Short Story – The Gift

writer, haytor, dartmoor, devon

A short story to illustrate the impact a tiny act of kindness can have on the life of another.

This cold hallway plays host to a throng of excited teenagers dawdling from their last class of the day to the school entrance, eagerly updating their friends on their weekend plans along the way. The parties they’ll be going to, the boys they hope will notice them and the clothes they hope to buy occupying many of the girl’s minds.

I too, saunter down the hallway, struggling with the heavy books I’ve chosen to take home for the weekend. There is no one eagerly telling me their plans, no one asking about mine either because in this school, I’m invisible. Perhaps I’m lucky that no one is cruel to me, I’m not taunted or targeted by bullies but I have no friends at all. I can’t even remember the last time someone spoke to me, other than a teacher. I’ve always been quiet but I have tried to speak to people, they would respond but they would never include me in their group. So, I’ve remained invisible, I’ve stopped trying and instead I stay alone with only my books for company.

My reverie is broken by a sudden knock and I’m unable to stop the books falling from my arms onto the floor, crumpling into a heap in front of me.

“I’m so sorry Grace, I never saw you there. Here, let me help you with these books.”

I look up to see Bella in front of me, her pretty blonde hair falling down her shoulders, her pretty face smiling back at me. It’s easy to see how she became so popular, her infectious smile forces me to smile back.

“You know my name?”

“Of course, how could I not? We’re in the same class.”

Bella helps me to pick up the dropped books, instantly noticing how much I’m struggling to carry them.

“You can’t manage all those books by yourself Grace, walk back with me and I’ll help you carry them. I’m pretty sure you don’t live too far from me as I’ve seen you walking back the same way.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that. You have your other friends, they’ll miss you.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine, it’s the least I can do after knocking into you like that.”

True to her word Bella helps me carry my books and as we make our way home we chat about our lives and hobbies. It’s surprising just how much we have in common. In that moment, I feel visible and while it’s too late to change things now, I appreciate having a reprieve from my isolation. To have someone help me carry the burden of my books for the final part of my journey.

As I take the last of the books from Bella, I neatly stack them into a pile on the inside by the front door.

“Are your parents not home Grace?”

“No, they are away for the weekend so it’s just me. That’s why I’ve brought so many books home, to keep me company.”

“Well, if you don’t have plans would you like to come with me to Jase’s party? If you have the house to yourself I can come over and we could get ready together?”

I stand for a moment in silence, searching Bella’s face not sure if this is a joke but she waits patiently for a reply.

“I don’t have anything to wear for a party. I don’t usually get invited to any parties.”

“Well now I’ve invited you to a party and be warned I’m not taking no for an answer. Besides I’ll have something you can borrow so you don’t need to worry. I’ll be round for 7pm, is that ok?”

“Sure, I’ll see you at 7pm.”

I close the door behind me, smiling to myself and wondering what just happened. Have I really just been invited to a party by the most popular girl in school?

Bella arrives at 7pm with her arms full of clothes and make up, she quickly volunteers to give me a makeover which is just as well as I have no idea about make-up. The only time I tried, I ended up looking like a clown.

“So, what do you think Grace? Do you like it?”

I look in the mirror and don’t even recognise the person looking back at me, I never knew it was possible I could actually look glamourous.

“I love it Bella, I think I look quite pretty.”

“That’s because you are very pretty Grace, make-up doesn’t change anything, it just enhances what you’ve already got.”

“You think I’m pretty?”

“Of course, I do. I always have and I’m not the only one. You need to find some confidence Grace, if you judge yourself so harshly then you’ll never be happy. Besides, you have no reason to judge yourself harshly.”

That night, thanks to Bella’s support my life was transformed. I was no longer the invisible girl walking unnoticed around the school carrying heavy books. Bella became my best friend, even when I left to go to University the distance could not change that. When she fell pregnant unexpectedly, I was the person she turned to. I wiped the tears from her face as she realised that her carefree life were ending, that she was facing life as single mother. I was her birthing partner, I was godmother to her daughter and when all her old school friends dropped by the wayside, I was remained by her side.

As the years passed, I became a successful businesswoman and when I was asked to make a speech about how I managed to achieve the level of success I had, Bella had to be there to hear the story that I had never told.

“Grace, I’m so proud of you and I’m so pleased to be here for you. Are you excited?”

“Honestly Bella, I’m so nervous I could cry. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Nervous? Are you serious Grace? You’re amazing, I’m so glad Betsy has such an amazing role model in her life. You have nothing to be nervous about.”

Before I can reply, Bella is ushered to her seat. As I stand in the wings of the stage ready to give my speech, scared about what I have to say and if I should even say it.

“Success comes easily to some of us and nobody makes success look easier than Grace Martin, despite her tender age she’s founded the fastest growing UK company in 2017. Regarded by her business partners as a strong and resilient leader, Grace is here tonight to give us an insight into the secret of her success. Please can I ask you to give a big round of applause for Grace Martin.”

As the compere gives me a glowing introduction I feel tears come to my eyes, I smile broadly and walk out onto the stage to a standing ovation. Instantly, I see Bella sitting next to my parents. I take a deep breath and begin my speech, my voice cracking slightly.

“Tonight, I want to share with you the secret of my success and to do that I would like to share with you a true story from my school days. I’ve never shared this story with anyone before not even my close friend Bella who features so prominently in it.”

I see a look of confusion cross Bella’s face as she turns to my parents, they look at one another in equal confusion before turning back towards me as I begin to talk.

“It might be a surprise to learn that for the most part of my school days I was a loner, I had no friends, I was invisible to everyone. At the age of 14 I’d had as much as I could take. So, one Friday afternoon I cut class and spent the afternoon in the library trying to find the biggest books the library had. My parents were away that weekend and while many, thought that meant I was hunkering down for another weekend of study. I was in fact planning to commit suicide”

My ears are filled with the sharp gasps of the audience, I keep my eyes focused on the wider crowd unable to make eye contact with my parents and Bella without crying.

“By chance, as I struggled to carry the books home that day, Bella accidentally knocked into me, sending the books flying across the floor. As she helped me pick them back up, she noticed how much I was struggling to carry them and since we lived close by she offered to help me take them home. Little did I know that this walk home from school would save my life. It was on that walk that we began chatting, soon discovering how much we had in common. As we went to say goodbye, Bella invited me to a party she was going to, refusing to take no for an answer. So, those books stayed piled up on the inside of my door until Monday morning when she helped me take them back to school, unaware of how she had just saved my life. Many times, over the years I’ve wanted to tell Bella the impact her kindness had on me but I never could find the right moment until now.”

I see the tears streaming down Bella’s face, her hand clasped firmly to her mouth and her eyebrows furrowed in concern.

“Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most. The things we do in a moment, that seem almost insignificant but done at the right time are absolutely life changing. That day my life changed beyond recognition and enabled me to be the person I am today. The secret to my success is a friendship that transformed my life, that made me believe in myself and lifted me up to the heights I’ve reached today. It may not have been the answer you were expecting but it’s the truth and it wouldn’t feel right to not place the credit where it belongs. In recognition of this contribution, I wish to give Bella half of my accumulated wealth, so she can raise her daughter without a care in the world because without her none of this would have been possible for me either. So, can I all ask you to put your hands together for Bella, my best friend and a true lifesaver.”

I watch the crowds rise once again to their feet, the noise of clapping and whistling almost deafens me. I feel the tears roll down my cheeks, the memories of that day flooding back in my mind and how close I came to having no story to tell at all, but for Bella.

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