Chapter 2: Mrs Farnsworth
Alyssa is seven when she leaves the home again. This time it isn't because someone wants to take her, but because the home is being closed down and there is someone registered who is willing to take a seven to nine year old girl.
The staff ladies at the home cry their eyes out as one by one the children leave to their new homes, this time for good. Alyssa is one of the last ones to go. She doesn't even meet Mrs Farnsworth before she is transferred out. When she arrives, Mrs Farnsworth greets her with a sneer and tells her to put her shit up stairs and keep quiet.
Mrs Farnsworth has old lady wrinkles on her face and she's round like a beach ball. Her hair is an unnatural shade of red, like the colour of the stop light, though some flashes of grey show through. She's obviously just taking in a foster kid for the extra cash so she can sit on her backside and watch television all day. She doesn't care about Alyssa either. The only time Alyssa sees Mrs Farnsworth is when she calls Alyssa for dinner, and even then Alyssa eats in her bedroom while Mrs Farnsworth is in the living room watching TV.
Here Alyssa has her own room again, but it's boring. Her room at the orphanage was nicer than the one she has here. At least the walls were painted a placid yellow. This room is clinical white. It has a dresser and a bed and that's it. There's nothing to do. No games to play and no books to read. Back at the orphanage, Alyssa didn't have her own games or books either but she got to share with the other kids. At least there was always something she could do. And there was a TV that they would all gather round. Mrs Farnsworth doesn't let Alyssa watch the TV here. Children should be out of sight, out of mind, she said. Now get away.
The boredom was easier to cope with before school closed for summer. Alyssa doesn't have any friends (none of the kids in her new class will talk to her and she lost all her old friends when the home closed down), but at least she had homework and reading to keep her occupied. She spends most of her time in the garden now. That way she can't get yelled at by Mrs Farnsworth. There isn't anything to do in the garden either. It's just a small patch of grass, really. There are some overgrown bushes and small trees in a shrubbery patch in the corner, and there's a messy hedge which surrounds the garden but that's it. At least there's enough room to kick her soccer ball around. The ladies at the orphanage gave her it before she left, but it's not as much fun when there's nobody to kick the ball back. The satisfaction of feeling the thud against the side of her foot has to be enough.
Listlessly, Alyssa trudges across the garden to where the hedge has trapped her soccer ball. She used to love to play soccer – she was even going to try out for the girls' team at her old elementary – but now the enjoyment is disappearing. If only she had something else to do, or an opponent to play against.
She aligns the ball to the bridge of her red-shoed right foot then shuffles herself away from the house. Now she doesn't care where she's aiming at, just as long as she can't smash any windows.
The ball launches off the ground and keeps rolling when it comes back down to earth right through-
As she runs, Alyssa wonders what the chances are that the ball would find its way under the one hole in the hedge and out of the garden.
She's never seen into the neighbour's garden before. Mrs Farnsworth often visits the next door neighbour to drink coffee, but Alyssa is never allowed to go. She's left out in the garden.
The house on this side isn't a house at all. It's like a huge office building.
Alyssa grabs the soccer ball, rolls it under the hedge and crawls back in to Mrs Farnsworth's garden.
Later, she tip-toes into the sitting room, where she's not meant to be.
"What?" Mrs Farnsworth snarls, without looking around at her.
"What's that building over there?" Alyssa asks tentatively.
"It's the forensic medicine lab. Now piss off. I'm trying to watch Farewell Danny."
It takes a few more pestering questions for Mrs Farnsworth to tell Alyssa that in the forensic lab, there are law enforcement officers who solve crimes and doctors who help them.
Alyssa doesn't have her soccer ball to play with anymore. A wayward punt sent it on a trip into the overgrown bushes, bringing back with it a puncture as a souvenir. It's funny. She was getting sick of playing soccer before, but now that she can't she really misses it.
There's no way Mrs Farnsworth would buy Alyssa a replacement.
