Authors: Beckie Stevenson
2015 Beckie Stevenson
All rights reserved.
No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.
Cover photography -
© Hang Le byhangle.com
For my Nan…who loves butterflies.
“She burned too bright for this world.”
, Wuthering Heights
Yara has a weird name. But I guess it suits her, seeing as how she’s the weirdest person anyone’s ever met. Although saying Yara is weird might be putting it mildly. She’s downright mental. Off with the fairies. Batshit crazy. But what’s even crazier is that she doesn’t seem to know she is…or care for that matter.
The last time I saw Yara was about four years ago, just before I left Eleze. Her grandmother, Joanna, lives in the house directly behind ours, and when I was younger, I’d stand at my bedroom window—like I’m doing now—and watch her while she played in her garden.
I never dared to look at her when I was anywhere near her, but I used to obsess over Yara from a distance. I was enthralled with the way she danced and skipped through the long grass in her pretty, glittering dresses. Her long, almost-white blond hair flapped behind her like a cape, and her pale skin sparkled in the sunlight like the fictional vampires my friends’ sisters were crazy about. In fact, I used to wonder if that’s what she really was.
And if she wasn’t, why was she so different from us? People used to say Yara only bathed once a week and that she never brushed her hair or her teeth. They said she never wore shoes either, and that she always ran everywhere instead of walking. I heard people whispering about how she used to hide behind her hair because her face was so ugly it made babies cry. They even said she slept like a bat, hanging upside down from her feet, but I didn’t believe that bit.
I believed the rest though. I’d seen her darting across the street with matted hair and stained nightgowns when I was younger. I’d heard her screeching at people instead of talking to them. I’d seen how much she scared everyone.
I believed what was said about Yara mainly because Lulu Deburge told me. And what Lulu didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing. Everyone said so.
Lulu was the oldest thing in our village, and if anyone knew the truth, it was her. She used to visit my mum’s salon once a week for a blue rinse, and while she was sipping her Earl Grey tea waiting for her colour to set, she’d tell me all about crazy Yara Hendricks and how she’d killed her own mother when she was just a baby.
Mum used to click her tongue and roll her eyes at Lulu when the old lady wasn’t looking. Then my mother would say that Yara was really quite harmless and compared her to an Angel’s Trumpet. I didn’t know what an Angel’s Trumpet was, but I never cared enough to ask her to explain it either.
I’d focus all of my attention on Lulu and her stories without giving my mum and her weird comparison another thought. Lulu would scowl at my mother in the reflection of the mirror and mutter something about the devil. Then she’d take a sip of her tea, lean back in her chair, and tell me the stories with a smile on her face.
Lulu would tell me that Yara was cursed by something unknown…something dark and dangerous. She was to be feared, avoided, and whatever I did, I shouldn’t look into her eyes. Lulu said if I looked too hard, the curse might shift to me. I would sit quivering with fear yet hanging on to every word. I didn’t want to be crazy, and I didn’t want to kill my mum. So I made a promise to myself to never look into Yara Hendricks’s eyes. Ever.
Twelve years later, the promise I made as a seven-year-old boy is still intact, only now I know that curses don’t really exist. But what I do know is that Yara is extremely mental and she’s most definitely batshit crazy.
“What are you looking at, Gabriel?”
I turn around to find my mum hovering in the doorway to my room. “Nothing, really.” I shrug and turn back to look out of the window. “How’s Joanna doing these days?”
I hear my mum walking into my room until she’s standing beside me. “She hasn’t been well these last few years. Nobody knows what’s wrong with her though.”
“Maybe she’s just getting old,” I offer.
“Maybe,” she says with a sigh. “Poor Yara.”
I frown at her. “I thought you didn’t like Yara?”
“I never said I didn’t like her.” She ruffles the curtains and tucks them behind the tieback hook. “She’s a very misunderstood girl. And because of what Lulu goes around saying, she’s never been able to prove anyone wrong. The poor girl has been bullied by this village her whole life.”
I don’t like feeling like I’ve been a part of that, but I guess I have in some way. I believed the stories. I avoided her like the plague. “I haven’t seen her yet.”
I nod. “Is she still the same?”
Mum sighs, sounding sad. “Yes, as far as I know. I haven’t seen her for a while either. Maybe your sister has though.” Her eyes slide over to mine. “I guess you could ask her if you really want to know.”
“I don’t think so,” I say, giving her a small smile.
I hear her take a deep breath, and then I feel her tiny hand wrap around my bicep. “I know the reason you’re here isn’t exactly something to be pleased about, but I want you to know that I’m glad you’ve come back home. I missed you, Gabriel.
I’m not glad I’m back. In fact, I hate that I’m back in this stupid, small, weird village that hasn’t changed at all over the last hundred years. I hate that I’m back sleeping in the same bed I slept in when I was a teenager. I hate that all I can think about when I’m tossing and turning at night is what I wouldn’t give to go back four years and talk to my fifteen-year-old self. And I really hate how desperate I am to turn back time, to live like I did when I was younger with nothing to worry about.
My eyes scan over the fields that surround us until they fall back onto the thatched roof of Yara’s house. Deep down, I know that horrible things have happened in that house. It’s dull and grey as if the inside is filled with so much sadness that it seeps from room to room until it bleeds into the walls.
I sigh, wondering if the walls of my bedroom will be grey like that one day. As if she can read my mind, my mum suddenly says, “We’ll redecorate your room if you want. It won’t feel as—”
She clicks her tongue and looks around the small space, her eyes sweeping across the posters that cover my walls. “At least it won’t look like a fourteen-year-old boy came in and threw up his hormones onto everything.”
I screw my face up, pretending to be disgusted. “That’s gross.”
“It could have been worse,” she says through a playful smirk. “I could have talked about your sticky—”
“Stop, Mum,” I interrupt, turning to her as a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. “Please don’t say anything else.”
