Authors: Sally Nicholls
(COMING TO GET ME)
My brother Jamie was six when I moved in with the Iveys, but I hadn't seen him since he was a baby. He was adopted almost immediately, and I didn't suppose I'd ever see him again. When we first went into care, I used to ask about him all the time, but now I'd sort of got used to not having him around. I still thought about him, though.
Living with a baby again was weird. Mostly, I liked Maisy. I liked how happy she was. I liked how you just had to say, “Hey, Maisy-face!” or play Peepo! or something with her and she'd start giggling like crazy. I liked how when I came into the room she'd lift up her arms, and you'd know that if she could talk, she'd be saying “Up!” I'd pick her up and carry her around. She'd look happy for about two seconds and then she'd hold out her arms to Daniel, as if to say,
I am the Queen of the Universe and you are all my slaves
. I liked that. I liked that she was so sure people would do what she told them to, and I liked that, actually, people usually did.
What I didn't like was the way she made me feel when she cried. She didn't cry loads, but when she did she really went at it. She'd screw up her face and howl and howl and howl. I hated it right from the start. It made me feel small and scared and full of worry. Like something bad was going to happen and I didn't know what.
Maisy crying wasn't something I could do much about. At first, I used to shout, “Stop it! Stop it!” but that just made her cry louder and Grace would start swearing at me. Then I used to run out of the room with my hands over my ears, but that meant I was on my own, which made things
. When you're small and scared and full of worry, you want to be with people.
Jim tried talking to me.
“She's only a baby, Olivia. She's happy again nowÂ â why don't we go in and see?”
And, most of the time, he was right. Maisy went from “The worst thing ever in the universe just happened to me and everything is over!” to “Oh, look, a crayon,” in about five seconds. But I'd still be freaked out.
One afternoon, Daniel and I were watching
in the living room. Grace was playing with Maisy, building a house out of her A Level files, while Maisy pulled it down. Grace had balanced Psychology on top of Economics and History. Maisy tugged at History and the whole thing came crashing down on top of her. She fell backwards and started howling.
“Make her shut up!” I yelled. Grace picked up Maisy and started joggling her up and down, but Maisy screwed up her face and wouldn't stop.
“Make him stop that right now!”
someone yells in my head
. It's my mum. Jamie's crying, and I can't make him stop. I'm going to get in trouble. I hold him like Grace holds Maisy, but he's heavy, because I'm only five, and little. Why does he have to keep screaming like that? Doesn't he know it's me my mum will be angry with?
I could feel the weight of Jamie in my arms. I could smell wet baby, and spilled cider, and my mum's cigarettes. I knew I was in Jim's living room, but for a moment it was like five-year-old Olivia had come to live in eleven-year-old Olivia's body, and because she was angrier and more afraid than me, she sort of took over. I wanted to cry and I wanted to hit something, and I wanted someoneÂ â LizÂ â to hold me and tell me I was safe.
JamieÂ â no, MaisyÂ â was still howling. Daniel was watching
like nothing had happened. I sat there on the floor with my arms round my legs, struggling to come back to myself, and then it happened. I felt a sudden rush of hatred and evil. It felt like something had smacked me in the face, except instead of actually smacking me, it had slammed all this concentrated hatred straight at me.
I knew who it was, of course. It was her. Amelia Dyer. Amelia Dyer, telling me how much she hated me. I hunched myself into as small a ball as I could, and buried my face into my knees, and wished and wished and wished that she'd go away.
Wishes are for losers. They never come true.
HOME NUMBER 11
LYNNE AND JOHN
Before I lived with Graham and Annabel, I was with these foster parents called Lynne and John. Social Services moved me there after they finally noticed what my old foster mother Violet was doing to her foster kids. They were looking for someone to adopt me, but I knew they wouldn't find anyone.
I didn't do very well with Lynne and John. I was pretty frightened after what had happened with Violet. I had nightmares. I wet the bed. All the things that happened with Violet got muddled in my head with the things that had happened with my mum. I started remembering scary things that had happened at my mum's house and I'd forgotten till nowÂ â like the time she held my hand against the electric hob until my skin cooked, or the time she made me eat rotten meat as a punishment for stealing food. I was very bad at Lynne and John's house, because I was very scared. I was scared they wouldn't give me enough to eat, and I was scared they'd hurt me when I was bad. I shouted all sorts of awful things at Lynne, and when they made me go to school, I did all I could to get sent home. When I got home, I used to run straight upstairs and hide in bed. John gave me this old radio that I used to take under the blankets with me so I could listen to the music on loud and try and forget about Mum, and Violet, and everything else in the world.
Lynne and John were nice enough, I suppose. They didn't make me do chores, and they didn't care if I didn't do my homework, and they didn't get angry when I got scared. I'd be in a shopping centre or at the supermarket, somewhere normal, and all of a sudden I'd start to panic. I'd start breathing really fast, like I was drowning in air, and I'd think I was going to die. I'd get all filled up with fright, and I'd start to cry, and want to run away as fast as I could. John was very nice when that happened. He'd kneel down beside me and talk to me, saying, “It's OK, Olivia. I'm here. You're safe. It's OK.”
