by Kim Pritekel
For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
I sat on the edge of the chair, my notepad in my lap as I listened intently to the woman across from me, sitting rigidly on the couch. Meredith Watts was her name, and she had been a Naval officer for nearly forty years.
"I started out as a nurse back in Vietnam, worked my way up." She said pointedly, glancing down at my pad to see if I was writing anything.
"Why did you join the military, Meredith?"
"Well, back then you had two choices." She counted them off on her fingers. "You could either get married and have children, or be a teacher. I choose the former. Got married at sixteen, hated it, so divorced him within a year and a half, ran off and joined the Navy." She smiled proudly, running her hand over creased pants, her clothing perfect, her short, mostly gray hair cut to perfection, not a piece out of place.
"Did you have any children?" I was so intrigued by this woman. So much courage for someone of her generation.
"I did. Had a son. He now lives in Minnesota with his wife and my granddaughter. She's going to be just like her grandma when she grows up." Meredith smiled wide, her blue eyes twinkling. I laughed.
"Why's that?" my pen stilled as I waited for her to explain.
"Well, she has my fire, my love of life." She leaned forward in her seat, eyes boring into mine. "She has my weirdness." And winked. I laughed again.
"Hey, works for me. So you retired because of the stomach cancer?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm almost sixty years old. It was time." She nodded for emphasis. "I had seen Korea, the Vietnam hubalu, the Gulf War, and what other nonsense this country has gotten herself into. I retired as a Commander in the United States Navy. Not many women my age can say that. I served my country for thirty-eight of my fifty-six years."
"That's wonderful." I smiled with awe. "You certainly have my utmost respect and admiration." She smiled at me, surprised me by reaching over to pat my hand.
"Thank you. I must say, I think it's wonderful what you're doing, this book. There's so many women out there who deserve recognition in life."
"Thank you. I agree. It was Caden's idea actually."
"She's such a lovely woman." She said fondly. "I remember when we met, me laying there in that hospital bed, feeling sorry for myself. In comes the bluest eyes I've ever seen, the brightest smile. She lit up the whole room." She looked at me. "You know what I mean?"
"Yes, ma'am, I most certainly do." Boy did I.
"She started coming in every single day, even if she had no reason to. She's sit on the edge of my bed, talk with me, sometimes bring in her daughter, Annie. Bright girl, that one."
"Like her mom." Meredith looked at me and smiled.
"Like her mom. It just about broke my heart when I found out that Caden was sick. Of all the people in the world I couldn't understand why her. So young, with so much life to live. And a mother needs to be there for her little girl. I wasn't there much for my boy, Donny. Should have been." She stared out the window, lost in thought before she took a deep breath and turned back to me, slapping her hands on her thighs. "Well. Is that it?"
"Yes, unless there's anything else you'd like to add?"
"Nope. I've said my piece." She stood, followed by me. "Laurel, it was a real pleasure." She extended her hand, and I happily shook it.
"It has been. Thank you so much for doing this."
"No. Thank you."
I watched as Commander Watts walked out the room, her back straight, her body exuding confidence and command.
"Isn't she?" I turned to see Caden walking in through the French doors that led to a small patio outside. I plopped down on the couch, slapping my notepad on my lap. Caden sat next to me, dropping the magazine she'd been reading on the table in front of us. She patted my knee. "How did it go?"
"That woman has got some serious brass balls." She grinned at me.
"Why do you say that?"
"I've spent the last two hours interviewing her, listening to some of the things she's done with her life, places she's been. Incredible."
"I remember when I used to see her in the hospital. We would talk for hours and hours." She smiled at the memory.
"So she said."
"I miss those days. Being in the hospital, around all those patience, talking with them."
"I'm sure you had some bedside manner." She looked at me and smiled.
"Yeah. Something like that." Caden looked down for a moment and sighed. "Hmm. Well anyway, where are we? How are we doing with interviews and time?"
"Good, actually. We're right on time. We've gotten four in the can, and I have interviews scheduled all week. I want to start shooting Friday if I can."
