It wasn't until well after midnight that Cherry's soundscape shrank to the sound of Lucas' snoring. The noise emanating from the tiny boy's throat was a delicate, high-pitched whine that reminded the little of a dying whistle, but despite its frailty it had the significance of a starting pistol. The house was silent; it was time she got to work. With exaggerated care, Cherry slipped out from beneath the covers, pulled herself over the railing of her companion's crib, rolled as she hit the carpet, and she was off.
If I wanted to ensure my prisoners had no hope of escape, she mused as she wriggled through the half-closed door, taking care not to offend the sentinel hinges as she did so. The landing was dark and empty. Where would I keep my keys?
It was the question that had tormented her all afternoon, and even now it withheld its secrets the way a dragon hoarded gold. Where would Evie keep her keys, if not in the places the little had already searched? Really, she was running out of desks to rummage through. They'd turned the house upside down earlier and had nothing to show for it. What options did she have left?
She paused to think...and was rudely interrupted by the curious sound of suckling.
She was deep-throating her thumb again. Instantly frustrated with herself, Cherry ripped the intruder from her mouth and wiped it dry on the front of her dress, pausing to glare at the rogue digit. She was going to have to do something about that before the heist was done. How stupid did a little have to be to knowingly look at a video that hypnotised littles? It was less debilitating than the diaper between her legs, sure, but still...
Focus . You can buy yourself some of that nail-polish they make for kids that bite their nails. Keys, keys, where art thou?
Cherry didn’t notice her thumb sliding back into her mouth as she pondered her predicament.
Two possibilities occurred to her: the locked door beside Dawn's room, and the basement. Unless Cherry was very much mistaken, those were the only two areas in the house she had left to explore, so why not start with one or the other? She knew absolutely nothing of the former, and the latter was supposedly Evie's workplace. Maybe the basement would be the place she'd finally find her holy grail. If the giantess worked down there, then maybe she'd be inclined to leave her valuables nearby. Why not? Surely it was more likely than happening upon her goal beneath the cushions in the theatre.
Don't even joke about that. I didn't actually search under those.
She'd found both rooms to be locked earlier, but it couldn't hurt to give them a shot. Being careful not to make the slightest peep, Cherry tip-toed the short distance to her first target. The door beside Dawn's loomed out of the darkness, a shadow upon a shadow. She strained to reach the door-knob, struggling to close her hand around the orb so far above her head...
...only to find it as inaccessible as she'd found it earlier. The doorknob rattled, but that was the extent of its co-operation. Cherry settled back onto her feet, cursing quietly. Well, that was that.
There was still the basement. She wasn't out of luck yet.
Cherry began her descent of the stairs.
It was a particularly cold night, unusually so considering the time of year, and even before she'd made it to ground level Cherry found herself shivering. The flimsy nightdress she'd borrowed from Dawn's wardrobe left her legs and arms exposed and did little to ward off the elements. In stark contrast, her crotch was sweltering within its plastic confines, and she could feel sweat creeping through the unspeakable crevasses one would expect to find in such a locale. It was an uncomfortable combination. Cherry wished she'd thought to change into something more fitting for a detective before she'd embarked on her mission. Even one of Lucas' onesies (minus the diaper) would have been preferable...although she admittedly wasn't sure if it was safe to go without the diaper anymore.
Her internal monologue ceased as she reached the floor, because as she did so she realised there was still a light on in the kitchen. She hadn't been able to see it from above due to the positioning of the room in relation to the stairs, it was impossible to miss the warm glow radiating from the kitchen from the ground.
Evelyn was still up.
What did she do?
She surely hadn't been noticed yet; it wasn't too late to turn back. Cherry pivoted and set her foot on the first stair. Maybe she could find somewhere else to start. Surely there was somewhere on the landing she could -
"Yes, I'm listening, don't you worry about that. Look, I understand." Evie abruptly spoke up, scaring the life out of Cherry. It took all of the little's willpower not to squeal, and she had considerably less luck controlling her hypnotised bladder. Before she could stop herself she was peeing uncontrollably, filling her diaper just as efficiently as she’d filled her pull-up earlier that afternoon. "What I don't understand is the rush. You've been in the business for years. What're a few more weeks?"
