Cheryl rolled her eyes as little Robbie sat in front of the blank television. Robbie danced in anticipation and pointed at the screen expectantly. “Come on, Robbie. You’ve seen the same show twenty-seven times! You can’t be serious,” Cheryl said.
“Again,” Robbie said louder than before.
“No,” Cheryl said sternly, “it’s time for reading.” She summoned her mother’s voice and tapped her foot again. The idea of having children became an unpleasantly. She could feel the muscles on her face falter. Children could sense that, but for Robbie it wouldn’t matter. He stayed fixed on the television demanding more.
“Again,” Robbie said more courageously.
Cheryl’s shoulders drooped. “No again!” She was losing the battle. She was falling to his level. Maybe if she kept it lighthearted. Maybe if she kept this up, Robbie would lose energy and pass out in front of the television. She didn’t want to get cornered by Robbie. Not again.
Robbie began to pout. His demands transformed into the sing-song of wails and crying. She felt she had more power and control now, but the more they continued, the more Robbie morphed into an emotional sack of emotions, flailing in the center of the room. Cheryl stood in front of Robbie has he sobbed. A warm blanket would definitely help in this situation. She looked across the room and wondered what it would feel like if she had the blanket around her. How comforting that would be. Henry’s hands would feel nice. She closed her eyes and drowned out the sounds of Robbie and filled it with being close to Henry.
“No,” a low voice beneath her said.
Cheryl’s eyes popped open and she hopped back. As soon as her eyes settled on Robbie, the phone rang. Cheryl’s eyes darted from the television to the phone. She leapt to the television, played Robbie’s show and dashed to the phone in the kitchen. She could hear Robbie wailing with excitement before she could speak.
“Hello,” Cheryl answered.
“Cheryl? Is everything okay? You sound like you’ve been crying.” Robbie’s mother was on the other end. Her voice sounded more than she was typically concerned.
“No, Mrs. Sommers. I was just yawning,” Cheryl said, grasping the phone.
“Okay, how’s Robbie?”
“He’s… fine,” Cheryl said, looking over her shoulders. Robbie was glued to the television.
“That doesn’t sound convincing,” Mrs. Sommers replied.
“No, really. He’s fine,” Cheryl said, rubbing her face. “Wanna say hi? Robbie? Say hi!” Cheryl extended the phone in Robbie’s direction.
“Haa,” Robbie said, transfixed with the moving images before him.
“Okay good,” Robbie’s mother said. “What’s he doing? Is he watching that show again?”
Cheryl perked up. She knew that Mrs. Sommers didn’t want excess television time for Robbie. “It’s finishing up,” Cheryl lied.
“Okay. Make sure he doesn’t watch it too many times. Max of five times.”
“Oh… yeah. Sure,” Cheryl answered.
“Okay. I have to go Cheryl. Please let me know if you need anything.”
“Will do, Mrs. Sommers.”
Cheryl let out at an exasperated sigh as Robbie wiggled in glee as the puppet bears danced on the screen. She wished she could express her discomfort. She had been drowning in her thoughts, she barely heard the knocking on the window pane. Cheryl peered outside and saw Henry, her boyfriend, outside.
Cheryl rushed to the back door and opened the door quietly and motioned for Henry to move in quickly. He strolled in and with a smile and no cares. His eyes zoomed in on Robbie and gave a quick nod, knowing that he was safe to be in the house.
“What are you doing here, Henry,” Cheryl whispered loudly.
“Just checking up on you,” he answered in a normal voice. “I tried to contact you and you didn’t answer. Are you okay?”
Cheryl’s demeanor changed from shocked to annoyed. “Well, I’m babysitting, Henry. I don’t know what you want me to do.” She moved to the kitchen counter and perched, looking in Robbie’s direction.
“I mean it can’t be that hard. Isn’t this the kid, that watches that dancing bear show over and over again?” Henry strutted over to Cheryl with a grin.
