“Friends for the Asking,” Friend, Oct. 1988, 35
Once Trent had many friends. There was Martha, who raised hamsters. There was Tommy, the break dancer. And there was Bobby, who was always pulling surprises out of his pocket. Sometimes he had a rubber snake or a lollipop, and once he had a live lizard!
Now Trent had no friends at all. He and his mother had moved to a new city. The apartment house was full of people, but Trent didn’t know any of them.
“It won’t seem like a birthday party without friends,” Trent grumbled.
“Saturday is a long way off,” said Mother.
“But I haven’t any friends here.”
“Maybe you aren’t trying hard enough to make any.”
Coming home from school on the bus the next afternoon, Trent thought about what his mother had said. Have I tried hard enough? he wondered. What can I do? He began thinking of some familiar faces. There was the old lady who sat with her cat at the window of her apartment on the ground floor. There was the red-headed girl he’d seen on the elevator.
Trent looked around the bus. Wasn’t the boy sitting on the front seat the one he’d seen walking a dog the other day? And the boy sitting across the aisle from him got off at the same bus stop that he did. Trent mustered up his courage, crossed the aisle, sat next to him, and said, “Hi, I’m Trent Collins. What’s your name?”
“Jeremy Brown. You’re new at school, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Trent. “Here’s our stop.”
They stepped off the bus. Trent pointed to the right. “I live in the next-to-last building on the block.”
“I live around the corner on the top floor of that tall building,” Jeremy said, pointing to it. “We can see the whole city from our windows. If you’d like to come home with me, I’ll show you!”
“I’ll have to call and tell my mother. May I phone from your house?”
“Sure,” said Jeremy.
Trent called his mother, and Mrs. Brown spoke to her, too, saying that she was glad that Trent could stay.
When Jeremy showed him the view from the window, Trent exclaimed, “Wow! You can see the whole city. How tiny everything looks!”
“Use these,” Jeremy said, handing Trent a pair of binoculars. The rest of the afternoon the boys watched the busy city.
When Trent left, he invited Jeremy to come to his home on Saturday at three o’clock. Then, on his way home, Trent saw the boy with the dog. Maybe I should say, “Hi” first to him, too, Trent thought. So he walked toward the boy.
The boy turned his head and quickly walked away.
He’s pretending he didn’t see me, thought Trent. I wonder why.
On the elevator at the apartment house, Trent saw the redheaded girl. She was carefully carrying a white carton with wire handles.
“You must have something special in that carton,” Trent said.
“Fish,” said the girl, not looking up.
Trent’s mother was cooking supper when he went into the kitchen. “Did you have a good time at Jeremy’s house?” Mother asked.
“Yes, he’s my first new friend,” Trent replied. “But the boy with the dog and the girl in the elevator weren’t friendly, even though I was.”
“Maybe they’re just shy,” said Mother.
“I never thought of that,” Trent said. “May I make butterscotch pudding for dessert?”
“If you’ll go to the store for a carton of milk.”
The wind whistled down the street as Trent walked to the store. Walking toward him was the boy with the dog. The wind ruffled the pages of the newspaper the boy carried under his arm. Suddenly the wind tore the paper loose. It flew through the air, flattened against the wall of a building, then took off again. It swooped down and flapped against Trent’s legs. He caught it and quickly rolled it up and handed it to the boy. “Here’s your paper.”
“I’m Trent Collins. I just moved here a couple of weeks ago.”
“Hi. I’m Jimmy Boyd.”
“What’s your dog’s name?”
“I like dogs,” Trent said, “but they aren’t allowed in my apartment building. May I play with Skipper sometime?”
“Sure. I’m taking him to the park tomorrow after school. Do you want to come?”
“That sounds great,” Trent replied.
After school the next day Trent met Jimmy and Skipper, and they went to the park. They raced with Skipper and threw sticks for him to fetch. Then they played ball.
On the way home Jimmy said, “You’re a good ballplayer, Trent. We’ll have to do this again.”
“That would be fun,” said Trent. “Would you come to my house on Saturday at three o’clock?”
Jimmy said, “Sure,” and they said good-bye.
As Trent neared his home, he saw the old lady hobbling from the apartment, leaning on her cane. “Here, Kitty, Kitty,” she called.
“I’ll find your cat for you,” Trent said.
“Oh, would you?”
The cat’s probably raiding the garbage, Trent thought, hurrying toward the alley. He found the cat sitting on top of a garbage can, licking its paws. Trent picked it up and took it to the old lady.
“You must come and have some milk and cookies,” said the old lady. “I’ll get it ready while you check with your mother. Tell her Mrs. Grable invited you.”
Sitting at the table, Trent and Mrs. Grable got acquainted. “These cookies are really good,” said Trent.
“They taste better when you’re eating them with someone,” replied Mrs. Grable. “You’ll have to visit me again.”
Trent promised that he would and invited her to his house on Saturday at three o’clock.
Stepping into the hallway, Trent met the redhead again. “Did the fish taste good?” Trent asked.
The girl laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally she said, “They weren’t for eating. They’re my pets. I have an aquarium with lots of tropical fish. C’mon, I’ll show them to you. I’m Cindy.”
Trent told her his name, and she introduced him to her dad when they got to her apartment on the eighth floor.
“I didn’t know that there were so many interesting-looking fish,” Trent said. “What kind of fish are they?”
One by one Cindy pointed out the fish. “That’s a swordtail, a molly, a harlequin, a zebra, an angelfish.”
Before long, Trent could identify most of Cindy’s fish. When he left, he said, “Now it’s your turn to visit. See if you can come to my apartment on Saturday at three.”
“OK,” agreed Cindy.
At last Saturday came. Trent waited eagerly for the sound of their buzzer. “Surprise!” he said, greeting each guest and handing out party hats.
Jimmy and Cindy and Jeremy and Mrs. Grable were astonished. “We didn’t know that it was your birthday,” they all said. “We didn’t bring any presents.”
“Yes, you did,” said Trent. “You brought yourselves, the best presents of all. A few days ago I didn’t have any friends, and now I have you!”