There is No Cost to Friendship: Part Seven
When Brooke walked into school the next day, she could tell that something was wrong. Thousands of eyes stared at her as she walked to her locker. Nothing could break the gazes of her fellow students. Brooke looked down at her outfit, checking to see if anything was wrong with it. Everything seemed to be in order; her outfit matched and nothing was worn backwards. Why was everybody staring at her?
She saw Sam walk into school and immediately things went wrong. The hallway erupted into a fit of giggles. People started to point at her. Somebody much braver than everybody else walked up to Sam, dropped a couple of Neopoints from his pocket onto the floor next to her feet, and walked away, whistling nonchalantly.
“Oh, no,” Brooke whispered. She knew exactly what was going on. But she had no idea how people figured it out.
Sam stared at the money beneath her feet. Then she stared straight at Brooke, her eyes piercing Brooke‘s heart, and Brooke turned away, trying to blink back tears and to calm down her somersaulting stomach. She could not believe that Sam thought she deceived her.
No matter how mad Sam was at Brooke, Brooke could not stop thinking about her the entire day. Was Sam really that mad, mad enough to end their friendship? How was Brooke going to convince her that she was not the one who told everybody her secret?
How on Earth did anybody find out that Sam was poor, anyway? Brooke was the only one who knew. No wonder Sam thought that she was the one who told everybody.
Brooke could not stop sighing the entire day. She shuffled throughout the school with her eyes glued to her feet. She had no contact with anybody else.
Lunch approached quickly. Brooke did not even realize it was coming. She did not realize that half of the day had gone by. She did not remember anything she learned in any of her classes or even walking from room to room.
She slowly entered the lunch line, wishing that she did not pack her lunch so she could avoid the conflict in front of her. Should she sit with Corrine and her crew, girls that she had hated only days before? Or should she sit with Sam and try to sort things out? Brooke surveyed the cafeteria and could not see Sam at all. She decided she would just sit by herself, like she did practically ever day the year before, before she had even met Sam and none of this had ever happened.
“Hey, Brooke!” somebody called. Brooke knew exactly who it was. The voice was way too chipper to be Sam but it suited a certain disco Uni just fine.
Corrine was standing at her seat, waving Brooke over to sit with her and her friends.
Brooke was shocked. She had never thought that Corrine would actually ask her to sit at her table without Sam bridging the two girls together. This kind of thing only happened in her wildest dreams.
Brooke practically floated towards the table and sat happily between Corrine and Lauren. “Hey,” she chirped. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Lauren replied. The other two girls nodded and dug into their lunches.
Brooke was two bites into her sandwich when she felt somebody standing behind her. She whipped around quickly and saw a familiar red Ogrin with tear-stained eyes and a blushing face. “Sam...”
“Save it, Brooke,” Sam said, her voice shaking. She gestured towards an empty seat at the table. “Can I sit here?”
“I don’t know,” Alyssa said, puckering her lips a little bit. “I think you have to buy it. Can you afford it, or can you make the Soup Faerie buy it for you?”
“Ha,” Sam said without the faintest amount of emotion. “Seriously, guys, can I sit here?”
“We weren’t joking,” said Alyssa. “We really don’t want you to sit here.”
Corrine tilted her head towards the other girls at the table. “I only sit with girls I like.”
Brooke felt a rush of emotion run through her. She could not believe that Corrine had said that! For one thing, it proved that the three Unis actually did think of her as a friend, but on the other hand, it was probably one of the meanest things she had heard Corrine say, including the tormenting from the years before.
She could not let herself look into Sam’s eyes.
“Oh, and Sam,” Corrine said. Brooke braced herself for what was coming. “About the party on Friday night... you are officially uninvited.”
Sam did not reply and Brooke did not want to look at her face. She did not want to see the torment and grief that she had once thought Sam could never feel.
“What about Brooke?” Sam said, breaking the unbearable silence. “Is she uninvited too? Because the only reason you guys like her is because I’m her best friend. Or at least I was.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Lauren said. “By becoming friends with you, we realized how good a friend Brooke is. And by becoming friends with Brooke, we realized that how much of a loser you really are. We like her because we like her, not because she’s friends with you.”
