Beautiful One

Finding the courage to be all that you were meant to be

"...there'll be four green bottles, hanging on the wall."

Mercy smiled at her little sister. She was only four, and Mercy herself was ten. Both looked so innocent and trusting- which Hannah was. But Mercy was neither. She knew things about the world that she wanted to protect her baby sister from. She knew things that someone of her age shouldn't know about. And keeping it all a secret was killing her.

She looked at the crumpled photograph in her hand. It showed five of them. Mercy and Hannah, aged three and nine, Mercy's older sister, then sixteen, and their parents. They all looked so happy, so loving. And at that time, they all still were.

Mercy couldn't believe the events that had taken place during the last year. That sweet, unknowing nine year old had turned into a bitter, unhappy ten year old. She had to protect Hannah from her father. But how could she do it alone? Her big sister had gone, her mother was dead, and her father? She hated him, and had done for a long time. But now her hatred had grown worse because of the terrible thing he had done. It was far worse than any of the abuse Mercy and her sisters had suffered in the previous months and years. There was clearly nobody else left…

No one but her.

*****

The brightly coloured tropical fish swam to one end of the tank, and then back to the other. Then it went around the back of a rock, where it stayed. Mercy, now aged fifteen, turned her attention away from the microcosm that was her fish tank, and sat down on the edge of her bed, with a long sigh.

She wasn't really happy with her foster parents anymore. Sure enough, they were lovely people, and had already done a lot for Mercy. But there was so much they didn't know. So much they wouldn't understand. On the other hand though, it had been almost six months already since Mercy had been staying with the Gregson's and she didn't much want to be moved again. And after all, they were nice. Mrs. Gregson had taken Mercy clothes shopping on several occasions and allowed her to decorate her room black- even helped her to do it! And as for Mr. Gregson, he was nothing like Mercy's own father, and that in itself was a godsend. However, there were still moments when Mercy was afraid of Jeff Gregson. Her fear wasn't caused by anything he had done, but simply because, after her father, and a traumatic stream of foster-fathers, Mercy had developed a fear of men, and the things that they were capable of.

Sighing again, Mercy lay back, staring at the black ceiling. There were little glow in the dark stars covering it, however it was still too early in the day to be able to see them. At first, Mercy had felt closed in by the solid black colour of the room. But she had grown to love it, as she knew she would. It was her. Her colour, her life. Thoughts, memories, quickly flooded her already troubled mind.

"Whore!"

"Bastard!"

Mercy rolled over and buried her head under the pillow.

"I'll kill you!"

"No! No, no, no!" Mercy shouted out loud, not even aware that she was doing it. Footsteps came running upstairs, getting louder as they got closer. Annie Gregson burst into Mercy's bedroom, and shook her, trying to snap her out of the vision of her past. Mercy stopped shouting. She lay there, silently, shaking a little.

"Mercy?" Annie ventured. Mercy buried her face in Annie's lap, and wept.

Soon, she had drifted into a comforting sleep. Annie had pulled the blankets over her, and left her there, continuing back downstairs again, knowing that something needed to be done for the girl, but not fully understanding what that something was.

"Mummy?" Six year old Franka popped her head around the kitchen door.

"Yes, darling?"

"Why was Mercy screaming again?"

"She's not very happy darling. Don't ask her questions, just leave her be."

"Why isn't she happy? Doesn't she like us?"

"Of course she does. It's not us that she's unhappy with."

"Then what is it, mummy?"

"It's nothing for you to worry about."

"So she won't want to play with me?" Franka looked crestfallen.

"No, honey, not right now. She's gone to sleep for a while."

"But I wanted to colour with her."

"Then why don't you draw her a picture darling? It might cheer her up." Satisfied with her mother's answers, the little girl skipped back into the dining room, where she had been sitting at the table drawing pictures. Picking up a bright yellow crayon, she drew a sunflower. Then at the top, with her favourite blue crayon, she scrawled in her childish handwriting; 'We love you Mursee."

