From the day that Nick showed his true colours, Michelle was never the same. I don't think I was either, to be honest. I couldn't look at her in the same way. She had been keeping her madness from us for years, and we had never noticed. I felt almost bad about that. Should we have realised, as her parents? But her lies and deceit hurt me more. I didn't call her 'Shelley'. I didn't read her stories or give her hugs.
She was mad. Crazy. A nutcase. What would we do? We couldn't continue sending her to school in case it started to show itself, because she'd be bullied. And yet there was no way we could home-school her. I'd done my O-Levels but never went to sixth form and so Uni was out of the question. I just didn't have the qualifications. Primary school, maybe, but secondary school ... no chance.
"Mam," she said to me one day. That was another thing which was different: she didn't say 'Mammy'. "Do you hate me, too? Do you wish I wasn't here?" How can you answer such a question when the person who asked it isn't yet eight?
"I don't know," I said honestly.
Her face fell and she turned away, walking back up the stairs to her little room. I heard her small voice through the door, and knew that she was talking to them again. She never changed. That, more than anything, made me angry. I resolved not to comfort her until she stopped.
Of course, I would keep to that, in a way that no mother ever should. I didn't love her and that was the truth of the matter. I would never admit it, but my daughter scared me. I was frightened of what she might do.
Later that evening I walked into the room. She was leaning out of the window, far further than should have been possible.
"Michelle! What are you doing?"
She turned and looked at me with a serious expression on her face. "I'm wondering whether to jump," she told me.
I had nothing to say to that. I left the room, closing the door behind me ever so quietly. And as I walked away down the corridor I heard the bump of the window being closed; small footsteps across the floor to where the bed was; stifled, choking tears.