New short story by Brooke Norris: Behind this Face

27 Jul


Neither of us said a word. We sat unmoving beside each other on the bench at the airport, awaiting the inevitable. I wanted to stop time, or go back to when we were both in high school, but it was impossible. I had fallen for a senior when I was a freshman. I paid the consequences. I was still in school when he was drafted for military duty. I felt jealous of the other teenagers who don’t have to worry about their boyfriends going to a war in a foreign land.

“I have to leave,” Trevor said sullenly. I did not respond.

“I hate I am going to have to miss your high school graduation,” Trevor continued. “You know I don’t want to do this, right?”

I nodded, too choked up with tears to speak. I couldn’t let him see how painful this was, yet it was getting hard to hide emotion.

“I know; I’ll see you soon. Just six months, right?” I said.

“Yeah. I’ll be looking forward to it, beautiful,” he said. I chuckled and looked down at my over-sized self.

“I can’t possibly be beautiful,” I said. “I’m not as skinny as the other girls at school.”

“That’s because you are stronger than them. You are just perfect,” Trevor coaxed. I did not agree, but let him kiss me on my cheek.

“Trevor, it’s time to go,” Trevor’s friend, Kurt, called.

“Okay,” Trevor stood up reluctantly.

“Trevor,” I grabbed his hand and looked at him in the eye.

“I will wait for you.”


“Well, what do you think?” Brandon asks, releasing me from my sweet daydream.

“I don’t know. I am in a relationship right now and I just don’t feel good-”

“In a relationship with whom? Trevor? He has been gone for a year, Brittany. He is not coming back,” Brandon says, holding my hand.

“Don’t say that,” I snap, snatching my hand from his grasp.

“I am just asking you to go to a party with me. It’s not even a school dance or a prom. It is a party for the employees of the mall, for crying out loud,” Brandon says.

“It is a Valentine’s party. What do you think that signifies?” I ask sarcastically.

“I don’t think you have any better plans,” Brandon pushes.

“Fine, I will go with you,” I sigh.

“I think you will be happy that you did. Oh, and be sure to wear your hair down. I am glad you took my suggestion to grow it out. You know, you really looked like a tomboy with that bobbed style you had all through high school. You look way better now, since you’ve lost some weight and all,” Brandon says.

“I’ll see you later,” I say a little coolly.

“See you tonight,” Brandon smiles and walks away.

“Brandon,” I mutter when he is gone. Brandon, so arrogant, so commanding, and yet he was so charming. He was the one who convinced me to get this job as a makeup retailer in the mall. Well, it pays well, so I took it, even though I don’t care about makeup that much. Sometimes I think I am going against my personal wishes and personality when I take his suggestions, but I know he is only looking out for me. I take my locket from my neck and snap open the gold heart. There is a picture there of me and Trevor in my junior year of high school. We were at a coffee shop and both of us had mustaches from the coffee creamer. I smile as I gingerly brush my finger across it. How much longer should I wait? Would he ever come back?

“Mam?” a lady’s voice tears me away from my daydreams and I snap the locket shut.

“Yes, mam, I’m sorry, I was distracted. How may I help you?” I ask.

“I just need to check out. Luckily these things were on sale. Your prices are not condusive to my husband’s poor budget,” the woman says, walking up with a small armful of things.

“Okay,” I say, a little shocked at her rudeness.

“Mam, I need to talk to you,” a different voice says. “Are you Brittany-”

“Sir, I am busy,” I say without looking up.

“Oh!” the woman cries. “What a horrible face! Oh!” The woman throws her stuff at me and runs out the door. Baffled, I gasp and look up. The sight is hideous. A man is standing before me. His face is red, like it has been burnt. His forehead is singed bald, but the rest of his head has long, stringy hair that is down to his shoulders. He is also missing an arm.

“What do you need, sir?” I ask, trying to pull myself together.

“Are you Brittany Tanner?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. I am having a hard time stomaching the sight of him, so I look down to avoid meeting his eyes.

“You knew me once a while ago,” he continues.

“Brittany, the manager needs to speak to you,” one of my co-workers interrupts. I nod and she disappears.

“I’m sorry, I really have to go,” I say to the man, thankful for an excuse to leave.

