello Vanessa," Claire said, holding out her hand to me.
I took it and squeezed gently. It was tiny and white, with short nails. She gave me a quizzical look. It must have seemed strange to her, the way I sharply drew in my breath, and muttered, "Hello Claire."
"Claire, go and get your sister, so Vanessa can meet her," her mother said, oblivious to my discomfort.
Claire turned and left, looking back at me suspiciously as she exited the kitchen.
"I've left a list of numbers where I can be reached," her mother went on, "Most of the time I'll be in Nice, but we are scheduled to spend a week in Paris, then on to Normandy. In any case, my itinerary is here. If there are any major deviations, I will call you."
Their mother was a professor and had just qualified for a prestigious fellowship in France. She would be gone for three months, and needed someone to look after her daughters. I had graduated earlier that year, and was still looking for work. It seemed no one wanted to hire a twenty-three year old with middling grades and a marketing degree. I could barely make rent and could only get so many extensions on my loans. Three months rent free, with a nice little stipend, might just make the difference.
Friends from the university had vouched for my character, and convinced her to give me the job. I could only imagine their horror, were they to know what I was thinking at that moment.
Claire returned with her sister in tow.
Emily was twelve, and a few inches shorter than her sister. Her cropped, sandy brown hair made her look a bit tomboyish. She was wearing a little pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Her sneakers were untied, and she had a Band-Aid on her knee.
"This is her," Claire said to her sister, looking at me frankly, arching her brows.
"Hi Vanessa," Emily said. She gave me a big smile. I immediately liked her. She seemed friendly and warm, like a normal, happy little girl.
"Hey Emily," I said, "I'm really looking forward to staying with you two. I hope we have a lot of fun."
"Me too," she said, still smiling.
I tried to focus on Emily. She didn't fill me with lust.
"Were you in my mom's class?" Claire asked, stepping between her sister and me.
"No. I majored in marketing. That's in the business college. Your mother teaches French Lit."
"You girls run along now," their mother interjected, "Vanessa and I need to talk."
The two girls turned to go. Emily waved as she ran from the kitchen. Claire strolled out slowly, still peering intently at me. I took a deep breath. I was positively smitten. I decided I would just have to control myself.
When they left, their mother beckoned me to come sit at the table.
"Claire has had some trouble at school," she said, "And we can't figure out what it is. I've had her to counseling, but they've been no help."
"Yes. So, I'm hoping you'll keep a close eye on her. If she seems to be having any problems -- you know, emotionally -- please call me."
"That's fine. I'll be all the help I can. Maybe she just needs a friend."
She gave me a baleful look. "I'm not hiring you to be her friend, but just to watch them, and keep them out of trouble. This fellowship is very important to my career, or else I wouldn't leave at a time like this."
"Of course," I said, not sure if I quite believed it.
"She was so happy last year," she went on, her expression softening, "Then about five months ago she became defiant, uncooperative, and her grades suffered. I suspect that some trauma occurred, but she won't say what."
"Did you hire a private eye to suss out the truth?"
I meant it as a joke, and immediately regretted saying it. I was quite surprised when she answered, "Yes, but he didn't discover anything."
Lucky me. I was madly in lust with a teenage girl whose mother was keen to hire investigators. I renewed my commitment to control myself. I smiled, which I'm sure seemed inappropriate to her. This was no big deal, I told myself. So, I found the girl pretty -- So what? That was perfectly natural. She was on the cusp of becoming a woman. This was a very beautiful part of her life. It wasn't like I would actually do anything to her. I mean, I liked girls, but I wasn't a monster.
"Sorry," I said, erasing the smile from my face, "I'll keep that in mind. I'll try to talk with her, though, with your permission. I'll be with her for three months. I'm sure we'll build some sort of relationship in that time. Maybe she'll trust me."
"Fine," she said, "If you find a way to help, I'll be thankful."
Two days later, Thursday afternoon, I went to to pick the girls up from school. Their mother had left that morning, and had already given me the keys. This would be our first evening together.
It was a small private academy back off a highway, sheltered by a high gate and hedges. I drove up a long drive, under the shade of trees, to join a line of expensive foreign cars waiting to collect their owner's progeny. My little green Toyota did not fit in.
