Chapter One

My Miserable Childhood

I was told I was lucky to have an Aunt who was 'kind hearted' to take me in, considering she was a widow and had three children of her own to take care of herself. Everyone told me that, especially my Aunt. A day never went by without my being reminded what a fortunate girl I was to be taken in instead of being sent to a children's home, which was what generally happened to the majority of orphans, like me. Lucky. That's what they told me. I used to wonder about that. Many an unhappy day would I spend wondering whether I was indeed lucky to have been taken in by my Aunt, whether she was indeed kind in taking me in? I always came to the same conclusion. I would have been happier in a children's home. At least I would have been in with the chance of being adopted by a couple who would really love me, and treat me with the kindness I could only ever dream about.

I, Julia Evans, was born in the autumn of 1990. My Mum had died soon after I was born, after contracting an infection from the hospital. I was told that the day my Mum passed away, something inside my Dad just snapped, and he was never the same after that. It was almost as if he had pined away for her – like he lost the will to live with her gone. Come to think of it, he couldn't have really loved me then, otherwise he would have felt that there was a reason, no matter how small, to live on. I guess I never really had been loved. Anyway, Dad died a few months after Mum, and that was how I came to live with his sister, my Aunt Carol Roland, and three cousins, Jake, Ellie and Gemma. They knew my Aunt didn't want me, and I guess her bitterness towards me rubbed off on them, for a day never went by without them making me feel unwanted, ill-used and bullied.

My cousins frequently ganged up on me, and would invent false tales to whisper to my Aunt, which often resulted in my being punished. I think I spent most of my days locked up in my room, or confined to the house for a week at a time whilst I watched with an aching heart from my window my spoilt cousins trooping off with my Aunt on a walk, or to some concert or show; and I would have to stay behind, being punished for crimes I never committed. Of course, I would often plead innocent, and would declare my cousin's tales false and untrue, but inevitably it was always I who was the liar and the cheat, and consequently I was the one who was blamed for the scrapes my cousins committed.

But out of the three of them, it was Jake who was the worst. Although the girls were spiteful, and would often say nasty things to hurt me, it was Jake who tormented me the most. Not content to reel off abuse to my Aunt behind my back, or taunt me to my face, he would often resort to physical bullying. I was often the victim to his vicious and painful punches and pinches.

I grew up, lonely, unloved and unhappy. Even at school I was sneered at and ignored. My cousins saw to that. I never even attempted to befriend anyone during my years at school. The treatment I received from my relatives produced a negative effect in my social life, for I grew quiet, reserved and shy around people. I didn't even know how to approach anyone. But I did have one sole comfort during my miserable childhood, and that was my whole world: reading.

I devoured books. Whenever I read a novel, it would whisk me away into another world – the book's world, where I could momentarily forget my loneliness and troubles. Reading was my sole passion.

Perhaps in a way it turned out to be a blessing that I never had any friends during those long and lonely years. When other girls my age went out with their friends, I either read or studied. I poured myself into my work at school. It was the only thing I could really live for. I knew that all I wanted to do was study hard so that I could earn good grades in my GCSE's and A-Levels later on, and then move away to university. I saw that as my only source of escape. So I studied diligently and intently, soaking in all the knowledge I could learn. I ended up in all the top sets in my class, which consequently earned me more than just high praise from my teachers, and although it wasn't pleasant at the time, now that I look back on it, it turned out to be the biggest break of my life!

I think it was Iago from Shakespeare's 'Othello' who said:

'O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.'

Jealousy. Yes, this was what my high grades earned me. My cousins became exceedingly jealous of my success at school, notwithstanding that I excelled all three of them in every subject. My high success became my downfall, for it only increased the persecutions which I received at their merciless hands.

I believe my Aunt encouraged their cruelty. In fact, I have often thought that she was the instigator of it. I knew she was jealous of my excellent results at school; she was afraid that her own children would live in my shadow. I think I saw that even then. I could see it in her eyes when she looked at me – those deep, cold eyes which almost seemed to suck you down into their emptiness whenever you looked into them. I remember shivering on occasions from the glares she used to fix upon me. I knew it meant trouble.

I have often watched in wonder at the sky, as small clouds begin to form, wispy, white and almost transparent; and then other smaller clouds join them and cluster together, as more clouds continue to form and expand. Very soon, the blue sky that was only dotted with little puffs of evaporation eventually seem to swell with the ever darkening clouds which gather only subtly at first, and then no longer able to contain their outburst, torrent down their wrath of rain in a tempest. So it was with me when the real tempest came when I had reached my tenth year. But just as it often is when a storm is over, and the clouds are spent with their tears and the sun peeps cautiously behind a vanishing cloud to reveal a beam of warmth with the promise of better weather, so it was when the next greatest storm of my childhood passed over my head.