It was lunchtime at Ms Bell’s daycare, and it was loud. Little could be heard over the cacophony of thirty young children in a confined space, but one sound still managed to cut through the din and into Cherry's skull with the elegance of a pick mining for gold. That sound was her older sister slurping her near-empty juice-box, and sitting beside its source at their colourful table, Cherry found herself contemplating murder. Dawn seemed oblivious to the black looks her efforts to drain the last of her apple juice were earning her. Juice drinking required one's undivided attention to achieve resounding success, after all.
"Are you quite alright?"
Her older sister favoured her with a questioning look. Her face was the picture of innocence as she looked from Cherry to the juicebox, from the juicebox to Cherry...
...and then she went back to slurping.
Cherry felt every last hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Gritting her teeth, the little woman lashed out and ripped the box from her sister's hands, slamming it on the table hard enough to make the cradle of crayons in the middle quake. "It's done," she growled as menacingly as she could whilst wearing a sunflower t-shirt and absorbent underwear. She glared daggers. "Stop."
Dawn fixed her with a baleful stare. "It's not nice to snatch," was her plaintive response, and then she plucked the box off the table-top as delicately as one might pluck the petals from a flower. She resumed slurping away as if the world might end if she didn't.
Cherry shook her head in disgust and went to her happy place.
She'd joined her sister in the cubby as soon as she'd left the sandpit, hoping against hope that she’d get the answers she’d come for. After her experience with Tyra and Simone, she just wanted it all to be over. She was done with the little kid crap. She wanted to go back to her apartment with Raymond and not have to stress about a single thing beyond Sylvia's next visit. Was that really so much to ask? What had she done to deserve getting drawn into this web of insanity?
Cherry didn’t get answers; she received a polite inquiry as to whether she'd decided to play tag after all. It seemed as if Dawn had decided it was in her best interests to play the role of the little girl after recovering from her initial shock, because in that cubby she had clammed up entirely. Cherry had been unable to get the slightest adult response from her sister. There were factors at play that Cherry could only guess at, so she could grudgingly respect her sister's decision, as much as she disliked it...but God did it make life difficult. How much could she really achieve without Dawn's co-operation, after all? She needed to know what was inside that weed-choked manor before she made her next move.
They'd been called inside for lunch before long, and that was where they currently found themselves. Cherry hadn't thought to pack a bag with food, so she simply took a seat and watched the other kids hurry to their cubbies, rummage through their backpacks and find a place to sit with an assortment of snacks and treats. She was a little surprised when Dawn led her three friends to come and sit next to her without needing any prompting...but unfortunately, the situation remained unchanged.
"Okay, sweet things!" Ms Bell's voice floated above the din, perfectly audible from even the furthest reaches of the room. She was sitting by the window bottle-feeding the little boy Cherry had seen being bullied earlier. The kid was clearly a year or two younger than the rest of the daycare’s inhabitants; he was still in diapers, and if earlier was anything to judge by, still crawling, too. "Lunch time's over. Who's ready for some fun?"
There was a responding cheer from everyone present, including twenty-six year old Dawn Anderson. The sight of her sister perched on the edge of her seat with juice dribbling down her chin was possibly the most depressing sight Cherry had ever witnessed. With a humourless smile, she said to her sister, "Dear stranger, you're wasting precious juice."
She was ignored.
"I want two people from each table to come get paper and paint," Ms Bell instructed, carefully manoeuvring the boy onto her hip as she stood up. He was a tiny thing, almost frail, and he seemed quite content to drain his bottle dry as he perched upon his caretaker's side. Daisy made her way over to a vacant table on the far side of the room, and Cherry could see it was stacked high with paper and an assortment of pots and brushes. "We're going to paint pictures for your mummies and daddies!"
Cherry groaned as she realised where this was going. Dawn, on the other hand, squealed and clapped her hands together. Her friends seemed equally enthusiastic. None of them took any note of the despondent little they were sitting with.
“That's right, go paint a pretty picture for the person that cut off your boobs,” Cherry remarked bitterly. It was hard to believe that she was in a position where that was a valid, meaningful sentence. “I'm sure they’ll appreciate it."
Her sister wasn't around to appreciate the absurdity of that remark, though. She was already bouncing away to Ms Bell and her wonderful collection of paints.
Cherry could have cried.
With a sigh, the biggest little girl in daycare reluctantly got to her feet and trudged after her sycophant sister. Dawn's enthusiastic leap to action had ensured that they beat the rush, and only moments later Cherry was standing eye to thigh with Ms Bell and her table of everything wrong in the world.
