Bonnie

By: Corinne Renee Fowler

Bonnie

Bonnie

By: Corinne Renee Fowler

High school is tough. Actually, high school flat-out sucks. Here I was, in English class, trying to read Beowulf for about the twentieth time. I liked my English teacher, Mr. Hawkins, because A, because he was a babe, and B, he was a writer, and a damn good one. Last year, before I took his class, I read a short story he wrote in the newspaper, and I thought, “Wow, this guy is an amazing writer!” But here I was, reading another version of Beowulf. We had already read the original epic poem. Then, we read a play aloud. Now, we were reading a short story on Beowulf, and I still didn’t understand what the hell was going on. I heard there was a movie that just came out, like, ten years ago, but I had no intention of watching it, because, more than likely, it was going to be just as tedious and boring as reading three different versions of it was. Why did we have to read three different versions of the same story anyway? What was the point of that? Did that make any sense? Nope, not to me, anyway.

My name is Bonnie Lorelei Hunter. I’m sixteen years old, but I feel like I’m much younger. I was a dork when I was a little kid, and that hasn’t changed much since then. Not that I’m complaining (OK, maybe I am, just a little), but it feels like I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m even sort of an outcast among the small group of friends I do have! Not that that bothers me. I’ve always been fascinated by watching, rather than participating in group activities. I like observing the way people behave. I guess that’s the writer in me, the one that also appreciated Mr. Hawkins’ work of short stories.

But I’m getting off topic a little.

I go to Ashfield High, where everyone acts like they’re bigger than the small town that they actually come from. Ashfield is a small town, literally, in the middle of nowhere. It’s actually not a bad town, but it’s got some weird sort of legends. I guess it’s got some weird stories about haunting and stuff, but I pay it no mind. What is it, besides superstitious crap, anyway? Don’t get me wrong. I love my ghost stories, and I watch ghost hunting shows on TV all the time! But I watch it for fun, that’s all. I could go into the whole history of the town, and how it came about, and all that crap, but to me, it’s not relevant. My story isn’t about the town. It’s about me. I know. How self-centered am I, right? In all fairness, though, who else would I be telling a story about? After all, all I know is myself, and my experiences in life.

My story begins here, where my class finally finished the third version of Beowulf, and it was all I could do, not to jump up from my desk, and let out some kind of celebratory whoop. So, upside, we were done with it.

“All right, so, what have we learned from Beowulf?” Mr. Hawkins asked the class.

Not a damn thing, sir, I thought, but decided to keep that to myself. Apparently, everybody else thought pretty much the same thing, because they all mimicked the same spaced-out expressions on their faces that I knew that I had myself.

Mr. Hawkins frowned. “Seriously, you guys?” he asked, and sighed.

“We learned it was boring as hell!” one of the guys, Pete Tanner, from the football team chimed in, thinking he was so clever and funny. Others laughed at his dumb joke, like it was the funniest thing on earth. From the back of the class, I rolled my eyes. What a bunch of idiots they were, I swear. I kept my mouth shut, watching in disgust as some of the guys bumped fists in a congratulatory way, while poor Mr. Hawkins just sat there, and continued to look miserable. I mean, Pete Tanner had a point. Beowulf was boring as hell, and I swear, if I had to read another version of it again, I would probably have wanted to gouge my eyes out with a rusted spoon. But I felt badly for Mr. Hawkins.

Like I said, High school could be tough. And most of the time, you couldn’t win for losing. Your parents still wanted you to be a kid, while your teachers and the colleges you were being forced to apply to expected you to be adults. All the while, you were stuck in the middle, and you just want the crap to stop. Sometimes your friends were all you had. That was certainly the case for me. We called ourselves the “Crew,” which made me think of pirates, but I loved it anyway. There were tons of different personalities in our “crew.” We were like a variety pack of role-playing game cards.

First off, there was the self-appointed leader, Dorinda Carolyn Knight. She was gorgeous with long flowing blond hair and captivating golden-brown eyes. Her appearance made her look more like a lioness than a fifteen-year-old girl. She was also the smartest girl I’d ever known, and worlds more mature than I could ever be! She was like a mini-grown-up. She dressed like something out of a Cosmo Girl magazine, always wearing the latest styles of clothes, and even thought about designing clothes. That would have been kind of cool. I was so jealous of her. She was a good leader. She knew how to take care of the rest of us, very much like the lioness she appeared to be.

There was Adrian Mitchell Curtis, who was a total chick-magnet, and the only guy in our group who consistently hung out with us. He was gorgeous, and everybody wanted to be with him. He had long curly black hair, sparkling sea-green eyes, and was as buff as the wrestler known as the Rock. He was a bit vain, a bit shallow. He’d always show off his muscles to any girl who swooned at his side. All he liked were supermodels for potential love-interests. But he was sort of like the papa of our group. He was always there to give one of us a hug if we were in distress.

There was Anastasia Christine Richardson. She went by “Ana” for short. She was probably the sweetest person I had ever met. Ana was the first person who became my friend when I first moved into this town of Ashfield, and found ways of making me laugh, so that I could loosen up. But she always seemed so sad, and I never understood why. I never asked, because I didn’t want to upset her more. Whenever I saw her, I just wanted to hug her, and protect her from this dark world we called “reality.” To me, Ana looked like one of those angels in a Da Vinci painting. She had long wavy blondish-brown hair and gentle, reassuring blue eyes. The only thing that took away from that whole Da Vinci angel painting illusion was that she wore black all the time. Her outfits were very black on black on black. But not in a “Gothic” way. Just more like a sort of “color is annoying” kind of way. Sometimes, though, she’d surprise me by wearing a white dress or something. She always had tons of bracelets on. Most of them were those rubber ones that tell you to support some cause or another. Some of them were pink for breast cancer awareness, others were orange for Autism awareness, red, for men’s health, and so on. I adored her. To me, she really was like an angel here on earth. Why wasn’t I as close to her as I wanted to be? I was intimidated. She was so good, I was almost afraid of tarnishing such purity.

And then there were my two best friends who couldn’t have been more different if they tried, Adele Katrina Woods and Rosie Marie Jacobs. Adele Woods was part of the student body, always running for something. She was even more mature than Dorinda. But I’ve known her since we were kids, and I always thought that way about her. We went to another school together. I was bullied there, but Adele was one of the few kids who were actually nice to me. I could picture her running for Office someday, to be our first female president. (Move over, Hilary!) That would have been cool. And even though she was only seventy-four hours older than me, I admired this girl for everything she was, and everything I wished I could be. She was strong, beautiful, confident and independent. I loved that about her. She dressed very Gothic or punk rock. She always had dark lipstick and green eye shadow, giving her a mysterious look to her.

Rosie Marie Jacobs was just awesome. She was more like my silly counterpart. She and I could be silly together. Rosie always had this way of breaking me out of my shell. No one else could do that, not even Adele. We would always be running around, doing something completely obnoxious, and then laugh so hard that one of us would be close to breaking a rib. I mean, I could be silly with Adele, too, but not in the same way that I could with Rosie. She just had that extra something that made me want to be silly with her. She was brought up by a very strict household, and probably needed to cut loose every once in awhile. Her mom was cool, but I didn’t really like her dad. I’m sure he was a nice guy, and all, but I never really got to see that good side of him. All I saw was a snobbish, rigid person that I wanted to shake! Rosie dressed very relaxed and casual with comfy jeans and practical sweaters, and her hair tied up in a high ponytail. I wouldn’t says she was tomboyish exactly, but didn’t fuss about clothes. Of course, she was always chasing after her little brothers, Tommy and Timothy, who were both five-year-old twins, so fussing over clothes would have been kind of dumb.

And lastly, there was me: Bonnie Lorelei Hunter. While everyone else was full of life, I sort of had a habit of disappearing into the background. I think I was more content with being an observer than I really wanted to admit. I thought I wanted to be the center of attention, like Dorinda or Adrian, or even Adele or Rosie. But every time I was the center of attention, I would choke up and get nervous. I didn’t like it. All I wanted to do was disappear again. I was more content in my inner quiet. How would I describe my style? A little bit of everything. Goth one day, Bohemian with long crinkled skirts and peasant shirts the next. I guess it all depended on my mood. Most days, though, I did what I could to dress comfortably: a big sweater and some leggings.

