1. One Potato, Two Potato by Danielle SmileyFace
2. Three Potato by Danielle SmileyFace
3. Four! by Danielle SmileyFace
One Potato, Two Potato
Part One of the Hot Potato Series
by: Danielle : - )
Author's Note: I suggest reading the Madeline Series if you haven't already because a character first introduced there appears here. Phrases surrounded by ** mean they are written down and someone is reading them and phrases surrounded by ^^ are in American Sign Language.
Disclaimer: Miss Parker, Mr. Raines, Mr. Lyle, Brigitte, Mr. Parker, Broots and Debbie belong to the wonderful people at NBC. Madeline and Victoria (Torey) belong to me. Little Women and it's characters belong to the Macmillan Publishing Company and Louisa May Alcott's descendants and are used respectfully without permission. Also, I am not a gymnast so please forgive me if that aspect of the story is off... E-mail me and let me know what I did wrong with that and anything else!
Victoria woke up with a knot in the pit of her stomach. The bright October sun only highlighted how small and dusty everything was. She left her tiny room and passed by that of her mother, knowing something was wrong but not sure what. The eight year old saw nothing wrong seeing her mother's bed unmade because her mother and her boyfriends (who Torey thought she changed almost as often as she herself did her underwear) were not known for neatness.
Torey entered the kitchen, which was empty except for the dirty dishes in complete disarray around the sink. Her mother had left her a note on the table along with an envelope. Torey picked up the letter, which read:
Butch and I decided to leave this hellhole.
Go live with your father in Blue Cove Delaware.
Here is a bus ticket that will get you there and $20 for food and a cab to the Centre.
Ask for Mr. Lyle and give him this letter.
That's how it ended, no endearments, not even a signature. Torey started to sob as she realized that her mother was gone for good this time.
Once she got that out of her system, she dried her face and went to her room. She had to think rationally. What to pack? First she'd need a suitcase of some sort... That would be in her mother's room, if she hadn't taken them all. Ten minutes of searching produced nothing. So off to the kitchen to see if anything there could be used. Nope. She sighed in frustration. All that was left was the overnight bag she took to school. It couldn't fit nearly everything she needed to move to Delaware, which seemed so far away to her. She didn't even know where Delaware was, just that it was part of the United States. But she had gotten the impression from her mother's frequent rampages about her father's failings that he was doing well enough to buy her some new clothes.
Torey packed only two outfits beside the one she had on. She packed a few books that Grandma had given her and the diaries she'd kept religiously since she was 5. Next came the necessities- toothbrush, toothpaste, clean underwear, socks. After that there was only enough room to stuff a picture of her and Grandma on top.
Taking a deep breath to gather courage, Torey headed back to the kitchen. She looked at the bus ticket. Her mother had purchased it at the station down the street, for which Torey was glad. She had no desire to walk too far alone. Her Chicago neighborhood wasn't exactly upper-, or even middle-, class. The ticket wasn't for a certain bus but there was one leaving in a little under the hour. Torey decided she would be on that one.
She stuffed the money and note to her father in the bottom of her bag, went to the bathroom, and prepared to leave. Then, just in case, she decided to put her mother's note and a small pocket notebook in her jean's pocket.
At the bus station, Torey approached the man behind the desk. She had her note ready.
*When's the train to Blue Cove Delaware leave? I'm deaf.*
He responded, *About half an hour. I'll let you know when it's here.*
She smiled her thanks at this kind man and sat on one of the hard benches not too far from his post.
Torey had been born deaf. Her grandmother saw to it that she had learned sign language. She learned to write when she was four, enabling her to talk to people other than her grandmother and mother. Her mother had never wanted her and told her so rather often. Still, it had never entered Torey's mind that her mother would ever abandon her in the middle of the night.
Torey had never seen her father. Grandma told her once that she had never seen him after he found out her mother was pregnant. He never sent any money to help or visited his child, who turned out to be a deaf daughter.
The mother found it hard to settle down with any one man, thereby making Torey's life anything but secure. Luckily she spent nine months out of every year at a special school for the deaf her grandma had found. The summers were mostly spent with her grandma, an arrangement that made everyone happy.
But near the end of the summer, Torey's grandma died in her sleep. Torey didn't go back to school and moved in permanently with her mother.
She was a fast learner. She learnt never to go into her mother's room. She learnt to be as inconspicuous as possible to avoid coming into contact with a drunken fist. And most importantly she learnt just how much her Grandma had shielded and protected her.
A hand touched her shoulder. The nice ticket man motioned outside. He led her to the bus, said "good luck" and flagged down the driver.
"Hey, Bob, take special care with this kid, willya? She's deaf and flying solo. Make sure someone's there to meet her, huh?"
Torey got in and sat in the front seat, passenger side. She placed her bag next to her and stared out the window as the bus started to move.
She wondered what he'd be like- her father. She had never met him or even seen a picture of him. She didn't even know his first name.
Thinking about meeting him for the first time made her nervous so she pulled out her favorite book, Little Women. Having had not much else to do, Torey had become an avid reader. Her grandmother's house had a library full of books, lots of them ones she had read when she was a girl. Torey was reading chapter books by her sixth birthday and could spend whole days at a time in a library.
Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy help pass the time and when Torey next glanced up they were stopping for lunch.
