If you're a regular reader of this blog, beyond the Bedtime Stories feature, you'll know that friendships and the ending of them has been something playing on my mind an awful lot, lately. Children aren't immune to fallouts between friends, so I figured I would write a story on that theme. Hopefully, the ending is positive enough that anyone going through the end of a friendship - regardless of their age - will take some comfort in it.
This story is also available to listen to as a podcast.
"Jessie's Not My Best Friend, Anymore."
Sophie hadn't been the same for the last few weeks. She couldn't be heard giggling in her room, anymore. She didn't rush out of the door to head down to the park, like she used to. Something was different. Something was wrong.
Mum knew exactly when it was that Sophie's behaviour changed, too. It was the day that Eliza Black had started at Sophie's school.
You see, Sophie had a best friend. Or at least she used to. Her name was Jessie and she and Sophie had been best friends ever since nursery. They played together, dressed the same, sang songs together and had always been inseparable. That is, until Eliza came along.
It started out with silly little things. "Mum, it's just not fair," Sophie would mope, as they walked home from school. "Eliza wears her hair down and she wears a bow in it, and Jessie says it's really pretty and she doesn't want to wear a ponytail like me, anymore."
But then, the little things got bigger. "Eliza wants to join all the sports clubs after school and she's managed to get Jessie to join in with her. That means that Jessie doesn't come to choir anymore, because it clashes. And she doesn't come to our Science Club anymore, either."
Of course, Mum had persuaded Sophie to go along to one of the sports clubs after school, just to stop her from feeling left out and to encourage her to try something new. But the plan had failed; Jessie and Eliza paired up every time the teacher told the children to find a partner, leaving Sophie alone.
Finally, the little things became big things. "Mum, Eliza's really not very nice," Sophie sobbed one night, as she was tucked into bed. "Today, she spilt paint all over a picture Jessie had done, and then instead of saying sorry, she told Jessie I did it, and that I did it on purpose!"
Mum had been down to the school, then. Just to ask Sophie's teacher to keep an eye on things. But Sophie still wasn't herself.
It was only a few weeks until Sophie's birthday, so Mum decided to plan a little party. Sophie shrugged and said she didn't really care; Eliza would probably just tell Jessie not to go. But Mum and Sophie's older brother Matthew carried on planning the party all the same. They handed out invites, bought presents and baked a cake. Finally, the big day arrived...
Sophie reluctantly put on her favourite dress and sat on the stairs, anxiously waiting for the doorbell to ring. When it did, she rushed to open the door, hoping that Jessie would be standing there. She'd been invited, after all...
But, when the door swung open, it was Sophie's classmate Andrew, not Jessie waiting there. He held out a neatly wrapped parcel. "Happy birthday, Soph'!" He smiled. Sophie let him in and thanked him for the present. She managed a smile, but her heart sank in her chest.
It sank further each time she hurried to the door, only to find someone besides Jessie, waiting there.
Finally, the wait between rings of the doorbell got longer and longer, until Mum announced: "I think everyone's here. Shall we start some party games?"
A lump formed in Sophie's throat. "Not yet..." She whispered. "Jessie isn't here..."
Matthew placed a protective hand on his little sister's shoulder. "Maybe she's busy?"
Sophie blinked back tears. "No," she sniffed. "She just doesn't like me, anymore. And it's all Eliza's fault!" She turned on her heels and rushed up the stairs, shutting herself away in her bedroom.
Before long, her bedroom door creaked open and Mum came into the room, with a worried look on her face. She kissed Sophie's tear-stained cheeks and shook her head. "Oh, Sophie. Is this all because Jessie isn't here?"
Sophie flung her arms around her mum's neck and sobbed into her chest. "Everything's ruined."
"Nothing has to be ruined," Mum replied, smiling at Sophie. "We can still have party games and cake and..."
"I don't just mean the party," Sophie sobbed. "I mean everything. My best friend is gone and I can't make her come back!"
Mum sighed and sat back a little, glancing at the framed photo of Sophie and Jessie that Sophie kept on her bedroom windowsill. "Do you know what a best friend is?" She asked.
Sophie frowned. "Jessie..." She began, but her mum gave the slightest shake of her head.
"A best friend is someone who knows you inside out. It's someone who doesn't believe nasty things another person says about you, without coming to you to find out the truth for themselves. When Eliza told Jessie that you poured paint all over her picture, Jessie believed her instead of asking you whether you really did it or not. That's not something a best friend does."
Sophie rubbed her eyes. "But Jessie and I do everything together," she sniffed.
Mum gently squeezed Sophie's hands. "A best friend is there for you, to celebrate the good times," she said, in a quiet voice. "And... Well, it's your birthday party and Jessie isn't here."
Sophie's chest hurt and she stared down at her feet. "Jessie isn't my best friend anymore, is she?"
Mum shook her head. "I don't think so. And that's very sad. But she hasn't behaved like your best friend, has she? When someone doesn't treat you like a real friend should, sometimes it means that it's time to say goodbye to that friendship."
Sophie's eyes brimmed with tears again. "But what do I do, now?" She asked. "We did everything together. We did our hair the same way. We sang in the choir together... I told her everything. I don't have anyone else."
Mum chuckled. "Then who are all those people downstairs, waiting to celebrate your birthday with you?"
"They're not Jessie," Sophie sighed.
"But they're here," Mum replied. "They're here because they love you and they want to make your birthday special. And I know for a fact that Andrew sings in the choir with you, and that Laura wears her hair in a ponytail, just like you do." She smiled. "You have lots of friends. And they're downstairs right now, waiting for you to open the presents they've bought you, and play the games we've planned."
Sophie glanced at the photo of herself and Jessie on the windowsill, once more. "Shall I put that in the bin?"
Mum rubbed Sophie's shoulders. "Why don't you put it away, somewhere safe?" She suggested. "Maybe one day, you won't feel so sad, and you'll want to remember the friendship you had with Jessie."
Sophie reached for the photo and took it out of its frame. Silently, she slipped the photo into the drawer by her bed. She placed the frame back on the windowsill and smiled at her mum. "We can take a new photo to put in there, today," she said. "One of me and all my friends."
Mum nodded. "I'm really proud of you," she told her. "Shall I go downstairs and get the party games ready?"
Sophie grinned. "Yeah, I'll be down in a bit," she promised.
As Mum left the room and headed back down to the party, Sophie quietly opened the drawer and took one final look at the photo of her and Jessie. She let out a long, sad sigh. "Maybe one day, we'll be friends again," she whispered. "But if we're not, I'll always remember the fun we had, together."
She closed the drawer and walked out of her bedroom. Downstairs, she could see lots of happy, smiling faces, waiting just for her. She was going to celebrate her birthday with all of her wonderful friends. She was going to play and dance and laugh and sing.
She was going to be okay.