Authors: Cathy Glass
Also by Cathy Glass
The Saddest Girl in the World
The Girl in the Mirror
I Miss Mummy
Mummy Told Me Not to Tell
My Dad’s a Policeman (a Quick Reads novel)
Run, Mummy, Run
The Night the Angels Came
A Baby’s Cry
Happy Mealtimes For Kids
Another Forgotten Child
Please Don’t Take My Baby
A big thank-you to my editor, Holly; my literary agent Andrew; and Carole, Vicky, Laura and all the team at HarperCollins.
‘Every time I hear a newborn baby cry …
Then I know why,
‘I Believe’ by Ervin Drake
I heard Pat, Lucy’s carer, knock on Lucy’s bedroom door, and then a slight creak as the door opened, followed by: ‘Your new carer, Cathy, is on the phone for you. Can you come and talk to her?’
There was silence and then I heard the bedroom door close. A few moments later Pat’s voice came on the phone again. ‘I told her, but she’s still refusing to even look at me. She’s just sitting there on the bed staring into space.’
My worries for Lucy rose.
‘What should I do now?’ Pat asked, anxiously. ‘Shall I ask my husband to talk to her?’
‘Does Lucy have a better relationship with him?’ I asked.
‘No, not really,’ Pat said. ‘She won’t speak to him, either. We might have to leave her here until Monday, when her social worker is back at work.’
‘Then Lucy will have the whole weekend to brood over this,’ I said. ‘It will be worse. Let’s try again to get her to the phone. I’m sure it will help if she hears I’m not an ogre.’
Pat gave a little snort of laughter. ‘Jill said you were very good with older children,’ referring to my support social worker.
‘That was sweet of her,’ I said. ‘Now, is your phone fixed or cordless?’
‘Excellent. Take the handset up with you, knock on Lucy’s bedroom door, go in and tell her again I would like to talk to her, please. But this time, leave the phone on her bed facing up, so she can hear me, and then come out. I might end up talking to myself, but I’m used to that.’
Pat gave another snort of nervous laughter. ‘Fingers crossed,’ she said.
I heard Pat’s footsteps going up the stairs again, followed by the knock on Lucy’s bedroom door and the slight creak as it opened. Pat’s voice trembled a little as she said: ‘Cathy’s still on the phone and she’d like to talk to you.’
There was a little muffled sound, presumably as Pat put the phone on Lucy’s bed, and then I heard the bedroom door close. I was alone with Lucy.
Lucy and I believe we were destined to be mother and daughter; it just took us a while to find each other. Lucy was eleven years old when she came to me. I desperately wish it could have been sooner. It breaks my heart when I think of what happened to her, as I’m sure it will break yours. To tell Lucy’s story – our story – properly, we need to go back to when she was a baby, before I knew her. With the help of records we’ve been able to piece together Lucy’s early life, so here is her story, right from the start …
It was dark outside and, at nine o’clock on a February evening in England, bitterly cold. A cruel northeasterly wind whipped around the small parade of downbeat shops: a newsagent’s, a small grocer’s, a bric-a-brac shop selling everything from bags of nails to out-of-date packets of sweets and biscuits, and at the end a launderette. Four shops with flats above forming a dismal end to a rundown street of terraced houses, which had once been part of the council’s regeneration project, until its budget had been cut.
Three of the four shops were in darkness and shuttered against the gangs of marauding yobs who roamed this part of town after dark. But the launderette, although closed to the public, wasn’t shuttered. It was lit, and the machines were working. Fluorescent lighting flickered against a stained grey ceiling as steam from the machines condensed on the windows. The largest window over the dryers ran with rivulets of water that puddled on the sill.
Inside, Bonnie, Lucy’s mother, worked alone. She was in her mid-twenties, thin, and had her fair hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was busy heaving the damp clothes from the washing machines and piling them into the dryers, then reloading the machines. She barely faltered in her work, and the background noise of the machines, clicking through their programmes of washing, rinsing, spinning and drying, provided a rhythm; it was like a well-orchestrated dance. While all the machines were occupied and in mid-cycle, Bonnie went to the ironing board at the end of the room and ironed as many shirts as she could before a machine buzzed to sound the end of its cycle and needed her attention.
Bonnie now stood at the ironing board meticulously pressing the shirts of divorced businessmen who didn’t know how to iron, had no inclination to learn and drove past the launderette from the better end of town on their way to and from work. Usually they gave her a tip, which was just as well, for the money her boss, Ivan, gave her wasn’t enough to keep her and her baby. Nowhere near.
With her earphones in and the volume turned up high on her Discman, plus the noise coming from the machines, Bonnie didn’t hear the man tapping on the window and then rattling the shop door. With her concentrating on the ironing and her back turned away from him, he could have stood there indefinitely trying to attract her attention. The door was Chubb locked and double bolted, as it was every evening when Bonnie worked alone. It was lucky, therefore, that after a few moments Bonnie set down the iron to adjust the volume on her Discman, because as she did so she caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she peered from the brightness of the shop into the darkness outside and was a little startled to see the silhouette of a man at the door. Then, with relief, she recognized the silhouette as that of Vince.
