95: The Beholder’s Eye

95: The Beholder’s Eye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Beholder’s Eye

Strangers are just friends waiting to happen.

~Rod McKuen

I was about to enter seventh grade, and I had no social life. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a social life, but it was choking to death.

Did I have friends? Well... yes. In one sense of the word. The girls I hung with throughout sixth grade were of a few categories: old friends from elementary school I was drifting away from, friends who were more like parasites, clingy and annoying, and friends of friends of friends — how we even ended up on the same cafeteria bench, I couldn’t tell you.

So there I would sit every lunch hour, halfheartedly gnawing my carrots and casting forlorn glances in the direction of other tables. Those girls looked like they were all having a good time. They couldn’t stop laughing. I could. They grinned at each other as often as they made eye contact. All my smiles lately had been consciously summoned. I was not where I wanted to be. Friendships are supposed to bring joy, right? So here I was, a lonely piece of driftwood lost in the swirling rapids of junior high, and I wasn’t expecting the seventh grade to be any different from the sixth. Little did I know.

On the first day of school, I spotted a couple of new girls, obviously identical twins. This in itself interested me, as I am an identical triplet. I observed them from a safe distance. To begin with, they were short. Extremely so. The entire seventh grade dwarfed them, and their height was sizing up to be their best feature. They both had stark white skin, thin faces, hair that was neither curly nor straight (except the bangs, which went absolutely haywire with curls), and a decided scrawniness. Bulky watches on their left wrists only emphasized this last attribute. Hmm, I thought offhandedly, they won’t be getting any friendship offers soon. Except mine, I told myself, resignedly.

After third hour, I spotted one of them in the hall and fell into stride with her.

“Hi,” I began awkwardly, glancing at her sideways. “What’s your name?” She responded in a voice so quiet I had to lean in to hear it.

“Taylauw.” Taylor. Great. At least one of them could not pronounce her R’s and spoke in barely audible tones.

“Well, hi, I’m Alex... you’re a twin, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh-huh, I saw you guys together earlier today, and I thought it was kind of cool since I’m actually a triplet.” I paused. Taylor gave a hint of a smile. I was struggling to keep the conversation afloat. “So, what’s your sister’s name?” I asked brightly.

“Lauwwee.”

“What?”

“Lauuwey.”

“WHAT?”

“LAAUW-EE!” No matter how I twisted the syllables as I replayed them in my head, I could not form a recognizable name through the distorted R. I would have to work it out later. Meanwhile, now was looking like a great time to end the conversation.

“Well, I’ll have to meet... her... later, guess I gotta get to class, see ya!” I faltered clumsily, and, with a little wave, strode away down the hall.

“See you,” said Taylor softly. She looked a little happier.

I would have been happy ending the acquaintance right there — nothing more than the occasional smile in class, the few exchanged words in the hall. But this was yet another case in which I was reminded that events rarely play out according to my plans.

Not long after our first encounter, Taylor and Laurie (I’d finally thought to look her up in the school directory) plopped down next to me and my group at lunch.

“Mind if we sit here?”

“No, not at all!” I made a few introductions, after which the entire table promptly resumed ignoring the newcomers, leaving my sisters and me to initiate any and all conversation with them.

And so it began. Lunch hour after lunch hour, we filled awkward silence with icebreaker questions: Where’d you move from? What’s it like there? How do you like it here? What’re your hobbies? Any siblings? We told family stories. School stories. Church stories. Any stories.

We discovered we were born sixteen days apart, had younger siblings approximately the same age, and shared the many joys and woes of being multiples. We all loved music — I learned that Taylor was amazing on a drum set, and Laurie had a beautiful voice. We were each from very conservative families that were uncommon in our society, so we had connections on another level that others could not be part of, such as being the only kids in class who didn’t shop at Abercrombie or Hollister or American Eagle.

We whittled away time with small talk, dumb jokes, and a handy little device we dubbed the Awkward Turtle. And all the while we were slowly, inevitably growing closer and closer. Avoiding silence stopped requiring effort. I was having the best conversations I’d had since fourth grade! When I talked to Laurie or Taylor, I didn’t talk like a character outside of myself, editing my initial thought before making a well-planned comment. I simply said what came to mind. And they simply accepted it. I came to the realization that my longing for true friends was being satisfied.

Seventh grade finished. Eighth rolled in. Our friendship had long since extended beyond lunchroom chats. We visited outside of school. Hung out in jazz band. Talked during classes and in between. We even ran track together, which meant at least an hour or so together after school. We saw each other all the time, yet never saw enough of each other.

As eighth grade drew to a close, I thought back to when we’d first met. The twins’ mispronounced R’s had been difficult to comprehend and their voices so faint I was constantly leaning over, asking, “WHAT?” Now, they spoke confidently, and their awkward R’s were barely noticeable. I didn’t notice their lack of height so much these days — were they a bit taller than before? And surely less scrawny. Their wild bangs seemed tamer, but I still grinned whenever Taylor smashed her cymbals together with such force that her hair flew out of her face. And I had to laugh every time Laurie checked that trademark watch, permanently attached to her wrist, to pronounce the also-trademark line that went with it: “We now have twenty seconds to get to class!” At the cross-country camp we’d attended together, my sister and I had actually convinced the two of them to sit in the sun with us for an hour to tan: an activity, Laurie said, which had been a foreign concept to them prior to their move, which explained the pale complexion. It had been uncomfortable to talk to them at first. Now... they were my best friends.

Yes, I thought, they’ve certainly changed. But then I considered the old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Now that they were my best friends, they were definitely more beautiful to me. So maybe it wasn’t Taylor and Laurie who had changed. Maybe I was the one who was different.

~Alexandra Berends

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