"Really?" Caden smiled, bright and happy. "How wonderful! I love to watch you work."
"Well, good. Cause you are part of that work." Suddenly Caden looked like a child.
"Oh, um, actually I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Laurel. Listen, we have a lot of people already, and, well, why not just keep me on as an assistant, or something? Kind of like your liaison between the women and,..."
"You're going to be in this thing if it kills me. No Caden, no book." I looked at her, my eyes defiant as I dared her to say something else. She sighed, beaten.
"Okay. If I must."
I drove along the highway, two packed bags in the back seat, a stack of books and sketch pads sitting next to me in the passenger seat. Summer was here, and I was headed home.
I hadn't been back to Southie in three years. My mother called on Christmas and my birthday, but other than that, I had found no reason to return. The only reason I was now was Caden was going to Beacon Hill, and I had not been invited.
I thought about the last couple of weeks since that morning when she had come home upset after sleeping with her mystery guy. She had become so aloof after that, acting strange and distant. No mater what I did or said I couldn't get out of her what was wrong, or what I could do to help. I hadn't given up on her, just on asking.
I missed her. I wished so bad that she was with me, commenting on the scenery as we passed, talking about all the things we'd do that summer, all the things we'd see, the drawings I'd do. She had stopped those, too. As I thought more about it, I realized she had stopped around the time that had happened. What the hell? What had happened that she wasn't telling me? Why was she pulling away from me so bad? I knew I hadn't done anything, said anything wrong.
"Shit." I didn't know. Tired of thinking about it, I put a cassette in, pushed everything else aside. I wanted to be as relaxed as possible when I got home. I needed to be as relaxed as possible when I got home. Otherwise, I must might have to start killing people.
The city streets looked the same as they always did. Seemed nothing changed in Southie. The same people roamed the streets; punk kids smoking dope on the corners, shoppers, couples fighting on the sidewalk.
The house where I grew up looked the same, too. The old Monte Carlo sat, big and ugly, in front of the place, the tire on the front right was flat. I figured it had probably been that way for well over a year. There was a motorcycle that I'd never seen parked along the curb. The front porch needed to be painted, too.
With a sigh I opened my door.
As I walked up the walk I could hear raised voices and something crashing inside. I stopped, listening, trying to figure out who the voices belonged to. I didn't think it was my mother; she usually didn't fight back with him. It sounded like Phillip. No way. Why was my brother there?
"Mother you promised." I muttered as started walking again. But who was the woman? It couldn't possibly be Denny. She and Phil had dated off an on, mostly off, for over five years. I had heard their fights enough to know her voice. This just keeps getting better and better.
I slowly made my way up the stairs, the wood creaking under my weight. I took both of my bags into one hand so I could open the screen door, but instead the broken down door swung open, smacking my hand. I cried out, bringing my hand to my mouth. My brother looked at me, surprised.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he asked, quickly coming out of his shock.
"I was wondering the same about you."
"Yippee. The whole family is here now." Phillip slammed past me, hurrying down the steps toward the motorcycle, roaring off as I went inside. Denny sat on the couch watching Montel Williams, a pillow clutched to her chest. A lamp laid on its side on the floor, papers scattered around a broken flower pot, the dark soil in a pile on the worn rug.
"You okay?" I stopped in front of her, staring down at her. She nodded, not even bothering to look up. Her face had tear stains, her dark hair mussed. Shaking my head, I walked on to the stairs. My old room was the first at the top to the right, the door was slightly ajar. I pushed it open and stopped with a sigh. All my old furniture was still there, the old brass bed, scuffed dresser and mirror with the strange black spots that nothing would remove. Now there was an addition, however. To put it simply, it looked as if a washing machine had thrown up.
Clothing was thrown all around, on the bed, the floor, even the dresser top. Bits of paper was also scattered along with other trash.
I dropped my bags at the door and hurried downstairs, in search of my mother.
I was to meet a woman by the name of Sonja Trujillo near the Galen Street Bridge at the Charles River, so I stood on the bank, looking into the water, thinking. I had met Sonja last week at this very place. Caden and I had come down to talk, and the older woman had been sitting on my bench, and we had begun to chat.
