I didn’t have many friends in high school. That’s why Bonnie Rae McCarthy became such an important part of my life.Bonnie Rae was everything I wasn’t. She was clever, she always spoke what was on her mind, and she never let anyone take advantage of her. I spent the better part of my sophomore year tagging around after her, hoping that some of her rough exterior would rub off onto me. I wanted to live vicariously through Bonnie Rae and, for some strange reason, she didn’t seem to mind.We used to hang out in the hallways between classes. The cool kids usually stared at us like we were a couple of freaks. That bothered me at first but, after a while, I began to realize that’s what Bonnie Rae wanted. And, if it was good enough for Bonnie Rae, it was good enough for me.So, in a strange way, Bonnie Rae became my mentor. She didn’t talk much, but I would gladly grab any crumb she chose to throw my way. And I watched her every move, hoping to learn something that just couldn’t be found in any stupid school book.We would meet after school and sit in the park so we could watch the other kids walk by. Their lives all seemed so exciting and their clothes were just like the ones I would see in magazines. I couldn’t imagine having clothes that actually made you feel happy when you put them on. Oh, to have something that wouldn’t embarrass me if I accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Bonnie Rae’s clothes weren’t the latest style, but at least they were original. They said something about her. Her clothes spoke. Mine, on the other hand, didn’t have much to say. Well, unless screaming “ugly” counts.Once in a while she would share a story of a strange or exciting thing that she had done and I was spellbound. She must have nerves of steel, I thought. She was like a free bird and I wanted to learn to fly too. I wasn’t sure if everything that came out of her mouth was the gospel, but I wanted to believe that it was. Never, ever, not even in my wildest dreams, did I think I would ever have a friend like Bonnie Rae. One day she decided to paint each of my fingernails a different color. That may seem unimportant to most people but, to me, that was like living life on the edge. I felt so wild and daring. I couldn’t wait to see what new things unfolded whenever I spent time with Bonnie Rae. She looked at life differently than most people and I was still in the process of sorting out life. Life, to me, was like a giant puzzle. Or a big question mark. I needed help and, so far, no one but Bonnie Rae had been willing to give me the time of day.So we would sit quietly some days, for what seemed like an eternity. She would stare at me sometimes like I was a piece of clay and she was trying to decide exactly what she wanted to do with me. I knew I didn’t fit in yet, not with her, and not with anyone. Truth be told, I thought there were some people who just weren’t born to fit in. And I believed, without a doubt, that I was one.Making friends never came easy for me. With some people, creating friendships came second nature. You just smiled and, before you knew it, you’d made a new friend. With me, it was never easy. I never thought I had anything important to say. I would have brilliant thoughts, or so I imagined, but they would immediately disappear the moment I opened my mouth. So I learned to keep my mouth shut. But you don’t make many friends that way.Occasionally, Bonnie Rae would ask me to do something that I knew was wrong. She called it “proof” that I was really on her side, an initiation of sorts. I wanted to say no, but I was afraid, if I did, that it would spell the end of our friendship. So I would follow her into the shoe store and try my best to keep the clerk occupied with ridiculous requests while Bonnie Rae walked out wearing a new pair of shoes. Strange how she always seemed to get something out of the deal and I was always the one who ended up holding the short end of the stick.Fall came and went. My grades were at the lowest point they’d ever been. Somehow, grades seemed unimportant when compared with the real-life skills I was learning from Bonnie Rae. She barely got passing grades and I thought, if that was good enough for her, that should be good enough for me. Two peas in a pod. That’s what we were. I knew I was struggling, but I just kept pushing that thought to the back of my mind. I could always worry about that tomorrow. Today, there were bigger fish to fry. Bonnie Rae said she was going to “borrow” a car and we were going to go for a joy ride. So I stood, like an idiot, on Apple Tree Road, waiting for Bonnie Rae to pick me up. Two hours, then three passed. It was starting to get dark and I was starting to get more than just a little mad. But I wouldn’t let Bonnie Rae know that. No, not today, if she ever did show up. And not tomorrow, when I saw her at school. With friends like Bonnie Rae, you just didn’t want to rock the boat or you might end up in the water.I finally picked up my disappointment and headed slowly home. My spirits might be in the basement today, but there was always tomorrow. Tomorrow would be a better day. I could feel it in my bones.The next day, Bonnie Rae never even mentioned the fact that I had stood waiting for a joy ride that never came the night before. But I knew she wouldn’t. We just laid on the hillside after school, looking up at the clouds and pretending that life was wonderful…but we both knew better. One day not long after, and completely out of the blue, Bonnie Rae asked me if I wanted to come over to her house for supper. She never spoke about her family and I didn’t even know where she lived, so I jumped at the chance. I thought maybe I would gain some insight into what made her tick. The house was old and kind of creepy. The stairs creaked and I saw cobwebs hiding in the corners. But, in an odd way, I felt at home there. It was like the house and I shared some common bond. We were both different and struggling for acceptance, but not really expecting to find any.I learned, that night, that Bonnie Rae’s mom was no longer in the picture. I suspected that maybe she was in prison, but that was just a guess and I, for one, didn’t have the nerve to ask Bonnie Rae. Her dad was home and he seemed nice enough, although a little distant. There wasn’t much conversation, but he stared at me occasionally and, once or twice, I thought I saw him shake his head. I think he probably wondered what I had in common with Bobbie Rae. Absolutely nothing, actually, but that’s what made our friendship so unique.After