Daisy's face split open in a fawning smile as the two littles presented themselves to her, one practically giddy with excitement and the other doing her best to keep her irritation to herself. Their caretaker's charge had been placed on the floor behind the table at some point, and he was sitting quietly against the wall as he drank from his bottle. He watched the littles draw close with seemingly as much interest as Daisy herself, and Cherry couldn't help but notice that his face seemed to sparkle with a surprising amount of intellect for someone his age. He had plump, rosy cheeks, pouty lips and an unruly mop of brown fluff above it all. He was as infantile as infantile came, and yet...there was something about him that seemed to exude intelligence.
Is he a little?
He couldn't be. He was positively minuscule, even for a little.
"Who's that?" Cherry asked before Daisy could open her mouth.
The Amazon woman threw a cursory look over her shoulder, as if she needed to see the boy to recall his name. The boy in question seemed not to notice - he was too busy drinking in the sight of Cherry's arrival to care for his teacher. His eyes were a deep, bottomless brown, and they seemed to appraise the tiny woman quietly over the teat of his bottle. Cherry felt her unease deepen. She couldn't explain it, but there was something off about this kid. He couldn't be more than two, surely...but there was something about him.
"That's Lucas," Daisy answered as she turned back around.
"And who is Lucas, exactly?"
"Who's your sweet friend here, Dawn?" Daisy's eyes flickered from sister to sister, ignoring the question entirely for reasons known only to her. Her smile grew as she put on her best talking-to-little-kids face. "I don't think I've seen her before. Is she new?"
The question seemed to please Dawn. The elder Anderson daughter cheerfully squeaked out a "Cherry! It's her first day!" that would have made a chipmunk proud.
Daisy's smile dissolved into an expression of exaggerated surprise, and her mouth formed a perfect O as she exclaimed, "I didn't know that!" Her hands found her hips, and she ruefully added, "See, it's lucky you're here to take care of her. She might have got lost if you weren't!"
Cherry rolled her eyes, still wanting an answer, but Dawn giggled proudly to herself and made a show of abashedly looking at her shoes. Ms Bell simply smiled and turned her attention to Cherry. "Aren't you a lucky girl to have a friend like this?" she practically sang. There were stars in her eyes as she announced, "I wish I had a friend like Dawn."
Cherry refused to bite. "I've had better. Are you going to tell me who Lucas is now?"
Lucas' face visibly twitched at that, but Daisy once again refused to favour the little with an answer. The taller woman instead grabbed a small container loaded with paints and water and passed them to Dawn. With a smile as plastic as Lucas’ underpants, she said, "Take this to your table, dear. Your new friend will be along in just a second, I need to have a word with her."
Dawn happily took the container and skipped - literally skipped - off into the sunset without a word of protest.
Cherry opened her mouth.
Suddenly, there was a pile of paper butting against her ribs and a giantess looking down at her expectantly. Cherry closed her mouth and opted instead for a frown. She could tell when she wasn't wanted. "Will you talk to me if I play along?"
"I hope you're being a good girl," Daisy said quietly. She stared down the little with imploring eyes. "Lucas isn't your concern. Dawn is, and you could have hurt her feelings just then."
And if I did, it's her own damn fault. "I'm sorry?"
Her caretaker's face was stony. "Dawn's a good girl, okay? She's been through a lot, and she doesn't need you disrupting whatever peace she's found. If you're not going to play nice, the least you can do is leave her alone." A strange expression evolved across the giantess’ face, and Cherry found her interest suddenly spike. Was that regret? Reproach? Daisy had the answers she was looking for! "Understand?"
Not in the slightest. "What are you - "
"You could learn something from her, you know.” Daisy gazed after Cherry’s sister, who had already rejoined her friends at the table. The girls were talking animatedly amidst themselves as they divvied up the paints, undoubtedly discussing the subject of their masterpieces. The sight did nothing to raise Cherry’s spirits. “If I were in your shoes, I'd be modelling my behaviour after her. It'll work out better for you in the long run."
Fat fucking chance. "Wait, what do you mean that she's been - "
That faraway expression vanished. Daisy glanced back at her troublesome charge. "Is that any of your business?"
"No. It's not."
Cherry glared at her antagonist. "Yes, actually, it is. What do you - "
"Do I need to sit you in timeout for a while? We don't talk back to our elders here, Cherry."
"But - "
Daisy's face was as black as sin.
She wasn’t going to win this particular battle. Seeing no alternative, Cherry gritted her teeth and forced out a stiff, "No Ms Bell. I don't need to sit in timeout." Timeout? I need Jesus, not a timeout.
