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Rupert’s penis hurt. It was pressed against the jagged metal of his fly’s interior, having arbitrarily extricated itself from the opening in the center of a large yellow smiley face printed on his boxers. He shifted slightly in his seat, hoping to reposition the wandering appendage without eliciting excessive attention from the rather hideous woman currently staring at him.
“You’re comfortable with that?” the woman asked, maroon lipstick accumulating on her front teeth with every word, her bony face stern.
“You’re comfortable driving the kids?”
“Mm,” Rupert affirmed, offering a slight nod.
The pain in Rupert’s groin seemed to illuminate other sources of discomfort to which he would not have otherwise paid heed. The ache in his spine as he leaned against the small poles forming the chair’s back, the pang in his butt as his tailbone drew closer to the chair’s wooden base, and the unmistakable irritation of a contact lens askew—the ongoing side effect of an unnatural amount of eye contact.
“It’s not very far, but the stoplights can be a pain in the rear.”
Heretofore, Rupert thought the interview had gone well. Well enough, he hoped, as he now felt incapable of offering polysyllabic responses to Mrs. Klein’s questions. Earlier he had emitted an unfortunate chortle upon noticing the picture that hung above Mrs. Klein’s left shoulder—a professional photograph of the Aryan Klein clan with forced smiles and matching green turtlenecks on a cloudy backdrop—but Rupert was fairly confident that a fake cough had concealed his indiscretion.
“We’d need you to start next Monday, would that work for you?”
Mrs. Klein stood and smiled. The impressive extent to which her lipstick now covered her teeth, combined with an expression clearly unnatural to the woman, lent her face a monstrous quality.
Rupert stood, exposing himself more completely to the zipper’s taunting teeth, causing him to emit a squeal of appallingly high pitch.
“Is everything all right?” Mrs. Klein asked, her tone vaguely accusatory.
“Yeah,” Rupert replied as he awkwardly leaned forward, refusing to break eye contact with his new employer for reasons he could not pinpoint, even as his eyes watered slightly.
“Wonderful. Well, I’d like to show you around the house… But I have to pick the girls up from their play date. The bedrooms are upstairs, the playroom’s in the basement. The girls can show you around.”
Rupert drew a breath of relief; he was unsure that his crotch could survive a walking tour. Mrs. Klein strolled toward the foyer and he waddled in her wake. She opened the front door, exposing a sea of brick-and-siding houses in unflattering stark sunlight.
“Bye then,” Mrs. Klein said, eyeing Rupert with confusion as his stride became increasingly simian.
“Bye… Thanks,” Rupert said, infusing the second word with as much sincerity as he could muster given the circumstances.
Rupert stepped onto the grey concrete of the Kleins’ front porch, into the dry, oppressive heat. The door behind him shut and he immediately plunged a hand into the front of his pants to restore natural order. Rupert sighed, savoring the relief offered by his underwear’s soft cotton interior. Recalling his surroundings, he glanced around the neighborhood. Across the street, a young boy pointed at Rupert as his mother ushered him inside their house. Rupert gave a slight, unreciprocated wave before they disappeared behind a large red door.
Rupert’s car screeched to a halt. Originally blue, his sedan now sported an unintended sandy hue—the signature of Albuquerque’s dusty climate. Rupert looked from the red traffic light ahead of him to the sheet of paper in his lap. Mr. Klein had emailed Rupert directions to his daughters’ school, which Rupert hastily printed before rushing from his apartment moments ago. He looked at the clock, red numbers glowed from his dashboard: 3:40 p.m. Rupert had been instructed to arrive at 3:30.
He looked anxiously at the car to his right. Through the rear passenger’s window, he could see the back of a boy’s head, covered with hair like black moss, shaking from side to side. The child turned to face Rupert. Tears were streaming down his chubby red face. His gaping mouth and black eyes, open impossibly wide, would, on an adult, be truly horrifying. Here, the effect was hypnotically repellant. Rupert glanced at the street ahead of him then turned again to face the child. Drool now hung from the dimpled, quivering chin. Rupert grinned. He recalled his friends’ reactions to the announcement that he was to spend the summer as a nanny.
“Who would hire you?” his roommate had pondered, amused. “You hate children.”
“Well I won’t say that in my interviews. And I don’t hate all children. Remind me not to list you as a reference.”
