Chapter One Present day. Wednesday, November 30th. Late morning.
Why did being left out hurt so much? Rosie Frost had always felt like she didn’t belong. All her thirteen years it had been that way, and she didn’t know why.
She was sitting alone on the edge of the flimsy school table, her rucksack neatly tucked under her worn-out old boots. Most of the other students were huddled together at the other end of the same long table. All of them packed together in the sterile classroom, under a low polystyrene-squared ceiling and fluorescent lighting.
Rosie chewed on the end of her plastic pen, accidentally grinding it on her braces, which made a cracking sound louder than it should have.
“Oi, weirdo,” Simon called out. “What do gingers and extinct dinosaurs have in common?” The boy paused, then continued, “Not enough!”
The others around him laughed, and Rosie self-consciously tucked her unruly ginger hair back down into the neck of her oversized hoodie. The giggling continued, longer than it normally would. She looked up. What was going on? And then she spotted the writing on the whiteboard.Jane Eyre—shut up u turd, same to u Rosie Frost—no one likes a know-it-all
Rosie flinched. She never meant to be a know-it-all; she just found books interesting, and she couldn’t help it if she knew the answer when the teacher called on her. She certainly didn’t think she was clever in some extraordinary way, and she didn’t mean to make anyone else look bad, but somehow it always ended up that way.
“So who was it? Who was it?” stammered the teacher, Miss Metcalf, her clunky earrings jangling. “Which one of you wrote this?”
“Well, they have a point,” someone called out.
The spidery writing on the whiteboard seemed to scowl over the classroom.
“And where is my book? It was right here. Who took it?” Miss Metcalf demanded, folding her arms.
The late November rain lashed at the thin windows of the cold classroom, as though it was trying to point out the true culprit.
“I said, who wrote this filth, and who has my book?! That cost money, and this school has just had budget cuts.”
Still more giggles sounded from the other end of the table. Miss Metcalf sighed, scanning the room.
“It was Frost, that wannabe Hermione. It’s ’er,” called out a boy with a gruff voice, his red cap pulled down over his eyes as he nodded toward Rosie. “The weirdo wants the attention,” he taunted, straining to stretch his leg out and kick Rosie’s chair. If only I could stand up to these bullies
, thought Rosie. She flinched, tempted to kick him back.No, don’t do it
.Say nothing, do nothing—silence is your shield. Keep calm; it’s your armor. Then you don’t have to apologize for the words you haven’t said, things you haven’t done
, her mum always advised her.
Rosie really did feel like the odd one out here. Apart from one other person in her class, she was probably the only one who had bothered to do the homework. But she didn’t have the teacher’s book. She slowly placed her hand in her hoodie pocket, reaching for her phone, then looked down and sent a pineapple emoji.
This was her and her mum’s “Batman” code. A secret signal
, her mum had called it. Just send me one whenever you need to, so no matter what happens, you’ll know someone’s got your back
, she’d said. Long ago, apparently a pineapple was a symbol of friendship. (It was also both of their favorite pizza topping.)Those bullies will make you stronger. People are just threatened by anyone different or smarter
, her mum always reminded her, after every rubbish day at school. One time, Rosie had accidentally leaned on her phone and sent a succession of pineapples. Her mum had immediately turned up at the school with a worried look on her face, informing the teacher that Rosie had “an important dental appointment” that she’d forgotten about before. But Rosie was okay; it had just been a false alarm.One day, when the time is right, you’ll go to an amazing school, for exceptional students. That’s where you belong. Once you’re there, none of this will matter. I promise
, her mum had said.
Miss Metcalf looked at Rosie and raised her eyebrows, and right now, Rosie certainly didn’t feel exceptional. Rosie swallowed as she looked up at the words on the board, her mouth dry, then glanced at the other students. Who had taken the teacher’s book? It could have been Jayden, who hadn’t been able to answer Miss Metcalf’s questions yesterday about the chapters they were meant to have read. Or maybe Becky, who got called out for being on her phone during yesterday’s lesson. Rosie scanned the room to see if she could spot the book, but it didn’t seem to be anywhere.
Still silence, then a few murmurs and more sniggers came from the back.
“If no one owns up, then I shall have no choice but to hold the whole class back after school for detention.”
“And—and—I will ring your parents.” The room went quiet.
Miss Metcalf paced the room like a hawk eyeing its prey. “I want it back, now.”
“She’s the book thief,” Jayden called out, pointing at Rosie. “Just admit you did it. We know you’ve got it.”
“Yeah,” said Jayden’s best friend, Wayne, smug in his brand-new trainers.
Rosie sent another pineapple emoji. No reply yet, though. Her mum was probably busy.
“Yeah, little girl, loser, trying to be all clever with her big words.” Connor, the third boy in their trio, kicked Rosie’s rucksack, and the contents spilled over the floor.
Miss Metcalf walked over toward Rosie. “Well?”
Rosie’s face went red. Wayne nodded down toward Rosie’s rucksack, directing Miss Metcalf to take a look. And there it was, on the floor. Miss Metcalf reached down and picked up her missing copy of Jane Eyre
.What?! No, it wasn’t me!
Someone must have planted it—it was a setup. Rosie’s eyes began to fill up, hot with tears.
She blinked. No crying, not here, not in front of this lot.
“Detention for ya,” sniggered Jayden.Don’t let them get to you
, she heard her mum’s voice in her head again. She swallowed hard. Never let them see your tears
But she couldn’t take the blame for this. She had to be back home on time today, for her mum. Mum had been too quiet this morning, so Rosie knew that she needed her, and was expecting her, and Rosie had promised she’d pick up milk, and . . . and . . .
