Laura Bailey was her name. Babysitting was her game.
A straightforward occupation, with minimal responsibilities that amounted to what friends in the business referred to as the three Asses: 1) Show-Up and 2) Stick-to
``Then what's the third `S'?'' a much-younger and impressionable Laura had inquired of her world-weary classmate; a harried college laureate whose tuition fees had forced into that unsavoury prospect.
``Last S? Oh, that stands for a-hole, Laurie. Take it from me, there's always one in the business,''
Sage advice that a still wet-behind-the-ears student would never forget. Nor had her classmate been lying; as Laura soon found for herself upon taking her first high-profile babysitting gig - a necessary evil, what with the bloody extortion that college fraternities tried to pass off as `rent'.
That the advertisement described the opening she applied for as a `governess' position only served to worsen the blow. Head full of romantic impressions left by half-remembered Literature electives of `Jane Eyre', Laura automatically pictured visions of charming old manor houses occupied by posh eccentric upper crust parents with more money than sense who; when confronted with the horrors of public schooling and their own inadequacies as tutors, deigned to settle for hiring private live-in teachers for their little-lord-fauntleroys. Such could not be further from the truth.
Well...at least not entirely. Because while the Hope family certainly ticked the `eccentric' and `posh' categories, they also were a perfect fit for what Laura already came to think of as the third-S.
Jeremiah Hope and his wife Justine were old money, heirs to one of the largest hops plantations in the region - a heritage that afforded sizeable shares in the brewery trade and also gave the family their name. Laura's first impression of Jeremiah was that of a well-attired rodent with an impressive moustache and prosperous midsection that was prone to jiggling like jelly in time to his ponderous `hmms' - a sound that he was wont to make after every other sentence, often with politely incredulous expressions as he perused a fresh applicant's resume. The effect was not unlike a frowning Santa Claws; one already preparing to leave coal in a bad cub's stocking.
``Harruumph - so you're a med student, I take it?''
``Yessir, Councillor Hope.''
``Pursuing a clinical mastery?''
``And the college makes allowances for that? Given your...''
``Yes, Councillor Hope - I AM a carnivore. That does not make me incapable of taking the Hippocratic Oath, nor predispose me to consume your sole heir in his sleep,'' it was all she could do not to roll her eyes in disdain. ``Given that the nature of the job requires me to keep him safe from harm, I can only assume that would be an obvious violation of the responsibilities,''
They'd beat around this same bush for an unreasonable length of time before the Hopes eventually conceded. In the end, Laura suspected it was not her GPA average or her practical knowledge of beginner first aid that had clinched her the spot, but something else entirely - namely, the incidental fact that the carnivorous dunnart bears remarkable similarity to its less-controversial cousin the mouse. An uncanny resemblance in fact; were one to ignore the former's maw of razor fangs. That Laura had smiled, nodded in all the right areas and opened her mouth as little as possible to draw attention to their existence probably had something to do with it.
Because apparently the Hopes were THAT kind of people.
While on the one hand the family weren't as crass as to flaunt their views in her face, a good governess soon learns to notice the signs: the way casual talk fizzled out to be replaced by sideways glances whenever she came within hearing distance, or the cavalier manner Jeremiah and Justine would react whenever Laura requested for time off to observe holy days or carnivore customs. Their young heir naturally picked up on their shared ideology in a way that grated upon her patience. Were it not for the commensurate salary she was getting for putting up with such bigotry, Laura would've left for greener pastures long ago. Still, this sordid chapter of Laura's life did contribute to certain interesting anecdotes - such as the incident of Beatrice Marsh.
While it was her usual practice to tune out unrelated chatter as she escorted young Jim Hope to the prestigious country club where his parents were waiting; the one-sided conversation Jim was engaged in over his cellphone wasn't something that Laura could easily ignore - especially when the subject touched upon such controversial topics as the Beatrice Marsh scandal that divided the nation.
``Marsh? Oh she's a --- ---to think any REAL herbivore could...I KNOW, right?''
