Best friends Melanie Honeywell and Karen Aimee share adventures, hardships and heartaches, and the growing pains of Christian faith.
Melanie Honeywell comes from a large family and looks forward to her aunt and uncle’s adoption of a child. But, instead of the tiny infant she’s expecting, an obnoxious teenager becomes part of her life. Worse, Samantha attends the same Christian school and is in all the classes Melanie and her best friend Karen Aimee are.
To Melanie’s complete astonishment, Karen not only accepts Samantha as a friend but makes Melanie wonder if their own lifelong friendship is in jeopardy. Samantha seems to ruin everything: She fouls recipes, messes up clothes, and breaks everything–all without trying. Even as Melanie secretly hopes her aunt and uncle will realize Samantha isn’t worth the trouble and send her back, she knows the Lord has a message for her somewhere in this friendship fiasco.
Melanie Honeywell sprawled on her back in the grass behind her best friend’s house. Crossing her arms behind her neck like a cushion, she watched the one cloud that sailed across the blue summer sky. It shifted from a hedgehog to an alligator.
“Changes,” she muttered. “Mom says I have to adapt to changes.”
Karen sat cross-legged near her. “That sounds like fun.” She twisted her face into a comical mask, but her best friend stared at the cloud. “Was she talking about the new school or your adopted cousin?”
“Both, and I’m to have a mature Christian attitude.”
“More fun,” said Karen and flopped down on the grass to stretch out on her stomach. Rufus, her black lab, bounded up and dropped a slobbery ball beside her. She picked it up with two fingers and pitched it across the narrow lawn.
“With most of the organizational meetings taking place in our living room,” sighed Melanie, “I’ve heard more than enough about Oak Valley Christian School.”
Karen laughed. “Couldn’t you have bribed them with chocolate chip cookies or something? You could have offered them extra punch if they voted for any name other than Oak Valley Christian School.”
Melanie laughed too, and in a deep grown-up voice, she recited. “Oak Valley Christian School, meeting at Oak Valley Christian Fellowship, in beautiful downtown Oak Valley at the corner of Main Street, and,” she paused for dramatic effect, “you guessed it, Oak Valley Drive!”
Both girls giggled.
“So very original,” commented Karen, as she carefully picked up Rufus’ wet ball to throw again.
“I was enthusiastic about a new school in our own church, but I’ve been listening to problems every Tuesday night all summer. Did you know we won’t even have desks when we start next week?”
“Come on, Mel. You don’t even like to sit at a desk. Maybe we’ll have cushions on the floor or something.”
“You’re right,” Melanie admitted. “I’ve been doing a lot of complaining lately. Let’s talk about something besides the school.”
“So, how’s your new cousin?” asked Karen.
Melanie groaned and put her hands over her face.
“Don’t remind me about Samantha. She’s going to go to the school, too”
“We aren’t going to talk about our school, remember?”
“I’m not. I’m talking about being stuck with my stuck-up cousin for nearly eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year.”
“Maybe she won’t be in our classes.”
“She’s in seventh grade. The school’s so small there’s only one seventh grade.” Melanie rolled over on her stomach and beat the grass with her fist.
When her mock tantrum finished, she propped herself up on her elbows, putting her chin in her fists, and frowned. “When Aunt Maggie and Uncle Mike talked about adopting, I thought they meant a cute little kid like my little sister Crystal. Instead, we get an already grown-up, nasty teenager.”
“Well, the adoption isn’t final for a while. Maybe they’ll get sick of her and give her back.”
“No chance. She’s as sweet as honey when the adults are around.” Melanie sat up abruptly and swung her legs around to sit cross-legged. “Every day she’s at our house going through my stuff and saying things like the flowers on my wallpaper and bedspread are out-of-date. Where does she get off talking like that? You’d think she worked for fashion magazines. ” She threw herself back on the grass. “She’s lived in foster homes all her life. She doesn’t know that I know, though. My mom says I have to be nice to her, but Mom doesn’t know what it’s like. Samantha’s come over every day for two weeks, and I have no privacy anymore.”
“Calm down, Mel,” said Karen.
Melanie sat up again, hitched her shoulders, and let out an explosive sigh when they dropped.
“Did you know I’m hiding over here?” she asked.
“It’s not funny!” declared Melanie. “I had to sneak out to come over here before Samantha showed up today, or I would have been stuck listening to her tell me all about every wonderful place she’s lived. According to my cousin, all of them are better than Oak Valley.”
“You need to make yourself think about something nice,” advised Karen. “Now, don’t think about our school, and don’t think about Cousin Samantha. Let’s talk about Miss Kate. She’s nice and she’s going to be our English teacher.”
“Yes! That’s something nice. Miss Kate is wonderful. She’s so sweet and pretty and patient. I’m so glad she decided to teach.”
