Authors: Sally Nicholls
I felt better as soon as I was outside. I liked the farmyard. I wondered if there was a tractor. I was pretty sure kids were allowed to drive tractors in farmyards.
“Is your dad a farmer?” I said.
“No,” said Daniel. “WellÂ â not really. The fields are all rented out. He's an IT consultant mostly, but not so much at the moment because he looks after Maisy when Grace is in college.”
They took me to see the goats. There were two, in a scrubby field with a goat house. The white one was called Morning and the black one was called Night. They had little fluffy beards. They were cool.
The pig was called Pork Scratchings. She had her own fenced-off bit of field, with a low pig house. The field was all churned up and muddy.
“Here, Piggy, Piggy, Piggy,” I said, but she didn't come out of her house.
“Come and see the barn,” said Daniel.
The barn was dark and musty and smelled of straw. Upstairs, there was a hayloft you could get to by climbing a ladder. Under the hayloft was a whole lot of stuff for foster kids. There were five bikes in different sizes, three scooters, two skateboards, a pedal tractor for toddlers, a pogo stick, some stilts, a unicycle and a real ping-pong table, with bats and balls.
“Can anyone use these?” I said.
“Sure,” said Daniel.
I had a go on the pogo stick and the stilts, while Harriet played about on one of the scooters. Daniel rode up and down on the unicycle, showing off.
“Let me have a go!” I said.
“All right,” said Daniel. “It's pretty hard, though, at first.”
“I'll be fine,” I said, but I wasn't. I couldn't even get on the first time I tried, and when I finally did, I fell straight off. Daniel laughed.
“Don't you laugh at me!” I said. “Don't you
“Sorry,” said Daniel.
“It is hard,” said Harriet. “You've just got to practise.”
Like I needed sympathy from an eight-year-old.
“It's stupid,” I said. “It's for losers. And clowns. Do I look like a clown?”
Daniel gave me a social-worker look.
“Stop it!” I said. “Stop looking at me like that! I'll kill you!”
“Calm down,” said Daniel. “I was only looking.”
“No, you weren't!” I kicked the unicycle, hard. “This is rubbish. I had way better stuff than this with my old family.”
“Hey.” Daniel grabbed the unicycle. “Leave it alone. Just 'cause you can't do it.”
He had that expression that everyone starts to wear around me after a while. Hurt. Surprised. Frightened, sometimes, although Daniel didn't look frightened. A little bit angry and a little bit what-did-you-do-that-for? Daniel had only known me ten minutes, and already he didn't like me.
“Stop it!” I shouted. “Stop it right now! Leave me alone!”
“Oliviaâ” said Daniel. But I spat at him and ran away, before he could follow.
Stupid Daniel, making social-worker faces at me. He didn't even know me. How dare he look at me like that? He was supposed to be my brother. Brothers were supposed to like you. How was I supposed to be nice to him? I was the foster kid.
was supposed to be nice to
. He wasn't supposed to already hate me ten minutes after he'd met me. The whole fight was
fault for looking at me like that.
I was out of the yard by now and behind the house, on a sort of long patio with a low wall. In the middle of the wall were steps, going down into a garden.
The garden was long and wild. It looked like a jungle; an English jungle, with big sprouty plants, and bushes, and trees all tangled with ivy. Once upon a time there would have been a lawn, but now it was covered in long grass, nettles, thistles, and white, naked-looking weeds. Stone things stuck up from the wilderness, broken and abandoned. There was this stone basin in the middle, with purple flowers growing up out of the cracks, and dried up dead things.
It was brilliant.
I picked my way across the wasteland towards the stone thing. It turned out to be a fountainÂ â a proper old dried-up fountain, the sort you get in parks. Behind the fountain was a sort of rockery. I spent a good while jumping from one rock to another, and climbing over the tumbledown walls. I was nearly at the end of the garden now. Behind me was a high wall, and a big tree. Under the tree was some sort of flower bed, although there weren't any flowers: just strong-smelling bushy things and weeds. It was dark, and kind of creepy.
I went closer.
It was even darker under the tree. The earth smelled of plant and cat pee, and something else, strong and unpleasant. The hairs rose on my arms. All of a sudden, I was afraid. It was as though someone was watching me. It frightened me, because I couldn't see where they'd be watching from, unless they were invisible. I looked all around me, and back the way I'd come. No one. Yet I was certain that someone was there. I could
their attention. Someone unfriendly, someone close.
