Porcelain 24

She chirped out her greetings, smiling a hello to each person she passed, Tiliana not having to fake her good mood. She had woken up early today, to be greeted by a beautiful spring day, the sun shining brightly with nary a cloud in sight. Always a welcome sight, it was even more so after the week of rain the city had endured, the spring showers having pelted everything in sight and forcing back her plans time and time again.

But with the sky looking the way it did, there was no longer a need to hold off. She smiled even brighter, thinking on how happy the children would be. They had been looking forward to this day for over a week, the boys and girls in her care eager for a chance to do something different. Tiliana would give them that chance, the woman having promised that as soon as the weather cleared up she would take them outside.

The change of scenery would do good for them, Tiliana knowing that they had endured the long months of winter and fall, stuck in their rooms and going stir crazy from the boredom of the overly familiar surroundings. She knew no matter how fun she tried to make things for them, the day to day life repetitiveness of hospital procedures left them bored, sad and even angry.

It wasn’t uncommon for the children to turn that anger to themselves, furious at their body’s betrayal in giving them the illnesses that left them trapped in circumstances beyond their control. Such feelings often had the children turning inwards, becoming withdrawn from their daily interactions, many of the boys and girls simply choosing to sleep away their time in the hospital.

It upset her to see them like this, Tiliana feeling there was so much more to life than sleep, even if one was trapped in unchanging surroundings. So she came up with a plan, and it had taken much maneuvering on her part, Tiliana all but begging the floor’s supervisor for permission to take her charges off of hospital property. They had been reluctant at first, but as morale continued to drop among the children, they had eventually ceded to her pleas.

A spring in her step, she walked towards the door of her newest charge, and not even the thought of the girl’s perpetual silence could dampen her mood. Tiliana knocked then drew open the door, peering into the sunlit room. Allura was there like always, sitting up against the pillows, and staring at the wall opposite her bed. She didn’t even turn to acknowledge her visitor, Allura just staring at something only she could see.

Still Tiliana put warmth into her voice, calling out a hello to Allura. No respone came, but then she hadn’t expected one, Tiliana bustling about the girl’s room, pulling
open the curtains to stare out into the bustling city. “It’s a beautiful day Allura!” Tiliana said, inching open the window just a crack. She breathed in deeply the fresh air, the wind a light breeze that slipped in through the bars outside the window’s pane.

“Ah how I longed for a day like today.” Continued Tiliana, and turned away from the window. “We’ll finally get to go on out trip to the park. Won’t that be fun?” She stepped towards the closet, rifling through Allura’s clothes before picking a lavender jumpsuit. “Your friends down the hall will be coming with us. Juniper, Mark, Leo and Tara.”

Of course the girl technically had no friends, being unable to come out of her shell long enough to bond with another child. But Tiliana pretended they were all friends, the woman inventing attachments where there was none. In truth the children had only met Allura a handful of times, Tiliana bringing the girl down to the hospital’s large playroom. The other children had been interested in the girl—at first, but that was before it became apparent that no amount of teasing would bring Allura to respond back. She neither talked nor played, she didn’t even cry when pushed, leaving the children bored and frustrated with Allura.

It wasn’t long before they ignored her completely, leaving Tiliana with the sad sight of children playing around an uninterested Allura. It was almost too much for her heart to bear, so she began excusing Allura from the room, leaving her to sit in solitude, alone and friendless.

Tiliana approached Allura, and began the task of changing her into the jump suit. The girl went limp for her, allowing Tiliana to slide of her night gown with ease, the woman quick to replace it with fresh clothing. She made sure the buttons were properly fastened, and straightened the sleeves of Allura’s white shirt. “There now…” Tiliana said, looking over Allura with satisfaction. “All set.”

She lifted the girl up off the bed, setting her down to stand on her own feet besides it. She was relieved Allura wasn’t so far gone as to be unable to walk or stand, Tiliana gripping her hand and urging her forward with a pull on it. “You must be hungry, but it won’t be long now.” Tiliana told her. “We’re going to have a picnic! We’ll eat once we arrive at the park.”

