Author's Note: Okay, explanation time. One of the reason this has taken so long to update, aside for the business of college, is plain old technical problems. The fact of the matter is I didn't really have an idea who my characters were. I knew vaguely who they were, but I didn't know the details of their pasts, their personalities, interests, habits, ect. And when you're writing, you need to know your characters inside and out. And it wasn't just my original characters, I was having a bit of trouble writing for the established movie characters as well, which is even more difficult. I'm still writing out notes and profiles for characters, but for now I figured I should release something new. But just letting you know that any re-edits I do to previous and future chapters will most likely involve reevaluating characterization and trying to make the characters as a whole fleshed out.

"Melissa, I'd like you to meet Fred," Melanie gestured to the well-built blonde man in front of her, "Fred, this is my daughter Melissa. She's ten years old."

Fred held out his hand and smiled, "Aw, aren't you cute? Nice to meet you!"

Melissa stared at him, a look of confusion on her face. She eventually shook his hand, "Hi. Are you mom's lawyer, workout instructor, hair designer?"

"Melissa!" Melanie warned her curtly.

"Ah, no," Fred gave a bit of an uncomfortable look, "You see... Well, I don't think I should be the one to tell you..."

"We're getting married," Melanie said.

Melissa stared at them, looking betweeen them expectantly, "... You can't be serious Mom."

"I am," Melanie said, "And you-"

She didn't get to finish as Melissa ran to her room. She ignored her mother's yells as she slammed the door shut. Unfortunately that didn't stop her mother from following her, and she wished more than ever that she had a lock to her door.

"Melissa, stop acting like this," Melanie warned.

"No!" Melissa yelled, throwing her boogie man plush at her mother before curling up into a ball.

Melanie caught the toy and threw it to the floor, "Stop being a brat!"

"Stop being a hypocrite!" Melissa retorted from beneath her arms, "You always go on and on about how men are awful and will use women, and then you get engaged to a guy you don't even know?!"

"I do know Fred, he's from work!"

"Oh, well that make it so much better!" Melissa rolled her eyes.

"... Would you believe I got pregnant?" Melanie said weakly.

"Ha!" Melissa laughed bitterly and looked up, "With him?! He's so obviously gay-!"

"Melissa!" Melanie sounded more scandalized than angry.

"-Well he is! Why are you really marrying him?" Melissa demanded.

Melissa could see her mother shut down and knew further conversation was going to be impossibe, "Listen, the point is, we are getting married, and nothing is changing that. I thought as a member of this family you should know that." With that she left.

Melissa stayed like that for awhile until she heard a knock on the door. She looked up to see Fred standing in the doorway.

"Hey, Melissa," Fred said, a half-smile on his face, "Can I come in?"

She just stared at him for several moments. The silence stretched for a long time as Fred looked around the room, at anything but Melissa, finally settling on a basketball, "Oh, you play basketball? I play a little too and-"

"No, I don't," Melissa corrected him, "Mom got me that when I was little when she was trying to make me less of a girly-girl. I just shoot the hoop outside."

"Ah, that's nice," Fred nodded, twidling his fingers together as he continued, "Well exercise is very-"

"Why are you marrying my Mom?" Melissa cut him off.

Fred stared at her for a moment, then answered, "We're in love."

"I don't believe you," Melissa said, "You don't act like you're in love, you're acting like people doing business."

Fred looked at her for several moments, then sighed, "Alright, I'll be straight with you. Melanie might not like it but I guess you should know. I need a wife to get my parents off my back about marriage and children. Your mother is in serious debt, so she needs financial help. I know this may seem odd, but this marriage can help your mother and I out. Now, do you have any questions?"

Jiminy was in the kitchen, having made a sandwich before she got there. He looked up when the door opened, "Good morning Melissa."

"Mmshh," Melissa barely mumbled as she sat down, putting her backpack in her lap and finding food already in front of her.

"So, after school today is Pinocchio's first day of work," Jiminy reminded her.

"Yeah, seems everything's happening so fast," Melissa said as she pulled out a notebook, "School, now work."

"It's not so unusual," Jiminy said.

"For this time, I guess," Melissa said as she wrote in the notebook, "He still seems too young."

Jiminy then noticed what she was doing and changed the subject, "What are you writing?"

"I figured that I'd keep a record of all the dreams I've been having, who was in it, when it was, how old I was, what was said, stuff like that," Melissa explained, "Might be worth keeping track of."

