Read Close Your Pretty Eyes Online

Authors: Sally Nicholls

Close Your Pretty Eyes (9 page)

NIGHT-TIME VISITORS

But he did go. And when he went, Amelia came.

Some nights I didn't think she was going to come at all. It was only later that she came every night. At first it was maybe a couple of times a week. But I never knew if she was coming or not.

One problem with supersonic hearing was that whenever Maisy woke up and started crying, I'd wake up too. I hate the noise babies make when they cry. I hated it when it was Maisy and I hated it when it was weird ghost babies, and I hated it
most of all
when it was in the middle of the night and I didn't know whether it was ghost crying or real crying. Maisy – or the Victorian baby, whichever it was – used to get muddled in my head with my brother, Jamie. He used to cry like that, on and on and on.

When I heard the baby crying, it would sort of time-machine me back to being little again. That's another superpower, I suppose, travelling in time, but it's more like a curse than a power. It's not like I can zip into the future or anything. My brain just zaps me back into my most horrible memories with no warning, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

I'd be there in bed, listening to the baby crying, and then—

I'm at my mum's house, and Jamie's crying, and—

“Go to sleep, my baby, close your pretty eyes. . .”

Amelia's there, rocking Jamie, and—

And I'd be back in Jim's house, terrified, because if Amelia could get into my past, then where would I ever be safe? I'd get so angry at Maisy for crying and setting her off. I'd think
Shut up, Maisy. Please, please, shut up. Shut up or I'll kill you.
And then I'd remember that that was what my mum used to say to Jamie, and that would scare me even more. I want to be like Liz when I grow up, happy and strong, not angry and crazy and sad like my mum.

I'd sit there on the bed, listening, trying to work out if Amelia was there or not. I never saw her. But I
heard
her, and that was nearly as bad. She had a peculiar, particularly horrible smell: tobacco, and alcohol, and milk, and sweat, and dust, and old, dry skin. She smelled of old person; old person who didn't wash. And she smelled of fear; my fear.

She'd come up to the bed. I'd
feel
her hand against my cheek. That would be enough by itself to flash me back into the past, to my mum's hand, just like that, stroking my cheek before she hit me. I'd be five, and then I'd be eleven, and then my mum would be there, and then Amelia would be there, and then I'd be in Violet's cellar, and then I'd be alone, and everything would get muddled in my head, and I'd want to weep, but I was too scared even to scream.

Afterwards, I'd sit on my bed, half dead with terror. Leaving the room was awful, but staying was even worse, so at last I'd get out of bed and run down the corridor to the light switch. Once the light was on, I'd run to Jim's room and crawl into his bed.

If Jim woke up when I came in, he'd send me back to my room. Luckily he had this big double bed, so if I brought my own duvet and crept in quietly, then sometimes I could sleep in the far corner and he wouldn't know until morning. Well, it worked twice. Usually he woke up, and then he'd take me back to bed. The first time he tried that, I screamed and screamed and screamed so loudly that I woke up everyone in the house. Maisy started wailing, and Grace threatened to chop off my head and mash it into a billion pieces and feed it to Pork Scratchings.

Jim used to sit with me in the night as well, but in the middle of the night, after a visit from Amelia, I was so scared that I probably wasn't going to go to sleep again
ever
, so Jim would just sit there reading chapter after chapter, while I lay back, wide awake and only slightly less frightened than I was before he came, because I knew he was itching to go back to sleep and leave me on my own with Amelia. Whenever he looked like stopping, I only had to open my mouth to start screaming and he'd pick up the book again. I sort of liked that I could get him to do what I wanted, and I sort of didn't, because the sort of dad who can be outsmarted by an eleven-year-old probably isn't smart enough to protect me from all the people I need protecting from. So that made me sad, and it made me even more sure that I wouldn't be staying here for long.

One night, I stayed awake for four and a half hours, while he read eight chapters of some stupid book about wizards and eventually fell asleep on my bedside chair while trying to Relax me with a Relaxation CD.

“Are you going to make him stay up
every
night?” said Daniel, while we made ourselves porridge with chocolate sprinkles and marshmallows for breakfast.

“If I have to,” I said.

“You can borrow Zig-Zag if you like,” said Daniel. Zig-Zag usually slept on Daniel's bed, but he didn't know how to work door handles, so it wasn't hard to persuade him to sleep somewhere else. “Cats can see ghosts. Or they can in Discworld anyway.”

“Really?” I said. I was pretty surprised.

