Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Promise l 5 - In the Midnight Hour & 6 - My Littlest Pet Shop

Chapter 5
In the Midnight Hour

Seven years previous...
The taxi idled quietly.

"I don't want you to go," Cherry whispered in her big sister's ear, hugging her tight. She wished the moment would never end. It was a cold evening, and she was hardly dressed for the occasion, but she would happily stand there shivering beneath the apple tree outside their childhood home forever if it meant Dawn didn't have to leave. "I'm gonna miss the hell out of you, sis. Do you really have to go?"

She sounded stupid and childish even to her own ears, but Dawn humoured her with a good natured laugh and a pat on the back. "I love you, Cherry, I really do," was her gentle answer. "Duty calls, though. I can't be a world-famous brain surgeon if I'm still living here under my mother's roof, can I?"

Cherry smiled in spite of herself. Dawn and her not-so-delusional delusions of grandeur. "Guess not," she agreed weakly. She reluctantly broke their embrace, attempting to get a hold of herself. Dawn was, without a doubt, the brainiest person she'd ever known; top of the class, school captain, recipient of prestigious awards and scholarships, so on and so on. She was the girl that had everything going for her and everyone knew it, the one that had always been destined to move into a distant dormitory at some exclusive university on the other side of the country. Cherry had known this day was coming for a long, long time...so why was it so difficult? "Doesn't mean I won't miss you."

"And I'll miss you too, little Cherry blossom." She grinned at the use of their mother’s nickname for her youngest daughter, but Cherry could see that she was just as emotionally fragile beneath the false bravado as she was. "You know I will."

They looked each other eye to eye for a moment, both struggling to find the right words to say...and then Cherry abruptly burst into tears.
  
"What...sis, hey," Dawn said in alarm, rushing forward to wrap her sister in another all-encompassing hug. Before she knew it, Cherry was again engulfed in her sibling's cardigan and tasteful perfume. "I'm not dying. I'll still be around."

It all came bubbling out of the sixteen-year-old little in a rush. "But you're going to be so far away and I'll never see you," she sobbed, her voice muffled by the fabric of the garment. "I won't have my big sister to talk with or look after me or help with my homework or drive me to school or cover for me or - "

"I'll be just a phone call away," Dawn hushed, rocking her in her arms. It was a good place to be. Safe and warm. "Any hour, any day, you can call me. I'm not going to fall off the face of the Earth."

Cherry shook her head. "It's not even just about me," she said miserably. "You're going to be by yourself all the time now. What if you have an accident and end up in hospital? We won't be able to afford to come and see you."

Dawn hesitated. "Well...I don't know," she admitted. "But I can take care of - "

"What if one of them gets you?" Cherry went on bitterly. "We won't be able to come visit you even if we can afford it."

Dawn pulled back to show off an indulgent smile. It revealed the wet mark her younger sister had left on her cardigan, and Cherry instantly felt a rush of guilt and self-loathing. Dawn had gone to the effort of prettying herself up for the occasion of leaving home; now look what she'd done. "Cherry, listen to me," she said. "You can come up with as many worst case scenarios as you like, but I'm a big girl now. I can take care of whatever comes my way, even if it is a giant with a bone to pick. I mean...let's be honest, if I can get into med school, I can figure out a child-proof lock."

"That's what they all say," Cherry sniffled.

"All the med students say that?"

There was a time and a place for smart-assery, good natured or not, and Dawn realised as much the instant that her younger sister burst into a renewed gale of tears. She sighed and pulled Cherry back in for the third hug of the last five minutes. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I didn't - "

"I know," Cherry muttered. She was being stupid and she knew it. Her sister had a taxi waiting to deliver her to the airport, and here she was crying like some little girl on her shoulder. "I'm sorry too. You should be - "

"It's okay."

They hugged quietly for another few moments, and then Dawn said, "You know what this means, right?"

"What?"

"If the brilliant med student can't figure out the child-proof lock," she said. "Then it's her sister's job to break her out."

Cherry pulled away, suddenly irritated. "You're making fun of me. Don't." Her older sister might be the next best thing to a genius, but her ability to read other people had never been quite so advanced. 

Dawn grinned. "Would I do that?" she said. "Let's be - "


"Because I would, you know," Cherry went on firmly, shaking her head. Her sister didn't seem to get it. This wasn't a joking matter. "In a heartbeat. I'd be there to bust you out."

Dawn's smile faltered, taken aback by the unexpected seriousness of the answer. "Really?" 