The three of us did have other things in common, though. We all loved the colors, purple and light, blush of a baby pink. We all loved the same kind of music, for the most part. And the three of us had brown hair and brown eyes. But even that characteristic was altered by the three of us. Adele had light, wispy short brown hair, cut in a pixie cut. And her eyes were more hazel than brown, like yellow cat eyes, or something. Rosie’s was dark and curly, again, often pulled back in either a ponytail or a messy bun. Her eyes were as dark, sparkly and pure as a golden retriever’s, giving her the appearance of innocence. She was cute as a button, I thought.

My hair was shoulder-length, a chestnut brown color, and just all over the place. Even when I tried braiding it in pigtail braids, my hair had a mind of its own. I hated it. My eyes were kind of pretty, though, like a warm chocolate brown color.

There were a lot of things in my life that seemed to weigh me down on a nightly basis. But during the day, I had my Crew, and that was enough for me. So, I guess, this story isn’t only about myself. It’s more like a story about myself and my friends.

Maybe I should back up a little bit, to before my whole Beowulf tangent. We got off the bus, and hung out outside. In the back of the building, there was a sort of outdoor underpass to get from one side of the school to the other. Students and teachers alike used to smoke out there, before laws prevented them from smoking on public property. Occasionally, there would still be cigarette butts squished into the ground. Not that we cared. For me, especially, it was kind of a cool place for the six of us to hang out before almost seven long hours of hell. In fact, it was my favorite part of the building in general.

“I’m here!” Dorinda announced, and we immediately ran toward her. I have no idea why; she just seemed to have this way of gravitating everyone towards her. At her hip, there was a guy with gorgeous curly blond hair and blue eyes. He was hot! I felt my face flush at the sight of him. This must have been Dorinda’s new boyfriend, a foreign exchange student from Russia. Dmitri, I think his name was. Dorinda was really into the foreign exchange students, actually. I couldn’t blame her. Everyone around here (Adrian, included sometimes) were idiotic. The foreign exchange students were cultured, mysterious and romantic. Only Dorinda had the power to gravitate such gods toward her. God, I hated her for that! Why couldn’t I gravitate people like that toward me? Oh well. Such was life. Sometimes,, Dorinda would brag about it. “We’re such a cute couple,” she’d say sometimes. “How great does this sound: Dmitri and Dorinda. Or, no! Dorinda and Dmitri!” Sometimes it made me just want to puke all over her brand new Chanel bag that she got for Christmas one year.

“Hello,” Dmitri greeted us, shyly. I waved back to him, smitten, and he smiled sweetly at me. I almost swooned right there in front of everybody. That would have been embarrassing.

“So, are we meeting again today after school?” Rosie asked.

“I can’t. I have drama tonight,” said Adele, rolling her eyes. “God, my schedule is so crazy!” she groaned dramatically. Drama club was just another group she was participating in, in addition to student council, art club, the debate team, and a dozen other things. I didn’t know how she could keep it all straight. Rosie and I were just in choir, and, jeez, that was enough for the both of us. In comparison to Rosie and me, Adele Woods was more like Wonder Woman, I swear!

“And I haven’t called my dad to ask him if he could pick me up,” I added regretfully. One cool thing about staying after school was having my father pick me up from school. The whole time I would be talking to him about complete, utter nonsense, and he would just listen, smiling fondly. My parents were divorced, and had been for almost ten years. But whenever I sat in my dad’s truck, just going on and on about my day, or something completely uninteresting, I could forget about that for a while.

“Well, why don’t we plan something for tomorrow, then?” Adrian suggested.

“I could ask my dad if it’s okay, anyway,” I replied with a shrug.

“Yeah, I think I’m free tomorrow, sure,” Adele added.

“How about you, Rosie?” asked Dorinda expectantly.

Rosie shrugged. “I think I can manage, as long as I don’t have to pick up my brothers from school tomorrow,” she replied. That was one of her many chores, regarding her brothers. Pick them up from school, start on dinner, and make sure the twins don’t kill themselves for the next hour, before her parents came home. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Actually, it was pure hell. The kids seemed to go out of their way to make poor Rosie’s life miserable. Tommy and Timothy were good kids, and all, but they did enjoy driving Rosie crazy a little too much.

“Fair enough,” Dorinda decided. “We could talk about it over lunch.”

“Sounds good,” said Adrian.

Just then, the bell rang, letting us know that it was time for us to head inside.

After two long classes (English included, followed by Algebra I), I was finally able to have lunch with my friends, where we discussed our plans for tomorrow. This was my favorite part of the day. Adele would be talking about some play the Drama Club was working on, and I would listen, silently wishing that I was in the Drama Club, too. But I was too shy to even think of acting. I would have probably sounded like an idiot, trying to remember my lines. Ha! Forget that noise.

“So, what should we do tomorrow?” asked Ana. “There’s a beautiful path behind the school that we could hike through.”

“The Nature Walk? Sounds good to me,” said Dorinda.

“My favorite part is seeing all those butterflies,” I piped up, smiling fondly at the thought of seeing a whole flutter of butterflies. And hummingbirds, too! Seeing them reminded me of fairies, which was a nice way of taking me away from this hell known as the real world. Everyone smiled fondly at me, and my face flushed from the sudden attention.

“Yeah, that would be cool,” Rosie agreed, sort of helping me out. Again, Rosie and Adele were the only two who understood my hatred toward sudden attention. OK, it was more like a love-hate relationship. Loved and wanted it when I didn’t have it, and hated it whenever I did. I was pretty messed up, come to think of it.

“Then the Nature Walk, it is,” Dorinda decided, as if concluding our discussion. I think she just wanted to end the conversation so that she could make out with Dmitri.

Oh, brother, Dorinda, I thought, rolling my eyes, and went to chatting with Rosie about some stories we were working on together. She and I had been working on several things together for a little over a year. We had written a story about witches several times over. We were also doing a story about a prince falling in love with a peasant girl. Usually, we were on the same page when it came to our writing, but for some reason, Rosie and I couldn’t agree on what to do with one of our characters. It would become a playful argument we had for years to come.

“I don’t know if Duke would do that, though,” I told her, after she explained a very bizarre situation with the character in question. “I mean, he’s crazy, and all, but I don’t think he would go that far, do you?”

“Uh, yeah, he would,” Rosie replied with a laugh. “He’s completely insane, Bonnie. I mean, he did take over a whole planet, remember?”

“Who did what, now?” Adrian asked, looking at us like we were completely insane..

“A book we’re working on,” I explained simply.

“Oh, OK,” Adrian replied, frowning in boredom, and went back to chatting with a friend of his named Jason, who I didn’t really know very well. Jason wasn’t really part of the group that I hung out with. But I guess he and Adrian had been best friends since kindergarten. By now, everyone knew that Rosie and I had an interesting language when it came to our writing. I had the same sort of secret language with Adele, too. I guess writing, back then anyway, was the best way I knew how to communicate. And according to Dorinda, I wasn’t the best at that, either. I guess I couldn’t please everybody, which was torture enough for a Libra.

“Hey, guess what?” Anastasia announced, all bright-eyed. “I’m seeing someone!”

Everyone’s attention went to Anastasia. “Who is he?” Rosie asked, all excited for her. Anastasia had a few boyfriends in our time in high school. Most of them I didn’t like, because they seemed shady. But still, I was always hopeful for her to find “the one.” I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know that I wanted her to be happy.

“His name is Charlie. He’s so sweet and romantic!” Ana replied, her eyes sparkling with delight. He had better be, I thought, because if he isn’t, I’ll kick his ass, (Yeah, right, as if I could, or something.)

“Does he even go to school here?” Dorinda asked, kind of in a snotty way that I didn’t really appreciate. It kind of made me want to smack her upside her head, and I think I was the only one in the entire group to actually have the gall to do that, too.

Ana frowned. “No, he goes to a private school outside of town,” she replied. “But he and I are going to prom together.”

