Trusting Magnolia

2020

Tags: domestic abuse, implied sexual harassment

The morning routine in the Bishop-Lovelace-Magnolia household was always the same.

The children, Eliza and Vincent Lovelace, and the for-pay trophy wife, Ms. Magnolia, woke up at the crack of dawn to quickly eat breakfast and get dressed— the children in their school uniforms and Ms. Magnolia in something sexy, yet tasteful— before waiting in the foyer for the patriarch, Charles Bishop, to wake up on his own time, eat breakfast, and come down to the foyer for something akin to an inspection before everyone except Ms. Magnolia left for work and school.

Eliza hated this “routine”, and she hated it even more when she had to tell Charles that Vincent was sick.

Charles hated when Vincent was sick.

He was already a bit frail to begin with, more like their mother than Charles, and he had been getting sick more frequently since her death.

Eliza couldn’t blame Vincent given what he’d been through, but she could blame Charles for being a rotted-out piece of shit.

She skips breakfast trying to convince Vincent to stay in bed and get some rest, because he’s so damn afraid of missing school and getting in trouble, then splashes some water on her face before stepping out onto the landing at the top of the main staircase.

Sure enough, Charles is there, looking every bit like the nice person he isn’t. He was tall, though at the moment he was only the second tallest in the house, with dark skin and high cheekbones that caught the sunlight coming in through the windows above the front door. At the moment, he was wearing one of the most expensive suits money could buy, perfectly tailored to his toned body, but to Eliza, who knew exactly the kind of man he was, it was like looking at a turd neatly-wrapped in gold foil.

Waiting in front of him, looming a few inches over him, is Ms. Magnolia, the superstar trophy wife and professional nanny. She looks as unbothered as always, wearing a red turtleneck dress that stood out starkly on her black skin and kept her rather large chest very much in check, her head moving back and forth just slightly as she watches Charles stomp around, tantrum imminent.

Eliza isn’t sure whose presence she disliked more.

Ms. Magnolia notices her first, glancing up at her with a hint of surprise before schooling her expression and ignoring her. It only takes a second, but Charles notices the movement and looks up at the stairs, steam already pouring out of his ears.

“You’re late!”

Eliza bites her lip to keep from rolling her eyes as she descends into the foyer. Being late didn’t really matter when you were the one who owned the venue that you would be arriving late to, but Charles would bitch and moan if she brought it up.

She takes her place next to Ms. Magnolia, dusting off her skirt and clasping her hands in front of her. She can feel Magnolia’s gaze on her and it takes everything in her power not to snap on the over-critical bitch, but the moment passes quickly enough, and she just has to deal with Charles instead.

“Where’s the boy?”

Eliza straightens up and looks Charles dead in the eye. “He’s sick.”

“Sick?! Again? I don’t believe it!”

Eliza expects an argument. She does not expect him to ignore her and stomp his way upstairs.

He gets the head start and she struggles to keep up with him, just barely managing to grab his arm before he tries to yank the blankets off a trembling Vincent.

“What are you doing?” Eliza’s feet are slipping— she can barely keep her balance— “Leave him alone!”

Charles throws her off with an almost casual swing of his arm. Her ass hits the floor with a thud, but thankfully it tears Charles’s attention away from Vincent for the time being.

“Penelope confirmed that he’s lying every! Single! Time!”

The other nanny, the one Charles hired not even a full 24 hours after his wife’s body was cooling in its coffin. Penelope was a cunt when Eliza was a kid and she was still a cunt now.

She scrambles to her feet so she’s at her full, unimpressive height as she screams the truth.

“And you still pay that bitch! She sits on her ass all day while your son vomits himself to death!”

A high-pitched sob breaks the tense silence, and the red fades from Eliza’s vision as she realizes what she’s just done.

Vincent is curled up under his sheets, face buried in his pillow while Ms. Magnolia crouches on the floor by the bed, running a hand over his head in an unexpectedly tender gesture.

“If you two are going to fight,” she says softly, leveling a glare at both of them, “get out. Now.”

Both of them are chilled back into somewhat respectable behavior, and Charles is the one to move first, turning on his heel and making his way to the door.

“I’m calling Penelope,” he grunts.

“No,” Ms. Magnolia says before even Eliza can object, smiling down at Vincent. “I’m home, I’ll watch him.”

