by R. M. Guitar
Chapter one to my novel. Follows Zoey Heart, a problem kid, and her family.
| Zoey, only three years old, runs away from her mother and two sisters. Her blonde ringlets bounce as she begins to skip to an unknown place. She sings “Skip to My Lou”, ignoring her mother’s call.
Wiggling her butt, she giggles. “Can’t catch me Mama!”
She watches her mother pick up her sister, Nikki, while her other sister, Cloey, struggles to follow as there mother speeds up. Zoey giggles again, running faster.
She turns the corner, running into a man. She stares for a moment. He reminds her of someone. Before she decides who, the man speaks.
“Where you going, Little One?”
She watches the feather on his hat fall side ways. “Uh… ah…” She runs back to her mother. “Mommy! Mommy! Stranger danger! Stranger Danger!”
“What?” She glances in the direction Zoey came from before smiling. “Well, well.” She shakes her head. “Who do we have here?”
The man comes closer. Zoey tugs on her mother’s blue sleeve. “That him.”
“Yeah! Mommy. He look like old powice man. From… From movie!”
“My black and white ones?”
“Yeah! But… He got color.” She stares at him. His skin looks a little red like when her daddy gets sunburned. He has a long coat on that goes to his knees. He wears a bag across his shoulder.
The adults chuckle. Zoey tugs on her mother’s sleeve again. “It not funny!”
“Sometimes you’re just too cute.”
She pouts. “Mommy!”
Cloey peeks out from her mother’s legs. “Who dat?”
“Who’s that?” She corrects. “That’s Uncle Alex. You haven’t seen him since you were one.”
“Oh.” Cloey watches from her spot.
Alex speaks up. “No stroller?”
“No.” Zoey’s mother replies. “Zoey gets out then takes off. She ended up breaking it. She hates it.”
“Does she?” Alex leans against the white wall. “How’d she break it?”
“Yes, she’s a fast learner. She pushed it down the stairs.”
“How is that?”
“She picks up on things quickly.”
“Huh.” Alex looks at Zoey’s sisters. “What about the other two?”
“They are too,” Kina shifts Nikki, setting her down on the brown carpeted floor next to Cloey. “but Zoey is a hyper active trouble maker.”
“I thought your son Connor was the problem child?”
“She’s worse than him at times.”
He raises an eyebrow. “No. Is that possible?”
Zoey, bored, pulls on Cloey’s black, wavy hair. Cloey yells “ow”, her icy, Siamese blue eyes widening. Zoey giggles at this as Cloey hides behind her mother again.
“Zoey,” her mother scolds, “what have I told you about that?”
“She looked at me funny!”
“That doesn’t mean anything. We don’t pull hair.”
“Tell her no look funny!”
Alex stares at her. Zoey shrinks down. She doesn’t like his stare.
“At least,” her mother responds, glancing back to Alex, she picks Nikki up again. “she seems to behave when practical strangers are around.”
Breaking his stare, he tilts his head. “Practical strangers?”
“You know,” she teases, shifting the child in her arms, “the ones who disappear time again with no word?”
Meredith speaks up, “I’ve got got some dollies and other toys you can play with here.”
This grabs Nikki and Cloey’s attention. Toys were fun. They look at each other.
“No!” Zoey still argues, “I wanna stay with Mommy!”
She’s heard stories on the news of children being left or worse… There was a boy on the news found dead. He was barely older than her. If they stay with their Mommy, then nothing bad can happen.
“The three of you,” Meredith interjects, “are going to stay with me for a little while.”
“Why?” Cloey asks, looking from her mother to Meredith.
“Because,” Kina strokes Cloey’s hair, “Miss Meredith agreed to keep on eye on you while Mommy runs some errands.”
Cloey looks from one adult to the other, shrugging, she goes straight to the toys in the room.
Nikki still in her mother’s arms, doesn’t want to leave her side, either. She watches Zoey still fighting against Alex’s grip, demanding, “where brothers?”
Kina states. “With your father, doing boy stuff.”
“Why we no go?”
“You aren’t old enough.” her mother rubs her temples.
Nikki looks at her with worry, her voice soft, barely audible. “Y- y- you c- come ba- back soon?”
She kisses her nose before setting her down. “Yes. Very soon.”
“I no go!” Zoey kicks at Alex hard, making him almost drop her. “I no care about play with her. I want my mommy!”
Cloey peeks out from the room at the commotion. Zoey always makes a big deal of nothing, as her father would say. It makes no sense. There’s lots of toys. They can have fun for a bit.
Alex adjusts Zoey so she doesn’t fall.
“You are staying here.” Kina uses a firmer tone. “Like it or not.”
Nikki, sensing her mother’s distress, looks at Zoey, softly speaks, “S- S- Sis, please- please c- c- come pl- play?”
Zoey sighs, folding her arms. “Fine. But I no enjoy it!”
Alex chuckles, finally setting her down.
Nikki pulls her into the room before she has the chance to change her mind and run off.
Meredith looks at Kina. “Have you ever been away from them?”
“Not for long..” She replies, “Most I ever have was five minutes. I was outside, though...”
“Give me at least an hour. I may be able to determine some of Zoey’s problems. Nikki seems to be shy.”
“I’ll… I’ll be back in an hour then.”
“Let me walk you out.” Alex looks to Meredith. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time.” She replies, heading inside the room.
Zoey observes the toys in the chest while the adults talk. She picks up a plastic, toy hammer, examines it then hits Cloey. Her deep, ocean blue eyes dancing.
Cloey throws her arms up to block a second blow. Very confused and hurt by her sister’s actions. For some reason, Zoey always picks on her. It isn’t fair.
“Zoey, we don’t hit people.” Meredith walks over, taking the toy away. “You could really hurt someone. Do you want to hurt Cloey?”
“I don’t like her.”
Cloey flinches as if she’d been struck again, tears welling in her eyes. She knows she hasn’t done anything wrong to Zo, so why does she hate her so much?
Nikki hugs Cloey.
“Why?” Meredith raises an eyebrow, “What has she done?”
“Well,” Zoey says with a matter-of- fact- tone, even if she really doesn’t know the answer, “she cries, a lot. She ate the cookies! And- and tells on me!”
“So, if she stopped doing so, would you like her?”
Meredith looks to Cloey. “How do you feel about this?”
Cloey looks down at her hands, trying not to cry. “I- I no…” her voice gets softer. “I no know...”
The woman gets up, pulling out a chart with emojis on it. It goes from a sad, blue one to a red, angry one with happier ones in between. “Point to which one you feel like describes your feelings.”
Cloey looks up at it, pointing to the really sad one.
Zoey makes a “hmph” sound, hitting the toy box.
Meredith snaps her attention to her. “Something wrong?”
“Nope.” Zoey acts as if nothing happened.
Nikki’s green- blue eyes dart back and forth as she plays with her snow white hair. She’s not sure what to do. She likes both of her sisters, but they seem to not get along, no matter what the other does.
“Cloey, do you ever hit Zoey back?”
Cloey’s eyes remain on the fidgeting hands in her lap.
“It’s okay, you won’t get in trouble.”
“S- sometime. I- it not fair. Her hit me.”
“No, it isn’t.”
After the session, Alex and Meredith takes them back to their mother who waits outside with her two sons.
Meredith pulls Kina aside. “I recommend they see a counselor. Zoey really needs it. Her memory exceeds a normal three year old’s, though. She pretty much lead the way back here, but… Kina, I’m concerned that she isn’t getting enough attention at home.”
“What?” Kina is taken aback and offended at the suggestion.
“She seems to misbehave more when she isn’t getting attention. I know you have five children and Thomas works a lot… Maybe it’s time to find a nanny?”
“No. I can’t-”
“It would be for your and the children’s sake. Alex told me how stressed you’ve been sounding over the phone. Your husband is worried, too.”
“How would you know what my husband thinks?”
“I spoke to him to get more back round on the home environment.”
Kina sighs, her green-blue eyes misting. It’s not that she hasn’t considered hiring help before, she just doesn’t know who she could trust around her children. In her experience, good help is extremely hard to find. In fact, if it wasn’t for Alex, she probably wouldn’t have agreed to let her kids sit in with this woman in the first place.
“Alright,” Kina finally responds, taking her snow white hair out of the low, messy bun. “I’ll… get a list from Alex.”
“You really trust him, huh?”
“With my life.”
“Zo!” Cloey yells pulling the two away from their conversation. “Stop pinch! It hurt.”
“I no feel it.” Zoey gives that smug look of hers, trying to feign innocence at the same time.
“Zo...” Nikki stares at her, feeling Cloey’s pain. “Stop...”
Zoey pouts at her. “I no do nothin’.”
Connor, the second oldest, corrects her. “You pinched Cloey!”
It takes a good ten minutes to get the kids into the car, Zoey being the last one as she fights with all she’s got not to be strapped in.
“No!” she wiggles around.
“Come on,” Her mother tries reasoning with her. “Zoey, we have to go.”
“I no want buckle!”
“You have to buckle. If you don’t Mommy can get in trouble.”
“No buckle!” she swats at her.
As she does, her siblings say nor do nothing to help. She hears her brother’s Game-boys going.
“Zoey,” Alex attempts to distract her for a moment, “you really shouldn’t give your mother a hard time.”
It works as she turns to him. “You can’t tell me what to do!”
“I wasn’t. It was just a suggestion.”
“Sug...ges...tion?” she spaces the word out, trying to implant in her brain.
“Buckled.” Kina says, closing the van door. She turns to Alex, hugging him. “Thank you.”
“No need to thank me, sweetheart. You and Thomas are family.”
“There’s… another favor I have to ask of you….”
“What ever you need.”
“A list of reliable people?” She fixes her hair tie. “I should… get them into counseling closer to home and um… maybe… a… nanny wouldn’t be so- so bad.” she avoids his questioning gaze.
“I’ll send you a list.”
As her mother enters the van, Zoey stares at her restraints, thinking to herself. I will escape these one day.
They drive off to pick up Thomas from a store. He stands in the front with a cart full of groceries. Kina watches him load the trunk, taking deep breaths. Her anxiety has been getting worse over the years. Maybe I should see a counselor, she thinks to herself.
“Daddy get snack?” Cloey’s voice pulls Kina out of her thoughts.
“Yeah. I did.” he replies, getting into the car. He leans in to kiss Kina. “What’s the verdict?”
“Alex is going to send us some names for counseling and… possibly a nanny..”
He looks at her with surprise written all over his face. “A nanny?”
“With you working a lot, I’ll need someone to help with the kids.”
“Alright. I’m just… surprised.”
A nanny? All three girls look at each other. They’ve seen nanny movies before. Mostly the one with the lady floating down using an umbrella, so it wasn’t a bad thing to them, but, that means their mom wouldn’t spend as much time with them.
“No nanny!” Zoey is the one to protest.
Kina, at her wits end, speaks in a stern voice. “Don’t start already, Zoey Heart!”
“Kina, relax…” Her husband puts a hand on her knee, rubbing it with his thumb. “Let’s go home and talk about it, okay?”
She drives in silence to the house. Just the sound of the radio and Game- boys playing.
The triplets have a whole silent conversation with themselves.
Cloey: Mommy is getting a nanny?
Zoey: Not if I can help it.
Their parents unbuckle the girls, taking them inside. After eating pizza for dinner, the three are put to bed.
* * *
“Zoey, stop fighting, please?” Annabelle, the nanny her mother chose two weeks ago, pleads with her.
“I don’t want to go!” She pulls away from her, hitting her.
Ever since her mother brought Annabelle into the house, she’s felt hurt, betrayed and unloved more now than before. It wasn’t fair for her mother to bring someone else to take to her places. To help her in the bath or dry her tears when she cries. Her siblings may like the extra attention, but it isn’t enough for her.
Zoey slaps Annabelle hard across the face, leaving a small hand print. “Don’t touch me!”
Annabelle backs up looking stunned. “I’ll go get your mother, then.” She walks off.
“Y- y- you need be… be nice to Belle. S- She just wants- wants to help- help Mom- Mommy.” Nikki softly speaks to her, already dressed up to go outside in the chilly weather.
“Don’ bother, Sis. Zo is just a meany.” Cloey looks up from where she was coloring.
“She don’t need to be here!” Zoey yells, knocking over the crayons.
Her mother walks into the room. “She’s here because I says she needs to be.”
“Mommy!” Zoey runs over to her, hugging her legs. “Don’t let her take me! I want you!”
“I can’t. There’s work that needs to be done.”
“Do them later!”
Kina goes down to her daughters level, trying to be more patient. She’s attended counseling with her children. Jazmine thinks that if she doesn’t show as much stress or any sort of irritation, it will help with Zoey’s behavior. It certainly helped with Nikki’s anxiety.
She takes a deep breath. “Mommy has to do them. Tell you what, if you go with Miss Annabelle now, me, you and the others can go get some ice cream. You can ride the pony.”
Zoey bites her lip, thinking about it for a moment. “You’ll stand by me then?”
“Fine, but you help get coat and tie shoes.”
“What do we say?”
Kina gives into her demands. She bends over to tie her shoe.
“Thank you, Mamma. Now coat?” She asks.
She grabs the coat hanging up on the coat rag, helping her into it. Turning to Annabelle, she gives an awkward smile. “Again, I’m so sorry she slapped you.”
“It’s okay now. I just didn’t know what to do.”
“You did right. Now, go ahead and take them to their appointment. Call me if she gives you more of a hard time.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Annabelle nods once, leading Zoey and Nikki out of the house to the car.
Nikki holds the nanny’s hand, letting her put her in the car seat, strapping her in. She doesn’t understand why her sister hates Annabelle so much when she doesn’t do anything wrong. All she wants to do is help their mommy be okay. The tension in the house has calmed down since the nanny came in.
Zoey sings “Wheels on the Bus” over again. It slightly annoys Nikki who covers her ears after some time.
They arrive at a home like building. Annabelle unbuckles them, taking them inside.
The archway entrance is ginormous to the small toddlers. They look around to see if the theme changed from pirates yet. Jazmine was always changing up the looks of the place.
This time the theme is Ocean. There’s ocean wall paper up with little fishes. Mermaid statues that seem to come to life are all over them. The fish practically swim across the walls. There is some realistic looking fish as well as the aquariums that are always there.
Jazmine comes out of a room with another child and adult. They hug before the two leave. She turns to the girls with a smile.
“Alright, which one is going to talk first?”
Zoey sprints over to her. “Me! I wanna tell you about this lady.” She glares in Annabelle’s direction.
“Alright, c’mon.” she leads Zoey into the same room. The mermaids are there too.
“You changed it!”
“Yeah, I did. So, how have you been, Zo?”
“No? Why not?”
“Annabelle. She’s trying to be my mommy.”
“What do you mean by that?”
They sit in the bean bag chairs on the floor. Jazmine opens a game to play.
Zoey watches her for a second. “She does things Mommy is supposed to do. Mommy doesn’t seem to want to be around anymore.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just taking it that way?”
“Mommy started spending more time in her room.”
“Did she say why?”
Jazmine smiles, enraging Zoey. She throws the board at her. It misses, hitting the wall.
“It’s not funny! No smiling! Mommy doesn’t like me!”
The counselor takes a breath, patting Zoey’s head. “No, it isn’t funny. Your mom told me she was working online. It’s the only way she could stay home with you.”
“She doesn’t want to.’
“She does. If she didn’t she would’ve left.”
“I don’t like it! I don’t like Annabelle!”
“You didn’t like me at first. Maybe you will when you get to know her?” Jazmine gently presses, picking up the game.
“No. Not if she keeps letting Mommy hide!”
“How are you getting along with Cloey?” In an attempt to change the subject, the counselor sets up Candy-land again.
“I dunno.” Zoey replies quickly. “I wanna talk about something else.”
They go through different conversations the rest of the time.
Meanwhile, Nikki plays a fishing game Jazmine has set up. Catching fish then returning them. It’s a game of concentration. A skill that she surprisingly has for her age.
“Nikki,” Jazmine brings Zoey out. “It’s your turn.”
Nikki looks up from the game tilting her head before heading to her. She wanted to finish it, but guesses it can wait. There’s always another time to beat her high score.
They go to the same room as before. Jazmine sits on a pink bean bag chair. Nikki sits on a green one, her favorite color.
“So,” Jazmine smiles, “how is everything at home?”
