Max was a small boy with mouse brown, spiky hair and dark brown eyes who lived on the coast of Western Australia, and was very lonely. The boys at school did not accept him like he wanted them to. He wanted friends more than anything in the world, but he kept telling himself that he didn’t need them.
Max’s world was dark as can be. Everyday after school he would sit on the steps, waiting for his father to pick him up. He was usually very late.
Max couldn’t think of anything in the world that made him happy. It was rare that anyone ever saw him smile. In fact, there wasn’t a soul in the world that had seen his lips turn upwards since he moved to Perth.
One sweltering hot day, when his life was at its lowest, Max sat nervously on the school steps. Hurry dad, hurry he thought. He knew the bullies would be at the steps soon. They had threatened Max that they would come and beat him up after school because he had answered a question correctly in maths. “Nerd! Geek!” was what the children had chanted.
Max was waiting for fifteen minutes before the boys appeared suddenly in the distance. As soon as he saw them, Max’s heart started beating two times as fast and he knew that he had to run. Despite his nerdy reputation, he was actually a very fast runner, but Max didn’t have complete confidence in himself. He never did.
He sprinted as fast as he could into the distance. Behind him he saw that the other three boys were beginning to run too. He planned to run until he found a hiding place where he would stay until he was sure they were gone.
Running from the boys, Max felt lost and upset. Usually at school he remained unnoticed, but now he was suddenly the schools number one victim. He soon began to sweat, and he had to stop on the road, after making sure the boys were far away. He stood there, panting, for what seemed like forever, until he ran on, in the direction of the ocean.
Soon Max lost sight of the boys. By this time he was at the beach. He found a small cave, which he took cover in. He felt safe there.
He rested for a very, very long time. He did not worry that his father would get cross if he didn’t come back before dinner. Max’s dad didn’t care where he went. He rested peacefully on the rocks, happy to be away from the other boys. He felt better when he was by himself. He didn’t need to worry about what he did. Max walked over to the water where he waded in waist deep.
The water was calm. He felt the sand between his toes and it reminded him of how much he used to love the ocean. Back when he was living in Brisbane. Back when he had countless friends. A wave of misery washed over him, just like the waves crashing over the sand, and he felt so much longing for the place that he had always loved.
Max let a tear slide slowly down his face. He felt as lonely as a cloud, drifting this way and that; high up in the sky. He watched as a tear fell onto the waters surface, creating circle after circle after circle.
When Max was at the lowest of lows, something caught his eye. It appeared to be a small red fish, caught in a can-ring. It was flopping on the rocks desperately.
Immediately, Max sprinted to the rock and carefully slid the fish out of the can-ring. He then put it into a rock pool which was in the cave. You poor thing, thought Max sympathetically. When he out the fish into the water, it didn’t move. Max felt nervous, until he saw the swish of a tail and the fish swimming happily around the rock pool. He liked to think the fish was appreciative for his help.
Soon the fish finished swimming around and stopped, right in front of Max. Max was startled! The fish looked like it was staring right into his very soul. He couldn’t believe it, but it seemed to Max that the fish was smiling up at him. In just a second, he felt a strong attachment to it. His eyes actually lit up. It made him cheerful to sit with the fish. He liked it. He liked the fish’s beautiful red fish scales. He thought they were pretty.
Max ran all the way home to fetch a bucket and some fish food. He was so overjoyed that he ran twice as fast and made it home in less than ten minutes! He didn’t fret about the bullies, they just weren’t on his mind. Once he had a plastic bucket and some fish food, Max continued back to the secret cave.
Max was afraid that the fish might have swum away. He felt anxious as he approached the cave, but his stomach unclenched when he saw the little red fish, waiting for him in the rock pool.
Max had decided to give the fish a name. He thought, and thought, and thought, until he decided that the fish was a girl, so Stella would do. He liked the sound of that. Yes, Stella was the right name for the beautiful red fish in the rock pool. Max filled the bucket with sea-water and carefully placed Stella into it. She seemed happy. He sprinkled some fish flakes into the water, and watched as Stella gobbled them all up. He was beaming inside as he raced back home for dinner.
He didn’t think his father would approve of his new fish friend, so Max placed Stella and her bucket in his closet, out of view. He sprinkled a few fish flakes in, too. “Now, you stay here all right? I’m just going to fetch you some things to put in your new home.” Max told Stella. He thought she understood.
Max pinched some plastic sea plants and pebbles from his father’s fish tank. He was sure his dad wouldn’t notice. When he came back to his closet and put the new things into Stella’s bucket, he felt like Stella was watching him again. He hoped she liked him. “I will always protect you” Max sad solemnly. “I promise.”
Over the next few weeks, Max was the happiest he had been since he moved to Perth. He kept out of the way of the boys at school and they didn’t bother him anymore. Everyday after school he would walk; or more like run home to meet his beautiful pet fish Stella once again. It comforted him some to have someone that needed him; that relied on him to keep them alive. He was smiling more, and everyone noticed the difference in his mood everyday.
Everything was going perfectly, and for once Max was content. His mind did not dwell on the fact that his father had forgotten his birthday, or taken an hour to realise he had to pick up his son from football practice, but on the fact that Stella had grown a whole half a centimetre in one month and finished a whole box of fish flakes. All was going well, that is, until it all went terribly wrong..
