BFF. That’s what Miranda writes as she and her mother, Jo, sit at the kitchen table: Jo drinking a cup of Earl Gray tea and Miranda texting while she sips her hot cocoa. Jo feels confident that her daughter will be able to list ‘multi-tasker’ on her resume one day.
As Jo watches Miranda text her BFF Scarlett, she’s taken back to a time when walking arm-in-arm along Main Street was the ultimate BFF; when the ultimate BFF was Claire.
Jo was 4 when Claire’s family moved into the house across the street. They were instantly best friends. Claire was an only child; so was Jo. “Sisters,” Claire said with a seriousness that defied her age. “We picked each other. That’s better than your parents picking for you.” Jo saw no reason to refute that; even though their families were different. Claire’s family was well-established socially and economically. Jo’s family struggled to keep up in the affluent area where Jo’s mother wanted to live, even though Jo’s father would have preferred to live more within their means.
They were in the same grade and the same class throughout elementary school. Living across the street from one another, their second floor bedroom windows faced the street, and thus, each other. With flashlights, one would signal the other every evening after dark: One flash – “Are you there?” Two flashes – “Yes, I’m here.” Then they would whisper across the distance of the street, able to hear each other perfectly as they expounded on the conversations they had throughout the day and shared the secret thoughts and dreams that young girls share with each other.
“Tony pulled my hair again today.” Jo said. A groan echoed from across the street. “Do you think he’s cute?”
“Do you think he’s cute?” Claire replied.
“No, I hate him.” (She who doth protest too much…)
“Then I hate him, too.”
Face it; it was never about world peace. It also never occurred to either of them to use the telephone when such a wonderful form of communication such as flashlights and whispers existed.
As Jo and Claire grew up, Claire developed an interest in acting. So, naturally, Jo developed an interest in acting, not only in the high school drama club but at a local regional theater where the actors came from New York City and although no one had ever heard of them, they were famous to Claire and Jo. They decided to volunteer at the theater and made plans to one day live in NYC and be actresses together; both famous, of course.
Young girls, at 16, their first task at Theatre Six in Metuchen, N.J. was to clean up the grounds, which meant picking up the trash in the bushes that surrounded the theater. It wasn’t glamorous and the bushes had stickers. On one such occasion, Jo stuck herself and with a cry, exclaimed that she was bleeding. Jo immediately stuck herself and said, “Quick, let’s be blood sisters!” Right there amid the stickers and the trash, they became blood sisters.
Claire’s proclivity for acting far outweighed Jo’s and at 18, their senior year in high school, Claire actually won a role at Theatre Six as Raina Petkoff in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
Jo wanted a special gift for Claire and walking down the street one day, found it. The sign in a small shop said “Antiques and Used Furniture.” Jo gulped because she had only her allowance, saved for two weeks, to buy this gift, a total of $10. But the perfect gift was in the window.
The store owner looked up when she entered. “Yes?” he asked as if to really say, “What are you doing here?”
“I’d like to buy something in the window.” Jo got up the courage to say. “There’s something in the window that I want to buy,” she repeated, as if to convey the seriousness of her statement. “Really?” The shop owner asked, getting up with a sigh.“What?”
Jo and the shop owner went to the window. “That,” Jo replied pointing to a small stick pin shaped like two mermaids with hands entwined. “That stick pin?” The shop owner asked. “That’s old.” He said in a way that made Jo’s heart skip a beat.
“How much?” she asked. The shop owner thought. “$20,” he said, finally. “Oh,” Jo said, deflated. “I’ve only got $10.”
“$10? I paid more than that for it,” the shop owner said with a laugh and started to walk away.
“It’s for my friend, Claire.” Jo said, suddenly. “She’s in a play and she’s my best friend and this is the perfect gift.” “How’s about $15?” the shop owner asked, stopping and turning to Jo. “I’ll take $15 for it.” “I only have $10,” Claire said still staring at the stick pin. It was truly the perfect gift.
“Maybe there’s something… here, or this…” He pointed out things that would only be things. “No, thank you. She’s my best friend… ever.”
The shop owner sighed and said, “Can’t let it go for less than $15. Why don’t you come back when you’ve saved up a little more?” Jo’s heart sank. “How will I know it’ll still be here?”
“You don’t,” he said, not without care. “But it’s really the best I can do.” “Ok, thanks.” Jo replied, stopping one more time outside the window to gaze longingly at the perfect gift.