Prom? Jesus Christ, Ana was a sophomore in high school! I wished I were going to prom with someone when I was a sophomore. But I was almost invisible in an overcrowded school. I mean, most of my friends were dating older guys, while I was dating no one. I don’t mean to sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself, but I felt so ugly. But I kept these thoughts to myself. I didn’t want anyone to think I was acting like a little kid. I mean, I was, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that. I didn’t want anyone to think I was pathetic, or something.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Rosie said, as though supporting her.

I continued to watch my friends as they talked and talked about everything and nothing all at the same time. It was always fascinating to see things from their perspective.

I came home that night, and took my dog Cocoa out for a walk before dinner. Cocoa was a golden retriever, chocolate lab mix. His fur was chocolate brown, but it was fluffy like a golden retriever. I truly loved that dog. He was my best friend. My sister, Cathie was always elsewhere, on one date or another. And my mother was working late. So, for the next four hours after school, I had Cocoa. It was just me and him. We walked through the woods together, and I told him about my day. Not that he understood a word I was saying. But it was nice to talk to somebody after school, even if it was a dog. I could always count on him being there for me. After I took Cocoa for a quick walk around the woods in the backyard, I went back into my house, and turned on the radio, and started on my homework. He helped me focus a little bit better. Maybe he was a therapy dog, or something, and I didn’t know it. Like I said, he was adopted by us just recently, and he was an older dog. So, I didn’t really know that much about him. He was just a really sweet dog, and I loved him. That was enough information for me.

Just as I was getting into the groove of doing my homework, and jamming out to some serious ’80’s music, my sister burst through the door, and threw her black barrette on the floor. Cathie was a full-on Gothic chick with light blue streaks in her short brown hair. She wore leather pants, a black crop top and a dog collar choker necklace on. Her face was always caked with some sort of black makeup, and she had the temperament of a complete psycho! We loved each other, but we were polar opposites.

“Hey, Cathie,” I greeted. “How was your date with Mike?”

“A bull crap waste of my time, that’s what,” she replied, and walked into the kitchen. She swung open the refrigerator door, and took out a beer. She popped it open, allowing the carbonization of the beer to sizzle for a second before guzzling it down like a two hundred and eighty pound man.

“That’s a quick way of screwing up your liver, Cathie,” I commented, not looking up from my homework.

“Screw you, Bonnie,” Cathie replied, and belched obnoxiously. Classy. Then, Cathie wrinkled her nose. “Jesus Christ, what the hell are you listening to?”

“Steel Cobra,” I replied. It was one of the most popular Metal bands in the ’80’s. I don’t know why I liked it so much, considering how much I actually hated heavy metal, but for some reason, I loved Steel Cobra. I think I liked the lead singer’s voice. It reminded me of a prince’s voice in a Disney movie, but it was Heavy Metal. I loved it.

“Turn that crap off, would you, please?” Cathie demanded, and without even asking, she turned off the radio, and went into the bathroom, and closed the door. She turned on the radio my mom kept in there, and Cathie was listening to more 80’s Metal. It was a different band, but still.

“OK,” I whispered, and continued working on my homework.

About an hour later, my mom came home, also in a bad mood. She hated her job as much as I hated eating corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. But she was a great front desk secretary for the law firm she worked at. She knew it, and so did most of the clients that hired my mother’s boss, Mr. Price, who was a bloodsucking lawyer. I just thought it was kind of funny that his last name was Price, and he was a lawyer. But I guess he was kind of a jerk to most of the other receptionists at the firm. It was a small firm, but, boy, did he act like a big shot! He was one of the partners of the firm, but he wasn’t the top partner, or anything.

“What a freaking jerk!” my mom huffed, and threw her keys on the kitchen table. This was going to be a long night. I could already tell. She saw me at the kitchen table, doing homework, and sighed. “Oh. Hi, Bonnie. Is Cathie in the bathroom again?”

“Yep,” I replied, daring not to look up from my homework, as my mom walked toward the bathroom, and banged on the door.

“Catherine Elizabeth, get your ass out of the bathroom, please!” my mother called.

“Jesus, Mom, hang on!” my sister called from the other side of the door.

Yay, I thought bitterly, continuing my homework. By now, it was pretty much the same every night. I loved my mom, and I loved my sister. But, boy, were they drama queens! Cocoa, sensing my anxiety, tugged on my sleeve, and led me to my bedroom, as if to tell me to stay out of my mom and my sister’s way, while they fought. Yep, he was a therapy dog, all right, and a damn good one, too. I turned my music back on, trying to block out the noise of the two of them screaming at each other.

Neither my mom nor my sister seemed to be too mad at each other after that. They didn’t fight for too long. About an hour later, we all had dinner together. I made a casserole. It wasn’t the best cooking in the universe, but it wasn’t completely unfortunate, either. At least it was edible… this time… My mother seemed to approve, anyway.

“Very good, honey,” she praised, nodding with satisfaction.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“Suck-up,” Cathie hissed.

“Delinquent,” I countered.

“Guys, knock it off,” my mom snapped. Just then, the phone rang. My mom leaned over, and grabbed the cordless off the charger, and answered it. “Hello?... Oh, hi, Chris…. What do you mean you’re not coming over tomorrow?” she demanded.

Cathie and I looked up at each other in dread. Chris was our dad, whose favorite hobbies included building, fishing and making plans with me and my sister, only to blow them off at the last minute. Tomorrow, my dad was supposed to pick me up at school, so he could spend a little time with Cathie and me a little bit.

Dad seemed to like breaking promises as much as we hated when he did that. I honestly don’t think he meant to hurt us by doing that, but I don’t think he gave it much thought, either. We were growing up, after all. We didn’t need him to be there all the time. But we still needed him. I don’t think he really appreciated that until much later.

My mom rubbed her temple, and sighed. “Yeah, OK,” she said to my father. “… Whatever. It’s fine, Chris…. Well, what do you want me to say, Christopher? You know what you’re doing is wrong, and you continue to do it…. Yeah, OK,” she said again. “Yeah, bye.” With that, she hung up, and rolled her eyes. Then, she turned to us, and smiled apologetically. “Hey, guys. Look, Dad’s not going to be able to come over tomorrow,” she said.

I felt my chest constrict, feeling utter betrayal. I don’t know why I felt like this. It wasn’t something unusual, or anything. He blew us off all the time. But every time he did, it still hurt just as much as it had the first time. Again, I don’t know why.

Worse, I had made plans with my friends for tomorrow, to go to the Nature Walk. What was I going to say to them if I baled? “Mom, can I use the phone after dinner?” I asked.

“Sure,” my mom replied. “Are you OK, sweetie?”

“Yeah,” I lied. I finished eating, and quickly rinsed my plate, before grabbing the phone, and calling Rosie and Adele. Rosie had three-way calling, so as soon as I called her, she called Adele. “Hey, what’s up?” asked Rosie when the three of us were on.

“I can’t go with you guys tomorrow,” I told the girls.

“Well, that sucks. What happened?” Adele asked.

“My dad blew me off,” I said with a tired sigh. “I hate it when he does that.”

“I could ask my parents if it’s OK for you guys to sleep over,” Rosie volunteered. “My mom will probably want to do our nails and stuff, though.”

“I’m OK with that,” said Adele. “I don’t normally do my nails, but it could be fun.” Back in high school, Adele was a little bit more tomboyish, but was starting to experiment with makeup and other girly things.

“You sure your parents wouldn’t mind?” I asked. The truth was, I adored her mom. She was the coolest mom I had ever met. But her dad? He had a rod stuck up so far up his butt all the time that I swear, the guy had forgotten what a sense of humor was. Snob Central, I’d call him to myself.

“Nope,” Rosie replied. “Mom said it was cool.”

Thank God, I thought. A change of subject was in order. “So, I wonder what we’re going to do at the Nature Walk,” I said.

“I don’t know… Walk?” Rosie playfully suggested, and both Adele and Rosie burst into laughter. Ha, ha.

“You’re so clever, aren’t you?” I said.

“Yep!” said Rosie, and giggled.

