Lisa reached into her purse and pulled out a compact cellphone. She hit speed dial and waited as it rang She looked around the livingroom and shuddered. No way would she end up trapped in a pit like this. Oh, the house was clean but signs of rugrats were everywhere. This job was a goldmine! Jake was paying her $6 an hour just to sit on her butt! But she couldn't hack the idea of doing this on a daily basis.

Her call was answered by a sleepy voice. She smiled and practically purred into her phone. "Hey, Lover, how goes it on your end?"

Duane, her boyfrind, answered back "Good except for missing you... I'm aching for you. How much longer until you get to come back home?"

"Another long month... by then my skanky mom should have forgotten why she bothered sending me out here." Lisa snorted and continued "Like Aunt Rochelle is such a great influence.. last week-end she had a 'key party'."

"What the hell is a 'key party'?"

"Oh, that's where you invite a bunch of couples to a party, one half of the couple places their house key into a bowl. At the end of the evening each couple picks one key out..and they swap parteners for the night. It would't be too bad but these are Old in their 30's!!"

Duane giggled at the thought and then remembered to ask Lisa "Didja find your present I hid?"

"No! Tell me where it's at, pretty please? With sugar on it?"

"Open up your smoke bag and take a peek."

Lisa dug into her puse and pulled out a leather bag. She opened the drawstrng and shook it a little. Out fell a few joints and a couple of roaches. Opening the bag further revealed a small sheet of paper sticking to the side.

"Oh, boy! Is this what I think it is?"

"Yup.. Murphy picked it up just before he came home from California. It's great shit!"

"I'll have to wait until this job is done.. I really want the money!"

"Aww, just do it! Its really mild and doesn't last for long. You'll be down way before the fogeys get home."

Lisa contemplated the swirly little sticker, glanced over and saw the kids still entranced with their video, shrugged and set it on her tongue.

"I better get off the line.. this must cost you a fortune."

"Naw, mom bought me lots of minutes.. to call her" Lisa laughed evilly, "Not that I have even once! She's probably forgotten she even has a daughter. I always seemed to cramp her style." This last bit was said a bit bitterly.

"Yeah, well, the guys are coming over and we're heading to The Palace. There's a band playing tonite.. supposed to be pretty whack."

Lisa felt a slow crawl over her body and a bit of flush across her face. "Ok, talk to you later." She set her phone back into her purse, forgetting to shut it off.

Baby Huey started crying, he needed a diaper change. With utmost care Lisa concentrated on doing this task. Finished, she grabbed him a bottle and gave it to him. He made a face at the chilled milk but drank it anyway.

Slowly the room receded in Lisa's eyes.. only to zoom back magnified. A stray beam of sunlight caught her attention. She wandered over to the front door and looked out. Colors swirled and glistened. Bird song drew her out the door and into the yard. She watched ants trundle across the sidewalk and bees buzz the flowers. Each flower was a wonder to beheld.

Time slipped away.

Inside the house the buzzer for the oven went off..and off.. and off.

The noise startled baby Huey who had just started nodding off. He started to wail. Belinda looked around and started crying "Mommy". Lil' Jake plugged his ears. He was so tired of the babies always crying and always whenever there was something good to watch. In the kitchen the timer continued to go off. The casserole started to burn. Small wisps of smoke began rolling out of the oven. Lil' Jake turned the tv up even louder. Huey cried harder and Belinda did too.

To add to the din, the smoke alarm went off.

Outside, Lisa started following a crack in the sidewalk. She just knew that Paradise would be found at its end.

Time passed on.

Lisa's Aunt Rochelle stepped out of her house dressed to the Nine's. The sounds coming from Trisha's house made her blanche and scream. She ran back into her house and dialled 911. Then she ran to the front door of Trisha's and tried to go inside. Black smoke choked her and stung her eyes. She yelled for Lisa and Jake but all she could hear was the smoke alarm.

Rochelle stumbled back outside gasping for air. Another neighbor tried going in after hearing there were children inside but he too was defeated by the smoke.

A police car pulled into the Long's driveway. In the distance the wail of a fire engine came steadily closer.

Jake and Trisha had just finished a delicious dinner when their waiter came over and pulled Jake aside. Ashen faced he paid for their meal and motioned for Trisha to get to the car. Her face turned white and she said "What? What? ... My babies???" They sped home.

They were met by a police officer and a fireman. Smoke still roiled out of the house but it was fading quickly.

"What happened? Where are my babies??" Trisha was in shock and ready to faint. Jake didn't look much better.

"Mr.Long, your babysitter is missing and so are your children. Do you have any idea where they could be?"

Jake rubbed his face with one hand and tightened his grip on Trisha's with his other hand. "Lil' Jake knows that in case of fire he's to get out..and grab only his brother and sister. They're supposed to meet us over here by the Lilac bush". A quick glance showed no children hiding in the leafy shadows.

Rochelle came up, apologizing for whatever had happened. "Lisa is a bit scatterbrained but she has to be around here somewhere."

A flash of pure hatred shown in Trisha's eyes as she glared at Rochelle. How dare this woman offer a "scatterbrained" person as a babysitter for her little ones. Trisha's hands curled into talons and only by strength gained from working for a living did Jake keep her from tearing and rending Rochelle to bits.

A shout from the backyard had everyone turning and looking. A fireman came out from the darkness leading Lil' Jake and carrying both Belinda and baby Huey, who was sound asleep.

Both parents ran forward and smothered their offspring with kisses and hugs. They hardly dared to believe the children were fine and this wouldn't suddenly turn back into the nightmare they had been in moments before. Cheers from neighbors echoed through the court.

Tears of joy ran down Rochelle's face but then she looked quizzically into the dark. "Where's Lisa? Wasn't she back there too?"

Lil' Jake answered, "Nope.. momma said if a fire happened I was to get out and take Huey and 'linda with me. I couldn't see the front door so we went out the sliding doors. We waited at the playhouse just like we were supposed to. Lisa wasn't in the livingroom when I smelled smoke and heard the alarm.. I dunno where she's at."

The Long's had the kids checked out for smoke inhalation and then went to a motel for the night. Their house had extensive smoke damage but that didn't matter. What did matter was they had each other.

Rochelle made a missing person's report about Lisa but was informed they couldn't start looking for her until 24 hours had elapsed.

Lisa, meanwhile had lost interest in the crack in the sidewalk. She had started watching trees sway in the evening breeze. Then followed a sparrow for awhile. The lake ahead sparkled with the last rays of the setting sun..a crystal beacon that called her. The evening sky had colors she could taste and the breeze had smells she could feel.

Lost in a sensory overload Lisa never heard the airbrakes of the Semi nor felt the impact of a ton of unforgiving metal.


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