“You’ll what?” Eliza says, as Charles stops and turns back, sizing up Ms. Magnolia who doesn’t seem the least bit unsure.

“Fine. But I still expect you to hold up your end of the contract.”

Ms. Magnolia thinks for a moment and gives him a cold smile. “No, I don’t think I will be.”

Surprisingly, something in her look keeps Charles from arguing with her— he just swallows and nods jerkily before scrambling out of the room.

The tension slowly eases from Eliza’s body as she crouches down by the bed and takes her brother’s small, warm hand in hers.

“Vincent. I’m so sorry.”

Vincent lifts his head slowly from the pillow, sniffling as big wet tears roll down dark cheeks.

“I’m so sorry,” Eliza whispers, pressing a kiss to his head, amongst the twists she’d put in his hair in the night before.

A shadow falls over them, and Eliza looks up to see Ms. Magnolia, holding a towel and a thermometer.

“You don’t want to catch his cold,” Ms. Magnolia says, gently shooing Eliza away and coaxing Vincent onto his back. “There you go. Now give me a moment to change and I’ll bring you some tea.”

Ms. Magnolia pats his head, then turns for the door.

Eliza catches her arm as she passes by.

“I—” Don’t trust you. Never will. “—need you to take good care of him.”

Ms. Magnolia smiles and cups her face.

“And I need you to go to school. He’ll be fine, dear. I promise.”


Fifteen minutes into second period and Eliza is losing her damn mind.

Her mind was running in circles, so much so that she didn’t even have the sense to just pretend to take notes. She just sat stiffer than a statue in her seat, pen poised above her notebook like she was about to write something while she stared at the blank page with wide eyes, imagining all the terrible possibilities that could befall Vincent without her there to guard him.

And she probably would’ve stayed that way for the rest of the day if that rolled up wad of pink notebook paper hadn’t slammed into her temple.

Okay, that was a bit rude. It was clearly an origami heart, just a poorly-folded one, and one Eliza had seen on a rare few occasions.

Eliza shoots one glance at the perpetrator, who is at the moment sitting by the window, a one Alexis Bestin. She was a bubbly blonde with big weave and big pink pow in it to match, and she was currently gesturing for Eliza to get on with it with long glittery-pink acrylics.

Eliza sighs and starts unfolding the heart, gingerly so she doesn’t tear it.

Girl, what is up with you? Hurry up and text me. And a semi-decent drawing of the angry face and heart emojis.

Eliza rolls her eyes. Unlike some people, she actually cared about her education, and thus did not use her phone in class. If Alexis wanted a conversation, they’d either have to do it like this, passing notes back and forth, or someone would have to wait until the moving period.

Eliza scribbles out her reply on Alexis’s note, folds it up better, and passes it back. Like a lady.

She watches out of the corner of her eye as Alexis gets the note, reads it, and rolls her eyes with a sigh loud enough to interrupt the lecture, not that the teacher is actually going to reprimand her for it.

Eliza can feel Alexis’s gaze on her until second period ends, at which point she throws down her pencil and heads over to the window to face the music.

Alexis was exactly the kind of person that Eliza would normally go out of her way to avoid. Shallow, self-absorbed, a little stupid, very blonde, almost obsessively into pink. The kind of girl who didn’t wear the school uniform properly because it wasn’t fashionable enough and spent way too much time reapplying lip gloss. The way she was right now.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Alexis says, lifting a shoulder to shield herself, before saying quietly. “You know I have a condition. My lips get dry.”

Eliza sighs and takes a seat on top of Alexis’s desk. She could talk all the shit she wanted, but at the end of the day, Alexis had become one of her closest confidants, even if they were opposites in most ways.

Life was funny like that, but Eliza also suspected that they only spoke to each other because Eliza made the unfortunate mistake of getting pink box braids.

“Is it Ms. Magnolia again?” Alexis says, capping her gloss.

Eliza winces and glances off as she recalls the morning’s catastrophe.

“I mean...sort of…”

“I don’t know why you hate her so much, she seems so nice on TV.” Alexis leans in and holds her hands far out in front of her, bouncing them up and down as she winks. “Is it the tits?”

“No.” Definitely a little bit.

