Kim (KP) Pritekel
Copyright 2001 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

Part 3

I pulled into the visitor's parking lot of Rebecca's school and turned everything off, glanced up at the large red brick building that was Bovine High. I made my way toward the front doors of the massive high school, my hands buried in the deep pockets of my coat, my head bent against the brisk wind.
"How are you doing, Frank?" I asked the security guard who held his post at the double front doors.
"How goes it, Emily? Cold one today, eh?"
"You know it." I smiled at the older man, and entered the building. The halls were mostly deserted as the second to the last class of the day was half into it. I could hear the click clack of someone's high heels in an unseen hallway to my left. I removed my bulky London Fog and carried it in my arms as I headed toward the third floor where my lover's classroom was.
"Ms. Kelly? I need your help over here. This isn't turning out right." One of the students was saying as I walked through the open doorway of Rebecca's room.
"Okay, Brian. Hang on a minute." I spotted the woman with the dark red hair that I loved to run my hands through, it's thick, silky strands running through my fingers. She looked stunning in her green mid-calve skirt that hugged her hips just so and creamy silk blouse. She had removed the matching green jacket at some point in the day. She was bent over looking into a microscope, her very shapely legs ran smoothly out from underneath the fabric of the skirt, and slid easily into cream colored heels, the strong calf muscles defined and delicious.

I leaned against the doorframe with my arms crossed over my chest and stared in appreciation. I was so proud of Rebecca. When we had met nearly six years ago she had been a teller at a bank during the day, and was taking classes at night to earn her teaching degree. I had not only fallen in love with the woman, but also her drive, and her dedication to anything she did. She was breathtaking in every way.
When as a young woman her mother had emigrated from Ireland to the United States, she had met Rebecca's father shortly after, and had become pregnant. Rebecca's mother, Shannon was soon after abandoned by him, leaving Shannon to give birth to her daughter alone, and eventually raise her alone. Shannon never married, wanting to give all her time and energy to her only child. Rebecca and her mother had been very close, and she had been devastated when her mother had died three years earlier.

"Ms. Kelly, someone is here." I straightened when I heard my presence being announced by some nasal sounding girl. Rebecca looked over her shoulder and smiled.

"I'll be right back, Carrie." she said with a light pat on the arm to the student that she had been helping. She walked over to me. Her sensual eyes that were either blue or green, or sometimes both, depending on what she was wearing, were a deep emerald green to match the suit she wore. She wore no make-up, the peaches and cream complexion of a true red head, seemed to glow.

"Hey, you." she said, her voice low and sultry, for my ears only, bringing back memories from that morning. "This is a surprise." I grinned sheepishly, feeling conspicuous with thirty-five pairs of eyes staring at us.

"I got our tickets today. American, just under nine hundred, round-trip."

"Not too bad." she said. "La Guardia?" I nodded.

"My mother called today, too. The funeral is Monday at three."

"When is our flight?" she asked as she subconsciously tucked a restless wisp of my hair behind my ear.

"Tomorrow at six-fifteen in the morning. I figured that by time we got there, it'll be early enough that I can do any visiting and get it out of the way.” Rebecca looked at me strange. “What?”

“Honey, you haven't been back to Colorado in years, and yet you feel that it's a burden to see them?” I stared at her completely oblivious as to why she might be surprised. She could see my confusion, and led me a little further out into the hall. “Emily, do you know what I would give if I could just hop on a plane, and go see my mother?” I sighed and glanced down at my fidgeting hands for a moment before I felt my chin being nudged up. I met her gaze. “You take your family for granted. And your friends.” I stared, incredulous. Her features softened, and she briefly took my hand, squeezing my fingers. “So how are?”

“I'm okay.” I said quietly, her words bouncing around in my mind. “I'll get through this It's just kind of a shock, you know?”

“Ms. Kelly, is this stuff supposed to smoke?” one of the students asked from the black science tables, as he stared down at a Bunsen Burner.

“Oh, boy.” She said with a look of apology in her eyes. “I better get back in there. Where are you off to now?”

“Wal-Mart. I need to pick us up some of those little travel doodads. Do you need anything?” Rebecca shook her head and moved in close to me and whispered in my ear.

“Just you.” She gave me a kiss on the neck. “I'll be a little late. Dr. Landis wants me to stop by his office when I get out of school.”

“Why? Is everything okay?” I asked, my brows drawn with concern.

“Fine. I'm not real sure what he wants. I'll tell you all about it tonight.” And with a soft smile to ease my worry, she walked back into her class. I watched her for a moment, not able to take my eyes off of the way her butt moved under the skirt, the sway of her hips.

“Who was that woman?” I heard that same nasal voiced girl ask as I headed back down the hall. I grinned.

As usual, I had to park clear out in the Antarctic in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Sam Walton sure knew what he was doing when he opened the chain. The bitter cold tried to sneak in around my coat, biting at the exposed skin of my neck and up my sleeves to my arms. I was shivering by time I reached the double doors of the store. I nodded to the old man who stood at the door handing out carts and smiling at people, and headed toward Health and Beauty Aids to get what we needed.

“No! Beth, I, oomph.” I sucked in my breath as the giant teddy bear flew into my stomach. “You're going to pay for that!” I picked up a previously thrown Nerf football, pulled my arm back to launch, when the ball was taken out of my hand from behind. I turned to see a man standing over me, his brows drawn, and an extremely not-happy look on his face.

“You two need to leave.” He hissed. I looked back to Beth who was trying to not break out in hysterical laughter, then I looked around me at the isle that was filled with stuffed animals, balls, and a rubber pool toy that littered the floor around our feet so thick, the white tile could barely be seen. I turned back to the disgruntled employee, and gave him my best, most innocent smile only to have him lift his arm, and point toward the direction of the front door. Beth and I ran out of the store followed by our giggles.

