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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5. Nathan Pushes Me Too Far

 

After visiting Aaron, I spent the entirety of my weekend reading the same novel three times. The Great Gatsby, though an incredible story, is very short. I was able to get through it in a couple of hours on Friday evening, reread it on Saturday evening whilst I hid away in my bedroom, the one more time to Aaron when I visited him again on Sunday. He had talked about the story for a while when he heard it was going to be turned into a film but he hadn’t gotten around to reading it – I just hoped that he had been able to hear my voice as I read it to him.

 

If he hadn’t then I’d have to lend him the book when he finally woke up.

 

It was all a distraction from the nerves that were building up in my stomach at the prospect of having to go back into that classroom on Monday. Having to sit down with Nathan and work on our topic was going to be the death of me, I could just see it. He and I always bickered – since that first day of our un-friendship we had been locked in this continual battle to one-up each other. I had no idea if that was going to carry on now that we had talked about what had happened which made it all the more unappealing.

 

I went through my usual morning routine when my alarm clock rang on Monday morning. It was a cloudy morning, muggy and hinting at a thunder storm. I tied my hair into a scruffy ponytail and grabbed my brown leather jacket before shoving my lunch into my bag. I hesitated by the door, my hand on the knob. Glancing over my shoulder, I looked up the stairs where I could hear feet shuffling and caught a glimpse of my mother walking into the bathroom. I sighed to myself before opening the door and walking out of the house.

 

After getting on the bus, I sat near the back once again and looked out of the window. I kept my headphones in and made sure the volume was loud as a pop-punk song played. Outside the window the storm was finally starting to kick in so I huddled into my jacket and watched the rain flow down the glass in long lines. Lisa eventually got onto the bus too and sat in front of me, looking over the back of the seat and raising her eyebrows at me. I took my headphones out.

 

                “So, you’re actually showing your face today?” she asked. She was still annoyed with me. “I thought you’d transfer to another college during the weekend.”

 

                “Actually, Nathan caught me on my way to the bus stop on Friday and we talked about what happened.”

 

Lisa blinked. “You two actually talked?”

 

I nodded. “Yeah, we talked and I told him exactly what happened when we were nine years old and he believed me. He thought it was pathetic but he believed me.”

 

                “Well… That’s good, isn’t it?”

 

                “I guess so.” I shrugged. “He just needs to be nice and I will too. If he acts like a cock then I’ll defend myself. But if he’s nice…”

 

                “Do you think you could be friends again?”

 

                “I don’t know,” I replied. “I think I’d like to be but so much has changed. We’re different people. He’s cooler than he was… When we were kids he was a bit of a nerd. Sweater vests and Harry Potter backpacks. But now… He smokes, he has more friends than me, he’s a lot more outgoing and I’m not gonna lie… He looks good in skinny jeans.”

 

Lisa laughed. “Sounds like you have a crush on him.” Her eyes widened and glittered mischievously, all annoyance forgotten now she had something to tease me with. Revenge was something she enjoyed immensely. “That’s why you two have always been so competitive with one another! You like each other! It’s the classic playground drama! He pulls your ponytail and you knick his shin!”

 

                “Oh my fucking god,” I groaned. “No, I don’t like him. This isn’t some stupid romantic comedy! Nathan’s no Justin Timberlake and I’m certainly no Mila Kunis.”

 

                “Ha, I can just see it,” Lisa grinned, pressing the button to get off the bus. She stood and I followed her down the walkway, both of us huddling under her huge umbrella. We ran through the gates and straight into Reception, Lisa putting the umbrella down and shaking it. Walking through the area, we hopped around the other students and took a right, then another right, and a left to enter the Central Café. It was full of people eating, pouring over books, laughing and hanging out. We both got snacks from the vending machine to eat on our first break and then went back out into the rain. Luckily the walkway for the Science pods acted as our shelter as we ran along the pathway, but that didn’t stop some water dripping down and hitting out legs.

