It was almost twelve when Cherry finally dragged herself out of bed, and Sylvia was sitting at the table waiting for her.
"Decide to get up, did we?" The giantess’ face was hidden behind the voluminous pages of her newspaper, but Cherry didn't need to see her roll her eyes to know she was doing so. A takeaway coffee cup sat on the table beside her, and her coat had been lazily thrown over the back of the adjacent seat. She'd made herself right at home, much to Cherry's consternation.
The little grimaced and made her way to the fridge, ruing the day Raymond gave his girlfriend the spare key to their apartment as she rummaged through the bottom in search of the milk. She'd slept terribly last night, tossing and turning long after she'd parted ways with her roommate, too preoccupied with the thought of her imprisoned sister to drift off with any ease. As a result, she hadn't slipped into the restless, troubled sleep that followed until almost three, and because of that, she had only just woken up. Stress was a bitch.
Not that she was about to inform Sylvia of that. "What are you doing here?"
Her companion flipped the page without looking up. "My boyfriend lives here, unless I'm very much mistaken."
It was Cherry's turn to roll her eyes. Raymond would be at the gym, just like he always was on Saturday morning. Sylvia knew that as well as she did. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed the milk bottle and carried it over to the trolley they kept pressed against the cook top, a contraption that amounted to a mobile, stilted walkway at just the right height for her to fuss over whatever she needed to fuss over. In this case, that was the kettle for her coffee. "So you came all the way out here just to see me then? I'm touched, Sylvia. Just when I thought our relationship couldn't be saved."
She didn't really care why Raymond's witch of a girlfriend was over. Sylvia was the bane of her existence, and for the life of her she couldn't see why her roommate would take any interest in such a shallow individual. Sure, she was pretty with her immaculate blonde curls, hourglass body and impeccable taste in fashion, but that was about all the appeal Cherry saw in her. The giantess was an amateur artist (albeit a good one, even Cherry would grudgingly admit) and was unfortunately the type of person to let that talent go straight to her head. She was a vain, bratty woman with an inflated ego, and that was even before you realised that she was your typical Amazon with the typical Amazonian opinion on the role littles played in society. Even by giant standards, she was a right piece of work.
She didn't begrudge Raymond his relationship. He had every right to share a bed with whoever he desired, and she was the last person to say a critical word about him. If it wasn't for Raymond, she'd have ended up in Dawn's situation long ago, after all. She'd had a taste of that way back in the days she and her roommate had shared a classroom at uni, back when she didn't have a choice but to make the daily trip into civilisation. The public panty checks, the spankings when her mark wasn't quite to the satisfaction of her lecturer, the mandatory kid's menu at all the food outlets on campus, the whatever were all memories she had no wish to relive. Raymond had been her knight in shining armour the whole way. Not only had he been the only one to sympathise with her at the time, he'd later been the one who offered to share an apartment with her so she had that safety net of "I already have a daddy!" to fall back on. Raymond's support was the reason she had a life most littles could only dream of. She didn't begrudge him anything.
No, she just begrudged Sylvia for being Sylvia, and Sylvia deserved every ounce of begrudgery she was begrudged.
As if on cue, the harpy finally looked up from her paper as Cherry began to pull herself up the ladder attached to her walkway, the milk tucked away safely under her arm. She sighed, and before Cherry could react the giantess had thrown the paper away and was hurrying across to 'help' her. "I don't know why Raymond puts up with this nonsense," Sylvia said, exasperated. Without waiting for permission, she grabbed Cherry by the armpits and carried her with ease to her boosted seat at the table, ignoring the yelp and subsequent protests it earned her. She extracted the milk from the smaller woman's grasp and turned back to the cook top. "These ladders and pullies are ridiculous, you're going to hurt yourself one day. What are you after, milk?"
"Coffee," Cherry growled, crossing her arms and glaring at the back of Sylvia's head. She hated it when she did that. Raymond was content to let her struggle, God bless him, but Sylvia was helicopter parent incarnate. "That was totally unnecessary."
She was ignored, and when Sylvia returned with a plain glass of milk, she instantly saw how this morning was going to go.
"I said coffee."
"You're too small for coffee," Sylvia said distractedly. She began rummaging through the pantry, oblivious to the black stare it earned her and emerging a moment later with a box of cereal.
"I'm not hungry. Look, I don't need you - "
Then she had a bowl of cereal in front of her, too.
