Madison set the old dollhouse down on a nearby table while remembering a time when Dionne was still fairly grounded and quite glad to share belongings.
She turned a key and the walls opened up to reveal tiny replicas of everybody but her. There was Aaron lying aimlessly upon his bed, Dionne talking on her cellphone, Naomi busy paying the bills online and Clive tending to a plastic oven.
At a loss for words over this slightly unconventional representation of a nuclear family, Madison took several frightened steps back until she was right out in the hallway.
The roar of thunder outside coincided with all of the lights abruptly going out for a few seconds before coming back on.
Eerie silence followed and Madison rushed downstairs with a fathomless sense of dread to find her sister and parents frozen in the exact same activities they'd being performing as dolls.
She ran back up the stairs to check on Aaron and upon seeing him lying as still as a corpse, finally began to panic and pull at her own hair in distress.
"Madison, Taylor, you're up. Let's hear your thoughts on the current refugee crisis."
Madison hurriedly exchanged a glance with Taylor before gathering up her cue cards so that they could join each other in front of the class.
She decided to introduce the topic instead upon noticing her friend's anxiety and stretched out her first point as long as possible, in the hope that the other girl would regain confidence.
Unfortunately, Taylor continued to stand in complete fright even as Mr Caruso reminded her that she was supposed to argue against the idea of immigration reforms and classmates stared impatiently.
"Taylor, it's fine. Just focus on me and remember that we're only doing this for show..."
Taylor swallowed and took a deep breath to calm herself down, only to falter again when she opened her mouth. Her eyes began to water.
Taylor scrunched up her cards and trudged back to her desk in tears, leaving Madison to stand cluelessly out the front while Mr Caruso asked to see the former after class.
"I...I've noticed that you seem to be having a lot of difficulty concentrating at the moment, Taylor Jensen. Are there any family or personal problems making it hard for you to stay focused?"
"No...there's nothing wrong with me. I'm completely fine..." Taylor insisted while shifting in discomfort under the old man's gaze.
"Are you sure? It's quite common for victims to deny their own issues..."
"Really, I'm fine! Just a bit tired, that's all..."
"Are you sure?"
Mr Caruso sighed and opened up his folder to pull out a wrinkled piece of paper. He placed it in front of Taylor and she gaped upon noticing one of her own guilty pleasure drawings.
"You seem to spend a lot of time drawing pictures like these for someone who is 'just' tired."
Taylor briefly lost her composure and let out an anxious giggle.
"But you don't understand, it's the only way I can release my stress..."
"If that's the case, than I would suggest taking art activities. Or you could seek counselling instead..."
Mr Caruso then twitched as if he were recalling an unpleasant memory.
"I...I think I'll go with art. Counsellors creep me out..."
"I feel the same about them too, but who knows? It might work for you."
Madison waited alone outside the building for roughly half an hour before Taylor emerged in much higher spirits.
"Maddie, you'll probably think I'm crazy, but I actually snuck into Mr Caruso's office when he wasn't around..."
"No way you did, Taylor. That's suicide."
"Don't believe me? Look at this!"
Taylor handed over the glossy photo and Madison took a few seconds to study the young man whom was it's subject.
"He took one of my personal pictures, so I thought I'd do the same. I think it's one of his grandkids or something, since he's so old..."
"Uh, Taylor?" Madison replied as she lowered the photo to her waist. "Haven't you noticed that it's in black and white?"
"Yeah, of course I did. Simple editing."
"Then what about the grainy quality?!"
"A retro Instagram filter?"
"I can't believe it, Taylor. Is it so hard for you to realize that this guy is Mr Caruso?!"
"What do you mean?" Taylor asked in confusion after observing the photo a second time. "It looks nothing like him.. "
Madison slapped her own face in frustration.
"There's a thing called ageing! It happens to all of us!"
"Oh..." Taylor muttered as a light dawned in her eyes. "...I can't believe it."
"Finally, you get it. Now we need to return that thing to his office before he notices..."
Madison stormed back inside in determination, only to be confronted by the sight of Mr Caruso ambling right ahead. She hastily hid the photo behind her back and slinked in between two rows of lockers.
"Oh my God. Abort mission now!"
"Alright, Stephanie. It's time to go."
"Nuh, Brendan...music's still playin'..." She mumbled in response before snuggling harder against the soiled couch while others stumbled around drunkenly.
"I mean it. You've had like ten shots of tequila."
"Leave me alone..."
Brendan grabbed her hand and managed to pull her up after quite some effort, to which she began clumsily clawing at his face.
"Argh, you asshole. Let me go."
"Seriously, you'll thank me for this tomorrow..."
He hauled her outside by himself and cringed at the sound of her feet dragging against the pavement until they'd reached his car.
He carefully strapped her down in the backseat before getting behind the wheel and putting on the headlights.
"Hang on, Steph. It's gonna be an intense ride..."