Home > Big Little Lies(11)

Big Little Lies(11)
Liane Moriarty

“Hello! I’m Jane. How are you?” Jane tried to match her enthusiasm. She wondered if this was the school principal.

A well-dressed, blond woman, who Jane thought probably qualified as one of Madeline’s Blond Bobs, bustled over with a yellow envelope in her hand. “Renata,” she said, ignoring Jane. “I’ve got that education report we were talking about at dinner—”

“Just give me a moment, Harper,” said Renata with a touch of impatience. She turned back to Jane. “Jane, nice to meet you! I’m Amabella’s mum, and I have Jackson in Year 2. That’s Amabella, by the way, not Annabella. It’s French. We didn’t make it up.”

Harper continued to hover at Renata’s shoulder, nodding along respectfully as Renata spoke, like those people who stand behind politicians at press conferences.

“Well, I just wanted to introduce you to Amabella and Jackson’s nanny, who also happens to be French! Quelle coïncidence! This is Juliette.” Renata indicated a petite girl with short red hair and an oddly arresting face, dominated by a huge, luscious-lipped mouth. She looked like a very pretty alien.

“Pleased to meet you.” The nanny held out a limp hand. She had a strong French accent and looked bored out of her mind.

“You too,” said Jane.

“I always think it’s nice for the nannies to get to know each other.” Renata looked brightly between the two of them. “A little support group, shall we say! What nationality are you?”

“She’s not a nanny, Renata,” said Madeline from the bench, her voice brimming with laughter.

“Well, au pair, then,” said Renata impatiently.

“Renata, listen to me, she’s a mother,” said Madeline. “She’s just young. You know, like we used to be.”

Renata glanced uneasily at Jane, as if she suspected a practical joke, but before Jane had a chance to say anything (she felt like she should apologize), someone said, “Here they come!” and all the parents surged forward as a pretty, blond, dimpled teacher who looked like she’d been cast for the role of kindergarten teacher ushered the children out from a classroom.

Two little fair-headed boys charged out first like they’d been shot from a gun and headed straight for Celeste. “Oof,” grunted Celeste as two little fair heads rammed her stomach. “I quite liked the idea of twins until I met Celeste’s little demons,” Madeline had told Jane when they were having their champagne and orange juice, while Celeste smiled distractedly, apparently unoffended.

Chloe sauntered out of the classroom with her arms linked with two other little princess-like girls. Jane anxiously scanned the children for Ziggy. Had Chloe dumped him? There he was. He was one of the last to come out, but he looked happy. Jane gave him an OK? thumbs-up signal, and Ziggy lifted both thumbs up and grinned.

There was a sudden commotion. Everyone stopped to look.

It was a little curly-haired girl. The last one to come out of the classroom. She was sobbing, her shoulders hunched, clutching her neck.

“Aww,” breathed the mothers, because she looked so pitiful and brave and her hair was so pretty.

Jane watched Renata hurry over, followed at a more relaxed pace by her odd-looking nanny. The mother, the nanny and the pretty, blond teacher all bent down to the little girl’s height to listen to her.

“Mummy!” Ziggy ran to Jane, and she scooped him up.

It seemed like ages since she’d seen him, as if they’d both been on journeys to exotic far-off lands. She buried her nose in his hair. “How was it? Was it fun?”

Before he could answer, the teacher called out, “Could all the parents and children listen up for a moment? We’ve had such a lovely morning, but we just need to have a little chat about something. It’s a little bit serious.”

The teacher’s dimples quivered in her cheeks, as if she were trying to put them away for a more appropriate time.

Jane let Ziggy slide back down to his feet.

“What’s going on?” said someone.

“Something happened to Amabella, I think,” said another mother.

“Oh, God,” said someone else quietly. “Watch Renata get on the warpath.”

“Now, someone just hurt Annabella—I’m sorry, Amabella—and I want whomever it was to come over and apologize, because we don’t hurt our friends at school, do we?” said the teacher in her teacher voice. “And if we do, we always say sorry, because that’s what big kindergarten children do.”

There was silence. The children either stared blankly at the teacher or swayed back and forth, looking at their feet. Some of them buried their faces against their mothers’ skirts.

One of Celeste’s twin boys tugged on her shirt. “I’m hungry!”

Madeline hobbled over from her seat under the tree and stood next to Jane. “What’s the holdup?” She looked around her. “I don’t even know where Chloe is.”

“Who was it, Amabella?” said Renata to the little girl. “Who hurt you?”

The little girl said something inaudible.

“Was it an accident, maybe, Amabella?” said the teacher desperately.

“It wasn’t an accident, for heaven’s sake,” snapped Renata. Her face was aflame with righteous rage. “Someone tried to choke her. I can see marks on her neck. I think she’s going to have bruises.”

“Good Lord,” said Madeline.

Jane watched the teacher squat down at the little girl’s level, her arm around her shoulders, her mouth close to her ear.

“Did you see what happened?” Jane asked Ziggy. He shook his head vigorously.

The teacher stood back up and fiddled with her earring as she faced the parents. “Apparently one of the boys . . . um, well. My problem is that the children obviously don’t know one another’s names yet, so Amabella can’t tell me exactly which little boy—”

“We’re not going to let this go!” interrupted Renata.

“Absolutely not!” agreed her hovering blond friend. Harper, thought Jane, trying to get all the names straight. Hovering Harper.

The teacher took a deep breath. “No. We won’t let it go. I wonder if I could ask all the children . . . well, actually, maybe just the boys, to come over here for just a moment.”

The parents pushed their sons forward with gentle shoves between the shoulder blades.

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