100: The Empty Chair

100: The Empty Chair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Empty Chair

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.

~Shirley MacLaine

“Look what my mom bought me for the first day of school!” I watched my new best friend, Stacy, emerge from her closet like a super model, and twirl around in her black and yellow striped pants.

“Cute. When can I borrow them?”

Stacy and I liked the same clothes, purses, hairstyles — everything. That’s why we became best friends over the summer break.

Stacy stopped twirling and flopped down on the bedroom floor next to me.

“I have to warn you about the first day of school,” she said. “Paige will be looking for you.”

“I know,” I sighed. Paige was my best friend last year.

“When she finds out that you’re my best friend now, she’s going to freak.”

Sometimes having a best friend is a pain, I thought. I knew I should just give it up and hang out with a larger group of girls, but the others were so silly and immature. Stacy and I called them “The Strange Girls” — or “Strangies.” We, of course, were different. We acted our age.

When the first day of school arrived, Paige ran up to me with a big smile.

“Hi! I love your zipper top. It’s almost like mine. Look!” She spun around.

“Uh... yeah.” I smiled briefly and glanced at Stacy who stood a few feet away with a frown on her face. This was going to be hard.

As we entered our classroom, Mrs. Hall told us we could push the desks together to form groups of two, three or four.

One of the “Strangies” stood up and called out to me.

“Hey Sharon! Come sit over here with us.”

Pretending I didn’t hear, I headed toward Stacy, who was pushing two desks together near the back corner of the room. We neatly stacked our books and placed our backpacks side by side on the top.

Over the next few days, Paige continued to be friendly. She smiled at me in the middle of a spelling test and waved at me during P.E. Deep inside, I felt myself wishing we were good friends again, while Stacy rolled her eyes and made fun of her.

A couple of weeks later, Page invited me over to her house for an overnight. We crunched on popcorn, watched funny movies and talked about boys. Before the weekend was over, Paige and I were best friends again.

At school on Monday, I wondered how I would break the news to Stacy. When Mrs. Hall switched off the lights and put on a film about the Revolutionary War, it gave me a chance to slide Stacy a note explaining what had happened. She was pretty upset. When the film ended she pulled her books out of the desk, made her thoughts crystal clear and marched across the room to find another place to sit.

“Hey, Stacy. Come sit with us.”

The “Strangies” pushed four desks together and gestured for Stacy to join them. Stacy desperately looked around for another option. With nothing else available, she reluctantly plodded over and dropped her books on the fourth desk.

Days turned into weeks, and my renewed friendship with Paige grew strong. November was just around the corner, and I caught the flu and had to stay home for several days. One evening, as I lay on the couch with a bad headache, the phone rang.

“Hi Sharon. This is Stacy.”

“Oh, hi.” My head pounded. Why in the world would Stacy be calling me? Wasn’t she still mad at me? It turned out she had called to see how I was feeling. Her cheerful banter soothed my spirit. She made me laugh when she mimicked one of the “Strangies,” and I was so happy when she told me I was much more fun to be with.

Toward the end of our conversation Stacy commented, “You’ve got to get away from Paige. She’s sooo juvenile.”

As I fell asleep that night, confusing thoughts tangled in my head. I wondered if I should take up with Stacy again. Paige had been getting on my nerves — always flirting with the boys at lunchtime. Should I end the friendship?

By the time I returned to school the next week, I had made my decision. I approached Paige before the first bell rang and told her our friendship wasn’t working out.

“You’ve got to be kidding. You want to go back to her?” she said, slapping the desk with her Phonics book. “It will be the biggest mistake of your life.”

Later, when Paige was sitting alone, one of the “Strangies” called quietly to her. “You can come over here with us if you like.” Another “Strangie” helped Paige carry her books. She slipped into the fourth desk.

Over the next few months my feelings about both girls moved up and down like a roller coaster. When I was with Stacy, I wanted to be with Paige. When I was with Paige, I missed Stacy. Little did I know the roller coaster was heading for disaster.

On a morning I’ll never forget, I walked into our classroom and got the biggest shock of my sixth grade year. Stacy and Paige were sitting together. Their books and backpacks were side by side, and my stuff had been moved to the back counter. They whispered and glanced in my direction. I wanted to disappear.

Trying to hide my tears, I gathered my books and searched for a desk... one that would be away from everyone. Deep down, I knew I deserved this treatment. After learning about the Revolutionary War, I couldn’t help but feel like Benedict Arnold, the traitor, standing in the middle of the room — all alone — in my stiff red coat.

I spotted a small desk on the side of the room and began to move my things. One of the “Strangies” softly stepped to my side and whispered, “Would you like to sit with us? We have an extra desk.”

I hesitated.

Another “Strangie” came over. “It’s okay. We’ve got room.”

I slowly walked over and sat down. They didn’t embarrass me or ask questions. They just smiled and opened their science books. Their kindness felt like a warm blanket tucked around my heart. It wasn’t long before one of them giggled. Another girl made a funny face when her pencil dropped to the floor. The girls laughed. I smiled. Maybe it wasn’t so bad being “strange.”

From that day forward I made some changes. I no longer judged the other girls in my class. Instead of being exclusive, I was friendly to everyone — even to Stacy and Paige.

Today I am blessed with many good friends. And although time has passed since my sixth grade year, I still benefit from that painful experience. I’ve learned to treasure all the friends that God has given me, and appreciate their differences. To this day, I still get together with those wonderful “Strange Girls.” We meet at a restaurant for dinner on each of our birthdays. And on those special evenings, as I head toward the table, I’m grateful that a fourth chair is always available.

~Sharon Pearson

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