Chapter 1: The Babysitter
"This must be it."
I opened the door of my car, careful not to hit the expensive-looking convertible I had parked next to. I sighed in relief after getting out without an incident. There I was, fresh out of another year of high school, and I was already back to work.
Well, babysitting. But I was supposedly getting paid, so it's work.
My destination was in a secluded area, one of the few houses on the only mountain of Destiny Islands. The road back was a long, winding, curl down the mountain, so much it was at least a ten minute drive to reach sea level. From my house, which was inconveniently across town, it was a whopping forty minute drive. And on an island as small as mine, that was quite the significant amount.
I took in the sight of the house of my recent employers. I had to admit, it wasn't what I expected. I mean, I never expected that my P.E. teacher would have such a… large and beautiful estate. Then again, she was a martial arts champion back in the day. But did martial artists make that much money?
Ending my admiration of the wonderful house, I made my way towards the front entrance. I opened a screen door, which was heavier than I expected, and lightly pressed the doorbell, straightening out my clothes.
The door opened, so I looked up and locked eyes with— have you ever encountered something that was so unexpected, so unreal, and so… I don't know, improbable, that when it happened, you were just stunned and swept off your feet? Well, this was one of those times. I was looking at (and I was also being looked at) Cloud Strife, a freaking award-winning actor.
No way. This couldn't be the right house. Hell, this couldn't be reality. One puzzle piece fell into place: the man before me was reason enough for such a nice home.
"A-Are you… Cloud Strife? The Cloud Strife?" I asked in awe. Seriously! I must have missed the right house! This wasn't possible.
"Yep. Are you the tennis player? The star tennis player?" he repeated in the same fashion. Was he mocking me?
Wait. He knew I was a tennis player. The most publicity I've gotten was a local news segment that nobody watched. How in the world did a big-shot actor like him know something about someone as small as me?
I stood there in silence for a while. His face indicated… nothing. No smile, no frown… no trace of surprise or feeling or anything. I couldn't deny that each of those was fighting for a place on my face, which was twisted with all sorts of feelings.
"Cloud, is that Kairi at the door?" a familiar voice asked. I snapped out of my reverie and focused on the sound of approaching footsteps. The Cloud Strife took a step to the side.
And there was my P.E. teacher and tennis coach. Why, hello there. Thank you for telling me you lived with an A-list celebrity. Would you happen to be his maid?
"Miss Lockhart!" I said excitedly. And awkwardly. She smiled, ignoring my raised brow, and actually shoved the Cloud Strife as she passed him. He smirked.
Holy. Sexy- did anyone else see that?
"Come in, come in! Sorry, I would've answered the door, but I was still helping Penny and Vaan dress," she said exasperatedly, tucking strands of her long black hair behind her ear. I was rooted in place, unable to follow her orders. What about the famous guy standing there? Is he going to be a problem? She turned to Cloud, arms akimbo. "I told you not to answer the door! Way to kill the surprise!"
He shrugged, not saying anything. This was way too weird. I was standing in front of one of my teachers and a famous celebrity, and she acted perfectly normal. You know, because this happens often. Those teachers and celebrities really hit it off all day every day.
I'm sorry. I'm getting out of hand.
What is my teacher doing in the house of a celebrity, which is obviously not the house I was supposed to end up at?
No use in trying to stall. I had to ask. "Miss Lockhart, why is the Cloud Strife in your house…?" I shot a glance in his direction. He casually met my eyes, forcing me to look back at my teacher. My breathing got heavier as I waited for the answer.
"Ah, yes… about that… you see, Mr. Strife here is my husband."
Ha. Hahaha... ha...
The last thing I remembered seeing was a beautiful chandelier hanging from a high ceiling.
And then I heard something.
"I told you it was a good idea to have her come early. Now you owe m—"
The sound of my teacher's voice interrupted the sentence, "Ssssh! She's waking up!"
I slowly opened my eyes, waiting for the pain to kick in from the impact I made with the floor. I waited… and waited… and nothing happened. I looked to discover I was lying on a soft sofa. Funny. I didn't step in front of that before falling.
"Huh?" I sat up. Regardless of the lack of pain, my hand still made its way to rub the back of my head.
"You fainted," Cloud told me, sliding one of his hands into a pocket. Wow. I didn't know we were on the familiar friendship level. Hello, my name is Kai—
"I caught you before you hit the ground. Couldn't let anything happen to my babysitter, right?" My coach smiled at me and slowly rubbed my back.
"Oh," I said dumbly. I was talking to a celebrity. And my teacher was married to him. Did I wake up? Probably not.