This was the biggest day in Dawn's young life, and here she was expressing her eternal love like the awkward little sister she was. Attempting to backtrack, she wiped her eyes and forced a wet smile to her face. "I, Cherry Anderson, do on this day solemnly promise to rescue you from the evil clutches of any big, tall and frightful asshole that tries to kidnap you." 

Her big sister was at a loss for word...then, "You're an idiot." 

The tension broke. They both laughed. 

"I, Dawn Anderson, do on this day solemnly promise to ditto that," Dawn echoed with a grin. "And I think that officially covers all bases." 

Cherry nodded, smiling. She hated to admit it, but her sibling's cheer was infectious. "Your little sister has your back." 

"Promise?"

"Promise." 

Dawn beamed. 


She beamed back. 

"I love you, little sis. To death." 

"Ditto that." 

They laughed again, and then they hugged again.

At that moment, the taxi driver abruptly decided that he'd had quite enough of their touchy-feely nonsense, and the grating shriek of the car horn ripped the tender moment in two. Both sisters flinched and quickly broke apart, self conscious about their display of affection.

"I guess this is it," Dawn said finally. She studied her sister's face, as if actively attempting to commit it to memory. "I'll miss you, little Cherry blossom. More than anyone else, I'll miss you."

"I'll be here any time you come knocking," she answered bravely. 

Her big sister nodded. "You better be," she said. "Otherwise I won't know where to turn when I need help getting out of diapers, hey? Call me if you need me, remember?" 

"I will," Cherry answered. "Trust me, I will." 

Dawn smiled.


It was over in seconds. Dawn hurried into the back seat of the taxi, and before Cherry knew it she was waving goodbye to her big sister, laughing and crying and yelling after the girl that meant the world to her. She stood there long after her sister had rounded the corner, wondering just how she was going to cope in a world without her best friend. It wasn't till her mother came calling for her that she found the energy to hurry inside, wishing all the while that she could have stayed out in the freezing cold for just one more minute.  


Chapter 6
My Littlest Pet Shop


Cherry enjoyed reading. She wasn't a bookworm, as such, but she enjoyed wiling away the holes in her schedule trying to figure out who shot the guy on the front cover of the day's mystery novel. She generally didn't touch horror or romance stories (being of the opinion that neither genre offered a plot sophisticated enough to entertain a four year old), and although she had a passing acquaintance with sci-fi, she simply enjoyed the mental challenge posed by decoding a mystery novel. If there was a better way to entertain one's self whilst waiting for one's dinner to cook, she was of the firm opinion that they hadn't found it yet. 

She was also passingly 'religious,' if you wanted to call it that. She wasn't the "on my knees each Sunday" type, and nor was she really a subscriber to any one faith in particular, but she held the firm belief that something could not come from nothing. Therefore, an omniscient being must be responsible and lurking out there in the vast uncharted cosmos, and in that sense, yes, she believed there was a God.

However, neither of those things meant she appreciated starting the day with biblical bombardment.  

"Whadafuck," she mumbled sleepily. She rolled over to inspect what had just fallen out of orbit to break her ribs. It was the resident bible found in every motel ever.

"No time for whadafucks. Wake up." It was Raymond. She cracked open a bleary eye to see his silhouette outlined by the overhead lights. "We have an idea we want to pass by you." 

The lingering ghost of her sister's hug abruptly decided it had better things to do than conduct a haunting. "What's up?" The covers went flying as if a spring-loaded trap had been poised underneath, waiting for the opportune moment to jettison their anxious occupant. "What do you have in mind?" 

"Come sit down," her roommate answered smugly. He looked quite proud of himself, and that alone was enough to fill the little with the optimism she'd lost the night before. "And we'll tell you over coffee." 

She didn't need further prompting. Cherry rushed to lower herself to the floor as Raymond made his way back to the kitchen, ruffling Sylvia's hair at the table as he passed. She smiled faintly, but didn't look up from the plate of bacon and eggs before her. Where she'd procured them from, Cherry couldn't begin to say, but it was hardly the question she was interested in asking.

Judging by the sunlight flitting about the room, it was already mid-morning, and on top of that, it was quite warm. It was only going to get warmer still, but Sylvia was immaculate in her jeans and fur-lined jacket, complete with a full face of makeup around the sunglasses she thought were in-door apparel for reasons only she understood. Next to Raymond in his skin-tight, leopard-print shirt and short-shorts, Cherry didn't know who looked more ridiculous.

She'll sweat right through that within an hour.

