Well this is where it all began, Breathing Smog. This is the story of two girls, the differences of how they grow up and the different lives they lead and how their worlds collide.
So let’s give you the link now….
And here is a little sample of the first couple of chapters…
It all began really, when two girls were born on the same day, at the same time, in the same hospital. But they could not have been more different; and would have severely different kinds of an up bringing. Perhaps an introduction is necessary. I am the voice for both of these girls, a narrator, if I must be named at all. Both girls where born of remarkable families.
Amber Andrews born at quarter to one in the morning on a dark chilly day mid April, looked much like her mother but had neither her mothers eyes or her fathers. She went home from the hospital to live with her mother and her great grandparents, a wonderful and inspiring selection. A family of future, a family of promise and of love.
A stark contrast to the home Nina Black was to arrive. A mother that would work to strive for her daughter’s upbringing, in the way she saw fit, despite a lazy lousy father’s feeble efforts. Perhaps a harsh description but it is none the less a simplistic honest description. Now allow me to be clear I’m not saying this house wasn’t filled with love, because it was, an immense amount of love, provided by her mother enough love for both of her parents. But enough resentment for the life she could have led.
Nina and Amber grew fast, blindingly so, both girls where walking weeks before their first birthday, both girls happy and content in what little a one year old knows. Nina’s first birthday was a true celebration perhaps her final celebration in a family soon to be torn apart at the seams. For you see, Nina’s mother and father had not long been married, for complete honesty I must explain. Nina’s mother, Victoria, had married Edward because she was pregnant and it was the right thing to do at the time, she didn’t want the child growing up with the social stigma of being an illegitimate child; or perhaps it was her vanity and name that would be under the microscope for raising a child on her own.
But Victoria knew Edward wasn’t right for her, she knew deep down that marrying Edward was wrong, he was wrong, and he was a danger. But she knew all this and yet proceeded to marry the father of her child, in October before the birth of her daughter and before her own twenty-first birthday had passed.
What little that I can assume of this marriage is that it was an unpleasant and unfortunate incident which gave way to a tide of many mistakes. Perhaps I should also confirm now for you that this is being written some twenty odd years later and much has changed; socially, politically and of course economically.
But at the time Victoria was of worthy and higher class then Edward. She had her own plans; had she not gotten pregnant and married him would be to become a nurse and rise through the ranks to matron or was it sister? She could never settle because it was never enough. She always wanted to marry a doctor or a lawyer or a barrister.
However she married Edward, perhaps at first it was love. He was a foolish hap-hazard boy that would go through life flitting through a few jobs exactly that, in his traditional hap-hazard foolish ways, but more importantly he was immature. The man she chose to marry never grew up or established a clear grasp of reality, with the same mentality of a child at times.
By about 2 years of age Nina could see what was going on and would say to people that daddy hits mummy. Victoria now had no choice; her daughter could see the conflict and things had to change. But things where changing rapidly, Edward left to live with his parents and Victoria now had to raise a young child as a single mother with a mortgage and bills a single mother can ill afford.
Edward, well Edward was a petty man, he came back to the house whilst Victoria and Nina where out. He came to the house and took silly things like bread and milk and his clothes. Edward by his actions laid down the pathway he would take in the raising of the child, an absent father. An absent father with too much to say with little thought other then himself.
Amber was an angel, her mother though not a natural had her grandparents support, her parents even though they had spent what felt like a lifetime separated, and her brother’s support. In their opinion it was better to be safe raising a child than to be in a bad relationship putting herself and her daughter in danger.
The family in all their discussions had agreed that Amber was to assume her father had died and was with the angels. Amber was never to know her father as bittersweet the lie this was far from the truth. Amber’s mother Cindy was outstanding in her conviction. Cindy was a beautiful and smart woman persevering in her education to develop herself a career. She wanted to show her daughter she could do anything she wanted if she tried hard enough.
Both girls where enrolled in ballet which they both loved and adored. Both girls enjoyed and loved the time they spent in ballet on the Saturday mornings. But for one this love would be taken away. Nina’s father had her stay with him every other weekend and he declared that morning lessons took away from his time with his daughter. But a few hours for a child’s happiness taken away, by a bitter man with only himself in mind; wanting to win a war. What harm would it have been to even watch the lessons? To spend time with his daughter whilst she did something that she loved? As young as she was at what right was that his decision? At what right did he have to stop his child from doing something that she loved, just because it delayed his times? His concern was for getting on the motorway before it got crowded because he had moved to another county so it was enough distance from his ex. As simple as that, he moved county to get away from an ex. A county to get away from his responsibility as a father; a responsibility he was not willing to undertake and keep.
It could be that perhaps I am being too harsh in my description, or perhaps I have little to no sympathy for this guy. Surely inserting my own opinion into what I say is my right? As a narrator I should be allowed. I’m not going to do an entire paragraph ranting on about how I have the right to input my opinion though I’m sure it’s never done and I’m sure it’s a silly idea. Anyway… back to the point?