“Relax, just wait until you’re 18 and then have ‘em done. That’s what I’m doing.”

“Be serious,” Eliza says, reaching out to swat her on the shoulder.

Alexis laughs and dodges.

“It sucks that you’re not gonna be on her show. Could you imagine? I could be friends with an actual celebrity. I can’t believe you guys didn’t wanna be on a season with her.”

Eliza thinks back to that morning again. “Mmmmno, I think we made the right call.”

“Uh-huh. So what’d she do this time?”

“I mean, I don’t know. Vincent got sick, so she’s taking care of him, but—”

Alexis shrugs. “So what’s the problem? She’s a great mom.”

“Yeah, on television! I don’t know what she’s doing right now!”

Alexis looks like she doesn’t get it, and Eliza doesn’t blame her. As close as they were, Eliza had managed to keep the more sensitive details about her home life under wraps. At the moment, all Alexis knew was that Eliza was a bit overprotective when it came to Vincent, and that her new trophy-nanny was Ms. Magnolia, the best in the business at meddling in people’s affairs.

Eliza had been burned by too many negligent nannies and a shitty father to let some reality-show bitch off easy.

“Everyone knows those shows are edited to hell and back. I have no way of knowing if Vincent’s alright.”

Now that she’s speaking her anxieties into the universe, the nerves are starting to get to her, so much so that she gets up and starts to pace, then remembers Charles pacing around in the foyer and sits back down again.

Alexis raises an eyebrow. “How about you just...text her?”

“Ugh, you say it like it’s so easy. She could still lie to me.”

“Then...text him?”

Eliza’s expression is one of pure confusion. “Why...would Vincent have a phone?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Alexis asks, glancing around with narrowed eyes.

“He’s six.”

“I don’t see the problem.”

Eliza sighs and rubs her temples. “The only way I can know that Vincent’s okay is if I’m there myself.”

“Or you could...trust Magnolia.”

Eliza looks at Alexis and frowns. “I think I need to skip class.”

“I’m out,” Alexis says, fixing her hair as she turns to face the right way in her seat.

“Wh-What?” Eliza stammers, scrambling around the desk so she’s looking Alexis in the eye. “You’ll get shit grades, do makeup in class, and not wear the uniform, but skipping class is where you draw the line?”

“Yes. I do all that stuff in class.”

“Seriously?”

Alexis shrugs. “I made a deal with my parents.”

Eliza groans.

“Fine, I won’t drag you into this, but can you at least point me to someone who can help?”

Alexis looks her over with a scathing eye, then sighs and takes out her phone.

“I still don’t think you should do this.”


Vincent sleeps in until about ten.

He’s adorable, with big chubby cheeks and long lashes, maybe one of the cutest kids Magnolia had ever seen, but he’d be cuter if he didn’t sleep so fitfully.

After Magnolia took his temperature— 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, so, yes, Charles, the child was indeed very sick— she went to change out of standard sexy housewife attire and into something more suited to taking care of a sick child, and when she returned, Vincent had fallen asleep.

She decided to leave him alone at the time. No doubt the morning’s events were hard on a sick child’s body and getting rest was just as important as staying hydrated.

So she pulled up a chair next to the bed, grabbed a book for him and a book for herself, and began the long process of waiting for him to wake on his own.

Magnolia couldn’t imagine that all of his fidgeting was purely from the events of this morning alone.

She had ended a contract with another family right around the time Charles lost his first wife, so she was very much aware of all the rumors surrounding him. And, unfortunately, most of them were true. Charles hadn’t killed his wife, but he certainly hadn’t helped her live, and both of these kids were definitely in need of a goddamn therapist.

Despite her celebrity status, Ms. Magnolia was actually good at dealing with problems of this nature. She intended to take this contract seriously, no cameras, no social media interference— not that Charles actually brought her here to do anything more than have large breasts in his vicinity so others could see.

Anyway, Vincent. He wakes up like a kitten, with a squirm and a squeak and finally he opens his eyes, blinking a few times as if he’s actually surprised that Magnolia is there.

“Good morning,” she says, as gently as she can. “Do you want to sleep some more?”

Vincent eyes her warily for a moment, though his gaze isn’t as hostile as Eliza’s, then finally shakes his head.

Magnolia smiles and reaches out a hand to gently pat the top of his head. He frowns a bit, but he doesn’t shy away from her touch.

