Open Short Story Competition - Runner Up

Amy Simcox

Runner Up
Open Short Story Competition


Amy works in fundraising and marketing and has an MA in script writing. She has just started writing short stories and has begun work on her first novel. When she isn’t working or writing she can be found trying to enjoy a strong cup of tea, in between running after her lively toddler and equally lively spaniel.

Today By Amy Simcox

Feeling as if I am standing in the steps of so many great women, Kylie Minogue, Hannah from S club 7, Posh Spice before she met Beckham, I pick up my hairspray and face my future.
Squinting in the mirror, my heart proper banging as I think about the day ahead, I hold up my fringe and beg it to rise into the perfect ridge. Please today let it stand proud like Kelly from Saved by the Bell and not fluff out like bloody Margaret Thatcher. But just as I am at the critical point of applying the glue-like mist, my mum's voice pierces my concentration and a bloody tuft of ginger hair sticks straight up. That’s it. Today is going to be a disaster.
My hands are all fat and clumsy as I desperately try to pin that hair down and I feel an overwhelming urge to cry. Wasn’t it enough to be ginger, without my hair also being frizzy and ridiculous? God had seen fit to give bloody Mary Malone straight, perfect hair and she was horrible. Why couldn’t he grant me useful hair, even if it was just for today?
My mum continues to shout about breakfast, but what did cold toast matter to me now. Today was the day me, Sarah Taylor was going to kiss Kyle Thompson, in front of the entire school and it was going to be a complete failure. I was going to end up like poor Jade Jenkins. Jade had agreed to kiss Derek from the year above, even though we had all said he was too old for her, and just at the point they started to snog, his lip got caught on her braces. Blood poured out everywhere and from that point she was known only as ‘Jade the Jaws’. She eventually had to change schools. The thought made me feel sick all over again. Today is the kind of day that makes you a legend or a loser. There is no in-between.
Just as I am just about to give up, fake the flu and work out how to change school and possibly my name, my hair goes ping. I look in disbelief. With what could only be described as divine intervention my hair has shaped itself into the perfect two-inch arch. I take a second before drawing back my shoulders and channelling my inner Scarlet O’Hara, and tell myself, perhaps the day is not over yet.

Me and Kyle have been together for exactly two weeks now, which is three days longer than his last girlfriend. In that time I have spent one lunchtime with him, two breaks and we have held hands for fifteen seconds. It is definitely love. But it is not love without challenges. Just a few days ago, we learned that Kyle’s mum and dad were moving away, possibly forever, and they were taking Kyle with them. This was big news. No one in our school had ever left before. No one goes anywhere except occasionally a day trip to Skegness.
It was the biggest news for me though of course, because I am his girlfriend. Luce pretended to be sad too, as her and Kyle have been friends since nursery, but we all knew she was just putting it on for attention. I am the girl whose love is going to be cut short. It is me who will no longer have a boyfriend.
The news he was leaving led to endless speculation about our relationship. Would our love survive the distance? Would we become long distant pen pals who kept our love alive through essay length letters? Would he decide to stay because of me, and move into a bedroom in some Aunt's mouldy mansion? It was all the second year could talk about. Well everyone except Mary Malone who would only say, ‘Sarah will always be dumped because she is just a suck-ass.’ I hate Mary Malone.
But the speculation came to a head yesterday. Me and my girls were sat in one circle on the field and the boys were sat in another about five meters away, pretending to ignore us. After a lot of discussion, Natalie was sent over with a note to John who gave it to Steve, who then passed it to Kyle. The note passionately asked what the move would mean for me and him.
Kyle then told Steve to tell John to tell Natalie to tell me, that he didn’t know, which was very sad. However, he did say he wanted to kiss me before he left. Natalie nearly exploded when she relayed the message. Holy Mother of God, Kylie wanted to kiss me. But what did that mean? Was it a full snog he was expecting? Was it just a peck on the cheek? When would it take place, and where?

