Between Us Girls
Jan stopped her car in front of the school. Cathy, waiting alone, got in beside her mother.
"Where's Cheryl?" Cathy asked.
Jan pointed to a cluster of girls, buzzing with chatter. "In that gaggle. Probably talking about boys."
"Beep the horn."
"She sees I'm here. What's the rush?"
"I just want to go," her emphasis on go.
"No different from any other."
Without prompting from the Honda's horn, Cheryl climbed into the back seat, flushed with excitement. "Alex and Lorie broke up."
"That's good?" Jan asked.
"Now he's available."
"And you think..."
The ride home became quiet as Cheryl fantasized and Cathy remained moody.
When they were alone, Jan asked Cheryl, "What's wrong with Cathy?"
"She's such a baby."
"What do you mean by that?"
"She doesn't belong. She's a nerd."
"Oh, come on."
"Her brain got her advanced in school, but she hasn't grown up."
"And the others in her class are fourteen or fifteen. I'm sixteen, a junior, and she's taking some of the same courses as I am."
"Are you jealous?"
"No, it's just embarrassing."
"How does she feel about it?"
"Who knows. She's in her own world."
"I'll talk to her later. I have to get ready to go now."
Widowed a year, Jan works evenings in a local restaurant to supplement the Social Security income awarded to the girls.
Thursday was unchanged from Monday, but Friday brought an improvement in Cathy's disposition. Jan welcomed the difference, though she hadn't discussed with her daughter what had been bothering her. While preparing to dress for work, Jan searched for her favorite bracelet.
"Cheryl, have you seen my serpent bracelet?"
"No Mom," she said without giving the question any thought.
"My star ring seems to be missing too."
Silently she thought, wonder what I've done with them?
The weekend passed. Monday, during the noon hour the phone rang.
"Could you come to the school office."
"Of course. What is the problem?"
"Your daughter had been accused of shoplifting."
"Not Cheryl. It's Catherine."
When Jan entered the counselor's office Cathy sat facing Miss Lang, her back to the doorway. Jan thought, she looks small huddled in that chair. Taking a seat beside her daughter, Jan asked, "What is this all about?"
The administrator said, "Catherine, will you take a seat in my outer office? I wish to speak to your mother alone.
"Mrs. Wallace, one of Catherine's classmates came to us saying Catherine gave her a bracelet which she boasted of having taken from the jewelry counter at Kaufmann's. The girl didn't want to become involved in the theft. You know we have a policy of zero tolerance regarding any sort of...anti-social behavior. The girl brought the bracelet to me in the belief I would return it to the store."
While she talked, Miss Lang placed the bracelet on the desk between them.
"But," Jan asked, "why would Cathy say it was stolen? This is my bracelet."
"You say this is yours?"
"Look at the underside of the head. There is a scratch in the plating where I snagged it on the screen door handle."
Miss Lang turned the bracelet around to examine it.
"There is a scratch here as you say. I trust I'm doing the right thing...giving the bracelet to you. The school has no authority and no responsibility in this. I suggest that we, you, I and Catherine discuss the situation."
"I totally agree."
"While we waited for yo, I had Catherine's file pulled. It contains comments by her instructors in addition to grades. She's an excellent student. However, they note that she appears to have no friends.
"In my job, I see three social levels. I call them the bells, whistles and gongs. The whistles have average grades, a half dozen friends and date. The bells are class officers, cheerleaders and have steady boyfriends. The gongs get most of my attention because of grades or conduct.
"I've observed Catherine for all the good reasons. Her grades are above average, though I have noticed she is withdrawn. I attributed that to her age, but I must have missed something. I understand your husband died recently."
"She probably is reacting the loss of her father. It isn't uncommon for brilliant students to be loners.
Though she seems to have become a target by a close knit group of girls. One of them brought us the bracelet. Perhaps Catherine pretended to have stolen the jewelry to get attention, particularly from the girls who snubbed her."
"Why would anyone want to hurt Cathy?"
"There's no physical danger. Boys intimidate, threaten, bully those they view as different, weak. Girls punish by excluding a person from their circle."
Miss Lang crossed the office to the door. "Catherine."
She enters hesitantly and takes the vacant chair next to her mother.
"Catherine," the councilor began, "I've told your mother the situation as I understand it. Your mother has identified the bracelet as her own. Will you explain why you pretended to steal it?"
"I screwed up."
Tearfully, Cathy confirmed what Miss Lang had advanced as the motive behind her action.
"I gave Carol the bracelet knowing she'd tell someone. I just didn't think it would be you. Mom, I have your star ring in my locker. I've been showing it around. I'm sorry."
Miss Lang concluded the meeting. "We understand you're younger than most in your class and it is hard to make friends. You're bright and pretty and time will make all the difference in how you see the world and feel about yourself."
For the next twenty-four hours, things were quiet in the Wallace household. Jan stopped by the school as usual. Cheryl waved, left her friends and joined Jan in the car. Cathy emerged from the building, hurrying from her last class. And, as Cheryl watched traffic, Cathy hummed in the back seat. At home, Cheryl took the phone to her room, "for privacy." Cathy got a snack from the fridge and asked her mother, "Mom can I go to a movie with a friend Friday night?"
"We haven't decided, but I'll be home early."
"Taking the bus? I won't be here to drive you."
Cathy's voice trailing off to a whisper, "He's driving."
"He! Driving? How old is this boy? What is his name?
"He's my lab partner in chemistry, Alex Ryan."
"Is that the Alex your sister is interested in?"
"Yes, isn't it great?"