The new girl looked nervous as she stood by the teacher's desk. When Miss Lewiston introduced the girl as Ashton, the newcomer was greeted with a chorus of bored hellos back. Not that any of the kids were being mean, but it their late-morning apathy during the joys of long division had already sunk in.
As the only empty seats were toward the back of the room, Ashton walked down one aisle hugging a notebook to the front of her loose-fitting blouse. Janie felt sorry for her, especially when she realized she had seen her on the school bus this morning and hadn't said anything to her. Being a little shy herself, Janie was mortified at the thought of being a stranger in a new school and desperately hoped that her mother would never decide to move to a new school district.
Waving just enough to catch Ashton's attention, Janie smiled and indicated the empty desk next to her. Ashton looked relieved and grinned back before plopping her backpack under the chair and sliding into it. When she placed her notebook on the desk and drummed her fingers on it, Janie noticed her nail polish. It wasn't brightly colored some the few girls her age wore it (Janie didn't have the nerve) but more of a clear gloss like adults sometimes did.
Like her nails, Ashton's dark brunette hair looked slightly sophisticated as it was style in a sort of page boy cut that ended just at the collar. And despite the tedious subject of math being taught at the dry erase board in front, Ashton's gray eyes twinkled with bemusement.
When the bell rang, it was time for lunch and Janie invited Ashton to join her. Ashton accepted and as they walked down the hall, Janie gave some thought to her plain brown hair which she wore straight down or sometimes tied in a loose ponytail. She wondered if she should try a different style which was a new thought to the ten year-old.
At lunch, Ashton quickly put a stop to Janie using her full name.
"It's Ash," she insisted.
"Ash,' Janie confirmed.
Ash - even her nickname was cool! Janie's nickname was...Janie. Not very trendy and again Janie felt a bit inadequate. But she was never resentful as Ash was as kind as she was cool. Some of the other girls were scoping her out, perhaps a bit jealously but Ash paid them no mind.
As it turned out, Ash's bus stop was one away from Janie's as they lived in apartments just a block apart. Like Janie, Ash came home to an empty apartment every day and arrangements were excitedly made to stay at one kid's place or another.
"My mom won't mind at all, I'm sure," Janie gushed. "What about yours?"
"I live with my dad," Ash explained. "He's pretty cool about it." She leaned closer to Janie, who did likewise toward her new friend. "Sometimes, he's gone overnight but I don't need a sitter. It's fun having the place to myself or going wherever I want because he always leaves me some cash."
Janie bolted upright, her hazel eyes wide.
"All by yourself?" she gasped before Ash motioned for her to turn the volume down. "Sorry,' she continued, red-faced.
"It's okay," laughed Ash. "I just don't want to advertise it and have Family Services or whatever they call it around here snooping into my life."
It was the start of a fine friendship. Some of the stuck-up girls took to calling the pair "fork and plate" because of Janie's slim build and Ash's constant preference for baggy attire. They assumed she was fat but Janie wasn't sure. It wouldn't matter anyway because Ash was just the best. She had lived in a few places already because her father, some kind of consultant, went from project to project.
One thing they shared in clothing was shown at recess one day when the collar on Ash's blouse slipped to the side to reveal a narrow, tell-tale strap on her shoulder. Smiling inwardly, Janie noted the similarity. Like her new friend, she wore a training bra, too. Janie didn't have anything underneath to warrant it but wearing one had become a symbol of coolness in the latter half of this fourth grade school year.
It wasn't as if the apartment building where Janie and her mother lived was a bad or poor place, but the apartments a block away where Ash and her father resided were certainly fancier. Ash's father, Gustav ("Call me Gus," he said with a slight accent), had been very generous in offering his place for sleepovers as often as Janie and Ash wanted and had charmed Janie's mother in letting the girls stay together as much as reasonably possible. There would be times, however, where he would be away on business and of course Ash would be with him.
Arriving one Saturday afternoon for her first sleepover with Ash, Janie was surprised when Gus announced that he was leaving and wouldn't be back until very late. He left money for the girls to order pizza delivery before kissing his daughter and leaving.
"I can't believe we have the place to ourselves!" Janie gushed.
Ash, though, shrugged nonchalantly.
"I'm used to it. And I think parents do that more in Europe than over here. My dad is from Switzerland."
"Wow. Have you ever been there?"
"Sure, lots of times. And other places in Europe, you know - Paris, Berlin, Monaco, blah, blah, blah."
Janie was stunned at her friend's easy sophistication. All over Europe! She and her mother went to Myrtle Beach, once. It was fun but nothing like what Ash was used to. Again, Janie started to feel inadequate but Ash was having none of that.
Janie placed the empty pizza box in the trash while Ash rinsed out their glasses.
"Hey, you want to check out the pool?" Ash suggested. "It's an indoor one in the building basement. We can kill some time before that movie comes on TV."
When they arrived, the pool was closed for the night. As there were no windows into the room, Janie had no idea what it looked like. But Ash was not through with her surprises and produced a key.
"How did you get that?" Janie whispered, only getting a wink in return.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Mr Double's Palisade
A MrDouble Production:
Changes last made on: Monday, July 11, 2018