Authors: Sally Nicholls
TWO THINGS HAPPENED TO ME ON FRIDAY
The Friday after I came to live with the Iveys, two things happened.
The first thing was, Liz rang.
“Hello, love,” she said. “How's it going?”
“Fine,” I said. “Absolutely fine. Actually, I'm really busy now, so I'll probably have to go and do that thing I was really busy doing. Sorry!”
“What were you doing?” said Liz. I could hear her almost laughing at me down the phone, which made me angry and also sort of happy, that she knew me well enough not to get pissed off when I pretended I didn't want to talk to her.
“I'm playing on my new bike,” I said. “And my new skateboard, and my new unicycle, which Daniel taught me how to use and now I can ride it even better than he can, and
can do juggling at the same time, only I drop the balls sometimes.”
That bit wasn't actually true, but it wasn't like Liz would ever find out.
“You and Daniel are getting on then?” said Liz.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Daniel and me are best friends.”
“I like Daniel,” said Liz, and my stomach tightened, because everyone likes nice kids better than me.
“You all set for tomorrow?” she said. She was supposed to be coming to see me. I wasn't sure if I wanted to see her, though. Not if she liked Daniel more than me.
“Dunno,” I said. “Because, actually, I'm going to be doing tricks on a unicycle tomorrow, so I might be too busy.”
“That's a shame,” said Liz. “I've cleared all this time off so I can come and visit.”
I hesitated. “Really cleared time off?” I said.
“Really, really,” said Liz.
“Though I could always go to the
meet-up instead,” said Liz. Liz was a massive
fan. She had pictures of Daleks stuck up all over her kitchen, and an air freshener shaped like a TARDIS that let out a nice smell when you spun it through time and space. She had a cyberman costume in her garage that she used to dress up in for conventions.
“I don't care,” I said.
“See you at half eleven, then?” said Liz.
“Yeah,” I said. “Only not half eleven. Come at half one, 'cause I've got lots of important things that I need to be doing tomorrow morning.”
Liz laughed, in a way that made my heart clench.
“OK, sweetheart,” she said. “Half past one.”
And then there was the other thing.
I was coming down the creepy servants' stairs when I heard this noise. It was a baby crying, upstairs somewhere, on and on and on.
It gave me the shivers. I hate babies' crying. I always have. And this baby sounded so lonely and sad. It sounded like a baby who nobody loved, who nobody cared for. Which was frightening, because of course it must be Maisy, and if Jim could hear Maisy crying like that and not do anything about it, then he wasn't as nice as he'd been pretending to be.
I stood on the stairs, listening to the baby and getting more and more afraid. But I couldn't stay halfway up for ever, so I didn't. I went down.
Grace was in the living room, reading another big, boring book. Maisy was on the floor, playing with her wooden bricks. She wasn't crying at all. She was laughing.
Which just made me even more afraid.
Because if it wasn't Maisy crying, then who was it?
I don't do very well when I'm scared. Mostly what happens is, I get angry. I get angry a lot.
I went into the dining room. Jim was sitting by the fireplace with Zig-Zag on his lap, reading a letter.
“There's a baby crying,” I told him. He looked a bit surprised.
“Maisy's crying?” he said. “Is she? I can't hear anything.”
,” I said. “It's not Maisy. It's another baby. A baby who isn't there!”
“Oh,” said Jim. “Well, that's good. I wouldn't want to think that a real baby was crying.”
He was laughing at me. He thought I was just being stupid.
“It's not funny!” I yelled. “Stop it!” I grabbed his letter out of his hands and tore it up. It served him right. He was treating
important things like rubbish. It served him right if I did the same to him.
Jim didn't agree though. He made me do all the washing-up as punishment. People always blame me for everything.
I had therapy when I lived at Fairfields. It was a waste of time. My therapist was this idiot woman called Helen who kept asking me questions like, “How did you feel about that?” or “Why did you do that, then?”
I used to turn it into a game. I would pretend to be this sweet little orphan and blink at her and tell her how sad I was because the other kids used to pick on me. I'd tell her everything mean the other kids did, and everything mean the workers did, and hope she'd leave me alone.
She was pretty stupid though. She kept asking me stupid questions, about Liz, and my old adoptive parents, Grumpy Annabel and Dopey Graham, and all sorts of things I'd made it perfectly clear I didn't
to talk about.
“How do you feel about not living with Liz any more?” she'd say, and I'd shrug.