 

When we got to the classroom, the door was locked and the lights were off. With no other options, we sat down in the corridor and waited. We sat on opposite sides of the corridor, our legs crossed so that there was a gap for people to walk through. Lisa decided that she had had enough of talking so played with her phones so I put my other headphone back in and listened to my music until I felt someone kick my thigh. Surprised, I looked up and blinked as I saw Nathan stood above me – his dark jacket was dripping and he had his hands in his pockets. He had two bags – one for his college work and the other a guitar bag.

 

                “There’s a gap between us that you could walk through, you know,” I said, a smile playing around my lips. He glanced at the floor between me and Lisa who was remaining hidden behind her phone. Bitch.

 

                “Nah, walking into you was a lot more entertaining,” he said, kicking me lightly again.

               

                “I will grab your foot and tug you down,” I threatened. He knew I would do it so stepped over me and sat down next to Lisa.

               

                “No one thought to get the key from the technician then?” he yawned, taking a sip from the take-away drink he’d obviously bought from the Overlook Café above us. He grimaced at the taste but finished it nonetheless. “I’m never buying tea from that café again. That was fucking awful.”

 

                “You need one of that cups with the rubber lid,” I suggested. “And no, the technician’s room has no lights on either so…”

 

                “Fair enough,” he shrugged.

 

I felt so conscious and awkward and I didn’t like it. I looked at Lisa pleadingly to join the conversation but she just kept looking at her phone screen. Though quiet, I could hear the sounds of Angry Birds.

 

                “You still wear that old jacket I see,” Nathan said, nodding to me. I looked down at myself and huddled into the jacket. My Dad had helped me pay for it because it was the only bit of my clothing that he liked the look of.

 

                “Yes,” I replied simply.

 

                “Hmm…” he said.

 

Thankfully, June chose that moment to show up and unlock the door. I stood quickly and followed her into the room only to realise that I had to sit with Nathan still. I took the computer in the back of the room strategically. I was in the middle so Lisa could sit next to me with Sakura to work on their project and Nathan would be the other side with the chance to be near his friends. It was full proof no matter who sat which side of me!

 

***

 

                “No! That’s stupid! Look, look at that font, Nathan! That is totally targeted at females because of the curliness. Look at the other product. It’s the exact same thing just coloured darker with bolder and straighter font. It says ‘For Men’. That is how the fonts are used!”

 

Nathan and I were arguing over our topic. Lunch had been and gone and we were on our final stretch of the day before we could flee home or in my case to English. The topic that Nathan and I had been given to present was ‘Gender Representation in Marketing’ and Nathan was having none of my argument on font representation.

 

                “I don’t see how that font is more appealing to women though,” he said. “What is it about the curly font that makes it for women? The logo doesn’t say anything about it so why is that one specifically for men and that one for women?”

 

                “That is the whole point,” I sighed. “It’s stupid that the market is so segregated which is the point I’m trying to make on these slides… It obviously doesn’t affect you, but the typical idea with these companies is that men will be less likely to purchase this bottle because of that font. It seems more feminine. The harsh lines and boldness are more masculine. Even the colour of the tin.”

 

Nathan squinted at my screen before raising his eyebrows and nodding his head. “I get it,” he said. “I see it now! Fuck me, what is wrong with these people? Can’t I buy a fucking deodorant without being labelled?”

 

                “No, no you can’t,” I smirked.

 

***

 

We were making pretty amazing progress and getting along. I was absolutely surprised by the turn around but it was happening. Nathan and I had planned out and researched a great deal of the topic, but there was still so much work to do.

 

By the time Wednesday came, we were so focused on our project that we had forgotten to jibe each other. We were coming up with arguments for the debate – playing devil’s advocate with one another on the things we were coming up with. Boys wear blue and girls were pink, font styles, names, branding. We were both lost in a sea of discussion and I found myself enjoying every second of it.

 

I thought that the project was going to be torture – I hated having to do presentations in front of people. When I got talking I could talk forever, but the idea of having to stand in front of people was horrific. I always got flashbacks of the first debating session my English teacher at secondary school made us do. We had been separated into groups and given characters from Romeo and Juliet – we had to debate as to who was to blame for their deaths. My group was given Romeo so we worked out a whole list of reasons as to why he was to blame for the death but at the same time I couldn’t help but see the faults in the other characters.