Now to keep the boredom away, Alyssa sometimes watches the happenings of the forensics lab through the hole in the hedge. It's not much, but at least it's something to do which keeps her out of Mrs Farnsworth's way. Alyssa thinks it's like watching a completely different world, an outside where the people aren't trapped in a boring house like she is by the prison wall hedge.
As usual, the tall man in the brown suit leaves the office soon after Alyssa lies down on the grass. His head is held high and he carries an air of respect, like the school principal who everyone likes but are all a little scared of at the same time. He'll return to the building in a few minutes with a large Starbucks cup in hand. Soon after that, the two police officers make their way through the garden. They make jokes that Alyssa doesn't understand.
And there's the woman again, the one with the half tied back silver hair and the red lipstick on her pale face. Her high heels click against the concrete as she hurries out of the garden.
The woman hasn't been here long. It's only in the last few weeks that Alyssa has seen her around. There's something about her that's just... different from all the other workers, though Alyssa can't figure out what it is. The first time Alyssa saw her, she was being followed out of the building by a blond man who clearly annoyed her because she barked at him to go back inside. She'd fill him in on the details of the crime when she returned, she told him. Then, when she returned to the forensics building, she got mad at him for waiting outside for her. ('I am perfectly capable of making my own way to the morgue, Little Guy,' she'd snarled at him. He responded with an awkward 'Sorry, Doctor.) Now, he doesn't seem to annoy her as much, because Alyssa sometimes sees them walking out of the building together before verging off in opposite directions and they always say goodbye to each other.
Still, Alyssa wonders what it was he did to annoy the woman and why it is she always looks so sad.
Mrs Farnsworth has gone to the next-door neighbour's again. She and Mrs Fitzgerald next door will be drinking coffee and playing online bingo until they run out of credit, so it will be hours before she's back.
Alyssa is left out in the garden until then. The blue sky is clouding over. Hopefully it won't rain though. She kneels down in front of the hedge like normal, but today Alyssa's not alone. Two yellow eyes are staring back at her.
The cat seems just as surprised by Alyssa as Alyssa is by it. It lifts its nose from underneath its silky black tail. The pink heart-shape on its face twitches as it eyes Alyssa curiously.
"Hey kitty," Alyssa whispers so as not to startle it. "I'm Alyssa. What's your name?"
The cat stares at her, making no motion to run away.
Back at the orphanage, Animal Rescue was one of favourites on the shared TV. The ladies used to say it was the only time they could get all the kids to be quiet. Despite knowing she shouldn't do this with an animal she doesn't know – it could scratch or bite her or have fleas – Alyssa held her hand out for the cat to sniff it. Cats recognise people by their scent, Alyssa remembers. It's how they say hello. After the cat has had a few seconds to get to know her, Alyssa beings to stroke its short black fur.
The cat purrs.
Alyssa feels for the cat's collar. It isn't wearing one, which probably means it is a stray. Either that or its collar has been snapped off by a rouge tree branch and it has a microchip under its skin that gives its owner's details. Alyssa would need to take the kitty to the vet to find that out, and there's no way Mrs Farnsworth will let her do that.
"You're cute," Alyssa says to the cat while she strokes her head. "Cats are my favourite animals, you know. But Mrs Farnsworth will never let me get one. She's mean and she doesn't like animals. I don't think she likes me much either," Alyssa sighs.
A broken branch is lying in between Alyssa and the cat.
"Do you like to play, kitty?" Alyssa asks, picking it up.
Alyssa drags the stick along the ground, changing direction quickly and frequently. It takes a few attempts for the kitty to become interested in the game, but eventually she inches out into Mrs Farnsworth's garden.
The cat lowers herself to the grass, looking like she's crawling along on her belly. Her eyes are completely focused on the branch, tracing every swish along the ground. When she's getting ready to pounce, she lifts her back end off the ground and wiggles it before she springs into action. When Alyssa lifts the stick from the grass, the cat raises itself on its hind legs and swipes at the leaves with its front paws.