“Well, do you want to come to the party with me tonight?” the man asks.

“What do you mean? How do you know?” I ask.

“I work here,” the man retorts.

“Since when?” I ask warily.

“Yesterday,” he replies. Great, I think. Now I will have to put up with him every day.

“No, I am going with…with my boyfriend,” I stammer, even though Brandon isn’t really my boyfriend.

“Oh,” the man appears to be disappointed.

“I thought your boyfriend was missing in action,” the man says.

“That is none of your concern, sir!” I fume, feeling my temper rising. “Get out. Get out of my sight. Don’t come back. Ever. That was the most insulting, painful comment I have heard all day.”

“As you wish,” he says and disappears.

Well, that was easy, I think.


“You look pretty tonight,” Brandon says when I join him at the party. “I’m glad you finally decided to wear some makeup. Women look so plain without it.”

“Thank you, I think,” I reply a little awkwardly. Was that supposed to be a compliment? I wonder.

“Do you want to dance?” he asks, holding out his hand.

“Sure,” I answer uneasily. I take his hand and he leads me to the center of the room. The party is taking place after-hours in the food court. Smells of leftover hamburgers, coffee from cafés, funnel cakes, fried chicken, and French fries fill the air from vendors who have just shut down their businesses for the night. A DJ is playing a new Maroon 5 song on the radio and I am trying to keep up to the tempo. Dancing is not really my thing.

“Good song, huh?” Brandon asks.

“I guess. I like classical music better, though,” I say.

“Really? I thought that stuff was for old people,” Brandon says. Thankfully, the music ends and I sink down into a nearby chair, panting lightly.

“Brittany?” a different voice calls. I look up and see the man with the burnt face I talked to this morning. I see he has decided to come after all. I take a deep breath and nod.

“How are you?” I reply.

“Fine. Would you like to dance?” he asks. I try not to cringe. How would we dance? He has one arm.

“I told the DJ to play your favorite song,” the man tries to persuade.

“And how do you know what that is?” I ask, smiling.

“I know who you are,” the man says.

“I can’t wait to see if you get this right,” I say, rising out of my chair more out of curiosity than eagerness. “Okay, I’ll dance with you.”

The man simply smiles and waves his hand over to the DJ, who nods.

“We’ll dance with one hand, if you don’t mind,” the man smirks, glancing at his missing arm.

“That’s-” my voice breaks as the music comes on. From the first note, I recognize the song as “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. It is truly my favorite song. Slowly, the man takes my hand and we begin to dance slowly.

“Who are you?” I whisper, overwhelmed to tears. “How do you know that is my favorite song? Only one person knew that and he’s-”

“He’s what?” the man pushes, swirling me around to the music.

“Missing in action,” I say, coming closer to him.

“What is his name?” the man asks.

“Trevor,” I answer quickly. “Oh my gosh. Are you…could you be…no, it’s too much,” I stammer.

“Is my name Trevor McLain? Yes,” the man smiles. Suddenly, his eyes sparkle and recognition shows. I see it now, he resembles Trevor a lot, yet he does not. A hope flutters in my heart, but it is stifled by looming doubt.

“How do I know for sure?” I ask.

“I know I do not look the same as I did before the war, but you can blame a fire at camp for that. Here, it’s me, look for yourself,” the man stops dancing momentarily and pulls a dog tag chain from underneath his shirt. In the dim light, I make out the words “Trevor McLain.”

“It is you,” I exclaim. The music swells like it would in a movie. There has never been another moment so magical or dramatic in all my life. All at once I begin to cry, but he pats my back reassuringly.

“I am sorry I did not believe you. You’ve changed so much and-” a flicker of a shadow distracts my speech as I see a dark hooded figure move through the window of the store I work at.

“What’s wrong?” Trevor asks, seeing the fear in my eyes.

“There’s someone inside the store,” I whisper.

“I’ll check it out,” Trevor says. The music stops and he walks away. I know he would not like me to go along, but there is no use in arguing. Carefully, I follow him. Trevor grabs a pair of shoes from a sales rack nearby and sneaks up to the man.

