"I look like a chipmunk," Cherry complained, shifting about in her seat. No matter which way she turned, the mirror didn't lie. She was adorable.
She hated it.
"I was thinking more along the lines of Tinkerbell," Raymond remarked helpfully. He rolled down the car window, letting the warmth of the morning inside. "If your hair was a shade lighter and you lost a little weight..."
"Are you calling me fat?"
Raymond smiled. "It's baby fat. Part of the disguise. Nothing to be ashamed of."
Cherry found herself returning the smile in spite of herself. "Sure."
They were parked across from the daycare where Raymond had finally located Dawn. While Cherry and Sylvia had been out 'bonding' over baby paraphernalia, he had gone straight from the gym to stake out all three of the prospective prison camps, moving fast from one to the next so he could survey all three while the kids were outside for recess and visible to the outside world. He hadn’t made it to the third one before their playtime ended, but seeing as he hadn’t sighted Dawn in the mobs of the first two, he’d come to the conclusion that there was a good chance she must be at daycare number three. Hoping he’d get in far enough to survey the kids, he’d asked to be taken inside to talk to someone with a brain, an attempt which had ended in the exact same manner his attempt the day before had. Out of options, he’d been forced to take the plunge and ask the resident robot the pertinent question...and had, surprisingly, got the answer they all wanted to hear.
The nanny-bot had confirmed that there was a girl named Dawn enrolled at her fine establishment.
Raymond had wanted to bring Sylvia along that morning, arguing that she deserved to enjoy the fruits of their labours as much as themselves, but Cherry had put her foot down. Not after yesterday. They'd instead snuck out of the motel, going to great pains to let the giantess sleep. That was no mean feat, considering she was sharing a bed with Raymond.
Following their expedition to Babies R' Us, the giantess had surprised the little with a visit to the hairdressers. At the time, Cherry had seen the sense in it and grudgingly agreed, permitting the Amazon in charge of the place to tidy up the body of her hair and hack her fringe and sides into the sickeningly sweet bangs she now wore. Why not, after all? A better disguise was a better disguise.
She found out why not when she got back to the motel. Apparently this was not something Sylvia had discussed with Raymond, because he'd taken one look at the little before bursting into a raucous fit of laughter that had lasted a full twenty minutes. She'd been outfitted with the hairstyle of a toddler for no reason other than the fact the giantess was on a power trip. Having a little kid's haircut was probably a good thing when going undercover as a little kid...but the principle of the matter rankled her all the same. Sylvia needed to be reigned in, and there was only one person capable of such a monumental task.
Unfortunately, that one person didn't seem to find fault with what had transpired the day before.
"We need to talk before I head in," Cherry said reluctantly.
Her roommate looked at her curiously. He rolled his window back up. "What's up?"
Raymond barked a short, sarcastic laugh. "And in other news, the sky is blue."
"You weren't there yesterday. I came back looking like a pixie and all you did was laugh. You agreed with her." She shook her head. "How could you possibly agree with her?"
He shrugged awkwardly. "She said she was going to help, didn't she?" he offered. A faint blush coloured his cheeks. "And that's what she did. I didn't think of the haircut, Sylvie did, and it was a stroke of genius." He ruffled her hair affectionately. "You're adorable. No one's going to believe you're anything but another little being taught a lesson by the big bad giant, and you can thank her for that. Not me."
Irritated, Cherry shrugged away. He wasn't listening to her. "Stop that. Look, you didn't see her yesterday. She made me sit in the trolley, and she let the freaking check-out chick harass me, and...and...Ray, she blackmailed me with diapers."
His gaze wandered out the window. "And from the sound of it, you deserved it."
Cherry's jaw dropped. "What?"
"Cherry...it's a two way street," he went on with a nervous laugh, very obviously doing his best to avoid eye contact. The tree in the daycare’s front yard had suddenly become the most fascinating thing in the world. "Now I'm not saying she was right to threaten you with what she did, but she has every right to give as good as she gets. I talked to her last night, and she said you were abusing her even before you made it into the store. Is that true?"
How was that even relevant, considering what came after? "Well, that depends on your definition of abuse,” Cherry conceded reluctantly. “But she was babying me even before that. It's not like I didn't give her a chance to do the right thing by me."