Alyssa is laughing so much at the cat that she doesn't hear the back door of Mrs Farnsworth's house open.
"What the hell is that thing doing in my yard?"
Mrs Farnsworth's roar causes Alyssa to jump in fright and the cat to scurry under the hedge in a blur. She marches towards Alyssa. "You stupid girl," she snarls, giving Alyssa a clip around the ear for good measure. "Get inside."
Alyssa does as Mrs Farnsworth says without question. The slap still stings at Alyssa's ear long after, though it doesn't stop Alyssa sneaking into the kitchen later when Mrs Farnsworth's attention is on CSI: Angeles Bay to take some leftover chicken from the fridge. She heads out to the garden and kneels down at the hole in the hedge. The kitty's gone but Alyssa leaves the chicken there for her anyway.
The first thing Alyssa does when she goes outside the next morning is check if the chicken has been eaten. It has and, even better, the kitty is curled up there too.
But... something's not right. The kitty's tail is folded over her nose like yesterday, but her eyes are dull and glazed and she doesn't purr when Alyssa tickles her ears. Alyssa thinks that if cats could frown, she would be. The kitty looks sick.
Alyssa frowns. Maybe she shouldn't have given the kitty chicken last night. Did she make the kitty sick? If the cat isn't well then she needs to go to a vet. But Mrs Farnsworth won't take the cat to the vet. If she finds out that Alyssa's playing with her again or that she gave her chicken from the fridge, Alyssa will get slapped again.
If the kitty's sick then she needs to see a doc-
Alyssa glances over her shoulder to check that Mrs Farnsworth isn't around. Alyssa knows she shouldn't be – she's gone to Mrs Fitzgerald's to play bingo now that the internet is working again – but after yesterday Alyssa can't be too careful. After encouraging the cat to move out of the way, Alyssa crawls under the hedge. The grass scrapes against her knees and when she dusts herself off she notices the ugly green stains which mar her black tights.
The cat is lying down on the grass. It's as if she doesn't have the energy to stand on her own four legs, so Alyssa carries her to the entrance.
It doesn't take long for someone to emerge from the forensics building, and as luck would have it, the person is just who Alyssa was hoping to see.
Except she doesn't look exactly as Alyssa had expected. The woman's face is really pale. Her red lipstick stands out so much that it almost makes her look like a vampire. The silver-haired woman looks down at Alyssa, her tired blue eyes questioning. "You shouldn't be allowed here," she says sternly but not scarily. "Do you need something?"
"Kitty doesn't seem well," Alyssa tells her. And neither do you. "Can you fix her please?"
"A cat? Why are you asking me?"
"Because... because you're a doctor, Miss." Doctors help people, so she could help the cat, right?
"I-" The doctor begins to protest, but then her shoulders slump and she rolls her eyes. "Hand it over." She lifts the cat to face height and looks in her mouth. "It seems she's swallowed something. She'll be fine."
Alyssa grins. "Really?"
"It's common for cats to swallow foreign objects. Still..." The doctor's eyes narrow, her eyebrows furrowed. "Wait here for a moment." She turns to walk away.
"Okay. Thank you, Miss."
The doctor mumbles something Alyssa can't make out before she walks through the door.
All Alyssa has to do now is wait. She takes a seat on the grass over by the tree and looks around. The forensics yard is much bigger than Alyssa had realised from the other side of the hedge. The grass here is neatly trimmed, unlike that in Mrs Farnsworth's garden. The flower bed which runs along the side of the building is full of green and blue and yellow and pink flowers. Nothing in there is brown or dying. Alyssa thinks that her soccer ball wouldn't have been punctured if she'd accidentally kicked her ball into that flower patch.
Here, it looks like someone actually cares. It almost looks happy through here.
Above Alyssa's head, a butterfly flaps its wings. Alyssa follows the path of the black and orange blur from there to the flowerbed to above her head again and then so far away that Alyssa can't see it any more.
Alyssa sighs. Oh well.
