I had never had anyone my age who lived on my street. All of my friends lived at least ten minutes away. I had always envied those who could call up their friends whenever they were bored and say, "Hey, want to get together?" My mom told many fond stories of her adventures with neighborhood kids when she was little.
When Jessica moved into the house across the street, I was thrilled. I had all of these great notions about what we could do together and how much fun it would be to have a friend living so close. For a while, it seemed as perfect as I'd pictured it, then, well, let's just say that Jessica had a hidden personality that wasn't nice at all.
* * *
I never really saw Jessica move in. Mom said there was a moving truck, but I didn't see it. After a few days, I saw a girl come out of the house and walk down the driveway to the mailbox. I happened to be sitting on my porch, so I went to say hello. Secretly, I had been waiting to catch a glimpse of someone since I'd learned a new family had moved in. This girl, obviously close to my age, was what I'd hoped for.
"Hi," I greeted the girl. She had very light, almost white, blond hair and piercing blue eyes. She was wearing short jean cutoffs and a T-shirt. "I'm Beth—I live across the street."
The girl looked a little suspicious, then smiled. "I'm Jessica."
"Where did you move here from?" I asked, trying to strike up a conversation.
Jessica seemed to jump at the question, then replied, "California."
"Really?" I was impressed. "How do you like the house? The garden in front is so pretty . . ." Jessica looked at the garden as if that was the first time she'd noticed it. "Oh—sure, it's OK."
We talked for a little bit longer, or I talked and Jessica sort of put in a couple words now and then. I invited her over, but she declined, saying she had unpacking to do. It was a couple weeks before she finally came over. I thought she would be just like having one of my other friends over, but she proved me wrong.
"This is my cat, Fluffy," I told her, as we sat with lemonade in my bedroom. "I named him when I was three—Fluffy, because of his long fur." I cuddled Fluffy and he purred affectionately.
"Why are you hugging a cat?" Jessica asked, as if there was something disgusting about Fluffy.
"I don't know," I replied. "Is it wrong to hug a cat?"
Jessica pushed back her blond hair and shrugged. "It's just strange." She changed the subject. "Let's go outside."
"OK." We picked up our lemonade glasses, Jessica's still had some left, and walked down the hall. Mom and Dad's door to their room stood open, letting in air.
"Oh darn it!" I turned to see Jessica's glass on the floor, the pink lemonade on the rug. "I'm so sorry, I . . ."
"It's all right, Jessica," I assured her quickly. "I'll get a towel." So I ran downstairs, returning with a sponge and a towel. It seemed like an honest mistake at the time, but it wasn't.
That night Mom and Dad were going to a wedding. It was a fancy one and Mom wanted to wear her diamond ring. She only wore it on holidays and special occasions because it was her great-grandmother's.
"Beth, have you seen my diamond ring?" Mom came into my room. "It's not in my jewelry box, and I know I didn't take it out. In fact, I remember seeing it this morning."
I shook my head. "No, I haven't seen it since you wore it at Christmas."
"That's what I thought."
After my parents were gone, and my grandma was washing the dinner dishes, I went into my parents' room to see if I could find the ring. It was nowhere in Mom's jewelry box, or on the floor, or behind the dresser. I knew Mom would never take the ring out unless she was planning on wearing it right away. Where could it be? No one had been at our house since that morning—except Jessica.
* * *
Jessica and I spent a large amount of time together in the next few weeks. I put the ring incident out of my mind—Jessica would never have stolen it! We went swimming, played games, and roller-bladed.
I hardly ever saw Jessica's family. She said that her stepdad worked all day and her mom was "around." She mentioned an older sister, but I'd never seen her. I'd never been in Jessica's house, either. Jessica never wanted to go to her house, only mine. I didn't really care.
My best friend Cathy came home from vacation in early July—she'd been gone since the beginning of June. I was happy to see her again and sure that she and Jessica would like each other. I invited them both over.
Cathy was two years younger. That made no difference to me. She had been my friend forever. She was always smiling, plus very funny, but serious when the time was right to be. I thought Jessica was funny, too, and was eager for them to meet.
The afternoon went well. Jessica and Cathy seemed to like one another, although Jessica was a little quiet toward Cathy.
Once, when we were playing Monopoly, Cathy gave Jessica, who was banker, an extra $100 when she was buying a piece of property. Jessica gave it back to her, joking sarcastically, "Now what grade are you going into?"
"Sixth." Cathy smiled.
As if totally surprised, Jessica looked at her. "Sixth? I'm going into eighth." She sounded smug. Then the game continued, but Jessica seemed to treat Cathy differently, counting to make sure that Cathy was giving her the exact right amount of money.
* * *
It was late one night and I couldn't get back to sleep. I wasn't sleepy and lay in the dark of my room, thinking of really nothing at all. My mind was full of memories and dreams.
