Authors: Sally Nicholls
Some houses have proper strict bedtimes and some don't. Jim's did. Maisy went to bed first, then Harriet, then Daniel and me. I don't know if Grace had a bedtime or not, but probably not because she was nearly grown-up.
I didn't want to go to bed, but I did anyway. It's usually a good idea to be well-behaved with new people, in case they turn out to be secretly evil. I was pretty worried when Jim left, though. I
hate the first night in a new place.
could come in and do
to you. If I was a foster parent, I'd put locks on all my kids' doors, so no one could get in. But they never do.
“Sleep tight,” said Jim, and he left me.
I lay there in the dark, listening to the
creak creak creak
of his feet in the corridor. As soon as he'd gone downstairs, I got out of bed and turned the light back on.
I lay on my back and listened. These are the things I could hear:
“All I Need Is a Miracle”
playing on the kitchen radio.
Jim talking to Grace about me.
The walls going
creak creak creak
Harriet turning over in bed.
The wind blowing around the house, trying to get in.
as the wind lifted it up and all its leaves rustled.
A dog barking.
An owl going
somewhere in the night.
SomethingÂ â mice, maybeÂ â scratching in the walls.
A fly buzzing against the windowpane in the bedroom next door.
-tapping at my window.
Â â was someone coming upstairs? No, just Jim shutting the kitchen door.
I have superpowers. I've had them for as long as I can remember. I have supersonic hearing and a super sense of smell. I hear things other people don'tÂ â tiny noises, scratchings, creakings, whispers. I hear foster parents telling each other they can't cope with me any more. I hear other kids rifling through my stuff downstairs, and my mum opening a can of cider at the other end of the flat. I can tell just by the way a person is standing what they think of me. My therapist, Helen, says they aren't really superpowers. She says I can do these things because of the bad things that happened to me when I was little. She says because my body is so worried about being hurt, it pays attention to
, pretty much
. Other people mostly just pay that much attention when they're somewhere scary, but I do it all the time because when I was little and lived with my mum, I was always afraid.
These are the things I could smell from my bed:
Cold air from the half-open window.
Dust, and bare wood from my wooden floor.
Fairfields shampoo in my hair.
Soft, dry hair smell.
Hairs from Daniel's cat, Zig-Zag.
Wet-leaved ivy-smell from outside.
Lavender from the paper in my new chest of drawers.
Tomato-and-onion-and-mushroom smell, drifting up the stairs from dinner.
None of it felt familiar. None of it felt safe. Some of it felt very
. That tapping at the window. I knew it was just a branch or something, but it freaked me out. I'd be lying there, trying to sleep, and I'd just be drifting away when I'd hear it again.
Tap tap tap.
I'd jerk awake, stiffening. What was that? Oh. That tree. I'd lie there, listening, waiting to hear it again.
it just a tree branch? What if it was something else? Someone's fingers, someone tall, someone on a ladder. I knew it wasn't that really. But it didn't stop me being afraid. I hate sleeping in a room with an open window, because I'm always afraid of what might climb through. I wanted to go and shut it, but I was too scared of whatever was making the tapping.
When I lived with Violet, I shared a room with this girl who used to come and put a pillow over my head at night.
“Think you're hard, do you?” she'd say. “How'd you like this, then?” And she'd hold the pillow there while I struggled and choked. She never held it on for long, but she would have done, if she'd felt like it. If she'd been angry or crazy enough, one night, she would have killed me. I've lived with lots of girls like that. Perhaps Grace was a girl like that too.
And then there was Jim. I didn't know Jim and I didn't trust him. That first night in the Iveys' house, I didn't sleep at all.
HOW NOT TO BE LONELY
The next day, there was school.
I've been to a lot of schools. Big schools. Little schools. Schools where you do music and dance and drama and football. Schools where they don't notice if you don't turn up for weeks. I've been to schools where I had some lady following me around all the time, correcting my spelling and telling me to behave, and schools where most of the kids didn't speak English. I've been to schools where everyone was terrified of me, and schools where I was terrified of
This school was OK. A new school is easier to understand than a new house, though the rules do change. My new school was in Tollford, which was a boring little town with cobbled streets and souvenir shops. Grace went to school too: sixth-form college, in a taxi paid for by Social Services. Maisy stayed at home with Jim. She had a playpen in his study, so he could work while she was playing, though I don't know how much work he really did. Babies need lots of playing with.
