"Rory, please." I plead once more with my feet gracelessly circling the sofa for the umpteenth time this evening. It's already an hour past his bedtime. The sun has gone down hours ago and my prayers for this boy to follow suit have gone unanswered. I drop my head momentarily, in defeat, willing the dull aching in my head to subside. My stamina is no match for this lively five-year-old's. After the first five minutes of this extemporaneous game I was already fatigued. This can either attest to his seemingly bottomless pool of energy or me generally being out of shape.

It is most likely the latter but I'll never admit that out loud.

I halt briefly and dig my fingers in the couch's arm as I watch the ball of energy run around. There is no way I'm running around again, my lungs simply won't allow it, so I decide on a new strategy. With a concentrated brow, I watch and wait for him to lap me again so I can take the opportunity to capture him by the waist. His tiny legs continue to run in the air as if he were in a cartoon. He shrieks excitedly as I drag him closer to my body, impeding his escape. I can't help but giggle along with him as his laughter, much like most children's, is vastly contagious. I give him a moment for his giggles to simmer down before I cautiously seat him on the sofa. I smooth his curly hair out of his face as I lean down to reason with him.

"Rory," I reaffirm in a cool and even voice while looking him in his deep mahogany eyes. My reserve nearly crumbles when his too-long eyelashes bat back at me accompanied with a front-tooth-less smile. His chest is still slightly heaving and the occasional giggle escapes his chest and bubbles out of his lips, but he remains still. "It's already way past your bed time. Your dad wouldn't be happy to see you running around, wouldn't he?"

"No," he answers still somewhat breathless. I can still see some excitement dancing around behind his tired eyes but he doesn't make a run for it when I release him.

"That's right," I nod with a small smile, leaning back to rock on my heels and letting my shoulders slump a little, the weight of my fatigue bearing down on me. "So, let's head to bed. Which pajamas do you want to wear tonight? The astronauts or the cowboys?"

His eyebrows furrow in concentration as he decides. He begins to 'hmm' in contemplation while putting his finger on his tiny chin. I sigh in relief that there is no longer a battle against slumber and that I have successfully distracted him with the much more taxing decision of sleep attire.

"Astronauts!" he declares firmly while jumping off of the sofa and grabbing my hand. I rejoice as he begins to lead me upstairs so he can get ready for bed. "Are you coming tomorrow, Mia?"

"Maybe," I answer while taking his tiny hand into my own. We take our time climbing the long staircase that leads towards his bedroom. "If your parents need me."

"They always need you," he giggles as we meet the landing. He takes off to sprint to his room but I usher him to the bathroom so he can brush his teeth.

It was true. His parents do always need me. Some weeks I feel as though I spend more time with Rory than he does with his own mother or father. I can't fault them too much, however, they both work very demanding jobs to provide for their family. It's just disheartening how many moments they miss with Rory.

The Sandovals are really fortunate that I have seemingly no life and have all this free time to care for Rory. It is mostly out of my control. I'm not from this town, I just attend the local university here. I'm actually from a city a few states away. My heart was not originally set on attending school here (it was my safety school) but the generous tuition package and the grant I received practically made it impossible to say no. It made the most fiscal sense instead of taking out a bunch of loans at my ideal school. I took the opportunity in stride, embracing the chance to assert my freedom and independence. I live alone, albeit in my shoebox-like apartment, and take care of all of my needs and responsibilities like a true adult.

I admit, I was a bit coddled at home. I am an only child that was conceived after years of failed attempts. My mother never lets me forget about how hard she had to work to bring me into this world and how I am her lucky egg. So imagine my parents shock when I told them that I wanted to go away for college and leave the perfectly constructed nest she spent years keeping me in. Nevertheless, I have been successful thus far.

At the end of my freshman year, my counselor and the psychology department's research coordinator, Mason Gregor, advised me to apply for a paid summer internship at one of the daycares in town. I did so apprehensively because I didn't have much work experience and I was only just starting school. Yet, for some reason, they did offer me the internship. I believe that Mason pulled quite a few strings for me. From our first advising session I saw the optimism in his eyes as we spoke about the numerous activities that I could participate in. In fact, for my sophomore year I'm already involved in a group research project.

I met Mrs. Sandoval during my last day interning at a daycare. I was respectfully honest with her about how Rory could use some more attention at home. I was prepared for the worst, a defensive backlash from her telling me not to tell her how to raise her child and how I didn't even have children of my own. Shockingly, I received neither. With tired eyes and a defeated smile she agreed with me.

She confided in me about how they didn't enjoy leaving Rory in daycare or after-school, but they didn't have much of a choice. She said she was considering applying for a hematology position in the town hospital but she's not quite ready to make the transition yet and would require additional training. A look of contemplation came over her face before she smiled sheepishly at me. She began with how much Rory loved spending time with me and how she and her husband think that I am very trustworthy and attentive. Since my time at the daycare was coming to an end, she offered me the position to watch her son.

At first I wasn't sure, it would be much more responsibility, time, and effort. I would have to juggle school and caring for a rambunctious five-year-old. It didn't sound like the easiest feat. I didn't say yes at first. I spent the next few days considering the offer. When Mrs. Sandoval called me after some time wanting to know my decision, the amount she offered to pay practically made my decision for me.

So now here I am, tucking the finally tired out Rory into his bed. I sigh in relief as his eyelids flutter shut almost immediately. I smooth out his intergalactic themed sheets before standing up and walking towards the door. I pause to look back at him with a smile before turning off the light and whispering a goodnight to the unconscious boy.

