Ten Years Earlier
“Yes!” Faith squealed, throwing her arms into the air, “I could beat you with my eyes closed!”
Melinda shook her head and turned away from the arcade machine. “You cheated.”
“I did not! Right, best of three.”
“I’m out of tokens. My mum only gave me five simoleons this week. Said the other ten were to replace the jeans I ripped.”
Faith bit her lip. “I’m sorry about those. I’ll pay you back…”
Melinda nodded although they both knew it would never happen. “So… what shall we do now?”
Faith looked around the arcade. “There’s nothing to do here without any tokens. I guess we could go back to yours and do some colouring? Or go to the park?”
“I have tokens,” said the girl.
A pretty blonde girl they’d never seen before. She walked up shyly and held out her hand to present a selection of glittery coins. “Good afternoon, I’m April.”
Faith’s eyes went wide at the pile of tokens. “Hi April, I’m Faith and she’s Melinda. You wanna play with us?”
“Really? You want to play with me?” April’s eyes sparkled.
April looked at the giant arcade machine, intimidated. “I don’t know how to play.”
“Really? Are you from the moon or something? You’ll get the hang of it. And you really can’t be any worse at it than Mel,” Faith said, playfully nudging Melinda.
Faith and Melinda had never played at the arcade until they were bored, but April’s supply of tokens just didn’t seem to run out. As Faith thrashed them both for the thirteenth time in a row, Melinda yawned, “We should be getting back soon. My mum won’t be happy if we’re late for dinner, again.”
“What are we having?” April asked brightly.
Melinda looked to Faith and then back to April. “You’re… you’re not invited. I mean we’ve only just met you and my mum won’t have made enough… sorry.”
April looked at her shoes. “That’s OK, I’m not supposed to be out anyway, let alone eating. Mother will be so cross with me.” She was quiet for a moment and then she looked up. “Do you want to come to my birthday party tomorrow?”
Melinda gave Faith a subtle shake of her head.
April didn’t seem to notice. “There will be music and games! And Mother says I can have whatever cake I like, as long as I don’t have any of it, so I’ve ordered a massive chocolate one with jellybeans and french fries on it. And there will be gift bags! Last year they had diamonds in!”
Melinda was still shaking her head.
“Yeah, sure!” Faith gushed.
“Great! Give me your number, Faith, I’ll text you the details.”
Faith looked to Melinda, a plea on her face.
“I’ll give you my number.” Melinda said. “Faith… forgot her phone.”
“Thanks for dinner, Mrs. B.” Faith smiled, patting her full tummy.
Melinda’s mum smiled. “I’ve packed you a little bit into a lunchbox for school next week. Make sure you eat it all, including the veggies.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Babs leaned closer to Faith and whispered, “How is your mum doing?”
Faith clenched her fists in her pockets. “She’s OK,” she lied. No thanks to you.
“Oh my gosh, Faith, look at this!”
Faith walked over to where Melinda was sitting. Her eyes transfixed on the TV where Sandy Moss was posing on a red carpet.
“Yeah, that’s last night’s award show. So what?”
“Look at the girl behind her!”
Faith squinted at the TV. “Is that the weird girl?… April?”
Melinda’s phone pinged in her pocket. “Oh my gosh, it is Weird April! She’s just sent her address, look: The Moss Residence, Pinnacles Private Estate, Del Sol Valley. 2 pm. Wear formal attire. What’s ‘formal attire’?”
“Like, a ballgown or something.” Faith dropped her voice to an excited whisper. “Wow! We’re going to meet Sandy Moss! Shoot, I have nothing formal. Can you lend me a dress? I promise I won’t rip it this time.”
Melinda hugged her friend. She hoped her playful voice covered up her concern. “Of course you can! But you’re getting an ugly one.”
Babs dropped the girls off at the gates to the Pinnacles Private Estate. She wasn’t allowed to drive her rusty, old car any further in.
“I’ll be back here at 5 o’clock to pick you up. For the love of Gnome, please be good!” she said. “Please, please be polite!”
“We will, Mum.”
Melinda and Faith slipped through the gate and wandered the estate until they found a huge house with a large, gold plaque that simply said ‘MOSS’.
They climbed the marble steps to the grand front door and rang the bell.
“Wow! Mel, they have a butler.”
The butler opened the door, smiling to himself as he took in the two under-dressed girls.
“Can I help you ladies?”
Faith cleared her throat and said in her poshest voice, “We have arrived for April’s party.”
“I see. Names?” The butler asked.
“Faith and Melinda.”
Well there was no posh way to say those. “Faith Splodge and Melinda Bucket.”
