Chapter 10

On a bright and sunny Monday morning, Grace was in the front yard playing with Chompy before she had to leave for school.

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“Well, hello.” Said a cheerful female voice. Startled, Grace looked up and saw a sweet young couple.

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“Um, hi…” Grace replied, shyly.
“Enjoying the morning?” The man said.
“Yes, sir.” Grace said.
“Your friend here is a beautiful yellow. What’s his name?” The woman asked, sweetly.
“This is Chompy.” Grace answered, holding him up proudly for the couple to see. Bending over, the man shook Chompy’s little hand.
“A pleasure to meet you.” The man smiled. Just then, his cell phone rang.

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“Dr. Robinson…” He said, speaking into the phone. “Okay, I will be there next week and I will have more supplies and medicine on hand. Thank you for the call.” Hanging up the phone, he looked at his wife and smiled. He was so excited. This was the day. He and his wife had tried for years to have a child of their own, but they have been unable to conceive. When his wife’s mother suggested adoption, they were both thrilled. They really could still become a family.

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“You’re a doctor?” Grace asked.
“Yep, I travel the world and bring supplies to countries and treat the Llama Flu.” The man said, with a proud smile.
“How cool!” Grace said. A doctor meant that he knew all about science which was Grace’s all time favorite subject.
“My name is Molly, and this is my husband, Drake. We were hoping someone was here that we could talk to about adopting.” The woman said, warmly. Grace’s heart flew into her throat. This is it! The perfect family that Grace had been waiting years for.
“Yes, ma’am. Her name is Miss Derby and she’s inside. She can help you.” Grace instructed. Grace was so excited. This was finally her chance. She looked up at the couple with hopeful eyes.

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Molly and Drake walked inside and before they could find Miss Derby, Sophie came walking down the hallway.
“Hi! Can I help you?” Sophie said, cheerily.
“Hello, we were looking for Miss Derby.” Molly said.
“Oh, she’s in her office on an important phone call, but she will be done in a second.” Sophie said.
“Do you know the name of the little girl out front?” Asked Drake.

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“Oh that’s lucky Grace. I call her lucky because she got adopted this morning. She’s out front waiting for her family.” Sophie lied. She meant it when she said she was going to get out of the orphanage, no matter what.

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Chapter 9

Sophie and Grace headed back into the house and left Alex and Hazel to their packing. Walking past Miss Derby’s bedroom door, Grace saw that it was open and she could hear a drunken Miss Derby inside.

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Grace called Sophie over. “Look.” She whispered. Sophie tip toed over. Exchanging an excited glance, Grace put her finger to her lip to tell Sophie to be quiet and slowly opened Miss Derby’s bedroom door just a little more. The girls were furious.

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Rumors were confirmed as the girls looked about and saw opulent furnishings, a large comfortable bed, and a big screen TV. They were living in filth and sleeping on cots and here was Miss Derby, living like a queen. Placing her hand gently on Sophie’s hand, she pointed to Miss Derby’s beloved statue as if to say, “There it is!” And there it was, just as weird and mysterious as the rumors had said.

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Miss Derby, completely unaware that the girls were there, was slouched on her overstuffed couch as she watched her favorite movie, “Roman Holiday.” Drunkenly reciting the movie by heart in between nibbles of her cheese.

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Slowly scooting out of the doorway, the girls headed back outside. The desert evening was cool so they stepped inside the shed. Walking inside, they saw that Alex and Hazel weren’t there. It wasn’t midnight yet so Grace figured that they were just somewhere making final plans. Sophie stepped in and opened a dusty box to see what was inside.

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“Wow. There’s a lot of stuff in here.” Sophie remarked. Grace, seeing another box, opened it up and found a dusty and tattered old dress. It was so full of moth eaten holes, you could see through it. She laid it over her arm to show Sophie.

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“Isn’t this beautiful?” Grace sighed, happily. Grace had never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie before. Watching the few minutes of Miss Derby’s movie gave Grace hope. Hope that maybe there was life after the orphanage. A better life.
“Don’t you think Audrey Hepburn is the most beautiful girl ever?” Sophie didn’t say anything, she just stood up, looked at the dress, grunted, then squatted down and continued digging through boxes. Tossing the dress aside, Grace could tell that Sophie was angry, but couldn’t figure out exactly why. Was it because they saw how Miss Derby was living? Sure, their situation was bad, but there was always the hope of being adopted. Grace couldn’t figure out this change she had seen in her friend.

