Read Close Your Pretty Eyes Online

Authors: Sally Nicholls

Close Your Pretty Eyes (14 page)

HOMES NUMBER 2, 3, 4, 5 AND 6

CATHY AND BILL

Hayley and Jamie and I lived with my mum until I was five, but lots of times before that we got sent to live with other people for a little bit, when she was drinking too much and couldn't look after us.

I don't remember exactly how many families we lived with before we got taken into care for good. Liz looked it up for me once and said there were five, but I can only remember three. There was an old lady with a house full of old things – china ladies, and leather books, and cups and plates all different colours, and a piano that she used to let Hayley and me make up tunes on.

There were two ladies who lived together and took foster kids too small to go to school. The house was always noisy, and there were always loads of toys everywhere. They were always shouting:

“Stop hitting your sister!”

“Leave that alone!”

“What did I say? Did I say no? Did I?”

The family I remember best was the one we went to just after Jamie was born. They were a mum and a dad, and they lived in a little village, which I remember as being sunny all the time. They didn't have many toys, but it didn't matter because they had this enormous garden with a climbing frame, and a tyre swing, and trees to climb in, and a big patio that they used to let us draw on with chalks, and two cats who used to climb into my bed at night and keep me safe.

The mum's name was Cathy and the dad's name was Bill. They used to call Hayley “Sweetiepie” and me “Trouble”, but in a nice way, like they didn't mind me being naughty and thought it was kind of funny.

“What's up, Trouble?” Bill used to say, and I'd tell him all the things I was going to do that day. If they were things he didn't want me to do, like climbing on the roof or eating all the ice cream, he'd say, “I wouldn't do that if I were you, Trouble. I might get hungry and gobble you up!” And he'd make biting noises and pretend to eat me up. At first I thought he was serious, but when I realized he was only playing, he used to make me giggle all over.

Bill had a big bike with a child seat on the back of it, and when he cycled anywhere he used to strap me into the seat and take me with him. I'd sit there with the wind blowing through my hair and my bare legs dangling down on either side, and I'd pretend that Bill was my daddy and we were going to live there for ever. When I got angry, he used to hold me – firmly, but not too tight. I usually hate it when people hold me, but with Bill I didn't mind. Perhaps because I was so little and he was so gentle. Sometimes when I get angry, it's terrifying, because it's so big and so horrible; because I stop being Olivia and turn into some sort of monster, and I don't know what the monster wants to do or who it's going to hurt. But in Cathy and Bill's house, the monster was never bigger than Bill's arms.

I don't remember much else about them. They had a bonfire once, and we toasted marshmallows. They used to read us stories at bedtime. Jamie never cried on and on and on, like he did at home.

When my social worker said we had to go back to live with my mum, I remember Cathy getting very upset. She cried, and argued, and on the day she had to give us back, she held me very tight and said, “I wish I could keep you,” and I didn't know what to feel, because I loved it at Cathy and Bill's house, but I loved my mum too.

Cathy and Bill were probably the last people who ever wanted me. If we'd been allowed to stay, I bet they'd have adopted us. They've probably adopted some other kids since then, and they wouldn't want me now anyway. Mums and dads only want you when you're little and sweet. Eleven is much too old to be adopted again.

GHOSTS

The Iveys chucked me out, of course.

Home number seventeen was these two men called Andy and Chris. They were all right. They lived in a little house on the edge of Bristol. My room was small and plain, with some other kid's chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the bed.

The first night I was there, Liz rang.

“Don't start, all right!” I shouted at her.

“Olivia,” she said. “Calm down. I didn't say anything.”

“It wasn't my fault!” I shouted. “I didn't do it! He just chucked me out for no reason!”

“Olivia—” said Liz.

“I didn't!” I shouted. “Don't shout at me! She made me do it!”

“I'm not shouting at you,” said Liz. “Who made you do it? Amelia Dyer?”

“Oh, forget it,” I said, and banged the phone down, hard. I thought she would probably ring back, but she didn't.

