“Mommy?” Ayla Brown stared up into her mother’s pale-blue eyes, her long golden hair tickling her forehead.
“Why can’t Daddy be here for my graduation?”
“Daddy is sleeping, honey.” Ayla’s mother, Lily, stood up from her crouched position and walked over to grab Ayla’s butterfly leotard.
“He can’t still be sleeping, he’s been sleeping for,” Ayla stuck her left hand up and slowly counted her fingers, “thirteen days.”
“He is very tired, honey. He won’t wake up for a really long time.”
“Why can’t we see him?” Ayla stepped through the pink fabric, and her mother helped her through the sleeves.
“Because…” Her voice cracked as she tried to hide a sob.
“Don’t cry, I’m not as bad at dancing as you think.” Ayla smiled and twirled in her tutu and flapped her wings. Her mother started to laugh softly but inhaled sharply and let out a sob again.
“Are you ready to finish pre-school, Ayla?”
“Mmmhmm,” Ayla said as she skipped over to line up for her dance. She turned around to her mother and waved, smiling like she was about to be on “America’s Top Model,” her favorite ‘Mommy show,’ which she snuck into the living room at nine o’clock to watch.
I love you, she mouthed to her mother through the other four year olds.
“I love you, too,” Ayla watched her mother say as she sneaked to her seat in the back of the small theatre.
Three months later, Ayla dragged herself up the Cameron Elementary School steps and into room 23. After months of waiting for her father to wake up, Ayla had given up hope that she would ever see him again. She had stopped watching “America’s Top Model” and playing with her best friend, Jamie. Ayla spent hours a day staring into space, completely shutting out everyone but her mother. Ayla could tell she spent most nights crying. She tried to comfort her, but it seemed to make her mother cry harder. So Ayla spent most of her summer vacation alone in her room trying to stay put together.
Once Ayla reached the door, she turned around and kissed her mother goodbye, walked into the brightly colored room, and put on a smile.
“I wouldn’t punch someone who’s face is already so messed up!”
“Ayla!” her mother said in a strained whisper. “How could you?!”
“Look, Mr.Turner, I didn’t hurt anyone.” Ayla’s peacock colored braid flew around, as she tried to convince her principal that Jimmy Cammo had slipped and broken his nose, that it had not been punched by her.
“Ayla, we have witnesses who tell me that they saw you bullying Mr.Cammo during passing period today. As a junior, I expect you to be kind and considerate, and set an example for younger students. You are doing the opposite–not only harassing people, but breaking school rules, policies, and expectations.” He sighed and started again. “This is your sixteenth time to the principal’s office this year, and we are only three quarters of the way into first semester. Normally, we would have expelled you by now.”
Ayla saw her mother open her mouth and close it again.
“But we have decided to only suspend you from the campus for two weeks.” Mr.Turner looked down at his desk and picked up a large stack of papers and handed them to Ayla’s mother. Ayla noticed an odd expression sketched upon his face. He looked hurt, but there was something else there. It puzzled her.
“We will see you back on campus on April 24.” Mr. Turner wheeled his chair away from his desk, stood up, and walked out of his office.
“Ayla, sixteen times! I thought you had only been once!” Her mother frowned at her. Ayla avoided her mother’s gaze by pretending to see a bird out the window.
“There will be consequences.” Ayla dragged her feet as she walked to her mother’s blue Prius and slipped into the back seat to avoid the long lectures and cold glances. Halfway to her apartment, Ayla’s iPhone 4s burst into “Don’t Stop Believing.” She picked it up and whispered into the microphone, trying not to upset her mother.
“Ayla, what the hell?” Jackie’s high voice echoed in her ear, forcing Ayla to drop her phone out of surprise.
“Shhhh,” she let out, picking it up from the black leather seat.
“Don’t shush me, you are in no position to shush me! Suspended! For two freaking weeks!”
“Shhhh, don’t worry, I can still go Sunday.”
“Turn that thing off.” Her mother’s voice was stiff and unforgiving. Ayla covered the mic on her phone and whispered, “But, Mom, it’s–”
“Turn it off.”
Ayla groaned and, as quickly as she could, was off the phone with Jackie. The car screeched to a stop at a red light. Lily’s gold-grey hair whipped around, and her dark brown eyes met her daughters.
