Five years later

"Anne!" called Mrs. Thomas, anger blazing in her eyes. "Get in here now or I'll be inclined to take a strap to your backside."

The said redheaded girl happened to be drinking in the pleasantness of spring despite the barreness of the surroundings and did not hear her. It was the eve of her 5th birthday and for once, she wanted some peace to herself and to get away from the constant berating from Mrs. Thomas.

Since Anne's "adoption" 5 years ago, Mrs. Thomas had 4 more children and at such a tender age, Anne was forced to look after them all but occasionally neglected to when something beautiful caught her mind's eye. The 4 older ones had since moved out to find work because the family hadn't a cent to their name to support them.

Just then, Mrs. Thomas grabbed the little girl by the shoulder. "Mrs. Thomas!" Anne yelped in surprise. "Whatever it is, I'm sorry. Now if there's anything I can do-"

"You should be sorry!" snapped Mrs. Thomas as she dragged the child across the living room into the kitchen. "And you don't even know what you're sorry for. So irresponsible!" As she got out of breath, she chided Anne for not finishing the dishes.

"I'm sorry about that," said Anne quietly. "It's spring fever I guess and I just couldn't help but be lured to the prettiness outside. But I promise to finish everything before succuming to impulses."

"Do you find it physically impossible to stop using big words? You're eating us out of hearth and home and do nothing for your keep! And I warn you that if that ever happens again, you'll be sorry you lived!" was Mrs. Thomas last word before storming out of the kitchen.

While half-heartedly doing the dishes, Anne couldn't help but realize how sorry she already was she lived. A perceptive, intelligent girl, she noticed early on how different her "family" was from others. Namely, how different she was. Everyone else had parents and siblings. Other family seemed far less dysfunctional and more at peace with each other. In the poverty-stricken family and especially the world, she felf out of place, like on the outside looking without control over anything. She had often wondered about her parents and found out recently about how they died, wishing she went with them. "It is just as well," said Mr. Thomas. "Your mother was bad blood."

The other thing is the barreness of this place and how all her clothes were shabby even by the Thomas' standards. Yet, as perceptive and intelligent as she is, she had a knack for a vivid imagination. I don't believe I could get through each day in one piece without it, she thought. Every dull feature of this place I could imagine away. I could even imagine away my skinessness and green eyes, but I simply couldn't imagine away my red hair. She said as much to Mrs. Thomas who told her icily that God had made her hair red on purpose because she is inexcusably wicked.

"But I tried not to be," was her earnest reply.

"You can't help it because you got it from your mother," snapped Mrs. Thomas as she remembered the incident she encountered with Bertha when she went to visit. She then railed on about how Anne's mother was headstrong and selfish and always had to have the last word. "But what sickened me the most was that she insisted how beautiful you were. I tell you, girl, you were lucky to have lived this long considering how sickly you were."

After that, Anne never breathed another word to Mrs. Thomas about her parents again. Presently, as she was washing dishes, a loud sound of shattering glass and swearing from Mr. Thomas brought her out of her reminensce. Impulsively, before finishing rinsing the dishes, she dashed to the bedroom to see what's going on. As she eavesdropped, she could hear Mrs. Thomas bitching at her husband.

"You stupid jerk! That was the cabinet my parents gave me when I got married to a scum like you. Who the hell do you think you are?" Mr. Thomas only managed to slur a few unintelligible words and seemed unable to stand up straight. As usual, he spent the entire night getting wasted with vodka he stole from the liquor cabinet that was supposed to be saved for company. After that ran out, he spent his savings at a local saloon and still managed to get back before dawn.

As Mr. Thomas started breaking the glass with his bare hands and inevitably cutting himself, Mrs. Thomas yelled, "For heaven's sake, use the restroom!" Watching the woman pull her husband towards the bathroom, Anne tried to dart out of the way, only to be snatched by the shoulder and told to clean up the mess.

"Please Mrs. Thomas," she pleaded. "I really can't endure it. I'll do anything else you want me to do. You could lock me in the closet all day and I won't complain, I promise. But I simply can't touch blood." By then, she was on her knees with her hands clapsed at her chest in her usual dramatic self.

Eyes narrowing into slits, Mrs. Thomas yelled, "You will get more than a day in the closet if you don't do as I tell you!"

After Mrs. Thomas left the room, Anne reluctantly started picking up shards of glass. Soon, her own blood and tears mingles with Mr. Thomas' as well, but she was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice. It seemed hopeless that she would ever get away from here and even her usual optimistic self wasn't feeling much optimism. Sometimes, she willed herself to believe she was dreaming and when she wakes up, this nightmare would be over. She would wake up and discover that her folks had merely been separated from her and that they'll be reunited.

Just then, as she looked up at the glass cabinet, a small red-headed girl looked back at her. As she examined closely the details, she found out that, like herself, the girl had green eyes that looked grey in some shades and some freckles. Maybe she wasn't the prettiest girl in the world, but she decided that they would be friends, at least until she encounters a living, breathing one. "Katie Maurice," she whispered. "I know it's not an accident we discovered each other. We're here to sustain one another in our struggles..."

"Anne!!" She looked back and found Mrs. Thomas standing over her. "Stop with this nonsense and finish what you started."

"I'm done, Mrs. Thomas."

"You call this done?! Bring me some cloths and let me attend to it myself. I was a fool to think you were capable of anything!" After Mrs. Thomas received the cloths she demanded, Anne retreated to the living room with a renewed sense of hope. She finally had someone to talk to, even if it's only a reflection. And in a way, that is a real person. Maybe someday, when she's a woman, she would leave this place forever and still carry that reflection with her. And she would never come back.

That evening at supper, which consisted of just lettuce soup, one of the Thomas kid, Carl complained in a hushed voice to Anne that he was starving. He was one of the 4 kids younger that Anne that she had to tend to which can be quite a handful at times. That evening was no exception.

"Hush now," whispered Anne. "That's all we have, and if Mrs. Thomas catches us talking, there's no telling what she'll do." She herself was feeling ravenous but was determined to be strong for the 2 younger ones at the table, even though lettuce soup was all she had for the past few weeks.

"Anne!" admonished Mrs. Thomas. "That's the 3rd strike. You're going to bed without supper tonight and if you pull one more of your antics, you'll go without breakfast, dinner, or supper tomorrow. Is that clear?"

"Crystal," replied Anne dejectedly, as she promptly headed towards the bedroom she shared with all her "siblings."

For the time being, everything was deathly silent, but in no time at all, she could hear the dispute going on downstairs as Mrs. Thomas yelled at her kids for complaining. Again, Mr. Thomas spent all their income on liquor and was about to lose them the roof over their head since they missed 2 months of rent. The lettuce soup they bought bled them almost completely out. As usual, Mr. Thomas was out doing God knows what.

She tried to understand the cruel treatment she sometimes endured at the hands of Mrs. Thomas, that she would've been good to her if she hasn't been in such a desparate financial and family situation, but simply put, there is no justifying anything of the sort. No matter how hard she tried to live up to Mrs. Thomas "standards," she always seemed to fall short. Maybe she wasn't meant to live a decent life, to love and be loved, etc.

Soon, she was asleep on the hard, lumpy mattress. The last sound she heard was the Thomas' kids heading towards the room. All that on the eve of her 5th birthday.