The day that Bernadine ventured into the woods across the street started off the same as any other kind of day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and Bernadine felt lonely and sad and sort of empty. It was like there was a big hole somewhere in her but she wasn’t sure where because it felt like it moved around all the time. Sometimes, it was in her belly, like a mouse eating away at her insides but other times, she was sure it was hiding somewhere in her head making her forget things and get the answers wrong at school. When she got the answers wrong at school, that stupid Charlotte would giggle and then Sally and Jessica would giggle too just so that they would all be the same. If they didn’t giggle right away, Charlotte would shoot one quick glance at them and they would know she wanted them to find Bernadine’s wrong answer funny too. Sally wasn’t really sure what was funny about it. She felt kind of bad for Bernadine. When Sally thought about what it must be like to be Bernadine and to all of a sudden not have a mom anymore, well, Sally just didn’t like to think about it. It made her feel kind of bad in her stomach, like she ate something that was going to make her throw up and she had to swallow hard a bunch of times to make herself stop thinking about it. But Charlotte didn’t seem to care about Bernadine’s mother. Sally was friends with Charlotte but sometimes, she was a little scared of her…not a lot, but, definitely a little.
Charlotte didn’t really like anyone that was not the same as her. If you liked cats instead of horses or you liked to read instead of playing tag with the boys at recess…well, she just didn’t like you. She wouldn’t tell you that but you knew. She was the girl in grade 3 that everyone wanted to be friends with because it was much better to be her friend than to be her enemy. Charlotte, Sally and Jessica had been best friends since the first day of grade one. Sally was a little scared to start school that day. She would have preferred to stay home with her mom and her 2 little brothers like she always did. They could eat cereal when they woke up and then watch cartoons and maybe play outside. But instead, she had to come to this big building with all of its doors and long hallways and funny smells. There was so much noise and so many big kids, everyone laughing and yelling. It was too much for Sally. She sat at the desk the teacher said was hers and tried not to cry. It was pretty much the worst day ever. Even her new backpack with Applejack from My Little Pony on the front wasn’t making her as happy as it did yesterday.
But then this little girl came over to her desk. This little girl with blond hair and blue eyes stood in front of her desk and stared at her for a second. Sally felt shy and unsure.
“My name is Charlotte. What’s your name?” the little blond girl did not sound shy or unsure.
“I have a My Little Pony backpack too, you know. Mine has Twinkle Sparkle on it. She’s a princess, you know. You can come and sit with me and Jessica, she has Pinkie Pie on her backpack. Pinkie Pie is kind of stupid but she’s pretty. You can be my best friend. You and Jessica.”
And that was how it started.
By the time they hit grade 3, they were thick as thieves. They had sleepovers every weekend. Charlotte, of course, would decide whose house they would sleep at and what board game they would play and also what movie they would rent at the video store. Sometimes being Charlotte’s best friend made Sally feel a little tired but Charlotte never took no for answer. Actually…you just never said no to Charlotte. Not if you knew what was good for you. Nobody ever said no to Charlotte.