There is No Cost to Friendship: Part Three
All Brooke could think about that night was Sam. When she sat down to do her homework, she wondered if Sam was doing her homework, too. When she sat down to eat dinner with her family, she wondered what Sam was having for dinner and who she was eating it with. When she went to sleep that night, she wondered if Sam was still up or already fast asleep.
It took a while for Brooke to fall asleep. She kept on tossing and turning, trying to find a cool spot on her pillow. She closed her eyes and pictured herself at school the next day, telling Ryan that she was waiting for her new friend, saving a seat for her new friend at lunch. She pictured Corrine asking her to sit with her at lunch, but she just told Corrine that she was sitting with Sam instead. Those words were as sweet as her brother’s chocolate-tainted breath. She also saw herself talking and laughing with Sam, laughing as if they had been friends for years. Then Brooke saw Sam asking her over her house that weekend and she saw how easily she said yes.
Of course, Brooke knew that those fantasies would never come true. Why would Corrine spontaneously invite her to sit at the popular table with her? Why would Sam invite her over her house when they had just met that day?
She sat up, suddenly needing a drink of water. Brooke threw the covers onto the floor and padded into the bathroom, pouring herself water from the tap. She stared at herself in the mirror. The same red eyes stared at her, along with the brown fur and blue stripe down her back she had known since birth. She was the perfect image of a Xweetok. Why wouldn’t Corrine want to sit with her at lunch? Why wouldn’t Sam invite her over to her house?
Brooke dumped the water down the drain without drinking any. She wasn’t thirsty anymore. She brushed her hair a bit with her paws. She stuck her tongue out at her reflection and then smiled.
As she walked back to her bedroom to try to fall back asleep again, she decided that she needed to stop thinking that it was a punishment for anybody to talk to her. It was a pleasure. And maybe Sam genuinely wanted to talk to Brooke earlier that day during lunch and did not feel sorry for her. And it was just Corrine and Lauren and Alyssa’s loss that they did not want to have anything to do with Brooke but make fun of her. They had no idea what they were missing.
Brooke climbed into bed and fell asleep easily and did not wake up until the morning.
The next morning was an exact clone of the morning before. Brooke packed her knapsack and waited for her brother to stumble sleepily down the stairs. “I don’t know how long I can wait for you,” Brooke said as she watched Ryan tie his shoes. “I have to meet up with my new friend before school starts.”
Ryan stood up. “You mean the girl you saw at the Soup Kitchen today?”
Nodding, Brooke said, “Her name is Samantha and she’s really nice. I think I’m going to invite her over this weekend.”
Ryan did not say anything else. He just slung his knapsack over his shoulder and exited the Neohome with his sister. Brooke was ecstatic. For once it was she who was talking about her friends, instead of Mr. Popular walking next to her.
The walk to Brightvale was much shorter than the day before. Brooke hummed a little tune to herself and scuffed through the newly fallen leaves. She twirled her heavy knapsack in the air and did not care when she dropped it and it fell onto the wet ground.
As the two of them reached their school, Brooke saw Sam leaning her legs over the top of the long staircase, staring into space. Her skateboard was on her lap. “Bye, Ryan,” she said to her brother, and she then took off to talk to Sam.
Sam was interrupted from her reverie when she saw Brooke. “Hey,” she said, scooting over a bit to make room for the blue Xweetok to sit down.
“What’s up?” Brooke asked.
“Nothing,” Sam replied. She heard a loud giggle and turned around. “Who are they?” she asked, pointing to three disco Unis near the back corner of the school.
Brooke stifled a groan. She somehow knew that Sam, like all of the others, would fall under the spell of the popular girls. “Those are Corrine, Lauren, and Alyssa,” Brooke replied. “They’re best friends and the queens of the school.”
Sam gave Brooke a confused look.
“You know, they’re popular.”
“Popular?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” said Brooke, frantically trying to figure out a definition for the word popular. Why exactly were the three Unis more popular than everybody else? Was it something that they thought, or that Brooke subconsciously thought herself? “They have the most friends,” Brooke blurted, “and they think they’re better than everybody else.”
Sam could not stop staring at the three popular girls. “They look really familiar,” she whispered.
“Yeah, you’ve probably seen them around school,” Brooke replied. “They’re everywhere. Like, they’re in the drama club, on the track team, and on the student government.”
Quickly, Sam turned around to face Brooke again. “Which one is which?”