“You will volunteer at Karl’s Ocean Orphanage every single day. No friends or boys until you complete four months of community service.”
“What!” Tears formed in Ayla’s eyes.
“Now you know what it feels like, to have people be cruel to you.”
“Life has been cruel to me, Mom. Ever since Dad died, nothing has gone my way!” Ayla could see tears welling up in her mother’s eyes, too.
“How could you be so cruel to people? Kids bullied you in Kindergarten. You know how it feels to be treated horribly! How could you, of all people, be a bully? I am disgusted with your behavior.” Her mother’s tears were gone and were replaced with anger flaring across her face.
“I–” Ayla choked.
“No, you can’t have an excuse, and if you do, it is probably horrible.”
Silence filled the car as it rolled into the driveway. Ayla grabbed her phone, slung her bag onto her back and ran up the stairs, holding back tears. She fumbled with her key as she fought the urge to start bawling. Don’t cry, don’t do it, don’t let them get to you. As soon as she opened the door, she rushed past her tiny kitchen and lurched into her room. Leila, her sixteen-year-old cat, lay sleeping on her floral sheets. Ayla dropped her bag on her tan carpet as she inhaled sharply. She sat down on her bed and stroked Leila’s white, smooth fur. No, don’t do it, she thought. It had been years since she had cried–years of holding back tears, pretending that everything was okay. But being yelled at by her mother, who had almost always been there for her, had pushed Ayla over the edge. The only other time Lily had yelled at her was in Kindergarten. Ayla had returned home with a nasty cut on her leg from being stabbed with a pencil by Larry Garten.
“Ayla what happened to you?” Her mother asked as she put down her magazine.
“Nothing,” she mumbled
“Honey, what is wrong?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Did someone hurt you?” She crouched down to be eye to eye with her daughter.
“No, Mom, I’m fine.” Ayla looked down avoiding her mother’s gaze.
“Honey.” Her mother placed her hand on Ayla’s back, right where Jack Orlando had hit her last week.
Ayla reacted quickly, her hands flying to her back in pain.
Ayla looked up. Her mother was holding her cheek, glaring back at her.
“What was that for? Go to your room! And don’t come out until dinner!” All of the kindness
drained from her face as she pointed her left index finger up the stairs.
As Ayla lay on her duvet, she realized that that was the last time she had cried. But not the last time she was hurt. She was bullied until second grade, but by third grade had taken manners into her own hands. Bullying others made her feel horrible about herself. She couldn’t avoid it, though; everything people said angered her. Ayla had no friends until Jackie and Ursula moved to her school. Once Ayla met them, she thought she could stop punching kids and giving people bloody noses, but it turned out they were just as mean as she was. The whole middle school lived in fear of their clique. Ursula was the best at making people feel horrible about themselves. She criticized people’s weight, race, clothing, everything. Jackie was small, had great grades, and was assumed to be a nice, innocent nerd, but she could make someone wish they could crawl under their bed and never come out. Jackie was the group’s rock, their leader. Ayla dreaded what they did at first. As she became more and more cruel, bullying slowly grew on her. But every once and a while, Ayla could feel her early years creep up on her. She quickly dismissed the thought of them, but she couldn’t keep her past from catching up to her anymore.
So she let it out, the years of pain, hurt and depression. She wailed for hours, clutching Leila and letting her lick the tears off her face. Ayla waited for her mother to come creeping through the door and into the kitchen to make their usual dinner, chicken and mashed potatoes, but heard nothing but the sound of her own thunderous sobs. Eventually, she cried herself to sleep.
Ayla woke up to the sound of her mother entering their apartment. She rolled over and stared at her clock. 7:12.
“Up.” Her mother came into her room and violently expelled the covers from her bed and walked out of the room.
“No,” Ayla grunted. She stayed lying there for five minutes, dreading getting out of bed. Suddenly, the contents of the day before came rushing back to her memory.
“Nooo,” Ayla whispered as she debated to stay in bed for another half hour, like normal, or to get up and face her mother again. She pulled up her covers, but quickly threw them back off and rolled out of bed. She tip-toed as fast as she could to the bathroom down the hall, trying to avoid meeting her mother. Ayla spent thirty minutes standing in the shower, letting the hot water run down her face, washing away cat saliva and dry tears.
