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Sally Called!

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Story Title: Sally Called

Type of story: long fic

Main Characters: Sally and Milko/Kane and Scott Phillips as kids/Tom and Pippa Fletcher/H&A's first foster kids, Frank, Carly, Steven and Lynn.

BTTB rating: T

Genre: Drama/Angst/Occasional Humour

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: V/D

Summary: Eight-year-old Sally Keating arrives in Summer Bay to be fostered by Pippa and Tom Fletcher. Little Sally has a lot of emotional baggage. Mum and Dad, Gran, friends Isabel and Rico, old Mrs Bellamy and her two funny cats...everyone leaves her in the end. So Sally has created an imaginary friend, Milko, who can never be taken from her - or can he...?


***chapter 1***


“We’ve got Milko. Don’t tell nobody and ‘specially don’t tell the cops or Milko gets it...” The little boy with the innocent sparkling blue eyes and baby face casually removed one hand from his pocket to make a slicing gesture across his throat. “We’ll be in touch.”

Sally Keating froze. The kid was much younger than herself. Although he was wearing school uniform, he didn’t look old enough to be in school at all but he acted like he owned not only Summer Bay Primary but the whole of Summer Bay as well. After coolly delivering the ultimatum, he thrust his hands back into his pockets and strolled back through the strictly-forbidden-access bushes (protecting, as they did, Reception class’s newly-planted flower beds) from whence he came.

Sally watched the bushes move and a taller head above the bushes bobbing in obvious conversation. She didn’t need to ask who the kidnappers were. She’d only been in Summer Bay a handful of days but already she’d heard the other kids talking about the Phillips brothers. How, if you weren’t quick enough, they’d do heaps of bad stuff to you, call you names, rob you, bash you even, and it was best to keep away from them. But she hadn’t been quick enough and now Milko had been kidnapped.

They’d never been separated before. It was like...like someone had ripped out her heart. Tears blurred her vision. If she’d never come to Summer Bay, Milko would still be with her and everything would be alright again. She wished she could go back two days and tell Mrs Fletcher she’d changed her mind. It just might work if she closed her eyes real tight and wished hard enough.

Little Sally Keating squeezed her eyes tight shut and wished with all her might that she’d never called on Summer Bay.


“I’m not staying for a long time. But I just thought I’d call.”

Pippa Fletcher smiled down at the polite, solemn child (the total opposite of the confident, outgoing Lynn who had insisted on her much younger friend being fostered with her) who’d carefully taken the (standard Home issue) pink-striped pyjamas out of her overnight bag to fold extremely neatly and place carefully on the pillow and who now turned to her hostess with an air of quiet self-sufficiency.

“I see. And how long do you think you’ll be calling for, Sally?”

Pippa tenderly brushed back a stray tendril of dark hair that was threatening to engulf Sally’s right eye. Poor kid. Small wonder she was so reserved.

When she was only three Sally’s parents had drowned in a boating accident that she'd witnessed and she’d gone to live with her grandmother. But, ironically, Sally herself had become the carer when the old lady later developed Alzheiemers. Thankfully, one of her teachers became aware of the situation and alerted Welfare. But it hadn’t helped matters that, only days before she was taken into care, a kindly elderly neighbour and the neighbour’s two cats that Sally had lavished attention upon had perished in a house fire. By the time she reached eight...

...Sally has come to the conclusion that those she loves will inevitably leave her and so the wisest course of action is never to get close to anyone in the first place. To compensate, she has created for herself an imaginary friend “Milko”, who can NEVER be taken away from her and therefore always gives Sally the love, security and stability she so desperately craves...

A lump had come to Pippa’s throat when she read the reports. She and her husband Tom had previously only ever fostered teenagers and had promised each other that they would tread very, very slowly with this little girl who had known so much tragedy at so young an age. It would be a learning curve for all three of them and they’d take it one step at a time.

“I’m not quite sure,” Sally replied now, in answer to Pippa’s question. “What do you think, Milko?”

She looked towards a blank spot on the wall and seemed to listen intently, nodding two or three times, while Pippa waited patiently.

“Milko says he thinks you’re very nice, thank you for having us and we might call for a few days. If you don’t mind.” She added, a tremor of anxiety slipping into the previously composed little voice.

“Well, tell Milko thank you very much, I think he’s very nice too and I’ll be very glad to have you both call for as long as you like.”

Pippa once more tenderly brushed back the rogue tendril of hair that had worked itself loose with the nodding. No doubt Sally would grow out of Milko in time. But the little girl still needed her imaginary friend as yet. As long as Sally had Milko to help her cope, everything would be fine.


“We’re not really gonna kill him, are we, Scotty?” Kane Phillips asked, having successfully delivered, word for word (although the slicing throat gesture had been Kane’s own artistic flourish) the message his older brother Scotty had tasked him with.

Nine-year-old Scott blinked. “What the **** do you think, drongo?”

Kane gazed at the patch of grass where Scott claimed to be holding Milko prisoner and shuffled in thought, managing to trample a few more of the flowers his class had been busy nurturing that very morning.

“D’ya think we oughta get him something to eat then?”

“No, I ******* don’t!” Scotty raised his eyes Heavenwards. Jeeeez-us!!! The whole idea of “kidnapping” Milko had been to tease the new kid, not to provide four-course meals!

“But we can’t just starve the guy...”

Scott Phillips wondered, not for the first time, why he was the only one in his family to have been blessed with a brain. Dad was sometimes so off his face with the grog that he thought he saw giant mice and miniature kangaroos. Mum was so far gone into Fruitcake Land that some days she could hold whole conversations with a wall. Now his four-and-a-half-year-old brother, recently started at Summer Bay Primary and, until this moment, having shown promising signs of following in Scotty’s footsteps, was enquiring about luncheon arrangements for the weirdo newbie’s imaginary friend!

“Give him a ******* menu if ya wanna!” He said sarcastically, catching Kane’s ankle with a well-aimed kick. “I gotta go.”

“But we can’t just leave him tied up there! What if someone sees him?”

He sounded so convincing that Scotty looked to where he indicated before he pulled himself together. Kane had him going as loopy as he was.

“Jerk!” He replied with another kick, leaving Kane with a throbbing ankle and just as baffled as he’d been before.


Sally opened her eyes and sucked in a shuddering, tearful breath. The wish hadn’t worked. She was still in the schoolyard and still without Milko. And if she dared tell anyone he’d been kidnapped the Phillips brothers would kill him and then she’d never get him back! But if she never got Milko back, everything would be like it used to be before and, one by one, all the people who loved her would leave her and...

No, oh no! It was happening again! Last time it had happened, when one of the bigger kids at the Home had been picking on her, Lynn had been there to yell at him and put her arm round Sally until it stopped. But Lynn wasn’t here to stop it.

Sally pressed her hands against her ears, trying to block out the deafening crash of the waves, feeling the earth swaying beneath her feet, screaming in terror as the ground began to turn into the terrible sea...

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  • 5 weeks later...
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I was mildly interested in reading this fic, but now I find its about Kane, so I'm an avid fan! Great stuff!

What's a story without Kane?! ;o)

Yay! And the smilies have been gone for awhile :-(

This is a great fic!

Phew!!! I thought Scotty and Kane had kidnapped the smileys along with Milko! ;o)

***chapter 2***


There were five people in the boat, including Sally’s parents, but only one was to survive the accident. A second boat, caught in the high wave’s backlash, was overturned too, but all of its occupants, except for a little black terrier, that had been yapping excitedly on deck only moments before, were rescued. The freak wave had taken everyone by surprise.

It was when Sally first realised that the terrible sea could take away anyone it wanted to. Nothing and nobody could stop it. It was how it was. Just how it was.

A hot sun tempered by cooling breezes blew refreshingly on three-year-old Sally Keating’s face. Sunlight glistened on a large cockroach scurrying through the wet, grainy sand. Occasionally someone passed them by on the slippery gravel to take the short cut that led out to the supermercardo at the top of the hill.

They sat, she and Isabel on the low wall that overlooked the shingle beach, where the views were the very best for watching the sailing boats emerge cautiously from round the cliffs before they gained in confidence and, with noisy, flapping white sails, glided out to the open turquoise waters. Isabel was teaching Sally Spanish words and she placed her hand gently on Sally’s head and said nina, child, child, nina and Sally said it back, kicking her heels contentedly against the wall to admire her new espadrilles because they looked like Isabelle’s.

Isabell worked as a waitress at their holiday hotel and they had taken a great shine to each other although Sally couldn’t always understand Isabel’s accent and Isabel didn’t always know how to say something in English. Isabel said she hoped she and Rico, her fiancé, had four Sallys one day and Sally said it might really be best if they had four different names or everybody would get mixed up. That made Isabel and her parents laugh though Sally didn’t know why.

The day of the tragedy Mr and Mrs Keating, feeling a sailing boat wasn’t a safe place for a small child, planned to leave Sally in the hotel kindergarten for a few hours, but then Isabel was asked to swap shifts and, finding herself with an unexpected free afternoon, suggested, instead of them leaving Sally behind, she could take her to watch. And that was how Sally and Isabel came to be sitting on the low wall, eating ice creams that melted in the hot sun, swapping Spanish and English words, and taking it in turns to peer through the heavy binoculars, looking out for Sally’s Mum and Dad.

And at last, through the powerful binoculars that magically turned the tiny figures dotting the boats into people, they saw them, and they jumped up excitedly, waving and shouting. But then something happened that was to change the lazy, calm afternoon and Sally’s life forever. It came without warning. Suddenly there was a peculiar rumbling sound, as though an angry lion was waking from a long sleep, and a wave, high as a tree, rose and crashed down, obliterating the sailing boat, the water sweeping so far inland that Sally’s ankles were immersed in its icy coldness. It was gone as abruptly as it came. The pretty little Menorcan town was spared, for it came no further.

But all that Sally could see was water flooding towards her and all that Sally could hear was the thunder of the sea and her own terrified screaming.


Jeez, things like this were always happening! Scotty would leave Kane to keep watch while he bashed someone or nicked stuff, and then, half the time, forget Kane was there. Or maybe, as Kane was beginning to suspect, he remembered Kane was there but thought it would more fun to leave him hanging around.

The caravan shop, closed for the caravan park’s annual essential maintenance work, had been the lucky recipient of one hours’ worth of painstakingly chalked pictures on its side wall and door (and all that effort obviously unappreciated as everything had been scrubbed out by the time the caravan park re-opened for the season) while Kane waited for Scott and Scott, having completed the trashing of empty shelves and fixtures and fittings to his satisfaction, walked out through the front door and forgot to tell him. But to leave him guarding Milko on his own, this was the biggest yet!

Kane had no intention of shirking his responsibility and every intention of making his older brother proud. His ankle still throbbing from Scotty’s kicks, he hobbled out of the bushes and stared for a while in mild curiosity at the weirdo who was screaming with both hands pressed over her ears. Finally he had to ask.

“If ya screaming bothers ya that much, why don’t ya stop?”

Sally opened her eyes. She hadn’t even realised she’d closed them again but she must have done. She checked out the ground. The terrible sea had gone. Closing your eyes could sometimes shut out the bad stuff, like washing your hands six times every morning meant no one you knew would get crook and have to be taken to hospital and dodging the cracks in the pavement stopped the earth from opening up and plunging everything and everyone into the water. Milko understood all these things and sometimes, with Milko, Sally felt safe enough not to have to do them. But now Milko was being held prisoner by this kid who owned Summer Bay and she was alone.

Two large tears spilled down the little girl’s cheeks, twanging at Kane’s heart strings. He hated it when people were sooky. Dad and Scott said sooks deserved everything they got, which was why Dad had to bash Mum sometimes. But sookiness made Kane uneasy. He knew he should have laughed or spat in her face or swore at her but he couldn’t bring himself to. Truth was, Kane was something of a sook himself though he knew that was wrong and he was working hard not to be.

“For ****’s sake, we’re not gonna kill the guy,” he said, hoping they weren’t. “Not if ya’s both do what ya’s are told anyway. I just wanna know, what does Milko like to eat?”

Sally started. She’d never been asked the question before. She’d never even thought about it.

“Berries - I think.”

“Jeez, he’s ya best mate, isn’t he? D’ya’s never talk to each other? Don’t ya know?”

“Steak.” Sally said the first thing that came into her head.

“Bloody hell, he’s got expensive tastes! Where the **** d’ya expect me to get steak from?”

“And chips,” Sally amended quickly. Chips were cheap. You could get them anywhere. She didn’t want Milko to go without food.

“Gotcha.” Kane nodded, looking up as the bell for afternoon school rang and grinning as he saw his brother. Scotty was going to be stoked with the way he was handling the kidnap. “Milko likes steak, chips and berries so, no probs, I’ll get that sorted for his tea tonight.”

Scott slowed down and absently jingled the coins weighing down his pockets, deep in thought. He and a couple of mates had been going round collecting protection money (easy deal: a dollar a week and you didn’t get bashed; two dollars up front got you three weeks’ protection) but, suddenly realising he was hungry, he’d come back to see if his younger brother had any of the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches left from the half dozen they’d nicked that morning from the Summer Bay Diner.

He’d been about to swear impatiently at Kane’s warped idea of how you taunted dorks who thought they had invisible friends, but then he saw the look on the dag’s face. Jeez, if they played their cards right, this could pay. And pay well.

“Good work,” he said instead. “I just hope ya didn’t give this Milko drongo any of our own sangers, I’m starving.”

“No worries!” Kane proudly produced a very squashed sandwich from each pocket, puzzled when Scotty pulled a face and swiped him across the head before tucking in. There wasn’t that much fluff on them and only one had had all its cellophane wrapping come off.

Sally gulped, realising she was just going to have to be brave for Milko’s sake. Like Sally, Milko hated being with strangers. He’d be terrified by now.

“Excuse me,” she said very politely and in a very small voice. “But...but Milko’s very shy and...and probably needs me to talk to him so he won’t be scared.” She took a deep breath. “Please can I have him back? For just a...just a little bit?”

“Nu-uh. He’s staying with me till we decide what we’re gonna do next,” Kane said, totally getting the hang of this terrorizing the other kids lark. At this rate he’d ace school. He turned to Scott. “Don’t’cha worry, I’ll make sure he stays well outta sight of stickybeak teachers.”

“Right,” Scott said, swallowing his lunch, and feeling a tad too confused to comment further. Listening to all this was beginning to make him feel like he’d been brain zapped.

“Guess we better split,” Kane added, noticing his class and teacher were already making their way towards their beloved flower garden.