Was that a flicker of interest in her charge’s eyes, or did Tiliana simply imagine it? “Here now.” She said, grabbing hold of the stuffed toy that Allura so loved. “I almost forgot your most important friend of all.” She pushed the toy into Allura’s unresisting arms, the girl’s hand moving to clutch at the back of the stuffed robeast.

They proceeded out into the hall, Tiliana leading Allura into the playroom where the other four children were already waiting. They had dressed themselves, it showed in bright colors that clashed with one another, the sight making Tiliana force back a chuckle. They were all bright eyed and eager, chattering away at a mile a minute, voices mingling together to the point Tiliana didn’t know how they could understand each other.

“Hello!” Tiliana called out in greeting, the voices rising in excited greeting as the children turned to look at her. And then fell silent, the kids wary and staring at Allura. “What’s she doing here?!” The brown haired Mark demanded, hands on his hips.

“Yeah!” chimed in Leo, whose arms were covered in bandages. “She’s not coming with us, is she?” Four accusing gazes stared at Tiliana and Allura, the woman forcing herself not to falter in her smile.

“Yes, she is!” Tiliana said with feigned cheerfulness. “It’ll be good for Allura, the sun and the fresh air.”

“She won’t appreciate it!” Juniper exclaimed, giving a haughty toss of her blond hair.

“It will be wasted on her!” added Tara, crossing her arms over her chest. “She won’t do anything but sit and stare. She’s boring and she’ll take all of Tia’s time.”

Tia was the children’s nickname for Tiliana, the woman hiding a frown at Tara’s words. “Is that what you’re worried about? That I’ll pay more attention to Allura than you?” Tara blushed, and the other children looked down, a muttered chorus of yes following their actions. “Oh children…that’s not entirely true. Yes, Allura requires a bit more attention than you, but that is because she is unable to do things on her own…”

“If she’s that big a baby…” interrupted Mark, fixing an annoyed glare on Allura “She shouldn’t be here at all. She should be on the floor with the other babies!”

“Yeah!” Leo nodded in agreement.

Tiliana fought to keep her face from hardening, the woman upset at the children’s attitude when it came to Allura’s situation. “Now, now Mark, Leo. I’ve gone over this before. Allura’s been through something traumatic. Something that caused her to be this way.”

“She should get over it!” The ever vocal Mark snapped, and now Tiliana did glare.

“It’s not always that easy to do! And being mean and excluding Allura from our activities won’t bring her any closer to talking on her own.” She was close to lecturing them now, familiar words spoken countless times before. “We have to be patient and kind to her, and above all we mustn’t ignore her or her needs. You all must promise me to be nice to her.” They weren’t quick to answer that demand, forcing her to play dirty. “We don’t HAVE to bring Allura along.” They brightened visibly, eager at the thought of leaving Allura behind. “But then…we don’t have to go to the park either. We can stay in today, just like we do everyday.”

“But that’s….that’s blackmail!” Tara pointed out, and Tiliana cocked her head to the side.

“Is it?”

“It is!” The twelve year old insisted. “You’re telling us if we don’t take Allura along, we won’t go on our trip!”

“I said no such thing.” Tiliana replied.

“But you implied it!” Tara whined in frustration.

“Oh give up Tara,” The ten year old Juniper sighed. “It’s obvious Tia is not going to take us anywhere without that brat along.” She placed a hand on her hip, boldly meeting the nurses’ eyes. “Fine…we’ll all go. Right guys?”

The kids clearly unhappy about this, chorused their agreement, Tiliana holding in the impulse to wilt in relief. She hadn’t really wanted to take away the park trip, anymore than she had wanted to leave Allura behind. She was glad an agreement had been reached, the woman offering a big smile as she ordered the children to hold hands, and follow her.

“We’re NOT babies.” Muttered Mark, annoyed at the hand holding. “We can follow Tia without getting lost.”