"Yeah, well," Raymond went on self-consciously, obviously uncomfortable with knowingly siding with the villain. Cherry watched him with growing disbelief. He was genuinely trying to make a case against her. "We did spring this on her against her will. It's a miracle she's agreed to help even as much as has, we can't expect her to sit there and take all the crap you give her too. We all need to co-operate if we want to get anywhere."
"So you're siding with her." She could hear the undisguised incredulity in her voice but found herself incapable of caring. "She paraded me around like a little kid all of yesterday and you're siding with her."
Raymond's face finally hardened. "I'm just grateful that she's here at all," he said stonily. His voice rose slightly. "She's not perfect, but at least she's trying to improve. I get that it's hard to see from your position, but you can't expect her to change overnight. She'll get there, you'll see.”
Great. Now I'm biased. "She's not trying. You weren't there, Ray, you weren't there. She’s not even trying to help, she’s only done as much as she has because it lets her ‘put me in my place’- and that’s a direct quote. Ray, if you weren't too in love to see that she's a two-faced bitch, you - "
"Enough," Raymond said coldly.
She'd crossed a line. Discussing Sylvia's etiquette was one thing - insulting her friend's better judgement was quite another. Cherry winced. "I'm sorry."
"She told me everything about yesterday," he said stiffly. "She did nothing that I wouldn't have done in her position. Yeah, I’m sure she wasn’t pleasant to be around. You don’t help that, though."
"Then you're cherry picking which details you want to listen to."
"You literally just admitted to starting it," he shot back angrily.
Cherry opened her mouth to say that no, actually, she said no such thing...then slowly closed it again.
Her roommate was intoxicated with the idea of winning back the girl he loved. From where Cherry was sitting, it seemed impossible for her to be anything but the victim in all of this, but he'd somehow convinced himself otherwise. Either Sylvia was lying to his face, or he'd already made up his mind - consciously or not - that he was going to give his girlfriend the benefit of the doubt. She somehow thought it might actually be the latter option. Raymond was a great guy, but as critical as he was of Sylvia's antics, he did love her. Admitting that Cherry was right was denying Sylvia her last chance to make amends.
The little sighed. "Okay Ray," she said softly. "You're right. I fucked up. I'm sorry."
He stared at her frostily for a long moment before thawing. She knew he would. Beneath the macho exterior, Raymond was a puppy. "Me too," he said quietly. "I shouldn't get so worked up. You're both doing your best."
Cherry bit back a choice review of that comment and opted for a polite nod instead.
He gave her thigh a gentle pat. "I know she's difficult," he said softly, almost to himself. A faraway look appeared in his eyes. "I get it. But she's a nice person once you get to know her."
Yeah, if you're tall enough to look her in the eye. "I'm sure she is."
Neither of them knew what to follow that with, and they lapsed into silence.
At last, Raymond sighed and stretched out as much as the confines of the car would allow. The mist faded from his eyes and he donned an exaggerated grin. "We should get going," he said with forced enthusiasm. The transition was jarring. "We wouldn't want you to be late for your first day of daycare!"
For someone that was generally easy to like, he was being incredibly frustrating that morning. Cherry's face clouded. "Maybe you should spend the day there instead of me, if you're that excited." She wasn't in the mood after being told she had deserved to be threatened with tape-on diapers.
"I don't have the hair for it," he remarked with genuine cheer. He rubbed the top of his close-shaved head the way one might rub a lamp to conjure a genie. "Or the wardrobe, for that matter."
Cherry glowered at him before turning her attention down to herself, fuming quietly at the reminder that she resembled some saccharine monstrosity from a Disney film. She was dressed for the occasion in everything they had bought yesterday, and she looked sweet enough to curdle bubblegum. Beneath her pink shortalls, she was wearing a purple t-shirt emblazoned with a yellow sunflower, drawn in a blocky, cartoonish hand that had the artistry of Microsoft clip art. Her legs were bare beneath where the shortalls ended mid-thigh, and beneath that her feet were encased in a pair of frilly pink ankle-socks that erupted out of her bright pink sneakers. Everything about her was as infantile as infantile came, and she hated it. This was everything she'd tried to avoid for her whole life.
