Chapter One

Isabel Russell has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. She was the one I went to if I had a problem Miranda wouldn't understand, a question that I wouldn't be able to find out, or even if I had guy troubles.

The day I met her I was cleaning out the downstairs closet while Miranda sat in the kitchen, drunk with her boyfriend as I dug through the old newspapers, slippers, and coats. Hearing her collapse on the floor with a loud thud as she stirred up a torrent of laughter, I decided to cut corners on my chores today and take a walk outside instead.

It was a hot summer day, the kinds were you watch your ice cream dribble down your hand until it forms into a puddle at your feet. The kinds were you stayed inside all day with the fans on or danced around in the sprinklers till you were splattered with mud.

Closing the door quietly behind me, I strutted around the block until I saw Old Ma'am Wilson's place. She was a spiteful old lady whose skin was yellow as a banana and scrunched up as the wrinkled old toad Nellie kept. Whenever we passed her run-down house she would be sitting on the worn old porch, sipping her glass of iced water as she rocked in her chair on the squeaking old boards.

"You girl! You aint going to call me Miss Wilson! You going to call me Ma'am Wilson, it's French you know and my lil' Jessie Mae married that French man. Haven't seen the little grit cake since."

She'd always wrinkle up her nose in distaste and then resume yelling at us to get off her property and how she was going to tell our Mama's to spank our hides for disobeying her.

The bright red sign that was pitched in the front yard read SOLD and sitting on the porch where Old Ma'am Wilson used to rock slowly with her water, sat a girl about my age with rusty red hair and freckles that smattered all over her face like sprinkles on a cake.

She was looking over at the movers lug furniture inside the house with a glazed expression, watching them strain under the weight in utter boredom. Her freckled face looked distorted with annoyance as she sighed heavily and dumped her head into her hands.

Approaching her with a big, hospitable Southern welcome, I strutted over and plastered on a friendly smile.

"Hey. Ya'll look new around these parts. Where you come from?"

She looked up at me and the disappointment on her face lifted slightly, "I'm Isabel Russell, we're from Jersey. Who are you?" "Amanda Hoppe. I've lived here for practically my whole life." I snorted and laughed a little. "Ya'll look nervous. Do you wanna come down with me to the creek and meet some of the other folk who live around here?" I offered generously.

She hesitated a moment but then smiled, "Alright, can I ask my mom first though? I swear she can be the worst worry-wart in the world." She laughed lightly and invited me inside.

I had never been inside Old Ma'am Wilson's place before, but once I got a quick peek of the kitchen until she yelled at me to get off her property as usual. The boards creaked under our weight as we headed upstairs to find Isabel's Mama.

Isabel crept inside the master bedroom and yelled for her Mama, "Mom, you here!" A slight muffled sound escaped from the bathroom as Isabel marched over, dragging me behind her. "Mom, can I go down to the creek with Amanda?"

Groaning stiffly her mom lifted her head from under the sink, "Sure honey, but whose Amanda?" She looked around until she spotted me behind Isabel. "Oh, hey doll, you must be Amanda. Nice to meet you, who are you parents?"

"My mom's Miranda Hoppe and we live down the street a ways." I said politely as a stiff frown appeared on her face.

"Miranda's kid, eh? The neighbors told me to watch out for Miranda and her daughter. They call her Miranda the Drunk. Izzy, you stay here, I don't want you getting into any trouble."

"But Mom!" She insisted, whining mercilessly. "Please Mom! You always say to me to give people a chance! Please!"

A pained look came across Mrs. Russell's face, she looked perplexed, "I said no Isabel-Lee. And that is my final answer. I don't want you associating with a person with a drunkard for a mother." She faced me sternly, "And Amanda, please leave and never bother Isabel again."

"Mom, she wasn't bothering me! That's unfair of you!" She cried as she ran to her room.

I on the other hand had scooted out the room and went down the stairs, wondering how such a kind-looking woman like Mrs. Russell had all of a sudden become a demon. I didn't see the problem in Isabel and I being friends and who had told her my Mama was a drunkard? No one in our neighborhood knew or cared for what crazy things the Hoppe's did. Just as long as it didn't involve them or their children.

Closing the door behind me, I ran down the street and back to my shingled house as I ran up to my room. Slamming my shoes against the wall, I slumped on my bed and wondered why Mrs. Russell acted that way. I mopped, and propped my head in my hands. All I was trying to do was be friendly, and all I was trying to do was to be nice, it's not my fault that my Mama drinks excessively and that I don't have a Pa like Nellie and Ginny Waters.

