Years for Sale – Ch 1 – by lostandwhatever
- Age Progression
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“Caroline, I need to be honest. We’re a little worried about you babysitting our daughter,” said Uncle David.
“Not really ‘worried,’” Aunt Beverly corrected him. “We’re more… concerned. We want to make sure that you’re able to do it—that you can handle it.”
Caroline was not sure how to respond, but she tried to think of something. This was a job interview, after all, and there was money on the line. She needed to find a good way to prove she was ready. She considered the two of them. Her uncle and aunt were an intimidating pair, sitting across from her at their expensive dining room table in their multi-million dollar home. They had that air of superiority that came bundled with an abundance of money, but they also had a troublesome daughter in need of a babysitter. Caroline knew that she might be their last option. That was her bargaining chip, she realized. “My parents said that you were having trouble finding someone to babysit Audrey. I’m willing to do it. Why would you not want me?”
Her uncle and aunt exchanged a look. Her aunt said, “I think you misunderstood us. It’s not really you we’re concerned about. You see, we’ve had problems with babysitters in the past, or more accurately, the babysitters have had problems dealing with Audrey.”
“Oh?” Caroline replied.
“Yes,” her uncle said. “Many of them have quit after their first night watching our daughter. Audrey is generally a good girl, but she can be… mischievous. She’s exceptionally smart, and she enjoys playing tricks on people, pranking them, trying their patience.”
“I see,” Caroline said. “Well, I’ve babysat for mischievous kids before. I’m pretty sure that I can handle her.”
Her aunt said, “Many of the others were ‘pretty sure’ as well. One previous sitter came well recommended from an agency. She was a college student, and we had high hopes for her. She seemed prepared, but, after babysitting Audrey a few times, she quit in the middle of the job. She ran out of the house and never came back. Apparently, she had some kind of breakdown and had to drop out of school.”
Caroline hoped that they did not notice the sweat drip down her neck. “I see. Well, I would hope that being a relative might mean that Audrey would listen to me more than a stranger. Also, I am closer to her age than a college student.”
“That’s another thing that concerns us,” her aunt said. “You are mature for 16, but that is still young for babysitting.”
“I have babysat for children ranging from 2 to 12 and never had a problem. I take this all very seriously. You can trust me.”
Her aunt and uncle exchanged another look, and he said, “We’re going to talk privately for a minute. Please, wait here.”
They stood up and walked into the kitchen together, closing the door behind themselves. Meanwhile, Caroline waited alone at the dining room table. She tried not to eavesdrop on them, but she did hear the words “not ready” and “too young” spoken between them.
Then, she heard a key turn in the front door lock, followed by the sound of the door opening.
Soft footsteps approached down the hallway, and Caroline looked over her shoulder just as Audrey walked into view. The small 11-year-old was dressed in her private school uniform, which included a pair of black Mary Jane’s, long grey socks, and a grey plaid skirt. She wore a white blouse with a black tie, over which she had on a black blazer with the school crest embroidered on the left side of her chest. A heavy leather messenger bag hung on her shoulder. Above it all, her dark hair was done up in a tight pony tail and tied in place by a black ribbon bow.
Caroline felt under-dressed, wearing only a t-shirt and jeans.
After noticing Caroline, Audrey stopped and stood there regarding her cousin coldly with deep suspicion—no greeting offered, not a word. Caroline wanted to tell herself that she was not intimidated, but that would have been a lie.
The silence became unbearable, so Caroline said, “Hello, Audrey. It’s been a little while. How are you?”
Audrey took a long while to respond. “What do you want?” the girl said at last, as if she were a police officer interrogating a suspect.
Before Caroline could answer, Audrey’s parents returned from the kitchen.
“Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!” Audrey said in a suddenly chipper voice. The change in tone was so jarring that Caroline flinched a little. Audrey had gone from intimidating to adorable so quickly that Caroline wondered if she had just imagined Audrey’s darker attitude before.
“Welcome home,” Audrey’s mother said.
“How was school?” her father added.
“Good,” Audrey said. “I’m really learning a lot.”
“Excellent,” her mother said.
There was a moment of awkward silence followed by Audrey asking, “So, what’s Carloline doing over here today?”