“Guess,” Scotty agreed. “Catch ya after school. And you...” he glared at Sally threateningly. “You’ll keep ya mouth zipped if ya know what’s good for ya.”

“I will,” Sally whispered.

She could only watch, heartbroken and trembling, as, whistling cockily, Kane Phillips tagged on after his classmates. Milko was the very last of the line.

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  • 2 weeks later...

***chapter 3***


“Oh, my goodness, Toby must have been chasing the birds!” Miss Murray exclaimed in dismay, dropping the camera back down to her side again.

Before lunch Kathy Murray had reminded her class about her plans to take a class photo to grace Reception’s wall. Now she looked in shock at the trampled flowers and came to (what appeared to be) the logical conclusion. The scruffy ginger cat with only one ear and, judging by his old battle scars, a penchant for fighting until great age must have forced him into retirement, had appeared from nowhere one day and decided to adopt the school and so, in turn, the school had given him a name (Toby, after the Toby jug he’d smashed while jumping in through an open window) and adopted him as their mascot. As no one ever came forward to claim him, he lived, happily enough, with the janitor who had his own house in the grounds and usually kept Toby under control.

The flower garden had been Reception’s pride and joy. Kathy Murray had initiated it this term to help settle in some of the more timid kids and it had worked like a charm, giving them a common bond and a sense of importance. But now the children were devastated.

Sophie and Georgia gripped each other’s hands, with tears raining down their faces. Annie stared in shock with her mouth wide open. Thomas, Jack and Luke were arguing over whether the flower garden could be rescued or should be dug up and started all over again. Sarah kept asking why it had happened. Despite her reassurances, Kathy felt like asking Sarah the same constant question.

The teacher looked round at her class, now a sea of confused and saddened little faces, who had come here so proudly to have their photo . Nearly every one of them was heartbroken to find their handiwork ruined. The exception of course was Kane Phillips, who simply surveyed the damage with indifference.

But Kathy Murray wasn’t surprised. She had also taught Kane’s older brother Scott and knew from experience nothing much moved the Phillips boys. It was easy to see where they got their coldness from. Kathy had met their father Richie and taken an instant dislike to him and his sneer.

Richie (as he liked to call himself when he was trying to appear respectable, Gus as he was known to certain associates; it was an open secret that he was a small time crook) would turn up at Summer Bay Primary on a fairly regular basis in invitation to sort out some misdemeanour or other committed by one or both of his sons. This inevitably meant Mr Phillips senior finding some excuse to put the blame squarely on the school while proclaiming the innocence of his sweet, angelic offspring.

Kane at this moment not only looked like a miniature replica of his father, he even adopted his mannerisms, frowning as he leaned casually on one leg with arms folded across his chest, then rubbing his right ear lobe, obviously thinking how the blame could be shifted. Kathy even half expected him to light up a cigarette.

Kane studied the ruined flower garden, deep in thought. He hadn’t realised just how much he and Scotty had walked up and down during the kidnap.

He shook his head in sympathy. No wonder old Murraymints was p****d off. In his head, Kane had never been four and a half years old. He spoke to his teacher as an equal.

“It coulda been Milko,” he said helpfully, not without a twinge of guilt for landing the guy in it. But, hell, it wasn’t fair that Toby should get all the blame either.

“Milko?” Kathy looked at her most troublesome student blankly.

“Yeh. He’s kinda invisible but he’s around, ya know? He loves steak, chips and berries so he coulda been lookin’ for berries or somethin’ and run off when he heard us ‘cos he’s heaps shy and don’t like talkin’ to people much.”

“But he talks to you?”

“Nah, he...” Kane began, and then remembered. He was meant to be hiding Milko from stickybeak teachers, not making sure everyone was on first name terms. Jeez, next thing you knew he’d be setting Miss Murray and Milko up on a blind date!

“I mean, yeh. All the time. But don’t’cha worry, Milko won’t chase no one,” he added reassuringly, in case Miss Murray really did think a blind date was in the offing and got her hopes up.

To his amazement, Miss Murray smiled and patted his shoulder.

“I understand, Kane. He doesn’t mean to do things, does he?” she said in the kind of voice she normally only used if some kid had hurt themselves or was crying for his or her Mummy. “He’s really very, very good.”

What the hell did she mean, had she seen Milko or something? Maybe teaching all these kids (Kane didn’t class himself as one; you grew up fast in the Phillips’ humble abode) was getting to old Murraymints and she was finally going doolally.


And one and two and three and four, make it once more, and one and two and three and four, make it once more...


Pippa paused in the act of hanging the washing on the clothes line and watched in concern as her youngest foster daughter came from round the corner of the house, her back against the brick, shuffling her way crab like around its walls.

Sally’s eyes were closed. She heard the voice and she knew it was Pippa but she had to touch every part of the house. If she didn’t, someone would die before morning and it would be all Sally’s fault. She knew it was all her fault that Mum and Dad died on the boat. Milko said it wasn’t. Oh, but Sally knew the truth now that Milko had gone.


The day Sally first saw Milko (she somehow just knew his name was Milko) was exactly two days after the sailing boat tragedy. He didn’t say very much but then he never did in the beginning.

Milko looked a lot like the giant cartoon bottle-of-milk boy on the neon sign advertisement above the airport Diner. The bottle-of-milk boy wore a bottle top for a hat and every time the neon lights changed colour a strawberry milkshake appeared beside him which made him laugh in delight and the bottle-top-hat pop off.

Milko wore a hat too, but it was a kid’s baseball cap like Mums put on their kids on hot days to keep the sun off. Later, when Milko and Sally had come to know each other quite well, he often liked to change the colour of his hat but the first time Sally saw him it was red like the bottle-of-milk boy’s bottle-top-hat.

Sally was sitting in the airport diner with Isabel, Rico and Rosa, and half drifting into a dream while fighting hard to stay awake in case Isabel went away like Mum and Dad had gone away, when she suddenly saw him.

“G’day,” Milko said, when he saw she’d noticed him. He was very tall and straight and pale, and he wore a flat red hat though his T-shirt and shorts and trainers were white.

Just then Isabel asked if she was sleepy, stroking Sally’s forehead as she spoke, and somewhere in that fraction of a second, between Sally’s eyes closing and flying open again, Milko had gone.

The next time Sally saw Milko was just before she and Rosa, the lady who was to travel back with her to Australia, where Sally’s grandmother had arranged to meet them at the airport, went through to the departure lounge, where they had to say their goodbyes to Isabel and Rico.

Isabel stooped down to Sally and held her very, very tight, sniffing back tears and talking so fast in Spanish that Sally didn't understand any of it. Isabel’s fiancé Rico rubbed his red eyes with the heels of his hands, saying he was tired and trying to pretend he wasn’t crying, though Sally knew better. Sally didn’t want to leave Isabel either and she was clinging to her, hoping the policia would come and tell Rosa, nice though she was, she really couldn’t go with Sally; Isabel and Rico must go instead, and then Gran might say they could all live together in Gran’s house forever.

One o’clock in the morning was the strangest time in the world. It was the time when everybody should have been fast asleep but instead everybody was hurrying about with bags and suitcases and trolleys and the lights were bright and the noise was loud. If Sally hadn’t overheard a lady carrying a little boy snap at her husband as they walked past well, no wonder the poor kid’s grouchy, it’s bloody one o’clock in the morning she’d have thought it was the middle of the afternoon.

And, everything being so strange, Rico’s watch with the square blue face was talking away to itself on his wrist while Rico was rubbing his eyes.

“Tick-tock-Sal-ly-tick-tock-Sal-ly-tick-tock...” it was saying loudly.

That was when Milko suddenly appeared again and decided to show off with some Spanish.

“Buen-os di-as” he said, in the same tick-tock voice as the watch. “Buen-os di-as-buen-os-di-as...”

Despite the tears that kept drying out on her face only to keep beginning afresh, Sally was finding it more and more difficult to stay awake. Her whole body was tired. Her legs had gone to sleep a long time ago and now her head felt fuzzy and her arms were so weak she just couldn’t hold on to Isabel anymore...


“We will be home soon, leetle one,” Rosa said in a whisper, closing the book she’d been reading.

Isabel had gone! Isabel had left her! Sally had finally fallen asleep and Isabel and Rico had gone while she slept!

It was just Sally and Rosa now. Just Sally and Rosa, sitting on the quiet plane, where cold, harsh lights reflected in round dark windows and all was eerily silent, save for the low droning noise of the engines and the gentle clacking of someone’s headphones and the rustling sound of newspaper pages.

“I theenk you might be thirsty?” Rosa asked.

Sally nodded, her bottom lip trembling because it wasn’t fair, she wanted Isabel to be there with her instead of Rosa, and Rosa fished in her bag for a carton of blackcurrant fruit juice as she put her book down on...

Milko’s lap. But Milko, who was sitting on the empty seat next to them, didn’t mind. He simply smiled as if to say everything would be alright.


After that, Sally didn’t see Milko for a long, long time. Not until after Gran started doing funny things, like putting her shoes on over her slippers and waking Sally up for school five minutes after Sally had gone to bed.

But one very special day, when Gran set a place at the table for Grandad, who’d died years before Sally was born, and Sally was wishing she knew what to do and had someone to tell about it, Milko came and sat in Grandad’s chair and never went away again.

When Sally woke in the morning, Milko would be there. Sometimes he’d been to the beach and would be carrying a surfboard or sometimes he’d helped himself to brekkie and would be eating a bowl of cereal or munching on toast. When Sally went to sleep at night Milko would settle down on the kid’s armchair (before she started getting mixed up about things, Gran had bought it for Sally’s birthday) and yawn and stretch and complain loudly that Sally was keeping him awake. Other times he wouldn’t be tired at all and would jump on and off the furniture till Sally told him to stop.

They were very best friends and Milko always knew what to do when Gran was crook. When Gran left the bathwater running, Milko said Well, Sally, you’ll have to turn the tap off. When Gran didn't remember who she was and kept calling her Karen, Sally was frightened until Milko said Well, Gran thinks you’re your Mum when she was a little girl. You’ll just have to be patient and wait until she remembers who you are again.

It was Milko who told Sally that it wasn’t her fault her Mum and Dad died. Milko who said she didn’t have to wash her hands six times every morning. Milko made Sally feel better about everything.

But now Sally had had time to think things over she realised Milko hadn’t even tried to escape! Yet if Kane Phillips had done the tying up he would have been able to untie himself quite easily because (being very neat and tidy herself, Sally always noticed these things) although he owned the school, the little boy couldn’t even do up his own shoelaces - one lace had been trailing and the other had been tied in several confused knots.

No, there could only be one explanation. Milko had decided to be mates with the Phillips boys and team up with them to bully the other kids!

Sally didn’t have Milko anymore. She had to protect herself and everyone she brought such terrible bad luck to. Every way she knew how.

And one and two and three and four, make it once more, and one and two and three and four, make it once more...

She shuffled to the end of the wall at the same time as Pippa reached her.

“Your hands are grazed,” Pippa said, taking Sally’s small, trembling hands in her own, and drawing a sharp breath as she saw the blood. “Sally, sweetheart, we’re friends, aren’t we? You can trust me. Please tell me what’s wrong.”

Sally gazed back at Pippa and blinked back tears. Even if he had turned traitor, she couldn’t dob Milko in. The Phillips brothers had said they’d kill him if she did and she and Milko, they used to be...used to be...(Sally’s heart surely snapped in two) such good friends.

It wasn’t fair of her to worry Pippa and Tom like this. She would go back to the Home, tonight, and no one in Summer Bay need ever think of her again. It would be best for everyone if she left. Steven, her foster brother, had said as much only last night.

She was a wuss, a bub, a stupid sook who did nothing but cry, Steven had said, and nobody needed her here. Well, Steven was right. Milko had Kane and Scott now. Lynn had Carly and Bobby to go down to the beach with and talk about boys. And Frank and Steven, her two foster brothers, even though they were always fighting, well, boys did, and when they weren’t fighting they were great mates, talking about footie and fast cars and other boring boy stuff.

Because she had been brought up by her grandmother from so young an age, Sally often spoke in the same old-fashioned way. Her polite little voice reminded Pippa of a bygone age and sweet-faced, silver-haired ladies who, every afternoon at four, sat by the fire to eat buttered scones with jam and cream and sip tea from china cups.

“Thank you for having me stay, Pippa” she said in a breathless sob. “It’s been most enjoyable. But I’m afraid I really can’t call for any longer...”

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  • 2 weeks later...

***chapter 4***


“Well, I never would have had Kane Phillips down as the sensitive type,” Janice Drummond commented drily, memories of her last encounter with the little boy, when he had a fist pressed against the chin of another kid while Scott Phillips was advising him to “bash him to ******* pulp” and Kane looked happy to oblige, fresh in her mind.

Kathy Murray dunked a Tim Tam into her tea (the choccie would melt, but she never could get out of the habit of dunking biccies) and smiled back at her colleague.

“Me neither. But Kane more or less owned up to playing chase yesterday arvo and accidentally trampling the flower garden. Then he blamed his imaginary friend Milko for the damage and - get this! - he claimed Milko was too shy to front up and admit it. I always did wonder why Kane had so very little to do with the other kids in the class.” (Kathy was blissfully unaware that the real reason was that Kane regarded the other kids in his class as silly bubs that he and old Murraymints tolerated with a remarkable, saint-like patience.)

Janice shook her head and sighed. She was almost twice Kathy’s age and a great deal more cynical. Phillips. Sensitive. Shy. Somehow the words didn’t fit.


“I’m tellin’ ya!”

“Jeez!” Kane said.

“So she thinks ya this cute little kid...”

“Dead set?”

“Dead set.”

“Jeez!” Kane said again, highly impressed with his ability to be a cute little kid, grinning at his momentarily fire-framed reflection in the dirt-smeared windows (the old locker rooms, reputed to be haunted, were no longer cleaned, being disused and scheduled for demolition) as Scotty lit up a cigarette.

“So you gotta milk it...” Scott puffed, spluttered and coughed, and cuffed him across the ear to regain his attention. He didn’t spent his valuable time listening outside staff rooms for nothing.

“No worries!” Kane said confidently. “How?”

“How’d’ya ******* think, drongo? First, ya gotta act like this imaginary mate Milko’s with ya all the time...”

“Oh, no probs, Scotty. I swear I’ve never let the guy outta my sight.”

Scotty blinked. It was difficult at times. Really difficult. No wonder he smoked.

