Sylvia

Based on the true story that shocked the world in 1965.

In the early summer of 1965, 16 year old Sylvia Likens stepped foot into 3850 East New York with hopes and dreams. She left the house three months later, emaciated with burns, bruises and scratches. What happened in those endless months would later be described as "the worst crime ever committed in the state of Indiana". This is the story of a girl who had hopes and dreams.

This is Sylvia's story.

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5. Meeting The Family

I remember Paula leading us along the wiry pavement through the town as though she was the leader of an expedition and we were the travellers. I didn't know why, but I felt nervous. I imagined it was because we were going somewhere new. It always had an uncertainty about it. The stores around us were beginning to turn into houses, as we finally made it out of the endless town streets. The small sign read 'East New York Street', and I gathered most houses there were going through difficulties of their own. Needless to say, they were much smaller than those around Darlene's. Then again, how could I judge? I was hardly rich myself.

"And it's just here..." Paula introduced, diverting into a front yard as my eyes finally trailed up to the house.

I stood silently, taking in the scene almost by second nature. The house was attached to another, but it felt as though it only stood alone on the sidewalk. The paint was weathering in places, however it was a white that shone when the light hit it. Each house was compacted with each other, almost within an arms reach of each building. The front porch had a small set of wooden steps, which only heightened the house even more. Each window had a set of shutters, and I could slightly see them tapping against the window from each slight gust of wind. The front yard, from which we had begun treading across, was trimmed like most of the houses along the street. However it was clear to see that Paula's mama didn't garden, unlike the neighbour's wonderful set of gardening skills next door. A grey, spindly pathway made its way to the set of steps, as we followed on tightly behind Paula. My eyes momentarily glimpsed down to the small, rectangular window that hid underneath the house; obviously being that of the basement. A few bikes were parked out on the lawn, however there were no children in sight. It was not a school day, so I fathomed they were either inside or out playing; staying inside in the scorching heat seemed barbaric.

My mind flickered back to reality, with the set of stairs groaning as my foot came into contact with each step; as you can imagine this only made me apprehensive of falling through them. I reached my arm behind me, clasping Jenny's hand as I helped her up; it showed on her face that those steps were driving her insane - after all, it didn't make it easy walking with a brace around her leg. We stood face to face with the recently painted front door; 3850. Paula leaned forwards, and her hand pressed against it. Expecting it to gracefully open by Paula's touch, it suddenly flung open before she had even had a chance to push it. Out of the house ran a young boy. Paula stumbled back, as did we.

"Jimmy!" She yelled, though not receiving a reply back from him.

I couldn't have blamed them, he was young and enjoying the summer sun.

The recognisable scent of smoke, stale and new, was first to hit my nose; the way it nipped like frost or ice on a cold day. Being around a daddy who liked a few cigarettes now and again, I would have expected smoking to be none other than a normal smell, and yet at 3850 it seemed smoking was done every minute of every day by at least 50 different people. I failed to believe one person smoked so many. The front door led straight into the lounge, with wooden floorboards that greeted me as I stepped inside. A little cot was tucked away beside the window, though I certainly could tell a baby was occupying it by the quiet whimpering. There were two couches; both facing a puny, rectangular box television. I was surprised at this; I had never even owned a television. A coffee table was sat just in front of the couch, with a few old cigarettes dumped into a full ash tray, as well as a half bottle of medicine. A few glasses of whiskey were also seen, so I gathered there must have been a little get to together with a few people. A set of stairs faced me head on, as they obviously led to the upstairs of the house. Beside those stairs through the short, however darkly lit, hallway, was the open doorway to the kitchen. I could see a circular table, counters and a few drawers, some even left fully out, seemingly by accident.

Jenny shuffled next to me, as I could tell she was also scanning the house. It looked as though it could barely fit three people in, let alone 8. But above the cramped rooms and dingy lighting, I was jealous. It must have felt good to live in a house and actually call it home. It made it difficult to get used to anything with moving around so much.

"Wait here one second..." Paula said, as she moved closer to the bottom of the stairs, "- mama!"

