A STORY FOR 9 TO 12 YEAR OLDS BY ANNIE IRESON
Lexie was rounding the corner of her street, eating the apple left over from her packed lunch, when she heard someone shout at the top of their voice.
‘Leave me a-LONE!’
The shout was followed by squeal, which sounded like a girl, but Lexie sensed was a boy. She stopped and glanced around, the apple clenched between her teeth, looking for someone who might be able to help. She couldn’t see where the shout had come from, so she carried on walking and munching. She was just about to let herself in her front door when, over the top of the hedge, she glimpsed a blue rucksack bag hurled high into the air from the front door of the house next door, followed by a thud.
‘That’s my PlayStation … and all my games …and my favourite Transformer!’ A boy started to cry.
‘Tough!’ yelled a gruff, man’s voice.
The door slammed shut and the glass vibrated so much Lexie was certain it had almost shattered.
The house had been empty for a few weeks – obviously the new neighbours had just moved in. By the sound of it, they were a bit ‘undesirable’ as her dad would say.
Lexie clambered up onto the wheelie bin and stared over the high hedge. She didn’t say anything, but just watched the boy crumple onto the concrete path and empty out the bag. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and gave a loud sniff as he checked the PlayStation.
The boy jumped, startled, and twisted around in the direction of Lexie’s voice. Only her head was visible on the other side of the hedge separating the two houses. She was still nibbling around the edges of an apple core as she spoke.
‘Was that your dad? Is it broken?’
‘No. It’s my step-brother. He’s nearly seventeen … and he’s horrible. His name’s Kyle.’
‘How old are you?’ the boy asked.
The boy hesitated and bit his lip. Lexie knew he wasn’t as old as her.
‘Nearly eleven. What’s your name?’
‘Lexie – short for Alexandra. What’s yours?’
‘Billy – short for William.’
Lexie didn’t know what to say next. Billy stared at her face above the hedge.
‘Anyway, I hope you can mend it.’ Lexie forced herself to smile at Billy before she jumped down and let herself into her house. She didn’t know whether she was going to like having a boy living next door, especially one with such a grown-up, scary step-brother.
Billy’s PlayStation was broken. So was the Transformer his grandma had bought him for Christmas. It wasn’t fair. He was really frightened of Kyle but he couldn’t say anything to his dad. He knew Kyle had been beaten up and bullied by his real father: it had been one of the reasons Kyle’s mum had ran away and married Billy’s dad. He must make allowances, they had both said to him. Not only that, but Kyle’s real mum – Billy’s step-mum – had been lovely and kind to him and he didn’t want to make her worry.
He didn’t know what to do. He was so unhappy since his dad had got married again, and now they had moved right away, he didn’t even have any friends yet. He wished Kyle would just leave home, like most grown-up children did.
A few days later, Billy saw Lexie walking in front of him on the way home from school. He ran to catch up with her.
‘Was your PlayStation OK?’ Lexie was eating her lunchbox apple again and spoke with her mouth full as she eyed him warily with a sideways look.
‘My step-mum took it to be repaired, but it was completely broken. He broke my Transformer too.’
‘Oh. That’s really bad luck.’
‘My dad bought me a new PlayStation. Kyle has got to pay for it bit by bit. His mum said so.’
Billy waited for Lexie to speak again. She was walking very fast and he didn’t know if she wanted him to walk home with her, or not. It was also bit risky walking home from school with a girl – he hoped none of the boys from his new class were watching.
‘My dad’s really good at mending things,’ Lexie said after a while. ‘ Why don’t you bring your Transformer round to my house after tea?’
‘Oh. Thanks. Will your mum mind?’
Lexie shook her head, munching on her apple. They walked the rest of the way home together in silence. Billy tried to match his steps with Lexie’s, because she was probably the coolest girl he had ever met in his whole life.
When they reached their houses, Lexie said, ‘see you after tea, then?’
Billy felt really small. He wished he could be eleven, like Lexie.
He nodded. ‘Yeah, thanks Lexie.’
After tea, Billy knocked on Lexie’s front door, clutching his Transformer and a clear plastic bag with some broken pieces in it. A kind-looking man came to the door.
‘Billy, I presume?’ he said, smiling.
Billy nodded. ‘Is Lexie in, please?’
Lexie came down the stairs. She looked very grown-up in her jeans and a One Direction t-shirt. Billy looked down at his crumpled grey trousers: he wished he had thought to change out of his school uniform, too, and had put on his skull t-shirt and best jeans. His step-mum would have reminded him, if she had been home from work.
