The Syphers lived in Naperhill, a fairly large suburb which I had never before visited. Chad Sypher worked for some large company as a translator and was apparently needed on short notice for a business meeting, but his normal babysitter was ill. Finding him was made rather easy by a large sign saying, “James, my new best friend,” which he was holding over his head. His daughter, Aaliyah, was much smaller than I imagined she would be. I thought eleven-year-olds were taller than my waist, but this one’s pink backpack seemed enormous on her. Thinking of how small Alma was as a teenager persuaded me that some people truly were this tiny. Then the girl hid behind her father’s leg as I approached, and I gave up trying to understand girls of any age.
“Don’t be shy, my little princess. This wonderful guy is going to make sure you get everywhere on time.” He reached out and shook my hand, saying, “Hi. You can call me Chad, and this is my daughter, Aaliyah. I’m afraid she’s a bit timid around new people.” At a tug on his pants, he bent down to listen to something the girl was saying. “Oh? You think he’s cute?” Her tiny fist punched his arm, and he convincingly winced as if it hurt. Her blue eyes seemed enormous as they peered up through dirty blond hair. “Aaliyah will show you where the car is. Here’s a list of where she needs to be and some cash for dinner. Just be back here around eleven.” I took the items from his hand and told him I would do my best. He turned to his daughter and asked her to behave before abandoning me with his kid.
Aaliyah stared up at me and seemed to be biting the nail of her index finger. “Hasn’t your father told you not to bite your nails, silly.” Her eyes seemed to get even larger as she fidgeted and smiled at me. Then her arms spread apart as she said, “Upsy-daisy!” This caught me off-guard. “Aren’t you a bit big to be carried around?” Her lower lip jutted out in one of the most adorable pouts I had ever seen and her eyes seemed to water slightly. I couldn’t take it, so I bent down to lift her up, which immediately got her smiling again. She climbed onto my back, wrapped one arm around my neck, and pointed with the other, saying, “That way!” I walked as she directed me and was surprised when we stopped in front of a silver Mercedes CLS63 AMG. I exclaimed, “Your dad is having me drive this!?”
“You don’t like daddy’s car,” she pouted. “Like? I love his car. This thing is beautiful! I just can’t believe he’s letting an eighteen-year-old whom he just met drive it. This looks brand new.” Aaliyah kicked her legs free and dropped down. “He got it last month. Get in or we’ll be late.” She opened the passenger door, almost hitting me, and literally hopped inside. I backed up, took a picture of the car with my phone, and ran to the driver’s side. “Just let me send a quick text, and we’ll be off.” She frowned at me and looked at what I was doing as I quickly sent the picture to Jarod with the caption, “Babysitting can be fun!!!”
“You’re my chauffeur, and we’re going to be late. Now drive, pleeeease.” I reached for the keys, and then realized I never received any. “Do you have the keys, Aaliyah?” She sighed in a very exaggerated manner and hit the start button. I wasn’t accustomed to driving, much less something with a push-button start. “Daddy told me to hold onto the thinger. Just go already.” I must have missed her hitting the GPS as I admired the dashboard in front of me because a lady was from the speakers was telling me to get on the road. Something dawned on me as I backed up. “Are you really suppose to be up front,” I asked. She was so tiny. I didn’t want to get a ticket if a police officer pulled me over. “I’m buckled in. Just go already!” She was complaining, but her grin was far too cute to believe she was upset.
After a thirteen minute drive, which seemed all too short to me, we arrived at a small building labeled, “Kelly’s Dance Studio.” I parked away from the other cars as best as I could manage in the tiny lot. The idea of getting the slightest scratch on the car horrified me. Aaliyah was out of the car before I could even get the door for her. “Race you to the doors!” The kid actually beat me, though I honestly wasn’t trying. Kids like to win, right? “You may have won this time, but I’ll best you when we leave,” I taunted her, which earned me a tongue sticking out at me as I held the door for her. We walked down the hall a ways before she told me to take a seat in front of a window looking into a typical practice room for dance. I avoided places like this ever since I finally was allowed to quit dance lessons myself, and hadn’t thought I would be caught dead sitting in one to watch a lesson.
The girl dropped off her bag for me to watch after changing clothes, and then took off to join her class. I was rather surprised to see Aaliyah enter the room with high school girls and became increasingly impressed as I watched her dance. This group was fairly advanced, but Aaliyah pulled off twenty fouettés en tournant seemingly effortlessly. When asked, I would have to tell Jarod that I was admiring the “forms” of the high school girls instead of dance technique, or he would never let me live it down. I was, of course, to some extent. Dance kept people fit, and some of these girls were very fit. On the other hand, Aaliyah continued to impress me throughout her various classes: Hip Hop, Tap, and Jazz. She stepped out briefly between classes to “make sure I was still there” and grab water from her bag.
Jarod finally received my text from earlier. His response was the complete disbelief I expected, so I asked Aaliyah to take a picture with my phone of me sitting in the driver seat. She harrumphed like I was asking the world of her, and preceded to complain about how hungry she was for the entire drive to Olive Garden, comparing the pit in her stomach to the whole ocean and beyond. When we arrived, she hid behind me until we were seated. I felt way too young to be having a kid clinging to my leg. Perhaps I should have had siblings to prepare me for this, but I wasn’t going to bring that notion up to my parents. I received a text back from Jarod shortly after we were seated. He told me that even his dad was jealous.