No answer. But I could
the attention sharpen. It was the feeling you get when you're in a room with someone who hates you. Someone dangerous. I felt like a lion-tamer in a cage with a mad, hungry lion, all crouched down low and ready to pounce. Probably. I've never actually met a lion-tamer, but I bet that was how they'd feel.
I was getting creeped out.
was why I didn't like being on my own. I used to feel like this when I broke into other kids' bedrooms in FairfieldsÂ â like I was trespassing on someone else's space, someone dangerous, someone who would hurt me if they found me. I turned around slowly, trying to see where someone might be hiding.
There was a noise from behind me. Stones falling, earth breaking. I spun round. But there was no one there.
HOME NUMBER 15
FAIRFIELDS HOME FOR GIRLS
I lived in Fairfields for nearly a year. When they first put me there, I thought that was it. I thought I'd finally gone too far, that they'd all realized how evil I was and now nobody wanted anything more to do with me. I thought I'd never have a family now, and I'd never see Liz, or Hayley, or my mum, or anyone friendly ever again.
I didn't care. I
I hated them all. I hated everyone.
Fairfields was a home for girls, and mostly for girls who had been kicked out of foster placements, or run away, or been dumped by other local authorities who wanted to get rid of them. All the staff were trained in restraint, and there was a Quiet Room where you were supposed to go if you were kicking off. They had loads of rules about drugs, and alcohol, and boyfriends, and all this stuff my foster families hadn't even
I was there because:
“We don't have a foster family available with the right set of skills to take you on right now.”
“You're a monster. Normal people can't control you.”
There were twenty-eight girls in Fairfields when I was there. They were all too messed-up to live in families. They were all bigger than me. And they were all scary. Loads of them drank or used drugs. Loads of them used to run away and live on the streets. One threatened to kill me with a knife. Another told me that if I ever went near her stuff, she'd break into my room and set fire to my bed with me in it. Loads of my stuff got nicked while I was there. Really stupid things, like the trainers Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel bought me, which were far too small for the big girls to wear. And precious things, like my necklace with a heart on it that was a present from my sister Hayley.
Fairfields had lots and lots of rules. Rules about not being allowed to ask for seconds until you'd eaten everything on your plate, even if you wanted seconds of sausages and were never ever going to eat your manky beetroot, no matter how hungry you were. Rules about chores and rules about homework. Rules about stupid group therapy sessions, where we all had to sit in a circle and talk about how we felt. Rules about smacking other kids in the face even when they started it and they were bigger than you, and you were only punching them in self-defence anyway.
Some things were OK. There was a big garden. And I had my own room. But mostly I didn't like it. I didn't like the big kids bossing me around. I didn't like the staff, who kept getting new jobs and leaving. It made me tired, getting used to someone and then them just leaving. And I didn't like all the stupid activities, like sport, and making things out of cardboard and paint, and cookery classes. I didn't like that if I was angry or sad or rude, nobody cared, not really.
My other families used to care. Grumpy Annabel, who nearly adopted me, cared when I called her fat and stupid. Liz cared when I had a panic attack in Asda. My first adoptive Mummy and Daddy cared when I screamed and screamed and wouldn't shut up. Here, no one minded. I was just one of lots of kids and their shift finished at ten and they went home to their real children, who were well-behaved and clever and loved them.
At Fairfields, I used to worry all the time about disappearing. About what would happen if I didn't come home from school, or just vanished, if anyone would even notice. I felt like I was slipping away, all the time. I started doing that thing I used to do when I lived with Violet, where my body would be in the TV room, but my head would be floating somewhere else. Sometimes I'd float over my body. Sometimes I'd still be there, but I'd stop feeling anything. I had to be careful, though. Sometimes it would go wrong and I'd be back standing in the cold shower at Violet's, or getting smacked into the wall by my mum, or having cigarettes burnt into my arm. I could never escape, not really.
I was scared a lot of the time at Fairfields. I was scared that the big girls would break into my room at night and suffocate me with a pillow. I used to start crying for no reason at all. I started getting nightmares again, and I used to wet the bed too. The care workers didn't mind, but I always hated it.
