Thank you for beta'ing, carlislexesme, Katrina Rosalie Quinn, and fiddlesolo!
TW: Drug use and abuse.
She's no troublemaker, not by a long shot.
She wears smoky black eyeliner, dark red lipstick, gold hoop earrings, purple streaks in her caramel-colored curls, leather clothes, and the only shade of pink she'd ever be caught dead in is magenta. She has a broken wrist inside a brace that's hidden by the sleeve of her brown jacket and a fingerless black glove. She often gets high and drunk, some have even gone so far as calling her a stoner and an alcoholic, but she doesn't care what other people think. Since the tender age of sixteen, Ez has lived in too many foster homes to count. She usually doesn't last more than a week or two before she does something to set someone off. Not intentionally, of course; they just don't understand her. They're providing her a home, but not getting to know who she really is.
Her tough exterior is the complete opposite of her gentle nature, is what they'd find out if they gave her a chance.
"Esme. Come on," her social worker urges her, beckoning her to keep walking toward their destination. Her pace is slow and she has her arms folded over her chest. She's seething. Why she can't just get herself a job and an apartment and not have to depend on anyone is beyond her. "Hopefully this time, you'll find your forever family."
"It's Ez," she snaps as she stomps up the next house's porch steps. "I don't even know why it matters. I'm gonna age out next year anyway. I've had enough of this fuckin' bullshit."
Ms. Masen rolls her eyes and rings the doorbell. "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Brandon, this is Esme Platt."
She blows a raspberry at her God-given last name. She hates it so much. However, her first name is another story. It's a good one, but she would just rather think of herself as Esme while making others she doesn't know, call her Ez.
"Ez," she tells her new prospective foster parents while waving at them politely. She doesn't want to do this, but she's cold right now and she needs a place to stay for a while. "Hello, ma'am, sir."
"Nice to meet you, dear, you can just refer to me as Lillian," the taller brunette says with a gentle smile. Her hair is pinned up and decorated with pink and white flowers and her pale blue eyes are kind. She has on a light pink dress, a shade Esme would never dream of wearing. It's pretty on her, though. The scent of floral perfume wafts off of her. The mustached man standing next to her has uttered nothing. He's in a black suit and tie and smells of a cheap cigar. His wife nudges him. "Edgar, say something." She waves them forward. "Come in, both of you, please."
"Hello," Edgar finally mutters. He doesn't look too happy about this, so Esme figures Lillian was in charge of the whole thing.
"Mommy, Daddy, who is it?" a little voice pipes up as feet patter down the stairs.
"Mary Alice, would you be quiet? Your sister is sleeping!" Edgar hisses and the tiny black-haired girl skips to her mother's side. She's dressed in a green nightgown.
"Sorry, Daddy..." she mumbles dejectedly.
"This is Ez, she's gonna live with us for a bit," Lillian answers, chucking Mary Alice's chin and kissing her forehead. "Ez, leave your suitcase here, alright? Edgar will take it up."
She nods at Lillian's words.
"Ali, why don't you show her the bathroom and the room we set up for her while your father and I talk to Miss..."
"Also, my little monster, keep it down, please."
"Okay!" Mary Alice chirps, and Esme cracks a smile at that. She can't deny that the child is adorable and has somewhat eased the bitterness inside of her. They both pass her parents and as Esme holds her bloodred backpack straps tighter around herself, they head upstairs. The volume of Mary Alice's voice lowers as she explains to Esme where the bathroom, the laundry room, and the bedrooms are.
"I'm just Alice, leave the Mary out of it. Cynthia is Daddy's favorite, so that's why she's next to his side," Alice whispers, flicking on a lamp. The most precious newborn baby girl sleeps soundly on her back on a princess-themed mattress in her wooden crib. Her onesie is light pink and Esme beams at her innocence, but her heart breaks at little Alice thinking her dad doesn't love her as much as he does her sister.
"She's so cute. I bet he adores you just the same, though."
