AN: Hey guys. How's it going? While watching Trauma Team walkthroughs (the game hasn't been released where I live) and lurking on the TT GameFAQ forum, I noticed there were a number of comments questioning why – after the explosion – Alyssa didn't seem affected by the deaths of her parents, and indeed why her parents would even let her play in the yard of CIFM in the first place. I had also been wondering about this, though I realised that Alyssa's parents are never specifically mentioned at any point in the game. Little Guy does say something along the lines of 'It appears she has no living relatives' though that doesn't necessarily mean she wasn't already an orphan at the time of the explosion. I thought it would have been nice to have known the back story for Alyssa before she met Naomi, and that's when this wild plot bunny appeared.
As always, constructive criticism will be much appreciated.
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Atlus.
Chapter One – The McLarens
The snowflakes float to the ground, twisting and turning like they're caught in mini-tornados. She watches as it begins to pile on the ground, creeping higher and higher up the wall. Maybe it'll go above the window, she thinks. But Alyssa won't be here to see it.
A frown tugs at the corners of her mouth. She loves the snow. When it snows, the ladies let the kids stay out for longer than they should. They all work together to build a snowman and have snow angel competitions. Michael always wins, but that's just because he's the oldest and the tallest and his snow angels are the biggest. And then there are the snowball fights they always have, but Alyssa isn't going to be here to do any of that. She's going to her new family today.
Alyssa's arms tighten around her scruffy brown teddy bear. Benji is Alyssa's lucky charm. He keeps her safe. He's the only thing that Alyssa can call hers in a place where nothing belongs to anyone – not even the children.
The snow is falling faster, the drops getting bigger. The other kids are probably already rolling the base of a snowman.
There's a knock before Mrs Reid snakes her red-haired head around the door. "Alyssa," she says, "Jody and Max are here."
It's supposed to be good news, Alyssa knows, but her heart sinks and the butterflies begin to flutter their wings in her stomach. She hops off her bottom bunk bed for the last time, still clutching Benji tightly. Mrs Reid guides her out the room with a hand at her shoulder blades and leads her to the atrium, where they are.
Jody and Max are the parents picture perfect parents from the adoption brochures the staff sometimes carelessly leave lying around for the kids to find. Or steal. They fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Both of them are beaming great big toothy smiles. They're neat in a way the adults in the home never are, wearing smart suits. Jodi has brown hair like Alyssa does and Maxwell has the same colour eyes. They're both nice, too. They don't get cranky like the home staff do. For the last few months they've taken Alyssa on a trip every Sunday. She's been the zoo with them, and the movie theatre. One time they even took her to the carnival. They bought her all the popcorn and cotton candy she wanted though Max reminded her seven times of the importance of brushing and flossing. Alyssa went back the Cumberland County Children's Home feeling nauseous, but Jody and Max are getting to foster her anyway.
One day they might even adopt her.
Jody kneels down to Alyssa's height and extends her arms. Alyssa hugs her like she does any other Sunday, even though this isn't like any other Sunday.
"We finished decorating your room," Max tells Alyssa, messing up her hair. "You'll love it. Are you excited to see it?"
Alyssa nods but, actually, she really likes her room here. She shares with Rachel and Jennifer, and last night they all pretended to be asleep at Lights Out then had a midnight feast.
Rachel and Jennifer say they're going to miss her. Alyssa's going to miss them and the ladies too. There's Mrs Chance and Miss Goldman, who swing the jump rope for them when the weather is nice. Miss Simpson who sometimes pleats Alyssa's hair. And there's Mrs Murray, who turned a blind eye to the feast last night.
"Are you ready, Alyssa?" Jody asks.
The butterflies are flying again. Still, Alyssa nods.
They walk outside and the adults seem disgruntled that the snow has gotten heavier again. Alyssa isn't listening though. She's watching the other kids roll snowballs and find twigs and stones for the snowman without her.
"Go on," Jody says.
Alyssa looks up at her, curious and confused. "What?"
"Go say goodbye to your friends," she repeats. "We need to hold off anyway until the snow eases."
