Amber (Part Six)

“Now, Ellowyne,” Midge started. “Please tell me about your relationship with Amber Stanhope.”

“OMG, Midge. Where do I start? She’s awful. Amber is truly the worst person I have ever known. She’s phony and conceited and causes trouble all the time. Amber is mean and selfish and humiliates me in front of my friends. She thinks I’m lazy and tells me all the time to snap out of my ennui. She once gave me a self-improvement book for Christmas! Her dad is my father’s boss so we have to try to get along, but I don’t like her. Father keeps telling me to try to be nice to her and try to make friends. I try but it’s almost impossible!

“She picks on my friends, too. The first time she met Lizette, she made fun of her vintage hat. But Lizette got even, “Ello laughed. “She was Amber’s lab partner a few days later and put some kind of chemical in their experiment that made Amber’s hands turn purple.

“And once she was picking on Pru about Zumba classes. So Pru invited her to come but didn’t tell her that it was the advanced, Zumba-on-steroids class. Amber showed up in this fussy exercise outfit that looked like it came out of the Eighties and she sweat so badly that she had to throw the thing away. Of course, Amber wasn’t even able to make it through fifteen minutes of the class. That’ll teach her to be mean to Prudence.

“Here’s another story. Did you know that Amber once put the moves on Rufus? It was so weird. We were all in a coffee shop and Amber made some snarky remark about me always being tired. Rufus was going to defend me but before he could, Amber slunk over to him and kissed him right on the lips! He looked like he wanted to die of embarrassment. And then she asked him to go for ice cream and he left with her. What the heck, Rufus? I was so mad at him until he told me how he got even with her. First, he made Amber pay for his ice cream. And then when Amber asked him if he wanted to neck under the wharf, he went along with it! But he put this big plastic spider between his front teeth, so it was dangling out of his mouth, and then leaned over to kiss her. Amber shrieked and ran off. Too funny! I didn’t think she’d try a stunt like that again and then tonight at my Christmas party, she pounced on Rufus like she was a starving lioness and he was a juicy zebra.”

Midge closed her eyes for a second. Yes, Amber sounded like a mean girl, a real pill. But in all fairness, Ellowyne and her friends seemed rather harsh in their retributions. Midge remembered some of the unpleasant kids in her own high school and how Barbie, her best friend, always acted graciously when someone was being unkind. Then Midge remembered how sometimes she felt envious of Barbie and behaved stupidly to hide her insecurities. “Let’s go back to high school, Ellowyne.”

Suddenly Ellowyne and Midge found themselves outside the theater in Briermier Academy in the spring of 2015. A sign had been posted on the door: Play Tryouts Today. Prudence slouched over, read the sign, scowled, and walked away. Lizette then wandered over, yawned, shook her head as she read the sign, and also walked away. And finally Amber came to the door. Wait a minute—-was that really Amber?

Demurely dressed, with short hair and minimal makeup, Amber walked slowly but confidently into the room. On the stage sat the director and Rufus, who had already been cast as the male lead. Rufus looked skeptically at her, then shrugged his shoulders and whispered something to the director.

The director commanded, “I’d like you two to sing a few lines from one of our numbers, Summer Nights, and do a little dialogue. Rufus, you’ve got the part of Danny and you—what was your name again, young lady?”

“Amber Stanhope,” she replied.

“Amber, you’re going to read the part of Sandy. Let’s go, people! Action!”

The audition went smoothly—Amber could act and sing—and the director congratulated her on winning the female lead. She took her script and sat down in the audience intending to watch the rest of the auditions. Instead, she started reading.

During a break, Amber spoke up. “Excuse me,” she interjected. “Why does Sandy start off as a good girl and then end up as, well, a bad girl who wears black, skintight clothing?”

The director rolled his eyes. “That’s how it’s written, Ms. Stanhope. This is Grease, not The Sound of Music.”

Amber protested further. “And it looks like there’s a lot of kissing in this play!”

Rufus gaped at her in disbelief. “You have a problem with that?”

“Yes, I do,” she asserted. “I don’t believe that girls should kiss boys casually. I intend to not kiss any boy until I’m engaged—or maybe even married.”

Rufus shook his head. “What are you, a wannabe nun or something?”

“Oh, that’s rude!” She finally started to resemble the Amber that Ellowyne knew. “I’m sorry. I simply cannot be in this play!” With that, Amber sauntered out of the room.

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 Ellowyne was astonished. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Amber dropped out of a play rather than wear slinky clothes and kiss Rufus? What happened to the attention-seeking, boy-crazy Amber?”

“Ellowyne, without you in her life, Amber never felt the need to compete,” Midge answered softly. “Do you know why she always acted out around you and your friends? It was because she envied you and wanted to be like you. She simply didn’t know how to deal with feeling so threatened and that’s why she acted like such a queen bee. But since she didn’t need to show off to you or anyone else, her softer side emerged. Amber became caring and unselfish and thought it was silly to chase boys. Amber put her energies into studying and graduated at the top of the class. She went to college and became a registered nurse—”

“So she could meet and marry a doctor?” Ellowyne interjected cynically.

Midge sighed. “That was my generation, when women had fewer choices than they have today. No, Amber could have been a doctor if she had wanted to. She had another goal in mind. I’ll show you.”

In a millisecond, Midge whisked Ellowyne to a beautiful setting just outside of San Francisco. Amber stood at the gate of this bucolic setting and appeared to be saying goodbye to her tearful parents.

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“We love you, baby girl,” Mrs. Stanhope, sobbed. “And you can change your mind at any time.”

“That’s right, darling,” Mr. Stanhope added. “There’s no shame in trying something and then deciding not to do it.”

“I always hoped you’d marry a nice boy and raise a family, Mrs. Stanhope whispered.” I still can’t believe you’re planning to become a nun.”

“Mother, Father,” Amber said softly. “My mind is made up. After my period of discernment, I’ll do my novitiate. And then I’ll take my vows. Remember how inspired I was in high school by the nuns on the bus? I want to be just like them, only using my education and skills as a nurse to help sick people all over the world.”

Ellowyne shook her head furiously. “No way. No way! I cannot believe that Amber becomes a nun! And a nurse! And a nun?!?”

Midge wrinkled her freckled nose ruefully. “I know it’s hard to imagine, but without being obsessed with competing with you, Amber grows into a very compassionate, altruistic woman. I’m not saying she’d be better off without you, Ellowyne, but maybe you and your friends should have been a little less harsh with her. There is something good in Amber—it’s hidden but it’s there—and you and your friends haven’t had much success changing her behavior by being mean to her. You can’t fight obnoxious people by being obnoxious yourself. You have to be gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving.” Midge then flashed Ellowyne a sly grin. “Besides, being nice keeps your frenemies off balance.”

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