None of the kids in my class liked me, I could tell. Some of the grown-ups did. (They didn't know me yet.) Daniel went to the same school, but he was in a different class. I'd never been to a school with two year-six classes before. Harriet was three years below. Neither of them wanted to talk to me at break, though. I knew they wouldn't. They had their own friends. Daniel just went off and played football with the other boys.
I didn't care. I went and joined in. I got a good few kicks in too, before they stopped me.
“What are you doing? No one said you could play!”
“You were in the middle of a game!” I said.
“You don't even have a team,” said another kid. He looked furious.
“I'm on my brother's team,” I said, which confused them all no end.
“You don't have a brother.”
“Yes, I do,” I said. “Daniel's my brother.”
Everyone looked at Daniel, who went red.
“Well, yes, she's my sister. Sort of.” He saw me glaring at him and said, “I mean, yes, she's my sister. Come on, let her play, she's only new.”
So that was all right.
“Why don't you play with your own friends?” Daniel said, on the way home. “The girls in your class, why don't you play with them?”
Because the other girls in my class were losers. And they all had their own friends already. If Daniel didn't let me play football, I wouldn't have anyone.
“You're my friend,” I said. “Aren't you?”
“I guess so,” said Daniel.
But he didn't look that sure.
People never like me. Mostly, they like me when they first meet me, and then when they get to know me they stop. Most grown-ups, anyway. Plenty of kids just never like me ever. It makes me want to not bother making friends, because what's the point when they're just going to dump me? And even if they magically
dump me, I usually have to leave anyway. I'm
having to leave. You'd think I'd be used to it, but I'm not. Every time it happens I try and get used to it, but I never do.
Really what I should do is just not bother liking anybody ever, but it's hard not liking anyone. It's
. It's especially lonely if you don't have a mum and dad, because then you don't have anybody
and not having anybody is the worst feeling in the whole world. I think I'd rather be dead than not have anybody, which is why I always try and make new people like me, because then I have someone for a little bit, which is better than nobody at all. But I try not to like people too much, because the more you like someone, the harder it is at the end, when you have to go.
The more I got to know Daniel, the more I liked him. I didn't want to, but I couldn't help it. I thought when I first met him he was going to be totally goody-goody and boring. Harriet was like that a bit, but he wasn't. The first week I was there, we were playing on our bikes in the yard. Daniel and I were showing off what tricks we could doÂ â wheelies and spins and jumps, and stuff off the packing cases.
“When I was at Fairfields,” I said, “there was this kid who rode her bike off the garage roof.”
“Did she die?” said Daniel, hopefully.
“No! At least, I don't think so. It was before I lived there.”
“I bet she didn't do it really,” Daniel said. “You'd die if you rode a bike off a roof.”
“You wouldn't!” I said. “Not if you landed on your wheels, you wouldn't.”
“You wouldn't land on your wheels,” said Daniel.
would!” I said.
So then, of course, I had to do it.
I wanted to ride off the actual barn roof, but it turns out it's pretty hard to get a bike up a ladder, even with Daniel holding on to the bottom. In the end, we dragged the bike up the stairs to the hayloft at the top of the barn. The hayloft was a bit of a stupid name, because when the farmer who rented Jim's fields actually brought in the hayÂ â later in the summerÂ â it went underneath, by the ping-pong table and the bikes.
“You aren't really going to do it, are you?” said Harriet. Harriet was a bit wet, but I liked having her there to look impressed. What's the point of riding a bike off a hayloft if you don't have anyone to look impressed?
“Course I am,” I said. I wasn't worried. I was scared of the things other people might do to me, but the things I did to myselfÂ â climbing too high up trees, riding my bike too fast down hills, walking all the way along the top of the roof at FairfieldsÂ â that sort of stuff never bothered me. I broke my arm when I was seven, falling out of a tree, and I never even cried.
My plan was to sort of spin in the air and then land on my wheels. It didn't quite work though. I lifted the front wheel up when I rode off the edge of the loft, thinking I'd leap up, like you do when you jump, but I just went down, and a lot quicker than I'd expected. I didn't have time to spin or anything. I went from in the air to on the ground in about two seconds flat.
Harriet started screaming. “Olivia! Are you dead? Are you dead?”