I leave the door slightly open and make my way down the stairs. I collapse on the sofa and exhaustion finally settles down upon me. I let my eyes rest for a few minutes before pulling my laptop out of my bag and turning it on. My finals begin in a few days so most of my spare time is spent cramming. I'm not all too worried about my exams since I have been doing pretty decently throughout the semester. I wasn't ace-ing my classes but I was far from failing and that sufficed for me. The GPA I needed to maintain my grant was almost comically low so I didn't have much to worry about.

Fixation. . .repression. . .regression. . . reaction formation

I spend the next hour softly repeating the material to myself so I can commit it to memory. I continue to re-read the information until I remember that I had made some flashcards. I place my laptop down and reach for my bag. After rummaging through the pockets, I locate the small stack of colorful cards and begin testing myself.

"Oral stage," I read the card's topic quietly. Before I turn the card over, I quietly murmur the definition. "The psycho-sexual stage spanning from birth to 18 months at time when pleasure centers on the mouth."

I flip the card over in satisfaction that I have answered correctly.

Creak

I jump slightly when I hear a small sound from down the hall. I quickly disregard the noise, knowing that it is just the house settling. I set the card to the side and draw a new one.

"Anal stage," I read a bit louder this time. "This stage focuses on bowel and bladder elimination, concerning those aged 18 to 36 mon-"

Thump

My head snaps up when I hear a much louder from upstairs and I groan internally thinking that Rory has woken up. I place the index cards on my laptop and make my way to the stairs. I climb them two at a time while heading to Rory's room.

"I thought we agreed that you were going to sleep," I chastise calmly while opening his door. I am stunned to see that his sleeping form hasn't changed much from when I left. I watch him for a few minutes just in case there is a hint of artifice, but there is none.

I slowly leave the room and meander back downstairs, wondering what that thump was. I pause at the landing of the stairs and simply listen to the Sandoval house for a moment. I hear nothing but the occasional breeze from outside. Despite the silence, I can't shake this feeling of something just being . . . not right. I roam around the house making sure the doors and windows are locked. I even go to the kitchen and make sure that all of the stove burners are off.

I place both palms flat on the counter and breathe for a moment willing this uneasy feeling to be quelled. I smooth my hair back with a frustrated puff of my cheeks and turn to open the refrigerator. I grab the carton of orange juice and a glass from the cabinet above me. I pour a small amount and take a few sips to calm my nerves as I scan the kitchen.

It is no lie that the Sandoval house is one of the nicer homes in the neighborhood. The two-story modern design is simple yet bold at the same time. I lean back on the cool granite counter-top and admire the detailing of the kitchen. The stainless steel refrigerator, oven, and microwave. The pristine island centered in the room with an untouched bowl of fruit sitting atop it. On paper, the Sandovals are really a picture perfect family, ideal home, careers and household.

Too bad everything isn't as perfect as it seems.

I see a laundry basket left near the door to the basement and I assume Mrs. Sandoval didn't have time to get it done. I take the liberty of bringing it downstairs to the laundry room situated in the basement. I know I don't have enough time to do a load but I still separate the colors from the whites.

Once my task is completed, I make my way back up the stairs. I wash the glass I was using earlier. While putting the glass on the drying rack a cold breeze causes me to shiver. With a knotted brow I look over at the door and see that is slightly open. Confusion washes over me because I swear I locked all of the doors and windows. I, hesitantly, walk towards the door and shut it softly. I turn the lock and check the handle once again. It is locked. With my hand pressed against the frame, I shut my eyes trying to remember if I had, in fact, locked it.

I don't have much time to recollect because I hear the front door opening. My heart bounds against my ribs at the sudden noise and I rush to see who it is. I am not sure why so much relief floods through me when I see Mr. Sandoval hanging his coat up on the rack near the door.

"Good evening, Mr. Sandoval," I smile, trying to remain as cool as possible. He sets his briefcase on the coffee table before walking further into the house.

"Hi, Mia," he smiles before stifling a yawn. The prominent bags under his eyes make him appear older than he actually is. "How was he tonight?"

"Good, as usual," I answer as I gather my things together. I shove my laptop, notebook, and barely studied index cards into my bag.

"That's good," he nods while heading up the stairs. "Hang on a bit. I have your money for the week. I want to give it to you before I forget."

"Sure, no problem," I say, leaning against the banister, with my bag over my shoulder. I look back towards the door in the kitchen with an odd shiver.

I am almost positive I had shut it.

I see Mr. Sandoval peek his head into Rory's room for a moment before shutting the door quietly. He disappears down the hall towards the master bedroom. Moments later he reappears and trudges down the stairs. He gingerly hands me an envelope with Mia written in Mrs. Sandoval's perfect cursive on it.

"I'm not sure if we need you tomorrow," he begins, while handing me the money. I place it carefully in the inner pocket of my bag. I make a mental note to deposit it tomorrow. "Olivia will call and let you know tomorrow."

"Sounds great," I nod, inching my way towards the door a bit more eager to leave than usual. "Have a good night, Mr. Sandoval!"

"Good night, Mia!" he calls out while heading to the kitchen, ready to rummage through the refrigerator.

I shut the door behind me and quickly make my way to my car parked across the street. I'm feeling especially jumpy tonight. Every sound making me feel more alert. At this point I'm not sure if it's the December air or my fear causing me to shiver.

I unlock the door and climb in. I shut the door and sit for a moment to just breathe and settle my nerves. My nervousness will only worsen my already sub-par driving skills. I take a few more breaths before I start the car and pull out, watching the Sandoval house disappear in the mirror.

I drive warily to my apartment and to the fitful night's rest that awaits me.

OoOoO

Snaps and claps for a new story! I'm really excited for this one and have a good plan on how it's going to flow.

Its a slow start but I hope you stick around because thrills await!

Please do let me know what you guys think so far. 3