Grace doesn’t know why Bridget’s making an effort to be so nice to her all of a sudden. She doesn’t understand it. Maybe it’s because she’s been appointed as Student Councillor and she feels like it’s her ‘duty’. Maybe it’s because of their shared love of dance. But when Grace asks Bridget – a day when Ryleigh hadn’t come down to the canteen at all and Grace had been sitting by herself – when Bridget had pulled out the chair opposite and started talking about a new turning sequence she’d learnt yesterday at class, like the empty space was meant for her all along—when Grace looks up from her fish and chips and says, “Why are you being so nice to me?”, Bridget looks her straight in the eye, sighs and answers with a question of her own.
“Has Ryleigh been bullying you?”
“What?” Grace wants to laugh at the absurdity of the question but Bridget’s frowning in that subtle, unreadable way so Grace rushes to reassure her. “No, no, no, no, of course not! No. No, Ryleigh’s not… she’s not a bully! She’s my friend.”
“Then why do you always look so sad around her?”
Grace opens her mouth, a dozen answers at the ready. She gets upset sometimes. She gets mad at me sometimes. She doesn’t always want to hang out with me. She doesn’t tell me things anymore. It’s not so bad really. She’s not always like this. But the more she thinks about them, the more they sound like excuses. Excuses that make Ryleigh sound like more of a bully.
Oh gosh. Is Ryleigh a bully?
Grace doesn’t ask Bridget again. Bridget doesn’t ask about Ryleigh being a bully again. But she keeps joining her for lunch and inviting Grace over to her house and, over time, Grace gets to know her better.
She learns that Bridget is very sure of herself and can be quite arrogant, but that confidence also extends to her friends. She’s very vocal in how she builds Grace up, she always makes sure to greet her when she walks into their classroom (a nice contrast to Ryleigh’s sullen silence) and they make up dance routines together in the playground. Grace doesn’t think she’s good at any style other than ballet but Bridget’s main style, contemporary, is very similar and they’re both equally bad at hip-hop so they can laugh about it together.
She learns that Bridget knows how to do four different kinds of braids on her own hair and can French braid with her eyes closed. She learns that Bridget hates ponytails – “they’re so sloppy!”—and always wears her hair in a bun for dance. She learns that Bridget disapproves of sweatpants and baggy hoodies, she knows an impressive amount of terminology, she hates going barefoot and she’s equally flexible on both sides. Grace learns all her micro expressions: the subtle frown means that Bridget’s worried, her small smirk means that she’s smug, her wide smile—the one that makes her brown eyes sparkle like autumn leaves in the sun—only appears when she’s completely at ease, she doesn’t laugh easily but her silent snickers come when she thinks a joke is particularly funny.
They’ve only been hanging out for a month when Grace starts sitting at Bridget’s usual table with her other friends. Again: all girls that she’s been in the same class with for five years but has never spoken to. Renee, Bridget’s cousin—is the sweetest. She links their arms whenever they walk together, invites Grace to all their weekend meet-ups and looks genuinely sad when Grace occasionally declines because she has ballet class. Alexus, the joker of the group, is also very accepting. Grace likes her from the beginning: she’s constantly cheerful, constantly laughing about something, constantly teasing them and cracking jokes. Alexus calls Grace ‘Mouse’ the first week she hangs out with them and tells her a bunch of terrible knock-knock jokes but Grace giggles at each one. Bridget shoots Alexus a few sharp looks and tells Grace that she can tell her to back off a little, but Grace is quick to reassure her that she, in fact, wants the opposite. Grace knows that Alexus is teasing her when she calls her ‘Mouse’ but it fills her with the same warmth that spreads across her chest when Bridget calls her ‘Gracie’.
Bridget is definitely not the kind of person Grace would expect to be friends with. Grace is quiet and shy and ‘the Mouse’. Bridget’s a leader, bold, brave, brilliant. But Bridget’s friendship, especially now when Ryleigh doesn’t seem to want to know her anymore, makes Grace feel so special, like maybe one day she can be brilliant, just like Bridget, too.