Amber however continued with ballet and she loved it. Although during little ballet shows and showing the family what she had learned made her beam with pride there was sadness, a longing for the father she never knew, she wanted to make him proud. Anyone could see and understand that the family dynamic wasn’t quite what a normal family should be. She knew that a family was a mum and a dad, somehow having all that love left a void, a void she knew she had but didn’t understand.
It’s stunning the similarity, both brown eyed babies with dark hair, doing ballet, but now you have to trust me; it’s not me being a lazy narrator, it is just the way it was.
Believe me now when I say I could write page upon page about both of those men, their short falls and their flaws. But where is the fun in that? Why not let these men show themselves when the time is right or perhaps there is never a right time for this kind of thing? What I can explain I shall, what I know the honest answers to I shall reveal when the time is right. Until then the order shall remain.
After a short while Nina joined her first school yes admittedly it was the youngest class. Nina had been enrolled in a Catholic school, and it was one hell of a school. Massively overwhelming, and there was a building that was said to be haunted, and lots of ghost stories. It was a beautiful school; it wasn’t too shabby, she even liked it at first. But then things never turn out quite right or at least they don’t if Edward has anything to do with it. He forced Victoria to pull Nina out of school because it was Catholic. He really is doing himself no favors here.
Well as anyone can imagine and understand being a single mother is hard, and earning a living was hard on Victoria, so she turned to child minding. That way she could spend time with her daughter while trying to earn some money, being self employed. Well unfortunately parents didn’t always pay and things got tricky. The children where right little, for lack of a better word, demons. There’s only so long you can put up with rubbish parents palming their child on to another because they can’t handle them and then refuse to pay. I would use the cliché all good things come to an end but this really wasn’t all that great.
Amber was being sent to other styles of dance now a little older, the main trio ballet, tap and jazz. Amber loved the dancing and it was doing wonders for her; it was a perfect form of free expression. Living under a roof of strict upbringing, Amber’s great grand parents, Veronica and Edmond were strict and a lot was expected of her from a young age. And that was perfect, for someone to have family that believed so much in them and it was beautiful, to see that much love in a family. Things weren’t perfect but they where close. Something Nina in years to come would wish that she had.
But sadly Amber’s great grandmother a remarkable woman passed away from cancer, and this would not be the first time Amber’s life would be afflicted with so much tragedy caused by this same illness. With the loss of Veronica, Amber’s appetite changed and so did she, she was involved with the world of dance, the pressure to be perfect, and as we all know the media has its role to play of what is perceived as perfection. Amber’s attention focused on the one thing she could change she wanted to be thin and pretty; just like the girls in magazines and on television. She did the only way that she could understand at that age, she wouldn’t eat as much.
With only the influence of girls her own age in the dancing world, she felt a pressure to be thin, something the women and most of the men in this family were not so genetically flawed and a little too young to understand she took note of what the other girls where saying.
Nina had seen ice skating on the TV. She thought it was fantastic she would slide her feet along the floor pretending to be an effortless ice dancer. Her mother did what she could and enrolled her in ice skating courses at the local ice arena. She was a natural; the instructor even said that for the next term she could skip five grades! How fantastic was that? But that happiness and pride was short lived, yet again the ugly monster that is Edward rears his head, and yet again Nina was forced to give up something that she loved. Edward, heaven knows how or why Victoria fell for him, an awful and immature man. I would expect it was a case of bad boy syndrome, he was cool he was funny but he was bad, he was vindictive. Yes vindictive he made its own life difficult, he made sure his job was that insignificant and his living costs just high enough that when the child support agency had done their assessments he had managed to get out of paying anything. He is certainly turning himself into the villain of our story almost effortlessly. Yet anyone could sympathize; perhaps it was hard for him to spend time away from his only child? Maybe he struggled? But unfortunately it is easy for him to lie his way through life, what appears to be the only thing he can successfully do in this girl’s life. The only thing both of her parents really knew how to do.
Both girls clearly smarter then I would have given credit for where taught to read and write well before schooling age, something both mothers could and should be proud of. Amber was home schooled, she got to spend time with family and learn all the time, something that was absolutely perfect for her. Both girls were bright, and so eager to learn. Nina however did not suit being schooled at all. She was an outsider right from the start.
Victoria was told off by Nina’s school for teaching her to read and write because she had taught Nina the wrong way. Nina had nothing to do in her first year because she was already reading and writing properly and the teacher didn’t cater for this so Nina suffered, she had nothing to occupy her and keep her mind going and learning, she was sat at the back of the class doing things she could do in minutes that was expected to take an hour or even a day for the other students.