“Did you know her first name is Bernadette?”
“It isn’t Kate?”
“No, Kate’s really her last name!”
“I thought that’s just what the little kids called her in Sunday school.”
“Nope.” Karen threw the ball for Rufus again. Her friend hadn’t thought a gloomy thought for a couple of minutes, and Karen couldn’t resist the urge to tease her.
“Of course,” she said innocently, “Miss Kate thinks Samantha is sweet.”
“Karen!” Melanie snatched Rufus’ ball and threw it with force. “I came here to get away from that snob. I don’t want to hear her name. I don’t want to think about her. Pretty soon I’ll be in the same classroom with her, stuck for hours every day with Miss Priss.”
“Oh, you poor, poor thing! I just pity you! Stuck alone without anyone else!”
“You wish,” Melanie retorted. “You’re going to be stuck with her, too.”
“Melanie, it’s not going to be that bad.”
“You’ve only spent a little time with her. Believe me, Samantha gets worse the more you’re around her.”
“Well,” said Karen, “if she gets too bad, we’ll put spiders in that long cobwebby blonde hair. We’ll put Mexican hot chili sauce in her soft drink. We’ll put itching powder in her tennis shoes. We’ll…”
“We won’t do anything, Karen,” said Melanie. “Remember, we’re the Christians.”
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” said Karen to the two stony-faced girls on her doorstep.
“Sure it is,” said Melanie without the least bit of enthusiasm.
Karen turned the key in the front door lock. She pushed and pulled the doorknob to make sure it locked. Then she turned to face Samantha Jackson and Melanie.
“We need to hurry,” said Samantha in honeyed tones from the Deep South. The girls started down the street on their first walk to Oak Valley Christian School. “I wouldn’t like to be late.” She flipped her beautiful white-blonde hair over her shoulder.
The habitual gesture made Melanie grit her teeth.
The three girls walked in silence until Karen thought of something to say, something neutral that surely wouldn’t start a fight.
“So, do you two know whether or not they got desks for the school yet?”
A smile flickered across Melanie’s face. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get to sit on the floor after all.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to Pokey Oaky School,” said Samantha, once more tossing her fine, silky white hair as she spoke with the heavy Southern accent. “The school I went to in Georgia the year before last was so big I actually got lost the very first day. Some very nice boys helped me find my class. One of them was the captain of the football team. The school I went to in Chicago was in an old department store downtown. Of course you couldn’t tell it had once been a department store. They had spent millions renovating it. It was eight stories tall. My favorite school was in Texas, actually in Houston, near the Space Center. Some of the astronauts’ sons went to that school.”
“How about the astronauts’ daughters?” asked Melanie.
“I don’t notice girls, Mel dear,” said her cousin.
Melanie rolled her eyes. Samantha ignored her and went on with her list of schools. As they neared the church, she made one last comment.
“This place is the size of a flea compared to Los Angeles Central High. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the equipment in this school was acquired at a flea market.”
Melanie winced. She knew that a member of the congregation had found a set of encyclopedias and practically brand new Science textbooks at the Denver Flea Market and bought them for the school. She suspected Samantha knew it, too.
“Perhaps…” Samantha started one more dig with a smile as sweet as honey one her lips.
Warned by the tone of her cousin’s voice, Melanie prepared herself for another verbal stab at the Christian school.
“Perhaps,” continued Samantha, drawling the word out, “a more original name would be Alley Valley Christian School. Didn’t I hear someone say they found bookshelves in the alley behind one of the old shoe stores downtown and painted them for the school library?”
Samantha laughed at her own witticism, but Melanie stopped walking. Eyes squinted, hands balled into fists, she glared at her cousin.
Karen looked over her shoulder at Melanie.
Oh, no, she thought, Melanie’s about to lose her temper.
“Look,” said Karen, desperately trying to avoid a fight. “There’s the school.” She pointed at the church. “Let’s race!”
Samantha looked at her like she was crazy.
“You are kidding, aren’t you?” she asked in her most sophisticated drawl.
“No,” said Karen and turned to Melanie. “Come on, Mel, let’s run.”
Melanie transferred her attention from the cousin who made her furious to the best friend she knew was trying to keep her out of trouble.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll say go.”
She glanced back at Samantha who looked incredulous.
“Go,” yelled Melanie. Karen and Melanie took off.
They reached the front steps of the church with Karen in the lead.
Melanie huffed and puffed. “I could never beat you, Karen. You’re too fast. You’re a good runner. You’re a good friend too. I was just about to pulverize my adopted cousin.”
“I know,” said Karen. “Then you would have been sorry later, and I would have to listen to you moan and groan ’cause you weren’t nice to her and your mom and dad would be so disappointed. I just thought I’d save myself from having to listen to all that.”