"That's a good girl. See, was that so hard?"
Is Sylvia a cow? "No, Ms Bell."
That seemed to satisfy the giantess. Daisy nodded with approval. "Take this," the taller woman said as she offered Cherry the paper once again. "There're a number of little girls waiting patiently for this, and we wouldn't want to keep them waiting. Would we?"
"No," Cherry answered with a sigh. The Mystery of Lucas and the Mystery of Dawn were both going to have to wait a while, at least till she'd painted a picture for her ‘parents’. She was sure to make Sylvia’s day, at least. "I guess we wouldn't."
When she went to take the paper, though, the Amazon held it firm.
Oh come on. Nearing the end of her patience, the little snapped out a frustrated, "You literally just said - "
"What do you say?"
She suspected a time out would be the least of her worries if she started wishing the woman an untimely demise. Swallowing her pride, she forced out a meek, "Thank you Ms Bell."
"Good girl. Now go paint a pretty picture for your mummy, okay? I’m sure she’ll love having something to hang on her fridge.”
Cherry didn't doubt that for a second. "Yes, Ms Bell."
And that was that.
Lucas drank his milk and watched her leave.
"Need ta potty!" Abigail announced. Consternation marred her guileless face as she set aside her paintbrush so she was free to press both hands between her legs in a most un-ladylike manner.
"Fascinating," Cherry remarked dryly without looking up from her attempt to recreate van Gogh's 'The Starry Night'. If only she had yellow paint for the stars, she could be painting a magnum opus. Daisy had somehow failed to give them yellow paint. "My heart bleeds for you."
"Go see Ms Bell," Sarah suggested helpfully. She was a year younger than her companions, closer to three than four, and had a slight lisp that set Cherry on edge. She certainly wouldn't have been the little's first choice if she was forced to put together a friendship group consisting of toddlers. "You don't want to have an accident."
"God forbid. The sky might fall in."
"I'll take you," Dawn offered as Abigail presented Cherry with a look of deepening confusion. The toddler didn't exactly understand what was being said, but she sure as hell caught the tone. The older Anderson daughter leapt to the rescue, getting to her feet and taking the much younger girl by the arm. She unexpectedly shot Cherry a loaded look as she did so. "Come on, Sarah's right. Your mummy said you can't have any more or she'll make you wear you-know-what."
Real fear crossed Abigail's face, and without further comment she bounced upright and away as fast as she possibly could with her hands wedged firmly between her legs.
A little kid in need of the potty was the least of Cherry's interests. What did interest her was the look on her sister’s face. That hadn't been a happy expression, God no, but it had been an adult one. With a voice as dry as kindling, she asked, "Are you ready to talk to - "
"Don't be a bitch," Dawn interrupted. Her eyebrows collided. "Leave my friends alone. Okay?"
With that, she hurried after her friend.
Beside Cherry, Sarah's face visibly brightened. "She said a bad word," the toddler whispered in a conspiratorial voice. She descended into an incredulous giggling fit with the other girl in their group, a meek brunette who had never bothered to tell Cherry her name. "She’s gonna get in trouble!"
"I somehow doubt Ms Bell heard," Cherry remarked hollowly. Their teacher was on the other side of the room and likely couldn't hear herself think over the din. “She probably can’t even hear herself think over you lot.”
Sarah looked at her sideways for a long moment, as if she didn't fully understand...then repeated happily, "She said a bad word!"
She wasn’t wrong. Dawn had said a bad word. If it hadn't have been directed at her, Cherry would have been as happy as Sarah was - it was what she'd been waiting for all day, after all.
But that was it?
End of conversation?
Cherry looked down at her painting and sighed. She'd been on autopilot painting this stupid thing, and only now did she realise that she'd let her mouth run away from her as a result. Again. She was being a bitch to little kids, and there was never an excuse for that. Apparently Dawn agreed, because it had been the one thing that pried her clam open all day. What had she promised herself before Tyra and Simone got on her case? Not to do exactly that?
Vowing to do better, Cherry returned to her work, irritated with herself and hopeful that Dawn would still feel adult enough when she returned to continue their conversation.
It wasn't to be. Dawn returned before too long and at all, and the first thing to pass her lips was best described as the untimely demise of Cherry’s hopes and dreams. "Ms Bell wants us all to go potty too,” the chubby little announced as she walked up to the table. She smiled winningly at her companions. “She's waiting in the bathroom."
Sarah's apathy was unrivalled. "Okay."
Both she and the nameless girl put down their paintbrushes without comment and hurried away to the bathroom, as if doing so on command was the most natural thing in the world. Cherry supposed it must be. She watched them go, bemused...