It was always strangely awkward meeting friends' parents for the first time. Probably because it felt as though you had to give off a good impression, maybe so they didn't think of you as some bad influence. Mama did used to say first impressions always count. We all stood for a few moments in silence; awaiting any movement that would come from up the stairs. Though, strangely, there was nothing. I fathomed her mom must have popped out for shopping or something, though that was until a voice appeared out of nowhere.

"What is it?"

Our heads all turned seemingly in unison to see a tall, skinny woman trudging out from the kitchen doorway. Her head was surrendered into one hand, which only resembled her tiredness even more than the wrinkles on her face. She had dark shadows circulating around her eyes, as though she hadn't slept for a whole year. It seemed I was right in the guess I had made back at Darlene's house; looking after seven children was enough to tire any single parent out, and that included Paula's mama especially. It seemed the culprit to the stench of smoke was her, as her hand grasped a nearly finished cigarette which never went a minute without being put inside her mouth. Her hair had been thrown up with an elastic band, with straggly pieces drooping beside each hollow cheek bone. She wore a plain, long skirt which fell to her ankles, and a blouse that was tucked messily into it. It seemed she was rather dismal about looks, though being a full time mother was no easy job.

"What's this?" The woman muttered; careful, curious eyes that flickered between Jenny and I.

"Some of Darlene's friends." Paula informed.

Her mom slowly trudged away to the coffee table, as though she had completely ignored what Paula had said.

Her hand grasped a medicine bottle, as she unscrewed the lid carefully, "...I'm gonna' need you to work extra shifts. We need a little more for dinner."

Guilt had already made its mark, making itself well at home. I imagined it was because Paula was working hard for money that would be used on supplying more dinner for the family. My heart went out to her - it truly did.

"I'll ask for more hours." Paula insisted, but I could hear the irritation in her voice. She was 17 years old, and already working like a full time adult.

The mother nodded with acceptance, before gulping down a few mouthfuls of medicine that only caused her face to screw up with disdain. It was only before she finally set the bottle down, that her eyes met with mine.

"Where are you girls from?" She asked; an actual sense of interest in her voice which I was glad to hear.

"...Oh, we just move around a lot." I smiled as friendly as possible, repeating the recurring life story of moving around from place to place.

She squinted her eyes slightly, as though suspicious of the two girls her daughter had pulled off the streets.

"Friend of Darlene's then?" She smiled after her questioning, as she tapped the bottle with her nails.

I grinned, accepting her friendly smile as I knew she wasn't one to hand them out so easily.

"Knew her since I was real young," I insisted, before quickly pointing my finger to Jenny, "...oh, and this is Jenny. I'm Sylvia," I introduced, randomly placing my hand on my chest as though I thought Gertrude wouldn't realise who I had meant.

She nodded her head, with a faint smile still set on her lips.

"Gertrude." The woman replied with a sense of authority in her voice, "though the kids that come in and out of here call me Gertie."

The introduction went as well as it could have done, and apart from the occasional dramatic cough from Gertie, she seemed friendly enough; a hard working parent always had my sympathy.

"How old do you think my mama is?" Paula smirked a little, nudging Jenny on the shoulder.

Guessing a woman's age was dangerous territory, but Gertie didn't look too annoyed. On the plus side, Jenny was pretty talented when it came to estimating somebody's age. She used to do all these calculations, and most of the time, she got it right.

"How old is your oldest daughter?" Jenny asked timidly.

Gertrude raised any eyebrow, "Paula's 17."

Jenny remained silent for a moment, and I knew she was doing all those calculations in her head.

"Then..." Jenny paused for a second, "I'd say you're...37?" She spoke carefully.

Gertrude looked puzzled at first, before crossing her arms over her chest, "...no, I'm 31."

We all fell silent, and the awkwardness threatened to boot me out of the house altogether.

Paula sniggered, "whatever you say, mama."

Gertrude shook her head tiredly, and gradually disappeared back into the kitchen. Gertrude was friendly, though I couldn't shrug the first impression I had gotten from her. Then again, who could have blamed her? A house as small as that, kids running about every day of the week; it must have been pure luck for her to even catch a wink of sleep.

"Mama always tries to act younger than she is," Paula scoffed, "real embarrassin'..."