 

The debate was long and one group decided they didn’t want to talk so when it came to cross each other I stood up and said, “how do you even expect to give a reasonable argument when you won’t even stand up and talk?!” The rest of the groups cheered and my teacher said I had made an excellent point. I was so stunned and aware of the eyes on me that my voice all but failed me. I was barely able to get out my actual question.

 

I was scared that was going to happen again.

 

                “Okay, take a break, you guys,” yawned Ransom, leaning back in his chair. He stretched and got up. “I need coffee so go do what you want for twenty minutes. Just don’t tell anyone it’s that long…”

 

The weather hadn’t improved and I wasn’t hungry so I stayed sat in the classroom as most of the other students piled out of the room. Lisa lingered with me, stretching her legs and jumping up and down to get the feeling back. Sakura stayed too. As did Nathan.

 

                “You alright there, Lovi?” I laughed as she did jumping jacks. I glanced at Nathan who watched her amusedly. I smiled.

 

                “My leg’s dead!” she complained.

 

                “Try rubbing them to get the circulation moving,” Sakura suggested. She was a nice girl, very quiet and polite but easy to get along with when you got past the wall she put up. I was very nearly through.

 

                “Good idea,” Lisa said, sitting down and rubbing her calves. I chuckled and pulled my latest book out of my bag. Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. A new released I’d picked up and was thoroughly enjoying. As I read, I became aware of the eyes on me so glanced up and saw Nathan watching me.

 

                “Uh… Can I help you?” I asked, marking my place.

 

                “No, I was just curious as to how you could be reading so a large book,” he said.

 

                “What do you mean ‘me of all people’?” I said, narrowing my eyes.

 

                “You just… don’t seem to have the patience to read books that large,” Nathan shrugged.

 

Lisa laughed. “Man, you really have missed out on this girl.” Nathan blinked and turned to her. “Her bedroom is like a library! There are so many books! She has to have read around three hundred at least.”

 

                “Two hundred and eighty six,” I muttered, looking down at the purple cover in my hands. “At the weekend I read The Great Gatsby three times. I’m three books into A Song of Ice and Fire… But I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

 

                “Have you read Agent 21 by Chris Ryan?” asked Nathan.

 

I sat up a little in my seat. “I haven’t,” I said. “I’ve heard of it though. It’s a spy story right? A teen spy or something along those lines?”

 

                “Yeah,” grinned Nathan. “It’s pretty good. You should check it out.”

 

***

 

 Friday.

 

The last day of the week. The last day of week one of the induction. And the day the storm got worse.

 

I was absolute soaked when I got into the classroom with Lisa. We were dripping, our jeans sticking to our legs like no one’s business. I didn’t want to sit down because I knew how uncomfortable I was going to be but I had no choice. I made a disgusted noise as my jeans rubbed against my skin and sent a chill through me, glancing at Lisa who went over to the radiator and leant against it.

 

                “Those things aren’t even turned on…” I said, trying to get used to the feeling of my horrible trousers. Lisa stayed by the radiator.

 

                “I can hope!” she countered, turning round and pressing the front of her thighs to the white metal. I rolled my eyes and looked up at the ceiling as my Mac loaded, kicking my boots off and taking off my socks. I’d brought a spare pair just in case this happened, but my feet were soaked as well somehow. I must have had a hole in the bottom of my boots or something.

 

It took forty-five minutes for everyone to get in that day. Even Sally was late. When Nathan showed up in his soaked black leather jacket, I couldn’t help but snigger at the fact it had a fabric hood and it had done nothing to stop his hair from becoming even messier than it had already been. He shot me a look as he sat down.

 

                “Don’t even start,” he said.

 

                “But you’re making it so easy for me,” I grinned. I felt better now that my jeans were almost dry, but there was still a horrible squelching feeling against my thighs which was making me feel ill – it also gave me the excuse to be able to smile at his misery. “I got soaked too this morning so don’t be so defensive.”