“Oh,” her mother said. She looked at her husband, who nodded. Then, she said, “Caroline will be watching you tonight while your father and I are out.”
Caroline smiled. She had gotten the job, but her smile faded when she noticed Audrey’s cheerfulness dissipate.
“Right. Sounds good,” Audrey said with little enthusiasm. She looked at Caroline and said, “I guess we can talk a little later.” Then, she told her parents, “I’m going to go upstairs and start working on my homework.”
“Good,” her father said. “We’ve got some more things to discuss with Caroline before we leave.”
Audrey nodded. Then, she gave Caroline one last curious look and headed upstairs.
Caroline said, “Thank you,” to her aunt and uncle.
“Let’s discuss salary,” her uncle said, getting down to business. “We’re prepared to pay you twenty dollars an hour.”
That was a fair rate, and Caroline knew it. Still, she was aware of a few facts: Audrey was a special case, her aunt and uncle were desperate, and they could definitely afford to pay more. “That would be good for a regular babysitting job,” Caroline said, being careful with her words as she bargained. “But, I’m starting to wonder if maybe you were right when you said that I’m not quite ready for this. I’ve had a minute to think here, and I’m not sure if I really want to do this anymore. You did mention how difficult Audrey can be. I think I could deal with her, but it might be more work that I’m up for. I do have a part-time job already that keeps me pretty busy.”
“We can give you forty an hour,” her aunt said, clearly resenting the haggling going on but not caring enough about the money to resist. “That’s it. If you do well tonight, however, we might consider paying you more in the future. Do we have a deal?”
Aunt Beverly held out her hand and Caroline shook it. “Deal,” Caroline said.
After the customary exchange of phone numbers and emergency instructions, Caroline’s aunt and uncle left for their date, and Caroline was alone in the house with Audrey. She considered waiting in the living room until Audrey came down but decided that she should visit the girl in her room. She needed to be proactive, to assert her authority early on. She walked up the stairs and tried to not let the house intimidate her. It was a big old place with lots of paintings and carpets and wood paneling, like something out of a ghost story. She realized that if it were after dark, she would have stayed downstairs.
Caroline walked down the long hallway upstairs, counting the doors, locating the bathroom, first, and then finding Audrey’s room. The door was shut. She knocked.
There was no reply, only silence. She checked her count of the doors to be sure she had the right room and knocked again.
“Maybe she has headphones on,” Caroline thought out loud. She turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack. Then, she swung it open wide enough to poke her head into the room.
Audrey was sitting at her desk, working on her computer. Without turning around, she said, “What do you want?”
“Uh,” Caroline said, forgetting her air of authority for a moment. “H-hello, Audrey. I knocked, but you didn’t reply. So-”
“I’ll be down in about an hour,” Audrey said, still working on her computer, not once looking back at Caroline. “We can talk then.”
“Okay,” Caroline said. “Do you mind if I ask what you’re working on?”
“I do mind,” Audrey replied. “And, it’s trigonometry.”
“That’s pretty advanced,” Caroline said, trying her best to build a rapport with her cousin. “I’ll be taking that class later this year, I think.”
“It requires a good deal of focus,” Audrey said. “I would appreciate not being disturbed.”
“Oh,” Caroline said. “I see. Okay, then. I guess I’ll see you downstairs when you’re done.”
“Shut the door on your way out.”
“Right,” Caroline said, and that was what she did. As she walked away from Audrey’s room, Caroline wondered how a little girl could be so intimidating without even looking at her. It seemed that Audrey thought of Caroline as being beneath her. It was a strange way for a grade school girl to behave around a high schooler. “Maybe it’s the money,” she wondered. “Do dollars matter more than years?”
An hour later, right on schedule, Audrey came downstairs as Caroline was watching a movie on the enormous living room TV. The girl was still wearing her school uniform. She had not even removed her dress shoes.
Without a word, Audrey walked over to the coffee table, picked up the TV remote, and changed the channel.
“Hey?” Caroline said. “I was watching that.”
Audrey did not respond. She just took a seat on a chair and focused on the TV as a cartoon theme song started.
“Did you hear me?” Caroline asked.
“Shhh!” Audrey shushed Caroline and said, “My show is starting.”
Caroline sighed. “Fine,” she said. “But, you could have said something before you did that.”
