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Chapter 7: A Debt

Summary: Stephanie may be recovering from the attack, but her focus is not on getting better. Will the people in her life be able to see the truth?

Chapter 7 of 10
A Debt


     Saturday morning, Stephanie stayed in bed after waking up. It was a new day and a lot was going through her head. The pain in her side was minimal as long as she didn't move, but it was also a strong reminder of all the positives and negatives of the last week and a half. 

     "Morning sleepy head," Aunt Jennifer said as she entered the room. "How are you feeling this morning?"

     "Aunt Jennifer?"

     "Hi Stephanie.  I was worried about you when your Dad called to tell me about yesterday."

     "Mommy come with you?"

     "Sorry Sweetie. Mommy went to see Grandma yesterday morning.  She didn't even hear about you being attacked till last night. Hopefully she'll be coming back tonight."

     Stephanie rolled on her side facing away from Aunt Jennifer. She hugged her Melanie doll tight as tears came down her face.  The sore side was only part of the pain she was feeling.

     Aunt Jennifer sat down on Stephanie's bed and rubbed her arm, "I know, you want Mommy here don't you."

     "She doesn't want to be here.  She hates me."

     "Oh Stephanie, she doesn't hate you.  She just can't figure out how to treat you.  She was really concerned about you when she heard about the attack."

     "No she wasn't," Stephanie got out through her tears.  "She was happy I got beat up."

    "Oh sweetie, she really does love you.  She would never want you to be hurt.  She will be fine with you being Stephanie, she just needs some time to adjust.  In no time at all, you two will be having fun doing some Mommy Daughter activities."

     "Really," Stephanie turned back towards Aunt Jennifer, but grabbed her side in the process.

     "Let's go get some medicine in you to help with that pain, and some food in you to help your body heal."

     After a short detour to get her wig, Stephanie and Aunt Jennifer made their way into the kitchen for Breakfast.  As the girls walked through the living room, Dad stopped reading his Kindle and followed them into the kitchen. Aunt Jennifer made up a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice for Stephanie. 

     "You guys aren't eating," Stephanie questioned?

     "We ate breakfast a long time ago sleepy head.  It's already ten o'clock," Dad said hugging Stephanie and sitting down. "Aunt Jennifer's been here for about three hours now."

     "Why didn't you wake me," Stephanie asked as she drank her juice and took a pill for the pain?

     "You needed your sleep precious," Dad explained with a big smile.  "Anyways, Aunt Jennifer and I wanted a little peace and quiet before a hyperactive little nine year old girl started demanding all our attention."

     With a devilish grin Stephanie replied, "Don't worry, Molly doesn't demand everyone's attention when she is busy. I'll keep Molly busy babysitting Melanie so she doesn't demand all your attention.  That way I can have it," Stephanie giggled until she found it hurt to laugh.

     "You okay Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer asked upon seeing Stephanie's expression when she suddenly stopped giggling.

     "I'm fine.  It just hurts when I laugh.  It hurts when I move.  It hurts when I eat.  It hurts just to be me."

     "Oh Princess," Dad said reaching out and grabbing her hand.  "The medicine will start working soon. Today we will just take it easy and give you a chance to go through that huge collection of DVDs Aunt Jennifer bought you."

     "Okay Daddy," Stephanie said as she started to eat her cereal.




     Stephanie, holding her Molly doll, was cuddled up next to Aunt Jennifer watching the movie Molly: An American Girl On The Home Front.  Stephanie ignored the fact that the phone had rung, but not when Dad came over and put the movie on pause.  

     "The phone call is for Daryl," Dad said handing the wireless phone to Stephanie.

     "Hello?" Stephanie asked?

     "Hi Daryl are you feeling better?  Melissa is over playing with me this morning. You know we talked Friday morning at recess about her having a play date with me today.  Well she wanted to know how you were doing.  She was really worried about you after your Dad carried you out of the classroom. She is right here listening.  Our phone has a speaker phone and Mommy let me use it," Joanne blurted out.

     Stephanie smiled, "Hi Joanne and Melissa. I am okay. I hurt a lot but I am okay. The doctor told me to take it easy, so I get to watch movies all day today."

     "Oh that is great Daryl," Melissa commented.  "I was really worried.  You gonna be back on Monday?"

     "I think so," Stephanie said looking at her dad even though he could not hear Melissa's question.  "The doctor said I would be sore for a while, but I should be okay to go back to school. Not that anyone would notice me missing."

