Ali opens her eyes slowly as the early morning light is soaked up by her cool blue room. What time is it? she thinks as she turns over on her side to check her clock, only it isn’t there. She sits up straight in her bed only this isn’t her bed and this isn’t her room. Then it hits her and she remembers what happened the day before.
Susan walks into the family room and sees her two daughters still lying on the sofa, “Girls you have to get to bed it’s getting late,” she says with her best serious voice.
“Just five more minutes please mom? The movie’s nearly finished.” Ali looks up to her mom and smiles innocently knowing her mom gives in every time.
“Fine.” Susan sighs looking at that smile and laughing, “What am I going to do about you?” she asks rhetorically.
Three hours later and the whole Highland family are tucked up in bed sleeping. Ali and her little sister Sophie in their own separate rooms and their parents, Susan and Jack, are just across the hall.
Suddenly, Ali starts to cough and wakes up drowsy and confused. Then the noise hits her and the pit of her stomach turns to knots. The smoke alarm is going off and Ali can’t see anything due to the thick black smoke that is filling her room. She quickly jumps from her bed, pulling on her slippers, and runs to her bedroom door. She grabs the handle, screams in pain and instantly pulls her hand away.
Breaking out in a cold sweat she runs to her window remembering what her dad told her to do. Thanking God that they lived in a one-story home, Ali opens her window as far as possible and throws her duvet out and onto the driveway below. She turns around and in one swift motion lowers herself out of the window and down onto the bedding.
It is a hard landing that winds her but without thinking she stands up, looking around for her family, praying they are okay…but she can’t see any of them.
Ali is brought out of her daydream by Rita who had walked into her room and opened the curtains. Ali had been placed in emergency accommodation in the form of Girls’ United, a girls-only group home, for the night. Rita sits down at the bottom of Ali’s bed and looks at her with concern. She had never had a child stay who had lost her family in such a horrific way and honestly didn’t know what to say to comfort her.
“Morning Ali, are you hungry? The other girls are downstairs making breakfast.” Rita quietly asks Ali.
Ali nods slowly in response. Good, Rita thinks taking a deep breath. At least she still has an appetite.
Later that afternoon Ali is walking into the living room when she is met by Rita who is surrounded by all of the other girls.
“Hey Ali, why don’t you pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.” Rita smiles sadly as she sees Ali do as she is told without protest.
“Ali, this is called group and it allows us to talk openly about anything that is on our minds in a safe and non-judging environment.” She says the last part with more emphasis and looks quickly to the other girls.
“Yea, we tell each other all our dirty little secrets,” replies a short, skinny girl with a very pale complexion that seemed almost translucent to Ali.
“Not exactly but kind of,” Rita quickly interrupts Roxanne and gives her the look which everyone knew meant shut up right now or else. The other girls went quiet quickly in response.
Ali sat and listened to the other five girls tell her their names, where they are from and what they did to end up in here. Finally, everyone looks at Ali to signal that it’s her turn, Oh God, what am I going to say, Ali thinks.
“Hi m…my name is Ali and I’m from San Diego.” She pauses before clearing her throat and continuing, “Last night we had a f…fire at my home and I…I was the only one to make it out.” As she says those last words out loud, the nightmare finally comes true. Ali feels a lump form in her throat as she tries to choke back tears that are now running freely down her cheeks and onto her lap. Rita jumps up and runs to her, dismissing the other girls from the room and sitting down beside Ali.
“Sweetheart…shhhh…there it’s okay. It’s okay.” That is all Rita can think to say as she tries to comfort Ali, running her hand up and down the poor girl’s back. Slowly, Ali calms herself down, taking deeper breaths and wiping her tears away.
Ali suddenly looks up to face Rita, “Am I going to live here now?” she asks so quietly that if Rita hadn’t been looking at her directly she would never have known that Ali had spoken at all.
“Oh darling” Rita sighs as she grabs Ali’s hand and rubs it lightly. She had never had a girl who didn’t resist comfort and it shocks her to not see Ali flinch. “I am going to find you a lovely foster home to live in for a while, okay?”
“Okay.” Ali replies softly again whilst nodding her head.