 

                “Settle down, you lot,” Sally said when she was finished taking the register. We all quietened and gave her our attention. “Today is the last day you have to research and prepare the notes for your presentations. Don’t screw around, okay? Next week will be solely focused on the making of and rehearsals for your topics. I want to hear debates, I want to see evidence, I want you to prove that you are going to be up for the challenges that your gradable assignments are going to set you. You can have a ten minute break in an hour but remember you have lunch after this lesson before Mike is going to take over from me and your day ends at 1:15pm.”

 

                “Is there even a point in having a lunch break then?” asked Maria. Some of the others sent her death glares. “No seriously! What is the point in a lunch break before it’s even midday only to have a lesson that only lasts till one?”

 

                “I don’t know,” replied Sally. She tied her hair into a pony tail and clipped it up. One week and she was already annoying me – I could tell why her tutor group didn’t like her.

 

She said nothing more to us so we took it as our cue to turn around and get on with our work.

 

***

 

                “We aren’t going to get this research done in time,” Nathan sighed, running his hands through his hair. We were at the beginning of our final lesson. Mike was sat at the front of the room playing with his iPad whilst we all sat around trying to put together the last bits of research. We had definitely gone overboard with our topic, Nathan and I, but we were too far into a point to stop now meaning we had to get some final point sorted before the end of the day.

 

                “I don’t know,” I said, “I think we can do it. Look, if we end the presentation on this point then we can get the others to debate our ideas for a little while. This is the summary of our argument and they can contest it. All we need as one last thing to help us summarise.”

 

                “Which is going to take forever,” groaned Nathan. God, he was a whiney bastard. “I can’t think of anything at the moment so why don’t we just take a break and recalibrate our brains and go back to your house or something to finish our notes?”

 

                “Why can’t we go back to your house or even the library?” I asked.

 

                “Because my mother, despite having had six children, still loves being a mother figure and decided to become a child minder and use our home as her place of business,” Nathan said. “She didn’t realise that my day would end so soon because my older siblings don’t finish until five so asked if I could stay out a little longer.”

 

                “Doesn’t she want help with the kids?”

 

                “She is a superhero, my mother,” Nathan smiled fondly. I smiled too. I wished I could say the same. “It’s a joint business with her best friend – my godmother Rosa – but our house is larger than hers so they use it as their base.”

 

                “Cool,” I muttered. “But we can’t go back to my house… I have to go see Aaron and my mother wouldn’t like it if I had guests over unexpected and…”

 

                “Stop making excuses,” Nathan sighed. “You’re always making excuses!”

 

I raised my eyebrows. “It’s not an excuse,” I retorted. “I’ve always gone to see Aaron in the hospital on a Friday afternoon and my mother really doesn’t like other people coming into our house. Especially when she doesn’t know them.”

 

In truth, I just didn’t want Nathan to be the one to find out about the secret I’d been keeping for a year. Not just the one about the Shards and my powers, a simpler secret that lurked in my home and I relished walking away from like the horrible person I am… My mother wouldn’t even remember Nathan being in the house because she was most likely intoxicated to the point she can’t walk. Since my father passed away and Aaron went into his coma, she couldn’t cope with the thought of being alone. Even though I was still there. She hid away from the world as much as she could – I mean, she went to work or we wouldn’t have been able to keep our house… But when she was done she would drink the rest of her day away.

 

And when she was in sight of me in that state she only had cruel words and glasses to throw. So, now only did I spend my time picking up the shards of the glasses she broke, I spent my time in black and white slowly removing all the splitters from her skin. Her Shards had shattered into hundreds of smaller pieces and pricked into her skin like a multi-coloured hedgehog. No matter how many times I pulled the pieces away, more always came back just as quickly.

 

                “This is important, Amelia!” Nathan snapped, narrowing his eyes. A crease appeared in the space between his eyebrows as he drew them together. “We need to get this done and we’ll have a better chance thinking about it later rather than making something stupid up now! The library would be too crowded and we wouldn’t be able to discuss properly.”