Liz came to visit me a couple of times. The first time I screamed and screamed and wouldn't let her into the room. The second time I threw my remote control at her and told her that I hoped she got eaten by werewolves. Both times she just turned straight around and left. But she kept coming back. And the third time I let her stay.
“I still hate you,” I told her. “I still think you're a liar and a loser.”
Liz got up like she was about to go and I felt like I was choking, like I was dying, like everyone I ever loved was always going to leave me.
“Don'tâ” I said. It came out of my mouth without me even realizing it. Liz stopped.
“Come on, love,” she said, and she gave me a hug. I liked it at first, but then I stopped liking it and pulled away.
She took me to the park. I didn't have much stuff left by that point. Some of it had got nicked, or smashed, and some I'd grown out of, or had to leave behind. But I still had the skateboard that Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel had bought me. Liz let me play for ages on the skateboard ramps, then she bought me chips with lots of ketchup at the park cafÃ©.
“Are you coming next week?” I said, and she looked a bit sad.
“I'd like to,” she said. “I'm hoping my new lad will be seeing his grandparents on Saturdays, but I'll have to see what happens.”
She had some other kid now. Some kid she liked more than me. Another kid sleeping in my room, in my bed, playing with the bike and the trampoline and the Xbox, eating her banana custard. I thought of all the hundreds and hundreds of foster kids she'd probably had, and how stupid I was to think she'd liked me especially.
I hated her. I
her. I felt like she'd tricked me. She'd made me think she liked me, when really I was just another foster kid like all the rest.
USUALLY I'M WORSE
I was expecting Jim to tell me off when I got back to the house. I was sort of dreading it, but sort of interested too. I wanted to know what sort of dad he was going to be.
He was in the kitchen, washing up. He looked around when I came in.
I burst out talking before he could start.
“What are you doing? Are you washing up? Can I help? I like washing up. I'm ever so good at it. Can I dry? Can I put away?”
“Calm down.” Jim smiled at me. “Where did you get to? We thought you'd run away.”
“I went for a walk,” I said. “Can I help, then?”
“Yes, you can,” said Jim. “But not right now. For now I'd like you kids to get to know each other. Why don't you go and say hello to Grace?”
He didn't say it in a mean way. He was smiling, but it didn't exactly make me feel welcomed.
Jim put his hand on my shoulder and led me into the living room. Grace, the big girl with the baby, was still there. Baby Maisy was asleep in her lap and Grace was reading this big book over her head.
I went and stood in front of her. She ignored me.
“There you go,” said Jim. “Grace, can you keep an eye on Olivia for a minute?”
And he went.
Grace didn't look up from her book. She didn't even
I'm worth at least a grunt.
I waited for her to say something. She didn't. I hate being ignored. I hate it worst of
“Can I play with your baby?” I said.
“No,” said Grace. “She's asleep.”
“I could wake her up. I'm dead good at babies. I've got this baby brother, and I know how to feed him and stop him crying and
Grace sort of grunted and turned the page. I came closer.
“What book are you reading? Is it good? I've read hundreds of books. My old mum and dad used to buy me loads when I lived with them. I've got all the Horrible Histories, and
and all the Harry Potter books. I bet I've read that book you're reading.”
That was a bit of a lie. I
used to own those books, but I didn't read them. Most of the time, I used to tear them to bits to annoy my old mum, Grumpy Annabel. She and my old dad used to spend a fortune on books for me, and it narked her off no end when I tore them to shreds.
Grace tipped her book up so I could see the cover.
Isn't that a film?”
Grace put down the book. Result!
“Are you being deliberately idiotic?” she said.
I grinned at her. “Me? You're the one reading a big, stupid, boring old book. Why are you doing that, anyway?”
“Because I like it. Because I need to read it for my English A Level. Because I need to get all As in my A Levels, and probably A*s, so I can go off to university and never have to talk to ridiculous little kids like you for the rest of my life.” She stuck the book up over her face and turned the page, very deliberately.
“Can babies go to university?” I said.
“Aargh!” Grace flung down the book. “Yes, of course they can! They get top marks in crapping and dribbling!”
I giggled. Grace gave me an evil look.
“Are you always this annoying?” she said.
“Are you always this grumpy?”
“No,” said Grace. “Usually I'm worse.”