“Really?” she'd say. “How did you feel when she told you?” And I'd shrug again.
Sometimes she'd just sit there and not say anything and wait for me to talk. I hated that even more. I used to make stuff up. I'd tell her I was afraid of ghosts, or monsters under the bed, or some other rubbish. I'd start fights with her.
“Why are you telling me off when you're the fat, ugly one? Why don't you lose some weight and get some plastic surgery before you start picking on me?”
Disagreeing with whatever she said was also good.
“You sound very angry.”
“No, I'm not.”
“How do you feel then?”
“What would you like to happen now?”
“Doughnuts. Jam doughnuts. And laser death rays.”
“Does acting like this make you feel safe?”
“Not as much as laser death rays would.”
She wouldn't shut up though.
If she'd really wanted to help, she could at least have given me the doughnuts.
I thought I'd get out of going to therapy once I came to live with the Iveys, but no such luck. Some lunatic was paying for a taxi to take me there every Monday after school.
“But it's pointless!” I wailed, when Liz told me.
“Of course it's pointless if you never do anything!” said Liz. “Honestly. How exactly do you think Helen is going to help you if you just sit there and glare at her? Get working, kid. You're not stopping until you do.”
This was just another example of bonkers grown-up logic. Something doesn't work, so you keep doing it until it starts to. If Liz
wanted me to be happy, there were loads of things she could do about it. Doughnuts would be a good start, but I wouldn't say no to lasers.
Liz came to visit on Saturday. I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about it. I liked Liz, but I was still angry with her.
When I saw her, though, I was pretty pleased. She looked just the same as alwaysÂ â little, with red shoes, black curly hair that was starting to go grey, and a round face which was always laughing. Liz was about the most cheerful person I knew. It was nearly impossible to piss her off, and I should know. I tried really hard when I lived with her.
She put her arm around me and gave me this massive hug and said, “How're you doing, sport?”
I hate all that “How are you?” stuff, so I mumbled, “I'm OK.” I didn't want to talk about me any more, so I said, “Did you know Jim's got ducks? There are six of them and they've all got names. Daniel and Harriet named them, but I said it wasn't fair that they named them all and I didn't, so Harriet said I could name two of them. Come and seeâ” And I dragged on her arm to pull her over.
“Hey!” Liz pulled her arm away. “What do you do if you want to ask me something?”
“Ugh!” Liz was awful about rules. “One day I'm going to be drowning,” I told her, “and I'll be yelling, âSave me! Save me!' and you'll be all, âThat's not an appropriate way to ask for help,' but by then I'll be
“Yep,” said Liz. “I'm a cold-hearted woman, I am. So you'd better practise asking properly, hadn't you? Otherwise the fishes'll be feeding on Olivia and chips.”
“Huh,” I said. “You wouldn't care. You'd be
if I drowned, then you wouldn't have to keep coming to visit.”
“Yep,” said Liz. “Must be tough, having this horrible old woman who loves you so much.”
“You don't love me!” I said. “You don't love me
“Too right,” said Liz. And she grabbed me and started tickling me. I squealed.
“Stop it! Let me go!”
“Who's come to visit you because she loves you? Who?”
I wouldn't say it.
“I don't know!” I said. “No one!” But Liz wouldn't stop. “OK, you! You! Stop it!”
“Damn right I love you,” said Liz. “Let's go, shall we?”
We went to Bristol, because I said I was fed up of fields.We went to the cinema and then for a walk by the canal. We counted canal boats and fed the ducks, and admired the little baby ducklings all following their mother in a line. Then we had scampi and chips at a pub and watched the canal boat people opening and closing the locks to let the narrowboats through.
“I wish I lived in a narrowboat,” I said, but Liz said she didn't.
“Spiders,” she said. “And damp.”
But I wouldn't care. I'd just like to be somewhere where no one could mess with my stuff, and no one could make me do anything I didn't want to, because if they tried, I'd just motor off, and no one would ever find me.
“But what about me?” said Liz. “If I wanted to visit you, how would I know where to come?”
“You wouldn't,” I said. “I'd be gone.”
I had a pretty good time with Liz. It's
living with strangers, always trying to be nice in case they realize how horrible you are really and go off you. I hadn't realized quite how tiring it was until I had an afternoon off.
It was nearly seven when we got home. Tea was bubbling on the hob and Jim told me to “run and put your things upstairsÂ â quick.”