Well, at least Raymond's was practical. Hideousness aside.

"Do you ever dress like a normal person?" Cherry remarked lightly. She made it to her chair and looked up at the intimidating edifice before her. The seat was practically level with her head. "It's hot. Why are you wearing that?" 

"Fashion knows no boundaries, little miss." 

"No, but the human body does. It's called heatstroke." 

Sylvia snorted derisively and hurried over to help Cherry up to her seat. Normally, such blatant over-assistance would have grated on the little, but right then she knew she needed it. It was either that or literally climb. She accepted the boost with a grimace and a small "thank you," noting that the couple had found a booster seat somewhere for her as her backside landed. No staring at the underside of the table for her! 

"Why didn't you wake me up earlier? We've wasted half a day."

"Because we didn't have a plan till just now," Sylvia answered curtly, returning to her breakfast. She dug into it again without sparing the little another glance. "We couldn't exactly do anything without a plan, so we let you sleep."

"If I was awake, we could have come up with one together."

The giantess' knife scraped across her plate with the chime of steel on steel. "Leave the planning to the adults, sweetie."

"Okay," Raymond said cheerfully. He was at the bench preparing a coffee for his roommate, but he didn't need to look over his shoulder to know there was trouble brewing. "I woke up this morning and had a flash of brilliance, as I'm sure all of us are well aware is a regular occurrence for me." 

Cherry reigned in her irritation. "Yeah?" 

"We can't get your sister out of daycare," he said proudly. Cherry couldn't be sure if he was as genuinely proud as he looked or if he was just trying to lighten the mood that had soured so quickly. "But we can get you into it." 

She raised an eyebrow. "And why would we do that?"

Raymond shot Sylvia a warning look of pure menace as he returned with Cherry's coffee. The little took it from him with a word of thanks, noting the silent message as surely as Sylvia did. The giantess was adequately chastised as she picked up the narrative thread. "We can't take her from the daycare," she said meekly. "So we have to do it from the mansion, and it's probably not a good idea to break into there without knowing what's inside first. What if we break through the window of your sister's room and a nanny-bot is waiting right there to raise the alarm? That’s exactly the type of thing a rich parent is like to do, you know. Delegate." 

Cherry nodded. Fair enough.

"Basically, we need to know what we're up against before we do anything risky," Raymond concluded for his girlfriend. He smiled faintly. "And the safest way to do that is to get a friendly invitation to come inside, wouldn't you agree?"

"Well, yeah, but how are you going - "

"You're going on a playdate with Dawn."

And just like that, she understood where this was going. "Oh."

Raymond chuckled to himself as he took a seat between the two women. "Don't sound so thrilled about it."

"I'll do my best."

"That'a girl." Raymond saluted her with his coffee mug.

"So I'm her friend from daycare pretending to be on a playdate...but once I'm inside, I’m actually snooping around?"

"Pretty much," Sylvia confirmed.

"And once we know what we're up against, we can break in safely after the fact. That's..." Cherry trailed off, considering it. She was going to have to play the part of the babified little for a short while, if this was the course they took. For all her lifelong efforts to avoid a second babyhood, she was going to have to dive in headfirst on her own volition.

Still...

"...that's quite clever, actually," she finished reluctantly. 

"Quite clever? It's a plan fit for a criminal mastermind." 
  
"A criminal mastermind would also know which daycare to enrol his little at," Cherry observed dryly. "And he'd also know when to check out that daycare to find out if his little's sister is there. You don't know if she'll be there seven days a week, and I'd guess she's not."

For all their snooping yesterday, they hadn't actually located Dawn.

Raymond's smile drooped a little, clearly hoping for a little more enthusiasm, but he said, "I'll take care of it. I'm going to go to the gym for a little bit, and then afterwards I'll figure it out. I'll have time, we won't be ready to get you enrolled today anyway. Piece of cake." 

"The gym? What?" Cherry shot him an incredulous glance. He was going to waste time with that? He was a fitness freak, sure, but...there was a time and a place for everything. "No, you're not going to the gym, we need to get started and head there now, what if - " 

"We’re not going anywhere together," Raymond interrupted. He shared a meaningful look with Sylvia, who suddenly seemed much happier than she had a moment before. "You're going shopping with Sylvia." 

"Shopping with..." The blood drained from her face. "No."

"You can't go to daycare in big girl clothes," Sylvia offered helpfully.

Oh, how she wished she could break those stupid sunglasses. Cherry rounded on Raymond. "No."