“Stop!” Trevor shouts as a gun fires. I scream and Trevor falls to the ground. The man in the hood catches my eye and knows he has been discovered. He runs away, sticking to the shadows like a coward. However, it is too late for him. The others at the party have heard the gun shot and my scream. They easily catch him with money in his hands. I rush over to Trevor and see that he has been shot in the shoulder.

“I think I’ll be fine, but you should not have followed me. You could’ve gotten hurt,” Trevor scolds gently.

“Oh, Trevor, I’m so sorry this happened,” I whisper. Trevor tries to shrug his shoulder, but winced.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said. “I’m just glad we found each other again.”

“But just to lose each other a second time!” I exclaim.

“No,” he protests and then blacks out.

“What happened? Did the man get shot?” Brandon comes in and puts an arm on my shoulder.

“Yes,” I say with tears in my eyes.

“Why are you crying? He was just a stranger, no reason to fret,” Brandon shrugs. I yank his hand from my shoulder and give him a look that equals death.

“Leave me alone. That was Trevor, but I would care even if it was a crazy old stranger!  I am through with you. You never cared about anyone besides yourself. I should have known that a long time ago when you told me to change everything about me. You were never fine with me the way I was. I am finished playing your games,” I say. Brandon backs up a little, slightly shocked.

“Oh what? You know it’s true, just no one has said it,” I seethe.

“Fine. You have improved under my direction, but I see you are not grateful. I’ll go to some other woman who respects me better,” Brandon snaps and then disappears.


I go with Trevor to the hospital, but the nurse tells me I cannot go in the emergency room with him. Annoyed, I sit down on a bench outside the door. I begin to cry as I think about all that has just happened over the course of a day. I know that I have been wrong. Outside appearance has mattered too much to me lately. What if I had have refused to dance with Trevor? I might never have realized that he was back. Also, I should have been faithful to Trevor and not allowed someone else to persuade me into losing hope. I should have been faithful to myself and not allowed Brandon to change who I am. I have been trying to please him for so long that I hardly know myself anymore. I think of all the comments he made, all that he wanted me to change, and I cry tears of anger.

Be sure to wear your hair down. I am glad you took my suggestion to grow it out. You know, you really looked like a tomboy with that bobbed style you had all through high school… I’m glad you finally decided to wear some makeup. Women look so plain without it, suddenly I have had enough. I know who I am, better than he does. Furious, I storm off to the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror. My mascara is smeared with tears and my hair is ruffled. With a hand shaking with anger, I turn on the water and wash away every last splotch of makeup. My face is red from scrubbing by the time I finish, but I feel clean and new. When I am done with that, I take some scissors out of my purse. I comb through my long hair with my fingers and then grab it in my hands. Snip, snip, snip, locks of hair fall to the floor as I cut my hair into a bob, the same “tomboyish style” I had sported all through high school. When I am finished I look in the mirror. Suddenly, I look like myself again. My eyes are red and puffy from crying, but finally I feel secure in my own skin.

I march back out to the bench outside the emergency room door. No sooner have I sat down than the door opens.

“Trevor is okay. He has lost a lot of blood, but he will recover,” the nurse smiles. “You may come in.”

I bound up and rush inside the room. Trevor is conscious and is sitting on the bed.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” I say happily.

“You, too. Did you do something to your hair?” Trevor smirks.

“Yes. I have not been myself ever since you left. I let Brandon control me, but I should have been myself,” I admit.

“It’s okay. I look a little different, too, in a bad way. Will you still love me, though?” Trevor asks.

“Of course,” I nod instantly. “I have learned to accept people for who they are, not for whom they could be or who they were. You know, I was under a mask, too; my face told a completely different story than my heart.”


This story idea came after listening to “Music of the Night” off of “The Phantom of the Opera,” perhaps a little too much. 🙂 I know the cover is not wonderful, but you should have seen what I had before that! Phew. I’m glad I found another picture. Still curious? Fine. *grumbles*. I’ll post it just for laughs:

800px-Scandinav_beautyYeah, it’s terrible.


One Response to “New short story by Brooke Norris: Behind this Face”

  1. Sarah Spradlin July 27, 2013 at 7:44 PM #

    Love it as always, B!

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