Natalie sent a message back to John to Steve to Kyle, and it was eventually agreed that we would meet behind the boiler house the next day at 8am just before school. However, no one clarified the category of kiss.
The group went into a frenzy. What I would wear was frantically debated, although as we were restricted to school uniform there wasn’t much to discuss. Then, how would we keep it a secret? This topic was also cut short when Luce came back from the loo to say the news was out. She had just heard Mary Malone and her gang talking about it. ‘Sucky Sarah, is going to try and suck Kyle’s face’ apparently was the exact phrase, which obviously filled me with joy. However, the most important question in the group was, did I know the right technique for kissing? Jade the Jaws’ fate was fresh in all our minds.
This was a real problem. Our group weren’t the most experienced. Luce had snogged someone once or so she said, but the only advice she had was that we should avoid clashing heads. This was about as useful as saying make sure you don’t do a Jade the Jaws. Debbie suggested it might help to practice kissing our arms, so we all had a go at that. We were very enthusiastic, and it seemed okay, until Natalie pointed out the amount of spit on my arm. There was loads, more than on anyone else’s arm. This was terrifying. It could not be possible God had given me Ginger hair and over producing spit glands, could it? Oh Jesus, what if I left that much spit in Kyle’s mouth. Or just dribbled on him in front of everyone. What if Mary Malone saw and named me ‘Sarah the Spitter’ which was much worst then ‘Sucky Sarah.’ I could just hear chanting ‘Sarah the Spitter, Sarah the spitter.’
Finally, Toni suggested that perhaps the best thing to do was spend tonight watching people kiss on TV and try and copy their technique. This included watching what they did with their spit. This seemed the most sensible suggestion, well the only suggestion, so we all agreed on that. But we all knew the stakes if it didn’t work.
In my house, this idea proved much more difficult than you would expect. My brother refused to watch anything with ‘gross girl’s stuff’ in it and my dad insisted on only watching the news

headlines, which included precisely no kissing. I did manage to catch 10 minutes of Neighbours, but not one smooch took place. My last chance was mum’s choice - Coronation Street. It was slim pickings. There was a kiss in the first scene, but was between Ken and Deirdre, so not much use at all. Then finally just before the credits rolled, there was a proper snog between Kevin and someone he shouldn’t have been snogging. I watched intently trying to remember every detail, which way they tilted, how did it end, what happened to the spit, until my mum looked at me and asked me if I fancied Kevin. I went bright red and stormed off to bed thinking my mother doesn’t understand anything.
This morning I know she doesn’t understand anything. Whilst I am at war with my hair, my spots and my entire future, all mum can go on about is being late for work. I sigh to make sure she knows how unreasonably she is being before I finally push past her and get into the car.
The journey seems to take no time at all, and we arrive at the school car park with extraordinary speed. I climb out the car, mutter goodbye to mum, and with a spirit Scarlet O’Hara would have scorned, I drag my feet all the way to the bench where Natalie and Sarah are waiting for me.
Natalie is bobbing up and down like one of those splat-a-rat toys. ‘Everyone is here,’ she says quickly. ‘ Everyone. Mary Malone is taking bets you wouldn’t dare to turn up. But I told her you would."
I nod in acknowledgement but it is like my neck muscles are moving by themselves.
Luce looked at me. ‘Are you going to be sick? It is not too late to leave if you think you are going to chunder?’
But it was too late my brain was telling me. Mary Malone would never let it go. ‘No.’ I said ‘It is ok.’
Natalie was positively hopping on the spot now. ‘Well, are you ready?’
I slowly nod again.
‘Then,’ said Natalie. ‘Let’s go.’

Natalie takes my left arm and Luce takes my right. They feel like an armed guard, walking me to the gallows. I hum the ‘dum dum de dum’ tune of the funeral march in my head. Together they lead me to the back of the boiler house, where as Luce said there was, a sea of school uniforms form a semi-circle to greet me. Standing in the centre of that semi-circle is Kyle Thompson
Natalie and Sarah stopped just short of gathering, regally step back from me, and somehow dissolve into the crowd. I am left alone.
I breath in, channelling Posh, Kylie and Hannah, and take a step forward to my destiny.



Judges Comments

Today, the runner up in WM's open short story competition, is a genuinely funny story that conveys the angst, at once touching and ridiculous, of a teenage romance and the attendant peer group pressure from the narrator's classmates. Amusing without being patronising, Today uses the first-person voice of Sarah, who is going out with Kyle, to tell the story of their first kiss.

Today recounts Sarah's perspective of a breathless rollercoaster of a story – a wonderful jumble of bad hair, worrying about spit, stressing about everything. It conveys adolescent self-absorption with a knowing observational eye that is affectionate but also acutely aware of that this is rich material packed with comic potential.

Today may be set up as a teenage romance but it's far from a romantic tale, and because of that it delivers a very satisfying twist of positivity. Kyle, the object of Sarah's affections, is almost a bit-part player - a catalyst for her to be in the spotlight but not really significant in any other way - a point made clear by the fact that he's leaving the school and won't be around after this momentous moment. What is most important, in this funny, touching story, is Sarah's relationship with herself and the people around her: family, friends and schoolmates. The 'romance' is the catalyst for much more signiificant tale of how Sarah overcomes her own worries to take her moment in the spotlight and thanks to Amy's lovely, witty storytelling, it's a moment the reader can see this endearing heroine has really earned.