“Sure,” said Daniel. He tipped the hundreds and thousands tub upside down into his bowl. Hundreds and thousands poured out, covering the porridge and half the table. “Oops. Hey, let me know if he sees anything.”

“Bet he will,” I said.

 

I like animals. People always think I'm going to beat them up, but I never do. Animals don't care if you don't do your homework, or have screaming fits, or tell lies, or are visited by ghosts. If you play with them and give them biscuits, animals love you for ever.

If only humans were so easy.

Zig-Zag curled up happily at the end of my bed. Jim came in and read me a chapter. He looked pretty tired.

“You aren't going to wake me up again tonight, are you?” he said.

“I might,” I said.

Jim kissed my forehead. “Let's try not to, eh?” he said.

When I woke up, Jim was gone and the light was out in the hall. Zig-Zag was a warm, heavy weight on my feet. I wriggled a bit to see if he was still awake and he went,
Maow
? Daniel was right – I did feel better with him there. I opened my eyes. The room was dimly but clearly lit by the night light. I lay on my back, as still as possible, listening. Somewhere in the house, a baby began to cry. I couldn't tell if it was Maisy or someone long ago. It didn't
sound
like Maisy, but it was hard to be sure.

I sat up in bed, listening, waiting for Amelia to come. I couldn't hear anything, except the baby crying, but the baby made me tense up all over. I wondered if I dared get out of bed and switch the light on, but I was afraid of what might happen to me if I moved.

Zig-Zag padded up the bed and curled up on my lap. He reminded me of Daniel and that made me feel safer. It was a new feeling, liking someone. I hardly ever liked people. Before I came to Jim's I liked Hayley and Liz, and that was it. But now I liked Daniel, and Harriet, and Maisy, and Pork Scratchings, and Zig-Zag, and sometimes Grace, when she was in a good mood, and . . . well, I sort of liked Jim. Sometimes. Maybe.

Thinking of all the people I liked made me feel a little calmer. I picked up Zig-Zag and went into Daniel's room. He was lying asleep on his back, his mouth slightly open. There was a thin cake-slice of moonlight shining through the curtains and on to his face.

Just being in the same room as Daniel made me feel safer. I climbed into his bed and pushed him over to the other side to make room. He groaned. “What are you doing?”

“I'm coming in with you,” I said.

Daniel moaned. “What's wrong with your own bed?”

“There's evil things.”

I expected him to tell me to get lost, but he just groaned again, rolled over and went straight back to sleep.

There was hardly space for the two of us in the bed, but it was so much safer with Daniel there that I didn't care. I stayed awake for ages, expecting Amelia to come, but she didn't, so I guess she wasn't as powerful as Daniel. If I was a Ghostbuster, I'd make Essence of Daniel and sell it to people in haunted houses, to keep them safe for ever.

HOME NUMBER 9

MUMMY AND DADDY

Mummy and Daddy were the first family who nearly adopted me. I was six. My sister Hayley was just four.

I thought being adopted was going to be great, at first. Our new mummy and daddy came and visited us at the foster home we were living in. They spent a whole week taking us to theme parks, and bowling, and shopping for duvet covers and towels and pictures for our bedroom. It was brilliant. I thought being adopted meant we would spend all day doing fun stuff and getting bought whatever we asked for by these people who thought we were wonderful.

Our new mummy and daddy had loads of money. They had this house with four bedrooms – one for them, me, Hayley and their kid Ben, who was a couple of years older than me. Ben had his own bike, a scooter, a trampoline, a Nintendo, a skateboard, roller skates, and about three hundred bits of Lego.

“Do we get that many toys, now we live here?” I said.

And we nearly did. All Mummy and Daddy's friends came to visit and they all bought us stuff. They thought we were super cute. Hayley
was
super cute, of course, and I got very good at pretending to be. I used to put my head on one side, and lisp, “Fwank you, Gwanny,” like I didn't know how to speak properly. My old foster mum Donna used to pretend not to hear me if I spoke like that to her, but Mummy and Daddy's friends thought it was adorable. I learned loads of ways to get them to buy me stuff. There was one day we went to the pantomime, and I got Mummy, Daddy, Granny and Uncle Something-Or-Other each to buy me a family bag of Maltesers. I hid them under my coat, and Hayley and I ate them all through the show. We weren't half sick afterwards, but it was worth it.

