What Happened at Breakfast
Lilian's mouth opened, yet there was no sound. She looked for natural light, but there was only the street lamps that contrasted with the heavy shadows along the sidewalk. Tall foreboding buildings overshadowed her, while she walked warily through the dimly lot town. Aside from her footsteps, there were no sounds. At least, not at first, for the longer she walked, the more she could sense that another sound had been added. She looked behind her and found an open doorway. Though there was light coming from the other side, a shadow appeared, rising from the bottom. Lilian felt a chill down her spine, so she turned back around and kept going. She looked straight ahead as she quickened her pace. Smaller more subtle footsteps caught her ears, so she hurried just a little more quickly.
And then she fell...
Lilian's eyes opened with a gasp and a rampant heartbeat. She swiftly sat up, but clenched her fists in frustration when her mind went blank. Why were there boys sleeping on cots again...ah yes...
She was some kind of newcomer to a gang, led by a Mr. Fagin, in his long emerald green coat. Daybreak seemed to be upon her, according to the emerging sun outside the house's windows. Gray clouds tried to block out the bright star, but all they did was release rays of pink, thanks to bits and pieces of clear sky that made themselves apparent. "I wonder when we'll go out," she thought. She almost couldn't wait to see what she could find. The nine year old picked the lily from her ear and studied it thoroughly. It was still as white as it was the night before, albeit a little wrinkled. She shrugged and ran her fingers through her waist length chestnut hair. She quietly stood herself up and tiptoed over a collection of sleeping boys. She couldn't help but blush a little at the sight of them. "This feels...odd. So many boys, no girls..." She almost felt a little frustrated at the conflict running rampant through her. But Mr. Fagin seemed very smart and Mr. Sikes sounded quite impressive, not to mention accomplished. If anyone could make sense of it all, they probably could. At least, she certainly hoped so.
"Admirin' the sunrise, my dear?"
Lilian spun around with a gasp, only to find Fagin there in his doorway. He was just putting his special box away and taking out what the girl figured was just a frying pan. "You startled me, Mr. Fagin." "Sincere apologies, Lilian; I was just about to cook up some sausages for everyone 'ere." He tossed a few sausage links into the pan and turned on a stove that looked terribly old fashioned, but she let it go all the same. As sizzling was heard and the links were grilled, he hummed for a moment. "Lilian, my dear, tell me...you wouldn't 'appen to 'ave that little ten pound note you found on your person last night...would you?"
Lilian curved an eyebrow at him. "May I ask why, Mr. Fagin?"
"Why rent, remember?" Fagin replied. "We've all got to pitch in, you see. ' Ousing doesn't come cheap, especially in this part a London. Surely you remember at least that?"
"Oh... I see," she replied. Appearing reluctant, she plucked the note from her pocket and looked at it longingly. "... We'll collect more money today after breakfast, yes?"
"And other impressive items; pocket watches, jewelry, maybe some silver. I'm sure you'll do wonderfully, my dear."
Lilian sighed in relief. "You don't 'ave to say anymore, sir," she confirmed. She took one look at her note, gave a sigh and with a shaking hand placed it in his gloved hand. "Many thanks, my dear. You're doing the right thing, you know."
"...are you sure?" she asked as she clutched the hand that relinquished it.
"I 'ope you don't mind me doubts 'n' questions."
"On the contrary, my girl-clever girl-it is only natural to ask questions about new things, jobs, and whatnot." Lilian gave him a small, but reassured smile. "If it helps me to remember things, that would be lovely too."
"Understandable, my dear. That reminds me... EVERYBODY UP, MY DEARS!" he explained. Lilian flinched a little at his sudden change in volume, but looked about as the everyone else began to awaken. "RISE AND SHINE 'N' SMILIN' FACES!"
The boys grumbled and some even nudged each other as they sat up with matted bed-hair. "Cor, blimey, what time is it?" one boy asked. Fagin quickly glanced at his own pocket watch. "7:15, my dears! Now up and up, ay? Got lots to do today!" Fagin answered as some boys filled up wooden tubs with water, so they could wash their shirts. Though Lilian and some of the boys took their seats at the tables, others crowded Fagin and grabbed sausage links with their bare hands. Lilian blushed at the crowd, and simply waited with her hands neatly folded on her table. "Sleep well, Lilian?" Dodger asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. "Oh... I guess. I had a strange dream though. This shadow in a doorway, I think," she tried to recollect. "Didn't scare ya, did it?" Charley Bates asked. Lilian giggled nervously. "Don't be silly, fellas. I wasn't scared. I knew it was a dream all along."
Some of the boys laughed at her, but she did her best to shrug it off. "Oi, Lilian, ain't cha gonna get breakfast?" one boy asked. Lilian looked back over to Fagin's skillet. "Of-Of course! You thought I was gonna start today improper. Highly irregular for most, you know?" she replied confidently. She slid out of her stool, straightened her dress, and accepted a link from the frying pan. One boy scurried into her place with a chuckle. When she turned around, she stopped in her tracks to find lots of boys grinning and snickering.
"Cor, I see what it is! Very well, I will-"
"'Ello, what's all this?"
