September 1, 2000
They met in their first year of high school in Hong Kong.
"Hi," chirped a cheerful voice next to his ear. He turned round to see a girl smiling at him.
She was of medium height, with dark hair, clear skin, freckles, a wide mouth and the most startling bright eyes he had ever seen. He was hypnotised just looking into them and had to make an effort to gather his thoughts.
"Hello," he replied stiffly and a little shyly.
"Mind if I sit beside you?"
"No, go ahead." He grabbed his stuff and shoved it into his hollow desk.
She sat down and dumped her bag on the ground beside her chair. Turning to him she stuck out her hand.
"I'm Sally Sandra Sterling, but you can call me Essie."
He awkwardly took hold of her slim fingers and shook her hand. "Devlin, nice to meet you."
She smiled again, her curved lips rattling the ordered thoughts in his mind and he had to scramble to collect and sort them into place.
The maths teacher rapped the whiteboard and called for them to keep quiet. He could still feel her presence, though, and from time to time felt her bright, dark eyes flicking at him. Bright Eyes, he thought, maybe I'll call her that from now on.
May 1, 2002
"Essie, that's dangerous," he called as she balanced on tiptoe on the monkey bars. He was circling beneath her, his head tilted up as he watched her dance across the metal. "Besides, you're too old for this."
"Who cares?" she said blithely.
"You never listen," he sighed.
"No, I don't." She leapt off the bars and landed lightly on her feet, spinning round to look at him. "There's an inner child within us and we've got to grasp life as it comes. Daredevils always have the best stories to tell."
"That thinking will get you into trouble someday," he said.
"Oh, lighten up, Dev." She twirled towards him and swatted him on the shoulder. Then she did a handstand in front of him before dropping to the ground neatly and on her feet. "Are you coming to Georgina's party tomorrow night?"
He shook his head. "Can't, I have to study."
"Study, study, study," she said. "What good does it do you?"
"It'll get me into university," he said dryly, "and maybe a job."
"Well, I'll marry a rich man," she giggled. "It's a lady's prerogative to pick her husband."
He flicked her on the tip of the nose. "C'mon, Bright Eyes, we need to go home."
"Yes, mother hen." She clasped his hand in hers and swung her arm playfully, hands intertwined, like a pendulum swinging between them. "Let's go."
He grinned. "Bossy as you're getting, I doubt any man will want to marry you - rich or not."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said with a mock huff, "any man will want to marry me."
They went home as the sun set, still bickering and laughing, as best friends do.
June 28, 2004
"Oh, Dev, I'm so proud of you!" she cried, flinging her arms around his neck and nearly knocking his cap off.
He stood awkwardly in his graduation gown and returned her hug with his free hand. His other hand held his diploma and a bundle of roses.
"Oxford!" she said as she stepped back. She dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her fingertips. "Well, you deserve nothing less, I tell you. All that studying finally paid off, huh?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling stupidly at her. His brain could never function when their eyes met, even after four years of knowing her. "Told you so, Bright Eyes."
"I hope you'll have fun there," she said wistfully.
"What about you, Essie?" he asked, troubled. "What will you do?"
"I suppose I'll just travel around," she said, careless as ever. "I've always wanted to go to California."
"How will you pay for that?"
She laughed, her voice tinkling like chimes in the breeze. "I told you, I'll marry a rich man."
He laughed with her but deep in his heart something stirred, though he didn't know exactly what.
June 30, 2007
"I cannot believe you're staying another year," she grumbled as they took a stroll around Oxford. "You're just so into studying, I don't know why we're still friends."
He felt a flicker of alarm run through him but she was smiling when she turned and he felt immediately relieved. "I don't know, either," he said.
They walked for a couple more minutes and then he asked teasingly: "Found your rich husband yet, Bright Eyes?"
There was a pause, and then she smiled. "Not yet," she admitted, "but give it time. I guarantee I'll be married within five years."
He wondered at the hesitation.
"How are your travels?" he asked, skirting a large rock in the park.
"Fine," she said, shrugging. "Well, not really. I'm getting bored, actually. I think it's time I settled down in one place. Maybe I'll go back to Hong Kong."
She always sent him postcards and souvenirs from Japan, America and European cities with names that made his head spin. But he was concerned, sometimes, about her flying so far away and was glad she would be going home.
"I'll see you back home, then."
"Yeah," she said. "Maybe."
September 29, 2011
"Congratulations on your promotion, buddy," a co-worker slapped him on the back. "You're the youngest ever to make it to such a high position."
"Thanks," he said, smiling back but turning away as soon as he could to search the crowd for the person he had invited.
"Looking for me?" came a voice that was as free as the ocean and sky. He spun on his heel.
She laughed and embraced him. Her dark hair was piled up in a messy bun and she was wearing a figure-hugging dress with a high bodice and a long skirt. It was different from her usual mini-dresses but he was so glad to see her that he didn't question it.