This bred negative feelings about school. In Nina’s second year things where no better, in fact Nina had never felt so alone, she played on her own at break times. Things did not improve at all during her third year in fact it got worse. She was bullied relentlessly.
One day on her way outside to the playground the bully in her class attacked Nina and pushed her against a wall and slammed her against it, hitting her head into the wall again and again. Nina practically melted against the wall crying as the girl walked away. That wasn’t the only negative thing to come out of that year. Nina stopped eating lunches and most of her other meals.
She wouldn’t eat at all. Her teacher one day lifted up her lunch box at the end of the day to find it was still full, she kept Nina behind and brought Victoria in to the class room after the rest of the class had gone, to talk.
The teacher told Victoria about the lunch box and the pair of them arranged for Nina to eat lunch in the classroom with the teacher under supervision. Probably not the wisest move. Victoria took Nina to the hospital where they forced blood tests from an unwilling girl who swore from then on she would hide her eating, that no one would find out and make her do anything like that again. Victoria without realizing had ended up creating a larger problem then she anticipated in her motion to try to fix it.
Victoria really seemed to try to do all that she could to help her daughter; she would go to the ends of the earth and back again for her. But the one thing Victoria was struggling to do in her eyes was to make up for the fact that Edward was her mistake all along. Nina really was the best thing to come out of that woman’s life but he was the worst, a constant connection to an ex she would do anything to forget. Who would blame her? I am sure most women and men alike have had an abusive ex at some point, whether emotional or physical, all they want at the end of it is to forget and move on, but with a child involved its almost impossible.
Unfortunately both girls weren’t very healthy by this point; aged eight going on nine these girls had some issues. One issue being they were plagued by tonsillitis, frequently, so frequently certain forms of antibiotics became useless on the girls. That being the case they ended up having their tonsils out in the same hospital they where born in. The hospital, at the time was preparing to bring out a new leaflet of the friends of the hospital. Unfortunately for Nina the photographer was in on the day of her operation and they took a picture of her on her way into surgery. When the leaflet came out she was on the cover!
Something such a shy, self conscious girl severely lacking in confidence found strange and uncomfortable, but in years to come she would actually find a silly little pride in that leaflet. But until then Nina would struggle with her emotions and her eating. It came to the fourth year of school; things couldn’t be more stressful for such a young child.
It was this year the bully was someone that everyone liked, a blonde haired blue eyed child with a disgusting personality, funny though that such a person was a popular child. This girl made life awful for Nina, the girl and her two friends where cruel, and even when the ring leader was to leave mid year the girls two friends continued.
Heaven knows if a child can really understand and realize the impact they can have on another’s life, but it was not a good road to begin with. Even with Victoria stepping in and speaking to the teacher nothing was done, a ridiculous neglect on the schools part, and that teacher.
On one of Nina’s weekends with her father he pulled a dirty stunt, he sat Nina down and started talking to her. He pulled out a pile of letters and showed them to Nina saying that Victoria couldn’t afford to pay her bills, and that Nina should come and live with him. A dirty underhand trick, to try and take a shallow child from its mother. The only problem was that Nina wasn’t shallow and she loved her mother to the ends of the earth.
It made Nina determined to stay with her mother; she refused to be taken in by money. Mid-way through the year Victoria having taken out loans and credit cards to try to save the family home to make mortgage payments on her own lost the battle.
Without any help from Edward even though his name was on the mortgage the house was repossessed, and Victoria and Nina had to move. The council had agreed after looking into everything, hell they would have looked into who the cats mother was if they could, had agreed that they would put the pair in a council flat, unfortunately said council flat was in a bad neck of the woods, hell even police officers have called it a “Hill Billy inbred” council estate. Victoria and Nina definitely stuck out like a sore thumb.
The flat was small and pokey, on the third floor in a building filled with a drug den and some what it’s almost impossible to describe as anything other then cheap trash. Yes I the narrator would consider these people this way, not by any stereotypical assumption but because these people where exactly that by behavior, appearance and intelligence.
The kids in the area picked up on how different Nina was to them, she was bright, and she had a future, something that it’s doubtful they had. Nina wasn’t allowed to play with the children either, she was kept separate. Because even with little contact between Nina and the local kids they managed to find a way to make Nina understand the children as dangerous and bullies.
So bullied at school and in her local area Nina had it coming in from all sides. I would expect if Nina had kept a diary it would be a depressing read. She had a deep sadness in her heart and no outlet; she had hidden it every day since she dared to remember. Something had truly changed with in her soul the night her father played his petty attempts at taking the child from her mother, in the soul aim to spite Victoria.
If he had truly cared for the child he would not have used such a cheap, tacky trick but he would have made an effort every time she visited, instead his soul aim to hurt Victoria was failing, and failing fast.