"Ah, I see," Jiminy nodded in understanding, "Did you have another dream?"

"Yeah, it was about when I first met Fred," Melissa said as she continued writing.

"Did you get along?" Jiminy asked.

"We might have if they didn't announce their engagement in the same meeting," Melissa quipped.

"They were already engaged?" Jiminy sat up straighter at that.

"Yeah," Melissa sighed, "They were apparently co-workers, or rather he was a programmer while she was a janitor. They were friendly acquantinces beforehand and had talked about their problems. Between Mom's debts and Fred needing a girl to marry so his parents would get off his back, I guess they just wanted a way out of their situations."

"So there was no love in their marriage?" Jiminy asked.

Melissa thought about that, "I'm sure they grew to be closer friends, at least that's how I saw their relationship. But as far as husband-wife love, nope."

"Well, why couldn't Fred have waited to find a woman he was in love with?" Jiminy asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.

Melissa surpressed a small smile as she said, "Because he was a homosexual, and even if his family wasn't a factor he was so religious that he wouldn't have gone after a man."

Jiminy's line of questioning was brought to an abrupt halt for a moment as he absorbed that bit of information. After a few seconds he found his voice, "But, your sister..."

Melissa looked up from her writing, "You don't need to be heterosexual to impregnate a woman, as Fred proved."

Jiminy opened his mouth to respond, then after a moment shut it. He promptly got up and walked towards the door, "I'm going to go see if Pinocchio's awake."

Melissa watched him walk out, then snorted as she picked up her sandwich.

"Class dismissed," Master Aquila said, waving a hand in dismissal.

The moment the words left his mouth, the kids jump out of their seats. Pinocchio didn't follow the wave of students, and instead walked up to Cornelia.

"Hi Pinocchio, Melissa, Jiminy," Cornelia greeted them with a smile as she picked up her book, "Ready to go?"

"I sure am!" Pinocchio followed her out, "So what do we do?"

"We need to wait for Annabella for a moment," Cornelia said, "She's been out doing jobs all day, so try not to talk too much."

"Wait, she's been out all day?" Jiminy asked, "But she has to be at least thirteen."

"Twelve, actually," Cornelia corrected him.

"Shouldn't she be in school?" Jiminy asked.

"Well..." Cornelia averted her eyes, "She said she needed to be out earning money for the family."

"But what about her schooling? How will she ever make something of herself without a proper education?" Jiminy insisted.

"I won't," the familiar voice of Annabella said from behind them.

"Oh, Anna!" Cornelia said, "How was your day?"

Annabella ignored Cornelia as she glared at Jiminy, "You don't know what you're talking about, so let me set you straight grasshoper."

"Grasshop-" Jiminy was silenced when Annabella leaned down at him, gulping down his indignation.

Annabella began speaking slowly, her voice raising in volume as she went on, "My family is poor. We need every bit of money we can scrape up to survive. Father is getting old, my so-called step-mother is a lousy worker, so it's up me and Cornelia to bring money home. That's how we were born in this world, and there's nothing we can do to change that. The best we could hope is some louse wanting to marry us, but no one is going to want two dirt-poor woodcutters. I know what's best for me and how to get by in the world, and I resent some hoity-toity little bug thinking he knows better than me how to live my life! I refuse to be looked down on by a bug!"

"Anna, please!" Cornelia walked up to her sister, "It's okay, he just doesn't understand."

Annabella took a deep breath, then stood back up "Come on kids, there's work to do."

As Annabella and Cornelia started walking, Pinocchio seemed rooted to the spot. Cornelia noticed and quickly grabbed his hand.

"Wow," Melissa said in a hushed voice, "To be so jaded at twelve..." She looked at Jiminy, and poked the wide-eyed cricket, "You okay pops?"

Jiminy snapped out of it, shaking his head, "Hmph. Well, at least Cornelia seems to appreciate a good education."

"Honestly, I'm a little surprised you care so much," Melissa said, "I know you're a teacher, which is still weird to me for some reason, but do you really expect an education to help a girl in this time period?"

"Melissa, no one is above or below getting an education," Jiminy gave her a hard look.

Melissa shrugged, "Well, that's a rather progressive attitude. I'm kind of happy to hear that."

Jiminy had no idea how to respond to that, so he just shrugged as well, "Well I don't see how that's progressive, just common sense as far as I'm concerned."

"Maybe I just have a skewed idea of what things are like in whatever time period this is," Melissa said, "What year is it anyway?"

