Two young teens, life-long friends, discover each other though not in the usual way. A gentle "coming-of-age story.
Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes
The alarm sounded and I found myself leaping out of bed well rested. Before I knew it I was done with the shower and stood drying off in front of the bathroom mirror. I twisted my earrings several times wondering just how long I’d have to do that before I could simply ignore them as most girls do. It being one of the last few weeks of school, the dress code had been relaxed. I reached for a pair of jeans and a blue, vertical striped sport shirt. I stood fixing my hair in the full length mirror for a moment before grabbing my backpack and heading downstairs. I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a bowl, filled it quickly, splashed the milk and practically swallowed without chewing.
"Where’s the fire John?" my mother asked.
"Nowhere Mom, I just thought I’d get an early start is all. Mom, I need to make my lunch. Where’s the turkey?" I asked.
"I’m sorry John, but your father beat you to it."
"It figures," was all I could think of to say.
"Oh well, there’s peanut butter" Mom suggested. I sighed at the thought and removed the jar from the cabinet and made my lunch. At least Mom bought "real" peanut butter and not the crap they made school lunches out of. Sandwich made, I grabbed a container of juice out of the refrigerator and kissed my mother goodbye.
It was closing in on 7:30 as I made my way out the door. I started walking and thought "damn." Darla’s house was indeed three blocks away, but I’d have to walk past Sam’s house taking that route. I quickly considered the alternative and decided that the additional two blocks walk would make me late. I practically ran down the street. That’s not easy to do when you’ve got a backpack full of books hanging on your shoulders. No one from the Peters’ residence spied me, at least I hoped they hadn’t. I arrived at Darla’s just in time and she came out to greet me.
"I like a boy who’s prompt," was all she said as we began walking. After awhile she commented "I noticed you walking alone to school yesterday and then again on the way home. Is something wrong between you and Sam?" she asked.
"Not that I’m aware of," I lied.
"Well, if you ever want to talk about it…" she said as her voice drifted off.
"Thanks" I replied without thinking, knowing that this would confirm her suspicions that something was indeed wrong between me and my best friend.
She started in on the history test again and asked me if I really thought I’d done well. I began to wonder if she was worried that someone had gotten a better score than she had on the test. Knowing I’d killed on that exam and not wanting to upset her, I simply told her that I did all right. She then asked me if I was going to the informal end of the year dance on Friday. I hadn’t even considered it. "Are we allowed?" I asked.
"Yes, silly the graduating seventh graders are always invited to the end of the year dance." I honestly didn’t know anything about it and told her so. "Well, I’m going with Sarah and Sally, if you’d like to join us, you’re more than welcome." I wasn’t so sure Sarah would agree that I’d be welcome and told her so. "Oh, Sarah was just upset cause you never talk to the girls." She replied. What about Sam, she’s a girl, I thought to myself as we continued on. Once again we arrived at school just as the bell was ringing announcing that we could make our way inside. "See you later," she said as she made her way into the building.
I made a point of not looking for Sam and made my way to my locker. Mrs. Pembroke seemed less interested in her job than usual and after briefly surveying the class, signed the attendance card and told her pet, Michael Pommerance, to take it down to the office. I was glad that I wouldn’t have to sit there wasting five minutes waiting for her to ask me if I was there. I sat staring out the window hoping that a freight train would appear on the tracks off to the horizon so I could sit there and count the cars as they passed. Sadly, there weren’t any trains that morning. At length the bell rang letting us know that the day had officially begun. I made my way down the hall to Mrs. Stratford’s class. "Good morning John," she smiled at me as I entered. What was that all about I wondered as I made my way to my seat. She had never greeted me in such a fashion before. Perhaps her husband had suggested a bit of kindness towards me after my apparent outburst in gym class.
Mrs. Stratford came into the room as the last student entered and surveyed the class taking a silent attendance. "Good, you’re all here" she replied. "Some of you performed very poorly on Monday’s test" she informed us. "Those that failed will be given one last chance next Monday should they care to avail themselves of it, but I won’t be offering the test during normal class hours. The interested parties are welcome to stay after school and retake the exam." I broke out in a cold sweat as she made her speech. Had I failed the test that I thought I’d aced? I didn’t think so, but glancing over at Darla, I could tell she was worried too. I guess I’d have to wait till Friday to find out. The rest of the hour passed quickly as Mrs. Stratford gave us a brief preview of next fall’s history lessons. Soon after, the bell rang and we made our way to second period; Mr. Ferris’ shop class.