Mortified, Cherry bent over to inspect the front of her underwear, peeking conspicuously out from beneath the hem of her nightdress. The plastic was visibly discoloured, noticeable even in the gloom, but it didn't appear to have leaked. A quick pat down of her thighs confirmed that as her hands came away dry. She breathed a silent sigh of relief; the last thing she needed right now was to give herself away by leaving trails of pee on the carpet. What a way to go that would be.
Who was Evie talking to, anyway?
"Outside your house?" the Amazon snorted incredulously from the kitchen. "You're jumping at shadows, dear. How important do you think you are? Really?"
She had more important things to do than eavesdrop on Evie - if anything, this was a good thing. If the giantess was going to continue talking, then Cherry could snoop wherever her host audibly wasn't. The basement might be out of bounds for now, seeing as the entrance was in the kitchen, but that wasn't too big a loss. She could search upstairs, maybe even in Evie's bedroom again. There had to be somewhere in there that she'd missed.
She was in the process of leaving when Evie abruptly changed her mind for her.
"That's fine, and I understand, but you can't afford to be paranoid. Not when there's as much money on the table as there is. The law has better things to do than to go after a fence, of all things, and it's not like...your family? Is that what this is about? Iris, please. Don't waste your breath."
Did she hear that right? The law?
What the fuck?
"I would think twice about getting cold feet, if I were you. I'm not a woman you want to cross, and - yes, you are crossing me, you are. That's not up for discussion."
Curiosity got the better of the little. Nightgown swishing around her thighs, Cherry waddled silently to the kitchen. She didn't have the faintest idea what Evie was talking about, but if it wasn't the shadiest thing she'd ever heard, she didn't know what was. The little pressed her back against the wall and risked a glance inside.
Evie was sitting at the kitchen table wearing only a fuzzy pink nightgown and rollers in her hair. Her back was to Cherry, but the little could clearly see the mobile phone in the woman's right hand, and she was resting her forehead on the knuckles of her left. A cup of coffee sat beside her laptop, which was open to a page lined with an assortment of graphs and tables. Cherry couldn't make out details from so far away.
"Look....you fill my empties, and you got me that etiquette DVD. Other than that, I guess there's the gun, but...well, that's it. You're over-thinking this, for God's sake, why would you...no. No, Iris, look...well, yes, but you can't..."
Evie's voice trailed off as Cherry slipped back out of sight. She realised her thumb was in her mouth again then, and she rectified that detail angrily, trying to piece together the Amazon's protests as she did so. Empties? Empty what? What could they possibly be talking about that had the potential for a run-in with the law?
"You're in too deep to get cold feet." Evie's voice was flat and far removed from the grandmotherly character Cherry had become acquainted with over the day. The change was startling. "I don't give a little's fart for you, your husband, or your children. Debbie can go the way of Annie, for all I care. I care about my gas. If you go A.W.O.L, then I don't get my shipment, and if I don't get that shipment, then my product gets delayed and my clients get upset. I can't afford to have that, Iris. Not...not after last time."
Silence. Then, "How am I doing? I'll be paying my respects first thing tomorrow morning, what does that tell you? Don't change the topic. You don't get to barter with me. I don't have an issue with you wanting to cut loose; I have an issue with you wanting to do it the night before my delivery. You either provide me with gas till I find someone else, or you start watching your back...and I'd be watching little Debbie's back, too. Accidents happen."
Evie had row after row of propane canisters in her garage.
"I'm not threatening anyone. I'm presenting you with your options. The ball is in your court, unless I'm very much mistaken. This needn't go any further than this conversation."
Suddenly, it clicked.
Cherry's jaw dropped open, inadvertently spilling the thumb she hadn't realised had crawled back in there yet again. This couldn't be what it sounded like...but when you got down to it, Evie was in the right industry for it.
Empties, gas, clients, product...what illicit product did one make with propane gas? Suddenly, it didn't seem so cold in the hallway. Cherry began to sweat. So that's what why the basement was off limits.
"I'm not saying no. I'm saying wait, and I'm saying that we go ahead with tomorrow night as planned. If I show up at the meeting point and find you've stood me up, I'm going to be incredibly annoyed, and blood won't help you. Understand?"