“Yeh. Well. So ya act like he’s there and ya gotta pretend to sob ya cute little heart out if anyone upsets ya...like ‘cos the newbie dork keeps pickin’ on ya.”

It was Kane’s turn to blink. Back a sudden sting of tears. At the injustice of being a victim and not even knowing he was. “She’s been pickin’ on me?”

“Nooo, ya ******* jerk, ya just make like she has!” Scott stomped down hard on Kane’s foot, marvelling at the patience he had with his kid brother. “Sshhh!” He added suddenly, clamping a hand over Kane’s mouth as Kane gave a (muffled) yell of pain, quickly stubbing out his cigarette and pushing it out of the tiny hole in the dirt-smeared window, where it disappeared forever into the long grass, then popping a mint into his own mouth, all in one swift, graceful movement. Scotty was pretty much expert at this kind of thing.

He had his story all ready now that they were about to be sprung by a stickybeak teacher or the janitor or workies. His kid bro had been curious about the old locker rooms and Scott, being the responsible big brother he was, had gone there to get him out. He opened his mouth and drew breath to speak as the shuffling stopped and the door slowly opened. And then he grinned broadly.


Steven felt quite proud of himself. Well, no, proud wasn’t quite the right word. Smug maybe. But not proud. Because a tiny fluttering of guilt briefly surfaced and quickly dissipated. The remnants of another life, when he was a nice guy. Oh, but he died a long time ago, burnt to death along with his parents. Steven was a different person now. He could look Pippa in the face and lie through his teeth and even offer sympathy. Anything to hide the fear inside. Because the memory was always there.


The flames were leaping furiously into the warm summer night’s velvet sky. Now and again a shower of golden sparks would break loose in a series of small explosions and they would whistle and cheer and bet each other on how many sparks would pop next time.

It had an almost hypnotic effect on all four of them. Steven remembered looking at the moonlit glow on the faces of his three best mates and thinking it was like party time. The sleepover at Gazza’s had been ace (they were in the back garden, sleeping outside “like in the outback”, with a stereo powered radio blasting, the kitchen light on and the kitchen door wide open, just in case they got too cold or too scared or both, telling a mixture of serial killer, ghost and UFO abduction stories and doing their utmost to terrorize one another) but this unexpected fire show was the highlight.

They had scrambled out of the tent immediately on hearing the first blast, stumbling past the empty pizza delivery boxes, managing to knock over the rest of the coke (Aw, it was nearly finished and it’s all gone on the grass anyway, Andy claimed (falsely) his foot having been the one that kicked the bottle) and forgetting to hide the four large cans of lager that Jonno had nicked from his Dad’s drinks cabinet.

The fire was somewhere down in the town, and it was a beaut! Even Gazza’s folks were out watching.

“It’s not a footie game, Gary,” Gazza’s Mum frowned disapprovingly as the fourteen-year-olds noisily greeted another round of firework-like sparks. “Someone could have been hurt.”

Steven and Gazza pulled amused faces at each other. It was just a fire. Huge maybe, but the fire rescue services always got there in time, didn’t they? Nobody would be hurt. They wouldn’t have been fooling around like they were if someone had been hurt.

Gazza had been born over fifteen years after his two older sisters (it was they who often had to persuade them to let Gazza do stuff like sleepovers and camping out) and his olds were worriers, strait-laced, middle-aged people, the total opposites of Steven’s parents. Gazza’s Mum always called everyone by their full name, which Steven hated then because he was Ste or Stevo to everyone else.

But, after the fire, he never shortened his name again. Trying to distance himself from the terrible knowledge that he had watched, laughing and joking and cheering, while his Mum and Dad were burnt to death.

Because one minute you don’t have a care in the world, apart from whether the tingling on your mouth is the start of another coldsore and if you stood a chance with the new chick at school (and the odds are good seeing you’re one of the populars and you’ve got looks and personality). Then the phone’s shrill ringing suddenly shrieks through the night and you don’t think anything of it till Gazza’s Mum comes out again, a strange expression on her face, and whispers something to Gazza’s Dad that you’re sure has something to do with you but you can’t figure why it should. Not till she turns and says, “Steven, the fire...”

The first night after the fire he slept for twelve hours, knocked out by the calming drug the doctor administered, plunging quickly into a black pool of dreamless sleep as if a light had suddenly been switched off in his mind,. But calming drugs can’t be given every night and that’s when the nightmares will come instead.

They were always the same. He would be strolling along by a narrow stretch of water on a perfect, calm summer’s day when he would hear his parents calling to him from over the other side, and when he looked up it was to see a line of uneven fire crawling nearer and higher through the grass behind them. But his feet were like lead and he didn’t move. He only stood, listening to their screams, and watching through the grey, curling smoke while sparks fired through the sky like shooting stars and somewhere in the distance a phone rang unanswered. And their cries to him to help would grow fainter and more desperate as the red hot fire grew and engulfed them, melting them like plastic until they were no more.

Steven didn’t cry. Crying wasn’t a guy thing. Neither was being afraid. But he was. In the dreams, afraid to go near the fire in case he too was swallowed forever. In his waking life, afraid of the tiniest flame. And most afraid of anyone discovering his terror.

But Sally could cry. Sally could invent a stupid story of an imaginary friend to cope with her loss. And everyone said poor little Sally and remarked on how brave Steven had been. Steven, who couldn’t cry and couldn’t tell anyone about the nightmares.


“Maybe she just had a hissy fit. You know how weird she is,” Steven shrugged, surveying the trashed bedroom with a grim satisfaction. It had taken him no more than ten minutes. Easy enough to slip home during the arvo when you have a free study period and a key to the house and easy enough to “happen to be passing” later when Pippa was collecting the laundry.

“Steven!” Pippa reprimanded. “You know what Sally’s been through. I thought you of all people would understand.”

Secretly however Pippa was puzzled and hurt. Until Lynn refused to leave her friend, the Fletchers had never intended to foster a child as young as Sally and their preparations had been very last minute. Nevertheless, she and Tom had gone to a great deal of trouble to make Sally’s bedroom exactly how they thought a small girl would like it.

Bright and airy, with posters of kittens and puppies, with a pretty pink bedset and matching lampshade, Sally’s own little dressing table and her own brush, comb and mirror set, all initialled with a silver ‘S’, a dolls’ house with torch bulbs for lights that Tom had made himself from a wooden box, complete with four tiny dolls and doll’s furniture, some children’s books (Alice in Wonderland; Matilda; The Enchanted Wood) that Pippa chose specially and planned to read with her; half a dozen cuddly toys and Pippa’s own childhood doll “Mrs Martha”(a long-legged, long-yellow-haired rag doll knitted by her grandmother) left there for Sally to play with.

Now the pretty pink bedset and the toys were scattered on the floor, the posters torn down and the books ripped, but, worst of all, Mrs Martha’s floppy hat had been tugged at so fiercely that she lay, looking dejected and pitiful, with stuffing oozing grotesquely from the back of her head.

Pippa sadly put down the laundry basket and picked up the rag doll. Sally had seemed such a sweet kid and Pippa had truly believed she would cherish Mrs Martha as much as she once had herself, being so sure that a little bit of Milko’s friendship and a lot of her foster family’s unconditional love was all that the little girl needed.

“Yeh. Sorry. Didn’t really mean it like that.” Steven’s words brought her back to the present as he dropped his gaze to fake suitable remorse, then glanced up at Pippa with a flash of his dark, handsome eyes. Funny how easily he could still switch on the charm.

“The poor kid,” he added, managing to inject a convincing note of hoarseness into his voice. “Who knows what’s going on inside her head, what with this always having to count stuff and Milko and all?”

“Sally’s had a tough time of it,” Pippa reminded him. “She needs us all to help her through.”

“Well, don’t you worry, Pip, I’ll look out for her. Here, I’ll help you tidy up.” Steven smiled one of his disarming smiles, flicking back his mop of dark, unruly hair. Bye, bye, Sally, ‘cos this is just the start.

“Thanks, Steven,” Pippa said gratefully.

He was a good kid. She couldn’t tell him how she and Tom had sat up late last night, after they’d finally settled Sally who’d been convinced the branches of the old garden tree was a monster tapping on her window, discussing if they’d bitten off more than they could chew when they’d agreed to foster someone so young. They both loved fostering, but they had only ever fostered older kids before and, no matter what their problems, older kids could understand much, much more than an eight-year-old could. Tom and Pippa had a rapport with teenagers, there was no denying that, but how did they even begin to mend a child’s broken heart and a heart as bruised as Sally’s?

If the little girl was upset enough to destroy her own bedroom, it might be they were unwittingly making her emotional damage worse. Perhaps Sally missed the stability and her friends at the Home. It hadn’t been fair of the Fletchers to take her away from all that she knew simply because Lynn, albeit with the best of intentions, had wanted them to. How many times in Sally’s young life had she already had everything that was familiar and the people she loved snatched away from her?

Pippa sighed deeply as she picked up torn pages and deposited them in the bin. She hated to give up on a kid, but if Sally was this unhappy, they might have to grant her wish and let her go back.


“...three, four, make it once more...”

Sally paused to peer round the old, dusty locker room door with its broken lock and caught a breath. The Phillips brothers. And Milko. Milko leaning against the filthy window pane, looking just as mean as Scott Phillips was looking right now.

“Jeez, ya ******* loon!” Scott guffawed. He had obviously overheard the muttered counting.

Sally looked at Milko but he only glared at her.

“What ya starin’ at, dork?” Scotty demanded.

“Milko,” Sally whispered. “He should be with me. He’s my friend.”

Kane looked too. “Well, tough, ‘cos he ain’t now, are ya, mate?”

Scott swung quickly round to the window, but only a large grey cobweb fluttered in its corner. These two were gonna have him going nuts. The sooner he put his plans in action the better.

“We just might let ya have him back," he said. "But first ya gotta do some things.”

“What?” Sally’s heart thudded like a hammer against her chest. She’d do anything to get Milko back. Anything. She was pretty sure Milko looked hopeful for a minute too, even though he still had his arms folded, glaring at her.

“The Fletchers must have heaps of money to foster all you bloody kids. All ya gotta do is get me twenty dollars.”

“I can’t...”

“Then Milko’s a goner,” Scott said coolly, pretending to blow smoke from a gun.

Kane blanched and so did Milko, which made him even whiter than usual. He wasn’t glaring at Sally now. He just looked sad. Poor Milko. It wasn’t his fault he’d been kidnapped and had to hang round with Kane and Scott Phillips.

Sally bit her lip. “Alright,” she agreed reluctantly, clenching her fists with anxiety and feeling she was going to be sick. Pippa was nice. She didn’t want to steal from her, but she needed Milko back so badly. She closed her eyes. If I can count backwards from twenty I won’t have to do it, have to say it three times, if I can count backwards from twenty I won’t have to do it, if I can count backwards from twenty I won’t have to do it...twenty, nineteen, eighteen...”

Sally felt her fingers being suddenly unclenched and something rattled strangely as it was pressed into her hand. She looked down. It was a box of matches.

“What the hell do you kids think you’re doing here? How many times do you have to be told it’s DAAANGEROUS? I’m gonna have to take you to see Mrs Bryant.”

Sally had been too busy counting to hear Billy Jackson, the janitor, but Scott hadn’t. Billy was in a foul mood. Penny Bryant, the principal, had pulled him up over Toby damaging the flower garden. Some idiot had moved the Danger - Keep Out sign from outside the disused locker rooms again. And it was raining, which meant the reception area was full of muddy footprints that needed to be mopped up so he hadn’t had time for his usual scalding hot cuppa and thick wedge of toast. Like his cat, Billy had always hated rain.

Scott shrugged innocently. “Some kids come down here to smoke. Me and my bro just came to check there weren’t none here.”

Sally gasped and swiftly placed her hands behind her back. She had told Pippa yesterday she wanted to go back to the Home. But when the monster had tapped on the window last night, Pippa had sat on Sally’s bed and held her and dried her tears and stroked Sally’s hair, and whispered her a story of how she too had been scared of shadows when she was a little girl.

And Sally had felt warm and safe. She didn’t remember her mother but she remembered when she used to sit Sally on her lap and how her breath would gently tickle her neck. Where Pippa’s breath had tickled.

Sally felt she wanted to stay with Pippa forever. But what if Pippa wouldn’t have her back? What if Pippa believed she’d been smoking and had her sent her back to the Home and she never saw Pippa or Milko or Summer Bay ever again...?

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  • 2 weeks later...

***chapter 5***


But everybody left her in the end. Milko had been the only one who ever stayed, but now he’d been kidnapped even he too might disappear forever. A terrifying picture came into Sally’s mind, of the terrible sea carrying Milko and Pippa out on its grey stormy water towards the rocks. Her bottom lip quivered and large, salty tears spilled down her cheeks.

Despite his bad mood (the rain was easing now, but Billy could hear a steady dripping from somewhere, which meant yet another repair job) the janitor’s soft heart melted. Having had several run-ins with them in the past, normally he wouldn’t have hesitated to dob in the rough, foul-mouthed Phillips boys but the little girl was different. Billy had never seen her before but he’d heard on the grapevine that the Fletchers were fostering a kid who’d had both her parents die in a boating accident. This kid looked so lost and lonely with her big eyes and air of vulnerability that she just had to be little Sally. It was good that she was making friends, albeit with the Phillips brothers. Billy wasn’t going to be the one to tear that friendship away from her; heaven only knew, the poor mite had lost enough in this life already.

“Okay, I’m going to let y’all off with a warning this time,” he said gruffly. “But if I ever catch any of you here again...” Billy glared sternly, which sent shivers of fear down Sally’s spine, but which both Scott and Kane found highly amusing though they were careful not to show it. “Now get out of my sight - fast! - before I go and change my mind!”

Sally would have scurried off in the direction of home except, with a silent nod to each other, the Phillips, fooling Billy into thinking he was right and all three were best mates, grabbed hold of her arms, Sally having already slipped the matches into her pocket (Kane’s tough guy act a little spoilt by the fact his head barely reached her elbow) and marched her quickly off to a quiet corner.

“Twenty dollars!” Scotty reminded her. “By school Monday, jerk, or Milko carks it!”

“I’ll get it,” Sally promised breathlessly.

“You better!” Scotty brought his face close to the little girl’s, leaving poor Sally shaking with fear.

She watched Scott and Milko turning the corner together. Milko had his hands in his pockets and his head down so she couldn’t tell if he was really scared or only pretending to be. Sally couldn’t make up her mind if he was in cahoots with Kane and Scott or not. She was still thinking about it when someone suddenly tapped her arm, making her jump.