She takes a step to run off toward the others, but something stops her. "Will you look after Benji?"
"Of course," Jodi smiles.
Alyssa hands the teddy bear to Jody and hurries off to help with the snowman. They call him Frosty.
Alyssa cries all the way in the car. She doesn't want to cry, really. She wants to be excited about going the new family but all she can think about is how she's leaving her friends behind. If the snow keeps up, they're going to try to build an igloo tomorrow and she won't be there to see it.
Sometimes Alyssa just manages to keep the tears from running, but then she looks out the car window and thinks about the things she's going to miss and she starts to cry again.
Even hugging Benji doesn't help.
Jody twists around the passenger seat and flashes Alyssa a comforting smile. "I know you're going to miss them, sweetie," Jody says. "But we'll take you back to visit, and you'll make lots of new friends when kindergarten starts again after Christmas."
Why would she make friends at a new kindergarten when she doesn't have friends at her old one? Nobody plays with the home kids. The normal kids say that they must be bad because nobody loves them. Alyssa's only friends are back at the orphanage.
"You know, there's a ballet school just around the corner from our house and a lot of little girls your age go," Max tells Alyssa, glancing at her through the rear view mirror. It's the only thing he's said since they've got in the car. The snow is still falling, and the roads are difficult so he needs to concentrate. "Maybe you could make some new friends there, too."
"What do you think, Alyssa? Will you start ballet classes?"
It's spoken as a question, but the look on Jody's face makes Alyssa think she doesn't have much choice in the matter. Alyssa doesn't want to disappoint her. "I guess." Alyssa answers, even though she'd much rather play soccer.
"Excellent," Jody beams. "We'll need to get you ballet shoes and a leotard. Oh, they have these adorable little ones in the dancing store on Main Street with the sweetest little tutus."
Up ahead there's a hill. The car tries to climb it, but the wheels spin and slide on the snow beneath them. Alyssa grips on to her seat belt tightly as Max fights with the car to get it to climb. It doesn't work though. The car only slips back down the hill to the flat.
"Damn it," Max grumbles. "We're going to have to walk to the house." He somehow manages to steer the car to the side.
Alyssa's car door opens and she hops out. Before her feet can hit the ground, she's being lifted up by Max.
"We can't let the little princess' feet get cold, can we?" He says.
Nobody's ever carried her anywhere before.
It still takes a while for them to make it to the house, by which time they're all freezing and their hair is wet with melted snow. Situated on a quiet street (and not a main road like the home is), Jody and Max's house is big and it has its own garden out the front with a tree in the centre.
"Maybe tomorrow, we can build our own snowman," Jody says as she unlocks the front door.
When they get in and once they're all changed in to dry clothes, Jody and Max show Alyssa around her new house. In the living room there are silver banners on the walls saying 'Welcome Home. Jody hands Alyssa a welcome home card from people who sign themselves as Aunt Madeleine and Uncle Stewart.
Alyssa doesn't know anybody called Madeleine or Stewart.
Jody and Max take Alyssa upstairs to her room next. (She gets a room all to herself; she can barely believe it.) The wallpaper is pink with shoes and dresses and princess tiaras on, and the toy box in the corner is filled to the top with Barbie dolls and accessories.
"What do you think?" Jody asks.
"I like it." Except Alyssa doesn't like pink and she doesn't play with Barbie dolls. She likes blue and plays with GI Joe and kicks the soccer ball around in the orphanage yard. That's all they have at the home.
Alyssa's sure she told Jody that she doesn't like Barbie dolls.
They all go downstairs again and Jody begins to make dinner. She's making macaroni cheese – Alyssa's favourite. Alyssa continues to take in her new surroundings.
On the mocha walls of the dining room there are lots of photos of another little girl. She's got dark hair like Alyssa but her eyes are blue. There's a photo of her on a swing, grinning and being pushed by Max. Another one of her at the beach, sitting on a towel being hugged by Jody. And there's another picture of this girl standing in a ballet pose, wearing a pink tutu and leotard.
"Who's that?" Alyssa asks.
Max frowns. His eyes begin to fill with sad tears. "Her name was Lilly."
