(read pt 1 here)
It was softly lit and smelled faintly of roses, although there were none in sight. Niki’s grandmother had loved roses. Even in the nursing home, after that last stroke, she’d brightened each time Niki presented her with a slightly wilted rose carefully selected from the florist’s discount bin. Niki tucked memories of her grandmother’s last days away. She didn’t want Mrs. White to see tears and think she wasn’t grateful to be there.
The two adults chatted about the weather or some other boring adult topic as they walked. Niki took off her shoes–most of her previous foster mothers had expected her to do so and it had become habit–and padded across cool tile behind them. She stopped in the doorway of the rich parlor, unwilling to step on the thick snow white carpet without express permission.
“Niki, darling, set down your bag and have a seat,” Mrs. White chirped. Miss Karen nodded her reassurance and Niki stepped as lightly as she could to the nearest chair. She tucked her back in next to her.
A tall, thin girl with brown braids entered through an archway on the opposite side of the room, carrying a tray which she set down on an upholstered coffee table in the center of the room. The tray held a tea pot, three tea cups, and a plate of sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
Niki’s eyes widened. Egg salad. She loved egg salad sandwiches. She and her grandmother had them for dinner at least once a week before her grandmother went to hospital. Niki’s mother said hard-boiled eggs were disgusting. The shelters only served peanut butter and jelly or bologna and cheese sandwiches.
Mrs. White must have seen Niki’s expression. “Go ahead, take one. Take two; they’re small!” She flashed another brilliant smile.
Niki bit into the white bread of her sandwich. It was delicious. She briefly wondered what this amazing sandwich would cost her; she’d learned long ago that there was no pleasure without corresponding pain. Even much later, after learning about The Rules, Niki often remembered that egg sandwich–the tang of the mayonnaise and the smooth creamy texture of the egg yolks–and thought it might have been worth it.