“Listen!” Kane hissed. “I’ve been thinkin’. I just wanna make sure we got the right bloke. ‘Cos it ain’t fair if we’ve kidnapped the wrong guy now, is it? I mean, what if he’s got a twin or somethin’? What does your mate Milko look like?”

Sally thought for a moment. Very few people had ever asked the question. Lynn asked once, but had only smiled and said Sally was sweet when Sally told her, and Sally had a feeling, not for the first time, that the older girl thought Sally was just a cute bub. A couple of kids at the Home had asked, but only to tease her. And the lady with the briefcase, who came to the Home specially to sit at the desk and give Sally cards so she could guess what the shapes meant, had asked heaps of questions, like what did Milko look like and did Sally believe Milko was a real person? (Milko, who was sitting in the chair next to Sally, hadn’t liked that one bit and had glared and coughed - so much so that he eventually had a coughing fit - but the lady still hadn’t taken any notice of him.)

Sally looked sadly towards the corner that Milko had disappeared round. She knew Milko didn’t have a twin. He would have told her if he had, even though he hadn’t been talking very much to anyone lately. Unfortunately, little Sally was very honest and not very worldly and it didn’t occur to her for a second that she could lie to win him back.

“Well, he’s very tall and he’s very pale,” she sighed sadly. “And he always wears white shorts, white shirt and white trainers, and he usually wears a red hat but he’s wearing a black hat today because he’s very unhappy.”

Kane sighed too. “Yup. We got Milko alright,” he nodded.

Damn! He’d been half hoping they hadn’t while half hoping they had. Kane had mixed feelings over the kidnap. It was cool having an invisible mate and it was cool having a patsy to nick for them. But the sookiness always kicked in at the most awkward times. Kane had felt very uncomfortable again when Sally cried. It reminded him of when Dad treated Mum rough and made her cry and Kane hated him for it.

“But don’t ya worry, we’ll take good care of him. If we don’t kill him,” he added, anxious to reassure. He sighed again. Milko was sorted, but he didn’t know what the hell to do about the other problem.


Steven sat on a sheltered part of the beach, staring out in the distance, while the last of the rain trickled down over the cliffs. Normally on a Friday he would have been with a gang of mates, playing footie or surfing or watching the chicks. But sometimes he needed to be totally by himself. To think. He drew his knees up to his chin and re-lived the night he had cheered while his parents were being burnt to death.

“Someone could be hurt,” Gazza’s Mum said.

He and Gazza laughed. Nobody would be hurt. Would they?

“Steven, the fire...”

He scooped up a handful of wet, crumbling sand and let it run through his fingers. That was how quickly Mum and Dad were gone. How quickly his life turned around.

Gazza, Andy and Jonno, his three best mates whom he’d grown up with, gone to school with, were long gone now too. Not dead, of course, just living out their own lives, far, far away from foster families and Summer Bay. He had nothing in common with Gazza, Andy and Jonno anymore. They still lived in a world where you got cash from your olds for birthdays, did your homework assignments (or pretended to do your homework assignments) in your own bedroom in comfort while watching TV, threw your school bag and school tie down anywhere the minute you got in, yelling what was for tea. Being fostered was different. All of a sudden nothing was how it used to be.

Your foster brother, snoring like an express train pulling into a station every night, stopped you from sleeping, even when you pressed a pillow against your ears to drown out the sound and pictured happy little scenarios of pressing the pillow against Frank’s face and the blissful silence that would follow. Thanks to Carly and Lynn, half the time you couldn’t get in the bathroom and, when you finally did, it was full of steam and flowery scents that choked you, and lipstick, brushes, mascara, shampoo and fancy bottles took up all the space on the bathroom shelves so that there was barely any room to put down even one small black comb but - sheesh! - knock anything over under penalty of death! Worst of all, you had a loopy little sister who thought she had an invisible friend and who shuffled round walls, counting under her breath, because it was some kind of magic spell that kept everyone safe.

But he had more in common with Sally than anyone else.

It was always Sally and Steven who forgot and left their school bags for someone to trip over; who got orange juice or felt tip pen on their uniform; who crashed into furniture because they were too busy running to look where they were going. Except Sally hadn’t laughed and joked while her Mum and Dad died.

Steven gulped back a sob and looked swiftly round in alarm, but there were only the sea birds to see the tears shining on his face. And to hear him crying, so quiet and still, that even the smallest finally became bold enough to land and peck round the nearby rockpool.

Steven half watched as more and more birds swooped, fluttering and fighting in their search for food after the deluge of rain, vainly trying to blink back the tears that, now they’d started, refused to stop falling. Sometimes he felt as mixed up as Sally must be. The only difference was that Steven dealt with the death of his parents by surrounding himself with crowds of mates and being as loud as possible while Sally locked herself in her own little world.

It had been a shock when, while they were tidying up, Pippa remarked she’d have to stitch the rag doll and told him about her grandmother knitting it long ago. Pippa's doll! Steven had almost blurted out there and then that he’d thought Mrs Martha belonged to Sally, stopping himself just in time and not being brave enough to admit to being behind the damage. But it was a timely wake-up call. What the hell was happening to him?

Stevo would never have picked on little kids, no matter how angry he was. Stevo would have been the first to wade in and stop it. Steven drew a deep, tear-filled breath. It wasn’t going to be easy, she drove him crazy with all this stupid Milko business, but maybe it was time he got Sally onside.


“And what the hell you doin’, havin’ all these cosy chats with the freak like ya’s’re ******* bezzie mates?” Scott demanded.

Kane looked at Milko, who'd just put down his knife and fork, and back at Scotty. “I had to check we kidnapped the right guy.”

Scotty lashed out. He couldn’t help himself. Sometimes his saint-like patience with his kid bro wore so thin that a mere hefty kick or fierce shove just wouldn’t do. He picked up the nearest object, a cracked and dirty dinner plate (the next-last-but-two of the blue-ribbon-patterned set, Mr and Mrs Phillips already being extremely fond of hurling crockery at each other and their eldest son obviously inheriting their talent) and crashed it down on his little brother’s head. Kane staggered backwards, sucking in a breath and dizzy from the pain, picking blood-spattered pieces of plate out of his hair and, impressing himself by his sensitive regard to hygiene, tossing them down on the kitchen table where, he reckoned, Mum wouldn’t slip and would find it heaps easier to clean them up from than the floor. After all, she could just get the old sweeping brush and sweep them off the table straight into the garbo bin.

Their mother’s screams and an accompanying thudding were echoing round the house at that moment but neither was taking much notice. Dad bashed her pretty much every night. Scott had become immune to it all while Kane, following his older brother’s advice on previous similar occasions, was trying hard not to listen.

Their olds being busy was the reason the Phillips brothers had tonight cooked their own supper of burnt toast and “scrambled” eggs (Scott had meant to fry the eggs but the frying pan and eggs had apparently had ideas of their own and Kane had been too preoccupied with trying to figure out how the toaster switched off to help).

“When will ya get it into ya thick skull?” Scotty yelled, “We couldn’t ******* well have exactly kidnapped the wrong guy because Milko doesn’t ******* well exist!”

Kane glanced up at Milko, who, although he didn’t look very happy to be called a non-entity, only shrugged. Kane guessed he was used to being ignored.

“Yeh, well, I ******* well know we got the right guy ‘cos he’s invisible and he looks like what the dork said and he ate the invisible steak, chips and berries!” Kane yelled back, while making sure the table was between him and Scott and the door was near enough to flee through because Scotty looked about to do his block. “But what are we gonna do about the other stuff?”

“What ******* other stuff?” Scott swung his fist dangerously. He couldn’t take much more of these weird conversations. They were making his head feel like jelly. He was gonna really lay into his bro soon as he caught hold of him. But what his little brother said next stopped him dead in his tracks.

“The invisible green dragon that keeps followin' us,” Kane replied worriedly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've written a bit more, but I'm not sure I'm happy with it at the moment. My problem is I usually feel like writing late in the evening when I should be sleeping. Also I have several ideas for different stories, so I sort of jump around between them. It makes it slow going...

Well - it's a bit more complicated than that. The newletter's been put on hold for a while because the company is currently moving and has little money, the computer I'm allowed to work on has been taken away to be fixed and (stupid me ) I have no other copy of the stories I'm currently working on.

So it looks like I could be stuck up the creek in a canoe without a paddle.

The excuses just aren't good enough...!!!! ;o)

***chapter 6***


It must’ve been the knock on the head. Though he’d had heaps worse. Couldn’t be nothing else. Unless..Though his eyes weren’t rolling. And he hadn’t been chucking up or acting weird (well, no more weird than Kane usually did) if you didn’t count the Milko hallucinations. But it was the only thing Scott could think of. And Kane himself had used the word.

“What the **** you on about now? If you’ve been takin’ any of Dad’s stuff...”

“Nah, nah, I haven’t, Scotty, swear! Ya think I don’t wanna live?”

Kane paused from picking blood-smeared plate chippings from his hair, and glanced up at a corner of the ceiling as their mother gave a particularly long, strangled scream that tore at his heart. But getting bashed was what happened to sooks. No more than they deserved, Dad and Scotty always said. He returned to the problem in hand.

The baby green dragon seemed a friendly little fellow. But, as dragons do, he had a terrible habit of breathing out fire. That was fine when they were outside, but not so easy to deal with now they were indoors.

“But what we gonna do about Fred? We can’t keep him...sorry, mate, we just can't,” he added guiltily to the dragon. “I asked Milko but he ain’t his and anyway he’s only a bub, he needs to be with his olds, don’t he? And he’s already burnt a hole in the door...I did hell dob you in, you told everyone...”

Kane knew he was rambling but couldn’t stop himself. It was something he always did when Scotty or Dad spat the dummy or Mum sat still as a statue staring into nothingness with blood pouring down her face from Dad latest punch.

“You are exactly one ******* stupid ...,” Scott began.

But Kane never found out exactly what he was. The Phillips brothers froze, both hearing it at the same time. Dad. Dad, drugged, drunk and dangerous. Stumbling downstairs, laughing manically, slamming his fist against the wall, yelling he was going to kill his kids for fun. At times like this, united against the common enemy, Scott and Kane always took a rain check on any blues, to be pencilled in for a later, more convenient date.

“Run!” Scotty advised, pulling open the old wooden kitchen door so hard that it almost jerked off its hinges.

Not content with its earlier drenching of the Bay, the rain had thought things over during the sunny break and, deciding on a little company, had returned together with a powerful thunderstorm, both of them hitting every one of the little coastal towns that stretched from Summer Bay to Summerhill, whipping up waves, tossing ships and streaming through trees, their drama all played out with the wild music of thunder and against the impressive backdrop of frequent wild lightning flashes.

A bleak, dismal evening, not for the faint-hearted. That only the most foolish would venture out into. And the most desperate and afraid.



Sally paused, her foot on the bottom stair. Lynn and Carly carried on pounding their way upstairs, and forgetting about her instantly, claimed the little twinge of sadness that shuddered through her small body.

To Sally’s surprise, she had enjoyed dinner. Normally she hated the evening meal because Steven was there. But Steven had been crook and was upstairs lying down so nobody minded or even cared that she carefully ate her food from the outside in, in ever decreasing circles that cleaned the plate. Nobody kicked her under the table and whispered “Silly Sally, Sally silly, silly Sally is a silly wuss” or sang “Sally, Sally, pride of our alley” under their breath.

Everybody had been laughing and teasing Frank because he had a date, and Frank had sometimes gone red and sometimes got mad, but mostly he’d grinned and, smelling of Tom’s aftershave and heaps too much of it, he’d ruffled Sally’s hair when he got up from the table to go meet his date and said Sally was the only mate a bloke had round these parts (Sally being too shy to do any teasing). Nobody had called her a jerk either, when Sally managed to spill gravy all down the front of her school dress, which didn’t really matter because Fridays nobody had to bother changing out of uniform (though the older ones always did) when they got home, weekends being when the whole of the uniforms, not just some of it like during the week, were spun frantically round in soapy suds in the family size washing machine.

When Carly had said to Lynn “let’s go up to our room and listen to some music” Sally jumped up too, assuming she was included, but obviously that wasn’t the case because Lynn and Carly hadn’t even turned round to see what was keeping her.

Pippa smiled and leaned conspiratorially on the stair rail. “Hey. How d’you like to go visit my friend Colleen and try some of her amazing chocolate cookies and blueberry muffins? She made a fresh batch today and said I could take some back for this greedy lot. Just you and me though. Oh, and Milko.”

“Thank you, Pippa. It will be a pleasure,” Sally said earnestly. “But I’m afraid Milko can’t make it. He’s very, very, very busy.” She added, feeling that Milko’s rudeness required an explanation.

“No worries, sweetheart,” Pippa said, idly wondering what on earth the self-important Milko did to keep himself so intensely occupied, making to push back Sally’s inevitable stray tendril of hair and shocked and not a little hurt when her foster daughter flinched and moved her head away.

Pippa couldn't be nice to her when she was going to do something so mean back! Sally hadn’t worked out yet how she was going to steal the twenty dollars but the Phillips brothers said they wouldn’t return Milko unless she got the money and so it had to be done. She bit her lip and turned sadly, unable to look Pippa in the eye.

Soon she would be back in the Home, with Milko, but branded a thief. Pippa wouldn’t like her anymore. Nobody would. They’d keep her fingerprints on file and put Not Wanted posters of her up at police stations all across Australia to warn off other foster parents.

She sighed a sigh that broke Pippa’s heart, if only she knew. Everyone left her in the end. Mum and Dad. Gran. Isabel and Rico. Old Mrs Bellamy and her two funny cats, who used to run up to Sally mewing whenever she and Gran visited as if anxious to tell her all about their day. Best not to get close to Pippa even though she wanted to stay with Pippa and Tom, oh, more than anything, more than anything else in the whole wide world.


There were often empty sacks to be found under the bridge on the wharf. If you didn’t mind the rats taking the occasional curious nibble of you and the itchiness of the sacking, it was a good place to doss down, where you could stay fairly warm and dry.

“Reckon we’re here for the ******* night. Again!” Scott asserted, turning up his collar, having had the foresight to snatch his old jacket off the back door hook as they fled.

Kane shivered, small spots of blood falling down from his forehead, leaning shakily on something that dug uncomfortably into his back, and too tired to shift position. Fridays were often like this. Dad got his welfare cheque and blew it all down the nearest pub. Mum got bashed. Scotty and Kane shot through and slept rough down on the wharf. And he felt sooo crook.

