12 years old
Jamie knocked on Claire’s front door. Her mother answered with a curious look.
“Well, hullo, Jamie. What brings you over here?”
Jamie held up Claire’s books and a notebook. “I brought Claire’s homework from school. The teacher said she was home sick and asked if I wouldn’t mind dropping it by.”
“Ah. I see. Well, I’ll take it up to her. Thank you, dear.”
“Can...can I see her? I mean, if she feels up to it.”
“Well, you see...er…”
“Is she contagious then?”
Julia laughed nervously and palmed her cheek. “Oh, no, dear...nothing like that. She is just feeling a bit poorly is all. She will be back to her chipper self tomorrow. I suppose you could see her for a bit. Come on in. You know the way, of course. I’ll be in the kitchen seeing to supper.”
Jamie walked to Claire’s room and knocked softly.
“Come in,” he heard a small voice, which didn’t sound like Claire at all.
Jamie entered cautiously and saw Claire laying on her bed, curled up into a tight little ball, her face screwed up in a grimace that reminded him of the time that he ate a green apple and it curdled his wame for hours.
“Hey, Claire. Mrs. Campbell sent ye yer homework. She said ye’d gone home sick. Are ye alright?” He kneeled beside her bed and studied her face worriedly.
“Noooo...I’m not alright.” She whimpered and then to Jamie’s horror, she began to cry.
“Should I call yer Mam?” He started to stand up.
“No! She can’t do anything else to make it better for me.”
He sat back down, puzzled. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t tell you.”
He and Claire shared everything. They had no secrets. Like that time that he broke his mam’s vase and blamed it on Jenny. He told Claire about that. She told him about putting itching powder into Laoghaire’s gym shorts. So for her to say she couldn’t tell him something just didn’t ring true. They even told each other about “the health films'' they had to watch in school when they separated the boys from the girls.
“What do ye mean ye can’t tell me? We are best mates. We tell each other all our secrets.”
“I know. But I can’t tell you this.” She grimaced more and curled up even tighter, if that were possible.”
“But why?” And then something hit him. He gasped, “Claire! Are ye…,” and his voice lowered to a whisper, “are ye dyin’?” He crossed himself because, well, because it just seemed like the right thing to do when you asked someone about their imminent death.
“No, you numpty. I just can’t tell you, alright?”
“But why? I dinnae understand.”
She yelled, “BECAUSE YOU’RE A BOY!”
Jamie’s head reared back. He didn’t even know what to say about that and what in the world it had to do with being sick.
She threw a little pink heart-shaped pillow at him and turned over onto her other side.
His jaw dropped and was stunned into silence. She’d never treated him like this. Not even when she was mad at him when he ripped her favorite shirt during a particularly brutal game of shinty.
He heard her sniffle and then she whispered in a tear-filled voice, “I...I s-s-started.” She began crying in earnest then.
He frowned and then got up to circle around to the other side of the bed. He gingerly sat beside Claire on the bed and tentatively placed a hand on her arm. “Ye started what?”
“You know! Oh, Jamie, I don’t wanna grow up! I don’t wanna go through this every month. I don’t wanna hurt!”
He recalled what Claire had scandalously whispered to him about the changes a girl’s body goes through after their respective health films. His face heated and turned beet red.
He didn’t know what best to say to that.
Suddenly Claire sat up and launched at him, crying on his shoulder. He sat there immobile for a second and then wrapped his arms cautiously around her, patting her on her back like his Mam did to him when he had a nightmare as a bairn.
Claire wailed, “Mum says that I am a woman now and have to start acting like it. She said I should start playing with the girls now, rather than with the lads. She said I shouldn’t be rolling around on the ground at shinty with the boys anymore. She said I’m too old for that now!”
Jamie didn’t understand what she was saying. “Does that mean we can’t be best mates anymore?”
“Mum says I need to find more girl friends,” Claire said miserably.
They clung together longer in their misery.
Claire pulled away and wiped her face and snotty nose on her arm. “I don’t care what Mum says. Ye will always be my best mate.”
Jamie felt relieved to hear that. He nodded solemnly and said, “And ye’ll always be mine. Pinky swear?”
They wrapped pinkies together and squeezed. “Pinky swear.”