Brooke strained her eyes to take a closer look. It was hard to tell the three girls apart because they looked so much alike. “The one wearing the brown scarf is Corrine,” she replied after a while. “Corrine is the leader. Alyssa and Lauren are her clones. The one with the sunglasses is Alyssa and the one with the green knapsack is Lauren.”
Nodding, Sam said, “Are they nice?”
“No,” Brooke said quickly. “Well, they’re nice to the people they like.”
Sam smiled wanly. “So I guess you’re a person they don’t like.”
“Yeah,” Brooke replied, staring at the ground. She did not have the courage to look in Sam’s eyes. She was afraid of what they were saying.
“Well, I think you’re wrong.”
Brooke looked up and gave the surprised Sam a wobbly smile, pulling her into an embrace. Sam did not know it, but it was the kindest thing anyone had ever said to her.
Brooke and Sam did not have any classes together, so the only time for them to hang out was before school, after school, and during lunch. Right before lunch that day, Brooke grabbed her lunch bag from her locker and took her time walking to the cafeteria. She did not want to sit alone at a table and look like a loser, which she normally did the entire year before. She wanted to meet up with Sam.
She placed her bag on the same table from the day before and stood, afraid to sit down. She glanced at the clock above her head. It was already five minutes into lunch hour. Why was Sam so late? Brooke looked around the cafeteria, trying to find a red Ogrin or anybody on a skateboard.
Suddenly, Brooke saw a table occupied with three disco Unis. It was the popular table. They were waving somebody over to sit with them. Brooke wondered who that lucky Pet was; normally a seat at the popular table was more exclusive than a Yes Boy Ice-Cream concert ticket.
A red Ogrin carrying a lunch tray in one hand and a skateboard in another was walking through the cafeteria. “Sam!” Brooke called, eager to sit with her friend.
Sam gave Brooke an apologetic look and pointed towards the popular table.
Brooke was crestfallen. So it was Sam that the popular girls were waving over. Of course Sam wanted to sit with them instead of her. She turned away from the popular table and grabbed a sandwich out of her lunch bag.
“Brooke!” somebody called.
She whipped around and saw Sam waving at her. “Come on!” Sam yelled.
So Sam really did care about her! Brooke quickly stuffed the sandwich into her bag and dashed across the cafeteria to sit with Sam.
“Hi, Brooke,” Lauren said cheerfully.
“Hi,” Brooke said slowly. Lauren had never spoken to Brooke unless she had to, so she wondered why Lauren was being nice to her all of a sudden.
“I really like your shoes,” Corrine said, biting into a veggie burger. She spoke as if she had spoken to the blue Xweetok every single day of her life.
It’s a trick, Brooke said to herself, and she immediately looked down to see if her shoes had any toilet paper stuck to the heal or anything else embarrassing on them. But she saw nothing. Corrine had just given her a genuine compliment.
“Thanks,” Brooke replied, and she smiled.
“We were just talking about how much we hate our science teacher, Mr. Burbage,” Alyssa said. “Do you hate him as much as we do?”
Brooke nodded. “Did you notice that he has terrible breath? When he assigned seats I had to sit right in front of his desk and now I’m thinking of taking a mask to school!”
Everybody laughed. Brooke never thought she’d see the day when she was eating lunch with the popular girls, laughing with them like they were friends their entire lives. She immediately thought of the night before when she fantasized herself sitting with Corrine at lunch.
Her fantasy had come true.
“When did you talk with Corrine and Lauren and Alyssa?” Brooke asked. She and Sam had just finished their lunch and were walking towards their lockers to get ready for fifth period.
“They’re in a few of my classes,” Sam replied. “They were really nice to me. They told me that it was cool that I skateboard a lot. Corrine skateboards too.”
“Corrine?” Brooke repeated, dumbfounded. Corrine did not seem like the type of Pet who skateboarded.
Sam nodded. “She asked me if I wanted to sit with her at lunch. I said okay, and then as I got to the cafeteria, I saw you sitting by yourself. You said just this morning that you thought that they did not like you that much, so I invited you to sit with us. I think you hit it off with them.”
“So do I,” said Brooke. She did not even care that the popular girls only liked her because she was Sam’s friend. It was much better than them not liking her at all. Maybe soon she would be able to consider them her friends.
The two of them reached the locker hallway and Brooke knew that she had to ask her question fast before they went their separate ways. “Hey, Sam,” she said. “Do you want to come over my house after school on Friday? We can hang out and maybe you can sleep over.”
Sam smiled. “I’d like that a lot.”
To be continued...