As She Smiled, a short story

Here’s a short story I wrote a year or so ago. It’s based on the Greek legend of Echo and Narcissus, enjoy!

    Nathan sat at the back of the school hall, in the middle of the back row, gazing out at the sea of spotty, sweaty students in front of him. They were all clad in the same dull, grey, worn-out uniform, and they were all listening to the same, dull, grey, worn-out teacher.

    No-one else had chosen to sit next to Nathan, in fact no-one had joined him on the back row at all, but Nathan didn’t mind. It was something he had not only grown used to, but he revelled in it, being alone made him feel like he was above the others.

    The teacher dragged on, mumbling various announcements to anyone who cared to listen. But as soon as the bell went, everyone was glad to leave and head to lessons. As Nathan was heading for his English lesson however, he suddenly felt his foot becoming caught and falling straight to the floor, face first. A thundering burst of laughter followed.

    ‘You know, you should really try and keep on your toes, Nathan,’ a decidedly mean voice said, ‘that way you won’t trip!’

    There were several people to whom that voice could have belonged to. It might have belonged to Big John from the rugby club; Nathan has always been his main target. Or it might have belonged to Sarah, one of the many ‘it’ girls in the school. Nathan could never think of any specific reason for why she might hate him, but he deduced that her hating him made her followers, and there were many of those, submit to her more. Or it may even have been Nathan’s geography teacher, Mr. Davidson, who never really liked Nathan at all.

    But by the time Nathan had managed to pick himself up again, he was alone; his bully’s having slipped away. Nathan began to walk on, but felt someone grabbing his arm. It was Emily, her beady eyes gazed deep into Nathan’s as she clung to his person.

    Your nose is bleeding.’ She whispered worriedly, in a softly manner.

   Nathan could almost feel her breathing in his ear.

    ‘Oh, err… hey Emily.’ He reached up and touched his nose. Drawing his hand back, he could see the blood. ‘Well look at that, so it is! I best get it cleaned up…’

    ‘I’ll come with you.’ She held onto him as if he were drowning.

    Leading him along the corridor, Nathan attempted to distance himself from her as best he could, which wasn’t easy to do when she hung onto him in such a tight manner. Nathan had always been wary of Emily. Everywhere he turned she always seemed to be staring at him, keeping a watchful eye on every move he made. Sometimes she would say hello to him, but to Nathan, she was nothing more than a strange little girl person who wouldn’t let him out of her sight.

    When they reached the boy’s toilets, Nathan saw his opportunity to escape her clutch.

    ‘I can make it from here, thanks.’ He said, gently shaking her off, but Emily would have none of it.

    ‘I’ll help you.’ She said, and she boldly led him into the boy’s toilets.

    As they went in, Nathan breathed a sigh of relief when he saw no-one else was in there. Emily pulled him over to one of the sinks and began to clean him up. Filling the sink with warm water, she reached over to the side for some tissues and, taking some, dipped them into the water. She cupped his chin with her free hand and proceeded to dab his nose with the damp tissues.

    As she pampered away with Nathan’s nose, he could feel her gently stroking his chin, almost as if he were a new-born lamb and she was the mother. The warmth of the wet tissues made Nathan notice even more how cold her other hand was, and looking down he could see how pale it was, and how pale Emily’s whole person was.

    Each little dab sent a short, sharp sting through Nathan, but he didn’t dare say anything, she had him rooted to the spot completely. Eventually, she let his chin go and chucked the tissues into the bin.

    ‘There, all done.’

    ‘Thanks,’ said Nathan, almost saying it with a none-too-subtle sigh of relief at being freed from her. He gazed at his nose in the mirror. ‘You’ve done a great job, it looks great.’

    ‘It always looks great.’ She added wistfully. Nathan turned to stare at her, and she too stared at him. ‘I think you’ve always looked lovely…’

    She began to lean in closer to him, her lips quivering like the waves on the sea. But before she could lean in any further, Nathan bolted out of the toilets with a muffled ‘Thanks’ issuing forth as he escaped his prison. Without even knowing where he was going and without even noticing his nose had started bleeding again, Nathan bolted down the corridor as fast as he could.

    When the bell finally rang out for home time, Nathan made his way through the bustling corridors filled with people taunting everything and anything they could about him. As he finally made his way out of the schoolyard and down the street, he felt his arm being squeezed once more.

    ‘Hi Nathan.’

    ‘Oh, hey Emily. You gave me a bit of a scare just then.’

    ‘Sorry, I just wanted to see how you were. I haven’t seen you since you ran off.’

    ‘Yeah, well, I kind off had to get to class, sorry about that.’

    ‘That’s okay, as long as you’re alright.’ She beamed a toothy grin at him. ‘Where are you off to now?’

    ‘Err, home, I guess.’

    ‘Do you mind if we stop by the swings? There’s something I want to show you.’

    Nathan suddenly felt trapped once again, like being back in the toilets. He was about to reject Emily’s offer, when he saw how piercing her gaze was at him, and he realized he could hardly say no.

    ‘Okay then, but not for too long, I have to be home soon.’