“Of course I'm not,” I said. And I wasn't. I tore a great hole in my jeans though, and a big raggedy patch on the sleeve of my jacket. My leg and my arm were both pouring blood. That was why Harriet screamed, all that blood. I didn't scream.
“Doesn't it hurt?” said Daniel, but it didn't, not really. One of my superpowers is not really feeling painÂ â or hotÂ â or coldÂ â or hungry. I just don't notice things like that the way ordinary people do. I
feel hurt, but my arm has to be practically falling off before I do. My stupid therapist, Helen, says it's because I got hurt so often when I was little. She thinks it's a bad thing, because it means I keep forgetting to wear a coat when it's cold, or don't notice when I've hurt myself.
think she should try living in a children's home for a week and
tell me it's a crappy superpower.
I thought Jim would be angry with me for riding off the loft, but he wasn't.
“It's your arm, mad woman,” he said, which I liked. It was the sort of thing Liz would have said. I hoped I might have to go to hospital, but Jim just washed all the gravel out of my arm and leg and stuck the whole thing over with big plasters.
“You're bonkers, Olivia Glass,” said Daniel, but I could tell he liked it, just a little bit.
“I'll ride off the house roof next,” I said.
HOME NUMBER 14
SARAH AND TONY
Before I lived in Fairfields, I was with this couple called Sarah and Tony. I moved in with them after Liz told me I couldn't live with her any more.
I didn't understand at first.
do I have to go?” I said. “I've been so good.”
Usually when people move me, it's because I've been bad. But for Liz I was really, really good. I thought Liz was wonderful. And I thought she liked me too.
“Olivia,” said Liz. She knelt down next to me and looked into my eyes. I squirmed away. “Listen, I've loved having you live with me. You know that. But this was always a temporary placement. The plan was always that you'd stay with me for a year and a half, and then we'd find a new family for you.”
?” I said. I still didn't get it. I wanted to live with Liz, and Liz was the first person in years who'd loved having me live with her. I did know it was only supposed to be temporary, but if Liz really loved me, like she said she did, that wouldn't matter, would it? A real mum would want to keep me for ever, wouldn't she?
“Olivia, this is my job,” said Liz. “I look after young people and help them learn how to live in a family. And then when my job's done, my kids are able to go out and live with someone new. If I kept all the kids who've lived here, I'd need a house as big as Hogwarts.”
She was trying to make me laugh, but it didn't work.
“You only like me because they
you,” I said. “You're a big liar and I
“You live with me because that's my job,” said Liz. “But that's not why I like you. I like you because I like you. And I hope your new family will like you too, and you'll be able to stay there until you're grown up.”
She was a stinky liar pants. No family was ever going to keep me. She was a big, fat, stupid, ugly, horrible, nasty liar.
“I'm going to kill them!” I told Liz. “Whoever they put me with. I'm going to rip out their eyes and feed them to toads. I'm going to break everything they own into a million, billion, trillion pieces!”
“Mm-mm,” said Liz. She did that when I said things she didn't like. Pretended she couldn't hear me until I said something nice.
“I'll kill you too!” I said, and I punched her as hard as I could in the stomach.
“Olivia, go to your room,” said Liz.
“I won't!” I said, and I punched her again. She doubled over, and suddenly I was afraid. I thought Liz was so powerful, I thought she could protect me from everything, but I could just punch her and she couldn't do anything about it.
She walked out of the room and called Social Services, and I moved out the next day.
I knew I was going to hate the people I moved in with, Sarah and Tony. My bedroom was yucky pink. The other foster kids were these big boys who frightened me. And the first night I was there, Sarah served pasta sauce that looked like sick. I told her I wasn't going to eat it and she said, “All the more for the rest of us then,” which is just what Liz used to say. I was so angry, I threw my glass of water at her, and she said, “None of that, kiddo,” and locked me in the bathroom. I was furious. I was furious with Sarah and Tony for not being Liz, and furious with Liz for not wanting to keep me, and furious with myself for not being the sort of kid she'd want to keep. I kicked a great big hole in the door, and I smashed the medicine cabinet with my elbow, so there was glass all over the floor. I picked up this bit of broken glass and stabbed it into my arm, over and over and over again until the blood gushed out and over the floor, just to feel something that wasn't this.
Sarah said she didn't want me after that, and I got sent to Fairfields.