‘Does anyone know what a hubris is?’ asked the English teacher.
Anne’s hand shot up. ‘A hubris is a fatal flaw that someone has.’
‘Yes,’ nodded the teacher. ‘Shakespeare wrote Macbeth so that he had a hubris of greed and ambition. Pandora had a hubris curiosity. Romeo and Juliet had a hubris love and rashness.’
Anne’s mind wandered at the mention of “Romeo and Juliet”. She sighed, and looked across the class at a boy: Steve. Now, if only she could play Juliet to his Romeo… Without the tragic ending of course. Only she was too shy. How could she ever go up to him – let alone ever talk in his presence!
Then the bell rang. ‘Okay, students, off you go,’ cried the teacher. Books were tossed into bags and chairs scraped against the floor. Steve lingered and watched Anne walk across the class to her friend, Kat. Her tall, lean body and her long chestnut hair floated across the room easily. She was clever too. He sighed and watched his pal come over.
‘Admiring Anne again?’ asked Rudy.
‘Uh-huh,’ said Steve. ‘I don’t know why but I just can’t go up to her.’
Meanwhile, in the other corner of the class, Anne’s friend Kat watched the boys exit the room before saying, ‘Caught you looking at Steve again. I don’t know what you see in him. Now Rudy, on the other hand…’
‘I wonder what his hubris is,’ blurted Anne blankly. ‘He’s so perfect, he couldn’t possibly have one.’
Kat raised her eyebrows and then looked at her nails. He’s possessive and picky and a bit snooty, she thought. But instead she said ‘In a couple of minutes you can look out of the window; admire him playing football.’
‘He doesn’t even realize I watch him every lunch!’ cried Anne. ‘It’s like I’m invisible!’
She looked out of the window. Rudy was playing football but Steve was walking along the side, eating a sandwich. He looked tiny in the distance but she could still make out his distinctive features. His blond hair which was now flopping over his green eyes, his sharp cheekbones and his tall, slender gait.
Down on the pitch, Steve looked up through his hair and saw Anne at the window as usual. He wondered what she was looking at. If only the answer was himself. She looked just like a fairytale princess, her hair wafting gently in the breeze.
Steve went to sit down on the grass but Rudy ran up to him and stopped him. ‘Don’t sit down till you finish eating. I saw the caretaker sprinkling arsenic on the pitch this morning, to kill weeds.’
‘Isn’t she beautiful,’ asked Steve, as if he hadn’t heard a word that his friend had said.
‘Aw, jeez Steve. Why don’t you just go and ask her. If the answer’s no, what’ll you have lost?’ groaned Rudy.
Steve considered. He liked respect and power. Steve was always looking for a chance to increase his authority. He always wanted more. Yes, he wanted Anne. He would like for something as perfect as her to be his possession, his belonging. He craved the jealous looks from other boys that would come along with Anne. But instead he answered.
‘Everyone’ll hear about it and no one will look up to me anymore. And in any case, you like Kat don’t you? Why don’t you ask her?’ counter-questioned Steve.
‘Ooh, is that a challenge?’ asked Rudy, mockingly.
‘Maybe it is…’ replied Steve, looking away.
‘Well, if it is, I’m up for it,’ cried his friend before stalking off the pitch, leaving Steve to scramble up and follow him. Rudy barged right up to the window where Anne had been sitting – she hurried away from it when she saw Steve walking up to it – and called ‘Kat? Are you there? I want to ask you something.’
‘Hello,’ said Kat, popping up at the window like a Jack-in-the-box and startling both boys considerably. ‘You wanted to talk to me? If it’s urgent I could join you outside.’
‘No!’ hissed a voice from behind her.
‘No,’ said Rudy. ‘I just wanted to ask if you’d like to grab a bite with me after school.’
‘Sure,’ said Kat, coolly, without missing a beat. ‘See you then.’
Rudy turned to smirk at a rather shell-shocked Steve. ‘Simple as that,’ he said before heading back to the football ground.
Inside the classroom, Kat glanced at Anne, who stared back, wide-eyed. ‘How. Did. You. DO THAT?’ she burst out.
‘Oh, you know…’ shrugged Kat, getting her books ready for the next lesson.
Later that day, Rudy and Kat sat at a table in a café, munching sandwiches when suddenly Rudy came out with: ‘Hey, you know my mate Steve? Yeah, he really does fancy that friend of yours; Anne her name is.’
Kat near enough choked on her mouthful of ham and cheese. ‘What?! She likes him. All this time she thought that he thought she was invisible!’
Rudy laughed out loud, ‘Really? He thought the exact same thing! That’s it. Tomorrow morning, we’re getting them together.’