“Okay, I- I- I guess…” Nikki shrugs it off, looking at a puzzle, “c- c- can I?”
She picks the box up, dumping out it’s contents. She sifts through it, searching for the corner pieces first.
Jazmine watches her. “How do you feel about Annabelle?”
“I- I like her.”
“It seems to be helping your mom?”
Nikki tenses a little at the mention of it. It does help her mommy but at the same time… “M- M- Mommy’s b- busy.”
“Does she spend time with you?”
“S- s- sometimes.”
“Do you feel like it’s enough?”
She shrugs again, carefully placing the end pieces together. It doesn’t matter if she feels it’s enough. What matters is that her mommy still does. That her mommy is still around.
Jazmine softly sighs, “is there anything you’d like to talk about?”
“I- I don- don’t like…” her voice gets softer at the last word, “talking...”
“Why is that?”
The conversation dies. They just work on the puzzle the rest of the hour.
Kina hands the girls napkins for their ice cream bowls. “How’d the appointment go?”
Annabelle wipes Zoey’s already messy face. “Jazmine said it went okay. Nikki still isn’t saying much. Have you talked to a doctor about it?”
“Not yet, but her next appointment.”
“Mommy,” Zoey calls her attention, “tell her to stop touching me!”
“She’s not doing anything.” Kina sighs.
Zoey swats at Annabelle’s hand, annoyed at the persistence. “Stop it!”
The nanny lets out a frustrated breath, putting the napkin down on the table.
“Zoey,” Kina speaks in a softer tone, “make sure to use your napkins, okay?”
“Okay. Fine.” She replies with a sassy pout.
The children eat their ice cream happily. Kina and Annabelle cleans up after the girls. Each of which have made a mess all over their faces, hands, clothes and table.
When they get home the women work to get the girls into the bath.
Nikki and Cloey go to the main guest bathroom while Zoey uses her parent’s, this way her mother has to stay with her.
Annabelle stays by the other two. “You girls like bubbles?”
Nikki nods happily at the same time Cloey yells, “Yes! Bubbles!”
Annabelle pours the bubble bath soap under the running water. Nikki and Cloey watch as the tiny things form, more and more coming up real fast.
“B- bubbles.” Nikki’s widened eyes look over from Cloey to Annabelle. “T- they fast.”
“Yup.” Annabelle smiles. “One of the fun things about bubble baths.”
“I love them.” Cloey giggles at the bubbles, going into the tub.
Nikki dips her toe in to test the warmth of the steaming water. She looks to Annabelle. “T- too h- h- hot.”
“It’ll cool down, sweetie.” Annabelle encourages her.
Nikki looks back at the water, shaking her head. “T- too h- h- hot.”
“Alright.” Annabelle picks her up, setting her on the toilet. She turns the cold water up to even the temperature.
“N-n- not h- hot?”
“Not in a few minutes.”
“S- Sissy b- bathe t- t- too?”
“She’s in your Mommy’s bath tub.”
“M- momma t- tub, w- w- why?”
“So she doesn’t bother Cloey. You ready to get in?”
“N- n- not h- hot n- n- now?”
Nikki gets off the toilet, testing the water again. Deciding it’s cooled enough, she gets in.
Zoey splashes Kina. “Mommy, watch this!” She takes a toy boat and sinks it. Watching it go under with bubbles forming she giggles.
“Zoey,” Kina takes a breath, “you’ll get the floor wet if you keep splashing.”
“Don’t make Mommy take you out of the tub.” Thomas leans in the doorway with a smile on his face. “You aren’t washed enough, yet.”
“Daddy!” Zoey tries to jump out of the tub, sloshing water everywhere.
He chuckles, going to the tub and putting her back in. “Hey, Princess. You need to stay in the tub.” He looks to Kina. “I’ll finish washing her. You look like you need a break.”
“Yeah,” Kina says flatly, “we need to talk when she’s in bed.” With that, she leaves the room, going to check on her boys. Connor is playing with some Lego's on the floor. Looking so content, concentrated and, for once, calm. She smiles at this, feeling a squeeze in her chest. She hates that she gets overwhelmed with her babies. With all the love she has for them… It doesn’t seem fair.