Why I Smile

Amelia Lane hasn't got a perfect life but goes day-to-day with a smile on her face all because she has a gift no one knows about - she can see Shards: sad emotions in the form of coloured glass which she can remove to take the emotion away at that moment. But there's one person she can't take a Shard from so she makes it her mission to make Nathan Kirkland smile.

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7. Halloween Is Better Than I Was Expecting

Sat out on the front porch of my home, I shuddered as the crisp autumn air wrapped itself around me. My hair was tied back into a ponytail leaving the skin of my neck exposed to the elements. The cold was not unwelcome but still had the harshness that only the impending winter could bring. I stretched. My shoulders clicked and my spine popped as I moved for the first time in hours. I wasn’t really sure how long I had been sat outside on the porch. It was a Saturday, the first day of Half Term holiday in October. I hadn’t gone anywhere, I hadn’t spoken to my friends, and I hadn’t done anything remotely productive. All I had done was watch a little TV before taking a book out onto the porch with me. There was a perfectly good bench beside me, but I sat on the ground with my legs dangling over the edge of the wood and my feet dragging through the long grass. I knew that I had to get the lawn mower out at some point because the grass really needed one last trim before the winter season came in and fucked everything up but I couldn’t be bothered.   I had decided to go for a classic, one that I had bought recently and wanted to read in honour of Halloween. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, donned in its newly designed red graphic paperback release, sat beside me on the porch and begged for me to pick it back up. I was half way through it and did want to continue but I was starting to feel the cold now. It was that awful tense feeling creeping up on me, making my muscles hard and uneasy to move and my brain a haze of cloudiness and procrastination. My mind was telling me to delay it whilst my heart wanted to carry on. I tilted my head and my neck cracked and created a horrible popping sensation right under my ear. It made me feel a little nauseous. Sighing, I watched my breath come out in a puff of white air, floating around my head and up towards the darkening sky. The clocks had gone backwards, daylight savings had begun so the evenings were now so much darker in such a quick time.    I pulled my phone out of my pocket and turned the screen on to check the time. It was nearly half past six. I had been outside for way too long, no wonder my hands felt like ice. I picked up my book and wandered back into the recesses of my house. It was quiet and dark. No lights were on and the TV had been turned off since I finished watching it earlier. I felt at ease in the creepy atmosphere. It felt as though I had walked into a horror movie but I wasn’t scared. I knew that the monster wasn’t going to get me. I knew that the real threat to me was asleep upstairs, intoxicated out of her mind again and unwilling to move or live. I set my book down on the dining room table and rubbed one hand over my face, squeezing at my temples and forcing away the hot prickliness behind my eyes. Another Halloween was approaching where I wouldn’t have my brother with me. Another Halloween where my father wouldn’t be coming in dressed up in some weird costume. Another Halloween where the only dead thing was my family.    Taking a deep breath to calm myself down before I got myself even more worked up, I picked up my phone again and flicked through the contacts. I wanted to talk to someone, anyone so badly but I couldn’t think of who. In all honesty, I did know. I knew just who I wanted to talk to. Aaron. I wanted to talk to my older brother but I couldn’t. They wouldn’t let me into the hospital at this hour, surely, and I couldn’t get anywhere in the dark. I didn’t trust the bus system at the best of times and I wasn’t about to go outside and risk my safety waiting for a bus that might have someone even crazier on it…   The thought made me feel selfish. Aaron would have done it for me. He would have risked the dark and the cold, the weirdoes and stalkers. He’d have done it for me. But I couldn’t do it for him. I was anxious. My palms were sweaty. My mother was right. It should have been me. She had said it that morning when she came downstairs to replenish her supply. As she set the empty bottle down on the side, a large bottle of red wine, and picked out a different type of alcohol, she looked at me with bloodshot eyes and scowled. I felt it coming so kept my eyes on the screen but she had stepped in front of it, right into my view and said just that in that slurred tone and broken voice. I never said anything in return. She’d walked away with her new bottle and returned to her room. What could I do when the one person who was meant to be on my side openly wished that it had been me sent into a coma? What was I supposed to do when it was my mother who was turning into my worst nightmare? I didn’t want anyone finding out about her but I wanted to get her some help before she killed herself… I didn’t know what I would do if she left me too…

 

The sad thing was, I soon realised, that she already had.

 

“What do I do…?” I muttered, scratching my head. I needed a friend. I opened my phone again and clicked on the first name I could focus on… Nathan. It dialled his number and I sat on the sofa and listened to the tone. There was a crackle, laughter and his voice spoke to me clearly. I shouldn’t have called him. 

