|Learning To Dance
Author: daysofinspiration PM
Lucy is eight years old when she's told she can't live with her mother for a little while. All the rules she's learned no longer apply, but someone teaches her to take the steps to becoming herself.Rated: Fiction K - English - Friendship/Hurt/Comfort - Quinn F. & Brittany P. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 29,817 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 09-28-12 - Published: 09-07-12 - id: 8504634
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: A Quitt friendship fic. Note, I have no knowledge of how Child Services or fostering children works, so we'll just gloss over that okay? Good. Enjoy.
The First Lesson
The snow on the ground is a dirty grey colour, like someone tried to paint the canvas with white paint but the brush was dirty from using browns and blacks beforehand. It's chunky, depressing-looking slush.
Lucy is eight years old when she's told she can't live with her mother for a little while. She hasn't seen her father in months – he's on a business trip in Spain. Lucy wasn't allowed to go with him, but Angela, his secretary, was.
When her father went away her mother began drinking. Lucy was used to seeing her mother have a glass of wine after dinner every night. But a glass became two, and after dinner became before dinner and before dinner became before Lucy got home from school. Lucy's mother was also on medication, which she began taking more and more. "They're for my head, honey, you know how I get migraines."
Lucy knows that they're antidepressants.
Her mother is being investigated to see if she is a fit parent. She needs to clean up; stop drinking and medicating. Lucy doesn't have any close relatives, so she has to go live with another family until she can go back to being with her mother.
She only stayed at the first family for two weeks. She didn't get along with the other children there. One boy punched her when she told him it wasn't right to use the Lord's name in vain – something her mother's always told her.
She stayed at the second family for just under a month, but it didn't really work out there either. She didn't stop screaming when one of the girls puts a snake in her bed. Lucy is terrified of snakes.
It's Friday afternoon, the last day of school before winter vacation, and Lucy spent most of it in the Child Services building, waiting until her new foster parent picked her up. Now Lucy sits in one of the middle row seat of the van, watching familiar streets turn to unfamiliar ones. They had a really bad snowfall last week, so by now all the snow is dirty and beaten down, yellowing and browning and trampled with footprints.
It isn't white and pure like in the movies. It's dirty and stomped on and not the way it's supposed to be. Much like her life right now. She has to keep changing schools with each new family she lives with. She has to keep being the new girl. She has to keep readjusting to new house rules.
She's eight years old. She hasn't seen her father in months. And she isn't allowed to live with her mother. She is eight years old, a quasi-perfectionist, and she knows this isn't the way a young girl's life is supposed to be.
(Don't frown like that, Lucy, you'll get ugly lines and need Botox before you turn thirty.)
Lucy takes a slow breath and pulls up a blank expression as she watches the houses pass by. The homes in this area aren't as big as her house is, but they aren't that small. Mrs. Pierce, her new foster mother, hums along with the radio as she drives, fingers tapping gently on the steering wheel every little while. She'd smiled warmly when she'd first met Lucy, and offered a hand to lead her out to the car. Lucy had hesitated in taking it – this was a stranger, Lucy didn't trust her yet. But Mrs. Pierce didn't seem to notice, dropping her hand to pick up Lucy's bag instead and lead her outside.
The woman seemed nice. More lively than the last woman, who was run-down looking and always had bags under her eyes.
(Always make sure you get a proper sleep at night, Lucy, bags aren't attractive.)
They turn onto a quiet street and Mrs. Pierce pulls into the second house on the left. The Christmas lights are up and there's red decorative bows hanging from the outdoor lights on the garage. Through the front window Lucy can already see a Christmas tree up and decorated.
They get out of the car – Mrs. Pierce carrying her bag – and Lucy quietly follows the woman up the snow-shovelled walk to the front of the house. It isn't that cold outside, but when she steps inside Lucy feels a warmth rush into her bones. It feels like a real home here, warm and inviting and smelling like cinnamon.
Lucy's home with her mother is big and cold and empty. There's fancy furniture Lucy isn't allowed to sit on and expensive decor Lucy isn't allowed to touch. The floor is always cold under her feet, and all the rooms seem big and lonely.