Almost in an effort to prove that he’d heard every joke possible about his name, he had a huge wooden Ferris Wheel perched on the window sill. It was beautifully painted and I’d heard rumor to the effect that it actually worked. I’d never seen it spin though. "OK kids, listen up," he said. Mr. Ferris unlike the other teachers never took attendance at all. At least, not as far as I could tell. "Most of you have finished with your final projects. A few of you still have some work to do. Those whose final project has been handed in may use the rest of the period as a study hall." Having finished my jewelry box a week earlier, I began studying for Friday’s science exam. I smiled to myself wondering if Mom was going to like the gift that I’d made for her.
Mr. Ferris wasn’t a real stickler for the rules and didn’t mind if we worked together or just got together and talked as long as we didn’t disrupt the class. For awhile I sat there staring at the Ferris Wheel wondering what it would be like to get stuck on the top of it at night with Sam by my side. "John!" Mr. Ferris called to me. "Come into my office for a moment." I made my way into his long and narrow office and took a seat. "John, I have to tell you" he said. "I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a nicer piece of work than your jewelry box. Have you given any thought to pursuing cabinet making as a career?" I honestly had no idea that such jobs still existed. More importantly I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
"Thanks for the kind words Mr. Ferris. At this point I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up." He laughed at that and told me he hoped that I would sign up for his advanced wood working class in the fall. I thanked him and made my way back to my table.
The bell rang and I was off to Math, class, then English and finally lunch. I hadn’t given any thought about what I was going to do about the lunch time seating arrangements. I needn’t have worried because Duncan and the other three were already sitting at my former table when I passed by. My eyes began watering as I made my way to Darla’s table. I hoped they would welcome me as they had yesterday. Since they had just sat down themselves, I didn’t ask permission to join them but just sat in the same seat as yesterday.
"I’m glad you decided to join us" Darla said knowing full well that I’d had no choice in the matter. Sarah gave me a brief glance. A look that suggested she’d love to perform an emergency heartectomy on me. "John, I’ve been meaning to ask you" Darla said. "Did it hurt?" My eyes began welling up and for a moment I wondered whether she was talking about Sam having broken my heart. I looked at her quizzically. "You know, when you got your ears pierced?" I heaved a sigh of relief and noticed that none of my luncheon companions had pierced ears.
"It didn’t really hurt" I explained. "It just stung for a moment and was all over before I knew what had happened." I said
Then she asked a more difficult question. One that I had no answer for and not wanting to appear a total bubblebrain I thought as quickly as I could for the answer to her inquiry "Why did you get it done, John?"
Having drawn a complete blank regarding an answer to this question I simply replied "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Well, I have to admit" she continued "they sure look sexy on you." I blushed at her statement and Sarah and Sally both burst into a fit of giggles. I removed my sandwich from the bag, opened my juice container and began eating.
"You must really like peanut butter." Sally said at last. This was the first time she’d addressed me directly and to show my gratitude I explained the lack of lunch meat at the old homestead. "I was beginning to think you were a vegetarian" she went on. At that we all began laughing though it wasn’t really funny. The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur. The only thing I remember was Mr. Benson reminding us that the test was on Friday and we’d better all be prepared. The bell rang and I began to make my way towards my locker. Before I could reach my target, Darla reminded me about our plans for the evening.
"I’ll be there at 7:00" I assured her and made my way out the door.
I didn’t even look for Sam that afternoon but began walking as soon as I exited the building. Apparently I had missed a few yesterday as this time I counted 144 cracks along the way. The happiness I’d felt yesterday after Darla’s call had deserted me and I found myself missing Sam more than I thought possible. Mom was in the living room when I arrived and she greeted me with "Why the long face sweetheart?" I was tired of holding the pain in and before I knew it I was sobbing. Mom hugged me tightly and stroked my hair as she assured me that all was going to be just fine. When she thought I had calmed down sufficiently she asked, "this is about Sam, isn’t it?" I couldn’t deny it any longer. I felt emotionally drained. I dared not tell Mom the whole story, but I let her know that Sam and I were indeed at odds with one another. In our entire lives we had never fought before. Well, maybe for an hour or so, but nothing like this. In fact, the last fight I remember us having involved her ripping the head off of my GI Joe. And that had been many years ago.
