Here is my short story which made the shortlist for the Doolin Short Story Competition 2014.
Millie rested her arms on the stone wall of the bridge and gazed out across the rippling water.
“I’m nervous about tomorrow,” she confessed.
Her very best friend, Roisin, mirrored her stance, although she did not have to stand on her tiptoes like Millie because she was taller.
“Me too,” she agreed. “But it’s also kind of exciting, isn’t it? First day of secondary school! I wonder what it will be like?”
“Scary,” said Millie before she could stop herself. She wished she hadn’t let the word out – it sounded so childish – but Roisin didn’t scoff.
“What do you think will be scary?” she asked seriously.
“Moving classrooms all the time. Trying to cope with so much more homework. Going on the bus with the big girls.” That last concern was especially frightening and one which she could only voice to her very best friend, or her mother, who both knew how insecure she was about her height. Her mum said she just hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet but that was no comfort when she was twelve and looked about ten. And from tomorrow she would be taking the secondary school bus twice a day with girls up to eighteen years of age who would no doubt tower over her.
“You’ll be fine,” Roisin said encouragingly. “I’ll be with you, won’t I?”
They smiled at each other and then almost simultaneously rested their chins upon their arms. The water flowed merrily beneath the bridge; Millie’s eyes followed the path of a floating leaf before it disappeared under the archway.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she suddenly asked.
“The president,” Roisin responded at once. “No, an astronaut. Actually, a talk show host.” She laughed. “I’ve no idea, Millie, but I still have a few years to figure it out. Do you know what you want to be?”
Again, her mum was the only other person who knew this. In a very small voice, she said, “I want to be a singer.”
“Well, that’s perfect!” Roisin enthused. “You’re the best singer I know – way better than anyone on the X Factor.” Her face lit up as an idea struck her. “You should go on the X Factor, you would blow all the others away!”
Millie coloured at the very thought. “You have to be sixteen to go on the X Factor, Roisin.”
“Stupid age limit. Will you consider it for the future then?”
Millie couldn’t ever see herself doing it but, to humour her friend, she said, “If it will make you happy…”
“Good, that’s settled. Now come on, let’s go get some ice cream.”
They stepped away from the wall and Roisin linked arms with Millie as they walked along the bridge.
“Maybe you’ll end up on the West End or Broadway,” she said. “I can see you now – ladies and gentlemen, please raise your voices and throw flowers on the stage for the wonderful, the talented, the amazing Millie Mockler!” She flung her free arm into the air in a dramatic gesture.
Millie giggled and shushed her friend, but was really very pleased. “Let’s just get through the first day of school, then I’ll think about Broadway.”
“Hi, can I sit here?”
Millie and Roisin looked up from their lunch to see a girl with a blonde ponytail grinning at them hopefully. Millie admired her bravery – she would not dare walk up to two girls she didn’t know and ask to sit with them.
“Of course,” said Roisin and pulled out the empty chair beside her. “I’m Roisin and this is Millie.”
The girl slid into it and said, “I’m Amy. You know, I think we all go on the same bus to school.”
Millie had not lifted her eyes from her shoes on the bus but Roisin said, “Yes, I think I saw you this morning! Do you have that One Direction school bag?”
“Yep, that’s me. Whose your favourite?”
“I like Harry the best!”
“What? No, it has to be Niall! He’s definitely the cutest.”
“Well, I do like Niall a lot too!”
Millie picked at the corner of her ham sandwich and wished she could contribute to the conversation but she was not much of a follower of pop music. Now if Amy had asked what her favourite Jane Austen book was…
“You’re very quiet,” Amy suddenly announced, looking at Millie.
Millie blushed but Roisin defended her swiftly. “She’s just shy. And she doesn’t know much about One Direction. But she knows heaps about other things, she’s really smart!”
Amy raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Right, well, I’ll know to go to Millie when I need help with my homework!” She turned back to Roisin. “Have you been to any of their concerts? I convinced my dad to take me to one in England last summer but they might be touring Ireland next year!”
Roisin let out a squeal and Millie hid her sigh beneath it.
This year’s production will be Les Misérables.
Auditions will take place next Wednesday.
Only students in Second Year and upwards may participate,
but First Years are permitted to
audition for the role of Young Cosette.
It had taken five days for Roisin to convince Millie to go for it. In the end, the terror which she had experienced before the audition had only been equalled by the joy she had felt as she sang.
Now her hands were sweaty with anxiety as she stood amidst the other buzzing hopefuls who were waiting for the director to post the cast list on the school notice board. Amy had auditioned for Young Cosette too but she appeared quite relaxed as she told them about all the parts she had played in her primary school shows. Roisin, who hadn’t a note in her head, claimed she supported them both in equal measure, but she had secretly told Millie that she really wanted her to get it.
Amy was just describing the time her school play made it into the local paper (“There was a picture of me right in the centre of the page!”) when the director appeared, causing a hush to fall over the congregated pupils. She pinned up the page and then sidestepped quickly to avoid the surge of girls. Millie didn’t have a hope of making it through the throng so Roisin forged a path to the notice board on her behalf. She returned with an enormous grin on her face.
