The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 6: Friends Forever

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Previously in The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, Sydnee’s mother invited Abby Stewart and her parents to a birthday dinner for Sydnee that ended up being an attempt to introduce Abby’s mom, artist Lara Grace, to Mother’s rich friends. (Episode 4: The Success and Failures of Friends)

Episode 6: Friends Forever

I picked up a box off the kitchen floor and carried it outside to the open trailer. Eight boxes were already stacked inside. I set mine down on the trailer floor.

I hated loading this trailer. Filling it up was helping my cousins leave, but I wanted them to stay forever.

“I can’t believe Dad’s not letting me go too.” Chris Clayton, my best friend and boyfriend, brushed past me to add another box to the collection. “He was going to let Joseph’s girlfriend go, but not me?”

“Lilli’s not going.” I followed Chris out of the trailer. Lilli James’s parents hadn’t liked the idea of her traveling to Kansas either, but probably not for the same reasons as Chris.

“But Abby is. Why her and not me?” Chris jerked open the kitchen screen door and would’ve let it slam shut on me, but I caught it.

“I don’t even know why Abby wants to go. She’s barely talked to me in the last month.” I stood beside the last box in the kitchen, Chris standing across from me. Neither of us moved to help my cousins get closer to moving. “She hasn’t asked me a single question about what clothes to pack or anything.”

“And you wish she would?” Chris’s eyebrows pinched together, and he looked at me like I was a stranger—or just strange—and not like he’d known me since I was eight.

“Not exactly.” I never knew what to tell Abby when she asked me things like what she should wear. Whatever answer I gave was almost always wrong. “It’s just weird that she hasn’t.”

“Maybe she’s figured out that you’re useless when it comes to clothes.”

“Maybe.” But I didn’t believe that, and Chris didn’t sound like he did either. For two years I’d exasperated Abby with my lack of interest in clothes or hairstyles or anything girly, and Abby had annoyed me with her interest in all those things. But I let Abby paint my toenails, I told her everything I knew about Dean Larkin—her crush and Chris’s other best friend—and somehow, we’d worked as best friends.

Then my mother, in her never-ending quest to make my life miserable, destroyed everything by using my birthday as an excuse to introduce Abby’s mom, a famous artist, to all Mother’s friends.

“Abby knows that wasn’t your fault.” Chris’s voice turned gentle, his anger at David, his dad, forgotten for a moment. “She probably just figured out you weren’t the best choice to talk to about that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah, probably.” I forced a smile so I’d sound like I agreed. But something else was going on with Abby.

“Are you going to take that to the trailer?” David nodded at the box between us and carried yet another through the kitchen. This one was labeled “computer” with a whole bunch of other words that meant something to my cousin Derrick, but the only computer words I understood were keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

“I got it.” Chris picked it up.

I moved to the door, but froze with my hand on the latch.

“Waiting for something?” David asked.

“If I don’t open—”

“They still have to leave.” David didn’t sound happy about it either, but unless we kidnapped Joseph and Derrick and ran away to a foreign country, my cousins had to leave.

I had a good passport. Did Joseph and Derrick?

I held open the door for David and Chris, and then they loaded the trailer.

“And that’s everything.” David stepped out of the half-full trailer.

I stared inside. “It’s more than the eight boxes they started with.”

“It is that.” David slipped his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me into his side. “But the important stuff can’t be packed.”

Like people. If running away to a foreign country didn’t work, maybe I could hide Joseph and Derrick in a box.

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The scenery outside the windows blurred in a never-ending fields of corn and soybeans. We’d been on the road for an hour. A very quiet hour. But now the clock read 9:00. Everyone should be awake.

I glanced around the van. From the farthest back seat, I could see everything. Derrick slumped against the passenger door in the front. He might not be awake yet. Joseph sat on the left side of the middle row, staring into space and glancing at his phone every few minutes.

Abby sat on the opposite end of the back row, next to me.

“Do you want to play a car game?” I’d lost interest in the scenery fifty fields ago.

Joseph and Abby looked at me.

“We could play that alphabet game? You know, where you try to find all the letters of the alphabet on license plates or billboards?”

They continued to stare. No expression. Maybe they’d both fallen back asleep with their eyes open.

“Or we could each pick a color, and for every car you see in your color, you get a point.”

Joseph’s phone buzzed.

“Is it Lilli?” Abby pressed against the back of Joseph’s seat, peeking over his shoulder.

“Or we could take the letters and numbers on the license plates and make up a meaning for them.”

Joseph glanced at me. “Maybe later.”