...and then the significance of what that meant for her struck.
"You too." Her sister agreed. "Ms Bell will be there to help.”
All thoughts of quizzing Dawn evaporated as the prospect of a supervised potty session occurred to Cherry. "I'll pass," the little said with an awkward laugh, finding herself blushing at the mere thought of needing assistance to do such a private thing. On her endless list of thing she needed help with, using the potty wasn't even within sight of the top. "I'm all good. All pottied out, actually."
Dawn's frowned. The expression made her eyes disappear beneath her brow. "Ms Bell says you've gotta," she said slowly. "We all need to potty before nap time so we don't have accidents while we sleep."
The childish explanation elicited a sigh from Cherry and a frown to match her sibling’s. "Look, sis, I’m really happy for you,” she began irritably. “And I’m gonna let you finish, but - "
Suddenly, it was Christmas.
"Also, Cherry, I meant what I said before. They're like what - three? Four? Leave them the hell alone. Take your frustration out on me, I don't care, but lay off them. It's not on."
Just like that, Dawn was an adult again. Cherry's heart soared. "You're ready to talk to me? Finally?"
"No," Dawn said flatly. She turned tail and hurried after her friends.
"You can't keep doing this forever!" Cherry called after her, suddenly furious. She threw down her brush and hurried after her sister, not willing to bypass an opportunity to interrogate Dawn while she was semi-approachable. She passed a returning Abigail on the way. "You have to talk to me sooner or later!"
Her sibling was waiting at the open door to the bathroom, looking inside and observing something that Cherry couldn't see from her own angle. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said innocently. Her thumb had made its way into her mouth in the three seconds she'd had her back turned to Cherry, and she slurped around it, "I'm talking to you now, aren't I?"
"Sis, I'm trying to help you. I don't know what your problem is, but you're making this very difficult. Can't you - "
"Cherry, is that you? Get in here."
Cherry flinched as Daisy's voice wafted out of the bathroom.
"Ms Bell said you hafta potty," Dawn said softly. She suddenly seemed incapable of making eye contact. "You don't wanna have an accident, do you?"
This is getting ridiculous. "Do you think I need a stranger's help to wipe my ass?" Cherry hissed. She took a threatening step towards her sister. "What is wrong with you? Some of us are a little too old for that."
"You don't look like a big girl."
"And why is that, huh? The only reason I'm here, the only fucking reason, is to - "
"I don't know what you were expecting when you walked through the front door earlier." Dawn was once again a bristly twenty-six. If Cherry hadn’t known better, she’d have suspected her sister had come down with a severe case of bipolar disorder since their last encounter. "I don't know if you're genuinely here to help me, or if you're here on Evie's terms, but it really doesn't matter. Right now, you're dressed like a toddler, so go sit your ass on the fucking toilet before you get us both in trouble. I am not getting another bad report from Ms Bell because you refused to play your part.”
She didn't get a chance to process that. Dawn grabbed her by the arm, forced her backwards through the open door, and pulled it shut behind her. She was left giving a barrier of solid wood the witch's eye, her retort dying on her tongue before it was given life. Well, that was that.
"Cherry!" Daisy exclaimed cheerfully from somewhere behind the furious little. "I'll just be a moment, as soon as Sarah's done tinkling."
A shy giggle followed that statement...along with the sound of trickling water.
Cherry closed her eyes. This can't be happening.
But it was.
"Is it safe to look?" she called awkwardly over her shoulder. She hadn't been in this room before, but there was no doubt in her mind that privacy was going to be in short supply. Wasn't that the way these places were? “I’m not going to see something I’m not supposed to, am I?”
"Of course it's safe to look." There was a hint of exasperation in the Amazon's voice. "Turn around so we can get you sorted, I have a whole daycare to get through before nap time. No time to waste."
Cherry bit her lip. It wasn't too late to run off and tear Dawn a new one...only that was sure to get her a spanking. Wasn’t it?
"Hello? Today would be nice."
What was worse - a spanking or a bruised ego?
Real bruises hurt a lot more than metaphorical bruises. What kind of a question is that?
Cherry swallowed her pride, turned around, and opened her eyes.
The bathroom was tiny. It was a shoebox of a room, dimly lit by fluorescent overheads that reflected harshly off the blue tiling. The walls were a faded yellow, and someone had done their best to hide that detail by covering every inch with all sorts of motivational posters. There was one on the left wall showcasing an anthropomorphic skunk dancing around and singing his ABCs, and opposite it was his brother, the anthropomorphic chipmunk. He was counting to ten like a pro. Cherry thought that there was a time and a place for numeracy and literacy, and potty sessions weren't it...but hey. What did she know?
