Friends Come in all Ages

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Tonight was going to be another amazing night. I was hosting my third party this school year and so far it was going great. Anyone who was somebody at Greenville High School was here. Emily the homecoming queen, Jake the star quarterback, Mike the class clown, Ann the student council President, they were all here along with all of their equally-as-popular friends. I was quickly becoming one of the most popular “some bodies” at this school. Lauren, the girl who threw the best parties.

As I surveyed the room it was clear that everyone was having a great time.
“Lauren, this party tops the last one. It’s amazing! And this house is perfect for having so many people over. This place is a mansion!”

I couldn’t disagree with her there. My house was a mansion. There was a different room for every activity you could imagine. There was a giant great room for mingling, a special room built for dancing which came with a surround sound system, a home theater room with twenty seats, and even an indoor pool and Jacuzzi. I had to admit, it was one of the best homes in the city to entertain in. But probably the best thing about my house that made it perfect for parties was the fact that it rarely came with supervision! My Dad earned a lot of money as a financial consultant, but he had to work all the time and was rarely home. Between late nights at the office and overseas business trips, I barely saw him. Ever since my Mom died a little over a year ago, he has buried himself in his work. He hasn’t even been home enough in the past year to unpack all of our belongings. Right after my Mom died, he told me that he couldn’t stand to stay at our old house any longer. So, in what seemed like a flash, he bought this mansion in Greenville and never looked back. I have to admit that I get lonely sometimes, but being on my own so much definitely has its advantages.

“Hey, where have you been girly?” a voice behind me asked.

I turned around to see my friend from English class, Jessica. She was wearing a cute sparkly blouse and a matching skirt with a bathing suit strap poking out from underneath. I answered, “Oh, hey Jessica, I was just walking around. Are you having fun?”

“My god, yes! I am having so much fun. This party is awesome with a capital “A!” I just got back from the Jacuzzi with Eric, I think he’s super cute and he was totally flirting with me. You know what?”
I responded enthusiastically even though I was not really all that interested,
“What
?”
“I’m really glad I met you this year.” A plastic smile beamed on her face, “I don’t know how I would have survived without ever going to one of your parties. They are over the top! You’re such a great friend,” Jessica told me as she hugged me. Jessica always hugged me.

Despite this public display of affection, I always got the feeling that Jessica’s true feelings for me were fairly superficial. I believed that she didn’t really care about me all that much as a friend. In my heart I felt that the main reason she was nice to me was to make sure that she got invited to my parties. I got that same feeling from many of my other so called friends. But, I didn’t really mind that all that much. I was new here and if I hadn’t made many true friends yet, at least it looked like I did. And that, at least for now, was good enough for me. Whatever the reason was that these people talked to me and included me, I didn’t really care, as long as they did. And, I must say, as the evening progressed, Jessica’s early description of the party held up throughout the evening. It was a major success.
The next day, as I was cleaning up, I started to feel the same empty feeling in my stomach that I felt right after the last party. While it was true that my “friends” were all very nice and polite to me at school, I was rarely invited to hang out with them after school. At my old school, it was different. There was a group of twelve of us who did everything together. We couldn’t wait for the final bell of the day to ring. We would all meet by the statue in front of the school and make our plans for the afternoon. It is so different with this group. I wondered how real these friends were to me. I questioned how nice they would be to me if I didn’t have all of this money and this awesome house to throw parties in. Oh well, maybe in time it would change. In the meantime, I needed to start planning for party number four.
I had a reputation to uphold so the fourth party had to be even better than the last three. My idea was to throw Jessica a birthday party. The food was the best place to start. Cake and ice cream of course, for a birthday party. But not just any ordinary cake and ice cream would due. This had to be incredible, melt in your mouth, and send you to heaven cake and ice cream. A few weeks ago, I overheard my Dad talking about this amazing ice cream store located in the town of Creekside. My Dad did consulting work for a client there and often stopped by afterwards for an ice cream.
Creekside was the next town down the road from Greenville. It was quite a bit smaller and had that cute, homey, small town feel to it. The downtown was classic, right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Little brick buildings built right next to each other, the whole nine yards. It had the classic old-fashioned drug store and right next to it was the ice cream parlor. The sign above its door read, “Susan’s Homemade Ice Cream, since 1948,” which welcomed you into the store. I opened the door and the bell chimed. Not an electronic one that you find in the stores in the city, but a real honest-to-goodness shiny chrome bell. I walked up to the counter and asked for a large bowl with three of my favorite flavors, chocolate, vanilla, and mint chocolate-chip. I was testing the ice cream, remember, so it was okay to have too much. I had to make sure that this was the best.
I received my ice cream right away and sat in a comfy booth in a corner of the store to begin my taste testing. I dug right in, and I must say it was absolutely delicious, unlike any ice cream I had ever tasted before. I started with the chocolate and couldn’t stop eating it. The ice cream virtually hypnotized me; everything else around me blurred into the background. Nothing else in life mattered, at least for now. I was so out of it that I did not notice the three boys on the other side of the store staring at me until a dark shadow over came the table. I glanced up from my ice cream and saw the largest of the three guys standing at the edge of my booth.
“Hey there, Princess, who is minding the castle?” he scowled at me. “And where is your white knight to protect you against villains like us?” He then stuck his hand in my bowl and grabbed one of the untouched scoops of ice cream and proceeded to smash it over my head. I screamed and jumped back from the table in surprise, but before I could react any further I heard a voice shout out from behind me.
“Leave her alone, Brad, or I’ll make you regret you were ever born. And, you know I can do it, because I’ve done it before. She’s not bothering anyone.” With that, just like magic, Brad, I guess his name was, backed away from me and left the store without saying another word. I did my best to wipe the ice cream off my face at the table but I could feel tears starting to form, so I bolted into the bathroom. After a few minutes I was able to clean myself up and regain my composure. I took one last look in the mirror and then headed out of the bathroom with the intention of getting out of Creekside as fast as possible.
I didn’t make it two steps out of the door before I heard a concerned voice ask, “Hey, are you okay?” Then a pause, waiting for me to respond but I didn’t so she continued, “Sorry about what those boys did to you, there is no excuse. They are just bullies trying to get your attention in the only way that they know how. My name is Randi, by the way. Can you sit for a minute?”
I was in no mood for chit-chat, but, on the other hand, this girl did just save me from a humiliating experience and it would probably be impolite to turn down her offer. Randi, wearing no make-up and dressed in blue-jean overalls, was definitely what I would call a “tom-boy”. With that said, however, she was also someone that I think the boys in Greenville would consider cute. She had a beautiful smile, shiny reddish-brown hair and sparkling green eyes.
“Sure, I can sit for a minute”, I replied. “By the way, my name is Lauren. I don’t know how to thank you for saving me back there, but thanks for sticking up for me. That was very brave of you.”
“That was nothing,” Randi answered as she ran her unpolished finger tips through her shiny hair to get it out of her face. “Ever since I earned my black belt in karate three years ago, those clowns know not to mess with me. I only had to prove it to them once. You should have seen them run away like little girls after I roughed them up a little bit. You would have loved it!”
Even though I thought I wasn’t in the mood, I stayed and talked to Randi for a little bit. At least I thought it was just a little bit. At some point, I glanced down at my watch and realized that three hours had flown by. What a talker she was! I learned all about her town, her family, her hobbies and seemingly everything else. Finally, I told her that I had to go, but before I left we agreed to meet again the following week, same time and same place.

