After dinner had been eaten and the dishes washed, Mrs. White read to the children. She helped those with homework finish it up and then she sent them off to brush their teeth and change out of their dinner clothes into their pajamas.
Niki found a brand-new nightgown draped on her bed and nearly wept with the normalcy of it all. It had been so long since anyone had cared to make sure she had sleepwear that fit properly or since she’d been read to. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had cared enough to make her finish her chores for that matter.
So what if she had to wear an ugly dress and shoes that pinched her feet for a few hours. It’s worth it, she thought as she turned out the lights, climbed into bed and pulled the comforter up to her chin. She was almost asleep when the door to her bedroom inched slowly open. The soft rustle of pajamas and the padding of bare feet alerted her to the arrival of the other children.
Ada came first. She touched Niki’s arm with one hand and raised the other to her lips. “Shhhh.”
Niki nodded and the group climbed onto her large bed and sat cross-legged in a circle facing her. She pulled her knees up to her chin and waited. She’d been to other foster homes where the already established kids laid down the law and put the new kid through an initiation process. She knew better than to make the first move.
The little boys squirmed a little. Ada and Everett exchanged a glance. Everett tilted his head impatiently and Ada sighed.
Before she could speak, Niki noticed something odd. “Where’s Melissa?” she whispered. This seemed like an all-in kind of gathering.
“That’s why we’re here,” Ada whispered back. She looked at Everett again.
“If you’re not going to tell her, I will,” he hissed at her. Turning to Niki he said, “She’s in the Pit. And it’s your fault.”
“She didn’t know,” Ada said.
“Didn’t know what?” Niki asked. “What’s the pit?”
Todd leaned forward. “The Pit is for bad kids.”
“It’s dark in there,” added Rex.
They shivered and leaned into one another.