She told me of her son, Juan, who had worked in Tower One, and had died in September 11. As sad as that had been, I was amazed at the strength of this woman. Her daughter had runaway with a man at fifteen, never to bee seen or heard from again, some thirty years later. Her husband had been killed in a bank robbery gone bad a decade ago. Juan had been all she had. He had helped her through a stroke and then a heart attack. When Juan had graduated college and moved to New York for work, she had been devastated, but so proud of her boy, the first in the Trujillo family to go to college. Juan had married and had a son four years before, but then tragedy had struck yet again. Juan's wife, Maryann and their son, Taylor, had been killed in a car accident eighteen months ago.
I had been determined to get Sonja to tell her story in the book, so we had arranged the meeting today. I put my hands in my coat pockets to try and block out the cold day, the chill winds whipping around the city. I planned to take Sonja out for coffee once she arrived.
"I'm so sorry I'm late." I turned to see Mrs. Trujillo hurrying toward me, her long hair, mostly gray, whipping around her face, her ears and nose red.
"Hello, Sonja. Not a problem. I was thinking with our unpleasant change in weather we could go inside."
"Oh, honey, I'm so glad you say that." She smiled, one of her front teeth chipped. I wondered what had caused that.
"Charles River Grille?"
The house was quiet save for Montel. I wandered through the kitchen, seeing my mother outside in the back. I headed out, leaning against the door jam. She was watering the tiny patch of grass that she was determined to keep green and beautiful, with the hose. It was one of the few things in her life that she had control over.
"Looks good." She turned, looking over her shoulder. When realization hit, she dropped the hose and ran to me, throwing her arms around my neck, nearly knocking me back into the house.
"Hello." I rubbed my hand over her back, her body small and thin, much more so than when I left for school. She pulled back from me, looking me over.
"You look wonderful, honey. You've taken good care of yourself."
"Thank you. Someone had to." I smiled, she smiled back.
"I'm glad. My little go-getter." Then to my horror she grabbed me around the waist and began to tickle me furiously, fingers digging into my ribs, my sides. "Come on, come on, Laurel. Say it,"
"No." I bared my teeth, squirming to get out of her grasp, but couldn't stop giggling. God I hated this.
"Say it, little one," my twisting and squirming took us to the ground, both laughing.
"Okay, okay! You are the best mom in all the world." I shouted, a couple of birds flying out of a near-by tree.
"Now was that so hard?" my mother looked at me with a huge grin on her face. I smiled.
"Yes. It was horrible." She laughed and hugged me close. Okay. Maybe not everything at home was awful. I helped her to her feet, and she hugged me again. "Okay, mom. What's with the love fest?"
"Can I help it if I love my little girl? I've missed you so much, Laurel. Seems you're one of the only sane ones around here." She nodded toward the house. "I miss having another woman around this place. All these men are going to make me lose my mind." She walked back to the grass and picked up her hose.
"Um, I have a question. What happened to my old room?"
"What do you mean what happened to it? It's in the same place it always was."
"Yes, I realize this. I mean, who decided it would be a giant closet?" she stared at me for a moment, then dropped her hose yet again, headed toward the house.
Sonja Trujillo was set to be out of town, going to visit her mother in Houston in two days, so we decided to do the shoot that day. I had told her ahead of time what to wear, what colors to avoid. We went back to the river, deciding to set up on the bank. I brought out my camera, getting the focus right.
"I don't know about this, Laurel. I look like an old witch." I stood from the tripod, studying the woman before me.
"Hardly. You look beautiful, Sonja. The furthest thing from an old witch." I bent down again, looking at my subject through the lens. "Okay, Sonja, I want you to act as natural as possible. Do what you would normally do while sitting here at the river."
"I'll try." At first she was nervous as anything. I could literally almost see her shaking. Then as I began to click away, she became accustomed to it, and began to just let go and be herself.