“You got it, Millie!” she beamed. “You’re Young Cosette!”
Millie stared back at her friend in delighted amazement. “Really? I don’t believe it!”
Amy too looked stunned. “But won’t you be too shy to get up on stage?” she demanded of Millie in a rather accusatory tone.
“She’ll be fine,” breezed Roisin. “Well done, Millie!”
“Yes, well done, Millie,” Amy repeated.
Millie couldn’t be sure but she thought she saw the briefest flash of resentment in Amy’s eyes.
Millie was buzzing. It was the last night of the production and it had gone sensationally well. She was astonished at how all her nerves seemed to drain away when she slipped into the part of Young Cosette; there was no stage fright, there was just the poignant music and the need to tell a story. Her mother and father had nearly cried with pride on opening night.
Now she was hurrying to the backstage door where she had agreed to meet Roisin and Amy after her final performance. She found them giggling and poring over their smartphones.
“Oh, Millie!” said Roisin when she saw her approaching. “You were brilliant tonight. Wasn’t she, Amy?”
Amy shrugged. “I guess. I think everyone was sounding a little tired after so many performances though.”
Millie was hurt by the comment but Roisin didn’t notice because she rushed on excitedly, “Guess what we’re doing, Millie?”
“Don’t tell her!” Amy admonished in a loud whisper. “She’ll only tell one of the teachers.”
“No, I won’t,” said Millie, further injured. “What is it?”
Amy made a great show of sighing loudly and holding out her smartphone. “We’ve set up Facebook accounts.”
Millie frowned. “But don’t you have to be thirteen to go on Facebook?”
Amy shot Roisin a look that clearly said ‘I told you so’.
“Oh, it’s okay, Millie,” Roisin assured her brightly. “We’ll all be thirteen soon, a few months won’t matter much. It’s a white lie, that’s all! Are you going to join too?”
“She probably thinks it’s silly,” said Amy and then she laughed. “Silly Millie, I never thought of that before!”
Millie felt tears spring to her eyes. “I’m not silly.”
“No, of course not, I’m sorry,” said Amy soothingly, putting an arm around Millie’s shoulders and squeezing just a little too tightly. “But do you have it in you to break the rules with us?”
Millie’s stomach churned at the thought. She had a smartphone too but only because her parents said they could trust her. She was horribly certain that this would be a betrayal of that trust.
But Roisin’s smile was encouraging and Amy’s grip was persuasive.
“Okay,” she said.
|Group message between Amy Hogan, Roisin Barrett and Millie Mockler|
|Amy Hogan says: Hi gurlz, guess wat Dad got me?||19:10|
|Roisin Barrett says: Wat?||19:28|
|Amy Hogan says: U hav 2 guess!||19:29|
|Roisin Barrett says: A puppy?||19:31|
|Amy Hogan says: No, ur on d wrong track. I’ll giv u a big clue. U DON’T NO UR BEAUTIFUL.||19:33|
|Roisin Barrett says: OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!! 1D tickets?????||19:34|
|Amy Hogan says: YEP!!!!||19:35|
|Roisin Barrett says: 4 real??? OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!||19:36|
|Amy Hogan says: Just 1 small prob though. Dad only got me 2 tickets. So I tawt d fairest way 2 decide who cud come wit me was 2 pull names out of a hat. And urs came out, Roisin!!||19:38|
|Roisin Barrett says: AAGHHH!!! I’m goin 2 One Direction!!! AGH!!!!||19:39|
|Amy Hogan says: Sorry, Millie, but fair is square. Is dat ok?||19:41|
|Millie Mockler says: That’s okay, I don’t mind.||20:18|
But she did.
Amy stormed into the classroom before the start of school looking thunderous. “Oh my God, I hate my mum!” she burst out and collapsed, scowling, into her chair.
Millie was organising her morning school books and didn’t respond but Roisin took the bait. “What’s she done now?” she asked sympathetically.
“She confiscated my phone! Said I was spending too much time on it and not enough time on my homework. Stupid cow, what does she know?”
Millie was shocked and even Roisin looked somewhat taken aback, but then she said, “My mum forced me to hoover the house yesterday. Stupid cow, that’s slave labour!”
Millie could not stop herself. “Roisin! How can you say that about your mum?”
Shame crossed Roisin’s features but Amy looked sly. “Well, we can’t all have mothers as perfect as yours, Millie, can we?”
“My mum’s not perfect,” Millie retaliated, although she did privately believe she had the best mother in the world.
“I bet you go home after school and tell her everything, from the 98% you got in your Maths test to the fact that Amy Hogan called her mother a stupid cow. Are you a tattle-tale Millie as well as a silly Millie?”
“I’m neither!” She tried to say it fearlessly but the crack in her voice gave her away. Once again, she was close to tears.
Amy grinned at her as the teacher walked into the room and called for quiet. It was time to get the results from the Christmas tests.
“76%, less than what I’ve come to expect from you, Millie. I want to see you do better next time.”
