"Remember when we were eating yellow popsicles in the park and there was a wind and the yellow melted popsicle blew on us?"
"Yes," I responded, "your mum asked where we'd gotten mustard stains." We both broke down laughing, until I managed to gasp, "Remember when I took the shortcut behind the school and rode through the mud and my pants got all dotted with mud flecks?"
"I remember," Chris chuckled, "and when we went home, I stalled your mum while you snuck upstairs to change."
We both laughed again for a long while. Chris started again.
"Remember when . . ."
Ah, those were the days. It was always like this, on Saturday evenings in the purply-dim dusk, recalling things from the past. We were lying in our favorite spot, a tall hill in the park with a huge oak tree on top; it was great to just sprawl out in the shade on your stomach with the breeze tickling you; that was exactly what we were doing. I giggled as Chris recounted that memorable incident in the school cafeteria. Then I remember-whenned him about the time I was laughing so hard at the dinner table that pop came out of my nose. And that had to be the night when we had company.
After the usual bout of giggling, I turned expectantly to Chris, waiting for a nice funny remember-when. He always told them instantly and they were always perfectly detailed and good. This time, however, he was silent, staring away into space with a wistful look. I was about to nudge him gently when he said, in a whisper, "Heather . . . do you remember when you and I became friends?"
* * *
Third grade. I was friendless, shy, not pretty or popular. I had no best pals, as other people did. I had already been branded as Heather the Loner. I was miserable.
But lo and behold! As I was counting up an addition problem in my head before lunch, here came the most popular girl in my class, Kirsten . . . straight toward me. She had a load of friends, and they always seemed to avoid me. I didn't know why; but there she was, surrounded by her usual crowd of pals, clearly making for me!
Her light gray eyes friendly, Kirsten reached my desk and grinned a hello at me. I smiled back, not believing my eyes.
"Hi, Heather," Kirsten said, "Wanna play this recess?"
I was flabbergasted. "Uh . . . I guess . . . I mean . . . sure!"
Kirsten smiled and started to go back to her seat. "See you then," she called over her shoulder.
From then on, I played with her; but Kirsten and her friends made fun of me, played tricks on me, forced me to hold the rope all the time when they were skipping and made up new rules so I could get captured in Cops and Robbers. My life in school was more miserable than ever, until the new kid came.
His name was Christopher, and he wasn't too tall, with white-blond hair and light, playful blue eyes. However, his eyes weren't too playful in our class; they were downcast and shy. He didn't have any friends either, and nobody seemed to want to play with him, even though he was a fast runner and pretty nice. I was among them. He was a stranger, after all; a new kid.
Still, I felt sorry for him. I knew how he felt. But I didn't dare come forward and talk to him; I was very shy, and after all, there was Kirsten. For some reason, I was desperately loyal to her; I tried to please her and make her laugh and win her approval. And she'd been treating me like dirt through a mask of friendship. But I was terrified of being cast out; I would be the loner again, wandering aimlessly at recesses, friendless and alone. No, I wouldn't do that. At least with Kirsten I had somebody.
One fateful day, everything changed.
It was a pizza day; everybody had ordered pizza and we were in the middle of lunch, munching away, laughing and talking. Kirsten and her friends had pulled up their chairs to my desk; we were all having lunch at my group, and I was having an OK time. Christopher was in my group; he sat alone with his pizza, eating in silence. Nobody was bothering him, until Nick, coming in from the water fountain, zipped into the classroom past his desk. At the time I was reluctantly joining in on the discussion of clothes which I didn't really care about, but Kirsten had opposite feelings—when there was a yelp and a bang.
"Hey! You, c'mere, I'll teach you!"
I spun around in my seat. There was Christopher, glaring at Nick. His pizza was on the floor. Nick was howling across the room.
"Hah, I'd like to see you try!"
Kirsten chose this moment to laugh a cruel little laugh, pointing at Christopher; the class joined in instantly I didn't. I still had one pizza left. Instantly, like a subconscious reflex to this, I took my remaining pizza, summoned up all my courage, and slid it toward Christopher, ignoring the incredulous "What are you doing Heather?" from Kirsten. The pizza slid into place on Christopher's napkin, and he looked at me with wide eyes.
"Thanks," he whispered. I met his eyes, and smiled.
* * *
Chris and I became instant friends; best friends, in fact. I shrugged off Kirsten, who had earlier branded Chris as "uncool," and the rest of her friends; and I played with Chris. I did everything with Chris. I ignored the jeers of kids when I played with him because I was a girl and he was a boy. I ignored the "sitting in a tree" verse they howled at Chris and me at recesses. I ignored it all. You could do that for a best friend. And Chris was the best friend there ever was.
"Don't you remember that, Heather?" Chris asked, shattering my daydream and jerking me back to the future, three years later in grade six. I glanced sideways at him and grinned, "Yeah . . . yeah, I remember that, Chris."
"Heather! Come home now, it's dark!" my mum's voice floated faintly from across the park. I got up.
"Better go," I said. "See ya, Chris."
"See ya, Heather. Guess I should be going home now too." Chris got up and started down the hill. "Bye," he added over his shoulder. I walked off in the opposite direction, toward the distant outline of my mother.
As Christopher disappeared into the fast-falling darkness, I paused, smiling slightly. My eyes seemed unusually wet.
"I'll never forget," I whispered; then I raced homewards.