I chuckled as I loaded my cart with mini bottles of shampoo, and travel cases for soap and tooth brushes.

Darla Newman had invited me over for a movie night while her parents were out, but I refused to go unless Beth could go, too. Finally Darla had agreed.

“No. don't make me, Em. Please?” Beth pleaded as she lay on my bed on her stomach, my trusty teddy, Ruffles in her arms. She watched as I sat on the floor in front of my full-length mirror, brushing my hair.

“Beth, you leave in what, like four days? I want to spend as much time with you as I can.” I said, sticking a barrette in my mouth as I pulled one side of my hair back with my hands.

“But does that have to mean at Darla's house?” she groaned as she buried her face in Ruffles thick, brown fur. “That chick is strange, and she does not like me.” She rolled over onto her back, pulling the bear with her, and stared up at the ceiling, connecting the little dots of insulation thingamajigs with her finger. I glanced at her through the mirror.

“Come on, Beth. She's not that bad. It'll be fun.”

“Yeah, so was Auschwitz.” She mumbled.

I ignored her comment, and tucked my pink polo shirt into my shorts and lifted the collar so it framed my neck, and the very bottom of my chin. Beth looked at me through narrowed eyes, and turned back to her stomach.

“You've never wore you shirt like that before. I don't think I've ever even seen you in a shirt like that before.” She sat up.

“It's Darla's. Do you like it?” I asked, standing, and turning around to face her, my arms out to the sides, palms up in expectation.

“Can do without the pink.”

“I knew you'd say that.” I muttered as I turned back to the mirror, putting the last couple of touches to my bangs that were feathered back, adding a final sprits of Aqua Net.

“Then why did you ask?” Beth grabbed Ruffles and hugged him again, looking at my reflection critically.

“I don't know. Maybe I thought for once I'd get a straight answer out of you, or something.” I added some light pink bubble gum lip gloss, smacking my lips together.

“You smell like a gumball machine.” She said, wrinkling her nose. “Em, you look so much better when you go just as yourself, without all that crap.” I turned to look at her, my hands on my hips. I could feel the attitude that I dawned like a cloak when around Darla Newman, slide into place.

“Well, I really don't care what you think, Beth. I happen to like all that crap. Is that okay with you?” she looked at me for a moment, surprised washed briefly over her face before she became expressionless again.

“Since when.” She muttered as she tossed Ruffles aside, and stood from the bed. “Fine. So, are you done? If I have to do this, I want to get it over with as soon as possible.” I watched as she walked out of the bedroom, stunned.

“Emily! Hi!” Darla exclaimed when she opened the front door to her house. She looked as if she was not expecting company, and was beyond thrilled at the surprise. I was slightly annoyed at how fake she could be sometimes.. I looked over at Beth in time to see her roll her eyes. “I see you brought your little friend.” She turned to Beth, a smile plastered to her face. “Beth, isn't it?”

“Yup. Since the day I was born.” I glared at her. Darla looked down to take in Beth's faded blue jeans that were getting thin in the knees, and her scuffed cowboy boots that were planted wide, as if she were waiting for a fight. Dark eyes traveled back up to see the tight, black tank Beth wore that showed her tanned, muscled arms crossed over her chest. She briefly took in the worn Broncos cap, and finally stopped at annoyed, vibrant blue eyes that met her gaze with a raised brow in a silent challenge. Darla's focus immediately turned back to me.

“Come on in. Hurry before we let any flying or crawly things in.” she turned away from us, and disappeared into the dark house.

“Does that count the residence?” Beth muttered as she followed. I stifled a grin.

The Newman house was one of the biggest in the neighborhood, and looked out of place next to all the smaller, two and three bedroom homes that surrounded it. Darla had happily told me one day that her house had “approximately six and one half bedrooms, and three bathrooms. Oh, four if you count the little half bath Daddy put in last year.”

The Newman's were a pretentious, pompous group of people who had lots of money, and even more arrogance. I often wondered why I hung out with her at all. Beth asked me that question often. Ma parents seemed to approve, and I knew that through Darla I would get to know the right people once we hit high school. The right group would be helpful in getting into important clubs that looked good for college. I had already decided that the next four years would be dedicated to getting the best grades, and getting the best scholarships I could. Being a lawyer was an obsession. Besides, it looked better.

“Em, who gives a damn what your folks thing of Darla? She is a little rich bitch.” Beth had said one night, her vibrant blue eyes fire. “You have got to learn that what other people think is not that important. What do they know, anyway? Sometimes I don't think I'm heading where you're heading.” That had made me hear hurt, mostly because I knew Beth spoke the truth.
"So do you guys want anything to drink? Eat? Candy? Ice cream? Chocolate?" We followed the sound of Darla's voice and ended up in the kitchen where the only source of light was that coming out of the open fridge.
"I'll take a cols." I said brightly finding one of the barstools, and plopping down. Beth looked at me as if she wasn't quite sure what to do. I indicated that she should sit on the stool next to mine.
"I don't want-"
"So, Emily! Guess what!" Darla ran right over Beth, not even checking her rear-view mirror to see if she was still alive. I looked at Beth with surprise clearly evident in my green eyes. She was looking down at the floor, a hand on her hip as she lightly chuckled to herself. I didn't know what to do, or if I should.
"Uh, what?" I stammered. My blood began to burn as I felt an automatic need to protect Beth from Darla's harsh judgments, but lacked the courage to do anything.