*****

Jeff Gregson approached the front door in his usual large strides, and unlocked it. His large bunch of keys rattled loudly. Upon hearing this, Franka and Annie rushed to welcome him, something they always did every day. Mercy, for a change, also walked to the door. She drew back from the rest of the family though. She didn't belong. She knew she didn't. But she still wanted to show her appreciation of having a real family to live with. One who treated her right even though she didn't always act as if she liked them as much as she did.

"Hello everyone." Jeff gathered his wife and child to him, and then, on spotting Mercy, looked pleasantly surprised. He held out his arm to her, too. But she drew back a little. Mr. Gregson just shrugged and smiled.

"Well, how's everyone's day been? Franka? Mercy?"

"Mercy went to sleep," Franka piped up. Jeff glanced at his wife, a look of concern in his eyes. Annie gave him a look back, one that said 'I'll tell you about it later.' Jeff turned his attention back to Franka. "And what have you been doing today then, my little one?"

"After school I watched TV. And then I drew some pictures. I drew one for mummy and one for Mercy. And one for you." she chattered excitedly and then brandished a piece of paper at him. He took it from her. It showed a large purple cat, with a big smile. 'To daddy, love from Franka' it said along the bottom, with at least half of the letters back-to-front.

"Well now, isn't that a gorgeous picture." Jeff exclaimed. "Come with me to the kitchen, and we'll put it on the fridge!" He scooped up Franka and carried her out of the hallway.

"Are you OK now, dear?" Annie cautiously asked.

"Yes." Mercy said. "Yes thank you. I feel much better now that I've slept. Although I didn't dream very nice things. And I probably won't be able to sleep tonight now."

"We'll go and see the doctor again soon, shall we? See if we can get you some sleeping pills."

"Yeah." Mercy smiled the best smile she could manage.

"Good. Would you like to come and lay the table for me dear? I'm about to serve dinner." She paused. "Are you going to eat with us tonight?"

"Sure. And I'll lay the table for you."

"You're a star." Annie was visibly pleased with Mercy. It was not often that Mercy ate with them all, as a family. Partly due to her being bulimic and partly just because she found family situations hard sometimes.

The two females walked into the kitchen together.

*****

Mercy sat on the floor of the bathroom with the door locked. She was running a bath, because it helped her relax and take her mind of things, and also to drown out the sound of her vomiting. She hadn't been able to keep the food down. She had been fine eating it, but then… something inside her told her she had to get it back out again.

"Fat cow. Stupid, fat bitch. It's all your fault!" Her fathers words swum around her head. She could hear his voice, smell the alcohol on his breath… the familiar shaking started again, just at the thought of him being there. Slowly, and with much wobbling, she got to her feet, and took of her dressing gown. She turned off the taps and sunk into the hot tub. The aroma of the lavender bubble bath was quite overwhelming, and Mercy let out a sigh of satisfaction. Then she picked up the book which she had left balanced on the edge of the sink, and lost herself in someone else's world.

*****

Almost two hours later, when the bathwater was turning cold, Mercy shivered. She hadn't realised the temperature- she was too lost in her book. Stepping out, she wrapped a large, soft towel around herself and pulled out the plug. She gathered up all of her things from the bathroom floor and unlocked the door, heading back across the landing towards her bedroom. She caught a glimpse of something lying on her bedside table. She picked it up. A drawing, Mercy thought to herself, obviously done by little Franka.

"That girl is so sweet." Mercy murmured, and pinned the paper up on her notice board. Next to it was an old looking photograph of three girls together. Mercy and her sisters.

"Susie..." Mercy reached out and touched the face of the eldest. She wished she could see her again. She had no idea where she had gone, what she was doing... nobody knew. A tear trickled down Mercy's cheek. And Hannah. By the time she got to see Hannah again, she would have forgotten who she was. Mercy heard from Hannah's foster parents occasionally, and sometimes from Hannah herself. She was happy, she had settled in with a new family almost straight away. Not like Mercy. Mercy had been considered trouble, and had been shifted from home to home before she had found the Gregson's. They were the best family yet. But she still wasn't happy...

