Friendsby Cezarija Abartis
Andrea is invited to Caroline’s house for a slumber party, and Paula will be coming too. Their hostess, Caroline, is the new girl in seventh grade; she just moved here. Andrea thinks Caroline is pretty and smart and she has naturally curly hair, while Andrea’s droops around her face. The three of them can watch a show on the new Motorola, drink Pepsi-Cola, paint their toenails red, and talk about boys. Their mothers allow them because they get good grades.
Mrs. Ryan opens the door, wiping her hands on her apron. “We just finished dinner. Would you like some salmon?”
“No, thank you. We had some too.” Andrea knows that she is pretending that tuna-fish casserole is the same thing.
Caroline, wearing pink pedal pushers and a pink plastic bow barrette in her hair, runs down the stairs.
Up in Caroline’s bedroom, a tattered teddy bear leans on the mismatched pillows. Andrea is surprised that it’s all right for a thirteen-year-old to have a toy bear.
Their friend Paula calls and says she feels sick, so her mother won’t let her come.
“I miss Paula,” Caroline says. “I want to get to know her better. She’s interesting. Her painting and writing and all.”
Andrea thinks Caroline speaks like an adult. She determines to be more grown-up in her own life, more complex, more artistic. Outside the curtained window, the twilight softens jagged branches.
“I’ll tell you a secret, and you can tell me one,” Caroline says. “At my old school, I had a boyfriend, but he asked my best friend to the movies.”
“Did you hate her?”
“We couldn’t be friends anymore.” Caroline looks down. “And then my family moved here.”
“I’d never forgive her.”
Caroline plucks at a tuft on the bedspread. “Later, he broke up with her.”
“Serves her right.”
Andrea has heard that Mr. and Mrs. Ryan are separated, that she gets help from her parents. How else can they afford salmon and a new TV?
“My mother’s trying very hard,” Caroline says. “She says she has to be both mother and father.”
Andrea opens her mouth, but nothing comes out.
“I want her to stop,” Caroline says. “I want her to be happy.”
Andrea nods. “I want her to be happy too.” Then she realizes she doesn’t have a right to say that because she isn’t a friend or family member. “I’m just sorry.” She folds her hands in her lap.
“That’s kind of you.” Caroline pats Andrea’s hand as if Andrea were the one needing comforting. “I want to give you a friendship bracelet. We’ll always be friends. It’s my sister’s. She’s in college now and told me to give it to a friend.”
“I can’t. I don’t have anything to give you.”
“That’s not necessary.” Caroline pulls her hand through her hair and stands up. Her barrette falls out.
Andrea picks it up from the bedspread. “Caroline–”
“What?” She turns toward Andrea.
“You don’t have to give me your sister’s bracelet. I want to be your friend always.”
Caroline has a weak, disbelieving smile. “Good. I was so lonely for a while. But you’re my friend now.”
Andrea wonders if she should leave the barrette there, but no, she holds it tight in the palm of her hand, feeling its sharp edges.