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Amy sat on the cold concrete steps resting her chin on her fist, while the other hand clutched an ink-blotted letter. She stared at the sign three doors down that had a big red line crossing out the words "For Sale." Under it in small letters it said "Sold!" Slowly a tear rolled down her cheek and plopped down onto the letter, smudging the words "Dear Amy." She scrunched it up into a wad and threw it carelessly toward a trash can, missing it by a foot or two. She heaved a sigh and stooped down to pick it back up, knowing that if she didn't, her mother might read it. Amy stuffed the letter into her jeans pocket, making a big lump. She shuffled across the street to Emily's house, as if there was one last hope of her being there.

Amy looked down at the latch on the gate. Did she dare? No, of course not! It wasn't her house . . . but then again the new family wasn't moving in until September, and it was only July. She opened the metal latch, letting it slowly creak open as she remembered the words on the letter she had almost thrown away. "Amy, look under the big rock in my backyard. Love, Emily." She pulled the wad of paper from her pocket, carefully folded it into a neat square, and put it back in her jeans.

She walked around the house to the backyard, looking for "the big rock." She spotted a large lumpy one in the corner of the yard under a hedge, only to find a few squashed worms and a bunch of red ants underneath it. "Ugh!" she cried and jumped back, letting the rock thump down to the ground. Nearby she saw a reddish-brown rock that she and Emily had often covered with a blanket for their dolls to have tea on. She pulled it back and there it was, a miniature copper teapot in the folds of a red-and-white checkered doll blanket. She used her thumb to brush a few grains of dirt from the teapot, and carried it and the blanket home like they were pieces of fragile glass.

A Real Friend girl playong with dolls
She spread out the little blanket with the teapot and sat Sarah down across from the new doll

She shoved open the door of her house and was greeted by the fragrance of home-baked chocolate-chip cookies. "Amy, what have you been doing all this time?" asked her mother curiously.

"Oh, nothing," Amy said, not wanting to admit to her that she had trespassed at Emily's old house.

She grabbed a hunk of cookie dough and was just ready to stuff it into her mouth when she heard, "Not until after dinner," and felt the dough snatched from her hand. "By the way, a letter came for you today, I meant to tell you earlier, but you were out so long, worrying me to death by the way."

"Thanks," said Amy, grabbing the letter and shrugging off her mother's concern, as she ran up the stairs to her room.

She jumped into bed and let her hair hang over the side while she read the letter on her back.

Dear Amy,
New York is really great. I've made lots of friends at school, but there's one special friend that I've been meaning to tell you about. Her name is Madeline. Last night we went to the movies together. The ticket lady was really nice. She let Madeline in for free!

Amy felt a surge of anger run up her spine and into her mouth, making her want to shout. She was hot and confused, and almost missed her mother's voice shouting, "Amy, set the table. Now!" She dragged herself downstairs, covering her tears with her hair. When she sat down at the table with her parents her mother asked what was wrong. Her father, a tall, lanky man who was usually away at his office, told Amy if she wasn't going to tell them what the matter was then please would she stop crying and eat her dinner. She sat there sulking, and for the rest of the meal ate in silence. During dinner she thought about how Emily and Madeline had become best friends. While she was shoveling peas into her mouth she wondered if Emily had room in her for two best friends. Probably not, she thought pessimistically. Just before dessert, Amy quietly asked to be excused, not in the mood for eating canned peaches and macaroons.

In the late summer evening the sun was just beginning to set. She opened the back screen door, letting it slam behind her, and wandered across the damp, limp grass to her swing. Instead of sitting in the swing herself, she pushed the empty seat back and forth, then quickly remembered that this was what she and Emily had done with their dolls. She abruptly plopped down onto the plastic seat, and holding onto the ropes, she pushed off, pumping hard until her toes touched the branches of a magnolia tree. Then falling back toward the ground, she tilted her head back, letting the tips of her hair touch the blades of grass.

Her head felt lighter, and she was able to begin writing a letter back to Emily in her head. It would say something like, "Dear Emily," but Amy immediately frowned and crossed out "Dear" in her head. "Yesterday at nature camp a new girl came. Her name was Clorissa," a name from Amy's well-worn fairy tale book. She would tell Emily that she and Clorissa had won an award for picking the best herbs on the nature trail to make tea. She would say they spent all of their time together.