Alice doesn't answer, but just waves Esme forward as she turns out the dim light. They both go back out into the hallway and Alice opens a door to a yellow room where a bunk bed is, along with dolls, toys, and a mini tea set on top of a short table. "That's mine..." She takes Esme to another room. "This is yours!"
Esme takes a deep breath as she glances around the space. The walls are painted bluish-purple and there's a nice sized bed with a white comforter. A metal nightstand with a violet-patterned decorative table lamp sits beside it. She sets her backpack down on the floor and sighs. She hasn't had a room to herself in a year. "Wow..."
"Do you like it?"
Esme turns to face Lillian and she nods eagerly. "Yes, thank you."
"Oh, good, I wasn't sure about the color...they didn't tell me what you liked best."
"Nah, it's fine, gives off an edgy vibe, ya know?"
Alice perches herself on the end of Esme's bed. "Mama, can I stay up 'til Ez goes to bed?"
"No, I'm sorry, honey, you need your rest. Dad won't like it if I let you run around past nine."
"I'll be calm, I promise! I just wanna talk to her..." Alice protests with a pout. "She's my new friend..."
"We can hang out tomorrow, okay, kiddo?" Esme says gently.
Alice's frown grows deeper. "No fair...when he's not here, bedtime is ten."
"I'll read you a story if you get ready for bed on the count of three."
"Yay!" Alice cheers in a hushed tone.
"Hurry, sweetheart. One, two..."
She's out in a flash.
"Well, I'm gonna let you change in private," Lillian murmurs. "Let me know if you need anything, okay?"
Esme nods silently, her shyness and frigidness taking over again. "Sure." Not like you actually give a shit, she wants to add. No one has ever told her that in such a benevolent manner. It seems almost genuine, but probably too good to be true.
"We'll get some more clothes for you in the morning, after breakfast."
"Really? I got plenty..." Esme gestures to the suitcase under her bed. "You don't even know if I'll still be here in a month."
"I'm sure you will be." Lillian appears to be up for the challenge. Esme can tell where Alice gets her positive streak from. "Any food allergies that Ms. Masen might have forgotten to tell us?"
Esme shakes her head no.
"Okay, it's set then! I'll make waffles with bananas, strawberries, and peaches on top."
"I knew it!" Alice blurts out as she returns. She plops herself down next to Esme. "I like your hair and makeup, it's pretty!"
"Aw, thanks!" Esme grins subtly.
"Good night, big sissy!" Alice hugs her, and with a sigh, she returns the sweet gesture, cradling Alice's head and rubbing her back. Esme always tries to keep her distance from people, but she's unable to resist this pixie, who can't be more than seven. She hasn't realized how touch-starved she is until tears come to her eyes and a lump wells up in her throat. She forces them back, swallowing hard and squeezing her eyes shut for a few seconds before reopening them. "I wanna dress up like her, Mommy," Alice says as she pulls back from Esme, giggling.
"Not 'til you're in high school, young lady."
"Aww...but I'm nine and a quarter. That's three years younger than Rosie, and she's got a boyfriend already! By wearing lipstick and eyeliner! It's heavy, too."
Esme bites back a laugh. "Don't compare yourself to others, shortie."
"Ez is right, you're a beauty in your own special way," Lillian adds. "Now, princess, are you ready for that story?"
"Yeah!" Alice tugs at Lillian's hand and pulls her out of the room. Her mother glances back and gives Esme a friendly wave while beaming.
"Night," Esme mumbles and then gets into her pajamas, which are black pants with white polka dots and a red shirt with a sparkly black skull and crossbones on the front.
The next person to approach her is Edgar. He walks by her when she's about to go into the bathroom and he looks her up and down. She feels uncomfortable under his hard gaze, but at the same time, she's used to people judging her wrongly. Alice and Lillian are just weirdly accepting. The others were too, but at least they'd been hesitant and simply civil because they had to be, or else they'd get charged for being abusive or neglectful. They waited for a reason to push Esme away and out of their lives for good.
"You cause problems, you're back with Mrs. Masen. Do you understand me?"
His rough voice and his murderous stare are what she's accustomed to. "Yes, sir."