 

Liz wasn't the only person who wanted to talk about what had happened. Loads of people were talking about me, all the time, with or without me there. I heard Andy talking to Liz on the phone, and Chris talking to Carole, late at night when they thought I was in bed. Carole wanted me to go back to Fairfields. Liz thought I should be in a family, but maybe not one with other children in it. I wondered what Andy and Chris thought, hearing all this stuff about how dangerous I was.

It felt weird living in a house with no other kids. At Jim's, there was always someone to play with and something going on somewhere. Here, there was nothing. When Andy and Chris were at work I had to go to a stupid play scheme, where all the other kids knew each other already and there were crazy rules about stuff like how long you were allowed to go on the trampoline, which they knew and I didn't, so I kept getting told off. I hated it. But when I got home it was even worse. I was allowed to play on Andy's DS for half an hour every day, and watch TV for another half an hour. I was allowed to ride my bike in the street, but no further than the end of the road, and it wasn't like there were any other kids to play with anyway, so mostly I didn't. Sometimes Andy and Chris played board games with me, but mostly I was stuck on my own. I hadn't lived without other kids since I lived with Liz, and I'd forgotten how lonely it was.

The only good thing about Andy and Chris's house was that Amelia wasn't there. But even that was sort of bad because I knew she was still at Jim's house, and I couldn't stop worrying about what she might be doing. Was she haunting Harriet now, instead of me? Or Grace? I thought she might be haunting Grace, because Grace was a bit like that other girl who had a baby without a husband. I was surprised by how much I minded about that. I didn't think it really mattered if I got sent to prison, because living in prison probably wouldn't be that different from living in Fairfields, but Grace was different. Grace was going off to university. I realized I didn't want anything bad to happen to Grace, and that surprised me. I never usually cared what happened to other people.

Life with Andy and Chris was OK. It wasn't
dreadful.
It was just . . . nothing. Empty, and flat, like a balloon after all the air has been burst out of it. A deflated balloon. That's what I felt like.

Even though Amelia wasn't at Andy and Chris's house, I still thought about her. I dreamed about her. In my dreams she was old and fat and evil. She sat by the coal fire in the living room and smoked her pipe and plotted her evil plots. Other times she sat in the garden, by the overgrown flower beds, wishing terrible things on Grace and Maisy and Jim and anyone who moved into that house for ever.

I hated that I'd done what she wanted me to. I hated that she'd taken the Iveys from me. It felt like she'd
won
. Losing to Amelia felt worse than losing to Daniel or Liz or someone I liked. Amelia winning felt like Violet winning, or the worst of the big girls at Fairfields, and I
hated
it. It made me want to fight. I was always fighting, against people who thought they could tell me what to do, against people who tried to make me feel small or ashamed, against people who thought they could make me care. But I'd never wanted to fight
for
something. It was a new feeling, and I wasn't sure if I liked it.

I asked Helen how you beat a ghost, but she thought I was asking how you beat a flashback, and kept going on about stupid tools and exercises and all that sort of thing.

“I don't mean stupid brain stuff!” I yelled at her. “I mean a ghost! I mean Amelia! A real, mad, evil, homicidal ghost!”

“Olivia. . .” Helen said, but I was too angry to listen.

“No!” I yelled. “Just give me something!
Anything!

“OK,” said Helen. “Calm down. Olivia, calm down.” I didn't want to calm down, but Helen just sat there waiting until I did.

“OK,” said Helen. “Can you remember what I told you about fear and being frightened?”

I shook my head.

“Well,” said Helen, “your brain is a machine for making connections. You're scared of the dark because your brain noticed that bad things happened to you in dark places – because of all the times your mother and Violet punished you by locking you up. So the way to combat that is to teach your brain a new pattern – to show it that not all places in the dark are frightening. You do that by experiencing some dark places which aren't scary, and gradually your brain makes new connections. We haven't been doing that because it needs to happen at a pace you're comfortable with – and I think if I forced you to sit in dark rooms, it would probably be counter-productive, wouldn't it? But I think that's how I'd show Amelia that I wasn't scared of her. I'd think about the things that trigger her arrival; things like being on your own, babies, babies crying and night. And then I'd start repatterning your brain by exposing it to lots of unscary babies and nights, and that would teach it that those things were OK.”

