It had been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. The same green shutters. The same paint peeling off the walls. The same look of peril that always haunted her old foster home, Sunny Days. That was the name of the home that brought Gina some of the worst days of her life.
“Gina, are you okay? I told you we didn’t have to stop by here just because you were invited.”
“I know. I wanted to stop by though. I need to get over my fears and finally leave this place behind.”
Gina and Rosie are promptly greeted at the door. They follow old Ms. Rogers down the hall. Gina’s mind is racing as she relives her horrific childhood. Ms. Rogers is gesturing to the room on the left. She’s telling them that this is where the four-year-old to six-year-old children sleep at night. Making sure to note that the home is struggling financial which is why so many children are relegated to one room. This woman has absolutely no chill. Gina knows she was asked here to make a donation. There’s no way in hell she would ever donate to a torture chamber like this one. These children are probably better on the street. She knows she would have been.
“And this room is where we do all of our crafts. You can see the wonderful photos the children have drawn on the wall.”
Gina remembered this room well. This is where the horrible Mr. Wright had spent many a day torturing her. He burned her lower back with a hot glue gun. When she stood up, he would put tacks in her chair as she was going to sit down. The man would pull her hair and tell her horrible things about herself when no one was looking. She was only eight when she started cutting herself. Mr. Wright told her yet again that she was a waste of space. He was the first one to give her a straight razor. He said if she cut herself that he would leave her alone. He started sexually abusing her at ten. She never told anyone because Mr. Wright was a perfect role model. No one would have ever believed a dirty orphan that no one wanted.
“Here is our state-of-the-art kitchen. We have the kids eat in shifts, so they have plenty of room to spread out. Our kitchen staff are masters at creating healthy meals, but the kids never even notice.”
If by healthy she meant starving the girls, then sure. Even though Gina was a healthy plump weight at 32, she had been underweight the entire time she was at Sunny Days. The kitchen staff did make hearty healthy meals, for the young boys. The girls were told if they were too fat that they would never get adopted. Mr. Wright may have been a monster, but no one at Sunny Days was a saint.
“Last but not least, here is the playground. We have this new swing set that was donated to us last year. The kids just love it. We have games of dodgeball, tag, and basketball all the time. You have to run out their energy or they’ll be up all night,” Ms. Rogers chuckled. Gina gave her a reproachful look. She knew these kids were run ragged. They got about as much rest as one of Jim Jones’s cult members.
At this point the tour had concluded. Rosie was having a friendly conversation with Ms. Rogers as Gina walked around a bit more on her on. No doubt the hateful woman was trying to guilt Rosie into donating a large amount of money. Hell would freeze over before Gina would let that happen. She couldn’t stand to look at the woman anymore. Maybe she was brainwashed, but she had to have some idea of what awful things went on here.
“Oh Ms. Taylor, you have to meet our wonderful staff members. They care about these kids more than any parent ever has.” Which wasn’t a high standard as these kids had never had parents likely. Or better yet, there parents had been addicts and the court had put them in the system. Either way, Gina knew these kids had always had a rough life.
As Rosie was being introduced to the staff, Gina approached a small girl who looked about nine years old. She was probably at least twelve. “Hi sweetheart, my name is Gina, and I used to live here too. I guess that makes us almost like sisters.” The girl stared at her wide-eyed. Gina understood. If a strange woman came to visit and started talking about being her sister, she probably would have run away and if she was scared enough, cut herself. Gina’s warm smile turned sad. She stood to walk away, but the girl spoke.
“Hi Gina,” the girl said meekly. Gina immediately stopped in her tracks.
“What’s your name?”
The girl was quiet for a minute before she answered, “Haley."
“That’s a beautiful name, Haley. How do you like it here?” The girl’s eyes went wide in horror. It was clear she didn’t know what she should say. Gina continued, “I hated it here. The adults were all big meanies.” Haley slowly nodded her head. She had clearly received the same threats that Gina had about telling anyone what really happened in this place. Gina couldn’t take it anymore.
“Haley, why don’t we play a little game. Can you play a game with me?” Haley continued to look terrified. She realized her mistake. That’s the same thing that Mr. Wright had said to her in the beginning. “Not like a grown-up game. I just want you to go hide in that tree at the far corner, and don’t come out until you see my signal. Do you know how to climb trees?” Haley nodded again. “Okay, you go ahead, and I promise everything will be okay.” The girl took off like her life depended on it. Little did she know, it did.
Gina turned around and made eyes with her wife from across the schoolyard. She could just make out Rosie saying her goodbyes and telling Ms. Rogers that she would strongly consider making a donation to this “wonderful” establishment. Rosie was good at making people feel like they got what they wanted when she clearly had no intention of giving it to them. Rosie walked to the car alone. Gina hung back as she watched Ms. Rogers retreat into the home. She had said that all the kids were outside right now. Gina hoped that was true. Like a homeless shelter, the kids were mostly locked outside the entire day. Gina remembered that detail very clearly. It never mattered how bad the weather was on any given day.
Gina looked back at the tree that the girl was currently hiding in. As she walked back to the car to meet Rosie, she dropped a small object through the first open window she saw. The C-4 immediately did its job. The entire building went up in flames in seconds. The children were all in the yard. They were safe. If Gina got caught, she would be back in jail in a minute. She didn’t care. With Sunny Days, Ms. Rogers, Mr. Wright, and her horrible memories up in flames, the children would be safe. Haley would be safe, and that was all that mattered.