He points at her. "I won't allow disruption in my house. You will not go near the baby without me or my wife present, is that clear?"
Shut the fuck up, I'm not gonna hurt her, asshole! she wants to scream, but she holds these thoughts back while clutching her toiletries tight in her hands. "Of course, Mr. Brandon. I would never harm her in any way."
"Splendid. We've already got one witch in this house trying to curse everyone, and we don't need another," he grumbles just before stalking off.
She doesn't know who the hell he's talking about.
"Edgar, leave her alone, it's her first night, give her a moment to breathe," Lillian reprimands him. She'd probably heard him from Alice's bedroom.
"I'm fine," Esme assures her quietly as she goes into the bathroom and locks the door. She brushes her teeth and washes all the makeup off her face. She does it gently, so she doesn't hurt her busted lip, the bruise on her cheek, or her faint black eye. Although both of the injuries are fading, the sting is still there if she presses on them too hard. It's not like her touch is very strong, anyway. She runs her comb through her hair and suddenly wishes someone could braid it for her.
Nobody ever did before, at least not in a rushed fashion.
It hasn't always been this way. When she was a kid, she got along great with her biological parents. They talked to her if they weren't occupied with work or house chores but they rarely showed her physical affection. They never played with her and she was often left alone playing with dolls and blocks as a toddler and her barn animals and friends at school later on. Esme read and did artwork by herself and they were content that her quiet activities kept her busy so they didn't have to entertain her. Still, she wasn't at all lonely in her small world. Esme was happy and she loved her mother and father and relished in the times that they were around. She craved their attention and didn't even mind if they scolded her. At least they were giving her the time of day. Not once did she argue with them, though; she always tried to be on her best behavior. There were a few times when Esme was mischievous, but the trick was not getting caught. She has an inkling that they'd wanted a boy instead of a girl, but couldn't afford more children.
After using the toilet, she realizes she's missed her period. It's past being late and she doesn't even want to think about the dreadful possibility that she could be pregnant. There's tenderness in her breasts, too, and she feels sick sometimes when she knows she didn't overeat or have anything rancid. She's in a haze as she walks back to her bedroom. She'd already been through heroin withdrawal and almost died from an overdose. She doesn't need to be in more physical pain. The next best thing was drinking or smoking a cigarette. Only the smack was addictive because it made her reality completely different. If she's with child, she can't destroy her liver or her lungs. A new baby will make it easier to quit those bad habits.
In her bedroom mirror, she goes to change, but first, she inspects her body from all angles. Scars, bruises, cuts, and scrapes litter her skin and she quickly gets into her pajamas so she won't have to see the disturbing reminders of her past anymore.
Esme spends a long time at the window, staring out at the moon. Her eyes pass over a large tree, its green leaves rustling in the night air. A bitter chill comes over her; that's where it all started. It's not that exact tree, of course, but she'd been climbing one when she was sixteen near her parents' farm in Ohio. Suddenly feeling fatigued, she yawns loudly and dives into her bed. She rubs her belly and closes her eyes. She'll make sure to get up before everyone else so she can hide the marks that have been inflicted on her. She doesn't need the Brandons staring at her with pity flooding their facial expressions for even a split second.
After a long day of shopping, Esme puts her new outfits into the drawers in her room and hangs some up in the closet. She'd also gotten a glow ball that produces different colors of light, such as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink. It's quite calming and asthetically pleasing and she can't wait to stare at it until she falls asleep. She'd suppressed the urge to ask Lillian if she could push the stroller holding baby Cynthia and was happy to just walk alongside her while holding hands with Alice so the child wouldn't get lost. Alice kept trying to skip ahead and Esme had to pull her back.
She goes downstairs with a sketchpad and pencil to see Alice peering at Cynthia in her tiny green crib. Edgar is right behind his eldest daughter and Lillian is cooking Italian food. Esme averts her gaze when he marches up to her. "What are you fixating your eyes upon?" he barks.
"Nothing, I'm just gonna sit down on the couch and draw. May I have your permission to do that, sir?"
He grunts. "Whatever. I'll be watching you."