She had to get out of there, right now. It was one thing to be caught trying to kidnap a little - if she was caught eavesdropping on what she thought she was eavesdropping on, then sucking her thumb and wetting her pants were the least of her issues. They'd find her floating in the sewers.
Cherry didn't wait to hear the end of the conversation. She'd heard enough to scare her senseless. As quietly and as quickly as she could, she waddled away down the hallway and up the stairs, sucking her thumb all the while.
She didn't notice that she'd wet herself again.
Dawn's bedroom was the stereotypical little girl's living quarters. Even in the darkness, it was apparent that everything was one shade of pink or another. Her walls were pink, her curtains were pink, her drawers were pink, even the rug on the floor was a grotesque mauve that was more pink than purple. Her lacy bedsheets had suffered the same fate, and on top of that the unfortunate face of Dora the Explorer was plastered across them. The only apparent exceptions to the Rule of Pink were some of the toys scattered about the floor. There were a few within range of the nightlight, and it seemed as if there may have been a handful of dolls that weren't pink. The CareBear might have been blue or purple, for instance. With a little imagination.
There was a horrible buzzing noise in the air as Cherry tiptoed across the room, something akin to the sound of a bumblebee on a caffeine high. A cursory glance around the room implied that it might be emanating from the nightlight, but right then, the little had more important things to concern herself with. She crossed the room, quiet as a mouse as she climbed up onto her big sister's bed, took a stray pillow in hand, drew it over her shoulder...
...and promptly brought it crashing down on the figure at her feet.
"Idiot," Cherry hissed through clenched teeth, standing over her sister and drawing back the pillow to beat her a second time. It had taken far longer than it should have, but she had finally reached her breaking point. She could put up with the condescending treatment. She could put up with the hypnotism. This newest revelation was just too much. "What was it you called me earlier? A window-licking moron?"
Dawn was a heavy sleeper, but very few people are capable of snoring through a direct pillow to the face. "I...Cherry, what..." Her voice was slurred and drunk on sleep. Cherry noticed that she was wearing a nightie identical to her own.
"Yeah, that was it. A window-licking moron. What does that make you then, huh?"
Dawn was just beginning to regain consciousness when the pillow collided with her face a second time. Struggling to sit up in bed, the elder Anderson daughter spluttered a stunned, "What the hell are you doing?"
Oh, now you want to talk like a big girl. "I travelled halfway across the country to save your ass," Cherry spat, unable to contain her fury any longer. "And for my efforts, you have yet to show me the slightest ounce of gratitude - " she smashed Dawn yet again, eliciting a shocked yelp in response. " - you've given my bladder and thumb a mind of their own - " cue fourth strike of the pillow. " - and now I find your beloved Mama is brewing meth in her basement? Dawn, what have you got me into?" It took all of Cherry's strength not to plaster the pillow over her sister's face and call it a day. "I am done putting up with your crap, do you hear me? I'm fucking done."
"Meth?" her sister's voice was attempting to ooze disbelief and failing. Dawn rubbed sleep from her eyes and did her best to meet Cherry's. She failed at that, too. "But...I don't - "
The truth was plain to see on her face. "You knew," Cherry interrupted, incredulous. "Didn't you?"
Dawn squirmed. "No."
Liar. "You knew, and you never once thought to warn me of what I was getting into." Her voice began to rise again. "That Iris woman, the one who wrote the note on the DVD earlier, that's who she’s talking to right now. Evie called her a fence. She's supplying your dear Mama with everything she can't get legally, isn't she?" She thought that through a little further. “No, she’s only after gas, that’s not illegal. Does she get it cheap, then? Is it so she can buy in bulk discretely? What’s the arrangement?”
"They're cousins." Dawn looked desperate to escape the confines of her frilly bedsheets. "I play with her daughter when they come down to visit."
"So the whole family is fucked?" Cherry paused to absorb that piece of information. "That doesn't answer my anything, Dawn."
"I don't know anything else." Her big sister looked ready to cry. "Cherry, please go back to bed before she comes and checks on us. I don't want a spanking, or...or..."