He grimaced. "Look, you have to be believable. You can't rock up dressed normally and expect - "

"No."

"Cherry..."

"I'll go with you," she insisted, feeling her heart thud painfully in her chest. "Okay, fine, I have to dress up. Whatever. I'll go shopping, with you. Not...her."

Sylvia had the dignity to look wounded, but Raymond simply shook his head. "The whole point of Sylvie coming along in the first place was for her to learn how to play nicely. To do that, she needs to be around you, and besides..." he laughed awkwardly. "I'm not going shopping for baby clothes."

Cherry just stared. "You're going to humiliate me because you're too macho to go clothes shopping?"

He shrugged uncomfortably. "I wouldn't even know what to shop for to make you convincing," he offered. "I think Sylvia has a better idea than I do."

"How hard can it be? Are you actually - "

"Sylvia's promised to play nice," Raymond interrupted. He looked at his girlfriend pointedly. "Hasn't she?"

The giantess' smile faltered slightly, although nothing could truly diminish her delight. "I did," she said smugly.

Cherry looked back to Raymond helplessly. She was trapped.

"Ray, come on, you know what she's - "

"I want you to go with Sylvia," he said firmly. He stared her down with imploring eyes. "That's not up for debate."

How can he possibly think this is a good idea?

It took her a moment, but the look in his eyes gave it away.

This wasn't about being too macho to go clothes shopping. Raymond wasn't that petty. This was about him and his girlfriend.

Cherry was a bargaining chip.

Why, oh why, couldn't he haven chosen to fuck someone that’s not a psychopath. 

"Fine," she said grudgingly. "Whatever. Fine."

Smiles all around.

Minus one.

*

They left soon after Raymond, driving into town under a blanket of silence that suited both women just fine. The motel was only a five minute drive from the town centre, and before they knew it they were traversing the arteries of the city, drawing ever closer to Cherry's inevitable humiliation. It was a beautiful Summer day outside her window, and the world was alive with giants and littles alike enjoying the climate. Cherry, however, was immersed within her own personal raincloud. Shopping for an outfit meant for a toddler might have been bearable if done with Raymond; they could have a laugh while they did it and she'd come out unscathed. Doing it with Sylvia would be like pulling nails.

By sheer dumb luck, they managed to find a parking spot directly opposite their destination. If it hadn't have been full of baby products for people her size, Cherry might have even found the place endearing. As it was, the baby-blue walls and the enormous Babies R Us lettering (in alternating primary colours that reminded her far too much of Dawn’s letter) filled her with a dire concoction that was equal parts dread and disgust. The fact that such an establishment had a market for grown adults such as herself was just...wrong.

Cherry gloomily eyed the complex from her place in the passenger seat, wishing she'd been born to a family with an average height considerably more impressive than her own.

Sylvia, on the other hand, looked as if Christmas had come early. Her face was as radiant as the sun itself, brightening the life of each and every passerby that vanished into their rear view mirror. She bounced out of the car and waltzed over to Cherry's door on the sidewalk. "Are you excited?" she gushed, pulling her companion's door open for her. "Because I am so, so pumped right now."

"I never would have guessed," Cherry sighed, slipping out of the car. Doing her best to ignore the ecstatic Amazon, she turned to the car's side mirror to make sure she looked just right. With her impending demotion to toddlerhood (toddlerhood at best), she suddenly felt incredibly self conscious, and had the thought that maybe she should savour her few remaining hours in big girl clothes. Plain black jeans and a maroon shirt. Hair in bun. She looked as mature as she was going to. "And look, if you could tone it down a little..."

"Let me have my fun, little miss. I'm not here to make you happy." The giantess opted to take a leaf out of her companion's book and bent over before the car mirror, admiring her makeup and hairdo. Her face was almost level with the top of Cherry's head, and it was with not a small amount of satisfaction that the little noticed the beads of sweat lining her powdered brow. Fashion knew no bounds except real life, evidently.

"Maybe not, but you did agree to help. You promised." The little stressed the last word with great deliberation. "Remember yesterday? You decided to stop being a cow and actually be useful for once."

It was the wrong thing to say. "Am I not helping?" Sylvia's voice was suddenly cold.

This was a very bad time to have a pissed-off Sylvia to contend with. Cherry sighed and decided to terminate the conversation right there and then. "You're right. I'm sorry. Let's just get this over with, okay?"

