I put my backpack on the picnic table and sat right beside Bernadette Lowe. Unfortunately, she turned her back toward me. That’s great! I thought.
“Don’t let those girls get to you.” I said. "Come on now.”
She wiped a tear from her cheek.
“I don’t want to talk . . . about them.” She said.
“No problem. What do you do outside high school?”
“I design clothes.”
She flipped open her sketch pad and I looked at her sketches in amazement. She was gifted.
“Why don’t you join the Fashion and Design Club?”
“I don’t feel comfortable being around a lot of people.” She said.
“Bernadette, you need to learn how to play the game until you get out of high school.”
“Play the game?” She asked.
“Yes. Education is the name of the game. Winning is getting to graduation day with a diploma.”
“Cute. Did you just make that up?”
“No. I use it often with my wayward students. Follow along, smarty pants. First, you need to recognize the players. You have the jocks, the snobs, the nerds, the brains, the preppies, the class clowns, the bullies. . . ”
“What about me?” She interrupted.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not in any of those groups. I am invisible.”
My heart sank with her last word. I needed to reach out to this girl.
“Ok. What about me? What group do you think I’m in?” I asked.
"I don’t know.” She said. “None of them, I guess.”
“Correct.” I said.
“That’s totally different.”
“Not really. We are both non conformists.”
“You’re being impartial like as a student advocate should be. I don’t belong because I’m not comfortable being around anyone. ”
“Why is that? There are some friendly people here.”
“No thanks. I’d rather stay to myself.”
It was a minor setback. She was being defiant, but I was too. The lunch hour was almost up. I needed to think of something else.
“Well, school is our own little world until graduation day. We need to participate in it and not just sit on the sidelines.”
“I won’t even remember half of these people after we graduate.”
“That’s right. So, what’s the problem?”
“I told you. I don’t like being around a lot of people.”
“Ok. I got that. What about being around me?”
“You’re ok, but isn’t it your job to be nice to me?” She asked.
As she blew her nose into a tissue, I wrinkled up my nose. To my surprise, she laughed out loud. That was the first time I ever heard Bernadette laugh.
“Well, considering I’m not getting paid for this gig, you have me working overtime without any lunch; I think I deserve some credit.”
“That’s fair enough. Go on.”
“I know some pretty cool people. One of them is even a member of the Fashion and Design Club.”
“Oh, I know where this is going.” She sighed.
“Just hear me out.”
“Sorry. Please continue.”
“Since you are so stubborn, I’ll make this fun.” I said, looking down at my watch. We had five minutes left for lunch.
“I promise that you will make five friends by the end of the month.”
“Today is the Seventeenth.”
“People will just become friends with me on your behalf.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. I won’t have anything to do with it.”
“Ok. What are the terms?” She asked. Her interest was piqued.
“If I win, you’ll make me a Bernadette original design.”
“Ok, but what if I win?” She asked.
“Don’t worry about it. You won’t. I cannot reward you for not making any friends. That would defeat the purpose now wouldn’t it?”
“Hey!” She exclaimed.
She felt comfortable being out of her shell, and it felt great talking with her like that.
“Ok. Ok. If you win, I’ll work twice as hard to make sure you’ll never win that bet again.”
“You would really do that?” She asked.
“I sure would. Now, come on before we’re both late.”
We never got to eat lunch, but that was the day Bernadette Lowe made a true friend at Reardon High School.
Graduation day came a year later and we were both winners. Bernadette Lowe gained the respect of her students and teachers, and underneath my graduation gown, I wore my Bernadette original design.
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