Laura suppressed a strong desire to massage her temples. As usual, Jim's upbringing had ensured he got only half the picture. On hindsight perhaps it wasn't all that surprising. Beatrice Marsh was only the most controversial topic on everyone's mind, as two furious families waged a legal battle for custody of the aforementioned Beatrice - born a Hopps to an impoverished family of rabbits who later fostered her out for adoption. Beatrice had been christened a Marsh by the foxes who had adopted her as an infant and then raised in the vulpine fashion...which had naturally caused a stir in the original family once they had found out and demanded her back. It had only gotten worse from there, with lines being drawn in the sand between predators and prey over the high court's ruling that Beatrice be reunited with her birth family.
At first the weight of public opinion was initially skewed in favour of the poor, vulnerable herbivores. How dare those nasty kidnapping foxes try to steal a baby from their natural parents? It sounded like something out of the worst fairy tales. The preteen cub - hardly a baby by then - was remanded to the Hopps and a life of poverty, away from everything she had known in the custody of the Marshes. Naturally, this resulted in a scene since Beatrice hardly remembered the family of her birth and was understandably reluctant to be parted from the foxes she considered her parents. And of course press-coverage of the situation only fanned the flames on both sides from resentful embers into a raging blaze.
Poor Jim merely parroted the opinions his mother and father had on the topic with no real understanding of the matter of course. His take on the matter, which he righteously expounded to his friend, was clear: Beatrice Marsh was a fool. A spoilt, greedy fool with no loyalty to the family of her birth. ``You'd never catch me consorting with carnivores!'' was young Jim's final word on the matter.
``You'll want to lower your voice, Jimmy,'' Laura's hackles were rising, some inner instinct sensing danger in the wind. They were then passing through a seedy part of town, one known for its share of bar-brawls. Much as she wanted to dismiss it as coincidence, Laura had the uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched. They were witness to a couple of fights on the way through as drunk herbivores set upon equally drunk carnivores with beer bottles and fists.
``Idiots,'' commented Jim again. Nevermind that everything he'd said to his little buddy on the other line was terribly racist and unkind. It was as though the cub WANTED to draw the attention of any fur within hearing distance. ``Nothing will make me lie about who I am!''
``You say somethin', kid?'' From a nondescript dark alleyway strolled a wolf in biker leathers; one that was soon accompanied by a tiger, fox and grizzly. Every single one of them huge, mean and armed with a nasty assortment of bicycle chains and brass knuckles.
Oh great - as if Laura's day could get any worse...
``Lookee here, mates! Seems like we got ourselves a couple o' grass-eaters!''
``Long way from home, ain'tcha? Not so tough without your herds to back you up...''
Jim paled to an unnatural shade of chalky white, instinctively clutching at Laura's side. As the drunken louts closed in, Laura's mind went on overdrive; considering and discarding possible options. Part of her toyed with the idea of seeing Jim get his just desserts. It would be exactly what the little snot deserved...
No. I am a GOVERNESS. I have a duty to my charge. Even if he IS a sanctimonious little hypocrite!
And so Laura made her choice, shielding the cowering cub with her own body whilst snarling at the oncoming posse as she did so - an act that exposed her full range of impressive, sharpened teeth.
``We're predators, ya idiots! Can'tcha recognize a dunnart from a fieldmouse when you see one? Bloody amateurs,''
The gang paused, eyeing them speculatively. Their leader bent down for a closer look at her fangs. Laura willed their attention towards her whilst trying to subtly convey telepathic instructions to Jim at the same time: shut up, not another word, let me handle this!
``Hmm. Carnivores, eh?'' one of the bikers leant in to sniff suspiciously at Jim.
Fortunately, all trace of the little rodent's earlier bravado was gone. Jim never spoke a word.
--and never would on that topic again, always finding ways to change the subject or excuse himself from the room whenever his parents or any of their friends discussed racial species in particular. He owed that much to his babysitter; whose status would've spared her from the mob without any action whatsoever. Instead she had stood up for him, lied for him, even though that would've made her a target if they saw through the bluff. Whilst he; who had proudly boasted about how nothing could make him renounce his heritage earlier, had done just that - pretended to belong to the other side. Any experience like that would be grounds to ponder
On topics like prey, predators and people - and if one is really so different from the other.