Friends 4 Ever!

character sketches for
Building the Potato Palace
by Ann Maria Bell


I pulled the yearbook out from under a stack of old notebooks and started flipping through it from the back, that way I wouldn't have to look at my picture until the end. It opened to the second to last page, the page with Megan's picture. Her neat looping handwriting filled the whole margin. "Friends 4 Ever!" it said at the bottom. Or until you find new ones in a couple of months. I turned the page.

Julie Renatti. "Julie the Fattee" people called her behind her back (but loud enough to for her to hear). She didn't look all that fat in the picture, and she definitely lost weight over the summer, but everyone still called her "Julie the Fattee." She had written "I hope you have a really good summer and it'll be great to see you again when you get back next fall!" and signed her name with a heart over the "i." I hadn't wanted her to sign my yearbook at all but she asked me to sign hers and I pretty much had no choice. At least she had small handwriting.

Michael Sanborn. I remembered how surprised I was when he came up to me on the last day of school.

"Will you sign my yearbook?"

I nodded and we exchanged books. I chewed on the end of my purple pen. I didn't know what to write in a boy's yearbook.

"Thanks," he said when I handed it back. "Have a nice summer, Michael," was all he had written. What had I written in his? I couldn't remember. He didn't asked Megan to sign his yearbook, I remembered that.

I turned the page. There was Vicki, at the bottom. "Stay cool this summer! See you next year!" it said under her picture, what you write when you know someone just well enough to sign their yearbook. I examined her picture for clues, for some sign of future treachery. Her nose was kind of big, if you looked at it carefully, and the closed lip smile hiding her braces was unconvincing. I was as pretty as her, at least when I wasn't trying to grow my hair out of or into some catastrophic haircut.

But the black and white portrait didn't show how she tilted her head down slightly and glared at you with her pale blue eyes. Or the advanced development of her breasts --- even if breasts decided to put in an appearance on my chest at some point in the future I would never match Vicki there. Was Megan going to write "Friends 4 Ever!" in Vicki's book this year? I turned the page.

I flipped through the rows of smiling frozen-faced students, their hair combed and every zit carefully airbrushed out of existence, the occasional "Good luck!" or "U R 2 good 2 B 4-gotten" written in sloppy ink next to their faces, until I got to Susan DeMent.

Me. Megan and I spent hours picking which picture to use for the yearbook, endlessly comparing the smile in this one versus the perfect flip of hair in that one. It wasn't a bad picture after all, I must have gotten lucky the day it was taken.

There was nothing written next to it because of course I didn't sign my own yearbook. But if I could send a message back to myself at the end of last year I'd write something like "Good luck next year! You'll need it!" or "Have an ultra-boring summer! Just don't expect to have any friends left when you get back to town." My smiling seventh-grade self frozen on the black and white yearbook page had no idea what was coming.