"Maybe you should give her a call?" Mom suggested. I almost took her advice but then decided that if anyone should be calling anyone, it should be Sam calling me. In an attempt to change the subject, I asked Mom what was for dinner. "You said you weren’t going to be here" she reminded me. "I’m not serving dinner in shifts. There’s a frozen dinner waiting for you. You can nuke it at your convenience." In a way I felt short-changed but then I realized that her solution was a reasonable one. Still, I couldn’t help but think that I was being punished for going over to Darla’s house. Mom would think I was nuts if I even suggested the idea. I knew she thought of Sam as a daughter and she herself was upset that we were fighting. I wanted to explain the situation totally, knowing that she’d take my side if she had all the facts. The price was more than I was willing to pay.
I went out into the backyard and began playing with Shandy. "How are you girl?" I asked her. She gave her standard "woof" in reply and for some reason that simple "woof" made me laugh. I played catch with her for a bit, tossing her tennis ball with her catching it and bringing it back to me so I could throw it again. We both grew tired of the game after awhile and I said my goodbyes to her and made my way back inside. I looked up at the clock and noticed that it was only 3:45. Mom was still sitting on the couch watching television. A very unusual thing for her to be doing in the afternoon and I wondered briefly if she was all right.
"I’m going out for a bit." I announced rather than asked.
"OK John, don’t be late though. Remember you have a study date this evening." Without replying I headed out the door and towards the boardwalk.
I walked aimlessly for awhile. This being the middle of the week in the spring most of the shops weren’t open. I briefly remembered my thoughts about replacing teddy and I was grateful the stand was closed as I knew I’d be there playing number 2 again. I walked over to the gate separating the boardwalk from the beach and removed my shoes. I made my way down the ramp and walked slowly to the ocean. I sat just beyond the reach of the waves and stared out to sea. Everything about it was perfect. The only thing missing was Sam. What to do about Sam, I wondered? Did she miss me as much as I missed her? If she did she certainly wasn’t letting it show. I just wanted this nightmare to be over. I started thinking that if we hadn’t become romantically involved that none of this would have ever happened. I missed my friend. I wished I’d brought my guitar with me. I could have serenaded the gulls.
I had a six string solid top guitar. It was nameless and made in Korea, but the action on the neck was perfect and the sound wasn’t half bad. It had been a Christmas present a few years earlier. Of course, the deal had been, we’ll get you the guitar, but you have to promise to take lessons. I laughed remembering that. The lessons had lasted three months before Mr. Zayle declared to my mother that I was hopeless and would never be a guitarist. I hated taking lessons, but, I loved my guitar. I bought myself a few chord books and by the following Christmas I could play just about anything. I knew every important bar chord out there and a few of the exotic ones as well. Mom and Dad were happy that the instrument hadn’t simply wound up in the back of a closet somewhere. I practiced often and was still working on my finger picking technique.
Sitting there on the beach, I found myself lost in thoughts of Sam. Too many thoughts of her. I realized that it been a mistake coming here this afternoon. Instead of feeling comfort and peace, I only felt as though I’d lost a part of my soul. I made my way back to the boardwalk. I sat on a bench using my hands to whisk away the sand that clung to my feet before putting my sneakers back on. As I sat there concentrating on my task, a voice spoke to me. "You’re ruining everything." It said. I looked up and there was Sarah Miles looking at me.
"What are you talking about Sarah?" I asked her.
"Nothing" she replied. Not sure what to say I found myself blurting
"Why do you hate me Sarah?"
"Why don’t you go make up with your boyfriend and leave us alone." She replied. That told me nothing. I stood up and she and I looked each other in the eyes.
"I’m really sorry Sarah" I said. "I only wish I knew what I was apologizing for." With that she turned around and walked away. Girls, I thought as I made my own way home.
It was still only 5:00 as I arrived back home. Walking in the door, I knew I’d better think fast or Mom would surely find me something to do. As I tried to think of something Mom said "why don’t you come help me in the kitchen?" Too late now, but I realized I’d have to start planning ahead in the future.
"But Mom" I whined "I’m not even eating dinner this evening."
"But, you are eating, right?" There was no denying her logic. She handed me a five pound bag of potatoes and told me to get started. Having done this task before, I took the bag and placed it on the counter next to the sink. I filled the wash basin with lukewarm water and dumped the contents into it. Grabbing the vegetable scrubber I began removing the dirt from the potatoes. I continued on in this fashion until the entire five pound bag had been cleaned, peeled, and quartered. It could only mean one thing. Mom was making potato salad. "Well, at least you’ll have something tasty to bring for lunch tomorrow." I found myself thinking of Darla as the clock neared 6 PM.