Edward had found a new woman a few months before, a funny story I suppose in hindsight, and a little out of our timeline but it seems necessary to speak of it. This was months before his dirty trick. His new girlfriend, Mercy, had practically moved in with him from the first date. It came to Nina’s first weekend with her father since this new woman. By the evening all was not right. Nina was in bed early. Edward called Victoria to tell her that Nina’s weekend had to be cut short because Mercy couldn’t cope with Nina being around; basically taking her time away from Edward.
I want you to keep in mind that Mercy had spent time as a nanny; she was proving herself to be a real piece of work that deserved Edward. Victoria didn’t take too kindly to this and demanded Nina be brought home right away so in the middle of the night her belongs were packed up and Edward brought her home. I’m no nutritional expert but Nina was given a donut as her lunch, now you see even if a child has an eating problem not that Edward knew or probably even cared, a donut is not a lunch for a growing child. Especially one that actually liked vegetables (see I did say Nina was a strange child didn’t I?). Well now my rant about diet being over and possibly with more stories of this woman to come; I shall leave the stories and distastes over her alone for a short while.
But after these events Nina was wising up to her father, who and what he was. She didn’t want to be his burden every other weekend and she didn’t want to be around a toxic and evil environment. So she refused to go on the weekends to her fathers.
It took a little time before it became apparent to Victoria that this wasn’t a phase and it wasn’t going to change in the near future. So Victoria found she had to explain this to Edward who demanded he spoke with his daughter.
The conversation was cold on her part, perhaps some dialogue would explain. “Hello Nina, your mummy says that you don’t want to see me. Is this true Nina?” Sounding intimidating and threatening in her young ears. But it was surprising how strong and firm her 9 year old voice was saying “yes it’s true”.
The child had the courage to undo her mothers actions of marrying him to give Nina what she thought would be a stable life all those years ago. Nina had so much courage and strength to hold her ground when inside she was crumbling.
There was so much darkness in this girl, it wasn’t fear, it was her honesty to the reality she had around her, she could see the demons, but on her own, singing to herself she felt at ease. Like all she had to do was sing, and the hurt would melt away for the time being.
However over protective Victoria was of Nina it was nothing compared to how over protected Amber was, by her mother Cindy her grandparents and great grandfather. Amber rarely made friends her own age, she always found it easier to talk to adults, and they made more sense. By spending so much time with her family, she became a little socially restricted; she lacked confidence and came across as shy.
One night her mother took her to the theatre, to see her first musical, and she loved it. Almost at once Amber knew that that is what she wanted to do, she wanted to be on a west end stage, and nothing and no one was going to stop her.
Meanwhile things where getting worse for Nina at school the old ring leader of the group of girls that had spent so much time bullying her was returning and she knew what this meant for her. In her final year of primary school things were hard. There was this awful supply teacher; one day, during silent reading time Nina had sat sideways on a chair facing the window reading a book. There was another girl on the table that read a magazine.
The teacher began to loose his temper, yelling at a quiet class to be quiet, to turn around and face their desks. Far too engrossed in her book Nina seemed not to notice until the teacher was standing behind her forced her round to face the table lifted her chair and practically threw her chair with her on it into the table so it wasn’t sticking out. He then took the magazine from the girl who was reading it and yelled that it wasn’t a book, and it was unacceptable behavior and threw the magazine at the girls face.
The next day the students a whole class full told their teacher what happened and she didn’t believe them, a class of thirty students insistent that this was truth where ignored and nothing was done.
Later in the day the math students who where in the top set where pulled aside to their lesson separate from the class including the girl with the magazine and Nina, all the students gathered around the far end of the table from this man. That wasn’t the only horrifying ordeal Nina suffered that month.
When everyone else was at break Nina had to get something from her bag when two of the bullies started on her. Nina went into the bathroom to get out of line of fire, but the girls followed her in and trapped her into the cubicle, and a horrifying truth escaped her mouth, a quiet truth that she had been hiding, “I wish I was dead” as break time ended the girls left. They had gone to the teacher saying Nina had said that she wished that they were dead. Something that Nina profusely denied. Although this thought had crossed her mind, a dark sinister thought, and not for the first time. Nina told the teacher what happened, and what had been happening over the past few years at the school and that she had told the teachers before but none had done anything at all to stop it. Not one intervention, not one effort to stop it, and this teacher followed suit and did nothing. Stood by and did nothing.
Later in the year the class were doing a drama skit from a book they liked and a ginger haired boy approached her and said you will be a perfect Hermione, with a puzzled look from Nina he explained to her, all about Luke Potter, and all she had to say was “we could have been killed or worse expelled” while he played Ron and his friend was Luke. Their drama skit was a success. Admittedly a little while later she read the books and she loved them. Yet another thing she was to have in common unknowingly with Amber who had discovered them and read them with an intense focus.
But things where starting to change for both girls, they had reached the age and time for secondary school, Amber was to remain home schooled but Nina would end up with another school she would detest.*