“You keep coming over here and to my office at school,” Mallory said. “But you never tell me what I can do for you, sweetie.”
From day one Polly had looked so defeated. From their first encounter Mallory had wanted to take away just a little of the weight pressing on those tiny shoulders. In each quiet moment like this one, when a little girl who’d lost her mother half a year ago couldn’t put into words the cry for help she kept acting out, Mallory had needed to see this sad princess smile.
“Franken Berry?” Mallory blurted out, not above bribery. “When I was your age, it felt like Christmas morning every time I ate it. Strawberry flavoring and refined sugar and bleached corn flour…Crunch and sweetness that will make your back teeth smile.” And it could only be special-ordered from the manufacturer’s website a few months out of the year, since most stores no longer carried it. But for Polly, Mallory would break into her secret stash. “Ever had any?”
Polly shook her head. “My dad says healthy food only. I need to eat healthy to stay healthy.”
She stepped closer, and Mallory considered grabbing her. Except grabbing at kids who were hell-bent on running only made them more certain that they’d never be safe.
“Well there’s not a redeeming, healthy thing about Franken Berry,” she said, “no matter what the packaging says. In my book that makes it heaven in a bowl.”
The child was underweight. Eating anything sounded healthy enough to Mallory. As Polly’s nurse she knew there were no food allergies or preexisting medical conditions to be concerned about. And in the moon’s reflection Polly’s eyes were glittering at Mallory’s description of the decadent treat.
“Let’s live dangerously.” Mallory shrugged off her robe and draped it over the little girl’s shoulders. Then, catching a chill in only her matching flannel PJs, she led the way to the kitchen, turning on lights as she went. She checked once to make certain she was being followed.
Polly’s slippered feet skidded to a halt inside the door. She blinked at Mallory’s retro-looking, circa 1950s, pink and blue and green appliances. They were one of the few splurges, besides her Christmas tree, that Mallory had indulged in when she’d furnished the place. An early Christmas present, she’d rationalized. Actually, Christmas and Valentine’s Day and her birthday and maybe Christmas again. But the hit to her budget had been worth it. This room made her heart sing.
Her dreams came to her in black and white and gray, stark visions that refused to bloom into the colors she’d always craved. But in this house, the first world that was totally, completely her creation, she was surrounded by a rainbow of life-affirming hues each morning and at the end of every day while she cooked and ate and cleaned up after herself.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish