It was my first week in seventh grade, and I still had no friends. I was a loner. Not that I wanted to be one—it’s just that no one really wanted to be my friend. After seven years of being alone I was used to it. But that all changed when I found Tara. Actually, when Tara found me, or to be even more precise, when Tara popped up on me.
“Hi. I’m Tara,” she said, popping out from behind the tree I was sitting under near the playground. She smiled.
“Hi,” I replied, and told her my name.
“So, whatcha doin’?” she said, smiling even wider.
“Nothing much, really,” I said.
“Great!” she blurted out. “We can hang out together!” She grabbed my arm and yanked it. As she tried to pull me along with her, I stumbled, and she released her grip. “C’mon, let’s go,” she said impatiently.
I followed her down to the end of the playground, where we played with hula hoops the whole afternoon. “Let’s find a secret hideout,” she suggested.
“That would be fun!” I replied excitedly.
“But where?” Tara said, rubbing her chin in thought. “H’mmm, maybe we can . . .” I thought for a while. “Nah.” “Wait!” Tara finally said energetically. “I’ve got it! By the hockey field there’s a bunch of bushes with this really big space in between them, and no one goes into that space. We can use that,” she explained.
“Yeah, that’s perfect! You want to go now?” I asked her with urgency in my voice.
“No, you airhead! We’d better go later. There are too many people around.” Her namecalling caught me off-guard, but I hoped it was just a one-time thing. It wasn’t.
It was nearly time to go home, and Tara had something really important to tell me. She had sent me a note during class telling me to meet her at the hideout as soon as the bell rang, which is just what I did. “OK, now that you’re here, I have a new game we can play,” Tara whispered.
“Well, that’s nice, but it’s almost time to go home,” I whispered back.
“Duh, like I don’t know that, stupid!” she replied, hitting her head to emphasize her point.
“Do you have to call me tha—”
“Shut up and listen! The game is called, umm” —she scratched her head— “detectives. Yeah, that’s it. Detectives!” I could tell she was making it up, but I just continued listening. “What you do is that during break time when everyone is gone, we go to the classrooms, and you just stand at the door while I investigate.”
“Are you sure?” I replied. “I mean, we aren’t supposed to be near the classrooms during break.”
“Stop being such a loser, goody-two-shoes baby!” she said harshly. “We’ll meet tomorrow.” With that she ran off. I lay on my bed the whole night thinking about it. It wasn’t as if we were going to do anything bad. Besides, all I was going to be doing was standing at a door. Lame, but innocent.
The next day at break Tara and I snuck to the sixth-grade classroom when no one was around. “Now, if anyone comes, signal me, OK?” Tara said, whispering almost silently so no one would hear. I stood at the door feeling really guilty and nervous. Every now and then I thought I heard footsteps, but I guess I was just paranoid. “OK, I’m done here. Let’s move on.” Tara didn’t sound scared at all.
We moved to the seventh-grade room, then fifth, then third. It was getting really boring. “OK, we’re done,” Tara announced. “Come with me!” We went to the bathroom, and Tara emptied her pockets. “Take your pick,” she said. I stared at her, bewildered. Where had she gotten all these great pens and stuff? Then it dawned on me. That’s what all the “investigating” was for.
“Tara!” I yelled. “You stole these and tricked me into playing along!” Tara pushed me against the wall and covered my mouth with her hand. “Just shut up! If you tell anyone, I’ll never be your friend again!” Her face was bright red with fury. I darted out of the bathroom. I felt so ashamed.
The next day at school everyone was present. “I have a very important announcement, and I want you all to listen,” said the teacher. The classroom fell silent. “There has been some stealing going on. This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m really disappointed that anyone would do this. I’m not saying this group is involved. But please, if you know who’s responsible, come talk to me in private. This is very serious.” She took a deep breath. “And even if it’s you, it’s better to confess than to be caught.”
I sat in my seat unable to move. I felt so guilty, and I knew what I needed to do. As soon as class was over, I went to Mrs. Garforg and told her the whole story. “I am so proud of you for doing the right thing.” She hugged me, but I still felt horrible. I knew I had done the right thing, but I’d just killed my one friendship.
“Mrs. Garforg,” I said between sobs, “it’s just that I feel so bad. I’ve betrayed Tara and”’I brushed the tears off my face with my hand’“and I’ll never have another friend. Tara was my only friend!”
Mrs. Garforg tried to comfort me. “No, sweetheart; you’ve been a true friend by sacrificing your friendship to help Tara. That’s the best thing anyone could have done. Tara probably doesn’t know it, but she’s hurting herself. You shouldn’t feel bad about helping her realize that.” I smiled up at Mrs. Garforg and left the room.
Tara was so mad when she found out I had told Mrs. Garforg that she didn’t talk to me the next day, or the next, or the one after that. In fact, she never did speak to me again.
A couple of years have passed since that day, and when I look back I realize that I really did make the right choice. Even though Tara chose to never speak to me again, I still feel proud of myself. I have no regrets, because I held on to what I believed in. I’ve discovered firsthand that “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
Written by Nami Miyazaki
Illustrated by Terrill Thomas