My eyes burnt with exhaustion as I tossed in bed yet again to check my phone for any notifications. By now, there should be hundreds rolling in. I just couldn’t understand it. A Crook’s Consequence had been published a week ago and only ten orders had come in. As it was, paying rent was a struggle, and Lara had been fired from her job last week for there had been a burglary at the house she was cleaning at, the very same day. Lara. I turned to look at her, sound asleep, a strand of stray hair billowing in the wind of her deep breaths. Her blonde hair was in a strewn heap beneath her head, her nightgown showing signs of elderliness at all the wrinkles and lack of effort in household chores from these trying times. Who knew such a seemingly-chaotic sight could look so serene; so beautiful. Her eyes fluttered as a slight breeze wafted through the room, pulling me out of my reverie. Sighing deeply, I hitched the faux blanket higher up and closed my eyes. Shutting your eyes was never the problem with falling asleep; it was shutting off your mind, those persistent thoughts that refuse to leave you alone, begging to be let in, to be heard, to be thought. I forcibly endeavored to push it all out of my mind and at long last, I felt waves of exhaustion crashing over me, enticing me in, calling my name…
I was pulled out of my sleep by an urgent tug that seemed to be emerging from my wife.
“Lara?” I mumbled groggily.
“Tom, hurry, child protective services are at the door!”
It took me a moment for this new information to register with my brain, but as soon as it washed over me, I took one look at Lara’s wide, petrified gaze, and bolted out of bed. This was about the children. Sure, we had had to move to a slightly run-down house after our income had been reduced by over half, but I had always thought our children would be safe with us, and the law would be unable to get in the way of that. I had been proved very wrong. Another stern knock at the door shocked me into action, and I darted down the steps, two at a time. Heaving a great breath, I squeezed Lara’s hand and opened the door.
A friendly-looking lady stood jauntily, with little to no air of authority. I exhaled through my nose shakily, my heart rate still racing. “Hello, I’m Nancy from CPS, and I was just here to check up on your family-in particular your children-and see how you-they-are coping,” the lady claimed.
“Who sent CPS here?” Lara interrogated, rather malevolently.
“The landlord of your property was merely concerned, that’s all,” there was a glint in her eye that I somehow couldn't get myself to trust. As Lara averted her eyes in obvious befuddlement, I caught Nancy glimpsing past our figures into our kitchen. My cheeks reddened as I considered what she may think of the hygiene of our kitchen. Something not so great, that much is clear, as her already-wide mischievous grin extended more, as though she was happy to have found something that could possibly get us into trouble. As if on cue, she pulled out a yellow notebook, took her sweet time to flip through, and started to jot down in messy handwriting-that I was unable to read. Finally, she stowed it away with a flourish.
“Well, if that’s all, I’ll be on my way. Ta-ta now!” She turned on her heel and briskly strode away, still not exhibiting any indications of authority.
Just like me, Lara’s mouth was agape, her eyebrows almost touching. You could almost hear the gears turning in her mind-attempting to work out what had just happened. Furrowing her eyebrows in frustration, she says “Tom, we’re in big-time trouble.” I stifle a laugh, since its been years since she’s said that line, and the last time hadn’t been as serious, however, I straighten up and reply with a mere “I know.”
You see, Lara and I have been having some marital issues recently and, if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes see why. She simply sighs and heads to the kitchen to make breakfast. If you ask me, breakfast is a bit of a stretch; we’ve been having porridge for the last month or so-ever since money started getting tight. I trudged upstairs, ruffling my already-messy hair, pondering on what my next step should be. But fate seemed to have heard me as I hear a slight ding! Coming from my nightstand. I turn my phone over and gasped at what I see. Another ten more notifications for ‘A Crook’s Consequence’ had come through. Waking up, this day had been stapled as a bad one, but who said that couldn’t take a turn for the good? I punch the air, feeling like that let some steam off, my spirits already soaring. We were going to be alright. Our family will be absolute once again. The heavy led balloon that had been tearing and breaking down my insides for the past week popped and seemed to be floating; lifting me up with it. I envisioned hundreds of orders rolling in, moving to a mansion, Lara’s eyes filled with admiration and pride, the kids clutching onto my legs as I stomped around like the BFG. These running thoughts streamed through my mind and they were so overwhelming that I felt liquid emerging from my bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes. I clutched onto the bed as my phone seemed to be blowing up with notifications. Ten more now. Fifteen. Twenty. I put down my phone reluctantly to go tell Lara the happy news, my heart still pounding with exhilaration. I swaggered down the steps and was just about to tell Lara when I saw her face. The color had been drained from her face, and her eyes looked stricken as she held a wide-eyed gaze with me. I faltered. Then I decided my information could wait-so I ask “What happened Lara?” She took a moment to swallow and then proceeded to croak, “The kids.” My heart sank. “They’re gone.”