I got off of my bed and strode over to the musty, cracked mirror that lay on its side on my desk. I propped it up in the right position and examined myself. Was it because my looks may not be to her satisfaction and she was making an excuse of that with my Mama?

A sad, little face peered back at me. One with eyes green as the creek in summer and with ash blonde hair riding in curls and cascades down her back, her thin, willowy figure betraying her lack of nutrition.

Scrawny, as Mrs. Waters once said, "She's as skinny as a willow Ginny, at least I feed you doll."

Sighing heavily like Isabel had a mere hour ago; I picked up the phone to call Harriet, my best friend at the time until she unleashed a lie about me last year. I dialed 814-5664 as waited until the last tone as Harriet picked up.

"Hey Harriet, it's Mandy."

"Oh hey Mandy. What's up with ya'll."

"Nothing really. But Harriet can you tell me something honestly?"

"Sure can do."

"Alright. Well when we first started hanging out together how did your Mama react?"

A pause hung over our conversation as Harriet pondered on the other end.

"I guess, honestly, that my Mama wasn't to happy with it. She heard that ya'll Mama was mean and then she assumed ya'll was mean to. But she grew to like ya'll Mandy."

"What's wrong with my Mama?"

"Well." A pained tone was laced in her voice, "For one she drinks and she yells a lot."

"Usually at me." I added grumpily, keeping track on my fingers.

"And also since ya'll Mama looked messy when my Mama first met her." Another silence hung in the air.

"Oh ok. Well thanks Harriet I have to go. Bye."

I hung up before she could say anything else and dumped my body tiredly on the musty bed sheets. Why did everyone judge me by what my Mama was? Why not judge me for the person I am? The person I'll become?

It's not my fault I was born to her and not Mrs. Conner or Miss Melanie or Ms. Lawson. And it's not my fault according to Miranda that my Pa was somewhere earning a living for him and us.

Feeling tired and disgusted I heaved my shoulders heavily and buried my face in my pillow. Crying silently, I slowly lulled myself to an unsteady, nightmare-ridden sleep.

.

I woke up and dragged my self out of bed. I had a nightmare with me remembering the day I met Mrs. Russell and how she had forbid me to play with Isabel, but that soon changed after I remembered what had happened afterwards: After Isabel had mopped around the house for a few days she finally gave up and let us play together.

Slipping my feet into my fuzzy slipper that was to small for Isabel when she gave them to me, I slowly shuffled towards the bathroom. As I opened the door I was greeted by a rotten smell that was coming from the carpet, Miranda had gone out to town last night, I'd clean the rug again later.

Changing into a tank top and some khaki shorts, I fixed my hair a little and decided it was sufficient enough as I strode down to the kitchen. Miranda was propped up on the table, her face pale and drawn, snoring heavily as I poured the milk for my cereal into a Styrofoam bowl.

I grabbed my messenger bag and closed the door behind, as I made sure I had my homework of Lesson 2 notes and my essay on Shakespeare, eating my cereal at the same time, more like dumping it down my throat.

Approaching the bus stop, I found Isabel waiting on the bench for me and I smiled.

Throwing away the bowl, I greeted her with a hug, "Hey Isabel! Thanks for waiting."

"It's no problem." She offered carelessly as she got up and straightened her skirt. "By the way did you see Parker yesterday? He was so hot catching that ball. And in homeroom I was so distracted by him I landed detention!" She laughed.

"You mean Sam?" I replied calmly, trying to sustain my chuckles. Isabel and I had adored him ever since he had transferred from Valley Junior High last year.

"No duh." She chortled gaily as she swung her backpack around her face, imitating him catching the football.

"Well Sam is pretty hot." I laughed modestly.

"Oh c'mon girl. You know you like him just as much as I do." She teased, indicating to my notebook that read Sam+Amanda 4ever, hearts decorating the cover in pink and red.

"Ok fine. He is hot." I sputtered out, giggling madly.

"That's better." She smiled triumphantly waving her hand regally. "I'll see you later Amanda in Chemistry. Hope I don't get detention for the rest of my life." We both laughed again and then split our separate ways as I struggled to carry my books to my locker, my body feeling like it was going to split in half any minute now.