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3.

Jennifer Jareau



Babysitting is decent money, considering, but by no means easy money. Especially not when summer looks to be stretching indefinitely and there is no end to making sandwiches and slathering on sunscreen and saying, on repeat, "No, we cannot get ice cream from the ice cream truck because your mommy and daddy didn't give me money for treats and I'm saving up to get the hell out of this town."

JJ's charges are three boys under the age of seven: Ryan, age too-old-for-diapers-but-still-wearing-them, and his older brothers Max and Cole, six-year-old twin rejects from hell. As in, they are such unrepentant little monsters that even Lucifer himself said, Sorry, nope, not letting them in here, no way.

JJ likes kids, and on occasion, she even likes these kids, but it's two weeks into July and the end of summer seems as distant as the prospect of college. She and the boys are getting sick of each other, sick of the heat, sick of the pool and the playground and the same stories about trucks and robots and trucks that turn into robots.

On top of everything, her period is late.

Which can mean nothing, or it can mean --- well, JJ prefers not to think about that. Not when Max is trying to throw his brother off the slide.

JJ learned about anarchy in social studies (she gets good grades, she doesn't skip class, doesn't drink doesn't smoke doesn't do anything bad ever, except that one time) and now she bears witness to it every afternoon at the playground. Her rule of thumb is that unless there is blood, or a reasonable forseeability of blood, she is not going intervene.

Ryan's been good about going to the potty lately, and to reward him, she takes him over to the baby swings. "Me not baby," he says, indignant, gazing longingly over at the big kid swings. He suddenly snaps his head around and points his stubby finger at the little girl in the neighboring swing. "She is baby!"

"Ryan," JJ says, closing her hand over his finger. "Don't point. It's rude."

The girl's babysitter laughs it off. "He's right. She's a baby compared to a big boy like himself."

"I big boy," Ryan agrees.

"How old?" JJ nods in the baby's direction, the universal unspoken language of babysitters.

"Eighteen months," the babysitter answers.

"I've got two others," JJ tells her. Out of the corner of her eyes, she sees Cole poking Max with a stick. No blood, not yet. "Twins. Six."

A curious expression crosses the other girl's face, and a moment later she lets out a short chuckle. "You're a babysitter."

JJ blinks, momentarily confused. "Well, yes. What else would I be?"

"Sorry," the girl says, really laughing now. "It's just. I'm not."

"You're not what?"

"A babysitter." She stops pushing the swing and the baby turns around to look at her. "I'm her mother."

"Oh." It takes moment to hit JJ.

The girl nods conspiratorially. "Yep. I'm Emily. This is Miranda."

"Ooooh," JJ says, at once acutely aware of how stupid she must sound and being completely unable to help herself.

She knows who this is, has heard about her, David Rossi's child bride. She's JJ's age but works at his restaurant, lives in his mansion. Has a baby that everyone suspects is his, though no one knows for sure. It was a heated topic among JJ's mother's sewing circle until Reverend Collins' boy came out of the closet. Gay football player always trumps unwed teenage mothers, even if they do live with the town's very own Mr. Rochester.

(She needs to get out of here. The colleges, they'll begin scouting in the fall and she has to be in top shape to get a scholarship. There is no way she can play soccer if she's pregnant.)

She realizes she hasn't said anything other than "oh" in the last five minutes and even Ryan looks disgusted with her lack of vocabulary. "I'm Jennifer Jareau," she says, extending her hand. She feels like an idiot at the formality but Emily doesn't seem to mind.

"JJ, right?" Emily says, pushing the swing again, lightly. "You came to the restaurant once. With your folks."

It was the anniversary of Allison's death and JJ and her brother had came up a plan to get their parents out of the house for a nice sit-down dinner. Instead of taking their minds off Ally, the whole exercise only served to remind everyone, herself included, that they will never be a family again; they are now, and forever will be, a chain with one link missing.

JJ shakes the memory away. "Yeah, that was us. Couple weeks ago. I'm surprised you remember."

Emily shrugs and they watch their kids swing in silence. Ryan gets bored and starts whining about the ice cream truck again, and JJ decides to take the kids home now that they've worked off most of their energy.

"I'll see you around?" Emily says with a hint of hopefulness.

"Believe me, you will," JJ says, plucking Ryan out of the swing. She waves bye-bye to Miranda, who waves back.