 

“Amie?” he asked. He sounded happy. It sounded like there was a film playing in the background, a girl was laughing.   “Sorry, was this a bad time…?”   “No, of course not, I was just watching a film with Lillie.”   “Who… Who’s Lillie?”    “My girlfriend! I thought I’d mentioned her before…”   “Yeah, yeah you did,” I lied. He hadn’t and I hadn’t thought to ask. Why would I? It wasn’t as if we were that close and I didn’t care.    “I don’t remember…”   “Okay, you didn’t, I just didn’t want to seem like a douche…”   Nathan laughed. “You’re not a douche,” he said. “Lillie’s visiting from Switzerland. Her older brother’s been studying over here but apparently he’s moving back there so she’s come over to help him.”   “Uh huh!” came a giggly voice. It was high-pitched, lighter than mine and girly in every sense of the word. I suddenly felt very aware of how grim I sounded. She sounded twelve years old…   “They’re not going back until the end of the week so she’s coming to the Halloween festival to see me and the band play!”   “That’s great.”   “So, why did you call, Amelia? Not that I don’t like your impromptu calls but…”   “No reason. I’ll leave you alone now.” I hung up before he could say anything more. I wished I hadn’t called him because I felt lonelier than ever before. Wincing, I heard the floorboards creak upstairs and hugged myself my mother made her way downstairs. I turned around as she walked into the living room. She swayed on the spot and looked furious. She looked like the monster she’d been turning into for the past year and a bit. I wanted to cry. The bottle wasn’t quite empty yet, the clear contents sloshing around as she leant on the wall and pointed the bottle at me.    “What the fuck is all the noise?!” she complained.    “I wasn’t making any noise…”   “Don’t lie to me! You always make noise… Always get in the fucking way… Where’s Aaron…? Where’s my sweet baby…? He always does things right… You should learn from him…”   “Aaron’s still in the hospital, Mum… He’s not woke up yet…”   “Fuck…” she groaned, her head lolling around on her shoulders dramatically. It flopped forwards, her dark hair falling over her face. She looked like the girl from The Ring. “Why are you alive? Why aren’t you the one in the coma?! Why?! Why?! Why?! Why?! Why am I stuck with you?!”   “Mum…” I started to say but got cut off. She yelled and threw the bottle at me. I screamed at it zoomed at my head with such a force I knew it would knock me out. I ducked in time, dropping to the floor and cover my head with my arms as it collided with the TV and smashed itself and the screen. I looked up, tears in my eyes.   “Aaron should be here…  Not you…”   She turned and walked out of the room. I remained on the floor, curled up tightly in a ball and cried into the carpet. My mother needed help… This was getting out of hand…   ***   “Did I ever tell you the story of Poveglia Island?”   We were sat at the back of the college theatre. Lisa and I were playing cards, Sakura was reading her book near the end of the aisle, Nora was playing on her phone, Lillie was sat beside me trying to learn from observing and Nathan, Maria, Marcus and Antony were on stage rehearsing. It was Thursday, the day before Halloween. The band was doing their final indoor rehearsal before their set at the outdoor Halloween festival. Maria was currently singing a pop-punk cover of ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’.   “No…” I said, looking up from my cards.   “Poveglia Island?” asked Lillie. She glanced at me nervously. As it had turned out, Lillie was a very sweet girl. She was smaller than all of us, even Sakura, and was absolutely lovely.    Lisa smirked. Chicken though she was, she could tell a good story and always managed to get super creepy around Halloween. “Faith and I learnt about it on a trip to Venice a few summers ago. It’s haunted.”   “Oh good grief…” I said, shaking my head. Lillie’s eyes widened.   “Poveglia Island’s history is long and dark,” Lisa grinned. I was going to kill her. It was dark in that theatre, the only real lights coming from the one’s Matthew was playing around with as practice for the Festival. “It was inhabited since the year 421 until it was abandoned in the fourteenth century when Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet. It was offered to many but all refused to call it a refuge until it eventually became a quarantine colony when the bubonic plague struck Europe. Many, many people were sent to die with their dead infected bodies being burned on giant pyres.”   “Dude, that’s gross…”   “It gets worse!” grinned Lisa. “It was then used as a mental asylum in the 1800s where ill-treatment and unethical procedures were used on the patients. Lobotomies, electroshock, all the gruesome ways to get a person’s mind to go BANG!” Lillie jumped. “The doctor responsible later threw himself from the hospital tower after claiming he'd been driven mad by ghosts. Today, the entire island remains abandoned as locals will not step foot on it for fear of being cursed or possessed by the ghosts of the patients who still roam it. Even the fishermen refused to fish in the area around the island for fear of dragging up the human remains of the corpses dumped into the ocean!”

