Friday, 1 July 2016

The Promise l 22 - The Artist & the Waiter

Cherry had enjoyed a grand total of thirty minutes of sleep when Evelyn leaned into the crib and dragged her back into the waking world.

"Tyra," the giantess murmured. Enormous hands gently rocked the little back and forth. "Time to wake up, dear."

You can’t be serious. "Asdvda,” Cherry grumbled sleepily. She shifted in place but made no further movement to indulge her host. It’s time for something, alright. “Fhfgh.”

“Oh?

“I literally just fell asleep.” Her voice was cracked and uneven from exhaustion when her thumb finally vacated her mouth. With her eyes firmly closed, Cherry groaned, "Leave the room, close the door, and come back tomorrow."

That seemed to amuse the giantess. "You can't sleep all day, dear. Ms Bell will wonder where you've got to, and besides: don't you want to get out of this filthy thing?" Her antagonist gave the back of her diaper a pat. "You don't want to go downstairs and see your parents?"

My parents? The little at last cracked open a bleary eye, wincing at the fingers of sunlight that assaulted it. She turned to face her tormenter, squinting through the visual onslaught. "They're here already? What time is it?"

"They're downstairs waiting for you." Evie was silhouetted against the golds and pinks streaming through the window, but Cherry could still identify the same furry nightgown from last night draped around the giantess’ frame. She also couldn't help but notice that Evie looked every year her age without a face of makeup. There was no hiding the wrinkles or liver spots with the full morning light on them. "Do you still want me to come back tomorrow?"

I want you to go away and never come back. Cherry closed her eye again. She had both a diaper change and an encounter with Sylvia in the near future to look forward to. What a time to be alive. "Change me first, please," she implored stiffly, stretching out on her tummy and hoping she could make it to the changing table without disrupting the mess in her diaper. She’d balanced the carnage inside as comfortably as she could throughout the night, but it had still made falling asleep an abysmal experience. As horrible as the prospect of being changing was, staying in a shitty diaper longer than she already had was an even worse one.

That seemed to amuse her companion. "You want me to do it? I don't think so, little miss." Evie grasped the little firmly by the arms and hoisted her up and out of the crib, lowering her carefully onto a pink, fuzzy hip and simultaneously shattering Cherry’s hopes and dreams. The little’s diaper compacted beneath the pressure, and that was the end of her night-long balancing act. Her yelp earned a sleepy murmur from Lucas, but the giantess wasn’t interested. Evie turned heel and left the room. "That's a problem for your Mama, dear. I have enough poopy diapers to contend with as it is."

Wide awake by then, all Cherry could do was pout and cling to her host for dear life. They hurried down the stairs, through the kitchen and out into the backyard via the laundry, emerging onto a veranda that Cherry hadn't known existed. Raymond and Sylvia sat side by side on a modern lounge setting, talking quietly but animatedly to each other. Their voices trailed off as they realised the blushing little on the giantess’ hip was none other than their accomplice, demoted from her previous role as a pre-schooler to that of a glorified infant.

"Here we are!" Evelyn’s voice could have charmed the birds from the trees. "One sleepy little, as requested." She set Cherry down on her own two feet, beaming at Sylvia and Raymond in turn. Her mood didn't seem dampened by the thunderstruck expressions on her guests' face. "I'll be right back with my own little ones, and then I'll make us all a nice cup of coffee. How does that sound?"

Raymond was the first to locate his tongue. "Great," was his choked response. The Amazonian waiter looked as if he'd just witnessed the second coming of Christ himself, as opposed to an unremarkable little in a diaper. His eyes never left Cherry's, who suddenly found it in her best interests to examine the floorboards beneath her feet. It was a very nice finish, after all. Was it jarrah? Whatever it was, it was the most beautiful shade of red she'd ever had the pleasure to witness. "We...we appreciate it, Ms Goldsworthy."

"We're sorry to intrude on you," Sylvia entered the fray. Her own expression was half hidden behind her sunglasses, but the visible half looked as if it had just bitten into a lemon. Her lips were pursed as she continued, "We know it's early, but...well, we just couldn't bear to be away from our daughter any longer."

"Oh, nonsense. Don’t stress.” Cherry could hear the smile in Evelyn's voice. She hated her for it. “It’s the least I can do for you, after last night’s incident. Trust a little to land herself in padded undies.” The giantess chuckled self-consciously to herself and shook her head at the thought. “I’m awfully sorry about that, dear. I wish I could say I had the power to undo that myself, but unfortunately I wasn’t planning on needing to. I can direct you to someone that can help, though. I’ll get his card for you.”  

Sylvia looked surprised. "That’d be great” she admitted, glancing at the mortified little standing before her. She looked thoughtful as she drank in the pathetic sight of her long-time enemy. “We wouldn’t want to leave her this way.”

“No, of course not.” Evelyn ruffled Cherry's hair affectionately, who whined in protest and shrugged away. "I'll be right back, okay? I'll give the three of you a minute to catch up."

With that, the giantess favoured her company with a smile and disappeared back inside, leaving Cherry alone with the last two individuals she'd ever want to witness her in the state she was in. She felt her cheeks redden a shade to match the floorboards as she pulled her nightie down as far as it could go, hoping against hope that she could shield from sight just how thoroughly she'd used her undergarment. It was one thing to have annihilated her diaper the way that she had - it was quite another for that fact to become public knowledge.

"Cherry?" Raymond's voice was as cautious as Spring in September. He ran a hand through the little hair he had, clearly struggling to find the words he needed to say. He was wearing shorts that could have passed for underwear and a sweat-stained singlet. He looked horribly underdressed on Evelyn's expensive lounge set. "Are you okay?"

Do I look okay? "Asdfhdsuahf," Cherry answered honestly.

Raymond's eyebrows shot into his non-existent hairline. "Excuse me?"