The back wall was divided into thirds. The right section featured a basin and a mirror, appropriately sized so little kids wouldn't have the slightest concern washing their hands after they did their business. Nameless Girl was busy there, cleaning up and humming a tuneless tune to herself. The other two, however, were dominated by a child-sized toilet each, shielded from each other by only a thin divider of red plastic. There were no doors, no walls, no privacy - it was all open air.
The right one was vacant, but Sarah sat on the left with her pants around her ankles and Daisy leaning over her. A pull-up was perfectly visible around her ankles, identical to the one Cherry wore beneath her own clothes, seemingly right down to the Tinkerbell motif on the front.
The trickling water should have overridden Daisy’s reassurement...but then again, she'd never been as bright as her sister.
Cherry closed her eyes again as quickly as she'd opened them. What had she done to deserve this? She was a good person, damn it. The best she knew. "I thought you said it was safe to look. Christ. Daisy."
"Ms Bell," came the pointed reminder. "And what do you mean, safe to look? We're all girls here."
"I'm perfectly aware that we're all girls.” I’d have to be blind not to be. “That's not what I meant, Ms Bell."
She sensed more than saw her caretaker shrug. "You're a little girl, she's a little girl," was her disinterested response. "I don't see the issue."
Cherry ignored the blatant comparison to someone twenty years her junior."Okay. Whatever. How about I just wait outside, and when you're done - "
"We're on a schedule, Cherry. There's thirty kids I have to get through. We have a free potty, and you're wasting time."
Cherry's eyes snapped open. Doing her best not to look at the toddler still doing her thing, she exclaimed, "I'm not going to - "
"Can you wait just a second sweetie?" Daisy sang down to Sarah, ignoring Cherry's protest before it was done formulating. "I'm just going to get Cherry set up, then I'll be back to help you."
The little girl beneath her nodded shyly, watching Cherry quietly and emptying her bladder all the while. Nameless Girl chose that moment to leave, too, giving the hesitant little a wide berth as she exited the room.
She tried again. "But - "
Daisy was on her in a second, ushering her over to the free toilet. "Let’s get you undressed," she said, not unkindly. Moments later, her hands were at the buckles of Cherry's shortalls for the second time that day, and Cherry felt all the blood drain from her face. It had been bad enough just having her underwear checked before; this was a whole different level of unacceptable. Her protests began immediately and were accompanied by her best attempts to break free, but Daisy was having none of it. She was a step ahead at every turn, and she said, “It's just till you get used to it, you know. Once you're in the swing of things this becomes as easy as breathing."
Some reassurement that was. Not seeing an alternative, Cherry continued to shake and squirm and wriggle and do everything in her power to get away. She didn't sign up for this! "Please, just leave me alone - look, I'll even go if you want me to, just let me do it by myself, I'm not a - "
Then the buckles were free and her shortalls were around her ankles, and she was standing there in the bathroom in just her shirt and pull-up for the world to see. She squeaked furiously and went to cover herself. All the blood she'd lost from her face flooded back fast enough to make her dizzy.
A small giggle from the toilet drew her attention to Sarah. "You're wearing a diaper," she giggled matter-of-factly. She pointed at the garment between the little’s legs. "You're a baby."
"It’s not a diaper, and even if it was, you're wearing the exact same thing! What does that make you?" Cherry whined incredulously. She turned back to Daisy, her eyes wide and pleading as she begged, "Look, get off me, I can do this myself, you know I can do this myself."
If her pleas moved Daisy, there was no sign of it. "Of course it's not a diaper," Ms Bell instead reassured her, choosing to focus on the least important part of her argument. She put her hands on her hips, and in the most patronising voice she could have possibly used, said, "You're a big girl, aren't you?"
Cherry hesitated. "I - well, yes, but - "
"Even big girls need help sometimes though. It's nothing to be ashamed about."
Daisy knelt down in front of the little, and looking her dead in the eye, said, "I need you to step out of these things, Cherry. Can you do that for me?" She gave the shortalls around her ankles an illuminative pat. "You can't get on the potty like this."
Implying I want to get on the potty. "I can do it myself," she repeated miserably. Maybe she should have chosen the spanking after all. At least that would have been over quickly. "Please, just leave me alone."
Daisy sighed. "Have it your way then."
