Molly is a 16 year old Sophomore at Clintonville High School and not that popular in any particular group. She has had a happy family upbringing but feels insecure about having no close girlfriends.
Her classmates Stephanie, Rachel, Susan and Monique have been best friends since elementary. They regularly go to movies, roller skate and shopping. Molly isn’t included in these outings other than hearing about them as they giggle in class or post on social media with the photos of their fun together.
It’s Monique’s birthday and she wants to go on a trip to an amusement park to ride all of the most fun rides. Her mother insists she bring Stella, her 16 year old cousin that she doesn’t know very well having only hung out at a few holiday gatherings and funerals.
The birthday plan is to split the cost for the gas, share bringing a picnic lunch and the park entrance with Monique not paying a dime. Monique realizes they’ll be “off” for partners for most rides and she doesn’t want to pawn Stella off onto her best friends nor does she want to hang with her – but she doesn’t want to seem selfish.
A plan is hatched and Rachel invites Molly (even offering to pay for it) to join in.
Molly feels a special warm friendship-feeling at being included.
Rachel paying for it is also a nice gesture since Molly couldn’t possibly afford it.
She races home to tell her mom in excitement completely forgetting she is scheduled to work that whole weekend for her parent’s small business Painfully her mother reminded her.
She didn’t want to be seem ungrateful to Rachel by declining after she’d already accepted. Rachel convinced her to accept this gift telling her how important she was to their group over the years having been so supportive of their community and church events. “It’s the least I can do, you really have been a good friend.”
“I’ll get myself replaced Mom. You won’t be sorry. I swear.” Her mother smiled warmly back enjoying her happiness.
For the next three weekends she hunted for the perfect person to cover her responsibilities and offered even more than her normal pay to do it. She kept up-to-date on the texts flying back and forth coordinating the picnic potluck and offered to bring two things she would carefully make by hand. She saw Stephanie, Rachel, Susan and Monique at school and joined them chattering happily as one of the group.
This was going to be one of the greatest days of her entire life! She dreamed about the fun as she decided what buy Monique for her birthday. It needed to be something very special and worthy of their brand new friendship level.
Finally! The day was here and she woke up early to get to the meeting place with her baked goods and cooler. Butterflies swirled in her stomach as her ride pulled up with Rachel driving, Monique in the passenger seat, Susan and Stephanie in the backseat and Stella crammed in the “way back” seat.
The music was blasting despite it being 8:00am and Molly glanced around to see if anyone was being disturbed. Only an old lady sitting at the bus stop and a jogger were within 10 feet. She signed with relief as the red Ford Explorer screeched to a stop.
One door flew open and Stephanie got out to give Molly space to load herself into the way-back with Stella. “I’ve got my cooler with extra space and goodies I baked.” she mentioned to Stephanie. “UNLOCK THE BACK so I can put her stuff there!” Stephanie screamed over the music to Rachel.
Molly was instructed to bring a backpack with a jacket in case it got cold, water bottle, sun screen, shirt change in case she got wet on the water rides and hair ties. She wore a light jacket and baseball cap to avoid sunglasses and that’s when she noticed the matching sunglasses and bright yellow shirts on everyone but Stella…and her.
She started to feel uncomfortable but didn’t want to take away from the party atmosphere so she feigned a smile and laugh as she shoved her cooler and treats in the back of the SUV.
Off they went screeching out of the parking lot to the freeway. Music even louder and the girls singing along wildly. She reminded herself: this would be the best day of her life!
Stella tried to start small talk politely asking how she knew the four girls, her favorite band and how old she was. Molly could tell Stella was a little “off” and ill at ease.
For an hour she sat watching the conversations and backs of the four girls in front never once turning to include her in any of it, Stella as well.
They arrived to the giant parking lot where a sign indicated $20 for parking in the furthest lot and $40 for the closest. “You cover parking Molly.” Stephanie turned and said. This was a shock because she’d only brought $50 total to cover any food or expenses inside the park. “OK.” Molly replied.
Rachel was watching the conversation in the rear view mirror and upon hearing Molly’s reply she quickly maneuvered the SUV into the $40 lot line and glanced back to see the shocked expression that couldn’t be stopped. Rachel smiled to herself.
Tickets had already been purchased in advance and Rachel passed them out as they walked toward the park entrance.