She laughs and cups my cheek in her palms. “You might be nineteen, Gabriel, but you’re still my baby.”
I turn on the tap and shove my paintbrush into the water, watching as the liquid turns into a magical explosion of turquoise-blues, pastel-pinks and lilacs. When the water eventually runs clear, I squeeze the excess water out of the bristles and slide the brush back into the front pocket of my leather satchel.
Flicking my eyes up to the mirror, I smile when I see my reflection. I’ve painted what I always paint, but this time I’ve used my special stuff. This time I’ve mixed the pale pink face paint with a bit of glitter, and as I move my head, flashes of pastel-coloured sparkles twinkle back at me.
My smile makes my whole face move. If I smile quickly enough, I can almost make it look like the painted butterfly is actually flapping across my face and getting ready to fly away.
I wish it were that easy because then I’d just paint myself onto everything I could, in every colour I could get my hands on. I’d paint until my hand falls off.
“What’re you doing in here? The bell rang almost forty-five minutes ago.”
I jump and quickly pull my satchel over my shoulder then turn the tap off. “I’m sorry,” I say, noticing how the cleaner lowers her head and averts her eyes when I turn to face her.
People are scared of me, mistaking what I have for a disease that they might catch. They can’t catch it…no one can. What I have isn’t something that travels through the air like a virus. What I have is a broken brain and a cracked heart, and everyone knows you can’t catch either of those. Or at least they should.
Sometimes I sit and think about how the doctors might have me all wrong. What if
brain is working the right way? What if people like me are the clever ones and the people that run around telling themselves they’re normal are actually the ones with the broken brains?
Take colour-blindness, for example. How do we know that what the colour-blind people are seeing is wrong? Maybe it’s the non-colour-blind people that see everything as it is. Or maybe we’ve all been blinded by the colours and evil of the world to the point that we don’t know what’s right or wrong, what’s broken or cracked, what’s mad or sane.
The cleaner walks into the nearest stall and shuts the door. “Yes, well, you’d better get going. Don’t want your Grandma worrying, now do we?”
“No, I guess not,” I whisper.
I bolt out of the toilets, running down the corridor and then outside into the warm summer air. I turn my face up to the sun and suck in a deep breath.
I love this time of year. Summer brings fresh, new life to this crumbling, old village. Like a new beginning. And I have a fluttering in my belly that tells me this new beginning is going to be the best one ever.
I’ve just stepped onto the dusty path that leads into the middle of the village when I hear my name being called. I tuck my chin to my chest and walk faster, ignoring them.
“Yara, don’t run away from us! Come and show us your face.”
What do they want this time?
I shake my head. I don’t plan on stopping, and I don’t plan on showing them my face either.
“Do you have voodoo dolls, Yara? Do any of them look like your mum did? Do you poke pins in her and yell, ‘
die bitch, die’
I wince at the mention of my mum and suddenly feel myself nibbling at my bottom lip. “Just go away,” I call back. Maybe I should turn around and confront them. No one really dares to get close to me or look me in the eye. If I ran at them, they’d squeal and shriek and run from me anyway.
I’m too busy imagining their scared faces that I don’t notice one of them approaching me. A foot clips the heel of mine and my steps falter. My legs wobble as I try to keep myself upright, but they fail me at the last second and I drop to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Jasmine cackles and howls above me, her friends copying her from behind.
“Why do you always have to pick on me?” I ask, giving her what she wants, which is some sort of reaction.
I don’t understand why they’re like this to me. Sure, I’m different from them. I don’t do my hair in the nice hairstyles like they do. I don’t paint my face with make-up or colour my nails with nail polish. But I’m clean, I’m polite and kind, and I keep to myself. So why do they insist on targeting me? Why have they waited forty minutes after school just so they can laugh at me? Humans are awful creatures. Sometimes I feel ashamed to be one.
“Pick on you?” she parrots. “What are you, like five?”
The others laugh again. I look over toward them, feeling my pulse beating in my neck. There are at least six gathered in a diamond shape behind Jasmine.
I sniff and push myself up until I’m standing in front of her, my head a good few inches below hers. “Leave me alone, Jasmine.” Out of all of them that tease me, she’s the worst. But she’s also the only one that dares to look at me—like
look at me.
“Or else what?”
“Or else I’ll curse you,” I hiss, glaring at her.
She laughs, but I see fear quickly flicker through her eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”
I would if I could
. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re too chicken-shit. And you’re a fucking weirdo.” She pokes her finger into my cheek. “You paint butterflies on your face.” Then she flicks the hem of my skirt with her fingers. “You wear clothes that look like they were made in the eighties by a blind person. You’re a freak of nature.”
“Go and paint your nails or something,” I snap, knowing as I say it that it’s the worst comeback in comeback history.
I expect her to laugh at me, to turn around to her friends and mock me. But instead, Jasmine slaps me. My teeth rattle from the impact of her palm and I gasp, stepping away from her. Jasmine has never hit me before.
Don’t hit her back. And don’t cry in front of them.
“What was that for?” I ask through wobbling lips.
Jasmine sniggers and walks back towards her friends.
“That wasn’t kind,” I tell her, putting my hand against my stinging cheek.
“I didn’t do it to be
,” she spits, pushing her long, dark hair behind her ear. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I frown at her. “I don’t know why you hate me so much.”
“Because you repulse me,” she says with a huff.
I drop my hand from my face and lift my chin. I don’t want to be scared of Jasmine. She’s trying to intimidate me and I don’t want to feel like that. “But why does that mean it’s okay to be mean and horrible to me? I don’t hurt you. I stay out of your way. I haven’t ever spoken to you before, so I don’t understand why you’re being like this. I’d like you to explain it to me.”