Darla walked over to the breakfast bar in front of us, leaning down on the counter top with her elbows.
"Remember that guy? Scott Mathews?" I nodded as I opened the top of the Coke she had set in front of me. "You know, the guy with the really cute butt?" again I nodded. "Well, the other day me and Laura and Sandra and Mary were at the mall, and oh my god! There he was! He looked so cute in his shorts and shirt. Oh, I could have just died!" I could hear Beth groan next to me, just barely audible, but I picked up on it. I tapped her leg with the toe of my Ked under the bar when she plopped down on the stool next to mine. "Well, he walks over to us, and he has Spencer Milton, and Brett Kylor with him. So it was like, oh my god! The three most popular, rich guys in our school, right?" Nod. "Okay, so they walk up to us, and Scott says hello to me!" Darla screamed and clapped her hands. "Isn't that great?" I smiled, trying to show my support.
"That is so cool, Darla." I said happily. I ignored Beth as I felt her eyes on me.
"Don't you think that he is just like soooo cute?" she exclaimed, eyeing me expectantly, her dark blond brows raised to near her hairline in anticipation.
"Um, oh yeah. Scott Mathews is so totally cute, Darla. You are so lucky."
"Em, you said you thought-" Beth began to say. I quickly turned to her and cut her off.
"Beth, do you want a drink of my Coke?" she looked at me strangely.
"No." I gave her a look that told her to shut her mouth. She shook her head slightly, her eyes taking on a dull sheen, but said no more about it. Darla walked back over to the fridge, and began to pull out different kinds of meats and cheeses, throwing them on the counter behind her. Then she headed for a cabinet above the microwave, throwing boxes filled with different typed of crackers next to the meat and cheese, rambling the entire time about school, boys, hair, make-up, and clothes. Beth tossed her cap onto the bar in front of us, and ran her hands through dark hair. I could tell she was being pushed far beyond her limits, and the only reason she hadn't throttled Darla Newman was because of me. Finally with a sigh, she put her cap back on, and rested against her forearms on the bar, starting down at her fingers.
"Oh my god, you have got to see this!" Darla exclaimed as she turned back to us, nearly scaring the bejesus out of me. Her brown eyes were wide with excitement, and she hurried out of the room, half-made snacks forgotten on the counter.

She led the way toward the very spacious family room . I had been in Darla's house before, but I watched Beth as she looked around, her mouth slightly open, her eyes wide. I could tell she was trying to hide her reaction to all the beautiful things the Newman's had, but she wasn't doing a very good job of it.
The white carpet was thick, like walking on a cloud. The fifty inch t.v. was in an oak cabinet against the far wall. On either side were shelves lined with hundreds of different figurines, and strange knickknacks. Darla looked over her shoulder at Beth who had a strange expression on her face as she gazed at all the figures.
"Daddy is sent to other countries for his job, and so he always buys some stupid little statue for my mom. She collects them, or something. So I wouldn't become too attached to them if I were you." She looked at me, and winked. Then she broke out into a wide grin. "I'm just kidding.. Sit." she said pointing toward the comfortable looking couch that was covered with a pastel green pattern with bits of blue and gray mixed in. I did as I was told. Beth walked over to the Elizabethan wingback that was upholstered in gray with the same colors of green and blue of the couch. I looked at her with a question in my eyes. Why wouldn't she sit with me? Beth wouldn't look at me. I could tell she was angry at me for dragging her here, and was just biding her time before she could escape. I knew Darla had aimed that comment about the figurines at Beth, and I knew Beth was smart. She didn't miss a beat. But didn't she understand that Darla was shallow, and simple? Had to belittle others to feel better herself? Why couldn't Beth just fit in like everybody else? I wanted all my friends to get along.
"This is my father's newest toy. It's called a VCR. I don't know what that stands for, though." She grinned sheepishly.
"Video cassette recorder." Beth said dully as she looked at the international figurines again, her chin resting in her hand.
"Yeah! That's right." Darla exclaimed. "I'll have to remember that. Anyway, we got 'Ordinary People' with that really, really cute guy, Timothy Hutton. And my mom made me get that boring movie, 'Kramer vs. Kramer'. But it had Dustin Hoffman in it, and he's kinda cute."
"That's a great movie!" Beth exclaimed, sitting up a little more in her chair. "That has Meryl Streep in it. She is one of the greatest actresses to ever walk across the screen."
"Whatever." Darla said dryly. She took one of the videos out of its box, and slid it into the large, silver machine. The t.v. clicked on with a static filled whoosh, and the movie began.
Beth was transfixed by the images she saw on the screen of the television that was bigger than any her mom or my parents had ever owned. Darla sat on the couch next to me, and talked incessantly about boys, and hair, and clothes, and make-up, and jewelry, and Scott Mathews. On and on until I finally found myself on autopilot, nodding my head and saying "Uh huh" now and then, until finally she said something that caught my attention cold.
"So why do you hang out with her, Emily? She is a freak." My head snapped around from watching Dustin Hoffman fighting with his little boy over eating ice cream instead of dinner.
"You heard me. Beth is a total freak, and will bring you down. You must know that?" I quickly turned to look at Beth to see if she had heard any of this. "Don't worry about her. She's so wrapped in that stupid movie that I doubt a tornado could bother her."
"Please don't talk about Beth that way, Darla. She is my best friend." I said weakly. I didn't know what to do. Beth was indeed my best friend, and I didn't want her to get hurt, but Darla was the only other friend I had around the neighborhood, and with Beth gone for the rest of the summer, I didn't want to be left alone.

"Emily, that is the problem! People talk about her at school all the time. And," she leaned in, almost conspiratorially, "They're starting to talk about you, too."

