Home > Big Little Lies(12)

Big Little Lies(12)
Liane Moriarty

“Over you go,” said Jane to Ziggy.

He grabbed hold of her hand and looked up at her pleadingly. “I’m ready to go home now.”

“It’s OK,” said Jane. “It’s just for a moment.”

He wandered over and stood beside a boy who looked like a giant next to Ziggy. He was about a head taller than her son, with black curly hair and big strong shoulders. He looked like a little gangster.

The boys formed a straggling line in front of the teacher. There were about fifteen, of all shapes and sizes. Celeste’s fair-haired twins stood at the end; one of them was running a Matchbox car over his brother’s head, while the other one swatted it away like a fly.

“It’s like a police lineup,” said Madeline.

Someone snickered. “Stop it, Madeline.”

“They should all face forward, then turn to the side to show their profiles,” continued Madeline. To Celeste she said, “If it’s one of your boys, Celeste, she won’t be able to tell the difference. We’ll have to do DNA testing. Wait—do identical twins have the same DNA?”

“You can laugh, Madeline; your child isn’t a suspect,” said another mother.

“They’ve got the same DNA but different fingerprints,” said Celeste.

“Right, then, we’ll have to dust for fingerprints,” said Madeline.

“Shhhh,” said Jane, trying not to laugh. She felt so desperately sorry for the mother of the child who was about to be publicly humiliated.

The little girl called Amabella held on to her mother’s hand. The redheaded nanny folded her arms and took a step back.

Amabella surveyed the line of boys.

“It was him,” she said immediately. She pointed at the little gangster kid. “He tried to choke me.”

I knew it, thought Jane.

But then for some reason the teacher was putting her hand on Ziggy’s shoulder, and the little girl was nodding, and Ziggy was shaking his head. “It wasn’t me!”

“Yes, it was,” said the little girl.

Detective-Sergeant Adrian Quinlan: A post-mortem is currently being undertaken to ascertain cause of death, but at this stage I can confirm the victim suffered right-rib fractures, a shattered pelvis, fractured base of skull, right foot and lower vertebrae.

7.

Oh, calamity, thought Madeline.

Wonderful. She’d just made friends with the mother of a little thug. He’d seemed so cute and sweet in the car. Thank God he hadn’t tried to choke Chloe. That would have been awkward. Also, Chloe would have knocked him out with a right hook.

“Ziggy would never . . .” said Jane.

Her face had gone completely white. She looked horrified. Madeline saw the other parents take tiny steps back, forming a circle of space around Jane.

“It’s all right.” Madeline put a comforting hand on Jane’s arm. “They’re children! They’re not civilized yet!”

“Excuse me.” Jane stepped past two other mothers and into the middle of the little crowd, like she was stepping onto a stage. She put her hand on Ziggy’s shoulder. Madeline’s heart broke for them both. Jane seemed young enough to be her own daughter. In fact Jane reminded her a little of Abigail: that same prickliness and shy, dry humor.

“Oh dear,” fretted Celeste next to Madeline. “This is awful.”

“I didn’t do anything,” said Ziggy in a clear voice.

“Ziggy, we just need you to say sorry to Amabella, that’s all,” said Miss Barnes. Bec Barnes had taught Fred when he was in kindergarten. It had been her first year out of teachers college. She was good, but still very young and a bit too anxious to please the parents, which was absolutely fine when the parent was Madeline, but not when Renata Klein was the parent, and out for revenge. Although to be fair, any parent would want an apology if another child tried to choke theirs. (It probably hadn’t helped that Madeline had made Renata look silly for thinking Jane was the nanny. Renata didn’t like to look silly. Her children were geniuses, after all. She had a reputation to uphold. Board meetings to attend.)

Jane looked at Amabella. “Sweetheart, are you sure it was this boy who hurt you?”

“Could you say sorry to Amabella, please? You really hurt her quite badly,” said Renata to Ziggy. She was speaking nicely, but firmly. “Then we can all go home.”

“But it wasn’t me,” said Ziggy. He spoke very clearly and precisely and looked Renata straight in the eye.

Madeline took her sunglasses off and chewed on the stem. Maybe it wasn’t him? Could Amabella have gotten it wrong? But she was gifted! She was actually quite a lovely little girl too. She’d been on playdates with Chloe and was very easygoing and let Chloe boss her about, taking the supporting role in whatever game they were playing.

“Don’t lie,” Renata snapped at Ziggy. She’d dropped her well-bred, “I’m still nice to other people’s kids even when they hurt mine” demeanor. “All you need to do is say sorry.”

Madeline saw Jane’s body react instantly, instinctively, like the sudden rear of a snake or pounce of an animal. Her back straightened. Her chin lifted. “Ziggy doesn’t lie.”

“Well, I can assure you Amabella is telling the truth.”

The little audience became very still. Even the other children were quiet, except for Celeste’s twins, who were chasing each other around the playground, yelling something about ninjas.

“OK, so we seem to have reached a stalemate here.” Miss Barnes clearly didn’t know what in the world to do. She was twenty-four years old, for heaven’s sake.

Chloe reappeared at Madeline’s side, breathing hard from her exertions on the monkey bars. “I need a swim,” she announced.

“Shhh,” said Madeline.

Chloe sighed. “May I have a swim, please, Mummy?”

“Just shhhh.”

Madeline’s ankle ached. This was not turning out to be a very good fortieth birthday, thank you very much. So much for the Festival of Madeline. She really needed to sit back down. Instead she limped into the middle of the action.

“Renata,” she said. “You know how children can be—”

Renata swung her head to glare at Madeline. “The child needs to take responsibility for his actions. He needs to see there are consequences. He can’t go around choking other children and pretend he didn’t do it! Anyway, what’s this got to do with you, Madeline? Mind your own beeswax.”

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