At least I knew someone heard me.

Abby tapped on her phone. Not asking me about what to pack or what we were going to do on the trip I could make excuses for, like she’d finally figured out I had no answers for those kinds of questions. But now, she was flat out ignoring me. Why’d she even come on this trip if she didn’t want to talk to me?

My phone vibrated, and I looked at the screen. David was texting me? But he was driving.

Then I read the message. Did you google car games?

I checked out the front seats. Derrick held a phone. Had to be David’s, since Derrick still didn’t own one.

My phone vibrated again. You totally did.

I scowled at the front of the car. So what if I had googled car games? I was just trying to do this road trip thing right.

Next to me, Abby leaned against the back of Joseph’s seat, telling him about something Lilli had said.

Obviously, I was doing this road trip thing wrong.

Stop trying so hard, Derrick texted, like he’d read my mind. Maybe he had. Derrick watched everything and figured out what people really wanted or didn’t want better than anyone else I knew. And definitely better than me.

She’s mad, isn’t she? I asked Derrick what I’d asked Chris, but more direct, because Derrick would give a more direct answer. He wouldn’t worry about my feelings.

Yes.

All the air seemed to leave my lungs, and my chest tightened. No regard for my feelings.

What do I do?

I waited for an answer from Derrick. Nothing. I glanced at the front of the car. He stared at the road. He probably wasn’t going to answer. He probably wondered why he’d started the conversation.

I leaned against the window. I’d count houses instead. One . . . Two . . . Three . . .

Forty-seven houses later, we stopped for lunch. Abby chattered to Joseph all the way through the glass doors. I fell into step next to Derrick.

“Am I supposed to say I’m sorry again?” I asked him, lowering my voice in case Abby could hear me over herself.

“I’m better at revenge than peace.” Derrick crossed his arms and looked at the menu like he needed to read it. He remembered everything he ever read, and this fast food restaurant was exactly like the one back home and every other one in America with its name.

“Just do the opposite. Instead of what would hurt, what would make her forgive me?”

Derrick turned his dark eyes on me, like I’d asked him to betray his religion. But since he’d become a Christian three months ago, I was really asking him to embrace his religion.

“You did it with Jax.” I reminded Derrick of how he’d gone with me to talk to Jax Braddock. Jax hadn’t talked to me all summer, but when he got into big trouble—police and lawyer trouble—I’d gone to Jax’s house so he couldn’t avoid me. I’d taken Derrick too, and Jax had listened to Derrick, based on the letter I’d gotten from Jax two days ago. The letter hadn’t been much more than, this school sucks, but Jax was talking to me again. If Derrick could fix that friendship, mine and Abby’s should be easy.

“Totally different.” Derrick stepped up to the register and placed his order.

I placed mine, filled my soda cup, and then I looked around for seats. Abby and Joseph were already seated. At a two-person booth.

Maybe I should give up.

I thudded onto a chair on the opposite side of the restaurant.

“Confront her.” Derrick slid in across from me. “You’ve tried moving on. She’s not.”

“But why’d she come with us if she doesn’t want to talk to me or hang out with me?”

Before Derrick could answer, David walked up carrying two trays of paper-wrapped burgers and cartons of fries. “So no one saved a seat for me?”

“You can pull up a chair.” I scooted close to the wall.

“That’s okay.” David lowered the trays so we could take our food. “After being in that tiny minivan for four hours with all of you, I want my own space too.” His smile said he wasn’t serious, and he walked away.

“So why’d Abby come?” I repeated my question for Derrick and unwrapped my burger.

“To hang out with Joseph. Not you.” Derrick shoved a couple of fries into his mouth, but his words had no bite. They stung a little, but he wasn’t trying to hurt me. “Either ask her why, or cut your losses and find a new friend.”

“Find a new friend? I’m no good at making friends. I can’t afford to lose one.”

“You have lots of friends.”

“I do not. I have Chris and Jax.” I wiggled two fingers in the air.

“Dean, Reilly, Liam.”

“They’re the guys I play basketball with.” Which I guess made them friends. I held up another three fingers.

“Joseph, me.”

“You?” My hand dropped to the table. “We’re friends?”

“We’re talking, aren’t we? And about your problems. That either makes me your friend or your shrink.”

“So we’re finally friends.” I tried to hide my giddy smile with chewing. “And now you’re leaving. You, Joseph, Jax. I really can’t lose another friend, even if the list is longer than I thought.” I looked across the room at Abby and back at Derrick. “Thanks.”