Lucy crouches to undo the laces of her black winter boots (Always undo the laces, Lucy, don't just kick your shoes off, you'll ruin them) and slides them off, placing them neatly on the mat next to the other many pairs of shoes and boots. She straightens up and unzips her coat, tugging it from her small body.
"I'll take that dear," Mrs. Pierce says, opening the front hall closet and taking a coat hanger for herself and one for Lucy's jacket. Lucy silently hands over her coat, trying not to smile at the coat hangers. She likes coat hangers; they keep closets neat and tidy. Quasi-perfectionist.
The last family hadn't believed in coat hangers. Lucy had hated it.
(Don't be rude and judgemental, Lucy, if someone runs their house differently. Just because they can't afford a maid service doesn't mean you need to look down on them.)
Mrs. Pierce closes the closet and motions down the hall, "Roger and the kids are out back, come and meet them."
"Thank you for letting me stay at your house, Mrs. Pierce." Lucy says quickly, knowing her manners.
(God doesn't love rude little girls, Lucy.)
Mrs. Pierce laughs, smiling with her lips and with her eyes, "Oh, honey, of course. And call me Mary, please." She begins walking, leading Lucy down the hall.
In the car Mrs. Pierce had explained to her that she and her husband have two daughters of their own and two other foster children, both boys. Lucy isn't sure why they'd want to take in other children if they have two of their own to love, but doesn't ask. It's rude to question people, especially adults. And Lucy doesn't want to be rude.
She follows the woman through the house. The walls are a creamy beige colour – all the walls at Lucy's house are white, ever her bedroom – and there are a few children's toys scattered here and there. Not messy, just a few things out of place. The mantle in the den above the fireplace is covered in pictures and knick knacks. The couch looks comfortable and lived in.
It all looks so different from what she's used to. Her house is cold and silent, not warm and inviting like this. The last house was messy and cluttered and overrun. The first house was dark and everyone there frowned.
Each home she goes to is a new learning experience. Lucy has to keep re-learning how to fit herself into other people's worlds. It's hard.
They arrive in the kitchen and Lucy looks out the back door, her eyes catching movement. There are children running around in the snow – she can hear them laughing.
Mrs. Pierce slides open the door, startling the man sitting on a deck chair, reading the newspaper and holding a steaming mug. It isn't too cold outside, the sun is warm and bright. The man isn't wearing gloves, or a coat – just a heavy sweater.
"Roger," Mrs. Pierce says as the man turns to look at them. "This is Lucy Fabray."
Mr. Pierce puts his mug and newspaper down on the table – half of which has been wiped of snow - and offers Lucy his hand. "Nice to meet you Lucy, I hope you like it here."
Lucy takes his hand and shakes it, like she's been taught to do whenever she's introduced to someone.
(Always shake their hand, Lucy, it's the sign of a good and properly raised little girl.)
When she drops Mr. Pierce's hand she looks out at the lawn. There's a swing set and club house attached to it in on one side and a great big tree on the other. Along the back fence she can see where Mrs. Pierce would have her garden when it wasn't winter.
There are four children running around in winter boots and coats. All of them have gloves on. One has a big fuzzy scarf on. The two smaller ones have hats on.
There's a little blonde haired girl, maybe six years old, sitting on one of the swings, hair blowing as she pumps herself higher and higher. A little brown haired boy is sitting on the ground under the club house, making a snow castle with a bucket and shovel. He can't be older than four.
The two older kids are running back and forth across the yard, laughing wildly chasing each other. The blonde girl looks Lucy's age; she's the one with the fuzzy scarf. The boy has tanned skin and looks two of three years older, and he's making roaring noises as he chases the girl across the yard. She giggles and runs in a tight circle around the base of the club house, avoiding getting hit by the swing, and takes a running leap, grabbing onto the bottom of the clubhouse. She kicks her legs and is climbing up until she grips the base of the roof and can swing herself inside the small room through the doorway next to where she climbed up. There's a ladder but the girl has avoided it all together.