She was having one hell of a morning. "Fuck," came out loud and clear on her second, thumb-free attempt. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

"She's still in there somewhere.” Sylvia’s nose visibly twitched, as if raring for a fight. She frowned. “Hello to you too.”

It wasn’t a fight Cherry was willing to entertain. "I'm still in here full stop," she corrected, taking control of the conversation before her nemesis' nostrils could. She wiped her thumb dry on the front of her nightie, blushing like a bonfire and wondering whether it was too late to go back inside and bunk with Lucas. "I'm okay. I just have these...uh..."

"Yeah. We heard." Raymond's cheeks weren't inclined to let his roommate's burn alone. His lips amounted to a white scar amidst a sea of red. "She explained it quite thoroughly on the phone last night, actually."

"I told you not to come here," his girlfriend added unhelpfully. Seemingly disregarding the horrid truth her nose was telling her, the giantess instead shifted in her seat and looked out across the backyard. Cherry followed her gaze, praying the giantess had put the telltale smell out of mind for good. The grounds behind Evie’s mansion were a sprawling, labyrinthine mess that had achieved the impossible feat of putting the front yard to shame. The morning might be warm, but it was dark; feral greenery crept right up to the foot of the veranda like the probing tentacles of a hungry Lovecraftian horror. "I told you. Did you at least find the - "

"Nope."

"Oh." Sylvia grimaced as she tore her gaze from the garden. "Oh."

Oh, the little agreed glumly. One did not need to be particularly eloquent when a single syllable was sufficient. Couldn't have said it better.

Cherry sighed and shuffled from foot to foot uncomfortably, horribly aware of the mess still oozing between her legs. She hoped her companions were still ignorant of its existence, but even if they were, they wouldn't be forever. Should she pre-empt the issue and ask for help? If she didn't bring it up now, she was going to have to wait till they got back to the motel, and she'd been sitting in her own filth for long enough as it was. Surely Evie would let them use Lucas' nursery; Ray could do his daddy routine and take her up there, and as long as their host didn't follow them inside, Cherry could take care of herself just fine. That was the best course of action, wasn't it?

Yep.

Cherry decided to procrastinate. "Why are you here so early, anyway?" she instead asked, wondering if there was anything more ridiculous than a grown adult with diaper rash. "You must have got up at the crack of dawn to be here at...what? Seven? Earlier?"

"Why are we here so early?" Tendons bulged in Raymond's neck. “What do you think, Cherry?”

Huh? “I don’t know,” she began uncertainly, taking stock of her roommate. Raymond was breathing heavily and his fists were clenched, as if he were preparing for a championship bout in the boxing ring. “What are you – ”

“We didn't want to leave you here any longer than necessary,” was the snappish answer she received, and it was only then that Cherry realised that Raymond wasn’t red because he was embarrassed for her. No, Raymond was red because we was spitting mad, to the point Cherry suddenly found herself expecting steam to start evacuating his ears. The Amazon was doing his best not to let it show, but he’d have had more luck convincing her that he wished to sell their apartment and seek employment on a crayfish farm.  “Not after we got that phone call last night...although looking at you, I'd say we managed to do exactly that anyway."

It wouldn’t do to have him implode with Evie so close. "I'm still me, Ray,” she began cautiously, tip-toeing around the potential landmine. If he went off at the giantess, things might end very badly indeed. The last thing they needed right now was to give Evelyn a reason to remember them. “You need to - "

"The Cherry of yesterday wouldn't greet me in a shitty diaper while sucking her thumb."

Busted. Cherry cringed. The guy's got the nose of a wolf. "I knew the consequences when we set out," she retorted uncomfortably, feeling her size more than she ever had before. "And at the end of the day, it’s reversible, apparently. She literally just said that. Calm down."

Raymond's fingers drummed an anxious staccato on the tabletop, but he said nothing. The Amazon fumed quietly to himself amidst the gloom of the morning, watching his diminutive companion with eyes that smouldered like coals.

Evelyn didn't return for another few minutes, and when she did she'd replaced her robe with a t-shirt and trackies. Dawn hung suspended from the giantess’ hip, and the expression on her face as she stared at Raymond and Sylvia implied things were moving much too fast for her tastes. The chubby little shot her sister a nervous glance as she was set down beside her, but with Evelyn watching on all Cherry could do was shrug. She hoped her sibling would keep her cool. Dawn had been gung-ho last night, sure, but that had been in the privacy of her own bedroom. It wouldn’t do to have her break when the time came to put her money where her mouth was. Not with the finish line in sight.

While the littles were distracted with each other, Evelyn took the opportunity to press something into Sylvia’s hands. "Here’s the card I mentioned, dear,” the giantess began. She gestured at something on the handout for her guest’s benefit. “Doctor Moore’s walk-in clinic is the best in Thornbridge, the man knows his way around a little’s head like no one else I’ve ever met. Just tell him what you want done, and he’ll have little Tyra doing it before you can blink. He’s the one who took care of Pumpkin.”

“Yeah?” Sylvia shot a curious look at Dawn, who immediately took a leaf out of Cherry’s book and chose that moment to become enamoured with the floorboards. She looked back at the card in her hand. “That’s...interesting.”

Evelyn agreed. “You can trust that, dear. When we decided Pumpkin was better off without a woman’s chest, we went down to Moore, and he put her on a vitamin regimen that took care of it quick smart. No pain, no fuss, no wait. Nothing. The man’s fantastic.” Evelyn smiled and rubbed her hands together. The sound was like the rustling of paper. "Enough of that, though. How do you – ”

“Why do you have an illegal brainwashing disc, Ms Goldsworthy?”

Evelyn looked genuinely surprised at Raymond’s question. “Who said it was illegal?” Her face was the picture of innocence as she fluttered her eyelashes. She smiled at Cherry’s roommate and spread her hands. “Do you take me for a crook, Mr Smith?”