I imagined most people over the age of 30 wanted to reverse time somehow, not that I believed 37 was even that old. Part of me couldn't wait to grow old, get married, have children; alongside a career if I was lucky. The other part wanted to remain young forever, and the thought of wishing to be young at 40 like Gertie frightened me.

I made sure my hand was always in contact with Jenny's, as we all followed Paula up the set of wooden stairs; stairs always seemed to be her biggest enemy. Having a metal frame constantly pinned to her leg stopped her from doing normal things that many would have found easy.

"Hope you don't mind mess," Paula chuckled, as she pushed open the first door we came across.

The room was brighter than the rest of the house, and the rays from the sun were beaming in through the window which was, thankfully, slightly left open for a little breeze. There was one double bed with the covers still thrown about as though someone had gotten up just a second before we had walked in. The floor was covered with a few pieces of clothing and items, whilst also on the floor were two mattresses. It was clear to see that someone had chosen the short straw and had to sleep on the floor. It looked as though people had just decided to camp down for the night, or for some sleepover. There was also a closet, half open, and a dressing table with a mirror and make-up accessories obviously used by the older sisters.

"Gotta' be pretty cramped in here?" I assumed.

Jenny and I shuffled over to the mattress laid upon the floor, and with a certain amount of effort to manoeuvre Jenny, we sat down. Needless to say, resting my legs felt well deserved.

"Well, I sleep in this here bed -" She pointed to the bed from which she sat on, "so does Stephanie, and my little sisters just sleep on these mattresses."

I imagined a large amount of fights broke out with siblings being so close to one another.

"What about your little brother?" I asked.

"Oh, there's Johnny too. He's round dad's house with Stephanie. They sleep with my mama, and baby Dennis sleeps in a cot some place."

I had seen a baby cot as we walked in, though I stopped myself from asking more about it. Paula stood up from the bed, and threw open the closet door.

"Your mama should win some prize for looking after you lot." I smiled.

Dismissing what I had said, she had already unexpectedly began unbuttoning her shirt - needless to say, I didn't know where to put my eyes. She was obviously confident enough in her body that she could strip down to her brassiere in front of us.

"What about your mama?" She questioned, as her head turned back to us slightly.

Telling people about the difficulties with my mama and jail and the splitting up just confused everyone; it also gave off a bad impression about me. I pushed the question to the back of my mind, tucking my knees into my chest. Thankfully, before Paula could have pelted me with more questions, we all heard the front door opening and closing, followed closely by children laughing. I imagined it was those little sisters Paula was talking about. The stairs creaked yet again by the padded footsteps wadding up them, and my eyes instantly looked up to the doorway to see two young girls standing. Paula turned back around, with the shirt hanging from her shoulders.

"Sylvia and Jenny, before you guys ask." I heard Paula say.

The shorter, chirpier girl smiled as she heard our names. She wore a red and white chequered dress to her knees, and a sweet little cardigan around her arms. She had short, brunette hair curled behind her ears and her face was constantly blossomed with an adorable smile. She skipped towards us, and with a gentle leap, landed on the floor at our feet with no trouble at all.

"I'm Shirley," she grinned, and her chin pointed back to her older sister, "- this is Marie."

Marie was taller in height, and she wore a buttoned up blouse tucked into a plain coloured skirt. She, too, had short brunette hair; obviously running in the family. Her face was more careful, however she tried to keep the same friendly smile on her lips. She walked over, waving her hand slightly before taking a seat beside Shirley. Paula had already completely stripped off her shirt and was in a hurried search for a new one.

"I'm turnin' 10 tomorrow!" Marie exclaimed with excitement.

I laughed a little, "well I hope you have an amazing birthday - for tomorrow."

Marie chuckled, her cheeks blushing slightly, "why don't you stay for the party, I get to have some cake at midnight!"

I felt slightly awkward being invited to somebody's birthday whom I had only just met a few seconds before.

"You want to?" I heard Paula question with less enthusiasm than her younger sister, "mama sure as hell won't mind."

A sleepover...after the first day of meeting someone new?

"I'd like that." I replied.

I was surprised at how excited they were that we had agreed to stay. It seemed we were all neglected of a little company, Jenny and I especially.

"I love your hair!" Marie smiled, reaching out her hand to Jenny as she spiralled her hair in her fingers.