Alyssa has been away from the children's home for four months now. She hasn't been back to visit her old friends yet, but she's made tonnes of new ones at kindergarten. She's become used to the pink in her room and all the pink dresses that Mom makes her wear.
She plays with the Barbie dolls now, too. Her favourite one is Doctor Barbie. She wears a long white coat and carries a stethoscope around her neck. Mom and Dad even got Alyssa a dress-up set to match. Alyssa's going to wear it to Sarah Anderson's fancy dress party on Saturday.
This morning after breakfast, Mom and Dad say they have important news for Alyssa. She's going to be a big sister. Mom is going to have a baby.
Alyssa doesn't smile. "Why do you need a baby when you have me?"
Mom's eyebrows lower into a scowl and Alyssa gets grounded for a week. She's not even allowed to go to Sarah's birthday party. Alyssa doesn't understand why. All she did was ask a question.
When her punishment is over, Alyssa is taken around baby store after baby store, trailing after Mom and Dad as they look at cots and prams and ignore Alyssa.
Today's no different.
Not that Alyssa expected it to be.
Now, Mom's tummy is swollen and she's always complaining that she can't see her feet. She gets tired a lot too. Sometimes Mom snaps when Alyssa asks questions, especially when she asks if they can go some place other than Mothercare or Baby World or The Stork's Shop. Those places are far more important than anywhere that Alyssa wants to go to.
Mom has been shopping all morning. She ordered a pram from The Stork Shop and now she's looking at cribs in Mothercare, since she didn't see any she liked in the first store.
Alyssa's legs hurt from traipsing after Mom for hours without a break to sit down. She doesn't tell Mom this though. Mom'll just tell her to stop complaining. Her back always aches, after all, and she doesn't complain about it. Alyssa tries to disregard her aching legs, but she can't ignore the fact that she hasn't been to the bathroom since she left home and now she really needs to pee.
Mom is busy inspecting the white crib with the rocking horse feet and the purple blanket.
Alyssa tries to get her attention. "Mom?" she asks politely, though when she receives no response, Alyssa tugs at Mom's yellow jacket. "Mom I need the bathroom."
"Not now Alyssa." Mom scolds, before interrupting a passing saleswoman. "Excuse me, how long is delivery on this?"
"Four weeks," she replies. "How many weeks until your due date?"
It's nine. Even Alyssa could tell her that. It's all Mom goes on about now. Even at the big family dinner with Aunt Madeleine and Uncle Stewart to celebrate Alyssa's first dancing show, it was all Mom talked about. Alyssa's performance barely got a passing mention
The old woman with the curly white hair grins at Mom. "You must be getting pretty excited."
"Yes, we are."
Then she looks down at Alyssa. "And is this your daughter?"
"Wow. You must be pretty excited about being a big sister, huh?"
"Mhmm." Actually, she's not, Alyssa has been asked the same question often enough for her to rehearse the correct response. The first time she was, Alyssa said no. She got grounded again. "Mom, I need to go to the bathroom."
"In a minute, Alyssa," Mom says, with a hand gesture telling Alyssa to shut up to go along with it. "So does this crib come with the mattress?"
"No, the mattress is sold separately."
From then, Alyssa tunes out of the conversation. A minute passes, and then two and before long Alyssa has had enough of waiting. If Mom won't take her to the bathroom then Alyssa will have to take herself. That's always what Mom and Dad are saying. Once the baby arrives, Alyssa will have to learn to do things on her own because Mom and Dad will be busy looking after Baby.
She looks up at Mom and the old woman. They're still talking and not paying any attention to anything Alyssa's doing. She walks off by the teddy bears and the baby clothes and before Alyssa realises it, she's standing at the entrance to the store. She looks left and she looks right, but there isn't a bathroom anywhere she looks.
Alyssa looks over her shoulder. Mom's still talking to the sales woman, so Alyssa takes a few steps out of the store. She still can't see a bathroom, so she decided to take a few steps to the right. There's not a bathroom there either, so Alyssa keeps walking.
