About a nanosecond after receiving her fourth-grade teacher assignment in August, Ella Albrecht was on the phone with a breathless question for Bella Andrade: "Whose class are you in???" And then: "No!!!"
For the first time, Ella and Bella were to be separated at Orono Intermediate School. But not really. Nothing can separate Ella and Bella, best friends since meeting on their school playground in kindergarten.
"I only saw her once," Bella, 10, said of Ella, 9. "We met, actually, on the first day of first grade and it kind of went from there."
They both love pink, and the clothing store Justice. They both have iPods, American Girl dolls and pierced ears. Both are the oldest girls in blended families. "We have the same lives," Ella says. "We kind of have the same names."
So they never fight, right? "Little, little," Bella says. "Always for dumb stuff, like, 'You stole my pencil.'" And never, ever, for bigger stuff. Ella understands that Bella has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), an inherited disease that causes muscle weakness and atrophy. That means Bella uses a wheelchair, so they can't go to the water park together. No biggie. "We can just do different things," Ella says.
Ella's mom, Cara Albrecht, remembers her daughter's birthday party two years ago. Ella picked the Rollergarden so that Bella could join them in her wheelchair. "Which one is Bella?" one of the other guests asked Ella. "The one with blond hair," Ella said.
In summer, Ella and Bella have regular play dates and sleepovers. During the school year, they get together on weekends. On a recent Saturday, the girls rode up the home's elevator to "Princess Bella's" lusciously pink bedroom. After saying hey to Bailey the guinea pig, the girls grabbed their iPods to test their gaming skills with Doodle Jump and Fruit Ninja. While Ella leans toward the sciences, Bella is drawn toward literature. Bella keeps a diary for her songs and stories. "My stories are always fantasies," Bella says. In one, a home-schooled unicorn tries to find a friend, but everyone says no. "Then she went to public school and it was hard at first, but then it got better."
Ella says Bella will be a professional ice skater when she grows up. Bella says Ella will be a soccer player, or teacher, or veterinarian. "She got them all right," Ella says. "I want to be all three of those things. We basically know everything about each other."
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