“Honey, when’s the last you time you ate something, are you hungry?” she got down to the child’s level, brushing the hair out of her blue eyes with a finger and was rewarded with another smile.
“There was no dinner last night and the milk is all gone so I didn’t get to have cereal for breakfast,” Lilly answered, “But we got to eat breakfast and lunch at school!”
“Where was mommy, honey?” Jean asked.
“Mommy was in her room playing with the man,” Lilly revealed, but didn’t elaborate. She didn’t have to.
On the way to the stairs, Jean peeked in Christine’s room, shocked at the mess. Dirty laundry lay everywhere, an unmade bed and to her horror, saw cocaine and alcohol on the nightstand. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this child would not be staying here tonight. She’d make sure of it. She wanted to walk right out that very minute with Lilly, but the law dictated she follow protocol. Taking pictures with her phone, she dialed the police department explaining the circumstances, then her dialed her office and spoke with her supervisor. Pulling up Lilly’s sleeves to look for any incriminating physical abuse, she gasped, seeing clear finger outlines on the girl’s upper arms. Pulling up her shirt, she could clearly see her ribs indicating malnutrition. She then took photos of Lilly’s room, and after adjusting her settings, got a close up of the drugs on Christine’s nightstand. Walking back downstairs, she saw noted her partner opening the freezer and taking photos of the void inside and doing the same with the empty fridge. They had all the evidence needed to remove Lilly from her home.
“What’s going on?” Christine demanded, after she saw the camera in Jean’s hand. “‘Why are you taking pictures? Lilly? Did you say something you shouldn’t have?”
A sharp knocking on the apartment door let Jean know the police had arrived. Letting them in, she put Lilly behind her as the two police officers arrested a bewildered Christine.
“Where’s mommy going?” Lilly asked “I better go with her so she’s not alone.”
“She’s safe, honey and now so are you,” Jean assured her. She got down to Lilly’s level, placing her hands on Lilly’s bird-like shoulders. “I have a very special lady who is waiting to meet you, Lilly. She has a room just waiting for a little girl just like you. Do you remember Miss Natalie?”
“My teacher!” Lilly exclaimed happily.
“Yes,” Jean said, “She’s one of the persons who called us today and she’s needs a little girl. One she can spoil and love and make good food for and guess what? She specifically asked for YOU.”
“What about mommy?” Lilly asked, “will she have food, too?”
No matter what the abuser does to their child, the child is always loyal to them. It broke Jean’s heart every time.
“Yes, honey, your mommy is in good hands, don’t you worry,” Jean assured her, “She’s going to get the help she needs.”
Satisfied, Lilly put her hand in Jean’s, ready to go. She couldn’t wait to see Miss Natalie again! Maybe now mommy would be happy she wasn’t there to bother her. She would be an extra good girl for Miss Natalie and maybe she could stay. Maybe Miss Natalie would even love her.
Miss Natalie and Lilly
The next day, after spending the night in a temporary foster home, Miss Jean picked her up to take her to Miss Natalie’s house. On the way, she thought about what Miss Natalie’s house might look like, but couldn’t. All she ever knew was her small, shabby apartment. When they finally pulled into the driveway, Lilly gasped with wonder. The cottage style home was built on a gentle rise, sloping downwards on all sides and splashed with color from the tall, purple Wisteria trees in the front. Window boxes spilled over with colorful Petunias and long Vinca vines. Zinnias beds of every color lined the horseshoe driveway and around the front door, a trellis of purple Morning Glory. Jean smiled at the wonder on Lilly’s face. For a child that had known nothing but poverty, the next few months would be like visiting Disney Land.
Miss Natalie, waiting for Jean and Lilly to walk up the pathway, also watched Lilly’s face and smiled widely.
“Miss Natalie!” Lilly cried out, “Guess what? I’m coming to stay with you!”
“I know, sweetie,” she told the happy, bending to envelope her in a bear hug, “and I’m so happy you’re here!”
This was Lilly’s first real hug. Clinging tightly to her sweet smelling teacher, she breathed in her flower smell.
“You really want me?” Lilly whispered in her ear.
“I really want you,” Natalie whispered back.