She wasn't even in big girl underwear anymore. It didn't do to linger on that thought for long or she got so mad at the world she thought she might explode.
Raymond caught her appraising herself and began to openly laugh. The noise split the relative silence of the morning like a spurt of lightning, and any last remnants of tension between them suddenly evaporated. Cherry caught herself smiling reluctantly in spite of herself. His positivity was infectious.
I guess I shouldn't begrudge him Sylvia, she reluctantly thought to herself. He loves her. I can't blame him for giving her as many chances as possible.
She elected not to share that thought with him. "I reckon you could pull it off," she instead teased, slugging his arm. "I can see you in bangs and pink. Hot as."
"You can play dress up with the other kids once you're inside," he said with a grin. "Leave me out of it."
And just like that, the reality of it all came crashing back down.
"Yeah. That's still happening," Raymond remarked lightly.
He must have seen her smile falter, because he rushed into the breach with reckless abandon."It's only for a little while," he reassured her. "We both know it's going to be embarrassing, but it's for a good cause, remember?"
How could she forget? She bit her lip.
"Look at today as pretend. It's not the real thing. You get to relive your childhood for a bit, then we're out of here and it'll never happen again. It's not the end of the world." He smiled faintly. "Hey, outside of those bedwetting pants they made you wear at uni, you've never really had to go through this. Maybe you'll even like it."
"I'll keep that in mind while I'm being bottle fed," Cherry remarked dryly.
"You're three. Three year olds don't drink from bottles."
"They'll find a way."
He shrugged. "Suck it up, Princess," he said, not unkindly. "Blame your sister for getting caught. Not me for helping bust her out."
With that, he opened the door and hurried outside, casually strolling around to help Cherry out the car. She gratefully accepted his helping hand as she slipped from her seat, and then they were off, walking quietly across the road with the weight of her sister's future draped over their shoulders.
They stopped before the front gate, turning to face each other once again. "I guess this it," Raymond said.
"I guess it is," Cherry answered with a sigh. She cast a dismal glance towards the front door, positively dreading what she was about to endure. She didn't consider herself a vain or proud woman by any stretch of the imagination, but this sort of treatment was nothing short of demeaning. Necessary as this was, she could think of very little she'd enjoy less than subjecting herself to this particular quirk of the Amazonian world. "I'd say I'm looking forward to seeing my sister...but I'd be lying through my teeth, all considered."
Her roommate smiled faintly. "Tell her I say hi," he said as he reached over the fence to unlatch the child-proof lock. The gate swung open with a noisy creak.
"She better be here, Ray, or I'm going to question your skill as a detective till the day I die." She peered through the front gate as if Dawn might suddenly spring out of the bushes on command. "For all we know, it’s another girl with the same name.”
"For all we know, this is the best lead we have,” he retorted pointedly.
He was right.
She hated it when he was right.
"Good luck," Raymond said gently. He pushed her into the front yard of the daycare and pulled the gate shut behind her. "I'll be here at three to see what's happening, one way or another. If you're heading off to Dawn's place, good; if not we'll go home and try again tomorrow."
"I can barely contain my excitement."
"I'm here to make you happy," was his dry response. "Now get going. You're late as it is, they'll all be sitting down for mat time now. You don't want to miss out on Spot the Dog."
She rolled her eyes. “Great.”
He left her after that, giving his friend a final, reassuring smile before returning to the car. She waved half-heartedly as he revved the engine to life and pulled away from the curb, and then she was alone in the front yard of the daycare.
It was weird being here, dressed as she was. Cherry had tried so hard all her adult life to avoid this fate, and now she was jumping into it feet first. The mere thought of standing outside a daycare wearing a diaper and kid's clothing would have been unthinkable not even a week ago. It was amazing how quickly things could change for the worse.
She realised she was examining her outfit again and smiled ruefully. She was making this out to be such a big deal, but when you got down to it, Raymond was right. It was all just pretend. She'd go in and make-believe that she was a little who ran afoul of a giant with a flair for parenting, and before she knew it, it'd be over. Unlike her sister, who'd been stuck as she was for three months, she'd be unlucky to see three days of this. What was the big deal?
Cherry took a deep breath and went to save her sister.
The Promise continues in Part Two, Chapter 8: Reek, It Rhymes With Leak
End of Part One