“Just humor me.” Begged Tiliana, leading them over to the nurses’ station where a large picnic basket sat waiting for them. Leo wanted to carry it, the boy using his holding it as an excuse to check out it’s contents. They only traveled a few feet before Tiliana was forced to take it away from him, the woman easily hefting the heavy basket with one arm.

They got in the elevator, the kids brimming with excitement, already forgetting the upset that had surrounded Allura’s inclusion into the day’s activity. “Tia!” Juniper called out, pressing against the glass window of the elevator. “Will there be fun things to do at the park?”

“Yes, yes!” chimed in Tara. “Will there be swings and slides, and merry go rounds?”

“I hope there’s a jungle gym!” Leo exclaimed, the boy infamous for climbing on every available surface.

“I’m sure there is.” Tiliana told them, the elevator doors dinging their arrival. “That and more, much more.”

The children made happy sounds, and started to run off the elevator, Tiliana calling a warning to them to stick close to her. They pouted but slowed, waiting for her and Allura to catch up to them. A cruiser was waiting outside the hospital, and the nurse directed the children inside it. This was an unexpected surprise for the kids, the children squabbling over who would have the window seats.

It wasn’t that long of a drive, the park not that far from the hospital grounds. The children let out squeals of excitement when they spied the clustered grouping of trees, hardly able to contain themselves as the cruiser drew to a stop. They practically fell out of the vehicle, scrambling to run ahead, looking for the perfect spot to set up their picnic.

“Over here Tia!” Tara was waving, jumping up and down in excitement. She had found a large empty space beneath an apple tree, the playground equipment close enough to offer a view that tempted the children away from the blanket. Tiliana tried to get them to sit still long enough to eat, but they were adamant about playing first, leaving her to laugh at their antics.

“Tia, Tia!” shouted Leo, already hanging upside down from the top most bar of the jungle gym. “Look at me, look at me!”

“Be careful!” Tiliana called out with a wince, not wanting Leo to fall.

“It’ll be fine!” he insisted, just before he started to slip, the boy dangling by one foot alone.

“LEO!” An alarmed Tiliana cried out, rising to rush to his rescue. She caught him just before he was about to smash his head into the soft padding that made up the floor of the jungle gym. He barely even flinched at his near miss, wiggling in her arms as he demanded to be put down. “Er….let’s try playing on something else.” She suggested, and he pouted. “Look, there’s Mark over by the see saw.” She gave a not so subtle push in the direction of the other boy, a disgruntled Leo walking over to join Mark on the see saw.

She turned back towards the apple tree, and saw something surprising, Juniper sitting next to Allura, the girl actually smiling. Tiliana hurried over to join them, catching the tail end of Juniper’s one sided conversation. The girl was complaining about Tara, leaving the nurse to wonder what had happened between the two best friends. “Juniper…” She spoke softly, going to kneel on the blanket besides Allura. “Where is Tara?” She was causal as she asked this, opening the basket to remove a wrapped sandwich.

Juniper made a face, nose wrinkling cutely. “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

~Oh dear.~ thought Tiliana, working to unwrap the sandwich for Allura. “Did you two have a fight?” Juniper nodded, and Tiliana sighed, thinking it a pity that the two were fighting on their first trip out of the hospital. “You shouldn’t.” Tiliana told her. “You should go over and make up with her. I’m sure whatever happened, it’s not worth the loss of a good friend.”

“Tara should make up with me!” Juniper said, reaching into the basket for a juice box. Her actions were furious as she tore open the straw and stabbed it into the box’s top. “I’ll never say I’m sorry!”

“What happened?!” Tiliana wondered out loud, handing the sandwich to Allura who began to eat it. Her actions were automatic, the girl chewing diligently before swallowing, and still staring at nothing at all.

“Her push knocked me off the swing!” Juniper revealed.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean—”

‘It hurt!” Juniper added, interrupting Tiliana. “I’ll never forgive her for it!”

“Not even if she says sorry?” Tiliana asked, watching as Juniper gave an emphatic nod of her head.

