Cherry knew something was wrong the instant she saw her name.
“For you. Fresh from the nursery.” Raymond’s voice was light as the evening breeze as he took the seat across from his roommate, but the look on his face spoke volumes. Glancing at him curiously, Cherry snatched up the envelope he’d slid across the table. Her name had been scrawled across the outside in an assortment of coloured crayons, and despite the professional, cursive script, she couldn’t help but take it as a bad omen. Crayon was never a welcome sight for a little, not even one as well off as she was; it was far too real a reminder of how precarious her position was in this part of the world. Cherry felt her heart sink. She could already tell this wasn’t going to be pleasant.
It was eleven o’ clock on a Friday night, and she had been staying up only long enough to say hello to Raymond when he finally got home from waiting on tables down at the wharf. The restaurant he worked at was a massive hit with the locals, and each day Raymond trudged through the door sweating his way through the nice shirt he wore on the job, frequently frustrated and always exhausted. It was a hard gig, even for someone as athletic and sociable as her Amazon roommate, and Cherry made the effort whenever possible to play the part of the supportive friend to help him end his day on a high note. That didn't necessarily entail anything more than sharing a laugh over a cup of coffee or nodding sympathetically as he vented about the creatures he was forced to call customers, but she knew he appreciated it. She took great pride in being a great friend.
The mail, of all things, hadn't been in the equation when she decided to wait up for him. She hadn't thought to grab it herself earlier, not being in any rush to collect the usual stack of bills, so he'd taken it on himself to do exactly that on the way through the front door.
This was hardly the usual stack of bills.
“What the hell,” she muttered, flipping it over to see if there was anything of note on the back. There was a stamp in the top right corner, and her address was written just beneath it in red, green, blue, and yellow.
“Should I be worried?”
“I don’t know. Maybe."
She turned the envelope back around to stare long and hard at those six dangerously flamboyant letters, wondering whether or not ignoring them had a greater risk of returning her to babyhood than opening it did.
“Hey,” Raymond said quietly, startling her out of paper gazing. There were bags under his eyes and patches of sweat under his arms, but he still found the energy to smile at his diminutive friend. She appreciated that. “Come on, how bad can it be? Open it.”
He had no idea just how bad it could be. He wasn’t a little. She smiled a faint smile in spite of herself, more for his sake than her own. “Pretty bad, Ray. Pretty freaking bad.”
She opened it.
Tension hung thick in the air as she carefully extracted the letter from its cocoon. In Cherry’s part of the world, littles' rights hadn't quite caught up with modern society, and the resident giants regarded the tiny individuals flitting about their kneecaps as little more than up-jumped children. Unless you cleared a certain height threshold, your adulthood was only humoured until an excuse to redact it presented itself, and from there it was an express ride back to the nursery. As a result, Cherry had to live with the very real fear that someone much, much taller than herself might decide she was too far out of her depth in the adult world and could benefit from a second bout with infancy. It was as ridiculous as it was contrived, but it was all too common an occurrence for people her size.
When you live with that for twenty three years, you get to be pretty careful, even when it comes to the way the mail is addressed to you. Avoiding any and all childhood paraphernalia becomes second nature, simply because it might prove to be the stimulus a passing Amazon lady might need to take an interest in you and decide you’d be better off drinking from a bottle of milk than a bottle of beer. She didn’t have a fully formed fear that this letter might be a referral back to diapers, but the rainbow crayon was enough to set off alarm bells. She'd seen particularly unfortunate littles committed for less.
The paper she was holding had been ripped out of a colouring book. The outline of Snow White smiled sweetly at her beneath a hastily constructed message again written in a variety of different coloured crayons. Cherry began to read it out loud for Raymond’s benefit, and stopped almost as quickly as she’d began, her eyes widening as she read ahead. She felt a fleeting moment of relief and instantly felt guilty. She was safe, thank God, but Dawn...
“Cherry?” she could hear the legitimate worry in her roommate’s voice now. False confidence was a thing of the past. “Is everything okay?”
She sighed. “That depends who you ask,” she answered glumly. “It’s from my sister.”
“Dawn?” Her roommate had a passing acquaintance with Cherry’s older sibling.