Torey didn't move. The driver came over with a questioning look so Torey told him,
*If I get off, I might not know when to get back on and you'll leave without me.*
The driver took her notebook, *You can stay with me. That way I can't leave without you.*
After lunch, which Bob insisted on paying for, they continued to Delaware. Torey was full of chicken pieces and fries. Full was something that rarely happened when she lived with her mother. She was so full she slept for the rest of the trip.
She woke up to the jerk of the bus stopping and was the last one off.
*Is someone here to meet you?* Bob wanted to know.
*No. Could you please get me a cab to the Centre?*
He did and once inside she asked the driver if it cost more than $20 to get to the Centre.
The driver said no, that today she was giving free rides to people anywhere in Blue Cove. She wasn't (she wanted to keep her job, thank you very much) but she took pity on the pale child traveling alone. If her boss didn't like it, well, he could take it out of her paycheck.
Before Torey had really prepared to meet her father, the cab was pulling up to a huge white stone building. Torey gaped in shock. She managed to smile 'thanks' to the driver before she got out. She sat down on the steps to think about the note she knew she'd have to write.
She settled on *Where can I find Mr. Lyle, please? I'm deaf, please write it down.*
She headed inside, hands clammy and heart racing. She saw there wasn't some sort of receptionist desk like she had hoped. All she saw were lots of people hurrying about completing some task. Some were standing around in small groups.
Torey looked around for a kind face to approach. She decided on a middle-age, balding man standing alone in a corner.
"Mr. Lyle?!" He looked shocked but told her how to get there.
Torey headed to the elevator. When she got out, her expected receptionist was seated at a desk next to two formidable glazed glass doors.
*Is Mr. Lyle here?*
The receptionist/secretary (Torey wasn't sure if there was a difference between the two) nodded and spoke into the intercom.
"Mr. Lyle, there is a girl here to see you."
She didn't say how young a girl so he said, "Send her in", expecting it to be the Director's secretary, with whom he was currently having an affair. So he was extremely shocked when a child of about eight or nine walked in and handed him a letter without a word. His mouth dropped open as he read it,
This is your daughter. Her name is Victoria. She's 8 and deaf. I was stuck with her the first half of her dependent life, now it's your turn. I should have done this years ago but until recently I had my mother to watch her. She should be in 3 grade at a special school
for the deaf. I'll be long gone by the time you even get this so don't try to find me and expect to dump her back on me.
He read it three times, then looked at the girl- at his daughter. There was no doubt in his mind that she was his daughter. One had only to look at her to see the resemblance. Same dark hair and eyes, skin tone, and set, determined jaw. But as people would later find out, her smiles were sincere, while his were conniving.
^ASL?^ She signed, hoping he knew even the smallest bit of sign language.
He shook his head, at a loss for words and actions. Finally he told his secretary to cancel his remaining appointments and get Mr. Raines in his office right away.
Raines came in a few minutes later, wheezing from having rushed up.
"This is my daughter." Lyle told him.
"Where is her mother?" He looked around the room for her.
"Gone." He handed him the note.
Torey was able to lipread their conversation. Not even her mother had known how well she could read lips. Mostly people assumed she couldn't and talked about things inappropriate for her to hear, such as how much they didn't want her.
"Congratulations." Mr. Raines said wryly.
"You expect me to keep her?? I don't want a child!!" The "new" father screamed.
"Yes, maybe she will be good for something around here." Torey didn't like the sound of that. She also didn't like the old bald man with clear tubes up his nose and bulging, nightmare-provoking eyes.
Mr. Raines turned to her and his knowledge of sign language surprised both father and daughter.
^My name is Dr. Billy.^ He signed, using the name he used to use with children to put them more at ease and make them more easily manipulated, ^I'm going to let your father leave now to get you settled in.^
Torey just nodded so Mr. Raines continued to Mr. Lyle, "Go home. You'll have to bring her back tomorrow until we figure out what to do with her."
He left no room for arguments, something the younger man was well aware of. He slowly wheeled out of the room.
"Come on." Mr. Lyle made a motion to his daughter to get her stuff and follow him. He went down to his car with her following a few steps behind.
Meanwhile, in Broots' corner of the universe...
"I think Mr. Lyle has a daughter!" Broots told Sydney and Miss Parker in a rush that showed how excited he was.
"What?" Miss Parker snapped like one used to his ramblings but still annoyed by them.
"Well, I was in the lobby and this girl about Debbie's age came up to me and handed me a note asking where Mr. Lyle was and to write it down because she's deaf!"
"Did you tell her where he was?" Sydney wanted to know.
"Yeah, in Mr. Parker's old office."
"My father *will* be back, Broots!" Miss Parker snarled.
"Sure, Miss Parker." He didn't sound it, "But why would a kid come to the Centre alone to see him?"
"That's a good question, Broots." Sydney said.
"We have to find out who he is!" Miss Parker said again. It seemed to Broots that she said it every ten seconds, like she expected him to find out. If Mr. Raines called him "the bogeymen", Broots knew he wanted to stay as far away from Mr. Lyle as he could.
The next morning
Mr. Lyle's House
Torey woke up to her father shaking her awake. He handed her a note, *We have to leave in half an hour.* Torey nodded but he was already leaving.
She found him impatiently sipping a cup of coffee in the sparse kitchen.
*Breakfast?* She wanted to know.
