Alison had her eyes closed, but she was by no means asleep.
She had heard a well known couple was visiting the group home that she and her younger sister Emily lived in. She strained her ears to hear them as they walked from room to room, getting a tour of the facilities. She only heard the excited chatter of the other teens as they speculated which one of them the couple would adopt today. These two particular people were famous among the kids at the group home because they had already taken so many kids from the local group homes. Each one of the residents in this hell-hole were buzzing, hoping they could be one of the lucky few to be chosen. The Cullen couple were the Hollywood of foster homes; with three square meals and a warm home with actual love involved was more than any ward of the state could even dream of.
Alison refused to let herself even entertain the smallest hope that she could go home with these nice people. Being seventeen, she knew she would age out of the system fairly soon and the chances of getting a home before then was about the same as winning the lottery. Besides, daydreams caused heartbreak and she just couldn't handle much more of that.
So therefore, Alison lay in her bed near the back of the dorms, closets to the wall the room shared with the commons, where the beautiful Dr. and Mrs. Cullen were observing the children, talking in subdued tones about the children. This made her angrier than any of the things she endured during her time as a foster child; she hated the way that people would come into the home and look at the residents as if they were pieces of meat to be judged. Her hands balled up into fists and she turned her head away.
"And where are your older children?" the man she assumed to be Dr. Cullen asked. Alison's ears perked up at that question. The home mother, Mrs. Macy paused before answering.
"Most of them are here in the commons, our moodiest of residents is probably sulking in the dorms." Mrs. Macy's tone of voice betrayed the feelings she held toward Alison, and Alison felt the same way about Mrs. Macy, the woman was an ogre.
"Would you kindly show us to the dorms?" Dr. Cullen requested. Alison's heart picked up and her eyes flew open. They were already on their way to the dorms and Alison had no chance of escape. She glanced around at her area and franticly picked up a book she had been absently reading, an old favorite, and pretended like she hadn't been listening to their conversation. The door creaked open and the noise from the commons grew louder, before the door closed again and it returned to a muffled roar.
Mrs. Macy cleared her throat and Alison glanced up at her, a look of permanent distaste for the woman in her eyes.
"Alison, dear" Mrs. Macy only used terms of affection in front of prospective parents. "This is Dr. Cullen and his wife, Mrs. Cullen." Alison's eyes flickered to the couple, standing just off to the side of Mrs. Macy. Dr. Cullen, a fairly tall man, seemed to fill the room with the light reflecting off his pale skin and equally as pale blond hair. Alison chocked a little, but kept it quiet enough. Mrs. Cullen stood just behind him, and while shorter than him, she was by no means small. She gave Alison a small smile and a wave. Alison half-heartedly returned it. Dr. Cullen stepped forward, his hand outstretched toward Alison. Mrs. Macy gave her a look and Alison stood quickly.
"I'm pleased to meet you." He said with a warm smile. Alison forced herself to remain where she was but she leant back a bit. She took his hand gingerly and shook it. Seeming satisfied, Dr. Cullen put his hand back in his pocket.
There was an awkward silence next where no one in the room knew what to say next.
Mrs. Cullen glanced over at where Alison left her book. "Is that the Princess Bride you are reading?" she asked, her eyes twinkling. Alison also glanced over at the book, cringing inwardly at its ratty appearance, and nodded.
"I love that book." Mrs. Cullen said with a grin, "and by the looks of it, so do you." She gave a small chuckle. A look of horror crossed both Mrs. Macy's and Alison's faces at the same time. While Alison struggled with what to say to that, Mrs. Macy jumped in for her.
"I assure you Mrs. Cullen," she plastered a fake smile on her face, "that not all of the possessions of the girls here are quite so…"She paused for a moment to find the most diplomatic word for 'shitty', "worn as Alison's here."
Mrs. Cullen struggled with what to say, trying to right the social blight that she appeared to have made.
"I didn't mean…" Mrs. Cullen stuttered.
"It's no matter, why don't we move on?" Mrs. Macy shuffled them out of the dorms, leaving Alison still reeling from her encounter. She sucked in a shuddering breath and sat back down on her bed. For the first time in a very long time, she was sad to see them go. She shook off the feeling and was about to turn back to her book when the door flung open and Alison fought to hold in a yelp of fear.
