“Oh, before I go,” said Mr. Jenson as he donned his coat, reaching a hand into his pocket. “I thought this might interest you.”
His voice had dropped to a conspiratorial tone as he handed you a tarnished, silver half hunter fobwatch. With an excited gasp and delicate fingers you accepted it from him, looking hopefully at his excited brown eyes. You turned your attention back down to the watch, engraved with an elaborate Celtic design. Though the hands were visible, it was difficult to discern the time for the visible inner workings of the watch distracted your eyes. Upon clicking the device open, you were delighted to see the intricate cogs and wheels through a protective layer of quartz. Then, something strange about the Roman numerals caught your eye. The hour and minute hand were both frozen at XIII. “It has thirteen hours!”
“I know, isn’t it strange?” he said, looking over his shoulder at the door through which the missus was waiting, likely with impatience. “It doesn’t work, but I felt you would appreciate something odd like this.”
“Of course I do, it’s beautiful,” you said, gently tracing the etched design with a forefinger. “Thank you so much.”
“Oh, you’re welcome, you deserve it for taking care of Rachel tonight.” A flash of disappointment, perhaps even embarrassment crossed his face. “But there’s something else odd about this watch. I don’t know if you’d be interested, but…I’ve looked all over and inside it, with a magnifying glass, no less, and I can’t find any indication of the maker.”
“Hm. Well, maybe I’ll figure out the mystery of the thirteen-hour watch with no maker,” you joked. He laughed his pensive laugh, toying with his wedding band as he looked from you to the watch.
Mrs. Jenson slammed the door open, red curls flouncing and button nose flaring with frustration, shaped eyebrows drawn sternly over her black eyes. “Timothy, sometime today? We’re not paying this girl so you can sit around and chat while our dinner reservation gets passed down the waiting list!”
“Coming, dear,” he said with a soft chuckle, shaking his head at you. “If she ever gets off that computer, tell her Daddy loves her.”
“Will do, Mr. Jenson.”
“I’ve told you, call me Tim.”
You smiled as he left, weighing the watch in your hand. As you walked slowly down the hall, you thought over the issue of the creator-less watch. Perhaps there was a place he had overlooked. Then again, he was a clever man and one with a keen eye; you recalled one time he had described every single thing you’d been wearing on a five-second chance encounter at the supermarket. He did not easily overlook anything, and you doubted you could find anything he’d missed.
In any case, it was a really beautiful watch.
It was in your nature to avoid babysitting kids like this. But you needed the money. You really, really needed the money.
“I’m bored,” whined the blond-haired little girl for the fifth time in twenty minutes, letting her pink DSI fall to the floor. “What can I do?”
You tried really hard to keep patient, tugging a hand down your face as you thought through a list of ideas you’d already tried. “You’re seven, aren’t you? That’s old enough to read. Go read something.”
“But I don’t know what I could read!”
Patience. Patience. “Come on,” you sighed, getting up from your cross-legged ponder session in the family’s nice leather chair.
To quell your annoyance at this unimaginative child as you led her to her father’s library, you reminded yourself why you needed to be here. It wasn’t just the money you needed; it was the trust. Mrs. Jenson tended not to like you very much, for reasons you couldn’t quite put a finger on; and while you normally wouldn’t care the opinion of some stuck-up interior designer who had very little to do with your life, you did care in this instance, because you liked Mr. Jenson. He was a really cool guy, and you really could talk for hours with him about practically anything. And if you wanted to keep that up, you would have to stay on Mrs. Jensen’s good side, and that meant keeping her spoiled little daughter happy.
Mr. Jenson’s library smelled like books. It didn’t smell like dusty or damaged books, but not quite like new ones; it had the slightly musty smell of well-loved books. It was a small room, about eight by ten feet, with full bookshelves on two opposite walls and a window with a cushioned ledge on the wall opposing the door. Beside the window was a well-worn leather armchair, cracked and faded on the one arm exposed to the sun beaming through the window. There was one heavy velvet curtain at the window and it was always tucked up to one side, dust settled on the folds to show it hadn’t been moved in some time.
“Alright,” you said, thrusting energy into the syllables as Rachel took a seat on the ledge and kicked her legs against the wall under it. Ignoring the sound of the child’s heels no doubt scuffing the mint green wall, you drew a finger along the spines of some thick romance novels. “Probably not.” Your eyes scanned the shelves until you found one with thin picture books and bright covers.
“Dr. Seuss,” you muttered. “Ooh, Charlotte’s Web…Huckleberry Finn…Ah, yes, Grimm’s Fairytales…” Your brow furrowed at the unmarked red spine of a leather-bound book. It bore no dust jacket, and as you slid it out from its spot, you suspected it might even be hand bound.
The leather was soft, scuffed around the edges, the front cover was bordered with two thin black lines about an inch from each other and acting as a track for ten blocky black roses.
“The Labyrinth.” You ran a finger over the embossed yellow words upon the surface, quirking an eyebrow. “I’ve never heard of this book.” With the care of holding a butterfly, you stroked the yellowed pages and pressed a page open, leafing briefly through the pages. You glanced back at the bored little girl, her chubby hands picking at a loose thread in the cushion. There’s no way she would be interested in this book.
But you would be.
“Here,” you said, coming to her with the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
She took Bad Beginnings and opened it just past the title page, scanning it with her nose turned up. You watched intently for her to take interest. “I don’t like it.”
“You’ve only just started—“
“It’s says things what are confusing,” she sneered, “just like Daddy. He says silly words that don’t make sense.”
“Well, he does have an impressive vocabulary,” you remarked fondly, smirking.
“I can’t read that one,” she said, pointing to Twain’s work. “Mommy said it says a bad word what rhymes with Tigger.”
“Well of course it does, it was written in—“ You huffed in exasperation. The only DVDs this little girl owned were things like High School Musical and movies about talking dogs who acted a lot more like humans than dogs. You doubted she even knew who Tigger was. “Do you even know who Tigger is?”
She shook her head. You turned back to the bookshelf, scanning with purpose this time. Your finger touched the spine of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as your eye snagged on a book on the shelf just above. “Oh he even has the Tao of Pooh. I’m impressed.”
You handed the book to the bored girl and opened it for her, coaxing her to read as you took your seat in Mr. Jenson’s chair. Upon opening the book in your hands, you noted the curving, twining design on the endpapers. It looked hand-drawn.
The title page simply read “The Labyrinth” and when you turned the page, it was blank. There was no publisher (as you could expect from a hand-bound book) and there was no year, and there was no author. Thoroughly intrigued, you began to read.
Tried to. And then, “This book is for babies. I don’t like it.”
“Well do you want to pick out one for yourself?” you offered, patiently.
“No. I don’t like reading. Daddy reads too much and it makes him weird,” she huffed, throwing the book down.
“Hey!” You immediately jammed your tongue into your cheek and dove for the book, leaving The Labyrinth on the chair behind you. “Look, you’ve dented the pages…augh. New idea. You don’t get to be in the library.”
“Good!” and she stomped out of the room as you stroked and replaced the abused book. You had only just picked up the red book when she yelled from down the hall, “So what can I do?”
You groaned. “What toys do you have?”
“Toys?” she asked, making an exaggerated effort to sound like she had never heard of the thing before.
“I know you have toys.”
She did have toys.
She had six-hundred and twenty-seven of them. “Daddy made me count them when I was bored once.”
“That’s brilliant,” you laughed to yourself. “Well why don’t you play with any of them?”
You raised an eyebrow.
“Well then, why don’t you play with them right now?”
The opening and closing of her mouth and wandering eyes indicated her carefully chosen but failed attempts at argument, and she sighed in defeat.