Audrey showed no sign that she had even heard Caroline. The girl’s attention was totally focused on the TV as the episode of her cartoon began.
Caroline watched the show with Audrey and tried to ask a question or two about the characters, but Audrey just shushed Caroline whenever she spoke.
When a commercial break started, Audrey turned to Caroline and said, seemingly out of nowhere, “You still haven’t properly answered my question.”
“I asked it twice already.”
“What is it?” Caroline said, feeling increasingly frustrated.
“I asked you ‘What do you want?’” Audrey said.
“I don’t know exactly what you mean by that. I want a lot of things. What are you asking about, specifically?”
“You’re here to babysit me,” Audrey said. “Why? Why here? Why me?”
Caroline said, “I just heard from my parents that your parents needed a babysitter, badly. I’ve done some babysitting before, so I said I would do it.”
“So,” Audrey said. “You’re here out of a sense of family duty or something like that?”
“Something like that.”
“Are they paying you?”
“Yes,” Audrey said. “Babysitters get paid most of the time.”
“I’m not going to tell-”
“It’s… private. You don’t need to know how-”
“Why do you need forty dollars an hour?”
Caroline was shocked. “You heard us talking downstairs before?”
The commercials ended and Audrey said, “Show’s back on.”
Again, the two of them watched the cartoon. Caroline could not shake the feeling that there was something seriously off about Audrey, but she was struggling to pinpoint exactly what was bothering her. It had something to do with the way that Audrey spoke. The girl seemed to have no fear at all. She was totally confident, which was an unlikely and disquieting quality to find in an 11-year-old girl, Caroline realized.
More commercials started, and Audrey continued their conversation as if there had been no break at all. She looked at Caroline and said, “If you’re doing this job as a family obligation but still expecting some pay, then you would just have accepted the twenty dollars an hour they offered you. Instead, you bargained for more. You know my family is wealthy, and you knew that they could pay more. So, you asked for what you thought you could get. I’m not faulting you for that, by the way. You should always argue to get paid what you think you deserve. However, why do you need money so badly? What is it that you want to pay for? Why are you here, really?”
Caroline realized there was no point in concealing the truth. The girl was too smart and too patient to let this drop. She would figure it out eventually. Besides, a little honesty might just help build a relationship between them. She confessed, “I want to buy a car.”
Audrey was silent for a moment after Caroline spoke, seemingly waiting for more explanation. “That’s it?” she asked, sounding confused for once.
“That’s it,” Caroline confirmed. “My parents aren’t as rich as yours. I mean, we’re not poor, but they can’t just give me a car for my 17th birthday. I’ve been borrowing one of their cars since I got my license, but I want my own car. So, I’ve been doing part-time jobs. I work at a grocery store. I deliver fliers for businesses. I babysit. I’m making money, but it’s taking a while. I probably won’t have the money I need until next year, unless…”
“Unless my parents pay you well to babysit me?” Audrey said.
“You got it,” Caroline said. “There’s no big conspiracy. I just want to be paid for my work, so I can buy myself a car.”
The commercial break ended and Audrey turned to face the TV again, but Caroline noticed that the girl was not watching the screen. Audrey was just staring off into space, thinking.
After reheating and serving the delicious dinner left for them, Caroline settled down to watch more TV while Audrey headed to her room “to do a little research.”
About a half hour later, Audrey called for Caroline from upstairs. “Caroline,” she said. “I have something I need to show you.”
Caroline sighed and walked to the staircase. “What is it?” she replied.
“Come up here,” Audrey said. “It’s in the library.”
Caroline could not think of a good reason to refuse. Where was the harm in visiting a library? Besides, she was curious. When Audrey’s parents had shown Caroline around the house, they had skipped over the library. She walked up the stairs where Audrey was waiting for her.
“I’ve got a proposition for you,” Audrey said.
“What do you mean by ‘proposition?’”
The girl smiled slightly. It was the most positive emotion Caroline had seen on Audrey’s face the whole evening. However, the smile seemed more sadistic than happy, as if the girl had prepared some kind of mischief. “I want to make a deal with you, a little secret agreement between us cousins.”
“Should I be worried?” Caroline asked, skeptically.
