Carrie looked a little worried. She looked a little tired all through dinner at my uncle’s house. I noticed because I had always loved my little cousin like another little sister.

On her twelfth birthday, I hid candy all around her room and filled her ceiling with a glow-in-the-dark universe. When she turned on her ceiling fan, part of her green galaxy spun and candy went flying in every direction. She found the last piece months later in her picolo case. “Carrie!” I scolded, “you haven’t practiced in all this time?”

Sometimes I’d take her for rides around the neighborhood on my bullet bike. She’d put on her helmet, raise the visor and quip “To infinity, and beyond!”

On her fifteenth birthday, she could hardly wait another year to get her drivers license, so I took her to the high school parking lot and taught her to drive a stick. She put a few extra months of wear and tear on the clutch but we had a great time and she glowed with excitement about the day she’d be set free on the streets.

And today she didn’t quite look her normal energetic, optimistic, confident, cheerful, chipper self, so I noticed. She wasn’t a little kid any longer which meant her problems weren’t as simple or easy to solve as they once were. The world couldn’t always be made right with one good joke or a candy bar. After dinner, I plopped down on the couch next to her and dropped an arm around her shoulder.

“Whasup?” I asked casually.

“Hey,” she merely answered, glancing up from her homework.

It turns out that what was up were some friends’ attitudes – stuck up, that is, or something like it.

“One friend walked up to me to say hello today,” she related “And then reached back to check the tag of my shirt and what brand it was.” As if that mattered. As if acceptance were based on wearing the right clothes and spending the right money. Other times, these same friends grew cool and less friendly around guys – even their mutual long-time guy friends.

“Maybe they’re jealous,” I suggested.

“Whatever!”

“No, serious! Maybe they think that if they can wipe that killer smile off your face, they just might have a chance with the guys.”

Carrie smiled appreciatively at me, but still shook her head.

“Maybe you shouldn’t care so much what they think,” I suggested.

“But they’re my friends!” Carrie objected.

“Oh, really?” I asked her how she defined a friend and she told me it was someone who she hung out with, went places with and talked to.

“And how should friends treat each other?” I pressed.

Now Carrie’s emotions came to the surface and her eyes glistened as she answered. “They should be accepting, no matter what! And supportive. And loyal to their friends more than to other people.”

“Hmm,” I answered, nodding my head. “Are you sure these people are your friends?”

Now Carrie’s face became a mixture of enlightenment and confusion. “Not exactly?” she finally guessed.

“Yeah, not exactly friends…what does that make them, then?”

Carrie’s expression turned confused again, but earnest. “I don’t know. Not strangers. Not enemies.”

“Maybe we’ll have to make up our own word for them.” Carrie looked slightly more relaxed and hopeful now and I continued. “How about ‘fakies’?”

“Fakies?!” she laughed. “What’s a fakie?”

“Well, it’s someone who pretends to be one thing, but isn’t. Does that sound like an accurate description?”

“I guess so,” Carrie agreed. “But what do I do now?”

“That’s up to you. What do you want to do? Do you want to keep these fakies around, or get new friends?”

Carrie thought for a minute, then answered “Can I do both?”

“Of course. You can do anything you want. And now that you understand your friends, er, fakies a little better, will that change anything?”

“Yeah,” she assented. “It won’t matter so much what they think. It’s sad, though, to lose true friends!”

“Maybe they’ll figure things out better someday,” I said, “and be good friends again. If not, well, you can’t lose something you didn’t already have.”

Carrie looked sad for a few seconds longer, but she breathed deep and slow and relaxed with each exhalation, and when she turned her face abruptly toward me and smiled, I knew it meant “Thanks, cuz,” and I knew the world would be all right.