Close your pretty eyes, p.2
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       Close Your Pretty Eyes, p.2

           Sally Nicholls
 
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  “Hello?”

  No answer. But I could feel the attention sharpen. It was the feeling you get when you’re in a room with someone who hates you. Someone dangerous. I felt like a lion-tamer in a cage with a mad, hungry lion, all crouched down low and ready to pounce. Probably. I’ve never actually met a lion-tamer, but I bet that was how they’d feel.

  I was getting creeped out. This was why I didn’t like being on my own. I used to feel like this when I broke into other kids’ bedrooms in Fairfields – like I was trespassing on someone else’s space, someone dangerous, someone who would hurt me if they found me. I turned around slowly, trying to see where someone might be hiding.

  There was a noise from behind me. Stones falling, earth breaking. I spun round. But there was no one there.

  HOME NUMBER 15

  FAIRFIELDS HOME FOR GIRLS

  I lived in Fairfields for nearly a year. When they first put me there, I thought that was it. I thought I’d finally gone too far, that they’d all realized how evil I was and now nobody wanted anything more to do with me. I thought I’d never have a family now, and I’d never see Liz, or Hayley, or my mum, or anyone friendly ever again.

  I didn’t care. I didn’t. I hated them all. I hated everyone.

  Fairfields was a home for girls, and mostly for girls who had been kicked out of foster placements, or run away, or been dumped by other local authorities who wanted to get rid of them. All the staff were trained in restraint, and there was a Quiet Room where you were supposed to go if you were kicking off. They had loads of rules about drugs, and alcohol, and boyfriends, and all this stuff my foster families hadn’t even thought of.

  I was there because:

  “We don’t have a foster family available with the right set of skills to take you on right now.”

  Which meant:

  “You’re a monster. Normal people can’t control you.”

  There were twenty-eight girls in Fairfields when I was there. They were all too messed-up to live in families. They were all bigger than me. And they were all scary. Loads of them drank or used drugs. Loads of them used to run away and live on the streets. One threatened to kill me with a knife. Another told me that if I ever went near her stuff, she’d break into my room and set fire to my bed with me in it. Loads of my stuff got nicked while I was there. Really stupid things, like the trainers Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel bought me, which were far too small for the big girls to wear. And precious things, like my necklace with a heart on it that was a present from my sister Hayley.

  Fairfields had lots and lots of rules. Rules about not being allowed to ask for seconds until you’d eaten everything on your plate, even if you wanted seconds of sausages and were never ever going to eat your manky beetroot, no matter how hungry you were. Rules about chores and rules about homework. Rules about stupid group therapy sessions, where we all had to sit in a circle and talk about how we felt. Rules about smacking other kids in the face even when they started it and they were bigger than you, and you were only punching them in self-defence anyway.

  Some things were OK. There was a big garden. And I had my own room. But mostly I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the big kids bossing me around. I didn’t like the staff, who kept getting new jobs and leaving. It made me tired, getting used to someone and then them just leaving. And I didn’t like all the stupid activities, like sport, and making things out of cardboard and paint, and cookery classes. I didn’t like that if I was angry or sad or rude, nobody cared, not really.

  My other families used to care. Grumpy Annabel, who nearly adopted me, cared when I called her fat and stupid. Liz cared when I had a panic attack in Asda. My first adoptive Mummy and Daddy cared when I screamed and screamed and wouldn’t shut up. Here, no one minded. I was just one of lots of kids and their shift finished at ten and they went home to their real children, who were well-behaved and clever and loved them.

  At Fairfields, I used to worry all the time about disappearing. About what would happen if I didn’t come home from school, or just vanished, if anyone would even notice. I felt like I was slipping away, all the time. I started doing that thing I used to do when I lived with Violet, where my body would be in the TV room, but my head would be floating somewhere else. Sometimes I’d float over my body. Sometimes I’d still be there, but I’d stop feeling anything. I had to be careful, though. Sometimes it would go wrong and I’d be back standing in the cold shower at Violet’s, or getting smacked into the wall by my mum, or having cigarettes burnt into my arm. I could never escape, not really.

  I was scared a lot of the time at Fairfields. I was scared that the big girls would break into my room at night and suffocate me with a pillow. I used to start crying for no reason at all. I started getting nightmares again, and I used to wet the bed too. The care workers didn’t mind, but I always hated it.

  Liz came to visit me a couple of times. The first time I screamed and screamed and wouldn’t let her into the room. The second time I threw my remote control at her and told her that I hoped she got eaten by werewolves. Both times she just turned straight around and left. But she kept coming back. And the third time I let her stay.

  “I still hate you,” I told her. “I still think you’re a liar and a loser.”

  Liz got up like she was about to go and I felt like I was choking, like I was dying, like everyone I ever loved was always going to leave me.