His head was banging though he couldn’t tell if it was from the running or from Scott smashing the plate down on it. His shirt was wringing wet and clinging to him. The rain had discovered a random opening on the wooden bridge and was gleefully trickling down in a steady drip.

So far they had escaped Dad’s regular Friday evening threats to kill them but it could only be a matter of time before they didn’t.

“Maybe if we told Mum about Dad...?” Kane suggested hopefully, when he finally found strength enough to draw breath.

Scott guffawed at his kid bro’s naivety. “**** that, what’s she gonna do? Beat him to a pulp? Hire a ******* hitman? We gotta look out for ourselves ‘cos it’s just us and it’s always gonna be just us.”

Kane nodded. He looked round. Scotty was right. It was just them. It always would be. Just him and Scotty. Milko and Fred. And Deefa the dog.


“Thank you for a most enjoyable time,” Sally said as they arrived home from Mrs Smart’s.

“Oh, I almost forgot...” Smiling, Pippa handed over the newly repaired rag doll and chose her words carefully. “Mrs Martha was feeling a bit crook after her fall this arvo but I reckon she’s much better now she’s had her stitches. Though I daresay a much-needed hug wouldn’t go amiss!”

“Thank you. I daresay it wouldn’t,” Sally agreed in her quaint, old-fashioned way, accepting the doll, but making no attempt to give Mrs Martha the much-needed hug.

“And, Sal, if you ever want to talk to me, you know you can. About anything.”

Pippa’s natural instinct would have been to envelop Sally herself in a much-needed hug, but, remembering how the little girl had earlier flinched from her touch, she was wary of too much, too soon. Poor little Sally. So afraid to show emotion. So prim and neat and polite that sometimes it was like talking to a grown-up character who’d just jumped out of a book, and yet a child who spilt gravy all down her school uniform, who talked to an imaginary friend and thought the shadow of the big tree was a monster.

Pippa had really thought they’d made a connection after the tree scare, when she’d dried her tears and rocked her to sleep, but next morning Sally had been her usual distant self.

The visit to Colleen Smart, and giving their youngest child Pippa’s undivided attention as she and Tom had planned, hadn’t worked. Sally hadn’t opened up at all. In fact, she had barely spoken, being very much in awe of the big-hearted but gossipy, talkative Colleen. Though she had seemed to like Colleen’s almost grown up son, kindly, bumbling Lance, falling over his own feet and getting a rap on the knuckles with a wooden spoon when Colleen caught him and Sally scooping out the delicious cake mixture left in the bowl with their fingers (she had overheard everything and knew it had been Lance’s idea so Lance could face the music, Colleen said) and once or twice Pippa saw Sally smile shyly at something Lance said or did.

“That’s very kind of you, Pippa. And I will always bear it in mind,” Sally replied gravely, in answer to Pippa’s invitation.

She had no idea what “bear it in mind” meant but Granny, not long before she had to go into hospital, often said it when she donned her very best dress and jewellery, got out the china tea-set and announced her friend the Queen of England was expected for tea and cakes. Of course the Queen never turned up and her grandmother would look very sad and dab her eyes with her lace handkerchief, then bravely smile and tell Sally the Queen was a very busy lady and they must always bear it in mind.

A rumble of thunder all but drowned out Sally’s quiet little voice. The storm had started while they were in Pippa’s car, but had grown much worse since.

“Sal, if you’re frightened of the thunder...” Pippa said gently.

“Oh, no. I’m not,” Sally answered composedly. “I used to be, when I was little, but I’ve seen heaps of storms since I’ve been in the Home. I’ll be no trouble at all.”

“I know you won’t, sweetheart,” Pippa said, thinking there was so much heartache in those wide eyes.

She looked sad, Sally thought, as she trudged upstairs. Lance had lent her a video about two dogs and a cat who were trying to find their way back home and had great adventures along the way and Pippa had said to ask the others if they wanted to watch too, when she’d changed into something else so that Pippa could all put the uniforms in the big washing machine.

Sally blinked back tears. Pippa was nice. She didn’t know Sally couldn’t hug Mrs Martha. She and Mrs Martha couldn’t afford to get close. When Sally was returned to the Home in disgrace the parting would break both their hearts. She closed the door soundlessly and placed the rag doll on top of the window-sill. It was for the best. When Mrs Martha realised her new owner intended to leave her cold and alone to fend for herself she’d be glad when Sally was gone. But it was hard to be cruel.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs Martha,” she whispered.


Sally spun round, startled. To her horror, her arch enemy was sitting on the bed.

“It’s my room! You’re not allowed, Steven! You’re not allowed” Sally gave emphasis to her words with a vehement shaking of her head.

“Yeh, I know, I know, just listen...”

Steven had already said her name twice before, but the thunder had been crashing loudly overhead. He had slipped into the room when he’d heard Pippa and Sally coming back, having made up his mind to own up to Sally about the trashing, unaware that Sally still didn’t know a thing about it. But nooo waaay was Steven going to admit to it in front of anyone else. His foster brother and sisters would be horrified, not just by his meanness to Sally, but because he’d hurt Pippa too. But telling Sally would be a weight off his mind. Despite his impatience with Sally, Steven realised that the little girl had a very soft heart and would keep it to herself.

“You’re not allowed!”

Sally was frantic. There was no Milko or anyone else to help her. She could hear Lynn and Carly’s music pounding, but the thunderstorm cancelled out everything else. And Steven would be be mean and call her names and kick her or pinch her.

“Sal, let me finish. I just want us to be...”

“You’re not allowed! You’re not allowed! Go away, Steven, or I’ll...”

Sally suddenly remembered something. They’d been in her pocket, forgotten, all this time.

“Burn you,” she finished, not knowing that fire was Steven’s greatest fear, as she struck the match.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: We booked a last-minute holiday so I won’t be online after Sunday. I’ll start work on the next chapter when I get back. :o)

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  • 3 weeks later...

***chapter 7***



The torch needed two 9v batteries and he could only find one. Steven impatiently pulled the drawer out, turned it upside down and tumbled its contents to the floor but still no sign of its companion. Damn! The torch had an exceptionally powerful beam and he’d been looking forward to impressing his mates tonight at the sleepover.

Though none of their parents knew it yet, Steven, Gazza, Jonno and Andy had made a pact to camp out in the Bush in exactly twelve months’ time and Gazza’s back garden was to be the trial run. Okay, they weren’t exactly taking the trial run too seriously - they intended to order pizza, for instance - but, hey, you had to start somewhere. And Steven wanted to try out the torch tonight; they’d need it when they finally did get to camp in the middle of nowhere.

Why the hell had he left packing his overnight bag till ten minutes before he was due to be picked up by Jonno’s Dad? There wasn’t even time now to dash out to the store. And that was when he had the brainwave. Steven had always been agile. Without giving it a second thought, he scaled the banister, and, with one hand pressed against the ceiling to keep his balance, deftly removed the battery from the smoke alarm, and quietly replaced the cover. No worries! He’d re-insert the battery when he got back and they’d never know.

“Stevie! Jonno’s here!”

“Okay, Mum!”

Steven was still breathless when he poked his head round the door. Just in time! He glanced at the scattered jumble of clothes, the result of his last-minute packing. Mum would probably make her usual sarcastic comment about his room having been burgled, but then tidy it all as usual. He grinned. He was spoilt rotten and knew it. But people couldn’t help liking Steven Matheson. Long ago when he’d been a little kid of four or five a neighbour had remarked to his mother - prophetically as it turned out - that all that Steven would ever have to do to get his own way was smile. Good looks, a lazy, laid back charm, everything in life came easy to Steven and nothing ever ruffled him.

He picked up his hastily packed rucksack and ran downstairs, yelling to Jonno about the big footie game last night. And all the while the faulty wire was slowly burning through, preparing to strike in the dead of the night, and the very last, the only chance, his Mum and Dad would ever have of getting out of the fire alive had been taken away.

“Steven, the fire...”

The fire he had stood cheering with his best mates, slightly drunk, like they all were, on four large cans of lager and two large bottles of strong cider, unaware the electrical sparks flying into the air came from his own home where his parents were being burnt to death.



Sally trembled. The flame wavered. The look on Steven’s face was frightening her. Why didn’t he move, shout at her, call her a sook or something as usual? Why was he sitting so still?

“One, two, three...” she began to count in a frightened, warning whisper, her heart pounding.

The match was wearing down and she didn’t want to burn anyone and there was no Milko and Sally didn’t know what to do. And then the decision was made for her. The yellow flame flared up abruptly and Sally screamed in pain and quickly dropped the match, where it burnt a tiny black hole in the carpet before a random draught caught it in its breath and its brief life and moment of glory gone forever.

But not so Sally’s screaming. The ground began to rock, to sway beneath her feet just as it had that long-ago day of the terrible sea...


The door was wide open, just as they had left it the previous night. In Summerhill, the rough coastal town where the Phillips lived, leaving open doors was not generally considered a wise thing to do but, fortunately, no one would ever dare steal from Richie “Gus” Phillips. Kane and Scott staggered in, tired, thirsty, exhausted and bedraggled, trailing wet, muddy footprints from the pool of last night’s rain, and their mother looked up calmly from frying bacon as though they had merely been gone ten minutes on some innocent errand.

“Your Dad’s sleeping it off so get changed and yas can have some brekkie,” she said, a fresh purple bruise stretching from her eye to her mouth, holding an arm across her stomach and moving awkwardly.

So they crept slowly, shoeless, up the stairs, avoiding with expert ease the stairs they knew to creak, and, warily listening out for Dad’s snores, silently changed into the old but clean clothes she had laid out on their beds, and crept back down just as quietly.

“The freak’s gonna nick heaps for us and make us rich and then one day we’re gonna shoot through away from Dad,” Scotty predicted with grim determination, sick and tired of having to sleep outdoors.

“Wow! All of us?” Kane asked hopefully, in the same hushed tones that they all always used when Richie Phillips was sleeping.

“Maybe.” Scott glanced at his mother, who was busy forking the bacon rashers from the pan. He wasn’t going to tell Kane that Mum didn’t figure in his plans. Kane was too much of a sook. It wasn’t that Scotty was totally without sympathy for her, he had a thimbleful, but, you had to look out for yourself and wherever Mum went Dad would follow so, tough, but she was out the circle.

“Wow!” Kane said again, in awe. Now probably wasn’t a good time to tell Scotty that he also planned to bring along the invisible Milko, Fred the invisible dragon and Deefa, the invisible dopey-looking dog who had latched on to them shortly after Fred’s arrival.

“There yas go!” Diane Phillips whispered, smiling as she laid down plates and a bottle of tomato sauce, proud to have provided a cooked breakfast for her sons for once though she knew she risked a bashing from her husband if he found out.

Diane didn’t dare take any bacon for herself. Richie would notice if more than six rashers were gone. She cupped her hands around a mug of steaming tea. She would have given her boys anything. If only she didn’t have to get by through a fog of alcohol most days but drink was the only way to dull the pain.

The three of them finished off their feast with toast and jam, hardly daring breathe in case Richie woke, and the clock ticked loudly through the quiet of their dreams.


Frank’s good mood had long since evaporated. Lisa hadn’t been too happy when they’d got caught in the storm last night and had blamed Frank for her hair getting ruined. In fact, she’d blamed Frank for everything - because the restaurant hadn’t come up to her (impossible) standards “flashy and trashy” she called it. (Hell, he had saved and saved for that meal, out of the pittance he earned from his Saturday job at the Yabbie Creek garage.)

Pippa had sounded a bit strained when he’d phoned to say he’d be spending the night at Lisa’s. On the couch. Sheesh! He was over seventeen, for Crissake, and responsible. He had a mate at TAFE who’d got his girlfriend pregnant when they were both only sixteen and, though he loved his three-month-old daughter and had split with his girlfriend so was single again, Craig walked around with the whole world on his shoulders, spent every weekend playing happy families and lived in terror of failing his exams and not being able to support little Katie. Worse, in Frank’s eyes at least, soon as any interested chick discovered Craig was a father she dropped him like a hot potato.

Well, Frank wasn’t so stupid. He’d been prepared just in case. Not that he was ever likely to get the opportunity. Lisa’s Dad hated him on the spot (Frank half expected him to pull a shotgun) and Lisa’s Mum glared pointedly at the black bits of mud that had fallen off his trainers on to their luxury carpet (jeez, never mind that one of the Bay’s sudden storms had hit and he was drenched, having sacrificed his jacket for their precious only child to put over her head, or that out at sea ships were being thrown around like matchsticks!)

Mr Davies gave (no, threw) him a towel and Mrs Davies reluctantly pointed him in the general direction of the guest bathroom and when he returned they had grudgingly agreed that there was no way (without incurring manslaughter charges, unfortunately) that they could send him out to catch pneumonia in Summer Bay’s worst storm for a decade so he would have to stay the night. On the couch, Mr Davies stressed.

So Frank had spent a miserable evening having to account for his non-existent career prospects, being made to feel thick as a plank (Harry Davies had quickly cottoned on to the fact Frank was far from academic and deliberately steered the conversation towards politics and the stock market), become acutely aware, for the first time in his life, that he slurped rather than, like the Davies family, gently sipped, his tea, and feeling gawky, awkward and uncharacteristically shy although he towered over Lisa’s Dad.

And exactly how many times in one night did anyone need to come down for a glass of water? Did Mr Davies really reckon he was going to sneak up to Lisa’s bedroom the moment his back was turned? Anyway they didn’t know their daughter at all. Not one iota. The only-strictly-necessary conversation with him over brekkie, the frosty looks and exasperated little sighs. Lisa had dumped him. Big time.

Animal cruelty had never figured on Frank’s list of to-dos, but he was sure if there’d been a cat around he’d have been half inclined to kick it right now. As it was, kicking the door and stubbing his toe before unlocking it (as the eldest, Frank had the privilege of his own key) and then childishly kicking the door again in revenge had to suffice.

“Frank!” Tom reprimanded, looking up from the pile of mail he’d just collected.

“Sorry,” Frank mumbled automatically.

“Want to talk about it, mate?” Tom curtailed his line of thought, after reading the astronomically high electric bill, that maybe they’d been providing lighting and heating for every household in Oz.

“Nah. Ta.” He added as an afterthought, following Tom into the kitchen and not knowing whether to be glad or sad that everyone looked as glum as he felt.

“G’day!” He muttered generally before Pippa got on to him about manners, and then “Thanks, Einstein!” as he sank into his usual seat, taking advantage of Pippa’s distraction, and though he’d already eaten brekkie at Lisa’s and wasn’t hungry, by snatching up the last piece of toast as Steven reached for it.

