Stella Addle pushed through the school building door, a wave of sound hitting her. Kids yelling and laughing, smiling and scowling. The air felt weighty; the anger, the confusion, pushing down on her shoulders, feeling heavy as bricks. Stella lugged her backpack to her locker. She stared at the lime green paint, then fiddled with her lock and pulled open the locker door. She dropped her backpack on the bottom of the locker and pulled out her math books and her calculator, which was covered in leftover heart stickers from Valentine’s Day. Usually seeing the stickers made her smile, but today she felt as though nothing could make her lips turn upward. This was a tragedy, an absolute tragedy. Forty five presidents and none of them had been women! Hillary Clinton should have won, she should have been the first woman president, but that stupid Donald Trump had to ruin everything! Stella thought as she slammed her locker shut with gusto. November 8th 2016 is going to be the worst day of my life! Stella walked to her homeroom, her legs feeling unsteady, her whole world feeling out of balance, broken.
Feeling dizzy, she sat down and scanned the room for Gabby while taking in the rest of the scene. Gabriella Carmann had been Stella’s best friend since second grade. They did everything together; they had sleepovers and shared their deepest secrets with each other, they knew they could tease the other about their clothes and not offend them. They balanced each other out, Gabby was the flashy, stubborn, strong headed leader of the two, and Stella was the quieter, gentler one, keeping them away from heated drama. When Stella was around Gabby she felt a certain strength, a sense of courage that she didn’t feel when she was alone, as if some of Gabby’s confidence was magically seeping into her. For Gabby, Stella was the source of cool water that doused Gabby’s flames, the flames that burned the same color as her orange hair. It was because of Stella that Gabby was starting to find some of that water in herself, way deep down, but still it was there.
Finally she saw her: Gabby walked into the classroom sporting a pair of gray hand-me-down sweatpants from her older sister Franny, short for Frances, and a purple t-shirt with a turquoise flower print. Her denim backpack hug over her shoulder and her long red hair was pulled into a tight ponytail. This was Gabby’s usual look, so what surprised Stella was the smile that spread across Gabbys face. Stella knew Gabby and her family were Republican, but for some reason Stella never thought they would vote for Trump, or be happy if he won. Puzzled, Stella stood up and followed Gabby to her locker.
“Hey,” Stella said leaning against one of the lockers.
“Morning,” Gabby replied as she unpacked her backpack.
“So…” Stella said nodding slowly. Thoughts were racing through her mind; conversation usually came easy to the two of them, why was it hard now?
“What?” Gabby said. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
You’re happy…. Trump’s our President-Elect…. Stella thought as she looked at the floor.
“If something’s up, just tell me,” Gabby slammed her locker shut and stared at her friend. Just tell me. Please.
“It’s just… you… are you glad Trump won?” Stella’s face turned red with shame.
“Oh! Uh, yeah, I mean, I guess…. I mean my parents voted for him.” She thought we voted for Hillary? She knows we’re Republican, Gabby thought.
The bell rang and the hallways were filled with noisy sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Stella had math first period and Gabby had science.
“I got to go. See you later?” Gabby asked.
“Sure,” Stella said, and she turned and walked to math, wondering what had just happened.
* * *
Stella plopped down in her chair, feeling exhausted. Family dinners were an important part of the Addle household and usually Stella enjoyed them, especially on lasagna nights like these, but not tonight. Margaret Addle, Stella’s mom, placed the lasagna on the table and sat down across from her husband. Usually, though it was only the three of them, the table buzzed with conversation, a light and fluffy happiness, almost as delicious as Mrs. Addle’s cooking, hanging in the air. Tonight however, the air felt heavy and cold and the conversation that usually flowed easily, had vanished.
“Well, how was everyone’s day?” Mr. Addle asked. His eyes were wide and he had an awkward smile. He began scooping lasagna onto plates.
“Where do I begin!?” Mrs. Addle rolled her eyes, looking generally annoyed. “Sarah and Megan were talking about the election during our lunch break, and guess what?” She put a fork full of lasagna into her mouth. Sarah and Megan were some of Mrs. Addle’s coworkers.
