“Oh, Sarah, that’s a beautiful sweater!”
As usual there was a crowd of girls clustered around Sarah Dunlap. This time they were admiring a pink sweater, soft and luxurious.
“It’s such a beautiful color!” one girl exclaimed.
“Where did you get it?” another asked.
“At the Mainline—yesterday.” Sarah smiled smugly. “Dad gave me the money and told me to get whatever I wanted.”
Janie Meyers stood on the fringe of the group. How she would love to have the girls crowd around her like that! If I could buy beautiful clothes like Sarah does, I’d be popular, too, Janie thought. She wished for the hundredth time that they had never moved here to Yarborough. Why did her Dad have to lose his job in Macetown? His job in Yarborough didn’t pay nearly the money that his old job did, and everything here was much more expensive. Having things seemed important to these girls at Janie’s new school. She longed for her old, comfortable, Macetown friends as she turned and started down the street by herself.
Janie heard the group giggling and talking as they left the school. She walked as slowly as she could, hoping that they would catch up with her and include her in their group.
But the girls passed her without a word. Janie blinked quickly to keep from crying. She stared down at her blue cotton dress. No wonder none of the girls will talk to me or make friends with me. My dress is two years old and looks a little worn. If we could afford to have nice things, I’d make a lot of friends, she told herself resentfully.
Janie felt guilty about her thoughts. She knew that her parents were trying as hard as they could to make things comfortable for her and her sister, Susie. Living here wasn’t easy on them either.
“Hey, Janie, wait up!” Monica Lewis ran up and swung her arm through Janie’s. “I was wondering if you could come over to my place this afternoon, Janie.”
Janie couldn’t believe it! Monica dressed even better than Sarah, and Janie knew that she lived in one of the nicest houses in town. Janie stammered in her eagerness to accept. “S-sure.” Then she remembered and added, “I’ll have to call my mom and let her know.”
Although Janie had never seen anything as large and grand as Monica’s house, she was surprised that Monica’s mother wasn’t there.
Monica shrugged it off. “Mother’s probably at some committee meeting or something. She’s never here when I get home.”
Janie couldn’t remember a time that her mom hadn’t been home when she got there after school, but she didn’t say anything.
Monica’s room almost made Janie gasp. Monica had her own record player, her own phone, even her own TV! Janie thought ruefully of the small room she shared with her sister.
About a half hour later Mrs. Lewis came home. The girls were playing records and dancing when the door burst open. …
“Monica, turn that thing off!” Monica’s mother was a small woman, but her voice was loud and harsh. “I have a splitting headache, and I certainly don’t need to hear that noise.”
“You always have a headache,” Monica muttered.
“It’s no wonder, listening to your racket. And keep a civil tongue, miss. Who’s this?”
Monica mumbled the introductions.
Mrs. Lewis acted as if she didn’t even hear. “Your friend can’t stay long. I have to leave again in a half hour, and you’ll have to fix supper for your father and brother. There’re some TV dinners in the freezer. All you have to do is heat them up and make a salad. Hurry up now, Monica.” Rubbing her head, Monica’s mother left the room.
There was dead silence. Monica looked as if she were going to cry. After a moment Janie suggested, “I guess I’d better be going.”
Monica clutched her arm. “Wait a sec, Janie. I was wondering … You’re doing pretty well in geography, aren’t you?”
“Do you think we could study together sometime? I don’t understand what we’re doing.”
Was that why Monica invited me over? Janie wondered. Just so I could help her with her studies? It was all Janie could do to agree to get together for a study session sometime soon. She left Monica’s house as quickly as she could and started for home.
The minute that Janie opened the door to her own house, she heard Mrs. Saunder’s voice in the living room. Mrs. Saunders had come over as part of the welcoming committee soon after Janie and her family had moved to Yarborough. She had a booming voice and expensive tastes. It seemed to Janie that Mrs. Saunders looked down on her mother because she didn’t live in a big house or wear expensive clothes.
“Then we can expect you to help with the charity rummage sale, dear?” Mrs. Saunder’s voice came out to the hall where Janie stood. Janie closed the door quietly and tiptoed up the stairs.
“Yes, I’d love to help.” Her mother’s quiet voice floated up to Janie. “Thank you for thinking of me.”
How can Mother be so nice to that woman? Janie wondered. She heard the rustle of movement as Mrs. Saunders rose to leave.
“Perhaps you could pick up a few things for yourself while you’re tending the booth.”
Janie stopped abruptly as Mrs. Saunders’ comments rose up to her. How dare Mrs. Saunders say such a thing!
Then she heard her mother’s voice: “Oh, I don’t think that we’ll be buying anything right now. There really isn’t that much that we need.”
“But, my dear”—Mrs. Saunders wouldn’t leave the subject alone—“it must be so hard for you. I think that you are just marvelous. You’re coping so well.”
“Hard for me?”
“Why, yes. To have to do without so much!”
“But I have the best things of all, the greatest things that anyone could have: I have my health, my family’s health, the love and companionship of a good and gentle man, and two good, happy, kind, loving daughters. What could possibly be more valuable than that?”
“Oh, well, of course,” Mrs. Saunders murmured. Janie could tell that Mrs. Saunders hadn’t understood a word that Mother had said.
Mrs. Saunders didn’t see Janie on the stairs as she said good-bye and left. In a rush Janie was down the stairs and in her mom’s arms. “Did you really mean it, Mom?” Janie whispered. “Are Daddy and Susie and I really that important to you?”
Mom gently stroked Janie’s hair. “Of course, dear. Oh, I get tired of scrimping, of not being able to get you and Susie pretty things, of worrying about paying the bills, and of all the rest of it. But, darling, when I get very discouraged, I just remember the three of you and how much I love you. You are everything that is really important to me. So whenever I get blue, I remember how blessed I am, and I try even harder.”
Janie thought about the girls at school. She remembered how hurt she’d been that none of the other girls had paid attention to her. But I didn’t really try to make friends. I was so worried that I didn’t have everything that they all had that I didn’t give them a chance, she decided. Maybe all Monica wanted right now was a tutor for geography, but it looked like she needed a friend as much as Janie did. She moved toward the phone.
“Where are you going?” Mother asked.
“To see if Monica wants to come over and study after dinner,” Janie replied. “I think she’s going to like it here almost as much as I do!”