Eyes so Cruel
You know it,
I don't own it
I don't get paid…
I have no life
(Words here from A.C. Smith's novel)
There once was a beautiful young girl who's stepmother made stay home with the baby.
The white owl was still flapping above her, but in other respects the scene had changed. She was standing on the staircase of her home, and it was dark outside. She raised her eyes to look at the owl. It circled her for a last time, found an open window, and flew out into the night. Then she was running up the stairs two at a time, shouting, "Toby! Toby!"
He was in his crib, fast asleep. She could not help but pick him up and cuddle him. He opened his eyes dozily, thought about crying, but decided that he was in good enough shape without it, so he smiled instead. Sarah picked up Launcelot from the floor and put the teddy bear in his arms, saying, "Here you are, Toby. He's yours." Then she tucked him into his crib again. He went straight to sleep. She stayed there with him for a long time, watching him breathe peacefully, with Launcelot in his arms.
Back in her own room, the full moon was shining outside her window. She left the curtains open, to see it. If she went to bed quickly, it would still be shining in when she turned the light out. The alarm clock by her bed showed that the time was after midnight. Her parents would be back from the show any minute now. She sat at her dressing table and picked up a hairbrush, but her attention wandered to the photographs she had around the mirror, her mother and Jeremy, smiling at each other like young lovers, the signed posters, the gossip stories about romantic attachment. Deliberately, she began to remove one picture after another from the mirror. She glanced at each one before putting it away in a drawer.
On the dressing table one picture remained, of her father and mother and herself, aged ten. Sarah straightened the picture. Then she went to get the music box and put it in the drawer along with the pictures and clippings, shoved far back. She put the book in the drawer with all the rest, and stood with her hand on it there. Sarah whispered. "I am closing a chapter of my life."
Three years later
Same girl, same baby
"Oh come on Sarah, it's the last weekend before we leave for College!" Ruth bellyached loudly drawing attention from the crowd in the mall. "And it's the concert of the decade… He's only going to be here this one night!"
"I can't," Sarah repeated trying to walk away from the group of girls who had cornered her. "I'm babysitting, and I'm late now," she turned her back to them. "I promised to be home by five and it's going on six. My folks have to leave the house by seven…"
"Sarah, come on!" Leeanne followed her. "It's the last of the concerts in the park, it's free…"
"I don't want to be a fifth wheel, Lee…" she called over her shoulder. "You all have dates, Ruth with Johnny, you with Mike and Ronnie with Chuck… that leaves me…alone…"
Ronnie rushed past her and blocked her path out of the mall. "WE can get you a date, that's not a problem, and you know it."
Green eyes the color of emeralds in the sunset flashed with the fire of a bad memory. "Oh no," she scowled. "Remember the last blind date you three arranged?" Flushed faces told her that they did indeed recall the disaster of the last blind date, Paul Stucky. "You all swore he was a nice guy… and if I'd gotten in his car that night I'd be maimed or dead… stupid drunken lout…"
Leeanne protested, "We didn't know he had a drinking problem… we would never have suggested him if we had."
Sarah paused, looking upset and angry with herself. "I know, I'm not blaming you, not really…look dates and I don't work out…it's like I'm jinxed and I don't want to stick my neck out again… you go, have a fine time and let me know how it works out…."
"But Sarah, we're all going away next week, this is our last chance to go out as a group." Leeanne reasoned.
"Oh let her go run home to babysit," Ruth snapped. "We don't need her to have a good time."
"Shut up," Ronnie growled to Ruth before adding her two cents. "Arnie is going to the concert alone; he can pick you up on his way…."
"I said no!" Sarah was getting flustered. "Look, I gave my word to my folks a month ago."
"Don't they ever let you out?" Ruth snarled. "You're their daughter, not their free slave!" Her normally pleasant voice was becoming shrill.
Sarah was approaching blind fury, and it always seemed to be Ruth Jefferies who pushed her to the edge. Leeanne was trying to put herself between them. "What do you want from me, Ruth? My dad is being made a full partner of the firm… they've had this planned for a month, long before this concert was ever announced, and I promised them." She was ready to feed Ruth her own teeth. "It's not like they have me chained to Toby you know."