Mrs. Forrester comes home early that afternoon, much to JJ's relief, and she gets out half an hour earlier than usual. When she gets home, her mother tells her that Will called, and as JJ yells back she'll call him later, it hits her that Emily's is a babysitting job where the parents never come back. JJ wonders how Emily gets through her day, knowing that there isn't an end to it, that she can't hand the kid to someone else and say, That's it, I'm done. She's all yours.

Next afternoon Emily's not at the park. Not the day after, either, but on Friday JJ sees her at the library, alone. JJ taps her on the back at the check-out counter and scares the crap out of her.

"Jesus, don't do that at a person," Emily says when she's regained herself, holding a worn copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar like a weapon.

"Where's Miranda?"

"Napping. I left her with Rossi to see who snores louder. My money's on the kid."

"Do you want to get a soda or something?" JJ asks, because they have exchanged pleasantries about each other's kids and that probably makes them friends or something.

"Okay," says Emily, stunned but pleased. "What about the boys?"

"Story Hour's about to start. Free babysitting for babysitters."

Emily groans. "Mrs. Neville is going to hate you."

"I do this every Friday. I'm pretty sure she hates me already."

The town is so ridiculously backwards that the soda fountain is a testament to generations of unwillingness to change. It is dark and shabby and serves the best egg creams on the East Coast.

Over milkshakes, JJ tells Emily a little about her babysitting gig, but mostly about herself. School. Soccer. Nothing about Will or Ally. In return, Emily tells her about Miranda, the restaurant, and a little about her past life as an ambassador's daughter. She skims the details, but JJ barely notices; she's still having trouble wrapping her head around the fact that Emily has a kid.

"What's so hard to believe?" Emily asks. She doesn't sound offended, just curious. "Lots of people have kids."

"But you're my age," JJ says. There's a part of her that knows how stupid she is being, and although she's spent considerable time and effort learning how to suppress that part, it tends to pop up at the most inopportune moments, which is precisely how she ended up this mess with Will.

"It's not that hard to have a kid. Anyone can have a kid," Emily says. "It's easy to have a kid, in the literal sense of the word. But actually having a kid, keeping it alive and clean and happy, that part is hard. I wouldn't recommend it."

JJ is surprised. She remembers the way Emily looks at her daughter, the casual way she refers to parenthood. There is no shame, no resentment, nothing that JJ's mother keeps warning her about. "If you get knocked up, Jenny, you'll never be able to lift your head around here again. You'll never have your own life. You'll love that baby, yes, but it will remind you every single day what you never got to be."

"You seem ---" JJ stumbles for the right word. "You seem to be doing okay," which is not the right word but close enough.

"I'm more than okay," Emily says, leaning to catch a stray trickle of milkshake before it drips onto the table. For the first time, she actually looks JJ's age. Before, she's always looked older, grown up, someone who's got her life in order, illegitimate child with a former member of the Mafia notwithstanding. "I love Miranda. But like I said, it's hard. It's scary and it's hard but it's something I would do again, if I could go back."

"Even though it's hard."

"Even though it's hard. Even knowing how hard it's going to be. I would still choose Miranda, but it's not something I would wish on other people. Or --- well, it's not something I think everyone should run off and do. Obviously." Emily rolls her eyes a little and takes another sip of her milkshake. "It's not something I'd ever tell anyone they should do, if they were in my position. I love my kid, and I'm glad I have her. I was always going to have her. But it's hard. We get through, but it's hard."

The soda fountain is silent except for the ceiling fan and the faint tinkling of windchimes as another patron steps inside.

"It's so goddamn hot," says Emily, the sudden change of topic so jarring it might have given JJ whiplash. Emily looks at her watch. "Story Hour's almost over. You better go and relieve poor Mrs. Neville."

"She can tough it out for another few minutes," JJ says. She's chewed through her straw until she could barely drink her strawberry shake, and as Emily tells her briefly about growing up in the Middle East, where the heat is even more oppressive, more relentless, JJ thinks, Emily Prentiss might be the bravest person in the world.

JJ's period comes that night, ruining her sheets and filling her with a relief that is almost palpable as she scrubs her underwear clean in the bathroom sink at three in the morning.

She quits her job the following week, tells the boys' mom that she needs to practice for the scouts. Mrs. Forrester offers her a raise, which she turns down. Sorry, JJ tells her. It's a part of her life that is over.



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