It’s early and you’re positively famished. You’ve been increasingly hungry lately, and you suspect it’s because you seem to keep missing meals and finding that everyone else has eaten without you.
Miles always says you’re just being daft, whatever that means, and that you gobbled up your meal in record time but you can’t help but think that’s just being a little bit of a pain because, well, you know why. It’s not his fault, not really.
You like breakfast time because it’s when everyone is here, together, as a family, enjoying orange juice and tea and it’s like you’ve woken up from a perfect dream and now you get to enter a perfect kitchen with the perfect people who keep you safe.
They really are a perfectly splendid family to you. You don’t have a mother and a father and an uncle here with you but you have three people that you love abundantly and who love you too. You know they do because they hug you tight and they rock to to sleep and they make you feel warm whenever you are with them. And maybe there’s a fourth member to add to this feeling in the future, though you aren’t sure if she’s family quite yet.
Owen loves to fill your tummy with sweets and candy and everything else delicious.
Mrs. Grose has been there for you since before you were born. You’ve never not known her and you can’t imagine if you ever forgot her face.
And Miss Clayton. She was just lovely, absolutely lovely. She was still learning her way of course and you’ve had to be cross with her a few times when she doesn’t follow the rules but it’s only because you care about her safety.
And then of course, the coolest--
“Miss Jamie?” She’s too busy looking at Miss Clayton and you have to speak a little louder the next time you say, “Miss Jamie?”
Finally she turns her head to you and you think she’s wearing the same shirt she might have been wearing yesterday. Though, she wears that shirt a lot so maybe you’ve just gotten your days all mixed up.
You’ve been doing that quite frequently lately. Getting days and times all blended together in your memories.
“Yes, love?” Her voice is rather chipper and you can tell that she must have had a good night's rest. Which is good, because you noticed she was here, and you always want people to rest easy in your home.
But still, you were a little sad when you realized that maybe you were missing out on things other than just meals. Maybe you missed out on a whole evening this time.
“Why didn’t I get invited to the sleepover?” You cross your arms and you pout in her direction and her face looks confused. It looks horrible confused and you can’t understand why because she was here last night, you’re sure of it.
“Sorry?” She tilts her head to the side and you know that look is what the grownups have when they think you’re just being silly. “Sorry, love, what-- what sleepover?”
Owen is still chatting away with Hannah and not paying you any mind at all. Miss Clayton is too focused on Miss Jamie and you think Miss Jamie must have a bug or something on her mouth with the way Miss Clayton keeps looking at it.
You wish that the bug would just fly away so that they would all pay attention to you.
“You, you and Miss Clayton. You had a sleepover and you didn’t even tell me!” You don’t mean to raise your voice. Miss Jessel always told you that raising your voice was never the way for a young woman to be heard but the grownups are laughing and you don’t much care for their laughter when they have been leaving you out of meals and sleepovers.
And if the way they each react next is any indication, you have their attention now.
Miss Clayton spits out her tea into her cup.
Mrs. Grose drops her fork on her plate and it rattles loudly.
Owen barks out a loud laugh. Just once.
Miles, well Miles just keeps eating.
And Miss Jamie, she laughs.
“Oh I--I don’t think we need to--”
But her cheeks are turning a bright red and she’s looking at Miss Clayton now and not you. They are looking at each other like there is a big secret and you know that they are all going to start lying to you pretty soon, they already are.
And when Owen looks at you and says, “Oh Flora, I’m sure that you are mistaken.
"At the same time that Mrs. Grose says, “My, my, dear-- no time to be making up fiction.”
You wonder for a brief second if maybe you are making up fiction. If this is just another storytime. But you know it can’t be because you saw the little boy who watches your home while you’re resting last night and he had seen Miss Jamie in Miss Clayton’s room. He put her doll there. And he would never put a doll where it doesn’t belong.
You would have looked yourself but then Miss Jessel tucked you away and you didn’t come back out until morning. Not until breakfast.