"Kitty girl." The doctor crosses the grass, tutting when one of the heels from her brown boots sinks into the mud.
Alyssa scrambles to her feet. When the doctor passes the cat back, Alyssa notices the bloody scratches on her hands. The colour of the blood almost matches the red of the doctor's nail polish. A few specks of paint spill to the skin at the side, as if her hands have been shaking as she applied the polish.
Chloe purrs as Alyssa holds her tightly. She's feeling better.
"She'll be fine," the doctor says. "Just make sure she doesn't eat anything she's not supposed to."
And with that, the doctor rushes off before Alyssa even has a chance to say thanks.
Today, Mrs Farnsworth's friends are visiting to play poker. As usual, Alyssa will have to get out the house, but that's okay.
There's a knock at the door, and Mrs Cox is the last one of Mrs Farnsworth's friends to arrive. She's a tiny woman with red curly hair. She smiles at Alyssa. "This is the foster kid? Isn't she a sweet one?"
"Yes, she is," Mrs Farnsworth responds, placing her hands on Alyssa's shoulders.
Alyssa tries really hard not to look surprised.
"Now run along, Alyssa," Mrs Farnsworth says kindly. "Try not to disturb us during a game, okay?"
Making her way outside, Alyssa tries to shake off the confusion flowing through her veins. Mrs Farnsworth was actually nice to her. And she even called Alyssa by her real name, instead of 'brat' or 'little shit' or something else equally unpleasant. Alyssa doubts that the niceness will last long after Mrs Farnsworth's friends are gone.
The sun is warm against Alyssa's skin when she steps outside the house. After giving a cautionary look over her shoulder – the coast is clear – Alyssa crawls under the hedge into the forensics garden. This is the perfect opportunity, really. Mrs Farnsworth won't notice that she's gone, and Alyssa still needs to thank the doctor for helping Chloe.
Chloe is the name Alyssa gave to the kitty cat. Every pet should have a name, Alyssa thinks, and Chloe just seemed to suit her. Chloe comes by every day now, and Alyssa is getting much better at avoiding Mrs Farnsworth's disdain.
The first thing Alyssa notices when she stands up in the forensics garden is that the butterfly from the other day is back. She runs over the grass to where it flies above her head. "Hello Mr Butterfly," Alyssa says, jumping up in an attempt to catch it. "I'm Alyssa. What's your name?"
The butterfly soars upwards, far out of Alyssa's reach. When it flies off to the left, Alyssa chases it around the garden.
"Hey, kitty girl. What're you doing? No trespassing."
Alyssa ends her pursuit of the butterfly and swings round in the direction of the voice.
It's the doctor, the one who helped Chloe. She stands on the path, eyeing Alyssa with annoyance.
"Oh, Miss," Alyssa says. "Um, Chloe's better."
"Chloe? Who are you talking about?"
"Chloe's the kitty you helped. Now she comes over to play."
The sternness of the doctor's face softens enough for Alyssa to see a little smile, though she wouldn't be able to tell from the doctor's reluctant tone of voice."Glad to hear it. In any case, you shouldn't be allowed here."
"Hey, Miss. What's your name?" Alyssa enquires.
"Me? I'm Naomi. Naomi Kimishima."
"Okay. Hello N'omi. I'm Alyssa. I live just on the other side of the garden there."
Naomi nods. "I see. That makes us neighbours."
"Yep. So I can come see you anytime I want." That's how being neighbours works, right? Mrs Farnsworth is always going to Mrs Fitzgerald's any time she wants, and the other way around.
Naomi sighs. "Now, Alyssa, this is a place where most people can't go. That's why I need you to –"
"And who's this little princess? Am I intruding?"
Naomi's eyes go wide. She spins around quickly. "Chief?"
Standing behind Naomi is the tall man, the one who always wears the brown suit. It must be time for his coffee.
"Hello, Mister. I'm Alyssa."