"So you're moving up in the world," she said, pulling away.
"Yes, I suppose so," he said.
"That's good to hear," she said, and smiled, but her eyes were vacant.
"Something wrong?" he frowned.
"No, no." She became Essie again, bright-eyed and smiling and beautiful.
"How about a drink?"
He plucked two champagne flutes off the tray of a passing waiter and handed one to her.
"Here you go."
Instead of sipping it as usual, she drained the entire glass in a swallow and then placed it back on the tray.
He stared. "You've never done that before."
"It's been a year, Dev," she said with a touch of impatience. "I've changed a little."
No, he thought, she had changed a lot. But, as she was beginning to get annoyed, he changed the subject to one that they were both familiar with.
"Found your husband, Bright Eyes?"
"Fiance," she corrected him. "We're getting married in six months, I think."
"How many fiances have you gone through?" he asked, mildly exasperated.
"Six. I think."
"So what makes you think this is the one?"
She laughed, but the sound was shrill and her eyes moved away from his for a moment. "I just do."
His eyebrows came together as he studied her. "You sure you're all right, Bright Eyes?"
"Of course," she said, and her voice lowered. "Will you come to my engagement party?"
"Of course," he answered.
Her hand found his and squeezed the fingers tightly.
March 7, 2012
He fought his way through the people who were showering the engaged couple with compliments, and managed to drag her out to the balcony. There they could see the entire skyline, lit up in brilliant lights.
"Congrats," he said, patting her hand and offering her a glass of red wine. "You're getting married!"
She smiled at him instead of answering, her mouth as wide as ever, her eyes sparkling bright. The smile took him back 12 years to a maths classroom with hollow desks and a loud teacher.
"So this fiance lasted," he said.
"Longer than the others."
He laughed and put an arm around her, but felt her stiffen and duck away.
"What's wrong?" he asked, puzzled.
"Nothing," she said. She shrugged but her movements were tense.
"Bright Eyes?" He stepped closer.
Her fiance was a rich man and had evidently ordered fireworks to celebrate the occasion because they began firing into the midnight sky, exploding in sparks of red. During one such explosion he saw a dark bruise on her neck, mostly hidden by heavy jewellery.
"What's this?" he said, touching it lightly with his index finger.
"Nothing," she said again, pulling away.
"This?" His finger found another bruise, hidden by her bracelet.
"I knocked my wrist against the washing machine."
"I hit a cupboard in the kitchen when I was getting a cup."
Her eyes stared at him, impassive, dark, sad and infinitely weary, and he wondered how well he really knew her.
"Bright Eyes," he said quietly, wanting to say something, anything. "You can come to me - talk to me. Listen to me, please, just once. I promise I'll be able to help, really, just listen ..."
"Leave it, Dev," she said suddenly, turning away. "It's nothing."
May 28, 2012
He broke into her house that day, heart thudding with fear. She hadn't called in months and he had had an awful feeling earlier that morning.
There was evidence of a fight: a broken vase, a shattered mug and a cracked picture frame.
"Essie," he whispered as he raced up the spiral staircase towards the master bedroom.
She was lying in a pool of blood by the bed, eyes blank and staring, her chest faintly rising and falling, a gash in her forehead and her body black and blue. Her husband turned towards him, his fist still raised, his face contorted in a bloody smile.
He crashed into the man without a second thought, pummelling him until he lost consciousness.
"Bright Eyes," he choked, crawling to her. "Bright Eyes! C'mon, Essie, breathe."
Voice shaking, he called the police and ambulance and tried to rouse her again.
"Wake up, Bright Eyes," he said as footsteps rang through the house and policemen and paramedics gathered around him.
He gathered up her limp body and gave her a ferocious shake. "Wake up."
She turned her head a little and sighed and he knew that she was gone.
June 15, 2014
"My goodness," said his mother when she came to visit him at his office. "It's so metal and white!"
He laughed. "Just a little, mum."
She turned and then pointed a finger at the framed photographs which he had nailed onto the wall. "I see myself up there, Dev."
He glanced up at the photos. There was his mother, his father, his brother. At the side was a dark-haired, impetuous girl who had never listened, a girl with a wide mouth in a perpetual curve at the corners and dark eyes that glittered and sparkled like nothing he had ever seen.
"Yes," he said, turning back to his mum. "They're all the people I love."
Read the other entries to our 2012 Summer Story competition.
- The winning story, Eyes of the Departed, by 16 year old Lorenzo Chim
- Don't Mess with the Old by 13 year old Justin Yu
- I Should Have Listened to My Friends by 13 year old Charlotte Chan
- All's Fair in Life and War by 15 year old Brandon Mok
- Dreams of fame turn to tragedy by 15 year old Chaang Vi Ka
- The sad tale of a drowned ghost by 16 year old Gene Lin
- A prank goes out of control by 8 year old Anoushka Hemnani
- It will be spring by the time you awake by 15 year old Emily Archibald