Immediately the six girls broke into pairs, Molly and Stella were officially coupled up.
Monique rushed into the park excitedly pointing to the latest roller coaster attraction and begging that they ride that first. They needed to get a locker for their backpacks. Susan jumped toward Rachael, Monique and Stephanie grabbing theirs and shoving them into Molly’s arms. “Would you be a doll and grab us a locker then catch up with us?”
The five left her standing there like a backpack tree and jetted toward the coaster pointing at signs and screaming then laughing.
Molly hoisted the packs into a better position to walk then found the large locker area. $3.00 for all-day. That left her $8.00 for anything else that may come up.
She hurried to stuff everything in, paid and then ran top speed to find her friends.
They’d made it into the line which had slowly begun to move. Molly had to ask to cut apologizing profusely to each person she passed feeling their glares and irritation.
It wasn’t even 9:30am and already she was forming a stomach ache from the stress.
Now it was their time to board. The line had taken 50 minutes of waiting and during it the four girls chatted together, backs to Stella and Molly. The knot was tightening in her stomach as the Attendance directed them to the seat lines. Stephanie and Susan in 1, Monique and Rachel in 2, Stella and Molly in 7. “Can we go to 3 please?” Molly asked. “Sure, but you won’t ride with your friends in the same coaster.” She went to 7.
She could see, again, the backs of their heads and hear the screams and laughter as they prepared the coaster to take off. Up, up, up it climbed at about the same speed the knot grew larger in her belly. She felt like throwing up and cupped one hand over her mouth and closed her eyes hanging on tightly with the other. Shrieks and screams, knocked left and right and corkscrewed racing across the rails she could not wait for this ride to be over.
It stopped with a jerk and the overhead bar lifted.
Stella had a big smile on her face and began shouting her replay of the prior 45 seconds while they walked toward the bright EXIT sign.
Rachel, Monique, Susan and Stephanie were ten people ahead of them deciding what ride would be next. Monique would be deciding the path today, it was her 17th birthday after all!
Molly pulled it together to avoid being a wet rag. She felt awful and excluded. She wanted to go home but she was trapped in this situation with Stella permanently on her hip.
Stella began unloading her fears next. Heights, water crossings, ants, hair spray. Molly’s job went from backpack clerk to baby sitter and therapist for Stella.
The day dragged on until Monique declared she was hungry.
Rather than go out to the car to bring the picnic in she chose to eat at the Food Court provided. They moved like a small swarm of bees bouncing from flower to flower collecting pollen between their options. Pizza, Chinese, BBQ, Mexican, Thai and Hot Dogs. Molly found the cheapest possible item, a grilled cheese sandy, and water. $5.99 and thankfully no tax.
Monique chose BBQ, the most expensive option there. Her meal came out to $10.99 with a drink. Rachel turned to everyone with her hand out to collect the split. “Just give me $2.00, I’ll cover the rest.”
That left Molly with one penny. She decided to look on the bright side, that penny was a lesson for her. She would save it to remember.
After lunch the sextet snaked around the park waiting in lines, laughing and giggling and riding. Over and over and over. Off and on the pairings would change with Monique sitting with each of her friends. Never once including Stella or Molly.
When no one had anymore energy they agreed it was time to go home. The foursome had been soaked and their matching yellow shirts were drooping. The sun was going down and the chill picked up.
Gathering their backpacks together they headed toward the EXIT – NO RETURN turnstile.
Molly was also soaked on the water rides. Thankfully her backpack had that dry shirt and jacket. She started to dash to the restroom to quickly change and Rachel called her back. “Monique is freezing Molly. You should give her your jacket.” she lifted it out of her arm and handed it over to Monique. “Thanks, Rach.” Monique said to Rachael while staring at Molly.
It felt like this day was never going to end.
In the restroom while changing her shirt Molly began to cry. She realized she was hoodwinked. She realized her feelings of friendship were a facade. She realized she was being used. She was a tool.
It took all of 60 seconds to change, dry her eyes and pin her hair back then head back to the group. Once they saw her walking toward them they all turned toward the turnstile again and passed through hurrying into the parking lot, not waiting for her to catch up.
“Just suck it up, it’s almost over.” she said to herself and thought of all she’d sacrificed for today. It hurt deeply.