“Do you want to try eating something?”

Vincent’s face twists up in concentration, as if he’s actually trying to determine whether eating is going to make him vomit.

“Well, you can always have a nice, hot cup of tea,” Magnolia says. “How does that sound?”

Vincent nods and gingerly scoots to the edge of his bed.

Magnolia stifles a laugh. She already had a good handle on why Eliza was so protective of her little brother, but seeing him do relatively simple and harmless things like this with such...intense determination was so adorable that Magnolia couldn’t help but want to tease him.

“You look awfully tired,” she says, getting up from her chair and dusting off her pajama pants. “Are you sure you don’t want me to carry you?”

As she says this, she holds out her arms, as if the offer she’s making is genuine.

The side of her mouth twitches up and down as Vincent looks up at her with wide confused eyes, and then, faster than she can reveal the truth, looks away bashfully and holds up his arms.

Magnolia does laugh aloud at that, but who is she to deny such a harmless request?

He clings to her with a white-knuckled grip for the duration of their short trip down to the kitchens. Not to her of course, he does nothing so sappy as wrapping his little arms around her neck, but to her shirt, and just so so that it hardly moves at all.

Magnolia is genuinely surprised. There were plenty of kids—and grown men—who had no problem just grabbing her shirt and exposing her, “accidentally” or not.

The child’s more polite than half the men she makes contracts with.

“Alright, here we are, love,” Magnolia says, setting him down on one of the barstools in front of the island despite his squirming. “Let’s hope someone went grocery shopping lately.”

God, she hoped all the ingredients were there. This was a recipe she had made many many times over the years, a recipe her great-grandmother, Mme. Magnolia, brought back from her work overseas in Japan. It had been a staple of the Magnolia line, featured in every one of their cookbooks.

This recipe was more than comfort food, it was written in her bones, it was part of who she was as a Magnolia, and whenever she couldn’t make it, she got just a touch irritated.

Vincent didn’t need to see her irritated.

Lucky for everyone, the Bishop-Lovelace household is adequately stocked. Short grain rice and an earthen pot, and scallions, seaweed, and sesame seeds for taste. She didn’t know how Vincent would take to eating such a plain meal after all.

She immediately moves to the sink to start rinsing the rice. Her body practically moves on autopilot at this point, affording her the opportunity to glance up at the window. Not out at the pool on the other side, but at her reflection, and the reflection of Vincent behind her, who’s straightened up in his seat and is leaning over trying to see what she’s doing.

Adorable.

Magnolia bites her lip and glances down just as the water runs clear through the rice.

She’s never met a kid so earnest. Most of the children she had dealt with took things like this for granted. They wanted food, food appeared, and maybe they’d say something if it was particularly good. None of them were ever curious about the process or the people involved.

Oh no. She wants to tease him again.

Vincent was the polar opposite of his sister, not outspoken in the slightest, and she was curious about whether he’d actually open his mouth and ask what she was doing. She had more than enough time to wait for him to work up the courage after all.

The rice is set to soak in the pot, a timer is set for 30 minutes, and Magnolia gets started on the toppings.

She’s only just toasted the sesame seeds, the scallion and seaweed have yet to be chopped when Vincent finally speaks up.

“What are you making?”

Magnolia can’t help the smile that spreads across her face and quickly moves her workstation back to the island so Vincent can watch.

“Rice porridge, dear. Now pay attention, you might need to make this someday.”

She’s joking of course, but pay attention Vincent does, his eyes tracking every movement of the knife as Magnolia shreds the seaweed and chops up the scallions, very fine, so it’s not so noticeable to Vincent’s palette.

The timer goes off right as she finishes up and here she deviates from the standard Magnolia recipe, sending a silent prayer to her fore-mothers.

The water is drained out of the earthenware pot, and instead of going with the traditional 1:10 ratio of rice to water, she goes with 1:20. Very thin, because she has no idea how Vincent is going to take it.

Her focus is fully on cooking then. Boiling, cooling, stirring, simmering, steaming, a rhythm that was a natural part of her own music.

A small portion is served into a bowl, the toppings added, and the meal is lovingly placed before a curious and excited Vincent. Magnolia can just see him as a puppy, with raised ears and a happily wagging tail.