*I always get something on the way from the donut place downtown. What do you want?*
*A chocolate frosted donut, please.*
They got into his sleek black convertible, though the top was up against the October chill, and in minutes Torey was holding their breakfast in her lap. A few corners later they breezed into view of the Centre. Torey couldn't remember the last time she had been so glad to reach her destination. Her father paid no attention whatsoever to speed limits.
Once in his office, Mr. Lyle basically ignored his daughter, who sat down to eat her breakfast. He said a few words to his secretary and started to pace back and forth across the big office.
When the doors opened, he stopped pacing and turned his gaze to them. Torey noticed the change and followed his gaze. She saw a woman of average height with short blond hair. She had on all leather- all black and all tight. The woman looked at Torey and them her father, searching for an explanation.
"Brigitte, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Victoria."
Brigitte almost chocked on her sucker,
Torey is my daughter." He said with exaggerated patience, "Her mother dumped her on me last night. She needs new clothes and you are going to take her."
"Me?" Brigitte sounded both annoyed and indignant, "Surely, there's someone else who can-"
"I want you to do it." He reached for his wallet, "Take this and take your time."
She seemed to realize that he wasn't about to change his mind and turned to the child,
"Nice to meet you Luv." She said to Torey, who couldn't read her lips given her impeccable British accent.
"She's deaf." Mr. Lyle added.
'Great!' Brigitte thought but she'd be hanged if she let him see how angry she was, "I'm afraid I don't know sign language, Mr. Lyle."
"Neither do I, but she has a notebook you can write in." He was enjoying making her mad, though not as much as he did Miss Parker.
The notebook was on his desk. He grabbed it and wrote,
*This is Brigitte. She's going to take you clothes shopping.*
Torey nodded and started to leave with the perturbed blond who had just stuck a new pop in her mouth, yellow instead of green this time. Red was Torey's favorite. Brigitte stuck the credit card in her pocket and walked out, leaving Torey to run to catch up. They headed down to Brigitte's black '97 Jaguar and then the Mall.
In the parking lot, Brigitte took the notebook, *Can you read lips?*
*Not yours. You have an accent, don't you?*
Brigitte nodded yes *but it's fake*. "Now can you understand?"
Torey smiled and nodded.
"I have no idea what I'm doing." Brigitte hadn't been in a mall for years, much less to shop for a child. Her wardrobe was strictly custom-made by the best people in the business on the East coast.
*We just go in and find the children's section and get what I like.* Torey said simply.
So in they went, Brigitte hoping no one at the Centre had the day off and decided to come here. Rumors spread like wildfire around the Centre; not that she couldn't stop any before they even began... It would just be more trouble for her and Lord knows this little excursion is enough.
They found the children's department and Torey started looking. She held this or that up for Brigitte's opinion. Brigitte became a human clothes rack and when she couldn't possibly hold any more, they went into the changing room.
Half the clothes they brought in with them did not make it out. Torey tried everything on and some didn't fit and they decided some didn't flatter her.
The items that made it were brought up to the register. A girl who looked no older than high school rung them up. Brigitte handed her the credit card.
"This isn't yours." The clerk said with the hint of a question that made her inexperience obvious.
"It's her father's." Brigitte said impatiently.
"Is this your mother?" The girl asked Torey.
Torey had been following the conversation and nodded. She wrapped her arms around Brigitte for good measure. Brigitte signed the slip 'Mrs. Lyle'.
They got out with no more problems and Brigitte asked Torey if she wanted an ice cream. She figured Torey deserved a little reward for her good acting back there. Torey naturally said yes.
*Why do you talk with an accent at work?* Torey wanted to know once they were settled.
"It's fun." Brigitte said, "Where's your mother?"
*She left the night before yesterday and told me to come here.*
Torey looked so sad that Brigitte had to try and cheer her up, "She probably just had to leave for a little while and will come and get you soon."
*She's never coming back. She didn't want me and now neither does my father.* She looked so mournful and knowing how true it was, Brigitte had to fight the urge to grab Torey and give her a big huge hug. She could still remember her own childhood, having herself experienced that and much more. She quickly regained control and asked Torey if she needed anything else.
Torey held up her feet, which were covered in filthy sneakers that she had outgrown months before. Brigitte decided they need to find a kid's shoe store.
Right after leaving the food court, a voice behind them called out, "Brigitte!"
'Great!' Brigitte thought as she turned around. It was Madeline, that girl that lived with Miss Parker because her stepfather beat her.
"I didn't know you had a daughter." Madeline said when she reached them.
"That's because I don't, Luv." Torey could only get half the conversation since Brigitte had slipped back into her British accent, "She's Mr. Lyle's."
"Oh, okay!" Madeline had figured as much because it had been the first thing out of her guardian's mouth the night before.
"She's deaf." Brigitte added.
Madeline's hands started moving in rapid, graceful movements.
^Hi. My name's Madeline.^
^I'm Torey.^ She had immediately brightened at the appearance of someone who appeared to be very fluent in ASL, ^Brigitte took me shopping and a saleslady thought she was my mom!^
Madeline smiled at that, "Well, I have to go but tell Mr. Lyle I'm available if he ever needs a sitter."
"Will do, Luv."
Once she was gone Brigitte dropped the accent again.
At the shoe store, Torey looked around for a few minutes before finding something she liked. They had her size and Brigitte had the old ones thrown out. The clerk didn't mention the name on the card so it wasn't long before they were exiting the store.