And what have you got for your efforts? Gratitude? "She's a little preoccupied at the check-out counter right now. It's just you and me, sis."
"Mama - "
Something snapped. "She's not your Mama!" the little screamed, and before she realised she'd done it she'd dropped the pillow and slapped Dawn across the face with her bare hand.
The silence that followed the crack of skin on skin was as immediate as it was deafening, broken only by the incessant crackle of the nightlight. Cherry glowered for a long minute, breathing heavily and listening to the symphony of her heartbeat...and it was only when the silence continued unabated that she began to reflect on what she'd just done.
Did...did I just...
Guilt rushed to embrace the little. She looked at her hands, scarcely unable to believe that yes, she had just done that. She'd just struck Dawn. She'd never struck Dawn. "I shouldn't have done that," she whispered. She stepped away, realising that she was literally on top of her sister. "I'm sorry."
"You hit me," Dawn breathed in disbelief. She gingerly touched her cheek, and when her hand came away Cherry could see her own handprint etched into the flesh. It smarted as pink as her bedroom, visible even in the gloom. "You...you hit me."
"I'm sorry," Cherry repeated dumbly. What had compelled her to strike her big sister? Sure, she was making life incredibly difficult, but that didn’t give Cherry the right to hit her. Christ, what was she doing? "I didn't mean to, I'm so, so - "
"No, I...I deserved that, didn't I?"
Dawn's voice was meek, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes. She looked up at her sister with an expression that suggested she was in the process of swallowing some hard truths. "You're doing all you can to get me away from...from Evie, and here I am making everything difficult. I knew about the gas, I knew all along, and I should have told you that from the start."
It was the very first time Cherry remembered hearing her sister refer to the monster downstairs as anything but Mama. Seeing her opportunity, she pounced on it. "I'm your ticket out of here, sis. The only one you're going to get." Cherry put her hands on her hips. "Look, I get that she's...she's done some pretty messed up things, but...I can't help you if you won't let me."
Her elder sibling looked torn. "If I let you help me and she finds out, she'll...she'll hurt me. When she started giving me the pills for my chest, she...she said that she'd take my legs if I tried to run again. You shouldn't have come, Cherry. I don't want to end up like Lucas, and you're already on your way yourself. The bath earlier, that...that was..." Dawn's voice broke abruptly, and she looked away to hide her tears. "It's my fault, everything's my fault."
It certainly is. "I promised I'd come, didn't I? No matter the risk, to you or to me." Cherry's voice had acquired a curious tremor, and she angrily forced it away. She was too mad to be emotional. "Damn it, sis, I promised you, the day you moved out. How could you ever think I'd just give up and let someone hurt you?"
"I...I don't know," Dawn admitted. "Ma - Evie, though - "
"Isn't going to hurt you anymore."
They stared at each other.
"Cherry," Dawn said at last. "I'm so, so sorry."
And suddenly they were both crying.
They sat there on Dora’s face for a long, long while, tangled in each other's arms and sobbing grossly into each other's hair. The horrors of the last week abruptly melt away, and for the first time in a year they were no more and no less than two sisters on equal terms. It didn't matter that their enemy was downstairs plotting all manner of terrible and dastardly deeds; there in Dawn's arms, it was all Cherry could do to hug her sibling and cry herself hoarse, scarcely unable to believe that she'd finally broken through her big sister's defences. She’d found the girl she'd thought she'd lost for good. That had been the last thing she'd been expecting as she rushed upstairs to confront Dawn...and yet, here she was.
A full five minutes passed before the girls broke apart. "What changed your mind?" Cherry sniffling dissolved into jagged hiccups as she pulled away. She studied her big sister's face, fat and wet and flushed. "I thought you were a lost cause, sis. I'm not complaining, but...what was it?"
Dawn's red face grew redder. "When I sent you that letter way back when, the last thing I wanted was for you to get hurt," she said quietly. "It was bad enough that Evie came down on me and Lucas for it. Seeing you get dragged into all this, into the diapers and the bath times and the...the everything, I...I guess it put things into perspective. My little sister was un-potty-trained right in front of me. That tends to open your eyes." She squirmed a little. "And I needed your hard truths, too. Do I want to be the woman or the little girl?"