A honk from the car behind him propelled Rupert forward, his sense of urgency renewed. After less than a mile, he turned left upon seeing a worn wooden sign reading Danbury Drive. The street was narrow, winding, and shrouded in the shade of countless Black Oaks on either side of the rocky pavement. Rupert felt as though he was approaching a British manor, perhaps to take part in a murder mystery.
After a number of twists and turns, the asphalt below smoothed, unmitigated sunlight returned, and an imposing brick building came into view. With a mixture of relief and disappointment, Rupert joined a lineup of approximately ten vehicles—all SUVs, all spotlessly clean—wrapped around the edge of the school.
A spry elderly woman walked past the lineup toward Rupert’s car. She carried a large walkie-talkie and wore an all-khaki outfit that would not have looked out of place at a Boy Scout troupe meeting.
Rupert lowered his window.
“What can I do ya for?” she asked, her gruff voice and folksy diction exuding the air of a seasoned lesbian.
“I’m here to pick up the Kleins,” Rupert replied.
Rupert had no idea whether or not he was “authorized.”
“I think so,” he said.
“Got yer sign?”
Rupert stared blankly at the woman. For a moment he thought she was making an astrological reference before remembering the neon green piece of cardstock, bearing the words KLEIN x 2 GRADE 3 written in shiny black letters, resting on his backseat. Mrs. Klein had delivered this, along with two booster seats, to Rupert’s apartment four days prior.
“Oh, yeah,” he reached for the sign and placed it on his dashboard.
“Yes,” the woman said, staring sternly at Rupert.
Confused, Rupert gave a slight nod.
“It’s ‘yes,’” she repeated.
“You said ‘yeah,’” she explained, uttering the latter word in what she clearly thought was a male hoodlum’s voice. “It’s ‘yes.’”
“Oh, right.” Rupert’s momentary schoolboy embarrassment was replaced by an urge to slap the woman’s face. “Yes.”
“Third grade, I need two Kleins,” she announced to her walkie-talkie before waving Rupert forward with the authority of an airport runway attendant.
He glared, raised his window, and pushed lightly on the gas pedal with his sandaled foot, rejoining the other vehicles in the carpool line. In sight now sat a group of approximately fifteen children, all white with the exception of a lone black girl sitting near the middle of the crowd. The image brought to mind the one side of a die. Walking purposefully from the campers to the cars were five walkie-talkie-toting teens, smirking as they passed one another. Rupert wondered how many of the drivers before him were college students and, more to the point, how many were male. He drove forward, now fourth in line.
A skinny blonde teen approached his car. Her tee-shirt, knotted above the navel, read “Danbury Day Camp” in large blue letters. She glanced at the sign on his dashboard and opened his rear passenger door.
“Maggie, Morgan, your dad’s here,” she yelled in a saccharine voice.
Rupert’s distaste for the similarities between the twin girls’ names was immediately surpassed by the shock at having been casually referred to as their father. He strained to catch his reflection in the rear-view mirror. With dark hair and skin, Rupert looked as dissimilar from the Klein girls, neither of whom would appear out of place in a Hitler Youth catalogue, as a Caucasian male could. Not to mention that, at twenty years old, the likelihood of Rupert fathering two eight-year-olds seemed rather slim.
“He’s not our dad,” Rupert heard one of the girls say as they walked toward his car. “He’s our new babysitter.” A furious fit of giggles followed this clarification.
Rupert turned to face his backseat as the twins, impossibly identical, climbed in.
“Oh, sorry,” the teenager said; Rupert searched her voice for derision.
She shut the door, eliminating all sound from the car save for the girls’ fading laughter.
“Hi Maggie, hi Morgan,” Rupert said, his voice higher than intended. He had no idea which child was Maggie and which was Morgan. “I’m Rupert.”
“That’s a silly name,” the girl seated on the driver’s side said. “‘Rupert.’”
The twins’ symbiotic laughter resumed.
“How was camp?” Rupert asked loudly, driving quickly past the lesbian Boy Scout, onto the shaded road.
The girl on the passenger’s side stopped laughing.
“Someone was mean to me,” she said.
“Who?” the other asked. A thirst for scandal broke through her forced concern.
“I don’t know her name.”
“What did she look like?”
Rupert observed the girls in his rear-view mirror.
“Umm, she had black hair.”
“Was she brown?”
Rupert choked on his saliva, coughing.
“No, she was more of a caramel.”
The interview appeared to be over. Rupert’s curiosity regarding the “mean” behavior of the caramel girl was overshadowed by his relief at the conclusion of the color-coded line of questioning. He turned right, past the wooden sign, into the sunlight.