"Darla," I stopped as I turned toward Beth who had stood from her chair. She looked at us, her face expressionless, but her eyes were burning.
"Been a hoot, I better get going. Later." She walked toward the front door, fists clenching and unclenching at her sides. She never looked at either of us.        
"Beth!" I called out as I raced after her. I could feel my heart sink.
"Emily!" Darla called out after me. I ignored her. Beth was just about to descend the steps of the porch when I caught up to her.
"Wait, Beth please don't go." I said, breathless. She turned on me, she was furious. She took a step forward until her face was mere inches from mine.
"I am not going to stay here, Em. That little rich bitch may have you wrapped around her little finger, but I know her game. I've known conniving little debutantes all my life, and why you'd put yourself in the path of one on purpose is beyond me." She turned and began to walk again, her foot on the first step.
"I'm sorry, Beth." I threw my arms up into the air, at a loss of what to do anymore. Beth kept going. She hit the second step, her boot about to touch the path that would lead to the sidewalk and Beth's salvation. I watched her, feeling my anger build. "God, I feel like I am always saying that to you, saying that I am sorry!" She stopped and looked up at me, her face had resigned, her eyes sad.
"Maybe that's because you keep screwing up." I stared, dumbstruck. "Em, I am used to people looking down on me, laughing at me. I have a mother who is a drunk and couldn't keep her husband. I am different. I'm not like all the other girls. And all that is fine. I don't care about them. But you, Em. You're my best friend. Aren't you supposed to stand up for me like I stand up for you?" she turned from me again only to turn back. "And one more thing, Em. I got news for you, no matter how much you try to be like the Darla Newman's of the world, you're different, too. Some day you just might realize that." I watched, paralyzed, as Beth walked to the end of the path, and out onto the sidewalk to head home. I turned back to Darla's house, staring up at its massive structure, so torn. My eyes were drawn to the silhouette that was coming to the door.

"Why did she leave?" I stared at my friend, something in me telling me that she had been standing there the entire time, and knew exactly what was going on.

"Look, Darla. I'm not feeling too good. I'm gonna go home." She didn't say anything for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders.

"Okay. See you later." I heard the heavy front door slam shut as I headed for the path.

As I walked home I thought of what had just happened. When had Beth and I grown so far apart? It seemed to me on that hot summer night that one day we had met, been so much alike that my parents used to tease us and say that they could take home Beth one day, and no one would ever know it wasn't me. Then the next day I woke up, and we are two completely different people with two completely different goals in life, and ways. It wasn't fair.

I picked a ripe apple off of the Nivens' tree as I passed it, taking a large bite of the sweet, ripe fruit. I glanced over at my house across the street, and decided to keep walking, not ready to go home yet.

I knew just on a gut level that once we started high school me and Beth would be no more. She would go her way, and I would go mine. All the same, Beth Sayers was a part of me; a part of my heart, and soul, and I hoped always would be. I thought about the future. What would it bring? Would I end up some big lawyer in some big city as I hoped I would? Where would Beth be? I plopped down on the curb in front of the McKinzey house, and at my apple as I thought of one time when we'd been about eleven or twelve. We had promised with a pinky swear that we would buy houses on the same block, maybe even next door, and always go over each other's place and have lunch, and watch movies together. I smiled ruefully as I chewed. That had sure gone out the window. Even at a few weeks away from fifteen, I knew that was no longer to be. Did I have to chose between Beth and my new life? My new friends? I know Beth had been hurt by Darla, and my non-action. She had every right to be. But did she have a right to place me in a situation where I had to chose? I didn't know. I stood from the curb, threw the apple core into the McKinzey trash barrel, and walked on.