"Um... eighteen eighty-one, I believe," Jiminy said.

"You don't know for sure?" Melissa asked, eyebrow raised.

Jiminy was silent for a moment, then shrugged, "Once you get to a certain age, you stopped trying to pay attention to time, especially when you travel and live day by day."

Melissa thought about that, many questions popping into her head at that.

Cornelia suddenly spoke up, "There's Mother and Father!" She ran up to them, dragging Pinocchio with her.

Antonio was standing by a cart, an axe over his shoulder just like Annabella. Beside him was a much younger and pretty woman, who looked like Cornelia if she was grown up. The big difference was, while Cornelia had long hair in braided pigtails, her mother's was cut so short it made Melissa stare.

'I didn't think women wore their hair so short at this point in time,' Melissa thought.

The woman smiled at Pinocchio, "You must be Pinocchio. My name is Clarissa Fausti, feel free to call me Clarissa. Cornelia has told me so much about you and your little friends." She glanced at the crickets, giving them a smile as well.

Jiminy took off his hat and bowed, "Hello milady. Cricket's the name, Jiminy Cricket."

Melissa nodded politely to the woman, "And I'm Melissa Chambers."

Pinocchio smiled back at Clarissa, "Nice to meet you. Are you Cornelia's mother?"

Clarissa nodded, "Yes I am."

"Since we're all here, we should get going," Antonio interupted.

As they started walking, Pinocchio talked with Jiminy and Melissa, "Does everyone have a mother?"

"Well, at some point, yeah," Melissa said.

"Who's my mother?" Pinocchio asked.

Jiminy and Melissa glanced at each other, "Umm..."

"Technically the Blue Fairy, I guess," Melissa said.

"Ah, that's right," Jiminy nodded, "She did give him life."

"What are you guys talking about?" Cornelia asked as she walked back up to them.

"Jiminy and Melissa said my mother is the Blue Fairy," Pinocchio explained.

Cornelia raised an eyebrow at them, "Okay..."

Melissa looked at Pinocchio from the brim of his hat, "Hey kid, that might not be something to tell others."

Pinocchio looked up at her, "Why? Aren't I suppose to be truthful?"

"Well, yes," Melissa said, "It's just, if you talk about the Blue Fairy, people might get confused. Not everyone has a fairy for a mom, so they may not understand." As she said this, she felt so silly trying to explain why telling people that a fairy was your mother was, perhaps, not such a good idea.

"Well... okay," Pinocchio said, though his tone was unsure.

Antonio, who'd been pulling the cart, suddenly stopped. They weren't even in the forest yet. He was trying to catch his breath.

Clarissa walked up to him, "I'll pull it from here Tony. You should save your strength for the trees."

Antonio didn't respond for a moment, then slowly stepped away from the cart. Clarissa immediately took his place and started pulling. Pinocchio noticed that she was even slower and looked at Cornelia, "Why is she going slower?"

"Because she's a spoiled bourgeoise," Annabella muttered.

"Huh?" Pinocchio tilted his head.

"A high-class rich woman," Jiminy explained.

"Oh, I thought your family was poor," Pinocchio said.

"We are," Cornelia said, "Mother's family disowned her after she married Father."

"Wow, she must really love your father to leave her family behind," Jiminy remarked.

"Once again, you don't know what you're talking about," Annabella rolled her eyes, "She ran away from home because she didn't want an arranged marriage. She just married father so her family couldn't force her back."

As Jiminy and Annabella glared at each other, Pinocchio looked at Cornelia, "So why didn't Clarissa want to marry the other guy?"

"She said that she didn't want her marriage decided for her," Cornelia explained, "She wanted to decide for herself. I'm glad she did though; if she didn't, she would've end up Eugene's mother. No one should have to be Eugene's mother."

"Eugene's dad almost married Clarissa?" Melissa asked.

"Yeah, he ended up marrying her sister instead," Annabella said.

"So... wait," Melissa looked at them, "Doesn't that make Eugene Cornelia's cousin?"

Annabella and Cornelia wrinkled their noses at each other.

"By blood, but mother's family disowned her, so he's not really my cousin," Cornelia said.

"I... don't think it works that way," Melissa said slowly.

Antonio stopped, looking at them, "We're here. Time to get to work."

As Clarissa took a moment to catch her breath, she took out three axes, one bigger than the others. She walked up to Pinocchio and Cornelia, handing them the two smaller axes, "Here you go. Nellie, can you show him what to do while we work?"

