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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...