That was a fantastic question. "And what are you going to be?" Cherry scarcely dared breath.
Her big sister smiled weakly. "I'm talking to you, aren't I?"
She was. She really was.
They cried a little more after that.
"Did you find the keys?" Dawn at last thought to ask. She disentangled herself from her sister’s arms to reveal a wet and tremulous smile that didn’t quite fit her face. Cherry didn’t think she’d ever seen her big sister look so beautiful. "Don't make me regret this, Cherry. You said you're my ticket out of here."
The little hesitated. "Well. Not exactly. I was about to start looking again when I overheard Evie, and then I came up here, and..."
Dawn's face was unreadable.
"Please don't take my big sister away from me already," Cherry rushed to say. She didn't want to beg, but if it came to that she wasn't above doing so. "I just got her back. I miss her."
"I'm not going anywhere," Dawn surprised her with yet another smile. "I've been absolutely atrocious to you, sis. I can't ever make that up to you, but...well, I can stop making your life difficult." She screwed up her pudgy cheeks. "I'm so, so sorry, Cherry. I don't know how you can ever forgive me, after...well, everything. You're the best sister anyone could ask for, and look what you've got for it. If we ever get out of this, I'll...I'll..."
Dawn struggled to find a way of adequately expressing her thanks. Cherry watched her stumble over her words for a long minute before putting her sister out of her misery with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You don't need to do anything," she whispered over Dawn's shoulder. "I'm just happy to have you back. That's enough for me."
Dawn made a noise that was presumably a laugh. "You're not turning gay on me, are you?"
It was an awkward attempt at humour, but Cherry found it infinitely preferable to the nth proclamation of being a good girl. "I certainly am. Only for you, though." She squeezed her sister that little bit tighter, unable to banish the smile from her face. "God, I've missed you."
She felt Dawn sag in her arms. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay." She patted her back. "You can make it up to me by helping me now. How does that sound?"
"Better than dying in a diaper." Dawn's face was ashen as she pulled away, but she looked more determined than Cherry could remember having ever seen her. "What's the plan?"
Those three syllables lifted a great weight from Cherry's chest. Now if only you'd reached that conclusion a little earlier. "The plan hasn't changed. We find the keys and figure out how to get inside the house to get you and Lucas out." She grimaced. "I mean, we technically can get over the wall...but it won't be graceful, and it won't be subtle."
"You won't have to." Dawn looked ready to hold her tongue, but at the last second she decided against it and rushed into her mutiny. "She has a spare remote for the front gate. If we can somehow co-ordinate when's a good time for you to come back, I can...I can open it for you and let you in."
A...a spare remote?
And suddenly, Cherry realised that she'd even seen the damn thing. It had been hanging from the laundry wall, and she'd been in such a rush to find the keys that she'd glanced right over it without even considering how useful it might be.
If Dawn could be trusted to do her part, that remote would be an invaluable asset to their rescue operation...although that was potentially quite a big if. "Are you sure?" Cherry's voice sounded dubious to her own ears, but she couldn't deny that it was a perfectly valid question. "I don't want to go with that and have you chicken out when the time comes, sis. Can I trust you?"
For a split second, Dawn looked wounded. It was quickly replaced by a disgruntled frown. "I guess that's fair," the chubby little admitted. "You have my word, if that's worth anything these days. We'll just have to figure out when Evie's not home."
Was her sister's word worth anything these days? Cherry wasn't sure. Dawn seemed to be on the road to redemption, but who knew what might happen when the time came to put her money where her mouth was. The last week hadn't exactly established Dawn as the bravest little to ever live. "Tomorrow night," Cherry answered rather than voice her misgivings.
"She'll be out tomorrow night." Cherry hesitated as she tried to recall the finer details of the conversation she'd eavesdropped on before. "She was talking before about getting a delivery of some sort tomorrow night. She'll be out of the house to take care of that."
The nightlight set stars in Dawn's eyes. "We can look for the keys now," she said. "And then do a runner when she's out tomorrow."
"Something like that," Cherry agreed.
They stared at each other, simultaneously realising that they had a real shot of getting out in one piece.