    They walked in a calm silence along the street. Emily rested her head on Nathan’s shoulder, while Nathan did his best to bear up under the strain of it all. They soon came to the deserted playground where the swings swung solemnly in the cool breeze. Much of the place had been neglected for a long time and much of the features were sprinkled with rust. Emily finally let go Nathan’s arm, much to his relief, and took a swing for herself and Nathan did the same.

    Emily then placed her schoolbag on her knees and began rummaging through it. Nathan looked over sheepishly,wondering what she had in store for him.

    ‘She wouldn’t dare try anything in public.’ He reassured himself, albeit under his breath.

    Emily then drew forth a folded piece of paper and handed it to Nathan.

    ‘I hope you like it, I’ve been working on it for a while.’

    Nathan unfolded the piece of paper and on it was a drawing of someone with thick black glasses, short brown hair, his head bent slightly downwards, clad in a school uniform and clutching several books to his chest. Nathan looked at this for a long time.

    ‘Very nice.’ He said at last, and handed it back to her.

    ‘Can’t you guess who it is?’ asked Emily, refusing to take the picture back.    Nathan looked at it again, still unmoved by what he saw.

    ‘Well who is it?’ he asked at last.

    ‘It’s you.’ Emily answered, slightly taken aback by Nathan’s dull reception of her portrait of him.

    ‘Oh right, gosh, err… wow, it is, isn’t it?’ Nathan horridly tried to make up for is ignorance. ‘I love it, it’s really lovely!’

    Hearing this, Emily lightened up.

    ‘Do you really like it then?’

    ‘Of course, it’s terrific! I can’t remember the last time someone did something like this for me before.’

    Emily’s beaming, toothy smile returned in its full.

    ‘You can keep it if you like.’

    ‘Thanks.’ Nathan folded the picture up and pocketed it away, now feeling a great deal of tension had been lifted. He then smiled at Emily, the first genuine smile of affection he had ever given her. He then chuckled slightly, bemused at the thought that had just occurred to him. ‘Don’t you ever get tired of hanging around someone who always gets the crap beaten out of him?’

    Emily turned away slightly, stunned at Nathan’s unforeseen bluntness.

    ‘I… I just think you’re really brave, the way you don’t fight back like that.’

    ‘Oh, if only you knew the truth…’

    She turned back to him sharply.

    ‘What do you mean?’

    Nathan started to swing slowly up and down whilst looking at his feet, which were fully stretched out.
‘Well, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gone for anyone in ages. Probably years even. But I remember the first time I got my own back, boy was it good. But I found out the hard way that violence against violence doesn’t always tend to work.

    It was way back on the last day of primary school. I was being beaten up back then as well. We were allowed to bring in a game or a toy from home you know. I brought in my old toy robot, my favourite.

    When we went outside to play, I used to pretend I was an alien sent from a distant world to Earth to spread a message of hope, but instead I get trampled on and everyone thinks I’m there to destroy them and their planet. I’d use my robot as my weapon of defence. But that John Denver, he took the game seriously.

    He pinned me to the ground and called me his “little alien bitch”. I didn’t mind that so much, I was used to it by then. But when one of his mates took my robot off me and gave it to him… well, I just had to snap.

    He threw my robot to the ground and all I could do was watch it smash into a million little pieces. Something had to be done. I managed to get back on my feet and I just started hitting him, hard. I don’t think he was expecting it.

     ‘I don’t think anyone even tried to stop me, not until the teachers came. I just kept punching and punching, in the exact same place, right in the middle of his face. When the fight was finally broken up I got sent home in disgrace.

     ‘A couple months later, I find myself in secondary school, all calmed down. But as I walk through the corridor on the first day, I feel a hand grab my shoulder, and then I get pinned to the ground and beaten to a pulp, just like I was in primary school. It’s John Denver, John fucking Denver! Of all the secondary schools in the world he could have gone to!

     ‘He promised to make my life a misery at secondary school. And so far, he’s kept his word.’

    Nathan kept on swinging, whilst Emily sat rigid with her knees bent together. She was starring off into the far distance, still digesting the story she had just heard.

    ‘That’s awful…’ she whispered, after a long silence.

    ‘Yeah, well, you know.’ was Nathan’s flat, lifeless reply. ‘Did you know he told everyone in secondary school about what happened in primary school? Now everyone likes to get a slice of me.’

    Silence fell after this, broken only by the sighing of the wind and the gentle purring of far-off cars in the distance. Emily finally got up from her swing.

    ‘I think I’d better be going now, thanks for your story. It was very…’ she looked around nervously, thinking of an answer ‘enlightening.’

    ‘Oh, you don’t have to go.’ Nathan jumped up from his swing and dashed towards her as Emily began to walk away.
‘No, I really should. Anyway, didn’t you say you had to get back home as well?’

    ‘Well, I can be a bit late I guess. Where are you off to then?’

    ‘Well, err, I don’t know yet.’

    ‘I can walk you home if you like.’ Cheerily, Nathan linked his arm with hers.

    ‘Oh… Okay then.’