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“Do you think we’ll ever get out of here and find true love?” Graced asked, hopeful. Sophie stopped rummaging through the boxes, and with a heavy sigh, stood up, and pointed her finger at Grace.

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“I can assure you one thing. I hate being here. I hope we do get out of here and live better lives.” Sophie was gritting her teeth, angrily. “All I know is that the next family that walks in here, I’m going to jump on them.”

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Chapter 8

Feeling high on happiness and friendship, Grace and Sophie headed into the backyard.

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“What’s in this shed?” Sophie asked.

“Oh, just left over stuff from kids that got adopted over the years.” Grace answered.

“Let’s check it out.” Sophie said, excitedly. Stepping into the shed, Grace saw that Alex and Hazel were inside. Alex was bent down and it looked like he was packing something.

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“Oh, sorry, we’ll just leave.” Turning around quickly, Grace bumped awkwardly into Sophie.
“No, stay. Have a seat. Hazel and I want to talk to you guys about something.” Glancing around, Grace could see that it looked like they were definitely packing for something. Looking outside to make sure no one could over hear him, Alex leaned in and spoke.

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“Hazel and I are running away tonight.” Alex said, barely above a whisper. Grace was shocked. She didn’t know that was an option. Sure, she had dreamed of running away, but actually doing it was another thing.
“Wait, what?” Grace asked, confused. She couldn’t hide the shock on her face.

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“We’ve been planning this for a while now. We’re going to hop the midnight train that leads out of Oasis Springs.” Hazel said, excitedly. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

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“But where does the train go? Where will you live?” Grace asked, concerned.
“Does it matter?” Alex asked. “It’s not like Miss Derby will notice us gone.” Alex said.
“Sophie, you’re welcome to come with us.” Hazel offered. Grace put her head in her hands. This was all moving too fast. Alex and Hazel were leaving. They were actually packing. And in less than four hours, they would be gone.

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Grace thought for a moment. Even though things were tough at the orphanage, she still had a roof over her head, a bed, and a shower. Eating was inconsistent, but she had friends at school that would give her bits of their lunches that they didn’t want.
“Grace? Are you coming with us tonight?” Asked Alex, bringing Grace out of her deep thoughts.
“No. I’m staying here.” Grace said, shocked at her own decision.
“I’m going to stay here, too.” Sophie added.
“Okay, but if you change your mind, we leave a few minutes before midnight.”

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Chapter 7

“What a long day.” Grace thought to herself as she got back home from school. Damien, arriving just after her, shoved her as he walked by.

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Sophie saw this and walked over to Grace.

“Why is he always so mean to you?” Sophie asked.

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“I’m afraid of him and he knows it. I don’t have any friends here.”

“I’ll be your friend.” Sophie said, comfortingly. Seeing that Sophie was being genuine, Grace leapt forward and hugged Sophie tight. Sophie returned the hug, just as tight.

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“How did you end up here? What was Damien saying about a fire?” Grace asked, gently. She didn’t want to pry, but she could tell Sophie needed someone to talk to.

“My parents died in a house fire. It was my Aunt’s fault. She was real messed up about it, too. She told me she couldn’t stand to look at me anymore because I reminded her too much of what happened.” Sophie said, trying her best not to cry. “Why are you here?”

“I kind of don’t know. I’ve been here since I was a baby.” Grace answered.

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Leaning in, Sophie asked, “What’s the deal with Miss Derby?”

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“Well, she doesn’t like to be bothered, so it’s best to just stay away from her. And she has three rules. Never be seen or heard, never go into her bedroom, and never eat her cheese.”

“Never eat her cheese?” Sophie laughed.

“Come on, I’ll show you.” Walking into the kitchen, Grace opened the refrigerator and pointed at a white box on the bottom shelf.

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“Miss Derby is a member of the Cheese of the Month club. She takes it very seriously. At night she takes some of her cheese and a bottle of wine into her room and watches Audrey Hepburn movies and sings to a weird statue.” Grace explained.

“How do you know this if you aren’t allowed in her room?” Sophie asked.