"Oh, that's wonderful, Sonja. Just like that." I took my camera off the tripod and began to move around. With each person getting about three photos into the book, I wanted as many good ones as possible. Suddenly the thing that every good photographer waits for happened- the magic picture. Sonja turned slightly away from me, but her eyes stayed glued to the lens. Her mouth opened just a bit, and spread into the most beautiful smile. The lines around her dark eyes bunched up to give her that motherly look, and her face relaxed. She looked peaceful. I snapped three pictures off, and lowered the camera, smiling wildly. "That was it, Sonja. You did it."
"Really? That's it?" she straightened on the bench then stood. "That was not bad at all."
"Nope. It's really not. You did great." To my surprise, she walked over to me and grabbed me in a tight hug.
"Thank you, honey. This is a good thing you do. My Juan would be so proud."
"I'm sure he would."
I laid in my bed that night, arms over my head as I stared up at the ceiling. Years ago I had put tiny glow in the dark stars on it in various patterns, trying to copy the constellations in the sky. Over by the closet was the Big Dipper. That was all I could recognize now. My thoughts turned to Caden. What was she doing? Where was she? Was she going to go on some wonderful, exotic trip over the summer? Some sort of congratulatory gift for going into her senior year?
I wasn't sure. Part of me wanted to call her so bad. I missed her voice. I glanced to the night table, saw the phone sitting there, just waiting to be used. Should I? I sighed. If she had wanted to hear from me or talk to me she would have called. No she wouldn't. I didn't give her my parent's phone number.
I sat up, running my hands through my hair, gathering it together in the back before releasing it. I reached for it, feeling the hard plastic in my hands. Was she awake? I glanced over at the clock to see it was just past two am. I wouldn't wake the household because she did have her own line. But what if I made her mad?
"Fuck it." I picked up the receiver, the satisfying dial tone filling the quiet night. I dialed quickly, bringing the earpiece to my ear, waited. One ring, two, three, four,
"Hello?" a very tired Caden said. For a moment I questioned my decision. But that didn't last.
"Laurel?" her voice brightened almost immediately.
"Yup. How are you?"
"I'm good. Much better now." I could hear the smile in her voice. "This may sound stupid, but I miss you." A mile wide smile spread across my face.
"Really?" I laid down, holding the phone closer to my ear, pulling a pillow in against me. "Well, I mean, that's why I called. I miss you, too. Why would that sound stupid?"
"Well, we only left for our respective homes two days ago. It's just a little ridiculous, don't you think?"
"No. I mean, we live together, see each other every single day. You're my best friend, Caden. Of course I'm going to miss you."
"Oh. True." She breathed softly, almost as if in relief.
"So you don't mind that I'm calling at this piss poor hour, then?"
"No! I mean, well, to be honest, I wanted to call you all day."
I smiled again, looking up into the stars. I wished Caden could see my creation. I just wanted to see Caden period.
"So how is it going? Is anyone even home?"
"Yes. Everyone." Her voice lowered when she said this, and she took in a breath as if she were going to say something else, but didn't. "And how about you? How is your family? Are they all still alive?" I chuckled.
"Yes. Unfortunately. My brother lost his job again, so he's back here. His ex, Denny, just got evicted, and she's back here again, too. My poor mother. I don't understand why the hell she allows it. If it were my kid I would have put him out on his ear a long time ago."
"Well, being a parent isn't an easy thing to do, Laurel." She snapped. "Having kids is a scary prospect."
"What? Um, alright. I agree, but he's still a loser." My brows drew. "What's with the attitude, anyway?"
"Noting. I'm sorry. Just a little stressed. You know, coming home and everything." She sighed. "I'm sorry to take it out on you, Laurel."
"It's okay. I think I understand more than you think I do."
I sat on the grass on our hill, my legs bent, hands dangling over my knees. I thought about that phone conversation that night during summer break. We had talked for about a half an hour longer before we both had grown too tired, needed to sleep. At the time I had no idea what Caden had been going through, or would be going through in the near future. If only she had felt safe enough to tell me about Annie. Had it been my fault? Had she felt she couldn't tell me? Like I'd come down on her too hard or something?