Serve the wimp right. The guy shouldn’t ace school and pass all his exams with flying colours, causing Frank to ponder on the possibility of him being another Harry-Davies-in-the-making.


And, you know, it was all Sally’s fault. She knew it was though nobody actually said so. She watched and listened and silently drank in the atmosphere as though it was a scene from the TV.

Frank, who’d been so happy last night and had ruffled Sally’s hair, looked cross now he was back, probably because everyone else was, and Sally had made them cross.

“Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase electric shock, doesn’t it?” Tom had placed the bill on the kitchen unit and, resuming his task that collecting the post had interrupted, put four fresh slices of bread in the family size toaster. Pippa yawned from lack of sleep and sighed deeply as she read the amount and poured scalding water into the giant teapot.

Lynn, who felt the cold keenly and loved the sun, picked unenthusiastically at the cooked breakfast she normally relished. It had been Lynn’s idea to put the little three-barred electric fire on for hours in their bedroom every night, which she and Carly had been doing for the past three or four weeks, sneaking it back downstairs early every morning, until they’d been unexpectedly caught out last night.

Sally’s fault.

Her screaming had broken through the thunder and alerted the whole house so that everyone came running to see what awful tragedy had befallen and all it was...all it turned out to be...was Sally thinking the terrible sea was seeping in. Again.

“She does it heaps,” Lynn shrugged helpfully, her arm round the younger girl’s shoulder because Sally refused to let Pippa near her and couldn’t tell Pippa why.

Carly frowned, realising that in their swift exit they had left open the bedroom door to reveal the electric fire in full glow, and she was about to run back but Tom had already seen it and was busy pulling the plug from the socket.

“Don’t tell me you ever went to sleep with this thing on!” He exclaimed in disbelief.

“Only sometimes,” Carly admitted petulantly, aware that she should have had more sense, but it had been sooo nice, when the temperatures dipped, to feel the warmth at night like the warmth of the sun by day.

“For God’s sake, Carly, you could’ve set the house on fire!” Tom shook his head in despair, and Sally knew he was talking about the matches as well. She had stayed tight-lipped when her foster parents asked where she’d got them from. If she dobbed in the Phillips, Pippa and Tom would find out about Milko and Scott Phillips would carry out his threat to kill him.

And now everyone was unhappy because of Sally. When Sally couldn’t sleep after the sea scare, Pippa had sat in the room with her and she was still yawning now because she hadn’t left her till three o’clock and still had to be up by seven while Sally could lie in much later. Tom was mad over the electric fire and even madder when he saw how high the electric bill was. Carly and Lynn had been upset at the severe telling-off they’d both been given last night and still had red rings under their eyes.

And Steven...well, Steven had been funny. Scary. Just sitting there, staring, whiter even than Milko had looked on the day he and Sally had had the vanilla ice-cream fight, and not moving, not moving at all, though he’d jumped when Tom mentioned setting the house on fire. Steven had barely said a word since and Pippa and Tom thought he was upset because Sally was and didn’t ask him anymore.

Sally’s fault.

She ate her food from the outside in, concentrating hard because sometimes the cornflakes swirled round in the milk and she couldn’t tell which should be next.

And she remembered with a deep pang of sadness the time that she and Lynn had first come to visit the Fletchers, on a day out from the Home to get to know everyone, before the papers were signed and they could stay over. Milko had run everywhere, despite Sally telling him not to though she would have loved to run round herself. Of course, Milko being Milko, he fell over running upstairs but Pippa didn’t mind when Sally told her; she smiled and said he was probably just excited, like they all were.

Tom had borrowed a people carrier from a friend specially (it only held seven people so Milko sat on the roof) and he drove them all on a tour of the Bay, then down to the Diner to meet Ailsa and Alf Stewart and have ice cold drinks, and on the way back they had sung silly songs and stopped to look for Milko’s hat because it blew off as they turned a corner. And Sally and Milko had helped Pippa bake shortbread biscuits and shouted everyone to try them when they were done. Sally, Lynn and Milko had had a wonderful day and Milko fell asleep before they got back to the Home. But it all seemed a long time ago now. That was a time before Milko was kidnapped.

Sally’s fault.

Before Milko was kidnapped, a couple of kids in her class warned her about the Phillips brothers and Sally said she’d have to be careful they didn’t bully her invisible friend Milko. But then she wished she hadn’t told them because they told the whole class and everyone laughed and teased her and said only babies had invisible friends. So Sally had no one but Milko and then she’d let Milko be kidnapped.

She gave a quiet little sigh that nobody heard and stared sadly into her glass of orange juice. It was sad but there was no help for it. It was all her own fault after all. Sally didn’t mean to, but she made everybody unhappy. She would have to leave. She had called long enough.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Many thanks for your nice reviews. :D

***chapter 8***


“Laaannnceee!” Colleen grimaced. “You sound like a dying fish!”

Lance stopped mid-gargle and practised one more low note before turning to his mother, puzzled. “But dying fish flap, Mum.”

“Not at the bottom of the ocean they don’t,” Colleen said firmly, placing two small cartons of juice in a large plastic container and snapping shut the lid.

Lance’s brow creased into a bewildered frown. “But how do you know what a dying fish at the bottom of the ocean sounds like?”

“Never you mind. You sound like one and that’s that. Now,” Colleen added, with an air of brisk efficiency as she pressed the plastic container into her son’s hands, “You won’t go hungry because I’ve packed you tuna and mayo or cheese and onion sandwiches, an apple and a huge slice of my special chocolate cake. And you won’t go thirsty because I’ve packed you two cartons of blackcurrant juice and plenty of water. So you just get out from under my feet while I do the cleaning. This place is like a pigsty.” And Colleen looked round the bungalow-sized caravan, shaking her head at her son's untidiness.

Lance smiled, unoffended. Although he was twenty years old, his mother still treated him like a child but they had an easygoing relationship and a genuine affection for each other.

“You know, Mum, some folk reckon I got a real good voice.”

“So you have, Lancey,” Colleen said proudly, patting his cheek though she had to stand on her tiptoes to do so. “It’s all that gargling that sounds like the dying fish. Can’t think how it helps myself.”

“It lub...lub...” Lance searched for the word in vain; “oils the vocal chords.” He grinned. “And that’s very important ‘cos there’s a new gal to impress.”

Colleen sighed. “I might have known there’d be a girl behind all this. Now come on, Lancey, out, out! (She passed him the fishing gear that she’d borrowed specially from Alf Stewart and, pressing her hands on both his shoulders, pushed him along) And if you’re very good and stay out of my way, I’ll make your favourite for tea tonight and you can tell me all about it this girl then.”

“A fry-up? Like brekkie?” Lance asked, his eyes lighting up in delight. “Double eggs, heaps of bacon...”

“We’ll see,” Colleen said, closing the door behind him and the droning sound of the vacuum cleaner soon piercing the air.

And that was how Lance Smart, who’d planned to spend the morning rehearsing his singing, and who had never been even remotely interested in fishing, came to be standing at the bottom of the caravan steps carrying everything the modern angler needed to land a massive haul and looking every inch an expert fisherman.


“Guys, guys!”

Sally jumped for a moment, Tom’s voice slicing into her thoughts, before she realised he wasn’t talking to her.

Frank and Steven were fighting again. Steven had mentioned he was going to help out at the annual Summer Bay talent contest so couldn’t mow the grass round the caravan site till later. Frank, who’d been about to leave for his Saturday job at the garage, had turned round and demanded to know, “What use is a geeky swot to a talent contest? Going to wow them all with mathematical formulas or something, Einstein?”

“Keep your nose out of my business, El Thicko, and it was your turn, not mine, to tidy the bedroom yesterday,” Steven fired back, reverting back to the still unresolved difference of opinion they’d had the previous day.

“Perhaps you could take your little sister with you to the beach?” Pippa suggested to Carly and Lynn, while Tom was busy sorting out the boys’ latest blue.

Sally cut a forlorn figure staring miserably into her glass of orange juice. Maybe she’d asked for it for Milko though her foster mother had a strong feeling that the little girl had only agreed to a second glass to please her. And Pippa was baffled. Sally was still shying away from herself and Tom so it didn’t make any sense that she should care about Pippa’s feelings. Perhaps, Pippa thought, Sally felt she wasn’t really part of the Fletcher family. There was a vast age difference after all and the poor little mite was often unintentionally overlooked by her older brothers and sisters.

Carly and Lynn exchanged unhappy glances as Lynn rinsed the knives, forks and spoons and Carly polished them dry, both wishing now that they hadn’t been so talkative about their plans. Everyone, except Sally who was considered too young, had to take their turn at chores and today Lynn was on dish-washing duty, with Carly helping out because they were in a hurry to get out in the sun.

“I guess,” Carly said reluctantly.

Sally was a nice enough kid but that was the problem. She was a kid and they couldn’t have kids hanging around today of all days. But it would be skating on very thin ice to refuse. They had only escaped a grounding by the skin of their teeth because Sally had been so shaken by last night’s storm and Tom and Pippa didn’t want any more disruption for her.

“Thanks,” Pippa smiled. “Don’t forget, kids - sun cream so you don’t get burnt and heaps of water so you don’t get dehydrated. Oh, and make sure Sally wears a hat.”

“Sure, Pip,” Carly sighed, forcing a smile back.


“He’s awake! He’s awake!”

Actually, Kane and Scott didn’t need telling, much less telling twice. They had looked up to the ceiling in sick apprehension the moment they heard the bed springs creak, long before their mother’s loud, frightened whisper (frequent blows to her head had left Diane Phillips slightly hard of hearing) as their father’s heavy tread pounded across the room above and water gurgled through the ancient pipes.

All three were trying to gage by his movements whether Richie Phillips was in a good or bad mood. If it was a good mood, Scott and Kane got pocket money and maybe too, if he happened to have some, a packet of chewing gum or mints. Most of all, if he was in a good mood, they wouldn’t be bashed. (Richie either chose to forget, or genuinely did forget, his regular Friday night threats to kill them.) But if it was a bad mood...

Diane Phillips hastily snatched up their breakfast dishes and swilled their bacon-greased plates under the tap, frowning as she realised the water wasn’t hot enough yet to wash up and therefore hide the evidence that they’d helped themselves to what Richie regarded as his food and nobody else’s. So she stacked them, unwashed, in the broken cupboard under the sink and, taking a bottle and tumbler from out of the same hiding place, poured herself a generous amount of vodka, which she downed in two or three gulps.

Then, with a nod to her sons to stay quiet, she called up the stairs in conciliatory tones, “Richie! Richie, tea or coffee?”

Kane closed his eyes in relief. If Mum called Dad by his hated nickname of Gus, as she occasionally dared to when blotto, it meant she was sparring for a fight and all hell broke loose then, with everybody in the line of fire. But when she called him Richie, she had no intention of rocking the boat.

Receiving no answer to her enquiry, Diane pursed her lips and went reluctantly up the stairs. Kane and Scott listened closely to the voices, the first solicitous, the other little more than a snarl. They knew it wasn’t looking good. The snarling voice was growing louder, the solicitous voice more afraid.

And then came the thud of a shoe or boot clattering to the floor and, as if chased by the hounds of hell, their mother ran downstairs, hastily wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her old faded cardigan, and frantically clicked on the kettle and re-lit the gas under the frying pan.

“You best get off, kids, and don’t come back for a few hours,” she advised, without turning around.

Tears sprang to Kane’s eyes. The little boy’s hunger pangs had gone now but he was tired, having hardly slept a wink last night, being frightened and bothered by the rats but even more frightened of waking Scott and incurring his older brother's wrath. His head banged from both a lack of sleep and from having Scotty crash land a dinner plate on it. He yearned to simply curl up and rest.

“But I don’t wanna...” He began wearily.

A crack like a pistol shot suddenly struck the side of his face, leaving four red lines streaked across his cheek. Even the hardened Scotty, making full use of their last few minutes by cramming toast into his mouth and swigging from the milk carton so fast that milk dribbled down his chin, sucked in a breath.

“Had...had Milko, Fred and Deefa better come too?” The little boy blinked back the tears, looking blearily eyed at his invisible friends who seemed as unhappy as he was, and looking back up at his mother.

“Yes, Kaney, they better.” Diane always used the baby name when feeling maternal towards him. She didn’t have a clue what her small son was babbling about and she was hardly listening.

Richie had demanded breakfast: bacon, sausage, egg and tomato, and two thick buttered slices of toast served up with a mug of black coffee, and if it wasn’t all on the table immediately he came down, she’d likely be used as a punchbag as would anyone else who didn’t get out of his way. Better Kane felt a short, sharp blow now rather than his father’s fists later. Her youngest son had to learn life wasn’t a bowl of cherries.

“H’okay,” Kane said, his voice thick with tears. Scott had decided it was high time he moved things along and had begun dragging him away, but Kane was sure he would understand if he appealed to his better nature. “The guys are heaps tired, Scotty, so we can walk real slow, can’t we?”

“**** off!” Scotty said in answer, helping him out the door with a kick.


“But I don’t want to take Mrs Martha! I don’t want to take anything! I don’t want to go!” Sally protested.

“Kids like playing with dolls,” Carly shrugged absently, throwing the rag doll in the beach bag after the sketchbook and coloured pencils and glancing round Sally’s little bedroom for anything else that might be used later for distracting Sally’s attention.

Sally stared at the carpet’s small burn-hole where the lighted match had died last night and wrung her hands in despair. Carly didn’t understand. Sally couldn't take Mrs Martha. Mrs Martha would think Sally liked her and - well, she did, but Mrs Martha couldn’t know that. It wouldn’t be fair on her when Sally left. Sally knew how awful it was and how much it hurt when people who loved you left you. And anyway Sally didn’t want to tag on with Carly and Lynn, who obviously didn’t want her, just because Pippa said they should take her with them to the beach.

“Carly,” Sally said, close to tears, reverting to her grandmother’s old-fashioned politeness of speech as she always did when anxious. “Carly, I do greatly appreciate your kindness and it’s so very thoughtful of you, but I’m afraid sea air doesn’t agree with Mrs Martha’s health.”

“What?” Carly stopped dead in her tracks, taken aback by the lofty words and the stiff way in which they were delivered, suddenly feeling like she was the child and Sally was a grown-up.

“Oh, they don’t argue,” Sally explained. (Old Mrs Bellamy, before she and her funny cats died, had once told Sally that onions didn’t agree with her and had thought it very funny when Sally thought she meant onions could talk.) “Sea air can’t talk, you see. I don’t think Mrs Martha can either.”