“Come down, now!” Usually, her mother would let Ayla stay in the bathroom for as long as she wanted on weekends. She also normally would let her sleep in until exactly 10 AM. But not today. When Ayla got down the stairs, she could immediately tell that her mother hadn’t slept much last night. Her long golden hair was messed up and her shirt, which she had been wearing the day before, was wrinkled and out of place. She was standing by the microwave, waiting patiently for her oatmeal.
“Hello, Ayla,” she said coldly.
“Hi,” Ayla sat down at her seat and started picking at the tablecloth.
“You start volunteering today. At 9.” Ayla looked at the clock. 8:03. “We leave in twenty minutes.”
“And if you misbehave,” her mother cautioned, glared at her, “you will not get your license this year.”
“What?!” Ayla screamed, temporarily forgetting that she was avoiding being yelled at. Her mother simply set down a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and sat down next to Ayla.
“I’m hoping that won’t be a problem at all, because there is no way you can possibly hurt orphans,” she answered.
Ayla felt as if her mother was coaxing her into another fit. As if she wanted her to punch her. But she wouldn’t dare, not when her freedom was on the line. And when the one thing in the world she couldn’t do was hurt her mother. Lily Brown was her only family. She had no grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, anyone other than her mother.
Ever since she was young, Ayla had put walls up around her heart, protecting it from anyone who could break it. The only person she let in was her mom, who had always been there for Ayla to cry with, talk to, and laugh with. But that morning Ayla slowly began to close her walls to her mom, too, expelling the only person she ever loved from her heart. Because with her heart open, even only to one person, she was breaking.
“Eat up.” Her mother’s words broke her from her trance.
“Sorry,” she mumbled as she stuffed a spoonful of soggy Cheerios into her mouth.
Two hours later Ayla stood waiting in the orphanage lobby. Her mother had signed papers, shaken the directory’s hand, and left. Ayla looked around through her wet hair. She was surrounded by colorful paintings of children holding hands and families playing together. Down the hall stood two large French doors leading into “the schoolroom.” On the other side was a smaller door labeled “girls’ dorms” and next to it was another labeled “boys’ dorms”.
“Hello, Miss Brown, welcome.” Ayla spun around hastily. Standing inches away from her and around a foot above her was a women. She had a brown bob surrounding her long thin face.
“This way.” Ayla followed her into a large schoolroom. There were floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the room, and sunlight shone onto the rainbow carpet in the middle of the room. In front stood a large chalkboard covered with multiplication problems. The ceiling stood forty feet above her, and strung from it were colorful cardboard butterflies and dragonflies.
“This is mainly where you will be working. The children will be down shortly to meet you. Good luck,” she said as she walked out of the room.
Good luck? What did that mean?
“Are you Ayla?” a voice behind her asked.
“Yes.” She turned around to find fifty eyes staring straight into hers.
“Hi.” Ayla glanced around at the orphans. There were around twenty-five of them, from ages three to twelve. Ayla nervously waved. She oddly felt like she was in kindergarten again, with people judging her and criticizing her every move.
“Hi,” the kids chirped.
“Okay.” The new woman turned to look at the herd of orphans again. “Introduce yourselves, guys.”
“Hi,” Ayla said nervously as she twirled her hair through her fingers.
“I am Adele.”
“My name is John.”
Ayla was overwhelmed by the sudden amount of tiny voices.
“I…uh…need to go to the bathroom. Umm, where is it?”
“Over there.” A tiny girl who looked like Dora the Explorer pointed over to a door by the chalkboard. Ayla pushed a few children out of her way, completely ignoring the fact that she had pushed a boy into a desk, and ran to the bathroom. She swung open the door, rushed to the sink, and inhaled heavily.
Her mind flashed back to ten years ago. She was standing in front of the whole class giving her presentation on hummingbirds.
“Well, hummingbirds are very colorful. And…um they like to drink nectar. I chose to do hummingbirds because…I like birds and these are very pretty birds.” Ayla’s skirt was balled up in her fist. She was staring at the grey carpet, trying to focus on her speech and not on the staring faces. “And…ummm.”
