Billy slammed into something. It was only a matter of time. The little pair of blue jeans and the little white t-shirt were a blur. And then, thankfully, gloriously, came the thump and stunned silence.
Jonathan rushed toward the noise. Billy sat in front of a short cabinet just before the carpet of the living room turned into the linoleum of the kitchen. There were some glasses on top that luckily held fast, but the wooden door wasn’t so lucky. Mr. and Mrs. Silverton’s prized liquor bottles were unlocked, unsheathed, and open to the world.
“Are you okay?” Jonathan asked, almost as much to the liquor cabinet as to the kid.
Billy ignored him and drew his hands away from his face. He smiled the demented smile of a horror movie villain after the hero gets in their first good shot. Blood ran down his chin. There was a gap in the top row of his teeth.
“It came out,” said the six-year-old.
Jonathan’s initial anxiety about being left in charge was usurped by the tangible evidence of his inability to avoid catastrophe. The tooth wasn’t a surprise. Billy had been twisting it around all night as if it were attached by an elastic cord to the roof of his mouth. The broken cabinet stole Jonathan’s focus. He knew Mr. Silverton to have a short temper. Shouts could occasionally be heard from their house across the street and he shivered at the thought of having that temper directed at him.
Perhaps in response to the increased sweating in Jonathan’s palms, Billy found his pain. A short wail grew into a single-toned shriek as the kid looked at the bloody tooth in his hand.
“You hurt?” said Jonathan. “Does it hurt? Hold on.” He rushed from the living room into the adjacent bathroom and rifled through the mirror cabinet. Dirty toothbrushes, floss, contact solution, nothing that could possibly help. He opened the cabinet behind him and found a bottle of aspirin on the shelf below the extra towels.
“Here you go!” he yelled as he ran back into the living room. He shook a few pills into his hand and dropped the bottle on the table next to the couch. He hurried into the kitchen, grabbed a glass of water, and brought it to the child.
“Here, swallow these.”
Billy looked up as if Jonathan were offering a book written in a dead language.
“Oh, right.” A minute later he returned from the kitchen with a dollop of peanut butter on a spoon, the pills hidden within. If it worked for a dog, why not a child? Billy gobbled the peanut butter and took a drink from the glass of water. The siren was gone from his breaths.
Jonathan’s hopes of a second paid night were shattered. He crossed his arms and immediately dropped them back to his side. He breathed deep and hard, walked in a tight circle, and ran both hands through his hair but nothing told him what to do. He didn’t even have a driver’s license yet. How was he supposed to solve two problems at once? His first thought was simply to open the front door and run home, but he needed the money. Nobody besides a restaurant kitchen would hire someone his age, and he needed at least $75 if he was going to take Rachel Brooke to the homecoming dance.
Just the thought of that possibility made the lightning in his head disappear. Soft music clicked in his brain and the room became nothing more than a suggestion, filled with lace-rimmed hearts and bowls of individually wrapped candies. Sure, he couldn’t bring himself to stop at her locker and say the words he had been rehearsing for the last month, but he would. Probably. Hopefully. Anyway, there was no reason to put himself through that terrifying ordeal if he didn’t have the money to do so. And if he didn’t get invited back to watch the sugar-filled horror story currently bleeding in the living room, it would all remain a fantasy.
Jonathan blinked and refocused on the mess in front of him. The shattered door. The bleeding child. His own parents nearly lost their minds whenever he broke something, no matter how inconsequential. The Silvertons weren’t biologically obligated to love him so he could only imagine the type of hellfire they would summon when they saw the splintered wood and the oddly hanging door.
“Does it still hurt?” asked Jonathan.
Billy smacked his tongue off the roof of his mouth and stared at the tooth in his hand. He glanced up and shook his head.
Jonathan nodded. He walked back into the kitchen, grabbed a plate, and wetted a paper towel. Back in the living room, he had Billy set the tooth on the plate and wipe the blood from his chin.
“Is it too late for the tooth fairy to come tonight?” asked Billy.
Jonathan straightened up. He saw a chance to eclipse the broken cabinet. By taking the initiative to switch out Billy’s tooth for a dollar, he could show the Silvertons that he was, in fact, not only a capable babysitter but also a mature, trustworthy young man.
“Yeah, no, no it’s not.” Jonathan set the plate on a side table. “In fact, if you hurry up and go to bed you can probably catch her, or him or whatever, before closing up for the night.”
Billy jumped up and smiled a demented, lopsided smile. “Yeah!”
“Now go brush your teeth but just, y’know, take it easy on the hole.”
“Yeah!” Billy ran into the bathroom.
Jonathan sat on the back of the couch and looked at the little tooth on the saucer. He imagined tip-toeing into the room and trying to reach under the child’s pillow as he slept. A new anxiety filtered into his chest. How do you move someone’s pillow without them noticing? It seemed impossible. And what happens if the child wakes up to a fake tooth fairy? There goes all belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and probably God. But the momentum was already established. There was no way out. He felt like he had confessed to a murder perpetrated by a close friend in order to save them from jail. It felt right at the time, but the follow-through was terrifying.