“And then Amelia would go away?”

“Yes. I think she would.”

I thought that solution sounded a bit rubbish, personally. I was exposed to night
every single night
and it was still scary. And how was I supposed to be exposed to babies when Grace hated me now and was never going to let me near Maisy again?

But I liked what she said about showing Amelia I wasn't scared of her. I could see that that might work. I thought perhaps Amelia might be a bit like kids who try and pick on you at school. If you're scared of them, they win. But if you smash their faces in, they leave you alone.

I am an expert at face-smashing. I am an expert in bringing down grown-ups too. You just have to find their weak spot, and then you push it and push it and push it until they collapse into a little heap on the floor. I didn't think Amelia was the collapsing sort, but I knew where her weak spot was all right. It was the patch of garden by the fountain, the dark, evil, weedy bit at the end of the lawn. Whenever I went down there, Amelia always went after me. Grumpy Annabel used to get angry in just the same way whenever I started mocking her about what a crap mother she was. My mum always went after me if I looked happy when she was in a crap mood. I'd never liked the end of the garden, but Amelia had really started going after me there after Harriet told me it was where she'd buried the babies. Perhaps, I thought, she really
had
buried them there.

I wondered what would happen if we found them.

I called Daniel on his mobile phone.

“Watch out,” I told him. “I'm coming back!”

WHAT HARRIET FOUND

It was dead easy to get to Jim's house. The first thing I did was steal a purse from the bag of one of the play-scheme leaders. I picked the youngest and dopiest-looking one, and she didn't even tell anyone she'd lost it.

When Andy dropped me off at the play scheme the morning after that, I went in the door, hid in the loo until he'd gone, and then came out and went to the taxi line at the train station. Then I just got into a taxi and gave the driver Jim's address. I stuck close behind this other family in the queue, so it
sort of
looked like I was one of them, and they knew I was getting a taxi and were OK with it. The driver didn't say anything when I got in. Probably he thought a stupid farm in the middle of nowhere wasn't a very likely place to go and cause trouble.

Daniel and Harriet were waiting at the end of the road, where I'd told them to be. I hadn't told them what I needed them to do, just that I was coming back.

“Stop!” I shouted at the taxi driver.

“Do your parents know you're here?” he said.

“That's none of your business!” I told him. “Stop asking stupid questions or I won't pay!”

“They know,” said Daniel quickly. “She's my cousin. Olivia, give him the money and come on.”

I counted out the money and climbed out of the taxi before the driver could say anything else. He muttered something and drove off.

Harriet ran over to me and put her arms around my waist. She squeezed so hard I thought I was going to choke.

“Hey! Let me breathe!”

“I missed you,” said Harriet, but she let me go. I looked across at Daniel. He was frowning.

“Where did you get all that money?” he said.

“I stole it,” I said. “Why? Are you going to tell the police?”

“No. . .” said Daniel, but he didn't look very happy. “Why do you always have to do such stupid things, Olivia?”

“How else was I supposed to get here? Oh, please, grumpy foster dad! Take me back to Daniel's house so I can murder his baby sister? Come on!”

I grabbed his hand and tried to pull him up the path, but he wouldn't come.

“Look,” he said. “What
are
you doing here? Exactly?”

“I'm fighting Amelia,” I said. My plan sounded a bit stupid now I had to explain it. “I'm showing her I'm not afraid of her any more. So I'm going to go where she's weakest, where she doesn't want me to go. And then – I dunno – find out why.”

Daniel made a frustrated sort of noise. Harriet giggled.