    ‘Where do you live anyway?’

    Emily’s spirits suddenly shot to the sky as she came up with a ploy for detaching herself from Nathan.

    ‘Oh quite a while away, right on the other side of town. It’ll be dark by the time we get there, you’d better get back home yourself, I wouldn’t like the idea of you walking through the streets in the dark.’

    ‘Oh, I can think of worse places to be.’

    He gave her a sly smile, but all Emily could do was return with a smile that quivered frantically, as if she was about to burst into tears. Nathan could see she wasn’t that impressed with his sudden interest in her. He relinquished his smile, let go her arm and looked around him rapidly. Then he dived into a row of flowers they happened to be passing. As he dug into the soft, brown soil, Emily looked on, bemused.

    ‘What are you doing?’ she asked

    Nathan soon emerged from the dirt, his face slightly caked in various spots of soil that he had unknowingly flicked onto his face. His hands were completely brown and lumpy, but in his left hand he held a small bunch of flowers.

    ‘Look, I’m sorry if I upset you earlier. Its just I’ve never really talked about it before, I guess I just wasn’t sure how to break it to you gently. Anyway, these are to say sorry.’

    Emily took the flowers from him, still bemused but with a smile on her face.

    ‘What are they?’

    She clasped them with both hands.

    ‘They’re narcissuses.’

    ‘Nar-what?’

    ‘Narcissuses. Spring flowers, from the amaryllises family.’

    Emily looked up to him, regaining her adoration for Nathan once more.

    ‘You know about that stuff?’ she said, dreamily, looking straight into his eyes.

    ‘Sure I do, I grow them back home, among other flowers.’

    ‘Really? What kind of flowers do you grow?’

    As they walked, the sun slowly dipped behind the tall buildings that circled their town. By the time they got to Emily’s home, and Nathan had delighted her with stories of his flowers, the streetlights shone down to the ground whilst an orange glow sizzled in the sky, gradually getting darker and darker. The two of them stopped outside the pathway that ran up to the front door.

    ‘Thanks for walking me home.’ Emily said.

    ‘Thanks for taking an interest in my flowers,’ said Nathan, ‘its a shame I couldn’t take you back to mine and see them in their splendour, they’re probably all asleep by now.’

    ‘Well, how about I come round sometime when it’s light and you can show me them then.’

    ‘Yeah, that’d be nice.’

    They both gave each other a nervy smile and a slight laugh, but when Emily was about to walk up the pathway, Nathan leaned in quickly and planted a kiss on her cheek. As he did so, Emily felt his warm breath on her check, but only for a split second.

    Emily went slightly red but her smile grew wider and she had to bite her lip to stop herself from letting out a squeal of delight. Nathan tried to look as nonchalant as possible, but as he put his hands into his pockets, he couldn’t stop them from shaking vigorously.

    ‘I’ll text you tomorrow then.’ He said, unexpectedly having to catch his breath as he spoke. Emily nodded frantically, still biting her lip and still red in the face. ‘See you later.’

    ‘Bye.’ Emily said, deflated from trying to control herself.

    Nathan made his way along the street in a relaxed shuffle, before turning a corner and jumping into the air and punching the sky with delight. His relaxed shuffle turned into a joyous skip as the sizzling orange glow finally disappeared from view and left only the streetlights to guide Nathan’s way back home.

    As he skipped, still punching the air like it was one of his many bullies, he didn’t notice the corner shop that he was coming up to, and what was going on inside.

    Inside the shop, John Denver and his motley crew were, in their eyes, stacking up the supplies for a night-out. In the shop owner’s eyes, they were causing a ruckus and sending the other customers away in fear. The five teenagers pushed and shoved their way to the alcohol section of the shop and, despite being some three years under the legal age, began grabbing the most colourful looking bottles of the shelves.

    Once they chose their beverages, they placed them on the counter and waited for the shop owner to do his duty.

    ‘Sorry lads, no alcohol for you. You’re too young.’ Despite trying to say this in a voice as commanding and forthright as possible, the teenagers were quick to notice how shaky the shop owner’s voice was and how little beads of sweat were forming on his brow.

    ‘Fuck off!’ John pulled back his arm and rammed it into the shop owner’s face. ‘Come on lads, grab ‘em and lets shoot!’

    They shot out of the shop, carrying as much as they could, but as they opened the door and rushed out, they collided with Nathan, still caught up in a whirlwind of romance. All six teenagers fell and all the bottles smashed to the ground, turning the once grey-coloured street into a multitude of swirling, shimmering colours of red, blue and green, sprinkled with shards of broken glass.

    Nathan lay on the ground stunned, before he felt a pair of hands wrap around his neck and John sitting on his chest.
‘You clumsy little bastard, this is the end for you!’

    The other’s crowded round him and began brutally punishing Nathan for his mistakes. Meanwhile, Emily was in her room, clasping the bunch of narcissus’s to her chest. She sighed wistfully; unaware of the torture Nathan was going through. In the end she let herself fall onto her bed, gradually sinking into its soft, fluffy mattress and eventually fading from view, with a smile on her lips.

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