I rolled my eyes, and shook my head at her. Man, she was a goofball. Sometimes it drove me a little nuts, but I couldn’t stay mad at her. I loved her too much. “OK, so I’ll ask my mom if I can sleep over at your house tomorrow night.”

“You’d better!” Rosie teased.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” said Rosie.

“Yeah, Bonnie. You’d better!” Adele chimed in, and the three of us burst into a fit of giggles.

I don’t know why we giggled like that. It wasn’t even all that funny, looking back on it a little. When the three of us were on the phone together, the three of us just laughed and laughed and laughed at the dumbest things. Those three-way phone calls were the best conversations of my life.

After we calmed down a little, I sat up on my bed, and sighed. “OK, give me a second, guys,” I said, and went into the kitchen, where my mom was drinking tea and reading the Bible. “Hey, Mom?” I said. She looked up from her bible at me. “Would it be OK if I slept over at Rosie’s tomorrow night?”

My mom raised her eyebrows. “I guess not, as long as it’s OK with Rosie’s parents,” she replied.

“It’s OK,” I told my mother. “She already asked her mom, and she said it was OK. So, can I? Please?” I begged, batting my eyelashes all cutely at my mom.

Mom snorted, and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, it’s fine. Goofball,” she said.

“Yay!” I squealed, and put my ear to the phone again. “She said yes!”

“Yay!” Rosie squealed.

“Yay,” Adele chimed in with an even tone.

Adele, for whatever reason, wasn’t much of a squealer like Rosie and I were. Not that she wasn’t a happy person, or anything. She just wasn’t as obnoxious as Rosie and I were about it. Adele was just too cool to be silly, I guess. Adele was always worlds more mature than the rest of us were. She was already an adult at the ripe old age of sixteen! But not me and Rosie; we loved to be as silly and as stupid as we could be. We had to be so formal with everybody else in the group that when it was just the two of us, Rosie and I finally felt free! It was as if we could be in our own little world, and do whatever we wanted. I couldn’t do that with the others (believe me, I tried!). Just Rosie.

“OK, well, I’ll see you guys tomorrow?” I concluded.

“Yeah,” said Adele. I could just picture her shrugging, as if to say, “Sure, why not? What the heck?”

“You bet,” said Rosie.

“OK, goodnight, guys,” I said, and hung up the phone. I went back into my room, and plopped myself on the bed. Cocoa was already asleep on the bed. I snuggled up to him, and fell fast asleep. God, I loved that dog.

The next day, after another boring day at school, we all went to the Nature Walk, as planned. Dorinda, of course, was leading the way. “Oh, wow!” I said, looking up at the changing leaves. It was October, my favorite month, and it was a beautiful autumn day.

“What?” asked Rosie.

“Just all the pretty leaves. Look at all that color!” I mused.

“Yeah, it’s nice, I guess,” said Adrian with a careless shrug. What did he know, anyway? He was practically Emo, with his black hoodie and his black jeans and his hair slicked back like a Greaser from the ’50’s. I honestly adored Adrian, but sometimes, I just wanted to splash some neon pink acrylic paint all over him, and call him a unicorn. (Boy, would he have been pissed if I did that!)

“It is really beautiful, isn’t it?” Ana agreed.

“Sure is,” said Rosie.

“OK, you sentimental saps,” Dorinda broke in, and decided that we should rest.

As if on cue, everyone unwrapped their jackets from around our waists, and neatly lie them on the ground, before we all sat down in a circle. I don’t know why we all did whatever Dorinda wanted whenever she wanted. It was no wonder she could be a brat ninety-nine percent of the time. The little witch always got her way! I sat behind Rosie, and started braiding her hair. By now, she’d gotten used to me messing with her hair like a girly-girl. She’d stopped fighting it a long time ago, which was pretty nice.

“I’d paint a picture of this if I could,” Ana sighed almost dreamily.

“It is kind of pretty, isn’t it?” Dorinda agreed, as she took out some sunblock from her backpack, and carefully applied it to her skin. The girl was obsessed with not letting her skin wrinkle by the sun. Never mind the fact that Dorinda was younger than the rest of us. But I guess that was why Dorinda was also the prettiest out of all of us, too.

“Not nearly as pretty as you, though, Dorinda,” her gorgeous Russian boyfriend, Dmitri murmured cutely at her. (At least, that’s what I think he said. His Russian accent was so thick sometimes; it was hard for me to understand him.) Dorinda giggled cutely at him, and nuzzled his neck. The sight was both adorable and nauseating all at the same time.

I stopped braiding Rosie’s hair (because it was giving me more trouble than I thought it would), and just stared out at the gorgeous view of all that was around us. I swear, I could have stayed out there all day, if it weren’t for my barking feet.

“Should we continue onward?” Dorinda asked, and immediately got up, and started walking before she even gave us the option. Reluctantly, the rest of us got up, and followed behind her. We continued walking through the Nature Walk for another hour or so, before we all decided to go and get some coffee and hot chocolate from Gloria’s Café, which wasn’t far from the Nature Walk.

We all sat at a big round table with soft, comfortable chairs, talking about whatever, until almost out of nowhere, Ana had an idea. “Hey, how about for Christmas, we do a Secret Santa?” she suggested. “I mean, before we know it, Christmas will be here, right?”

“Ooohhhh, sounds like fun!” I exclaimed, and immediately blushed when everybody looked at me like I was a weirdo. How embarrassing. Get back in your shell, Bonnie, I thought, and lowered my head, trying to be invisible again. I hated being a socially awkward human being.

Adrian groaned. “Secret Santa? Are you kidding me right now?” I looked up at him, and snorted. He was such a guy sometimes, it was ridiculous.

“You don’t have to do it,” Adele pointed out, and Adrian just shrugged.

“I’m OK with that,” said Dorinda.

“Cool to me, too,” Rosie added with a shrug, picking at a muffin she ordered.

Adele also shrugged. “Could be fun,” she added.

“OK, so let’s do it,” said Dorinda.

So, that was what we did. Over the next couple of days, we were given the people we were supposed to give Christmas presents to. I was assigned to Dorinda (of course), and I had no idea what to give her. All of her art supplies were high-end sophisticated art supplies, so giving her a cheap Crayola colored pencil set probably would have been insulting. Not that Crayola was a cheap brand to begin with! I guess I could have gotten her a gift card to Michael’s, but would she have liked it? Again, I had no idea, because, for all I knew, she could have shopped at Joanne’s, or something. I never realized how hard it was to shop for someone who was high maintenance.

I went to Walmart, hoping I’d be able to find something, anything, when I saw Adele shopping with some of the girls from the Drama Club, like Connie Richards and Debbie Roark. Adele must have had a lot of shopping to do for about a million people. She was pretty popular. I waved to her, and she waved back. I walked through the craft section for at least an hour before I settled for a sketchbook I was pretty sure Dorinda would use. I paid for it, and left.

Choir lessons were in session for the remainder of the week. Ana and Rosie were in choir with me. The three of us sat as close as we could together. The problem was, Ana was a First Soprano (the highest and the squeakiest of singers) and Rosie was an Alto (the lowest of the female singers), while I was in the middle, praying I could hit at least one high note as a Second Soprano. We were pretty spread apart, and there had to have been at least a thousand members in this year’s choir. We were all struggling with a complicated arrangement of “The First Noel,” and I thought I was going to pass out at the highest, most climactic crescendo of the song. Even though it was the prettiest version of the “First Noel,” with the piano part accompanied with the most beautiful version of the “Pachelbel Canon” I had ever heard, the song overall was longer and more drawn out than my lungs could really handle. By the end of it, it was all I could do not to heave and gasp for air! Still, after singing it, I felt a corny rush of Christmas spirit for all of two seconds before having to sing to a jazzy version of “Frosty the Snowman” that I honestly couldn’t stand. But we had to sing it like we loved it. I could tell that some of the more Emo kids in choir felt a little silly singing a jazzy version of “Frosty the Snowman,” and then sing another religious Christmas carol afterwards.