“Yes, miss,” said Millie brokenly.
Millie walked in the door after school to find her mother waiting eagerly for her.
“A red envelope came in the post for you today. Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Millie’s heart skipped a beat. She didn’t know many boys but two doors down from theirs was the Callaghans’ house and their young teenage son, Barry, had just smiled at her as she had passed him only two minutes ago out on the street. Did he harbour a secret crush for her? Oh, how wonderful!
She opened the envelope with trembling hands. The card inside simply read:
|Who would want to send a Valentine’s card to YOU? SILLY MILLIE!!!|
She stared at the message in dumbfounded horror. Her mum hovered nearby in impatient excitement.
“Well, who is it? What boy wants to capture my little girl’s heart?”
“It’s no one,” said Millie tonelessly.
“Oh, come on, Millie, you can tell me, I’ll – ”
“I said it’s no one!” Millie hollered and ran from the room, the card clutched in her hand.
Millie stood at the bus stop with hunched shoulders, her over-heavy schoolbag weighing her down. She didn’t want the bus to come but come it did. With feet like lead, she climbed aboard.
The bus passed both Roisin and Amy’s stops before it picked up Millie. They usually sat together and saved a seat for her across the aisle but this morning she saw that there was no empty seat next to them, and none in the rows in front of or behind them either.
The worst part was that Roisin did not even look guilty as she said, “Sorry, Millie, we weren’t able to save a seat for you today. I think there are some empty ones further back. We’ll catch up with you at school, okay?”
She and Amy put their heads together again and resumed their animated conversation, something about an eyeshadow that Roisin had sneaked from her mother’s make-up bag.
Millie stared at Amy, whose face had been impassive when she had looked up at her. A few weeks had passed and she still betrayed no sign that it had been her who sent the Valentine’s Day card. But who else could it have been?
She was the only one who called her Silly Millie.
Turning dejectedly away from them, Millie stepped towards the back of the bus with mounting anxiety. It felt like every pair of eyes was watching her. She located an empty seat in the second last row by the window but to her utter mortification she hit her enormous schoolbag off the Fifth Year girl she had to pass to reach it.
“Sorry,” she mumbled and turned her scarlet face to the window.
It was the longest bus journey of her life. The girl next to her took no more notice of her but Millie was terribly conscious of the red mark on her knee where the bag had made contact. And she was even more conscious of the fact that her very best friend was slipping away from her. She did not know how she would survive without Roisin.
Millie allowed her hair to fall like a curtain across the side of her face so that no one would see her cry.
When the bell rang for lunchtime, Millie wondered whether they would choose to go off by themselves. But Roisin turned to her and said brightly, “Are you coming, Millie? We’re going for a walk!”
Feeling cheered, she dropped her bag at her locker and followed the other two out into the spring sunshine. Roisin and Amy were talking very solemnly.
“It’s a rite of passage,” said Amy.
“A momentous occasion,” Roisin concurred.
“A very important step towards ultimate coolness.”
Millie hurried a little to catch up with the other girls’ longer strides. She still had not hit that promised growth spurt. “Where are we going?”
“The tennis courts,” Roisin answered.
“But we don’t have our racquets,” Millie pointed out.
Amy burst into laughter. “Silly Millie, you’re so innocent. What’s behind the tennis courts?”
There was the familiar stab of misery upon hearing that name. “Nothing, just a stone shelter for storing the tennis nets.”
“Precisely,” said Amy. She looked around, saw that there was no teacher in the vicinity and pulled something out of her pocket. It was a pack of cigarettes. “These are my dad’s.”
Millie stared at them and then at Roisin. “You’re not really going to – ” she began but Amy cut her off.
“Don’t be so high and mighty, it’s just a little smoke! Right, Roisin?”
“Right!” said Roisin. “Are you going to try it, Millie?”
Millie took a step back from them. “No. And you shouldn’t either. It’s disgusting.”
Amy’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t order us around. And don’t tell a teacher or you’ll regret it.”
Fear flooded Millie’s insides. “Roisin,” she said pleadingly. “Don’t do it, don’t go to the tennis courts.”
Roisin shrugged. “I’m going. You can stay behind if you want.”
They turned from her and continued on in the direction of the courts. Millie saw Amy whisper something to Roisin and then they called over their shoulders in unison, “Seeya, Silly Millie!”
Frozen to the spot, Millie could only watch them walk away.
And then Roisin linked arms with Amy, just as she had done with Millie when they had walked along the bridge.
That had been the day before they had started secondary school and this nightmare had begun.
The body of a young girl found in the river yesterday morning
has been identified as Melissa (Millie) Mockler, a First Year
pupil at St Brigid’s Secondary School. Parents, Martin and
Joanne Mockler, are shocked and devastated by the discovery
and can think of no reason as to why their daughter would
take her own life. All evidence suggests that she jumped from
the town’s main bridge. Melissa was well-liked at school and
her closest friends are deeply distraught. The funeral will take
place on Friday, which would have been Melissa’s thirteenth birthday.