JUST ONE SMILE

Just one smile can tell the whole world you’re in love; or it can hide heartbreak. Just one smile can bring comfort; or it can cause hurt. Just one smile can reaffirm the truth; or it can shatter illusions. Just one smile can start relationships; or it can destroy friendships.

Just one smile can change lives.

On her way to work in her middle management role at her local council, Hollie Whitlow follows the never changing route to her desk. She passes the countless coffee shops that offer exactly the same products but with different names, dodges between the buses with over-the-top self-promoting adverts which try and make buses sound like an extension of your social life (they’re buses), and avoids the spill of commuters who wear the very same expression she does: expressionless. It’s an expression which, if it were to be the title of a chapter in the autobiography she worries she may never be asked to write, would simply be named: “How Did I End Up Here?”

At 33, Emily had been destined to be at the height of her career as an author of popular fiction; in her mind. This time of her morning should be spent sipping coffee, freshly poured from a cafetiere by her self-made millionaire husband as she looked out onto her manicured lawn where her impeccably behaved, yet individually character-ed children played lovingly together.

It should not be spent avoiding people in a hurry to get to somewhere they’ll spend their whole day wanting to leave.

In her “real life”, she’d now be sitting at the kitchen counter, writing notes, staring out to the sun soaked sprawl of a garden which would inhabited by feng shui’d summer furniture and freely abandoned beach balls.

It should not be trying to jostle through a crowd shrouded in a manufactured cloud of work-experience Lynx and insecurity shrouding cheap perfume

It is, though. This is her real life without the inverted commas. This is her now rain-soaked day-to-day life. Except the highlight of today’s life is that the rain has reminded her that she needs a brolly, so she can have a little jaunt out to Wilkinsons. It is this very thought – that a trip to buy a cheap umbrella could actually be the highlight of her day – that is draining the last sinews of self-belief and hope from her can’t-be-chuffed body; when she looks up to see a stranger.

On a street painted in grey, amassed with ill-tempered commuters in ill-fitting shirts and ill-advised thoughts, this man shines. No; this man glows. A natural tan compliments his mid-length black hair: greying enough to look distinguished; flowing enough to look carefree. He walks tall: naturally but with confidence. He has, Hollie notices, optimistic eyes. (Although if she had earlier been pressed on what “optimistic eyes” look like, she wouldn’t actually know how to describe them; suffice to say it had been a feature she’d always wanted in a man.) His eyes, blue but not piercingly so, glance at hers, without warning.

It is at that moment – the very moment a solitary drop of water falls from a strand of her now bedraggled black hair and onto the end of her reddened nose – that he smiles: Just One Smile.

Hollie, whose Wednesday – prior to this very moment – was possibly the worst Wednesday she could remember since last Wednesday (and it was still only eight fifty two in the morning on this particular Wednesday), had had her day transformed. Her trudging journey to work had instantly become a jaunty display of all that was good about the world. The black umbrellas that had previously threatened her eyesight on a minutely basis, were now the accompanying props in her very real-life musical. Maybe her sodden hair wasn’t clinging to her face like the tails of a dozen lost rats; perhaps it radiated a beauty that caused a man she had never met before to react in a way not even he knew he would. Maybe he saw deep into her dark brown (tinged with cheap claret) eyes and had seen something within her. Maybe he had seen the song in her soul; the artist within her spirit; the wanton creaking within her ovaries. Hollie could be a successful author with a charming husband and charismatic-yet-not-brattish children after all. Not could be; would be.

Hollie Whitlow was back. She looked up at the sky, inhaled and let out a rich, empowering breath. Her eyes became feline-like; confident and self-assured. She was the woman she had been for so long; and had lost for so long. Raising a half smile, she turned her head to glance over her shoulder at…

He’d gone. Shit. She caught a glimpse of the bus stop clock. 3 minutes to get to work. Maybe the smile of a passing stranger would just prove an anecdote after all. Still, not a bad one to start a Wednesday with. Hollie set about fast-walking to work, a little more lightly than when she’d first set out that morning. She was looking forward to getting in now. Not because she suddenly loved her job, but because she knew her best friend would humour her news. What is more, he’d know she had something to tell just by looking at her.

When you’re truly good friends with someone, all it takes to know that you’ve got good news is Just One Smile.

George Jackson was Hollie’s best friend. He’d got her a job when she was looking for something temporary because she was writing a novel. That was just over 3 years ago; and Hollie was still “writing a novel”.

George was

Rachel was Emily’s best friend at work. They had started at the council a week apart from each other and discovered that they both had a love of Mark Owen, M&S Treat Yourself for £10 meals, and romantic notions about finding “The One”. Except that Rachel had just started seeing the man she’d hoped to be “The One” when she met Emily. That was three years ago now and they had recently moved from their one bedroom flat into a three bed semi which was more becoming for a couple about to start a family. The posters of Britney and Everton FC had been replaced with IKEA canvasses and a pin-board. Everything was falling into place to complete the plan of domestic bliss. Emily was, although not green eyed with jealousy, by her own admission, “envious of the perfectly formed life” her friend had. There was even talk of getting a people carrier. To everyone around her, Rachel had the ideal life and, whenever the office conversation came around to what people had had for tea last night and if she’d cooked for the man in her life, Rachel would give a smile that was more resignation than gratitude.

Just One Smile.