“What should we do when we get to your house?” Rupert asked in what he thought was a playful tone.
“It’s snack time when we get home,” the girl on the passenger’s side declared.
Rupert turned onto the Kleins’ street, driving through the parallel rows of identical houses. With about a minute left to their ride, Rupert heard the click of an unfastened seatbelt and glanced into the rear-view mirror. The twin on the driver’s side was standing, staring at his face in the mirror.
“Would you mind sitting down ‘til we’re at your house?” Rupert attempted to mask any trace of scolding from this request.
“Yeah,” the girl said coolly, glaring into Rupert’s eyes.
A second seatbelt clicked and the passenger’s side twin stood, matching her sister’s glare.
Rupert said nothing. He pulled into the Kleins’ sloped driveway and stopped suddenly as he reached the top. The twins lost their footing and fell back into their booster seats. He suppressed a smile and exited the car. Maggie and Morgan let themselves out of their respective doors and ran ahead of Rupert to the front porch. He walked toward them, observing as one twin reached under the welcome mat and handed a key to her sister, who opened the front door. As Rupert reached the porch, the girls ran inside and shut the door behind them. A subsequent click caused Rupert’s stomach to sink. He cupped his hand around the doorknob and attempted to turn it, but the immobility of the round, hot brass confirmed his suspicion. He looked around. Across the street, the mother from the previous week stood alone on her driveway, facing Rupert, hands resting on her wide hips. He turned towards the door and knocked. Through a thin, vertical window to his right, Rupert could see the twins sitting at the dining room table, shaking with laughter.
“Maggie? Morgan?” he called, estimating the minimum volume it would take for the girls to hear him.
They glanced at Rupert then turned to each other and continued to laugh. As disdain filled Rupert’s body, the notion of twins came to seem increasingly bizarre, like the dark invention of a fantasy novel that had no place in the real world. He reached into his pocket, removed his cell phone, scrolled to Mrs. Klein’s contact, and pressed Call. It rang once.
“Is everything okay?” Mrs. Klein’s harried voice came through Rupert’s phone far too loudly.
“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine.”
“What is it?”
“Well, the girls, um, locked me out of the house,” Rupert explained, each word sounding more defeated than the previous. “As a joke.” He was unsure why he added that last bit.
A sigh carried through the speaker.
“Use the cookie jar,” she said.
“Okay,” Rupert said eagerly, nodding a bit. “Wait, what?”
“The cookie jar. It’s in the cabinet above the refrigerator. They can’t reach it. Offer them cookies for letting you in.”
“Call me if it doesn’t work.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Rupert hung up. He knocked on the window and the indistinguishable demons turned toward him. He beckoned them. Maggie or Morgan stood up and approached the window, the other remained seated. He steeled himself, preparing for the words that were about to escape his mouth.
“Let me in and I’ll give you cookies,” he called through the glass, cringing as he spoke. It seemed absurd that this combination of words could be uttered without legal ramification.
He looked around again. The woman across the street continued to stare.
Rupert turned to face the door, which opened following a satisfying click. Clutching the interior doorknob, Maggie or Morgan gestured the way to the kitchen. Rupert looked straight ahead as he walked past the seated twin and toward the stainless steel refrigerator. He reached upward, opened the dark wood cabinet, and grabbed hold of a porcelain black cat with yellow eyes. Rupert lifted the cat’s head, removed a cookie, replaced the jar, and walked toward the dining room where the twins sat eyeing his hands expectantly.
“Where’s the other one?” a twin asked.
Rupert said nothing.
“Where is it?” pressed the other.
Rupert lifted the cookie to his mouth, took a bite, and leaned against the doorframe, smiling. In sync, the girls’ faces began to redden, their chins dimpled and quivering. Rupert continued to chew. Maggie or Morgan stood up and marched out of the room. The other remained seated. The cookie was mediocre, but Rupert made sure his face did not betray any disappointment.
The absent twin returned, her face a trembling tomato, clutching a naked Barbie in her right hand. She looked directly into Rupert’s eyes with an expression of unambiguous disgust. He continued chewing. The twin held the doll in front of her at a raised angle then flung it with a forceful shake of her arm. The Barbie spiraled across the room, hitting Rupert squarely in the groin. He dropped his cookie and doubled over, maneuvering himself into one of the dining room chairs. He looked up. Four turtlenecked Kleins smiled down at him from the clouds.