The butler paused, looked down his list, twice. He looked back at the girls who smiled nervously.
“We might be under something else. April didn’t actually ask us for our full names,” Melinda said.
“Do you have an invitation card?”
“No. We met her at the arcade yesterday and she just sort of invited us. I have a text! Do you want to see it?”
“No need. At the arcade, you say?” The butler looked at them a long while, then glanced back at his list. “How silly of me! Here you are,” he said in a warm voice. Then he nodded professionally and let them through.
“You made it!” April squealed, running up to the girls.
“Oh my god Mel, look! It’s her, it’s Sandy!”
Sandy had entered the hallway. The butler immediately tried to distract her, but even his beard and come-to-bed eyes couldn’t stop Sandy from noticing the juicier feast of two common girls.
“Well, hello. Who do we have here?”
April drew a big breath. “Mother, these are my best friends, Faith and Melinda.”
“Hello Mrs. Moss,” the girls chimed in unison.
Sandy didn’t respond. She took April’s arm, her nails digging into the little girl’s flesh. “Excuse us a moment.”
Faith and Melinda lingered awkwardly until April came back.
“Mother says you have to leave,” she whispered.
“Why?” Faith asked, “have we done something wrong?”
April leaned in her voice barely above a breath. “Head round the back, you’ll see a trellis running up the wall. If you climb that and wait for me on the balcony, I can explain.” She stepped back and shouted. “Thank you for coming by! Unfortunately, we don’t need anymore servants at the moment.”
“I’m not climbing up there, Faith. Let’s just go home.”
Faith hopped down next to Melinda. “Come on Mel. Don’t you want to know what’s going on here?”
Melinda sighed, “Not really.”
“Please?” Faith took Mel’s hand and flashed her best puppy-dog eyes.
Melinda walked forwards and started to climb.
“You’re the best, Mel!” Faith smiled, climbing up behind her friend. “Oh balls!” She looked down where a rogue nail had stuck into her. “I’m so sorry, I think I’ve snagged your dress.”
Melinda rolled her eyes. Of course she has.
April was already waiting when they reached the top.
“I’m sorry for calling you servants and I’m sorry about my mother,” she scuffed her foot on the floor, “she doesn’t like me to have friends that she hasn’t personally selected. You’ll have to be my secret friends, just for now, just until I can sort my mother out.”
“Secret friends,” Faith said sceptically, her hands on her hips, “so in other words, not good enough to be real friends.”
The light left April’s eyes. “I don’t have any real friends.”
“How can you not have any friends?” Melinda asked.
“No-one likes me,” April said quietly. “They call me ‘weird’ or they’re only interested in meeting Mother. Not like you two. Please stay.”
Melinda felt terrible.
Faith scoffed, “Stay and do what? Clean your shoes? Tidy your room? Come on, Mel,” she headed back towards the trellis, trying not to stare at the hot tub or the amazing view, “I know when I’m not wanted.”
April started to cry. “Look, I’ll figure out a way for us to be real friends. I will, I promise. Please, I had so much fun with you both at the arcade. No-one has ever wanted to play with me before. I’m so lonely, stuck in this stupid house all the time. Please be my friends.”
“Why should we stay?” Faith asked. “What’s in it for us?”
“We need to go now, Faith. It’s five past five.”
“Just five more minutes Mel.” Faith pleaded and turned her attention back to the biggest TV she’d ever seen which was showing a movie that Melinda knew her mum wouldn’t approve of her watching.
“He’s definitely a zombie.” Faith beamed through a mouthful of popcorn and chocolate cake.
“Totally,” April replied. “He’s gonna eat her brain, for sure! Hey, if you like this one, you’ll love Zombie Town 3: Pleasantview, you should definitely come and watch that with me next time. I’ll have the butler order in a pizza and we can have a sleepover.”
“How will we get here?”
“I’ll have the butler collect you in the limo.”
“Limo?” Faith’s eyes lit up. “Does the butler do anything you want him to?”
“Yes, that’s his duty.”
“Wow! If you were a zombie, would he let you eat his brain?”
April laughed, “Probably.”
Melinda didn’t like this movie, it made her feel sick. She didn’t like feeling like she didn’t belong in April’s pristine bedroom. She didn’t want to be picked up in a limo. She didn’t want to be friends with Weird April.
But mostly, she didn’t want to share Faith. And that made her feel really mean.
She could feel her phone vibrating in her pocket. She looked down at the hole in Faith’s dress and then up at the sheer joy on the faces of two girls who really needed friends.
It didn’t matter how she felt.
“Five more minutes,” she whispered, wondering if she would ever be able to leave at all.