"Brittany, I've told you not to do that," Mrs. Pierce calls. "Everyone come over here, there's someone I'd like you all to meet."
The girl, Brittany, slides down the ladder, jumping the last few rungs nearly tackling the older boy as he runs past her and leaps up onto the deck. Brittany bends and scoops up the little boy and carries him over as the smaller blonde girl digs her feet into the ground and skips off the swing.
The four children all line up in front of Lucy on the deck, red nosed and breathing out visible puffs of air. The older girl and boy are breathing heavily. The little boy's pants are damp from sitting in the snow.
(A good little girl doesn't roll around and play in the snow like a heathen, Lucy, she stays inside and acts like a lady.)
"Everyone," Mrs. Pierce says, smiling, "This is Lucy. She'll be staying with us for the next little while."
The children all smile back. The little boy waves.
"Lucy, this is Anthony," she indicates the older, tanned boy. "Jacob," the little one in Brittany's arms. "And my daughters Brittany and Kelsey," she points to the two blondes.
"Hello," Lucy says, trying not to sound demure. Even though she's a little nervous she forces a smile, standing strong and firm before them.
(Being shy isn't attractive, Lucy, you don't want to be the girl with no friends.)
"Brittany," Mr. Pierce says, "Why don't you show Lucy up to your room, help her get settled in?"
Brittany nods happily and sets Jacob down on the deck. She skips past Lucy and pulls open the door and then turns, waiting for Lucy.
She's turning to follow when, "Oh, Lucy, honey," Mrs. Pierce says, reaching out a hand but stopping short so it hovers just above her shoulder, not quite touching her. "What would you like for dinner?"
Lucy turns back and blinks, her mind blank. "I… pardon me?" She asks, remembering her manners.
(Don't say 'what?' or 'huh,' Lucy, it isn't attractive. Speak like a proper little girl, not some uneducated foreigner.)
"It's your first night here, I'll make something special. Your choice."
Lucy remains silent, staring at the woman. This is her house, not Lucy's. Lucy is only a guest. She doesn't understand why she is being offered to pick their meal. She'll eat whatever is placed in front of her, like she's been taught to. She's never gotten to pick a meal while at a stranger's house before.
Mrs. Pierce smiles kindly at her, but Lucy doesn't know how to reply. She wants to be polite, but she doesn't know what the polite thing to do is in this situation; is she supposed to say she'll eat whatever the woman makes, or is she supposed to ask her to make something? Her mind swirls. She starts to panic. She doesn't know what to do.
Brittany, who is still standing at the back door, is watching Lucy with a curious smile. It takes a moment, but eventually she offers, "Mom makes really good spaghetti."
She's saving her, Lucy realizes. Brittany's noticed that Lucy doesn't know what to do and is offering her an out. "Oh, that…" She stumbles over her words as she tries to be polite, "That sounds lovely."
"Are you sure, dear?"
Lucy nods once (You aren't a dog, Lucy, don't bob your head up and down like one) and says, "Yes. Spaghetti sounds nice."
Mrs. Pierce smiles, "Alright then."
Seeing she's been dismissed, Lucy turns and follows Brittany inside. Brittany doesn't say anything about the interaction that just happened, she simply hums happily and then closes the sliding door once Lucy is inside.
Lucy's stockings are a little wet. Mrs. Pierce slipped on a pair of slippers at the back door before stepping outside. Lucy stood on the shovelled porch in her stockings. It wasn't like it had freshly snowed, but her feet feel damp now. Her toes are cold. She wiggles them, waiting.
Brittany is leaning one hand on a kitchen chair as she tugs off a winter boot, carefully trying to stay on the back mat and not get water on the floor. A goofy smile appears as she let's go of the chair for a moment and nearly topples over. She takes her coat off and holds it in one hand and picks up the boots in another. The scarf stays on.
"Come on," Brittany insists happily, leading Lucy down the hall. She drops the boots haphazardly on the front mat with the others and fiddles with her coat until it's secure on a hanger and then puts it in the closet. Lucy doesn't say anything, she just watches.