Then, over a couple more sandwiches and a drink each, they put their heads together and came up with the most ingenious solution…
So the next morning, when Steve and Rudy were arguing about football on a bench that stood under a tree, Kat and Anne “just happened” to walk past. ‘Hey Rudy,’ Kat called out. She strolled up to them, followed by a very reluctant Anne and sat down in between the two boys, leaving Anne no choice but to sit next to Steve.
‘Um… Rudy and I have something to discuss,’ began Kat carefully. ‘So we’ll just move over there.’ She pointed to another bench, which was rather far away. ‘So, er… See you two later.’
And off the pair went, leaving their friends staring daggers into their backs. Anne shifted uncomfortably in her seat. The whole world seemed to have gone very quiet, with the exception of the a few birds squawking overhead and the caretaker’s shed’s door swinging open and then shut again in the gentle breeze. She shivered. Steve took off his hoodie and handed it to her. As she gratefully accepted, their hands touched and as Steve felt the warmth of her fingers against his, his eyes grew shadowed and suddenly developed a glint in them and then his upper lip curled. He wanted more…
‘I wonder what’s going on,’ said Rudy, when he and Kat had sat the bench Kat had pointed to for a few minutes. He couldn’t see what was going on – curtsy of a few trees which were blocking the way – and didn’t want to go too close in case he disturbed them.
‘That’s it,’ said Kat decidedly. She got up. ‘I’m going over there. The suspense is killing me.’
She marched over, Rudy striding beside her and both of them stopped short, just a few yards behind the bench they’d left their friends. Both their jaws fell open in horror and sheer shock. They could barely believe what they were seeing.
For in front of them, Steve had his hand roughly gripping the back of Anne’s head and his face was pushed hard against hers. She was writhing and straining to get away from him but he was just too strong. As Kat and Rudy watched on dumbstruck, Steve’s hand went up to the front of her shirt and began fumbling with Anne’s top buttons and tie.
That’s when Rudy regained his voice. ‘STEVE!’ he roared. He rushed up to his friend and fiercely tore him away from a weeping Anne, who Kat was now doing her best to comfort. ‘How could you?’ continued Rudy.
Lifting her head over Kat’s shoulder, Anne looked at Steve through blurry eyes. He was holding his hands up and looking at them as if he couldn’t believe what they’d just done. ‘I…’ he faltered. He looked up and caught Anne watching him. Their eyes met for a split second and then she looked away. ‘Anne… I…’
‘Let’s get you to the washroom and you can wash your face, eh?’ said Kat in a kindly fashion.
Anne nodded and the two friends walked off together towards the school building, arms around each other. Rudy turned back to Steve and started yelling again, ‘I am ashamed of… Steve? Steve!’ But Steve ignored his cries and kept on running.
Rudy sighed in agitation and started after the girls. Kat was coming out of the school building. ‘She’s okay,’ said Kat, nodding to the toilets near the other school entrance of the school at the end of the corridor. ‘Washing her face and adjusting her uniform. Rudy, how could he have? What should we do?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose we should tell someone but will he be expelled? He is – was – my best friend and…’
He was interrupted by a loud thump. ‘What was that?’ he asked, mildly curious.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Kat. ‘But it seemed to come from the inside school.’
They both looked behind them. Suddenly, there was a louder thump, followed by a pitter-patter of small grains hitting the floor.
‘I’ll just go see why Anne’s taking so long,’ said Kat, suddenly. She hurried over to the girls’ toilets and a moment later she came out, her face a deathly pale. She looked as if she was going to be violently sick.
‘Rudy,’ she gasped, beckoning him over.
He hurried over, alarmed. ‘What is it?’ She pointed inside the toilets and Rudy cautiously went in, waiting for a volley of girls to scream at him. Instead, he was greeted by a deathly silence; a silence louder than any noise could possibly have been.
And there, on the floor lay two bodies. Anne and Steve. Steve and Anne. Anne’s tie was tightened around her neck, biting into her flesh. Steve lay next to her, his face a queer shade of grey and an open box in his hand with some sort of grain spilling out.
He stood there for a moment and then rejoined Kat, who was weeping into her hands. In a dry voice he said, ‘He got in from the other entrance, strangled her and then swallowed some arsenic. He got it from the caretaker’s shed.’
‘But. I don’t understand. Why would he do such a thing?’ gulped Kat.
Rudy forced a laugh. It came out cold and without feeling. ‘Oh, you know Steve. Very possessive. If couldn’t have her, no one else would.’
‘Oh, Rudy,’ cried Kat, and leant against him. He put his arm around her, his face contorted with worry, but she continued sobbing. Sobbing for her friend, Anne, and the hubris in a boy called Steve.