They piled back into the SUV, Stella and Molly shoved into the back again. Their place in the food chain had been established before they event took off for the day.
It was now dark as they pulled into town. No one was really talking much due to pure exhaustion. Monique kept conversation with Rachel to make sure she stayed awake and alert. Everyone else leaned back and had nodded off.
“Molly, we’re here.” someone said.
They were stopped in the parking lot where they’d picked her up. Her cooler was already out of the back next to the curb with her two baked goods, untouched.
“Would you be able to drop me at my house instead?” she asked. Stella mentioned earlier that everyone had been picked up from their houses on the way out. This wasn’t offered to Molly.
“I’m already going to be super late. Can’t you just get a ride or something?” Monique called out leaning toward the window. The dome light barely lit her expression, but she sounded cranky and irritated.
The door shut before she had replied and off they sped – red tail lights getting smaller and smaller. She heard the music turned up as the SUV hit the curb making the turn, then gut wrenching laughter.
The pay phone next to the bus stop looked like it had been through a war. Molly had one penny to her name, the call would have to be Collect.
She picked up the receiver and held her breath.
The booth wreaked of urine smell. No dial tone. She clicked the metal hook a few times hoping to get a dial tone and then the Operator. No dice. Out of habit she stuck her finger in the coin return slot and felt two cold coins. Her mind rejected the concept that she’d had a stroke of good luck while her fingers pulled the coins out and they glistened. Two Susan B Anthony dollar coins! Instantly her spirits lifted and she turned to share her happiness with anyone, even a stranger. Sadly, the library had close hours before, no one was around.
Clicking the hook and listening again for a dial tone she contemplated putting the dollar coin into the money slot and changed her mind to keep the money and walk home.
After stowing her coins in her front jean pocket, she packed her baked goods and backpack inside the cooler then heaved it on top of her head. The handles hung perfectly and it wasn’t that heavy.
Her parents were snuggled on the couch watching a movie when she got home.
She left the cooler on the porch with her treats and greeted them cheerily, pushing the deep heartache she felt even deeper. “How was it!?” her mom asked excitedly. “It was real fun mom. I’m exhausted so I’m going to shower and go to bed ok?” “Sure honey, give me a kiss before you head up.”
Her parents were perfect. They loved each other equally, they loved her more. As she bent over she saw the two wine glasses and tray of chocolate, cheese and crackers half eaten. “How romantic”, she thought to herself.
“Can I steal a few munchies?”
“Help yourself, Honey”
She grabbed two handfuls then kissed them both on the forehead.
“I still have money left over after all of it!” she said proudly remembering her three coins and the luck she’d had.
“Sweetie, you are amazing. I’d have spent every penny!” her dad laughed.
School was a relief and a break from work for Molly.
Sunday had been a day of reflection while she worked. She felt a little scared about seeing any of the girls from Monique’s party and how they would treat her.
Monique caught her at her locker handing her the coat she’d borrowed. “Thanks a lot for letting me use your jacket at the park Molly.”
Feeling a rush of relief, she replied nervously, “Sure. Thanks for including me. It was a fun day.”
“What did you think of my cousin Stella? Is she ‘imbalanced’ or what!?”
“I don’t know, she was nice. Very talkative for sure.”
“She’s got so many fears and has panic attacks. I wasn’t sure how she would handle all of the rides.”
“You knew this and still invited her?”
“My mom made me.”
“Oh. Before I forget, I didn’t give you your birthday gift. I hope you like it.”
“Oh, ok cool. Thanks.” taking the small slim white box with a pink ribbon on it. “Can I open it later?”
“Ya, sure, ok. I gotta get to class.”
They went their separate ways hurried.
Molly felt humiliated.
That night her phone buzzed with a text from Monique. She’d been waiting to hear from her hoping her gift had made a good impression and MAYBE convincing her to allow her into her circle of best friends.
It was a mistake.
A mortifying gut wrenching mistake.
As her heart stopped beating she stared at the text. The screen held a photo of Monique holding the gift she’d given her with an expression of disgust. “no taste LOL” it said.
The dots had been connected and cemented.
There was no friendship intended. It was a ruse.
Now it was even worse. She was invited to that party for one reason: to keep Stella occupied.
This was what ‘being used’ by someone else – by more than one person – felt like.
Why did it hurt so bad?