On the twenty-fifth day since Max and Stella had met, Max brought Stella in for news. He showed her to the class, and didn’t stutter nervously once! He explained to them all how important to him that fish was, how she was his best friend but they just roared with laughter and told him that fish do not talk, they are not friends. Max didn’t care though, he had his fish. He didn’t need friends.
On that very same day, the bullies that had chased Max ruined everything. It happened in the school cafeteria, where students were eating, talking; that kind of thing. One of the boys, whose name was Daniel had a chocolate milkshake in his hand. Max was innocently making his way across the café when Daniel ran straight into him, the milkshake spilling all over his jumper. An expression of intense rage spread across Daniel’s face. “ARGH!” He screamed.
Daniel grabbed Max by the jumper and pulled him close to his face. Max could smell his garlic breath. “I’m going to get your fish.” He told Max. “And I will kill it!” A look of absolute horror washed over Max’s face. He had left Stella in the classroom, where they could easily get to her.
Daniel released Max from his firm grip, and Max fell to the ground. Terrible thoughts were running through his mind. They were going to kill Stella. They were going to take the last thing in his life that made him happy away. All Max felt was despair. Despair, and anger, and complete horror. He scrambled to his feet and ran, ran as fast as he could to his small classroom.
As soon as he reached his class, Max slammed open the door and reached for Stella’s bucket, which was in the middle of a table at the back of the room. She seemed alright. He stared into Stella’s beautiful eyes and hoped this wasn’t the last time he saw her. All the same, he kissed his beautiful friend and told her that he loved her. He really did. “They won’t hurt you, Stella. I promise.” Max told Stella solemnly.
He ran as fast as he could without spilling the water from the bucket, and the two boys and Daniel chased after him. They were determined to kill that fish. Determined to kill the only thing that kept Max alive.
Max ran on, and on, and on until he was clutching a stitch in his side, but the other boys were catching up. He didn’t know where he was going, but he guessed he was hoping that they would give up like the last time. His face was grim and forbidding, and when he looked back at the bullies they were happy with the pain they had caused. Max staggered on, until he had close to nothing left.
All of a sudden, he stopped. Right in the middle of the road. He let a tear fall to the ground as he crouched. He looked back, and saw that the boys were only about fifty metres behind him. He felt like giving up. He felt like his world had already crashed down and turned into rubble, but when he saw his poor, innocent fish, it gave him the strength and the courage to go on, so he did.
Max ran all the way to the cave where he first found Stella. He felt like saying; “do you remember this place, Stella?” before he realised that Stella was just a fish, like all the kids had told him at school. He needed to let it go. Fish are not friends, he told himself. Fish are fish, and that is that. He sat on a rock, panting, until he realised that he couldn’t see the bullies. Had he outrun them?
Max was relaxed at last, just for a moment, until he heard the voices of Daniel and his followers only a little while away. That was when he made his decision. Right then and there, in a matter of seconds. Max looked right into the bucket at his beautiful friend, and knew he would never let them hurt her. “I love you” Max told Stella, “but I think you would be better off living in the sea.” He stared into her little beady eyes, and for just a second, he felt like love was radiating from his very pores. He felt like Stella loved him too. He knew that he would never forget her. She made his life liveable, that one, small fish made such a difference. “You will be happier there” said Max solemnly. “I promise.”
The tide crept in, as if the ocean knew it was about to accept yet another creature. Max squatted down and placed Stella into the water. He placed the only living being that he had truly loved where she belonged. He placed all his love and happiness that was once inside him, with her. He turned around, and never looked at the ocean again.
Daniel and the two boys emerged from behind the wall of the cave, grinning. Max had a tear that was slowly making its way down his cheek, but he wiped it away, and smiled back at them, with his eyes watering. “I did it.” Max whispered proudly. “What?” one of the other boys asked, unkindly. The boys advanced on Max, who was just standing there, motionless and still, thinking. He didn’t see them coming towards him. He was thinking, thinking of all the happiness Stella had brought him. He had a different view on the world now. His world filled with colour and brightness, and what happened within the next few seconds was a blur to him.
The bullies tried to push Max over, but he didn’t stumble. He stood his ground. Even though Max was at least a head shorter than Daniel and his friends, he had the strength of a boy who was two heads taller. Max pushed Daniel right back, and caused him to fall in the mud. Then, he ran. His muscular legs pumped fiercely, furiously fast. He ran out all the grief, all the sadness the boys had caused him. He was a new person; a stronger one than before. He understood the world.
One year later
The pet store was small, and squishy. It contained just about any animal you could think of. It smelled of fish food. That brought back a lot of memories. Max stepped through the doorway, beaming. He had three hundred dollars in his pocket, which took him months and months to earn. He knew exactly what he wanted to buy, and it was right in front of his very eyes.
The first time Max saw Ruby, he fell in love with her at once. She was a beautiful, peach coloured kitten that had such beautiful, big, adorable eyes. She loved Max the moment they met, and he knew that she was all he wanted. All that would make him happy; and she would never be taken away or hurt.
Never. Max promised her that.