Without asking for permission, she firmly grasped the sides of Cherry's pull-up and promptly yanked it down to the floor, leaving the unfortunate little naked from her waist to her toes. Ignoring the squeal of indignation it earned her, Daisy took Cherry under the arms and easily carried her across the room and sat her down on the free toilet. Her backside met warm plastic hard enough to make her wince.
"I'm going to stop you right there to save you a spanking," Daisy interrupted as Cherry opened her mouth to unleash her choicest insults. "And just so you know, that - " she looked pointedly down at Cherry's crotch "- is against regulation. Get rid of it by tomorrow or I'll do it for you."
Cherry didn't grasp what she was saying straight away. What was in the toilet bowl that was against regulations? Cupping her privates with her hands, she could only stare up at the taller woman with confusion. What was she...
Daisy nodded at her crotch.
She looked down.
Kids didn't have pubes.
"Kill me now, please," Cherry whispered to no one in particular.
Unexpectedly, that drew a grin from her tormentor. "I don't think your mummy would appreciate that," Daisy suggested breezily. She gestured down between the little’s legs. "Now go potty while I clean Sarah up, okay?"
Agreeing to bruise her ego and actually doing the bruising were two very different things. "Over my dead body."
"You're walking out of this place alive, little girl, no matter how much you might wish otherwise," was the bemused response. "I'm not particularly interested in the law suit that would mean for me." With that, Daisy turned her attention back to Sarah on the other side of the divider and began to fuss over her. For a moment, Cherry was blissfully alone...although, that did lead her to her next problem.
What did she do?
Get it over with, she decided instantly, taking a moment to examine her nether regions. She liked to keep her pubic hair neat, and right then it didn’t even look that bad. It certainly wasn’t unruly. Did she really have to go without? It was bad enough her clothes looked the part of a toddler – she didn’t need the physical aesthetic of one too. Just take a leak and bolt before she's done with Sarah. If she's too distracted to help, what's stopping you from doing it yourself?
That sounded good to her.
"What's a law suit?" she heard Sarah inquire from far too close for comfort.
Daisy chuckled to herself as Cherry began her attempt to strain her bladder dry. "You’re too young to worry about law suits, dear," was the teachers' indulgent response. "It's a big person argument. Don't worry about it."
"Okay." The sound of trickling water died off to her right.
Fuck. She was running out of time before she'd even started. What a day to come down with a spontaneous case of shy bladder syndrome. Knowing she resembled her namesake more than ever before, Cherry pushed and struggled to the point that it hurt, but her efforts were fruitless. It was one thing to do her business in the privacy of her own apartment - here, she was visible to whoever happened to be nearby, and that was more off-putting than words could begin to verbalise. Exhibitionism wasn’t her thing in the slightest.
The toilet beside her flushed, and the next thing she knew Sarah was on her feet and being helped back into her clothes. The little girl ignored her totally as she hurried to wash her hands, and then she disappeared through the door and on her way. Cherry winced as the door swung wide open and revealed her to whoever might be passing by, but thankfully, the coast remained clear until it swung shut again. Wherever Dawn had gone off to, it wasn't in sight of the potty. Here we go, she thought with a sigh. She mentally braced herself for what she knew was to come. Smite me now, oh mighty smiter.
"Now!" Daisy exclaimed cheerfully, moving to the basin to wash her own hands before returning to stand over Cherry. She looked far too happy for a woman who made a living taking children to the toilet. "That leaves me with just one more little girl to take care of."
"Stop calling me a little girl," Cherry snapped with as much authority as she could manage. She cupped her privates without thinking and squirmed in place, wondering how it was possible for kids to do this on a daily basis. This was nothing short of demeaning. How was it even possibly that this was acceptable treatment of a grown adult? “Can I get up now?”
Daisy’s eyebrows went questing in her hairline. "Have you gone yet?"
"Yes," she lied.
"I didn't hear you go.”
"How's that my problem? I did my thing and made an idiot of myself. Can I get up now?"
"Huh?" Her heart skipped a beat. "You're going to look at the water I just peed in? That's disgusting."
Cherry laughed nervously, her heart sinking into the bowel beneath her. She wasn’t even fooling herself with this charade, let alone Daisy. "Now why would I do that?"
Her caretaker evidently agreed. Daisy shook her head. "Cherry, you're unbelievably bad at this."
The Amazon again helped off her perch, roughly manhandling onto her own two feet before spinning her around. The wall greeted Cherry’s gaze, and for a brief instant her only concern was the chipped paintjob before her eyes. That and the stains that stretched almost all the way to the window near the roof. She didn’t really want to think about those all too much. How was it even possible to inflict to get...that so high up the wall?