     "No Daryl, no," Melissa exclaimed.  "Everyone will know if the hero is missing.  They hate the bullies now, but they like the school hero. You get better and come back."

      "Thanks Melissa, but I am no hero," Stephanie sighed, gently feeling her side. "I got beat up.  Hero's aren't wimps who get beat up."

     "You are the biggest hero ever," Melissa said with pride.  "You did what none of us nobodies could ever do.  You showed Frank and Elwood you were no longer a Noper.  Then you told our whole class that you were no longer a Noper.  The whole school heard Daryl.  The whole school!  You . . . you showed them all that a nobody can be a better person than even the popular kids.  You the biggest hero ever."

     "I think she is right Daryl," Joanne said.  "The person who stood up to Elwood and Frank was very brave.  The person who came back to our classroom after being hurt to say thank you to me is definitely a Hero.  After our talk yesterday, I don't think anything we say is going to make you believe it, but you are a very brave hero.  I hope you feel better . . . Daryl. Melissa and I are off to go play in the park for about half an hour.  It was nice talking with you."

     "You two have fun. Bye Melissa," Stephanie said.

     "Bye Daryl, get better," Melissa said.

     "Bye Joanne," Stephanie continued.

     "Bye," Joanne said hanging up the phone.

     Handing the phone back to her dad, Stephanie glanced down at her Tinkerbell pajamas before looking at Aunt Jennifer, "I think I want to get dressed.  Will you help me please?"

     "Sure sweetie," Aunt Jennifer replied, giving a quizzical glance towards her brother-in-law. His eyes went wide and he shrugged his shoulders, providing her with no answers. "You sure you don't want to wait till after the movie?"

     "No I . . . I think I should get up and going for the day.  It's . . ." Stephanie looked over at the clock in the room, "almost eleven o'clock.  I'm too old to spend all day in my PJs."

     "Stephanie sweetie, you can stay in your pajamas if you want. You can never be too old for a Pajama Day," Aunt Jennifer stated. 

     "I want to get dressed now," Stephanie declared. Standing up however, the expression on her face showed that she was not as inviolable as she was trying to portray.

     "Okay," Aunt Jennifer reached out her hand to give some support to Stephanie. "I'll help you."

      The two went down to Stephanie's room.  Once there, Stephanie sat on the bed and directed Aunt Jennifer to the clothes she wanted to wear.  When the outfit was complete, Stephanie was dressed in a lavender dress with white tights.  Her wig was done up in braided pigtails, with lavender hair ties at the ends. 

     "Okay Stephanie, out with it.  Why are you suddenly wanting to be all dressed up, looking like you are ready for the first day of school," Aunt Jennifer asked as she put the Mary-Jane shoes on Stephanie.

     "First day of school," Stephanie inquired looking down at the outfit.  "Yeah this would be good for my first day at school as Stephanie."

     "You're avoiding the question young lady.  What's up?"

      "Let's go to the park," Stephanie smiled looking straight at Aunt Jennifer.

     Aunt Jennifer quizzically looked at Stephanie, "Thirty minutes ago you loved the idea of sitting on the couch all day watching the DVDs.  Now you want to be all dressed up and go out to the park.  You're up to something Stephanie.  What's at the park?"

     "I don't know what is at the park for Stephanie, but I have to go and find out.  I have to go and see.  I have to try," Stephanie said staring at the card Melissa had made her.

     "Try?" Aunt Jennifer said looking over at the cards standing up on the dresser.  "It was Joanne and Melissa on the phone.  Aren't those the two that wrote you the cards? Are they going to be at the park?"

     Stephanie nodded her head in agreement. 

     "Do they know about Stephanie?"

     "Joanne does. Her Mommy babysits me after school.  I change into my Stephanie clothes before going over there."

     "But Melissa doesn't, does she?" Aunt Jennifer said getting up and going over to the two cards.  Although they had been pointed out when they got Stephanie's wig this morning, she had not read them.  This time she picked them up and read both of them.

     "Your Dad said something this morning about Daryl not being the one who stood up to Elwood and Frank.  You were no longer pretending to be Daryl when you did that, were you?"

     "I have a hard time pretending to be Daryl now.  I put on the costume, but I just can't do the pretending part anymore."

     Aunt Jennifer held Melissa's card in her hand looking back and forth between it and Stephanie, "You and Joanne arranged to have Melissa meet Stephanie at the park today?"

     "Yeah her and Gwen. I don't know if Gwen is coming today, Joanne only mentioned Melissa was at her house. The plan was to have Joanne invite both of them over and we all meet at the park."