She eventually finds a girls bathroom in a doorway between Forever 21 and J.. When she's done, Alyssa wanders off the same way she came, stopping on her way to look in the window of the Disney store. The display has a big stuffed toy of the lion from the old film that Dad watches with her. Alyssa asked if she could get the Simba for her birthday. She didn't.
She continues walking, taking a left at the McDonalds then a right at Macy's. The Mothercare store is right by the Toys R Us.
Except when she gets to the Toys R Us, the Mothercare isn't there.
Alyssa looks to the left and to the right and behind her and in front again and the Mothercare still isn't there. She walked back the exact way she went, so how can the Mothercare store not be there anymore?
Panic swells in Alyssa's stomach. She can't think of anything else to do but to keep on walking. The denim and nylon covered legs of passersby tower by her and obstruct her view as she searches frantically for something to tell her which way to go.
It's when she finds her way back to Toys R Us for the third time that it finally hits her.
She's really lost.
Being lost is something she's heard about in bad dreams and scary books. Being lost is what happens to people who misbehave. Alyssa's a good girl. She shouldn't get lost.
Except she really is lost.
Mom'll be looking for her. Mom'll be worried about her.
Mom will be so mad at Alyssa for wandering off.
The more Alyssa walks around to find Mom, the more lost she becomes. So Alyssa makes her way to the wall and sits on the cold metal railing that runs along it at ankle height. She cries.
Alyssa isn't sure how much time has passed before the man walks over and kneels down in front of her. The baseball cap on his head is black and has white letters saying 'SECURITY' on it. The name badge which hangs from his neck has the mall logo on it.
"You must be Alyssa, right?" he says to her calmly, ignoring her crying. "I'm Christopher."
Alyssa doesn't answer and keeps her eyes fixed on the white and blue tiles of the floor.
"Let me guess. You're not allowed to talk to strangers?"
Not taking her eyes off the ground, Alyssa nods timidly.
"Well, that's good advice your Mom gave you. You know she's got people looking all over the mall for you. She's really worried about you."
Alyssa lifts her head and looks into the man's big blue eyes. "Is she gonna be mad?"
Chris chuckles. "No, kid. She's just going to be relieved you're alright."
Somehow, Alyssa doesn't believe him.
The security guard unhooks the walkie-talkie from his shirt pocket. "I've found the kid. She's over by the emergency exit," he says into it. "Your mom's going to be here soon, okay?"
Alyssa nods, but it doesn't make her feel any better. Mom's going to be mad.
When Mom eventually waddles over, Alyssa runs to her and hugs her. It's a cuddle filled with apology and relief.
Mom doesn't hug her back. She thanks the security guard for his help, and then they walk back to the car.
And that's when all anger breaks loose.
"What the hell were you thinking, wandering off like that?" Mom yells as Alyssa fastens her seatbelt. She turns the key in the ignition and reverses out of the spot without her usual carefulness. The engine roars as she accelerates harshly.
"Do you have any idea how stupid that was?"
"Mom, I –"
"You're grounded for a week."
Alyssa's shoulder's drop and her eyes roll. "Again?" she whines.
"Do not speak back to me, Alyssa, or so help you God," Mom screams, even angrier than she was before. "This is the last thing I need right now. Goodness sake, it's not good for me or the baby."
Now Alyssa feels guilty too. "I'm so-"
"I don't want to hear it, Alyssa."
So Alyssa doesn't speak at all during the journey home.
Alyssa's sent straight to her room. Though it's like she runs straight there for fear of the row she's going to get when Dad hears about her running off. She slams the door closed behind her and hugs on to Benji tightly. She waits for the thud of Dad's footsteps climbing the stairs. The thing is, they never approach, and Alyssa can hear just the faintest of mumblings of voices downstairs.
Maybe the storm is over. Maybe Mom will have calmed down enough for Alyssa to apologise like she wanted to in the car. She never meant to scare Mom and she certainly didn't want to do anything to hurt the baby.
Alyssa creeps downstairs, holding on to Benji's paw, until she can hear Mom and Dad's voices more clearly. Mom still sounds angry, so Alyssa sits on the stairs. She'll listen for Mom calming down before she goes into the living room.