This year, the high school band was going to play the music while we sang the Christmas carols. We thought we were going to have a blast… until the reality of it set in during choir practice. The choir couldn’t hear what we were singing, because the band’s music was blaring in our ears. Our choir director, Mrs. Lewis looked as mortified as we must have looked. She waved her arms at us, signaling for us to shut up for a minute.

“This isn’t going to work,” she said, looking up at the band director, Mr. Pierson.

“I can see that,” he said, stroking his chin, and shaking his head. “What about if we have the choir singing in the back of the auditorium, while the band uses the stage?” he suggested.

“That’s a good idea,” said Mrs. Lewis.

Not really, I thought, and shook my head. Yes, to the extent that we would be able to hear ourselves, but not really, because in what world, did they have the singers in the back, while the band was in the front in any other concert in the entire theater world? No, usually, the choir would be in center stage, while the orchestra was hidden in the front or up high somewhere. But this was a high school, not the Providence Performing Arts Center, so we had to make do with what we had.

Even so, I could only imagine the confused looks on the audience’s faces when they would have to look back and forth, from the band, to us. I was pretty sure my mom and dad would ask me what the hell was going on when we did the concert, and how dumb I was going to feel when I had to explain to them that this mix up wasn’t my idea, that my choir teacher thought it would be a great idea to have our parents straining their necks, just to see us.

After choir practice, Ana, Rosie and I walked out of the auditorium, completely confused. “What the hell was that?” I asked, shaking my head.

“I have no fricking idea,” Rosie replied, rubbing the back of her neck.

“Think of it this way,” Ana piped up, “at least this year’s concert will be interesting, right?”

“That’s an understatement,” Rosie said.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” I replied. “Oh! And did you see how Lydia Jacobson was sucking up to Mrs. Lewis, just so she could get a solo for ‘What Child is This’?”

“God, Mrs. Lewis is so into herself, it’s ridiculous,” Rosie replied, rolling her eyes.

“Well, anyway, it’s over now,” said Ana.

“Amen to that!” I said.

“At least until next practice,” Rosie pointed out, which made Ana and me groan in agony. Sometimes, choir practice really sucked.

One night, in my bedroom, I practiced singing my part in some of the Christmas carols we were going to sing for the Holiday Concert that was coming up pretty soon. Cocoa seemed kind of annoyed at my singing, and, honestly, I couldn’t blame him. My singing was shoddy as all get-out. “I’m sorry, boy,” I said, petting his head. “But I have to get this part right. After all, Mrs. Lewis is counting on me!” Yeah, that was a joke. Anyone who wasn’t Lydia Jacobson didn’t really matter in the eyes of Mrs. Lewis. That woman played favorites really badly. She only had twelve favorites in a choir of almost eighty people. Some of the top ones, besides Lydia was Abby Fitzgerald, Daniel DiCaprio (and no, he’s not related to hunky Leonardo DiCaprio—I asked) and Rebecca Miller. Mrs. Lewis was all smiles with her favorites, and damn near sneered at the rest of us, who, by the way, could have used that love she had for the suck-ups. Let’s face it: Mrs. Lewis was a flat-out witch. I know that’s really harsh to say about one of your teachers, but it’s the honest truth.

I continued to practice my singing when I heard a knock on the door. I tossed my music aside, and sat down. “Yeah?” I called, and Cathie came in. She was wearing her hair in a messy bun. She was sporting a leather jacket, a white T-shirt and tight jeans and some highheeled boots. She looked like a biker chick. The only thing she was missing was a biker boyfriend who called her his old lady. “Hey,” she greeted. “Want to come outside with me?”

“Sure,” I replied, and came out of my room. We went out of the house, and started walking around the back yard. Cathie lit a cigarette, and looked up at the night’s sky. “Dude!” she breathed in awe. “Look at all those stars!”

I looked up, and she was right. The sky was practically glittering with stars. “Whoa!” whispered, in equal awe of the beauty my sister and I be held at that moment. That was the one thing I absolutely loved about living in a small town: looking up at a clear sky, and seeing the most beautiful celestial masterpiece that the heavens could have ever made. We couldn’t see this beauty when we lived near the beaches in middle school. It was drowned out by the false light of restaurants and tourist attractions. But here, in this small rural town of Ashfield, it was amazing to see all the hidden beauty of what nature could bring.

It was nice, sharing this moment with my sister. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Cathie and I were fighting! We just never saw eye to eye about much of anything, and it only got worse as we got older. But it was this one percent of peace between us that made me remember why I loved her so much. I loved the way my sister saw the world. For as long as I could remember, I had always loved the way Cathie saw the world through a different lens. It was as if she had been touched by the gods themselves. But her inner beauty wasn’t recognized by anyone else. Sometimes, I didn’t understand the way her mind worked. But I always found that what she believed in was more beautiful than I could ever imagine. I just hoped that one day I would be able to see the world through my sister’s eyes. Maybe someday….

“What are you guys doing out here?” my mother asked from the sliding glass doors at the house. She had on a long beige cardigan sweater, and she wrapped it around herself like a bathrobe, and shivered. Thanks for killing the moment, Mom, I thought to myself. “It’s freezing out,” my mother continued on. “Why don’t you come inside, and I’ll make dinner? We’re having stuffed shells tonight.”

What? Stuffed shells? Cathie and I had been looking forward to that for almost two weeks. My mom, by the way, was a badass in the kitchen, banging up feasts fit for the gods! Cathie and I exchanged the same excited look, before rushing back into the house, drooling at the prospect of cheesy stuffed shells, completely forgetting about the magic of nature up in the night’s sky.

It was finally the day of Secret Santa exchanges. My friends and I gathered together at the café, drinking hot chocolates, and finally exchanging our gifts. I had finally settled for a set of Crayola colored pencils for Dorinda. “Oh, Bonnie, thank you! I’ve been needing a set of pencils!” she said. That was a shock. I thought she would have snubbed them away, because they weren’t high end artists’ colored pencils. Thank God, I thought, and gave her a quick hug.

“Merry Christmas, Dorinda,” I said.

“You too,” she said, and handed her Secret Santa gift over to Ana. She had gotten Ana a makeup set and some more bracelets. To my surprise, my Secret Santa was Adrian. He had gotten me some journals and a set of pens for my writing.

I gave Adrian a big hug. “Thank you, Adrian!” I said.

Adrian returned my embrace, and chuckled. “It’s OK. You’re welcome, dear,” he replied, and gently broke free from it. Ana was Rosie’s Secret Santa. She’d gotten Rosie a copy of a book, called How to Deal with and Care for Your Annoying Little Brother, by Nia Maya Reese. It was a kid’s book, but later on, it would serve as a useful tool whenever Rosie babysat for little Timothy and Thomas. Ana was a genius! Dmitri was Adele’s Secret Santa. He got Adele a book on different types of Japanese Anime styles, which was fitting at that time. Adele was really good at Japanese animation. Adele was also Dmitri’s Secret Santa, giving him some fancy headphones and a plaid winter scarf. It was weird how it just kind of worked out that way. But cool. And finally, Rosie was Adrian’s Secret Santa. She had gotten him a Black Sabbath T-shirt and a random pack of gum. (OK, then.) I had to admit, I was a little jealous. I wished I had gotten Adrian something, but it probably would have been lame, like a book of crossword puzzles, or something. I never knew what to get that guy. He gave her a big bear hug, and kissed her cheek. (Jab to the heart! That was brutal!)

“Thanks, Rosie,” he said.

Rosie blushed, grinning from ear to ear, and looked at me in horror. “Um, it’s all good,” she replied, nudging him away. Rosie knew how desperately I liked Adrian, and tried not to flirt with him too much… although, Rosie had a habit of being a major flirt when she wanted to be. She was already breaking the hearts of two guys right now: David Russell and Peter Westcott. Not that I had the courage to say anything. My friendship with Rosie meant too much to me. Looking back, I probably would have settled for her walking all over me. That almost happened a couple of years later, again, because she was a major flirt, before I finally grew a pair and told her off.

But that’s a story for another time.