Cornelia put her books in the cart and took the axe, "Yes Mother." She turned to Pinocchio, "Mother and Father are going to cut down the trees, and we are going to cut it into smaller parts. Just do what Annabella and I do."

Antonio and Clarissa started on the first tree, while the three children stood aside.

Cornelia turned to Annabella, "Has anyone in your class been found?"

Annabella shook her head, "No, not yet. What about your class?"

"There are still lots of boys missing," Cornelia said.

"What happened?" Pinocchio asked.

"Awhile ago several boys in the village went missing," Cornelia said with a sigh, "No one knows what happened."

"I heard that the cops arrested some people and are holding them for questioning," Annabella said, her eyes cast sideways, "I hope they found out something..."

Cornelia grabbed Annabella's hand, "Don't worry, Officer Ambrose won't stop until he finds Lampwick."

Annabella tensed a little, pulling her hand away and crossing her arms, "What makes you think I'm worried about him?"

This all caught Pinocchio's attention, "You know Lampwick?"

Cornelia looked at Pinocchio, "He's one of her classmates. He disappeared at the same time as all the other boys."

Jiminy looked at Melissa, "You think...?"

"Can't imagine there's too many kids called Lampwick," Melissa pointed out.

"But, I've met him! He got turned into a donkey!" Pinocchio told the sisters.

Cornelia and Annabella looked at him, "What?!"

Pinocchio opened his mouth to continue, then stopped and looked at the crickets, "Is this like with the Blue Fairy? Should I say anything?"

"Yes, you should!" Jiminy and Melissa said in unison.

Annabella put her hands on Pinocchio's shoulders, "What do you mean? When did you see him?"

"Well, I got this ticket, and we went to an island, and everyone turned into a donkey!" Pinocchio explained.

"This island... was it called Pleasure Island?" Annabella asked.

"Yeah, it was!" Pinocchio nodded.

Annabella stared at Pinocchio for a while, her eyes practically piercing him and making him shift beneath her gaze. Finally she stood up, "Go to the police. Tell them everything you know."

"Huh? But aren't I suppose to be-" Pinocchio started to ask.

"We've been doing this ourselves for years," Annabella insisted, "One more day won't hurt. So just go."

Jiminy had been looking at Annabella contemplatively, then nodded, "Thank you Miss Annabella."

"We'll come back as soon as we can," Melissa said.

"I'll go tell you if we finish first," Cornelia said.

Pinocchio nodded, then turned and ran towards the village.

At town square, there was a Punch and Judy performance going on, so most of the people in the square were off on one side. The only person not in the crowd was a young female kitten. Her brown fur was dirty, and her brown eyes were kept low.

Alidoro was heading to the performance to oversee the crowd when he spotted her sitting by herself. He immediately went over and, pulling out a silver coin, dropped it in her tin.

Nora smiled at Alidoro, "Thank you officer."

"My pleasure little lady," Alidoro looked between her and the crowd, "Don't you want to watch the puppet show?"

"No that's fine," Nora shook her head, "I have to collect money for dinner, and I'd feel bad watching without being able to give something back."

Alidoro wanted to ask her to come with him and he'd pay extra, but at the sight of how little money she had to buy dinner he decided to let her be. He did put two more silver coins in and tipped his hat, "Have a good day."

Nora nodded and called as he walked off, "You too!"

Eugene entered the town square, looking around and spotting Nora almost immediately. She was the only anthropomorphic cat in the square, and was a tiny version of Gattina. Except while Gattina had an air of menace to her, this kitten looked like you could breath on her and she'd fall over. She held a green and purple blanket tight around her with one paw as she held out a tin with the other. As Eugene got closer he noticed that her right leg was in a cast.

Nora looked up at the approaching boy, "You must be the boy."

Eugene inhaled a little and said, "I am not just some boy, you know. My father is the most successful fish merchant in the village."

"I know," Nora said with a nod, then pulled out a deck of old, worn-out cards, "Since we might be waiting awhile, shall we amuse ourselves?"

"I don't know how- I mean, I don't play card games," Eugene quickly said.

"That's okay, it's not really a normal card game," Nora said, and held out a few cards, "Please pick a card."

Eugene stared at her, then grabbed a card, "Well, I don't want to be bored."

"Look at your card carefully," Nora instructed, "then put it back with the rest."

Eugene raised an eyebrow, but did as she said, examining the queen of hearts in his hand. He put it back.

