“I’m worried about Annabelle.”
The matter-of-fact statement was discharged into an otherwise silent room. Its recipient, a salt-n-pepper-haired gentleman in his early forties, was intently glued to the computer screen before him.
“Yeah…” came his slow reply.
“Yeah. She’s had to leave all of her friends. She knows no one here. She has very little interest in getting to know anyone. She has very little interests for that matter--”
The woman, clearly Annabelle’s mother, stopped her pacing and ranting to stare directly at her husband.
“Parker! Are you even listening to me? I’m talking about your daughter here. Aren’t you concerned?”
“Yes, honey,” he responded, pulling his glasses down to the tip of his nose to peer intently at his computer screen.
“Ugh! You are so frustrating!”
“Melanie, honey, don’t you think you are being a little dramatic?”
“Dramatic? Annabelle is a ten-year-old with no friends. She needs friends, Parker!”
“You need friends,” Parker muttered quietly behind his wife’s back.
“Nothing, Honey. I hear you. Annabelle needs friends. What do you propose?”
Parker had been a participant in these conversations before. He snapped his laptop shut and looked at his wife. It would do no good to explain that they had just moved to the area and Annabelle needed time to make friends. That the start of the new school year was still over a month away. Reasonable Melanie knew all of these things. This was not reasonable Melanie. This was “I already have a solution” Melanie. The only way to end this type of conversation was to get his wife to tell him what she had already decided. It was a matter of practicality. All he had to do now was listen and agree.
“Well, now that you ask. I do have an idea. You remember me telling you about my friend Amanda? You remember, surely. She teaches drama. We used to be pretty good friends back in high school. Did you know she was a real-life beauty queen? I told you that. I’m sure I did. Anyway, she made it all the way to Miss Georgia several years in a row. That was always her thing. Beauty pageants. In fact, the first thing I remember about Amanda was how all the girls in our class, this was back in middle school, didn’t really like Amanda because she was always winning all these beauty pageants. Can you believe anyone could dislike someone because they won too many beauty pageants? How silly! Teenage girls can be so ridiculous, and it really was ridiculous because Amanda was always such a nice person. But don’t ask my friend Cecily about that because evidently they ended up having some falling out about a beauty pageant after high school. It’s ironic though because they might never have even become close enough to have a falling out about a beauty pageant if I hadn’t had to move schools during my eighth-grade year. Of course, I moved back during my ninth-grade year… But that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”
Parker blinked. Twice. He really didn’t know what his wife was talking about anymore. He would wait. If you don’t follow, just wait. After too many years of marriage, he knew that this really was the best way--the precursor to enlightenment. So, he waited until his wife gave the signal. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long. After about twenty seconds, his wife gave him “the look.” The look of exasperation. The look that said, “you must be an idiot.”
It was a look Parker knew quite well. But, it was also a look that indicated his wife would spill soon, and then he could go back to doing what he really wanted--searching for obscure baseball cards on eBay.
Sure enough, Melanie didn’t disappoint.
“About Annabelle. Moving! It’s hard to make new friends. She needs something to help her meet people her age.”
“And your friend--Amanda--she plays a role how?” Parker asked, hoping this would sound like interest and not confusion.
“Well, every summer Amanda comes back to town and helps direct a youth theater camp. I told you, that’s what she teaches. Drama. Theater. The Stage.”
“And you want Annabelle to participate?” Parker asked, almost positive he had gotten it right.
“Okay! Wonderful! Annabelle is going to have a blast. She just loves all of that drama stuff. Really, Parker, I don’t know why you always make things so difficult.”
“I don’t know, honey, men just suck like that sometimes. Love you though.”
“Love you too,” Melanie responded sweetly, brushing the top of Parker’s forehead with her lips. “Okay, babe, I’m going to go tell Annabelle the good news.”
“Wonderful. I’m sure she will be thrilled.”
Thrilled might have been a bit of an overstatement, but Melanie had high hopes. If anyone could get Annabelle out of her shell it was Amanda.
“Okay, so you have your snacks and extra water bottle?”
“Are you feeling excited?’”
“Come on. Give it a chance. You’ll like it. For me?”
Melanie looked at her daughter who stared at the floorboard of their Chevy Traverse. She didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move.
“Come on. I have to sign you in any way. Let’s walk together.”
At her mother’s insistence, Annabelle schlumped her way out of the car. Once inside, she looked timidly around at the group of kids already gathered. No one approached her.
Melanie signed her daughter into camp and gave her a quick once-over. She wore a baggy hoodie, dark leggings, and a pair of old beat-up black Converse shoes. The shoes were scuffed and worn, and the shoestrings were carelessly tied and dragging the ground. Melanie started to feel nervous. What if Annabelle doesn’t make friends? What if Amanda can’t help her?
It had been over a decade since Melanie had seen Amanda in person. Throughout the years, she had followed her mostly on Facebook, occasionally sending a message or posting a “Happy Birthday” meme to her page. Amanda didn’t seem like she had changed a bit since high school, at least not according to social media. Melanie just hoped she still remembered what it was like to not quite fit in. Maybe she could use that to help her daughter bridge this new culture gap she had moved into.