"I don't know how much more of that girl I can handle-" Mom says.
"She wandered off once." Dad sounds mad too. "She's five years old. Kids wander."
"Lilly never wande-"
"Lilly spent most of her life in a hospital bed. She would have wandered off as well."
"And the attitude that girl gave me? You know Lilly-"
"Stop comparing Alyssa to Lilly. And stop calling her That Girl. God, if I'd realised that the only reason you wanted to adopt a child was to replace Lilly, I never would have agreed to it."
So that's why Mom and Dad got her. To replace Lilly.
Suddenly, Alyssa doesn't feel so guilty about wandering off. She gets of her seat on the step and climbs back up the stairs.
Alyssa turns around. Mom's standing at the foot of the stairs, staring up at her. She looks sheepish.
Mom doesn't say anything else, so Alyssa continues her ascent to her room.
They never talk about Alyssa heard that day. In fact, when Alyssa next went down for dinner Mom grinned and pretended like nothing had ever happened. She doesn't drag Alyssa to the baby shops anymore. When Mom goes shopping, Dad takes Alyssa swimming or bowling or to the amusement park – all the things Mom and Dad used to do with her before they took her from the orphanage.
They act as if Alyssa doesn't remember what was said. She does.
Mom and Dad argued last night. Mom said Dad wasn't showing interest in the new baby, and with two weeks before it's born, he really should. Alyssa guesses that means she'll have to go to the baby shops again too.
After breakfast Dad told her to get ready to go out. He didn't say where to though. He doesn't really need to.
While she waits for Mom and Dad to be ready, Alyssa plays with Doctor Barbie and Benji. Benji has a broken arm so Doctor Barbie has to bandage it up. Alyssa hasn't finished wrapping Benji's arm in toilet roll when Dad appears at the door.
"You ready to go?" he asks.
"Uh-huh." Alyssa puts Benji and Doctor Barbie comfortably on her bed by her pillow. "Are we going shopping with Mom?"
"Nah. We're going to the arcade."
"Really?" Alyssa's excited but the feeling doesn't last long. "Won't Mom be mad?"
"Not at you."
Alyssa decides that the arcade might be her new favourite place. Dad lets her play on the Dance Dance Revolution machine even though she's not really big enough to play and can barely see the screen for the moves. Dad even has a go and Alyssa can't stop laughing when he nearly trips over his own feet about a million times. And Alyssa got to race against Dad on the classic Mario Kart machine. She thinks Dad might have let her win because he kept driving over the traps she left.
Now they're at the arcade burger place, which is good since Alyssa's really hungry.
She dips a fry into her ketchup. "How come Mom gets mad at me all the time?" she asks, since Mom's not here to get mad at her for asking.
Dad sighs. "She's just tired. Being pregnant is tough on her," he says sadly. "You know that when the baby arrives, it's going to need a lot of attention and Mom will be mostly focused on the baby. But that doesn't mean she doesn't love you. Babies just need a lot of extra care."
"Did Lilly need lots of attention too?"
Dad's eyes widen. It's the first time Alyssa's ever asked about Lilly. "Yeah. She did. But Lilly was really sick, and Mom... Mom's going to be overprotective of the new baby when it arrives. And it might seem at times as if she cares for the new baby more than she cares for you, but that isn't true."
"Is the new baby going to replace me?"
"No, of course not," Dad answers quickly. Then his voice lowers. "I know you heard what I said to Mom when we were arguing about you being a replacement for Lilly. I shouldn't have said that. It's not true. I was mad at Mom and I said something to hurt her. But it is not true. We absolutely wanted you in our family because you're you. Understand?"
Alyssa nods. That doesn't explain why Mom gets angry at her though. And if it isn't true then why did Dad say it? She doesn't ask though. She doesn't want Dad to get mad at her too. Instead: "Can we bring the new baby to the arcade too?"
Dad laughs. "We need to wait until the baby gets older for that."
Unusually for a summer morning, it's still dark when Alyssa wakes up. It takes her a few moments to realise that it isn't morning at all and that the reason she has awoken is because Dad is shaking her.