When I first moved in, I was very, very, very good. I was terrified that if they found out how bad I was in real life, they'd get rid of me, so I did everything I could to act like the sort of nice little girl they wanted. I called them Mummy and Daddy. I let them hug me and kiss me sloppy goodnight kisses. I pretended like I cared about all the dolls and Barbies and Sylvanians and board games and story books they bought me. They were a weird family about toys. Their kid Ben had loads of Playmobil and action figures, and he used to spend hours moving them pointlessly around on the floor.

“Darth Vader's attacking!
Zzzung! Zzzung!
Batman to the rescue! Everyone in the Batmobile!
Neeeeooooww!
I'm going to kill you!”

Mummy and Daddy thought this was cute instead of weird. They used to join in Ben's games, and when we were out they used to try and make us play too.

“Careful on the stepping stones,” they'd say. “Or you'll get eaten by alligators!”

When I first met them, I didn't realize they were kidding. I thought we really
were
going to get eaten by alligators, and I couldn't understand why everyone looked so cheerful about it. When I figured it out, I got pretty annoyed. Here I was working hard to keep Hayley and me safe, playing nice so they didn't dump us, watching and listening all the time, so when they started hitting us, I wouldn't be taken by surprise. And they'd had me wasting my time worrying about alligators and Darth Vader.

It was hard pretending to be nice all the time. Mummy and Daddy obviously wanted some perfect little kid like Ben, who never got angry or rude like I did. Every time they gave me another stupid doll, or told me I was clever, or beautiful, or wonderful, it would remind me how ugly and bad I really was, if only they knew. I'd feel this rumbly, grumbly, stomach-eating anger bubbling up inside me, and the only way I could keep it from getting out and eating Mummy and Daddy's happy family was to poke pencils into their cat, or stab scissors in their pillows, or tear all their money into bits and throw it away.

Everything they did reminded me of the good little girl they wanted and I wasn't. I had this yucky pink-and-white bedroom with white furniture and a shelf of books I never read, and a little white dressing-table. I hated that room. I'd never slept in a different bedroom from Hayley before, and I used to creep in with her at night after Mummy and Daddy had put us to bed.

At first, Mummy and Daddy hardly got cross with us at all. But after we'd been there a couple of months, they started to get strict. It was all “No, you can't take food without asking” (which was stupid 'cause if you asked, they just said no) and “No, you can't draw on the walls” (why not? It was
my
room) and “Don't boss Ben around, let him choose” (which was even stupider, because Ben didn't have two brain cells to rub together and he always picked stupid games that I didn't understand, and anyway, I had more practice at being a big sister than he had being a big brother. I
always
picked what we played when we lived with Mum).

Also, they started trying to come between me and Hayley, which was totally not fair because Hayley was
my
sister first.
I
was the one who looked after her. They adored Hayley, and they always wanted to be the ones to brush her hair, and wash her face, and give her a hug when she was crying, and do all the things that were
my
job.
And
Hayley used to let them. I told her not to, but then she'd start to cry, and I'd get told off, which was stupid because
they'd
started it.

They were really bossy. They wouldn't let me be in charge of
anything
. I had to wear a manky school uniform every school day, even though the jumper made my skin itch. They made me eat all their yucky dinners, and hold their hands when we walked down the street (even though I'd been walking down stupid streets on my own for
years
) and always do exactly what they said exactly when they said it Right Now And No Arguing, otherwise they'd stick me on the sofa on my own and not talk to me.

Some of the time, I didn't even realize
I
was
being bad. Like lying. Mum told lies all the time, and she used to get me and Hayley to tell them too.

“Mummy isn't here,” when the police came round.

“I've lost my mummy,” to distract the shop people while she went shoplifting. And, “I don't
know
,” when teachers asked where I'd got all those burns and bruises.

Mum really liked me when I told lies, but my new mummy and daddy hated it.

When they told me I was bad, I'd get frightened, because then I knew they were going to dump me. And when I get frightened, I get angry, and when I get angry, I
have
to do something. I can't just
stop
being angry, can I? So I'd smash their stupid plates, and kick their stupid spoilt cat, or punch Idiot Ben until his nose bled, and they'd be all, “You can't behave like this, Olivia,” and I'd just look at them and not understand. Because this is who I
am
– I can't do anything about it. I can't stop being angry, or missing my mum, or loving Hayley, or wetting the bed, or being afraid of the dark, or not loving my new mummy and daddy, or getting hungry and nicking food, or any of the other things people dump you for. I don't
try
and get scared and angry. I was just born like this.

And that's why nobody will ever want me.

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