Author’s Note: This is the first chapter of the novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month 2013. Originally, it was a story about old friends; Sarah is about to get married, and asks Kate, her lifelong friend, to give a toast at her wedding. Kate then recalls all the major events of their friendship, which makes up the story. For right now, I’m just picking the bits I liked best.
One of my earliest memories is of Sarah; specifically, of her family moving into the house next door to mine. I went with my brother and my parents to greet them. This was the early nineties, maybe even the late eighties. Sarah’s parents hit it off right away, and shooed all the children outside to play so they could carouse without us around to destroy anything.
Sarah has four sisters. Michelle was twelve, Cassie was ten, Lisa was nine, and Stephanie was eight. By comparison, I was five or six, and Nate, my brother, was eight or nine. The older girls were talkative and lively, telling us about their old school on the other side of town, about their old house that they liked better than the new one, about all the things the west side of town had that the east side didn’t. Nate could converse about these subjects, but I didn’t care at all. Instead, I was more interested in the quiet girl on the porch, completely enthralled in her coloring book.
I still remember what she looked like then. Her dark brown hair was swept back into a messy, loose ponytail. Blunt fringe met large, round glasses, through which her hazel eyes seemed enormous. Those glasses on her thin face and porcelain skin made her seem small, frail, doll-like. She wore a faded tank top and denim cutoff shorts that hung limply on her body, clothes that were probably worn by all her sisters before her. When I think of Sarah, this is how I think of her.
As I approached her, she continued to color. Either she ignored me or was concentrating very hard on coloring. I saw that she had the good Crayola crayons, and not the crappy cheap ones I had that were waxy and just smeared color around. Crayon quality was a status item to pre-kindergarten children. Everyone wanted to be friends with the kid who had the 96 pack. If you had any other crayon, you were judged accordingly. Even having the Crayola 16 or 24 packs would earn you a friend or two. If you had store-brand crayons, you were a pariah until you upgraded. If you had colored pencils or markers, you were a god.
“What are you coloring?”
She looked up at me with those huge eyes, those huge glasses, and stiffened a little. “Miss Piggy”, she said eventually. Her voice was sweet and shy.
I sat down on the porch, leaving maybe a foot of space between us. I could tell she was nervous with all these new people around. I was just barely able to get a look at her work. “It looks good.”
She waited until she was finished coloring the entirety of Piggy’s hair to reply. “Thanks.”
A few silent minutes went by. I watched the older girls and Nate talking, casual and effortless. I looked at Sarah. She was enjoying herself, but I felt awkward. I didn’t know what to say to this girl. All I could think about was how badly I coveted her crayons. After a while, she picked up on it, or had warmed up enough to me to let me in. She scooted over and put the coloring book and crayons between us, turning to a fresh page. “You can color if you want,” she said. She looked at me and gave me this innocent, sincere smile. I returned it, and I fought the urge to hug her. Instead, I channeled my enthusiasm into coloring Gonzo just the right shade of blue-purple. We only spoke when asking for certain colors. Our pre-kindergarten educations had prepared us for this very moment. We were silent, efficient, tireless coloring machines.
It was nearly dark when my parents called for us to go home. I was reluctant to leave. Sarah and I had barely said a word to each other the entire time, and I still knew very little about her, but I felt a certain kinship with her. We shared much more than crayons, we forged a bond. I didn’t feel close enough to her to call her my friend just yet, but I could feel the potential there. Before I left, Sarah put her arms around me for a brief moment, and I heard her mother gasp and say something about how out of character it was for Sarah to be affectionate.