“Why won’t she hurry up?” Lily whispered loudly to Jasmine. Ayla kept her eyes glued to the carpet, hoping the class wouldn’t notice the tears forming in her eyes.
“Ayla?” she heard her teacher ask. “Are you done?”
Ayla nodded her head, pretending she didn’t have another two minutes of information about her colorful bird. She hurried back to her assigned seat next to Nate and Jasmine.
“No!” Ayla said out loud, snapping herself out of her trance. She took a paper towel and wet it. After dabbing the wet towel on her face, Ayla opened the door and stepped out of the bathroom. She closed the door silently, turning around to see the boy she had pushed unconscious on the floor.
The dark haired women she first met in the halls was standing over him, staring directly at Ayla. Many of the children were glancing up at her, too. The small boy’s sketchbooks and colored pencils were scattered on the floor, and a large golf ball size lump had formed above his right eye. His hand was still clutching a small piece of paper.
“Ayla, please follow me.”
Ayla stood frozen. This couldn’t happen. She couldn’t have hurt him. He must’ve fallen.
“Ayla, please.” The women walked over to the French doors and opened them, signaling for Ayla to go with her. Ayla could feel the orphans staring at her, waiting for her to make a move. Don’t do it. Don’t let them get to you! Ayla thought. She slowly dragged herself to the door and out into the hall. She followed the women into the front office. By the time Ayla had seated herself down on the small wooden stool in front of a cluttered desk, she had already figured out twenty ways her mom could punish her.
“Miss Brown.” A deep male voice echoed from behind the giant black chair facing away from Ayla. “I was informed that you pushed Mr. Carlton into a desk, and he is seriously injured.” Ayla sat in silence, too afraid to speak. “And you also rushed to go to the bathroom while the children were introducing themselves.”
“I…had to go,” Ayla timidly suggested.
“And, it says here,” a small hand emerged from behind the back of the chair holding a file with Ayla’s name written on it in crisp blue letters, “that you are disrespectful in class, rude to your teachers, and a bully.”
“I honestly do not know how you wiggled your way into our volunteering schedule,” the man remarked. Slowly, he turned his chair around to face her. Ayla’s jaw dropped. The man looked to be only around four feet tall. His large glasses took up half of his plump face, which was covered by a large, white beard. If it wasn’t for the black suit, Ayla would’ve thought that Santa was sitting in front of her. Her fear melted away and was replaced with the sudden desire to laugh.
“I do not think we can let you come back.” The man said. Ayla’s urge to laugh melted away.
“What? No!” Ayla pleaded.
“What is going on here?” Another voice joined their conversation from the doorway. Ayla winced. Not her mom, not now.
“I was just telling Ayla how she wouldn’t be allowed to work here anymore,” the man said in a matter-of-fact way.
“I got a call regarding Ayla pushing someone by accident, not being exiled from the orphanage,” her mother accused.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but any harm to our children is absolutely forbidden.”
Ayla sat, petrified.
“Can I talk with you alone, Mr. Simons?” her mother said.
Ayla stood up from the stool and rushed to the door. Once out in the hallway, Ayla sat down on a bench, trying to prepare herself for what would happen when her mother came through that door.
“Excuse me, you are sitting on my phone.” Ayla turned to see a tall teenager sitting across from her. He had short hazelnut hair and large glasses that Ayla tried her best not to make fun of.
“I am sorry, I didn’t even know you were sitting here. Wait–” Ayla studied his face again, “do I know you?”
“I doubt it. No one knows me. I transferred away from Cameron when I was just in Kindergarten.”
Ayla froze, remembering exactly where she had seen his dark brown eyes before…
Ayla was back in her Kindergarten classroom for the second time that day.
“Why is she sitting alone?”
“Do you want to ask her over?”
“No, she’s weird.”
Ayla felt as if someone had punched her in the gut. Why didn’t they want her to sit with them?
“She isn’t weird.” Ayla looked up from her hiding spot behind the teacher’s desk.
“Nate, you can’t sit with us at lunch.”
Ayla watched as the three girls waved Nate away from their lunch desks. She put her face back into her knees and continued to cry.
Someone’s hand was waved violently in front of Ayla’s face.