She jumped off the swing and ran through the darkness back to her house. That night, sitting with a flashlight in bed, she carefully copied her thoughts onto paper. Then she fell asleep, and dreamed of the look on Emily's face when she read the letter.

Amy awoke the next morning feeling light-hearted and gay. She rolled out of bed, grabbed the letter and shoved her toes into a worn pair of blue cotton slippers. She crept down the hall and down the stairs. Her parents must not know about the mean thing she was going to do. Then, remembering her clothes, she dashed back to her room and pulled on a red turtleneck with Camp Wehauken printed on it. She thrust on a pair of blue jeans and retraced her steps back down the stairs and out the front door. She knew that her mother and father usually woke up at nine so she had to hurry. She glanced down at her watch to check the time. It was already eight-thirty! She knew she had to be back in half an hour, and the post office was at least a twelve-minute walk.

Amy ran all the way and was panting when she twisted the brass doorknob at the post office. She quickly walked inside and made her way to the counter, where she placed the envelope on the marble counter and rang the little bell. A clerk with short gray hair came over and smiled down on Amy. "May I help you?" he asked.

Amy looked up at him; she always liked the way Mr. Hanes's skin crinkled around his eyes when he smiled. "I need the right stamp for this letter," she said shyly.

"That looks like a thirty-seven-cent letter," he replied. She thanked him and handed over a quarter, a dime, and two pennies. She licked the stamp and pasted it on the corner of the envelope, then put it in the slot under the word "Stamped Mail."

As soon as she sent the letter she wished she hadn't. Two weeks passed and each day was worse than the one before. The more days she had to think about what she had done, the more she realized it was wrong. Even if Emily had made a new friend, Amy knew she shouldn't be jealous. She had made new friends too since Emily had left, and they were real, unlike Clorissa. Why did she have to send a mean letter to see her mistake so clearly?

One especially dreary day when the sun was hidden behind a bunch of clouds, Amy heard a low rumbling from her bedroom window that sounded like a moving van. Suspecting that it was for the new neighbors, Amy quickly peered through the curtains to see who they were. But instead of a moving van she saw a big brown truck parked in front of her house from the shipping company. A man got out of the truck and rang the doorbell. Amy could hear her mother walking across the living room to the door. She opened it, and the man asked, "I have a package for Amy Tosh. Would you sign here, please?" He had a low rumbling voice, kind of like her father's but deeper and richer.

Amy ran downstairs just in time to see her mother signing for the package. Her mother turned around holding the big brown box and said, "Where did you come from? This is for you." Amy stared at the package, wondering who it was from. It wasn't even near her birthday, and Christmas was five months away. She thanked her mom and hoisted the package up the stairs to her room, where she shifted the box to one hand so she could use the other to close the door behind her. She noticed the word "Fragile" stamped on the side of the box and laid it down carefully on her bed. Then she took out a pair of scissors from her bureau drawer and carefully cut down the line of tape until the top of the box sprang open.

Amy stared down into the box, for there in the folds of tissue paper lay a beautiful porcelain doll. When Emily lifted her up, the doll's eyelids opened and revealed glossy blue eyes. Amy noticed a note pinned to the doll.

I want you to meet my friend. She likes tea parties and going to the movies. By the way, I got your letter about your new friend Clorissa. I'm so happy for you. Maybe when I come to visit we can all go to the movies together with our dolls.

Amy guiltily unpinned the letter and put it on her bedside table. Then she quickly grabbed her favorite doll, Sarah, the brass teapot and blanket Emily had left for her, and the new porcelain doll. As she raced down the stairs she called, "Mom, I'm going out for a few minutes," and flew out of the house before her mother could tell her to clean something. She tore across the lawn with the dolls, taking big leaps and gulps of the fresh morning air. Still panting, she ran over to Emily's old gate, lifted the latch, and hurried into the backyard, where she found the tea-party rock Emily and she had played on so many times. She spread out the little blanket with the teapot and sat Sarah down across from the new doll. Then, smiling, she said "Sarah, I want you to meet Madeline."

A Real Friend Julia Swearer
Julia Swearer, 10
Brooklyn, New York

A Real Friend Claire Neviaser
Claire Neviaser, 11
Madison, Wisconsin