I didn't know. Speculation wasn't good, nor was it worth it. That time was long gone, and those feelings long over with.
"Howdy, stranger. Where were you all day?" I turned to see Caden climbing the hill, smiling at me.
"Hey. I had an interview and photo shoot with Sonja Trujillo." I patted the grass next to me, and Caden quickly made her way over.
"How wonderful. How did it go?" she stretched her long legs out, her arms behind her holding her up.
"It went very well. She's a natural." I smiled at her, part of me still feeling strange from the memory of that night. How could a situation from over a decade earlier still affect someone? It was over. My life had gone on, my past was my past. I shook my head to try and clear it.
"Are you alright?" Caden was looking at me as if I'd just shaken my mind out my ear. I smiled.
"Yup. Just thinking."
"Oh." She sat up, reaching down to pull a few blades of yellow grass, twisting them between her fingers. "What is your home like in San Diego?" she looked at me, eyes hidden behind dark glasses. I thought for a moment then sighed.
"Well, right now I'm in a studio, but I'm looking at a house. I've actually been saving for it for about five years." I smiled shyly.
"How wonderful, Laurel." Caden patted my shoulder. "Tell me about it. When do you move in?"
"Well, I need to buy it first." I smiled. "I have an appointment to look at a place for the second time, in three weeks."
"Am I holding you up? I am, aren't I?" Caden looked at me, then looked away. "I'm sorry. I just can't seem to help making things difficult for you."
"Hey, stop that. Don't worry about it. I need to be here for the book right now, anyway. I'm not worried, and neither should you be." I bumped her shoulder with my own. "You should see this place. It has an ocean front view, three bedrooms, and an extra room to use as my studio. I guess the guy who owned it before me used it as a recreation room. I can use the family room for that. Besides, that room is completely windows, floor to ceiling. Oh, Caden, it's beautiful." I couldn't keep the wistfulness out of my voice. I wanted the house, and I wanted to start a new life there, out of the city.
"I'd love to see it."
"Well, maybe I'll just have to invite you over sometime." I smiled over at Caden, she smiled back.
"Now come on. I want to get started with these shots."
I had been home exactly four days, and I wanted to kill my entire family already. I'm not sure just what that says for American domesticity.
My brother was still around, still being the biggest asshole he could be. He and Denny fought on an hourly basis. One day she and I happened to be down for breakfast at the same time. Phillip was still asleep, my mother outside, and my father long gone for work.
"Denny, can I ask you something?" I asked as I poured milk into my Lucky Charms.
"Sure." She sipped from her coffee, reading the morning paper, her half-eaten omelet sitting next to her. The stale smell of egg filling the kitchen.
"Why the hell do you put up with that jackass?" I leaned against the counter, glass of orange juice in hand. She looked up from the classifieds, looking at me as if I'd grown an extra head, then shrugged.
"Are you serious?" I grabbed my cereal and sat across from her at the old table. "The guy is an abusive slug. He always has been, Denny. I mean, come on." I took a large bite.
Denny rested her chin on her hand, looked out the window. The early morning light caught the green of her eyes, as well as the slight yellowish tint from her fading bruise on her cheek.
"I've known Phillip since I was sixteen years old, Laurel." She looked at me, deeply into my eyes. "My family doesn't give one rats ass about me. Yours do."
"You stick around for my parents?" she shrugged.
"Well, your mom, anyway. And you, I guess. When we were kids we had some fun, eh?" she pushed me playfully. I grinned and nodded, looking down into my cereal. If only Phillip had known; Denny had been the first girl I'd ever kissed. Granted I had only been eleven, but hey. "Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how the moon sits in the sky, Phillip comes with the package."
I felt so sad for her in that moment. Then I realized that she and my mom got along so well because they were so much alike. Weak, dependant women.
"So, you gonna be bringing me anymore kids I gotta raise?" I felt my father flick me on the back of the head.
"Robert." My mother hissed.
"What? I gotta right to know. So?" I turned to glare at him.
"No would be my guess." I muttered.
"Good. I gotta enough mouths to feed as it is." My father glanced over at my brother.