“I hope it’s to your liking,” Magnolia says, gently patting his head before she turns back to the stove to set the kettle on.

A few moments later, Vincent makes a sound that Magnolia knows all too well.

See, over the course of her life, Magnolia had raised five cats.

First was Junko, a pudgy Sphynx cat who hated her guts.

The second was Belfast, an orange boy, a sweetheart, and the fattest cat anyone had ever laid eyes on with a face that screamed pure melancholy.

And cats three through five were undersized calico sisters from the same litter, named Miss, Mama, and Madame.

None of that tangent was really important, except for Mama, special little thing.

Mama liked to eat her plants, and Mama could not digest those plants, so what Mama would do is eat the plants, and then wait thirty minutes before she would yowl so loud the neighbors could hear it. Magnolia would stare at her in confusion, and then in horror as Mama made a loud gagging noise, after which she would yowl again, giving Magnolia ample time to, say, remove her from the bed before she released the contents of her stomach onto everything and everyone.

Anyway.

Vincent makes a sound a lot like that, but Vincent doesn’t have the feline intuition that Mama did, so about half a second later, there’s the splat of vomit hitting the tile floor.

Magnolia turns off the burner and whirls around to see Vincent, covering his mouth with his hand and staring up at her with wide eyes.

When she steps forward to see the damage— about a teaspoon honestly— he flinches back. Magnolia inwardly curses at Charles.

“Is there more coming?” Magnolia asks.

Vincent nods, the quickest response she’s gotten from him all day.

Magnolia scoops him up just like she did earlier and in three long strides reaches the bathroom, setting him down right in front of the toilet.

After a very long while of retching and back-rubbing later, Vincent finally stops for long enough to wipe his mouth and look up at Magnolia.

“I’m sorry. Um...it was really good.”

...Adorable.


Eliza thought Alexis was pulling her leg when she told her to go to the practice building, but here it was.

There was nothing particularly special about it in all honesty.

It was just a tiny little storage room, old, cobwebby, surrounded by waist-high weeds, and desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint. Eliza goes to knock on the door, and the tacky paint sticks to her knuckles.

“Oh, sick,” she says, picking off the flakes, while there’s a flurry of motion and sound inside the building.

She was surprised the school hadn’t just torn this place down, but it was hard to notice when it was in the shadow of the school’s expensive architectural splendor.

A moment later, the door opens with a creaking sound that is both ominous and goofy, but mostly just means that the hinges need some oil, and on the other side stands Eliza’s contact.

Okay, calling him a contact was a bit over the top. He was just the guy that Alexis said would be harem skipping class, and currently he was giving her a very uncomfortable once over.

“Well, well, well. What’s a cute thing like you doing in a place like this?”

Eliza glares at him.

“You’re Robert?”

“Please, Rob. Robert’s my dad’s name. Or Larceny. Larceny’s cool.”

Eliza openly gags, makes a big show of it where she doubles over and grabs her knees and dry heaves into the weeds.

“Rob”-slash-”Larceny” was exactly the kind of person that Eliza would otherwise not waste her time on. The kind of kid who branded himself as a ~delinquent~, but still rode to school in daddy’s private jet.

Those uniform pants might be ripped and his uniform shirt unbuttoned, but a stylist definitely did that for him, and the same went for that hair— synthetic fashion locks, not natural ones, too shiny and clean for a punk image.

“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just say that,” she says as she stands back up, dusting off her skirt. “I’m trying to skip class and I heard you’re the guy I go to for that.”

Rob chuckles to hide his embarrassment and combs back some of his locks from out of his face.

“You’re right I am,” he says, stepping aside and gesturing to the rest of the storeroom. “Mi casa es su casa.”

Eliza raises an eyebrow and looks over his shoulder. Despite the rather suspect exterior, the inside of the storeroom seemed fully clean and furnished. All of these school’s property was neatly organized and filed away on the shelves running along the walls, and in the center of the room was a nice plush rug with a table and some cushions, a smaller bookshelf with some comics, and an outlet that was currently being used to charge Rob’s phone.

“Wait, hang on,” Eliza says, rubbing her temples as she puts the pieces together. “Do you just...hang out in here all day?”

Rob shrugs and rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah? What else would I do?”

Eliza blinks.