***

Confront Abby. A simple suggestion that felt impossible. No way was I confronting her in the van in front of Joseph and everyone else. So I spent the second half of the drive to Leavenworth, Kansas, writing a letter to Jax.

When we arrived in Leavenworth, we drove straight to Joseph and Derrick’s new home where there was already too much tension.

“How’d you get so much junk?” My uncle Ian, Joseph and Derrick’s dad, stared into the open trailer. “Don’t know how all this will fit into the room. It’s not like I can afford a mansion.”

Ian’s voice grated across my skin. If it affected me that strongly, Joseph and Derrick probably felt it ten-times more. Derrick had already shifted from being the guy at lunch who said we were friends. His shoulders had stiffened and his eyes had turned stony. Joseph stood a half step behind his brother, like he had last summer when I met him.

And what was that mansion comment about? The Claytons’ house wasn’t anything close to a mansion. Maybe it was a little bigger than the single-level house in front of us, but not a mansion.

“We’ll figure it out.” David sounded light as if Ian didn’t bother him at all, but he stood next to Joseph and Derrick, looking big and bodyguardish, like he’d step in front of Joseph or Derrick if anyone fired a shot. “Could we get a tour?”

“I guess. Shouldn’t take more than a minute.” Ian headed for the front door, not waiting to see if we followed.

We entered the living room, which opened to the dining and kitchen. A set of stairs between the living room and kitchen led to a basement.

Gretchen, Joseph and Derrick’s mom, looked up from slicing tomatoes for the burgers we’d been promised. Her eyes widened and her mouth parted, but no words came out. The knife thudded against the cutting board. “You’ve . . . you’ve gotten taller.”

“Hi, Mom.” Joseph attempted a smile. He’d taken out all his piercings and stopped dying his hair before his parents returned to Germany last year, but maybe his mom had forgotten. Or maybe she hadn’t gotten a chance to get used to his new look.

An awkward silence filled the kitchen, thick enough that Gretchen’s knife couldn’t have cut through it. After a year apart, shouldn’t there be hugs and I-missed-yous? But how would I know? This was a warmer reunion than I ever had with Mother.

“Are you going to start grilling soon?” Gretchen asked Ian. “Everything else is almost ready.”

“Let me show them the boys’ room. Then I’ll put the burgers on.” Ian waved us down a narrow hall and opened a door.

All six of us walked into the bedroom. A close-and-personal moment. The bunk beds against one wall, two chests against the opposite. A stack of unpacked boxes in a corner. No one had made the beds. The mattresses sat bare on the bunks.

“Looks like you’ll need a desk,” David said.

“Where you gonna put it?” Ian pivoted in a circle. “Room’s full.”

“We can shift things around a little.” David’s optimism was too big for the tiny room. But a desk was essential for Derrick. He had computers. And his computers had computers, if that made any sense. Which it probably didn’t. “Mind if I take the boys tomorrow to find a desk?”

“Whatever you want to do. Good luck.” Ian squeezed past us and into the hall.

“If we move this chest over here, against that wall, I think there will be plenty of room for desk.” David pointed out his directions. “Want to help me, Joseph?”

Abby and I backed into the hall, out of the way. David and Joseph moved the chest. Abby took pictures with her phone.

Then we returned to the trailer and unloaded the boxes, which took over the space cleared for the desk. And the space for any person to live. I hoped neither of my cousins were claustrophobic.

“After dinner, we’ll get some of these boxes unpacked.” David kept his optimistic and light tone, but his shoulders looked tired.

“Maybe we can fit everything into one chest,” Joseph suggested. “Then there’d definitely be room for the desk and computers.”

“Whatever.” Derrick sounded like he didn’t care. Like it didn’t matter to him at all if he had a desk or his computers. I’d heard him use that tone a million times, but for the first time, I realized it was the sound of hopelessness, not carelessness.

“Why don’t you ask your parents if you can put the computers somewhere else?” Abby glanced down the hall. “Like maybe in the basement.”

“No.” Derrick’s answer came sharp, and he shoved past her, away from us and the too-small room.

“They have to go in here.” Joseph spoke with certainty, and I think at that moment he’d rather send all his boxes back with us to make room for the computers.

“We’ll work on that after we eat.” David herded us out of the room.

Dinner was stiff and awkward. Joseph and Derrick’s older sister, Ashlee, joined us. She was a female version of Derrick, with piercings and black-and-blonde streaked hair, and she was as friendly as her youngest brother had been last summer.

Gretchen and David asked Derrick and Joseph questions about what they’d been doing over the last year. Derrick gave short answers when he had to. Joseph talked the most, even though he was normally the quietest.

