Chapter Three: Niamh.
Niamh was in secondary school when she finally admitted she needed glasses. Her first pair was small and fashionable - the blue frames suited her blue eyes and blonde hair - and they changed her perception of the world completely. The most profound effect was to distance her from other people. Folks who had looked fuzzy and friendly before now looked sharp and predatory; even her dad. Her friends told her not to be stupid but she couldn’t help it.
School was worst of all. Kids with glasses always get a hard time but girls seem to get it worst from other girls. At least the taunts stopped during class and Niamh forgot about the persecution by focusing on her lessons. Her improved eyesight made a big difference to her concentration and she found a new interest in Mathematics and Geography.
She also found a new interest in Computing - but it had nothing to do with her concentration. It did, however, have rather a lot to do with Mark McHewell. He’d always been a nice guy but since he had saved her from Veronica McCabe and her cronies in the school corridor, he’d become her white knight. And now that she could see him clearly, Mark didn’t look one bit predatory or sharp; she thought he looked gorgeous. He was a bit younger than her but he was tall, with dark hair and brown eyes and a lopsided smile she found irresistible.
When she found out his favorite subject was Computing she quit Home Economics and transferred over to the IT class. That was around Halloween. Soon they became good friends, and whenever students had to pair off for projects, Niamh and Mark were always lab partners. One project they had was to design a computer program to translate between Morse code and the Latin alphabet. They had a lot of fun with that and ended up calling each other Dash-Dash (for ‘M’) and Dash-Dot (for ‘N’.) These eventually got shortened to just ‘Dash’ and ‘Dot’. They became quite adept at Morse code and used to tap messages to each other in class by tapping their pens on the desk or on each other’s hands when they were sitting together.
By the time Christmas came around, they were hanging out together. They enjoyed the same TV shows and books – sci-fi mostly – and played the same computer games. Mark - typical boy - still hadn’t twigged how Niamh felt about him but as far as she was concerned, things were progressing nicely.
But then everything changed.
When Mark came back to school two weeks late after the Christmas break, everyone had heard about his father. Rumors abounded but no-one really knew what had happened to Fintan McHewell. Niamh tried to reach out to Mark, to be there for him but he was withdrawn, and all the work she had put into getting to know him seemed to have been for naught. Sure, they still talked but the ease with which they had communicated and understood each other had disappeared. She tried to recapture the warmth of their friendship but as the months rolled by she realized, with a sickening sense of loss, that the connection they’d had, the connection she’d wanted to build into something greater was gone.
As the end of year loomed, Mark wasn’t always in class any more. Nasty schoolyard whispers about child psychologists and ‘nut jobs’ did the rounds but Niamh still attended Computing. She had a genuine aptitude for the subject and by summer break she was top of the class.
The last day of school before they broke for summer was bittersweet. As the final bell rang and the school erupted into a riot of noise and excitement, she watched Mark navigate his way through the chaos towards the door. She followed him out into the piercing sunshine and past the gymnasium towards the bike-sheds. She was about to call out to him when a stone flew across the schoolyard and cracked off Mark’s head. He staggered and ducked, then fell to his knees. A voice rang out:
“Hey McTool; don’t come back next year. Why don’t you disappear like your stupid da, you psycho!”
Christopher McCabe; Veronica’s twin brother. That whole family are scumbags, Niamh thought. She looked back towards Mark. He was back on his feet looking over to where McCabe and his gang stood. He was putting his hand to his head then looking at it, then repeating it as if unable to believe he wasn’t bleeding. For a moment Niamh thought Mark would go over to McCabe but he just stood there staring, then turned around, picked up his rucksack and went to fetch his bike.
“Yeah, that’s right; run away, Psycho. Your da must’ve been a nut-job and all to run away from a nice piece of totty like your ma. Maybe I’ll go up and keep her company.”
Niamh’s anger and frustration boiled over. This poor guy - who never bothered anyone - who had such a terrible thing happen to him - who must be aching inside from grief - had the dignity to walk away while these thugs were laughing at him. It was all too much for her. Almost without realizing what she was doing she bent down. The flower beds in the schoolyard had been dug out and replaced with gravel. Amidst the gravel were many larger and sharper stones and Niamh picked up several of these.
“You bastards,” she screamed, as she threw stone after stone towards McCabe and his crew. “You filthy, rotten bastards! See how you like it!” Many of the stones missed but enough made contact that McCabe was retreating out of range.
When Niamh ran out of stones and bent down to reload, he made a run towards her. She was quicker. She started another salvo and as McCabe dithered, unsure whether to continue the charge or to retreat, a stone flew through one of the gymnasium’s huge windows. Niamh watched in slow-motion horror as the plate glass shattered and the glass cascaded down and smashed on the ground. The noise was horrendous and echoed around the schoolyard. The laughter and chaos evaporated as kids stopped in their tracks and looked over towards the gym. A horrible stark silence fell over the schoolyard. McCabe and his cohorts, with criminal instinct, fled towards the school gates. Niamh stood there with her mouth open and the remaining stones fell from her hands. The whole schoolyard was looking at her. As she wished the ground would open and swallow her, a shape loomed over her and Mr. Johnson, the gym teacher, said:
“Miss Kinnear, come with me.”
Mr. Johnson frog marched her towards the gym. They passed by Mark and he opened his mouth to say something to the furious teacher. Niamh shook her head at him, her eyes begging him to stay out of it. Mark closed his mouth. He smiled at her and said:
“Thanks Dot. You didn’t have to do that – defend me I mean, not break the window – but thanks anyway. You’re a good friend.”
Niamh smiled tightly.
“See you over the summer maybe?”
“Sure. Call me.”
Her smile widened.
Mr. Johnson interjected. “Come on Miss Kinnear; you can talk to your boyfriend later. We need to call your parents and I’m not looking forward to this any more than you are. Let’s get it over and done with.”
She was in deep trouble she knew but somehow it didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Call me. Those words would get her through any trouble she was going to face in the next few days.