"Sorry, I know that was unexpected," Miss Lockhart said as she placed a hand on my lap, "but if everyone knew who I was married to, well, I wouldn't be able to teach in peace."
So I wasn't dreaming. Ha! It was all real.
I nodded. "I understand…" because I'm just that wonderful, "…though, I can't deny the fact that this had to be one of the biggest surprises ever." I giggled. The blonde smirked. Call me a fangirl, but I blushed.
It was a joke, wasn't it? It had to be a joke. There was something wrong with the picture. There had to be. "Is this... real?" I asked hesitantly.
My teacher offered a small smile and a slow nod. "Yeah. No hidden cameras, no script. This is all real. I am married to a famous actor, I live in a very nice house on the only mountain of Destiny Islands, and I am indeed a tennis coach that offered my star player a babysitting job."
I could sense nothing but sincerity. She didn't say she was an actress after all. "Okay. I believe you." I released a long breath, letting the information sink in.
Then it hit me.
"By the way… may I have an autograph, please?" I asked nervously. What? It was a valid question.
Both adults broke into a light laughter.
"Sure. When we get back, I'll give you a signed check," he said with a faint smile. His wife (which I was still trying to establish in my mind) turned to him with a scowl.
"You know she's not talking about that," she scolded. She turned back to me, standing up. "I'll make him sign something for you. We'll give it to you with the paycheck when we get back. Sound good to you, Kairi?"
"Of course!" I said excitedly, shooting up from the couch I was sitting on. Of course I wasn't overzealous about. He just happened to be a hot superstar, and I a normal, ordinary girl that wanted to take advantage of a wondrous opportunity.
"Well, seeing as how you're all better, how about I show you the kitchen and back? And the house, of course. Cloud, will you get her suitcase out of the car?"
I looked at her, a shocked expression on my face. "How'd you know I had one?" I also wanted to ask her why she would make a masterpiece like him do manual labor, but that wasn't my business.
"Well, for one thing, I told you to bring one. You'll be staying here for a week, right?" I nodded dumbly. Of course. Way to look like one of those "book-smart only" kids, Kairi. "And two, your car is weighed down in the back. So, by the looks of it…"
Cloud groaned. If that didn't scream "more than one suitcase," then I wouldn't know how to explain it further. That didn't change the fact that her husband (I resisted the urge to tear up at the thought of another guy off-limits) went outside to perform his duty.
I laughed nervously. "You sure have quite the eye for detail…" I said, following her through the kitchen. She stopped and turned around to face me.
"You have to have one to be a good martial artist. I've trained to the point where I notice everything. Why, the scrunching of his eyes as he throws a punch, the way his lips curl as he prepares a roundhouse kick, which foot he steps back with first… the cringing expression he puts when he knows he's about to get it…" She laughed, ending her explanation. "Sorry, it's been a while, and I like remembering the glory days."
Shaking my head, I laughed. "It's no problem. Will you ever consider hopping back on that path?"
"I'll be going to a competition in Twilight Town on this little vacation. I hope there'll be some great competition. Wonder if I still got it…" she said more to herself, her hands curling into fists. I smiled, noticing her excitement. "Oh, I'm sorry. I kind of went off there, didn't I?"
"It's fine. Your kitchen is nice, by the way," I slid my hand along the countertop, admiring the design.
"Oh, thank you. Picked it out myself: cabinets, stove, fridge, everything. I labeled the locations of everything for you. By the end of the week, you'll know every little nook and cranny, won't you?"
I laughed sheepishly. "Probably. So, I've seen most of downstairs…." I pointed to the staircase. "What's up there?"
"Oh! The rooms. You can stay in the guest room… you know what, I'll just show you." We left the kitchen, passing by an inconspicuous, closed door. Since it wasn't even mentioned, I figured it wasn't anything important. She led me up the stairs, taking each step one at a time. Lovely time for small talk.
"Miss Lockhart, if you don't mind me asking… how is all this possible? Cloud Strife is such a famous celebrity. How can he not get any public attention? What about the paparazzi? I mean, aren't famous people publicized no matter how hard they try?"
She laughed "Kairi, have you seen the man? He doesn't knock out with glares. He kills multiple times over. He's scared many people off quite easily… not to mention we have Miss Kisaragi on the coast of Destiny Islands to attract all the attention… and some connections," she mumbled at the end, piquing my interest.
"Connections? What do you mean?" we reached the top of the staircase and she stopped, her voice lowered to a whisper.
"We have someone… a friend who… 'censors,'" she said and actually air quoted, "most of the tabloids. He's quite skilled with technology. It's not that Cloud avoids or escapes the fame he's so conveniently wrapped himself in; rather, we have the ability to make sure his life doesn't reach the public. Word of mouth, especially of tabloid magazine journalists, rarely reaches beyond friends and family. So let's just leave it at that, shall we?"