The following week we met again and talked for three hours. The week after that, the same thing happened. I never realized that I could have so much in common with someone. We were becoming such good friends! The following week, Thursday, was the day of my party. With some hesitation, I invited Randi to attend and meet my friends from Greenville, but the funny thing was, the closer the day came, the more nervous I became. What if they didn’t accept my new friend because she talked a little different or she dressed a little different?
Sure enough, the party went just as I planned, and just as I feared. The usual crowd all showed up; the food, especially the cake and ice cream was awesome, and the people were cold to Randi. It started out just fine. The boys were nice, and even a little flirty to her. But then Emily, the homecoming queen, arrived and the mood of the party changed. I don’t know if Emily was jealous of the attention that Randi was receiving or what, but I saw her whisper something to a couple of people and, all of a sudden, the boys stopped talking to Randi. Just after that, the rest of the girls started ignoring Randi as well and it all went downhill from there. Randi, to her credit, toughed it out for a little while, but then, at eleven o’clock, she told me that she had to leave. From that point of the evening on, the party was ruined for me. I was so mad at Emily I could hardly see straight. The next day at school, however, I got even madder when I overheard a couple of girls making fun of her.
The following week I met with Randi again at the usual time and place. I tried to apologize for my friends’ behavior, but she told me that she didn’t even notice it. We soon fell into our usual rhythm of talking and laughing, and laughing some more. Again, the time flew. At the end of the conversation I asked Randi if she wanted to come over to my house on Saturday and watch a movie or something.
“That sounds like so much fun but, I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m busy Saturdays. I volunteer at a nursing home in town,” Randi replied.
There was a moment of silence. “A nursing home? That’s odd.” I thought to myself, “Was she just making this up? Was she mad at me for what my friends had done to her?”
She must have seen the confused look on my face and wanted to clarify it for me. “Do you want to drop by on Saturday and visit me? I think it would be fun. You should come!” She cheerfully said.
I agreed to go and replied, “Actually, that does sound fun. I would love to visit you.”
So that’s exactly what I did that Saturday. I went and saw Randi at the nursing home named Sunshine Assisted Living. She introduced me to many of her friends. There was Mr. Jenson, the retired farmer, Mrs. Wilson, the widow who has four kids who never visited her, and my favorite of all of them, Mrs. Clark. She was the sweetest person that I ever met.
I loved that Saturday at the nursing home and decided to spend a few of my free days volunteering there.
Over the next few weeks, kids at school kept asking me when I was going to throw party number five, but that seemed a lot less important now. Fitting in at school with this group seemed hollow; impressing them with material things didn’t matter as much. What was important was seeing my new friends at Sunshine. They talked with me, listened to me, and I did the same for them. It didn’t matter to them how much money I had or how big my house was. All that did matter was that I was there for them when they needed me the most.
It has now been over six weeks since I threw my last party. Forty-four days, to be exact. That, by the way, represents a new record for me in terms of days gone by without throwing a party. No longer do I get questioned every day as to when the next party is. They have accepted the fact that I won’t be throwing a party every two weeks now. Some of the kids have stopped talking to me and stopped pretending to be my friend. But I am okay with that. I feel much more relaxed now and I feel like I no longer have to be concerned with impressing everyone at school and showing off how rich I am. I am a lot more comfortable just being me and taking my chances that someone will like me for who I am, not just for my money. My new friends taught me that; to just be myself. But the funny thing is, when I stopped trying so hard to win new friends at school, I actually found out who my real friends were. Sure, it is true that many of the kids have stopped pretending to like me, but the dozen or so who still talk to me at school and joke with me have become really good friends. And, yes, they even hang out with me after school during the week. Just like the old days. I think that next week I will even ask a couple of them to join me at Sunshine and challenge Mr. Jensen in charades. What do you think of that? I had come a long way.





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