“Well, when my friend told me your specialty was skipping I figured that meant you actually—” Eliza pauses and gestures vaguely with her hands. “—left campus every now and then?”

Rob rears back like Eliza just told him she murders kittens.

“Leave campus? No way, my parents could kill me!”

“...What?”

“My parents said I had to come to school, they never said I have to go to class.”

Eliza tugs on her braids. What the fuck was up with everyone being so equivocal when it came to this shit? If she had known that skipping class was gonna be so difficult, she would have launched herself out the limo window on her way to school.

She gives Rob one last disapproving glance, then quickly scans the area around the practice building. It was relatively secluded in a lot of ways, on the other side of an incomplete hole in a prim-looking brick wall, hidden by a neatly placed bush. Back here however, the old boundary was still in place: a plain, but still rather high chain link fence.

“Hey, help me hop this,” Eliza says, moving over to what looks to be the weakest portion of it.

“Um, no? I just told you, I’m not leaving campus.”

“I’m not asking you to leave campus, I’m asking you to help me leave campus. Now get over here and kneel.”

Rob looks conflicted for a moment, but finally he mumbles a “yes, mistress”, and shuffles over to crouch down at the spot indicated.

Eliza...is not looking for that kind of relationship right now, but she could deal with that later. Right now, Vincent needed her at home.

She steps up onto Rob’s back and ignores the noise he makes, then hefts herself up so that she’s grabbing the top of the fence. From below, Rob boosts her up so that can swing leg over and then—

That’s it. She’s on the other side, and already through the overgrowth she can see the road.

Eliza barely remembers to say thank you as she sprints away from campus.


Magnolia’s hand is halfway to the little switchblade she keeps in her bra when she hears the front door open, but the light footsteps and angry muttering tip her off to the fact that it’s just Eliza before she even gets a glimpse of bright pink braids on dark skin.

She walks right past the living room at first, then quickly backtracks and stops in the doorway, staring back and forth between the television and Magnolia and Vincent on the couch.

“What’s going on here?” she asks, clearly making an effort to keep her voice level.

What was going on here?

Well, Vincent vomited up literally everything he possibly could and then feel asleep again, albeit fitfully as always, so he woke up again only about 20 minutes later. Magnolia wasn’t quite ready to gamble with the rice porridge again, so she gave him a small can of ginger ale — another Magnolia family secret — then set the two of them up in front of the TV for a calm documentary viewing.

Perhaps it was a bit vain of her to choose a documentary that she herself had narrated, but there was nothing visually or mentally complex about watching pasta being made, and her voice had lulled Vincent to sleep like a charm, his little head resting on her thigh.

On the other hand, Eliza looked like she had just stepped out of an unexpected rain shower, that is, completely soaked through.

A delicate sniff confirmed that that was, in fact, her own sweat, and Magnolia wasn’t sure whether to be mad at her for skipping school or kind of impressed. She...should definitely be in class right now, but she did seem to be seriously concerned about her brother’s well-being…

Eliza takes a long look at the situation, then slowly bobs her head as she lets out a breath.

“Yep,” she says, nonchalantly as she can muster. “Everything’s all good on the homestead. I’ll just be...headin’ back now.”

Eliza starts to turn and “mosey” away, and the only reason Magnolia doesn’t stop her sooner is because she’s trying very hard not to laugh.

“Wait, wait,” she says, gently rousing Vincent and coaxing him off her lap so she can stand. “Shower and have something to eat. I’ll drive you back.”

Eliza’s eyebrows shoot up into her hairline.

“Really?”

Magnolia shrugs. “Sure. You’ve already skipped and you’re going to get punished for that. It doesn’t matter if it was for five minutes or for two hours, so you might as well take your time.”

“Uh, yeah,” Eliza says, eying her warily. “Sounds good…”

She gives Magnolia one last lingering glance, but the idea of having a nice warm bath finally pulls her away.

Now Magnolia still had some leftover tea she’d originally made for Vincent. She’d had a cup herself, but the rest could go in a thermos, and she was sure she saw some granola bars in the pantry…

She feels a little hand tugging at her sleeve, and she breaks her train of thought to look down at Vincent, staring up at her with wide eyes.

“Give her the porridge.”


“Um...what is this?”