I had to agree - Jenny had that super soft, silky texture to her hair. Not to mention she could have done anything to it and it would have still looked lovely.

"So, what does your dad do?" I asked.

Paula had finally chosen a new shirt, as she began buttoning it up; continuing to stare at herself intently in the mirror.

"He's a cop - they're divorced," she said, and it seemed she was constantly posing in the mirror as though a camera was taking shots of her every second.

"Do you miss him?" I replied, though carefully. I understood how sensitive speaking about family break ups were, I knew all too well.

Paula, on the other hand, didn't seem saddened at all.

"Nah, I only miss his money."

"Paula!" Shirley warned.

I could tell speaking about their father was on thin ice. I had to admit, she was honest, however brutal. Though what she said next made me understand why she thought that way about her daddy.

"Well it's true!" Paula admitted, finally turning around to face us as she crossed her arms, "if he could actually be bothered to pay for child support, mama wouldn't be so sick and I wouldn't have to work so hard."

Shirley sighed, and looked at me, "baby Denny's got a different daddy."

Marie nudged her sister roughly on the shoulder, "- yeah, but we ain't supposed to talk about that!"

"Jesus, why not tell our life story while you're at it." Paula murmured, as she looked at me and laughed a little.

It made me think how a dad could truly have just gotten up and left his children behind. What kind of dad did that? Well, Paula's did apparently. Nobody said another word. It seemed both Shirley and Marie agreed with what Paula had said, and if all of what Paula had said was true, so did I.

"So what does your daddy do?" Shirley asked.

"Oh, he works in a travelling carnival doin' stalls and things." Jenny informed.

"Are you clowns?" Shirley bounced on the floor excitedly.

Jenny and I couldn't help but smile a little. I guess the carnival gave people that impression that every carnie was a clown.

"You are so damn stupid." Paula muttered under her breath.

It made me smile thinking about our daddy. It made me proud, how hard-working he was, and had been since I was born.

Shirley's eyes were seemingly transfixed on Jenny, particularly her legs. The braces obviously made her confused.

"What happened to your legs?" She asked; intrigued, however baffled.

I gathered she hadn't seen a polio victim before. However her older sister was quick to nudge her on the shoulder. It seemed Marie knew when enough was enough.

"Shirley, that ain't polite!" Marie warned.

"It's alright," I insisted, giving a smile at Marie, "she's used to it."

"What is it then?" Shirley persisted.

"Polio." Jenny said. It made me proud; how easily she spoke about her disability so openly. It wasn't the same back in California. But over those years of travelling, Jenny grew stronger.

"Does it hurt?" Shirley asked

Jenny shrugged her shoulders awkwardly.

Marie nodded understandingly, "our mama is sick too."

I felt a tap on my arm as I turned my head.

"You know what," Paula smirked, "- let's leave the little ones here and go grab a coke. My boyfriend works over at the liquor store, he could sneak us out a couple?"

Needless to say, I was up for being back out in the warmth of the sun again. I didn't know Paula had a boyfriend, though whether she looked like the girl to have one I didn't know.

She clutched my wrist, beckoning me off the mattress. We made our way out of the door as Paula went first down the steps; skipping merrily down at the thought of just having something to do in the summer. As we jumped from the last step of the stairs, my eyes caught glimpse of Gertrude ironing away as though in a hurry. She had her back turned to us as she watched the images on the television eagerly, and yet, as judgemental as it was to think, I could have seen the exhaustion in the way she stood, the way she carried herself. I felt...sorry for her.

"We're just goin' to the groceries!" Paula called, as we both hurried over to the front door. I couldn't help feeling a little useless; seeing Paula's mom working away whilst I did nothing.

"If you see Dennis make sure he owes me for little Denny," Gertrude replied, as her voice strained from a cough, "- and don't be wastin' time on that bag boy!"

"He ain't a bag boy, mama!" Paula grumbled, finally opening the front door with an eerie groan that followed.

I heard Gertrude's last words as she muttered them quietly.

"Still a waste of space..." She murmured.

We stepped out onto the porch, with the heat of the summer air already basking me from all angles. Paula turned to me, with an everlasting smile peeled onto her face.

"She don't like my boyfriend," she scoffed, as we stammered down the set of steps.