"You're pretty quiet, aren't you?" Brittany asks. Her tone isn't rude, just curious. When Lucy isn't quick enough to come up with a proper answer Brittany bends and picks up Lucy's duffle bag and begins skipping up the stars. Lucy marvels for a moment. She's never seen anyone manage to skip up stairs before. She shakes her head, snapping herself out of it, and hastily follows Brittany.
The banister has Christmas garland wrapped around it. There are small decorations on it too, and lights. As if it was a second Christmas tree.
They reach the top of the stairs and Lucy follows Brittany down the hall. There's a big grandfather clock, and lots of pictures on the walls. The door Brittany leads her through has a colouring-book sheet of paper taped on the door. It has all the Disney princesses on it – all coloured-in exactly the way they are on their movie covers - and underneath in red crayon is written, No boys!
The bedroom has bright yellow walls, and on top of the carpet in the middle of the room is a throw-rug. It's a watermelon. There's a big window right across from the door with long white curtains hanging on either side. Against the two side walls are two bunk-beds, each with a different coloured comforter; a map of the Hundred Acre Wood, pink and blue flowers, white with purple pokadots, and the One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Lucy's eyes skitter back and forth across the room, taking in all the colours. It's just so bright.
Brittany dumps her bag in the middle of the room, right on top of the watermelon rug, and smiles brightly at Lucy. "Hi," she says, grinning wider. This girl likes to smile.
(It's polite to smile, Lucy, but you should never smile too much, it isn't ladylike.)
"Hello," she replies.
"That one's mine and Kelsey's," Brittany explains, looking towards the beds on the left with the Dalmatians and the flowers on the covers. "When the last girl left I told Kells she could sleep on the other side but she was too lazy to move." She nods up to the top bunk, which has an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals. So does the bottom bunk, but they're all neatly lined up against the footboard.
"Oh," Lucy says, unsure how to respond to this.
"Well," Brittany laughs, looking at the right-side beds, "Which one do you want. Top or bottom?"
Lucy eyes the two sleeping options warily; she's never slept in a bunk bed before. At first, she thinks the bottom is a better idea, but then she wonders, what happens if the bed breaks in the middle of the night? The top bunk would crush her.
The top bunk then. But then, if she's in the top bunk when this happens, it would be a bigger fall and she might get hurt in the rubble.
So her eyes go back to the bottom bunk. Except the top bunk seems more private, more like her own space. She could hide up there and no one would bother her.
She looks at the top bunk again. But what if she wakes up in the middle of the night and bangs her head on the ceiling? It's really high up there.
"Bottom," she says, knowing she'll just jump back and forth and not be able to make a decision.
"Good choice," Brittany smiles, tossing her bag onto the bed with the polka-dot covers. "Kells falls sometimes, when she's still half asleep and trying to climb down the ladder in the morning. It's pretty funny."
Lucy hadn't thought of that.
"Me and Kelsey keep our stuff in the closet. You can put all your clothes in the dresser. Did you want me to help you unpack?" She asks this all in one breath.
"That's alright," Lucy breaths out.
Brittany nods, "Okay. Did you want some time to be alone or did you want me to stay or…" she trails off, smiling and waiting for Lucy to answer.
This is Brittany's room. Lucy shouldn't be allowed to make her leave. "You can stay if you want."
Brittany smiles bigger, Lucy's picked the right answer. "Okay!" She bounces over to the small table under the window and picks up a colouring book and a handful of markers and plops down on her bed, giving Lucy some privacy to unpack. She lies on her stomach, feet kicking in the air as she works, humming to herself.
Lucy unzips her bag and begins removing everything, placing her neatly folded clothes in piles on the bedspread. Skirts, dresses, stockings and socks and underwear, pyjamas, shirts, and two pairs of pants.
(Little girls wear dresses, Lucy, no matter how cold.)
Once everything is nearly piled on the bed, Lucy hesitantly walks over to the dresser. Brittany is still humming to herself, not paying attention to what she's doing. But Lucy still feels a little weird, unpacking her clothes in someone else's room. She organizes them into stacks in the drawers, proper clothes in one, stockings, socks, underwear, and pyjamas in another. She only takes up two of the five drawers though, not sure exactly how much space she is allowed.