     "Let me guess, you had this planned out before the fight."

     "Yup," Stephanie grabbed Melanie and hugged her tight.

     "Do any of the adults know?" Aunt Jennifer inquired.

     Sheepishly Stephanie replied, "Only you.  We tried to invite Gwen and Melissa over to Joanne's house one day Mrs. Sterns was babysitting me, but she said no.  She was afraid Mommy and Daddy wouldn't want the other kids knowing about Stephanie.  I thought Frank ruined everything for me, but Joanne still invited Melissa over.  I just have to go to the park to see her."

     "Why do I have this feeling I am about to be dragged into something whether I like it or not," Aunt Jennifer said coming over and sitting next to Stephanie. 

     Stephanie smiled, "Please Aunt Jennifer?  I'll never make it to the park without some help, and I'm afraid Daddy isn't going to let me go."

     "Let me guess, you want me to try and convince your father to let you go to the park, and you don't want me to tell him why."


     Aunt Jennifer smiled, "You know, you look just like your mother did when she was your age trying to convince me to do something.  I got into more trouble giving into that look."

     "Will you help me?"

     "They're going to be your first friends, aren't they?"

     Stephanie hugged Melanie tighter and shrugged her shoulders, "This is definitely about friendship."

     "Every girl needs close friends.  Okay, I'll do it," Aunt Jennifer reluctantly agreed.

     "Oh Thank You, Thank You, Thank You," Stephanie said giving her a big hug.  "Let's go quick while they are still there.  Joanne said her Mom would only let her go to the park for half an hour."

      Stephanie got up and started dragging Aunt Jennifer out of the room.  Going straight to the coat closet, she started putting on her pink coat.

     "And where do you think you're going," Dad inquired?

     "Aunt Jennifer said she would take me to the park."

     "Oh you are so much like your mother," Aunt Jennifer quietly said.

     "The doctor said you are supposed to take it easy.  I don't think that includes playing at the park," Dad explained.

     "James," Aunt Jennifer interjected. "I'll explain later, but this is important to her."

     "Aren't you the one who offered to come over and help me keep her sedate for the day?"

     "Well," Aunt Jennifer hedged.  "This is a girl thing, something Stephanie needs to do."

     Dad dubiously looked at the two of them.

     "Please Daddy," Stephanie put her lips together in a smile, tilted her head, and batted her eyelashes.

     "Uhhhhhh, now wait a minute.  No, No, No, No, No!" Dad took a step back.  "I was warned about this by my friends with little girls.  I am not going to fall for the superpowers of little girls.  You need to stay home and get better. A trip to the park will not help.  Being super cute and batting your eyes is not going to change that."

     "Please Daddy?  Please?  Don't you always say fresh air is good for me?"

     "Now that's not fair; super cute little girl, my own words used against me, and your Aunt on your side. I am not going to win on this, am I?" Dad asked.

     "James," Aunt Jennifer added. "I suspect this will only be the first of many things you will really have no choice on."

     "Please Daddy?"

     "Alright, but just a quick trip to the park," Dad gave in.  "I don't want you out long and I don't want you playing.  Let's try to get through today without another trip to the doctor."

     "Thanks Daddy," Stephanie said with glee, dragging Aunt Jennifer out the door.

      They had only walked past two houses when Stephanie started holding onto Aunt Jennifer's arm for support.

     "You know you don't have to do this.  We can come up with another way."

     "I am not going to let Frank ruin things for me.  This has to work."

     "There is always another way Stephanie.  We could invite Joanne and Melissa over to the house. You don't have to go meet them."

     "Yes I do.  They have to meet me as Stephanie, not Daryl."

     They made it to the entrance of the park, and started their way in.  Stephanie quickly started scanning the park to find Joanne and Melissa.  

     "There they are Aunt Jennifer.  See they have hula hoops.  Over there by the picnic tables."

     "Let's go sit down near them," Aunt Jennifer led the way over to a picnic table near the girls.

    As they approached, Melissa was facing away from them.  Joanne smiled when she saw Stephanie, but refrained from approaching when she saw Stephanie indicating she should stay put.   Stephanie then pointed over to the picnic table where her aunt was leading her.  Joanne nodded and started up again with her hula hoop.