“Because sometimes, when she comes back out for her third bottle of wine and more cheese, she forgets to close her bedroom door when she goes back into her room. I’ve watched her in there. Some kids have said they’ve seen bottled oddities like nanopedes and aliens!”

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“What happens if you break one of the rules?” Sophie asked.

“Miss Derby puts a lock on the fridge and she won’t feed you.” Grace warned.

“Well, there’s no lock on the fridge now. So let’s find some food.” Sophie reached into the fridge and bumped Miss Derby’s box of cheese. She looked back at Grace who was looking longingly at the little white cardboard container. Sophie, feeling mischievous, reached forward and opened the box and saw that the cheese showcased that month was cheddar.

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“We really shouldn’t be doing this.” Grace said, nervously looking over her shoulder.

“I’m sure she won’t notice if we take a little piece.” Sophie whispered. Before Grace could slam the box shut, Miss Derby walked in. Grace shoved Sophie out of the way and grabbed an apple.

“Rule number one, ladies. Not to be seen or heard. That is your first warning.” Miss Derby said in a low tone.

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Quickly rushing out of the kitchen, the girls ran outside.
“Quick thinking.” Sophie said, relieved.
“I’ll split this apple with you.” Grace grinned, taking a bite.
“And I’ll split this with you.” Sophie said, slowly opening up her hand to reveal a perfect orange nibble of cheddar cheese. The girls giggled.

“You stole her cheese?” Grace said happily and a bit surprised.

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Sophie, splitting the piece in half, popped the wedge into her mouth and gave the other piece to Grace. Sophie closed her eyes, put her head back, and let sharp tasting cheese roll over her tongue then squished it between her teeth and showed Grace.

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“This is awesome.” Grace said, smiling.
“Someday I want to have a baby girl and name her Cheddar.” Sophie laughed.

“Why?” Grace asked, laughing.

“I love cheese.” Sophie said, happily.

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Chapter 6

Grace had the best day at school. After Mrs. Holland cleaned up her finger, she made it back to class in enough time to play with glass vials, the microscope, and another slide. She loved looking at things under the microscope and see things wiggle and move. Walking home after school, she saw Alex walking up ahead and caught up to him.

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“Hey, I saw you in the principals office today.” Grace said, concerned.
“I saw you in the nurses office.” Alex teased.
“What happened? Did you get in trouble?” Grace asked, worried.
“At recess today I snuck back into the classroom and ate other kids lunches.” Alex said, embarrassed.
“Why?”
Alex looked down at the ground and spoke.

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“Damien took a double helping of dinner last night so I didn’t get to eat. I was so hungry I didn’t know what else to do. Why were you in the nurses office? I saw Nurse Holland putting a band aid on your finger.”
“Science lab.” Grace giggled. A few moments passed and they both got quiet as they continued walking down the block. Grace smiled, awkwardly.

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“I’m sorry I’ve never really talked to you before. Hazel and I keep away from you because we’re afraid that if we become friends with you, Damien will pick on us, too. We feel awful that we always avoid you. We’re just too afraid.” Alex admitted.
“I understand. You need to protect yourselves. But if you ever come into a situation where you need something like food again, come ask me. I will share my dinner with you.” Grace offered.

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“We don’t have anyone looking out for us at the orphanage, do we?” Alex said, quietly.
“I’ll look out for you.” Grace said, comfortingly.

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Chapter 5

Grace was so excited for school today because it was Friday and that meant Science Lab with her favorite teacher, Miss Wilburn. Mixing ingredients and watching green smoke come out of vials was her favorite. Today, after Miss Wilburn did her usual talk about safety, she was going to teach the children more about how to use the microscope and how to use the glass slides.

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“Good morning, class! Let’s get started!” Miss Wilburn said, excitedly. She picked up a box from her desk and walked around the classroom, handing out the slides to every student.

“Now be careful, these things are very fragile.” Miss Wilburn warned. Grace was so excited that when she was handed her slide, she immediately removed the thin tissue paper that covered it and with a little too much enthusiasm, accidentally squeezed the slide too tight in between her fingers, and broke the slide in half. The broken glass sliced her finger.

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“Ouch!” Grace gasped.

