The kids at school were pretty clique-ish, and Nora was shy. She stood awkwardly on the edge of any crowd and tried to fade into the woodwork. She dreaded gym class, when there was a team sport where sides had to be chosen. Sometimes she didn't get chosen at all.
"Hey," said a vivacious redhead one day. "Hey, you, blondie."
Nora looked around. The girl seemed to be talking to her. She pointed at herself, a question.
"Yeah," she said. "Come on. You can be on our team. I'm Juliet."
Nora didn't completely disgrace herself at volleyball. She was no jock, but she was in pretty good shape, and the game was fun. Afterwards, Juliet invited her to sit at her table at lunch. She noticed Juliet looking at a boy at the other table, then looking away quickly when he looked up.
"Who's that?" she whispered.
"Romeo," Juliet said, with stars in her eyes. "Only, we're not allowed to see each other."
"Why not?" Juliet looked at her in astonishment. "Because he's a Monty."
"Ohhhh," Nora said, as if she knew what that meant. She didn't, but she didn't really care, either.
She was just glad to have finally made a friend.
"So, can I come home with you tonight?" Juliet asked. "My parents are gonna be out and I hate being in that big old house by myself."
"Um, I guess so," Nora said. "It's not much of a house."
"That's OK, silly," Juliet said.
"I have to take care of my sister when we get home," Nora said. "It won't be much fun, I'm afraid."
"You have a sister? How old is she?"
"I love little kids!" Juliet said. "I can help. Do your parents work late, or something?"
"Or something," Nora said, quietly.
Juliet looked around the house, and the yard, hands on hips. She noticed the gravestone in the far corner and went to look at it.
Carly Stone, beloved mother, it read.
She went to look for her friend. Nora looked dead on her feet, she noticed, and the sister, an adorable cutie pie, was drawing on the wall with her crayons.
They had, like, no furniture at all. A really ratty sofa, cinder block bookshelf, and a card table. Other than the appliances, a fairly nice bed and some baby stuff, that was about it.
"You didn't mention you were an orphan," Juliet said.
"I know," Nora said, blushing behind her glasses. "I was afraid you'd feel sorry for me."
"Well, I do, in a way, because I don't know what I'd do without my mom and dad," Juliet admitted. "But mostly, I mean, wow. I'm in awe. I can't even take care of a pet."
"You do what you have to do," Nora said, and yawned mightily.
"Tell you what," Juliet said. "You go to bed. I'll make sure Miss Thang here gets her dinner and whatever she needs." She took the crayon from Liza's chubby little fist and said, "No, no. Draw on the paper." She handed her a sheet.
"Are you sure?" Nora asked.
"Yes. Now get," Juliet said, "Before you tip over and I have to haul you into bed. You're skinny, but I still think it'd be a chore."
Nora giggled. "OK." She turned back. "Thank you."
"Sure," Juliet said with a shrug.
It felt good to be needed. Juliet had always had everything handed to her. It had never occurred to her that other kids had to work for everything they got.Next Chapter