Suddenly, a car came speeding down the street, halting in front of Jessica's house. I flipped off my blankets and stood at the window. Every light in Jessica's house was on, so I saw that a man was getting out of the car. He walked up to the house, through the once-beautiful garden. Almost immediately I heard people start yelling at each other. I guessed it was Jessica's mom and stepdad. Having no interest in listening to fighting, I crawled back into bed. The clock read 3:40 AM. What a time of night to be just arriving home!
* * *
Since Jessica and Cathy had seemed to get along, I decided to invite them both to a movie a few weeks later. I asked Cathy first and she said that would be fine. Jessica agreed with the plan, too—until she learned that Cathy was going.
"Cathy's going?" she asked in a whiny voice. "Does she have to? She's so immature!"
I was about to protest, say that Cathy was very mature, but Jessica continued. "Beth, I want to spend some time with you! We can go to a movie with Cathy another time."
Well, I was flattered by Jessica's wanting to spend time with me alone. So I called Cathy and told her we'd go another time, something had come up. Cathy was disappointed, but understood.
Mom dropped us at the movie theater. We went inside and waited in line to pay. Some teenage boys were in front of us, paying to see an R-rated movie.
"Beth, let's see that instead!" Jessica nudged me.
"But it's rated R!" I sputtered. "I told my mom we'd see that one." I pointed to the one rated PG.
Jessica rolled her eyes and shrugged. "You don't always have to be such a mommy's girl, you know . . ."
"I'm not a . . ."
"Oh, come on! It starts at the same time. Your precious mama will never have to know!" Then she added, "I'm not going to see a babyish PG movie. I want some action!"
I didn't know what to do. As if in some kind of trance, I followed Jessica's lead, paying for one ticket to the R-rated movie. When the cashier asked where our parents were, Jessica waved her hand at a woman buying popcorn, saying that was her mom. The cashier didn't protest.
We entered the movie close behind the teenage boys. Jessica walked fast to stay just behind them. We paused inside the theater door, Jessica tied her shoe, then, when they'd sat down, found a seat in the row behind them.
"I'm so glad you came, Beth," Jessica said happily, all of her sarcasm gone. "Oh, gross, there's popcorn all over these seats! But, if we move up two rows we'll be too close!"
One of the boys turned around. "You can sit with us."
"Could we?" Jessica walked to the next row and sat next to one of the boys. I followed like her shadow, even though I saw no popcorn.
The movie started and I lasted for about ten minutes. It was the most gory movie I'd ever seen. I realized that Jessica was pulling me around like a toy on a string—and I was letting her! I suddenly didn't care—I had to get out!
"Jessica," I whispered, "I feel sick."
"You are such a baby!" hissed Jessica, not looking away from the screen.
I sat a minute longer, then told her, "I'm going to call my mom."
"Tiny little baby!" taunted Jessica. "Go home to Mommy, see if I care." She glanced at the boys. "I'm staying."
By the time Jessica finished speaking, I was out of the theater. I called Mom, and she was there almost as soon as I put the phone down. She never asked about Jessica, just sent me to bed. I went easily to sleep.
Later, I called Cathy. I was feeling fully better. As soon as she got on the phone I knew something was wrong.
"I called you this afternoon, but your mom said you were at the movies with Jessica." She sounded shaky. "Beth, I thought you were busy!"
Her words made me feel dizzy. "I . . . I . . ." I began. Cathy didn't sound mad, exactly, just extremely hurt.
"Why didn't you want me to come? Why did you lie to me?" Cathy's voice broke.
"Cath, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean . . ."
"Look, don't apologize. If you want to be best friends with Jessica and not me, then fine. Just say it. Don't expect me to care."
"Let me explain, Cathy, OK?"
"Please, Beth, no. I'll talk to you some other time when you have your senses back—if you ever do." So Cathy hung up. I did, too.
Later I was going to bed and heard a car come down the street, blaring rap music. I saw Jessica get out, and, in the light of the streetlights, saw one of the teenage boys. The movie had been over hours ago. I shut my curtain, disgusted.
* * *
The next day Mom and I were in a jewelry shop. Mom was getting a necklace fixed. I looked in the jewelry cases, admiring the jewelry. One case contained old antique jewelry, and I stood fascinated by it. Then a ring caught my eye. It was a diamond ring, and it looked exactly like Mom's. I gasped.
"May I help you?" an elderly clerk asked me.
I looked up quickly. "Do you know where you got that ring?" I pointed to the diamond ring.
"Why, I was the one on duty that day, so I do remember. A young lady about your age brought it in about a month ago—such an expensive piece! I had to get it, though, it's so lovely!" The clerk smiled.
I ran to get Mom. When she saw the ring, she was speechless. "My God," was all she said. Then she looked at me. "Do you know how it got here?"
I looked at my feet, then up into Mom's face. I took a deep breath and began to tell her. Everything. I knew I had a lot of apologizing and explaining ahead of me, but it was a beginning.