She looks at the rest of the things on her bed. A small bag with her hairbrush, toothbrush, and a few hair ribbons, headbands and hair ties. A pencil case with a few things she always needs for school – she doesn't have any notebooks, the teachers always give her new ones when she starts at a new school. And her favourite book, A Little Princess.
Lucy doesn't look the way she pictures little Sara Crewe in her head, with a pretty face, shining blue eyes, and perfectly curled blonde hair. Lucy has glasses, even though she's only eight. She has eyes that can't decide if they want to be brown or green. She has messy, dirty-blonde-almost-ugly-brown hair that doesn't always cooperate. And she has her father's nose.
She isn't prim and tiny-skinny, the way she pictures Sara. And she isn't tall and lanky-skinny, like Brittany sitting on the other side of the room. Lucy isn't big, she just knows she's not skinny, not like her mother wants.
But Lucy likes to pretend sometimes, likes to imagine herself like little Sara. Sara always says every girl's a princess, but sometimes Lucy doesn't feel like a princess. She feels like a bother, having to jump from house to house and learn all the rules over and over again. She isn't Sara, she wasn't sent to a boarding school where she can have adventures. She doesn't have a big imagination like Sara, she doesn't know how to make-believe like that. But when she reads, sometimes it feels like she knows how.
Most of her things stayed back at her mother's house. She was only allowed to bring a few things with her when she started moving houses. In her bedroom there is a bookshelf filled with all kinds of books, but she only brought the one, there wasn't room in her bag to bring too many.
She moves all her things neatly to the end of the bed, folding up the duffle bag and placing it there too, and then stalls. She's a little unsure of what to do now. Brittany is still lying on her bed, tongue poking out as she colours intently, hand flying back and forth across the page. She's in her own little world, unaware that Lucy has finished.
(Never interrupt someone when they're working, Lucy, its rude and not becoming.)
Lucy sits down on the bed, tucking her legs to one side and turning the edge of the blanket over her still cold toes, and picks up her book. She's read it many times already, but it's her favourite so she doesn't mind.
The two girls sit in silence with their books as the sun starts to dip lower. Eventually the little boy, Jacob, totters into the room and goes right over to Brittany. Lucy glances up when he enters the room, but Brittany's so focused she doesn't notice him.
He sneaks right up next to her and then exclaims, "Look what I made!"
Brittany jumps and sits up, giggling, and looks down to see what he's presenting to her in his outstretched palms.
"Is that a play-doh puppy?"
She picks up the dog and inspects it, smiling. Always smiling. "It looks so good, you're like a little artist Jake!" She drops the dog down on the bed and pulls him up into her arms. He wiggles, trying to get away, and then starts shrieking happily as she starts tickling him. Lucy watches them, fascinated.
When Jake is nearly laughing so hard he's crying Brittany lets him go. He slumps to the floor, gasping and still laughing. "Evil Brittany."
"Well you just came in here looking so cute and all. I couldn't help myself."
He growls at her. "We're supposed to come down for dinner now."
Jacob reaches for the play-doh dog again but Brittany swats his hands away, "No, no, no mister. You need to go wash your hands." She looks over at Lucy, looking bright and happy. "Lucy?"
Lucy nods, slipping in her bookmark and putting the book down on the bed, and follows Brittany and Jacob to the bathroom.
(Always wash your hands before you eat, Lucy. Always.)
At the last two houses they weren't told to wash their hands before meals, all the other children simply plopped down and began eating, even if they'd been playing outside. Lucy always went and washed her hands first though. Even at school, she'd wash her hands before eating her lunch.
Lucy's happy that at this house, they have to wash their hands. It brings a shy smile to her face as she rinses the floral scented bubbles from her hands and delicately dries them on the hand towel. Brittany wipes her hands on her pants, and Jacob just shakes his dry, but Lucy doesn't mind.