She just wanted to be with her sisters again.

*****

"Franka!" Annie called. "Mr. Ray is here. Come down." Franka trundled downstairs and into the dining room, where her piano teacher sat drinking a mug of coffee.

"Ah, Franka my little one." He gave her a big smile from beneath his large grey beard. "Are you ready to play?" At that moment Mercy walked into the room.

"...and Mercy. How would you like to sit in on Franka's lesson?"

"OK. I guess so."

"Can I get you another drink, Mr. Ray?" Annie asked.

"Yes thank you, Annie. Coffee again please."

"Mercy?"

"Just a glass of water." Annie left the room to get the drinks.

"So, Mercy." Mr Ray said. "Can you play anything?"

"Yes, a little, but I'm not sure how much I remember. I haven't played for a few years. Not since my..." She stopped. "Not since I was ten."

"I see. And would you like to have a go today? I'd love to hear..."

"No. No, I couldn't." Mr. Ray nodded a little.

"OK. Maybe you would play for me some other time?"

"Err.. sure. When I've practised a little. Just to make sure I can still play."

"Young lady, one never forgets the gift of music. Once you awake it, it lives permanently in your soul." His eyes twinkled. Mercy thought he was a little strange, although she could see how much he loved his music. And she had loved it too, when she had lived with her family. She remembered how her mother used to play Mercy's favourite song for her when Mercy was upset. She thought of the sound of her mother's sweet voice, and the way that her long slender fingers danced across the keys. Mercy's heart suddenly filled with joy at the memory of her mother. Not sadness for once, but happiness at the thought of how the music had made her feel. Mercy recalled the way she sneaked downstairs some nights to practise the piano in the room at the back of the house where she was seldom heard. Once, very late at night, her mother had caught her, and instead of being angry, she had sat and played alongside Mercy until the early hours of the morning.

"You know," Mercy said quickly "I think I would like to play for you now. Although, I might mess up because I haven't done it in so long."

"I would be delighted to hear you play." Mr. Ray beamed. Franka sat there silently, her eyes wide at seeing Mercy so animated all of a sudden. Mercy took the seat in front of the piano, and allowed her fingers to brush the cold ivory keys. They felt so familiar, so friendly, like they were wielding a secret, which only they and Mercy knew about. She gently played a few notes, just to bring back the feel of her fingers striking them. Mr. Ray watched, as if that was all he expected Mercy to be able to play. Then, the notes all came flooding back, and Mercy forgot where she was and threw her whole heart into the song that her mother had written eight years ago, when Mercy was only seven years old. The words, the notes, everything still as fresh in her memory as though she had heard it just days ago, not years.

"Falling on my knees, I see your face,

I know your grace,

I simply feel a longing I can't place,

I quit the race.

Because now that I have you,

And now that we are one again,

All I want and all I need is where you are.

Look into my eyes, I am sincere,

The love is clear,

Hold me in your arms, no need to fear,

Or shed a tear.

Because now that I have you,

And now that we are one again,

All I want and all I need is where you are."

*****

"Honestly, Pat. You should have been here! I've never heard anything like it." A muffled voice came from the other end of the telephone in reply. "Good?!" Annie exclaimed. "She was amazing! And I didn't even know she could play. I mean, from the bits and pieces Mercy has actually told me, I gather her mother was musical. But it never occurred to me that she might be too." More sounds came from the receiver. "Yes, yes, Pat. Of course. I'll let you go and pick up your kids now. But you must come over later and I'll see if Mercy will play for you. Why not come round for dinner? Allen should be fine with the kids, shouldn't he?" Annie paused whilst Pat replied. "Alright then dear, I'll see you at six. Bye then." Annie hung up the phone, already excited at the prospect of being able to show off Mercy's talents to a close friend such as Pat.