Chief chuckles, showing off a big toothy smile. "Hello, Alyssa. I'm David. Mind if I borrow Naomi for just a little bit?"
Alyssa shrugs and smiles. "Okay. N'omi's got work to do, right? I'll be going then." She holds her hands out in a wave. "Bye bye, N'omi. See you later." Alyssa runs off, almost sliding on to her knees to crawl under the hedge.
She probably won't be able to sneak in to the garden later on today. But that's okay, because Mrs Farnsworth will go to the neighbour's for coffee. Alyssa can visit Naomi then.
Of all the chores Alyssa has to do for Mrs Farnsworth, she hates doing the dishes the most. The water's always too hot and the washing-up liquid makes her hands cracked and itchy. And tonight there are so many more dishes than normal because of all Mrs Farnsworth's friends. It would have been nice if one of them could have helped her, but Mrs Farnsworth's never done anything nice for her. She probably never will either. She won't even co-sign Alyssa's library card which means that Alyssa can't borrow any books.
Alyssa reaches for the dishtowel to dry the last plate, but at the same time her arm brushes against a glass, sending it on a downward trip.
The glass shatters into a thousand pieces on the floor.
There's no time to for Alyssa to even realise what has happened before Mrs Farnsworth has stomped with the grace of a herd of elephants, demanding an explanation. She's far from pleased when she surveys the damage, her face turning red as the blood rushes to it.
Alyssa is scared. "It was an accident. I-"
"You stupid shit." Mrs Farnsworth's arm snaps outwards like a lizard's tongue. Her palm hits against Alyssa's face so hard, it feels like a million tiny needles jagging at her skin.
Alyssa had known the slap was coming. She'd even tried to brace herself for the pain. It didn't help. "Ow," Alyssa bleats.
She's doesn't have time to prepare herself for the backhander that follows.
"Clean this up," Mrs Farnsworth spits. "And don't break anything else, so help you God."
It's only after Mrs Farnsworth leaves the room that Alyssa feels herself shaking like Jell-o. A metallic tang fills her mouth and she realises that her teeth have chomped down on the inside of her mouth hard enough for the skin to break and blood to seep out. She didn't mean to bite her cheek; in fact she can't even remember doing it. That must have happened when Mrs Farnsworth smacked her the second time.
Salt stings against Alyssa's cheek and the tears set her eyes ablaze. Her legs shake underneath her and there's nothing she can do to keep them steady. She reaches for the dustpan and brush and sweeps up the glass, careful not to get herself hurt again.
Alyssa knows that she shouldn't have sneaked into the forensics building, but she'd been waiting for Naomi all day and she hadn't seen her. Plus she's avoiding Mrs Farnsworth at all costs and there's no way Mrs Farnsworth would ever find her in there.
Honestly, Alyssa hadn't meant to stay in there as long as she had. All she'd planned was to find Naomi to say hi. And maybe tell her what happened when she knocked over the glass. It had been a mistake, an accident. She hadn't meant to do it and she still got a slap.
Is she really a bad kid? Is that why all the other kids have their real moms and Alyssa is in foster care? Alyssa didn't think she was a bad kid, not enough to be slapped. But she must be, though, because Mrs Farnsworth wouldn't have slapped her otherwise. Maybe it's all Alyssa's fault.
Mrs Farnsworth still looked so angry this morning that Alyssa thought the only thing she'd have to do to deserve a slap is breathe.
The inside of the building was so cool. It was so bright and so mysterious and so serious and so fun all at the same time. Alyssa had to hide around corners and behind plant pots like the detective in the cartoon trying to catch the bad guys, but it was really cool to watch everyone work. They all went about with such purpose, all walking along the corridors and in and out of doors like they had some place really important to be. At least Alyssa assumed it was important, because everyone was wearing fancy suits. Alyssa was a little jealous of their nice clothes.