Nora shuffled the cards thoroughly, then once they were fanned out again she took a moment to examine the backs of the card before picking one. She held it out, "Is this your card?"

Eugene's mouth fell open, "How did you do that?!"

Nora smiled, "If you want to bet a coin on another game, I'll show you again. I'm sure a smart kid like you can figure it out."

Eugene smiled back, "Fine by me!"

Five game and five silver pieces later, Eugene was still stumped.

"This is stupid!" Eugene declared, "You're just scamming me! How did you-" He suddenly stopped as his eyes fell on the cards, "Wait a minute..." He picked some of the cards up, examining the backs, "You're looking at the markings on the backs!"

"See, you are smart!" Nora just smiled, then handed him his money back, "Here, you can keep this. You're paying enough already."

Eugene looked at her with a raised eyebrow, then pocketed the money, "So why am I here anyway?"

"You just need to witness it and agree with what I say," Nora explained, then looked down one of the streets, "Is that him?"

Eugene looked as well, "Yeah, that's him!"

Nora dumped the contents of her tin in a paw as she said, "Okay, just remember what I said."

"Where are we going to find the police?" Melissa asked.

"We could probably just try and find a policeman that's out on patrol," Jiminy suggested.

"But wouldn't it be easier to just find the station?" Melissa asked, "We could walk around all day and not run into an officer."

"Hmmm... maybe we should ask around," Jiminy said, "There's got to be someone who can point us in the right direction."

As Pinocchio continued to look around, he was suddenly stopped by a raggedy female kitten, "Oh, hello! Do you know where I can find the police?"

"Oh, I'm not sure," Nora said as she stepped close to Pinocchio, holding her tin out with one hand, "I'm sorry to trouble you, but could you spare some money?"

"I'm sorry, I don't have any money," Pinocchio stepped back to restore his personal space.

"Hey Pinoke, there's a police officer," Jiminy whispered to him, pointing behind Nora.

"Excuse me, I have to talk to the officer," Pinocchio said as he tried to get past her.

As Pinocchio got past her, Nora fell to the ground hard as if she was thrown, "Ow! Help, I've been robbed!"

"What?" Pinocchio turned back to her, as well as some nearby audience members.

"What is she-" Melissa was cut off as the police officer grabbed Pinocchio.

"Okay, what's going on?" Alidoro asked.

By now Nora had worked up some tears, and looked up at Alidoro with the most pitiful expression, "O-Officer, I w-was just trying t-to ask him if he had a-any money to spare, b-but he called me a nasty name, took the money I did have, and tried to run off!"

"No! No I didn't, I swear!" Pinocchio told the officer.

"That right, she's telling a bald-faced lie!" Jiminy agreed.

"He has my money in his pocket! It was five coppers and three silvers," Nora insisted.

"Son, would you mind emptying your pockets?" Alidoro asked.

"Go on kid, you have nothing to hide," Melissa said.

Pinocchio did as told, and pulled his pockets inside out. Eight coins fell out of the right pocket immediately.

"Huh?" Pinocchio stared at the money.

"See?!" Nora pointed at the money, "T-That money was going to go to my family's dinner, and he took it from me!"

"No, it wasn't me, I don't know how those got in my pocket!" He looked around, trying to find someone to speak for him.

Nora pointed at Eugene, "He saw the whole thing!" She looked at Eugene, "Please, tell him the truth!"

Eugene jumped a little as he suddenly became part of the situation. He looked at Pinocchio and Nora, both of whom were tearing up. He took a small gulp and said, "Yeah, I saw it. He grabbed the money and pocketed it."

"No!" Pinocchio wailed.

"I'm sorry son, but you'll have to come down to the station for now," Alidoro readjusted his grip on Pinocchio as he gathered the coins, handing them back to Nora, "Here you go."

"Thank you sir," Nora smiled through her tears, then the smile fell as Pinocchio was dragged off.

"Please, wait! I'm innocent, I swear!" Pinocchio struggled to get out of Alidoro's grip.

"This will go a lot easier if you stop resisting," was all Alidoro said.

"Jiminy, we have to do something! Get someone so that they can help!" Melissa said.

Jiminy nodded in agreement, then turned to Pinocchio, "Just do whatever the police want, and we'll be back as soon as we can."

Pinocchio looked at his friends through tear-filled eyes, then nodded and stopped resisting. With that, Jiminy and Melissa started running as fast as they could for help.