Chapter 1: Terms of Parole.
I fidgeted under the scrutiny of my new care-workers. They had introduced their selves as Mike, Gina and Tracy.
Mike was a tall, balding man with a friendly smile and his eyes screamed understanding. He was dressed in a simple t-shirt and faded jeans and he wore the look of someone who had been a care-worker for a while but still loved it. Gina was a big, black woman with a Jamaican or Caribbean accent and a "no-nonsense" air about her but she too was friendly, even while watching me. She wore a long top with a flowery pattern on it and black leggings. Tracy was short, only about a centimetre taller than me and her black hair was cut in layers just below her shoulders. She wore black jeans and a black leather jacket with a purple top underneath. Tracy looked different from the other two as well, she watched me in understanding not pity, and she didn't look at me like I was "just another care kid" she looked at me like I was a human.
"Her curfew," Kara, my social worker spoke to them, "Is seven until five. After that she can't go further than thirty metres from the house. If she does the box will sound and either I or Carrie," she nodded to my parole officer who had also accompanied me to Elm Tree House, "Will come and switch it off. She has three strikes. If she breaks them Carrie has to take her back."
"Can we stop talking as if I'm not in the room please?" I snarled at them. Both of them were business like woman and both wore skirt suits. Carrie's was black pin stripe and it was slightly baggy on her skinny body, she wore it with a white shirt and her blonde hair was scraped back from her face and pulled into a tight bun at the top of her head. Kara's suit was grey and she wore a pale pink shirt underneath it, she was much older that Carrie, who was in her early twenties, and her greying hair was down, in waves, framing her wrinkled face. "I think I can explain the "terms of my parole" to them. I'm not a two year old, nor am I going back to prison."
"You weren't in prison," Carrie lectured me for the hundredth time; "It was a youth detention centre. Prison would have been much worse."
"I was in prison," I said to her, "It was either prison or hell and it wasn't nearly red enough to be hell and there was no fire." I fiddled with the cross around my neck. Some catholic I am, I thought to myself for the millionth time. I shivered at how casually I was talking about being in hell. If my Grandma had heard me she would have slapped me, of course she doesn't want anything to do with me anyway. Poor Gran.
Kara gave me a warning glance and I smirked at her.
"She can't go out alone at any time," Kara continued like I hadn't said anything, "She can't go out in a pair either. She has to be with at least two other people, she needs a single room and has to be searched every Friday night."
"Searched?" Tracy asked looking shocked.
"Yes," Kara said, "we know it isn't your policy but she has been known to carry knives and matches..."
"Which she understands would break her parole," Carrie interrupted looking at me. I nodded and gave her a look that was meant to say: obviously. She got the message.
"I never hurt anyone," I murmured.
"She has to keep her mobile on at all times," Kara continued, "So we know who she is calling and she can add to her contacts only people that live in the house or that she has consent from you to have in her contacts." She nodded to Mike who was the head care-worker.
"Oh," I said sarcastically, "I'm sorry. I thought I'd gotten out of prison."
They ignored me.
"We'll come to check her tag and her progress once a month." Carrie said and my left ankle became heavier with the reminder of the brace that was around it. "If she goes three months without breaking curfew then we'll extend her time limit and lower her parole, if not. It stays the way it is."
"What if I urgently need to go to the shops at six o'clock and no one else can leave the house?" I asked, just for the sake of being annoying.
"Then you can wait." Carrie said sternly, "What could possibly be so urgent that you couldn't wait until the next day to buy?"
I thought about it for a second and then smirked, "tampons." I said matter-of-factly.
Tracy smirked and rolled her eyes, Gina shook her head and Mike went slightly red. Kara turned away to hide the small smile on her face and Carrie just frowned. I could have sworn I'd also heard a snigger come from the other side of the door I was leaning against.
"I'm pretty sure you will be able to find some in the house," Carrie said bluntly.
"What if there aren't any though and all the other girls are away out and it's only Mike in the house with me and the boys?" I said, making this up as I went along, "I'm not going to ask the boys to go buy me some am I?"
Kara and Carrie both sighed. "You'll just have to make sure you have lots in the house then, won't you?" Carrie said irritated.
"Don't worry," Tracy said to me, smiling, "There's always some somewhere."
I shrugged in defeat. I knew it wouldn't have worked but I had hoped a little bit.