"Bend over," Daisy instructed, stepping back to give the little some room. Cherry could hear the giantess tapping her foot impatiently; each tap echoed about the small room like the crack of a pistol. “You can admire the wall later.”
She’d sooner die than find herself admiring this particular wall again. "What do you mean, bend over?" Cherry glanced uncertainly over her shoulder. “What kind of a request is that?”
"I mean, hands on the seat. Face down, backside up...and it wasn’t a request.” Daisy tisked dramatically and repeated her instructions in a considerably sterner tone. “Bend. Over."
"More of a butt person, are you?" The quip was on her tongue before her better judgement had the chance to review it. The little rolled her eyes and turned back to the wall, unable to believe her luck. She thought Sylvia was bad? Christ, she had nothing on Daisy Bell. Absolutely nothing. “I can’t say I’ve ever tried it, but I guess there’s a first time for – ”
"Oh, for God's sake."
Suddenly she was jerking forward as a huge hand fell upon her shoulders, forcing her to her knees and into the desired position. Clean, unspoiled water sparkled before her eyes as if mocking her for her feeble lie, mocking her for finding herself in the position she was in. Cherry’s heart leapt into her throat at the sight, and she instantly tried to wriggle free. The tiles were hard and cold beneath her knees. "What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded sharply, rocking to and fro beneath the weight of Daisy’s hands. She couldn’t dislodge herself no matter how she tried. “Let go of me!”
Daisy took no heed of her squirming charge. She simply ripped a strand of toilet paper from the roll, and then her free hand was probing the intimate places between Cherry’s legs, rubbing and wiping her charge’s clean skin as if it were utterly caked with filth. "I've let you get away with quite enough," Daisy said irritably, even as Cherry shrieked. The noise reverberated around the toilet bowl and flung itself back in her face. "It's time you start to appreciate exactly where you sit in the scheme of things, Cherry, and if you need a demonstration, so be it. Move your head."
Not wanting to make her situation even worse than it already was, Cherry did so, still trying to free herself from her companion’s titanium grasp all the while. Spotless toilet paper fluttered past her and into the water below. She watched it swell up with liquid and sink.
Rip, crinkle. Round two.
"I meant it before when I said you should model yourself after Dawn," the Amazon went on as she once again went about wiping Cherry’s perfectly clean crotch. "You've had your grace period. I have enough issues running this place without looking after your ego too. I tried to ease you into it, I tried to play nicely. You had your chance, and you blew it. Move."
Cherry moved her head again, letting the words wash over her in a mortifying haze. The futility of her efforts at last began to dawn on her, and she slowly let herself go limp upon the toilet bowl. What else could she do? She wasn’t exactly achieving anything by struggling.
Rinse and repeat.
"Spread your legs."
She reluctantly opened her legs ever so slightly, not wanting to expose herself any more than she already had. Like I’ve got any dignity left to preserve, she lamented to the toilet bowl. There’s no coming back from this as it is.
"I said spread your legs."
Suddenly there were hands on her thighs, prying them open to the point she was balanced more on the sides of her knees than her actual kneecaps, and that was when the last vestiges of fight fled her completely. Cherry moaned to herself, helpless and miserable and wishing she’d thrown that damn letter in the fire the moment Raymond put it before her. She was at this woman's mercy and they both knew it. Fight? How could she possibly fight something like this?
"You're going to thank me for wiping your bottom," Daisy at last said. The presence of her hands vanished from Cherry’s behind then, and the little collapsed in a heap on the floor, sobbing quietly in a pool of self-pity. When did she start crying? She didn’t remember. "Then we're going to get you dressed, and you can return to your table and work on your painting for a little while before nap time. I don't want to hear another peep out of you. Got it?"
She was beyond protesting. Cherry uttered a meek, wet, "Yes Ms Bell."
The final wad of clean paper flew over her, landing precariously on top of the growing mound in the toilet . "Well go on."
Swallowing the shattered fragments of her pride, Cherry wiped her eyes and muttered, "Thank you for wiping my bottom, Ms Bell."
"I didn't hear that. Speak up."
She was going to have nightmares about this moment till the day she died. Cherry repeated herself, loud enough that anyone standing outside the door likely heard her. She didn't dwell on that thought. "I said thank you for wiping my bottom, Ms Bell."
The daycare worker was happy with that. "Good girl."
It was over quickly after that. She was helped to her feet, re-dressed with swift hands that bespoke years of experience, and finally ushered out the door without ceremony. Dawn was waiting outside, but Cherry couldn't bring herself to look her sister in the eye as she passed. Feeling used and humiliated, she quietly trudged back to her table, took a seat beside Sarah and Abigail, and went back to emulating van Gogh. She didn't look up when Dawn sat down beside her a short while later, and she didn't look up when the four girls sharing her table struck up their conversation again.