She took a step away from her companion in the direction of the store, but before she could she found her wrist ensorcelled in the hand of someone much larger than herself. With a sinking feeling she turned back to find Sylvia's UV-resistant gaze boring a hole into her skull. "I'm not here for you or your sister," the giantess repeated frostily. Her grip tightened on the littles' wrist painfully, eliciting a wince from Cherry. "A little in her natural habitat is the least of my problems. I’ve been dragged halfway across the country against my will, I’ve been blackmailed by my own boyfriend, and you think I care about your sister?”

Cherry said nothing.

Sylvia unhanded her. "I’m here for my relationship," she said flatly. "And seeing as doing so happens to put you in your place for once...yeah. I’m going to enjoy it. Sue me.”

My place? "Well, enjoy it quietly. I'm just asking you to co-operate."

For a moment, Sylvia was silent...and then with a shake of the head and a derisive snort, she unhanded Cherry’s wrist and stiffly strode off across the road without a single glance back to see if her companion was following her. The little watched with disgust as the giantess hurried across the busy road and disappeared through the front door of Baby's R Us, wondering whether she should just get back in the car and drive off. The pedals might be a pain, but...really, what was worse?

She couldn't do that. Her legs were as short as her fuse. Mentally chiding herself, Cherry sighed. She should know better than to poke the caged tiger with a stick. What had she been thinking, calling her a cow to her face? If she wasn't going to make an effort to co-operate, why should Sylvia? This wasn't easy for either of them, and when you got down to it, the giantess did have a point. She'd been forced to come along under pretty dubious circumstances.

Promising herself she'd do better, Cherry hurried after Satan into the wild blue yonder.

Babies R Us was a massive warehouse containing anything and everything an Amazonian child could ever want. Aisles and aisles of baby products stretched as far as the eye could see beneath a rosy, welcoming glow, ranging from diapers and clothing to food and toys and furniture and God knew what else. They had everything. Literally everything. Cherry doubted that a single parent had come shopping here for their child and left wanting. There was just so much.

Cherry stood with her eyes hanging out of her head till Sylvia came into view. She was wheeling a trolley.

"You can either sit in the trolley," the giantess said, patting the metal contraption in front her. "Or you can hold onto the side. Take your pick."

She actually thought Cherry would agree to either one of those. That was almost funny. Forgetting her promise almost as soon as she'd made it, Cherry began, "I think I'd rather castrate myself with a wooden spoon, if you catch my - "

"Well, I think I'd rather you sit in the trolley," Sylvia interrupted. Before Cherry could so much as blink, the giantess had swept her off her feet and sat her down in the little red seat facing back towards the giantess. She loomed above the little, the Goliath to her David."Because you're not half as clever as you think you are, and I'm not in the mood to let you think otherwise."

"When are you ever in the mood?" Cherry shot back, crossing her arms and pouting furiously. Words could not begin to express how much she hated being manhandled like that. She glared up at Sylvia. "Let me down, now."

She was ignored...although Sylvia did lean in to fasten the straps around her waist. They clicked shut with an ominous snap.

Incredulous, Cherry began, "I said - "

"I'm going to let you in on a little something," the giantess interrupted. She gave the trolley a firm push, and then they were on their way, rolling down the nearest aisle in search of God knew what.  "Me and Ray had a talk this morning, and we were discussing how we were going to dress you up."

Like I'm a fucking Barbie doll, right? "And?"

"And," Sylvia went on. The only sound beside her voice was the gravely hum of the trolley rolling across smooth linoleum. "We decided that it probably wasn't necessary to do the full baby treatment. We saw older kids yesterday who were maybe three or four, right? You can be one of them. There’s really no point to having you pretend to be an infant.”

The way she said it made it blatantly clear that that was exactly what she had been shooting for, at least until Raymond shot her down. "I think that's a fantastic plan, but something tells me you don't - "

"Naturally, I said that a trip back to babyhood might be exactly what you need," Sylvia shamelessly confirmed. "Look at you. An uppity little who think she has the right to live like an adult among the rest of us. Your kind are all the same, so eager to prove you're as mature as everyone else on the planet till you prove that you're not, but you...you're something else. You've got my boyfriend on your side, can you believe it? You can prove you're as childish as any actual child - and let's be honest, you proved that not five minutes ago with that ridiculous outburst by the car - but nothing is going to come of it, because you've sweet-talked Ray into covering your ass. It’s ridiculous. It's a joke. A little baby time would do the both of you good - maybe you'll both realise it's the place for you to be."

Sylvia abruptly stopped. "Look around you, little miss, and tell me if you like what you see."