Melanie grinned at her. “Yeah, right.”
Honeywell is right before Jackson in the alphabet so Melanie ended up sitting right in front of Samantha. All morning she heard Samantha’s snide comments and tried her best to ignore her.
Finally, just before lunch, they left the classroom and went to the sanctuary for Chapel.
“This has got to be the stupidest school I’ve ever been in,” said Samantha. She tucked a long lock of the silky blonde hair behind her ear and frowned at the students sitting on the first row pew.
“It’s only the first day,” said Melanie. “They’ll work the bugs out.”
Mrs. Cailey, the school secretary, had just told the students to be patient for a few more minutes. Pastor Lightfoot was on the phone and would be along as soon as he could to start the Bible class.
“I personally don’t think this school will last until Halloween,” said Samantha not bothering to lower her voice. Samantha watched Mrs. Cailey disappear through a door. “That old lady has a voice like a squeaky mouse.”
“Mrs. Cailey is very nice,” said Melanie.
“And,” Samantha said, ignoring Melanie, “glasses like the bottom of pop bottles.”
Karen sat on the other side of Samantha. She pushed her own thick glasses up on her nose and scowled at Melanie’s cousin. Melanie knew Karen had heard the ugly remark. Karen could be self-conscious about her glasses and the braces on her teeth.
Samantha sighed loudly and fidgeted with her skirt. All of her clothes were new. Melanie knew they were, because Samantha had arrived at Aunt Maggie’s and Uncle Mike’s with only one small suitcase.
“The school I went to in New York was called Avalon Heights.”
“I think you’ve told us that before,” said Karen.
“I never expected to be stuck in Small Town, America at Pokey Oaky Alley Valley Christian School.”
That surprised a chuckle out of Melanie. Pokey Oaky did sound funny and nobody, well none of the kids, liked the name of the school. There wasn’t a valley anywhere to be seen and there was an alley behind the church. Melanie turned the laugh into a cough. She didn’t want to laugh at anything Samantha said. If she could help it, Melanie would never back Samantha on anything.
“Well, well,” said Samantha under her breath. “Here comes Pastor Goodyshoes, at long last.”
“His name is Lightfoot,” hissed Melanie.
“Rightfoot, got it!”
Melanie scowled at her cousin. She heard Pastor Lightfoot’s soft “ahem”, and looked up. He was watching her oddly. She suddenly realized Samantha was sitting there with an angelic attentive look on her face while she had been caught glaring.
Melanie and Karen met for lunch outside under an elm tree.
“Did you see the way Samantha buttered up Mrs. Villegas? We aren’t even in class yet and Samantha’s telling Mrs. V. she can’t run because she has asthma.”
“Ugh,” Karen agreed. “What does she have to make such a big deal for? Running a mile is fun!”
Melanie looked at her friend and laughed. “I think you’re the only one I know who actually likes running the mile, Karen.”
“Well,…it’s fun to feel the wind against your face. It’s…it’s invigorating.”
Melanie laughed again. Karen jumped back to talking about Mel’s annoying cousin. “Samantha would be great in drama. Do you think the accent is real?”
“I know it’s not because I’ve heard her talking normal.”
“What’s with her, Mel? I’ve never met anyone I disliked so much!”
Karen suddenly giggled.
“What?” asked Melanie.
“You, my shy and quiet friend, got in trouble in Chapel. I’m the one who gets in trouble, never you.”
Melanie looked thoughtful.
“You know, Kare, I’m getting worried.”
“I really don’t like my adopted cousin. I’ve even hoped she’d mess up really bad so my aunt and uncle will just send her back from wherever she came.”
“I can understand that, Mel. Samantha is a real pain.”
“Yeah, but I feel bad because I don’t like the way she acts, and I’m beginning to not like the way I act.”
“You just don’t like her because she’s a phony,” said Karen.
“Well, Pastor Lightfoot looked at me with that awful frown in chapel, and I wanted to say, ‘Don’t look at me. It was Samantha’s fault. She’s the bad one.'”
“Then the Bible lesson is Genesis, and Adam says it was Eve’s fault, and Eve says it was the serpent’s fault. Mom says the preacher never makes the sermon for just one person, that everybody listening hears what God wants them to hear. I thought Pastor Lightfoot did that sermon just for me. But, it makes sense that he would start the school year in Genesis. I think Mom is right, and it was God talking to me about my attitude toward Samantha.”
Karen looked thoughtful. She opened her plastic bag and pulled out her sandwich.
“That means we have to be nicer,” she said after taking a couple of bites and waiting until she’d swallowed.
“Yeah,” agreed Melanie. “That’s what I thought, too.”