Wal-Mart was busy as usual. Was this place ever empty? I pushed my buggy strategically around slow, and inconsiderate shoppers who felt the need to park their cart in the middle of the isle, and talk. I barely managed to miss being hit by an old woman who was staring down the isles she passed instead of where she was going. Finally finding the HBA department, I ducked down an isle containing mouth wash and toothpaste. So many brands to chose from. I smiled as I thought about Beth. She had some of the most straight, white teeth I'd ever seen. She had been one of those lucky people who never had to see the inside of an orthodontists lair. Lucky kid. I found a small, travel-size bottle of Scope, and tossed it into my buggy. As I found the rest of our travel toiletries, I wondered if maybe I was giving my past too much thought. I remember my father once saying, let the past lie with the dead. I thought perhaps he was right when I saw two little girls who looked to be around eight or nine, walking arm in arm. One little girl had bright red hair, and sparkling green eyes. Her friend's black hair was woven into tight braids with brightly colored barrettes at the ends. Her chocolate complexion was bright with youth, her dark eyes laughing as they giggled together. I stood for a moment and watched them. The perfect combination; one dark, one light to balance each other. Beth and I were the same. My light side met her darker personality, and together we had been like yin and yang. One began where the other ended, creating the perfect circle.
I wondered around my house restlessly for four days, not sure what to do. I knew somehow that Beth did not want to see me, so I wasn't going to force yet another apology on her if she didn't want it. My mother kept glancing at me with an odd expression on her face. She wanted to ask, but something held her back. She gratefully accepted my extra help around the house, but finally the day before Beth was to leave for camp she placed her hand over mine, stopping me in the middle of folding a pair of socks. I looked into her concerned eyes.
"Honey, Beth is going to be leaving tomorrow, right?" I nodded. "Why don't you just go and talk to her?" I shrugged, once again amazed at how perceptive my mother could be.
"I can't." I said simply. She shook her head sadly, and continued to fold laundry. I knew deep down that I was wrong this time, and part of my resistance was my own courage, or lack of it. The plain and simple of it was, I didn't know what to say.
It was a hot night as June was half over. It was turning out to be a record-breaking summer with temperatures in the upper nineties to the one hundred mark every day. I was miserable.
My parents had bought Billy and I a huge trampoline a couple of summers ago, and I laid on it as I stared up at the stars. My parents were asleep. Usually Billy would have joined me, but he was gone. I missed him terribly. At the beginning of the month he had left for the Army, sent somewhere in the south for boot camp. I sighed heavily as I thought of beginning school come the fall. High school. The idea scared me, as well as excited me. I wanted to make my grades everything to me. I didn't care about anything else, as long as I could get a good scholarship, and go on to law school. Everything else was just fluff.
My thoughts turned to Beth, again. What would she do once she hit high school? She hated school. I figured she would probably pursue the theater. I smiled to myself as I thought back to the production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' that had been put on as the summer musical last year. She had played Mrs. Potiphar, not a big part, but she had been wonderful. I had stared up at her on that stage with so much pride. She was so good at what she did. I honestly thought that theater had been the only thing that kept Beth here. She had nothing else, no connections-
"What are you thinking about out here all by yourself?" I looked up to see Beth staring down at me. She wore cut off Jean shorts with a tank top, her hands buried in her hip pockets.
"School." I said quietly. She nodded and climbed up onto the black tramp with me.
"Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about that, too." She sighed as she plopped down on her back, the entire tarp bouncing us both slightly at the quick movement. It always reminded me of water. That must be what it was like to sleep on a ship, I mused.
"I was also thinking about that musical you did last summer." I could almost hear the smile spread across Beth's young face.
"Oh, yeah. 'Potiphar had very few cares, he was one of Egypt's millionaires," she began to sing. I joined her, "having made a fortune buying shares in, Pyramids.'" We broke into a healthy stream of laughter. It felt so good to laugh with her again. We didn't laugh as much as we used to.
"That was probably the best time of my life so far." She said wistfully. I turned to look at her profile. She still wore the smile, her eyes lost in memories.
"This summer theater camp is going to be really good for you, isn't it?" I asked. She looked at me, and nodded.
"Yeah, I think so. I can't wait I only feel complete when I'm on that stage, doing a play."
"Has your mother calmed down any?" Beth turned to look at the stars again.
"She'll get over it. She always does." She placed her hands on her stomach and began to beat out a simple rhythm that kept time with the tune in her head, probably something from 'Joseph...' "Do you remember that song 'Close Every Door' from the musical last year?" she asked, eyes glued to the stars.
"Yes. It's a beautiful song."
"You think? I always thought it was so sad. 'Close every door to me, take those I love, from me. Bar all the windows, and shut out the light...,'" I closed my eyes as I listened to Beth's smooth voice sing. "'Do what you want with me, hate me, and laugh at me. Darken my day times, and torture my nights... for we know we shall find, our own piece of mind, for we have been promised a land of our own.'" She began to hum the song softly, her thoughts a million miles away, but suddenly she stopped. "I always felt that way, like that song was about me, you know? I could relate." She was quiet for a moment, then she looked over at me with a grin. "Have you ever noticed that the tarp on a tramp smells like the seats on the school bus?" she turned to me when I didn't answer, and found me staring at her like she was crazy. "You've never noticed that?" I shook my head. "Yeah, well you smart, uncreative types." She sat up and looked down at me. "I'm sorry about that whole thing at Darla's, Em. I know that you're just kind of stuck in the middle."
"It's okay, Beth. You don't have to apologize. It's not your fault. It's mine. Darla isn't a real friend, I realize that." I said softly.
"So why are you friends with her?"
"Someone to hang around with, I don't know."
"With friends like that," Beth smiled. I smiled back. "I better go. I'm leaving in the morning, and didn't want to leave mad, or you mad at me. This has been a tough few days." She scooted to the side and lowered herself to the ground. I stared at her back in awe. How can she be so forgiving? Beth had the biggest heart of anyone. What would I do without her? She turned to look at me.
"What?" I asked, confused at her expectant expression.
"Don't I rate a hug?" I grinned, and jumped down from the tramp and into her arms. We stood in each other's embrace for nearly five minutes, neither wanting to be anywhere else in the whole world. "I'm going to miss you." she whispered in my ear. A shiver ran down the length of my body.
"I'll miss you, too."
"You'll write, right?" Beth asked when finally we parted. I nodded, knowing speaking at that moment would be a mistake. I swallowed my rising emotion down.
"Sure. But you have to write back, Beth Sayers!" I admonished. She grinned shyly.
"I will. I promise. Maybe I can call you on your birthday." she said, her voice hopeful.
"You better." I said, trying again with every ounce of self-control in me to not cry. Beth smiled as if she could see my inner turmoil. She ran a quick hand through my hair and began to turn away.
"See ya." I watched her walk over to the fence that separated our two yards. She climbed up on top of the trashcan there, and with a mighty heave, pulled herself up to balance for a moment on top of the wooden fence. She looked at me over her shoulder again and smiled, then jumped down to the other side.

I grabbed the few pieces of mail I took from the box between my teeth, and fumbled with one hand to get the right key into the lock, my other hand and arm boggled down with blue plastic bags filled with our stuff to go. The door opened after my third attempt, and I hurried inside to drop my load before my arm came off. Dumping everything on the kitchen table, I headed out to the car for the rest.
With a sigh I dropped my keys on the table amidst the mass of bags, and hung my purse on the doorknob of the pantry.
"Hey, lover boy." I crooned when I felt Simon's tail weaving it's way between my calves, leaving a black trail of fur on my jeans. "Well, looks like we're going to have to make mommy brush you tonight, huh little man?" I gushed, rubbing the top of his head, and down between his eyes, his eyes tightly shut, loud purring filling the quiet kitchen.         

