“Scaredy-cat!” The taunt comes from a few metres away. I look up to see a boy with mischievous brown eyes and a gap-toothed grin speeding towards me on his skates.
Barry, it’s always Barry.
He’d made it onto the slippery surface of the ice rink ahead of me, along with a few other kids who are now bombing around.
Well, it sure looks like fun. I sigh. Why can’t I summon up the courage to join them on the ice?
My legs shake as I teeter on narrow metal blades. My whole body is quivering like a wobbly jelly. It’s all I can do to clutch on to the support rail outside the rink, and stop myself from toppling over.
I watch with envy as my older sister Hannah swishes towards me, “Come on! You’re missing out on all the fun!” She beckons at me before whooshing past. I get to see her retreating form as makes yet another circuit, closely followed by her boyfriend, Alun. They’re both wrapped up like Eskimos, or how I’d imagine Eskimos to look like; I’ve never actually met one.
Then Barry swings towards me again, and I suck in my breath, expecting more teasing from him. He doesn’t disappoint.
“Four eyes, what’s the problem. Are you blind or something? Can’t see your way onto the ice?” His face twists into a sneer, an ugly sneer. A few of the kids hear him and snigger behind their hands.
“We all know she’s a clumsy-klutz!” he taunts to the others, “Remember that time when…” I can’t hear the rest, because that group have already raced down to the other end. But I hear their laughter.
I’m not one of them. I’m different. I bet they don’t even want me to join them.
The breath catches in my throat, and an uncomfortable lump forms as I struggle to force back the tears that threaten to sting my eyes. I have to move away from the edge. I don’t want them to see me cry.
As I do so, Barry speeds back round. He must have seen my wipe my eyes with my mitten, for he’s calling out to me, “Want your Mummy, cwy baby?” There’s laughter, proper laughter this time.
So, I can’t say ‘r’s and ‘w’s right. Barry knows, after all he has two of them in his hard-for-me-to-say name.
My face flares up hot, despite the chill air and threat of snow from the leaden skies.
Ground swallow me up.
I drop to a low bench where no one can see me, and stare at the floor. I feel my blood running cold and I start to shiver even thought I’m not cold. I don’t know where to look next, so I gaze up at giant pearlescent snowflakes, with swirling spotlights that hang from the ceiling constantly causing them to change colour. I know they’re beautiful, but I can’t take them in, as my breath becomes even more rapid.
The lights turn to streaks as my eyes swim in the tears I tried so hard to fight back. My cheeks feel hot and blotchy. I fish around inside my pocket for a tissue, but find none, and I have to use the back of my mittens to wipe a trail of snot away from my nose. I slouch forwards as I do so, and fixate on the zigzag pattern of the carpet tiles.
This is such a bad idea. I wish I’d never come. How did Hannah ever talk me into this?
There’s a tap on my shoulder, which makes me jump. I slowly raise my head, flinching at the thought that it might be Barry come to tease me some more. But it’s Hannah, thankfully.
“Beth!” The smile fades from her face to be replaced by a look of concern as she notes my tear-stained cheeks. She plumps down beside me and placing an arm around my shoulders, draws me to her. I gratefully bury on moist cheek into the fleece of her jacket that strangely smells of Alun’s aftershave.
“What’s up, chick?” She says, giving my arm a squeeze.
“It’s Barry,” I sniff. “He called me a scaredy-cat, and everyone else started laughing.” I pause, then add, “I wish I’d never come now. I’ll never live this down.”
“What rubbish!” Says Hannah very loudly, perhaps more loudly than even she expected because we both look around to see if we’ve caught anyone’s attention. Only Alun is watching. He slouches at the side of the rink, obviously waiting impatiently for Hannah to rejoin him.
“I’ve ruined your day,” I say, casting my eyes towards those carpet tiles once more. “I bet Alun wishes I hadn’t’ tagged along with you.”
“Stop this self pity right now!” Hannah grasps hold of both of my arms and swivels me around to face her, so I have no choice to look her in the eyes. I take a sharp breathe in as I note the ferocity of her expression.
“But nothing, Beth. Why are you letting this little twerp get to you?”
