She sat on her own, looking out the window. The other kids were playing truth or dare in the garden, but she had no desire to join in. Her best friend Jessica had just been adopted, and it was like there was a hole where she had been. Her long blonde hair, her pretty blue eyes and her laugh had filled every room with joy. She missed her already. Ashley was tired of missing people.
“Ashley?” There was a knock on the door, and Betty called her name through the wood. “Ashley?”
“Come in.” Ashley turned to see her social worker coming in the room.
“Ashley, There’s two people I’d like you to meet. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I think it’s a good idea.”
“You don’t mean fostering, Betty?” Ashley narrowed her eyes.
“No, Ashley, adoption. These people are looking to adopt. I told them about you, and they want to meet you.” Betty put her hand on Ashley’s.
“Well, there’s nothing left for me here.” Ashley shrugged sadly, and slid off the windowsill. Betty sighed and rolled her eyes, smiling.
Betty took her into a room that was feared and respected in the Home. In it there was a table, with one chair on the side closest to the door, and two on the other. On the chairs sat two women. One was strikingly beautiful, with short natural blonde hair as curly as Ashley’s own. Her face was heart shaped, her green eyes standing out from her tanned skin. The other was not quite as beautiful, but glowed, and enthusiasm emanated from her like light from the sun. She had long wavy hair dyed a deep cherry red, and light brown eyes. Ashley had long been distrustful of everyone she met, but she couldn’t help liking these two women immediately.
“Hi! I’m Lauren. What’s your name?” The blonde one smiled warmly, looking straight into Ashley’s eye, giving away no sign she had seen her eye patch.
“I think you already know my name.” Ashley’s voice was sharp, but the woman with the red hair laughed.
“You’re a girl after my own heart, you are. My name’s Anneka.” She was still laughing as she said it, and held out her hand for Ashley to shake.
“Ashley.” She shook Anneka’s hand, liking that this woman had offered her hand to shake. It made her feel grown up.
Her, Lauren, Anneka and Betty talked for a little while, about Anneka and Lauren’s home, and their cat, and about Ashley’s life – or what she remembered of it, at least. She liked them, and told Betty after they’d left. Betty had laughed, and stroked her hair.
“I thought you would. What do you think, kitten? Want to give it a go?” She stopped, and looked at her. Ashley was quiet for a few seconds, then she lifted her chin and looked at Betty directly, and said:
“Yes. I think I will.”
Ashley sighed to herself, shrugged on her coat and picked up her bag off the sofa, grabbing her keys from the desk. Locking the door behind her, she took the stairs. Pushing through the fire escape and pulling her woolly hat on, she came out onto the empty street. It was already dark, and there was a chill in the air. Winter seemed sooner this year. She had finished work a few hours ago, and muddled through college earlier on that day. The guys had come to the cafe and met Yasmeen, Magda, Laura and Adele. Tracy and Laura really hit it off, and after work finished, when they all hung out together – minus Magda who had to get home to feed her cat – her and Laura had talked the whole time. They had all gone to their respective homes, and she and Penny had only been home for two hours when Ashley decided she had to speak to Anneka. Since the day she’d visited their house for the first time, Ashley had never not spoken to Anneka, even for a day. And five years of being Anneka’s daughter was too much to throw away over an argument.
When Ashley had finally remembered her parents, at the age of ten, just before Santiago had left, she had vowed never to be like them. And yet here she was, away from the two people she loved most. Her parents had gone for a year without talking once, because of a screaming match about the rubbish. Then again, Ashley’s life choices weren’t quite as ridiculous as rubbish… but she wasn’t a drug addict like they’d been, and she was determined. She would make this right, no matter what it took.
Penny’s flat was only one street away from Ashley’s house, so she arrived in a matter of minutes. She hesitated, then tugged open the little iron gate and walked up the steps. She raised her hand nervously, then knocked on the bright red door. She heard voices from inside, and braced herself.
“Anneka, honey, can you…?” Lauren’s voice was muffled.
“I’ll get it.” Anneka’s voice called, much closer, and the door opened to reveal Anneka. She looked so different from when Ashley had first met her. The cherry red hair was now a light nut brown, and her face looked a little wiser, but she still had her glow, even if it was a little dimmer than usual. Her face, when she saw Ashley standing there, lit up. A smile spread across her face and her eyes spilled over with tears.
“Ashley.” She let out a little laugh which could have been a sob, that was more of an exhale of breath than anything, and pulled Ashley into her arms.
“Anneka? Who is it?” Lauren appeared in the hallway holding a wooden spoon covered red sauce and wearing a black apron. Her eyes widened when she saw Ashley, and she grinned.
“Come on, get in.” Anneka pulled away from Ashley and gestured for her to go inside.
“Thanks.” Ashley sniffed, wiping away her tears, and she smiled. “I’m sorry, mum.” She whispered. Lauren scooped her up for a hug as well, holding the spoon away from her hair.
“Join us for dinner, Tiger-Lily?” Lauren laughed and waved the spoon around Ashley like a wand.
“That would be…” Ashley looked at Anneka, who nodded tearfully. “Lovely.” She finished, and walked down the hall with her mothers.