It would be easy to write this story flippantly, because Morgan was a flippant kind of girl—or at least, that was what everybody told her. She was flippant, they said, because she never took anything seriously, always got what she wanted, never told anybody how she really felt. She had dark glossy locks and perfect brown eyes, Junior Gaultier dresses and Alexander McQueen shoes—and a memory with crystal clarity of the time she’d overheard her mother whispering in the bedroom to the man Morgan had called Daddy: She’s not yours. It’s all my fault. How can you forgive me?
Morgan couldn’t, but Mummy hadn’t been talking to her, so Morgan did what everybody told her too: she became flippant. And the fact that the man called Daddy never really met her eye, never offered hugs or kisses, always turned his face away when tucking her in at night… That was okay, because Morgan could make him love her anyway. Morgan could make anyone love her.
Of course, she didn’t realise how truly special that was until she was in school; until then she’d—reasonably—assumed that all little girls were adored by everyone, that anyone could make other people feel special just by smiling at them, that the natural proclivity of the world to follow in her orders was just nature taking form.
But then, when she was seven, Morgan found Amber crying behind the shed at school.
“They’re bullying me,” Amber had mumbled through tear-streaked lips. “They hate me.”
Morgan rocked back on her heels. “So make them like you!”
Amber shook her head. “I don’t know how! It’s easy for you. Everyone loves you. All you have to do is, is, exist!” Amber’s eyes grew narrow as she flung herself to her feet. “Well, I don’t love you. I hate you! I hate you and your stupid hair and your stupid smile, and everybody else is just stupid!”
Morgan did what she always did when confronted with conflict, and shot Amber a beaming smile.
“Don’t!” Amber shouted, stomping her foot and fisting her hands. “Don’t do that to me! If I don’t want to like you, then I don’t have to!” And off she stormed.
Morgan leaned back against the shed and frowned. All she’d done was smile. But then again, she’d expected it to work, and it hadn’t. Maybe Amber was right. Maybe Morgan was making people like her, only not in an ordinary way. Morgan ran her lip between her teeth until she tasted blood. If she could make people like her, then Daddy… She chomped down hard on her lip and rose to her feet. No. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter why he loved her, only that he did.
And that was how it was—until Christmas. About a week before the Big Day, which in Morgan’s designer-filled world absolutely deserved capitalisation, she overheard a second conversation that made her freeze on the spot: as she wandered nonchalantly past her parents’ room, not at all trying to scout out hints of upcoming gifts, she heard her father. “Chloe, no,” he said. “I’m not buying her anything. You’ve got to stop indulging her like this. She’s going to figure it out one day, if she hasn’t already, and…” He trailed off, and Morgan realised it was because her mother had begun to cry.
I can fix this, she thought blankly. My mother is crying, and I can fix it. And as she stood with her palm pressed against the cold, smooth paint of the bedroom door, that was what she focused on: not the fact that Daddy, who in point of fact was probably only Daddy because Morgan blistered him with radiant smiles day and night, had figured out her trick; not the fact that he was planning to punish her by withholding Christmas presents; not the fact that he was trying to turn her mother against her and make Mummy hate her too. Just the fact that Mummy was crying, and she could make it stop.
Morgan pushed open the door.
Daddy glared at her over Mummy’s shoulder. “Morgan, this isn’t—”
Morgan held up one hand, only dimly aware of the tears that spilled over the edges of her eyelashes, like the one extra drop a teaspoon couldn’t quite contain. Somewhere, in some world, Morgan was crying, and she knew it; but here and now, Mummy was crying, and that was all that mattered.
Morgan stared at Daddy until his glare melted and stared into nothing. Instead, he rocked Mummy back and forth mechanically, patting her as steadily as a metronome.
Morgan walked closer and touched Mummy’s leg. Mummy jumped, twisting around in Daddy’s arms so that his pats fell awkwardly on her chest. She tried to brush him away, but he swayed and patted, swayed and patted, locked into motion at Morgan’s command.
Dimly, Morgan thought that maybe she could feel guilty for that. But he wasn’t Daddy anyway, was he, and he only loved her because she used her smile on him.
“Morgan, sweetie, what’s wrong?” Mummy said, scrubbing the tears from her own eyes.
Morgan gazed at her, eyes on a level as Mummy sat on the edge of her bed. “Don’t be sad,” Morgan whispered.
Mummy gave a half smile. “Oh sweetheart.” She reached for Morgan.
Morgan drew in a deep breath and resisted. “No. Mummy.” She paused to make sure she had her full attention. “Don’t be sad.” This time, she felt it as it happened, much more clearly than she’d ever felt it before—and she’d been looking for it ever since Amber had declared that she hated her. Something went out of Morgan as she spoke, swirling in the air for a moment before coming to rest in her mother’s eyes—and Mummy, who’d been opening her mouth to speak, instead settled back into Daddy’s embrace with her eyes dancing and her lips quirking up in a smile.
“Morgan!” she said delightedly. “What do you want, darling?”
Morgan, tears no longer flowing, head aching from the screams she felt inside, searched her mother’s smiling face and nodded. “Nothing, Mummy,” she said. “As long as you’re happy.”
“Oh, Darling!” Her mother’s smile stretched. “I’ve never been so happy in all my life.”
This time, when Mummy reached out, Morgan let herself be drawn into a hug, and together the three of them rocked as Daddy swayed and patted like a metronome, and Mummy hummed like the happiest bee in the world.