     Aunt Jennifer could tell Stephanie's side was hurting her.  Joanne could see it too as she watched Stephanie hang onto the grown-up with her.  Once Stephanie was seated, Joanne and Aunt Jennifer were both figuring out how to do this without revealing just how much pain Stephanie was really in. While they tried to figure out a way to make this work, Stephanie unzipped her coat and made sure she was presentable.

     "Oh Joanne," Stephanie said loudly.  "I didn't see you there."

     "Stephanie!" Joanne faked her surprise. "So great to see you."

     Joanne grabbed her hula hoop and made her way over to the picnic table with Melissa following.

     "That's a pretty hula hoop Joanne, I've never seen one sparkly like that before," Stephanie started the conversation, trying not to show any expression of pain.

     "Thanks, Mommy got them for me this summer.   My favorite is the pink one.  I'm letting my friend Melissa here play with it."

     Melissa smiled, looking at the hula hoop and then at Stephanie.  She was about to turn back to Joanne when she took a second look at Stephanie.

     "Joanne," Aunt Jennifer interjected.  "Stephanie and I were going to spend the day watching DVDs, I am sure she would much rather watch them with a friend like you, than with an old lady like me."

     "Aunt Jennifer!" Stephanie glared.

     "What a great idea," Joanne said turning to Melissa.  "What do you think Melissa, a girl's afternoon watching movies?  I bet Mommy would even make us popcorn.  Stephanie, bring your American Girl doll. Melissa brought hers and Gwen is planning on bringing hers this afternoon."

     Stephanie giggled, "We were watching the Molly movie this morning.  We are half way through it and stopped to get some fresh air.  Daddy always says fresh air does the body good."

     Melissa was about to say something but stopped, looking more closely at Stephanie, "I guess so, Daryl?"

     Joanne and Stephanie looked at each other and then at Melissa.

     "I'm Stephanie," she said trying to recover from the unexpected realization.

     "You look just like Daryl. Doesn't she Joanne?" Melissa asked pausing for only a second.  "No, you are Daryl.  Why are you wearing a dress Daryl?"

     "Don't be silly Melissa," Joanne stated.  "Stephanie's a girl and Daryl's a boy.  Daryl would look silly wearing a dress."

     Stephanie took a deep breath and responded, "It's okay Joanne.  I knew this might be one possible reaction. Hi Melissa, at home I'm Stephanie, I only wear my Daryl costume when I go to school."

     "Why do you wear a costume at school Daryl?  None of the other girls have to wear boy costumes to school."

     Aunt Jennifer held back a giggle.

     "The school records have my name as Daryl, so I have to dress up as Daryl to go to school."

     "The teacher once put the wrong name on one of my papers," Melissa commented.  "When I told her she just used the pencil eraser and changed it.  Can't you do that with the school records?   Seems silly they would make you come to school in a boy costume just because someone put the wrong name on the school records."

     Joanne and Stephanie looked at each other not sure how to respond.

     "You are right Melissa," Aunt Jennifer replied.  "It is silly that the wrong name on a paper would force Stephanie to put on a Daryl costume every day just to go to school, but unfortunately that is the way things are for Stephanie."

     "Stephanie?" Melissa said to herself as she thought through the situation in front of her.

     "So Joanne, do you think your mom would be okay with another kid coming over this afternoon to join you and your other friends," Aunt Jennifer inquired?

     "Sure, let's go ask her," Joanne came out of her thoughts.

     "How far away to do you live Joanne," Aunt Jennifer asked.  "Stephanie isn't up for much walking at the moment."

     "Well, I live just four houses down from the park entrance over there," Joanne pointed to the entrance on the other side of a big field.  Mumbling to herself she said, "Stephanie's hurt . . . can't walk."

     Melissa continued to just look at Stephanie.

     "hmmmmm," Aunt Jennifer pondered.  "I don't think she is up for such a long walk.  I wasn't even sure if she was up to walking back to her house."

     "I know what we can do," Joanne said with excitement as she came out of her contemplation. "Melissa and I will go get it and be right back.  Come on Melissa."

     Joanne started running off for her house, but Melissa was still looking at Stephanie.

     "Bye Daryl . . . Stephanie," Melissa said before giving Stephanie a big hug and running off to catch up with Joanne.

     Aunt Jennifer turned to Stephanie, "Joanne ran off without telling us what she was going to do."

     "She is like that at times," Stephanie said smiling.

     "Well, it looks like Melissa has accepted you as Stephanie."

     "Yeah, maybe, but . . ." Stephanie thought about the interaction. "It didn't go the way I wanted it to.  I was supposed to get to play with her as just one of the girls before she found out about Daryl.  And . . . and she thinks I really am a girl."