"I think that's everything you need to know," Carrie spoke again to the care-workers as if I wasn't there, "We will be retrieving what's left of her things from her old house and sending them over soon but all of her necessities are in her rucksack." She held up the black back at her feet and handed it back to me. I took it from her and slung it over my shoulder, "Have you got any questions?" she asked the three people who would be taking care of me from now on.
"Do you have any medical or religious or dietary needs?" Mike asked me and not Carrie.
"I'm catholic," I said quietly, "I need to go to mass every Sunday. Other than that I've got no medical or dietary issues."
He smiled at me and nodded.
"Okay," Kara said to me, "We'd better go and let you get settled. Call me if you need anything, okay?"
"Can I call you if I need tampons?" I asked seizing the opportunity.
"I guess so," she smiled, "As long as you don't get into any more trouble, deal?"
"I won't let myself get arrested," I answered back, not entirely answering her question.
That was good enough for her and she and Carrie left the room, Carrie giving me a nod and telling me not to get into trouble. I smirked at her and told her I couldn't promise anything.
When they opened the door there was a crowd of kids of varying ages standing outside. That must have been where the snigger had come from. I put on a hard face when I stepped outside followed by the care-workers. Each of the kids had a slightly scared look on their face, I realised quickly it was because they had been listening and they knew I had been in prison. I also probably looked pretty wild; I hadn't had a shower in about two days, having been driven back and forth without much of a rest. I decided not to say anything to them, it seemed safer. I didn't want to be asked awkward questions and I was not going to be the first person to introduce myself. Carrie and Kara left the house without saying anything else. I stood there in the doorway staring straight ahead of me but I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. A boy a little taller than me, wearing a dark blue polo shirt and beige trousers had moved forward slightly. He had dark curly hair and he was carrying a notepad and a pen. He opened his mouth to speak but he lost his nerve as I watched him and stepped back again.
"Come on," Mike said from behind me, "I'll show you your room. We'll put you in Toby's old room."
I nodded, not that I knew who Toby was.
"You got your bag?" He asked again. I showed him it on my shoulder and he smiled and led me through the crowd and to the stairs.
"Come on, guys," Tracy said from behind me, "Introduce yourself or go do something!"
There was silence and I stopped where I was with my foot on the stairs. I turned my head to the group of kids. I noticed that, with the exception of one or two, I was shorter and skinnier than all of them even though I suspected I was older that most. I smirked when no one introduced themselves, though no one left.
"Why were you in prison?" the boy I had noticed earlier asked me and everyone began to mutter and watch me carefully. I noticed a small blonde boy with a toy giraffe in his hand hide behind Tracy and an older, taller guy at the back of the group who had dark hair and wore jeans and a purple adidas hoodie watched me with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Time to have a bit of fun, I thought to myself and let a sneer show on my face. I could tell by the silence that greeted my facial expression I appeared just as malicious as I'd hoped to. I looked at them all and waited another few seconds for the effect.
I opened my mouth and I smiled, "Murder." I whispered.
Everyone gasped and moved back again. All except the boy at the back who smiled at me and spoke carefully.
"She didn't murder anyone." he said and I smirked at him and raised my eyebrows, "She'd be in for life if she had and she's joking. It's obvious."
"Really?" I said sarcastically.
He nodded and everyone calmed down.
"I'm Liam," he said to me still smiling mischievously.
"Mary," I replied bluntly.
The other kids had stopped talking again and the boy with the notebook stepped forward again, "Why were you in prison, then?"
"Can't tell you that, sorry," I said and shrugged.
"But I have to know," he moaned. I looked this boy up and down. I noticed how immaculate he looked and as I fully took in the way he spoke and acted and I realised he really did have to know.
I looked at Mike who was watching me, worried. I tried to ask him for permission to tell this boy the reason with my eyes and he nodded in understanding.
"I was in for breaking and entering and vandalism of private property," I said to him and he scribbled it down on his notebook.
"What's your full name?" He asked me.
"Mary Smith," I said and a girl standing at the back of the group scoffed. She had blue through her dark hair and wore ripped denim jeans and a blue t-shirt. I glared at her, I was perfectly aware of how un-creative my name was.
"I'll see my room now, thanks, Mike," I turned to Mike and started back up the stairs ignoring all of the other kids that were looking at me.
Mike showed me to a small room that had blue walls and a multi-coloured bed cover.
"Sorry about the colours, we haven't re-decorated since the last person in this room left," Mike said to me as I put my rucksack down on the bed, "and sorry about the kids, they're normally very friendly."