I tried to push my feelings of jealousy aside for the day’s sake. It was a week before Christmas, and we were celebrating. It was just nice to have friends with me to do Secret Santa with. I had done a Secret Santa once when I was in Girl Scouts a couple of years earlier, but it just wasn’t the same. This time was so much better, because these girls (plus Adrian and, in a way, Dmitri) were my best friends. That alone was enough to celebrate, right? Still, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of dread at the sight of Adrian and Rosie together like that. It kind of hurt.

“Merry Christmas, everybody!” Dorinda said, raising her cup of hot chocolate.

“Merry Christmas!” the rest of us girls chorused in unison, clinking our hot chocolate cups together. The guys, Adrian and Dmitri just shook their heads, and rolled their eyes at how corny the rest of us were being. The truth was, we knew how goofy we probably looked, but I didn’t care. I loved every bit of it. It would be one of the best holiday memories I had ever had.

Or that’s what I thought… Something else had happened that made this moment a little less special, much thanks to the angel we all knew as Ana.

The long awaited Holiday Concert was among us. We had finally perfected the jazzy version of “Frosty the Snowman,” and I managed to be able to breathe after doing the major crescendo of “The First Noel.” We also practiced “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” My favorite was “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The auditorium was packed! It had our friends and family, as well as, I’m sure, the school faculty to make sure that Mrs. Lewis’s oh-so-wonderful reputation was still intact. Whatever. I was just happy to be able to sing all kinds of pretty Christmas songs without messing them up for a change.

Mrs. Lewis gave us her best plastic smile, and raised her arms up in preparation to conduct the concert. The first song we sang was “Angels We Have Heard on High.” I had chills as we sang it, and tears stung the corners of my eyes. I don’t know what it is about me and beautiful music, but whenever I hear or sing something like that, it gives me chills, and I want to bawl my eyes out. I don’t just listen to music. I feel it, deep down within my soul. I know it sounds dumb, but it’s true. And I hate it when it’s ruined by having to hear or sing a dumb song, like that stupid jazzy version of “Frosty the Snowman,” right after something as beautiful as “Angels.” Talk about an emotional rollercoaster for me. After “Frosty the Snowman,” we sang “Hark: the Herald the Angels Sing,” followed by “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” followed by “Joy to the World,” followed by…

OK, well, you get the idea. By the end of the concert, I was emotionally exhausted, as well as physically. Smiling from ear to ear singing “Frosty the Snowman,” while dying a little inside. Then being all somber while singing “The Little Drummer Boy,” and then let’s not forget that obnoxious crescendo at the end of “The First Noel.” My throat was parched from singing for an hour straight! I went to the drinking fountain, and took a sip of water.

My mother and my sister were in the audience; my mom was all bright-eyed, watching me, while my sister water all bored, as if she was watching paint dry.

To my surprise, my dad came to the concert, wearing a black turtleneck sweater and a light brown leather jacket. But it wasn’t like a biker dude leather jacket. It was like those other leather jackets that usually have fringes, and it’s softer to the touch. Only it didn’t have fringes. It was just a regular jacket. “Hey, Squirt,” he greeted me.

“Daddy!” I squealed, and jumped into his arms. My dad chuckled, and gave me one of his wonderful bear hugs that I loved so much. I nuzzled into my dad’s embrace, smiling contently, before he released me, and handed me a small bouquet of yellow roses.

“Here you go, honey. You looked great up there!” he said. “You did so great; I’m so proud of you!” he said, and kissed my cheek. At that moment, I felt like a million bucks! He showered me with compliments like this every year I was in the high school choir, but I loved it every year he did it.

“Yeah, me and about a million other people, Dad!” I pointed out.

“Maybe, but there’s only one you,” he replied with a wink.

Touché, I thought, and shrugged. Oh, he was good. The one thing that I loved and hated about my father all at the same time was just how charming he was. It was annoying. He knew he was charming, so he thought he could get away with murder. And with me and Cathie, he pretty much did get away with murder. It was infuriating. You’re lucky you’re cute, Dad, I thought. “So, are you coming over for Christmas this year, or are you spending it at home?” From behind me, I could almost feel my mother’s eyes glaring at my father, but I did my very best to ignore it.

“Well, would it be OK if I came by at around 2:00? I have a lot of things to do Christmas morning,” my father explained, looking apologetically at me.

“Sure. I’m cool with that,” I replied.

“Hey! Cool,” my father said, trying to be cool, but not looking cool at all.

Oh my god, I thought, trying not to burst out laughing. “So, what did you want for Christmas anyway?” I asked.

Dad thought for a moment. “Hmmmm. I don’t know. Just love from my two beautiful girls, I guess,” he said, all smiles.

“Oh, OK,” I replied.

Christmas had finally come, and I was so excited to have my dad over for Christmas, even if it was only for the afternoons. My mom was kind of excited, too. She wanted to show my dad a new recipe that she had found. Even though they had been divorced for a really long time, they still had a nice relationship, I thought. Like, they had become best friends, or something. They were the kind of friends who arm wrestled each other, and called each other stupid names, but were still really tight.

That was what I thought when I was a kid. As it turned out, their relationship was a lot more complicated than that, but I wouldn’t find that out until much later. Cathie and I dressed up all nice, at least for our standards of nice, which, for me, was wearing a white turtleneck and a maroon red jumper with a pair of black Mary Jane shoes my mother had bought at me for my birthday, and for Cathie, it was a pair of Khakis and a green sweater my grandmother had bought her the Christmas before. We both looked cute, at least according to my mother. To me, I looked like an oversized child, and Cathie looked like she was at a job interview, or something. Cathie and I had been in crappy clothes in front of my dad thousands of times, but for whatever strange reason, my mother insisted on us dressing nicely for the holiday. OK, whatever, Mom.

“God, what the hell! Dad’s late again,” said Cathie, plopping down on the couch, and folding her arms in frustration. I couldn’t blame her, because I was getting a little frustrated myself. He always did this. He’d be almost an hour late, and then he’d show up, like he was the king of the world, and then we would just accept it. I was the guiltiest one to do it, too. I don’t know why.

My mom had lasagna baking in the oven, when she checked her watch. “Shoot,” she whispered. “What time is your father supposed to be here again?”

“Two thirty, I want to say,” I said, wrinkling my nose in thought.

“Yep, he’s late,” my mother said, pressing her lips in frustration. “Damn it, Christopher.”

And that was when I knew that my father had blown us off… again. I wasn’t surprised so much as just hurt by it. After all, he had done this at least ten thousand times before. But still, that fact only seemed to make it hurt worse. Cathie seemed to mirror my utter heartache and disappointment. I mean, how could our own father do that to us? It wasn’t fair, damn it!

But my mom did whatever she could to make this Christmas special anyway, if only to keep our minds off of what a crapty move my father had pulled. “Come on, you guys,” she said to us, being a badass cheerleader for her pissed off, morbid children. “Screw him. We can have a fun holiday without him.” She wiggled her eyebrows, and held up a box of cookie mix. “We’ll bake cookies!” my mother exclaimed, not unlike a cartoon character. Now, how could we say no to that?

So, that’s what we did. We baked cookies, jammed out to Burl Ives Christmas carols, and watched a whole bunch of Christmas movies. My mom’s favorite was It’s a Wonderful Life. Cathie’s was A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version), and mine was The Nutcracker, the only Christmas movie that wasn’t completely morbid (and technically, it was a ballet). After we baked cookies, we finally watched some Christmas comedies, like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. My mother drank some spiked eggnog, while Cathie and I had hot chocolate, and filled ourselves up with Christmas cookies.

Sure, it wasn’t the perfect Christmas. But it wasn’t totally horrible, either, thanks to my mother.

Yes, we had had a great Christmas, but the warm, fuzzy feeling didn’t last. The day after Christmas, my mom had to work, and my sister and I were fighting. I don’t know why we were fighting. But it seemed like Cathie had a leftover reindeer up her butt, and her attitude was pissing me off. We were snowed in, and we were going stir crazy, being trapped in the same house for too long. We were beginning to drive ourselves crazy, too. Finally, I’d lost it. “What the hell is your problem?” I asked her. “Like, the day after Christmas, you’re fighting with me? Are you freaking kidding me?”