Lynne and John didn't like me though. No one ever likes me. I heard Lynne talking on the phone about me.
“There's nothing unexpected. It's justÂ .Â .Â . exhausting. She's such a needy kid. And some of the things she comes out with! Honestly, I could throttle that child's mother. Some people ought to be sterilized.” She was quiet while the person on the other end of the phone said something. “No, I know. I justÂ .Â .Â . she watches me all the time, like I'm about to start doing God knows what to her. Home should be somewhere safe, you know? Not somewhere where you have to hear about all the terrible things people do to children.”
I didn't know what sterilized meant then, but I do now. It's something you do to people to stop them having children. What she meant was that my mum was evil, and she ought to have been sterilized, so she couldn't have kids who were evil like me.
I didn't like living there after I heard that, but I wasn't happy when Lynne told me I was going to be adopted. I wanted a family, but I knew that this new one wouldn't keep me, so I didn't see the point of moving in with them, just to have it all fall to pieces again.
EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS
Daniel and Harriet had lots of family. Not just Jim and their mum (who lived in Brazil, and called them every fortnight and sent them funny postcards and Brazilian sweets, but never sent me anything, ever, which Jim said was fair enough because she'd never met me, but I thought was totally unfair. I thought Jim ought to have bought me presents to even things out, but he never did). They
had grannies and grandads and aunties and uncles and first, second, third, fourth and fifth cousins once, twice and forty-seven times removed.
I don't even have grandparents. Or if I do I've never seen them. They never came to visit me once all the time I was in foster care. I have a mum (but I don't know where she is) and Hayley (who I never get to see because her mum and dad hate me) and Jamie (but I don't know where he lives or if he's still called Jamie or
Maybe somewhere I've got family; aunts and uncles and grandparents and maybe even a dad. I had a dad once, but my mum says he was a useless lump. Maybe he wasn't so bad, though. If he met me, maybe he'd love me, the way other people's dads love them. Maybe all my family would love me. Maybe they've just been busy for the last five yearsÂ â being abroad or something, and no one told them about usÂ â and maybe one day they'll call up Social Services and adopt me and I'll have a real family, like Daniel and Harriet.
Or maybe not.
Anyway, this Saturday I wasn't going to see Liz, because I was going to Daniel and Harriet's Auntie Abigail's wedding. Harriet was a bridesmaid in a pink dress with lots of lace, but I wasn't even a ring-bearer. I didn't want to go
. I knew it would be dreadful. I moaned and wailed and whined and whinged, but Jim wouldn't listen.
“You're part of our family now, Olivia,” he said.
“If I'm part of your family then how come
not a bridesmaid?” I said.
“Well. Yes. That's because this madness has been in production for nearly two years, the bridesmaids' dresses have been finished for half a year, and you've been a part of our family for three months.”
“You could buy me a dress,” I said. “It's not hard, buying dresses. It takes an afternoon!”
“I'm sorry, Olivia,” said Jim. “If I was getting married, you could be
Huh. It was totally unfair. Particularly because Grace didn't even have to go. She and Maisy were going to some stupid university open day in London.
wanted to go to a university open day?” I said.
“If you've been given a conditional offer from the London School of Economics and forgotten to tell me about it, then, yes,” said Jim. “Otherwise no.”
Harriet was all squeaky about being a bridesmaid. For the whole week before the wedding she kept blabbing on about hair slides, and make-up, and wedding rehearsals, and jewellery, and all sorts of stupid stuff. It made me want to cut her bridesmaid's dress into tiny little pieces and set them on fire. I would have done too, but the dress was at Auntie Abigail's house.
“Who cares about being a stupid bridesmaid?” I told Harriet. “You're just going to look fat and ugly in a stupid pink dress. Bridesmaids always look like losers, they're supposed to, to make the bride look better.”
Harriet's lip started quivering. She glanced at me, and then at Daniel. Daniel sighed.
“That's a bit harsh, Olivia,” he said.
harsh! It's the
“All right.” Jim appeared out of nowhere and grabbed my arm. “Come here, Olivia.”
And then I had to sit through
long talk about jealousy, and Harriet, and being nice, and then help Jim chop up gazillions of carrots for dinner.
I was in a horrible mood on the day of the wedding. Auntie Abigail and Uncle David were adventure capitalists in London. I wasn't exactly sure what adventure capitalists did. Probably they went on adventures and captured pirate ships and dug up buried treasure from Amazonian rainforests. It was definitely something like that, because they were both stinking rich. The wedding was going to be well posh. Daniel had a grown-up-looking green shirt. Jim had a suit. I had a red dress which Grumpy Annabel had bought me, and which looked like it had been made for a seven-year-old (it had). It only still fitted because I'm so little. I'm smaller than Harriet, and she's nearly three years younger than I am. I don't care. I get loads of good stuff from looking little.