Instead of Naomi, Alyssa had found Little Guy, the person who the doctor sometimes leaves the building with. She was creeping along the corridor when she noticed an open door. She glanced in to the room, recognising Little Guy sitting at his computer. Alyssa knocked on the door, and he didn't hear the knock, Alyssa walked further into the office to ask him where Naomi was.
Little Guy nearly jumped through the roof in fright when Alyssa tapped him on the shoulder.
Now, Alyssa is waiting out in the garden, like Naomi told her. Naomi said she'd find her once she cleared up in her office. She sits on the grass, back resting against the old tree. Her hand touches her cheek where Mrs Farnsworth slapped her. It still hurts.
Alyssa is startled by the voice, thinking that it belonged to Mrs Farnsworth. She grins with relief when she sees the real identity of the person who called on her. "Hey N'omi," she greets. "Was that thing inside the broken clock what you were looking for after all?"
Naomi smiles but her eyes look sad. "Yes, it was. You were a great help in finding it, Alyssa. Thank you."
With a sigh, Naomi sits on the grass beside Alyssa. "It's a really nice day today, don't you think?" she asks, looking up at the clear blue sky.
"I hope you like chocolate. I bought you this." Naomi holds out the unmistakable sparkly gold wrapper of a Crunchie bar.
The crease in Alyssa's nose deepens. She hasn't had chocolate in ages and ages and ages. At the orphanage chocolate bars were only bought as a treat for the children if there was enough money – which there never was – and Mrs Farnsworth would never buy Alyssa anything nice. So why would Naomi? "Really?" Alyssa asks.
Though still hesitant, Alyssa takes the chocolate bar. "Thank you, N'omi."
"No need to thank me. It was to say thank you for helping us earlier. How old are you Alyssa?"
"Seven," Alyssa responds, speaking through a mouthful of chocolate and caramel honeycomb. "But I'll be eight next Wednesday."
"Eight," Naomi muses. "That's a... that's a good age. Be sure to enjoy it."
Why would eight a better age than any other? Is it much different from being seven? Alyssa doesn't get it. "How old are you?" she asks Naomi.
"Me? I'm old." Naomi sighs. "I'm thirty-two."
Thirty-two isn't old, Alyssa thinks. Well, it is kind of. But Naomi's not like Mrs Farnsworth with all her wrinkles and the crow's feet at the corners of her eyes. Mrs Farnsworth is definitely old.
"You're not old, N'omi."
Naomi chuckles wryly. "It doesn't feel like that, sometimes."
It's Wednesday. Alyssa turns eight today. Most kids look forward to their birthday, but not Alyssa. Nobody's ever cared about her birthday, not really. The last time Alyssa got a present was when she lived with her last foster parents. It was a toy pram. Alyssa didn't like it much. She'd really wanted roller skates but they never asked her that. And since three other people had their birthdays on the same week, there was no money for presents from the orphanage.
At least there, they got a cake to share though. Alyssa doesn't expect anything from Mrs Farnsworth. She doesn't think Mrs Farnsworth even knows it's her birthday, and what's the point in telling her otherwise when she doesn't care?
As usual, Mrs Farnsworth is firmly parked in the chair in front of the TV. Jeopardy is showing, and every few seconds Alyssa hears Mrs Farnsworth yell out the answer then curse when she gets it wrong. After Jeopardy will be Weakest Link and then Wheel of Fortune. Once the quiz shows end, Mrs Farnsworth will switch on her computer for online Bingo. Alyssa won't be a blip on her radar until tonight, long after Alyssa has fixed herself dinner.
On her way out, Alyssa stops by the fridge. Chloe deserves some leftover ham. Alyssa puts only a small handful into a plastic sandwich bag. She needs to leave enough for herself to eat tonight. The fridge door closes without a sound. Alyssa's had enough practice of doing this without attracting Mrs Farnsworth's attention.
Picking herself up from crawling under the hedge, Alyssa dusts of her knees. She sees Chloe lying in a shady part of the yard, over by the tree.
"Hello, kitty," Alyssa says to it. "Like some ham?"