“All done!” said Billy.
“Okay here, take this.” The tooth jingled on the shaking plate as Jonathan held it out. “P-put it under your pillow.”
“Yeah!” Billy ran over, grabbed the tooth, and disappeared behind his bedroom door. Jonathan watched from the couch and wondered how he was supposed to know when the child was fully asleep.
He ended up waiting a full hour. The house was completely silent. He flipped off the lights to save anything that could possibly rouse Billy. After studying the sounds of the sleeping child through the door, Jonathan took three deep breaths and turned the doorknob with a shaking hand. He took another breath and held it as if diving underwater.
Jonathan’s eyes adjusted. The room was softly lit by a neighbor’s floodlight coming through the cracks of the blinds. He allowed each step to slowly transfer his weight and alternated his attention between the floor in front of him, and Billy’s face on top of the pillow. He strangled the dollar bill in his left hand. His chest was a mixture of a furiously beating heart and restricted, burning lungs. Finally, he reached the bed and flattened his right hand.
A rustling sound came from the living room and light poured through the open bedroom door. Jonathan withdrew his hand and with two near-hops, burst from the room.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Mr. Silverton.
Jonathan quickly pulled the bedroom door shut.
“Why are all the lights off? We thought something was wrong,” said Mrs. Silverton from behind her husband, who hadn’t walked any further than the front door.
Jonathan let out the breath that had been choking him. He held up a finger to signify, “Just a second,” while he reset himself.
“And what are you doing in my son’s room?” Mr. Silverton finally walked beyond the front door.
“Oh, oh nothing,” Jonathan said. “You guys are home early.” He walked out of the hallway and into the living room. He watched Mr. Silverton’s eyes find the open bottle of aspirin, and then the broken liquor cabinet.
“Let me ask you again,” he said slowly. “What were you doing in my son’s room?”
Jonathan’s oxygen-deprived brain took a moment to perform the algorithm Mr. Silverton had put together.
“What? No! No I was just—”
“And why are all the lights off?”
He took another step toward Jonathan who was now using the couch as a barrier.
“Listen, let me explain—”
“Let me give it a try: You were going to explore my son.” He took a step forward.
“What?” yelled Jonathan. “His tooth!”
“His tooth my ass.” Mr. Silverton jumped over the couch and Jonathan ran into the kitchen.
“No! He had too much sugar or something! He was running everywhere!”
“I’m gonna run my fist through the back of your head.”
Mrs. Silverton’s voice came from the next room: “Hey sweetie.”
Jonathan saw Billy walk into the living room behind Mr. Silverton.
“Look,” said Billy. He held a crisp dollar bill in his hand. “The tooth fairy gave me a dollar so she could eat my tooth.”
“Honey, she doesn’t eat them,” said Mrs. Silverton.
“Well then what does she do?”
Mrs. Silverton opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
Mr. Silverton stared at Jonathan as he slowly reconfigured his algorithm.
“He,” Jonathan spoke through stuttered half-breaths, “he ran into the cabinet. Tooth fell out. Face hurt.” He put his hands on his knees. “Peanut butter.”
Slowly, Mr. Silverton straightened his posture and relaxed his hand muscles.
“Oh,” he said. Then a little quieter: “Oh.”
Jonathan felt tears form in his eyes but he couldn’t be sure if it was lingering fear or newfound relief.
Mr. Silverton turned toward his son. “Good for you buddy, you’re shedding.” He craned his head toward Jonathan for a moment and shrugged his shoulders. Back to his son: “Come on, let’s go to bed.”
Mrs. Silverton walked into the kitchen. Jonathan remained slightly crouched and stared at her. “Relax, will ya?” she said.
Jonathan worried his heart had aged ten times faster than the rest of his body.
“Listen, thanks for taking care of the tooth fairy thing. That’s important to him.”
Jonathan nodded and slid his hands into his pockets. He felt something scratchy and pulled out a crumpled dollar bill. His eyelids peeled back and he looked at Mrs. Silverton. “I was—I was going to. But look. I didn’t make it. I didn’t—”
Mrs. Silverton laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.
“Sure you didn’t.” She walked to the cupboard and grabbed a glass. Mr. Silverton walked back into the kitchen.
“Hey, sorry about the whole, y’know, that stuff.”
Jonathan nodded and stared at the dollar bill in his hand. Mr. Silverton followed his gaze and laughed.
“Oh right. You probably want to get paid, huh?” He pulled his wallet from his pocket and grabbed forty dollars.
“Here you go. I know he can be a lot to handle.” He set the money on top of the dollar in Jonathan’s open hand. “Say, you available next weekend? We have a funeral to go to and Billy might bring the wrong kind of energy.”
For the second time that night, Jonathan felt the urge to run out the front door, but then he thought of Rachel Brooke’s arms wrapped around his shoulders. He took another deep breath and tried to forget the crumbled dollar bill under the stack of twenties.
“Uh, sure. I guess.”
Josh Rank asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.