- The Dog Sitter
Marissa had been waiting impatiently for the Rubelowskis' return since nine that morning. She didn't like to linger on the last day of a booking, but she felt obligated when they had asked her to stay, citing Betty's separation anxiety. She spent the afternoon excavating client emails, checking and rechecking her bookings on Sittr's website, and searching the Rubelowskis' social media for some clue as to where they might be, for evidence against the possibility something might have happened, something she refused to imagine.
The woman Marissa reached at the Sittr helpline did little to assuage her worries by reciting verbatim the Three Steps to Solve the Problem of Missing Clients listed on the company's website. Step one: call the clients. When Marissa told the woman she already called the Rubelowskis, several times, she assured Marissa that they were likely traveling and had shut off their phones. Sometimes, she said in a low tone as if revealing a longkept secret, clients could be a little self-possessed and forgot to update sitters after a change of plans. That didn't sound like Angie and Ben, she told the woman. They were thoughtful people. They laminated Betty's care instructions so they wouldn't get soiled. They stored Betty's home-cooked meals in the fridge in color-coded containers—red for Monday, blue for Tuesday, and so on. When they first met for a standard walk through of the house and a review of Betty's routine, Angie listened intently when Marissa talked about her life, like she really wanted to get to know Marissa. They let Marissa sleep in their bedroom even though they had a perfectly lovely guest room.
"Our mattress is so much more comfy," Angie told her. "It's no problem at all."
She'd already completed step two as well. Hours ago, she called the Rubelowskis' emergency contact, a woman named Vanessa, but got no answer. She left her a message, short and sweet without a hint of fear in her voice.
"I see that you don't have another booking until Monday," the woman at the help line said, the faint sound of typing underneath her voice. "Do you have somewhere else to be? We may need you to stay another night."
"My apartment—I sublet it. I'd be staying on my friend Elizabeth's sofa tonight." Marissa paused. "This is probably easier."
The woman cleared her throat. "Alright, then."
Marissa hadn't meant to be so forthcoming. Sitters were supposed to [End Page 94] maintain formal domestic arrangements, so they were never perceived as "living" in a client's residence, but she never planned to sublet her apartment or to hold onto this job for more than a couple of months. She'd just needed a little space after college to figure out her next move, but the next move never seemed to reveal itself. Meanwhile, she struggled to pay the rent on her studio while only sleeping there four or five nights a month. Subletting was the only real decision she'd made since she took the job almost two years ago.
"That's it?" Marissa asked. "I just wait?"
"Clients' plans often change. The expectation is that we can accommodate. They'll call. Or they'll show up. One or the other."
"And if they don't?"
Marissa hung up on the woman. The lock screen on her phone said four p.m. Her stomach churned, and she remembered she hadn't eaten since yesterday. They'll call, or they'll show up. Fine. Wasn't Sittr liable, not her, if something went wrong? She was just the middle person, the sitter. She'd just carry on as normal until someone told her otherwise. She went downstairs, clicked Betty into her harness, and headed for the park.
Betty and Marissa took their time. It had just finished raining, and steam lifted from the asphalt in waves that curled the ends of Marissa's hair, which she hadn't washed for three or four days—she couldn't remember exactly. Betty found a puddle to splash in and a gnarled...