Aaliyah skipped right past the kids menu and ordered far more spaghetti than I thought a kid could eat along with a strawberry frullato smoothie. “Are you sure that’s what your father let’s you get?” She looked at me with those huge, blue eyes and her mouth hanging open in shock. “Of course. Daddy wouldn’t want me to staaaaarve.” I just shook my head and hoped she wasn’t messing with me. Babysitting was definitely not my specialty. We ate, and I tried her smoothie when she demanded it. The thing was actually quite delicious. She actually surprised me by eating her entire plate of food as well as some breadsticks. We then took off after she used the restroom and I paid.
Her father’s note said we were suppose to go to her piano lessons next, but she vomited all over her seat before we were even halfway there. The smell was horrendous, but she just looked up at me and said, “I don’t feel so good.” We happened to be by a general store, so I quickly pulled over. I then took her to the restroom and told her to change back into her dance clothes while I bought some cleaning supplies. As I tried to figure out what to get, I couldn’t help wondering if I had any clause that would cover an additional fee for cleaning. Then I considered the car which needed cleaned and hoped I didn’t get a pay deduction.
I was about to call mother for advice, having not figured out a single thing to buy, when Aaliyah walked up to me in her dance uniform and started listing off supplies. I got the distinct impression that this was not the first time she lost her lunch in a vehicle, unless she had a hidden smart phone and was looking up cleaning instructions. Duh. I could have checked my phone. After making my purchases and getting some water from the bathroom, I went out and started cleaning the seat while Aaliyah laid in the back. The work was smelly and slow, but I was satisfied with the results. When finished, I asked her if she knew her teacher’s number, so I could apologize for missing the lesson.
There was no response. I looked in the back seat to find that the girl was gone. “Aaliyah? Aaliyah,” I called out while looking around the parking lot. I had no clue how she slipped out of the car without me noticing. I went into the store and asked if anyone saw her come back inside. They didn’t. This was an utter catastrophe. How could I be Chad’s best friend, for the night, if I lost his kid? Part of me happily realized this meant I wouldn’t be babysitting again. The realistic part of me crashed down in utter despair, knowing father would have me close shop. I trudged back to the car, hopelessly trying to formulate some plan to find her. As I went to open my door, I noticed a bit of pink sticking out between the seats. I pulled open the back door instead to find Aaliyah on the floor, apparently sleeping.
She had changed clothes again. “Aaliyah, are you awake?” Bleary eyes looked up at me, a very picturesque childhood moment: lost child found napping in an awkward position. “I’ll be right back, dear, but please crawl into the back seat and buckle up.” I went back into the store once more to tell the clerk I found the girl. Then I got back in the car and asked Aaliyah for her piano instructor’s number. “I already called her when you were cleaning. Check your phone,” came the tired voice. My phone was somehow in the center cup holder though I didn’t remember taking it from my pocket. I apparently did so when I was cleaning, or Aaliyah never could have used it. Sure enough, there was an unknown number which had been dialed from my phone.
I started driving back toward the train station, since cleaning the car had taken all too long. “Ice cream!!!” came a very awake shout from the back seat. I was dumbfounded. Surely I never felt like eating ice cream of all things after getting sick. What was this kid? “I really doubt that’s a good idea after what happened earlier.” This dissuaded her as well as a fly dissuades a charging rhino. “We must, James!!! Pleeeeease!!! I’ll tell daddy you were the bestest chauffeur in the entire world if you just get me one scoop… with sprinkles.. and nuts. Please, please, please!!!!” I tried not to groan too loudly as I pulled the car into the parlour’s parking lot. “Promise me that your stomach’s under control now.” I was attempting to give her a very stern look. The attempt was likely a failure. This girl wore cuteness like a tiara.
“Thank you!” She hugged me around the seat and skipped to the door, which she tugged open with two hands. The ice cream, surprisingly, didn’t cause her further stomach problems, and she was overly giddy when we arrived at the station. Aaliyah rambled on about various things she enjoyed, such as her favorite music, cities, and games. The girl seemed to be better traveled than I was. I was engrossed enough speaking with her that I missed her father’s arrival. “There’s my little princess,” exclaimed Chad as he approached us. “DADDY,” was her enthusiastic reply as she jumped into his arms and hugged him. “Everything go alright, James?”
“For the most part, yes. I was astounded by how well your daughter dances. Unfortunately, she may have ate a bit much at Olive Garden.” He lifted her away from himself and looked her in the eye, “I thought I told you to behave. Did you order the adult spaghetti again?” She grinned ear-to-ear at him, and I could easily tell that she wasn’t in any trouble. “This isn’t the first time she’s missed a piano lesson. How’s the car?” I shrugged. “Amazing to drive and as puke-free as I could manage. Aaliyah helped me figure out what to get to keep it from staining.” Chad just laughed and paid me in full what he owed me without even checking out his car first. They even stuck around to wait with me for my train. I decided that babysitting wasn’t such a bad gig, and I would accept if ever Chad asked again.