“I know!” he said. “I know! Don't tell me! The flower beds, right? Amelia Dyer's hidden two hundred gold doubloons and the Thermos flask of eternal youth under the marigolds, and if we dig them up all Olivia's problems will go away and Dad will adopt her and we'll all live happily ever after? Right?”

He wasn't going to help. He was going to tell his dad on me, and Jim was going to send me back to Andy and Chris's, and Amelia was going to carry on haunting their house and making people kill babies for ever, and maybe she was going to go after Grace next, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I charged at Daniel and started kicking him. He stumbled back.

“Hey! Stop it!”

I grabbed his hair and yanked on it as hard as I could. Harriet hopped up and down, squealing, her voice getting higher and higher as she got more and more anxious.

“Olivia! Stop it!”

“It's not funny!” I snarled at Daniel. I yanked on his hair. I could smell his fear – sharp and close. Fear – someone else's fear – always makes me angry.

“OK! It's not funny! Jesus, Olivia, what was that for?”

“We
have
to find what she's hidden there,” I said. “It's corpses, like Harriet said, I bet you anything. We
have
to find them. Otherwise it won't matter if Jim dumps me,
Maisy will be dead anyway
. Amelia will find some other way to kill her, I
know
she will.”

I could tell he didn't believe me, but I didn't care. Just so long as he helped.

 

We tramped up the hill to the house. Daniel went to steal the shed key from Jim's office. For some reason he didn't let foster kids mess around with weedkiller, hedge trimmers and garden shears.

Can't imagine why.

Daniel and I took a spade each, and Harriet took a trowel. I led the way over to the flower bed. Even in the middle of the morning, it still felt creepy. It smelled of wet earth and mouldering leaves and tree bark and Amelia. I had that awful, skin-crawlingy feeling that someone was watching me, someone evil. I wanted to turn around and run away, but I remembered about Maisy and didn't.

“Here,” I said. “I dunno. Somewhere here. Just dig.”

So we dug.

At first, if I concentrated on digging and tried not to think about Amelia, it was almost fun. Like digging a hole at the seaside for the tide to fill. But pretty quickly it got boring. And then it got hard. The earth was full of all these little stones that you had to dig out with the corner of your spade. Sometimes you hit really big stones and then you had to stop and dig all the way around them to get them out, which usually meant making your hole twice as big. The further down you went, the harder it got, because your spade had less space to bend in.

We dug for ages. Much longer than I'd expected. Amelia didn't show up at all. The deeper we dug, the less I could feel her there. After a while, I stopped being able to smell her too.

If it had just been me, I'd probably have given up after about two minutes, but with Harriet and Daniel there, I couldn't. I could just imagine the look on Daniel's face if I gave in. And Harriet was pretty keen. Her job was the easiest because she had the trowel, so every time Daniel or I got stuck, we'd call her in and she'd start ferreting around under whatever big stone it was that was stuck, trying to lever it up. The sky was clear and white and still. Not exactly warm, but not freezing either. It smelled of earth and wet leaves and grass and no Amelia. It smelled good. I felt happier than I had in ages.

“Why would she put them so
deep
?” Harriet said.

“She probably didn't,” said Daniel. “Just think of all the new soil getting made, piling on top of the old stuff.”

I didn't know soil got made. I thought it just
was
, like mountains, or the pyramids.

Harriet was still digging away at her bit of rock.

“Can you help?” she said. “It goes down all that way.”

I got out my spade and went over. “Where?” I said. “Here?” I smashed my spade down. The rock went
crunch
.

“You broke it!” said Harriet, accusingly.

“It's a rock!” I said. “Isn't it?”

I pressed down on the rock again with my spade.
Crunch
.

“That's not a rock,” said Daniel. “That's a skull.”

“What sort of skull?” said Harriet, anxiously. “Is it a dog?”

“I don't know,” said Daniel. “Olivia, stop. You're crushing it. Be careful.”

“It's not a dog skull,” I said. “It's a human skull. It's one of Amelia's babies.”

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