“Oh.” She jumped. “Sorry.” Ayla shook her head, trying to get herself together.
“What was that all about? You were sitting there for thirty seconds staring at the wall,” Nate said with a worried expression.
“I was just…I just remembered something I had to do.” Ayla jumped up from her seat, worrying he would remember her. She wouldn’t let him see her as the little kid who got picked on in Kindergarten. She wouldn’t allow anyone to pity her, especially a weird nerd who was on the bottom of the food chain.
“I got to go.” Ayla started walking swiftly away, heading for the nearest door.
“Ayla! I remember–” But the sound of his voice was cut off as Ayla slammed the door to the Girls’ Dorm.
It took Ayla a second to realize where she was. She took a deep breath in and sighed it out. Instantly, she thought of her mother, who always watched yoga videos on Sundays. Suddenly a small high-pitched voice interrupted her thoughts.
Ayla turned away from the door to see a short, thin girl with a pink superhero cape strapped around her neck. Her curly blonde hair was tied into a bow on the top of her head. Ayla knelt down on her knees, as her mother did, and looked the girl straight in the eyes.
“Why is your hair blue?” The girl stepped back, shying away from Ayla.
“It’s not blue, it’s–” Ayla caught herself. Be nice Ayla, be nice. “Sorry.”
“Why is it blue?” she asked again, more impatiently.
“Well–” she was interrupted by the door swinging open. The girl’s face paled and she sprinted away down the dimly lit hall, which Ayla guessed led to her bedroom. A small shadow emerged from behind the door.
“Miss Brown, please come with me.” The director calmly lead Ayla out of the door and into the office again where her mother was sitting on the small stool filing her fingernails. Ayla pretended not to notice she was there, but it was proving difficult with her mother’s you-are-going-to-pay-for-this glare.
“Please, sit,” the director said cautiously. Ayla was in the middle of debating if she should be super sincere and apologize, or if she should deny everything, when Mr.Simon dismissed the two of them.
“What?” Ayla was stupefied. Had she missed his speech? What was going on? Did she get to come back tomorrow?
“I said you can leave, Miss Brown, and you too, ma’am,” he explained as he sat down in his large black chair. He turned himself around to face the back of the room and disappeared. Ayla followed her mother around the ivy covered building and into the parking lot. As she snuck into the back seat, Ayla glanced up to take one more look at the orphanage windows, her last chance of freedom, and noticed a small face with a little blonde bow on top of her head staring straight back at her.
“Yes…you will be going back to the orphanage tomorrow morning.”
“I talked to Mr.Simon, and he told me that if you are seen harming anyone with words or force, you will never be allowed inside the orphanage again,” she remarked quickly and calmly.
The next week was hell. Ayla spent her mornings trying to avoid Nate, who apparently volunteered there, resisting her temptations to laugh at the one kid who looks like he ate fifteen hamburgers a day, and running into the nearest hiding place every time Mr. Simon came into the room.
On Sunday, Ayla checked in at ten o’clock sharp for a four-hour morning “play session,” which she had begged her mother to let her skip.
“Your assigned seat will have your name on it.” Assigned seat? What kind of play session is this? Ayla quickly strut down the hall, determined to get there before Nate, so she could make sure she wouldn’t end up his “play buddy” or something. The pushed the doors open quietly and crept up to the desks. She frantically searched for her name among the colored pencils and markers.
Ah ha, she whispered to herself. She fumbled with her pink name tag and looked down again pushing away her hair from her face. She saw a smaller blue name tag with Nate’s name on the desk next to hers.
“Hm hm,” Ayla whipped herself around, holding a blueberry colored pencil tightly in her hand.
“Whoa, it’s just me,” Nate said as he stepped back throwing his hands in the air.
“What?” he asked.
“I just stubbed my foot. And I…uh. It hurt when I turned around.”
“You are horrible at lying.” Nate grinned as he pulled back his minute chair and pushed his glasses off his nose. “You know, you used to be that nice kid that always got picked on. Now you’re just a–” The French doors swung open revealing at least around eighty children. Ayla’s jaw dropped.
“I thought there were only twenty of them,” Ayla whispered to Nate, temporarily forgetting that she wasn’t supposed to talk to the “bottom feeders.”