Raymond’s expression said all that needed to be said. “Unless I’m very much mistaken, these sort of things aren’t available to people that aren’t licensed professionals.” He glanced at Cherry, and she could see how close he was to blowing a fuse. Her nerves frayed that little bit more than they already were. “My daughter shouldn’t have to go through this.”

If she felt the heat, Evelyn didn’t show it. Quite the opposite, in fact: a small smile creased her lips, and then she began to chuckle. “You have me there, dear. I am being a little naughty. A friend of mine has...access to the equipment inside a little’s etiquette school, and she offered to lend it to me if I so desired. Seeing as I’d just adopted my boy at the time, I figured that sounded grand. It certainly saved me the penny or three I’d have lost at Moore’s, and...well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious as to how it worked. The inside of a little’s head is a fascinating thing, wouldn’t you say?” The giantess shrugged nonchalantly, as if they were discussing something as mundane as the weather. “At the end of the day I wasn’t expecting – or intending – it to do any harm. It was hidden from little eyes, and had Tyra not been prying into things that didn’t concern her, she’d still be in big girl panties.” She looked at Cherry then, and her smile turned sympathetic. Cherry wanted to wipe it off her face with her fist. “I truly am sorry, dear, but really...what did you expect?”

Take a wild guess, ‘dear.’ Cherry scowled at the dismissal of what she perceived to be one hell of an issue, but Sylvia stepped in before the rebuke sizzling on her tongue could see the light of day. “It’s okay, Ms Goldsworthy. We understand.” She shrugged at the looks that got her, and her gaze lingered on Cherry just long enough to wither any budding protests. “Mistakes happen, and if there’s no long term damage...well, we don’t have a problem, do we?”

Evelyn beamed. “It’ll be our little secret, then. I appreciate it.” She winked dramatically and laughed at her own mischievousness. It was the sound of an old lady delighting over her knitting. “Anyway, it’s much too early for such talk. How do you take your coffee?”

And that was that. Sylvia bubbled her answer, Raymond grunted his, and that was the last they spoke about Cherry’s demotions to diapers for a while. All the little could do was stand by with her arms crossed and her lower lip jutted out in a pout, wondering just how satisfying it’d be to bruise her perfumed host’s shins. She’ll get her just desserts tonight, she reassured herself, glancing at her sister. Dawn didn’t look particularly impressed by the exchange that had just transpired, but she still managed a weak smile when she met Cherry’s gaze. It was all the younger Anderson daughter needed to content herself right then. She won’t be so smug when she comes home and find’s her prize dwarf has gone A.W.O.L. What she doesn’t reap now, she will tonight.

Evelyn disappeared back inside then, side-stepping a sleepy Lucas as she did so. The boy crawled through the open door in nothing but his diaper, bleary eyed and suckling a blue pacifier with a teddy-bear motif on the front. Cherry could see that his backside was as lumpy and discoloured as her own undoubtedly was. She cringed at the comparison. 

The pacifier left the boy’s mouth as soon as Evie closed the door behind him. "We're all going to die," he announced with a grim certainty no infant should ever possess. "What's got her so happy this morning?"

Dawn’s first remark that morning was as dry as kindling. "Our knights in shining armour not knowing when to shut up, that’s what." She shook her head, turned back to Cherry, and abruptly changed the topic. "I just want to let you know that I've been thinking about last night," she said stoically. The little looked as determined as Cherry had ever seen her. "And I stand by what I said. I'm still on your side, sis. You can count on me."

"Still on her side?" Raymond's eyebrows catapulted from his hairline into the stratosphere. "Last we heard, you weren't - "

"We don't have time for this. Later." Cherry waved her roommate and his temper off with a flick of the hand before turning to her sister. Evie could be back at any time, and they hadn’t exactly nailed down a game plan before they were so rudely interrupted last night. "We'll come back tonight and bust you out, okay? Be ready as soon as she leaves to open the gate, then we'll come in and help you find the keys."

Dawn's smile, small to begin with, went utterly limp. "Sure."

That one syllable did nothing to instil confidence in Cherry. The little frowned. "What do you mean, sure?"

"I mean, sure." Dawn laughed a shaky laugh and wringed her hands. Her nightie fluttered in the breeze as she elaborated, "I mean, I'll be there, but...this is getting a bit scary, sis."

"Well, grow a pair."

The growl came from behind them. Raymond's face was stony as he looked from sister to sister, and his disapproval was perfectly audible in his voice as he continued, "Everything she's done this last week has been for your benefit. You think she hasn't been petrified this whole time?"

Dawn's dying smile went extinct. "It’s good to see you too, Ray. She's still intact, isn't she?" The chubby little waved a hand at herself and Lucas, who flushed a bright red at the reminder that he was down to two working limbs. "That's more than we can say.”

"She didn't take your nose." Raymond gestured violently at Cherry. It was her turn to flush, then. "Does she smell intact to you?"

"You think I haven't gone through the same thing?" Dawn grimaced. “Are you really going to try and pick another fight? Is this really the time for it?”

Raymond evidently thought it was. "Do you think I care what you’ve been through?" The Amazon rose to his feet, clenched his fists, and ignored Dawn’s very valid question. "I don't care how scared you are. Cherry has risked her life for you, and all you've done is bitch and moan the whole way. You'll do whatever the two of you have worked out you're doing tonight, and if you turn chickenshit at the last minute - "

That was all it took to get Dawn’s blood up. "You'll what?" Dawn's hands found her hips as she stared off her opposition. "You'll spank me? That's just another day at the office. If this goes wrong, another spanking will be the least of my issues. You ever tried crawling across hot asphalt, Raymond?" She glared across the veranda, looking as menacing as a little could in a frilly nightie and padded underwear. "Have you tried shitting in a diaper? Breastfeeding from your boss?"

"If you don't show up tonight, you can do all that and more, and we'll leave you to it." Raymond sat back down on the sofa and glowered at the troublesome little that dared backtalk him. "Don't you dare preach about how hard it is for you after everything Cherry's gone through for you. You owe her your co-operation. That's all I'm saying."

