38 comments

Friendship Kids Holiday

I read the text from Marcia for the third time, just to be sure I’ve read it correctly.


Can I ask you a huge favor?


Sure, what’s up?


Are you free on Halloween? Can you take Harrison trick-or-treating? I sprained my ankle and I’m still in a boot, and Phil just found out he has to work.


I roll my eyes. Phil always finds some way to avoid holidays. When we were kids, he'd often fake a stomachache as soon as his Christmas presents were opened so that he could ditch church and family brunch. And last Thanksgiving, he claimed that he and Marcia needed to visit her family and wouldn't be able to go to our parents' house. Turns out, Marcia told her family the same thing, and they spent the whole day at home. Harrison is the 7-year-old son, my nephew, and because his parents are so flighty, I barely know him. My most vivid memory of him is at age three, running naked around Marcia and Phil's house during his own birthday party.


If Marcia is asking me, she must be desperate. Aside from the fact that we don't speak outside of family gatherings, I’m not really the babysitting type. It’s not that I hate kids. I think they’re wild, hilarious little creatures. But I like kids when I’m walking my dog and they point and say, “Puppy!” or when I’m at work and they get stuck waiting with their parents, so they talk to me and tell me the details of their day. Being left alone to care for a child is a completely different situation. What do kids eat? How often do they need to drink water? If I forget to turn off the TV channel I was watching, will I corrupt them forever?


I weigh my next response and go with:


Wouldn’t he rather go with his friends?


Can you take him or not?


I don't want to do this, but it's not like I have anything else to do on Halloween, and I really should try to get to know my nephew a little bit. At the very least, maybe he'll give me some idea of what to get him for Christmas this year. So I say:


Yeah, sure. What time should I come over?


She replies with an all-caps thank you and a lengthy list of instructions that I assume she already had written out for whichever poor soul finally agreed to take Harrison. Harrison is allergic to peanuts. Of course he is.


Halloween is just a week later, on a Wednesday night. I ditch happy hour with my coworkers to get to Marcia’s house by 6:30 PM. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to wear a costume, so I threw a witch hat in the backseat this morning. When I pull up to Marcia’s house, I retrieve it and place it on my head. Examining my reflection in the rear view mirror, I deem myself sufficiently festive.


Moments after I ring the doorbell, a little boy with a shock of dark hair opens the door and immediately screams, “Mom, there’s a witch at our house!” Marcia comes hobbling into view and relaxes when she sees it’s only me. She eyes the hat, and I take it off before she can say anything. I’m glad I didn’t try a more elaborate costume.


“That’s not a witch, Harrison. This your aunt Courtney. You know her. She’s going to take you trick-or-treating this year!” Harrison’s bottom lip starts to quiver, and Marcia bends down to say gently, “Remember what we talked about?” He nods and stares at his feet for a few seconds before lifting his head and baring his teeth in the most forced smile I’ve ever seen.


To keep myself from laughing, I say, perhaps a little too brightly, “I like your costume!” I have no idea what his costume is. It involves a lot of cardboard.


“Do you hear that, Harrison? Courtney said she likes your costume.”


“Thank you,” Harrison says through his fake smile. “I’m a washing machine.”


“Well,” I say, looking at Marcia, who nods at me with wide eyes, “That is just the best washing machine costume I have ever seen.” It’s also the only washing machine costume I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t feel relevant.


Apparently, I’m convincing, because Harrison quirks a real smile and hops off the front step, waving to his mom and saying, “See you later! Love you! I’ll bring you lots of candy!”


“Courtney, remember! No peanuts!”


“Got it! Bye!” I call over my shoulder as I rush to catch up to Harrison, who has bolted down the lawn and is nearly in the street already. He stops at the sidewalk and waits for me. He looks both ways, I confirm the absence of cars, and we set off at a quick trot. He is surprisingly nimble for a kid wearing a cardboard box, and I’m slightly winded trying to keep up.


“So, where are we headed first?”


“641 Sycamore Street,” he says matter-of-factly. “They don’t get a lot of visitors because they don’t put up decorations, but they always have the best candy.”


“All right then, which way is Sycamore Street?” Harrison points forward. Good enough for me.


As we walk, Harrison’s empty basket thumps against his cardboard costume. We pass families, groups of kids with a few haggard looking parents, and some rowdy teens, but no one else as lonely as us. “Hey Harrison,” I say, “I’m really happy that I get to hang out with you today, but can I ask you a question?”


