“Good-bye Mr. and Mrs. Hardy! Don’t worry about Alice and Peter, and have a good evening,” Elizabeth said as she closed the front door behind the departing couple.
This was fourteen-year-old Elizabeth’s first babysitting job, and turning to face the two children she was going to spend the evening with, Elizabeth thought to herself, I hope the evening goes smoothly, and I survive. Aloud, she said, “I’ll turn a movie on for you to watch and get supper started. What movie do you want to see?”
“I want to see Old Yeller,” six-year-old Alice chirped.
“We watched that last week, Alice. I want to watch something else,” Peter objected.
“Oh, all right, we can watch The Aristocats,” Alice conceded with very little reluctance.
“O.K.,” Elizabeth said, walking into the cozy, lamp-lit living room and locating the movie on a large bookshelf full of VHS tapes and DVDs. After starting the movie, Elizabeth left Peter and Alice seated on the couch and hurried across the hall to the kitchen.
Elizabeth’s tennis shoes squeaked on the kitchen tile as she entered, deftly putting her long brown hair in a ponytail and rolling up her sleeves. Just as she was reading the instructions on the box of frozen lasagna that Mrs. Hardy had left for supper, a crack of thunder shook the house and rattled the windows. Wind and rain whipped and pounded the house while Elizabeth waited for the oven to warm up.
I hope the house isn’t struck by lightning, Elizabeth worried, looking out through the kitchen window into the dark night. Just then, the electricity blinked out and blackness filled the kitchen.
Alice and Peter began yelling from the living room.
“Elizabeth! The movie stopped playing. I want to hear Marie sing the end of ‘Scales and Arpeggios!’ Can’t you do something?” Alice’s desperate plea came loudly from the living room.
“Did the house get struck by lightning? Is that why the electricity is out?! I thought that when a house gets struck by lightning, the people inside are electrified! Why aren’t we electrified?” Peter’s shouts intermingled with Alice’s.
“The house did not get struck by lightning, and it’s ‘electrocuted,’ not electrified!” Elizabeth yelled back to the children. “Just sit tight until I find a flashlight.”
After a few minutes of clattering in the kitchen, Elizabeth’s triumphant “Aha!” told the children in the living room that the flashlight had been found.
A lonely shaft of golden light bobbed into the living room, and behind it came the shadowy figure of Elizabeth.
“Are you two all right?” Elizabeth asked as she shined the light on them.
“Well we’re not electrified, yet,” Peter replied, “so I guess we’re all right.”
“It’s ‘electrocuted,’ not electrified,” Elizabeth corrected absentmindedly as she tried to collect her thoughts.
“I’m hungry,” Alice spoke up, looking longingly at Elizabeth.
“We can make peanut butter sandwiches in a minute, but first we’ve got to find some more flashlights. Do you know where more flashlights are?” Elizabeth looked at Peter, the older of the two.
“We each have one in our bedrooms. We can show you,” Peter answered, and the three made their way upstairs to find the flashlights.
With a flashlight in everyone’s hand, the trio entered the kitchen five minutes later and lit some candles, which they set on the counters.
“Don’t open the refrigerator,” Elizabeth warned. “We’ll just have to survive on peanut butter sandwiches tonight.”
Elizabeth gathered the peanut butter, bread, plates, and utensils together, and the small party made and devoured their sandwiches in the flickering light of the candles.
After the meager meal was finished, Alice spoke up:
“What do we do now?”
“How about you and Peter go to bed early?” Elizabeth suggested, trying to sound cheerful.
“We never go to bed this early!” Peter protested.
“I don’t want to sleep with the electricity out. I’ll have nightmares,” Alice put in.
“All right, then,” Elizabeth’s hopes for an easy way to end the evening were crushed, and she searched for another idea.
“Why don’t we play a game!” she burst out with sudden enthusiasm.
“May we play UNO?” Peter asked, interested now.
“Yeah! May we play UNO, Elizabeth? Please!” the two children pleaded in unison.
“O.K., show me where it is, and we can play in here.”
Once again, the three set out into the darkened house and returned soon after with the bright red and black cards in hand and smiles on their faces.
Soon, Elizabeth, Alice, and Peter were engrossed in the game. They were so engrossed, in fact, that they didn’t hear the front door open and steps in the front hall.
“We’re home!” Mr. Hardy bellowed.
All of the card-players jumped in surprise, and Elizabeth vaulted from her bar stool in the kitchen like she had just sat on a porcupine. Grabbing a flashlight and checking her wristwatch simultaneously, she ran to greet Mr. and Mrs. Hardy.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy!” Elizabeth gasped, “I didn’t hear you come in. We were playing a game of UNO.”
“That’s all right, Elizabeth,” Mr. Hardy replied, “How was the evening?”
“Oh, it was wonderful,” Elizabeth replied with a smile, “although the electricity went out and we had to eat peanut butter sandwiches by candlelight,” she added as an afterthought.
Peter and Alice appeared behind Elizabeth.
“Hi, Mom and Dad! I won two games of UNO,” Alice cried in greeting.
“And I won three!” Peter added.
“We’re glad you had fun, children,” Mrs. Hardy smiled, and then she turned to Elizabeth, handing her a check. “Thank you for taking good care of the children. I’m so sorry that you had to take care of them with the electricity out. If I had known, I would have come straight home!”
“Thank you for your concern, but I’m actually glad the electricity went out; the evening was fun!” Elizabeth said with a smile. Just then, the lights inside the house blinked on, and Alice and Peter began to yell jubilantly.
Walking home that night along the lamp-lit street, Elizabeth felt relieved to have survived her first babysitting job. She could already envision telling the story and calling it “The Survival of the Sitter.” As she considered the evening, though, Elizabeth realized with surprise, That wasn’t as bad as I expected…and I actually enjoyed it!