A vein throbbed on Dawn’s forehead. "And all I'm saying - "

"How are we going out here?"

Evie chose that moment to reappear amidst the chaos, carrying a tray laden with cups. She hurried across the porch and laid it on the table before her guests, dishing out each mug to its respective owner before turning to the littles by the door. "I have drinks for you lot, too," she announced happily, either not noticing or outright ignoring the argument she was interrupting. She sat down opposite Raymond and Sylvia and patted the cushion next to her. "Come sit down, dears."

For a second, Cherry was concerned that they’d continue to bicker even with Evelyn watching on, and she shared a dismayed glance with Sylvia. She wasn’t sure if she should be touched by Raymond’s affection for her or irritated at the fact he was pig-headed enough to pick a fight with an ally on the doorstep of the enemy; what she did know was that Evelyn was going to start asking questions if her sister and her roommate continued staring daggers at each other across the veranda. So much for her being the smarter daughter, Cherry thought miserably, glancing from Dawn to Raymond and back again. Neither of her companions seemed happy to let the other off the hook. Christ, this is just...stupid. What are you even achieving with this?

It wasn’t until Lucas began to giggle that the tension began to dissipate.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” he chortled as all eyes turned to ogle the diminutive boy. “I won’t be around for much longer.” Still tittering, he fell to all fours and began to crawl across the porch, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead on some point that Cherry couldn’t quite triangulate. He came to a stop at the feet of his adoptive mother, and when he looked back their way the sisters could see he was shaking. The poor kid thought he was on death’s door.

He might not be alone, if this keeps up. Cherry glanced at Raymond, praying he’d get the point, and it seemed that he had. She was relieved to see the puppy guilt plastered across his face. Too little too late, for sure, but it was there. We can all knock on the pearly gates together. That’ll be cute.

"I have to apologise for the state of my house," Evelyn was saying as Cherry hurried across the porch and clambered up onto the sofa beside Sylvia. Without thinking, she threw herself down into the cushion, which had the unfortunate but predictable side effect of causing the innards of her diaper to implode yet again. The yelp it instigated earned her odd looks from everyone present but Evie, who seemed more interested in her monologue than the everyday woes of a diapered little. "My yard's seen better days, as I'm sure you can tell. It's a bit...unruly." She chuckled self-consciously and shook her head. "I don't often have guests, so it's generally not an issue, but..."

"We'll forgive you," Sylvia remarked dryly. She grabbed something off the table and passed it to Cherry as she did so. Still recovering from the shock she’d just received, the sippy cup was in the little’s hands before she recognised what she was holding. The toddler’s utensil was a bright pink and decorated with Dora motifs, undoubtedly taken from Dawn’s treasury. It was the absolute last thing Cherry could conceive drinking from when the air was tantalisingly thick with the scent of fresh coffee, and she gingerly placed it back on the tabletop without a second thought. There was no way in hell she was drinking from that. “I guess it has a certain...uh, charm?"

Evelyn smiled at that. "Don't bore with euphemisms, dear. We all know what it is; it’s a sty, and I’m the pig that lives smack in the middle of it." She reclined back in her seat, looked out over her overgrown lawns and casually looping an arm around Dawn’s shoulders as she did so. The chubby little had managed to find herself sitting beside her psychotic mother, and now she winced, her face turning beet red as Evelyn addressed her directly. "The things Mama does for you, pumpkin. Do you know how many littles have a Mama as good to them as I am to you?"

It struck Cherry as a rhetorical question, but Dawn still took it upon herself to expulse an uncomfortable, "None, Mama." She fidgeted in place. "Can I have my sippy please?"

"I'm not following," Raymond said as the giantess retrieved Dawn's juice. He'd managed to compose himself since his showdown with Cherry's sister, and although slightly strained, his voice was perfectly polite when he asked, "You don't look after the grounds for her?"

"That’s right, I don't." Evelyn smiled and glanced at Lucas, who hadn't been able to obtain a lift up onto the seat. He sat at his mother's feet looking glum, staring out across the yard and undoubtedly reminiscing of the times he’d spent maintaining it with his father. "Pumpkin was a very naughty girl when I first met her. Can you believe that she actually tried to convince the gardener to smuggle her out at one point? That obviously didn’t work out for her, but...well, she wasn’t always the angel you see now. You can trust that.” The giantess shook her head and squeezed Dawn against her side. Her daughter physically flinched at the sensation. “I could afford to have a nice lawn, sure, but this way pumpkin has a visual reminder of what happens to naughty little girls that overstep their bounds.” Her smile grew. “They lose their play space, and bad things happen to good people that aren't them."

Both Lucas and Dawn stiffened at that, but Evelyn wasn't done. "I might be a little old fashioned, but I take my parenting very seriously," she declared solemnly. Their host nodded profoundly to herself. "Pumpkin tried to leave me all by my lonesome, and now she has to look at what that's cost her every time she comes home from daycare. If a child can't see the consequences of her actions, do you think she'll learn? Do you think she'll stop?"

She didn't wait for an answer. "Of course not. Pumpkin was very naughty before she came here, and I don't intend to let her leave until she's seen the error of her ways. If that means making big statements, then so be it. I won't let her ruin her life on my watch."

"Mama," Dawn hissed. A look of panic was beginning to stretch across her flushed face, growing without check like a lizard on nuclear waste. "Stop, please."

"Stop what?" Evie snorted and shook her head. The look she gave her prisoner wouldn’t have been out of place if Dawn had just suggested the Earth was flat. "Were you or were you not ruining your life before I stepped in?"

The pudgy little began to choke on her tongue. Dawn made an unintelligible noise, and after a guilty, furtive glance at her sister, immediately glanced away at nothing in particular. Cherry looked on with some interest, as fascinated as ever by the dynamic between Evelyn and her sister. What did you do, sis?