He looks at me warily. “Okay.”


“Well, I know your mom hurt her foot and your dad had to work, but why didn’t you want to go out with your friends?”


Harrison is quiet, and I start to worry that I’ve committed a grave mistake. I try to recall Marcia’s list of instructions. Was there a bullet point about this? “I don’t have any friends,” Harrison finally replies.


I know how most people would respond to that answer. They would insist that he’s wrong, and that he has plenty of friends. But I know better. After all, I had no other Halloween plans. When I had to leave happy hour tonight, I apologized profusely, but the truth is that I was relieved to get out of there, and my coworkers didn’t really care anyway. They said okay and went back to their conversations. They didn’t even ask where I was going. If those happy hours weren’t the only thing on my social calendar, I doubt I’d go at all.


So instead of telling a 7-year-old boy that he’s wrong about his own lack of friendships, I say, “I’m sorry. That must make you sad.”


Harrison must have been expecting a different answer because he suddenly stops walking and looks to meet my eyes for the first time since we left his house. “It does.”


“You know what?”


“What?”


“I don’t really have friends, either.”


“You don’t?”


“Nope. And you know what else?”


“What?”


“I’d like for you to be my friend, Harrison. Will you be my friend?”


He beams, and all traces of his earlier grimaces and forced cheer disappear. “Yes. I’ll be your friend.”


I hold my hand out for a high five, and he smacks his little hand against mine. “Cool. We’re friends now. Hey, is this the house you were talking about?” I point to the street sign, Sycamore, then to the house number, 641. Harrison nods vigorously and bounces on his feet. We walk up the driveway. He wasn’t kidding—the only decoration is a wreath of leaves on the door. But the porch light is on, and when Harrison knocks on the door it opens right away.


“Trick or treat!” Harrison chirps.


The elderly woman at the door smiles down at him and says over her shoulder, “Bill? Did we order a new washing machine? One’s just been delivered!” Then she winks at Harrison, and he laughs, thrilled that she guessed his costume.


A man, who must be Bill, joins the woman at the door and squints his eyes down at Harrison. “Paula, is it just me, or does that washing machine looks a lot like our very best trick-or-treater?" Harrison giggles again, and Bill straightens up. "Washing machines don't giggle! I think that's our Harrison, although he's much taller this year. And who’s that with you? I didn’t know you had a sister!” As he speaks, his wife dumps an entire bowl of candy in Harrison’s basket.


“This is my friend, Courtney,” Harrison says, with a hint of pride in his voice. "She doesn't have a costume."


“Hi!” I say, peeking out from behind Harrison. “Are you sure it’s okay for Harrison to take that much candy?”


Paula waves off the question. “Harrison is usually our only visitor. He can have as much as he wants.”


Harrison chats with Bill and Paula for a few minutes, about school and how his vegetable garden is coming along. Eventually I manage to get them to bid goodbye, and when we reach the bottom of their driveway, I say, “Harrison! You lied to me!”


There’s a hint of panic in his voice as he says, “What? About what?”


I cross my arms in mock disappointment. “You said you had no friends, but I think I just met two very good friends of yours.”


His brow furrows in thought, and then he breaks out into another smile. “I have three friends!”


“You sure do. Where to next?”


He points across the street to another house with a light on and a lone pumpkin on the step. “Let’s go to all the houses that don’t get many visitors. Maybe we can make a few more friends.”


“That is an excellent idea, Harrison.” He gives me a thumbs up and grabs my hand before stepping into the street. My chest fills with a tenderness for this child I barely know, and I’m silently grateful for Marcia’s random request, for rescuing me from a hollow night out. I don’t know when I’ll see Harrison next, or if I’ll ever again cross paths with Bill and Paula or the other nameless residents we’re about to visit, but for tonight, we are all a little less lonely. 

October 26, 2020 21:23

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38 comments

Elle Clark
10:26 Oct 29, 2020

I love it. It’s so beautifully heartwarming. A connection between two people, so different and yet linked by loneliness. Beautiful. The dialogue reads authentically and each bit either moves the story on or gives us some context to the characters. I don’t feel there are any wasted words here. The only thing I’m bumping up against is the connection of Courtney and Harrison’s mom. I don’t understand why she’d let her son go out with an acquaintance or why Courtney would agree to it. My suggestion would be to make them relatives - p...

