The Girl With The Broken Smile

"There are things, unspeakable things, which go through the minds of hundreds of young people every year. We can't always be sure what these are, but when we do, we need to be able to help. I learnt a little too late."

17 year old Will knew his best friend was suffering, but he wasn't aware of how desperately until the tragic news arrived. Now, he's determined to try, to make things work and to solve the problems that have been plaguing the both of them for the last two years, no matter the cost.

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1. Revelation

 

Immaculate snow lays on the ground, untouched by man, avoided by dog and cat and bird. It’s a clean sheet, a fresh slate. Before the end of the day there’ll be snow men throughout my neighbourhood, snowballs thrown at windows leaving no exception and angel’s shadows on the ground. The children will laugh and scream and even the teens will enjoy the day, shooting down the hills on pieces of ply wood to act as a sledge. 

It’s so cold outside that even through my gloves my fingers feel numb, and even though I’m wearing my hat, with the flaps to cover my ears, I can feel the bitter wind attack my ear drums. Even wrapped up, there’s the constant sting of the cold.

I stand at the end of my road, looking around at everybody. I recognise most as friends, people I know, people that are my friends. Nobody has invited me out today. Not even Cain. I sigh heavily at the realisation that nobody wanted to spend the day with me today. 

Through the falling flakes I see a figure, leaving. For a moment it didn’t register to me, I assumed just a woman walking through the snow, perhaps on her way to work or perhaps home. But it doesn’t take long for it to pass, and then… I would recognise that classic green coat anywhere, how it falls over the petite body, the small curves and the way her hair flows behind her, long, elegant ringlets that she spends hours a week curling and perfecting. Without thinking, I call out.

‘Enola!’ 

My voice cracks as I call for her and I take a step forward. She hesitates a moment, turns around and just looks at me. She doesn’t smile, or wave, or reply. She just looks at me and continues to walk away, leaving behind footprints in the snow.

 

It’s ridiculous the amount of snowballs that get thrown at you when you walk to school in the snow. Most of the culprits barely come up to my waste, so it’s not even as though I can retaliate. Perhaps that’s why they do it.

Yesterday, when the snow was falling heavy on the ground and we’d been given the day off, the ground had been much safer beneath my feet. Now compacted ice threatened your safety, as you skidded around the ground, always trying to keep your balance. 

When I reach the school gates, I’m covered from head to toe in cold and bitter ice and I shiver as it rolls down my back. I can feel the hairs on my skin stand on end. It’s a sensation I’m not unused to, but one that’s still unpleasant to experience. Around me, several students are looking around for their friends, aiming snowballs at them. Most of the girls are ducking behind the parked cars to avoid the damage. I roll my eyes at their vanity.

The common room is deathly quiet as I walk in. Everybody turns to look at me as though they’d rehearsed, but none gives a smile. Instead concern is etched on their mismatched faces. I raise an eyebrow as I sit down and look over at the table in the corner. There are several girls close to tears.

‘Are you alright, mate?’ Ryan asks me as I take a seat. People are still looking at me, but I smile and say;

‘I’m alright. How are you?’

The group exchange awkward glances before Ryan beckons me over.

‘You haven’t heard?’

Something in his voice tells me I’m missing something important, something that should affect me. I gulp as I shake my head. ‘What do you mean?’ A cry is heard in the corner and I look up to see Josie surrounded by all of her friends. 

Ryan nods towards the door, the rest of table still enveloped in a strange silence. ‘I’ll tell you out there.’ And he gets up and walks towards the corridor at the end of the room. Hesitantly I follow. I don’t feel eyes on me anymore, but I know they’re there. I don’t even noticed the empty chair as I pass it.

In the corridor, it’s dark and cold but there’s nobody there. That’s why I suppose Ryan wanted me out here. Whatever he’s about to tell me, it’s something big and I can feel the butterflies in my stomach and the anxiety in my throat.

Ryan looks at me then looks down the corridor. 

‘I’m not sure how to tell you this,’ he says quickly. ‘So I guess it’s best to just give you the straight out facts.’ He looks at his shoes and then back at me, running his fingers through his hair. The stress on his face is visible even with the lack of light. I don’t say anything. He takes it as a cue to continue. ‘Enola’s in hospital. She tried to kill herself last night.’