She got her answer moments later. "That's a yes, dear." The giantess sighed and shook her head, exasperated. She rolled her eyes at Raymond and Sylvia. "This one was addicted to painkillers, can you believe it? A cute little thing like her - "

"What?" The word burst from Cherry's lips before she could stop herself. Her stare bore holes in her sister’s blushing cheeks. "Addicted...to..."

"Painkillers," Evelyn agreed, nodding in Cherry's direction. Dawn whimpered to herself and buried her face in her mother’s chest, but it did nothing to dissuade the giantess from pursuing the topic further. "I always give little girls such as yourself a chance to show you're bigger than you look. That's only fair, after all, and you'd be surprised how many can of you can pass relatively well. Not all of you, obviously, but...some." She turned back to the adults with a grimace. "But this one here...well, she had me going for a while. I even gave her a job, can you believe it? She had a fancy degree and a fancy list of references, so I took her on, and for a while she managed to fool me. She was intelligent, she was punctual, she got along well with the rest of my team...what more can you ask for from an employee?"

“The height to reach the top shelf?” Sylvia’s remark was blunt and surprisingly venomous, considering her character development the last few days.

Cherry glared up at the woman beside her – whose side was she on? -  but Evelyn simply laughed with delight. “In retrospect, yes, the height to reach the top shelf. Giving a little an important position was the folly of an old woman, you can trust that. One I won’t repeat.” Her laughter gradually tapered off, and when she continued her voice was laden with regret. “Don’t worry, I learnt soon enough. At the start of the year she went into hospital to have gallstones removed, and I started learning as soon as she got out."

"Everything went swimmingly for a short while after she came back to work." Evie paused to sip her tea, perfectly aware that her audience was eating out of the palm of her hand. She had the rapt attention of everyone present but Dawn, who was very obviously hoping she might spontaneously cease to exist. "Life went on, until one day I noticed that my delivery came up short a box or two of painkillers. A little odd, but it happens. They're not diligent enough at the factory, they miscount what ends up in the truck, and I get refunded the difference. It's nothing worth stressing over, and that time I didn't...at least until it happened again." She paused to look at Dawn. "And again." She looked across the sofa, where Raymond looked horrified and Sylvia appeared increasingly sour. "And again."

"Eventually, I figured out that these discrepancies were only happening when Pumpkin was handling the deliveries. To her credit, she was quite forthcoming with the truth when I confronted her about it - I guess she hoped I'd pity her - but I was having none of it. She obviously couldn't look after herself, so I took it upon myself to do it for her. She came home with me that very night, she watched me fill out the paperwork, and she's been with me ever since. Until she can prove she's capable of acting like an adult, she can watch Dora and be thankful for it." The giantess nodded to herself for a job well down and pulled Dawn into her lap. The little looked ready to cry. "And are you thankful for it, pumpkin?"

"Yes," Cherry's sister whispered. A solitary tear escaped the confines of her tear duct and sprinted for freedom down a burning cheek. "Everyday, Mama."

"That's right. You are a good girl, after all." Evelyn kissed her daughter's cheek and smiled at her guests over her head. "She had a rough patch, but she's a darling at heart."

Silence once again fell over the group, and Cherry took the opportunity to stare her sister down. For the first time that morning, the sensations emanating from her bottom ceased to concern her; what did concern her was the revelation that her sister had apparently turned into a morphine junkie after her visit to Hearth earlier that year. Even Lucas looked taken aback, way down on the floor. He caught Cherry’s eye, and for a long moment the two littles competed to look more shocked than other. This revelation hadn’t even made the list of things they’d expected to come out of this conversation.

Dawn, Cherry thought, aghast. Oh my God.

Her poor sister.

Christ, she’d had no idea.

It was Sylvia that broke the silence. Talking almost to herself, the giantess mused, "You did the right thing."

Evelyn beamed. "Well, I'm glad you agree." 

"Why did you grab him, though?" The artist gestured at Lucas. “What did he do?"

"The boy?" Evelyn shot her son a dour glance that lasted just long enough to murder any curiosity the question might have piqued. She turned back to Sylvia when her son was adequately crestfallen. "Pumpkin had a very rough time adjusting, as some littles do. She was sullen and unresponsive and...well, I think she might have been a little depressed. I took in the boy so she had company. They’d talked before - he worked with the old groundskeeper sometimes - and I figured she might benefit from having a familiar face around.” Surprisingly, she began to chuckle. "Well, that also turned out to be the folly of an old woman. The two can't stand each other."

And that's why she wanted me.  

The realisation dawned upon Cherry very suddenly and with perfect clarity, and her eyes grew wide as the final piece of the puzzle fell into place at last. Why else would Evie have set such an elaborate trap for a little half a world away? Dawn hadn’t taken being demoted to diapers well, and when Lucas had failed to change that, the giantess had looked elsewhere. She’d stuck with the initial plan of finding company for her victim, sure, but she’d gone looking for someone more likely to achieve what she wanted. Who better than the sister that once promised to come running should exactly this situation arise, after all?

Fuck me, Cherry thought incredulously. It seemed hard to believe that this entire situation was due to Evelyn wanting to make her daughter happy, but taken at face value that looked to be exactly the case. You signed my death warrant with that letter, sis.

She snapped back to present a moment later when Sylvia conceded, "You do take your parenting seriously.” The giantess didn’t look particularly happy about that fact. She shook her head as she grudgingly admitted, "I'm impressed, Ms Goldsworthy."

Raymond shot his girlfriend a sharp look, but Evelyn lit up like a beacon. "Thank you, dear." Her smile grew and grew until suddenly, inexplicably, there were tears in her eyes. "That means a lot to me. Not to toot my own horn, but I take great pride in that. You can trust that. I'm...I'm not always successful, but I think I've done the right thing by pumpkin." She wiped at her eyes, clearly hoping to hide that Sylvia’s comment had hit her hard. “I did get it right this time. I know it.”