"Hey, fuck you old man."
"What you sayin' to me, boy?" my father stood, as did Phillip so they were face to face, my father's gut bumping against his son. "Don't you be talkin' to me like that, I'll kick your teeth in."
"Yeah, I'd love to see you try."
"Boys!" both became silent as my mother's yell still seemed to ring in everyone's ears. "Stop it. We're trying to have a nice evening here." I looked at her, shocked into silence, as I'm sure everyone else was, too. My father sat on the couch, followed by a glaring Phillip.
"Are you dating anyone, honey?"
Oh, boy. The dating question. I thought for a moment of how to answer that. With a deep sigh I decided to suck it up and answer truthfully.
"Well, yes. A chick named Erin and I have been seeing each other off and on."
"How nice, what?!" my mother's eyes popped open, and my father's face suddenly became very red.
"Did you say you was seeing a female, girl?" he leaned forward on the couch, his face only a couple feet from mine. Gulp.
"Yeah. I did say a female. Mom asked, so I answered."
"Oh, honey." I heard my mother whisper, her hands covering her mouth.
"Oh, this is rich! The little dyke. Oh, man, god is good."
"Shut up you asshole."
"Why don't you, you little lezbo."
"You and me are gonna talk." My father stood, lunging toward me. Beginning to get frightened, I shot up, out of his grasp.
"You people are pathetic! You ask a question then don't like the answer." I looked at my mother, disappointed mostly in her. Everything else was expected. I turned and hurried out of the room, taking my car keys from my pocket as I did so. The night air was warm, but chilled my cheeks as it dried the tears there.
I sat behind the wheel, staring at my house through the windshield, wanting to belong to another family, or better yet, not bothering at all. I didn't need them. Didn't need anyone. The front door swung open, and my father appeared. That was my cue. I started up the engine, roared down the street.
The doctor had removed the first half of Caden's staples within two weeks of the surgery, and the second half had been removed two days ago. Her head was now completely free, no bandage, no staples. Just what God had created in his infinite wisdom. Her hair was growing back quickly, thick and dark.
I focused my camera, zooming in on those eyes, bluer than should be allowed. She was looking right into the lens, right into my soul. Caden had always had that ability. She looked deeper inside me than I knew how to.
I looked at her, taking the camera away from my eye for a moment, trying to decide what would be the best way to capture her. She sat on a blanket on our hill, the trees behind her with all their unbelievable colors awesome, the gold and red and brown, all making her stand out even more. Caden wore a simple sweater, blue, almost the color of her eyes, and khakis. Her legs were together as she turned to the side a bit, her legs curled up in front of her. It pained me that I would use black and white for this shoot. She deserved color to really showcase her beauty.
I watched as she began to pick at some random blades of grass, waiting patiently for me to do my thing. I knew she had no idea that the hold up was her, and not me. I had been looking at Caden Lodge as just an old friend these past few weeks, and not as a woman. I really couldn't afford to do this, but I couldn't help it. As an artist, my eye has been trained to recognize true beauty for what it is, and I was definitely seeing it in its full glory now.
I drove around town, trying to decide where I wanted to go. I don't know why I had run, and not just stuck around to face the heat. I guess I didn't feel I should have to get any heat. My family had never given a shit before what I did with my life, so where did they get off caring now?
I turned the radio up louder, not wanting to even hear my own thoughts anymore. I saw a group of teenagers talking on a street corner, turning to look at me as I passed, one guy sticking his tongue out obnoxiously. I flipped him off and drove on as the traffic light turned green. I wasn't too hot on males at that moment, sure as hell didn't need their shit.
I pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store and went in. I wasn't sure what I was after, but it sounded like a good thing to do at the time. I wandered around the aisles, looking for something to munch on, but decided on a bottle of Dr Pepper instead. Paying at the counter, I noticed a girl talking on the pa phone next to the restrooms. There was a phone free next to it, hell why not.
Digging in my shorts pocket I found some change, and decided to make a call. I dialed quickly, sipping from my soda all the while, then listened to the drone of the phone ringing again and again and again.