“There’s money in it for you if you say ‘yes,’” Audrey said to sweeten the pot. “Come with me.”
Caroline followed Audrey into the library. It was a large musty room, and as you would expect, the walls were covered in shelves full of what looked to be priceless old books. Here and there, though, the books were interrupted by glass display cases containing what looked to be museum artifacts.
“This is pretty impressive,” Caroline said as she turned around to take in the whole room. She wondered what it would be like to live in a house with this many books. She figured that she could read her whole life, non-stop, and probably never finish them all.
“My dad is a collector,” Audrey explained. “He likes valuable old things—artwork, antiques, relics, artifacts…”
“I see,” Caroline said, examining an old chaise lounge and the elaborately patterned carpet beneath it.
“Most of it is just worn-out junk,” Audrey said. “Too many people think that old things are worth more money just because they’re old. My dad is one of those people. However, there is something truly valuable that he collected in here.” She waved Caroline over to one of the display cases. “Look.”
Caroline approached the glass and found a pair of bracelets inside resting on a red velvet holder next to each other. One was silver and the other was gold. Both were just thinner than one of Caroline’s fingers and both were covered in strange patterns and inscriptions. “They’re pretty,” Caroline said.
Audrey pulled a small key out of her jacket pocket and unlocked the front of the display case. Then, she swung it open.
“Hold on,” Caroline said as Audrey reached inside to grab the two bracelets. “Are you supposed to be touching those?”
“Don’t worry,” Audrey said as she held the bracelets up between them. “I’ve done this before. My dad has never noticed me touching his things.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Caroline said. “I’m guessing that you don’t have permission to be touching his things.”
“Not explicitly,” Audrey said. “But, the way I see it is I’m going to inherit all of this someday. I’m just skipping ahead a little bit is all. If nothing is broken when I’m done, then there’s no harm in it. Right?”
“I don’t like this,” Caroline said, but she was too curious to put a stop to what the girl was doing.
“This is where the money comes in,” Audrey said. “I want to pay you to put on one of these bracelets.”
Caroline was understandably confused. “Why?”
“Magic,” Audrey said. “It takes two people to make the magic work.”
“This is a prank,” Caroline said. “Isn’t it? Is there a camera filming me right now?” She looked around the library.
“I am not a silly little girl,” Audrey said. “You should know that about me by now. I’m being deadly serious with you. These bracelets can do magic.”
“Fine,” Caroline said, humoring her cousin. “I’ll bite. I’ll play along. Explain.”
“My dad bought these thinking that they would look interesting in his collection. They’re ancient relics from the island of Crete—Minoan artifacts. They predate Aristotle by over a thousand years.”
“That’s…. Impressive,” Caroline said, crossing her arms.
“Mostly, the Minoans are a total mystery. We don’t even know what they were actually called. Archeologists just named them ‘Minoans.’ Recently, though, there were some breakthroughs made in studying their ancient artifacts, including these two bracelets. They’ve been translated. The inscription on them is actually a magic spell. The archaeologists thought that it was just superstition, but I tested the bracelets. The magic really works.”
“So, what are the bracelets supposed to do?”
Audrey held up the gold bracelet and said, “The gold one is meant to be worn by a master.” She held up the silver one and said, “And, the other one is meant to be worn by a servant.” She held the two close together. “When both are worn at once, the master bracelet can control a magical trade between the master and servant.”
“What do you mean by ‘trade?’”
“Anything about a person can be traded—age, size, weight, height, appearance… anything.”
“Right,” Caroline said, not really believing any of what she was hearing. “That sounds incredible.”
Audrey smiled. “You think I’m making it up, don’t you?”
“I’m not convinced.”
Audrey moved both bracelets to one hand and reached into her jacket pocket with the other hand to pull out a small stack of folded $20 bills. “How about this?” she said. “If you put on the silver bracelet and let me borrow a few things from you for the evening, then I will give you $100 before you go.”
Caroline looked at the money and back at the bracelets. It seemed almost too good to be true. “So, all I have to do is put on a bracelet, and I’ll get $100? That’s it?”
“And, you’ll need to let me use the magic.”
“Right, magic,” Caroline said. “But, even if the magic doesn’t work, I still get the money for putting on the bracelet. Right?”