Chloe clearly likes her meal. She purrs as Alyssa feeds her and stands her front legs on Alyssa's folded knee as she waits for more ham.
"I see Chloe's a little impatient."
Alyssa looks around. "Hey, N'omi. What's that?" she enquires, glancing at the weird plastic stick that Naomi's holding.
"Well, I happened to stop by the pet store the other day and saw this. I thought you might like it. You can use it to play with Chloe."
Alyssa takes the cat chaser from Naomi. A stuffed toy mouse hangs from the end of the string. "But... why?"
"It is your birthday today isn't it?"
Alyssa's eyes widen. "You remembered?"
"I had a little bird remind me," Naomi smiles.
Alyssa could hug her. Like, really properly hug her. And she's just about to when Naomi's cell phone rings.
With a grumble, Naomi flips the little black device open. "What is it? Okay. I'll be right there."
"Who was that?" Alyssa asks once Naomi hangs up.
"Little Guy," she sighs. "I'm sorry, Alyssa, I have to go."
"It's okay," Alyssa shrugs. "But before you go could you open this for me please?"
"Sure." Once the chaser is unhooked, Naomi hands it back to Alyssa. "Happy birthday, Alyssa," She says. "I hope it's a good one for you."
Alyssa clutches at the plastic stick of the chaser. It is now.
Of course, Alyssa had to hide the cat chaser Naomi gave her. She keeps it tucked away in her dresser, underneath the dresses that are either too big or too small. Nothing fits quite right, and Alyssa wonders what she'll wear once she's outgrown the Too Big dresses. The chaser is only taken out when Alyssa is sure that Mrs Farnsworth won't notice, like when CSI Angeles Bay is on or when she's fallen asleep in front of the TV. Alyssa doesn't take the chaser out as often as she'd want to. Chloe really likes to play with it too. She runs around like crazy trying to catch the mouse at the end of the string.
Alyssa is washing the dishes again. Since the night she smashed the glass, she's been extra careful not to break anything. She doesn't leave anything near the edge of the counter and the dishtowel is always within much easier reach. Once she's finished drying this last plate, it'll be eleven days since she's broken anything.
"What the hell is this?"
Alyssa is so startled that she nearly drops the plate.
Mrs Farnsworth is standing in the kitchen doorway. She's found the cat chaser that Naomi gave her.
"What is it?"
Alyssa can't answer before the plastic of the grip is struck against her back.
"You're still playing with that stupid cat, aren't you?"
Alyssa's hit with it again.
"Where did you get this?"
"I…I found it."
Alyssa's body aches when she awakens. Ugly bruises mark her back where the stick connected. They appeared soon after the beating, darkening through the night. The bruises hurt so much that Alyssa cried while in the shower from the pain.
She can't tell anybody what happened to her last night. If she tells anyone what Mrs Farnsworth did to her, it'll just be worse. Mrs Farnsworth will hit her again, probably twice as hard.
Alyssa makes her way out of the house before Mrs Farnsworth is even awake. She stops by the fridge to find food for Chloe, but quickly closes the door, foodless, when she hears a noise coming from upstairs. Maybe it's Mrs Farnsworth getting up. Alyssa listens for the noise that never follows, but decides against taking food from the fridge. Maybe she'll be able to get food for Chloe later.
As she climbs under the hedge, Alyssa thinks about the other kids she lived with in the orphanage. Jennifer. Sarah. Jason. Michael. Do their foster parents hit them too? Maybe the kids with real families were right. Nobody loves a foster kid. Foster kids are bad kids and that's why nobody loves them and they have no friends.
Well, that's not true. Alyssa has friends. She has Naomi and Chloe.
Naomi's not in the yard right now. Chloe is though, and she's trying to catch the butterfly. The cat stands up on her back legs and swipes at it with her front paws. The butterfly flies upwards, just out of Chloe's reach.
Alyssa laughs as Chloe's tail swishes from side to side, getting whooshed harder as the cat becomes more annoyed at the butterfly.
