I had suffered from bullying for as long as I can remember. Girls on the playground would pull my hair. Boys in the halls would call me ugly. I could even hint some of the teachers thought I wasn’t the brightest kid there.
My parents told me I had to rise above it, that they were all just jealous of me and I shouldn’t worry. Jealous of me? Of what, exactly?
Did they envy my freckled face that looked like a set of misshapen polka dots? Or perhaps my curly orange hair that looked like a weary fire? Oh no, I figured it out. It was definitely my inability to do…well just about anything.
I wasn’t smart enough to be a geek, athletic enough to be on any of the sports teams or cool enough to have any friends. Bullies, teachers and adults were the only people I knew in the world. Nothing more, nothing less.
I know what you’re thinking. Look at this girl, complaining about everything when her life probably isn’t nearly that bad. She’s over-reacting. Probably just being dramatic for attention.
If that’s suddenly taken you aback, you’re part of the problem. If it didn’t, you might change your mind by the time this story is over. Oddly enough, it doesn’t begin with me at my old school.
Sooner or later when I came home with one too many bruises and scrapes, my parents had me shipped out of there. Within the next week, I was told I’d be moving to a new school outside of town. It was just after January so I got to spend Christmas with my family before leaving. Something about it just felt right. Luckily, it was still snowing.
I was confused when my parents had packed me a suitcase when they drove me to the new school. It all became clear once I saw two separate wings on either side of the building.
“Honey, we think this might be good for you,” my dad said, holding my gloved hand as we walked across the snow.
“And we’ll write to you every weekend and visit every month.” my mum continued. I nodded and smiled. I knew I would miss my parents, but I’d rather not deal with the alternative.
They took me up to the main office, where the headmistress greeted me. She was a kind looking older lady. Reminded me a bit of my grandmother. She had her grey hair cut short with perfectly rimmed spectacles on her face. Behind her stood another girl. Short, petite with dimples and wavy blonde hair. She smiled and waved at me. I admired the locket she wore around her neck. A diamond heart that looked like it could open up.
My parents said their goodbyes and the girl took me to the dorm. She introduced herself as Tia Lightfoot. Funny, that was the same last name the headmistress had. “Are you related to the head?” I asked as we walked down the snow.
She nodded. “She’s my mum. I think she wanted to keep an eye on me.”
I thought of telling her about my own life. The way kids would tease me, call me names and everything. Turns out, I didn’t have to.
I was no sooner in the dorm and introduced to the other girls than they started to pull stupid pranks on me. The next week at the school felt like a prison sentence. Tia and her friends would do all kinds of mean things. Hiding my clothes, putting snow in my hair as I slept, locking the door when I fell asleep studying.
I was terrified to tell any of the teachers. Especially with the head bully being the daughter of the headmistress. What would I say? It was my word against theirs. I couldn’t even mention it to my parents. I knew they’d spent a lot and put a lot of effort trying to get me here. They wanted to see me happy.
Was this my curse? Was I just destined to be bullied anywhere I went?
I went to my room that day and started to cry. I tried to keep quiet so I wouldn’t attract any more attention to myself. I just hit my pillows and cried further into my sheets. I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction.
“What are you doing?” I heard Tia say from behind me.
I didn’t want to get up. I couldn’t let her see me like this. She came over to me and sat on my bedside table, putting her arm around me.
“What’s up, carrot top?” she asked.
I turned slightly, exposing my puffy cheeks and red face. If anything, she’d have a bit of humanity in her cold heart and leave.
“I know you’ve been crying,” she said. “Your face tells an entire story. What’s up? You miss your family?”
I wanted to hit her in the face, but my fist was too cold to even move. Instead, I just nodded.
She took hold of her locket, taking it off her neck. “Here,” she said, planting it in my hand. “Open it.”
I looked down as I opened the locket. My hands were shaking. I saw a picture of Tia in there, but she looked younger. Shorter hair and what looked like a princess dress. In the other photo was an older guy dressed as a king.
“That’s my older brother, Dean. I miss him too.”
I looked up. “Can’t you write to him?”
She took the locket off of me and stared at it. “I visit him every month. Plus, he was never that good at writing.”
A tear fell from her eye, and I suddenly understood what she was trying to tell me. “Is he…?” I stammered on, trying to think of what to say. I couldn’t not finish my sentence; my hole was already halfway dug. I might as well finish it. “Is he dead?” I asked.
Tia looked at me and nodded. “It happened two years ago. Car accident. He was coming to visit me, promised he’d take me ice-skating for Christmas. He used to call me an ice princess.”
She gave me a hug. “Look, between you and me. Let’s start fresh. You and me can be friends. The pranks and that were just initiation I do to keep the other girls around. I have to go along with it, but I’m sorry. We don’t need them.”
A warm feeling embraced over me. “You mean it? We can be friends?”