Cherry had been so absorbed in the sheer lack of rationality in her companion's rant that she hadn't been paying any attention to what was around them. Her gaze lingered distrustfully on Sylvia a moment longer, and then she turned to see where she had been wheeled.

Diapers. Diapers everywhere.

The aisle stretched the entire length of the warehouse, and as far as Cherry could see down either direction were shelves stocked with every variety of diaper imaginable. They gleamed down at the little in the trolley from the confines of their plastic packaging, all adorned with a smiling Amazonian infant and their proud parent, and every one of them filled Cherry with a dread she couldn't ever remember feeling. Those cheerful faces seemed to be mocking her.

There were thin ones. There were thick ones. There were pull-ups for the potty-trainers, and there were the wannabe pillows so thick that the wearer would have their legs forced so far apart they'd be forced to crawl. There were plain ones with no designs. There were pink ones with princesses and stars. There were diapers sized for newborns, and then there were diapers clearly meant for Amazon children slightly older than that.

Cherry didn't have to compare waist sizes to know she'd fit into the diapers designed for the latter group.

"Let me spell this out for you, plain as day," Sylvia went on pleasantly as all the blood drained from Cherry's face. "You're going to shut your smart little mouth, and you're going to let me do the shopping without saying one more word. If you don't, we're going home with diapers, onesies, dummies, bows for your hair, frilly things, the whole shebang. We'll put you where you belong, and that's that. Nothing you can do about it."

Her voice was almost shaking. This was her worst nightmare realised. "Raymond - "

"Raymond won't say a fucking word," Sylvia disagreed. "You think we're going to do two trips to preserve your precious dignity? No one will bat an eye if you go to daycare dressed like you’re three years old, and no one will bat an eye if you go dressed like you're three months old. He won't be happy, but is he going to go to the hassle of replacing everything if what we have works?"

Sylvia took her silence for submission...which, when you got down to it, was what it was. “That's what I thought," the Amazon said with an air of victory. "So you sit there, and you keep your stupid little quips to yourself, okay?"

Cherry didn't grace that with answer.

"Okay?"

"Yes ma'am," the little said quietly. She wasn't going to tempt fate. She'd pushed Sylvia too far as it was.

"Good girl," the giantess said. She gave the smaller woman a condescending pat on the head which Cherry bore sullenly. Had she ever felt so powerless? She didn't think so. "See? You're smarter than your stupid comments would lead you to believe."

With that, Sylvia plucked a package off the shelf and threw it into the trolley behind her.

Cherry's eyes grew huge. "What?" she exclaimed, trying to twist around to see what hell the giantess had just sentenced her to. The straps around her waist refused to co-operate, and after a moment of flopping around uselessly she yielded. "You literally just said - "

"I said you could go as either a three year old or a newborn," Sylvia said. She fixed the little with a tinted stare. "And there are plenty of three years olds out there who are not totally potty-trained and wear protection till they are."

"I'm not wearing a fucking diaper. Over my dead body."

"They're not diapers," the giantess said curtly. She reached behind the little and retrieved the package, holding it up so Cherry could see it clearly. They weren't diapers, but they weren't much better. The grinning toddler on the packaging might have implied otherwise, but Cherry wasn't fooled. Diapers were diapers. "See? You can pull them up and down when you need to go potty like a big girl!"

"I will piss on every rug you hold dear, Sylvia."

Sylvia threw the packaging back into the trolley and began to push her charge along yet again. "You'll have to go on all of Raymond's while you're at it," she said with that same faux enthusiasm. "His idea, not mine. I wanted full diapers. He figured this would be the most convincing."

"And why would that be?"

"Because full diapers might be overkill, but actual underwear might be suspicious. You're only a little girl, after all."

"But - "

"One more word and I'll replace them with the crawler diapers."

Cherry shuddered, but meekly zipped her lips.

The rest of their expedition went by in something of a blur. Cherry sat in her seat admiring Sylvia's shirt, doing her best to ignore everything that ended up in the cart behind her and the snide comments that went with it, and for the most part she was successful. She couldn't do anything to blot out the world when sizes were concerned - such as the instance where she was forced to stand on her perch and allow Sylvia to hold a pair of lilac shortalls against her back to judge whether it would fit - but for the most part she managed to ignore the fact that her wardrobe was taking a drastic turn for the worse. The t-shirts and headbands and shoes and dresses all lay in a crumpled pile behind her, out of sight and out of mind.

For now.

"You don't think you're buying a little much?" she chanced to ask at one point.