“Oh dear, Grace are you ok? Let me see.” Miss Wilburn said, sweetly. Grace was so excited, she didn’t put down the broken slide. She held up her cut finger and the slide for Miss Wilburn to look at. “Hmm. Looks like you need a Band-Aid. Why don’t you head over to the nurses office and have that looked at?”

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Grace quickly headed out of the classroom and down the hall to the nurses office. She looked forward all week to Science Lab Friday and she didn’t want to miss a second of it. Sitting in the nurses office, Grace held up her finger and explained to Mrs. Holland what had happened. Mrs. Holland took a look at Grace’s finger and seeing the little girl’s excitement to get back to class, cleaned Grace’s finger up quick.

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While Mrs. Holland was reaching for a Snoopy Band-Aid, Grace leaned back in her chair and saw Alex in the principals office. “That’s strange.” Grace thought. “Alex never gets in trouble.”

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Chapter 4

Grace awoke the next morning with a burst of excitement. Could it be possible that after all of these years she could finally have a friend? Excited for the new day, Grace climbed out of bed and looked around the room. She couldn’t find Chompy. He wasn’t anywhere. Worried of what Damien could have possibly done with him, she walked outside to the monkey bars and found him sitting on top of the bars.

“Damien, have you seen Chompy?” Grace asked, timidly.
“What would make you think that I have him?” Damien teased. Alex and Hazel played nearby. Both of them were too scared to get involved so they continued playing by themselves. Sophie walked up and stood quietly, watching the situation unravel.

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“Damien, please…” Grace pleaded.

“I saw him take Chompy this morning.” Sophie said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

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Damien glared at Sophie then pulled Chompy out of his pocket and set him on the bars.

“Damien, may I have him back, please?” Grace asked.

“If you want him so badly, you can come up here and get him.” Damien teased. Grace’s eyes widened. He knew she would never go near the monkey bars ever again. Especially not after what he did to her last year. Damien saw the fear in Grace’s eyes and smiled.

“What, you aren’t still afraid of the monkey bars, are you Grace? That was a year ago.” Damien said, mockingly.

Last year, Damien double dog dared Grace to play on the monkey bars. Normally, this wouldn’t be terrifying for a child, but when the monkey bars were installed, they weren’t cemented in properly making the entire structure sway when kids played on them. Damien discovered that if he shook the bars at just the right moment, kids would fall off. Last year, Damien double dog dared Grace to hang upside-down from the bars. Tired of his antics, she agreed. Climbing to the top she kept thinking about how dumb she was. It was dark, she could barely see the bars in front of her, and Damien couldn’t be trusted.

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Poor Grace was right. Right as she got to the top, Damien shook the bars hard and Grace’s foot fell through. Unable to hang on, Grace fell off of the monkey bars.

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Instinctively reaching out to catch herself, Grace fell hard on her wrist. Pain shot up her arm and Grace let out a scream.

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Terrified that she might have broken her wrist, she sat there, stunned. She wasn’t so much concerned for her own safety as she was scared that if it was broken, it was going to cost Miss Derby in doctors bills, and that fear alone shook Grace.

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Over time, Grace’s wrist healed. She never knew if it was broken as she never told a soul that she fell. She didn’t want to risk getting in trouble.

“Well, are you going to come up here and get him or what, weenie? What, are you too chicken?” Damien laughed. Grace stood there, frozen. “You’re never getting him back. Besides, I think he likes the view.” Damien said.

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“Damien, just give it back.” Sophie said. Shocked, all of the kids turned and looked at Sophie. No one stood up to Damien. Ever. It was just a known fact that Damien did what ever he wanted.

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“You think you can come in here and boss me around?” Damien said, pointing down at Sophie. “You have another thing coming. Better be careful. I hear Miss Derby has a fireplace in her bedroom and she falls asleep with the fire going. You may have survived one fire, but I will make sure you get burned this time.” Climbing down off of the bars, Damien passed by Alex and Hazel and kicked the toys they were playing with and strode off towards the house.

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Grace just stood there and looked at the monkey bars. Feeling helpless, she bent down and collected small rocks to try to toss up to Chompy to knock him down.

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Sophie, remembering Grace’s kindness from the night before, and seeing that Grace was not going to climb onto the bars, climbed onto the monkey bars to help out.

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Thankful for Sophie’s help, Chompy was once again safe in her arms. Grace decided to ask Sophie what Damien was talking about with the fire later. For now, she had her Chompy back and he was safe.

