by Andrea Brown
2nd place, 2002 New Mexico English Expo. John's old friends don't like his new one
| The sun shone brightly, but not overpoweringly, over the large school building and surrounding yard. John Denton sat, with his back propped against the wall, behind the gym. Around him stood his friends, who he never seemed to be anywhere without. As John kicked gravel away from him with his shoe, Joey Olsen began thinking out loud.
“I don’t know how I’m ever going to do it,” he complained. “That class is impossible to do well in. Mrs. Jones is crazy!” Joey had been worrying all week about an upcoming Biology test, yet had not once opened a book to study for it. That’s Joey in a nutshell, thought John to himself. John had always been rather studious, and didn’t understand how anyone could not be and survive high school. John glanced down at his watch.
“Hey, it’s getting late. I’d better get home in time for dinner.” The boys agreed, nodding their heads and mumbling, and they slowly dispersed. John walked hastily in the direction of his house.
As he came up the driveway, John noticed a moving van at the house next door. The house had finally been sold and people were now ready to move in. John opened his front door and went inside to find his mother in the kitchen, just taking a pan of lasagna out of the oven.
“I almost thought I would have to eat this myself,” she teased.
“Sorry, Mom,” said John apologetically. “We lost track of time.” Mrs. Denton only shook her head. After a moment, she brought up the new neighbors. “They’re a really nice family of four,” she bragged. “Their oldest son is named Sam. He’ll be going to your school. I think he’s a sophomore like you, but I forgot what he said.” A plate was now set in front of John and he began devouring his lasagna. In between bites, his mother heard him say simply, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
John woke up the next morning to get ready for school. As he came into the living room, his mother called from the kitchen.
“I told Sam you would walk him to school this morning. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not.” John was looking forward to meeting Sam. Maybe they had something in common. After breakfast, John went next door and politely knocked. After a brief moment, Sam opened the door. He stood about five foot three inches tall, which was rather short compared to John’s height of six feet. Like John, Sam had light brown hair, which he combed to the side rather than wore spikey.
“Hi, I’m John Denton and I live next door.” Sam extended his arm to shake John's hand. He emerged, and they began their walk to school.
John and Sam got along wonderfully. They both enjoyed English and had the same class together. Both of them were fans of Stephen King, and had read many of the same books. John didn’t anticipate, however, how his other friends would take the addition of Sam.
“Did you get a load of that little dweeb that started school today?” Troy was laughing in spite of Sam.
“Yeah, what a nerd! ,” Chris chipped in. “He moved in next to John and has been clinging to him like a lost puppy dog.” Just then, John rounded the corner. Sam followed behind him.
“This is Sam. I told him he could hang with us.” Troy clenched his teeth in an attempt to control his snickering. Joey grabbed John by the arm and jerked him away from Sam and off to the side.
“What are you DOING? ,” he scolded. “We can’t be seen hanging around with that geek.”
“He’s not a geek! ,” John said sharply, almost loud enough for Sam to hear. “And I like him. He’s nice.” Joey only glared at him. “Fine,” he snapped. “We’ll play along, for now. But tomorrow, loose the dweeb.” John didn’t catch the discouraged expression that came across Sam’s face as Joey's words inadvertently reached Sam's ears.
John knocked on Sam’s door again that evening, only to have his mother answer, whom he had not yet met. After introducing himself, John was invited in.
“Wait here, and I’ll get Sam,” she said. After a minute, Sam came into the living room where John was waiting.
“You still want to be seen with a nerd like me?” Sam looked confused.
“You’re not a nerd,” John reassured him. “Look, I’m sorry about those guys. I’ve known them all since sixth grade, and Joey since fourth. They’ve always been jerks like that. To tell you the truth, I only hang out with them because I don’t have anyone else to hang with.” Sam completely understood.
“I’ve never really had friends either,” he said glumly. John smiled.
“Some friends they are, anyway. They told me to choose between you and them. Well, here I am.” Sam was taken aback at this gesture. “But,” he protested, “you’ve known them for years, and me for just a day.”
“Yeah, years too long,” said John. “They’re way too controlling, anyway. Besides, none of them have ever even HEARD of Stephen King. When I tried talking about any books I had read, they all laughed at me. They’re too concerned with doing absolutely nothing. I think we can do without that, can’t we?” Sam was beaming, and it made John smile, too. It was the start of a true friendship for both of them.