"Come on sweetie," he says. "We've got to go."
Alyssa sits up and tries to rub the sleep from her eyes. "Huh?"
"We've got to go to the hospital," Dad tells her, pulling her up by the arm. "Mom's having the baby."
"Oh. Okay," Alyssa responds through a yawn. She trudges downstairs, still half asleep. She finds her shoes and slips her jacket on over her pyjamas before going to the car.
The next thing Alyssa realises is that it's light now, and she's wakening up on... is this a bench? Alyssa looks up. There are other people sitting on the benches behind hers. Some of them are sleeping. Glancing to her left, Alyssa notices the blonde woman sitting next to her.
Aunt Madeleine sweeps the hair away from Alyssa's face. "Morning, kid."
"Where are we?"
"We're at the hospital, love."
"Because Jody had her baby."
Before Alyssa has time to register the situation, Dad appears around the corner. He walks over and lifts Alyssa from the bench. "Sleeping Beauty's awake now, is she? You want to meet your sister?"
Dad carries her along the yellow corridor. The walls have storks on them carrying babies swaddled in blue and pink blankets painted on them. Dad puts her back on the ground with a jump when they get to Mom's room.
Mom is lying in the hospital bed. She looks exhausted and her hair is messily scraped back in a ponytail, but she's holding the baby and grinning like Alyssa has never seen before.
"Hi Alyssa," she says. "Do you want to meet the baby?"
Alyssa nods, and climbs on to the chair beside Mom's bed.
The baby's face is red and scrunched up. She has really tiny fingers that she curls around the pink blanket she's swaddled in. Her eyes skate around the room, taking in all the new sights. At one point Alyssa thinks the baby looks directly at her.
"What's her name?"
Mom smiles. "It's Olivia."
Alyssa has to admit, Olivia is kind of cute.
Dad was right; once Olivia came home Mom didn't pay much attention to Alyssa. Alyssa didn't complain though. She knew that it was because Olivia was little and needed a lot of looking after. But Alyssa was still upset that Dad didn't take her to the arcade again like he promised.
Olivia's older now. She can walk and she can say some words. But Mom and Dad still don't pay much attention to Alyssa. They're always too busy arguing. They try not to shout at each other, but Alyssa can still hear the nasty words they exchange.
But it's okay that Mom and Dad don't notice Alyssa much, because she and Olivia are good friends. They have each other.
Mom and Dad are arguing in the kitchen again. Alyssa's on the couch in the living room, looking at her book and pretending not to listen to them.
Olivia toddles over to where Alyssa sits and holds out her hand. "Walk?"
Since she's been able to hold herself up on her two feet, Olivia's liked to walk around everywhere holding on to Alyssa's hand.
"Okay, Livvy." Alyssa sighs like it annoys her, but really she enjoys it too. Sometimes Alyssa imagines they're walking through the jungle looking for lions and tigers and monkeys. Sometimes she thinks about the forest. Today, she's picturing the desert and their feet slipping and sliding over the sand as it falls away from under them.
Next thing, they're both on the floor.
Before Alyssa realises what has happened, Olivia is crying and Mom and Dad have both raced out of the kitchen.
Mom storms over, eyebrows furrowed. "What did you do to her, Alyssa?" She growls.
"Nothing," Alyssa insists. "I don't know what happened."
"You should have been more careful."
"But I didn't do anything."
Mom throws Alyssa the meanest blame-filled look imaginable as she lifts Olivia from the floor. "Are you okay, baby? Tell Mommy what happened" She carries Olivia to the kitchen where Mom and Dad fawn over her.
Alyssa sits where she is, rubbing at the sore lump that's building on her forehead and looking down at Mom's handbag sitting in a tangle by her feet in the middle of the floor.
And yet again Mom and Dad arguing downstairs. They still argue in the kitchen, but now they argue at night too when they think Alyssa and Olivia are asleep and can't hear them. The arguing gets so bad some night that Alyssa can't get to sleep. On those nights, Alyssa sneaks through to Olivia's room. Olivia's normally awake too, but Mom and Dad don't realise it.