I would have gone round and up the bigger stairs at the other end of the house, but everyone was looking at me, so I had to go up the little creepy servants' stairs, round the corner where nobody could see me, on to the landing where anyone could be waiting to leap out and grab me, andâ
There was someone there.
It was a woman. I was absolutely sure of it. I could
her, this weird old-lady, dry-skin, alcohol-and-tobacco-smell, with coal-smoke, and milk, and something medicine-y behind it. Whoever she was, she was close.
I froze. Was it my mum? Was it Violet? Could they have found me? My mum
used to say she'd come and find us in our foster homes. She never did it, but this time maybe she had?
I stayed absolutely still, straining to hear her. She didn't smell like Violet, and she smelled older than my mum. I waited. There were footsteps coming down the upstairs corridor towards me but I was too scared to move in case she heard me.
I was in the landing space, hidden from anyone looking up from downstairs. I was completely alone.
And suddenly I was swept over with that same feeling I'd had when I'd first seen the photograph of the Victorian woman on the landing. A feeling of being small, and alone, and powerless, and living in the house of someone who wanted me to suffer. It made me want to cry, but I was too terrified to make a noise. I just stood there, as the footsteps came closer. Whoever it was came down the corridor, and then the stairs began to creak, as though someone was walking down them towards me. But there was nobody there. The footsteps were empty.
I tried to open my mouth to scream, but I couldn't.
There's a thing I do when I'm afraid. I took myself out of that place. My body didn't move, but I hid my mind somewhere far away, somewhere safe.
When I came back, the woman was gone.
HOME NUMBER 13
Liz was what is called a specialist placement. The idea was that I was supposed to live with her for a year and a half, and she was going to teach me how to be a good little girl, and then I'd be all ready to go and be perfect in some other family.
I moved in with her after my second set of adoptive parents, Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel, gave me the boot. I don't blame Graham and Annabel for dumping me. I was pretty horrible to them. I broke all Grumpy Annabel's ornaments, and I pissed in her bed, and I threw plates at her, and told her lies, and broke all the toys they gave me, and kicked and bit and hit her. I was surprised they kept me for so long actually. If I'd been my kid, I'd have chucked me in the dustbin months ago. But they were both kind of idiots.
Dopey Graham was practically crying when he dropped me off.
“You know we still love you, sweetheart,” he said. “You'll always be our little girl, whatever happens.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. “Can't you go now?”
Dopey Graham looked like I'd punched him.
“Aren't you going to miss us?” he said. “Your own mummy and daddy?”
“You're not my daddy,” I told him. “And she's not my mummy. And I never want to see either of you again!”
“Princess.Â .Â .” said Dopey Graham, and then he did start to cry, but I spat at him and ran into the house, where I didn't have to see him. He and Grumpy Annabel were just like the first set of idiots who wanted to adopt me. They kept saying how much they loved me, but I knew they'd chuck me out in the end. I just
I didn't want to go and live with Liz at first. She was a lady living on her own, and they were always the worst. Violet was a lady on her own, and so was my mum. Also, all the social workers kept going on about how she was going to make me behave and how “you won't be able to try any of your tricks with her,” so I figured she was probably going to beat me up. I knew from living with Violet and my mum how women made you behave. Cigarette burns, and hitting you, and locking you in the cellar. Not that it ever worked. I was still just as bad with them as I always was.
Living with Liz wasÂ .Â .Â . interesting, though. She wasn't anything like I'd expected. When I told her, “I wish you were dead! I hate you!” she didn't get angry like my other foster mums did. She just laughed and gave me a hug and said, “Well, I love you!” like she really meant it.
It was really, really hard to get her angry. Like, the first day I was there, I told her I wasn't going to eat her stupid food, and she just laughed and said, “All the more for me, then!” and carried on munching happily while I sat there feeling like a fool.
“What am I going to eat?” I said eventually, and she said, “How about breakfast?”
If I screamed and threw a fit, she just went and worked in her garden. Once, I followed her outside and started pulling up her plants, and she went straight back inside and locked the door. I pulled up all the vegetables in the garden and stamped on them, and threw the dirt at her window. She left me out there for ages, until it got dark and I got tired of stamping on things. Then, when I was quiet, she let me in and gave me a big bowl of porridge.
“Aren't you angry?” I asked. Usually it drove people mad when I broke their stuff. It used to scare my old adoptive mother, Grumpy Annabel. I was eight when I stopped living with her, but I used to scare her all the time.