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Chapter 3

Standing in the doorway with her small suitcase in her hand, Sophie was unsure of whether or not to step in the room or make a run for it. But really, she had nowhere else to go. Setting her suitcase down, the realization of what had happened to her a few weeks ago hits her. Sophie dropped her head and started to cry.

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Grace, in her usual hiding spot, watched Sophie through the crack of light the opened closet door provided. She kept a careful eye on the new resident as she wasn’t sure if the new girl was a threat or not. Grace watched the newcomer look about the room then watched as her face fell and heard the girl start to whimper.

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“You can come in.” Grace said, barely above a whisper.

Sophie’s eyes darted to the closet door. Stepping forward, the open door revealed a little girl, huddled on the floor with a small stuffed toy.

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“It’s safe in here,” Grace said. “I don’t think the others know you’re here yet.”

Sophie took a few tentative steps forward, then, seeing Grace’s face, got to her knees and climbed into the closet . A sliver of light shone on Sophie’s face and Grace, seeing the new girl drowning in her thoughts, handed her Chompy to hug.

“I’m Grace.” Grace said, gently.

“I’m Sophie.” Sophie whispered back. Then Sophie covered her face and broke down into a deep sob.

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Chapter 2

The rest of the day passed slowly and Grace was exhausted. Staying hidden in the closet until nighttime, Grace crawled out quietly and lay on her cot to sleep.

Drawing Chompy close to her, she whispered, “Will I ever make a single friend here?”

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Soft light from the moon shined through the painted shut window and onto the metal cot beside hers and cast a warm glow that reflected onto the wall. Squinting her eyes, Grace pretended to see actual stars. A tiny galaxy shining just for her. Sighing, she closed her eyes and listened to the electrical hum of the radiator as it lulled her to sleep.

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Chapter 1

“Grace!” Miss Derby shouted.

“Coming!” Grace hollered back, panicked.

“Grace!” Miss Derby was shrieking now. Grace found Miss Derby in the yard pointing down at her beloved Chompy.

“How many times have I told you that your disgusting toys are never to be left out in the yard making a mess of things?”

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Grace looked around the yard. Besides a few scattered dying shrubs and Miss Derby’s old truck that had been parked in the yard since the day Grace arrived at the orphanage, the yard was empty.

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In the corner of the yard in some mud sat Chompy. Grace ran across the yard, got to her knees, and scooped up her dear stuffed doll and hugged it close. The only thing that brought her security and happiness was now soaked through with putrid smelling mud.

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Miss Derby stomped out into the yard towards Grace.

“Need I remind you of rule number one?” Miss Derby snapped.

“Never be seen or heard.” Grace repeated in a monotone voice.

“Correct. Now that I have had to see you and hear you, kindly remind yourself of what the consequences are.”

“You won’t let me eat today.”

“That is correct.”

“But I-“ Grace started to say.

“You need to learn where your place is. I did you a favor by keeping you all of these years. And this is how you repay me? By keeping my home a mess? My kindness and generosity is wasted on you. You do nothing but grow, eat, and take up space. I will be glad to see the day to be rid of you. Now run along. Before I make it two days.”

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With her head hung low, Chompy in her embrace, Grace walked towards the back of the house. As she rounded the corner, Damien jumped out in front of her. Grace, reacting out of fear, put Chompy protectively behind her back.

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“Hey, loser.” Damien chuckled. Terrified, Grace took a few steps back. Damien was always horribly mean to Grace. Living in constant fear of what he was planning to do to her next, Damien tormented Grace daily. Grace tried her best to pretend Damien’s bullying never bothered her, but when it came to Chompy, Damien knew how to cut her deep. Despite Grace’s best efforts to keep Chompy hidden, Damien always found him and either threw him in the mud or on the roof, far out of Grace’s reach.

“I thought Chompy could use a mud bath.” Damien snorted.

Grace fought hard not to cry. She didn’t want to give Damien the added satisfaction. Stepping around him, she started to make her way to the backyard. Damien wasn’t going to let her get away without adding more pain to Grace’s day and shoved her as she walked by. Losing her balance, Grace fell to the ground, skinning her knee. Rolling over to her side, she looked up at Damien.

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“Miss Derby is right, you are a waste of space.” He snarled.