“Dear Cherry,” she tried again, ignoring the wobble in her voice. “I don’t know how long I have, so I’m keeping this brief. Long story short, stupid me wasn’t careful enough and now I’m writing to you from my new place. It’s nice enough. I have a maid, no rent, and I don’t even have to share it with a roommate - if it wasn’t for the diapers and the lack of any meaningful future to look forward to, we’d be golden!
I’ve been here three months now, can you believe it? Three fucking months of my life wasted in either my playroom or at daycare (yes, really). I wanted to get in contact with you sooner, but 24/7 baby treatment makes that slightly difficult. The groundskeeper here is on my side – he’s an inbetweener, he can sympathise - and I’ve arranged to pass this to him next time I’m allowed to play in the garden. He’ll post it off, you’ll discover your big sister hasn’t sat her ass on a toilet seat for three months, you’ll rush to rescue the diapered damsel in distress, and we all live happily ever after. The end. Foolproof!
Cherry, you have to get me out of here, YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD. I'm going out of my fucking mind, I swear the cartoons are literally making me dumber. Please, please help me. I’m begging you.”
Cherry looked up, miserable. “She’s signed it, and there’s an address at the bottom, but that’s the whole thing.”
Raymond was silent for a long moment as he absorbed the full impact of Dawn’s desperate S.O.S. Then, with a sigh and a shake of the head, he said, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.”
Ever the joker. “That’s not funny,” Cherry snapped, rereading the message with mounting dismay. “They got her, Ray. They got her.”
Raymond motioned for her to pass the letter, and she did so without comment, lost in a dark mire of thought. She didn’t get to see her older sister very much these days - Dawn had moved interstate to further her career in the medicinal industry years ago - but they still caught up as regularly as their schedules permitted. Unfortunately, it had been at least eight or nine months since that last happened, because Cherry had been too busy starting her own career as a budding architect to dedicate much time to socialising. That particular reunion had seen Dawn flying down for a weekend to share two exciting pieces of news - one, she'd survived the removal of six insidious gallstones only a fortnight previous, and two, she was looking at a promotion in her very near future. They’d got more than a little drunk that Saturday night to celebrate. Apparently that was all the time it took to reduce a young adult with a promising future to the toddler of an overly maternal Amazon who couldn’t mind her own damn business.
“Tell me about this promise," Raymond said, his eyes still glued to Dawn’s colourful plea. “What did you promise her?”
Did it really need explaining? “That if it ever came to…to this,” Cherry gestured violently at the letter he was holding, as if jabbing her finger at it might cause it spontaneously combust and cease to be a problem. “I’d bust her out.”
“You'd...bust her out,” he echoed, a trace of alarm colouring his voice.
Cherry nodded. “And she’d do the same for me, if need be. This is a very real fate for people my size, you know. We plan in advance.”
“And are you going to bust her out?"
She wasn’t sure how to answer that, a grand total of two minutes after the big revelation. “I guess I promised, didn’t I?”
He hesitated, scrutinising his next words with microscopic care. “Cherry,” he began cautiously. “You can’t just ‘bust her out.’ I get where you’re coming from, but as far as most people are concerned, this lady found your sister in need of a re-raising, and that’s all there is to it. Dawn belongs to this woman now and no one is going to say a word about it. If you try to break her out, you're going to be the one at fault. You know what it means to be a little. It’s just how it is.” He said the last bit kindly.
“She’s a living, breathing person,” Cherry retorted incredulously. Raymond, of all people, was coming out with this? She heard her voice rise with a life of its own. “She’s not property to be bought and sold, are you insane? You being three times taller than her doesn’t mean...”
He waved her protests away. “I’m on your side, remember?” he interjected, smiling sadly as his flustered roommate’s voice trailed off. “How many times have I run off some prospective parent that took a little too much interest in you?"
Cherry had been forced to endure the indignity of pretending she already had a daddy – Raymond - more than once or twice, and she blushed at the thought, but he wasn’t quite done. "I'm thinking of you, not your sister. If things go south, you'll end up sharing a crib with Dawn." He grimaced. "I like it as much as you. I’m just being realistic.”
“I can’t just leave her to be some giant’s plaything.”
“You're sounding like your girlfriend, you know,” she remarked dryly. “Rebellious little reduced to babyhood without hope of rescue? This is Sylvia’s wettest dream.”