They were passing a bookstore when Torey stopped and pointed inside. Brigitte nodded and Torey headed to the young adult section with a big smile on her face.
Brigitte walked over to the fiction section to see if anything would catch her eye. Maybe fifteen minutes later Torey tapped her on the arm with notebook open, *How many can I get?*
"As many as you want, I guess." Lyle hadn't given her a limit on how much to spend or what to spend it on. Besides, having books to read would keep her busy once they got back to the Centre.
Torey ran back with her biggest smile since before her Grandma died. She had always dreamed about being able to buy as many books as she wanted.
The next time Brigitte saw Torey, her arms were loaded with books.
They used the card and while it was going through, Brigitte pulled out a handful of suckers and held it out to Torey. Torey picked a red one and Brigitte did likewise.
Once back in the Centre parking lot, Brigitte had Torey run up to get the key to her father's car to transfer the bags. Torey kept out the one with the books.
Walking across the lobby, they passed Miss Parker. Brigitte knew she knew what they'd been up to because she smiled a look that screamed 'so, you're a baby sitter now, huh?'. Brigitte just smiled, trying to look like she didn't want to strangle the tall bitch.
Mr. Lyle was on the phone when they entered his office. After a few more words, he hung up. Brigitte handed him the card and receipts.
"Fifty-one dollars on books?!" He asked, stunned.
"You gave me no limits, Mr. Lyle." Brigitte reminded him coolly, "It will give her something to do."
He consented and sent Brigitte away. His daughter had already pulled out a book so he tried to do his job. He glanced at his watch and thought in disgust 'Good God! It isn't even after noon yet!'
It seemed to take forever for 12:30 to roll around. But finally it was time for his secretary to head off to lunch. She came back a few minutes before one and Mr. Lyle and Torey went down to the cafeteria. Torey was halfway through her first book.
When the time came to go home, Mr. Lyle had to wake his daughter up.
He went straight to the liquor cabinet. Torey went and got ready for bed. Then she returned to say good night to her father.
She wanted to give him a hug but something in his eyes stopped her. Instead she gave him a little wave, mouthed 'good night' and returned to her room.
Later that Night
Mr. Lyle was still downstairs drinking and cursing his luck. He wasn't drunk. It would take a lot to inebriate him, more than he had drunk in the past ninety minutes.
His back was to the door but he turned around when he heard footsteps followed by a pathetic little sniffle. His daughter was walking towards him and she was crying. She crawled onto his lap and wrapped her arms tightly around his chest, heedless of the repulsed look that crossed his face.
His arms hung in midair, almost as if he was shrinking away from the child's touch. After hesitating there a moment, one finally wrapped around the crying child and pulled her to him while the other came to rest on her head.
He remembered the feeling of needing someone to comfort him and having no one and the small part of his heart that he hadn't completely abandoned went out to her.
Torey eventually fell asleep and he carried her up to bed and then went to his own.
Mr. Lyle's Office
Madeline entered the office she still thought of as Mr. Parker's, summoned there by Mr. Lyle.
"I need you to watch Torey tomorrow." He said by way of a greeting.
"Yes. I'll pay you $10 an hour."
Madeline hid her shock at the substantial amount. But she was working at the Blue Cove Country Club all day tomorrow.
"I'm working at the club." She went out on the golf course and sold cold drinks and snacks. This Saturday was her last day before the course closed for the winter. But knowing father and daughter could use some time apart, she added, "I could probably bring her with me. Can I call my boss?"
He gestured to the phone.
"Hi, Janice?... Hi, it's Madeline... I'm fine, how are you?... Um, I have this friend who wants me to watch his eight year old daughter tomorrow so he doesn't have to bring her to work again. Would you mind if she came with me?... Really? Oh great! Thanks! Bye."
"Okay." She told Lyle, who looked extremely relieved. Then she turned to Torey and explained it to her. Torey smiled brilliantly and Madeline said she had to be at work at 9 so she'd get there at 7:30 and then the two of them could go out to breakfast.
Torey looked happy but exhausted. Madeline felt much the same. Already she had fallen in love with Torey, like you do with that little girl on Step by Step or all those kids on Rosie. If they hadn't looked so much alike, Madeline would have sworn that Lyle could not possibly be this wonderful little girl's father.
They had connected almost instantaneously. Madeline recognized the hurt in Torey and the need for affection. Torey saw Madeline's natural love of children and a kindred spirit.
Torey shared her life with Madeline, who in turn told bits and pieces of how she had come to live with Miss Parker. That only made their bond stronger.
Madeline made a mental note to talk to Mr. Lyle alone when next she saw him.
They went to his house, using the key he'd given Madeline. He had said he'd get home by eleven. One of the first things Madeline did was close-caption the tv for Torey.
Torey went to bed at nine and Madeline watched tv til Mr. Lyle came home.
"Torey needs to see Sydney." Was the first thing out of her mouth.
"A psychiatrist? Why?!"
"Let's see, her grandma just died, her mother abandoned her with one of her million boyfriends," Madeline couldn't stop once she got started and her passion surprised Mr. Lyle, "at least one of whom physically abused Torey, she's sent to live with a father she never met and who doesn't even want her! If that's not enough reasons to see a shrink, I sure as hell don't know what is!"
He was so shocked that the girl who he had thought to be such a quiet little mouse had all that in her that he couldn't respond.
"I'm sure Sydney will be more than happy to help."