Brittany scoops Jacob into her arms and nods for Lucy to follow her down the stairs to the dining room; there isn't enough room for everyone to eat at the kitchen table, Brittany explains.
Lucy and her mother and father always ate in the dining room.
(Kitchens are for cooking, Lucy, dining rooms are for eating.)
Silently she sits in the empty chair next to Brittany; Kelsey sitting on Brittany's other side. The boys are sitting across from them. Mrs. Pierce sweeps along behind them all, placing plates down in front of them. Mr. Pierce asks Lucy what she wants to drink.
Water for breakfast, juice for lunch, milk for dinner, that's how it's always been for years. Her mother insists for a healthy, balanced diet, and that includes drinks.
On the plate in front of her is a helping of spaghetti. The noodles are pale and steaming, and the red sauce on top has bits of vegetable and meat in it. It smells wonderful. There's also a small serving of salad on the plate.
"Mom," Brittany complains immediately, "Lucy asked for spaghetti, not spaghetti and salad."
Anthony flicks a crouton at her from across the table. Mr. Pierce shakes his head and scolds the boy, smiling.
"Just eat your dinner, Brittany," Mrs. Pierce says as she sits down, but she has a smile on too. Everyone smiles here.
Anthony pipes in, looking at the boy next to him, "Jake doesn't have to have salad."
"Jake is four and has carrots instead. Eat your dinner."
Next to her, Brittany wears a wicked grin and dips her head down towards her plate.
"With your fork, Brittany," Her father says without looking up. Brittany pouts in defeat.
As they all begin eating Lucy holds back the frown. So far none of the houses she's been to does it like they do at her house; they all just start eating. But she doesn't complain, because that would be rude. Instead she sits still for a moment, saying a silent Grace like her mother taught her, and then picks up her fork and begins eating.
After she's had a few bites Mrs. Pierce asks, "How do you like it, Lucy?"
She finishes chewing and swallows before she answers, "It's wonderful, Mrs. Pierce."
"Mom makes the best spaghetti!" Kelsey chimes in.
Mrs. Pierce's eyes are kind and gentle as she says, "I'm glad you like it." It makes something warm bubble inside Lucy's stomach, but it isn't the food.
They talk as they eat, sharing stories and telling jokes. It's all very loud and excited. Dinners are silent at home for Lucy, but she doesn't mind listening to them. Brittany talks about something she accomplished today but Lucy can't quite figure out what she's talking about. Kelsey talks about how she thinks Charity has learned to fetch; Lucy hasn't noticed a dog in the house yet.
Mr. Pierce tries asking Lucy a few questions about herself, but when she doesn't answer right away Mrs. Pierce steers the conversation to asking her husband if he's working late at all the upcoming week. Mrs. Pierce is trying to give her space and get adjusted. It's nice.
Lucy finishes all that's on her plate, not because she's been told to, but because it's actually really good.
(When you're a guest in someone's home, Lucy, you eat what is given to you. No matter what it tastes like, you must be polite and finish it.)
Anthony, Mr. Pierce, and Kelsey all have second helpings. Lucy really likes the pasta, but declines when Mr. Pierce offers her more.
(Little girls don't take second helpings, Lucy; second helpings don't help with tiny waists.)
When she's finished eating, Lucy tucks her knife into the prongs of her fork, like her mother's taught her, and places them at two o'clock on the plate. Her mother insists on proper table manners. She finishes her drink and waits patiently for everyone else to finish eating.
At the last two houses, people just left the table when they were done, without being excused. Lucy hadn't liked that, it made her panic a bit when the foster parents gave her weird looks when she asked if she was allowed to leave the table.
When everyone's finished Mrs. Pierce stands and begins to clear the table. Lucy stands too and picks up her plate, she knows this part. They all clear the table and bring their dishes to the kitchen. Then Brittany tugs Lucy's shirt to lead her away.
Lucy excuses herself to the washroom first, to wash her hands.
(It isn't ladylike to have food on your hands, Lucy, not ladylike at all.)
