Niki woke with salt dried on her eyes and cheeks. She laid in bed wishing she could still feel her grandmother’s hand on her face. The sense of purpose she’d felt at her grandmother’s words remained, although her touch had faded. Niki thought about Ada, Melissa, Everett, and the two younger boys.
She had shared a home with a great number of children over the years since she entered the foster system. Some had been overtly aggressive or abusive. Most had been indifferent, too caught up in their own dramas to care much for hers. This was the first house where she’d felt anything like a connection. It was too early to say they felt like family, but she could see how it might eventually reach that point. Mrs. White’s efforts to bond them, to force them to work together to avoid punishment had been somewhat successful, it would seem.
Niki thought about the haunted looks on the faces of the little boys or the permanent sense of distrust that came off Everett in waves and she felt a surge of anger. There were other ways to create a sense of family, surely. Her grandmother had fostered connection between Niki and her many cousins on the rare occasions they were together without resorting to violence. What Mrs. White was doing was not creating a family and was certainly not creating connections.
She wasn’t fostering healthy, cooperative relationships. She was creating traumatized individuals who clung to one another out of necessity, but who could just as easily snap and fall in the other direction. Everett, for example, showed signs of teetering on the razor’s edge between leaning on his fellow housemates and using them as a buffer to protect himself.
No, despite all appearances, Mrs. White’s methods were not working. They constituted a problem and as Niki lay among her now familiar comforter and pillows, she realized that the Pit was her problem—her’s and the other children’s. They were going to have to do something about it. She didn’t know what and she certainly didn’t know how she would get the others on board, but she knew her grandmother was right. As she dressed for breakfast, she looked at the jar of wildflowers, wilted and sorrowful, and began to formulate a plan.