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12:26 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you, Laura! That is such a great suggestion. Originally the idea was that Courtney and Marcia were good friends, or at least had been at one time, but I took that out when Courtney reveals she doesn't have friends. Family makes a *lot* more sense. I just edited the beginning, so if you get a chance to read the revised version I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Elle Clark
19:14 Oct 29, 2020

I just reread it and I really like the rewrites - it makes more sense to me now and you’ve included them so seamlessly that I never would’ve guessed they were late additions. You have such a brilliant writing style - it’s a real joy to read.

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20:37 Oct 29, 2020

I can't thank you enough for this comment. I've been having some writer's block recently and this was the first story I've managed to finish in a few weeks. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, so it's wonderful to hear that you liked it (and my writing in general)!

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Elle Clark
20:38 Oct 29, 2020

You’re more than welcome - it was my pleasure!

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Maggie Deese
03:12 Oct 27, 2020

My Natalie Strawbridge withdrawal has been fulfilled because wow this was incredible! This may just be my favorite story of yours and possibly on this whole website. Your characters were enticing and beautiful; I loved the similarity of Courtney and Harrison both lacking friends. I really teared up a bit when Courtney asked him to be her friend. This story has a great message to it as well showing how not everyone is so lucky to have friends no matter what age they are. But it also shows how anyone can be your friend no matter the age differ...

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16:13 Oct 27, 2020

Wow, thank you so much, Maggie! We always hear about how isolating the holidays can be for some people, but that usually doesn’t extend to Halloween, so I wanted to explore that. It’s no fun to spend Halloween alone! Since I posted this so early in the week, I have plenty of time to make edits, and I’d appreciate any suggestions you might have to make it better. Thanks again for your kind comment :)

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Maggie Deese
03:18 Oct 29, 2020

You are so welcome! I honestly do not see anything to improve on...so sorry! I applaud you for making something that I cannot critique, haha! :)

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20:45 Oct 29, 2020

Oh my goodness, thank you! Like I wrote in my reply to Laura, I've been having a hard time with writing the past few weeks and this was the first story I've finished. I attempted no fewer than three prompts for the contest two weeks ago. So it makes me really happy to hear that you liked this so much. That said, I did edit the beginning to make the Courtney and Marcia's relationship more realistic, so feel free to read the edited version and let me know what you think!

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Maggie Deese
02:41 Oct 30, 2020

I just read the beginning again (actually I read the entire story again, not going to lie), and it does work better! The relationship does work better now that they are related; I'm glad Laura suggested that! Also, I totally get the writer's block. It's the worst but sometimes the only way to get past it is to just write and fight through it. You did that and out came this beautiful story that everyone is loving! I agree with Laura; I could definitely see this winning or being shortlisted.

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00:45 Nov 03, 2020

Aw, I'm glad you enjoyed it as much the second time through! I seem to have rounded a corner with the writer's block for now, just in time for NaNoWriMo. We'll see if it lasts, though I doubt I'll manage to write short stories on top of my novel even if I stay unblocked. I hope your first two days of writing have gone/are going well!

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Kristin Neubauer
15:42 Oct 31, 2020

This is so sweet, Natalie. There is such a depth of tenderness and humanity in this story....and laced with humor! I've never really thought about little kids not having any friends and what they must feel like - they always seem to run in hordes. But you brought such insight and warmth into Harrison's plight, that you have me looking at kids in a different way now. Btw, I had a friend who was a phone booth in third grade and a traffic light in fourth. She would appreciate the washing machine!

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00:42 Nov 03, 2020

Thank you, Kristin! I've been babysitting my niece almost every day since April because she isn't in school, so I have all these kid quotes and insights and nowhere to channel them except into these stories. We're very good friends now, and it's a good thing too, because neither of us get to see our friends much these days. Your grade school friend sounds hilarious. I hope she's continued her tradition of unique costumes into adulthood!

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Bianka Nova
00:24 Oct 30, 2020

Short and beautiful. I saw that there have been some rewrites, and I don't know how it went at first, but it looks great as it is now. 😊 And maybe it's because I'm on my period (too much information, I know 😁), but it almost made me tear up at the end.

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00:39 Oct 30, 2020

Thank you, Bianka! Sorry I almost made you cry. I hope you're not feeling too bad and are able to get some rest or at least eat some ice cream, or whatever your dessert of choice is. I started to tear up at a kids' movie I watched with my niece today, so you're not alone there!