Brooke wanted to jump with joy out of her skin and cry into her hands for hours. Though it felt amazing to be liked by the three most popular girls in school, girls who had just recently been mean to her, she could not sit back and watch them tear apart one of the coolest girls Brooke had ever met. However, it was too risky to let a friendship with Corrine and her crew go.
Friday afternoon approached. For the first time in her life, Brooke carried an overnight bag with her to school. She walked home with Corrine, Alyssa, and Lauren, enjoying the conversations she was in. She had not spoken with Sam that entire week. A hole in her heart quickly formed and every time a thought of Sam came into her mind, it became larger and larger. Brooke wondered how long it would take until all of her heart disappeared into the hole.
Brooke let herself dissolve into a sea of mindless conversation and tried to forget all about the red Ogrin who had skateboarded into her life.
Midnight rolled around quickly at Corrine’s house. Brooke had to admit, she did not remember the last time she had that much fun. The four girls laughed nonstop, chatted nonstop, and smiled nonstop. Brooke’s cheeks hurt from all of the smiling. However, the party was winding down a little bit and the girls were rolling out their sleeping bags onto the floor of Corrine’s basement.
“I don’t really want to go to bed yet,” Alyssa said as she started to lay down onto her pillow.
“Me either,” said Lauren.
Corrine sat Indian-style on her sleeping bag. “Can you imagine what tonight would be like if Sam were here?”
Lauren and Alyssa started cracking up, but Brooke tried to tune out the girls as best as she could. She had spent the past eight hours without a Sam-related thought in her head, but now the streak was ruined. Just a simple thought about Sam could make the hole in her heart get larger.
“You know, I actually once liked her,” said Corrine.
“Yeah, she was cool,” Alyssa added.
“But I can never picture myself being friends with a poor person,” Lauren chirped. “That’s just awkward and weird and bad for anybody’s reputation.”
Brooke sat up with a start. She could not believe that those words came out of Lauren’s mouth. She stared around the room. The two other girls were nodding their heads in agreement! Why did they ever think such a terrible thought?
“Hey Brooke,” Alyssa said lazily, turning over onto her pillow. “How do you feel after being friends with such a loser and knowing that you have us now?”
Corrine ran a hoof through her mane. “Aren’t you glad you ditched that girl?”
Brooke couldn’t look Corrine in the eye. “I wouldn’t say that I ditched Sam, it’s just that I’m friends with you three now.”
“But you’re glad that you’re not best friends with her,” said Corrine. “You would rather be friends with us, right?”
“You could say that.” It took mountains of nerve to make Brooke say those words.
Alyssa gave Brooke a big toothy grin. “I would hate you, too, if you were poor. But you’re not. You’re nice.”
Wrinkling her brow, Brooke said slowly, “So you only like people if they’re rich?”
“That’s not the only thing,” Corrine explained. “We like pretty people, too. I mean, we wouldn’t want to be seen hanging out with somebody a little funky looking because it would be bad for our image. So take it as kind of a compliment because we’re hanging out with you. We think you’re pretty.”
“Well...” Brooke shook her head. She couldn’t let the sudden compliment stop her from saying what she felt. “That’s kind of shallow, isn’t it?”
“You’re calling us shallow?” Lauren asked. She turned to Corrine. “That’s not a very nice way for a guest to speak to the host, right Corrine?”
“That’s right,” Corrine said. “You’re being kind of mean, Brooke.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk!” Brooke exclaimed. Her face turned red in anger as he clenched her fists. “You’ve always been mean to me! You’ve always been shallow! I cannot believe that I actually wanted to be friends with you three. I know who my real friends are!”
She started her ascend up the stairs in tears when Corrine called up to her, “What friends, Brooke? The only friend you thought you had hates your guts now.”
Brooke pretended that she did not hear Corrine. She grabbed her overnight bag, the bag she was once so excited to carry but now seemed like a curse, slipped her shoes on, and ran the rest of the way home.
To be continued...