“Is that your friend?”
Annabelle pointed to a tall, slender brunette with dark-rimmed glasses and a huge, beauty pageant smile. That was Amanda all right. Melanie smiled and nodded at her old friend. As she did so, Amanda bent down to talk to two children. They looked over to where Melanie stood with Annabelle. Within moments, Amanda disappeared behind a wall partition and the two children ran over to greet them.
“Hi! My name’s Cal.”
“I’m Alyssa. You’re Annabelle. Our mom told us your mom was a friend of hers. We’ll take you back to the theater stage. Follow us.”
“Okay,” Annabelle agreed, shrugging as if this were the most normal thing she had done that day.
Melanie watched as the three young thespians ran off to meet up with the rest of the campers, disappearing in the same direction as Amanda had. Melanie smiled. She knew this would be good for Annabelle. She couldn’t wait to hear how her day would go.
She was not disappointed.
Melanie arrived to pick Annabelle up about six hours later. Her daughter was full of smiles and tales about Cal and Alyssa. Evidently, the three had been thick as thieves, which was great, but Melanie had really hoped Annabelle would make local friends. Ultimately, though, she guessed even camp-only friends were better than no friends. Besides, she hadn’t seen Annabelle this excited about anything in months.
As she listened to her daughter’s prattling, Melanie’s cell phone pinged with a message.
Amanda: Hey, girl. We should catch dinner while I’m down.
Melanie sent a quick reply indicating that she would enjoy that, and she thanked her for looking out for Annabelle. Amanda responded immediately with an emoji and a text reading “The kids loved her!”
Each day afterward, Melanie took an eager Annabelle to camp. She was loving it. She had decided to try out for a speaking part, but what she liked most was that she and Cal had been pretty much allowed to write their skit by themselves. Melanie was really excited for her daughter.
She was excited, but it also reminded her of what she had missed out on as an adult. Melanie used to love the theater. In fact, it was Amanda who talked her into her own theatrical debut. Thinking about losing that part of her younger self made her a little sad now. Perhaps she should check out the local theater opportunities once the family was completely settled. She just didn’t know if she would still have what it takes to get up in front of an audience.
For now, she would just celebrate her daughter’s success. Everything was going according to plan. Everything except catching up with her old friend. Every time Melanie went to pick Annabelle up, Amanda was nowhere to be found. And she still hadn’t received a follow-up message about her earlier dinner invitation. .
“Honey, do you think Amanda is blowing me off?”
“How would I know?”
“You wouldn’t know. I just want your opinion.”
“Oh, my god! You are never any help. It’s just weird. She was the one who brought up going out to dinner. She won’t be in town forever. I’m sure she will be going back home after the kids' camp. I don’t know. It’s kind of rude. Don’t you think it’s rude?”
“Melanie, I don’t have friends.”
Melanie’s husband made the statement as if it were an answer to everything. It was her turn to just stare and blink. Unlike Melanie, however, Parker didn’t expound on his statement.
“Whatever,” she finally responded, clearly irritated.
“Honey, don’t be that way. I don’t know. And does it matter? Has Annabelle had a great time?”
Melanie thought about this and nodded. It was true. The whole point of the camp was to help Annabelle transition to their move and to help her break out of her shell. It had not been about her catching up with old friends. Even with this logic, the brushoff still stung a bit. Melanie was used to having friends close by to catch a movie or drink with. Like her daughter, she had left pretty much all of her friends (at least adulthood friends) behind in a state two thousand miles away. She missed them.
“No, you’re right. And I am really excited about Annabelle’s performance.”
To Melanie’s delight, Annabelle’s performance stole the show. All of their extended family showed up to support Annabelle’s theatrical debut. It was even better than her own. Annabelle was animated. She was confident. And she performed as a male character. The juxtaposition of her appearance in male attire (complete with beard and mustache) with her slight feminine frame was hilarious. No one could believe it when she doffed her hat during closing credits. This girl could do anything. In one performance, all of Melanie’s concerns about Annabelle acclimating to a new school and home state were relieved.
“You did such a great job!” Melanie exclaimed as Annabelle exited the theater.
Annabelle responded by deftly side-swiping her mother’s hug attempt.
At least I can count on some things, Melanie thought, smiling harder at her daughter’s rebellious independence.
“Hey, can we go over to Cal’s grandparent’s house today? They are grilling and have invited us to swim.”
“Yep. Mrs. Rogers said she would text you.”
As if on cue, Melanie’s phone pinged. Sure enough, there it was. “Whatcha think, Parker? Up for a swim?”
“Well, I feel like I have to meet this Amanda chick. I probably won’t swim, but sure, I’ll go.”
“Yay! Let’s go!” Annabelle shouted, more excited than she had been in weeks.
“Okay, swimsuits and let’s head on over!”