"Alright, fine." Mr. Lyle was a smart man- he knew it would be easier on him to agree rather than disagree and get her started again. "It's not my fault raising a child wasn't in my plans!" He was getting defensive, and angry.
"Yeah, but you don't have to make it so obvious! I don't think it'll kill you to pretend you don't hate her!!"
"Good night, Madeline." She could tell he was just barely holding onto his self control and having no more to say, she decided to leave before he lost it. If she had had more to say she would have told him no matter his reaction, for Torey.
Monday, December 1, 1997
By the beginning of December, Torey was settled into school. Madeline picked her up at the end of the day and stayed with her at Mr. Lyle's house until he came home, which was sometimes not until after 11. Luckily Madeline was used to functioning with little sleep thanks to her stepfather. Madeline and Torey also spent most of the weekend together. Torey barely saw her father, for which Madeline was thankful.
That past Saturday Torey and Debbie Broots had met for the first time and had quickly became very close, since both had recently been abandoned by their mothers and sent to live with fathers they didn't know too well. Already they were planning a sleepover for Saturday the 13th at Debbie's house.
That worked out perfectly because Broots had the day off, Madeline had a gymnastics competition out of state, and Mr. Lyle and Miss Parker were going to be off Centre grounds most of the day sealing a contract.
Madeline spent a lot of her time after school at the gym preparing for her meet. Torey went and begged Madeline to teach her gymnastics until the older girl finally agreed, more to get some peace and quiet than anything else.
The next two weeks passed by with everyone happy with or at least resigned to the situation.
To be continued...
Part Two in the Hot Potato Series
by Danielle : - )
Disclaimer: Brigitte, Mr. Lyle, Mr. Raines, Broots, Miss Parker, Mr. Parker, and Sydney belong to NBC. Thank you for creating such wonderful characters. I know Sydney doesn't officially have a last name but it suited my purposes to use something other than 'Sydney', hence, I did. But I do realize that he isn't really Dr. Green. Torey and Madeline belong to me...
Again, I am not a gymnast but I owe much appreciation to Jonathan Yip for his help in that area. Check out his whole website AFTER you send me comments about the story! Thanks and Part Three should be following shortly!
Sunday, December 14, 1997
11 AM, Broots' House
Brigitte got out of her car, still upset. Her superiors kept sending her on these stupid "missions". She blamed Mr. Lyle, since it was all for his daughter and she hoped he suffered. This time Mr. Raines had sent her to pick Torey up at Broots' house. She did wonder fleetingly what fate awaited Torey but was glad because she was sure it meant the last of her involvement. Then she could get back to her job-- namely catching Jarod to make Miss Parker look bad.
A While Later
Torey followed Brigitte up to her father's office. Miss Parker's father was sitting behind the desk. The scary man with the oxygen tank was standing off to his left. She couldn't remember his name.
Brigitte turned to go but Mr. Raines ordered her to stay. Torey stood uncertainly in front of the desk. Mr. Raines moved closer to her and spoke as he signed,
"Victoria, there's been an accident." Her eyes widened and she held her breath as he continued, "Your father died."
Mr. Raines had seen no reason to soften the truth- his truth-; and that had never been his way in any case.
^Dead?^ He nodded gravely. The child flung herself into Brigitte's arms with a strangled sob.
Once she got control of herself, she asked with trembling hands,
^So where will I go?^
Mr. Raines had his answer ready. He had been anxiously waiting to say it, "You will move in with Brigitte."
The blond did not disappoint him in the least, "Excuse me?! She is not moving in with me! Stick her with someone else!" She was so upset she was having trouble holding on to her accent.
"We are not giving you a choice in the matter."
"But if I refuse?" It was basically a rhetorical question, asked in the heat of the moment. Both of them knew what would happen to her if she refused to do it. She would suddenly start feeling suicidal and act upon it.
Mr. Parker had yet to speak. He watched the scene with his customary detached, unobtrusive observer's attitude. Torey had resumed crying and didn't realize that a battle of wills was going on only a few feet away.
Brigitte's abrupt departure caused Torey to look to Mr. Raines, who told her Brigitte would be back in a few minutes.
The doors swung open and Miss Parker breezed in.
"Daddy!" She said warmly, "It's so good to see you back behind your desk! Why's our little Brit so upset?"
"She doesn't want to be a Mommy." Mr. Raines rasped.
"Mr. Lyle and Brigitte... how'd the kid get so lucky?" She said with a lightness she no longer felt. Her joy at seeing Brigitte's rage had disappeared the second she saw the devastated 8-year-old.
Neither man answered, Mr. Parker just wanted to know if Jarod had contacted them yet.
"Not yet, Daddy."
"I still don't understand why you didn't get him at the courthouse." Mr. Raines pressed.
"Jarod knew what he was doing, he knew we'd be held up by security. By the time we convinced them we were legit..." She trailed off to glare at him. His bringing it up was enough to put a little more doubt about her "loyalties" in her father's mind.
After father and daughter exchanged an insincere, no-contact kiss, she left- her jovial mood long gone.
Brigitte stood in front of the heavy doors and took a deep breath before pushing them open. She was still seething and kicking herself but had a plan about to be set in motion. A very difficult plan to pull off. She figured if she acted glad to have Torey live with her, it would drive Raines (and everyone else) crazy. She didn't expect him to buy her change of heart but she figured her extreme cheerfulness would be just as effective- if not more so.
