Friendship Is More Than a Word

By Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

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    Sara felt something was wrong the minute she stepped through the doors of the South Bay Winter Club. It was more than being fifteen minutes late for her session; it was a feeling she couldn’t explain. She dumped her skate bag on a bench and walked over to the rink where several friends already were at work.

    “Hi, Becky!” she called. “Your loop looks great this morning.”

    Becky looked up, waved with a sort of dying swan effort, then turned her back and went to work on her figures again.

    Sara tried to get Mary Anne to look at her as well as Polly, who was skating on the next patch, but they acted as though she were the original invisible woman.

    What’s going on? Sara wondered as she took her skates from the bag and put them on. I wonder why they’re ignoring me?

    Ordinarily this was Sara’s favorite time of the day. She loved to skate in the morning, to walk into the arena and feel the cold air hit her cheeks, and then to stroke out on the rink and hear the scrape of blades on ice as she warmed up. She loved everything about figure skating, not only performing in the club shows, but the long hours of practicing and competing as well. Maybe that’s why she was advancing so rapidly and had a good chance to win the Canadian Juniors competition next week at Edmonton.

    If only I didn’t have to compete against Carol. For the hundredth time she wondered why her best friend also had to be her closest rival for the figure-skating title. That’s the hard part. Will our friendship survive the competition?

    Suddenly Sara looked up from her laces and glanced around the rink. “Where’s Carol?” she asked Polly, who had skated to the edge of the rink to wipe her face with a towel.

    “Talking to Mr. MacGregor,” Polly answered, pointing a thumb at the rink manager’s office.

    “Why? What’s she done?” Nobody was ever called to his office unless one of the skating rules had been broken.

    “She hasn’t done anything,” Polly replied, placing heavy emphasis on the first word.

    “Well, then, who has?” Sara asked, puzzled.

    “Oh, come on, Sara,” Polly said disgustedly, and skated away without a backward glance.

    Mr. MacGregor’s door opened and Carol came out. Even from a distance Sara could tell she had been crying. What’s wrong? Sara wondered.

    Sara thumped along on her blade guards toward Carol, and they came face to face in front of the soft drink machine.

    “Are you feeling OK?” Sara began. “Can I help?”

    “Yes,” Carol began. “I mean no. Oh, I don’t know what I mean!” She headed for the rest room, then turned. “Mr. MacGregor wants to see you right away.”

    Sara couldn’t believe it. Now he wanted to see her too. She skated over and knocked on his door.

    “Come in,” said Mr. MacGregor, and Sara stepped into the office.

    “Sara,” Mr. MacGregor said earnestly, “I’m afraid we’ve encountered a bit of a problem, and I need you to help us with it.”

    “Me?” Sara heard her voice shoot up.

    “Do you recognize this?” Mr. MacGregor asked and held up a skating costume. It was full of holes and the material was torn and shredded.

    “Oh, no!” Sara cried. “That’s Carol’s costume. She was going to wear it to the Canadian Juniors next week.”

    “Exactly,” Mr. MacGregor agreed. “Carol thought you might be able to tell us what happened to it.”

    “I don’t understand,” Sara said. Her voice trembled with emotion. “Why would I know what happened to her costume? Does Carol think I would ever do anything to hurt her? We’re best friends.”

    “Yes, yes, of course.” Mr. MacGregor seemed uncomfortable. “And Carol only reluctantly agreed that you might be involved after Becky told us what she saw.”

    “Becky? What did she tell you?”

    “Becky said you were all out on the patio eating your lunches together yesterday,” the manager said.

    “That’s right,” Sara agreed. She remembered looking up into the warm spring sun and noticing the squawking blue jays building a nest in the tree that shaded the patio.

    “Look,” Sara had said.

    Everyone looked but Carol, who was busy sewing glitter beads on the dress that now lay in tatters on Mr. MacGregor’s desk.

    “Then what happened, do you remember?” he asked.

    “Sure,” Sara said. “One of the kids in the Novice class came out and said Toller Cranston had just walked in, so everyone ran inside but me.”

    “Why didn’t you go too?”

    “Well … I’ve seen Toller lots of times before,” Sara said finally. She didn’t add that she had his pictures pasted in her skating scrapbooks, but she still felt silly about running in with the other girls. “Carol left in such a hurry that she dropped her dress and scissors, so I picked them up.”

