“Triple, tap, step. Triple, tap, step.” Tanya could hear Mrs. Nimitz’s dance students in the adjoining room clicking their tap shoes in time to her instructions.
For as long as Tanya could remember, she had wanted to take tap dancing lessons, but her parents had never been able to afford them. Now she had a chance to earn them for herself.
Today while Mrs. Nimitz was teaching her advanced class, Tanya was baby-sitting for her. If everything went well, she would have the job of tending two-year-old Cathy from three until five on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
Mr. Nimitz came home early on Fridays, so he watched his little daughter during his wife’s class for beginners. And Tanya intended to ask Mrs. Nimitz if instead of paying her, she would allow her to be a member of that Friday afternoon class.
Nine-year-old Tanya had never baby-sat before, but she was sure that she could do the job.
Cathy was napping, so Tanya relaxed and decided to fix herself a snack. Mrs. Nimitz had said that it would be OK.
Tanya carefully lifted the lid of the cookie jar and smelled the sweet aroma of butter and cinnamon. As she reached in for a cookie, she thought how good it would taste with a cup of hot chocolate.
I bet I could make some, she decided. I’m sure Mrs. Nimitz wouldn’t mind, as long as I clean up after myself.
She measured a cup of milk into a saucepan and placed it on the stove. She had just turned the burner on, when slam!
That sounds like the bathroom medicine cabinet! Tanya thought as she dashed down the hallway. “Cathy?” she called. “Is that you?”
She found Cathy standing on the clothes hamper by the sink, peering intently into the medicine cabinet mirror.
When Cathy saw Tanya’s reflection in the mirror, she said, “I like lipstick!” Turning to face Tanya, she added, “See! I pretty!”
Tanya couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t heard a sound until the cabinet door slammed, but there stood Cathy, her face painted bright red from cheek to cheek. Her hands were streaked with lipstick, and the bathroom sink was ringed with red fingerprints.
If Mrs. Nimitz sees this, Tanya thought, I’ll never get my lessons. Oh, how can things go so wrong so quickly!
“Cathy! Look at you! You’re a mess!” Tanya scolded.
“Mess?” Cathy giggled as she held two chubby hands out to have Tanya help her down off the hamper.
Tanya smiled in spite of herself. “Come on, let’s clean you up before your mother sees you.”
She had the lipstick off Cathy’s face and was starting to scrub her hands when she heard a splashing, sizzling sound. “The milk!” Tanya cried, dropping the washcloth and racing into the kitchen.
The pungent odor of scorched milk stung her nostrils. She grabbed a pot holder and was taking the smoking pan from the burner when the kitchen door opened and Mrs. Nimitz peeked in.
“I thought I smelled something burning,” she said.
Tanya wished that she could sink out of sight. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Nimitz. I was heating some milk for hot chocolate when Cathy woke up. I went to get her and forgot about the milk. I’ll clean it up.”
“Mama!” Cathy cried out as she toddled into the kitchen. “See! I mess!” Then she held her lipstick-red hands out to her mother. Mrs. Nimitz walked past Cathy and into the bathroom.
Tanya choked back the tears. “I’m sorry, I …” But Mrs. Nimitz didn’t seem to hear Tanya.
“Never mind. I’ll have to clean it up later,” she said, greatly irritated.
As quickly as she had appeared, Mrs. Nimitz disappeared, shutting the door hard behind her.
Tears of disappointment spilled down Tanya’s cheeks. She slumped into the nearest kitchen chair and began to sob as if her heart would break.
“Don’t cry.” Tanya felt a tiny hand patting her arm.
She pulled the little girl to her and gave her an affectionate hug.
“It’s OK,” she said through her tears. “I guess I just expected everything to go perfectly.” Then, trying to be cheerful, she added, “Come on, Cathy, let’s see what we can do to straighten things up around here. I may not get any dance lessons, but at least I won’t feel like running and hiding every time I see your mother coming.”
Tanya gently scrubbed the lipstick from Cathy’s hands and arms. Then she put a heavy plastic bib on the little girl and let her help scour the bathroom sink.
In the kitchen, Tanya assigned Cathy to rinse out the cleanup cloths. Cathy was so enthusiastic that Tanya had to mop up the spills. But as the mop was returned to the closet, Cathy clapped her hands and proclaimed, “All clean!” Everything was too. Not a hint of lipstick or scorched milk could be seen.
An hour later the kitchen door opened. Tanya braced herself.
Mrs. Nimitz glanced at the kitchen range. “I’ll get my purse and pay you for today,” she said as she started down the hall.
Mrs. Nimitz paused just a moment outside the bathroom doorway before going on to her bedroom. As she came back down the hall, Tanya watched intently. But Mrs. Nimitz’s expression told her nothing.
“Tanya,” Mrs. Nimitz began in a serious tone. “I can’t believe what a responsible little girl you are. If I hadn’t peeked in earlier, I wouldn’t have ever guessed that you had had any trouble today. You did a fine job of cleaning up. And Cathy hasn’t even been at the door once crying for me.” She smiled at Tanya. “Yes, I think that you’re just the girl for this job. Would you like me to pay you each time you come or by the week?”
“Pay me? No. I mean … I’d like to … Oh, Mrs. Nimitz, could I take dance lessons instead of being paid?”
“Dance lessons? Why, yes. A lesson for one day’s work would be a good trade. But I’ll pay you for the other day. All right?”
“That’s great!” Tanya exclaimed, hardly able to keep herself from jumping up and down.
As she skipped home, she thought, I guess dreams really can come true. You just have to work at them a little.