Sylvia was Raymond’s girlfriend, and she was very much the 'prospective parent' type that was the bane of every littles’ existence. While her boyfriend was one of the more progressive giants Cherry knew, Sylvia could hardly boast the same, and opined that Cherry's relationship with Raymond was little more than a novelty. On a good day, she found it amusing, and on a bad day it brought her to verbal blows with her lover, who took it far too seriously for her liking. Look at the silly little, pretending she's an adult! Why do you bunk with her, Ray, instead of me, your girlfriend? Littles need a nursery, not an apartment! Sylvia had no shortage of derogatory, condescending quips. The only reason she hadn't taken to changing Cherry's diapers was because Raymond wasn't your typical Amazon. He might be the reason that the threat of babyhood stood so close, but he was also the reason it couldn't touch her. He wouldn't let it.
Needless to say, Cherry did not like Sylvia.
Raymond's face clouded. “Maybe I am,” he said carefully. “But that doesn’t change a single thing. If you fail, you'll end up no better than your sister, and I'd say the chances of you failing are higher than not. I mean…how are you going to ‘bust her out,’ anyway? I hate to break it to you, but you need a step ladder to get up to the seat you’re sitting on right now. How can you…just, how? How, Cherry?”
“I’ll figure it out.”
‘Okay. Cool. Let’s look at a few facts,” he went on without breaking his stride. Cherry gritted her teeth. She’d only just found out that she was expected to conduct a prison break. Was she meant to have already formulated a plan? “She has a groundskeeper, meaning this lady is well off financially. Financially well-off ladies live in big fancy houses with big fancy security systems. Let’s assume your height isn't an issue for a second - and trust me, it is - how are you going to get into somewhere likely designed to keep people my size out?”
“I said I’ll figure it out,” she said flatly, although she had to admit that he had a point. She hadn’t even considered the implications of the groundskeeper. “Look, Ray, I get where you’re coming from, but…she’s my sister. We knew what we were agreeing to, way back when.”
“I get that, but - “
Enough was enough. She knew her roommate was only trying to look out for her, but she wasn’t about to sit there and put up with a lecture about how resigning her sister to a fate of perpetual infancy was the right thing to do. She stood up abruptly. “It's late,” she said stiffly. “I'm going to bed. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Suddenly, he just looked sad, and that was when the guilt came crashing down on her with the weight of a piano. His heart was in the right place, and here she was throwing his concern back in his face. “I’m just thinking of you,” he said wearily, plucking her heartstrings some more. “I get that your sister’s in a shitty situation, but you have to think of yourself, too. You can’t just kidnap someone’s little, especially when you're a little too. It won’t end well for you. We both know that.”
“I know,” she admitted. She sighed and offered him an abashed smile. “I'm sorry, Ray. I know you're just trying to help, but....”
"She's your sister."
She nodded. "She's my sister."
He smiled faintly. “Goodnight,” he conceded. He yawned with false drama. "I'm beat as it is. We can talk about this more tomorrow, if you want."
"I'd like that very much. Goodnight."
Cherry carefully lowered herself over the side of her chair till she found the first step of her footstool, then hurried down to the floor and made her way into her bedroom. They had decided pretty early on when looking for a place that an apartment designed with an inbetweener in mind was ideal - it’d be a bit too big for Cherry and a bit too small for Raymond, but they agreed that both of them suffering a little was better than one of them suffering a lot. As a result, she was always awfully self-conscious of her unimpressive four feet at home. She needed ladders and stools placed strategically around the apartment just to access pretty much anything, whether it be to access the top shelf of the fridge or to simply sit herself down on the toilet. She was dwarfed, and it was something that she’d never quite got accustomed to after living all her life in an appropriately sized house with her family. Tonight, though, her thoughts weren’t on the fact that it was a pain in the ass that she had to climb a ladder to open her bedroom door - it was on the fact that her poor sister was undoubtedly in a place even more unsuited for her size than Cherry was.
She didn’t think Dawn had ladders conveniently placed where they were needed, either.
She stripped naked as she always did in Summer and climbed into bed, pondering her options. Unfortunately, she didn’t really see all that many. She’d never be able to live with herself if she didn’t try and get Dawn out of her infantile prison. She knew that her big sister would be there in a heartbeat to help her if the situations were reversed...and as right as Raymond was about the risk to her wellbeing, in the end it didn’t really matter.