Everyone turned at this new, feminine voice. The source was a tall woman with long hair halfway done up in a bun. Her red dress, though appearing to have holes in the underarms, complimented her, color and all. Her arm was intertwined around the handle of a wicker basket. Beside her was another shorter woman with long hair the color of honey. Her hair was also halfway up and her gray dress and shawl made her seem modest and approachable. "Ah, my dears, allow me to introduce you to our new friend, Miss Lilian Greene, 'erself," Fagin announced. Lilian gasped at the sight of them, put her links in the pocket of her dress and curtsied perhaps a little too lowly, at the refreshing sight of two women. The woman in gray gave her a smile that seemed pleasant and cheerful. The smile on the woman's face made her seem pleasant and soft, amidst their ragged surroundings. Lilian appreciated it. The laughter of the boys broke her trance however.
The two women repeated her gesture. "A pleasure," the woman in the red dress said. "Lily, this is Nancy and Betsy."
"'Bet' for short," the woman in gray replied. Nancy placed her basket on top of a closed barrel and leaned over towards Fagin. "'Ey, Fagin, Bill wants me to pick up last night's payment. You got it?" she asked. Fagin walked her to a small corner and spoke in a softer voice, as the others gathered in the main room to chat. "I only figured as much, my dear. Good to see 'im doin' better after that incident from two nights ago. 'E's still not sore about it, is 'e?"
"'E's always sore. You know that," Nancy whispered.
"I always do, my dear."
"'E told me that 'e might bring someone with 'im next time he tries you-know-where's just in case."
"Clever man, 'e is."
"Don't I know it?" Nancy confirmed in a tone that sounded rather flat.
Fagin was silent, though he nodded all the same. "'E'll probably bring ol' Crackit, if I know 'im."
"'E didn't specify," she admitted. Fagin shrugged. "All the same, 'ere," he said, in an almost begrudging tone. He pulled a twenty pound note from his pocket and placed it in Nancy's hand. "Good," was all she said in response.
Her face softened once the note was placed in her hand. Though Lilian couldn't hear most of their conversation, she looked at the note intently, but looked away when she saw the number twenty on the front. "And 'ow are you doin' today, boys?" Betsy asked for the sake of getting another subject going. "Good," the boys said collectively.
Lilian nodded in agreement though the adults could tell that an unsure frown was creeping onto her lips. "You alright, Lily dear?" Nancy asked. "You must forgive 'er, my dears. I'm afraid she doesn't remember nothin' from any day before last night," Fagin explained. Lilian confirmed it with a nervous nod and smile.
"Oh, you poor darlin'," Bet replied. "It-It's OK..." Lilian confirmed, though with doubts in her mind. "Fagin gave me my name 'cause Dodger found me with this flower in my pocket," she described, taking the flower from her ear. Both women analyzed it for just a moment or two. "Well, I'll be..." Nancy's voice trailed off as she glanced at the little girl. The woman looked her up and down briefly. To her, the tiny nine year old looked hardly better than a workhouse orphan, but at least her demeanor appeared genuine.
"'Ere, Lily love, 'ave you finished breakfast?" She asked. Lilian turned from side to side as she looked for her sausage links. She picked them up and showed them to her.
"They're right 'ere, Miss Nancy."
"Good. You make sure you eat that now. Keep your strength up."
"Yes'm." Nancy gave a quick nod, and her face seemed kind, albeit a little weakly.
The time the links had to sit there was well spent, for they were now warm, but not unbearably hot. Though they may not have looked like much to some, something in her told her that it felt right, and at the moment, she chose not to question it. When she tasted them, they tasted a little off, but they helped her realize just how hungry she was. As she watched the women pass out loaves of bread to everyone, including her, Lilian watched both women curiously. Though she still felt a little weak, no thanks to her thin, slightly wobbly legs, but she almost didn't mind. If anything, it made her want to stand as she ate.
The Artful Dodger must've heard this all before, Lilian thought as she lined up with most of the other boys. Dodger stood at the front with Fagin. All the boys marched in place, so Lilian did the same as the rules for these outings of theirs became prevalent in her mind.
1. You may go, but be back soon.
2. Danger's lurking.
3. We can't let old dear Fagin worry.
4. Bring back plenty, as clever thieves.
5. Fagin will miss us.
Even their harsh footsteps down the wooden steps and Fagin's eloquent verses about these unofficial rules were like a pattern of melodies and sounds. As the boys marched out with Fagin leading the way, Lilian merely followed. With a spring in their step, Fagin stopped on the balcony just outside his hideout and watched the children practically dance down the stairs with springs in their steps. Dodger promised pocket watches that chimed upon the hour. Other boys promised fat wallets, an old man's hat, and jewels from the tower. With a spring in their step, Fagin stopped on the balcony just outside his hideout and watched the children practically dance down the stairs with springs in their steps. He reminded them that he didn't know, but somehow, "I'll miss ya."
She was sent with Dodger and Charley Bates as they finally dispersed from the almost poetic moment of rhythmic scatter. She glanced over her shoulder at Fagin one last time before following them out of the alley and onto the streets.