smile for me

His eyes were the brightest blue – like someone had captured the sky and placed it lovingly in his irises. They drew people in, despite (or perhaps because of) his blank stare. All the nurses adored him. They’d crowd into his room, bringing him toys he never touched and games he never played.

There was one nurse, Laura, who loved him more than any of the others. “I bet,” she’d say, “that you have the prettiest smile in the whole world, Eli. Won’t you smile for me today?” She’d crouch down next to him, ruffling his hair playfully, but he never smiled, never spoke. He’d just sit there in the corner, staring blankly in front of him, until slowly

oh so slowly

the room emptied.

They all hate you, you know. They despise you. They probably want you dead.

Eli shivered, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered.

Why? I’m helping you. You like them, don’t you? Especially that one. Laura. The voice was venomous. You like her. And you think she likes you. But she doesn’t. She hates you. She wishes you would disappear.

A tear slid down Eli’s cheek. He hugged his knees to his chest, trying to shut his mind out, trying to escape. But he couldn’t.

So life went on…

“Good morning, Eli! Won’t you smile for me today?”

Ignore her. She’ll kill you. She’ll hurt you if you talk to her. It’s just a trick. You know that. She hates you.

…and on…

“Hey there, Eli! It’s a beautiful day outside. Want to go for a walk? Maybe it’ll make you smile, hm? Will you smile for me today?”

Don’t look at her. Don’t do anything. You know what’ll happen if you talk to her.

…and on.

***

They were bad that night. Worse than they’d ever been. Eli was lying on his bed, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, trying to distract himself.

He’s a worthless little brat, isn’t he?

Tell me about it. Look how sad he is. “Smile, Eli. won’t you smile for me?”

The mocking voice echoed in Eli’s ears, and he pulled the blanket over his head. Laughter rang through the room.

Aw. Look how scared he is.

Stupid little boy. Why don’t you talk to us, Eli?

Eli shuddered, putting his hands over his ears.

Maybe he just can’t hear you, hm? Talk louder.

Eli. Talk to us

you worthless little

brat. talk to us, Eli

Eli

Don’t ignore us, Eli—

Eli jumped out of his bed and ran into the hall, leaving the taunting laughter behind him. Laura. He had to find Laura. Slowing down, he started peering into rooms. She had to be there somewhere, he knew she had to be there somewhere.

After wandering the dimly lit halls for several minutes, he heard her voice. He started to run towards it, but paused, hearing his name.

“…poor little boy. I wish there was something I could do, you know?”

“You do a lot,” said a voice Eli didn’t recognize.

“But it doesn’t seem to help. He just sits there, staring at the walls. He’s a six-year-old kid, you know? He should be playing and laughing. He shouldn’t be in here.”

“I know. But after what happened to his parents, what can you expect? After what he saw…”

Eli frowned. He didn’t remember any parents. He didn’t remember anything except his room here, and his voices, and his Laura.

You don’t remember, do you? Cackling laughter rang in his head. You don’t remember what happened. Don’t you miss your mommy, Eli? Hm? Don’t you remember anything?

Eli’s hands shook as he pushed his hair out of his eyes. He heard laughter, but not the taunting laughter he was used to – a woman’s laughter, soft and warm. His chest started to ache; he felt like ice-water was running through his veins.

Remember, Eli? The voice was dripping with anticipation. Don’t you remember?

Eli slid down the wall, images flashing in front of his eyes. He saw his house again, with the vines growing up the sides. He saw his parents laughing. He saw his bedroom, with all his toys and books.

Do you remember them screaming, Eli?

Eli’s breath was coming faster now. He heard the window smashing. He heard his mother screaming, heard his father yelling that the police were on their way. He heard laughter, the taunting laughter he’d grown so used to. He heard the gunshots – just two, shattering the quiet night. He remembered the blood…

“Eli – Eli! What’s wrong?”

Eli was vaguely aware of Laura’s arms wrapping around him, pulling his head onto her shoulder. He struggled to breathe as the sobs forced their way out of him.

Get away from her, you idiot boy! What are you doing? Get away, don’t let her touch you, get away—

“Eli, calm down! Hey, stop it – stop it! You need to relax, you’re okay, everything’s okay—”

Eli struggled to pull away from her, but she tightened her grip, pulling him onto her lap.

“Don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me, I’m sorry, please don’t hurt me…” Eli sobbed.

Laura blinked. “I’m not going to hurt you. Hey. Look at me.”

Eli’s eyes slowly found their way to her face.

“I’ll never hurt you,” she whispered, wiping his tears away. “I’ll never let anyone hurt you.” She gently pulled his head back to her shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her neck, waiting for the voices to yell at him, to tell him to get away. But the only voice in his head was his own. And he suddenly knew that even if they did yell at him, he wouldn’t believe them. He knew that Laura was good. Laura would fix everything. For the first time in too long, he felt safe.

And finally – even though she hadn’t asked him to – he smiled.

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