Cathie just glared at me wordlessly, eating a small bag of chips, smacking her lips obnoxiously as she did so. It was as if she was sizing me up, calculating what she was going to do to me if I said anything else to her. Of course, I cowered away from her. She smiled an evil, smug smile that gave me chills, and walked away. There was something almost menacing about her that terrified the crap out of me. I couldn’t really explain it. But seeing it was probably the most horrible thing I had ever seen.

I went into my room, and cried quietly. What did I do to deserve what just happened? I loved Cathie. Why didn’t she love me back? We had gotten along so well just eighteen hours earlier, for god’s sake. We were sitting together, laughing at funny movies, and eating snowman-shaped sugar cookies. We were listening to Christmas carols. We were having a grand old time! But as soon as Mom left, she was being a wretch to me, and I couldn’t understand why.

A few hours later, I came out of my room, to find Cathie in the living room, drinking tea, and watching a movie. I approached her. “Can I ask you something?” I asked her.

“You just did,” she replied, not looking away from the television.

Oh, well, aren’t you clever, I thought bitterly, rolling my eyes. “Cathie, we need to talk. Can you turn the TV down, and look at me for a second, please?” I asked.

Cathie sighed, shaking her head, muting the television, and turned to me. “What do you want, Bonnie?” she demanded. “Go away!”

“Look. Why are you being mean to me?” I asked her. “We had such a great time yesterday. Why are you going out of your way, just to mess with me?”

“Why? Because you’re a selfish, spoiled little brat, that’s why!” she snapped. “Every time I turn around, you’re whining about something else. No offense, but it’s not like you’re the only one with problems, OK? Other people have problems, too. Nobody’s life is perfect. But you don’t see that. All you do is act like a self-entitled little crap, and drives me crazy! You’re a little witch!”

“And you are a psychopath who needs some serious Xanex, Cathie. God, your mood swings are so freaking random that you need to be on some kind of mood stabilizer. It’s ridiculous!” I shot back, and without a warning, Cathie stood up, and slapped me across the face.

“Get the hell out of my sight,” she ordered, and I ran into my room for the second time.

It was times like these that made me really hate my sister. I tried telling my mother when she came home from work about what had happened earlier that day, but she just couldn’t be bothered with our problems. Never mind the fact that I had a big old bruise on my cheek from when the stone from Cathie’s ring hit my face as she slapped me. I wanted to forgive my mother. She was tired during the day, and I tried to respect that. But I was always there for her whenever she needed a shoulder to cry on! Why couldn’t she be there for me, too? That wasn’t fair.

Two days after the New Year, Ana invited the girls over for a sleepover. Thank goodness. I couldn’t wait! I was still bitter about how my father blew us off the week before, and we still hadn’t heard from him. We knew he wasn’t hurt, or anything, because sometimes we saw his truck driving passed in town. But it was like he was trying to avoid us, or something. I was also still mad about the unnecessary smack across the face from my sister. Man, I needed to get out of the house, or I was going to drive myself crazier about it than I already had. I asked Mom if I could go, and she said yes (thank God). “Behave,” she said, reading her Bible.

As it turned out, the other girls needed to cut loose, too, as their families were driving them nuts. We met at the library, where rumors of the supernatural surrounded it, before walking over to Ana’s place. Her house was a cute little farmhouse, similar to the Little House on the Prairie. There was a lot of farmland on the property, where we could just venture off to, and have all the privacy we wanted. Which was exactly what the five of us girls needed, as it turned out.

“There’s an old barn that I turned into my own private clubhouse,” Ana said, and led us up a steep hill behind the farmhouse. It was a heck of a workout for us (especially for me), but it was well worth it. On the outside of the barn, it looked awful. The paint was chipped on it, and the one window looked broken. Ew, I couldn’t help thinking. I thought the barn was infested with rats and insects. But once inside, I was pleasantly surprised. The inner walls were covered in art that Dorinda, Adele and I had given her. I recognized one of my pieces right away. It was a picture of a yellow seahorse. I recognized one of Dorinda’s, too. It was a gorgeous female elf with flowers in her golden blond hair, and wearing a pink dress. I looked around for one of Adele’s drawings. It took a while, but finally, I saw it in the far corner of the barn. It was a darker picture (as Adele’s artwork was a little darker than mine or Dorinda’s). It was a charcoal drawing of a mouse with wheels instead of regular mouse feet and arms. It was creepy as hell, but I absolutely loved it.

On another side of the inner barn, Ana kept some candles up high, away from all of the beautiful artwork. The rest of the inner barn was covered in blankets and pillows, turning the floor of the barn into, basically, a large bed. The window, which was cracked on the outside, was covered inside, with a stained glass picture of a scene from one of her beloved children’s books (as well as mine), The Secret Garden. It was a scene where Mary was planting seeds into the garden with a couple of lambs surrounding her. It was gorgeous! I loved this barn. I needed one just like it.

“This is amazing!” I told Ana, and she smiled, all proud of herself.

“Thanks,” she said.

We all went inside, and plopped down on the floor. “So cool!” said Rosie.

“Definitely,” Adele agreed.

“Best part, we’re not freezing to death!” Dorinda commented, nodding her head with approval. “How do you keep the barn so insulated?” she asked.

“Don’t tell, but I took some insulation that was still packed in the basement last year. Then, I read online how to do it yourself. I didn’t really worry about asbestos, or anything, though, looking back, I probably should have, huh?”

She insulated the barn by herself? I could barely make toast without burning the house down. And here Ana was, insulating her own clubhouse! How crazy was that? “Wow! You’re a true do-it-yourself kind of girl!... Wow, and that sounded really dumb!” Dorinda laughed. “OK, moving on! So, what should we do now?”

“I can help with that, too,” said Ana, and rummaged through her blankets. She took out a small, handheld TV with one antenna on the corner of it. “We can’t watch everything on it. It doesn’t have cable, but we can watch some stuff. Like, I like to watch some of the old movies.”

“Cool!” I exclaimed, earning some weird looks from the other girls. Shut up, Bonnie, I thought to myself, and kept quiet again. This was why I usually kept quiet at the lunch table at school. Every time I opened my mouth, my nerd came out. Even around Rosie and Adele, I wanted to keep my inner nerd in check, out of fear of everyone staring at me like I was a weirdo.

Together, Rosie, Adele, Ana, Dorinda and I watched old classic movies from the ’40’s and ’50’s, starring Gene Tierney and Vivien Leigh. The only thing that was missing was some movie theater popcorn. But Rosie had stashed some junk food in her overnight bag, so we were all set for snacks, too. It was awesome! Finally, when we ran out of things to watch, Ana lit some candles.

Dorinda fell asleep earlier than the rest of us (which was weird, because I was usually the first to fall asleep during a sleepover). The rest of us started talking about anything and everything. We talked about school, mean teachers, stuck-up snobs, and how all the preps in school could get away with murder. We talked about our families, and how they were pretty much ruining our lives. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one with serious family issues. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one completely pissed off at my family. Everyone had problems of their own.

Ana sighed, and looked down at her neatly folded hands. “As if being out in the real world isn’t hard enough. But then we have crazy families with a lot of crazy issues, too. Like, my parents. Neither of them works, so I had to find a job. And I work at the factory on the weekends. I had to ask six weeks in advance for this weekend retreat. It’s been really hard not being able to have a normal life.”

“Well, why do you work, and your parents don’t?” I asked, surprised. She was only fifteen years old, and she already had a job. Here I was, sixteen years old, and I wasn’t worried about getting a job. It wasn’t like my mom told me to look through the classifieds just yet.

“My mom has severe asthma, and can’t. And my stepdad was laid off from the factory,” Ana replied, on the verge of tears. “Can you believe that? The stupid factory got rid of Jerry, and hired me. How messed up is that? Plus, I cook dinner for my brothers and sisters afterwards. My mom can’t cook, again, because of the asthma. If she burns something, and it starts to smoke, she goes into a major asthma attack, and then we have to spend the next six hours in the ER. My stepdad doesn’t know how to cook, and my grandparents say that they refuse to cook. And my brothers and sisters are too young to cook. They’re only four, six and eight. And it’s messed up, because I go to school, then I go to work, and then I have to cook dinner at the end of my shift. Here’s another messed up fact! This farm isn’t really ours. It belongs to my grandparents. They’ve been letting us stay here till we get back on our feet, and that’s why they refuse to cook. We have to earn our keep. I get it, but it’s still annoying. Because, it’s like everybody relies on me to be the grownup, and it’s so overwhelming I can’t even see straight!”