"You may as well be chained to that brat," Ruth was still pissed at not getting her way. Being an only child she had no idea of what Sarah's life was like, and didn't care to learn. "You missed prom, you missed the senior trip, the Class picnic and a dozen other events, I'm surprised they let you out to do some shopping and that you're not dressed in rags….Its like you're his personal slave," she complained unreasonably. "Everything he wants he gets!"
"Oh you're ridiculous!" Sarah turned away.
"Bring Toby," Leeanne suggested quickly, coming up with a plan that she felt seemed logical. "It's a free concert, and there's going to be lots of families…we can sit on the hillside, away from the crush at the stage, do a picnic supper!" She was pushing the excitement trying to rally the troops. "Cold chicken, sandwiches and that sort of thing!"
"Oh yeah right," Ruth scoffed not wanting to be saddled with anyone's little brother, but especially not Toby. "I'm not sitting up on the hill when I have a chance to be near the stage! And I hate picnics, the food always brings ants out."
Ronnie and Lee were ignoring the outburst. "We can have Arnie bring you, and drive you right back home when the concert is done… How often do you get a chance to hear J.G.King and the Fairtones?" Lee pleaded wanting Sarah to do something with them before they went their separate ways.
"Karen will have a fit, what if it rains?" She pointed to the sky that had begun clouding up a short time earlier.
"We'll bring umbrellas," Ronnie promised. "And a poncho for the squirt," Ronnie could see her words were hitting close to scoring. "Come on Sarah… its J.G.King and the Fairtones!"
"If Arnie can pick us up, and take us home….okay…"Sarah sighed praying that Karen would be reasonable about this.
Karen was touching up her nails with bashful pink polish in the kitchen when Sarah arrived. "Thought I was going to have to send the Calvary out," she teased gently, treading lightly on the truce that they had forged. "I was getting worried."
"Sale," she showed her stepmother the bags containing new outfits to wear to school. "And I ran into Leeanne and Ronnie and Ruth." Sarah placed the shopping bags down as she began to wonder how to broach the subject of the concert.
Karen heard the edgy tone when the girl said the last name. "Ruth Jeffries has never been your favorite person…in fact I think you hate her more than you hated me." She teased gently.
"Oh much more," Sarah teased back. "There's a concert in the park tonight…and they suggested me bringing Toby and sitting on the hill away from the crush, having a picnic up on the hill while the concerts going on. You know cold chicken and that sort of thing…what do you think?" Sarah didn't want to say anything, but half of her was hoping that Karen would turn the idea down flat. It was the other half that worried her, she'd not really cared about this concert until just now.
"What kind of concert?" She asked finishing her last nail and blowing on her finger tips; her voice was inquisitive and not at all tense.
"Concert;" Robert's voice boomed as he entered the room. "What concert?" He was having problems with his cuff links and frowned seeing his wife's painted nails. "Sarah," he extended his wrists to the girl.
Sarah answered as she fastened his links; "The free concert in the park Daddy, the headliners are J.G. King and the Fairtones."
"Oh them," Robert didn't seem very impressed, but then few of the groups popular with the young crowd impressed him. "I thought you agreed to babysit for us," he frowned.
"I did, it's just that it's the last weekend before everyone leaves for school… and…" Sarah looked away. "The girls are pushing for one last outing with the gang before they leave for school…"
"And you didn't tell them you've opted to stay here and take classes locally?" Karen looked at her with that 'Sarah, you disappoint me,' look.
"How could I," Sarah asked quietly. "They are so excited about going away…I couldn't spoil it for them." She shrugged. "I could never figure out how to say I was rejected by all the schools I applied to, when Stanford accepted Ruth… And with Leeanne going to Colombia, and Ronnie going to Vassar... How was I supposed to tell them?"
Robert looked at Karen, and gave her the 'it's up to you' look. Karen sighed. "Well, put the shrimp into his jammies, promise you'll keep a close eye on him… and yes, you can go." Seeing the joy on Sarah's face was enough for Karen. "How do you intend to get there?"
"Arnie is coming to get us…" Sarah answered caustiously.
"Such a nice boy," Karen blew at her nails again. "I don't understand why you two didn't go to prom together…"
"I'm not his type," Sarah shrugged not wanting to make an issue out of the subject of Arnie Bloomquist.
Karen pursed her lips and sighed, "Oh he prefers blondes I suppose… well, I guess that's natural what with him being Swedish and all."
Karen's innocence sometimes threw Sarah for a loop. "Yeah, he liked em blond…" she began looking around, "Where is the little Toby monster anyway?"