“He won’t stop teasing me. Mum said that if I ignored him, he’d get bored, and then he’d stop. It’s worse, and now he’s getting everyone else to laugh at me too!” I say, feeling another lump forming in my throat.
“I hate to say this, but Mum’s wrong!” Hannah says, and then pauses, as if realising she’s broken a major taboo.
Of course, Mum is never wrong!
“At least, what she says isn’t right for every kind of bully,” She adds, correcting herself. I hear her humming and harring as she stalls to think of what to say next.
“Listen to me,” she says, gazing ferociously into my eyes until it feels like we’re the only two people in this room. “You’ve got to stand up to Barry. Just think, bullies like that are nothing but scaredy-cats themselves. They pick on people to make them feel better about their own lousy lives. You show him what you’re made of, and he won’t know what hit him!”
“He’s really scared too, do you mean?” I ask, while absorbing this revelation. Barry always seems so strong. It never occurred to me that he could be afraid too, just like me.
“So, are you gonna join us.” Hannah asks me tilting her head back towards Alun.
“All righty!” I exclaim, raising myself tall in my seat. Hannah pulls out a tissue from her pocket, and I half expect her to start dabbing at my face with it, like Mum would. But to my great relief she hands it to me, and I do my best attempt at hiding the fact that I’ve been crying.
Then I wobble back to my feet and follow my big sister back to the rink. Then as we reach the entrance, Alun does something completely unexpected. Leaning toward me a kind smile on his face and eyes, he offers me his hand, which I gratefully grasp hold of. Hannah has my other hand, and they guide my uncertain shaky feet on to the glassy surface.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. I feel like I could pass out.
I clasp both their hands as I shift my feet very stiffly over the ice, still afraid that my legs will buckle from beneath me. I feel as jittery as a baby Bambi who’s taken to its stilt-like legs for the first time.
“Lean forwards!” Alun commands.
“Bend your knees!” Adds Hannah.
I do as they say, and my feet glide more easily, although not yet effortlessly across this smooth slick surface.
Come on girl, show them what you’re made of!
I catch a glimpse of Barry and his pals, their backs towards me, oblivious to the fact that I’ve joined them on the ice.
I’ll show them!
I let go, first of Alun’s hand, then of Hannah’s. I angle my skates and angle my knees further forwards, as I’ve seen other skaters do. Before I know it, I’m gliding rapidly across the surface like a steam iron across a cotton shirt. As my spirits soar as high as those twinkling stars, I no longer want to hide. I want to show them, show them all what I can do.
“Barry!” I say, and gasp because I’ve said his name right for once.
He’s just a couple of metres away but with his back to me. With a little effort on his skates, he turns to face whoever it is who just called his name.
He’ll never guess it’s me. I can’t help smirking, just a little.
“Beth?” he says, his mouth falls open and his eyes are wide with astonishment. With the shock of seeing me so confident he nearly falls flat on his bum, and he has to place a hand on the railing to stop that from happening.
“Not scaredy-cat or four eyes this time, then?” I retort, to sniggers, but they’re not directed at me this time, thank goodness.
“I were, I were only, only pu pulling y your leg!” he stammers.
So he has a speech problem too! Figures…
But I won’t tease him about it. I’m bigger than that.
I skate over to him, even though it means entering his circle of hovering friends. There’s still a serious expression of disbelief in those brown eyes as I approach him, and offer him my hand.
I half expect him to reject it, but he doesn’t. He holds on to me unexpectedly tightly, like I did with Hannah and Alun only a few heartbeats ago. Now we’re sailing across the glassy surface in unison, and we’re both laughing with each other, not at each other.
There’s laughter and cheers all around. I catch a glimpse of Alun and Hannah holding hands as they skate past. Hannah gives me a wide grin and a big thumbs up. Barry turns to me with a sheepish expression on his face, and hardly able to make eye contact with me, he says, “I’m sorry about the things I said, you’re actually quite a cool for a chick! Are we friends?” He smiles, a real genuine heart-felt smile and instantly wins me over.
“Of course!” I say, and I couldn’t be happier.