*****

Humming, Mercy moved about her room, tidying up. She didn't need to really, as she was a naturally neat person. But she needed to keep moving, to keep her mind occupied so that she wouldn't become too nervous. So she busied herself dusting shelves which were already clean. She was excited that Annie had invited her friend Pat around to listen to her sing. She didn't know much about Pat, although she had met her a few times. She did know that Pat was a music teacher in a school a few miles away- not the one which Mercy attended, on the days when she actually felt like going.

She thought back to the parties her parents always used to have when Mercy was very young. At the end of the evening, her mother would play a few songs for the guests. On the occasions when her father had been in a good mood, and she hadn't been sent to bed, Mercy was often allowed to play for them too.

The doorbell rang. Mercy's heart did a little jump. She didn't understand why she was so excited. It wasn't as though Pat was anyone important. It was just that Mercy hadn't played for anyone in a long time, and reacquainting herself with music had awakened a part of her which she had never really forgotten, but often related to bad memories as well as good.

Mercy ran down the stairs, and bumped straight into Annie and Pat in the hallway.

"You're eager." Annie laughed. "Go on into the dining room with Pat and I'll make some drinks." Pat followed Mercy into the dining room, where Mercy sat at the piano. She picked up the paper she had left on top of it, which was a song she has written the night before. It hadn't taken her long. She had picked up her journal to write in it, as she did every night, and several times during the day, and instead of her usual thoughts, the lyrics had just come flowing out much in the same way as the song had.

Annie came in with a jug of orange juice and a tray full of glasses, followed by her husband and daughter. It was an unusually warm evening for April, and the patio doors were wide open, letting the cool air inside.

"We'll have dinner outside on the veranda once we have heard Mercy sing." Jeff suggested. "How does that sound?"

"That would be wonderful." Pat said smiling, as Franka eagerly nodded.

"Are you ready to play for us now, Mercy?" Jeff asked, hoping he wasn't putting pressure on her by asking instead of waiting for her to begin of her own accord.

"Yes. Yes, I am." Mercy said, almost stuttering, as she grew more nervous. But as her fingers touched the keys once again, she was filled with an overwhelming love for the gift she had been given- she knew she had to use it. It was what her mother would have wanted.

"I remember the time,

When you looked in my eyes,

And you told me to be strong,

I didn't know then,

But the road is tough,

And without you, seems so long.

But I'm holding on to my dreams,

I've fighting tough for your memory,

Some day I'll we'll be together again,

Break through the wall of hurt and pain.

I wish I could find you,

I wish I could see you,

I just want to hold you tight,

There's so little time,

I don't know where to start,

It feels like I'm losing the fight.

But I'm holding on to my dreams,

I've fighting tough for your memory,

Some day I'll we'll be together again,

Break through the wall of hurt and pain."

The song finished. Mercy held back her tears and put on a brave smile before she turned around, growing slightly nervous again, trying to fight all the conflicting emotions.

"Well? What did you think?" Her voice shook a little, though she tried to hide it.

Pat was visibly astounded, and almost speechless. Mr. and Mrs. Gregson sat there smiling, as proudly as if Mercy was their own.

"It was good, it was good!" Franka shrieked, dancing up and down, and clapping. Annie laughed.

"I think this little one speaks for all of us," she said to Mercy.

"Where did you learn that song, Mercy?" Pat asked, with growing interest. "I haven't heard it before." Mercy looked at Pat, and without even a jump or a stutter, simply said;

"I wrote it myself."

It was Mr. and Mrs. Gregson's turn to look astonished.