"Emily! Don't be so rowdy! There are prospects here!" Alison scolded her younger sister as she skipped into the room and plopped herself onto Alison's bed.
"I know! Did you see them? They are so beautiful! Can we go home with them?" Emily was nearly bouncing with excitement. Alison's heart ached a little, no child should ever have to live this life.
"No sweetheart, they aren't going to take us home." Alison wrapped an arm around her sister and pulled her close, smelling the abrasive soap that the home had donated in her hair.
"I'm sorry." She added, low enough so her sister didn't hear.
Two days later, a sharp knock came to the dorm door during commons hour. Alison glanced up from her book, as Mrs. Macy came through the doorway with a smug smile on her face.
"My dear Alison," she said, her voice dripping with venom, "Dr. and Mrs. Cullen have come to take you home for a while."
She couldn't make her limbs work to move. Mrs. Macy snapped at her to pack her things. Alison leaped up and pulled the ratty suitcase from beneath her bed and began to hastily stuff her meager belongings into it. She wouldn't allow her thoughts to drift to her sister. Not now.
As soon as she zipped it shut, Mrs. Macy's claw wrapped around Alison's upper arm and pulled her to her feet.
"Let's go, deary. No time to waste." She smiled, showing her yellowing teeth. Alison flinched and hurried along as fast as she could. As they rounded the corner into the lobby, the claw dropped from her arm and she truly looked at the glowing couple for the first time. The grined at Alison as she gaped back. There was a crash to her right and Alison's eyes flickered to the source of the noice.
Emily was struggling with one of the older girls in the commons to get to the lobby. Silent tears streamed down her face. Mrs. Macy gave the poor girl a pointed look and her struggling eased up for a moment.
"Are you ready, Alison?" Mrs. Cullen asked, snapping her out of her staring.
"Uh, yeah." Alison said, not really hearing her own words. With a trembling step, Alison walked forward with the couple, her eyes still trained on Emily who pleaded with the older girl to let her go. Just as Dr. Cullen's hand descended upon the handle of the old solid oak door, Alison did something she would regret immediately.
"Wait!" She blurted out before she knew what she was doing.
"What do you need?" Dr. Cullen asked.
"M-my sister! That girl over t-there! I can't. I can't!" Alison took a step back, fearing the worst. The couple glanced at each other and Alison was filled with shame. She had ruined her one chance for a foster family. She didn't dare look anywhere but her shoes, and Mrs. Macy's angry glare burned into her back.
"Wait just a moment." Dr. Cullen said, stepping by her as Mrs. Cullen led her to one of the sunken in chairs in the lobby. Alison sat numbly, pulling her suitcase in front of her legs, attempting to shield herself with it. Mrs. Cullen made her way back to her husband as soon as Alison was seated. Alison has promised her sister they would never be separated, but was she doing them any better by keeping them both together in this hell hole?
Alison had no concept of how much time had passed before Dr. and Mrs. Cullen returned to her. Alison's body tensed and she waited for them to tell her she would not be going with them. An outburst like that screamed mental illness, something a foster family would never deal with.
Dr. Cullen kneeled before Alison.
"Alison," he said, keeping his voice low, "Let me start by apologizing to you." Alison's head whipped up to look at him, confusion in her body language.
"We should have asked you if YOU had wanted to come with us. And for that I am sorry." Dr. Cullen paused then, "As for your sister, Emily, right?" Alison nodded, "We are going to try our very best to make sure we can take her too, but we might not be able to right now. Alright?"
Alison's jaw hit the floor.
They were going to take Emily too? This was too good to be true. Never did she even dream that both she and Emily might be taken together. Mrs. Macy had told them as much on their first day in the home.
Dr. Cullen patted her knee and stood back up, leaving Mrs. Cullen with her; both women sat quietly.
Not ten minutes later, Emily appeared, face red and blotchy from crying earlier, but smiling from head to toe, her entire body radiating happiness. She was babbling at Dr. Cullen, who grinned and nodded along with what she was saying. Mrs. Cullen stood and Alison did as well, in an automatic response.
"Alright girls, are we ready to go?" Dr. Cullen asked. Alison pulled Emily close to her, burying her face in the child's hair. She felt actual happiness bubbling up from somewhere long buried, and she smiled.