I grabbed the small pile of envelopes, and began to sift through them. "Bill, bill, junk mail, bill, hmmm." I dropped the other bits of mail back to the table and held one in my hand, the handwritten name and address catching my eye. I flipped the letter over to see if there was a return address on the back flap. Monica Nivens, Pueblo, Colorado. I drew my brows together then a small grin spread across my lips. I slid my finger under the flap, and tore the paper open. A single sheet had a short, neatly handwritten note.

        Dear Emily,

        I want to tell you how sorry I am about Beth. She was an incredible woman, and was a very good friend to have. I am looking forward to seeing you if you come back home for the funeral. Please come. Emily, it has been far too long since you've been home.
        Your mother tells me you are happily involved with a teacher named Rebecca. Why didn't you tell me! If you come down, and I hope you do, I am looking forward to meeting this special woman who was finally able to keep a hold of Emily Thomas. Lord knows the rest of us couldn't!

Take care, Emily, and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you right now.

                                                        Love Always,

        P.S. If you'd like, Connie and I would love for the two of you to stay with us. Which brings me to -

        P.S.S. I can't wait for you to meet Connie. I wish you could have come to our commitment ceremony, but I do understand the life of a lawyer, boy do I! Connie and I constantly fight about it!

I laid the letter on the table with a smile. Monica. She was right; it had been far too long. I chuckled as I began to take all of my purchases out of the bags, and arrange them for packing, or putting away. I smiled again as I could hear my mother's voice,.....
"Did you hear that Claudia Nivens' girl is going to law school?" my ears perked up immediately. A real life law student? And so close!
"She don't look smart enough to be no lawyer." my father said, sitting in his recliner, feet up, newspaper in his hands. My mother looked over at him, putting her Redbook down into her lap.
"Henry. That's not nice."
"Well, it's true." my father said looking at her from around his paper. "She looks like a damn idiot with those glasses of hers always just half way on her nose. Who in hell wears glasses half on and half off?"
"I thought glasses were supposed to make you look smarter?" I said from my place on the floor in front of the t.v., watching my favorite character, Jo on The Facts of Life.
"Not her."
Claudia Nivens' husband, Ray had died in the early seventies from a terrible accident at the CF&I steel mill, and she and their only daughter, Monica lived off of what life insurance he had had, as well as Claudia was a nurse at St. Mary Corwin Hospital. Monica was much older than I was, so she had little to do with us kids. She started law school when I was only twelve. I sat on the banana seat of my bike from our driveway and watched across the street as Monica would hurry out the front door with a backpack slung over one shoulder, usually more books in her hand as she raced toward her beat up light blue Volkswagen Bug. She'd look over at me, her black hair pinned up on the sides, the dark length blowing around her pretty face and give me the slightest smile, and disappear into the car, and drive off.

I entered the kitchen again from running some packages of toilet paper to the bathroom upstairs, eyeing the letter on the table. I thought back to the summer Beth had gone off to camp.

Dear Emily, June 23, 1981
        Hey, Em. Um, I'm not real good at writing letters, so you're going to get what you get, okay? Anyway, I made it all the way here to Tennessee all on my own. Man, was that scary! I never flew before. It's really kind of cool in a way. When you take off from the runway the plane starts to go really, really fast, and you feel almost like you're stuck to your seat. Then when that huge, metal bird lifts off, your stomach goes, too. Kind of like being on a roller coaster, but not as bad.

        My dad was so happy to see me, I really thought he was going to cry! I have never seen him so emotional before, yikes! His wife, Lynn is really nice, too. She's pregnant, so in a few months I'll have a little brother or sister! Isn't that great? I never thought I'd be an older sister, though lord knows I'm surprised I haven't been five times over by my mother.

        Well, I got to camp three days ago. It is really nice here. The camp is HUGE! There are kids here from all over the U.S. I met a girl from Alaska the other day! Isn't that wild? I'm in a cabin with seven other girls, not counting our counselor. They are all pretty nice for the most part. Only three of us are here to do theater. The others I'm not real sure about. It is really hot and humid here. Ugh. I guess it's like that here in the south. They have the coolest accents here. You know how I pick them up, so I'm sure it won't take long and I'll be saying things like y'all, and fixin' too, usedtacould. It's so funny. Like it's all one word! Love it.

         I guess this will have to do for now. I miss you a lot!!!!! I'll write again soon. Oh, and I'm sending you a birthday card, too. Hopefully you'll get it on time!


A birthday wish for a special June 24, 1981
friend on her special day.....  
Happy Birthday from that  
special place in my heart.  

Hey, Em. I know this card is kind of dorky, but it was all I could find. Happy Birthday! I miss you!!!! Beth.

P.S. The food here is awful! One girl said that this stuff tastes like prison food. I wonder how she knows that?



         Dear Beth, 6/27/81

         Hello. I was so excited to get your letter! I got your card today, too. Thank you. I can't believe I am going to be 15 tomorrow, can you? Sometimes I think we are getting so old. Mom says that dad is going to start teaching me how to drive, and he's going to stop at the driver's license place and get me a driving book to study! Isn't that exciting? I can't wait.

        Everything here is pretty much the same. It has been soooo hot here, too. But as you know, it's dry heat. What's humidity like? I hate it. I've heard that humidity can cause all kinds of pimples. Is that true? I sure hope not! If I plan to live in New York or Los Angeles some day, I'll get the hugest zit on my face as I'm trying some huge case in court! Wouldn't that be awful? The judge would probably laugh his butt off.

