abysitting was not how she wanted to spend her day. Hugo, who was at this very moment snoring on the couch across the room, was sure to be leaving very soon, and Juliette might never see him again. And after all their efforts to be together last night were foiled — well, she felt she had to spend every single available second with him.
And if not with him, at least with her dear Papa. And if not with Papa, at least in bed, unconscious, trying to sleep away what had happened to her in the woods.
And now here was this spooky little girl, dumped just about literally in her lap, staring up at her with eyes big and blue as robin’s eggs behind those weird thick glasses.
“Wanna play horsies?” the girl, Beth, asked, holding up one of her mangy plastic horses.
“Ummmmmmm…..no,” Juliette said.
The kid blinked.
“How about CandyLand?” she asked, her voice so soft it was almost a whisper.
Juliette examined the child. She might have been cute, if somebody had taken the time to fix her hair and get her some chic little clothes. Plus she definitely needed cooler glasses.
“How about kidnapper?” Juliette asked.
“How do you play that?” Beth asked shyly.
“I hide behind the couch, and you walk by, and then I jump out and kidnap you.”
They both looked over at the couch, where Hugo snorted and flipped over so he was facing away from them.
“I don’t know,” Beth said, sticking her thumb in her mouth.
“Come on,” Juliette said. “It’ll be fun.”
She stood up and, taking Beth’s hand, walked her over near the couch and positioned her in front of it. Maybe Hugo would hear them. Maybe he would wake up and join in the game. Maybe he would see how great Juliette was with Beth and want to marry her for real and have babies with her.
“Okay,” Juliette said. “Just walk like this, like you’re little Red Riding Hood on your way to grandmother’s house.”
“Are you the grandmother?” Beth asked.
The grandmother? This kid really was funky. “No! Can’t you see I’m young and pretty?” Juliette said.
Beth nodded, but then asked, “Are you the wolf?”
Juliette clucked impatiently. “I’m the kidnapper,” she said. “Now walk, back and forth, in front of the couch.”
Beth started walking, and Juliette ran behind the couch. Hugo’s face was right there, on the other side of the sofa back, just inches away. He was close enough to touch, to kiss, if only the couch weren’t between them. If she listened really hard, she could hear him breathe.
“Where are you?” Beth called, fear in her voice.
“Keep walking!” Juliette said.
Was she like Beth, when she was up in the tree, innocent yet in the sights of the person waiting to spring on her?
His fingers dug into her thigh, nails sharp, flesh hot and slick with sweat. He tugged her down and his other hand closed quick and tight as an eagle’s beak on her breast….
“RAHR!” Juliette roared in a monster’s voice as she sprang out from behind the couch, her hands held up above her head in the shape of claws.
Hugo yelped and jumped awake on the couch, and Beth let out a high-pitched scream and raced away, Juliette on her heels. Finally, Juliette caught up with the little girl and threw her arms around her, gathering her into a hug, but the child kept screaming and screaming.
“Stop!” Juliette said, alarmed. “It’s okay, Beth, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Hugo was up now, looking down at them in alarm, and her mother was there. Even her weirdo Uncle Jamie had limped into the room, his horrible lizard perched on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Juliette crooned, smoothing the child’s hair, frightened herself by what she’d done. “Don’t be afraid. It’s all right. Come on, let’s play horsies.”