*****

The night before had been great, but now Mercy was presented with a new problem. She looked at the envelope in front of her. It looked so much like her father's handwriting. And if not him, then... who? The only way she was going to find out was by opening the envelope and reading the contents. But she didn't want to. She was scared. More scared than she had been in a long time. Her father had always had quite fancy handwriting, old fashioned, not like Mercy's own. Unless... unless it was Susie. Mercy wanted this to be true so badly that she didn't dare think it in case she was bitterly disappointed. With a final sigh, she slowly and carefully opened the letter. A single sheet of blue writing paper and a photograph fell out. She looked at the photo. It showed a lovely young woman and a young man on a beach somewhere.

It was Susie. The years had only succeeded in making her as breathtaking as their mother had once been. A fat tear slid down Mercy's cheek, as she drank in her sister's words, using the best of her wide imagination to pretend that Hannah was there too, reading it with her.

"Mercy,

I am so sorry I haven't written or phoned... not since the trial finished and you were taken away. But I thought of you and Hannah every second of every day. I've written to her now too, but I am so scared that she will have already forgotten who I am. I hope you are ok. What's it like with the Gregson's? I rang Mindy but she told me you had a new social worker. So I rang her- what's her name again?- and she said you were with the Gregson family. What are they like? I hear they have a little girl. Is she cute? If I am allowed, I would love to come visit you there sometime soon. Would I be welcomed? Please write back and let me know, our address is at the bottom of the page, along with our number. By 'our' I mean Jack and I. Jack is my fiancée. He is so wonderful, you'll love him. If you hadn't guessed by now, he is also the man in the picture! I won't say anymore for now- I am sure you are shocked enough already. But call, or at least write back, OK, and we'll meet up? I have so much to tell you, and I'll bet you have a lot to tell me too!

I miss you so much little sis, and I love you. Be good!

Susie.

P.S. Enclosed is an address I've managed to get hold of, so you can write to Hannah too. You might need to go through her social worker to do that though, so let me know if you have any problems getting in touch with her. But at least we know that one day, we will all be together again!

More tears fell from Mercy's eyes.

*****

"Mercy! Franka! Lunch is ready!" Franka jumped down from Mercy's lap, and the two of them left the living room where they had been watching television, and went into the dining room.

"Are you going to be OK eating today?" Annie asked Mercy.

"Yeah, I'll be fine. My stomach is a little jumpy still though- I'm so excited."

"Well, you eat as much as you can. It's only a few sandwiches anyway. We'll have a proper dinner tonight, when you sister and her fiancée arrive." Annie paused for a moment. "Does she... does she know about your eating?"

"No. Everything has changed since the trial." Mercy winced as she spoke.

"It's alright dear. Let's not talk about it."

"Well, I have to. I'll need to sometime."

"And is now that time?"

"Maybe. Well, maybe I should at least fill you in on what Susie does and doesn't know. She doesn't know about the eating, all the foster families that didn't work out, any of the bad things. She knows I love music. That's it really. So watch what you say around her please. If she's going to find out anything at all about the past few years without her, I want to be the one to tell her."

"Of course." Annie tried to hide her surprise at Mercy's new, forward behaviour. Still, it was obvious that the girl was scared. After all, it had been years since she last saw her sister, and after all the tragic events of Mercy's past, what else was she expected to feel? And, Annie concluded, it was good that Mercy was finally starting to feel a little more in control of things.

*****

Mercy studied herself in the mirror. She looked at her stomach, her legs, and saw herself for the first time as other people saw her. She was not fat. In fact, she had become almost skeletal. She had withered like a flower when you break it's stem and put it in a jar. Ironically, that's what she felt had been done to her. She had been taken from her home, her roots and planted somewhere else. People had expected her to thrive, but instead she was dying.

That was the moment Mercy decided to turn it all around. No more binging then throwing up. She was going to sort out her life. Forget about the past. forget about that fateful night, when her mother had killed herself to escape from the grip of her father. The past was the past, however hard it was to overcome. So long as Mercy had her music, she had her mother's precious memory. She was going to make something of herself, be everything her mother always told her she could be. And most of all, she was going to find a little happiness for herself. She knew she deserved some.