“What?” Mr. Addle asked.
Stella looked back and forth between her parents, she could tell this was not a good “guess what.”
“They both voted for Trump! Both of them!” Mrs. Addle was yelling now. “Women! Women voted for Trump! They’re uneducated women, that’s what they are!” She let out a heavy sigh. “Uneducated women,” she said, shaking her head.
Stella stared at her mother. She had never seen her like this: yelling, looking close to tears, yet not sad.
“Margaret, please, calm down,” Mr. Addle said putting a hand on his wife’s hand.
Stella kept looking at her mother. Mrs. Addle’s blue eyes looked foggy and gray. Her body shook with anger, but slowly as she got back her cool, the anger lessened and a sadness settled in. Her shoulders sagged and Stella noticed something she had never seen in her mother before: helplessness.
Suddenly a frightening thought came to Stella, and her parents conversation about taxes and broken printers at work became muffled and hard to hear. Gabby said her parents voted for Trump, and that includes her mom. Her mom is a woman… .“Uneducated women” that’s what Mrs. Addle had said. Did Stella’s parents know Gabby’s parents had voted for Trump? “Uneducated women….”
* * *
Stella climbed the stairs to her room, pulled open the door, and flopped down on her bed. No one made lasagna better than Mrs. Addle, but tonight it had tasted like cardboard.
“It’s not like we got in a fight or anything,” Stella said out loud, looking up at her ceiling fan as it slowly spun around, dust mites dancing in the air. Her light was off, the room covered in a giant shadow. “We’re still friends. Why am I even worried about this? I mean, it’s Gabby for Pete’s sake!” She lay quiet for a minute, but her mind was still racing along with her beating heart. It’s Gabby. An unbreakable friendship. She closed her eyes, feeling tired.
Suddenly her eyes flicked open. She reached over to her nightstand and grabbed her cell phone. She sat up and leaned against her pillows, stretching her legs out and wiggling her toes. She pressed the home button on her phone and punched in her password. Then she pulled up her texts and created a new one. She was going to make up with Gabby. But what should she say? So many things were going through her head. She started to type.
Did your mom go to college?
She stared down at what she had written. Why did I write that? She wondered as her finger moved to the backspace button. It hovered there for minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. Stella looked up at the ceiling. Before she had been confused at why this had happened, why Trump had won. Now she was startled and confused by her own words, her own actions. What’s wrong with me? She thought looking back down at what she had typed.
Stella closed her eyes. This was all so messed up. She hit send.
* * *
Gabby’s phone made its usual “bing” sound that meant she had gotten a text. She put down her pink mechanical pencil, which she was using to solve for x, and got up to check her phone. The text was from Stella.
Did your mom go to college?
Gabby looked up, shocked and confused. Stella had written this? Why would she ask something like that? My mom owns her own company. I think you need a college degree to do that, Gabby thought.
She sent the text and settled back into her math homework, but no sooner had she sat down then her phone “binged” again.
R u mad at me?
Again Gabby was shocked. Stella? What was up with her friend? Gabby plopped down on her bed, not sure what to write. Was she mad at Stella? She was more confused than mad. And why did Stella think Gabby was mad at her? Gabby wanted to write back, but she couldn’t find the words, so instead she wrote nothing.
* * *
Stella stood in front of the school building the next morning, scanning the parking lot for Gabby. She hadn’t slept well; she had been too preoccupied when Gabby hadn’t written back to her last text. Finally she spotted her. She waited for Gabby to walk over, but once she got close Stella suddenly felt shy; she looked down at her Star Wars shirt, hoping to find an old stain that she could focus on. But it was too late, Gabby was already there.
“Hi,” Gabby said, eyeing Stella suspiciously.
“Hi,” Stella said back, blushing.
“So last night, the texts that you sent… what was that about?” Gabby asked, looking Stella straight in the eye.
