Soapy water seeped under the bathroom door, soaking the rugs in the hall. Ben had only just left on an urgent call-out for work and already Rachel was creating havoc.
Rachel is Ben’s three-yearold niece and we offered to look after her when her mum Jane was rushed to hospital with appendicitis yesterday. Rachel’s dad was in New York on a business trip and couldn’t get a flight back until tomorrow.
Ben and I had only been living together for a few months and last week Ben asked me to marry him. I told him I wasn’t sure – not because I didn’t love him – but because I knew how much he loved and wanted children. My own childhood hadn’t been entirely happy and I didn’t think I’d make a very good mother.
By the time Rachel went to bed last night, she’d already scribbled on my favourite pink leather handbag, got chocolate over our new voile curtains and spilled orange juice on the carpet.
‘No point being too house-proud with kids about,’ said Ben cheerfully as he helped me clean up the mess.
I tried not to be grumpy, but it had taken a lot of effort to get the flat looking nice and now it looked like a threeyear-old was going to trash it in a few hours.
At bedtime last night, Ben and I had followed Jane’s instructions. Rachel had a bath, using a generous dollop of my best bubble bath and we’d read her three stories. We thought she’d settle down – she certainly looked tired – but after messing about for what seemed like most of the night, she finally settled in our bed, limbs spread out like a starfish. Ben got into Rachel’s bed, making the excuse that he was on call in the morning, leaving me to squeeze into the minute space left in ours.
As Ben said when we offered to have Rachel, it was very rare he was ever called out for work on a Saturday. Needless to say, this was the day when it happened. We’d only just finished breakfast when Ben’s mobile rang.
‘I’m sure you arranged that deliberately,’ I said.
‘Trust me, I’ll be back by lunchtime. She’ll probably sleep till then.’
After he’d gone, I’d phoned my friend who worked as a cleaner for advice on the best way to get Biro off my handbag, chocolate stains off the curtains and sticky juice off the carpet. I’d only been on the phone for two minutes when I had a sixth sense that something was wrong.
I flung open the bathroom door. Rachel’s mouth and eyes were round o’s of surprise. She was wearing a green sundress over her blue pyjamas, standing on the little step she used to reach the toilet, singing Three Blind Mice at the top of her voice as she scrubbed at a frilly doll’s dress with my best soap. Both taps were full on and the plug was in.
‘Nice soapy water,’ she lisped.
I turned the taps off, took the plug out and got a mop for the floor.
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