     "Well you are, silly."

     "No I mean.  She thinks I am a girl like her and have the same girl parts. Joanne thought I was a girl too at first and when she found out the truth . . ." Stephanie sat quietly recalling the disastrous results.

     "Well Joanne appears to be your friend now, so everything worked out."

     "Only because her Daddy punished her and made her play with me," Stephanie responded.

     "I don't think you have to worry about Melissa.  She seems to understand you are Daryl at school and Stephanie at home.  Isn't that what you wanted?" Aunt Jennifer inquired.

     "Yeah I guess, sort of," Stephanie thought.  "I'm worried about what will happen when she finds out the truth. I do like her idea however, of just taking an eraser to my school file and changing the name on it."

     "It would be nice if it was just that simple," Aunt Jennifer said zipping Stephanie's coat back up.  "But unfortunately, it is a little more complicated than just changing your name on a piece of paper."

     "Does it have to be?" Stephanie questioned.

     "I don't know Stephanie, but it is," Aunt Jennifer said sitting down at the picnic table.

     "Will Daddy let me go to Joanne's house to watch movies?"

     "I am sure he will sweetie, he just wanted you to take it easy today.  As long as you promise to stay on Joanne's couch watching the movies, I am sure he will let you stay."

     Stephanie pointed to the other side of the big field, "look, here come Joanne and Melissa."

     "What are they doing," Aunt Jennifer asked as she tried to see the two girls that far away.

     "Are they pulling something?"

     The two didn't have to wait long for the answer, soon Joanne and Melissa were back with a wagon behind them.

     "See, Stephanie doesn't have to walk.  We can just pull her.  Daddy wanted to get rid of my wagon at the end of the summer, but I wouldn't let him," Joanne said as she blushed a little. "I like to bring my dolls around in it, so they are not cooped up in the house all the time."

     "That is a great idea Joanne," Aunt Jennifer said. "Let's see if Stephanie fits in it."

     "Oh she will," Joanne reassured Aunt Jennifer.  "I still fit in it and Stephanie's smaller than me."

     Joanne took down one of the sides of the wagon, letting Stephanie get in.  Once the side was put back into place, the four of them headed for Joanne's house.  Aunt Jennifer pulled the wagon while Joanne showed her where to go.  Melissa stayed back with Stephanie holding her hand.

     "You okay back there Stephanie," Aunt Jennifer asked?

     "It hurts with the bumps, but I'm okay."

     "I'll do my best to avoid big bumps," Aunt Jennifer said steering the wagon.

     "Stephanie," Melissa stopped watching where she was going and just looked at Stephanie.  "Was it your Daryl costume that made you so brave?"

     "No Melissa," Stephanie said squeezing Melissa's hand.  "It was when I stopped pretending to be a boy that I was finally able to stand up to them."

     Melissa got a big smile as she continued to look at Stephanie and hold her hand.

     "Wait Aunt Jennifer, wait," Stephanie shouted.  "I need my Molly doll."

     Aunt Jennifer stopped the wagon and turned around to face Stephanie, "First we need to see if Joanne's mom will let you stay over.  Then we need to call your Dad to see if he will let you stay over.  And once we get that all figured out, we can decide the best way to connect you and Molly.  Who knows, maybe this is all going to happen at your house instead of Joanne's."

     "Okay," Stephanie reluctantly gave in.

     The group quickly found themselves in the front yard to the Stern's house.  Mr. Sterns was in the yard raking leaves.

     "See Daddy, see," Joanne announced. "I told you I needed the wagon for Stephanie."

     "I see, and who is this that you drafted into doing the hard work?"

     "Mr. Sterns," Stephanie said still sitting in the wagon.  "That is my Aunt Jennifer.  She's the bestest Aunt ever."

     "Well, Bestest Aunt ever, nice to meet you.  I am George Sterns.  The mean daddy of sweet little Joanne there," He said with fingers outstretched and wiggling as he approached Joanne.

     Joanne started giggling before he even got close and ran to the other side of the wagon, putting Stephanie between her and him.

     "Nice to meet you Daddy of sweet little girl Joanne.  Apparently you are also the tickle monster."

     "Who me?" Mr. Sterns pleaded innocence.

     "Yes Aunt Jennifer," Joanne confirmed.  "He IS the tickle monster."

     "So young lady," Mr. Sterns turned to his daughter.  "What an amazing coincidence that you decided to go to the park at the same time that Stephanie decided to go to the park. Especially considering how hurt she is."

