Cassidy was alone.
She was always alone now.
Everybody who promised to love her had left her.
Her mama left her; so she stopped smiling.
Her daddy left her; so she stopped talking.
Her nana left her, and she wanted to stop hearing so she couldn’t hear anyone else lie to her.
Cold wind whistled its way down the tiled corridor, the sickly yellow cast down from the flickering fluorescent lights making odd shadows on the little girl’s arms as her pale skin breaks out in goosebumps. She shivered slightly, her small arms tightening their vice-like grip on the ragdoll which she had perched on her lap. By her feet, a single battered suitcase which contained all of her worldly belongings. Well, the belongings deemed worthy by the large black woman who had been put in charge of looking after her.
The office door in front of the little girl hadn’t been closed fully, allowing her to hear the adult conversation taking place inside.
“I understood her brother, Sam, was to be collecting Cassidy today?”
“Umm, yeah. He was, but he got called into work.” Annie shuffled in her chair, fully aware of the bright blue eyes which were burning into the back of her head from the corridor. “I bought all the paperwork...” She trailed off, rummaging in her oversized shoulder bag for the file she had been given about Cassidy.
“That’s okay dear,” Shirley had worked for too many years in social services and was just happy when there were willing family members to take in children, saving them from the frankly awful group homes. She runs long manicured nails through her afro, finding the pencil she kept tucked behind her ear, and fans out the paperwork for Annie to sign. “Just sign and print your name, and I’ll take copies of your and your husband’s id, and the proof of address.”
“Oh! No. He’s not my husband.” Annie blushes slightly.
“Well then. It’s even nicer that you are here on his behalf then.” Shirley beams at her as she walks over to the photocopier.
Annie turns slightly once she has scrawled her messy signature on many pieces of paper, so she can look at the little girl she has come to collect.
Cassidy had the same chestnut hair as Annie’s boyfriend, Sam; shiny, caramel colour, and slightly unruly. Her big blue eyes were unblinking as she stared at cracked paint on the wall opposite her.
“Has she spoken? At all? Since...” Annie turns back to Shirley as she sits her ample behind back onto the tired leather chair.
Shirley sighs heavily, and shaking her head, eyes sad.
After trying over and again to start a conversation with the stoically silent little girl, Annie had given up and turned on the radio. Cassidy stared out of the window at the unfamiliar countryside whizzing past. In her six years of life all she had known was the bustling city. But now she was alone, and being taken far away from her home, from her pretty bedroom which she had been allowed to decorate herself. She played with the red woollen hair of her ragdoll as they drove past the hardware store, where she had gone with mama and daddy to pick out the sparkly wallpaper and pink paint for the wood. Her daddy had cursed as the glitter from the paper had gotten all over him, and he had chased her round the house pretending to be a unicorn. Tears fill up her eyes as she remembers why he won’t be pretending to be a unicorn anymore, but she blinks them away before the blonde woman driving the car sees them.
Two hours later, the car pulls to a stop, and Annie turns to her with a grin.
“Okay kiddo, time for a toilet stop and maybe a Happy Meal?” All Cassidy offered in return is a slight lift of one shoulder.
Annie tried to keep the optimistic grin on her face as she unbuckled the small girl, but it soon slipped off as Cassidy quickly withdrew her hand from Annie’s, making her own way towards the golden arches.
Another two hours passed before Annie pulled up outside the modest house her and Sam had recently bought.
As Annie pulled the suitcase from the boot of the car, Cassidy stood on the driveway, red and golden leaves swirling around her yellow boots, ragdoll hanging by one arm from her hand. Her wide eyes slowly scanned the building in front of her which she was now supposed to call home, stopping on the intimidatingly large man who was standing in the doorway.
Sam wiped the paint from his hands on a rag as he looked down at his lost looking baby sister. Behind her, Annie was desperately motioning to her mouth, shaking her head. Sam chews the side of his mouth; the social services lady had told him over the phone that Cassidy had not spoken a word to anyone. What was he supposed to do with a mute child? Annie scowls at him, waving at him to come over to them.
“Cassidy?” She crouches down so she is at eye level with the youngster. “Do you remember your big brother? This is Sam.”
Cassidy looks up at the man she was supposed to call her big brother. In truth he was her half-brother, the result of a teenage relationship their father had had. He was twenty when she was born, already living four hours away, and had not seen much of her over the last six years. Birthday and Christmas presents arrived in the mail from him. They were siblings by blood, but strangers in life.
Under the intense blue gaze of his little sister, Sam scratches the back of his neck awkwardly, not knowing how to offer comfort to this small human in her obvious grief. Hell, he didn’t even know how to comfort himself through his own grief! It was one reason he’d not been able to make the four hour drive back to his childhood home to pick up his baby sister. The thought of seeing the house he had spent so many summers in, devoid of the warmth his dad exuded, had been too much. So much he had ashamedly asked his girlfriend to go and fetch her.
“Hey there Cassie!” Sam winces as Cassidy’s bright blue eyes swim with unshed tears, and her tight grip on her raggedy dolly tightens unbelievably tighter. He shoots Annie a help me look, at which she shrugs, an equally lost look on her face.