Tonight is a bad night. The shouting is extra loud and Alyssa's sure she heard a glass being thrown against a wall.
Alyssa opens her bedroom door just enough for her to check that nobody's standing at the bottom of the stairs. She checks even though she can hear that Mom and Dad are still in the kitchen. The wooden floor is cold under Alyssa's feet and she's thankful for the warmth of the carpet when she steps into Olivia's room.
Olivia's awake and standing against the railing in her crib.
"Hey Livvy. You okay?"
Olivia can't answer clearly, not when she's got her pacifier in, so Alyssa talks anyway.
"It's scary listening to Mom and Dad argue like that. That's why I brought you Benji." Alyssa lifts the teddy bear over the cot side, and Olivia takes a grip of his paw. "He'll protect you when Mom and Dad argue. Benji's special. He's always kept me safe, but you should have him just now."
Another glass is smashed and it causes Alyssa to jump.
"It'll all get better soon," Alyssa tells her sister. "I promise it'll get better."
It doesn't. The arguing only gets worse. Mom and Dad argue at night, argue at dinner, argue in the car as they take Alyssa to kindergarten. They don't speak any more, because when they do it invariably boils over into a fight. And every time that happens, Mom yells at Dad because they're arguing in front of Olivia, even though Alyssa sitting right there beside her helping her play with the plastic food set Mom and Dad bought her for Christmas. Mom speaks as if the arguing doesn't upset Alyssa too. It does.
One morning, Alyssa even sneaked out of her room early to get a cookie from the kitchen and found that Dad was sleeping on the sofa in the living room.
Every Thursday night, a strange man visits the house. He wears a black suit and carries a briefcase, and every time he visits Alyssa is sent upstairs and told under no circumstances to go downstairs. Instead of playing with her dollies like Mom suggests, Alyssa sits on the third step and listens in. (She's not all the way down, so she's not breaking any rules.) Mom, Dad and the man talk about something called divorce, which seems to mean that they're deciding which of the stuff in the house belongs to each person. The car is Dad's, but Mom gets to keep the house so the disruption to the kids is minimal. Even though the house is Mom's, Dad still has to help pay for it until Mom gets her own job. It's called alimony.
It's Thursday night again, but instead of the divorce man at the door, it's Mrs Reid from the orphanage. She smiles at Alyssa.
Alyssa smiles back, but she's confused. Mrs Reid hasn't been around since before Livvy was born.
"Alyssa, go up to your room please," Mom instructs.
And so Alyssa does. But she doesn't play with her Barbies as she would any other Thursday night while she waits for the safety to return to the step.
Something's not right. Mrs Reid shouldn't be here.
Alyssa doesn't stay upstairs for as long as she should. For some reason, she feels like she can't. She hurries down the steps, careful not to make noise.
The living room door is closed, but Alyssa can hear every word the adults are saying.
"You both have to be onboard for Child Services to agree to let you adopt Alyssa," Mrs Martin says, in that punishing way Alyssa remembers from the time she and Jennifer trailed mud all around the orphanage. "And from what I can see-"
"I still want to adopt Alyssa."
"Oh you must be kidding," Mom snarls. "You want to adopt that child, but who'll have to look after it? Me."
"Look, Child Services isn't going to let a couple in the middle of an obviously bitter divorce adopt a child."
"Well, that's fine, because Olivia has to be my priority anyway," Mom says, "Olivia is my only priority, and she should be yours. Alyssa has to be returned."
"Returned? Go on Jody. Try to sound more callous."
"I can't raise a child that isn't mine."
"You can be the one to tell her that."
"None of this would have happened if you hadn't been fucking your secretary. This is your fault."
"And yet, you're punishing the five-year-old who loves you."
The living room door is thrown open so forcefully that it recoils from the hinges. Max walks out. His face is red and he shakes with anger. The scowl on face turn quickly from shock to anger and then consternation when he notices the Alyssa on the stairs.
"How long have you been sitting there?" he asks dreadfully
Alyssa looks away, focus on the indents in the front door. "You're sending me back to the home, aren't you?"