The first thing I did when I got into the car was spill Coke accidentally-on-purpose down my dress. I screamed at Jim to take me back home and let me put something else on, but he just kept driving. I screamed and screamed, but he wouldn't stop.
We dropped Harriet off at her granny's house to have her hair done with Auntie Abigail and the other bridesmaids. Daniel and Harriet's granny came out to the car to see us.
“How lovely! You're here! Do you want to come and have a cup of tea?”
“Not a good idea,” said Jim, glancing at me. I put on my best talking-to-strangers face.
like a cup of tea. I'm
excited about the wedding. Can I come and see the bridesmaids' dresses?
“I don't see why notâ” Granny began, but Jim shook his head.
“I'm a cruel and unusual father,” he said. “And the answer's no. Give me a kiss, Harriet, pet, and we'll see you at the church.”
The wedding didn't start until two, so Jim took Daniel and me to the park. We played cricket, and football, and we took our skateboards on the skateboard ramps and Jim let us play on them for ages, even in our fancy wedding clothes. I got mud streaks all the way up my legs to go with my Coke stains, but Jim didn't care. I would have stayed in the park all day, but finally he said we had to go and have lunch. I may have kicked and fought a bit then, but only because I was having such a good time, just me and Daniel and Jim.
We had sausage and chips at the park cafÃ©. And then it was time for the wedding.
Daniel had been to lots of weddings, and he told me they were always hideous.
“Weddings are just grown-ups droning on and people reading naff poetry about love,” he said. “And photographs. And you have to tell the bride she looks pretty even if she looks like a whale with lacy bits.”
“Can't Daniel and I play on our skateboards out here?” I said. Daniel looked hopeful, but Jim was firm.
“In! And if you want any cakeÂ â behave!”
The wedding was even more boring than I'd thought it would be. We had to sit for ages waiting. Then Auntie Abigail came down the aisle and everyone went,
. I don't know why. Auntie Abigail was fat and ugly, and her wedding dress was too small, so there was this roll of fat spilling out of her top. Harriet's bridesmaid dress was pink and frothy and stupid.
Someone read a poem, and then they started singing a hymn. I kicked along to it on the back of the pew in front of us. This old man turned round and gave me an evil look. I stuck my tongue out, and he looked horrified. Ha!
Daniel looked as bored as I did.
I nudged him. “Want to play thumb war?”
Daniel glanced at Jim, who was wearing his I'm-going-to-pretend-I-can't-see-you-and-hope-you-go-away face.
“Sure,” he said.
We played four games of thumb war, which started out quiet-ish, and ended with Daniel twisting my arm so hard that I fell off my seat and knocked the hymn books off the shelf and on to the floor. Several people in big hats turned round and said, “
” very loudly.
!” I said indignantly. “Your
ing is just as loud as Daniel and me! How can people hear what's going on when you're all going
“OK, OK,” said Jim. He put his hand on my arm. “Calm down, Olivia.”
Huh. I crossed my arms and slid down my seat until my bum was nearly hanging off the edge. Daniel saw what I was doing and copied me. I slid out further. So did Daniel. Now I was only clinging on with my elbows. Daniel pushed himself out even further and landed on the floor with a
“Kids!” said Jim. “Behave!”
“It was Daniel!” I squealed.
“Can we all riseâ” said the bloke in the dress at the front of the church. All around us people were getting to their feet and fumbling in their hymn books.
“It's a song!” I said. “We like songs, don't we, Daniel? What song is it?”
It was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Daniel looked at me and I looked at him. We both giggled.
I knew “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Daniel knew it too because we sang it at school, and the boys had a silly version they sang in the playground. I could see Daniel was thinking the same thing as me, because as the organ starting
ing and the people started singing, we both opened our mouths and sang:
Mine eyes have seen the glory,
Of the burning of the school.
We have tortured every teacher,
We have broken every rule.
We have marched down to the headmaster,
To tell him he's a fool.
The school is burning do-o-own.
People turned round to look. Jim grabbed our elbows and marched us out into the porch.
“What did I tell you?” he said.
?” I said. “You should have let us stay out here and play skateboards!”
“You are going to sit there,” said Jim, pointing to a bench. “And you are going to
We sat down. We both of us still wanted to giggle. Jim sat on the bench opposite. He gave us a stern look. We sat in silence for a whole almost-ten-seconds. Then Daniel started to hum. I joined in. Jim looked away. He was trying not to laugh. Inside the church, the wedding people were all still singing. We opened our mouths and we all sang together:
Glory, glory, hallelujah.
Teacher hit me with a ruler.
So I hit her in the belly,
And she wobbled like a jelly,
And she ain't gonna teach no more no mo-o-ore
I loved it. Me and Daniel and Jim, all being silly together.