Bonnie crossed the shop floor, taking out her earphones and switching off her Discman as she went. She was expecting Vince; he was the reason the shutters weren’t down. He’d phoned earlier and said he needed to see her urgently as he was leaving – for good. Bonnie hadn’t been shocked to hear that the father of her baby was leaving. Vince (not his real name, which he’d told her was unpronounceable to English people) had come over from Thailand on a student visa four years previously, although as far as Bonnie knew he’d never been a student. His visa had long since run out, and in the fourteen months Bonnie had known Vince he’d said many times that immigration were after him and he would have to leave. But after the first few times, as with many of the other things Vince had told her – like his age and where his money came from – Bonnie had begun to doubt that it was true, and suspected it was just an excuse to come and go from her life as he pleased. However, as Bonnie now slid the bolts aside and opened the door, letting the cold night air rush in, she could see from his expression that something was different tonight. Vince’s usually smooth manner was ruffled and he appeared to be sweating, despite it being cold outside.
‘My sister phoned,’ he said, slightly out of breath, as he stepped in and locked the door behind him. ‘My mother is ill. I have to go to her.’
Bonnie looked at him. He was the same height as her – about five foot eight inches – with pale olive skin and jet-black hair; she saw his charm and appeal now as she always had, despite the way he treated her. Her mother had said it was her fault that she allowed men to treat her like a doormat, but at least Vince didn’t hit her, as some men had.
‘Your mother is always ill,’ Bonnie said, not unkindly, but stating a fact. ‘You told me your sister looks after her.’
Vince rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. ‘My mother is in hospital. She has cancer and will not live long. I have to go home.’
Bonnie looked into his dark, almost black eyes and searched for the truth in what he said, which was also probably the key to her future.
‘You’re going home? On a plane?’ she asked, raising her voice over the noise of the machines, for he’d never said before that he was going home, only that he was going away.
Vince nodded and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.
‘For how long?’ Bonnie asked.
He shrugged. ‘Maybe for good.’
‘And your daughter?’ Bonnie said, irritated by his casualness, and still not fully believing him. ‘What do I tell Lucy when she is old enough to ask about her father?’
‘I’ll write,’ he said with no commitment. ‘I’ll write and phone on her birthday.’
‘Like your father does with you?’ she said bitterly, aware that Vince only ever heard from his father on his birthday. But if she was honest, she knew Vince had never wanted a baby; it had been her decision not to terminate the pregnancy.
‘I have to go,’ he said, glancing anxiously towards the shop door. ‘I need to buy my ticket home, but I haven’t the money.’
Bonnie gave a small, sharp laugh. ‘So that’s why you’re here? To borrow money. No, Vince,’ she said, before he could ask. ‘The little I earn is for me and my baby. There’s never any left over, as you know.’
‘You live rent free here in the flat,’ he said, an edge of desperation creeping into his voice. ‘You must have some cash you can lend me?’
‘No. I have to pay bills – heating and lighting. I have to buy food and clothes. I’ve told you before I have no savings. I don’t have enough for Lucy and me.’ She was growing angry now. A better man would have realized and not asked.
‘I’m desperate,’ Vince said, almost pleading. ‘You wouldn’t stop me from seeing my mother when she is dying, would you?’
Bonnie heard the emotional blackmail, but it didn’t stop her feeling guilty. ‘I don’t have any money,’ she said again. ‘Honestly, I don’t.’
Vince’s eyes grew cold, as they did sometimes, though not normally in relation to her. It made her uneasy, as though there was a side to him she didn’t know.
‘The till,’ he said, shifting his gaze to the far end of the shop where the till sat on a table fixed to the floor. ‘You have the day’s takings. Please. I’m desperate. I’ll repay you, I promise.’
‘No. It’s impossible,’ Bonnie said, an icy chill running down her spine. ‘I’ve told you what Ivan’s like. He’s always saying he’ll beat me if the day’s takings are down. He would, I’m sure. He’s capable of it. You wouldn’t put me in danger?’
But she could tell from Vince’s eyes that he could and would. His gaze flickered to the till again as he nervously licked his bottom lip. ‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘It’s not just about my mother. I owe people money. People who’ll kill me if I don’t pay them. I’m sorry, Bonnie, but I don’t have any choice.’
His mother’s illness or creditors? Bonnie didn’t know the truth and it hardly mattered any more; his betrayal of her was complete. She watched in horror as with single-minded determination he walked the length of the shop to the till. She watched from where she stood as he opened the till draw, struggling to accept that he thought more of his own safety than hers and would put her in danger to save himself. But as he began taking out the money – the money she had collected from hand washes, dry cleaning and ironing; which could be £500 or more; and which she took to the flat each night for safe keeping, ready to give Ivan the following morning – her thoughts went to Ivan and what he would do to her if any of the money was missing. She knew she had to stop Vince.