I couldn't help but laugh at her comment. A mama's protection of her daughter with any man was understandable.

"Yeah, I can see that!" I laughed.

We finally made it out onto the front yard; the constant yapping of a dog as Paula's brother, Jimmy, was teasing the poor little mutt.

"Jimmy!" Paula yelled out, and he shot us a glare as we walked by, "- quit it!"

The neighbours next door - an elderly couple who were obviously used to the playfulness of the kids next door - glared at Paula as she walked by.

"Sorry, Mrs Doyle." Paula insisted, and the old woman went back to her work of gardening and weed picking.

We walked out onto the side walk, with little cars passing us as we went. The sun bellowed down on us all, never letting up on covering Indiana in a warm glow. The yards that we passed mostly had someone doing something; whether it was gardening, or even young children spraying each other with any source of water they could find to cool off. It was a quiet little neighbourhood, and no one could deny the sanctity you felt walking through it.

"You're gonna' love Bradley," Paula smirked; a cheeky smirk, however embarrassed to say anymore.

I couldn't help but smile at her. The excitement she had for him was sweet, and I was just hoping I would be be 'madly' in love with someone one day. She danced slightly ahead, causing me to quicken my pace to catch up with her.

"You really do like him don't you?"

She nodded frantically, however no answer succeeded in coming out of her mouth. We carried on our trek past the endless houses, only just beginning to see the stores ahead that started the town we had found ourselves in earlier.

"I gotta' be real careful though..." Paula's voice fell quieter and mysterious, as though worried someone would hear us. I knew she wanted me to ask why, and I did just that.

She bit her lip, and squinted her eyes as though nervous to tell me. The sudden revelation did cause me to become startled.

"He's married..." She admitted.

I, undoubtedly, fell quiet. I couldn't tell if she was kidding. Whether she was or she wasn't, I felt a smile fall across my lips, and I couldn't help but giggle at what she had said, however probably looking dumbfound in the process.

"I'm not even shittin' you!" She suddenly laughed aloud, finally getting rid of those worried expressions on her face.

It was then that I knew it wasn't a joke. Paula - going after a married man? It didn't seem right. In fact, it wasn't right. She didn't look like the type to run after a man with a ring already on his finger. I was sure my face said it all.

She fell silent, gazing at my face with a rebellious glare in her eyes, "...oh come on, don't tell me you've never had a boyfriend."

The truth was I had - once. I wasn't one for going out with boys, in fact being in a relationship for me felt odd; like it wasn't right. I gathered it was because I didn't love him as much as Paula probably loved Bradley.

"Well, there was this one guy in California but - well, I guess it was nothin'..." I trailed off, feeling a heat on my cheeks that was only a result of pure embarrassment.

"At least you did more than kiss, right?" She persisted.

The ONLY thing I had done was kissed him. Nothing more. Though I was sure I was speaking to an experienced expert in that matter. Paula's eyes grew wide, and she hopped about like a child at the truth of me not doing as much as she probably had with a boy.

"Well, aren't you just so damn pure!" She erupted in a fit of laughter, which only caused me to feel even more awkward.

I shrugged, trying to play off my humiliation. I wasn't embarrassed that I hadn't gone that far with a boy yet, in fact the idea terrified me. I was only 16, so there was time. I could have gotten married at 20, had a child with a real nice man. When I thought about all that, the future didn't scare me. To me, it wasn't all about physical contact with somebody. It was love; kind words to each other, always being there for one another. That was seemingly where Paula and I differed.

"Paula!" A voice called.

Paula was first to glare back, and she turned back to me with an irritated look in her eyes.

"Great," she sighed, and I heard hurried footsteps running up behind us, "...that's Randy by the way. Totally stupid and so damn ignorant."

Before I could even think of what to reply back with, the young boy threw himself between us. He bent down, holding his side as he attempted to capture his breath. Though the one thing I couldn't understand was he was still holding a cigarette in his hand.

"Jesus, you gotta' - you need to learn to slow down!" He moaned.

"Maybe you need to quit those cigarettes, Randy." She replied, though I could tell she couldn't even be bothered to turn to speak to him.

I could tell he was the type of boy that would stop at nothing to annoy you, and he was certainly succeeding with Paula.