Max is silent, and that says enough. Because if it wasn't true and Alyssa wasn't being sent back to the home then he'd be quick to reassure her.
"I'm sorry," he eventually tells her.
Alyssa pulls herself to a stand and turns her back on Max. "No you're not."
Alyssa doesn't sleep. It's not that she doesn't want to; she just can't.
She hasn't been out of her room since Max spoke to her, not even to say goodbye to Mrs Reid. What's the point? She's going to see her tomorrow when she goes back.
Neither Jody nor Max has been in to speak to her. Alyssa doesn't want to speak to them anyway.
She tosses and turns, but still she can't sleep.
She'll be going back to the home in the morning. Max will take her back as early as possible, which is good because Alyssa doesn't want to be here anyway. The people she called Mom and Dad don't love her any more.
Maybe they never did.
Alyssa switches on her bedroom lamp. Jody always tells her off for putting the light on after light's out, but who cares about that now? She looks at the collection of Barbies she's leaving behind. She can't take anything back with her to the home. The toys would just get damaged there anyway. It wouldn't take long before somebody would pull the legs off it.
She won't be allowed to go to ballet class anymore, either.
She tosses her duvet off of her and slides her legs off the edge. Her feet find her slippers quickly. The slippers are so her feet don't get cold on the tiles. She won't need them when she goes back to the home.
Jody went into her own room a while ago. Alyssa will need to be quiet as she walks by.
Alyssa pushes the door to Olivia's room open. When she makes it to the cot side, she frowns.
Olivia is asleep, her pudgy arm wrapped around Benji.
"I have to go tomorrow," Alyssa whispers, being careful not to wake her up. "I'm going to miss you, Livvy. But we'll still be friends, so it's okay. I better go back before Jod- your mom realises I'm here and gets mad. Make sure Benji is okay. Bye Livvy."
Alyssa shuffles out of Olivia's room, back to her own for the last time.
The rain batters against the windscreen. Alyssa heard it begin during the night when she should have been sleeping.
She left the house before breakfast. Jody didn't say goodbye to her.
It's okay. Alyssa didn't want to see her anyway.
Max is driving. He hasn't said anything to her all morning, but every few minutes Alyssa sees him glance at her in the rear view mirror.
Alyssa doesn't cry in the car, not like she did when Max and Jody took her from the home in the first place. Alyssa thinks that maybe it's because all her tears have run out from crying last night in her room.
Max glances in the mirror again. "I really am sorry."
Alyssa turns to look out the window. Raindrops race each other to the bottom. "Whatever."
Nothing else is said. When they get to the orphanage, Alyssa gets out the car without saying goodbye to Max.
Little has changed since she left the orphanage, though now there's a proper soccer goal over by the hedge. The kids are over there playing. Some of them she recognises. Some she doesn't.
Miss Simpson isn't here anymore either. Mrs Reid says she moved for a new job in Connecticut. Alyssa wonders who pleats the girls' hair now.
Mrs Reid directs Alyssa back to her old room. She tells Alyssa that Jennifer has gone to a new family, but Rachel is still here. There's also a new girl called Megan, who Mrs Reid thinks Alyssa will get on really well with.
"And dinner tonight is macaroni cheese," Mrs Reid says as she helps Alyssa put the few things she brought home with her into her drawers. "I remember that was your favourite."
That's better than Jody, Alyssa thinks. When she was pregnant with Livvy, Jody had got it into her head that Alyssa's favourite food what spaghetti carbonara. Alyssa didn't correct her for fear of being grounded again.
After her things are unpacked, Alyssa makes her way outside to play with the other kids. She doesn't want to – right now she'd like to nap – but Mrs Reid says it'll be good for her to say hello to everyone again. They're all still by the soccer goal. Michael is the goalie now. He's even taller that Alyssa remembers him being.
The kids Alyssa can identify seem surprised to see her. Michael passes the soccer ball from the goal to Alyssa's feet. Taking aim, Alyssa swings her leg back and it's only when the older kids are cheering her for making the goal that Alyssa realises she'd forgotten what it felt like to belong.