When she finishes, she finds the other kids in the den. Jacob is sitting on the floor, building something from Lego pieces. Anthony has contorted his body as he lies across the loveseat, limbs hanging everywhere. Brittany is lying on the couch (Never put your feet on the furniture, Lucy. Never.), Kelsey sitting on Brittany's legs, and there's a small brown kitten sitting in Kelsey's lap.
When Brittany sees Lucy she shifts her sister and herself, making room, and beckoning Lucy to join them on the couch. Lucy sits down demurely, spreading her skirt and crossing her legs at the ankle.
"Friday's are movie night," Anthony explains as he flicks the remote through the channels.
Kelsey opens her mouth, "I want to watch-"
"Kells, its Lucy's first day, she should get to pick," Brittany interrupts, poking her sister in the side.
Lucy still isn't used to this whole 'let her pick things' thing this family is doing yet. It's a new rule she's going to have to adjust to.
She puts on a smile, "Whatever you want is fine." She looks at the younger girl, "You can pick something for me."
Kelsey grins and sticks her tongue out at her sister before jumping off the couch, dumping the kitten into Lucy's lap as she does so. Brittany flops over, taking up both her own and the previously occupied cushion. The kitten yawns and blinks up sleepily at Lucy. Its tiny, the little brown thing, and has a blue collar with a bell on it. She reads the tag: Charity.
Charity purrs as Lucy begins petting her, running her fingers through the soft fur. The kitten snuggles deeper into her lap and falls back asleep.
Kelsey picks out a movie from the numerous options on the shelf and loads it into the player. Then she runs back over and scrambles back onto the couch, shoving Brittany out of her way. Brittany ends up in the middle and grunts as Kelsey kicks her as she gets comfortable.
"What'd you pick?" Anthony asks as he picks up the remote to start the movie.
Brittany whines, "Kells, you always pick that one."
"I like it. It's funny. The pelican is my favourite." The little blonde ball of energy is undeterred by the other kids not agreeing with her choice.
"I thought Sleeping Beauty was your favourite?" Anthony asks, shifting so his head hangs off the seat and he's looking at the screen upside down.
Brittany joins in, "I thought The Land Before Time was your favourite."
"They're all my favourites!" Kelsey leans forward to look at Lucy across Brittany, "Do you like Jumanji?"
"I've never seen it," Lucy answers softly. She isn't sure what a jumangi is.
Kelsey gasps, "Then we have to watch it! How can you have never seen it? It's the best movie ever!"
The chatter continues as Anthony skips through the previews to get to the movie. Kelsey continues to marvel that Lucy has never seen the movie. Brittany just laughs.
The first time Lucy screams the kitten leaps up and jumps off her, scampering down the hall to go find somewhere quiet. "It's okay," Brittany whispers next to her, "It isn't real."
By the end of the movie Lucy has a pillow clutched against her chest, wondering how this terrifying movie is appropriate for children. It's just so scary. There's animals running everywhere and a man walking around with a gun shooting at things and the floor turns into a sinking pit and tries to suck everyone down inside and there are people-eating plants and that board game is just possessed and trying to kill everyone. Her heart is racing inside her chest, and she jumps at the end when the drums start playing again. She's going to be terrified every time she hears drums from now on, she just knows it.
Brittany reaches out to touch her arm, probably to comfort her, but Lucy jumps away from the contact. Brittany pulls her hand back, biting her lip.
Anthony turns off the movie when the credits start and begins flipping through channels. He lands on one that's just started playing the cartoon movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas so they decide to watch that. Its familiar, Lucy has seen this before, so she calms down as they watch. She isn't surprised when Brittany sings along, or when her singing progressively turns into her belting made-up words at the end when they sing the strange Dr. Seuss lyrics.
When the movie ends Lucy glances up and sees Mrs. Pierce standing in the doorway. She's already taken Jacob to bed, he fell asleep near the end of Jumanji. "Alright," she says, "Bed time for you lot." She walks over to the couch, bending to pick up Kelsey who's been fighting against sleep for the past ten minutes, blinking slowly and heavily but trying not to fall asleep.