“There is an afternoon class and a morning class,” Nate whispered back. He leaned closer to Ayla, who scooted her chair away awkwardly. She resumed to watching the enormous amount of children file into the playroom. One small boy was dressed up in a Harry Potter costume complete with a red crayon lightning scar on her forehead. Another little girl, who looked like a halloween enthusiast, was wearing a bright orange t-shirt and black leggings and green witch earrings. Ayla nearly turned to Nate to point out a huge kid who was wearing liquid guy-liner and a large mohawk on his apple sized head.
“Please find your assigned seats, everyone.” Mary Margaret pointed to the rows of desks and sat down at her own. Many of the children automatically rushed to their seats, grinning and pushing each other, struggling to get to their chairs.
“Hello.” The same small girl who confronted her in the girls’ dorm seated herself down in the chair next to Ayla.
“Hi,” Ayla smiled. Something about the little girl intrigued her.
“Why is your hair blue?”
“I thought it looked pretty,” Ayla tried.
“It is. You look like a peacock.” The little girl giggled and reached out to tug lightly on Ayla’s hair, who resisted her urge to pull away.
“What is your name?” Ayla asked, taking the girl’s hand.
“Sam.” She criss-crossed her legs and took her hand away to pull herself closer to the desk. “What is your favorite color?”
“Blue, what’s yours?” Ayla responded.
“Pink.” Sam grinned, displaying her pink wristbands and t-shirt. “Whenever there is a donation, I get there first and get all pink clothing.”
“Okay, everyone! Now that you are seated and comfortable, we shall get down to business.” Mary Margaret’s face was filled with despair. “We have some bad news. We do not–” Her voice cracked as she stifled a sob. “We cannot get enough fundraising to fund our…our–” Mary Margaret sat down on a small blue chair, unable to finish her sentence.
Mr. Simons stood up to continue her speech. “All of you will be either moved to Arizona State orphanage or put into the foster system.”
Many of the younger children had started to weep, but the older ones, like Ayla, sat frozen in their chairs, unable to react.
“We are arranging to move in three weeks.” Mr. Simons paced back to Mary Margret and lead her out of the room.
Ayla felt a tiny hand grab her pinky finger and tug. Sam lightly laid her head on Ayla’s shoulder and gently sobbed. Ayla felt helpless. Her whole life–and a hundred kids–depended on this orphanage.
“Shut it, Kyle, it isn’t that bad. Foster care is where dogs go when they don’t have home, just like you.” A tall girl with dark brown hair and icy blue eyes mumbled to a boy, who looked to be only six years old.
“Hey!” Ayla yelled, accidentally causing Sam to jump and sit up abruptly. What are you doing, Ayla? Don’t defend the kid, he probably deserves what he is getting. she thought.
“Hey what?” the girl glanced over at Ayla with a bored expression on her face.
“Stop that,” Ayla stood up from her chair. She felt two hundred eyes land on her, making her uncomfortable.
“Who are you to tell me to stop being mean? Telling Kyle to shut up is nothing compared to what you do.”
“Ayla is nice, Miley.” Sam’s usually sugary voice was rough and harsh.
“Shut up, Sam!” Miley pushed Kyle out of her way and strutted past the desks to Ayla. Suddenly, the doors to the playroom burst open, and Mr. Simons paraded in with Mary Margaret trailing behind.
“Unless we get 5,000 dollars in two days, we will pack our bags. Ayla and Nate, you may leave.”
“Mom!” Ayla burst through the door. She had plodded twenty blocks after waiting half an hour for her mother to pick her up. She glanced at the clock. 1. Ayla sat there, trying to shake the image of Sam being shipped away in a truck over the California border, crying. Finally, she gave up and began to walk home.
“Mom?” Ayla threw her purse onto the kitchen table and pulled out her phone. Just as she tapped the phone app, she heard a door upstairs close.
“Mom?” Gripping a baseball bat, Ayla snuck up the stairs. She pushed open her mother’s bedroom door open and glanced around the room, sitting on the bed sat her mother.
“Ayla?” she spun around to face her daughter.
“Why didn’t you answer me? Are you hurt?”
“Lily?” A deep familiar voice boomed from inside the bathroom. “Honey, who is there?” Ayla’s eyes started to fill with tears. What was going on? Honey?