The empty chair flickers back into my mind. The silent exchange. 

‘What?’ is all I can manage. Awkwardly Ryan puts his arm around me, even though he’s several inches shorter than me. 

‘We found out last night. Georgia sent an message to everybody. We didn’t want you to find out that way.’ He sighs. ‘I know you think we should have told you sooner, but… I don’t know, Will. I just don’t know.’ He shrugs and looked at me. ‘Are you alright?’ The tone of his voice indicates that he knows it’s a stupid question, that he’s only asking out of politeness.

I can’t say anything. I feel the colour wash from my face, the blood travelling to my feet, holding me there. The butterflies in my stomach collide, the anxiety striking. I hold my hand to my mouth and dash to the toilet. I don’t even look behind me, but I can hear the door slam shut behind Ryan and I guess he’s gone to update.

My suspicions are confirmed moments later when they all burst through the door, just as I throw up my breakfast into the toilet. 

‘Jesus, mate,’ Andrew cries, holding his nose. 

I try to object to use of ‘Jesus’ but I barely open my mouth before I’m gagging over the toilet again. 

‘Should we get someone?’ I hear Liam whimper.

I shake my head. 

‘I’m fine,’ I manage just as another round of vomit comes up. The bell for registration rings and I catch them again looking at each other. They want to go, I can tell, but they won’t want to leave me here like this, I know.

Or maybe they don’t care. That’s what Enola would say. I can almost hear her words in my head, but I push it back. I try to stand and wash my face in the sink. 

‘Honestly, you can go,’ I say again. My eyes are itching so I just stare ahead at the wall. ‘I’ll see you later’. I hear footsteps leaving the bathroom and I overhear several people ask how I am.  Somehow that makes me feel worse.

Ryan looks at me sceptically. ‘You know where I am if you need me, mate,’ he said, turning to leave me, knowing it would be for the best.

When everybody had left I looked at my reflection. Pale. Gaunt. Frail. All in the space of ten minutes. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, to find Enola’s number. I hover my finger over the call button then stop. She won’t answer. Even before she was in hospital, she hated me. Instead I scrolled through my text messages, searching for the last one she’d sent me. 

 

Whatever Will. You chose to leave. You stopped caring.

You wore me out. Now I don’t care, even though you know.

You know I’ll always love you.

Goodbye x

 

Three days ago. I don’t know why I didn’t find that strange. We’d never gone more than two without talking and I always just assumed she was mad, that she’d cool down and text me when she was ready. It hadn’t crossed my mind that for once she could actually mean goodbye. 

I can’t stay here. My eyes are turning red as tears well up and I try to repress them, knowing it’s for the best. I know that I can’t show my emotions. I’m a man, I tell myself. 

But I run anyway.

I fling myself the stairs, heading towards the doors, leaving the school at full speed. I know that there are shadows of her everywhere, shadows of what she has done. Questions will linger as to why she did it and my head will swim. With guilt? With longing? I’m not quite sure, but I know I can’t stay around.

The snow laden ground is eerie now that the students have cleared. I can hear the crunch beneath my feet as I run. The cold air rushes past my cheeks, bites at my ears and tears at my skin. It hurts. I can feel my feet sliding beneath me but my momentum keeps me standing. Still, I’ve never been so grateful of how close to the school I live.

When I reach the door, I find it unlocked, even though I know that Jake left for work just after me. The house is empty and I’m relieved because I don’t fancy telling Dad what’s happened. Actually, he’d probably be quite happy. And the thought angers me.

Running up the stairs there are a million things rushing through my head, each one a regret, a blame or a pang of guilt. Enola. I never thought she’d actually do it. I never thought she had the guts to try. I always thought it was her dramatic and attention seeking ways. 

I guess I was wrong.

I fling myself onto my bed and, for the first time in six months, I allow myself to cry. They’re not silent tears either. Instead, they’re heaving, ugly sobs, where your eyes turn red and swell and your throat catches. You sound like a pig trying to communicate. You can’t disguise the cries. You can’t hide the tears as they drip onto your pillow, so that soon you’re lying on a damp, salty cloth. It doesn’t matter to you anymore, because you’re feeling as though everything is your fault. That’s the kind of crying I’m doing.

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