“Sure,” Audrey said with a slight smirk.
Caroline felt like she was taking advantage of her cousin, but this was the girl’s idea. She was the one who proposed the deal. It was not Caroline’s fault that the girl still believed in magic. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll do it. Give me the bracelet.”
Audrey returned the money to her pocket and handed Caroline the silver bracelet. Then, the girl slipped the gold bracelet onto her own wrist.
Caroline took the silver bracelet and hesitated a moment before putting it on. Some worried part of her was reluctant to go through with the deal, even though she could see no logical reason to be afraid. Seeing Audrey waiting and watching, Caroline decided to just show a little backbone and do it. She slipped on the silver bracelet.
Nothing magical happened—no sounds, no lights, no tingling sensation, nothing. Caroline felt the same as she had before putting on the bracelet.
“Now,” Audrey said. “Let’s try something simple to start off.” She slipped off her shoes and pulled off her socks, and then she stood there barefoot on the carpet. “Watch this,” she said and shut her eyes in apparent concentration.
Caroline stood and waited, wondering how much longer she would need to wear the bracelet before Audrey gave up on this game. Yet, when she looked at the girl’s bare feet, she began to notice something strange. The feet appeared to be growing. They did not seem to be swelling, only getting larger, stretching out longer and wider on the pattern of the carpet as the seconds passed. Then, they stopped growing.
Caroline blinked and tried to understand what she had just seen. Audrey’s shoes were still resting on the floor next to her bare feet, and they seemed far too small to contain the feet that had been in them only a minute ago.
Audrey opened her eyes and looked down at her larger toes and wiggled them a bit. She smiled and let out a chuckle of genuine delight to see what she had done. She looked back at Caroline and asked, “So, now do you believe me, or do you need a closer look?”
Wanting to get a better view, Caroline took a step forward and immediately tripped over her own shoe, which had become unexpectedly loose on her foot. She stumbled and dropped to the floor. “What the hell?” she asked as she checked her shoes. When she saw them hanging off of her feet, she gasped. “What happened to my feet?” She pulled off her gym shoes and socks and discovered that her own feet had shrunk. They looked to be the feet of a girl—small, soft, and totally out of place at the end of her teenager legs. She looked to Audrey for an explanation.
Audrey said, “I explained how this works already. It’s a trade. I traded my feet for your feet.” She took a few careful steps closer to Caroline and picked up Caroline’s shoes. Then, she slipped her larger bare feet into them, and stood up. “See,” she said. “Perfect fit.”
Caroline stood up on her little feet and felt a bit unsteady on them. She could still hardly believe what she was seeing below her.
“Would you like to try on my shoes?” Audrey asked.
Caroline shook her head and said, “I’m done. Whatever is going on here, I’m done with it.” She took off the bracelet and held it out to Audrey. “Take this back, and turn us back to normal.”
Audrey sighed. “I can’t,” she said.
“Why not?” Caroline said. “Just fix us. Do what you did again.”
“I can’t do it,” Audrey said, speaking slowly as if explaining something to an idiot. “You took off the bracelet. The magic only works if we are both wearing the bracelets. I explained this to you before. Remember?”
“Fine,” Caroline said and slipped her bracelet back on. “There. It’s on. Turn us back to normal.”
Audrey gave Caroline a wicked smirk and said, “One more thing first.”
Audrey shut her eyes again and focused. Caroline watched the girl closely, trying to see if anything else was changing about her. She noticed that Audrey’s expression appeared to be shifting slightly as she concentrated. Her face seemed to be growing more serious somehow. She looked more mature than before, a lot more than before in fact. Although the girl was still short, her face looked as though it belonged to a teenager. She still appeared to be herself but with subtle differences. Her whole face had lengthened. Her chin was now pointier as was her nose. Her cheeks were less rounded. Moments later, her face had gone from cute girl to beautiful woman. Finally, the changes ceased.
Audrey opened her eyes and touched her adult face with her little girl fingers, feeling the contours of her mature features.
“I need a mirror,” Audrey said. Both of them were shocked to hear the deep, adult-sounding voice that came from her mouth. “Wow,” she said. “I guess my vocal cords grew up as well.” She took some careful steps with her clownish feet towards a full-body mirror in one corner of the room. Then, she smiled as she looked at herself. Turning her head from side to side to see herself from every angle. “This is perfect,” she declared.
