I found the crossword puzzle section of the newspaper and picked up a pencil. One across: Roman goddess of wisdom. That was easy enough; I had studied Greece and Rome in fourth grade. I breezed through the crossword puzzle until I came to thirty-three down. “What will fly away if you don’t grab it soon enough?” Ten letters. I racked my mind for bird species that were ten letters long. Mockingbird? That was too long. Bluebird? Too short. I sighed and nibbled on a warm crumpet with raspberry jam. The doorbell rang, and, expecting the mailman, I answered the door.
It wasn’t the mailman.
“Hi, Ashley!” Bethany chirped.
My heart sank. Bethany was a handful to live across the street from, even if she didn’t go to my school and we weren’t the same age. I tried to dodge her whenever possible: at the town pool, riding bikes, gardening in the front yard. She was like a bug that clung onto me that I couldn’t shake off. I know I seem a little cruel, but I was on spring break, it was ten am, I had woken up fifteen minutes ago, and I was pretty grumpy. I sighed.
“Hi, Bethany. Have you had breakfast yet?”
“Well, yes, but I’m already dressed and you’re not, and those crumpets look yummy, so maybe I could have one while I waited for you to get changed?”
She gave me a pleading, hopeful look with her big blue eyes, the color of my mom’s forget-me-nots. There was no way I could say no to her. I sat her down at the kitchen table and jogged upstairs, throwing on a hot-pink short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts. Fresh and most definitely awake, I jogged back downstairs to find Bethany polishing off the last of the crumpets.
Thank God Mom bought them in bulk, I thought, eyeing the now empty plate and the kitchen table covered in crumbs. Bethany saw me. I sat back down and picked up my crossword puzzle. Bethany leaped up from her seat.
“Can I see? I solve that kind of stuff with my dad all the time!” She peeked over my shoulder. “Thirty-three down—what will fly away if you don’t grab it soon enough? Weird.” She paused for a while, thinking. “Ooh! Ooh! I’ve got it!”
I got annoyed. I’d had it with Bethany. “Bethany, listen. Crossword puzzles you’re supposed to solve on your own. OK?”
Bethany pouted. “Fine.” She slammed the door without saying goodbye, which was totally fine with me.
It was when I went upstairs to my room that I felt guilty. I sat at my desk, trying to draw something. Drawing always took my mind off of something. I drew my cat, Toffee. I drew my best friend, Lizzie, who was in Hawaii for spring break, and me, laughing and having a picnic. I drew my fish. I drew my favorite cartoon character. All of them didn’t look right for some reason. My mom came in.
“Ash? What’s wrong?”
“Who finished all of the crumpets?”
I felt my eyes narrow. “Bethany.”
My mom seemed to understand. “Oh, Ashley. You don’t understand.”
I hate when adults say that. “I do.”
My mom slung an arm around my shoulders. “Bethany likes you. She wants to be like you.”
“I get that much,” I grumbled.
My mom continued, ignoring my grumpy attitude. “You’re her role model. Remember Isabel?”
I felt guilty. “Yes.”
Isabel was a girl that lived on my street when I was eight. She was my idol: tall, tan every summer, kind, pretty, not bossy. She was five years older than me, and I wanted to be with her every second of my life. She came over to babysit me almost every day; when she didn’t, I would say, “Where’s Isa?” She was the big sister I’d never had: I would help her study for her Spanish test; she would let me borrow her nail polish and lip gloss. We would do everything together: go to amusement parks, ride our bikes, share cotton candy, bake cookies, plant twin lavender seeds in our front yards so that they would bloom together, we did all we could ever think of.
Now, Isabel’s in high school. I have her e-mail address, her phone number, and we still talk to each other, but I don’t hang out every day with her. I can’t.
My mom smiled. “Maybe you’re Bethany’s Isabel.”
The tiny sprig of guiltiness bloomed into a flower. I sighed. “I’ll find her.”
My mom grinned. “That’s the spirit.”
I hopped on my bike and pedaled off to where I knew I’d find her: in the park, on the playground, doing the mini-monkey bars over and over.
She saw me and dropped down. “What? I thought you were doing your crossword puzzle,” Bethany said.
I smiled. “Bethany, I’m sorry…”
She was trying so hard to look mad that I giggled, and eventually she did too. We laughed until other people at the playground gave us weird looks.
“Want to race down the slide?” Bethany asked.
“Sure,” I replied.
As we waited for our turn down the slides, Bethany whispered, “Want to know what the answer to the crossword puzzle was?”
I figured there would be many more crossword puzzles to do together, so I said, “What was it?”
Bethany smiled and said, “Friendship. F-R-I-E-N-D-S-H-I-P.”
I smiled too.