     "Um . . Yeah . . Dad," Joanne fidgeted around avoiding eye contact.

     "Oh Mr. Sterns," Aunt Jennifer interjected.  "It is even more complex than that.  Apparently Stephanie and Joanne planned this out a few days ago when your wife wouldn't let Melissa and some girl named Gwen come over while Stephanie was being babysat.  Stephanie wanted girlfriends and felt this was the only way to get them."

     "Really now," Mr. Sterns said looking at Joanne and Stephanie.  "A little underhanded scheming, huh.  Stephanie sweetie, you do deserve to have friends just like everyone else.  If we as adults couldn't figure out a way to help you get them, I am glad you had a good FRIEND to help you.  I guess the trio that invades my house on a regular basis is going to grow to a quartet."

     "I don't think so Mr. Sterns," Stephanie said putting her head down.  "But if this works, hopefully Gwen, Melissa, and Joanne will all start playing together again.  It is all my fault they stopped.  I broke up their friendship, I have to fix that. I will not be responsible for anyone losing a friend. I won't. I will go back to being a nobody next week when Joanne doesn't have to play with me anymore.  I am okay with that.  But Joanne, is not going to be a nobody with no friends because of me. Sorry Joanne, I told you we were doing this for me, but getting Gwen and Melissa over here to see me is all for you.  You and your friends need to be friends again."

     "You won't be a nobody Stephanie," Melissa got down and hugged Stephanie.  "You are the school hero."

     "Stephanie . . . Stephanie," Joanne got out trying to figure out what just happened.

     Mr. Sterns got down on his knees and took Stephanie's two hands in his, "You are an amazing little girl who deserves to have a million friends. If someone doesn't see that, they are really missing out.  All I have heard out of both Joanne and Melissa is how you did amazing things at school yesterday.  They were telling me about a friend, not a nobody. You are NOT a nobody Stephanie.  Never view yourself as a nobody and always view yourself deserving of a friend or two."

     "Mr. Sterns," Stephanie looked him straight in the eyes and said with confidence.  "I am not the one who decided I was a nobody who deserves no friends. Everyone else decided that. Grown-ups try to hide who I am or put me in a box under the bed. They keep other kids away from me.  Kids and grown-ups view me as a monster they don't want to be around.  Even Joanne, the closest thing I have to a friend, only plays with me because you are punishing her.  I am NOT the one who decided I am a nobody.  I just am.  Everyone can see it, even you.  That is why you forced Joanne to play with me when she didn't want to.  Grown-ups only have to force other kids to play with nobodies."

     Melissa shook her head in agreement.

    "I am so much of a monster Mr. Sterns, my Mommy doesn't even want me around.  I will always be a nobody, a monster to hide from.  If I am lucky, I will no longer be a Noper, and kids will at least talk to me.  There is no question in my mind though, I will still be a nobody.  You and Aunt Jennifer are the only two who believe I can be anything more, but you two are just in a world of make believe.  I can no longer continue to pretend to be a boy when I wear the Daryl costume.  It is time you two stopped being in that make believe world with Stephanie.  Daryl is no more, and once I can get Gwen back together with Joanne, Stephanie will . . .," a tear came down Stephanie's face. "She will . . . never again cause people problems. I never should have let her out of the Halloween box. I will not be a problem for people ever again."

     The two adults looked at each other with concerned expressions.

     "Stephanie," Joanne said standing very still.  "You are my friend.  Not because Daddy made me, just because you are."

     "And you my friend too Stephanie," Melissa said still holding onto Stephanie's hand.

     "Why don't we get the three friends into the house with a warm cup of hot chocolate," Mr. Sterns said taking off the side of the wagon. "I think there are even little marshmallows for everyone's cup."

     Mr. Sterns lifted Stephanie up out of the wagon and carried her into the house.  After settling her down onto the living room couch, he called his wife.

     "Sarah, we have two extra people for that hot chocolate.  Do you have enough?"

     "I think we can find enough," Mrs. Sterns said coming into the living room.  "Oh, hi Stephanie."

     "Sarah," Mrs. Sterns guestured to Aunt Jennifer. "This is Jennifer, Stephanie's Aunt.  She is reported to be the Bestest Aunt ever."

     "Nice to finally meet you Jennifer," Mrs. Sterns said shaking Jennifer's hand.  "Stephanie talks very highly of you."