At Magnolia’s request, Eliza had showered and changed into a new uniform, but a quick shower definitely didn’t change the fact that she was in physical pain from running straight from campus to the house.

She only had herself to blame. It’s not like she made a habit of exercising at any point before this, and this pain was something that could only be healed by a deep sleep.

And yet, here she was, sitting at the island in front of a bowl of...porridge. Very, very runny porridge.

Eliza wasn’t snubbing it or anything. She’d try most things even if they weren’t her style and most of the time her trying new foods was limited by Charles who liked his food a certain way.

No, what unsettled her was the fact that Magnolia made it— which wasn’t frightening on its own, as much as Eliza might have disliked the woman, she was an accomplished cook— but it was that combined with the look Vincent was giving her.

She had never seen him look so excited for her to do something so simple, and she couldn’t help but feel like this was a prank or something.

Well, if he wanted to prank her, she guessed that was okay. This morning was pretty hard on him after all, so if this was what he wanted to do, she’d act none the wiser.

Eliza grabs her spoon and takes a modest portion of the porridge and a few toppings. Even if she was okay with being clowned on, she could still keep some of her dignity.

The flavor is...unexpectedly mild.

Not bad, just simple. And it’s nice and warm, so even though the flavor is minimal at best, it still has a calming quality to it. Obviously it’s not directly alleviating her pain, but she does feel a bit better.

“Is it good?” Vincent asks.

Eliza nods, scraping the remnants from the bottom of the bowl with her spoon.

“Did you have some?”

“Yeah, but then I threw up. Right there.”

“Well, that’s not good— Wait, what?”

Eliza follows where he’s pointing, then nearly flies out of her seat at the sound of keys dropping on the linoleum island.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Magnolia says, sounding almost like she actually means it. “Did you finish eating? Are you ready to go?”

Eliza cringes. “I guess...I have to, huh?”

She sighs and covers her face with her hands. Skipping sounded like a good idea in the moment, but in hindsight she felt beyond embarrassed. That...was not the best way to handle the situation.

Magnolia has a hand over her mouth like the darling and genteel woman she is, no doubt hiding a laugh.

“Listen,” she says. “If you go and properly apologize to the school, I’ll appeal on your behalf for a lighter punishment and I’ll deal with your father. Do we have a deal?”

Eliza sighs. At this point, she has no reason to not trust Magnolia. Vincent does seem relatively fine and healthy and happy compared to this morning...

“Alright,” she says. “Fine.”

“Can I come?” Vincent asks.

Magnolia considers this for a moment. “Well, your fever has been steadily dropping all day...Maybe some fresh air will be good for you.”

Before Eliza can weigh in, Magnolia scoops up the keys and her little brother. She stares in shock as she follows behind them to Magnolia’s Jeep, but if Vincent is bothered—

Well, he looks like he’s anything but bothered. He looks less like a sick six-year-old and more like a very pleased and lazy cat. If he could purr, then he absolutely would be doing so at this moment.

Vincent is safely secured in the backseat and Eliza much more tenuously so in the front.

She’s never actually ridden in a car that wasn’t being driven by a paid chauffeur and also never in the front seat, but Magnolia is...a surprisingly good driver.

Eliza never imagined something so simple could be so...relaxing. Just watching the scenery rolling past beyond windows that weren’t tinted to hell and back.

Parks in their lush greenery, with bright pink and yellow flowers in bloom for the spring season. A courtyard of statues like abstract installations all of them made of simple shapes but remarkably bright and colorful. Buildings of glimmering glass contorted into odd curvy shapes like rolled up pieces of card stock. There was even a strip along the highway— yes, the highway that she didn’t even know was on the route to school— where there was water as far as the eye could see, sparkling in the sunlight like someone had dumped glitter on the surface.

There were just so many things she didn’t even know she had missed seeing on her way to school, and of course, sneaking looks at Vincent was a lot more fun this way too.

The car ride seems to be having the same calming effect on him as it does on her. She catches him glancing out the window for about fifteen minutes before he finally dozes off, and Eliza snickers at his sleeping reflection in the mirror before schooling her expression and staring out into the distance.

“Hey,” she says, waiting until she’s sure Vincent is asleep. “Thanks.”

Magnolia says nothing, but out of the corner of her eye, Eliza can see the smile spreading across her face.