Poppy’s wee face was lost in a mess of scruffy fur, her snores the only sound breaking the still of the bedroom. I peered around my bleak surroundings, at the boxes of my belongings strewn about the floor.
Some of my treasured antiques would be left behind. But I wouldn’t leave my books or photo albums. As I lifted an overflowing crate, a blue, leather-bound volume slipped to the floor. I reached down and scooped up my worn 5-year diary then carefully slid open the delicate gold clasp.
Maisie Evelyn Duncan 8 years old. I smiled and traced the letters of my name with a careful finger. Man – eight years old. Carefree. Happy. Innocent. Thirty-three years ago. I flipped through the pages then laughed aloud as I recognized my little brother’s messy scrawl. William is a dirty asshole. The events of that long-ago day rushed back with startling clarity. My brother had been mad at me though I couldn’t remember what I’d done to rile him. He’d carefully planned his sweet revenge. He found my hiding place beneath my mattress and printed that loving sentence in my diary. Certain I’d be in deep trouble, he showed the damning evidence to Mom. Mom brought my diary to me and asked me why I’d written something so nasty about my darling brother. Thinking back to that day, I realized Mom’s eyes had flashed with laughter but I’d been so furious at William for defiling my secret jottings, I’d payed no attention to Mom’s expression. I grinned at my brother’s bold creativity. What a little bugger!
I flipped through several pages, stopping to read a few passages here and there, images of the little girl I’d been, slipping from my memories. Several years had passed between journal entries and my girlish writing had become neater and less loopy.
I felt a rough tongue at my hand and gave Poppy a scratch behind her ear before pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Shadows dimmed the room and the earthy smell of oncoming rain flowed in through the open window. Poppy settled into my lap and I glanced back down at the next journal entry. I caught my breath at the name that leapt from the page.
My mind spiraled back to 1981. That summer I had been fifteen. Full of uncertainty but pretending I knew all the answers. I figured I’d hit the jackpot when Mrs. Cross hired me to babysit Jessie and her little brother Henry for the summer. But it didn’t turn out as I planned. Jessie was six and Henry three. Jess had it in for me the moment I stepped into her kitchen. Used to little kids responding to me in a positive way, I was taken aback by her aloof expression. She didn’t crack a smile but stared me down. I was sure I could win her over once her mom left. As the taillights of Mrs. Cross’s car disappeared into the dust of the backroad, I suggested we play hide and seek. Henry was eager but Jess just stared into my eyes and smirked. I closed my eyes and counted to 100, then spent the next 45 minutes in a panic trying to find Jess and Henry. I’m not sure how Jessie kept Henry quiet aside from holding her hand over his mouth. Another time, she locked me out of the house when I went to retrieve a toy from the yard for Henry then grinned at me through the window as I tried to coax her to open the door.
I squinted against the gloom and read the next entry, printed in angry strokes of a red pen. ‘I hate Jessie Cross!!! I’ve never looked after such a nasty kid. There’s no way I’m spending my whole summer babysitting this brat. Henry’s sweet but Jessie’s horrible! I just hope Mrs. Cross doesn’t hate me for quitting but I can’t stand it!!!’
I had endured two hellish weeks before handing in my resignation. Mrs. Cross had been unimpressed and I’d felt horribly guilty but I hadn’t looked back.
I flipped through a few more pages, thinking of that somber little girl.
Eighteen years later that somber little girl had sauntered onto the ball field and joined my lob ball team, that knowing smirk still drawing her lips up on one side, those knowing eyes staring me down. I’d heard she was an impressive ball player so I reluctantly joined the rest of the girls in welcoming her onto our team.
Never could I have guessed how this arrogant girl would change my life but it seems our paths were destined to cross.