Page 51 of Daisy Darker

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“Thank god,” says Rose. “It’s less than three hours until low tide now. We just have to stay calm, then we can all get out of here. Together.”

Conor starts checking that the doors and windows are locked again, it’s Lily’s turn to pace up and down the room, and Rose sitsin Nana’s purple armchair, quietly playing with the ring on her right hand. It’s made of three interlocking bands of bronze, silver, and gold, and was a gift from Nana on Rose’s sixteenth birthday. It’s something that I’ve always been jealous of, like so many of the things my sisters had that I didn’t. I remember that birthday and that year very well. It was 1986.

Nana and Nancy were both wearing aprons—which was a recipe for disaster seeing as Nana didn’t like anyone else in the kitchen when she was cooking. But Nancy insisted on helping with her daughter’s sixteenth birthday cake. Lily—the lover of all things sweet—marched into the room where I had been sitting quietly and stuck her hand into the bowl of chocolate icing before licking her finger clean. Lily still had short hair, but it had grown into a bob by then, so she looked like a miniature version of our mother.

Rose was allowed to have a sleepover at Seaglass with some of her closest friends for her sixteenth birthday. She was about to start attending a different school, and I think in many ways it was a chance to say goodbye. Things were never quite the same between my sisters after the hair-cutting incident. But Lily was not looking forward to life at boarding school without Rose, and clung to her side that summer like a barnacle. She was our sister’s shadow but was never in it. She followed Rose everywhere, always wanting to be one step ahead. But she couldn’t follow Rose to a school for gifted students because she wasn’t one.

I remember the conversation Nana and Nancy had about my dad, and for the first time I didn’t really care whether he made an appearance or not. He wasn’t there for all ofmybirthdays.

“If he said he’ll be here, he’ll be here,” said Nana, defending her son.

Nancy sighed. “Well, it isn’t long before the kids arrive, then the tide will be in, and then he’ll be too late. You can’t be there for one daughter’s birthday and not there for the other. Rose will feel so let down if he’s a no-show again.”

“Just be patient,” Nana said. “And as for the other one, he’ll be back. Men don’t like being told off, it makes them sulk like the little boys they’re pretending not to be.”

“All I asked was for Bradley to wipe his feet before trudging in mud from the garden. It’s as though he can’t see the dirt.” I remember my mother and Conor’s father squabbling about the strangest of things when they were “friends.” Being neat and tidy frequently seemed to be high on their list of differences: she was; he wasn’t. Nancy was always tidying things away and putting them in cupboards. Conor’s dad’s inability to remove his muddy gardening boots before stepping inside made her crazier than normal.

“Daisy!” Nancy said. “Leave the cake mix alone!”

“Lily stuck her finger in the bowl, why can’t I? And why can’t I stay up for the party? I’m almost eleven,” said ten-year-old me.

“Because I said so. Rose wants to have a sleepover with some friends. They’re all a bit older than you, sweetheart. You can stay for the food, then straight up to your room. Nana and I are forbidden from staying downstairs too,” my mother said. “You’ll understand one day.”

I didn’t believe her.

Like all children whose parents get divorced, my sisters and I learned to adapt to our new lives. Rose and Lily learned to love going to boarding school, and soon seemed to resent their long summers back at Seaglass with me. Despite the unpleasantness they unpacked with their bags, I always longed for their return. I missed them. They shared a life that I had little knowledge of, filled with teachers and friends and lessons. I would listen to their storieswith little understanding of what they meant. For years I thought that a spelling test was something only trainee witches had to do, to check they had learned their magic spells. I wondered if that’s what my sisters really were: witches. There had been plenty of evidence to suggest I was right. I resented their relationship, and was jealous of their education, and the older I got, the more being left behind bothered me.

My mother’s idea of homeschooling was to allow me to read the books Nana gave me. She wouldn’t even let me watch the news on TV, only cartoons like Bugs Bunny.

“Daisy doesn’t need to learn about the horrors of the real world,” Nancy would say, depriving me of the joy of learning. So I tried to teach myself. This Daisy was a self-raising flower. But my life was too quiet without my sisters in it. I was almost always alone, with nothing but novels and an overactive imagination for company.

Books can take you anywhere if you let them, and reading proved to be a big part of my education. But my sisters learned a lot of things that I didn’t. Things about real life, and social skills, andboys.I have always been a little awkward around real people. I don’t know how to talk to them, and even now, I still prefer the company of characters in books. I suppose it is a hangover from my childhood, when I was so often drunk with solitude. “Doesn’t play well with others” is to be expected when playing with others was rarely an option. And I have always been a little over the limit with my own opinions, without the views of others to dilute them.

“Can I watchLabyrinthagain?” I asked Nancy when she tried to shoo me out of the kitchen for the tenth time. It was my favorite film that year, and Conor had managed to get me a bootlegged copy, but my sisters only wanted to watchTop Gunand drool over Tom Cruise, so I had to watch it on my own.

“Yes, but not tonight, because the only TV is downstairs, asyou well know. Go on, skedaddle,” she said, wearing her enormous shoulder pads—a very strange invention, then and now. She started blowing up a blue balloon and left the room.

“Don’t waste your life being sad about things you can’t change,” Nana said when my mother was gone.

“I’m just sick of being such a loser,” I replied. Lily had started calling me that name on a regular basis, and always made an L-shape on her forehead when she did. She called me a loser so often I had started to believe that I was one. “Rose will go off to university one day, Conor will probably be a brilliant journalist… and I want that to happen for him, he’s so talented he deserves it—”

“Don’t spend all of your ambition on other people’s dreams,” said Nana.

“Why not? What kind of future do I have to look forward to? I’m a nobody.”

She smiled and shook her head. “The only nobodies in this world are the people who pretend to be somebody; the people who think they are better than other people because of the way they choose to look, or speak, or vote, or pray, or love. People are not the same but different, they are different but the same.” I was too young to understand what she meant at the time, but I think I do now.

“And Daisy…” Nana said, as we heard the sound of people arriving at the front door.

“Yes, Nana?”

“Best to leave the scissors in the drawer this family birthday.”

Sheknew.Nana knew that it was me who cut off Lily’s hair, but she had never said anything about it before. I’ve no idea what my face did—I’ve never had much control over the expressions it pulls—but the rest of me froze.

Nana smiled. “I’ll always keep your secrets, my darling girl. And you’ll always be my favorite. You just have to prove all those doctorswrong for me. As for your sisters… Albert Einstein once said that weak people revenge, strong people forgive, and intelligent people ignore. It was one of the few things he was wrong about.Successis the best revenge. Try to remember that.”

Before she could say any more on the subject, a small but perfectly formed group of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds arrived at Seaglass. They had been shepherded across the causeway like lost sheep by Rose before the tide came in. Every one of them was dressed to impress. The only teenager I recognized among them was Conor, doing a not-bad impression of Tom Cruise inTop Gun.He wore aviator sunglasses indoors even when it got dark, so was constantly bumping into things and people, but he thought he looked cool.

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