        Me and Darla went swimming yesterday. It was fun, but we ran into Scott Mathews there. I am so sick of hearing about him, and having to see him. I mean, jeez. I don't care about him or any of his stupid friends! They tried to invite us over to Scott's house for some stupid pool party. Darla was thrilled. I didn't want to go, so I didn't. Besides, I think my parents would have flipped! My mom says we are way too young to date, and she thinks that Darla's parents are just asking for trouble by encouraging her to. I don't know if I agree with them, but all the same, I'm not interested. I have too much else to worry about other than some boy.

        I better go for now. It is so late, and I am so tired. I think my mom has a big day planned tomorrow. She won't tell me. I miss you, too. Please come back soon!

                  Emily Jane Thomas



         Dear Em, July 3, 1981

         I am so happy! We had to write a short one-act play to act out with ourselves and two or three other people, and then we performed them for our teacher, he's this strange guy named Buck. That's what he wants us to call him. Wild, huh? Anyway, so we perform them, and he'd pick the one he liked the best, and then the winner would do their play for the entire camp. I won! Isn't that great? See, Em, I told you those scenes that you and me acted out would be useful (smile).

        I met the coolest counselor today. Her name is Casey something. I don't know her last name. She is so much fun. She isn't in our cabin, but the one next to it. I think she is good friends with our counselor, Kim. She is from Montana, but lived most of her early life in England, and has this wicked British accent. She is really big into the theater. She is seventeen. Em, you should see her. She has long, blonde hair with these big expressive brown eyes. Eyes kind of like a puppy dog. She has the most beautiful smile. I think you'd like her, she's so nice.

        I've heard that about humidity, too. But I don't know if that's true or not. I've actually noticed that my skin is healthier here. Don't know. Either way, Em, no judge in his right mind is about to kick you out of a courtroom! If he does, tell me, and I'll kick his ass for you. (smile)

        Better go. Happy 4th of July! I miss you so much! I hope these next two months fly by.




         Greetings!, 7/8/81

        Hi, Beth! I was so happy when you called me. When I didn't hear from you on my birthday I was so sad. But then you called the next day, and it was all okay again. Just the sound of your voice made me happy, and not miss you quite as much. At least for a while, anyway. (grin)

        Me and mom went to the store today. We both ran out of eye make-up. That stuff is so expensive, you know? Jeez. Those cosmetic companies must think we are all rich. Good thing my parents give me a generous allowance.

        I am so proud of you, Beth. I knew you would do well there. I saw your mom today. She asked if I had heard from you. Why haven't you written her? She got a job finally. I think she said she's at the grocery store. I hope she'll like it there. I know it's been hard for you guys since she got fired from the bank after that whole... deal.

        I didn't know you guys were allowed to be friends with the counselors? Better go. Darla is taking me to the movies tonight. I have to start getting ready.
When are you coming home?

P.S. Do you think I should use my full name once we get to high school?

                  Emily Jane Thomas



         Dear Beth, 7/14/81

        Beth, why haven't you written? Are you okay? Please write soon. I miss you! I miss your letters, too....

        P.S. My dad took me driving today. It was so scary! We went driving around the cemetery so I could see what it's like with a curvy road. Plus my dad said that if I killed us we'd be in the right place. He's such a goof!




         Dear Em, July 21, 1981

          Hey, Em. Sorry I haven't written in awhile. I've been really busy. Buck has us working our butts off. Me and this guy, Chris had to write a 2-act play together. It is really good. That took a lot of time, though. We couldn't decide on a script forever, but then he finally decided to agree with me. Of course, I had to persuade him just a little. (evil grin) I'm glad he came to his senses. I hate the sight of blood.

         Oh! I have got to tell you about this. Last night me and Casey, remember the counselor I told you about?, snuck out and went swimming. It was so fun! It was so bad. We are not allowed to be out of our cabins past ten, but we waited until about one in the morning, and met out behind our cabins. She really surprised me, though. She took off her clothes! She wanted me to 'skinny dip' with her, but I was like no way! But there we were at the lake, and she is completely nude. She is beautiful. I really admire her a lot. If I could only have half the body at seventeen that she has!

So my mother got a job? Good for her.

Better go. Miss you.

P.S. Why did you have to buy eye make-up? You don't wear eye make-up. Do you? Oh, and humidity is beginning to get sticky hot. We're in the middle of a major heat wave right now. Ugh!!

P.S.S. To answer your question about your name. Why would you go by your full name just because it's high school? You said you always hated your full name.




         Dear Beth, 7/25/81

        I was glad to hear from you. I was getting worried. This Casey sounds kind of like trouble. She can get you both in so much hot water if she's not careful. She is the counselor! Be careful, Beth. Why on earth would she take her clothes off in front of you?

        Scott Mathews finally asked Darla out. She was so excited. She set me up with one of his friends, Seth Lewis. I think it's kind of ironic that his name and yours rhyme. Anyway, I am so glad that you'll be back in a month. How is the acting going? I miss you.

        P.S. Yeah, I do hate my full name, but it sounds a lot more grown up than Emmy. Don't you think?

Emily Thomas



         Dear Em, August 1, 1981

        Hey. Wow. Casey went on a trip with some of the other counselors to a town called Cropville, (no kidding!), which is only about ten miles away from camp. She bought me this really beautiful bracelet. I'm laying here on my bunk right now looking at it. It's silver, (I told her how much I like silver) and it has a bunch of charms on it. Like this one is a heart, this one is a happy face, and this one is a sad face. She was tying to get as close to the comedy/tragedy faces of drama as she could. Isn't that sweet? We've snuck out every night for the last two weeks. It's been amazing. We almost got caught last night. It was pretty close.