"Sorry about that scene earlier, Luv." She said with a sweet, apologetic smile, "It just took me by surprise, is all."
"You may take the rest of the day off." Raines allowed.
"Thank you." She replied, as if pleased that he was so generous. She really just wanted to take the girl and run before all the smiling and niceties literally made her sick.
But she was rewarded by Mr. Raines grinding his teeth in displeasure at his inability to get to her again.
"Ta-ta!" She said pleasantly as she put her arm around the still sniffling Torey and led her to the door.
Brigitte put Torey to bed in her guest bedroom once she couldn't stand her crying any more. She got a few hours peace and quiet before Torey woke up crying.
This time the arms of the lap she crawled into didn't hesitate before comforting her. Brigitte didn't understand why, but she cared about Torey. She'd rather die a slow, painful death than have anyone find out. It irked her- this motherly feeling she suddenly felt. 'This was no way for a trained assassin to act!' she kept telling herself. Nonetheless, she couldn't stop it and knew she was safe in her own home.
Brigitte thoroughly checked her apartment nearly every day. It wouldn't surprise her to find a bug or phone tap hidden somewhere to keep an eye on her. How many other times had Raines done it in the past?
The next day, Monday, Brigitte brought Torey with her to the Centre. Torey was very clingy and Brigitte was fed up with it before they had been there five minutes. Torey had begged Brigitte not to send her to school and she had begrudgingly given in.
They were passing Sydney and Broots in one of the Centre's many halls when Sydney stopped them.
"Doctor, Mister Broots."
"I don't know what you were planning to do with Victoria today, but she can stay with me if you like. I'm doing a couple of simulations with some children around her age- nothing serious, though. It might help her keep her mind off of her father's passing."
Brigitte had to admire him. He knew her job was no place for a child, plus he mentioned Mr. Lyle with nary a blink of an eye. With tact like that, it was no wonder he was still around.
"Thank you." Unlike the same words of the previous day, these ones were said sincerely.
Torey looked at Brigitte, who nodded her approval at the plan. Torey slowly moved to Sydney's side, but not before giving Brigitte a hug.
"I'll see you later, Mister Broots." She said before sauntering away.
She always made it a point to be nice to him, hoping he'd like the feeling of being treated with respect enough to come over to "her" side. Maybe even enough to give her the scoop on Sydney and Miss Parker's extracurricular activities. She was sure each had quite a few.
"B-bye, Brigitte." He said to her retreating figure. He could feel himself relax as she got farther and farther away.
Torey looked at Sydney with the sad, rather blank eyes common to the Centre's children. She did belong to the Centre now. He knew she was completely at William Raines' mercy and he could do whatever pleased his sick mind with and to her. He had to fight off a blinding rage to tell her,
^I'm going to be working with a set of twins your age in a little while. After they do their job, you three can play.^
She didn't answer him- something else common in children around here.
^They know ASL.^ He added, hoping to cheer her up.
The sim wasn't difficult- the twins just had to solve a few math and science related problems for one of the big computer software companies. Sydney knew they'd have no problem completing it in a few hours. And like all simulations, it would be recorded to a DSA to add to the girls' file.
Once in SIM Lab 1, Torey began to look around at all the computers and other equipment lining the walls of the high-ceilinged room. The middle of the small-school-gymnasium-size room was clear except for an eight-foot rectangular table covered with piles of paper.
Sydney had her sit facing the door and once the twins came in, he began to speak and sign,
"Girls, this is Victoria. Her father just died and she's staying with me today. After you complete this, you three can play for a little while."
He had tried to think of another word for "play"; since to play generally meant to have fun, and children at the Centre did not have fun. He had finally decided to leave it as is, knowing Victoria in particular could use some fun. Besides, he knew from experience that letting the children have a little "play time" helped them complete future sims faster and with more accuracy.
"Why are you signing?" Pamela asked, "Is she deaf?"
He nodded so the other twin turned to Torey,
^Hi. I'm Sam and that's Pam.^
^Hi.^ Torey answered solemnly.
"You can get to know each other later." Sydney said and began to explain the sim, again signing as he spoke.
Even someone who knows sign language as well as Torey needed to concentrate in order to understand all that is being signed to her. Sydney knew she'd have no time to mourn. Not that Mr. Lyle was worth losing sleep over. But try telling that to Victoria. Like Miss Parker, she didn't think her father could do anything wrong and their inattentiveness cut like a knife. She and Miss Parker were getting more alike every day, it seemed. He just hoped that this child grew up to be better than Miss Parker. At least she wouldn't have her father to try to please. But what effect would Brigitte have on the vulnerable girl?
Sydney only had to explain once before the twins got to work reading the data before them. Torey was also looking at the papers, only with confusion and not the twins' concentration.
Sydney already knew what they could do... For months the twins had relentlessly begged him to be able to play the games on one of the computers. He didn't know how they knew there were games on that computer but he hadn't given in, not even to shut them up. They had forgotten their as-soon-as-they-saw-him begging session having come into the room and seen Torey.
The twins arrived at a conclusion in a little over an hour. Sydney had expected it to take longer but there were their results, all in order. He told them they could use the computer before either had a chance to open their mouths.