Suddenly there was a knock on the window of the door. The school secretary entered, then whispered something to Miss Metcalf, whose face turned gray. She then looked down at Rosie, frowning as she listened to the secretary. Once they’d finished, Miss Metcalf cleared her throat and said, “Rosie Frost, would you please go to the head’s office immediately.”What the . . . ?!!! But it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me!
Rosie’s stomach tightened. She reached for her phone in her pocket; quickly looking down stealth-like, she sent her mum another pineapple emoji.
Then she stood up, her chair scraping back on the linoleum flooring. All eyes were on her as she followed the secretary out of the room. This clearly wasn’t her week.
Rosie entered the stark, sparsely furnished headmaster’s office with its gray tin filing cabinets, drawers half-open with papers spilling out. The headmaster nodded to her as she entered, his face giving away nothing.Tick, tick, tick
, the clock on the wall tutted, cutting through the silence.
“Have a seat,” he said eventually.
Rosie sat on the hard plastic chair in front of his desk. The muscles in her legs tightened; whether it was the comfort of a rhythm or just nerves, her foot began to tap.
The headmaster was pale and balding, with translucent-looking skin almost blending into his office’s gray walls. He cleared his throat.
“Life doesn’t always go how we hope.” He coughed. “Sometimes it’s just best to say it how it is.”
The clock ticked, as though in agreement. Rosie bit her lip. What was he going on about?
“I didn’t do anything,” she blurted out.
A woman police officer and a man in a gray suit entered the office.
Rosie’s heart started to beat double-quick. Oh no, was she being arrested? Expelled? Because of Miss Metcalf’s book?!
The police officer took off her hat. Her face said nothing.
The man beside her was holding a paper file and a small red leather briefcase. Rosie hadn’t seen him before; he wasn’t from the school. The police officer nodded at the headmaster, who nodded back, as if acknowledging that they should proceed.
“First, I must tell you my name is Chief Inspector Clarke,” the police officer began, her voice calm, staring directly at Rosie.
“And my name is Colin Fletcher. I am a lawyer,” said the man in the gray suit, smoothing down his floppy hair.
“There’s no easy way round this . . . I have some bad news for you,” Chief Inspector Clarke said, clearing her throat. “I have been instructed to tell you . . .”
No! Oh no, this isn’t fair. The punishment did not fit the crime. Besides, she wasn’t even guilty! Her mum would be so disappointed; she couldn’t handle it right now.
“I’m sorry to tell you . . .” Chief Inspector Clarke said. “Your mother . . .” She stopped again mid-sentence.Will be so disappointed, I know. Please don’t tell her.
“It wasn’t me!” snapped Rosie.
“She passed away this morning,” said the officer, placing a hand on Rosie’s shoulder.
Rosie frowned. What was she saying? What?
She laughed nervously. “What?”
“Your mother is dead,” interrupted the lawyer. His eyes studied her, grave and stern.
Rosie felt a tremble start to build in her legs. “Stop this, what, no, I’m in trouble, that’s why I’m here. Because I’m in trouble, okay? I took the book!”
Rosie pulled out her phone and sent more pineapple emojis to her mum. His words hammered into her skull. But she wouldn’t listen to this. What kind of sicko would say such a thing?
“We have been given strict instructions how to proceed, from her letter of final wishes. You are to leave immediately for Bloodstone Island, and will be taken home now so you can pack up all the things you need. Everything has been taken care of.”
“No way. I can’t just leave.” Rosie shook her head. Bloodstone Island? What?
“This is a lot for you to take in, but it’s for the best. It’s what your mum had instructed,” said the policewoman, her eyes softening.
“I don’t believe any of this. Where is she?” Rosie demanded. She felt sick, like she was delirious with fever, not understanding the words spoken to her.
“There will be a coroner’s inquest, and then we will have more answers.”
“We have a cat, no, I need to take care of Muffin,” Rosie stammered. Her head was pounding. Oh no, not now
. She felt a tingling in her nose, and the room swayed. Oh no, was it coming? No, not now, this was not the time
. She touched her nose with the back of her hand, then glanced down, checking for the warning sign, the first tiny red drop. Nothing, thank God. She sighed with relief. She’d had nosebleeds all her life—every time she got stressed it would look like a horror movie. But her mum always said, Just breathe through it, you’ll be fine
. Thank goodness it hadn’t happened. What was he saying about my mum? Where is my mum?
The words seemed to have left her.
She breathed in deeply and kept tapping her foot and somehow managed to gain control of herself.
“I’m sorry, Rosie, this must be very upsetting for you.”
The adults just looked at her, pity in their eyes.
Rosie swallowed hard. No, no, no . . .
This couldn’t be true. Who was this man, anyway? An army of emoji pineapples would be texted back from her mum any minute now. She was just busy.
“And just to be very clear, you are not to open this yet,” the lawyer said as he presented a small red leather case. “It holds something very special that your mother felt was important for you to have. Something which, in her words, will reveal to you who you really are.”Who I am? I know who I am, and I want my mum!
She pressed down hard on her phone and sent another line of pineapple emojis. Still, there was no reply.
“But, I repeat, it’s imperative you don’t open this case until you arrive at Bloodstone Island, and only open it with Miss Churchill,” he said, holding it out to her. “Bloodstone is a beautiful, unique place, with a school educating exceptional young students.” What was he talking about??
She took the little red case from him, her hands shaking. A numbness began to creep through her whole body, and her cheeks went clammy. Suddenly a trickle of red fluid oozed from her nose.
“I think you also need this,” he said, passing her a tissue, pointing at his own nose.
Rosie Frost dabbed her nose with the tissue and stared down at the little spot of crimson, glaring. The warning—it was coming. No, this couldn’t be happening. The room began to spin.
She didn’t want this, not now, but most of all she didn’t want to go to some island she’d never heard of. She just wanted her mum.
Copyright © 2023 by Geri Halliwell-Horner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.