Mouthing ‘thank you’ to Jean, Natalie led Lilly inside. One of the first things Natalie was going to do was take this child shopping. It hadn’t been hard for Natalie to foster her. After talking with Judge Loman and Lilly’s caseworker, both decided that with Natalie’s credentials as a teacher and a woman with a keen interest in the child’s well-being, she would be a perfect foster parent.
Taking Lilly’s small hand in hers, she said, “Come on, let me show you your room.”
Nodding shyly, she let her teacher lead her upstairs. She’d never seen a house like this one, with carpet on the stairs and beautifully painted walls without a crack or chip. Everything looked so clean, like the houses she saw on TV once. She ran her hand along the oak banister, the cool, smooth wood nice under her hand. Miss Natalie led her down a short, carpeted hallway to a room on the right, across the hall from a bigger room on the left.
“This is your room, now, Lilly,” Natalie told her, “Go in, have a look around.”
Lilly entered and froze like a child that just entered a candy shop. Overwhelmed, all she could do was stare. The walls were a lovely shade of lavender with white trim set off by a canopy bed with a light green and pink comforter adorned with lavender trim. The curtains were also a light green with tiny pink flowers and lavender tie-backs. A child’s desk complete with a small computer, a chest of drawers and a walk in closet.
“This is all for me?” Lilly breathed.
“Yours and yours alone, Lilly,” Natalie said, smiling, “and tomorrow, guess what? You and I are going shopping to buy you all brand new clothes! We’re going to have a girl’s day out!”
“We are? Just you and me?” Lilly was overwhelmed and started to cry. Her feelings felt so big she didn’t know how to express them any other way.
Natalie could see the child was getting overwhelmed and decided to give her break. Pulling Lilly up on her lap as she sat on the bed, she hugged the girl close and tight, letting her cry it out.
“Am I in a dream?” Lilly whispered, “Maybe this is all a dream and I just didn’t wake up yet like Shirley Temple in The Little Princess.”
Natalie laughed for she knew the movie well. “I have great idea. How about you and I order a pizza and have a movie night?” Tomorrow was Saturday so they could both sleep in.
“Okay, ma’am,” Lilly agreed, “but what’s pizza?”
Natalie was taken aback. A kid that never heard of pizza? It gave her a little insight as to just how neglected this little girl was. She was fed if her mother ‘remembered’ or was coherent enough to feed her. Lilly basically scavenged what she could, when she could. Natalie couldn’t imagine the psychological impact to feel as unwanted and invisible as Lilly felt. No tucking in nice and tight, no kisses or hugs, or even food, the most basic of human needs. The poor kid didn’t even have toys, for God’s sake. She felt a rush of anger towards the girl’s mother for her callous and cruel treatment of a sweet, wonderful child. How dare she! How COULD she? As a person who dedicated her life to children, Natalie found this incomprehensible. While she didn’t wish ill will towards anyone, she hoped Christine got what she deserved.
The pizza arrived and Natalie set up a movie, She picked out Frozen, knowing how all little girls were in love with the new animated Disney film. Lilly didn’t have pajamas, so Natalie grabbed a t-shirt out her own closet and it made the perfect nightgown for the happy child. Setting the pizza box on the coffee table, she poured them both a drink and watched as Lilly took her first bite. The little girl’s eyes lit up with pleasure as she chewed, groaning with delight.
“This is pizza?” she asked, swallowing the huge bite, “Can we have this every night?”
Natalie laughed and watched as Lilly devoured two more slices. She was mesmerized by the movie until her eyes grew heavy and her head fell forward in sleep. Natalie carried her up to bed and tucked her in, covering her and kissing her soft forehead. As she got up to leave and get herself ready for bed, a small voice stopped her.
“Can I still love you even though you’re my teacher?”
Tears filled Natalie’s eyes. She turned back and knelt beside the bed, smoothing back the hair from Lillie’s precious face.
“Absolutely yes, dear one,” she whispered in her ear, “I already love you, so yes, you can love me, too.”
“Can I stay here always?”
“I can’t promise you that, my love,” she told Lilly truthfully, “Someday your mommy might get better and she will want to make up for being a not so good mom. But I promise, until that day comes, if ever, you can stay with me always. Sweet dreams, little lamb.”
Lilly fell asleep with a smile, tucked in with love for the first time. A beginning of firsts for her. A life time.
© 2016, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
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