They were extremely excited as he opened the games folder. Samantha pulled up another chair and placed it beside the first so Torey could sit in the middle. Sydney, who "played" even less than the children, could offer no suggestions so he stood silently in the background to observe them. Torey pointed to a game, 3D Pinball, and said she had played it at school.
^Okay, but we don't know how to play.^ Pam said.
Torey nodded and opened it. After hitting a few keys, she apparently found the ones she was looking for and began to play. She got three chances and died with a score of 1,703,750. The twins seemed impressed.
Sydney was gladdened to see the three smiling faces. He had known Samantha and Pamela would be good for Victoria.
Doctor Sydney Green did not like nicknames. Maybe it was because his brother always hated to be called 'Jake', or maybe because Raines used to call himself 'Dr. Billy'. But whatever his reason, he never used them. The twins must have told him a thousand times to call them 'Pam' and 'Sam'. But, no, it would always be 'Pamela' and 'Samantha', just like 'Timmy' had always been 'Timothy' and 'Mike' had always been 'Michaela'. He never budged no matter how often they complained it made them feel like they were in trouble.
Sydney trusted them enough to leave the room for a few minutes. Pam noticed he was gone and since Sam was playing, she talked to Torey and translated for her sister's benefit.
^Does everyone call you Victoria?^
^No. Most people call me Torey.^
"Sydney never uses nicknames." Sam said and her twin translated.
^Are both of your parents dead?^ Pam asked with child-like innocence, not realizing the pain the question sent through her new little friend's heart.
^Mom abandoned me and dad died a few days ago.^
^Our parents are dead, too. They died when we were three.^
"We can't remember them at all." Sam added as her game ended. They switched roles and Sam asked Torey when her mom left.
^About a month and a half ago.^ After that they said no more and just concentrated on the game.
Sydney came back to find them exactly as he had left them, only Victoria was playing again. After she died having beaten her first score- which got a sigh of envy from Sam- she asked them how they knew sign language.
^Our aunt is deaf.^
^Why didn't you live with her when your parents died?^
^I don't know.^ Sam admitted.
^They just said we had to come here.^ Pam chimed in.
Sydney didn't like the direction the conversation was heading for so he rang for someone to bring the twins back to their room. All three young faces fell when he told them the twins had to go back to their room for lunch. Torey wanted to know why they couldn't eat together. Sydney explained that everyone who lives at the Centre always eats in their rooms.
Sydney and Torey went up to his office. He figured he could "play shrink" (as Miss Parker had so nicely worded it once) to Victoria for a while until lunch. At least he expected Brigitte to come get her for lunch.
Tuesday, Torey reluctantly returned to school. Brigitte was in a jam. She couldn't leave work as early as her charge got out of school and Madeline didn't have time because she had some big competition coming up. This day Torey was going to a friend's house but Brigitte knew she couldn't do that forever.
The caustic blond prepared to enter Broots office, smirking when she remembered what Mr. Lyle said about doors and polite people knocking. She didn't know anyone who would call her polite. Her smirk turned into a full fledged grin when she imagined what people really called her.
"Good morning Mister Broots." She greeted him.
He was so startled that he spilled coffee on his shirt, "Oh! Uh, hi, Brigitte. Wh-wh what are you doing here?"
"You've a daughter, isn't that right?"
"Uh, yeah." He replied hesitantly and then with some suspicion, "Why?"
"What do you do with her after school?"
"What?! Oh! Torey!" He had begun to panic, not knowing what she was getting at, but he relaxed as he recalled how Miss Parker had gloated over the fact that Mr. Lyle's daughter was now staying with Brigitte. "She has a sitter. She's really wonderful; and cheap." He said with an extremely nervous laugh, "She doesn't mind my uh... unusual schedule."
"Aahhh... I've a little problem, Luv, about Torey. My schedule is rather "unusual" as well. Would your wonderful sitter watch Torey as well? I'd pay her whatever you do, of course."
"Well, I... I'll ask her tonight." He managed to tell her.
"Thanks, Luv!" She gave him a brilliant smile and her cell phone number.
Poor Broots returned to work a few minutes later after taking some deep, relaxing breaths to calm down.
Brigitte left work early, telling a none-too-pleased Mr. Raines that it was his fault for sticking her with Torey in the first place but that she was working something out.
Broots called at 7:30 that evening.
" 'Ello, Luv. What's up?"
"Leah just left and she said she'd love to watch Torey, too. She said she's always wanted to learn sign language!"
"Smashing! Now how is Torey supposed to get to your house?"
"Well, Leah picks Debbie up at school at 3:30. I don't like her taking the bus, no seatbelts. When does Torey get out?"
Brigitte had to check with the center of their conversation, "Quarter past 3." She felt she could almost laugh with relief. She gave Broots directions to the school and hung up.
Brigitte knew it would be cheaper this way than using Madeline; she knew how much (little) Broots got paid. If he came over to her side, he'd get a lot more. Of course, she hadn't told him that yet. He wasn't quite ready to hear it.
Torey had been restless and inattentive all day. Her teachers let it pass, attributing it to her father's recent passing. In actuality she was nervous about meeting Leah and petrified that Brigitte wouldn't be there later to pick her up.
Debbie had often told Torey how nice Leah was ("but not quite as fun as Madeline") and she looked it when she pulled up to the curb in a beat up blue station wagon. She looked exactly like the picture Broots had dropped off for her on his way to work that morning.