"We don't know how long this will take. Better to be safe," was all the response she got.

And that was the extent of her interaction with Sylvia's shopping spree, until they went to pay.

They rolled their way back to the entrance where a counter had been propped against the side wall. Up until that point, they had been fortunate enough to avoid seeing or interacting with anyone, but that was a streak of luck that was about to come to a dismal end. Unable to see anything without eyes in the back of her head, Cherry simply waited for the worse as Sylvia wheeled her towards the exit. She had no idea how this was going to go - it really depended on whoever was at the till, she supposed - but she had a hunch that she wasn't going to enjoy the experience.

Sylvia was right. Cherry was a lot smarter than her occasional jape might imply.

"Lady," a bored voice drawled from somewhere behind the little. "I can't tell you how happy it makes me see a dwarf put in 'er place."

Sylvia's smile could have solved world hunger.

They pulled up beside the counter-top, and Cherry got her first glimpse of her newest antagonist. She had no idea what she had been expecting from an employee of Babies R' Us, but it certainly wasn't the pseudo-punk teenager standing behind the counter. The girl's hair was a ridiculous black-streaked-pink-and-orange cacophony shooting off at random angles above a pale face pierced in a half dozen places. Her uniform was as clean a blue as anyone could ask for, but the rest of her was as rebellious teen as rebellious teen came. She was chewing a wad of bubblegum as if failing to do so might result in spontaneous combustion.

The name badge sitting above her right breast identified her as Lucy. "How old are ya'?" Lucy the psuedo-punk Babies R' Us employee asked, chewing her gum all the while. An appraising eyebrow had gone questing in her thicket of hair as she sized up the little in the trolley. She appeared fascinated.

Cherry sighed on the inside. It would have been too easy for this to go smoothly. “What's it to you?"

"Diapers," Sylvia answered smugly for the girl. Once again, she gave the little a condescending pat on the head. "That's what it is to you."

Well, that cleared that up."Twenty-three," Cherry said sullenly as Sylvia began to unload the trolley. It earned her disbelieving laugh from the checkout girl.

"Twenty-three," Lucy repeated scornfully. She turned to Sylvia. "And getting a wardrobe makeover here, of all places. Classic. Look, I'll tell ya a story, 'kay? Me Ma's got one of them. She's a teacher down at Thornbridge High, ya know?"

Neither Sylvia nor Cherry were entirely sure what they were meant to be knowing, but the giantess nodded agreeably all the same as she began to relocate the trolley’s contents to the counter-top. Cherry simply frowned. Not only could she tell that she wasn't going to like this story, but this girl's voice was like sandpaper. It was like something out of a bad sitcom. How did someone like this find employment?

"One of her kids, lil' one like this one 'ere was acting up," Lucy went on, taking their first item and swiping it in front of the scanner. It just so happened to be Cherry's pull-ups, and she had to physically resist the urge to cringe as they disappeared into the bag beside the teen. She was going to be wearing those as soon as tomorrow, and everyone present knew it. "Fifteen or sixteen, mind you, but he was a little snot. Absolute snot. Just like a three year old, always complainin' 'bout this or that. Lil' guy called Barry."

"They tend to be like that," Sylvia commented dryly.

"Well, one day me Ma decides she's had enough," Lucy said cheerfully. She scanned the tag on a pair of hot-pink shoes Sylvia had dug up, and then they too disappeared into the bag with the pull-ups. "So she brings him home and says he can stay with us till he learns to grow up a bit. He's my lil' brother now. Does nuttin' but eat, shit and sleep."
     
"That's the best thing for them to be doing," Sylvia agreed wisely, the corners of her mouth twitching. Cherry pouted. Raymond was going to get an earful when they got home.

"Oh, that's the truth oright," Lucy nodded vigorously, and yes, that was very clearly an o, not an a. If schools were popping out idiots like this, it was no wonder society thought it was okay to treat littles the way they did. "They think they're just like the rest o' us, but...look at 'er!"

Both women paused to admire Cherry as if she'd grown a second head. She resisted the urge to flip them off.

"So," Lucy said happily and went back to bagging their purchases. With some relief, Cherry saw they were nearly done. Just a few dresses to go. "What did this one do to land her back in trainers?"

"She pissed on my rug," Sylvia answered mildly.

Cherry rolled her eyes as Lucy shook her head. "It's a wonder how they ever get out of trainers in the first place," the teen mused thoughtfully. She turned her attention to Cherry, opting not to talk over her for the very first time. "Look, lady," she said. "I'm sure you try real hard to be a big girl, so I'm right sorry, but you're a teeny little thing. It's easier for the rest of us if you just accept it."