“Hey, what about me?” Caroline asked and gasped when she heard her own voice. The words had come out sounding all squeaky and whiny. She put her hand to her throat and tried to clear it with a cough. “What’s going on?” she said with her voice still sounding much higher than normal. “I sound like a kid.” She slid her fingers up to her own face and felt the shape of it. Her chin felt much smaller as did her nose. Her cheeks were more rounded as well. “Oh no!” she squealed. “No!”
She rushed over to Audrey by the mirror and stumbled a bit trying to balance on her undersized feet. Then, she looked at her reflection and gasped. From her shoulders down to her ankles, her body seemed normal. However, her feet were tiny, and her face appeared to belong to a girl barely old enough for kindergarten. “Impossible,” she said, sounding like the kindergarten girl she appeared to be from the neck up. “Audrey?” she said as she turned to look at her cousin, but the girl was no longer next to her. Caroline spun around and nearly lost her balance again. “Audrey!” she squealed. She was alone in the library. “Where are you?”
Caroline stumbled out of the library and looked both ways down the hallway to find the girl. Audrey’s bedroom door was open, but the lights were off. However, the lights in Audrey’s parents’ bedroom were on.
“Audrey!” Caroline called again as she walked to the bedroom. The squeaky sound of her own voice was almost hurting her ears, and it made her feel even more worried every time she spoke. She was starting to feel as young and weak as her voice sounded. At least she was getting used to walking on her little feet.
She entered the room and saw Audrey standing near a window with a phone in her hand. She was taking selfies, using a blue curtain as a backdrop. She said, “I can’t seem to get a good shot.” Caroline resented Audrey’s deep voice even more now that she had heard her own voice.
“Turn us back now!” Caroline said. She had meant to sound stern and commanding, but the words actually came out sounding petulant and whiny.
“Not yet,” Audrey said with her mature voice commanding so much authority using only two words.
Caroline hesitated to reply. Eventually, she managed to say, “What are you even doing?”
“I need to get a good picture before we swap back,” Audrey said as she snapped another selfie. “But, I’m having trouble getting a good angle with these little arms. Maybe if I borrowed some years from your arms like I did with your head…”
“No!” Caroline squeaked. “I can take the picture for you. Okay?”
Audrey smiled. “Thank you for offering,” she said as she held out the phone to Caroline.
Caroline took the phone and got on her knees to line up a good photo of Audrey.
“Make sure you get a good shot of my face.”
“Okay,” Caroline said and snapped a few photos as Audrey tried out a few different expressions.
Suddenly, they heard the sound of a car pulling up the driveway outside. They both peeked out the window to see her parents’ car backing into the garage.
“Uh oh,” Audrey said. “Looks like we’re out of time.”
“Turn us back now!” Caroline squealed.
“Right,” Audrey said. “Back to the library.” Caroline followed her cousin down the hallway and into the library.
“Hurry!” Caroline said.
“Quiet,” Audrey said with her eyes shut. “I need to concentrate.”
Caroline heard a door open downstairs as she watched Audrey’s face become more youthful. The seconds felt like minutes as Caroline waited for their heads to return to their normal ages.
“Caroline?” Aunt Beverly’s voice called from downstairs. “Where are you?”
Caroline did not want to respond until her voice was back to normal.
“Caroline?” Uncle David called. “Audrey? Is everything all right?”
“Give me the bracelet,” Audrey said, holding out her hand. She looked and sounded like an 11-year-old girl once more. Caroline took off the silver bracelet and handed it to the girl who immediately replaced both bracelets in the display case and locked it.
“Caroline!” Aunt Beverly called, sounding much closer and louder.
“Well,” Audrey said. “Answer them!”
“I’m up here!” Caroline said and quickly tried to think up an explanation. “I was just… putting Audrey to bed.”
Audrey nodded and shut the lights off in the library. They entered the hallway and shut the doors behind themselves. Then, they hurried to Audrey’s room, and the girl sat on her bed. “Go!” Audrey whispered.
Caroline left the girl behind and hurried down the stairs to her uncle and aunt who were waiting for her at the bottom. “Sorry,” she said as she reached them. “I didn’t hear you at first. How was your night?”