"Damn it, Caden. Pick up." No such luck. Her voice messaging did instead. Irritated, I disconnected without bothering with a message. I leaned against the wall and stared out into the night. It wasn't very late, and the sun wasn't completely down yet. Love those long summer nights. I decided to head out again when I was startled by the ring of the payphone. I stared at it as if that would tell me who was on the other end. Curious, I picked up the receiver.
"Your local neighborhood convenience store. Laurel speaking."
"Laurel! Thank God you're still there. I thought I'd miss you."
"Caden? Hey!" my face was split in two from my smile, only to falter. "Um, how did you call me here? Do I have like a homing beacon on me that I don't know about?"
"Caller I.D. I'm so glad you called." I heard her take a breath, and a very shaky one. As I thought about it I realized that her voice had seemed thicker, almost as if she'd been crying.
"Caden? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Why do you ask? And where are you calling me from?"
"I don't know. You just sound different, like you're upset. And I'm at a payphone."
"Oh. Well, I had some problems with my family earlier. Why are you on a payphone?"
"Long story. What's going on with your family?"
"Also a long story. Want to do something?" I brightened immediately at the invitation.
"You read my mind. Want me to pick you up?"
"No. I'll meet you. Cut our driving time down."
We decided on a place, and I hung up, feeling so much better knowing I was going to see Caden soon.
I had used nearly a full roll of film on Caden, getting her in this pose and that. I knew it would be a wonderful spread, and I looked forward to developing the shots.
I sat on the grass, taking my camera apart, putting lenses away when I glanced up, noticing Caden had laid down. She laid on her back, her face lifted to the blue sky, neck arched, arms raised above her head, eyes closed, mouth slightly open, the slightest bit of white visible. My eyes scanned down the rest of her body to see her stretched out sensually, one leg out flat against the blanket, the other bent, booted foot flat.
I raised my camera again, snapped, capturing Caden's beauty and grace for all time.
She raised her head, looked at me.
"Why did you take a picture?" she sat up, folding her body into itself. I shrugged.
"It was just a good one."
"Oh. Okay." She smiled. I smiled back.
I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel in time with the beat of the music I was listening to, a smile on my face as I passed the traffic that was getting thicker as it got later. I was excited to see and spend time with Caden. I had no idea what we were going to do, but it didn't matter. I had no idea I would miss her so much. It was ridiculous.
I saw the gas station just up ahead, and pulled in, parking in front, waited. I turned around in my seat as I looked for that little red car of hers. As I sat rain began to sporadically splatter my windshield. I opened my side window, looked up into the night sky that was now black. Rain drops fell onto my face, a few landing in my eyes, making me blink and pull my head back in.
"Hey, you. Do you often stick your head out of a car window and into rain?" I looked up, still blinking furiously to see Caden looking down at me grinning. I smiled back. "Um, yes?"
"Goof. Come on." She walked away, toward her Porsche which was parked a few cars down. I quickly followed, locking my little Volks up.
We drove on in silence for the longest time, Caden driving randomly, the rain falling harder and harder, coming at the windshield with amazing force. It was incredible, getting louder and louder, lightening at our heels as the storm followed us.
"Where are we going?"
"To a place where we can watch the storm."
We drove on for what seemed like forever but in reality was only about ten minutes. Finally she pulled off the road and onto a dirt road, and we began to climb a steep out of the way road that led to a hill. She parked at the bottom, and we climbed, rocks and dirt getting into my shoes, tall grass and weeds making my bare legs itch.
"Where the hell are we?" I asked, almost breathless from the exertion.
"I'm not sure. I saw a sign for it back there and decided to take a chance."
We reached the top of the hill finally and both sat. Sure enough, the entire city could be seen, the lights from the street lights, buildings and houses, and cars, seemed to glow in the darkness. The lightning that was only a couple miles away lit up the heavens, turning night to day for just a second before all was quiet and dark again.
"Wow." I whispered, the beauty of it intoxicating. "You took a great chance." I grinned. She nodded.