“Not even if!”

The girl busied herself with drinking, pausing occasionally to send piercing glares towards Tara who was on the slide. The other girl seemed oblivious to her former friend’s upset, happily squealing as she slid down the slide. Tiliana held back her sighs, mentally placing a bet on when exactly the two would make up. If they reunited before leaving the park, Tiliana would treat herself to a new pair of shoes she had been eyeing at a shop close to the hospital.

Juniper reached for a sandwich, making idle conversation, Tiliana reminding her not to talk with her mouth full. The girl continued to flash half eaten mouthfuls anyway, spilling crumbs all over herself and the blanket in the process.

A scream suddenly came from the direction of the slide, Tiliana standing up as she recognized the voice belonging to Tara. Mark and Leo were there, looming over the girl, Tara having a crying fit. Tiliana sighed, and hurried towards the children, shocked when the boys flashed her a guilty look and ran off.

“What happened?” Tiliana asked Tara, the girl too upset to do more than point and accuse the boys of hurting her. She turned to track them, the boys running past the playground equipment, and towards the border that led deeper into the park.

‘Mark, Leo! Don’t wander off now!” She called, rushing after them. They laughed and outright ignored her, slipping out of sight behind trees. Tara continued to cry, and torn as she was over tending to the upset girl, she knew she couldn’t afford to lose the boys. She gave chase, never thinking anything suspicious about Juniper and Allura.

Juniper smiled, giving a happy toss of her blonde hair. Tara’s plan was working better than expected, nurse Tia being led out of the way by Mark and Leo. Tara continued to fake her tears, watching for Tia, as Juniper reached for Allura’s hand. “Let’s switch bracelets!” She feigned friendliness, pulling off the pink id bracelet with Allura’s name on it.

The girl was unresisting, not even watching as Juniper neglected to give her, her own id bracelet. That step taken care of, she tugged Allura to her feet, talking animatedly to her. “Let’s go look at the trees. Do you like trees Allura?”

She didn’t expect a response, leading Allura away from the apple tree and the picnic basket. She kept up a steady nervous chatter, casting anxious glances over her shoulder to make sure Tia was nowhere in sight. If she was lucky Mark and Leo would lead the woman on a long chase, giving Juniper plenty of times to ditch Allura somewhere far, far away.

Then maybe with Allura gone, Tia would have the time to devote proper attention to Juniper and her friends. She liked the thought of that, almost as much as she hated the attention Allura was always taking from them. “It’s just nor fair.” Juniper complained out loud. “What’s so special about you?!”

The girl continued with that eerie silence, her stare unnerving Juniper. Allura was just so creepy, she disturbed her and the other kids. The hospital would be better without her.

Soon they had lost sight of the playground, Juniper coming across more and more people who were out enjoying the other sections of the park. She kept wondering when would be far enough, the girl not wanting to get lost in the process of ditching Allura.

And then it happened, an explosion of sound that left the people around her gasping. Juniper turned to look, and in the distance where the hospital should be, there was nothing but dust. She didn’t understand, but before she had time to question it, another explosion happen, and a third. People began screaming, panicking, Juniper sharing in the emotion.

She let go of Allura’s hand, and went running back the way they had come. Allura was left to stand amidst the crowd of confused and terrified people, the girl getting jostled one way and another. The people barely paid attention to one lone child, not even when they nearly tripped over her, Allura having dropped down to sit on the cold ground.

Juniper returned to the playground, still carrying Allura’s id bracelet. Tara pointed it out to her, the girl reacting to it in a guilty manner as she threw it on the ground. She wanted no evidence on her to alert Tia to what she had done. Tara smiled, and led Juniper by the hand over to the swings, the two ready to play at pretending they had made up from their fake fight.

Juniper flew higher on the swing, laughing as another explosion went off. The playground was empty save for her and Tara, and she wondered where the other kids and their parents had gone. It was the last thought she would have, the playground suddenly erupting into fire and ash, the results of a bomb planted under the jungle gym.

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