She'd never felt so violated.
It suddenly seemed remarkably clear to her that she had been spared a great deal of embarrassment for a very long time simply due to having Raymond around as a bodyguard. She'd always known that she was lucky, of course, but seeing the alternative up close made her realise her own naivety. She'd become so used to being an adult, so used to being able to mouth off at whoever she wanted to, that she'd completely forgotten that that wasn't the done thing, that she wasn't the norm. Littles were littles, and grownups were grownups. She'd never realised just how much she took her protection for granted until it was taken away. How sheltered did you have to be to think you could actually walk into somewhere like this as a little, have an adult conversation with another little, and avoid being treated like a child all the while?
She could still feel Daisy's hands between her legs. Cherry shuddered.
Not long later, their paintings were packed away with promise of being able to finish them tomorrow. Sleeping mats and blankets were pulled out of seemingly nowhere, and all thirty something kids and littles were instructed to lay down quietly and go to sleep. They would be woken when their parents arrived at three to pick them up, and that was that. Cherry found a spot in the corner, pulled the blankets over her head and did her best to take the nap she didn’t need. It took her a while, but she got there eventually.
Cherry drifted off to sleep seeing toilet water scant inches before her eyes.
"Cherry. Wake up."
"No, you're a sea monkey," the little mumbled sleepily. She rolled away from the intrusion into her dreams. "Mow your own damn lawn."
There was a hint of a smile in the voice that regaled her. "Your daddy's here to pick you up. Come on, time to go home. Up."
Cherry woke up to discover that she was still at daycare amidst a sea of slumbering toddlers, sinking into the groove in her sleeping mat.
Feeling quite silly, Cherry sat up blushing, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she did so. So much for the day being one overly-long bad dream.
Daisy smiled. "I know today's been quite rough on you," she said quietly, careful not to wake up any of the other kids around them. She knelt down till her face was level with the little, and she looked almost kind. Motherly, even. "And you got off to a rocky start, but you're learning. We'll get there. I'm proud of you."
That morning, Cherry would have predisposed to make a sarcastic comment at that, but after her experience in the bathroom all she could manage was an awkward "Thank you, Ms Bell." She looked around for Raymond, suddenly wanting to see his ugly mug more than anything. Where was her knight in shining armour?
Daisy caught her glance. "He's waiting outside," she said with a smile. "We don't let the humans inside if we can help it. Security threat. Too many things to keep track of and not enough staff."
Was that an odd statement, or was she still half asleep? "Right," Cherry agreed dumbly, stifling another yawn as she did so. "Pesky humans with their blood and skin and stuff. Can I go now?"
"Yep. I'll go and get your things for you, okay?"
Before she could mention that she didn't have any things to collect, Daisy was up and away, carefully picking her way through the mass of sleeping bodies huddled around the room. Cherry watched her go with some amusement, wondering how long she'd ruffle through the cubbies before she realised she was never going to find anything. The thought made her smile in spite of her situation, and she stretched dramatically to pop her joints.
As she did so, she noticed a piece of paper beside her pillow which hadn't been there when she went to sleep.
Frowning slightly, Cherry reached down to see what she'd found. It certainly hadn't been there when she went to sleep, she'd chosen the most secluded part of the room she could find to place her mat. She was in the back left corner by the window, there was literally nothing out there for her to not notice.
It had clearly been torn from one of the sheets Daisy had handed out before for the kids to paint on, and unfolding it revealed a message scrawled in scraggly yellow finger-painting. The words were faintly blurred by the paper being folded into itself before the paint had dried. It was with a distinct feeling of deja vu that the confused little read:
We need to talk. Meet me in the cubby beneath the playground tomorrow.
PS. Eat me
Irritation followed swiftly on the heels disbelief.
"You can't be serious," Cherry mumbled to herself, re-reading the message another three times over. She looked around to find her sister, ready to have this conversation there and then, but she couldn't locate Dawn's chubby form. She must have already left. "You had all fucking day to talk to me..."
Her head’s not right at the moment, you know that. You can't hold it against her.
Cherry shook her head with deepening frustration. If she could be stripped naked from the waist down and forced to put on a peep show in a kid’s bathroom, she sure as hell could hold this against her sister. There was no reason this conversation couldn't have happened today.
To be continued in Chapter 11: Blind Love
To be continued in Chapter 11: Blind Love