Karen pointed up toward the ceiling, "He's up in the attic room, found some old things up there and he's built a fortress for himself with blankets and some of the old furniture and fixtures …Good luck getting him out of there." She waved her hands, putting one nail to her lips to test its dryness. "By the way Sarah, you should know better than to leave such a mess up in the attic." Karen looked over at her, giving her the 'I need order' look.
"I haven't been in the attic recently," Sarah said defensively. "Why what's wrong up there now?" Over the years things mysteriously seemed to appear or disappear or get messed up in the attic. Karen had the exterminators out fearing rats several times.
"There are a couple of boxes up there of your old things, all strewn about in one corner," Karen said as she wiggled her fingers. "The lid was knocked off lopsided as if you were in a hurry to put the box down…and some of your old plush toys fell out, a few other items too…"
"My old stuff," she questioned. "I stuck my boxes of stuff on one of the shelves… could it have gotten knocked over when the repairmen were here for the electrical work you had done?" Sarah asked trying to remember what was in those boxes, after all it had been three years since she'd put her toys up there. She was sure there was nothing up there of any value.
"I suppose," Karen was now more interested in her nails than the attic. "But Toby glommed on to some of your old toys, and he's hold up with them in his new fort up there. If he weren't so cute, I'd have had a fit when I saw the mess."
Picking up her shopping bags, Sarah promised to check up on Toby after she put her things away. She took the back stairs rather than grand staircase in the living room, moving quickly to get her bundles to her room. It was a different feeling room than it had been three years ago, but Sarah was not sure why it felt different. Perhaps it was the fact that the toys were gone. Perhaps the fact that she was older and wiser or maybe it was just that she'd accepted life as it was. It had been a long time since she had thought about the changes. The colors of her bedspread and her curtains were the same. The furnishings were the same, with the exception that she'd gotten rid of the childish cornice, the shadowbox and the posters were also gone from her wall. Now she had watercolors in white and gold frames, and more bookshelves and a brand new computer on her desk where toys and games had been piled. The room was more mature, and more orderly. Her vanity held only one picture on its mirror, one of her with her parents and Merlin when he was a pup.
Placing the bags on the end of her bed, she slipped out of her shopping shoes. Barefooted she softly padded from the bed to the closet to hang up the items she'd bought. Her closet was different as well; three years ago there had been more costumes than street clothes hanging in here. The door opened and one saw a poster of a rock star back then. Today the back of her closet door held a shoe caddy for her dress shoes, a gift from Karen. Her father had given her a closet organizer for her sweet sixteenth birthday, and now she was trying to remember what it had looked like three years ago only to find her memory foggy. Once she'd finished hanging up the new clothes she changed from her shopping clothes into jeans and a casual pullover and hushpuppies before going up the stairs to the attic room. "Toby, you up here?" she called.
"No," the muffled answer came from under a makeshift tent of old quilts and table linens that needed patching.
Sarah remembered her own forts up here and smiled. Toby's tent was far more imaginative than anything she'd ever come up with. It looked like it had been well thought out and executed with care. "Well I guess that means you don't want to go on a picnic tonight." She turned to leave knowing that before she reached the door he'd be at her heels.
"Picnic?" he shot out from under the tent with something squeezed tightly under his arm. "What picnic?" As she'd expected he was hot on her heels following her out of the attic and down stairs toward his room.
"There's a concert in the park tonight, and we've been invited to go hear it." She opened the door of his room. "Here's the deal, you have to get washed and changed into jammies and a robe; and we'll be taking a picnic supper to the park." She pointed to the bath room. "Scrub your face, hands… and this time get your ears and neck…Mom said you missed them completely last night."
"I'm not dirty," he said in a huff, "I'm just fine…"
"Wash!" Sarah barked and he dropped the bundle under his arm on his bed. Sarah picked up the scruffy looking toy and tried to remember it but it held only a foggy memory for her. "Toby, where'd you get this?"
"Your box in the attic… there's all kinds of good junk in there," his voice was muffled by the wash cloth.
"Good junk," she huffed sitting on his bed and looking at the plush toy, for the life of her she could not place it. It had surly seen better days, and someone had covered a missing eye with a patch. Something about him, for surely it was male, was kind of familiar even in the fog of memory. He gave her a warm and safe feeling. "He's a cute little guy, isn't he?"