“Good,” her uncle said. “How was your night?”
“Good,” Caroline replied. “No problems. Audrey and I spent some time together. We shared… things. Got to know each other. You know.”
“Really?” her aunt said, sounding pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah, we… connected.”
“Well,” her uncle said. “That’s a relief. I’ll admit that we were a little worried about the two of you, but it looks as though everything worked out well.”
Aunt Beverly counted out a stack of twenty dollar bills and offered them to Caroline. “Here’s your pay, as we agreed.”
Caroline took the money and adored it for a moment as she held it in her hand. She doubted she had ever held this much money before at one time. “Thank you,” she said.
“Caroline?” Audrey called as she walked down the stairs. She had changed into pajamas and was carrying a pair of pink and white sneakers in her hands. Caroline was confused by the shoes for a moment before she noticed Audrey’s feet. The girl was wearing socks, but Caroline realized that Audrey’s feet were much larger than normal. “You forgot something.”
Caroline looked down at her own feet and saw that they were still bare and still the feet of an 11-year-old girl. She gave Audrey a worried look.
“How are you, Audrey?” Aunt Beverly asked.
“I’m great,” Audrey said. “I had a wonderful time playing with Caroline tonight.” She turned to Caroline and said, “You left your shoes upstairs.” She handed Caroline the shoes which had a pair of socks stuffed into them.
Caroline took the shoes and calmly replied, “Thank you. Is this all?”
“It is,” Audrey said and gave Caroline a look that indicated that this was all the help she could give her cousin now. After all, they both knew that the bracelets were locked away upstairs.
Caroline sat down on the stairs and started to put Audrey’s socks on her own feet.
“Mom? Dad?” Audrey said, drawing their attention away from Caroline’s feet. “Can Caroline babysit me again soon?”
Her father replied, “Well, we don’t have any plans for now, but we did have that one party we were invited to.” He turned to his wife, “What do you think?”
“I would love to,” she said. “But, it depends on if Caroline is free. Are you free this Saturday, dear?”
Caroline had just finished lacing up the girly shoes. She said, “I can come any day you need me. The sooner the better.” She stood up and noticed that there was something flat inside of the right shoe she was wearing, just under her foot.
“Good, then,” he said. “We’ll see you Saturday evening. Thank you, again.”
“Right,” Caroline said. “I’ll just be going, then.” She walked to the door of the house and looked back at Audrey once. The girl looked down at her with a blank expression on her face, offering no consolation at all. Caroline sighed and left the house.
When the door was shut behind her, she took a moment to look at the embarrassingly girly shoes she was wearing. It would be several days before she would be able to do anything about them, she realized. She would just have to put up with wearing them until Saturday.
She walked to her parents’ car and got into the driver’s seat. As she drove away, she fumbled with the pedals a little bit. They seemed much larger now as she touched them with her young feet. So, she drove slowly and made it home without any problems.
Her parents greeted her when she came in, and she did her best to answer their questions while silently hoping that they did not look at her feet. Then, she headed up to her bedroom and shut the door.
In the privacy of her room, she removed the pink and white sneakers. In the right shoe, she found a folded stack of twenty dollar bills with a sticky note wrapped around them. The words written on it said, “Here’s your agreed payment. I’ll fix our feet when we can be alone with the bracelets again. We can borrow each other’s shoes until then. Thanks, Audrey.”
Caroline sighed and lay back on her bed, letting her little socked feet dangle off the edge. “We’ll fix it Saturday, then,” she said to herself. Then, she pulled out the money her aunt had given her from her pocket and added it to the hundred dollars that Audrey had given her. She felt rich, and there was only more money waiting for her this weekend.
She lifted her right leg into the air and considered the little foot at the end of it. Sure, it would be a hassle to put up with having little feet for the rest of the week, she thought, but the money sort of made it worth it. Besides, Audrey had promised to return her feet to normal when they were alone again.
That should have comforted her, but the idea of being alone again with her cousin and letting the little girl transform her body again only worried her. Unfortunately, Caroline had no other options. She just needed to hope that Audrey would keep up her side of the bargain when they met again.
Continued in Chapter 2.