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Bianka Nova
00:43 Oct 30, 2020

I'm fine... just the hormones doing their tricks. But it's a good cry, the emphatic kind 😊 Oh, and I also cry so easily at movies 😅

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Yolanda Wu
08:04 Nov 06, 2020

What a heartwarming story! I love how the relationship developed between Courtney and Harrison, also you wrote Courtney's reluctance to take Harrison trick-or-treating in the beginning so well. I love how quickly Harrison makes friend, this was such a sweet story, and I don't really have anything else to say other than the fact that it's amazing! Great work, Natalie. :)

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14:47 Nov 06, 2020

Thank you Yolanda! I really needed a heartwarming story when I wrote it, and I'm really happy it's resonated with so many people.

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Yolanda Wu
21:35 Nov 06, 2020

Of course, sometimes it's those simple and heartwarming ones that have the most effect on people.

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Tessa Takzikab
18:52 Nov 04, 2020

It's so cute! I love how Courtney's mood starts annoyed at her sister-in-law and her brother, but then she realizes that it's an opportunity to get to know her nephew. I especially love the line about the kids she does like and her uncertainty about watching a kid for a longer time. I also love how the mood goes from resigned to really sweet. Sometimes I wonder if everyone goes through a time when they feel like they have no friends. Great work!

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14:45 Nov 06, 2020

Thanks, Tessa! I do think the sudden, occasional "whoa, I have no friends" moment is an almost universal feeling. But it's often followed by a "wait, yes I do" moment, sometimes in the form of an unexpected person. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Tobby Fadeyi
09:12 Nov 04, 2020

I really, really loved this story. I'm a fan of kids, so far they come with an expiration time. As fun as they are, they are really energy draining. I really felt the tenderness of the story and the goodness of Harrison's heart just made me melt. Fantastic job!

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14:41 Nov 06, 2020

Thank you! I'm the same way about kids. I watch my niece a lot and I love her but boy am I tired when she goes home.

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Kylie Rudolf
16:45 Nov 02, 2020

You got the flaky relatives just right! This is a great and relatable story!

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22:31 Oct 28, 2020

What an amazing heartwarming story! This is just what I needed tonight. Your writing is simplistically perfect,’offering just enough detail to paint a vivid scene but avoids bugging us down in unnecessary purple prose. I can so effortlessly see the interactions happening between the characters, and feel their personalities shine through their dialogue. WELL DONE!

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20:38 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm that you were able to read it just when you needed it.

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Rexiho Fleur
22:14 Mar 20, 2021

I wanted to read for kids, for fun. Didn’t know I just saw the best story ever!

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02:39 Mar 21, 2021

Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

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Magdalene Lam
14:11 Nov 28, 2020

That kid is so cute

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Thom Brodkin
17:53 Nov 17, 2020

I am a crier. There I said it, and this one had me all teary eyed. It felt so real. I could see it all. What a gift you have for story telling and description and for my biggest weakness, dialogue. I was out of the loop for a few weeks but this should have been shortlisted at the very least if not won outright. It was that good. If you see Harrison tell him I want to be his friend too. I have finally written an new story. I always respect your feedback. It's called "Silence" and if you could give me a read I would be ever so gr...

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21:43 Nov 18, 2020

I was so happy to see your comment, Thom! Thank you for reading. I didn't even set out for this one to be so emotional, but a few people have mentioned that it made them tear up, so you're not alone in that. I haven't been around here much either, because I'm working on a project for NaNoWriMo, but I will certainly read and comment on your story when I get the chance! (P.S. Harrison says he'd love to be your friend).

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Emarie Malfoy
14:07 Nov 16, 2020

I love this.

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Amy Sutch
19:05 Nov 04, 2020

Real nice story. I enjoyed reading it.

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Princemark Okibe
14:37 Oct 28, 2020

Nice read. Your story though lacking in the stereotypical short story conflict and suspense is really heartwarming. I was touched. Lol. Children don't even know it is easier for them to make friends than we adults. Just put two children together, whether they be jew and Palestinian. They will just start playing together. They don't give a shit about religion, ethnicity, ideology, colour or whatever.

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20:42 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you! It's true, I tend not to write much conflict in my short stories, and this is one of the most straightforward ones I've posted here. I needed a heartwarming story this week, and it's good to hear that it touched you as well. Yes, until they're taught to, kids don't care much about those kinds of difference, they'll be friends with anyone! Adults could learn a lesson from them.

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