I nodded quickly, following her lead. "Of course. So… what room is this?" We were at the end of the hallway, and I was curious to know what exactly existed here. Was it safe to expect another celebrity? Just to make things more shocking, maybe there'd be a unicorn inside!
Opening the door a crack, she turned and smiled at me. "Mine." She pushed the door open and stepped inside.
It was actually very plain. I was expecting… I don't know, something more of the rooms you see on T.V., but this one was standard. A king-sized bed, a flat screen T.V., a loveseat, and a set of drawers filled the space. The walls were painted a light, pale green, and the curtained windows allowed just enough light to give it the perfect, comfortable ambience it was definitely designed to capture. She led me around to a short hallway with mirrors on both sides.
"Closets, of course. Mine's the one on the left," Miss Lockhart noted as she slid the bathroom door aside. The bathroom was, much to my excitement, the kind of bathroom worthy of a celebrity.
The bath tub was huge, and most of its walls were lined with jets. Many different bath mixes and candles were placed around the tub, and a light scent of lavender permeated from a mysterious source. Close to the tub was a shower with a glass door. From above, about three different showerheads, all from different angles, hung from the ceiling. My coach squealed excitedly and hopped into the shower.
"You need to see this. We got this installed a month ago, and I still can't get over how cool it is!" She giggled, which was strange coming from such a… disciplined woman, but I watched. She closed the glass door, and after a click, my teacher disappeared behind a fogged glass door.
Now that was cool. "Whoa!" I heard her laugh, echoing from the little shower box.
"Isn't that great? I have no idea how it works." Another click, and the glass returned to normal. She stepped out. "But it's so cool! My husband's not too fond of it though," she said with a wink. I couldn't help but blush. Too much information.
"What don't I like?" a voice asked from outside the bathroom. We both turned to see Gorgeous… pardon, Mr. Strife standing there with his arms crossed.
"It's nothing, honey. Just showing Kairi the bathroom." She ignored the look he gave her and turned to me. "You know, the kids really love the Jacuzzi-bathtub thingy. Sometimes the only way to get 'em to bathe is a bubble bath!" I nodded, pretending that we were in fact talking about the kids.
"I put every bag you had in the guest room," he said, looking at me. While I melted, he turned to his wife. "We have to leave soon, Tifa. You have about twenty minutes. "
"Oh! That's plenty of time. C'mon. I'll show you the rest of the place. Let's head to the kids' room first…"
After the house tour, I found myself outside, a child's hand in each of my own. The children, Penelo and Vaan, and I were waving the parents good-bye. The kids were simply adorable. Penelo, or "Penny," had her blond hair in short pigtails, while Vaan's fell around the sides of his face. They were twins, four years old and turning five in two months. I assumed they liked me as much as I liked them. I mean, they were holding my hands, and I had met both of them on occasion at tennis meets, so I was already comfortable with them. After speaking with the limo driver, the two parents walked toward us.
"We'll miss you so much," Miss Lockhart told her children. Her voice sounded as if she were about to cry. Her kids were happily smiling and hugged her back.
"We'll miss you too, Mommy," Penelo said, her tiny hands on her mother's cheeks. Vaan nodded enthusiastically. Cloud knelt down and patted his kids on their heads, rubbing them lightly.
"You two better be good for Kairi here. Protect your sister, Vaan." It was the first time I saw a full smile on the stoic actor's face.
"Yes, sir!" Vaan gave the salute only a four year old could give, and I couldn't help but smile. It had to be a crime to be that cute. Cloud stood up, directing his gaze at me.
"Take care of them for us. And call if they're giving you trouble," he said, the faintest smile on his face. I nodded nervously and gulped. I wasn't nervous. Just getting over the fact that I was being addressed by… forget it.
Miss Lockhart stood at full height, giving me a hug. "Thank you so much for everything, Kairi. I know you'll be fine. We'll call every now and then to check up on you guys!"
"We'll be happy to hear from you," I said, folding my hands behind my back.
The farewell seemed to go by far too quickly. We watched the limo head down the street, and when it turned the corner, they were gone. The children looked up at me with their smiling faces, a double dose of cuteness. So freaking adorable.
And so it finally began. I would babysit the kids for a week, fulfill all the obligations of a normal parent, and live in the house of a celebrity. And I would get paid while doing so.
The kids were still staring at me with curiosity. I had to do something to entertain them. "C'mon guys," I said, lightly tugging their tiny hands. "Wanna go swimming?"
Small edits made on 9/20/12.