It took Jo one more week; one more allowance. She returned to the shop and went immediately to the window. There, where the stick pin in the box had been, was a bright empty rectangle, where the sun hadn’t had the chance to fade out the blue velve-teen fabric that lined the window. It was gone! Before Jo had a chance to react, the shop owner knocked on the window and beckoned Jo to come inside. She did, without much enthusiasm.
“You’re back,” the shop owner said. Jo looked up at him. “It’s gone. You sold it.” The shop owner was momentarily startled. “Sold it?” Then he smiled. “Young lady, I did something I’ve never done for anyone. Follow me.”
Jo followed him, still somewhat confused. From behind the counter, the shop owner took out a small rectangular box. In the box was the stick pin. “I figured anything that important shouldn’t get away,” he said as he handed the box to Jo.
Jo gave the gift to Claire on opening night. It was the perfect gift.
Claire wore it every day. No matter what color she was wearing the twin mermaid stick pin was there, much to the consternation of Claire’s mother who began preaching fashion sense on a daily basis. The day they graduated high school, after graduation, Claire approached Jo with a tense seriousness.
“Jo,” she began, “I know we both planned to go to Middlesex County College in the fall…” “Planned?” Jo repeated. “We’re going. We’re going to be roommates.”
“The thing is, Jo, I have a chance to go to Northwestern for acting … and I want to go.”
“But I don’t understand. We’re going to Middlesex County. It’s all arranged.” Jo said with the strain evident in her voice. “Why don’t you want to go there with me?”
“I want to be an actress,” Claire said with deliberation.“I can’t do that at MCC. You could come with me to Northwestern…” she started, but knew before she finished her sentence that Jo couldn’t afford Northwestern.
“It’s only four years minus summers,” Claire said since Jo did not reply. “Then we can live together in the city…”
“Sure,” Jo said, quickly. “Sure, it’s fine. You didn’t want to go to MCC anyway. How could you become a famous actress at MCC? It’s fine. I’m happy for you.”
Claire understood that Jo really meant the part about being happy for her because that’s who Jo was; that’s why she was her best friend. Claire reached for the stickpin pinned to her graduation gown. “Hey, why don’t you keep the stick pin until we graduate college? Then I want it back, you know.” She said, smiling.
Jo shook her head. “No, you keep it. I want you to keep it.”
“We’ll write, you know. It won’t be the same as whispering across Hamlin Road, but we’ll do it.”
“It won’t be the same but we’ll do it.” Jo repeated.
When something breaks, it can’t always be fixed.
Even though Claire and Jo were always friends, distance and events kept them apart. Long after the promise to live together in NYC was forgotten, Jo got a call from a stranger who introduced himself as Griff. “It’s Griffin, actually,” he clarified. “I’m an actor, too.”
Jo waited. “Listen, Jo, Claire talks about you all the time and so I think you’d want to know…” His words hung in the air, as Jo held her breath. “She’s not well and I know she’d really like to see you.”
The flight to Los Angeles was long and Griff met her at the airport.
Jo had little to say in the car. In fact, little to say since she heard the news that Claire was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the prognosis was bad. No, not bad, awful.
“It’s about time,” Claire managed when she saw Jo. “I don’t know what to say,” Jo managed when she sat down on the bed.
“Luckily, I do,” Claire stated without judgment or sarcasm. “Here…,” She said and held out her closed hand for Jo to take. “It’s time now.”
Jo reached out as Claire dropped something into her hand. She knew before she saw it that it was the mermaid pin.
“No, Claire,” Jo started, but Claire nodded her head. “Who’s going to wear it if you don’t? Take it, please. We have a lot of whispering to do and not much time.”
Griff excused himself as Jo and Claire picked up where they left off so many years ago.
As Jo watched her daughter Miranda texting her BFF Scarlett, she smiled. Miranda caught the smile and stopped texting for a moment.
“Nothing,” Jo said.
“You are so weird, Mom,” Miranda said before she went back to her texting. Then she stopped.
“And you’re wearing that pin again … with a blue sweater. Have I taught you nothing about fashion, Mom?” Jo smiled. “Can I tell you a story about this pin?”
“Will it explain why you always wear it?” Miranda asked. “It will,” promised Jo.
“Just let me tell Scarlett that I’ll talk to her later, okay?”
“Perfect,” Jo said. “Let her know that I think you’re both lucky that you got to pick each other, okay?”
“So weird, Mom. Okay. Give me a sec.”
Linda Lombardo is a jewelry dealer, writer and certified life coach. Her recent writings include chapters on Victorian and Edwardian jewelry for Warman’s 4th Edition.
Visit Linda Lombardo on her website Worn to Perfection – www.etsy.com/shop/worn2perfection.