‘Hi.’ Lexie said, standing on the bottom step of the stair. She tossed back her shiny, brown hair over her shoulders, smiled at him and it made him feel good, even though he still had his uniform on.
Lexie’s dad took the Transformer out of his hands. ‘Is this the little job Lexie asked me to do for you?’
Billy nodded and mumbled a thank you.
The two children went upstairs to Lexie’s room. Billy had never been in a girl’s room before and it smelled strange, like fruity sherbet and clean washing, whereas his room always smelled of socks, bubble gum and Haribo Star Mix.
After a few minutes of talking about school, Billy found himself telling Lexie all about Kyle and what a big bully he was.
‘My dad says that I’ve got to try and understand and make allowances, but his bullying is making me really unhappy.’
‘What about Kyle’s mum? Can’t you tell her?’
Billy looked at his shoes. ‘Kyle’s mum’s really, really nice to me – I don’t want to tell her because it’ll make her worry.’
‘Have you told Kyle how bad he makes you feel?’
Billy shook his head. He felt as if Lexie was much more grown-up than he was.
Suddenly Lexie jumped off her bed and opened her wardrobe door. Standing on tiptoe she coaxed an old-looking box from a shelf. Sitting next to Billy she opened it.
‘What’s that?’ Billy said screwing up his face.
‘It’s my happiness box.’
‘What’s it for?’ Billy felt stupid. He’d never heard of a happiness box.
‘It’s English for Fuku, which means happiness in Japanese and Masu, which means box. In Japan, children are given them full of sweets to celebrate spring and they are supposed to keep the evil spirits away. My grandad gave it to me last year. It’s proper magic, Billy. It really does make people happy when they look at the things inside it.’
She stared seriously at him under her thick fringe and waggled a pointy finger at him. ‘You’d better believe it. I know it’s true.’
Lexie pulled out a notebook from the box. In large, fluorescent pink writing, it said ‘LEXIE’S HAPPINESS EXERCISES.’ She handed it to him and he opened it carefully. Each page had a different heading in large round girl’s writing. Billy read the first page:
Happiness Exercise for when I feel lonely or sad
Find the cat and stroke it
Draw a picture with felt-tip pens
Watch my favourite DVD
Write a story’
Billy turned to the second page, which was headed: Nice things about me
I’m a good friend
I’ve got nice brown eyes and shiny hair
I’m good at drawing and singing
I’m a good speller
When he’d read through most of the pages he looked in the box. There was a champagne cork, an old birthday card, a photograph of a house with Lexie sitting on the front step, fluffy animal key-rings, sparkly pens and pencils, hair bobbles and lots of other girly things.
‘What are these for?’ he asked.
‘They’re all the things that make me happy.’
Billy liked Lexie. He really liked her. He’d never been friends with a girl before, but he hoped they were going to be best friends.
‘You can borrow my happiness box if you like,’ Billy. ‘As long as you look after it and don’t lose anything.’
Billy’s eyes widened. He could hardly believe his luck. ‘Thanks Lexie!’
Kyle held Lexie’s happiness box high above his head and laughed out loud at the Japanese writing and pictures on the sides.
‘Give it back. It’s Lexie’s!’ Billy could feel familiar tears pricking at the back of his eyes and a churning feeling as his heart beat faster. He tried not to cry because Kyle would laugh at him even more.
Suddenly Billy had a thought. He stopped trying to get the box back and stood still, looking straight into Kyle’s eyes. He forced himself to be calm and talk properly, like a grown-up.
‘Lexie is my friend. She lent me her happiness box because you’re such a horrible bully to me all the time and it’s making me really, really unhappy.’
Kyle stood still and stared back at Billy.
‘It’s OK though,’ Billy went on, gaining in confidence. ‘I know you’re only bullying me because your dad did it to you. You’re just trying to take out all your hate and anger on me, because there’s no-one else for you to take it out on.’
Kyle looked away and then sank down onto Billy’s bed. He opened the box, took out Lexie’s notebook and started to read out loud, but he had to stop halfway through because his voice was thick and gruff, as if he had a cold coming. He put the notebook down, sniffed loudly and put both hands over his face.
‘I’m sorry, mate,’ he mumbled. ‘I’m sorry about your PlayStation and for being such a bad brother.’
Billy knew Kyle was crying. It was strange to see a grown up cry, and it made him feel like crying too. He put his thin, ten-year old arm around Kyle’s shoulder but didn’t say anything. He just couldn’t find the right words … but he knew one thing. Everything was going to be all right now, whether he said anything or not.
Lexie had been right. It really was a magical Happiness Box.
© Annie Ireson 2012