“Right,” Carly said, baffled.

“Onions can’t talk either,” Sally added helpfully.

“Ri-IIGHT!” Carly said again, more baffled than ever.

Lynn suddenly appeared, her grin as broad as a Cheshire cat’s, waving a mysterious parcel at Carly. “I got everything, Carl! You guys ready?”

“No,” Carly sighed. “Sally’s...um...not quite sure whether she wants to come with us like Pippa said and I don’t know how to persuade her.”

“Easy!” Lynn declared breezily, throwing the mysterious parcel in the bag and peering in, “Come on, Sal, Milko’s already in there.”

“He is not!” Sally said indignantly. How dare Lynn even think she would put Milko in a bag where he couldn’t breathe? It was bad enough that poor Mrs Martha had been flung in there and a parcel flung down on top of her head!

“Oh, okay. My mistake. He climbed out. Look, there he is, waiting for us over there!” Lynn jabbed her finger at the far wall.

“He is not!” Sally said hotly, her hands on her hips.

Lynn was very seldom at a loss for words but she was stumped. “Well, where is he then?”

“He’s...” Sally narrowly stopped herself from saying “kidnapped” and putting Milko’s life in danger. “Somewhere,” she finished lamely.

“Oh, come on, Sal. Please. We’ve arranged to meet these guys...”

“Ssshhh!” Carly warned.

“Sally won’t dob us in,” Lynn said. “She’s a mate. We never lagged on each other at the Home, did we, Sal?”

Sally shook her head in agreement and then thought maybe she should nod in agreement and then couldn’t make up her mind which should be which so ended up doing both several times. Life was very confusing without Milko to tell her what to do.

“Is she okay?” Carly whispered to Lynn uncertainly.

“It’s Sally!” Lynn said, as if that explained everything. She put her arm round her young friend’s shoulders. “Okay. Sal. Carl and me, we’ve been hanging out with this cool new crowd and there’s these two spunky guys, Pete and Spencer. And they like us, I mean really like us...And you know we’re in heaps with Tom and Pippa over the electric fire? We’re on a good behaviour bond and if you don’t come, Pips’ll think we said you couldn’t and we’ll probably be grounded for, like, a thousand years! So, Sal, please, please, please...?”

“Okay,” Sally said solemnly, and smiled politely as Lynn and Carly shouted “Yes!” and high-fived each other and then showed Sally how to high-five too, which she did, quite gravely.

“Let’s go, guys!” Carly announced happily, picking up the beach bag.

It didn’t matter, Sally told herself. Once she had run away from Summer Bay no one need ever worry about her again. She brushed away a solitary tear and followed on after the two older girls.

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  • 2 weeks later...

****chapter 9***


Steven called it his private beach. Not that he’d ever tell anyone that. It was where he came to be alone and think, and was a tiny, hidden-away place that could be accessed only by turning off the main touristy track, walking across rough terrain and sand dunes, then down through a large mass of slippery stones and finally jumping across the rock-pool.

Here there was a small cove in which to take shelter from the sudden storms or blistering heat, inside which, as if mindful of its future guest’s comfort, over the years the sea had carved out a flat, almost chair-like rock seat, where Steven could sit and admire the panoramic views over the sea. Across the way, Devil’s Leap, an infamous and deadly narrow gap in the cliffs, gave out spectacular sunrises and sunsets; on particularly clear days the distant landscapes seemed to stretch forever and, when the mid-day sun sizzled and blazed, the little costal towns across the water, with their pretty, sun-bathed houses and backgrounds of rolling cool green hills, shone as brightly as early technicolour films.

Despite its surrounding beauty and popularity with sea creatures (the area teemed with marine life and crowds of gulls, flapping their wings and squawking noisily, often flocked to select the tastiest small silver fish from the rock-pool as though it were their very own fast-food restaurant and the views across the sea their very own drive-in movie) few people ever discovered its enchantment, for much of the rough sand was strewn with sharp stones and pebbles. Once Steven had been dismayed to find the sand disturbed by a winding set of footprints and paw-prints that had run in every direction, telling the tale of some enthusiastic dog sniffing out every nook and cranny as its owner vainly called it back to his side. But, much to his relief, for he thought of this beach as his and his alone, dog-walker and dog never returned and in the fullness of time the prints were washed away and it was Steven’s beach again.

Now the rhythmic swish of the sparkling water and the echo of the gravel scrunching underfoot gave everywhere a satisfying aloneness. Drinking in the peace, Steven leapt across the rock-pool and felt his heels sink into the crumbling sand while a handful of sea birds watched him warily from a distance, as always never giving their trust with ease, but waiting until their solitary visitor was safely ensconced in the little cove and his world before returning to their own.

Breathing more slowly now, he sat down on the rock-chair, slid a strap down from his shoulder and unzipped a black case. The guitar flashed momentarily in the bright morning sunlight. Steven rested it on his lap and began strumming idly on its strings, tuning in the guitar, listening with a keen ear to the sounds, and thinking. It had been a white lie when he told Tom he had to go help out at the talent contest. He wasn’t due to meet Lance until much later. Although Lance had been blessed with a beautiful voice, he had never quite mastered the art of guitar playing and the song he planned to sing to impress Kathy Murray needed guitar accompaniment. But everything in life came easy to Steven Matheson and learning the guitar had been no exception. Yet he’d never created a tune before and somehow he knew he never would again.

Steven stopped playing the more popular songs and slipped again into the tune that had been playing in his head for days. It was as if the melody had always been sleeping in his heart, waiting to be woken. Because this music was home. It was Mum and Dad. Every memory. Every yesterday. The notes streamed into the air, the intro a soft, gentle pace that became a quickening speed, and Steven was lost in them.


Kathy Murray cringed. Summer Bay was a small town and small towns didn’t like ripples in the river. (Kathy had once won $25 third prize for a sweet little poem called Ripples in the River and had never forgotten it.) And, although she worked at Summer Bay Primary and therefore didn’t answer to Donald Fisher, principal of Summer Bay High, small town politics dictated that small town principals were treated with the utmost respect.

Kathy may have been a high-flier, passing all her exams to become a fully-fledged infant school teacher before she was even twenty-one (the local newspaper had even run an article about how she got to be Summer Bay’s youngest ever teacher) but she also had a younger sister.

One Jennifer Mary Murray, aged sixteen, going on twenty-six, (or, on alternate days, going on six) red-haired, fiery-tempered, freckle-faced (wow, you didn’t dare remind her of them though!) and with an opinion about everyone and everything.

“...see, there isn’t any talent here,” she was finishing off saying to Fisher.

“There isn’t...?” Donald Fisher, known as affectionately as “Flathead” to his students, knitted his brow. As far as he was aware, Summer Bay, just like every one of the coastal towns round these parts, had its fair quota of talent. No more and no less. And, okay, the talent show wasn’t exactly the Logie nominations, it was being held simply to raise money for charity. But their visitor had spent a good deal of that morning watching many of the acts practising for the show tomorrow so perhaps her views should be taken on board.

Jenny sighed heavily. “Nope. I mean, the guys here, they’re ooo-kaaay, but they’re nothing to write home about, are they? Not that I’ll be writing home, of course. I never do, and, anyway, the olds are on holiday so it’d be a waste of time, even if I ever did, which I don’t, wouldn’t it? But when Kath was at TAFE in Melbourne now the talent there, heaps of good-looking guys...” puzzled when Fisher suddenly roared with laughter, Jenny finally paused for breath.

Kathy smiled, gritting her teeth. “G’day, Mr Fisher. Can I talk with my little sis for a min?”

“No problem, Miss Murray.” Donald Fisher smiled back.

He liked Kathy Murray and had high hopes for her future. Kathy genuinely loved kids and, even outside of the extra curricular activities that already made up a teacher’s life, would often give up her free time to be with them. The garden project had been an excellent idea. Shame either the school cat or one of the children had trampled it, but apparently, nothing daunted, Miss Murray had coerced friends and colleagues into fixing it up again. Usually shy and unassuming, Kathy Murray, by all accounts, was a force to be reckoned with when it came to fighting for her kids!

Kathy dragged her younger sister to a quiet corner of Summer Bay Town Hall and...well, okay, let’s not exaggerate here.

Summer Bay’s “town hall” was actually one of the Bay’s oldest buildings, a long, draughty affair, with a roof that was prone to leaks, strange, unexpected slopes in the floor (generations of Summer Bay children had played the game of “running up the hills”) and peculiarly narrow, high windows that never caught much sun, but liked to cast dismal shadows with what little they did, dating back almost to the time of the Bay’s founding and built, but never used as, a courthouse, due to the incompetence of its architect, the low crime rate in the Bay, and Yabbie Creek having a far superior courthouse anyway. But the Summer Bayers were proud of their “town hall” for all that and always used it for important occasions when both the Bay’s schools, the Diner and the open air beach arena were equally unavailable, and Kathy retreated to one of its corners and brought Jenny up to speed.

“Omigod!” Jenny had the grace to blush. “He's a principal? I thought he was just a nice old guy.”

But she recovered quickly from her faux pas and happily dismissed the residents of Summer Bay as straw-chewing country bumpkins. “He seemed like one of the locals. You know, someone with not much else to do other than watch boring talent contests. Ah, well, he’s not your principal though, he’s only top dog of Summer Bay High so no harm done, he doesn’t count. But I’ve been thinking, Kath. How do you stand it here without any decent, good-looking guys? Don’t you miss Robert?”

“No.” Kathy firmly closed the subject of Robert. Robert may have been a Brad Pitt lookalike but he had also broken Kathy’s heart. “Anyway, a guy doesn’t have to be good-looking to be a decent guy. And who said there aren't any decent guys here in Summer Bay?”

“Like who...?” Jenny grinned with interest.

“I was talking about you,” Kathy lied. “About Mike Langford.”

“Gimme a break!” Jenny raised her eyes Heavenwards.

It was true Mike Langford, who never failed to look Jenny up whenever he heard she was in the Bay, was a decent guy and not bad looking, and they’d even been out on a couple of casual dates. But there was no spark. Both of them knew they’d never be anything more than friends. A sudden breeze at that moment drew Jenny’s attention to the door. And to the tall, slim, dark-haired guy, so deeply tanned that he could have been from some hot European country, who’d just walked in and made Jenny’s heart flip.

“Wow! Who’s that?” She asked with interest.

Kathy glanced up briefly. “Dunno. Oh, no, wait, I think I do. One of the Fletcher foster kids. Frank Somebody-or-Other. I saw him picking Sally Keating, one of their other foster kids, up from school once.”

Kathy frowned. Sally Keating was worrying her. She’d seemed even more troubled than usual lately and Kathy had a feeling it had to do with the Phillips brothers. She’d seen them in the playground yesterday, huddled in conversation and casting frequent glances at the little girl, who stood all alone, leaning her back and one raised foot against the wall, deep in thought, as though she was about to start one of her counting phases. Sally had become well known for her compulsive counting, and, like the staff usually did, Kathy went across to try and calm her.

“Hey, Sal,” she smiled. “It sucks doing playground duty on your own. I really need someone to talk to. Would you mind coming round with me?”

Sally nodded uncertainly. She liked Miss Murray. Her own teacher was okay, but she had a tendency to shout and raised voices made Sally uneasy. They reminded her of when the Spanish people had been shouting and screaming, the day the terrible sea had taken her parents away forever.

Kathy gently took the child’s hand, and, after racking her brains for something to say that would take Sally’s mind off her anxieties, decided to chat about Reception’s flower garden as they strolled, and was pleased when little Sally, although she didn’t speak, smiled once or twice and seemed comfortable with her.

“G’day, Miss Murray!” Kane Phillips suddenly appeared at the teacher’s elbow, making her jump. “Nice day, innit? Me and Scotty and Milko thought we might walk down by the sea later. I sure hope Milko don’t fall in and drown ‘cos he’s talkin’ too much.” Kane sounded oddly like he was quoting something he’d been primed to remember, concentrating hard, gazing at the sky as if for inspiration and taking new breaths with each sentence.

For some reason, Sally blanched. Maybe the kid was feeling a bit crook with the heat.

“I’m sure he won’t, Kane,” Kathy said gently.

Kane was puzzling her lately. As well as gaining an imaginary friend called Milko (Kathy had overheard on the kids’ grapevine that Sally Keating had an imaginary friend called Milko too, which was a strange coincidence, but the government had lately been running a series of cartoon TV commercials in a campaign to persuade kids to drink more milk) he seemed to have acquired an imaginary dragon (Fred) and an imaginary dog (Deefa). The four all sat together (Reception Class desks were set in groups of four) and were the best of friends although, apparently, there were occasional problems such as when Fred accidentally fire-breathed on something or when Deefa wouldn’t stop barking.

Kathy had covered the subject as part of her teacher training coursework and was aware that kids with imaginary friends tended to be lonely and sensitive only children. But Kane didn’t fit this picture. Although he had always sat on his own on a desk-of-four it had been partly because, in the best Phillips tradition, he was inevitably disrupting lessons or picking on someone, and partly because he considered himself much older than his peers, preferring to hang out with Scotty and his mates.

But since the arrival of Kane’s invisible friends a wonderful peace had reigned in Reception. Apart from needing to give Milko, Deefa and Fred his attention, which, fortunately, didn’t impact too much on lessons, Kane had got on with his work and allowed the other kids to get on with theirs. It was as though the real child behind the tough guy facade had finally begun to emerge and Kathy was finding him to be a likeable and intelligent little boy. From her coursework, she knew that the best way to deal with imaginary friends was to simply accept them - they would disappear soon enough, as the child grew older and developed real friendships. Kathy was quite happy to go along with that. The longer Milko, Deefa and Fred stayed as her invisible students, the more chance there was of Kane behaving long enough to actually learn something!

She jumped again as Scott Phillips abruptly appeared at the other side of herself and Sally and fell into step beside them.

“Ah, but Milko might fall in the sea,” he chipped in. “Ya know, if he wasn’t listenin’ to what me and Kane was sayin’ ‘cos he was too busy talkin’.” Scotty gave Kane an approving wink. His kid bro had done pretty well to remember what Scotty had told him to say. Scotty was determined to make as much cash as he could out of the freak and she needed a timely reminder not to dob them in.

“Oh, I’m quite certain Kane will take good care of him, Scott,” Kathy said lightly, bewildered by the Phillips brothers’ concerns for Milko’s welfare, especially as Scott was a deal too old and a deal too cynical to believe in invisible companions. “Milko will be perfectly safe,” she added, deciding Scott was obviously preying on Kane’s worries to tease him.