“I know exactly what you mean, Ana,” Rosie spoke up, looking like she was about to cry, too. “My parents are a pain in the ass! Like, they treat me like I’m the built-in babysitter, and it pisses me off! Every time I turn around, my parents need me to look after the twins, while they go out, and do God-knows-what! And they don’t even say ‘thank you,’ or anything. I mean, what the hell! Like, I have a life too, damn it!”

“Where do they go?” I asked them. All of this information was news to me. I had known Rosie’s parents for a couple of years, and, sure, they weren’t home a lot. But they were really nice (OK, well, the mom was really nice).

“I don’t know. Counseling, I think,” Rosie replied with a shrug. “They’ve been fighting a lot.”

“I’m sorry,” I told her, and gave her a hug.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Adele replied. “My mom does the same thing. That’s why I’m in all those ridiculous clubs. My parents want me to go to the most prestigious school in the entire country. But in order to do that, I have to, not only have a high GPA, but I have to be involved in school functions. But I run myself ragged to the point where I can’t even breathe. It’s ridiculous! I’m stressed out, I barely sleep, and it’s frustrating. Like, ‘What do you people want from me?’ You know?”

“At least your family likes you,” I said, hugging a plush puppy I brought with me. (Yes, I was almost seventeen years old with no boyfriend, and I still slept with stuffed animals—and I didn’t have a job. So sue me.) “My sister, Cathie can’t stand me. My mom is always annoyed with the both of us, and act like being our mom is like the worst chore in the universe. It’s like, ‘Clearly, you don’t like kids. So, why did you have two?’ And then there’s my dad. He makes promise after promise after promise, only to break them. Who does that to someone you’re supposed to love?” I asked. As I spoke, tears stung the corners of my eyes. “And that doesn’t even count Cathie, my sister, who every day, considers me as a nuisance, and goes out of her way to make my life miserable, just because hers is. Damn it, it’s not fair! Like, what did I do to deserve my family hating me so much? What am I not lovable enough, or something?” To my surprise, and that of my friends, I burst into tears, and sobbed into my hands.

“Sounds like all of our parents hate us!” Adele laughed. The way she said it made me laugh, too, through my tears. “It’s like, ‘Our lives are miserable! Let’s make their lives miserable too! Rrroaarrr!’” Again, we all laughed. Adele was awesome when she wanted to be.

“Maybe they don’t hate us,” Ana said thoughtfully. “Maybe they’re just as crazy as we are.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean they have the right to punish us because of it,” Rosie replied. “I mean, I practically know Tommy and Timmy’s Social Security numbers by heart, because I actually had to take them to the doctor’s at least a dozen times! The doctor is so old and senile that he doesn’t even realize that I’m a kid, and shouldn’t be taking them to the doctor!”

“That’s bad!” said Adele, surprised.

“Yeah, well, what about my sister? Why does she hate me so much?” I asked.

“Because she doesn’t know what else to do with herself, apparently. It’s not your fault, Bonnie. Sometimes, brothers and sisters fight for no good reason at all,” Ana replied, patting my hand maternally. “I mean, I fight with my brothers and sisters. Kevin, Bernice and Tanya drive me crazy all the time.”

“At least you can shove them in a closet, or something,” I replied, wiping my tears away. “Cathie is older than me, and stronger, and faster…. Being an older sister might be a pain in the ass, and all. But being a younger sister isn’t much of a picnic, either. Being powerless, while taking the brunt of your older sister’s aggravation, sucks. It just does.”

“Yeah, well, not all big sisters are like that, you know,” Adele pointed out, giving me a nudge. “I mean, sure. Yeah, we piss and moan and complain about our little brothers and sisters, but the fact of the matter is, we love them. And I’m sure Cathie loves you, too.”

“She’d be pretty dumb not to,” Rosie added, snuggling against me like a kitten.

“They’re right, sweetie,” said Ana. “Besides, you still have us. You tell us all the time how we’re like your sisters, right?” That was true. I did tell the girls all the time that they were like family to me, because it was true. They were the closest thing to a real family that I ever had. I looked around the small barn, and smiled to myself. I really was lucky to have this group of friends with me. They were amazing!

“Right,” I replied, and looked over at Dorinda, who was still fast asleep. “I feel like we need to include her somehow,” I said, and the other girls laughed.

“Fine, she’s a sister, too,” Anastasia replied, and again, the four of us burst out laughing. With such intense emotions nearly suffocating the small space that the barn offered, it was a relief to laugh.

“I feel like this is something out of a corny coming-of-age movie, or something,” Adele pointed out, sniffling. I hadn’t even realized she was crying. For as long as I’d known her, I never thought she was so sensitive. But she was right. In that barn, we were pretty much doing the cliché of every single coming-of-age movie, where the kids were somehow coming together to become the best of friends, and bare their souls to each other. Was it corny? Sure. But it was just the right amount of corniness that we all needed, I think.

“Let’s make it even cornier, just for the heck of it!” I suggested. “Let’s make a pact that we’ll always be there for each other. No matter where we are in life, let’s do everything we can to keep in touch. After high school, after college, we need to remember to be there for each other. Because, more than likely, we are the ones we’ll look back on, and remember when we’re older.”

“After tonight, how could we not?” Rosie agreed, wiping away her tears.

“Exactly,” I said.

“Let’s do it. I’m in,” said Adele, placing her hand in the center of our little circle of blankets.

“Me too,” Rosie replied, placing her hand on top of Adele’s.

“Me too,” said Ana, placing her hand over Rosie’s. “I’m in.”

I placed my hand at the top, and smiled at my friends. “Thank you, guys, for all of this,” I said.

“So, hey. Should we, like, sing “Kum Ba Yah” or something?” Adele asked.

“If you start doing that, Adele, I will literally kill you!” Rosie replied, laughing, and we all burst out laughing together again. “‘Kum Ba Yah, my lord—’ SHANK!” she added, gesturing a stabbing motion, by curling her hand into a fist, and moving her arm up and down.

“Well, we definitely shouldn’t sing, or Rosie will kill us. But we should have a small group prayer to make this moment even better,” Ana suggested. Adele and I groaned at that, but she shook her head at us. “Come on, you guys. Keep an open mind.”

“Oh, all right,” we said. Together, we locked arms together, and bowed our heads.

“God,” Ana opened the group prayer, solemnly, “thank You for bringing us together. We humbly ask You to look after our sisters in tough times we’ll have ahead. Please help us forgive the people who have hurt us in the past, and will hurt us in the future. Please help us remain strong. Please help us remember that, no matter how hard things are, that we will always have this night in this cabin. Most of all, please help us remember that we will always, always have each other.

“Amen.”

“Amen,” we repeated, and there was a wave of relief after saying that prayer. Like everything would be OK from this night on. Again, tears streamed down every one of our faces. But this time they were not tears of anger, frustration or sadness. They were tears of joy, tears of love, and tears of remembrance. Because Ana was right about one thing: we would always have this night to look back on. I just hoped that she was right about us always having each other in the future.

I looked around at my friends, grateful to have known them. Then, we all looked over at Dorinda, who was still fast asleep. Or at least that’s what we thought. She opened one eye at us. “You bunch of pansies,” she said, and fell back to sleep.

We all looked at each other, and, again, burst out laughing.

That was the best Christmas of my life. That prayer, in that small barn, on that cold January night, made me remember one important thing. No matter how crazy our lives would be later on that year, and every year afterwards, we knew that we would somehow be OK.

My friendship with these girls was the best Christmas present I could have ever asked for.

The End

humanity
Read next: Allie on the Sand
Corinne Renee Fowler
See all posts by Corinne Renee Fowler