"My heart bleeds for you."

Lucy snorted and turned back to Sylvia. "All the same, aren't they? Snots, the lot of them. You got your work cut out for you with this one. She needs some manners beat into her, oright."

"Tell me about it," Sylvia agreed cheerfully.

The teenager nodded wisely and finished bagging their purchases without another word. Being a repository of wisdom was hard work.

They had paid the girl and were wheeling their way towards the exit when the teenager stopped them. "Hey, wait a sec!" she called out after them.

Uh uh. We're done here. "Keep going," Cherry urged miserably. They were only meters from the door. "Sylvia, you promised to be good. I'll tell Ray."

"How very mature of you," the giantess commented dryly. "Tattling to daddy."

She turned back to the girl behind the counter. "What's up?"

"Did she ever apologise for piddlin' on your rug?"

Cherry could have died.

"No," Sylvia said thoughtfully. She looked back at Cherry. "She didn't."

"I was just thinkin', seein' how rude she was just now," Lucy said. She left her post and walked over to stand next to Sylvia, staring down at the little in the trolley. She put her hands on her hips in mock seriousness as she talked down to Cherry. "You should say sorry to your mummy right now, little girl."

Cherry stared up at the girl before her in disbelief. They couldn't be serious. She turned to Sylvia, looking for help.

The giantess smiled back at her.

She was going to get out of here faster if she just went along with this bullshit. "I'm sorry," Cherry muttered, cheek's burning. Why, oh why had she let Raymond talk her into this?

"For what?" Lucy said in a singsong voice. The girl was going to coax it out of her. "Come on, you can do better than that."

"For peeing on Sylvia's rug." And yours is next.

Lucy nodded sagely. "That," she said. "Is a great start. A great start. But...that's not her name anymor', and I wanna hear you say the whole lot at once. Can you do that for me sweetie?"

Bitch, I will kill in your sleep.

She turned to Sylvia, and doing her best not to choke on her pride, forced out, "I'm sorry for peeing on your rug...mummy."

Musical peals of laughter rang out from Sylvia's mouth, echoing off the ceiling of Babies R' Us with the reverb you’d expect in a cathedral. Cherry didn't think she'd ever seen the giantess so happy. Lucy smiled at the sound, clearly proud of herself for brightening someone's day. The amount of metal in the girl's face made it into a grimace.

Sylvia eventually calmed down enough to note Cherry's burning cheeks. "I'm sorry," she said. "But that was precious."

"Yeah, well," the little grumbled. "Whatever." She crossed her arms and tried to melt into her seat with pretty much no success whatsoever. “Go you.”

The end was in sight, though, because after Sylvia had thanked Lucy one more time for her help, they were done. They returned the trolley, collected their bags, and headed back out onto the street. Cherry relished being able to walk again, short as the trip was across the road to the car. It was a small thing, but regaining even that measure of autonomy lifted her spirits after what she'd just endured.

"That wasn't funny," she said flatly after Sylvia had helped her into the passenger seat. "You promised to play nicely. What the hell was that?"

The giantess giggled to herself as she started the car up. "To be fair, that was more Lucy than me, was it not?"

"I..." Cherry's voice trailed off. If she was being honest, she couldn’t really bring herself to care. The last hour had been nothing short of a blur of embarrassment, and who had been the instigator suddenly seemed irrelevant. It happened. It sucked. Time to move on. "Fine. Whatever. Can we go back to the motel now?"

"No."

“No?” Cherry sat up a little straighter. "What do you mean no? Haven't you embarrassed me enough today?"

"Not even close."

Her eyes narrowed. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see."

The little resisted the urge to scream. "One day, Sylvia, I really will piss on your precious rug, so help me."

Sylvia turned away from the road to fix her companion with a baleful stare. "What was it I said earlier this afternoon?" she said flatly. With one hand, she mimed stroking her chin. Cherry waited impatiently. "Oh. Right."

She turned back to the road. "I'm not here to make you happy."

"And what was it that I said? As long as you co-operate, I don't care."

Sylvia shrugged. "I'm doing exactly that, little miss," she said. "Whether you can appreciate it or not, that's exactly what I'm doing."

Cherry huffed and looked out her window. So much for mending bridges or learning lessons or whatever the hell Raymond had thought this was going to achieve. "Sure you are."

Part One of the Promise concludes in Chapter 7: The Calm Before the Storm

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