     The adults talked for a little bit while the kids discussed what movie they wanted to watch.  As the kids settled into the American Girl Molly movie, the adults went into the kitchen to get the hot chocolate.  Mrs. Sterns returned with the girl's cups, and then left them to watch the movie.  The adults stayed in the kitchen talking.

     About ten minutes after the kids got their hot chocolate, Mr. Meyers showed up with Stephanie's Molly doll.  Melissa had her Kit doll, and Joanne had her Emily Doll.  The three girls, with their dolls, sat together on the couch to watch the movie, with Stephanie in the middle.  The adults again, left the girls in the living room and escaped into the kitchen.




     At lunch Stephanie was questioned as to what they had planned and why.  Then she outlined what she wanted to do when Gwen came over.  The plans had to be altered a little when Mr. Meyers informed Stephanie about an appointment to see Dr. Jones that afternoon.  Stephanie handed out roles for the different people, telling them how to act and sometimes what to say.  The adults reluctantly agreed with one stipulation, they would tell Gwen's and Melissa's mothers when they came.

     The girls returned to the living room and were playing with their dolls while they waited for Gwen. 

     "Now you sure you can do this Melissa," Stephanie asked.  "Don't let Gwen know I am Daryl.  Let's see if she can figure it out like you did."

     "Yeah, it will be fun," Melissa said with a big smile.  "She likes playing tricks on me.  It will be fun playing one on her."

     Gwen arrived a little after one thirty. She had with her an American Girl doll which had been custom made to look just like her.  They were even both wearing the same outfit.  Introductions were made all round and the adults again escaped into the kitchen, adding Gwen's mom to the group.

     Stephanie had never left the couch and as the girls started to discuss which American Girl movie they wanted to watch next, Gwen kept looking over at Stephanie.  It was explained to Gwen that Stephanie had been hurt on the playground at her school so she needed to stay on the couch resting.

     "Have we met before," Gwen asked?

     "Yeah," Stephanie said with a big smile.  "We went trick-or-treating together.  I was a princess."

     "Oh yeah, I remember you," Gwen said looking Stephanie over.  "You looked different though."

     "I had my princess curly hair wig on."

     "That was a nice princess costume.  Much better than the store bough Disney Princess costumes," Gwen commented sitting down on the couch.

     "Thanks, my mom always makes my princess costumes by finding fancy dresses," Stephanie responded.

     "How many times have you gone as a princess for Halloween," Gwen inquired.

     "Five times," Stephanie said smiling.  "I get to wear these really pretty dresses and everyone says how cute I look."

     "Yeah," Gwen said smiling.  "Grown-ups always do that when we wear pretty dresses.  Kinda fun isn't it."

     The four girls all agreed, before turning to their dolls and telling them how cute they look in their outfits.  After a giggle fest, Joanne started the movie.  While it started, she requested from her mom some popcorn.  It was brought out for them all to enjoy, along with some juice containers.

     Once near the beginning of the movie, Gwen's mom came in stating, "I don't know about this." But she was quickly brought back to the kitchen away from the girls.  

     Throughout the movie, the girls all chatted about various scenes in the movie and other things unrelated to the movie. They also enjoyed having their dolls re-enact some of the scenes.  The adults were often coming in and out watching the girls.  Gwen apologized to Stephanie for her mom, noticing it was her mom coming in the most. She explained that she didn't understand, for her mom didn't usually do that.  She also wasn't sure why her mom was even still there.  Gwen believed her Mom was supposed to do some shopping while she was playing with Joanne and Melissa. 

     Stephanie just brushed it off, pointing out her dad was still here too and he would come in watching them too.

     After the movie, Joanne got out a bunch of art supplies and brought them to the coffee table in the living room.  Stephanie winced getting down on the floor to work at the table, but she did without it hurting too much.

     "So Gwen," Stephanie commented as she worked on making the wings on a fairy.  "Joanne says she lost you as a best friend."

     "Yeah well, she wanted some yucky boy to play with us during recess.  Imagine that Stephanie, playing with a boy," Gwen made a face expressing her distain.

     "I don't know Gwen," Stephanie replied.  "There is a boy at my school who always wants to sit down with the girls during indoor recess and color pictures with them."

     "Well that's not too bad," Gwen said.  "It would spoil the fun a little, but I wouldn't have to do anything with him.  It is just a lot more fun when it is just girls.  Like now, it is just us girls.  This is fun."

     Joanne stifled a giggle.

     "Could you still have this much fun if one of us was a boy," Stephanie asked?

