Ellen had eventually given me all the necessary information of the whereabouts of Emma's mother (along with many warnings to stay at home so as to keep my sanity), so I could set out to find her when ready. The ward she was kept on only allowed family to visit, so I decided I would pretend to be Ellen – I knew her date of birth, and even her address, from Facebook, so hopefully I could put on a convincing act. I was just waiting for the right moment to go.
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I had still not told Simon about my plans, as I'd decided it would be best to keep him in the dark about the whole thing, for fear of him persuading me I was taking things too far. Instead, I trusted my instincts. They told me that I needed to find out more about the woman who had raised my child. Whether she was in a good mental state or not.
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Over tea, I thought about when it would be best to make the trip. We were eating chicken and leek pie, the first meal we had ever had with Emma, reminding me of the day she had arrived and the weeks that had followed. I watched her eat, stabbing at the pie with her fork, thinking about how much this little girl had changed. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that she was only seven (nearly eight now), as she was so grown up in many ways. Not all of them were good.
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Luke wasn't seated in his normal place at the table – he was situated as far away from his family as was possible, his head down and posture slumped. I still couldn't understand what had happened; he was acting like a grumpy teenager and he was only seven!
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"Lukey? Can you pass me the gravy please?" Emma asked, her voice light and sweet as always. Somehow, it didn't seem to fit with her look anymore. It sounded wrong.
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As soon as the words had escaped her lips, Luke's hand darted out, his body jolted upright as if he was a puppet being tugged into action by its strings. He grasped the gravy jug by its handles, got out of his seat and took it to Emma's place with immense speed. I almost thought he was going to pour the gravy out for her, but as soon as the gravy was set back on the table, her rushed back to his seat and assumed his original, slumped position.
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"That was the quickest gravy passing I've ever seen!" Simon teased.
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Luke shrugged, his shoulders barely rising above his body. I was sure I could see his lips quivering, but I tried to persuade myself it was a suppressed smile.
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"I'm done." He stood up from his place to leave the room, probably to go hide in his bedroom, where he was currently spending the majority of his time. His plate was empty – probably the fastest it had ever been cleared, as he was normally a fairly slow eater.
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"Emma, do you know what's up with him?" I decided to ask when he was gone.
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"No." She shook her head, almost thoughtfully. "Well, actually, I think I might have an idea."
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"Please tell me."
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"Though I'm not sure he'd really want you to know."
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"You have to tell us," Simon added. "It could be really important."
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"Okay," she agreed. "Well... he did tell me that some of the boys in his class said some nasty things to him." Relief flooded my body. It was a problem I could solve. And I could begin solving it now.
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"Thank you," Simon said.
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"You know what? I think I'll go have a word with him now." I slid off my chair. It was time to find out the truth from Luke. "I'll be back down soon."
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His room was silent. He was sitting on his bed, staring into space, like he'd been doing for the past few days. Tears spilled down his cheeks, so I went and sat next to him, wrapping my arms around his small body, rocking him back and forth like I used to do when he was a baby.
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"I know," I whispered in his ear.
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He pulled away from me. "What?"
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"I know what's been making you unhappy." I reached out my hand to gently wipe a tear from his face with my thumb. "I understand now."
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"You do?" his eyes lit up. A thin, papery smile stretched across his lips. "How did you find out? Did you find the kn-"
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"Shh," I hushed him. "It doesn't matter now, love." I didn't want him to be angry with Emma for telling me the truth.
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"Mummy, can you help me?" He looked intently at me, his eyes pleading for an answer.
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"Yes. Of course I can," I assured him, pulling him back towards me. "That's what mummys are there for!"
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"I love you."
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"I love you too." I kissed his cheek.
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We sat on the bed together for a good few minutes, simply cuddling up together. And it was like magic. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders, now I was able to properly understand my boy for the first time in weeks. Months even. Guilt, also, had been making me feel terrible for so long. Now I truly knew what had been bothering Luke, I could do something about it. I could stop feeling like a bad mother. I could stop my son from being bullied.
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"What are you going to do then?" Luke ventured, lifting his head up out of our tight embrace.
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"I'm going to phone your school tomorrow morning and speak with your class teacher.
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"Will they help?"
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"Of course they will!" Luke needed to understand that his school needed to know about what was happening, because I was powerless to protect him when he was out of my reach. They had to be the ones to help him.
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"But what will they do?" I could see he wasn't buying it – he couldn't seem to understand how they were used to dealing with these types of situations.
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"I don't know, to be honest," I tried. "But I'm sure they'll know the best course of action. I'm sure they'll keep an eye on the bullies."
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All of a sudden, Luke's body tensed. I felt it in my arms. When I turned to look at his face, his eyes were panicked, scanning my face hurriedly, as if searching for an answer to something, and his lips were pinched tightly together.
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"What do you mean?"
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"What's happening to you is bullying. If something happens repeatedly, it is an act of bullying," I explained.
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He was gone. Luke was gone. He shoved my outstretched arms away from his body with a force I'd never have thought he could muster, backing away from the bed. He was trembling from head to toe and he was shaking his head from side to side, in an almost crazed manner.
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"I don't understand."
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And, just like that, Luke flipped.
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"GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" He screamed at me, his arms flailing madly around in the air. "I HATE... I HATE EVERYTHING!" Then he broke down in great, racking sobs, falling to the floor with his arms raised above his head. His body rocked with the motion of his crying.
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I certainly hadn't anticipated this reaction.
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When I tried to go near him and reach and arm out to comfort him, he wrenched his body out of my reach. He wouldn't look at me.
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I didn't know what to do, so I fled downstairs.
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I needed Simon.
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"Upstairs now," I commanded him. He could see something in my face that told him I was being deadly serious and would tolerate no answering back, so followed by pointed finger out of the room and upstairs. My husband knew I was a no-nonsense type of person.
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"Where's Emma?" I called after him as a delayed reaction.
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"In her room."
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I followed him upstairs, him taking the steps two at a time to reach Luke quicker. Only when he was inside my son's bedroom did I relax slightly. He would know what to do.
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I didn't even think to knock before entering Emma's room – I needed to let her know immediately why high-pitched wailing noises were coming from Luke's bedroom. When I had shoved her door open, I found her with her back facing me, holding something in her hand.
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"Emma?" I called out softly. She jumped, clearly not hearing my entrance, dropping the object she had been handling in her reaction.
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It was a knife.
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It was covered in blood.
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When she turned to face me, there was a long trickle of blood running down her arm.
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We both stopped and stared at each other, frozen in position.
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"I...I... I didn't mean to..." she started, then paused again, realising it was useless.
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In that moment, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision that I needed to meet Emma's mother.
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