"Don't talk to her like that!" Lillian comes out of the kitchen with her hands on her hips. Her mouth is in a tight line. "Honestly, I don't know what your problem is. Ez is a sweet young lady. She isn't stirring up tomfoolery."
"Yeah!" Alice agrees and Esme grins to herself, continuing to draw a flower.
"I'm not gonna get into it right now, Lillian. Just make the damn dinner. I want it ready in an hour!" His tone is gruff.
Lillian gives him a dirty look. "No problem!" She walks past him and Esme flinches, thinking he'll strike her, but he doesn't. He just sneers while picking up the newspaper. Then, he gets a phone call and disappears into another room. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry, I'm not sure why he's acting like such an ass."
"I didn't do nothin'..."
"I know, he's just-"
"He can be."
"Mommy, can I hold the baby now that Daddy's not in the room?" Alice wonders aloud.
"Of course, I know you're careful, sweetheart, but as soon as you girls hear him coming, put Cynthia back in her crib, Ez."
"What will he do if she's holding Cynthia?" Esme asks nervously.
"He'll throw a fit, he's way too overprotective of our baby girl. He thinks Alice will drop her, even if she's just sitting on the sofa. It's not like she'll get up. You can walk around with her if you're steady on your feet, Ez."
"I am." Esme beams. "Are you sure?"
"He won't hit either of you?"
"Oh my goodness, no, dear, why on earth..." Lillian stops herself. "He would never...he gets irate in his manner of speaking, but never violent with his fists."
Esme breathes a sigh of relief. "Okay, that I can handle."
Lillian plucks Cynthia out of her crib and gestures for Alice to sit down next to Esme. When the girl does just that, Lillian places Cynthia in her big sister's lap. Alice hugs Cynthia close and kisses her cheek. "I love you, Cynnie pie! Do you wanna hold her, Ez? You haven't yet..."
"Sure!" Esme glances up at Lillian. "Is that okay?"
"Of course, go ahead. The noodles are boiling, I've gotta go back and make the sauce."
Esme would offer to help, but she feels that she should watch the little one. "Alright. Thanks!"
She carefully takes Cynthia from Alice's arms and sits the baby girl on her own lap to face her. "Hi, sweetie, I'm Ez!" she introduces herself.
Cynthia just stares at her with an adorable look on her face while kicking her minuscule legs. Curiosity swims in her big brown eyes and she babbles. Esme's smile grows even bigger.
"Aren't you the cutest tiny baby in the whole wide world? Oh, yes, you are! Yeah!" she coos and bounces Cynthia up and down on her knees. "Hi, sweetie! Hell-o!" Her voice is squeaky and higher than usual since that's how people talk to babies. Cynthia grabs at her hair and Esme gently wrangles it from her small, chubby hands. The baby smiles adorably for a second, making Esme giggle softly.
"Aw, she likes you," Alice points out. She leans down to kiss Cynthia's forehead.
"She's so tiny! Her elbow is the size of my thumb..." Esme whispers in amazement, although she's not that surprised. She strokes Cynthia's cheeks and tickles her feet gently. "Hi, baby one! Hiiii..."
All of a sudden, Esme hears Edgar nearby, so she jumps and holds Cynthia against her while standing up. The baby clings to her and starts wailing. She settles Cynthia back into her crib and the baby grabs two of her fingers. She quickly gets them free before Edgar sees her near the little girl and goes back onto the couch, panting heavily.
"She wants her bottle again!" Alice informs her. "She probably misses you, too."
Edgar charges in just then. "What did you two conniving witches do to Cynthia?" he hisses through gritted teeth, but not loud enough for Lillian's ears to catch.
"Nothing, she's probably hungry. Since you're here, can I give her some milk?" Esme asks courageously while placing a protective arm over Alice's shoulders and kissing the top of her head.
"Feed her, then."
Esme tries to calm down her breathing as she walks up to the crib and sticks the nipple of the bottle in Cynthia's mouth. The baby starts sucking on it and guzzling her milk down while clutching the bottle. Her cries subside and Esme lets out a relieved sigh.