Footsteps crunch against the stones, distracting Chloe from the butterfly. The butterfly chooses this moment to make its escape. Chloe's attention is caught again and she chases after the butterfly.
"Hello, N'omi," Alyssa says. "It's me."
Naomi sighs heavily. "Yes. Hello, Alyssa." Then the space between her eyebrows narrows and she frowns. "What's wrong?"
Everything, Alyssa thinks. Instead, she says, "You don't look happy. Did something happen?"
Naomi's shoulders drop and she manages to give a faint smile. "It's nothing. I'm alright."
"Really?" Alyssa asks, raising an eyebrow. "C'mon. I'm your friend. I gotta help you out."
"Thank you. You're a very kind little girl."
"Excuse me," says a voice from behind. It's a deliverywoman with strands of black hair poking out of her green baseball cap. She's holding a large cardboard box. "Can I bother you for a moment?"
"Of course," Naomi responds. "How can I help?"
"Could you please tell me where I could drop a delivery off for Dr Kimishima?"
"I'm Kimishima. I'll take it."
The woman smiles. "Really? Perfect timing. Here's your package." She hands Naomi a sheet of paper. "Could you sign here please?"
"This is pretty low-tech. What happened to the digital pads?"
"I'm sorry, mine is broken right now. Anyway, enjoy your package."
The delivery woman walks the way she came, smiling at Alyssa as she passes.
"Did you get something?" Alyssa asks as Naomi wrestles the box open. "Who's it from?"
"Yes. It's from a friend of mine."
"Look, look Naomi. It's a bigtastic teddy bear! He's so cute."
"That's right. But why would he send me this?"
Naomi lifts the card out of the box, and Alyssa takes the teddy bear.
This teddy bear looks exactly like the teddy bear Alyssa had when she was little. Alyssa used to believe that Benji would keep her safe. He didn't. But this teddy has the same big plastic eyes as he had. His fur is the same colour. This bear is tidier than Benji was though. Benji showed some signs of age, and his fur was rougher in places where Alyssa has spilled something on him. This bear is brand new.
Alyssa hadn't realised how much she missed that teddy bear until just now.
"Brat," Alyssa hears shouted from the other side of the hedge.
Crap. It's Mrs Farnsworth. And she sounds mad.
Without thinking, Alyssa runs as fast as her legs will take her towards the hole in the hedge. If she gets back quickly, maybe Mrs Farnsworth won't hurt her so badly. Alyssa tries to think of a good excuse for why she was in the forensics garden. She saw a butterfly. She was looking for something. It's doesn't matter what Alyssa says though. Mrs Farnsworth will hurt her anyway.
She's still got Naomi's teddy bear. She forgot to give it back before she ran. Now Naomi's going to be mad too. And if Mrs Farnsworth sees the teddy bear, then she'll ask where it came from and then beat her because of it.
Before kneeling to crawl, she tosses it over the hedge. She hopes it lands in the patch of overgrown grass and bushes, and that Mrs Farnsworth doesn't see it. If Alyssa hides the teddy, then tomorrow when Mrs Farnsworth is watching her game shows, Alyssa can take it back to Naomi and say sorry and ask if Naomi will still be her friend even though she accidentally stole the teddy bear.
Alyssa stands up. Oh no, she threw the teddy bear onto the cut grass, near the back door of the house and miles away from where she wanted it to go.
And even worse, Mrs Farnsworth is walking over to it.
Oh no. Alyssa going to get a beating for this.
Mrs Farnsworth leans over and picks up the bear.
Alyssa backs herself towards the hedge.
Mrs Farnsworth looks mad. "Where the he-"
AN: Hey! I apologise for taking so long to update. University/sport/life hasn't left me much time to even breathe lately.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed the previous chapter. I hope you enjoy this one.
Huge huge huge thanks to my beta reader, the lovely Wavebreeze. If you haven't done so already, you should really go and read her stuff. It's much better than anything I write. :)
Until next time!