Cherry sighed as Sylvia reclaimed the seat opposite her, unfurling her paper and going straight back to work as if nothing of note had just transpired. It was always this way with Sylvia. She was generally less antagonistic when Raymond was around, knowing it wasn't likely to put her in his good books, but on the off chance she ended up alone with Cherry she was insufferable. The obvious example was the one time she'd insisted that she bath the smaller woman, unconvinced that Cherry could do it herself, and in spite of her victim’s shrieking protests she had done exactly that. A 7pm bedtime had immediately followed that humiliating ordeal. Cherry had finally gone to complain to Raymond after that, the line well and truly crossed, but nothing had really changed. No matter how he might try to convince his horrible excuse for a lover that littles were people no different to themselves, the social norm was just too influential for their most compelling arguments. She couldn't win.
Not seeing much choice, she distractedly picked at her unwanted bowl of Fruit Loops. Raymond's favourite, not hers."Are you going to tell me why you're here or do I need to start guessing? You know as well as I do that Raymond's at the gym."
"He called me this morning," was the distant reply. It was followed by the rustle of disturbed paper as she turned the page. "He wanted me here when he got back."
"No idea. He said there was too much to go into over the phone."
That couldn't have anything to do with last night, could it? "Did he say - "
Sylvia looked up from the paper, a look of blatant irritation burning beneath her bulky glasses. "Cherry, I'm trying to read. Be a good girl and eat your cereal quietly, okay?"
She gave up.
Not wanting to spend another moment in her toxic companion's presence, she gulped down her breakfast as fast as humanly possible and excused herself, hurrying back to her bedroom to shower and dress. When she re-emerged half an hour later, refreshed and presentable, she found that her roommate had returned to save the day.
Raymond grinned as she walked out, noting the look of utter relief that crossed her face. The lanky Amazon had taken Sylvia's spot at the table, and for someone who had just spent a good hour or two at the gym he looked as refreshed as she did. He didn't normally shower at the gym, but apparently he'd gone to the effort this time. "Miss me, did you?" He teased. He threw in a wink for good measure. "I'm touched."
Not feeling overly jovial, Cherry threw a pointed glance at his girlfriend, who had migrated into the living area to watch TV while Cherry was in the bedroom. She appeared enraptured with some talk-show or another. "That's one way to put it."
She grimaced. "I mean, I've had worse, but..."
He forced an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry."
She shrugged it off. They'd had this conversation a few too many times for her to care to have it again. "What's so big a deal that you couldn't tell her over the phone? Should I care?"
"I'll tell you in a sec," he said. "Because yes, you should. It's about your sister."
Cherry went cold. "Right."
"I gave Sylvia the gist of last night earlier, this is the follow-up. Take a seat."
He called Sylvia over, and Cherry hesitantly made the trek north as he did so. Sylvia's unexpected presence this morning had been enough to take her mind off her sister's wellbeing, but here she was, thrown straight off the cliff without a parachute yet again. It took the removal of just one brick for all the stress and anxiety to come flooding back out through the dam. Christ, had she really got upset when Sylvia made her breakfast? What did that even matter when Dawn was probably being spoon fed from a high chair?
Sylvia gave her an uncertain look as she sat beside Raymond, who smiled reassuringly all the while. His expression was enough to worry Cherry - it was very much an "I know this is going to go down like cancer but what can you do?" type of look. It wasn't often the three of them spent any meaningful time together, simply because of the animosity that existed between the two women, and the chances of this occurrence going any better than any other time were slim to none.
"Okay," he began. "Good. Let's begin."
He turned to his roommate. "Firstly, I want to apologise for last night."
Taken off guard, Cherry started to splutter an alarmed, "Ray, you don't need to - "
"Yeah, I do, because that was gutless of me," he interrupted, waving her protests away. "Totally gutless. I guess I've gotten so used to shielding you from this baby crap that I didn't really give it much thought beyond my knee-jerk reaction. I mean, yeah, what I said was true, but it was weak as piss."
Sylvia snorted and got back up to raid the fridge, losing interest as quickly as she'd found it. Cherry threw a black stare at the giantess’ back, unable to believe her nerve, but forced herself to remain cordial and offered Raymond a weak smile. "And where are we going with this, exactly?"
"I know you, Cherry. I couldn’t stop you from going even if I wanted to, could I?" She could hear the regret in his voice.
She shook her head. 'I don't think so. Sorry."
"That's what I thought," he agreed with a sigh. A hard glint appeared in his eye. "Look, it would be suicide for you to try and break your sister out alone, so...after having slept on it, I've decided I'm going to help you."
Cherry's eyes lit up at approximately the instant Sylvia dropped whatever she was holding with a colossal crash. In the space of a heartbeat the floor adopted a coat of salad and broken ceramics. The giantess spun around as both Raymond and Cherry flinched at the sound, a thunderstruck expression clouding her delicate features. "You're going to what?"