“Haa… yup,” Robbie’s voice echoed from the living room.
Cheryl stared blankly across the kitchen as Robbie soaked in the show some more. His focus was glued to the screen. Henry paused in his tracks.
“He knows I’m here,” Henry asked.
“He’s not stupid, Henry,” Cheryl said, dragging out his name for an unnecessarily long time.
“Henry,” Robbie repeated with a giggle.
“Okay, let’s stop giving him fuel. We don’t want him sharing what else we do in here,” Henry said, looking guilty and unashamed at the same time. “What’s wrong?”
Cheryl shook her head and bit the corner of her lip. “I watch these movies sometimes and it just makes me think. What goes on in the mind of a child?”
“Well, it’s not what I thought about,” Henry snickered.
“Don’t be sick,” Cheryl said, hitting Henry’s arm.
He leaned in close to Cheryl and rested his fingers on her waist.
“Stop it, she mumbled with her head bowed low. Her hair shielded her face from the light.
“What? I missed you.”
“Alright then,” he said, leaving her space. “Lead the way.” Henry extended his hands, with his palms upward so Cheryl could choose her path.
“I got work to do, Henry.”
“Come on! He’s got at least twenty minutes left in the show. A lot can happen in twenty minutes.”
Cheryl lifted her head into the light and looked into Henry’s eyes. “I’m serious.”
“So am I,” he replied with a boyish grin. Cheryl maintained her position until Henry relented. “Okay! I’m joking. I’m joking. Geez. Can we at least sit next to each other?”
Cheryl rolled her eyes and led the way to the dark open room in the hall. Cheryl slouched into the chair and stared off at the wall.
“Alright, tell me what’s going on? Ever since I got here there’s something off. I can feel it.”
“What about him?”
“I told him no and he just gave me this look.”
Henry looked around the room, waiting for more. He sputtered out a chuckle. “He’s a kid. They all give you looks. It’s nothing personal.”
“This was different,” Cheryl pled.
“How was it different?”
“I don’t know how to explain it. But I felt concerned for my life.” Henry’s smile melted away as Cheryl continued. “It felt like, he was giving me the death stare. Or at least he was smarter than he lets on.”
Henry craned his neck back and scratched the surface with his fingertips. “From a five year old?”
Henry blinked and moved closer to comfort her. “Okay, I’m here. I got you.”
“It doesn’t feel like he’s five. It feels like he’s an adul—”
Cheryl’s eyes whipped to the doorway. Robbie stood in the center silently.
“What are you doing here,” Robbie asked.
“Geez… you’re a scary little kid,” Henry chuckled nervously.
“Robbie, I was just having a little anxiety, so Robbie came over to help me out,” Cheryl said in a normal calm voice.
“I didn’t ask you,” Robbie said. “I asked you.” Robbie was looking at Henry. Robbie’s voice had changed. It was less inquisitive and more authoritative.
“Uh,” Henry stammered. “It’s like Cheryl said. She needed some help. So, I came over.”
Robbie peered and studied the two. Then he walked slowly to them. “I know what you two do in this house,” he said in a very un-childlike voice. “I know you drink, smoke and you steal.”
“I know you two have had sex in this house too. I know because I’ve seen you. All those innocent years… gone. Because of you.”
Cheryl was soaked in tears. Henry had terror knitted into his face. Robbie had closed the gap and stood in front of the coach. The two teens looked away in shame.
“Look at me when I talk to you,” Robbie said calmly. Cheryl and Henry both strained to face the young child. “Your lives could be over, but it doesn’t have to be. You two work for me now. You get me what I want when I want it and I’ll keep your little secrets. If not, then I share with who I want and if that doesn’t get you, the weight of your guilt soon will.”
Cheryl and Henry stared not knowing how this came to be and what was next, but they were at the mercy of Robbie and his every demand. Henry wondered what terrible things could a five year old do. He only had his memory of his childhood to compare. But Cheryl knew. Cheryl knew…