But your normal care kids aren't prisoners, I thought to myself. "It's fine," I muttered, "Friendly isn't really my cup of tea."
"They'll get used to you," Mike continued smiling, "Just give them some time."
"Yeah," I said, "Thanks."
Mike left me to my own devices so I stripped the bed and replaced the colourful quilt cover and pillow cover with beige ones that Kara had brought me from my Dad's old house. I then placed out the few belongings I had. The only things I had been able to bring were things that Carrie had approved and so I had two pairs of grey jogger bottoms, a grey hoodie, two plain white t-shirts, a pale, yellow, Sunday dress and a pale top and grey shorts to use as pyjamas. I had the usual underwear and a few "everyday" toiletries too. She had also allowed me to bring three books from my Dad's and a picture of my dad, my gran and me from a few years ago. In the picture we were standing in front of a fighter jet and my dad was in his military uniform with a small smile on his face, his arms wrapped around me on one side and Gran on the other. His blonde hair stuck out at odd angles and his blue eyes were sad. He was bent over so that he fit in the picture with us. My gran, on my dad's left, was wearing the green dress she always wore to church with her lime green shawl and matching sun-hat and hand bag. Gran's grey hair, like her son's stuck out at different angles no matter how much she had tried to cover it with that awful hat. She was skinny and angular her cheekbones protruded from her face in a very obvious manner that wasn't helped by the bright red blusher she had always used. Her face was scowling as usual but her eyes weren't a stern as usual, they were sad and proud. I was oblivious to the sorrow surrounding everyone else, I was quite a bit older now than I was in that picture but I had hardly changed, I'd grown only a couple of inches and though my body had developed since then I was still just as skinny as I was in that picture. My hair was white-blonde in the photo and it fell to my waist a lot neater than my dad's and Gran's, it didn't anymore. It had darkened in the time that had passed and was now a dirty blonde colour and it was cut short, like a boy's, in a pixie cut. The photo showed me wearing a pink blazer and blue jeans which I remember having to hold up on my hips with rope because they were too big for me. I was smiling and looking up at my dad with wide eyes. All I knew was that my dad was going to protect me from far away. I didn't realise all of the other dangers he faced.
A knock on my door woke me from me trance. I placed the picture down on the bedside table, walked to the door and opened it.
The boy with the notepad stood there at the door. He started talking as soon as the door swung open.
"I'm giving you a tour," notepad boy said, "It starts in four minutes. I need you downstairs in four minutes." he turned to leave.
"What's your name?" I asked him.
He turned back to me. "Gus Carmichael."
"Okay, Gus," I said, "Show me where we've to start the tour." I smiled at him, glad to have someone who wasn't intimidated by me.
I don't understand how you could be intimidated me. I'm short and I'm skinny. Looking at me you would think there is no way I'd hurt anyone, that's part of the reason they let me out on parole before the end of my sentence.
I shut the door behind me as I stepped into the hall. He set off down the stairs. He led me to the kitchen where some of the kids were sitting. Including the tiny blonde boy with the giraffe and the girl that had made fun of my name. Mike and Gina were also in the kitchen and they both looked surprised to see me come down with Gus.
"The tour starts in one minute," Gus informed me as he sat down at the table, sitting down was pointless as I knew he would have to get up in a minute anyway but I joined him. "You can't talk on the tour." he continued.
"That would be rude," I agreed with him smiling.
"It would," he said looking slightly surprised.
"Can I take notes incase I have questions at the end?" I asked him, knowing it would make him happy if I did and ignoring the shocked looks I could feel myself getting from everyone else, "And so I remember what you tell me."
"Yes," he said giving me a suspicious look, "There's a spare notepad and pen in that drawer." he pointed to a drawer behind the breakfast bar.
I stood up from my seat and walked over to the drawer, opened it and removed the pad and pen which were sitting on the top. I continued ignoring the looks I was getting. Gina and Mike looked pretty surprised and the small boy with the giraffe still looked quite nervous of me as he hid behind Gina. The girl with the blue in her hair was smirking but she looked like she was trying to hide surprise, the other two people in the room were a boy that I'd seen standing beside Liam earlier, he'd seemed nervous then but now he was smiling. It was clear he had some sort of physical disability. The other was a very anxious looking boy taller than me by a few inches, with dark hair. He looked like he was good friends with the blue haired girl.
I smiled at the smiling boy and stood beside Gus as he said to me:
"The tour starts now."