When they get upstairs Lucy grabs her tooth and hair brushes and her sleep clothes and follows Brittany to the bathroom while Mrs. Pierce puts Kelsey to bed. Brittany's already at the sink, foam on her lips, and humming one of the songs from the movie. Lucy starts brushing her own teeth, looking away as Brittany spits into the sink.
"Goodnight girls," Mrs. Peirce says from the bathroom doorway.
Brittany bounces over and hugs her mother, "Night Mom!"
"Night Brittany, get some sleep." She looks over at Lucy, looking a lot like she wants to hug her too, but she stays where she is. "Good night Lucy. I hope you sleep alright."
"Goodnight, Mrs. Pierce."
Brittany rinses her tooth brush and then leaves, giving Lucy some privacy. Lucy takes the ribbon out of her hair, washes her face like her mother's told her to do (Good habits are best to start early, Lucy, so they become second nature) and then brushes her hair. Then she changes into her pyjamas, uses the toilet, and then washes her hands. It's the same routine, every night, no matter where she sleeps. Lucy likes routine.
She leaves the bathroom, and Brittany's door is open, but Lucy knocks anyway before entering. She steps in just as Brittany is tossing her clothes into the hamper in the closet. "You can put yours in here too," she offers, nodding to the bundle of clothes Lucy has in her arms. "Mom will wash them."
Lucy does as instructed, taking note of Brittany's pyjamas. Grey shorts and a pink top with a sleeping Winnie the Pooh on the front. Her own is a purple nightgown, her gold cross tucked under the collar.
"You're going to sleep in shorts?" She finds herself asking, quietly though, Kelsey is already asleep. "But it's winter."
Brittany smiles her goofy smile, "I get really warm, even in winter. Shorts are better."
Lucy nods, she can't argue with that.
Brittany's smile fades slightly, "I'm sorry the movie scared you. We didn't mean to do that."
Oh. Lucy is a little surprised by this. "Oh, um… that's okay."
"I guess it can be a little scary, thinking the game is trying to kill them. It's not though, don't worry. It just seems scary. Like sharks. They seem scary, but they aren't. They're just like dolphins but with more teeth and not so happy all the time. But they're still nice people on the inside."
The girl's logic is pretty sound for an eight year old.
"It's okay," Lucy says quietly, looking down.
Brittany reaches out a hand, like she wants to pull her into a hug, but she stops short. Her hand hovers near Lucy's shoulder, just like Mrs. Pierce's did earlier. Eventually Brittany lets her arm drop, a thoughtful look on her face.
Lucy is aware that it's rude to question people, but the words fall from her lips anyway. "Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" Brittany asks, confused. She looks around and then down at herself, trying to figure out what she's done to make Lucy question her.
"That… that thing with your hand," Lucy tries to explain. "Your mother did it too."
"Oh," The blonde says, understanding. "Oh, um. Mom says that we're always supposed to give the new kids space, so they can adjust. She says that not everyone comes from a home like ours. She says we have to give you time to trust us."
When Lucy doesn't say anything, Brittany continues, "I wanted to give you a hug, to make you feel better. Hugs always make people feel better. But I'm not supposed to, not until you're comfortable."
Lucy lets the words roll around in her head for a moment, drawing all the meaning she can from them. She can already tell that Brittany's family touches more than her own, or than any of the other foster families she's been with. They smile and laugh and hug each other a lot. But… well, it's really considerate of them, to try and give Lucy space. She… she appreciates that. She'll have to tell Mrs. Pierce in the morning.
For now though, "It… it's okay. If… if you want to-" Brittany launches herself at Lucy.
Lucy can't exactly help that she freezes for a moment, because she's never had a hug like this. Her mother's hugs are stiff and rare. Her father gives good hugs, but she doesn't see him very often. Usually he gives her a quick squeeze and a kiss on the cheek and calls her "Daddy's little girl." She's never really had someone throw their arms around her quite like Brittany has, squeezing her to death.
But she feels Brittany's happiness soak through the hug, pressing into her bones the way the house did with its warmth when she first entered.
A shy smile on her lips, Lucy raises her arms and returns the gesture. Brittany's taught her how to hug.