Despite Annabelle’s insistence to “hurry up” as they grabbed what they needed from home, Melanie still managed to arrive a little late to the cookout. Pride had gotten the better of her. Although it had been twenty years since Melanie had visited Amanda’s parent’s house, she was sure she could get them there from memory. As it turns out, pretty much remembering where someone lives will not get you to where someone exactly lives. She ended up having to text Amanda for the address. When they arrived, the children were in the pool, and the burgers were already on the grill.
Both Cal and Alyssa greeted Annabelle enthusiastically as she exited the family SUV.
“Hey, Melanie!” Mr. Larry called from the grill. “Long time, no see!”
“Too long,” Melanie replied. She had always enjoyed talking with Amanda’s dad, and the site of him now made her think of her own father who had passed the year before. She choked back a little sob that threatened to surface and turned to where Amanda’s kids were already pulling Annabelle into the pool.
“Where’s Amanda?” Melanie asked pulling up a chair.
“Oh, I think she is with her youngest, Mabel.”
From the back porch, Melanie could hear Amanda bartering with the small child.
“No, mama. I don't wanna ‘wim,” Mabel whined as she tried to pull her mother back through the door.
“Mabel, you just said you did.”
“No, you’re not.”
Melanie watched as her friend argued with her three-year-old daughter. She was clearly frustrated and exhausted. “Can I help?” Melanie asked.
“Oh, hi. I don’t think so. She’s just really tired.”
“I don’t wanna nap!” Mabel wailed at her mom’s words.
“I see,” Melanie observed. “That’s a tough age.”
“You’re telling me.”
As Melanie watched her high school friend wrestle with her daughter, the two attempted to catch up. Small talk included the usual: Jobs are great. Kids are great. Husbands are great. Everything is great. Soon, Melanie and Amanda ran out of things to say. In fact, it was almost a blessing that Amanda fought with Mabel, as it helped break their awkward silence.
Luckily for Melanie, Mr. Larry was full of conversation. He was a great storyteller, and some of his tales even included Melanie’s parents or her brother-in-law. It really was a small world when you were from a small town. Melanie was enjoying the walk down memory lane with her host. At one point, Mr. Larry even showed her the pool house shower curtain that had been made from plays Amanda had starred in. Several were plays in which Melanie had also been cast. In fact, she was so absorbed in her conversation with Amanda’s dad that she hadn’t seen Amanda slip off herself.
“Where did Amanda go?” Melanie asked when realization set in.
“I think she finally went to lay Mabel down.”
When it was time to eat, Amanda did not return.
It wasn’t until after everyone had tired of swimming and the food had been put away that Amanda surfaced again. Her greeting this time was a goodbye.
“It was so good of you to come by, Melanie. The kids really love your daughter. I think she has a lot of talent on stage, too.”
“Yeah. You’ll have to get Annabelle involved in something throughout the year. I can’t wait to see her at camp again next year.”
“Absolutely. Well, thanks for having us. I think that’s our cue.”
“Oh, I’m not running you off. Stay as long as you’d like.”
“No, that's okay. We need to get back.”
“Well let’s get together again sometime.”
Melanie and her husband said their final goodbyes and they packed up their things, practically dragging Annabelle away. Their daughter had found kindred spirits in Amanda’s children. Much like Melanie used to feel toward Amanda. Today, she realize that perhaps they weren’t such kindred spirits after all. Some people you can go years without seeing, and when you do see them, it’s like no time has passed.
It had not been like this with Amanda.
It made Melanie a little sad. She wondered what her husband thought of her former friend.
“So, what did you think of Amanda?”
“The verdict is still out. She wasn’t around much though.”
“Is that typical Amanda behavior?”
‘Who knows.I feel like I don’t know anything anymore. I feel like everything is changing.”
“I could tell something was bothering you. You looked sad when Mr. Larry showed you that t-shirt curtain from your old plays. Is that what is bothering you?”
“Ugh! I guess it is just everything. It was sad to see those old t-shirts. I used to love acting.”
“You still could.”
“I know. I thought about community theater, but honestly, I don’t have the confidence or skill anymore. I’m just becoming an old woman. Not just an old woman. An old woman with an expanding waistline and thinning hair no less! Did you see Amanda? Still just as skinny as ever. But it wasn’t just that. I miss my friends. I’ve been so focused on Annabelle that I hadn’t allowed myself to think about how hard this has been on me. Like I said, I guess I’m just struggling because everything is changing.”
Parker looked at his wife. “First, I’ve never cared for curveless women, so I’m thankful for that expanding waistline. Second, you can do whatever you set out to do. If that’s community theater, great. Double great because it’s something you can now share with Annabelle. Third, you’re right. Everything is changing. But today you had to know that it was changing in a good way.”
As Parker said this, Melanie followed her husband's gaze to their daughter. Annabelle had crashed in the backseat. She had crashed from a day of activity and hard play. This would not have happened weeks ago. Everything was changing. And that was a good thing.