The meal was so painful, that no one went for seconds.

Abby and I helped Gretchen clean up in the kitchen because there wasn’t enough room for us to help with the unpacking. But the kitchen didn’t take very long, and Gretchen disappeared into her bedroom. Ashlee had disappeared after supper. So had Ian. Now was the perfect opportunity to confront Abby. Right in the middle of someone else’s kitchen.

My heart wedged itself in my throat, but I forced the words out around it. “Why did you want to come this weekend if you’re mad at me?”

Abby’s green eyes widened. She stepped backward, bumping into the counter, but she raised her chin and squared her shoulders. “I came because Lilli couldn’t.”

“What does that mean?”

“Someone had to see where Joseph’s living.”

I’m seeing it. Why did you have to come too?” Not that I didn’t want Abby here, but I couldn’t understand why she accepted my invitation if she wasn’t speaking to me.

“Because you don’t see the right things. You won’t look to see if he has neighbors who are girls or what the girls look like at church. All you’ll see is who plays basketball.”

She might be right. I’d counted six basketball goals on the street, but I hadn’t noticed any girls or other people. “Why does that matter?”

“Exactly.” Abby sounded like I’d proved her point, but what point? She shook her head and moved to leave the kitchen.

“Fine.” I blocked her exit. “But that doesn’t explain why you’re not speaking to me. Are you still mad because of what my mother did? I didn’t know she was planning a party for your mom. I thought she was planning a party for me.”

“Right. Like you had nothing to do with that.” Abby crossed her arms, her voice as fiery as her hair. “You hate sleepovers. You’ve never invited me to one that I haven’t invited myself to. So you expect me to believe that you wanted to invite me?”

“Yes.” That was only a half-truth. “But inviting you was my mother’s idea.”

“And that didn’t sound suspicious to you?”

“No.” That was the whole truth. “It should’ve, I know, but I thought that for once, I had a friend, a real friend that I’d made on my own, who my mother approved of.”

“Why are we even friends, Sydnee?”

“I don’t know.” I’d been asking that question for two years—ever since I’d met Abby. “We have nothing in common. I’ll never know when I’m supposed to wear a dress, and I’ll never like wearing one. I’ll never want my nails painted. I’ll never want to talk about boys beyond sports. So I don’t know why we’re friends, but I know I need you to be my friend. You’re my only friend who will never want to be more than friends.”

Abby gave me a strange look and kind of laughed. But I was being serious.

“You’re the only person I know who will paint a ‘C’ on my nails during baseball season and ‘OKC’ during basketball season. You’re my only option for a roommate at camp. And sometimes even I get tired of boys and basketball.”

“Really?” Abby didn’t look like she believed me.

“Really, I do.” I didn’t say how often, but it happened. “And if I’d known my mother was using me to introduce her friends to your mom, I would’ve said something or tried to get out of it. I promise.”

Abby stared at me, silent for a few minutes. Finally she nodded. “I know.”

“Thank you.” I moved so I wasn’t blocking her exit anymore. “So are we friends again?”

“Yeah, we’re friends.” Abby smiled in a way that said she really meant it.

“You girls ready to go to the hotel?” David walked in from the hall, hugging a stack of flattened boxes.

“Just a second.” I darted down the hall.

Derrick and Joseph sat on the floor, leaning against the bottom bunk like they hadn’t had the energy to sit on their beds. The room was less crowded now. A little less crowded.

“I took your advice.” I stood over my cousins.

Joseph and Derrick’s heads swiveled to look up at me.

“Thanks,” I added.

Derrick’s features softened for the first time since we’d parked in front of this house. “You’re welcome.”

I turned to leave, but spun back around, dropped to my knees between Derrick and Joseph, and wrapped my arms around their necks. “I’m going to miss you.”

If their parents weren’t going to give the hugs and I-missed-yous, then I would, because that’s what should’ve happened tonight.

They patted my back. Awkward pats that didn’t match each other in rhythm.

“Even if you live here now, we’re still friends, okay?” I rocked back on my heels and poked my index fingers into each of their shoulders.

“Yeah. Okay.” They spoke together and wore almost identical weak smiles.

I stood and left the room and the house, leaving behind my cousins. Not for the last time—we still had another two days before going home—but it felt so final. I didn’t want to leave behind or lose any of my friends, not Abby or Derrick or Joseph or any of my basketball-playing friends. But the choice wasn’t mine. Or theirs. I’d saved one friendship tonight, and I wouldn’t let distance or anyone’s parents destroy any others.

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