She gave me another hug. “Get your coat, friend. We’re going out.” I grabbed my coat and followed her outside. I didn’t even bother mentioning that it would soon be time to go to bed. I was too happy. She guided me towards the far exit of the school, which led into some woods.
For a moment, I felt like anything was possible. Like we could just play out here all night until the hours of the morning. We soon came up to a frozen pond.
“I wish I had my skates,” Tia said, turning to me. “Maybe I can teach you how to ice skate if you’re not busy one weekend?”
Before I could respond, I heard footsteps behind us. The other girls from the dorm had followed us. They all pointed and laughed at me.
“Tia, what you doing out here with carrot top?” they asked, laughing out loud.
I looked over at Tia. She went silent, looking back at her group of friends, and then to me. She knelt down and dug up some snow into her hands, forming a ball. I relished in the idea that she was going to throw it at her friends and we’d have a snowball fight, but her winking expression told me otherwise.
Within seconds, I received a mouthful of snow, followed by a shower of snowballs hitting me all over. One of them hit me in the stomach; I recoiled and fell into a pile of snow. I felt angrier than I ever had in my life.
Before Tia made her way over to her friends, I charged at her, knocking her to the ground. I grabbed whatever I could from around me. Snow, branches, leaves. All of it went into her face. Her friends ran up behind me and tried to pull me off, but I pushed them down too.
Once I tired out, they all got up and slowly backed away from me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. I’d proved my point.
“Come on, let’s leave the freak alone for tonight,” one of them said, turning away. Tia followed them and disappeared into the forest.
I fell to my knees and began uncontrollably sobbing. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was for letting her tag me along like that. As I got up, I noticed something shining near the tree I sat behind.
Tia’s diamond locket.
I picked it up and examined it, rubbing off all the snow. She must have dropped it when I knocked her down. I opened it up to see the same picture she’d shown me earlier. Part of me wanted to rip it out and shred it into a million pieces. That would show her. But that would definitely get me expelled. I had to think of something else.
I could return it to her and try being her friend again, but she’d probably make up some story that I’d stolen it. Then I’d also be expelled.
I looked at the pond and back at the locket. I knew what I had to do. I wasn’t going to return it to her. If she loved this locket so much, she could go and get it herself. Before I had second thoughts, I threw the locket as hard as I could onto the ice. It made a grinding sound as it slid across the pond and shone back at me in the centre. I turned around, heading back to the dorm.
I didn’t bother looking at Tia or warming up by the fireplace in the sitting area we had. I just wanted to get to bed. I pulled on my comfiest pyjamas and wrapped myself in my duvet, closing my eyes. I was awoken later to constant shuffling and rambling around the dorm. I pretended to keep my eyes closed as I listened in. I recognized Tia’s voice, and smiled.
“Where is my locket? Where is it?” she yelled from outside.
I could hear several other girls trying to calm her down, and Tia’s voice sounded as if she was crying. I sank further into my duvet as my heart began to sink. I shouldn’t feel bad, right? She deserved this? Right? Besides, she brought it on herself, right?
I should go and help her, but that’s just what she’d expect. Little carrot top goody goody that doesn’t get any bit of happiness at the end of the day. I pulled the duvet over my face and drifted into a sleep. Why was I such a pushover?
The next morning was a day I would never forget. We were woken up earlier than usual. I could hear sirens outside my window and several other teachers rushing out of the woods. One of the girls peered in my room and told me to get out. Everyone had to get out.
They all sat around the fire warming up. I sat in the corner by myself, remaining quiet. I didn’t want to think about what could have happened. One of the girls rushed to the window, pointing at some of the adults leaving from the woods. There were gasps, tears and panic all around me. Even I’d managed to get in some myself.
As I saw them carrying a body out onto an ambulance, an uncontrollable chill shook me to my core. I knew who that was, for it was the only girl who wasn’t with us.
Tia’s blonde hair had now turned to a ghostly white, her body was frozen stiff, and her eyes seemed to stare through the window, right at me.
The next few days were hard to get through. I had written to my parents about what had happened, but I didn’t mention that I’d gotten bullied. It turned out Tia had gone out into the woods in the middle of the night with nothing but a torch and her coat. Her friends had tried to stop her but she didn’t listen. She found her locket out by the pond where I’d thrown it, and upon trying to retrieve it, the ice had broken from under her feet and she’d drowned.
When they found her, her locket had been frozen to her neck. They had to crack it open for the police investigation. The school held a memorial for Tia, and I’d avoided the headmistress ever since that night.
None of the girls ever pranked me again, and for the rest of my school years, I spent most of my time alone.
Except at night.
Sometimes, I can hear her voice by the window. I can hear the sound of the ice breaking in my head. I can hear her cries as no one rushes to help her.
But most of all, I can feel those chills every time I try to sleep.