"I think you have too," Sylvia agreed. There was a budding smile on her lips which died as soon as glanced down at Cherry. The giantess immediately frowned. "I'd do the same in your shoes."

Raymond's cup landed on the table with the decisive chink of ceramics on glass. It echoed amidst the stillness of the jungle like a gunshot. "On that note," the Amazon said stiffly, shooting his girlfriend a questioning stare. "I think we should be - " 

"Oh, if Harry could see me now." Evelyn talked right over the top of him. The giantess stared into the confines of her own cup of tea as if it were a portal to another world. "My ex-husband didn't think like you did, dear. For the last few years of our marriage, all he would say was 'you can't do this, Lynnie,' or 'you can't do that.' He never once stopped to think that we were on the same side. That I cared for her as much as he did. Dear, sweet little Annie." The giantess laughed a shaky laugh and shook her head, still staring into her cup. "Well, I guess he was right in the end - he always was, that Harry - but...who's laughing now?" She at last looked up, and when she did the tremulous smile she directed at Dawn was full of love. Cherry didn’t think she’d ever seen anything half as terrifying. "Who's laughing now?" 

"You're a good mother, Ms Goldsworthy." Sylvia leaned forward and rested a hand on the giantess' knee. "No matter what your husband said. Dawn is living proof of that, isn't she?"

"She is," Evelyn agreed modestly. "Although with that said, he wasn't wrong, either." She paused. "No, he wasn't wrong at all."   

At last, she shook her head and directed her attention somewhere that wasn't herself. "Enough about me, anyway," the giantess tittered. There was a hint of hysteria in her voice. "What about you, dear? What do you do for a living?" 

And just like that, they didn't proceed to discuss how insane their host's soliloquy had been. "I'm an artist," Sylvia answered, glancing sideways as she did so. Her boyfriend simply stared back, visibly becoming more and more uncomfortable by the second. Cherry didn't blame him. There was almost as much wrong with this conversation as there was with the woman sitting immediately opposite her. Who’d have thought the offer to share a cup of coffee could lead to such a total breakdown of sanity? "And Ray here is a waiter."

"I imagine it must be difficult finding finances to support your child, if that's the case."

Sylvia's cup froze halfway to her mouth. "What do you mean?"

"No offence, dear, but I can't see the combined salary of an artist and a waiter being all that impressive." The giantess set her own drink back down on the table, and suddenly she was on the offensive. "Not enough to provide for dear little Tyra, surely."

Sylvia simply stared. "Well. You’d think so, but - "

"But?" Evelyn proceeded to rest her chin on tented fingers, and then she was approximating a smile. It was the rictus of a serial killer. "You strike me as an intelligent couple, so I’m a little perplexed as to how your current arrangement came about. Why take her in if you can’t provide for her?” She looked from Sylvia to Raymond and back again. “She must have done something truly terrible, considering your financial situation."

"There is no 'financial situation,'" Raymond at last spoke up. The chill in his voice was distinctly out of place amidst the warmth of the morning. "We get by just fine, thank you very much."

"Quite. My apologies, then." Evelyn shrugged and sat back. "It just seems to me that Tyra has done very, very well for herself. Better than most little girls can ask for." She stared at the little across the table, who suddenly realised she was sweating. Where had this come from? "Yes, very well."

"Well," Sylvia answered slowly, weighing each word with microscopic care. "We want only the best for our daughter, and nothing is going to get in the way of that." She glanced at Cherry with a tinted gaze.  "All things considered, she probably has it too good."

"We need to be going," Raymond announced. He placed his cup down on the table yet again, this time hard enough to cause the liquid inside to slosh over the edge. The Amazon forced a smile to his face, pointedly ignoring the mess he made of Evelyn's tabletop. "Thank you for your time, Ms Goldsworthy. We have a busy day ahead of us, so we need to be getting home."

"Of course." Evelyn put her own cup down and flashed her pearly whites at the couple across the table. "I won't keep you." She glanced at Cherry. “Do you want to change Tyra before you go? She’s been in that smelly thing for long enough, I think.”

Both Raymond and Sylvia spoke up at precisely the same time. “No,” they unanimously agreed. The Amazons glanced at each other, realising they’d reached the same conclusion for totally different reasons. They shared a questioning look for a long moment, till Raymond at last turned away and said, “We need to get her ready for daycare. Not a moment to lose.”

Evelyn shrugged. “When she starts crying that her bottom is hurting, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

And then it was over.

They parted ways then, exchanging their final pleasantries and rising as a group. Cherry held Raymond's hand in a vice grip as Evelyn ushered them back through the house and out the front door, expecting the hammer to fall at any moment. The giantess knew she was being played, she had to after those last few comments, and yet she seemed perfectly content to walk them out to where their car was parked amidst the jungle. Cherry scrambled into the backseat and slammed the door shut behind her as fast as she could, anxious to put a wall of steel between her and the psychopath her sister called Mama, but her nerves truly seemed to be for naught. Evelyn didn’t lift a finger as they pulled away from her doorstep, and before Cherry knew it the cast iron gates were closing behind them and they were back on the open road. It was only then that the little at last allowed herself to relax, letting out a deep breath and collapsing back in her seat. 

It was over. 

She'd survived.

Back at the mansion, Evelyn stood hand in hand with her daughter, watching the driveway her guests had just vacated with a troubled frown on her face. Dawn wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her mother so uncomfortable, and that made her uncomfortable. She lived and died by the whims of this woman; bad news for Evie meant bad news for her. “Mama?" she prompted nervously, tugging on the giantess’ hand.  "What is it?"  

Evelyn cast a distracted glance down south, as if only just remembering that she wasn't alone. She sighed and shook her head before returning her attention to the road. Dead leaves blew down the cobblestone path, caught in a miniature vortex that swept them along a course they were powerless to alter. "Nothing at all, dear," the giantess at last said. She donned a reassuring smile for the sake of her prisoner. "Nothing at all. Let's go get you dressed for daycare, okay?"