Randy grinned, finally regaining his breath as he inhaled more tobacco from the cigarette, "I've been meanin' to ask you - -"

"- No way," Paula interrupted, "my mama ain't givin' you no more cigarettes."

"Now wait a second," he chuckled, dragging his feet along the ground as though too hypnotised in the cigarette he held between his lips, "she weren't complainin' when she was dancing for me yesterday!"

Paula looked all and ready to slug him right in the jaw, but she refrained, breathing deeply as she looked at me.

"See what I mean?" She insisted.

I was sure a new face would have gotten the young boy asking, and I was right.

"Who's your friend?" He asked, finally acting a little more his age, which I imagined to be 13.

Paula's hand pulled me closer; so much so that we were interlocking arms. I turned my head slightly to see the boy's face; dark hair swayed across his forehead and a very curious glint in his eyes.

"Sylvia - but she don't talk to trash." Paula smiled deviously.

I couldn't help but giggle, and I felt like I was in some secret club that only Paula and I knew about, and maybe her sisters.

"S'cuse me!" He scoffed, and I couldn't help but protrude a wide smile.

Paula would have won any argument, I was sure.

She shook her head; her eyes peering down to me, "- now you know what the majority of teenage boys are like here," she insisted.

I surely did, but sadly boys went through those tricky 'teenage years' worse than girls did. It always seemed to be 'girls this, girls that', and 'how to be as macho as possible'.

Finally, we arrived at the store, as we stood outside the doors. The heat seemed to make my mouth dribble at the sight of those fizzy drinks tucked away neatly in the refrigerator. But before we could walk in, Paula's hand settled on my shoulder. She pressed her face against the glass door, and pointed a finger at the young man standing at the till.

"See, that's him." She said, "that's my Bradley!"

It was difficult to see through the glass, but the young man obviously looked bored with his work. I looked at the young man; blonde combed hair, as he wore a buttoned up shirt and tie. He seemed a bit too sophisticated to be living in a town like that. I knew, however, that there was nothing sophisticated about leading a school girl on.

"...He's real cute." I replied, however refraining from giving a motherly talk.

"Yeah, wife is an old hag though." She admitted, with a smug expression written on her face.

The words she used were a little hurtful, and it seemed the 'wife' was being played for a fool. Paula didn't seem too guilty about it though.

"Come on then," she said, as she gently nudged open the door.

The sound of a bell quietly jingled, and the noise made the man at the till look at us as we walked through.

"Don't get anythin' expensive again, Paula!" Bradley finally spoke.

The store was luckily empty, so no one would have noticed him 'sneaking us out' a couple of cokes.

Paula and I walked over to the refrigerator, and the coolness made me want to climb into it all together. Paula took out two glass bottles, and we both made our way to the till.

"This is Sylvia." She smiled.

Bradley sighed, "you're lucky I do this for you, Paula."

It seemed my name had gone ignored.

Paula tapped her hand on the counter, "this is Sylvia."

"Look, these are my work hours, babe." He warned, as he removed the lids from the glasses, and it was sure enough going to make the heat more bearable.

Bradley was definitely a...stern character.

Paula looked at me, "I apologise for him, Sylvia. He's always cranky."

"- I ain't cranky, Paula." He corrected, as he finally handed us our drinks.

It seemed as though they were already in some domestic dispute, and it certainly wasn't something I wanted to get involved in. I already had enough of that with mama and daddy.

Paula leaned over the counter, and almost smothered her face against his. He glared at her.

"Well, least you can do is give me a kiss." She moaned, and she wasn't ready to leave without one.

Bradley finally granted her wish, and planted a soft kiss on her lips. I was anxious she wasn't going to pull away at first, until thankfully she hopped back down from the counter. We both soon began making our way out of the store, and I was eager to chug the drink down in one. I pulled open the door, and the heat immediately made its self known once again. I was grateful for the cold glass in my hand, that was for sure.

Paula looked close to saying something else, but she soon noticed a man walking towards us, seemingly wanting to buy something from the store as well. Paula obviously knew who it was, and by the look on her face, it wasn't somebody she wanted to bump into.