     "No way!  A boy would wreck everything.  He would be getting into everything, making battle scenes, and wanting to blow things up," Gwen said cutting some tissue paper and gluing it on her picture.  "There's this boy at school named Daryl that Joanne wanted to play with us.  He would never make something pretty like that fairy you have there Stephanie."

     This time it was Melissa that had trouble holding back a giggle.

     "What do you think," Stephanie asked the group while holding up her picture.  "Some glitter on the wings?"

     "Most definitely," Melissa said.

     "Yeah that would look pretty," Joanne responded.  "But be careful, mom complains when I get glitter all over the living room."

     "That's a lovely fairy you have their . . . Stephanie," Gwen's Mom said coming into the living room.

     "Thank You," Stephanie said beaming. "It's not done yet.  I am going to put some glitter on the wings, and maybe a pink ribbon in her hair."

     "I see," Gwen's mom commented.  "Your dad asked me to tell you, you have five minutes left."

     "Thank You," Stephanie smiled at Gwen's mom.  "I better hurry up and finish. Gwen please pass the silver and gold glitter."

     "Gwen," her mom stated. "We are going to be leaving soon too.  Maybe about fifteen minutes or so."

     "I thought I was spending all afternoon here," Gwen questioned?

     "Well we have already been here two hours and . . . well plans have changed."

     "Okay," Gwen glumly said.

     Gwen's mom returned to the kitchen and the girls went to work on finishing up their pictures.

     "Gwen," Stephanie interrupted the silence.  "Why don't you want to play with Joanne if she plays with this Daryl kid?"

     "Daryl is just so . . . well he . . . he is such a show off.  He just had to come over and beat my jump roping record.  A boy!  How can a boy beat a girl at jump roping?"

     Stephanie smiled, "There is a boy at my school that is really good at jump roping.  In fact, he holds the jump roping record for the school."

     "Well, this Daryl kid does now too I guess.  I did have fun telling Erin a boy beat her jump roping record.  I had always dreamed what it would be like to tell her I beat her record, but this was kinda more fun.  She got mad at Daryl and not me."

     "If Daryl is that good, why can't he do jump roping with you, Melissa, and Joanne," Stephanie pushed.

     "Well Daryl is a boy.  He just wouldn't understand.  We wouldn't be able to talk about girl things with him around.  He would never understand how fun it is to go shopping for a new Christmas dress, or a tea party with our dolls."

     "I went shopping for my dress last week with my Aunt Jennifer.  I got to wear it home and to visit Santa.  I need to find more times I can talk my Mom into letting me wear it," Stephanie said.

     "Isn't that terrible," Melissa agreed.  "They get us this really pretty dress and we only get to wear it three times; the school Christmas program, visiting the grandparents, and the Christmas service at church."

     "We don't go to church," Joanne said. "So I only get to wear mine twice."

     "Daryl would never understand why this is such a problem," Gwen proclaimed.  "No boy would.  I just can't be myself around them."

     "So if I want to play with Daryl," Joanne interjected.  "You won't play with me anymore?"

     "Well . . .," Gwen hedged.  "Mommy says I shouldn't stop being your friend just because you play with a boy occasionally.  Something about someday I may want to play with a boy too. She was being all funny, but I guess I can still be your friend. I don't want to play with a boy though."

      "That is fine," Stephanie said smiling.  "You don't have to play with a boy if you don't want to.  I am glad to hear you will still play with Joanne though."

     "Come on Stephanie," Mr. Meyer's said coming into the living room with Aunt Jennifer and the rest of the adults in tow.  "Time to go talk to Dr. Jones about Frank beating you up on Friday."

     "Okay Daddy," Stephanie said writing her name on the fairy picture.  She stood up, unable to hide the expression of pain as she did so, and thanked Joanne for letting her come over. 

     Gwen looked up at Stephanie with a confused look on her face.

     "Gwen, it was nice meeting you.   I would like you to have this picture," Stephanie said giving Gwen the fairy picture she just finished.  "I am sorry I came between you and Joanne."

     Stephanie's dad had her coat out so she could just slip into it.  He then started directing her towards the door.  Grabbing her Molly doll, she thanked Mr. and Mrs. Sterns for letting her come over.

     "Bye Stephanie," Melissa said. "Glad to see you are feeling better.  See you at school on Monday."

     "Bye," Stephanie waved as she was rushed out the door by her father and Aunt Jennifer.

     As they were closing the door to the house, they heard Gwen ask, "Daryl?"


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