Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Casey. That's how I'd like to start my story, the same way all the fairytales start- and of course, all the fairytales end happily, and they're full of magic, romance, friendship. My story is nothing like that.

            Before I ran away from home, I didn't have a happy life. I guess my actions must have made that obvious, but sometimes teenagers run away simply because that's what teenagers are supposed to do. Part of the rebellion of growing up, and all that. I want to make things clear right from the start of my tale, that this is not why I left, this is not why I ended up living on the streets for so long.

            I don't remember my momma dying. I was four years old. I remember her being there, and then her not being there. But I don't remember anyone telling me she had died. My father told me that I had screamed and screamed, and he'd taken hours to calm me down and get me to settle to sleep that night. I guess I must have just blocked out the memory of being told, because it's too damaging. Our minds can do amazing things like that, you know. Repress the things which hurt us the most. My mind isn't so talented in that area, though, because as far as I know, that's the only bad memory I can't actually picture. Everything else is still there, still clear as daylight.

            I was bullied badly at school. I wasn't fat, but I was comfortably round. The girls all hated me because I didn't act like them, look like them or dress like them. The boys hated me because I wasn't as attractive as the other girls. That was just the way things were, and I accepted that, because no matter how much my feelings were hurt at school, it was nothing compared to what I suffered when I went home. My older brother, Freddy, he was the biggest bully of them all. I hated Freddy, really loathed him. For the first years of my life, this hatred was comprised mainly of fear, even out-and-out terror. But as I grew older, wiser, the fear slowly shrunk, and the hatred took over. Freddy was stronger than me, though, and he always won, in spite of all my attempts to fight back when he hit me, punched me, pushed me. I was six the first time it happened.

            "Casey!" Freddy's voice called me, and I went to look for him, wondering what he wanted. He was eight years old, just two years my senior. I wandered into his bedroom, and there he sat on his bed, smiling. Smiling cruelly.

            "What?" I asked him, my six-year-old innocent eyes staring at him widely.

            "Who told you that you could come in my room?" Freddy had cruel eyes, and his freckled face wasn't pleasant to look at. He didn't look like either Momma or Daddy. He took after Uncle Anthony more, who was slightly odd and unfriendly.

            "You called me," I replied, confused.

            "No I didn't," Freddy smirked.

            "It's naughty to lie," I told him, in my childish way. I didn't know what I was stepping into- how could I know? I was six years old, a child. I had a lot to learn, and I was about to learn one of the most painful lessons which exist- that the people who are meant to love us can hurt us as well.

            "Are you calling me a liar?" Freddy practically screamed. He jumped off his bed, and grabbed a handful of my blonde curls.

            "Ow! Ow! Ow!" I cried, struggling to get free. With a final snorting laugh, Freddy let go, and allowed me to drop to the floor, where I cradled my hurting head in my hands, whimpering. Giving me a kick in the side, Freddy walked off, and went downstairs when he turned on the TV and started watching cartoons as though nothing had even happened. I didn't understand it. Why had my big brother, the boy who had always been my friend, just hurt me when I hadn't done anything wrong? I stood up, sniffing. Should I run and tell my daddy? I decided not to. If I did, Freddy might hurt me again. I toddled into the bathroom, and first dried my eyes on a large, fluffy towel which was hanging low enough for me to reach. Sniffing still, I pulled up my shirt, and looked at myself in the mirror. A round, purple bruise was emerging where I'd been kicked. I rubbed it, and it was sore.

            "Casey! It's dinner time!" A voice called up from downstairs, and I went down. It was Mrs Hadley from down the road. She sometimes cooked meals after my momma died. She was a small woman, not tall and slim like my momma, but sturdy and round, like a boulder. She had kind eyes though, and pretty hair. She always smelled of the same old-ladies perfume, even though she was only about the same age as Momma had been. I slid into the chair in the place which had been set for me, and stared down at the plate of food before me.

            "I don't like mushrooms," I said, stubbornly. I did, in fact, like mushrooms, but I was trying to make someone angry with me, trying to make them shout so I could shout back and cry and stamp my feet like a normal child does when they're upset.

            "Then just leave them on the plate," Mrs Hadley replied, good naturedly. Nobody noticed that I had been crying, and if they did, they probably just assumed that I was still missing Momma. After that day, I became Freddy's personal punch bag. I was there whenever he needed to get rid of the anger he felt. Now that I am older, I realise how troubled he was back then, and I can understand that, at first, he hurt me because of the pain he was feeling after losing Momma. At the time, though, I didn't know why he did it. I was lonely. I loved Daddy, but I missed Momma terribly, and Freddy had turned against me.

            As time went on, Freddy and his abuse became worse and worse. He was very careful though. He wouldn't touch my face, because that would have made any injury obvious. He would wait until Daddy was watching TV or reading his newspaper in the living room, and then catch me in a corner upstairs. I didn't tell my father. As I got older, I decided it might kill him to know that his only son was a vicious, nasty bully. And that wasn't all. When I turned ten, something else began to happen. I awoke very late one night, and opened my eyes slowly, to see a silhouette in the doorway of my bedroom. Freddy. I pretended I was still sleeping, and eventually he went away. He was back the next night, and the next. The fourth night, he came right into my bedroom. I was scared rigid. I kept my eyes screwed shut, still pretending to sleep, and pictured Momma in my mind. I imagined her laughing as she pushed me on the swings. I remembered the way that she would make daisy chains for the two of us, and we would pretend that she was the Flower Queen, and I, her Flower Princess.

            Freddy slid his hand under the covers.

            I screamed.

            In a flash, Freddy was out of my room and darting across the landing, getting into his own bedroom just as Daddy came out of his.

            "What is it?" Daddy asked me.

            "I... I think I just had a nightmare," I mumbled. Inside my head, I was kicking myself for not telling Daddy whilst I had the chance. But I just didn't want him to suffer any more heartache.

            It didn't take Daddy as long as I would have liked to get over Momma. By the time I was eleven, Mrs Hadley was a common visitor in our home, and she was over almost every night. I liked the fact that Daddy had some adult company, but when Freddy told me he had seen Daddy and Mrs Hadley kissing, I didn't want to believe it. I thought it was another one of Freddy's spiteful lies. That night, Daddy came into my room to say goodnight, and he sat on the end of my bed, smiling at me sadly.

            "You look so much like her," he murmured, more to himself than to me. Although I was still a child, I was growing every day. I had Momma's beautiful blonde curls, and her startling blue eyes, but I was just becoming chubbier and chubbier. I hated the way my body looked. I blamed myself for everything that was happening. Freddy must have hated me because I was ugly. That's the way I saw it.

            "Daddy-" I began, deciding it was finally time to tell him that Freddy had given me years of torment. But Daddy cut me off.

            "You and Freddy, you're all I've got to remind me of your momma. I miss her so much, you know. Freddy is going to come into business with me when he's old enough. He told me he wants to tonight. I feel so proud of him. When I look at him, I can see all your momma's drive and ambition. And when I look at you, I see her beautiful, perfect face, her kind heart. But people need to move on, Casey. Mrs Hadley… Jane… she's moving in. She's going to be my wife."

            "What about her husband?" I whispered.

            "Mr Hadley walked out years ago. Jane is finally going to file for divorce."

            "But I don't want a new momma."

"This isn't just about you, darling. Jane makes me happy. She makes me feel… oh, you're too young to understand," Daddy shook his head with a sigh. "Nothing will change between you and I. You'll still be my little girl, OK?" Daddy kissed my forehead, and whispered goodnight, then he left my room. I began to cry then, feeling very abandoned. I pulled the thick quilt cover right up under my chin, and bawled as silently as I could.