"I think I’d better make my dinner now Mom" I said. I removed the box from the freezer and began reading the cooking instructions. At least it wasn’t one of the crappier ones as frozen dinners go. Precisely eight minutes later the microwave sounded and I removed the tray and sat down to eat. It was edible, but barely so. I finished up, cleared the table and decided I’d better check my appearance before heading out the door. Upstairs in the bathroom I found myself staring at my reflection. She thought my earrings looked sexy, I remembered as I found myself turning each one slowly. I primped my hair a bit and found myself wishing that I could add some lipstick to complete the look. I had no idea why I was thinking such thoughts, but, I didn’t find the idea as repulsive as I had just a few days ago.
I emptied out my backpack for the most part leaving only my science text and notebook and of course, the secret containers. It was twenty minutes to seven as I made my way to the front door. "Mom, I’m leaving now." I shouted.
"All right Joan, but remember, 9:30 and no later!" she reminded me. I was beginning to think that she called me "Joan" when she was really serious about something. Hell, it was as good an explanation as any. I now had fifteen minutes to traverse the five blocks. There was no way I was walking past Sam’s house at this hour. I arrived ten minutes early and not wanting to appear too eager, I took a leisurely stroll around the block. As my watch informed me it was 7:00 PM, I muttered to myself "here goes nothing." I rang the doorbell and waited for Darla to appear.
Instead of Darla, a young lady answered the door and said "hello."
I found myself saying "I didn’t know Darla had a sister?" With that Mrs. Raspberry broke into joyous laughter. I had inadvertently made a friend for life.
"You must be John." She said matter of factly. She beckoned me inside and informed me that Darla would be down in just a minute. Without my asking she informed me that her husband, Dr. Robert Raspberry wouldn’t be home as he’d been called in to handle an emergency somewhere.
"He and my father have something in common then." I replied.
"Oh, is your father a doctor too?" she asked.
"No" I laughed "But his first name is Robert too." With that she broke out in laughter herself.
"Darla honey, you’re charming friend John is waiting for you." I blushed at her comment.
At last Darla descended the stairs and I noticed something different about her. It only took me a moment to realize what it was. She was wearing a skirt. It’s funny sometimes how your brain ignores the obvious. A brief thought flashed through my mind: I’d never seen Sam in a skirt. Brought back to reality by a comment from Darla as she stood next to her mother. "Are you ready to do some studying then John?" I found myself looking up at the both of them unable to reply. They did indeed look like sisters. Mrs. Raspberry then told Darla what I had said upon entering and both of them began laughing.
"You’re not the first one to make that mistake." Darla informed me. "Is it all right if John and I study up in my room?" she asked. Mrs. Raspberry began looking at me as if she’d never seen me before. Her eyes seemed locked on my ears for a moment before she replied
"All right dear, but leave the door open."
Funny, I’d never considered the need to ask for permission to have a friend up to my room. The house was huge. The stairway alone was twice the width of our own. "Couldn’t we have taken the elevator?" I asked her.
"Oh, I’m sorry John. Did you want to?" I looked at her mouth agape and she laughed and said "Gotcha!" Upon hearing her reply I almost automatically punched her shoulder. I stopped mid-way as a look of serious concern crossed her face.
"You weren’t going to hit me John, were you?" I apologized and attempted to explain the conditioned response. She thought at length and accepted my explanation. We reached the landing at the top of the stairs. All by itself it was as big as our family room and even contained a tiny sofa. I believe that’s called a settee, but I’m not entirely sure. Book shelves lined the walls and they were filled to capacity. Had I somehow stumbled into the public library? Darla noticed my reaction. She had seen it before when friends had come over. "This way John" she said. She took my hand and we began walking down the hall to the last door on the left. I’m not sure just how many doors we passed before arriving but, there were more than a few.