 

“Dear God, woman! What the actual fuck is wrong with you?!”

 

“That’s really creepy…” Lillie muttered.

 

Lisa laughed. “Sorry, it was just playing on my mind,” she said. “It was just an idea.”

 

“For what?” I asked.

 

“You like writing, Amie,” Lisa grinned. “Write us a spooky story about the island!”

 

“You’re a fucking weirdo.” 

 

Lisa shrugged and blinked as the lights came back on. I winced slightly. My head had been hurting all week. Mum had been screaming at me more and more and I couldn’t keep up with all the Shards pricking themselves into her skin. I pulled one away and a new one grew in its place. I’d tell my uncle but I was scared of what would happen… We all looked round as the band walked over to us. We hadn’t even noticed that they’d finished playing. None of the equipment on stage was theirs – it was all stuff left by the music classes. Nathan put his arm around Lillie as he got to her. I couldn’t help but notice that she kept a small distance between them. I frowned.

 

“I am so pumped for tomorrow!” Maria grinned. 

 

“You were good,” Lisa said. “I liked the edgy take on those songs.”

 

“Thanks,” smiled Antony. I watched him subtly as he looked at Lisa. There was something in his eyes when he looked at her, but one look at Lisa made it plain that whatever he was thinking of her was not returned. I hoped. I would understand if she wanted to move on from Aaron… There was no guarantee of him waking up. I just didn’t want to be the one to break the news to him that the girl he was head over heels for had left him whilst he was unconscious… It would be beyond cruel. I got to my feet and walked past everyone. I’d had enough of socialising and really didn’t want to be surrounded by all these happy people. 

 

Happy couples too…

 

“Amie, where’re you going?” I looked round when Nathan spoke and gave him and the others a small smile. They didn’t need my burdens. They needn’t know a thing. “You don’t have to go, you know…”   “I have a headache and no meds,” I said, telling them a half truth. “I just need to go home and sleep. Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day after all…”   “That’s true,” Sakura said.   “I’ll come with you,” Lisa said. Before I could protest, she’d walked over and linked arms with me. “See you guys tomorrow!”   After a chorus of goodbyes, Lisa and I walked out of the building. She still had her arm linked with mine and it felt comforting to have my friend with me. I felt guilty for not confiding in her but I was scared. I didn’t want to lose my mum… I couldn’t lose anyone else, I just couldn’t… Even if that meant her screaming at me until her voice was raw… I’d find a way to help her somehow.   “You’re very distracted,” Lisa said. We sat down at the bus stop. It was at the very bottom of the hill, right next to the woods. It was dark out again, the breeze making the branches of the trees behind us rustle and move around. I thought I saw someone for a moment but it was just another tree with long spindly arm-like branches.    “I’m just worried,” I sighed. “Aaron…”   “He’s making progress,” Lisa reasoned. It was true, he was making progress. Tuesday his hand had twitched when I said his name which then progressed to him actually holding my hand when I put it in the right position. He wasn’t waking up though.   “I know, but I can’t help it… He’s missed out on a whole year of school and now some of college too. He’s going to struggle to catch up whenever he wakes up.”   “And he’ll have all of us to help him catch up,” Lisa said. “Stop worrying, you’ll make yourself sick.”   “I just… need him back…”

 

“We all do…”

 

***

 

I stood at the edge of the crowd and looked around at the flashing lights of the travelling funfair. In the distance was the stage. Maria was singing and the guys were playing. I couldn’t get much closer because of the sheer amount of people that had turned up for the festival. I was dressed as Anna, the ghost girl from Anna Dressed In Blood. I had a long black wig on, made myself look deathly pale with the ethereal beauty that she had been described with and of course the white dress stained with ‘blood’. I felt proud of the costume.

 

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. There were so many people and they were all wandering around, talking and laughing, making so much noise. I felt a little overwhelmed. A little girl dressed up as a witch looked at me as she walked by. I smiled at her and she giggled. My friends had all split up to do random activities: Lisa and Sakura had gone to the cage ride and were waiting in the queue to get on it next, Nora was bobbing for apples with Maddy and Faith, and Matthew was working the lights for the stage. I was content with standing on the side lines. I blinked as I felt a tap on my arm so looked round and down at Lillie. She gave me a weary smile and wasn’t wearing a costume.