*

"I sincerely hope you don't believe what you were saying back there."

"Are you saying that you don't?" Sylvia's voice was clipped, curt and to the point. "She's a junkie, Ray. The dwarf we’ve bent over backwards for this last week is a fucking drug addict. She deserves everything she's got these last few months and more." The giantess refused to look at her boyfriend as she spoke. “Unbelievable.”

Cherry could hear audibly hear her roommate struggling to maintain his composure. "That could have been you, Sylvie," he said in no uncertain terms. Tendons popping out of his neck as he eyed the road ahead. "There's no reason you couldn't have ended up in the exact same situation she did. It's not Dawn’s fault she ended up with something like that. It happens."

"Even if it was me, I wouldn't be stealing drugs from my boss,” the giantess shot at the windscreen. Her voice grew loud and shrill as she ploughed into her rant. “Stealing drugs! After everything I’ve been through the last few days, after every last sob story you’ve fed me, I get hit with this. I was this close to thinking I was doing the right thing by helping you.” The artist held her thumb and forefinger a scant centimetre apart. “This close. Christ, can you imagine?"

"Sylvia." It was impossible to miss the warning in Raymond's voice.

"No, don't Sylvia me!" Sylvia was practically trembling with rage, and Cherry got the distinct impression the artist might explode if she didn’t let off steam right there and then. She evidently agreed, because she proceeded to do exactly that. "Both of you have had me going all week, and I'm fucking mad, okay? 'Oh, she kidnapped my poor sister.' 'Oh, she cut off my poor sister’s boobs.' 'Oh, she's kept my poor sister in diapers for months on end.' Well, good on her. The two of you have been scheming to turn that poor lady's life upside down for the sake of a drug addict that got what she deserved!" 

"Ajadsfasdfas!" Cherry protested, unable to remain quiet any longer.

"She's also turned our little into a mute," Raymond remarked irritably, glancing over his shoulder at the furious woman in the backseat. "But she's perfect, right?"

Sylvia was at it again before Cherry managed to dislodge her thumb from her lips. The giantess began to count off a list of perceived slights on her fingers, ticking each instance off one by one before moving on to the next. "You've twisted everything, absolutely everything. The mastectomy, you made it out like she did it herself with a hacksaw...and then there’s the whole woe-is-me spiel with the boy. You made it sound like she’s a sadist that enjoys preying on innocent families, but no; she did it so her daughter had company. How can you possibly fault that?” Two ruby-tipped digits quivered in midair. “And did you see the way she talking about her ex-husband? She obviously has issues, Ray, and this is how she’s coping.” Sylvia threw her hands in the air and shook her head in disbelief. “We’re doing our best to ruin an old lady’s attempt to recover from a messy divorce. Aren't we just the best?"

This was starting to get out of control. "She's a drug dealer, Sylvia," Cherry announced through clenched teeth. She’d never been as good at controlling her temper as her roommate, but she had to make a valiant effort. If she pushed Sylvia off the deep end now, there was every chance that things would go pear shaped beyond recovery. "You're not going to believe the things I found out last night, she's literally brewing meth in her - "

"Meth?" Sylvia broke into a scornful peel of laughter. It bounced about the interior of the car like bottled lightning. "Meth? Don't even try, little miss. Your hole is deep enough already."

"I'm not lying," Cherry snapped, clenching and unclenching her fists. "I overheard her talking to the woman she buys gas from last night. She has a delivery tonight, all we have to do is - "

"No."

Her control slipped. "What do you mean, no?" Cherry kicked the back of Sylvia's seat, noting with some satisfaction the way the giantess flinched away from the impact. "What the fuck do you mean, huh? Sylvia, she’s brewing meth in her basement.”

"I mean no." The giantess continued to shake her head and stare out her window. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips were taut."A nice old lady like that, brewing meth. And I thought you couldn't sink any lower."

Despite Cherry's best efforts, she failed to convince the giantess of her honesty, and by the time they arrived back at the motel they'd lapsed into a tense, uncomfortable silence. The little fumed in the backseat, giving the headrest in front of her the meanest stink-eye she could muster. All the progress they’d made with Sylvia over the last week was evaporating before her eyes, and why? Because Evelyn wasn’t an old crone with a cauldron and broomstick? That didn’t make her any less of a monster, damn it. So what if Dawn hadn’t been in a good place when she was kidnapped? She’d still been kidnapped!

"I don't want to hear one more word from you," Raymond warned as they pulled into the car park. The lot was a ghost town, and once the motor had died its spluttering death, the silence of the world immediately became apparent. The blood in her ears suddenly seemed as loud as the beating of a funeral drum, and the comparison made Cherry shiver. There was electricity in the air she didn’t care for in the slightest. "You've had your say, Sylvia. No more."

"No," the giantess repeated.

Before Cherry or Raymond could react, the giantess had unlatched her seatbelt and pranced up and out of the car. Her shadow loomed dark over Cherry through the window, and then she was inside, leaning over the little’s body and unbuckling her like doing so was the most normal thing in the world.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" The tiny woman demanded. She wriggled away from her antagonist, feeling horribly naked in such close proximity to her enemy whilst dressed in only a nightie and diaper. “I can do that myself, thank you very much.”

Silence was the answer she got, along with the click of her seatbelt coming undone. The next thing she knew she was airborne. It was a short flight that ended on Sylvia’s hip. “One word,” the giantess warned as Cherry opened her mouth to protest. “And I’ll drop you on your head. Do you think I think won’t?”

Cherry closed her mouth.

Sylvia took her victim’s silence for submission, and without further comment she boldly marched straight across the car park, rummaging through her pocket for the key to their room as she did so. All Cherry could do was cling to her nemesis’ side for dear life as she was hurried through the front door of their accommodation, powerless to control the course of Sylvia’s rampage or disassociate herself from it. The lights popped into existence with an audible buzz, revealing a surprisingly chaotic room. The sheets were awry, there were clothes scattered all over the floor, even the chairs by the table had been seemingly thrown about by some single-minded force. She gaped and absorbed all of this as she was carried across the room, Raymond’s shouts and curses echoing in her ears from somewhere behind...

