"Funnel, watch it!" Anna exclaimed, dropping her basket of damp clothing on the floor.
I spun around quickly, in time to see Maddie with her hands in yet another pile of blood soaked linen.
"No, no! Maddie, that's not for touching!" I pulled her away gently and placed her a few metres away.
She looked up at me with the biggest, most adorable brown eyes. "I'm shorry."
"It's OK, Maddie." It was hard to keep from just melting. "Just don't do it again OK? Why don't you tell me a story?"
She pulled over a wheelie chair and climbed onto it. Anna found another one and lifted Zak, the two-year old she'd been given to look after, onto it.
"Shall I tell you about shcool?" Maddie asked, and I nodded without really realising what she meant. I mean, she was only just four (as she'd made perfectly sure I knew) - what could she possibly say? "Yeshterday, we were doing shum shpelling - all of ush, in all the clash - and then Mister Walters walked in, and he shed we had to go out."
"Really?" Anna asked, exaggerating a surprised interest. She looked at me to tell me that I should keep her talking.
I dumped a small dress into the 'clean washing' basket, making my voice slightly higher to ask, "Why was that then?"
Maddie shrugged. "But after that, a shtrange lady came in. And her head wash all on one shide..." she paused here to give me a demonstration, tilting her head to the left as much as she could, and almost falling off the chair. "And there wash red all over her body."
"Maddie, you can stop now if you want," I tried. Anna and I had simultaneously realised what she was talking about.
"Yeah, why don't you go and play with Zac over there?" Anna pointed in a random direction.
"But I'm not finished!" Maddie complained, and then made a face that said she was about to start screaming.
"OK, OK!" We accepted quickly. No need to aggravate Owen.
"Sho then, the lady wash biting ush all - but she didn't bite me 'cush I wash hiding - and then there wash red everywhere. And all the children shtopped moving, and then, Mr Walters, he said that all the children should hide. Sho we wash all hiding, and then everything wash BANG BANG BANG! But then, we jush waited 'cush Mr Walters didn't shay we could shtop hiding. And then, shum people came, and brought ush here!"
I knew then that Maddie didn't really understand what had happened. She just thought it was a bit strange. Something interesting to say.
Anna was almost in tears, and muttered that she was going to get Owen as she stood Zac back on the floor and pulled him gently along.
While they were gone, I quickly nipped down to the theatre. Rhu seemed to be coping okay with her little group of five. I mean, she did have them all drawing pictures on a huge piece of cardboard, and there was only one colour, but still. One of them was making up an elaborate story about how Rhu got her scars, which I found adorable. It involved time travel, and dinosaurs.
"Looks like they've won you over," I grinned, gesturing to her scribble-ridden cast.
"It was the only way to get them to shut up," she grumbled.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm sure it was." Then I just got to the point. "Rhubarb, do any of the kids have nightmares?"
"Can't you tell by the bags under my eyes?"
"Right. Because I'm really worried. I mean, they all saw what happened at the school and Maddie said-"
"Rhubaaaaarb? How did you actually hurt your face?" One of the kids asked.
"Doesn't matter," she said quickly.
The kid looked at me. "Can you tell us."
"She got it fighting ZOMBIES!" I dove into the group of them, and they all screamed and giggled. "There she was, in complete darkness! She was surrounded! She had only a second to escape otherwise she would have been real life rhubarb - for the zombies! They were all growling: grrrrrrrr! And just when Rhubarb thought she was safe, one leapt and grabbed onto her leg! She drew her sword and - with a little help from my flaming ball of fire, of course - slick! SHE KILLED THEM ALL! Or so she thought! There was a zombie in the darkness, and while she wasn't looking, it suddenly clawed her face! But Rhubarb showed no fear! She battled the zombie like a brave hero, and saved the day! Woo! Go Rhubarb!"
All the kids cheered and clapped, and then started whispering about how amazing Rhubarb was.
"All in the delivery," I folded my arms, grinning. And I'd got a smile out of Rhubarb, which was good. "Now, kids, I think you should all draw pictures of Rhu's ferocious battle."
"Yeah!" And they all got to it.
"Anyway, Rhu, as I was saying, someone needs to explain to the kids that-"
"FUNNEL, YOU HAD BETTER GET HERE RIGHT NOW!"
I sighed and ran back to my station to meet a furious Owen.