Toby sat on the dirty floor of the kitchen, watching as Mrs. Lovett flattened a mound of dough. He smiled to himself as her eyebrows knit together in determination, her hands working the rolling pin back and forth. She told him stories as she worked; stories of herself and her Aunt Nettie, and the seaside on August Bank Holiday. They made him laugh, and late at night, he thought to himself that Mrs. Lovett was just like Aunt Nettie to him. Sometimes, when sleep wouldn't come, he'd dream up his own stories and his own Aunt Nettie, his own seaside and his own holiday, and then recite them to himself until he fell asleep.

He loved Mrs. Lovett, and while she was an Aunt Nettie to him, she wasn't entirely the same—she kept him warm and happy and would occasionally pretend not to see him sneak a fresh-baked pie from a tray. She would knit him scarves and tell him stories and promised that someday, she would let him help bake the pies and grind the meat. She was kind and funny and, if the light shone on her face at the right angle and she hummed just the right pitch while she worked, Toby could pretend that she was his mother.

But her hair was always messy, and she cared too much for clothes, and she was always giving Mr. Todd more affection than Toby. Every so often she'd have bloodstains on her fingernails—she'd spend hours scrubbing them and tried to hide them from Toby's view, but he almost always saw them. She was vain and charged too much for her pies and there was one tuft of hair that always hung down in her face, but he didn't care. Toby didn't care at all, because he loved her and she would let him sit on the floor and rock himself back and forth while she worked so hard on her pies. He would sit there and hug his knees to his chest and smile at her as she told him stories.

But then she'd turn and reach for something—her rolling pin, or maybe some flour—and he'd see the blood beneath her nails, and he'd hear Mr. Todd upstairs, and his mind would run away from him and create story after story of all the awful things Mrs. Lovett could be doing, or all the awful things Mr. Todd could be making her do, each story more incredible than the next.

And late in the night, Toby would laugh about it, because it was just like Mrs. Lovett's Aunt Nettie stories.