There is No Cost to Friendship: Part Six
“Sam?” Brooke whispered. The word was frozen on her face. She could say nothing more.
Sam whipped around, letting the ladle drop from her mouth. “Brooke, I... I didn’t want you to see me like this.”
The clock struck six o’ clock. Brooke and Ryan had paid their dues to the Soup Faerie. Brooke gathered her little brother and left, not sure if she were angry, upset, shocked, or all three.
Was Brooke angry, upset, and shocked that her best friend lied to her or that her best friend did not have the courage to tell her the truth? Or worse, was Brooke feeling all of those things because she did not want to be friends with somebody as poor as Sam?
Brooke trudged back to Meridell with Ryan by her side not speaking a word. Ryan knew, for some reason, that it was not his place to talk to his sister because of how upset she was.
All the leaves were starting to fall off of the trees. The flowers were all gone. Brooke used to marvel at the changes of the seasons. She loved walking out of her house one day and feeling the sun shine on her fur and the next day feeling a biting wind pierce her skin. But she could enjoy nothing now.
Brooke did not consider herself and her family either rich or poor. Though Ryan did have a semi-expensive Petpet (a Polarchuck named Rufus, which he begged their parents for as a birthday present after playing his first game of Snowmuncher) and they lived in a pretty large house, they could not afford to paint Brooke rainbow, her dream color since she was little.
Did Sam ever wish to be painted anything, or was it so far out of her reach that she did not even let the thought cross her mind?
To be fed by the Soup Faerie, a Pet’s parent had to have less than 3,000 Neopoints. How could somebody live off of so little money? Did Sam’s mother even work at all, or was she so busy with something else? Was that why Sam would never let Brooke meet her mother, because Sam herself was embarrassed of her?
Without even realizing it, Brooke and Ryan landed on the front porch to their house. Brooke unlocked the door and walked in, admiring all of the little knickknacks on the walls and the beautiful chairs at the kitchen table. What was Sam thinking when she walked into Brooke’s house for the very first time? Was she overwhelmed or jealous of the amazing things that Brooke had? Had Sam ever been in a house so big in her entire life?
Brooke ate her dinner in silence. All her parents could chat about was Sam, which made her want to hide away forever even more.
“She was such a nice girl,” said Brooke’s mother. “Are you making plans with her again?”
Swallowing, Brooke remembered what had happened at school that day. “Actually, Mom, my friend Corrine invited me to a slumber party on Friday.” She never pictured that the words “my friend Corrine” would ever come out of her mouth.
“That’s nice,” Brooke’s mother replied. “Is Sam going?”
“Yeah,” said Brooke, trying her best not to cry. What was she going to say to Sam the next day at school? Was she going to pretend that it never happened, like when Brooke asked Sam to tell her deepest secrets that night at her house? Or was she going to ask Sam for an explanation of what she saw that day at the Soup Kitchen.
“May I be excused?” Brooke asked, standing up from the table.
“You just want to get rid of us,” said Ryan. He stuffed his mouth with food. “You’ve been sad ever since we got home from the Soup Kitchen.”
Brooke never wanted to scream more than that very moment.
“What is Ryan talking about, Brooke?” asked her father.
“Nothing!” Brooke shouted. “I’ve not been sad all day! Just give it a rest!” She stomped all the way upstairs to her room where she slammed the door and collapsed on her bed.
At school the next day, Brooke wondered if everybody passing her in the hallways could see right through her. She wondered if they all knew that she was carrying a big secret inside of her and how mad she was at her best friend. She could feel eyes staring at her the next day.
Corrine, Lauren, and Alyssa were being strangely nice to her, even nicer than they were that one day when she and Sam sat at their table. They walked with her to class and engaged in conversation with her. It was funny how everything could change in just a few short days.
Sam wasn’t in school at all. Though Brooke did not have a single class with her, she could not hear the sound of skateboard wheels rolling against the linoleum floors for most of the day. Was Sam too embarrassed to face Brooke or was something seriously wrong with her? Maybe it was a good thing that Sam was not at school; it gave Brooke more time to map out in her head exactly what she was going to say when she saw her.
It was nearing lunchtime, and Brooke looked around the hallways for three disco Unis. The three popular girls said that they were going to walk with her to lunch, but they, like Sam, were nowhere to be found. Was it always this hard to find friends, to stop feeling so painfully alone? Brooke felt more alone than she ever had.
“Hey, Brooke,” said a voice. This voice was not the high-pitched squeal of either Corrine, Lauren, or Alyssa. It was feathery and so wonderfully familiar.
“Sam!” Brooke called without turning around. “Where were you all day?”
Sam hesitated. She never gave the answer to Brooke’s question. “Can we talk?” she asked shyly, twirling the hem of her tank top around her finger. Brooke had known Sam for less than two weeks, but she had seen her wear that shirt five times. How many shirts did Sam actually own? How many shirts could she afford?
Brooke nodded, knowing exactly what Sam wanted to talk about. There was no more avoiding the conversation. The two girls walked to a corner of the hallway and sat down. Brooke placed her lunch bag in her lap and remembered that Sam normally bought her lunch. How could she afford that? Brooke immediately shook the question away from her mind. Why was she so obsessed with Sam being poor, anyway? It wasn’t like Sam was a different person.
She wished that she had no trouble accepting the fact that Sam was a little bit different.
While Brooke was spacing out, Sam was already deep in conversation. “I’m sure you’re wondering what you saw yesterday at the Soup Kitchen,” she said. “Well, I’ll tell you everything.”
Brooke braced herself for what she was about to hear, not knowing exactly what was going to come of Sam’s mouth.
“I was born in the Lost Desert, just like I told you, and I lived with my mother and two brothers. Matt was older than me and Buddy was younger than me. When I was only a month or so old, my mother let me go to the pound because she could not take care of my brothers and me. I stayed there for about seven years or so, and after a while I realized that nobody was ever going to adopt me. The food at the pound was scarce, so I got used to going a long time without eating. I made friends at the pound, but nothing could compare to a family. So when I could not stand being trapped in the pound anymore, I escaped with no money in my pocket. I knew that I had to find my mother. I traveled all around Neopia, living off whatever was dropped on the ground. When I eventually made it to Neopia Central, I was living with a really bad case of Kikoughela and in need of care. The Soup Faerie found me in the street, and I must've looked pretty awful because she took me into her hut and took care of me like a mother should. She gave me a room in the second floor of her hut and promised me that I could stay with her until I found my mother. I’ve been living with her for about a year and she enrolled me in school just a few weeks ago. And then I met you.”
Brooke’s eyes welled with tears and she could see Sam next to her, bawling like a baby. “Oh, Sam,” she said, her chin quivering.
“Just promise me one thing,” Sam said. She looked Brooke straight in the eyes. “You now know my secret, but please... please don’t tell anybody. I just don’t want people to know.”
Brooke did not know what else to say. She pulled Sam into the tightest hug she had ever given a friend. “Sam,” she said. “I don’t care that you’re poor at all. You are my best friend in the entire world. And don’t worry.” She could feel a wet spot on the back of her shirt from the tears escaping from Sam’s eyes. “Your secret will always be safe with me.”
To be continued...