I (Allison) am a grade eight student in the Challenge program at Calvin Park Public School. I wrote this story for a project called Challenge for Change which is meant to raise awareness for a global issue. My story is about two girls, one wealthy and one poor, who meet at a homeless shelter. Will their different backgrounds keep them apart, or bring them together?
It’s strange how quickly feelings can change. Just an hour ago, I was angry and jealous that Milli was having fun with my little sister. I was dreading spending an hour with her. But now I’m actually thinking about her in a friendly way.
I can’t believe I once thought Milli was a snob. She’s been going through kind of the same things as me. We can help each other through the tough times.
I hover by the front foyer, watching Milli and her mom zip up their coats. I don’t want Milli to go. But she’s turning and trudging down the snow-covered stairs (a fresh load of snow fell last night) with only a smile and a wave to me.
Just as she’s about to close the door that will separate me and my family from the rest of the world–just like in real life–she turns around in the doorframe, resting her elbows on either side of it. She doesn’t close the door, so a rush of cold air streams in, making me shiver in my T-shirt.
But the next words that come out of her mouth make me forget all about the cold. "D’ya want to come over to my house for a sleepover?" she says casually, like she asks this to homeless people all the time.
I, on the other hand, am having trouble keeping calm. "Really?" I stutter. "M-me? T-tonight?"
"Sure," Milli says, placing her hand lightly on my shoulder. "Why not? My mom won’t mind."
"I’ll go ask my mom," I say, still finding it hard to believe that rich, popular Milli wants to hang out with me, the poster child for poverty and invisibility. Maybe she really doesn’t. Maybe, when I get back from asking permission, Milli will laugh meanly and tell me that it was all a big joke. That, despite my comforting her in the games room, she doesn’t know why she’d ever want to be friends with a homeless freak.
Mom seems to share my worries. She is naturally suspicious of all "regular" people, even though we used to be some of them ourselves. She furrows her brows. "Do you know this Milli girl?"
"Yes, Mom," I sigh. "She came with her mom to volunteer a couple times, maybe you saw her? She’s really nice." At least, I hope so.
Mom glances at Allie, who’s trailing along after her. "She is," Allie insists. "We played together and she showed me her cell phone. It’s awesome!"
"Oh, all right," Mom says reluctantly. "Just be safe, okay? And we’re going to stay at the shelter, so keep the phone number with you." She produces a scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil from her pocket and hurriedly jots a number down.
I grab the piece of paper from her hand and stuff it in my own pocket, rushing down the hall. Though I’m filled with excitement, a tiny bit of nervousness is pushing against my ribs, threatening to grow bigger. What if it really is a joke?
But when I arrive back in the foyer and grab my jacket, Milli hustles me outside into the chilly air and then into the backseat of the sedan. Both Milli and her mom are smiling kindly. That’s when I know this is the real deal.
It feels so strange to back in a car again. To run my hand over the slightly ripped leather seats and feel the seatbelt straps pressing into my skin. I haven’t done it in almost a year.
And when Maria powers up the engine and we cruise onto the busy roads, I feel almost like a regular person again. When I point this out to Maria, she says, "Why, Rachel, you always were a regular person!" These people are nice.
"Turn on the radio," Milli says, slouching down in her seat. Maria hits a button, and instantly soft music fills the car. I recognize the song immediately.
"Yesterday," I say with a smile. "The Beatles."
"Yep," Milli says. Her face is red as a tomato and she’s chewing her lip (which seems to be her nervous habit for everything). "Please don’t make fun of me for liking old-time music. My whole family listens to this kind of stuff."
I reach over and pat Milli on the shoulder. "Don’t be embarrassed, Milli. I like the Beatles, too." Another thing I have in common with Milli. Maybe we’re more alike than we thought.
Milli and I chat about everything–the Beatles, our other favourite artists, whether or not we can sing (me yes, Milli no) and our hobbies–until the car suddenly swerves and pulls into a well-shoveled gravel driveway. A rush of nostalgia goes through me as I look at the two-story white-and-beige house with large, airy windows and bikes in the driveway. It’s just like the house me and my family used to own.
Going into the house does nothing to quench my feeling of sadness. Everything–the large, plushy couches, the TV, the computer, the attractive oak shelves–remind me of the way things used to be. Before the fighting, before the eviction, before the hopeless poverty. The worst thing of all is the seven-foot-tall pine tree strung with multicoloured lights and cutesy ornaments that are probably Milli’s old school crafts. Just like our old one. I have to scrunch up my eyes to keep from crying.
Milli sees me and squeezes my hand. "Don’t be upset, Rachel," she says gently. "Focus on what you have now instead of what you lost."
"What do I have now?" I ask, my eyes popping open.
"Why, me, of course," she laughs. "And one of my mom’s famous cream cheese brownies –I think." She puts her elbows on the counter and leans toward Maria, who is putting away dishes. "Mom, you wouldn’t happen to have saved any brownies, would you?"
"Hmm, let’s see." Maria opens a cupboard and produces a clear bin. "We have two left. I thought you and I could eat them together sometime."
Milli taps her chin. "Hmm. While under ordinary circumstances that would have been an excellent plan, you couldn’t possibly think of leaving out my very good friend Rachel, could you?"
Maria laughs kindly. "Of course, girls. While the brownies are delicious, if I do say so myself, I’m more than happy to make sacrifices. I’ll even go the extra distance and throw in some orange pop as well." She grabs two plates and two cups she was about to put back in the cupboard and gets to work.
I feel warmer and happier than I have in a very long while. It’s not just because of the brownies, though they are delicious–warm, chocolatey, and just a little cheesy. But more than that, Milli’s words are still doing joyful cartwheels in my mind. "Why, me, of course." "My very good friend." Also, our conversations, our laughter, the way we comfort each other when we’re feeling down. All of these things add up to this feeling of being loved and accepted–of friendship.
Don't go anywhere--Chapter 6 is coming not too late!