The man smirked a little. He had black, thick hair that was forced down by a whole lot of hair products. He wore his top scruffily hanging out of his trousers, with the top buttons undone. He looked as though he had spent the past few nights sleeping on the street.

Paula immediately took a swig from the bottle, and crossed her arms.

"Mama's been askin' for her money." She insisted.

The man laughed a little, "yeah, I bet she was."

"So I suggest you go over there, Dennis." She ordered. She seemed so mature for her age, and I felt a little envious.

"Sure." He chuckled, as he walked away slowly, "just like her mama."

Paula looked at me, "that's my mama's ex-boyfriend. He's only 6 years older than you."

It seemed that the man that walked away carelessly was baby Dennis's daddy, and from what I had heard from Paula, he didn't pay a whole lot of child support. No wonder why Gertrude seemed so on edge in that house.

________________

Paula and I had arrived back from our short journey to the groceries, and had both seemingly finished our drinks before we came back to the house. Paula nudged the front door open, and the laughing of the children echoed throughout the house, with a few thuds from some of them falling over, but immediately getting back up to chase one another again. Gertrude was stood with the ironing board, continuously ironing away like her life depended on it, though the rent surely depended on it, that was for sure.

Paula collected the glass bottle from my hand and hurried away into the kitchen.

Gertrude looked up at her, "Paula, honey, did you get any milk from the store?"

Paula entered back into the living room empty handed, though I wasn't sure where she had put the glasses.

"Mama, you didn't tell me to get milk?" Paula moaned, throwing herself on the couch as she exhaled a huge breath.

"Well, did you not think that we needed some?" Gertrude questioned; irritation noticeable in her voice.

Paula remained silent, seemingly too annoyed to even discuss it any further. Needless to say, I felt a little awkward standing there.

"Mama, can they stay for my birthday party!" I heard Marie almost scream as I noticed her skipping down the stairs.

Gertie tiredly pinned the hair behind her ears, "I told you, it ain't a big party."

Marie stomped on the step with frustration, and a temper tantrum looked sure to ensue.

"Can they stay though?" She begged.

Gertrude reached for a packet of cigarettes and quickly placed one between her lips, before lighting a burning match and placing it against the cigarette; an immediate waft of smoke surrounded her head like a mysterious fog, but I could tell that the cigarette had already gave her some satisfaction.

"Fine, Jenny can stay." Gertie muttered, keeping the cigarette in her mouth as she returned to her ironing.

I awkwardly retraced what she had said, and immediately realised my name was not mentioned. I knew she had probably just forgotten, but it left me feeling a little left out...

"- And Sylvia?" Marie questioned eagerly.

Gertrude breathed out deeply, and looked up, seemingly only just realising I was standing there.

"Yeah, you too." She murmured, turning her head back to her work as she fell silent.

I shrugged it off, or tried to. I didn't blame her for not mentioning me, I knew it was the last thing on her mind.

"Come and see what we've done, Sylvia!" Marie insisted.

I walked over to the bottom of the stairs, leaving Gertrude with her endless amounts of work. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how.

I ran up the steps, anything to get out of the unusual that had settled in the living room. I made it to the final top stop, as Marie guided me into the bedroom.

"Ta-dah!" She announced.

Jenny was sat at the dressing table, with hair and make-up complete like some Hollywood actress. She was beautiful, and she certainly didn't need make-up to prove that.

"Look who's all dolled up!" I smiled.

Jenny shrugged her shoulders with an embarrassed smile, "they fancied tryin' some ideas on me."

"- Well, I did it. Shirley was lounging around most of the time." Marie admitted, but Shirley shot her a glare.

"Was not!" She interrupted.

Trying to resolve, and create peace was something I was rather experienced in; having younger siblings always meant a whole lot of arguments. When Diana moved out, who was left to deal with it all? Me.

"Well, I think both of you did a good job." I assured, as I sat on the bed alongside Shirley, "Jenny, looks like we have a birthday party tonight."

Shirley looked at me as she continued to comb out Jenny's hair, "the more people the better."

Jenny laughed a little, "I guess we're stayin' the night."

It was strange to be in a house where everybody felt relaxed around one another. It was cramped, and Gertrude looked exhausted half of the time, but it was still a home. Having a home was something that I just wasn't used to.

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