“I asked who was there.”
Ayla searched her memory for that voice. She knew this man, but how?
“Oh no one, I meant no one.” Lily signaled for Ayla to leave.
“But–” Ayla gasped.
“I will explain later,” she whispered, pushing Ayla to the door.
“Out!” The door slammed in her face, leaving her alone in the hallway. She trudged to her room, grabbed Leila and flopped onto her bed. She felt stuck. Like her whole life was crumbling. Tomorrow she would have to go to school for the first time in two weeks. She would have to face her friends, who would probably make her feel horrible for even going within ten feet of the orphanage. Three sharp knocks interrupted her thoughts. Ayla sat up, unaware she had been crying.
Mr. Turner. Her principal. His was the voice inside her mother’s bathroom. He let Ayla come back after two weeks not because of Ayla, because of her mom.
“Honey, can I come in?”
“Is he gone?” Ayla mumbled.
“Yes.” Lily sat down next to Ayla and began petting Leila’s ears.
“Why can’t we just move?” Ayla looked up from her pink painted nails, her eyes filled with tears. She felt her mother’s arms embrace her.
“Because–” Her voice cracked and she let out a sob. “Because…I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Mom,” Ayla groaned. “I hate my friends, the orphanage is closing, everything reminds me of getting bullied in kindergarten, and Dad died here. Leaving nothing but a keychain and five thousand dollars.”
“I have some news.” Ayla watched a tear cascade down her mother’s cheek. Suddenly, something clicked in Ayla’s brain.
“Wait…five thousand dollars?” Ayla jumped off of her bed, throwing Leila off her lap. She charged down the stairs and rushed past Mr. Turner, who was sitting on her couch in a bathrobe, and bolted into the garage. Her hands trembled as she pushed cardboard boxes out of the way to a small cupboard. She pulled open a wooden drawer and reached for a small envelope. She quickly grabbed it and ran upstairs again. She grabbed her coat, shoved the envelope in her pocket, flipped off Mr. Turner, and ran into the night.
“Here.” Ayla gasped as she tripped into the orphanage lobby and threw the envelope on the front desk. The lady looked at her suspiciously and reached for the envelope slowly. Still looking at Ayla, she tore open the seal and reached inside. She quickly looked down, checking to see if what she felt was there. A stack of fifty Ben Franklins sat smiling at them on the desk. The lady jumped up, rushing to Mr. Simon office. Ayla ran to the bathroom, afraid she was going to vomit from running so far.
“Ayla?” a small girl in a pink onesie was standing there, holding a toothbrush and a teddy bear.
“Hi…Sam,” Ayla managed, gasping for breath.
“Ayla?” Her mother’s voice echoed from the lobby.
“She is in there, Miss.” Nate.
“Miss Brown?” Mr. Simons. Ayla groaned. She grabbed Sam’s hand and pulled her out of the bathroom, ready to face her punishment for giving away her college money. She was greeted by her mother, whose hair was messed up, her coat half on, a very disgruntled Mr. Turner, Mr. Simons, a pale-faced Nate, and the reception lady.
“Ayla, can I speak with you alone?” Mr. Simons asked.
“No, just get it over with,” her mother said sternly.
“I really shouldn’t–”
“Okay I will then. Ayla,” her mother looked at her, “you are not going back to school tomorrow. Instead, you will be going to a new school next year. I have already talked to Mr. Turner, who is fine with it.”
Mr. Turner grunted.
“My turn!” Mr. Simons said impatiently. “Ayla, thank you for your generous donation, but we cannot accept it, unless your mother approves.”
“I approve,” her mother declared.
“I guess I will see you tomorrow then.” Mr. Simons looked very uncomfortable as he and the receptionist walked back into his office.
Ayla looked down at Sam, who looked thoroughly confused.
“What?” she questioned.
“You don’t have to move.”
Sam’s face lit up. A grin wide enough to stretch around the whole room was etched upon her face. She jumped up and down, dropping her toothbrush and hugging her teddy bear.
Ayla turned around to her mother, who had let go of Mr. Turner’s hand. Ayla wrapped her arm around her mother.
“I love you,” Ayla whispered.
“I love you, too.”