A slight breeze lifted Janessa's braids from her neck as she stood on Iris's front porch. The weather was perfect for their usual back-together activities. Janessa licked her lips and swallowed her fear as she raised her hand to knock. Instead of the usual bubble of excitement she felt on the morning of Iris's return, Janessa felt her stomach twisting in nervous knots.
"Hello, Janessa!" Iris's mother greeted her with a smile. "Iris wasn't sure you'd be here today. She'll need a few minutes to get dressed; would you like to come in?"
Janessa shook her head. "It's a beautiful morning; I'll just wait out here."
Iris's mother disappeared back into the house, and Janessa sat down on the top of the porch steps. With each second that passed, she was certain that Iris was going to refuse to see her. She brushed at her denim capris and rested her elbows on her knees. After what seemed to be an eternity, the door behind Janessa creaked open, and Iris joined her on the stairs.
"Hey Nessa," she said quietly.
Iris didn't look at Janessa; instead she stared off into the distance. "I told you not to come."
"I know." Janessa rubbed at her fingernails. "I just couldn't let years of friendship end with an email. I had to see you, to know that that's how you really felt."
Iris pursed her lips. "You've changed a lot, you know."
Janessa shook her head, her braids dancing around her ears. "You keep saying that, but I don't see it. I'm the same girl I've always been. I still love basketball, still want to go to NAU with you. Our plans are still the same."
"No, they're not the same! You don't get it. This new religion has changed you. And because of it, we can't be friends anymore--and that changes everything."
Grabbing Iris's face and forcing her to look at her, Janessa demanded, "Stop dodging the truth, Iris. I deserve to know what's really behind this. Give me the truth and I'll leave you alone."
Iris pushed Janessa's hands away and clenched her teeth. She stared hard at Janessa for a while before she finally answered. "People have seen you hanging out with girls that aren't good for our image. Like that girl that walks funny."
Janessa sighed. "Her name is Jeana, and she only walks like that because she was in an car accident when she was a toddler. She's really a very nice person; we have a lot in common. You'd probably get along really well with her."
"See what I mean?" Iris jumped up. "People like her are going to drag you down, and I won't let you take me with you."
"How does me talking to Jeana drag you down?"
"Shayla has noticed you hanging out with her, and with other losers, too."
Janessa leaned her head back and drew in a deep breath. "Since when do you care what Shayla thinks?"
Iris narrowed her eyes. "Marcus noticed, too."
Marcus. Janessa bit her lip. She and Iris had been dreaming about Marcus Long since they'd discovered boys in the fourth grade. "Well," she said slowly, "we're all children of God, and deserve to be treated with respect. If you and Marcus can't understand that, then I guess you're right. Maybe we shouldn't be friends anymore."
Iris took a step back, looking as if she'd been slapped. She recovered quickly, though. "Of course I'm right," she snapped.
Janessa slowly stood up. "I'm sorry it had to come to this." She started down the steps. Behind her, she heard Iris re-enter the house, slamming the door behind her. It's over.
to be continued...