"He's not cute," sulked her little brother as he came out of the bath. "HE'S a knight! Knights are not cute." He argued thinking he was right.
"They are to fair maidens," quipped his older sister. "Jammies pal, and make sure you put on a clean pair… oh and slippers too… no bare feet in the park. I'm going down to pack supper… hurry or you'll miss saying good bye to mom and dad." She dropped the toy on the bed and prepared to leave.
"Don't be so rough with Sir Didymus!" roared Toby. "He's very old and needs to be handled with care, you ninny."
Sarah looked at him, "Sir Didymus," she questioned. "That's an odd name. Where did you get it from?"
Toby stared at her as if she had grown a second head. "That's what he said his name was," the boy exclaimed.
"Ah," Sarah smiled thinking back to when she too made up such stories of toys talking to her. "Okay…see you down stairs." Leaving his room she could have sworn she heard two sets of snickers. Hearing the doorbell she pushed the odd thoughts from her mind and raced to the back stairs and the kitchen.
When the bell rang Karen opened the door to find Arnie Bloomquist's gangly frame standing there. "Hello Arnie, Sarah will be down in a jiffy, she's just getting Toby ready to go," she stepped aside so the boy could enter. He was not a tall boy, nor was he handsome; in fact Arnie was just plain. He was averaged in height, but his thin long-limbed leggy frame made him appear taller. His hair was dirty dishwater blond that lay flat on his oddly shaped head. His face was long and rather pointed, giving him a rather gnomish look, but he had the most beautiful blue eyes Karen had ever seen and a sweet shy smile.
"Dahk," he said forgetting to speak in English instead of his native Swedish.
"You're welcome," Karen snickered gently use to the fact that this boy was still getting use to his new homeland.
Arnie walked over to Mr. Williams and smiled. "god kväll,"
"English Arnie," Robert reprimanded also gently, with a wink.
He winced, "Good evening." He had a habit of speaking Swedish when he was nervous.
Sarah popped her head into the parlor, "Hey Arnie, thanks for the lift… you like cold chicken don't you?"
"Ya," he nodded with a wide grin for his friend; "Especially if it's made by your mom here." He smiled at Karen.
Karen looked at her wristwatch, "Robert, we really need to get a move on," she went into the kitchen to have a word with Sarah. "Lock up when you go out, and don't forget to take a blanket for Toby, the little quilt on his bed… oh and don't let him go running around the park in the dark."
"I know…" Sarah said putting chicken into a plastic container to carry to the park. "Anything else?"
Karen hugged her stepdaughter, "Have fun…"
Ya sure," Sarah imitated Arnie's accent.
Arnie joined Sarah in the kitchen as she packed the old picnic hamper. She smiled at her friend, "Rye bread or rye crackers?" she asked.
"Both," he replied with a gentle grin. "Don't forget the cheese, Sarah." He took a seat at the table. "How'd they talk you into this?"
"Same way they talked you into it," she surmised. "The last outing gig and the guilt at not having done the prom or the trip or the senior breakfast….you name it."
"Ya, I thought so," his accent was soft but present. "You think they'd figure it out…"
Sarah shrugged. "You're not obvious with your likes and dislikes Arnie." She giggled. "Karen was just trying to hook us up…"
"No," he said rolling his eyes. "What did you tell her?"
"I said I wasn't your type, and she thought I meant blonds…." Sarah explained as she packed the hamper.
"I do like blonds," Arnie admitted. "Just ones with outdoor plumbing."
Slapping his shoulder, Sarah giggled. "Just keep that under wraps for now… and don't say anything too obvious in front of Toby, okay?"
Arnie pointed to the stairs and the little boy who was trying to sneak down. "Speak of the devil…" He watched as the little boy came into the room. "Hello Toby, what you got there?"
"My friend, he wants to come too." In the boys robed arms was the scruffy toy from the attic. "Can he?"
"May he," Sarah corrected absently. "Yes, I suppose its fine."
Arnie looked at the toy, "My he's a fine looking friend."
Toby nodded, "He was Sarah's friend first, now he's mine…"
Sarah looked at the basket, "Okay, meat, bread, crackers, condiments, and cheese… what should I pack for desert? Apples," she suggested knowing Karen kept fresh fruit in the pantry. She stopped dead in her tracks when both Toby and Arnie answered…