    Sara stopped. She remembered Becky had come back just at that moment.

    “Aren’t you coming?” Becky had said.

    “In just a second,” she’d answered.

    Now, standing before the manager’s desk, Sara fought back the tears. “Oh, now I understand. Becky saw me with the scissors and Carol’s costume in my hands. But I put them both down on the picnic table by Carol’s lunch and went indoors right after Becky.”

    “I see,” said Mr. MacGregor. “Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for talking with me.”

    Sara stumbled out of the office and to the rink where she removed her blade guards. Automatically she warmed up, hardly knowing what she was doing. She claimed her patch and started through her figures like a robot. Tears stung her cheeks as she traced circles that looked like pumpkins, and she changed edges in all the wrong places.

    Some friends, she thought, as she nearly lost her balance on a one-foot figure eight. Why would they think I’d do something like that? Do they think I want to win that much next week? Then Sara began to get angry. I’ll show them, she decided. I’ll figure out who really did it.

    As she traced her figures, she thought about each girl. Maybe Becky did it because she’s jealous. Or, what about Mary Anne and Polly? she wondered, pushing off on a loop. They could have come back and ripped Carol’s dress. Sara stopped skating suddenly and stood on the flats of her blades. What about Carol? What if she did it to point suspicion at me and force me out of the competition?

    Sara started a slow spin. No, she thought, that’s too farfetched. Or is it? Carol was certainly ready to place the blame on me without waiting for an explanation. Now Sara realized as she continued to spin that it was really easy to doubt, to distrust someone, to believe whatever you heard about a person. It was the easiest thing in the world and she could understand Carol’s feelings. Maybe, she thought, maybe friendship is only a word that doesn’t mean anything anymore.

    At noon, Sara took off her skates and headed for the patio with her brown paper bag. No one was there. She sat at the redwood table and ate part of a ham sandwich that tasted like it had been made from a shoe box. Suddenly she pushed it aside. A blue jay swooped down and sat on the edge of the table opposite her. “Help yourself,” she said, pushing the sandwich toward him. He began to peck at the bread, keeping a wary eye on her at the same time.

    The door from the rink opened and Carol came out. There was an awkward pause before she finally said, “Hi.”

    “Hi,” Sara replied.

    “I … I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” Carol stammered.

    “I’d like to talk to you too.”

    “Sara, I didn’t want to believe what Becky said,” Carol began.

    “Then why did you?”

    “I don’t know. I guess when Becky told Mr. MacGregor and then he told me, well, it seemed easy to believe what they believed.”

    “But we’re friends!” Sara almost shouted. “Friends don’t hurt each other like that, do they?”

    The girls looked at each other. Carol said nothing, just twisted her hair with her finger. Sara stood up to leave. Carol turned to look at her, her eyes full of tears. “You forgot your lunch,” she said.

    “That’s all right. I told the jay he could have it.” They watched as the bird pecked off a hunk of Sara’s sandwich, then flew to the nest in the tree above with it. At that moment, something shiny reflecting in the sun caught Sara’s eye.

    “What’s that?” she said more to herself than to Carol.

    “What?” Carol asked.

    Sara didn’t answer because of a shivery feeling that she was about to discover something important. She stepped up onto the bench, then onto the picnic table.

    Sara could almost see into the bird’s nest that was now being defended by two angry blue jays flying overhead. She reached up and felt around inside the nest and then pulled on something that felt like cloth.

    “Look,” Sara said, holding a shred of material in her hand. There were several glittery beads still attached to it.

    “My costume!” Carol cried out. “They did it! The blue jays did it.”

    The birds swooped around them now, angry and ready for a fight. “Oh, Sara, please get down before you get hurt,” Carol said.

    Sara jumped down, handed the scrap of material to Carol, and brushed off her hands.

    “I’m sorry,” Carol began. “Sorry for not trusting you. Will you ever be friends with me again?”

    Sara looked at her. Carol had hurt her today and now she could hurt back if she wanted to. Carol has it coming doesn’t she—a hurt for a hurt? But friendship is much more than a word. I’ve learned that today and maybe Carol will too.

    “I’ve never stopped being your friend,” Sara said. They laughed as the blue jays scolded the girls from their tree branch. Then Sara continued, “Come on, there’s still time to make a new skating costume before next week, if you’ll let me help.” Then they linked arms and went back inside.

    Illustrated by Parry Merkley