"Your house certainly is a lot larger on the inside than it appears from the outside" I commented. She giggled as if I’d said something funny. It felt strange holding her hand but, it felt nice too. We entered her bedroom and I couldn’t believe it’s size. It was huge! She had a queen-sized four poster bed complete with canopy, a private bath, and even a fireplace. I’d never been in such a fancy bedroom before. Instead of posters on the walls, there were actual works of art. The walls were covered with soft hues of pink and gray. Next to the bath along the wall was a makeup table. It wasn’t that large but was finely constructed and very delicate in appearance. An ornate circular mirror was hung above it. The top was covered with lots of jars and containers. A silver tray was filled with many tubes of lipstick. She saw my eyes locked on the table and laughingly asked me if I’d like to freshen my makeup. I almost went to punch her shoulder yet again, but stopped myself in time and she made no comment.
"We can play with that stuff another time Joan" she said. Were my ears deceiving me? Had she just called me Joan? "Over here" she commanded. I found myself sitting at a table with two chairs on either side. It was not unlike our kitchen table, but this one was made of oak and obviously very expensive. I ran my hands over the smooth surface.
"You seem to be quite taken with the furniture" she said. I told her briefly about Mr. Ferris’ comments to me earlier in the day. She smiled at me and took my hands in her own and seemed to be examining them. "Such pretty hands shouldn’t be crafting wood," she said as her gaze reached for my own. Pretty hands, I thought? Who has pretty hands? Unsure of what to say I turned tables on her and held her hands up for my own inspection. "I may have nice hands, but they’re nothing compared to your own." She seemed pleased with my comment. With that I put my backpack on the table and began removing my books.
"Do you enjoy science class?" I asked her. A look of sadness overtook her face as she replied "no." wondering what was going on, I asked her. "Why so sad?"
"As you now know my father is a doctor. As you also now know, I’m an only child. Get it?" Actually, I had no idea what she was going on about. Finally, I gave her a look that suggested comprehension and simply said "Ahhhhh!" I’d been practicing that look and sigh for as long as I could remember. For a moment she looked concerned. Perhaps that trick only worked on adults? Finally we sat and began preparing for the exam. We slowly made our way through the material. As we continued on, one thing became very clear to me. I was never going to be a scientist. It was now just after nine o’clock and I told her we’d better think about wrapping this up as I was expected home by nine thirty.
"Do you have to leave so soon?" she asked.
"I’m sorry Darla. Mom has been acting a bit strange of late and I really don’t want to upset her."
"I understand. Perhaps we can do this again tomorrow night? It’s the last chance we’ll have to study before the exam" she reminded me.
"I’ll have to check with my parents. Did you want to walk to school with me tomorrow?"
She looked at me and smiled, gratefully accepting my consolation prize. "You will ask your parents about tomorrow night, won’t you?" I promised her that I would. She caught me glancing at her makeup table again and noted that I did seem quite fond of it. I blushed slightly and told her I’d like to examine its construction some time. I packed my books, thanked her for inviting me over and began to make my way out. She grabbed my hand as we made our way down the hall, through the landing, and down the extremely wide stair case.
"Did you kids accomplish anything?" Mrs. Raspberry asked.
"Yes Mom, we covered quite a bit of the material" Darla replied.
"It was a pleasure meeting you Mrs. Raspberry" I said. I’d almost called her "ma’am." Somehow I didn’t think she’d take kindly to that. I said goodnight to them both and headed home.
Looking at my watch I noticed that I only had five minutes to make it home. The long way around was out of the question at this point. I found myself wanting to knock on Sam’s door as I passed her house. Pangs of longing assaulted me. I kept walking. As I opened the front door I heard voices from the living room. Mom and Dad were sitting on the couch deeply engaged in conversation. I got the feeling that something was wrong. Not wanting to get drawn into whatever it was, I simply said goodnight to both of them and made my way upstairs. Something indeed must be wrong, I thought as normally I’d have been given the 3d degree upon arrival.
I put thoughts of my parents aside and began preparing for bed. I went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, inspected my ears, and almost applied a coat of lipstick to my pouty lips. Fortunately, I didn’t have the tube with me and would have had to return to my room to retrieve it from my backpack. I also considered the possibility of waking up in the morning with lipstick all over my pillow. I selected a clean pair of pajamas, put them on, climbed into bed making sure that the alarm was still set for 6:50 and turned out the light.
"What’s she doing here?" Sam asked me, pointing at Darla.
"She’s a friend, is all" I replied.
"So, I’m just a friend, am I?" Darla screamed at me. I jumped half way out of my skin as beads of sweat began escaping from every pore. It took more than awhile before my heart slowed to a normal pace. I grabbed some tissues, wiped myself dry and went back to sleep….
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