"Yeah, it's beautiful." Caden closed herself up, pulling her legs to her chest and hugging them, resting her chin on her knees, then she turned her eyes to me. "So what happened at home?"
"Oh, jeez." I laid back, holding myself up on my elbows. "I told them about Erin." She looked back at me over her shoulder.
"You did what? You came out to your family?" the slightest hint of a smile curved her lips. I nodded.
"Yeah. And just how stupid was that, you ask? Very." I shook my head in annoyance.
"They didn't take it well, I'm assuming, then."
"Nope. Sure didn't. I think my father wanted to beat me senseless. My brother, however, had a field day with it. Asshole."
"Eh, she'll get over it. I think she just mainly wants me to be happy. She was shocked, of course. But I'm not too worried about it."
"So that's why you left?" she laid back, also resting on her elbows.
"What about you? What happened?"
"They just don't understand me. Hell, I barely understand myself." She smiled ruefully. "Do you like me, Laurel?" I looked at her, confused.
"Of course. You're my best friend. What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. I'm just being a bit stupid, need some reassurance that I'm not a horrible, awful person."
"Hardly. You are the furthest thing from that."
Caden turned onto her side, facing me. She played with a weed, watching as she turned it this way and that in her fingers. "Laurel, I really hope I never make you mad at me, or you disappointed in me." She looked up, meeting my gaze. I was baffled. What had happened?
"I don't really see that happening, Caden." I turned to face her. "What's up? What's all this about? Why,..."
I was shocked to find Caden's lips on mine. At some point she had bridged the gap between our bodies and was against me. Her hand rested on my cheek, her lips moving slowly. I took a breath through my nose and lifted a hand, not sure what to do with it, but desperately wanting to touch her, so I found a place for it on her side. With that, she moved a bit closer, moving her hand from my face to the back of my neck, pulling me in closer.
My mind was racing. What was happening? Why was she doing this? God, I wanted this.
My mouth slowly opened, and she took the hint, pushing her tongue between my lips, seeking mine. It didn't take long. Our mouths moved together as I felt her hand stroke the back of my neck, moving into my hair. Her body was trembling beneath my fingers, our bodies flush.
Slowly, slowly she moved away, her mouth taking its warmth from mine. Her eyes were closed as she scooted away, but barely. Finally they opened, and looked into my very being. She said nothing. I took a deep breath, my body still being jilted back into reality, the warm, heavy summer air against my skin instead of Caden. I cleared my throat.
"I don't know why you did that, but I've wanted you to for some time." She smiled a bit, softly.
"Me, too. But never again, Laurel. I wanted to give that to you, and I hope you don't see it as taking it from you. I love you, Laurel. I have for a long time." I opened my mouth to speak, but she put her fingers to my lips. "I did this while I still could, but it can never happen. It just, I can't. Especially now."
"Why especially now?" my voice was so quiet the night almost absorbed it. I was surprised she heard me.
"I just can't.."
"What are you thinking about?" startled, I looked over at my walking companion. Caden had stopped as I hadn't realized I had. She was watching me, hands buried deep in her pockets, baseball cap pulled low to keep her head warm.
"Oh, uh nothing." I smiled, hoping it was convincing. "Just some memory from the past."
"I do that, too." She turned and we began to walk again, the Charles River to our left. I swallowed hard as I tried to get that night out of my head. It had no place there.
"You know, I think back to that last semester at school often." I looked at her, surprised at just how closely her musings were to my own thoughts.
"Oh, yes. It was a difficult time." She looked at me, I nodded. "I miss it, those days, school. All of it. I loved being your roomy." She laughed, looking up into the sky. "Looks like we could get some snow later."
"Yeah. Sure does." My mind was wrapping itself around what she was saying, telling me about those days. I never really knew how she felt about that time in our lives.
"I really loved our friendship, how comfortable we had gotten, the crazy, nutty things we used to do." She smiled at me. "Remember?"
"Oh, yes. I sure do." She sighed.
"And school. I loved it, too. Leaving was the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
"Leaving school, or,..." she looked down, then at me.
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