 

“Hey,” I said. 

 

“Amelia, right?” she said, shifting her feet.

 

“That’s right…” I said. “What’s wrong, Lillie?”

 

“I need help…”

 

“What?”

 

“With Nathan.”

 

“I, uh… Wha…”

 

Lillie rubbed her hands together and looked up at me sadly. “I’ve been trying to talk to him about it all week and I’ve not been able to get my words right… I need help breaking up with him.”

 

“Whoa, wait, where is this coming from?” I was shocked until I remembered how she had been behaving, how she kept her distance from him. Oh.

 

“I came over here to break up with him in person,” Lillie sighed. “I like him but I can’t be in a long distance relationship any longer… We’ve not been going out too long. A couple of months but…”

 

“I get it.” I nodded. I didn’t want to break up their relationship, obviously. I just understood in some ways what she felt. “Just take him to one side and explain to him. Tell him what you’re feeling and end it in the right way. You leave tomorrow, right?”

 

“I do.”

 

“Then make sure you do it tonight. I don’t want to see him get hurt, okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Don’t tell him you talked to me about this though…”

 

“Right, of course.”

 

She walked away from me and headed off in the direction of the stage. I knew that their set was going to end soon and felt a little twinge of dread at how this might affect Nathan. He seemed to genuinely like this girl and suddenly she wanted to break it off. Well, at least she was doing it in person… Selfishly I thought about what he might do if he found out that she had talked to me about it beforehand. Things with Nathan and I were improving so much – we barely bickered, we got along, he asked about Aaron and everything was turning into a nice friendship for everyone. I didn’t want that to get ruined by some little girl who came out of nowhere…

 

I sighed and walked away. I sat down on a bench and people-watched. It was a bad habit I had, watching people when I wanted to make myself feel better. It was doubly creepy when I was dressed up as a ghost. Leaning my head back, I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. I was giving myself a headache.    “Um… Are you okay?” 

 

Blinking, I sat up properly and opened my eyes. A boy was stood before me. He was tall with silver-blonde hair and near-violet eyes. He was dressed as a vampire but he had no face makeup on other than some fake blood, he seemed pale enough to pass as the undead. 

 

“Uh, yeah, yeah, I’m fine…” I replied. The boy watched me for a moment, frowning a little before taking the seat beside me. He was being very forward… Watching him uncertainly, I made sure there was plenty of distance between us. I didn’t know who this guy was, he could be some creeper for all I knew. “Can I help you?”

 

“Sorry, I don’t usually do stuff like this…” he said. “My, uh, my name’s Nickolas. Nickolas Arlos. You seemed bored or ill and I’ve lost my brother and sister in the crowd so…”

 

“So you thought you’d keep me company?”

 

“Heh, it sounds kind of creepy now you put it that way.”

 

“Just a little…”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“What about your siblings?”

 

“Well, adoptive siblings really,” Nickolas said, leaning forwards. “My older brother, Ivan, and my older sister, Sofia. They said they were heading towards some rides but I can’t find them. Ivan promised me we’d go on the cage before we left.” He sighed. “Ivan’s always trying to ditch me though so I’m not all that surprised.”

 

“Don’t feel put down by it,” I said. “Some people are just like that… My mum’s been no charmer recently.”

 

“Hmmm…” he said, looking round. “You do seem familiar though. Do you go to Benson College?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“I have seen you before! You’re in the English Lit class before mine on a Monday!”

 

I blinked. “I am?”

 

“Absolutely,” Nickolas smiled. “I always see you leaving the classroom near the library before I go inside. You’re always with that brown haired girl who always wears headbands.”

 

“Wow, that is… really spooky, actually,” I chuckled. “You’re not stalking me, are you?”

 

“No, no!” he said, shaking his head. “No… God, it sounds like though, doesn’t it… Shit…”

 

I laughed. Looking round, I saw Lisa and Sakura heading in our direction. They hadn’t actually spotted us yet though. I smiled at Nickolas. “I need to get going, but if I see you at college I’ll be sure to say hi.”

 

Nickolas looked at me and smiled. “That’d be nice.”

 

“See you later, Nickolas,” I said, getting to my feet. I smoothed out my dress and turned to meet Lisa and Sakura.

 

“See you later…”

 

“Amelia. Amelia Lane.”

 

“Amelia…” smiled Nickolas. “See you later, Amelia.”
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