And it’s very frustrating because you know you are little but you can stay up all night with the grownups and you aren’t too much of a child to be ignored by them when you get tucked away in your dreams.
You’re sick of getting tucked away.
“You did, you did! I know that you did!” And Miss Jessel will likely be very upset with you when you speak with her later. She will say your temper was unbecoming of a young lady and you would tend to agree but you can’t get them to listen to you.
“Flora…” Miss Clayton is looking at you and her voice is soft and sweet and it creaks a little bit under the pressure from all the sides around it.
“Flora, shh.” Miles takes the fork out his mouth long enough to elbow you in the side and it’s all just very annoying.
You like sleepovers, you hardly ever get to have them. You’re cooped up in this house with no kids to play with and nobody to really talk to other than Miss Jessel who only comes to you in secret or Miles when he’s Miles - which seems to be dwindling more and more by the day.
So it’s only fair that they invite you when they play. You just want to be included.
“But the last time you had a sleepover we stayed up and we drank hot chocolate and Mrs. Grose and Owen were there and this time nobody else got invited!”
You watch how Mrs. Grose and Owen look at each other and smile in the same way you smile when you sneak an extra cookie without anybody knowing. You suspect they must have been in on this too. But still,
“Flora, I am pretty sure Miss Jamie went home last night.” Mrs. Grose shushes you and waves her hand in your direction in a way that you know is to say that you should just be quiet and eat your meal. “It was probably just… late.”
“But she didn’t Mrs. Grose, she didn’t! She was here all night.” You pound your fists lighting against the table in frustration because somebody has to listen! You aren’t crazy, this you know.
You watch as everyone is silent and looking around at each other.
Owen is still laughing and Mrs. Grose is hitting Owen and Jamie is redder than a rose and Miss Clayton is stuffing a pancake into her mouth.
“Come to think of it, you know what, she did sleep on the couch last night.” She says once she’s finished chewing, swirling her fork in the air.
But no, no that’s a lie.
“No, she was in your bed.”
You’re starting to think that something nefarious is going on here and you’re bound to get to the bottom of it all.
“Flora that is really not entirely necess-” Miss Jamie is starting to get a bit irritable which is pretty on par with how she talks to you and Miles when you are being a bit of nags. But this time you aren’t, this time you aren’t being a nag and you just wish...
“Why does nobody believe me?”
“I believe you.” His answer is flippant and he’s taking another bite of food and reaching for seconds, dipping his sleeve in syrup as he reaches.
“Miles.” Miss Jamie threatens.
“Flora.” Mrs. Grose chastises.
“Alright you two, go get dressed for the day.” Miss Clayton passes you both off with a small chuckle and you know you’ve lost this battle.
You stand reluctantly and pull on Miles' arm with an eye roll and a huff and quickly stomp out of the room.
“I’ll explain when you’re older.” Miles whispers to you when you turn the corner.
But instead of trotting up the stairs, you decide to wait at the end of the hall - just to where you can hear them talk. You simply must know why they are conspiring against you.
You hear Mrs. Grose laugh heartily. “You should know by now about Flora’s dolls.”
“A bit of boredom, you say? I need a bit of boredom in my life.” You hear Owen clamour plates together as his voice fades further away towards the back of the kitchen.
“So I guess everyone just... knows now?” Miss Clayton’s voice is muffled, like her face is in her hands.
“Looks like it.” You hear what sounds like a slap and then Miss Jamie yelp.
“I’m really starting to hate you.” Miss Clayton’s voice is clearer now and you hear all four of them laugh together.
It’s quiet for a moment and when you hear voices again, they are hushed and quiet and you think maybe Miss Jamie is only speaking to Miss Clayton when she says,
“No, you don’t.”
You step a little closer, just so you can peak and see them. And it hits you, when you see Miss Clayton leaning into Miss Jamie to wipe some syrup off her nose and the way they both smile and the way Miss Jamie presses her lips very quickly to Miss Clayton’s before she stands and walks two plates over to the sink. It hits you that maybe your family just gained one more, maybe Miss Clayton would be sticking around for a while.