Torey got in the back and Debbie climbed in next to her a few minutes later. Debbie didn't mention Torey's dad's death, since she knew how much it hurt when people mentioned her mom. She told Torey their weekly routine- a snack, homework, then the fun stuff...
The evening went by quickly. Leah helped the girls with their homework after she made them a big plate of nachos. After that Torey spent half an hour teaching them the manual alphabet. She said you couldn't even begin to learn signs until after you had mastered that.
Broots arrived home to find them all laughing with tears streaming down their faces at their clumsy attempts. Brigitte had seen Broots leave so she pulled up a few minutes after him. She deemed Leah acceptable to watch Torey and then they agreed that if Broots left work first, Leah and Torey would go to Brigitte's apartment until she got home. Leah was very agreeable, telling Brigitte she could stay overnight if Brigitte ever had to leave town like Broots occasionally did. Brigitte said she'd let Torey keep the key. She didn't give them the reason- that she didn't trust Leah with unlimited access to her home like Broots did.
Brigitte found out- much to her relief- that Torey did not believe in Santa Claus. The solemn girl also said she didn't expect to get anything.
But Brigitte ended up buying her a few diaries and a gift certificate to the bookstore.
Torey was delighted and she had made Brigitte a card. The hardened blond knew for the first time that it was the thought and not the price tag that counts.
All through January and February, Torey continued to see Sydney and go to Broots' house after school. Some weekends, if Leah needed or wanted a day off, the two girls, now best friends, went with Madeline to her competitions.
Debbie and Torey spent a whole afternoon during Christmas vacation making Miss Parker a birthday card. Debbie told Torey about their weekend together and said Miss Parker was always sad because her mom died when she was their age. Torey figured if they made her a really nice card, she might not be sad anymore. Somehow Debbie found out that Miss Parker was staying home on her birthday, although Broots would later claim he'd had nothing to do with it.
Leah drove them out to Miss Parker's lakeside cottage. She was extremely surprised to see them and Leah thought she looked disappointed, as if she was expecting someone else. The girls presented her with the card and Miss Parker got all teary-eyed. The girls thought she was happy about their masterpiece but she was really crying because this little girl she hadn't even spent 48 hours with had remembered her birthday but her father hadn't.
By the beginning of March, Torey was starting to believe that Brigitte was not going to leave her.
Her cool attitude didn't bother the child, who wouldn't have known what to make of an adult who was warm and loving. In her young eyes, it had been so long since she'd felt wanted and loved that she didn't expect it to change. Ever.
Friday March 20th, Torey went with Madeline to an overnight competition in Baltimore. They would return late Saturday evening.
Brigitte had to smile as she watched Torey pack, her excitement obvious. She was literally running back and forth across the apartment, trying to figure out what to bring; and her normally neat handwriting was messy.
Something else was making Brigitte smile around her lollipop. She was privy to a plan happening later that night. That's why Torey needed to be gone. The plan had been her idea. An ingenious way to bring Jarod back to the Centre while finding and eliminating the leak, who she personally believed to be Miss Parker. She felt sure even Mr. Parker could forget her past indiscretions once she successfully did those two things.
So when Madeline came to pick Torey up, Brigitte was in an excellent mood. She told the girls to have fun and even wished Madeline good luck.
The Next Morning
Neither girl seemed to mind waking up at 6:30. They had a light breakfast and got to the US Air Arena around 8. Madeline spent the next two hours warming up. The competition began at 10:30.
Madeline had gotten the judges permission allowing Torey to be down on the floor with her.
There were four rotations that day. Madeline stared with the vault, her weakest event. She ended up with a 9.0 after both vaults. Torey thought she could have gotten a 10, though. Once that was behind her, Madeline relaxed. As much as you could when how well you did depended on whether or not you went on and eventually ended up at the Olympics...
She got a 9.25 on the balance beam and a 9.75 on the uneven bars- her strongest event. Her last rotation was also her favorite- the floor. She never seemed able to get higher than a 9.5 but she loved being able to pick the music. On this day she was using the music to "Wind Beneath My Wings". One of her favorite songs, it reminded her of her mother.
Madeline was in second place (the top three finishers would continue on the road to Sydney) and was the third to last person to complete her four events. One of the others still left couldn't have bumped Madeline out of the running if she did two perfect vaults. The other girl was after Madeline on the floor and was in first place. Her name was Reese and she lived in Baltimore.
Before starting, Madeline said her usual prayer and a few seconds later the music started. The familiar, much-loved music seemed to help her performance. She got incredible height, landed everything perfectly; and, most importantly, she made it look easy.
The applause when she finished was so loud that Torey could feel the floor vibrate. She smiled to know that they were clapping for "her" Madeline.
The judges gave her a perfect 10 and Madeline thought she might bump Reese out of first place.
But Reese's music and engaging attitude got the crowd into it- something more important than making it look easy. Besides that, she too was flawless and received a 10.
So they stayed where they were, both dreaming of going to the Olympics in 2000.
They crossed the border into Blue Cove around eight. Madeline had both her and Torey dropped off at Miss Parker's because she wanted to drive Torey home herself.
Miss Parker wasn't home and glancing in her room, Madeline guessed she'd gotten up in a hurry that morning.
So they drove to Brigitte's but no one was there, either. After a moment's hesitation, Madeline decided to go to the Centre to see what was up. Driving there, she had trouble ignoring the knot of worry in the pit of her stomach.