“I–” Gabby’s green eyes were like hound dogs, viciously searching for the truth. “Gabby, I know your mom went to college. I don’t know why I said it. It’s just, my mom, she said–” Stella faltered.
“She said what?” Gabby prompted. She felt a flame of anger start to burn inside her.
Guilty tears sprang into Stella’s blue, unexpecting eyes; she had never cried at school before. “She said that all the women who voted for Trump were… were uneducated women.”
Gabby was starting to get the picture. “So you thought my mom wasn’t educated?”
“Gabby I know she’s smart! I know!”
“Stella, if you didn’t mean it then why did you send the text?”
“I don’t know why! Okay!” Stella paused. “There’s so much I don’t know right now.”
“I get it, I get it,” Gabby said, rolling her eyes. “You’re like half the country, uncertain and afraid. You think Trump is an idiot, just like you thought my mom was an idiot!”
“Gabby, I never said your mom was an idiot!”
“Just because you never said it doesn’t mean you didn’t think it!”
“But I didn’t!” Stella insisted, she felt like she was being drowned by waves of regret.
“I always thought our political views would never alter our friendship, I guess I was wrong!” Gabby yelled.
Stella went silent. She stared at her neon orange and gray sneakers. She wanted to say that their political views didn’t matter; she had been so sure about that, but now for some reason, they did seem to matter.
Gabby’s chest heaved up and down, her heart pounding. “I got to go,” she said, turning toward the door.
Stella stared at her friend as she walked away. Tears crawled down Stella’s cheeks; this was worse than Trump being president. She had known deep down that she could survive anything as long as she had Gabby, but now Gabby was out of reach, surrounded by her own bubble of anger. Usually when Gabby was mad, Stella could touch her shoulder, and talk to her and everything would be alright but now everything was blurred and out of place, and worst of all, Stella was alone.
* * *
Stella sat on her bed, cross legged. In front of her, fanned out, were all of her colored embroidery threads, and a tote bag. She held a safety pin in her hand. She pinned the safety pin to the tote bag as she looked down on her threads. Which colors should I use? She wondered. She knew Gabby liked purple, but her thoughts kept drifting back to the map they had looked at in social studies class before the election. The Democratic states, like California, were blue, and the Republican states, like Texas, were red. Stella picked up the bright red thread and the dark blue thread. She cut off long pieces of them and tied them to the safety pin. Then she began to make knots. Knot after knot, slowly but surely, a bracelet began to form. A friendship bracelet. Stella’s mom had taught Stella how to make these friendship bracelets when she was eight, and her fingers had never forgotten. As Stella tied knots, tears of regret, and confusion slid down her face. Gabby had always been her shelter; now she was all alone, in her silent room and in the loud, jumbled up world. Going through life was like riding a rollercoaster: Gabby and Stella sat side by side, yelling with joy and fear, Stella squeezing Gabby’s arm and never wanting to let go. Now they were riding in different rollercoaster cars, Stella squeezing the handlebar, realizing how high above the ground she was. Now she was yelling solely because she was afraid.
Finally, she was done. She tied off the end and untied the top from the safety pin. Then she tied the ends together to make it a circle. She lay the bracelet down on her dresser. Now all that was left was to deliver it.
* * *
Stella walked along the tiled school floor to Gabby’s locker. It was the morning and kids started to pour into the hallway, carrying backpacks to lockers and talking about funny texts that had been sent the night before in the class group chats.
Stella stood in front of Gabby’s locker, suddenly feeling small. She pulled the friendship bracelet she had made the night before off her wrist and gently ran her fingers over the thread. Please Gabby, please come back to me, she thought. She got out a lavender colored sticky note from her backpack and, leaning it against the lockers, wrote with black sharpie: Love, Stella. She folded part of the bracelet into the sticky note and folded over the sticky part so that the two were attached. Then she slipped the bracelet through one of the slits in Gabby’s locker. She leaned her head against the locker door and putting a hand to the door whispered, “Please.”