  “Don’t—” I said. It came out of my mouth without me even realizing it. Liz stopped.

  “Come on, love,” she said, and she gave me a hug. I liked it at first, but then I stopped liking it and pulled away.

  She took me to the park. I didn’t have much stuff left by that point. Some of it had got nicked, or smashed, and some I’d grown out of, or had to leave behind. But I still had the skateboard that Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel had bought me. Liz let me play for ages on the skateboard ramps, then she bought me chips with lots of ketchup at the park café.

  “Are you coming next week?” I said, and she looked a bit sad.

  “I’d like to,” she said. “I’m hoping my new lad will be seeing his grandparents on Saturdays, but I’ll have to see what happens.”

  She had some other kid now. Some kid she liked more than me. Another kid sleeping in my room, in my bed, playing with the bike and the trampoline and the Xbox, eating her banana custard. I thought of all the hundreds and hundreds of foster kids she’d probably had, and how stupid I was to think she’d liked me especially.

  I hated her. I hated her. I felt like she’d tricked me. She’d made me think she liked me, when really I was just another foster kid like all the rest.

  USUALLY I’M WORSE

  I was expecting Jim to tell me off when I got back to the house. I was sort of dreading it, but sort of interested too. I wanted to know what sort of dad he was going to be.

  He was in the kitchen, washing up. He looked around when I came in.

  Uh-oh.

  I burst out talking before he could start.

  “What are you doing? Are you washing up? Can I help? I like washing up. I’m ever so good at it. Can I dry? Can I put away?”

  “Calm down.” Jim smiled at me. “Where did you get to? We thought you’d run away.”

  “I went for a walk,” I said. “Can I help, then?”

  “Yes, you can,” said Jim. “But not right now. For now I’d like you kids to get to know each other. Why don’t you go and say hello to Grace?”

  He didn’t say it in a mean way. He was smiling, but it didn’t exactly make me feel welcomed.

  Jim put his hand on my shoulder and led me into the living room. Grace, the big girl with the baby, was still there. Baby Maisy was asleep in her lap and Grace was reading this big book over her head.

  I went and stood in front of her. She ignored me.

  “There you go,” said Jim. “Grace, can you keep an eye on Olivia fo
r a minute?”

  And he went.

  Grace didn’t look up from her book. She didn’t even grunt.

  I’m worth at least a grunt.

  I waited for her to say something. She didn’t. I hate being ignored. I hate it worst of anything.

  “Can I play with your baby?” I said.

  “No,” said Grace. “She’s asleep.”

  “I could wake her up. I’m dead good at babies. I’ve got this baby brother, and I know how to feed him and stop him crying and everything.”

  Grace sort of grunted and turned the page. I came closer.

  “What book are you reading? Is it good? I’ve read hundreds of books. My old mum and dad used to buy me loads when I lived with them. I’ve got all the Horrible Histories, and Horrid Henry, and all the Harry Potter books. I bet I’ve read that book you’re reading.”

  That was a bit of a lie. I did used to own those books, but I didn’t read them. Most of the time, I used to tear them to bits to annoy my old mum, Grumpy Annabel. She and my old dad used to spend a fortune on books for me, and it narked her off no end when I tore them to shreds.

  Grace tipped her book up so I could see the cover.

  “Oliver Twist. Isn’t that a film?”

  Grace put down the book. Result!

  “Are you being deliberately idiotic?” she said.

  I grinned at her. “Me? You’re the one reading a big, stupid, boring old book. Why are you doing that, anyway?”

  “Because.”

  “Because why?”

  “Because I like it. Because I need to read it for my English A Level. Because I need to get all As in my A Levels, and probably A*s, so I can go off to university and never have to talk to ridiculous little kids like you for the rest of my life.” She stuck the book up over her face and turned the page, very deliberately.

  “Can babies go to university?” I said.

  “Aargh!” Grace flung down the book. “Yes, of course they can! They get top marks in crapping and dribbling!”

  I giggled. Grace gave me an evil look.

  “Are you always this annoying?” she said.

  “Are you always this grumpy?”

  “No,” said Grace. “Usually I’m worse.”

  NIGHT

  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. Anyone could come in and do anything 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.

  A tree rhooshing as the wind lifted it up and all its leaves rustled.

  A dog barking.

  An owl going hoohoo somewhere in the night.

  Something – mice, maybe – scratching in the walls.

  A fly buzzing against the windowpane in the bedroom next door.

  Something else tap-tap-tap-tapping at my window.

  A creak – 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’t – 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 everything, pretty much always. 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.

  Clean sheets.

  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 unsafe. 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. Was 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 everyone.

  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, thoug
h. 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 don’t dump me, I usually have to leave anyway. I’m always 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 lonely. 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.

 
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