“These things happen,” Scotty said mysteriously. “Folk cark it all the time. Ya turn ya back for a minute and...whooosh! They’re gone!”

“I really don’t think Milko will drown. He’s probably an excellent swimmer.” And Kathy smiled reassuringly at Kane, who, despite the fact he had introduced the idea himself, was looking rather alarmed at the prospect of Milko’s sudden demise.

The bell rang out end of recess and Scott looked up at the school. He sighed and shook his head as though he pitied Kathy Murray’s naive trust in humankind.

“Well, I guess, for all our sakes, we just better hope Milko don’t keep talkin’. See yas around, guys!” He swaggered off, whistling.

“Yup...see yas around!” Copying Scotty, Kane too swaggered off with his hands in his pockets.

Kathy felt Sally’s small hand clutching her own tightly. She couldn’t shake off the weirdest feeling that they’d just been threatened.


“One of the Fletcher foster kids?” Jenny’s voice repeating her earlier answer broke into Kathy’s reverie. “Isn’t he a bit old to be a foster kid?”

“Mm. Maybe he was fostered late. Some reason,” Kathy said vaguely, her mind still on Sally.

“What, like he stood waiting outside their door for a few years? Not that I’m complaining. Now he’s exactly the right age!” And Jenny looked with great interest at Frank Somebody-or-Other, who was exchanging some kind of paperwork with the country yokel who moonlighted as a principal.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten Carly, Lynn and Lance. They’ll reappear in later chapters. :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

OMG, here goes, hope you like it! :unsure: I’ve taken info from the official site and from what ppl have told me so Carly’s drinking and Lynn’s religion and their backgrounds are now included. (I had to relegate Frank’s story to the next chapter as this was already 2,500 words long! :blink: ) Please be honest if you review. If you're not happy with certain parts/think it's too long etc say so.

***chapter 10***


“When we gonna stop, Scotty? Deefa needs some water.”

Scott, who had been stomping down on the sand, furious at their constantly being turfed out of their miserable home, turned. “Who the **** is Deefa?”

Despite his thirst and exhaustion and banging headache, Kane’s face brightened. He’d been dying for just such an opportunity to introduce everyone. Wasn’t very cool of Scotty to keep ignoring his invisible mates.

“He’s my pet dog. Called Deefa ‘cos it’s short for D for dog, get it? And Fred’s my pet dragon - wasn’t meant to be stayin’ but nodody’d have the guy ‘cos of his fire-breathin’ but Milko was...”

He stopped abruptly and watched bemused (fortunately, he was at a safe enough distance behind) as Scott turned purple and gave out a roar of fury.

“Will you ******* well stop doing that?” Scotty finally said.

“What?” Kane asked nervously.

“Actin’ like Milko and everyone else ******* well exists. ‘Cos it’s p****** me off. And ‘cos if you do it once more I got no choice, I’ll have to ******* kill ya. You got that, drongo?”

“Ye-eh,” Kane said, digging a random line in the wet sand with the heel of his trainers while he thought about it. Scotty was already spitting the dummy. In for a penny, in for a pound, as Mum always said when she’d decided to fight it out with Dad and was staggering all round the room, the booze giving her a false courage. It prob'ly wasn’t a good idea, but Kane had promised Milko. “But I don’t want Milko to drown,” he sighed, saying what was on his mind at last. “He’s a good mate. Can’t we kinda...well, just push him in a bit if the dork lags?”

“No, we ******* well can’t!”

“Sorry, mate. Tried my best.” Kane shrugged at Milko, unwittingly spooking Scotty.

Kane could see Milko, clear as day, walking along the sand dunes with Fred, Deefa, Scotty and himself. Tall, skinny and pale, dressed all in white save for the hat (it was red again today) just as the weirdo newbie had described him. Except Milko had begun wearing his hats backwards. Kane wasn’t sure if this was a fashion statement or whether Milko thought it made him look tough and therefore less likely to be pushed in the water. He had tried asking Scotty what he thought but Scotty said he was talking rubbish because nobody was there and whacked him for his trouble. Kane sighed at Milko, Deefa and Fred. It genuinely mystified him why his brother couldn’t see anyone.

And it was that which protected him, if only he knew. Scott’s natural reaction would have been to bash his kid bro and put an end to the Milko, Deefa and Fred nonsense there and then but, against his better judgement, he was beginning to freak. Scott was burning to bash someone and take out his anger with the world, but it was a bit nerve-racking when his usual punchbag was having whole conversations with people who didn’t exist. But someone had to get hurt today. Someone too small to fight back.

And that someone would.


Lynn fingered the silver crucifix around her neck and giggled at something Carly had just told her in a whisper (so Sally wouldn’t hear) about boys. Lynn hadn’t known that about boys and it was...rude. But Carly knew heaps. She was sooo sophisticated.

Lynn was flattered that the older girl had chosen her as a confidant and flattered that she assumed Lynn must have often giggled with her friends about something a boy had said or done or, at the very least, flirted innocently with a boy or two. But she had never done either. Unlike other girls her age, Lynn wasn’t used to talking about the opposite sex.

Although she’d lived in the Home for over three years, she’d made no friends there, apart from timid little Sally and old Lizzie, who worked in the laundry and had worked there, so the rumour went, since the 1930s when, so the rumour machine churned again (especially in the dead of night when it was fun to scare some newbie) six kids who tried to break out were bricked up alive and Lizzie had been sworn to secrecy under pain of death herself if she ever dared reveal the horrible truth.

The other kids had thought Lynn strange and old-fashioned, going, as she did, to Mass every Sunday, decorating her personal wall space in the dorm with holy pictures and a cross, and keeping a Bible, prayer book, a pretty blue and white ornament of Mary holding baby Jesus and set of black plastic rosary beads on top of her locker.

Lynn, who’d bought the rosary beads at a religious stall at a garden fete, had originally thought they were called “Rosemary’s Beads” and, as she didn’t know what they were for and didn’t want to lose face on her first day, told anyone who asked that they were named after a holy lady called Rosemary, who’d always worn a ballgown and long black necklace when she went out curing the sick, so now “Rosemary’s Beads” were sold as lucky charms. (Until Lizzie, who was a devout Catholic, explained to her that they were rosary beads and were meant for counting out prayers.)

Lynn had even considered becoming a nun. She thought nuns mysterious and interesting and reckoned she would look quite good in black, gliding through the polished corridors of the convent. And a convent was a great place to get away from people you didn’t like (at the time Lynn was being picked on). But Lizzie had said, with an amused smile, that they weren’t exactly the right reasons for taking her vows.

“What vows?” Lynn asked worriedly, which made Lizzie laugh till she cried.

So Lynn ditched the nun idea. She still found great comfort in her strong beliefs and she loved nothing more than to sit in the cool, quiet chapel, feeling like at last she belonged somewhere (and belonging was very important to Lynn, who had several times run away from her own home and nine brothers and sisters because she felt overlooked and under-loved). But she ditched the nun idea. Black wasn’t really her colour anyway.

“That’s a bit daggy,” Carly remarked, noticing the crucifix.

“What?” Lynn asked innocently, though she knew perfectly well what.

Carly raised her sunnies above her nose and looked at Lynn shrewdly. “The cross. You’re not into all that praying rubbish, are you? I hate religious freaks!”

“As if! It’s just I’ve had this like...forever. Sheesh! As if I'd be praying!” Lynn glanced guiltily at Sally while at the same time silently praying Please, God, don’t let Sal dob me in, please, God, don’t let Sal dob me in.

Sally gasped and looked at Lynn wide-eyed. But she had been sitting cross-legged on the beach mat, her chin resting on Mrs Martha’s newly-stitched-on head, watching Carly and Lynn wide-eyed for a while now. Ever since they had taken the mysterious package out of the beach bag and begun totally transforming themselves. Pippa and Tom didn’t mind them wearing some make-up but Carly and Lynn had really gone to town and looked much older.

“Good,” Carly said, busy smoothing gel through her long curly hair. ‘Cos religion is strictly for weirdos and wrinklies. Not for people like us who know how to have a good time. Hey, Sal,” she added. “Look, there’s Milko! Down there! He’s having a great time kicking the water!”

Sally’s heart twanged and she looked swiftly down to the shore only to have her hopes cruelly dashed. There was no Milko. She sighed sadly. It had been silly to even think there would be. And, anyway, even if Milko had escaped from his kidnappers, he’d have come over to talk, whether or not he was mates with the Phillips brothers. He knew Sally would never go near the terrible sea.

“Wow! That was an awesome splash!” Carly sounded hugely impressed and Sally stared at her, wondering if Carly and Lynn were alright. Perhaps the heat was getting to them. It was strange how they both kept imagining they saw Milko when he wasn’t there.

“You not gonna go join him?” Carly prompted.

Sally shook her head and gave Mrs Martha an extra tight hug. She had explained to the rag doll that this day out had only happened because Carly threw her in the bag and that Sally didn’t like Mrs Martha at all. It was awful having to lie but Mrs Martha would be left behind when she ran away and, remembering how she had cried herself to sleep every night when yet another person left her, Sally didn’t want Mrs Martha to be sad and miss her. But the fragile world was crumbling around them both. Poor Mrs Martha had had her head ripped off and had spent the night on a cold, hard window-sill. Sally’s very, very best friend Milko had been kidnapped and Lynn, her nearly-best-friend, was behaving very oddly and nothing like the Lynn she knew anymore.

“Weird kid,” Carly sighed, lowering her sunglasses Hollywood style.

“Yeh. Weird,” Lynn agreed.

“Anyways...” Carly drawled, and deciding she didn’t really care if Sally were there or not, grinning at Lynn as she pulled the last two items out of the extra bag.

“Ripper!” Lynn grinned back, hoping Carly wouldn’t suspect she’d never tried alcohol before, as Carly dug in the corkscrew and expertly twisted the cork so that it slid out of the neck of the bottle with a loud pop that made Sally jump. The little girl’s mouth dropped open in horror as her eldest foster sister took a long gulp of the red wine.

“Are you going to sit there watching me all day?” Carly asked, unnerved by her stares.

The sarcasm went completely over Sally’s head.

“I’m not quite sure, Carly,” she answered politely, wondering why she was asking when Carly was the one who would decide how long they all stayed on the beach. “Will you be here all day, do you think?”

“Dill,” Carly said, loud enough for Sally to hear, and vindictively enough for tears to spring to Sally’s eyes, as she wiped the bottle and passed it on to Lynn.

She didn’t really want to upset the kid but hurting people - and alcohol - was the only way Carly could get by. If she hurt people, nobody would ever know how much Carly herself was hurting inside. Simple, see?

She knew how much Lynn’s faith meant to her and, even if she hadn’t, the wounded expression on Lynn’s face when Carly called her a religious freak would have been enough to tell her. But actually, and perhaps surprisingly, Carly didn’t have any strong views on the subject.

She wished she could share Lynn’s overwhelming conviction that there was something more (Carly had been sunbathing in the garden once and secretly overheard a deep conversation between Pippa and Lynn about God) but, as far as she was concerned, death was a great empty nothingness. Churches freaked her out, all that talk of death and dying and all those peculiar rituals. She had frozen to the spot when the first thing she saw as they entered the church for Mum’s funeral was a gruesome statue of Christ with blood pouring from his heart.

Dad dug her in the ribs more forcibly than he needed to and hissed for her not to embarrass the whole family again (apparently Carly had embarrassed the whole family when she’d sobbed uncontrollably at the hospital after being told her mother had passed away) and Samantha, her twin sister, smirked. Never losing a chance to score points against Carly even at a time like this. And, you know, that was the part Carly would never understand. She wasn’t mad, was she, not to understand?

Dad and Sam had each other, would always have each other, but Mum had just died, in agony after suffering a burst appendix, and still they thought it more important to keep up appearances and put on a united family front, as Dad called it. But the family had never been united.

The wealthy three-car Morrises, with their luxury home, company director father and mother who had nothing to do with her long days other than shop for things she didn’t need, meet shallow, like-minded friends for lunch, become addicted to tranquillisers and have a seven-month-affair out of sheer, mind-numbing boredom; the Morrises with their holiday home in hot, sultry Malaysia, with their gardener, charlady and succession of au pairs when the twins were small, had always been ripped and torn.

Samantha, beautiful, clever Samantha, first born, first loved, most precious, was the favoured child while Carly, second born, second best, came screaming furiously into this world, healthy and strong, and Sam fighting with slow, tiny breaths for her small, pitiful scrap of life, and Carly breathing huge gulps of air into strong lungs and screaming lustily, and all tears and all eyes and all love for Sam, and Carly, who all but stole the life of her twin, wanting more, screaming with attention-seeking fury...

And, as they grew, Carly turned out to be always ungrateful, spoilt, wilful, a brat. The more adjectives heaped on Carly’s head the more she felt she ought to live up to them. So the stormy years rolled by, with only a brief interlude of semi-calm when Mrs Morris, acting on her therapist’s advice and for the good of her health, began making more of an effort with Carly in order to avoid further upsets (Sharon Morris being prone to headaches and dizzy spells when upset). George Morris disagreed with the therapist’s “ridiculous advice” on the basis his daughter was “spoilt rotten”, and Sam, being Daddy’s girl, took his side, but for a handful of weeks Carly found she almost liked her mother. Until thunderclouds gathered anew.

News of the affair broke; Sharon Morris hastily ended the relationship in order to avoid a costly divorce and losing her luxury lifestyle, and the Morrises went back to their illusions of a happy, united family. And Carly was second best all over again.

The last few months before her mother died, Carly ran wild, shoplifting, joyriding, experimenting with soft drugs, drinking and boys, and, while Mum and Sam turned a blind eye, her father began locking her in her room and occasionally even dosing her with her mother’s tranquillisers to stop her going out. The week before her mother’s death, and for the second time in her life, Carly was rushed to hospital with alcohol poisoning and to have her stomach pumped. The night her mother died, and knowing it was too late now to ever recapture the vague dream of a mother’s love, Carly screamed “murderer” at her father over and over and over, kicking at the locked bedroom door until the bottom half of the soft wooden panel gave way and she gashed her leg badly, but, despite the pain and the profuse pouring of blood, she kept right on kicking and screaming because it was all his fault, his petty revenge for the affair, that Mum didn’t get to hospital in time.

Oh, but no more tears. Carly had made up her mind she would never cry again. For anyone.

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