After maybe fifteen minutes the school disgorged its inmates, and a stream of uniformed children poured out. I couldn't help noticing the girl's uniforms, which were little pleated tartan skirts and white blouses. I immediately felt banal for finding them so cute. I cursed the inventor of schoolgirl uniforms as either an angel or a devil. I also wondered at the process of selecting the uniforms, and what sort of dirty old men were involved. In any case, I was rather pleased with their choice.
I saw the two girls emerge from the crowd of children. I got out and waved them over to the car. Emily got a big smile on her face and ran toward me.
"Hi Vanessa," she called out, as she reached the car and jumped into the front passenger seat.
"Hi sweetie," I said, deciding to skip the awkward parts, and just be familiar and affectionate to her. She didn't seem to mind.
Claire approached the car more slowly, strutting up almost catlike. She was so graceful, so poised. She was just staring at me. I caught myself leaning against the car, gazing at her. She smiled. I got the weirdest impression that she could read my mind, that she knew exactly what I was thinking, and that it pleased her. I shut such thoughts out of my mind. They could only get me into trouble. She got into the back and slid to the center.
I got into the car, started it, and waited for the line to move. Evidently it took a long time to situate children in expensive cars. Finally, they cleared out, and we made our escape.
"Did you girls have a nice day at school?" I asked.
"It was normal," Claire said from behind me. I gazed up at the rearview mirror. I could see her icy blue eyes.
"That's good, I suppose. Say Claire, could you move to one side or the other. You're blocking the rearview mirror."
She slid over, her eyes disappeared, and my heart rate returned to normal.
"What are we doing tonight?" Emily asked.
"I don't know," I said, "I didn't plan anything. We can figure out something fun though. I'll cook dinner about six, I suppose, but other than that it's up to you two."
"Can we go to a movie?" Emily asked. She sounded excited, like this was the first day of vacation.
"We might," I said, "But your mom only left me a little money for stuff like that, so if we spend it all now, you two will be really bored later."
"We could rent videos," Claire said.
"That's a good idea," I exclaimed. Videos would be cheap.
"Can we get Twilight?" Emily asked, super excited.
"No!" Claire and I answered in unison.
At the video store I let each girl pick out a movie. Emily kept asking for Twilight, even begging. Finally I gave in and let her get it. Claire rolled her eyes. She picked out Amelie. She said she liked the cover. I was impressed. We went to the counter and I paid. We got back to their house a bit before four.
The girls went upstairs to change, while I figured out how to work the DVD player. When they came back down, Emily was wearing a pair of cutoff jeans and a yellow t-shirt. Claire was wearing a little turquoise Alice dress, which hung to just below her knees. It was adorable. I watched her glide down the stairs, with her dress and her little ringlets of hair. I could feel my heart beating. I sighed.
Perhaps the dress was intended as commentary. I liked to think she was clever enough. Three months was going to be a very long time.
We went into the TV room. There was a couch set facing the media center and two chairs along the sides of the room. The girls decided we'd watch Twilight first. I put it in the player. They popped onto the couch. I went to sit in a chair.
Emily stopped me. "Vanessa, come sit with us," she said. She slid to one side of the couch. Claire moved to the other. There was an empty space in the center.
Emily looked at me, eagerly. Claire ... well Claire just gave me a deep stare, a knowing grin.
I could have sat in a chair. I had that choice, but I went ahead and sat between the girls. Emily immediately slid up next to me, and said playfully, "Let's make a Vanessa sandwich." She slid her hips, pressing me over, closer to her sister. We touched, Claire and I. The soft fabric of her dress brushed against my arm. The ringlets of her hair fell upon my shoulder. She reached and took my hand, cupping it between hers, and held it on her lap. She looked at me, deeply.
She was my inamorata. She was my starlit sky.
The movie started, and Emily immediately gave it her full attention. I'd seen it before, and had found it ignorable the first time. Claire just fixed her attention on me.
"You seem to know how I feel," I whispered to her. Emily gave us no notice.
"You like me, don't you?"
"Yes. Very, very much."
"I like you, too."
I could have kissed her right there, but I still had some pretense of self-control.
"Claire, you know we can't do anything? Our ages are too far apart."
"I wasn't sure. I thought maybe we could anyhow."
"That wouldn't be a good idea. But I'm glad you know. It is nice, I think, to know that someone cares for you. We can't -- you know -- be girlfriends, but I do adore you very much."
She didn't say anything. I went on, "You should find someone your own age."