That was when Evie entered the room.
"Are you okay, pumpkin? I thought I heard - " The giantess faltered as she realised her daughter wasn't alone in bed. Her eyes narrowed. "Tyra? What are you doing?"
Both littles flinched.
Fuck me. "Uh," Cherry began uncertainly. She glanced at her sister, whose newfound bravery had seemingly gone the way of the dinosaurs in the space of a heartbeat. A frightened little girl met her gaze. "I couldn't sleep," she tried lamely, looking away from Dawn. So much for her word being worth something. “And I wanted to...play.”
“I heard a scream,” Evie retorted suspiciously. She crossed her arms, looking simultaneously ridiculous and terrifying in her fuzzy nightrobe and her hair in rollers. “It’s three o clock in the morning. What were you doing?”
Cherry felt her heart sink. How was she going to talk her way out of this one? “I couldn’t sleep,” she repeated uncomfortably, squirming in place. She began to improvise. “And Lucas didn’t want to play, so I came here, and - ”
“And you were hurting my little girl.” Evie’s voice was like the crack of a whip. “Why was she screaming for her Mama?” She glanced at Dawn, who shrank away. “What happened?”
She screamed? If the giantess was referring to when she’d slapped Dawn before, what had taken Evie so long to come running? “We were...” Cherry stammered awkwardly, looking for an excuse and coming up blank. “I mean, I was – “
“We were playing house, Mama.”
The second coming of Jesus himself could not have surprised Cherry more than those five timid words did. Dawn had pressed herself up against the headboard of the bed, and she was literally trembling with fear, but she delivered the lie with such conviction that Cherry almost believed it herself. Her big sister refused to meet her eye as she continued, “Tyra was upset that I wouldn’t let her be the Mama. That’s all. I’m sorry we woke you up.” Dawn smiled a nervous smile. “We were just playing.”
For a long moment, Cherry wasn’t sure whether or not Evie would buy it, but her fears were proven groundless almost as soon as they surfaced. A relieved smile dashed across the giantess’ face and banished what remained of the tension in the room. “Well, that’s okay then.” Evie turned to Cherry. “You’re a silly girl, Tyra. You’re the one in the diaper, of course you’re the baby.”
Cherry blushed, but a giggle escaped her big sister’s lips. She didn’t fail to notice the hysteric edge to the sound. “Yes Ms Goldsworthy,” she agreed uncomfortably, glancing down at her padded crotch. “I was being silly.”
“Speaking of which...” The giantess’ voice trailed off as she swept across the room, and before Cherry could process the significance of those three words her nightie was up around her breasts and there was an enormous hand pressed into her crotch. She fumed quietly to herself as Evie checked her diaper like she was some stupid infant incapable of knowing its state herself. Would it have killed her to ask?
She was wet, though. She couldn’t deny that.
“That’s what I thought,” Evie announced when she arrived at the same conclusion. “Come on dear, let’s go get you changed and back into bed. It’s too late for you to be up playing house.” She hoisted the little into the air and juggled her onto a pink, fuzzy hip, supporting her with one pink, fuzzy arm. “Say goodnight to your friend, dear. You can play tomorrow.”
It was a sad state of affairs when having her diaper changed by a psychopath that brewed meth in her basement was the best outcome she could have hoped for. Still, Cherry couldn’t deny that Evie’s sudden appearance could have ended much, much worse. As a result, she was almost dizzy with relief as she obediently waved at her sister, using her free hand to cling to Evie for support. “Goodnight,” she murmured. She smiled at the little on the bed. “We’ll play tomorrow, right? I’d like that.”
Dawn’s eyes flickered from Evie’s to her sister’s like a caged animal. The smile that grew on her face, though, was nervous but genuine. “We will,” she agreed. “We definitely will.” Her smile grew. “Goodnight.”
Evelyn nodded sagely. “You’re good girls,” she said. She looked down at the little on her hip and smiled. “But good girls need their beauty sleep as much as anyone else. Let’s get you back in your crib, dear.”
With that, she left the room, carrying an uncomfortable but relieved Cherry to her third diaper change of the day.
In the corner, the nightlight crackled like fire.