“I've been watching
Match of the Day
,” said Liz. “I've had a lovely evening.” And I felt tired and sad and lonelier than ever. She didn't care about me. She didn't care that I'd been out there all evening in the cold.
“Maybe next time you can watch too,” she said, and she gave me a hug. I wriggled away.
“I broke all your stupid plants,” I told her.
“I know,” she said. “We'll need to do something about that tomorrow.”
In my other homes, I could get away with anything, and nobody could punish me. If they told me to say “sorry” or go to my room, I wouldn't. My first set of adoptive parents got scared of trying to punish me because I used to get so angry when they tried. I used to kick their kid and smash holes in their walls, and in the end they decided it was less hassle not to tell me off. Liz didn't tell me off either, but she did make me pay. I had to replant her vegetablesÂ â all the ones which weren't dead, anywayÂ â and pay for the ones I'd destroyed by doing stuff for her, like hoovering and mopping and loading the dishwasher.
“I won't!” I told her the first time. She just handed me a spade and a pair of gardening gloves and smiled.
“Take as long as you want, pet,” she said. “I'll be inside. I might make some fairy cakes.”
And she just left me there. I stuck my tongue out at her. If she thought I was going to do her stupid gardening, she had another think coming.
Instead of gardening, I made myself a den in her hedge. I built a roof from old tarpaulin, and dragged in the birdbath for a table. I wrote
DEATH TO ALL INVADERS
with little pebbles on the earth. It took ages, but I sort of enjoyed it. I pretended it was my house, and I was going to stay there for ever and ever and ever, and make Liz be my slave.
It was a nice pretend, but it got a bit boring by lunchtime. I thought maybe Liz wouldn't give me any food, because I'd been bad, but she did. Chicken soup and bread with lots of cheese. She'd made a whole tray of fairy cakes too.
“Are they for me?” I asked.
“Of course, love,” she said. “We'll have some when you've finished the garden.”
She wasn't going to give up on that stupid garden. I slumped further down in my chair.
,” I whined, in the baby voice that always worked on my old adoptive father, Dopey Graham. It didn't work on Liz, though.
“Off you go!” she said, cheerfully. She was always bloody cheerful.
I trudged into the garden.
I'm not going to do her stupid work
, I thought, but somehow the fun had gone out of the fight. It started to get cold. Liz turned the living-room light on, and I could see her in the living room doing something with paper and glitter and card. It looked fun.
I sat there dribbling earth through my fingers all afternoon. Liz came to fetch me at teatime.
“I'm not digging your stupid garden,” I told her.
“That's OK, pet,” she said, and she gave me another hug. “There's always tomorrow.”
She never gave up. In the end, you just got bored and did whatever it was she wanted.
In most of my other homes, I got to be boss. Liz never let me be boss. In my other homes, it was a big fight.
“You will do what I tell you!”
“No, I won't!”
The families where I didn't get to be boss were the ones with people like Violet, who made you stand in a cold shower if you didn't do as you were told, or put you in the cellar. Liz didn't do that. But she always made me fix whatever mess I made. And if I was rude to someone, I had to pay them back by doing something nice.
“But I'm not sorry!” I said, after I called that day's new social worker a lazy fat cow. “She
a lazy fat cow.”
“No arguing,” said Liz. She never let me argue. “You're rude to someone, you make up for it.” And I had to make a SORRY card for the fat cow and send it off to her. Huh.
It was scary not being the boss. But it was also nice, because it was hard work being in charge, and sometimesÂ â maybe for half an hour or soÂ â I could forget that I had to be, and I liked that.
The other thing Liz did was, she never said I was wonderful or lovely or beautiful, like some of my other families did. But she was always setting sneaky traps to make me do stuff, and then she'd go, “Nice work, Olivia,” or “Well done!”
I was never sure how I felt about that. Part of me would be pleased, like,
I did something good
. But the rest of me felt weird, because I'm
someone good, so when she said I was, it was like I didn't know who I was, and I hated that. I didn't like being evil, but at least I knew who I was when I was horrible.
So after she'd told me that, sometimes I'd go and do something really bad, like break all her plates,
smash smash smash
, or call her a stupid bitch.
doing bad things?” Liz asked me, once.
I gave a sort of shrug. Of course I didn't like it. But it was who I was.
getting so angry?” she said, and I shrugged again.
“It's what I do,” I said.