"I'm going to help Cherry rescue her sister," he said firmly. His voice brooked no room for discussion. "And so are you."
If Sylvia had been incensed before, now she was positively livid. "Like hell I'm going to help."
"It's not up for debate."
"It is now," she growled. She took a threatening step towards her boyfriend and jabbed an exquisite, ruby-tipped finger at his chest. "You want me to help rob some poor lady of her prize dwarf? What's the song? I'd do anything for love, Ray, but there's no fucking way I'm doing that. Are you mad?"
"Don't you talk about my sister like that," Cherry snapped, suddenly as angry as the Amazon. Of all the words that rankled her, dwarf was one of the worst. Sure, littles were dwarves by Amazon standards, but didn't make it any less derogatory. She jumped to her feet, not caring that was still shorter than her two companions while standing on an elevated chair. "Don't even start, you hear me?"
"Or what?" was the venomous response. "You'll piss on my rug? I'll call her whatever I want, thank you very much, and let's face it, you're lucky I even put up with you. It's bad enough that you've brainwashed my boyfriend into thinking your kind are worth his time. I am not being convicted for helping one when I shouldn't."
"My kind? Excuse me? Bitch, please - "
"Shut it," Raymond said. His voice was little more than speaking volume, but it was steel. "Both of you. This. Instant."
Both women stopped mid sentence, glowering at the other.
"Dwarf," Sylvia finished coldly, looking Cherry dead in the eye.
She rolled her eyes. "But I'm the child, right?"
"Don't even - "
"This is exactly why you're coming to help," Raymond snapped at his girlfriend. "I'm sick to death of this bullshit about how littles should do this or shouldn't do that. You've tortured poor Cherry for as long as you've known her, and I'm done with it, hear me? You're going to come along and help out, and you're going to get it through your head that she's no different to you or I. You're a fucking artist, Sylvie. You're meant to be the open-minded one."
She ignored the jab. "And if I don't come along?" The dare in her voice was perfectly audible. "What then, Ray? What then?"
"Then we're done."
Cherry looked on, stunned, as the couple glared daggers at each other. Sure, they argued every now and then, but this was like nothing she'd ever seen. For Raymond to threaten to end a five year relationship was...well, it was something, alright. Something she'd never thought she'd see.
The joy would hit later, she was sure.
She hadn't quite figured out if she should make an attempt to diffuse the situation when Sylvia conceded defeat. "Thanks for wasting my morning," was her final, curt comment. She threw Cherry a sidelong glance full of contempt, but said nothing more as she collected her coat and purse before storming out of the apartment. The door slammed hard enough behind her to rock the walls.
They were quiet for a long moment.
"Ray - "
"She'll come around," he said with a sigh. He looked exhausted.
"Before or after the sun the sun devours the Earth?"
It was a thin attempt at humour, but it elicited a crooked smile from him all the same. "She'll come around," he repeated. "She won't like it, but she will. She knows what's at stake."
Cherry snorted. "You've just force-fed your future wife her personal kryptonite."
"Which I'm sure upsets you to no end."
That got a guilty smile out of her.
He shook his head. "If she's not willing to play nice," he said flatly. "Then neither am I. The bullshit has to stop."
"Well...yeah, it does, but she's your future wife, Ray. If that means throwing me out on the street, so be it." The words were salt on her tongue.
"She's not my anything if she doesn't come around," he said grimly. "I don't marry bigots, lovely though they may be."
He turned to Cherry, and his defences abruptly crumbled. Suddenly he just looked as tired and miserable as he had at the end of last night. "Arrange to have the next week off work," he said wearily. "She’s out in Thornbridge, right? That’s, what...a three hour flight? We'll leave first thing Monday morning. A week should give us enough time to scout out the place, get the stuff we need to do it and get it done. If it takes any longer we'll deal with it as we need to."
He got to his feet. "That's the day officially ruined," he said with a sigh. "I think I'll be in my room if you need me, okay? I need to..."
"Yeah. I get it."
He nodded. "I'll see you whenever."
With a scrape of the chair and a thud of the bedroom door he was gone, and Cherry was again alone with her thoughts. If she was being honest with herself, she was totally floored. It had only taken five minutes, tops, but the entire dynamic of everything had shifted. Not only was Raymond risking his own hide to help out, he was forcing Sylvia to help out? Sylvia, Miss All-Littles-Belong-In-Diapers was going to break a little out of exactly that?
That begged the next question.
A week with Sylvia?
Raymond heard her groan from behind his bedroom door.
To be continued in Chapter 3: The Runs
To be continued in Chapter 3: The Runs