...and then all the air was forced from her lungs as she was physically flung onto the bedspread. Sylvia stared down at her, her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

So help me, I will piss on every rug you hold dear, Sylvia. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Cherry repeated, struggling to sit up and ignoring the squelch from down south that answered her every move. “Sylvia, if you lay one - ”

“Oh, stop. Don’t hurt yourself.” The giantess pushed the little back down the minute she made it up. "You're sitting in your own shit, and seeing as you don’t seem particularly interested in doing something about it, I guess that’s my job. If you’re going to act like a baby, I’ll treat you one. For God’s sake, that’s the way the world works.” She pushed Cherry down yet again, and her voice was trembling as she said, “I’ve had it up to here with this nonsense about you littles being adults. Lay back, Cherry. Let’s get you out of that filthy thing."

Suddenly, there were hands around her waist, lifting her nightie and pawing at the tapes of her diaper. Cherry yelped and attempted to wriggle away, but her antagonist was too fast, too strong, too big. Before she knew it, her undergarments had been ripped clean open and filthy privates were on display for anyone that cared to see. The little squirmed as the cool breeze caressed her skin. After being trapped inside a plastic prison since last night, fresh air was simultaneously the loveliest and most torturous thing that could happen to her abased crotch. “Happy?” she snapped at her antagonist, going limp. She’d lost; what else could she do? “Worth the wait?”

Apparently, it was. Sylvia nodded with evident satisfaction. "Wait right there, okay?" She straightened back up and glanced towards the bathroom, throwing her hair over her shoulder as she did so. "I'm going to get something to clean you up with."

“Over my dead body.” Cherry grabbed the front of her diaper and pulled it closed again, shielding her shame from view as best she could. If her heart beat any harder, it’d tear right out of her body and fly away. “Over my dead body.”

“Don’t tempt me. You might just get your wish today, Cherry.”

“She won’t be alone,” Raymond said.

The Amazon appeared from nowhere like a force of nature. “Step away from her,” he ordered thickly, marching right up to his girlfriend. His were fists clenched and his jaw was set. “Now.”

The giantess did. She stepped away from Cherry and right into Raymond’s personal space. "You’re in my way," she retorted frostily, shoving her nose inches from her boyfriend’s. “Move.”

Raymond said nothing. He stepped even closer.

Sylvia held her ground. "I swear to God, Ray, if you don't - "

"You'll what?" He took yet another step forward, towering over his girlfriend and forcing her to step back to compensate. If they’d been any closer, they’d have been in each other’s arms. "This is your last chance, Sylvie. Leave Cherry alone, or I'll - "

She slapped him, flush across the cheek.

The sharp crack of flesh on flesh echoed through the room, but Sylvia still wasn’t done. She was trembling as she began, "You've taken me for a fool this entire trip; no, longer. For years, ever since you met her.” She cast a murderous glance at Cherry before turning back to her boyfriend. “She's a dwarf, Ray, and so is her crackhead sister. You treat her like an equal, but look at her: she’s lying on the bed we fucked on, covered in her own shit. I don't know what it's going to take to get through your thick head, but - "

"Get out."

Sylvia stopped mid-sentence. "What?"

"Get. Out." Raymond’s eyes were wide and furious, the expression of a tortured man on the brink of doing something truly drastic. He looked as if he might actually strike Sylvia down with his own hands, something he’d never (to Cherry’s knowledge) done. "I'm finished, you hear me? We're finished.”

The giantess instantly saw the error of her ways. Sylvia seemed to shrink into herself. "But - "

"You're a horrible, hateful woman, and I don't know why I've let this go on as long as I have." He stabbed a violent gesture in the direction of the door. "Get out of this room, get out of my life, and don't come back, you hear me? If I see you anywhere near Cherry ever again, I'll call the police.”

A panicked express began to grow on Sylvia’s face as she realised she’d at last pushed her boyfriend too far. "But...the flight.” She laid her hands on Raymond’s chest, as if one affectionate gesture could undo all the wrong she’d done. Her eyes were pleading as she looked into his grizzled visage, searching in vain for a glimpse of mercy. What she found dismayed her. “You can’t – ”

"I can. We’ll see you at the airport, Sylvia.”Raymond shrugged free of her touch and physically pushed her away. The artist stumbled and narrowly avoided becoming acquainted with the floor, finding her feet at the last second and squealing as she did so. "After that, though, never again. Go on, get out.”He shook his head. “Christ, I can’t even stand the sight of you right now. Go”

For a long moment, Sylvia found herself at a loss for words. She stood there silently, staring at the man she’d thought she’d marry as if seeing him for the first time. "You're choosing her,” Sylvia at last breathed. “Over me?” She looked stunned as she glanced from Cherry to Raymond and back again. “You’re choosing a dwarf, over me?"

Raymond crossed his arms, stared her down, and said nothing.

“Well, fine.” Sylvia bared her teeth. “If that’s how you feel, I guess this is for the best then.”

"Get out,” was Raymond’s simple retort.

She did.

“Ray,” Cherry said tentatively as the door slammed shut. The walls quivered from the impact, and dust fell from the ceiling. The little struggled into an upright position once again, unable to believe her eyes. Did that just happen? Did that really just happen? “Holy shit, Ray – ”

“Clean yourself up,” her roommate said tonelessly. His face was unreadable. “You can still do that, right?”

 “Well, yes, but – ”

“Then do it.” Raymond shook his head, and without further comment turned heel and marched straight into the bathroom. The door clicked shut behind him, and Cherry was left with nothing but her growing incredulity for company, staring at the closed portal her roommate had vanished behind and wondering just how in the hell they’d found themselves in the predicament they were in.

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