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?
After the whole disaster with the bake sale, I need some time to rest. But we still have to make money for the homeless shelter. We need a Plan B. My mind is whirring with ideas, but none of them seem to work. How can we make money in this cold weather? But first I have to meet with Jenna and Brianna (I’m back in their good books again).
When I hear a knock on the door I open it to find my friends standing on the doorstep with odd looks on their faces.
"What’s wrong?" I ask as I let them in.
"Who’s that?" Brianna says, gesturing toward Rachel, who is here again to help me with the fundraisers.
"Uh...," I stammer. "That’s my friend Rachel. She’s...come over to help me with a project of ours."
"A project ?" Jenna says snottily. "Well, if this project is so important to you, why didn’t you tell us about it?"
"I know, and I’m sorry," I say sheepishly. "Why don’t you guys help us?"
Jenna fixes me with her signature stony glance. "What’s gotten into you, Milli? You seem different all of a sudden. Since when are you into working on projects?"
I blush. "Um, this is f-for school."
Brianna and Jenna glance at each other and burst out laughing. "Great excuse, Milli," Brianna says, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "We go to the same school, and we haven’t been given any assignments. Unless you’re part of an extracurricular group you haven’t told us about?"
Jenna laughs. "Don’t you know, Brianna? She is part of an extracurricular group. The Society for the Avoidance of Best Friends."
"I’m not avoiding you," I say, irritated. Why are they making such a big deal out of this?
"I was just busy. With my new friend."
"Hey, nice to meet you," Rachel pipes up from behind me. I’d forgotten she was there.
Jenna stares Rachel down. "What are you wearing? Why are your clothes so ripped?"
"I think she’s poor," Brianna loudly whispers.
"Uh...she’s not," I lie. "She’s just...the casual type."
I’m a really bad liar, and both Brianna and Jenna know it. Brianna stifles her giggles, but Jenna doesn’t even try.
"Nice to meet you," Rachel says again.
"Uh...hi," Jenna says, sneering. She instantly turns back to me. "Why are you hanging out with..."
Ashamed, I glance at the floor wishing it would swallow me up and get me away from all this confusion. I want to stand up for Rachel, say that she’s my friend and they have no right to pick on her just because she’s poor. But on the other hand, Jenna and Brianna are my friends, too. And I don’t want them to dump me over a stupid thing like this.
"I met her at the homeless shelter my mom dragged me to," I finally say. I cock my eyebrow at Jenna. "So, yes, I did go to the homeless shelter. Rachel can testify to that, can’t you, Rachel?"
Rachel looks confused, so I whisper the situation to her. Rachel nods and says, "Yeah, she definitely did."
"Whatevs," Jenna sighs. "Let’s get back to what we’re really here for." She reaches into her designer bag and pulls out a sleek black laptop. I don’t know where she got it – probably got it from her super-rich parents for her birthday. But just from its small size and stylish design I can tell it must have cost a lot.
Rachel can tell too, and her eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. "Whoa! That is so cool!"
"Well, of course you think so," Jenna giggles. Brianna whispers something in Jenna’s ear, which makes them giggle harder.
"Definitely," Jenna says, responding to Brianna’s comment. "Now, let’s get this baby started."
Jenna sets the laptop on a table, powers it up, and walks us through its various features. It really is awesome, and I pretend to "ooh" and "ahh" along with Brianna, but I can’t concentrate. Something about the way my friends are treating Rachel is increasingly bugging me. I wish I knew just what Brianna whispered to Jenna – or maybe I don’t want to know.
I glance around to see what Rachel is doing, and I find that’s she’s not hunched over the laptop with us. Instead, she’s standing a few paces behind us, her toes poised as if she’s deciding whether to take the leap. In this case, she’s probably deciding whether or not to move forward toward us.
"Come on, join us," I say to her, motioning her over.
"No, don’t," Jenna argues. "No offense, but I’d prefer to be away from that smell." She clamps her nose.
Rachel turns, a pained look on her face, and pretends to be very interested in our daisy-patterned curtains. But her curiosity in the laptop gets the better of her, and she soon approaches again.
"Hey!" Brianna says sharply, tossing her dark hair and wrinkling her nose. "I thought Jenna got the message to you about your smell."
For a second, tears glisten at the corners of Rachel’s eyes. But then she swiftly rubs her eyes and squares her shoulders, recomposing herself. "I don’t smell bad. Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I smell bad."
"You don’t? Then why does this place suddenly feel like the inside of a sewer?" Brianna laughs meanly.
"You guys," Rachel says, her voice sounding slightly strained. "Stop being so rude. You never even bothered to introduce yourselves to me properly. Milli’s just as much my friend as yours, and you have no right to treat me like this." She stops to stare Brianna in the eye. "I know this is just because I’m poor. Well, imagine this – if one day your parents suddenly lost their jobs as doctors or lawyers or supermodels or whatever else, what would happen to your huge mansions then? What would you do?"
I’m silently cheering for Rachel. Brianna seems to be intimidated, but Jenna’s eyes are flashing furiously. She steps up to Rachel (not seeming to be bothered by Rachel’s supposed stench) and leans over her so that she towers frighteningly over her. Brianna hovers behind Rachel, preventing her from escaping.
"Well, imagine this," Jenna says mockingly. "What if you were stealing the best friend of the most popular girl in school? And she wanted you to leave and not bother her anymore? And you knew that your friend was only pretending to like you because she feels sorry for you ‘cause you’re such a stinky, dirty street-kid loser? What would you do?"
Rachel’s no longer even trying to hold her tears back. They pour freely down her face, staining her cheeks. "I can’t imagine how you ever got to be the most popular girl in school," she says, but her voice is weak, muffled by loud sobs and sniffles. All my so-called friends do is just stand there, grinning evilly. I can no longer hold in my rage at them.
"What is wrong with you guys?" I burst out. "Why can’t you just leave her alone? Rachel may not have a permanent home, but she is not a stinky, dirty street kid! She’s just the same as you! No, actually, she is much, much better than you! At least she’s loyal – which is more than I can say for you two, who dump me just because of what thought gets into your silly little minds! Rachel is my friend – my true-blue friend – and nothing you can say or do will change that!" Having run out of breath, I grab Rachel’s arm and glare at my ex-best friends.
"Okay, then," Jenna says, smiling. "So you’re choosing the poor girl over us, then? Well, fine. It’s not like we need you in our clique anyway – you can easily be replaced. ‘Bye." She and Brianna march out the door with a final disdaining sniff at us.
That leaves me and Rachel standing awkwardly in my living room. Rachel’s dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. All of a sudden, she wraps her arms around me tightly. "Thank you, Milli."
I hug her back, thinking how relieving it is to have that over and done with. It is unfortunate – after all, now I’ll have no friends at all at school tomorrow. But I’ve realized that these girls are not the kind of friends I want. And now I don’t have to hide the details of my friendship with Rachel from anyone. I can completely focus on what – and who – is really important.
"No problem," I say. "Now, want to keep brainstorming for our fundraiser?"
I'll be back with Chapter 9!