 

                “I’ve said I can’t…”

 

                “Because you have to see Aaron? Why? It’s not like he knows you’re there! He’s in a coma, Amelia! He’s unconscious. He’s been that way for over a year so I doubt he even realises you’re there! He doesn’t need you there all the time! The nurses can wipe his arse if he shits himself and I doubt you do that for him anyway! You just sit there and waste your life waiting for him to jump back into his. Well, I’ve got news for you: he’s not jumping into anything! You can’t put your life on hold for him and you know it! Even if he does wake up he’ll be a hassle. And let’s face it; he wasn’t the greatest person in the world when he was awake so just get over it already and live!”

 

All the whole time he spoke, I could feel myself tearing up. The class had stopped working and had turned to look at us and my hands were balling into fists. I was so angry with him. What he was saying was disgusting… Talking about my paralysed, comatose brother the way he was… I refused to cry in front of him but my anger got the better of me and hit him very hard across the face before grabbing my bag and rushing from the room.

 

***

 

I didn’t want to go home but I didn’t want to be outside either. The rain had managed to disguise my tears as I got on the bus so no one knew I was crying unless they took a real interest in me.

 

I went to the hospital, my sanctuary, and sat beside my brother’s bed. I curled up in the seat and cried. I didn’t want him to know I was sad but there was nothing I could do to stop myself. I sobbed and made myself as small as possible.

 

Most of what Nathan had said had been completely out of order but I knew he had some accurate points… I couldn’t waste my life waiting for Aaron because he would be so far behind me it would be a battle for him to catch up. He’d have to finish his final year of school, then college, then university all well after me… I wanted to be around to help him when he needed me or to just be stood on the side lines cheering him on as he did it all himself.

 

I just wanted my big brother back…

 

Hours past and my stomach started to grumble. I looked at my phone. I’d left it on silent and was surprised to see a lot of texts and missed calls. Most of them were from Lisa but a few were from an unknown number. I sighed. It was five in the afternoon. I looked round when I heard a knock on the door. Lisa usually just entered so, curious, I got out of my seat and walked over to it. I pulled it open rather than looking through the blinds and blinked as Nathan stood in the hallway.

 

He had opted to lean against the wall by the door but stood up straight hastily as I opened the door and looked at me awkwardly.

 

                “You’ve been crying…” were his first words.

 

I scowled and went out into the hallway, shutting the door behind me. “You aren’t welcome here,” I snapped. “I don’t want you here and I’m sure Aaron wouldn’t either. How did you even find me?!”

 

                “Lisa tore me a new one for being rude to you like that and told me where I’d likely find you,” Nathan said, rubbing the back of his head. He let out a heavy breath. “Look, I know I was out of line with what I said about Aaron… It’s no excuse but I was stressed out and getting tired and I fucked up. I’m sorry. I stand by my points about you not wasting your life, but… Aaron never did anything wrong to me aside from the jibes I got from him when I argued with you…”

 

                “You’re fucking right you were out of line,” I glared.

 

                “I’m honestly really sorry…” Nathan said and he looked it. “It was insensitive and awful… and I don’t blame you for hitting me…”

 

Finally realising the damage I’d caused, I saw the bruise on Nathan’s cheek along his cheekbone from where I’d hit him. I felt a little guilty. I shook my head. “No… I shouldn’t have hit you but you still had no right to talk about him like that…”

 

                “Do you accept my apology?” he asked, tilting his head a little. “I kind of need you to argue with me in a good way, remember?”

 

I couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle. I looked at him. “You have a lot of work on your plate making things up with me now,” I said. “But for the sake of the project, I accept your apology.”

 

                “Who knows,” Nathan said, suddenly smiling at me brightly. “We may be able to rekindle that old friendship we used to have. I raised my eyebrows sceptically. “Hmmm, I do have a lot of work to do…" He smirked jokingly. "But hey, at least I didn’t wait seven years to say sorry!”

 

Without another word, he turned and walked away leaving me alone in the corridor with too many thoughts.

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