supper, Bonnie Rae showed me her bedroom. It was just as I imagined. It was a menagerie of everything that she was. A hodge-podge of this and that, strange things, odd collections, photos of people I’d never seen before, a glimpse into a life that I, and everyone else, seemed to know very little about. She appeared to get more than a little edgy when I started looking at her things, so I tried to make small talk. I tried to open up about the problems in my life, hoping that she would do the same, but she was too smart for me. We ended up talking about homework and tried to figure out a way to finish a one week project in one day. As usual, Bonnie Rae had a solution. It wasn’t exactly on the up-and-up but, then again, neither was Bonnie Rae.So I went home, feeling that I had failed miserably in my mission to truly get to know Bonnie Rae McCarthy.A few days later, in a moment of boredom, I made the mistake of asking Bonnie Rae if she thought we should go to the dance after the football game. If looks could kill, I would have fallen dead at that very moment. A minute later, though, she said “I’ve got a better idea. And we don’t even have to do anything stupid, like dancing.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I knew I couldn’t say no. I didn’t know if I had done anything yet to earn Bonnie Rae’s respect, but I couldn’t take a chance on losing it if I had.So we met in the alley after school and I listened carefully to the strange scheme Bonnie Rae had concocted. The more I listened, the crazier it seemed. And, the crazier it seemed, the more I started thinking that it might actually turn out to be the most exciting adventure of my otherwise boring life. I just had to figure out a way to sneak out of the house without Grandma suspecting that I was up to no good. That, in itself, would be a major undertaking. Ever since my mom died, Grandma took me under her wing and, just like I was her little bird, she didn’t like to let me get too far away from the nest.So Bonnie Rae and I hashed and re-hashed our plan. Then we tweaked it a few times, ironed out the wrinkles and, by the time we were done, we were kind of, sort of, maybe sure that it might work. Or at least we hoped so. Otherwise, we would really end up looking like a couple of lunatics.Waiting turned out to be the most difficult part of our plan. I was jumpy, couldn’t focus, and spent countless hours lying in bed staring at the ceiling. I went over the plan again and again in my mind, thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong and trying to come up with a Plan B or, even better, a plan to get out of the county if everything fell apart at the last moment. Grandma started to worry about me and her fussing was the last thing I needed. I had to focus. I had to think. But thinking about it only made me jumpy again. It was a vicious cycle that just wouldn’t end until this thing had a chance to play out…for better or worse.Two weeks later, the night of the dance rolled around. Grandma was sick and, in a strange way, I thought this might work to my advantage. I told her I didn’t feel well either and that I was going to bed early. Fortunately, my bedroom was on the first floor so I didn’t have to come up with a plan for scaling the side of the house. I put on my best slacks and a sweater, tried to do something with my hair and even tried on a little lipstick and blush that I’d “borrowed” from Grandma’s dresser. Tonight I might make a complete fool of myself, but at least I would look a little prettier than my usual, pathetic self in the process. If, heaven forbid, my picture ended up in the newspaper tomorrow, I didn’t want to be the laughingstock of the whole town.So I crawled through the window and took off through the woods running as fast as my skinny legs would carry me. The adrenaline was flowing through my veins and it was a feeling I’d never experienced before. I never slowed down, even when I realized that it was starting to rain and my hair was beginning to frizz. By the time I finally got to the school, I was cold and wet and any effort I had made to look nicer than normal had turned out to be a total waste of time, not to mention a waste of Grandma’s precious make-up. But I didn’t have time to worry. There was a plan and I had to stick with it. If Bonnie Rae trusted me, I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that precious trust. So I stood there outside the school, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the plan to hatch, hoping that I had the guts to follow through. Before I had a chance to do anything, though, I saw something move in the darkness. I tried to focus and then, out of the shadows, I saw him emerge. I would say it was no one, but it was really someone. It was the one and only guy I had thought about in ways that Grandma said ladies shouldn’t think about. And he was walking toward me. My only thought was, “He must not realize it’s me. It must be Grandma’s lipstick and blush.” Then I remembered my hair and I prayed I didn’t look like a wet puppy. I tried to smooth my hair with my hands, but then I realized I was shaking. I hoped he wouldn’t notice.He said “Hi.” All I could think was, “I’m standing here, about to die, and all you can say is “Hi”?”I couldn’t believe it. I was actually standing there under a beautiful, star sprinkled sky talking to “him”. The earth moved and the heavens finally, miraculously, smiled down on me.Needless to say, all thoughts of Bonnie Rae and our ingenious plan flew right out the window. I ended up going to the dance, after all, and no one really seemed to notice if I looked like a wet puppy. I actually danced and for that one shining moment, at least, I almost stopped caring what other people were thinking as they watched me. I felt that maybe I really did belong somewhere. The music, the lights, the atmosphere….it was all so liberating and it felt way better than anything I had ever experienced in the company of Bonnie Rae McCarthy. That fact almost made me feel guilty for a moment. Almost.At that moment, I realized that I really did want to fit in, maybe not completely, but at least slightly. Bonnie Rae was a phase, a temporary diversion, a pebble on the road to maturity, As I walked home from the dance in the rain, holding hands for the first time in my life, I said a silent prayer that Bonnie Rae would not rain her wrath down on me. But I would worry about that tomorrow. Tonight I had bigger fish to fry. And then I kissed him.
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