“It doesn't have to be,” said Liz. But I never believed her.
I felt safer living with Liz than I've felt since I can't remember when. I always had to be on my guard when I lived with people like Dopey Graham, because I knew if anyone came to do anything bad to me, he'd probably welcome them in and offer them cake. Anyone stupid enough to think I was cute and cuddly would be easily fooled. But Liz was smart. Liz I thought
wouldn't be fooled. I was never
sure, because people like Violet could be pretty clever. But I felt a little bit safe, which was better than nothing.
Also, Liz knew how evil I was, and she didn't get freaked out. Usually, people liked me at first, then they found out how bad I was and dumped me. Liz didn't. She was like a superhero. I could fire evil at her and she just swallowed it up.
Or so I thought.
I liked liking Liz, and being liked, but it was always really, really scary because I knew when she dumped me it would be horrible. Every time she did something cool, I'd think
This won't happen in my new house
, and then I stopped liking it. And she did some really, really cool things. Like finding out where Hayley was, and making her parents let me see her.
My sister Hayley is adopted. Her mummy and daddy were supposed to adopt me too, and I lived with them for nearly a year, but then they changed their mind and sent me back. When they kicked me out, I was supposed to still see Hayley, but I never did. Well, I saw her
, but it was weird and awful and Hayley's parents kept glaring at me like I was going to smash Hayley over the head with a chair, which I would never do.
I only did it once to their kid, and it was his fault for being such a moron.
Anyway, I hadn't seen Hayley for three years, but Liz knew all about her, and one Saturday she told me we were going to see her.
I was really nervous. I thought maybe Hayley would have changed, or she'd have forgotten me, or maybe she only liked me because she was little and didn't know any better.
We met Hayley and her dad in a park. She was five the last time I saw her, and now she was eight. She was nearly as tall as me, and her fair hair was darker, and cut short. I said, “I don't like your hair like that, why did you cut it?”
She looked a bit surprised, and said, “I don't knowÂ .Â .Â . I might be growing it again, I haven't decided.” And her dad gave me this look, like,
This is why I didn't want to be your daddy
. I didn't like it, so I grabbed her hand and said, “Let's go play on the swings,” and I ran off to the play park, with her running after me to keep up.
When we got to the swings, I said, “You sit on them and I'll push,” because that's what we used to do when we were little.
Hayley sat on the swing and I pushed, but it wasn't the same. She was bigger and heavier, and she didn't look like she was enjoying it.
“Why don't you like it?” I said.
“I can push myself now,” said Hayley, and she started swinging herself back and forward. I stepped back, feeling stupid and kind of hating her a bit.
“I'm bored of the swings,” I said. “Let's play on the climbing frame!” So I ran over to the climbing frame and hauled myself onto the top. Hayley followed, kind of slowly.
There was a row of bars all along the top of the frame. I balanced the soles of my trainers on the bars and raised myself slowly to my feet. Hayley shrieked.
“What are you doing?” She sounded just like she used to when she was little. I started walking along the top of the frame, arms outstretched.
“Olivia!” said Hayley. But at least she looked interested, which she hadn't before. Her dad ran over to us and said, “Olivia, come down this instant!”
I ignored them. I took another step forward, and another, just to prove that I could. Then I dropped on to my knees and swung myself down through the bars. Hayley's dad grabbed my arm and started shaking me.
“What on earth are you doing? Do you want to get yourself killed?”
“That's enough.” Liz came forward and put her arm on Hayley's dad's shoulder. “Olivia, I don't think we'll play on the swings any more. Let's go for a walk instead.”
I thought about arguing, but I knew if I did, she'd just put me in the car and take me home. So I tugged on Hayley's hand and said, “Come on, let's go.”
I thought Hayley would probably hate me now she'd seen Liz and her dad boss me about, and maybe she wouldn't come. But she did.
“Your dad's a moron,” I told her. “Do you want me to ask Liz if you can live with us instead?”
Hayley went pink. “I'm OK.Â .Â .” she said anxiously. Just for a moment she looked like the Hayley I remembered.
“It's all right,” I said. “If you don't want to live with me, I don't care.”
“No, it's not.Â .Â .” Hayley screwed up her mouth. “I do want to live with you. I do! I just.Â .Â . I like my mum and dad too. And they wouldn't let me go anyway.”
“I bet they would,” I said. “They dumped me. They're going to dump you when you're not cute any more.”