        Better go. Miss you.

        Don't grow up too fast, Em.




         Dear Beth, 8/5/81

        What are you doing, Beth? Are you crazy? You are going to get into so much trouble! What is it with this girl? What are you doing that is 'so amazing'? What, does she let you lay on top of her, too? Do you two kiss, and do other stuff, too?



         Dear Beth, 8/7/81

        Hi. I'm sorry. I had no right to say that, Beth. Please forgive me? How is camp going? Have you written anything else, lately? I miss you a lot.

Love, (if you can)
Emily Thomas


Dear Beth, 8/12/81
Are you ever going to write back to me? Where are you? What is going on? Do you still see Casey? Talk to me, Beth. Please?

        I broke up with Seth. He wanted to kiss me. I thought he was just way too much of a dork. It's been really hot. Billy is going to be able to come home for Christmas. We just found out. Have you written your mother yet?

       I miss you, Beth.

Emily Jane Thomas


Dear Beth, 8/15/81


Emily Jane Thomas


Dear Emily, August 20, 1981

Hello. Camp is good. They made Casey leave. She left yesterday. Bastards. I should be coming home in about a week. Probably around the time you get this. I hope you're doing good. See you soon.



I stared at the short letter in my hand. I wasn't sure what to think. Was she mad at me for letting my mouth get away from me yet again? Why did her friend have to leave camp? I had so many questions and thoughts running through my brain it made my head hurt.

I sat down on my bed and stared out my window. I re-read the letter again before I tossed it on the comforter beside me.         Grabbing my teddy, Ruffles and holding him to me, I laid back against the pillows. My teddy always comforted me. I looked at the pile of envelopes I had stacked on my dresser. All of Beth's letter's from over the summer. It had been so exciting to come home from some place, and see the newly arrived letter waiting for me to tear open and read. Beth's large, sloppy writing called to me. I smiled as I realized her scrawl was as carefree as she who penned it. The smile disappeared when that new girl, Casey entered my thoughts. Was she Beth's new best friend? It sounded that way to me. I sighed as I finally admitted to myself that I was jealous of this counselor. Why did Beth like her so much? Was it because she was older? Was she prettier than me? I rolled my eyes at this last thought. Who cared what she looked like? Blonde with big, brown eyes. Sounds ugly to me.
I rolled over on my side, taking Ruffles with me. Staring at my closet door with the poster of Olivia Newton-John on it I sighed. Olivia had blond hair, but she had beautiful blue eyes. Not dorky brown like Casey. Her glossy lips smiled at me, her over-sized shirt leaving her bronze shoulder exposed, her short hair swept back from her face with a headband. I smiled back at her. I wished that someday I would be beautiful like that. Suddenly needing to hear the soft voice of the goddess, Olivia, I rolled off the bed to my stereo and put on my record of the soundtrack to Grease!. I smiled as I heard Olivia sing 'You're the One That I Want' with John Travolta. I closed my eyes with a smile as the pianist began to pound out the blusey beat.
"'I got chills, they're multiplyin'," I sang as I danced around my small room with Ruffles in my arms. I started as my bedroom door slammed open, my aunt Kitty leaning against it with her eyes closed as she sang along with me.
"'You better shape up, 'cause I need a man.....'" I giggled as she came into the room and grabbed my hands and swung me around.
"'You're the one that I want, oh oh oh. Honey. The one that I want, oh oh oh. Honey. The one that I want, oh oh oh. The one I need, oh yes indeed!'"
The song came to an end, and we both collapsed on my bed out of breath. We turned to look at each other, finally exploding in a fit of giggles.
"You're so silly, Aunt Kitty." I laughed.
"Yup. I am." She sat up, grabbing my hand as she stood. "I have been sent to get you for dinner." She began to pull me off the bed, and out the door.
"Wait! Aunt Kitty!" I cried as I tried to keep up with her quick pace. We began to race down the stairs.
"Come on." Was all she would say. We walked through the family room, that is, she walked, and I was dragged. My parents were sitting on the couch watching Family Feud.
"Mom?" I asked as we passed by. She smiled up at me and waved. I finally relented and kept pace with my crazy, young aunt. We settled into her car, and headed toward town.        
"What's going on, Aunt Kitty? I thought we were going to eat dinner?"
"We are. Just you and me." I smiled, and she returned the smile. My aunt was the kind of person that made every person she came in contact with feel special. She had an easygoing personality, and was loads of fun. She was only about ten or so years older than I was, what my mom called a "late in life baby" for my grandparents. She had long, light brown hair, just a shade lighter than my mom's and mine. Her dark gray eyes were kind, and usually smiling.
"So where are we going?" I asked, my arm resting along the open window, the breeze flowing through the car blowing hair in both our faces. She smiled at me again.
"Gee, thanks."
"Anytime, kiddo."
I began to notice that we had driven toward town, and then right past it. Where were we going? As if in answer to my unspoken question, my aunt turned onto a dirt road that led to what looked like nowhere. I glanced over at her only to meet with a warm smile.
"Almost there." A small lake loomed up before us surrounded by trees and wild grass. A small dock bobbed off shore. It was beautiful. The late afternoon sun shone overhead giving the water a glowing life all its own. Aunt Kitty parked the car under the shade of a massive tree, and got out. I followed suit. She went around to the trunk and pulled out a large picnic basket.
"Come on." she said, leading the way to an almost non-existent path that led through the dense foliage.
"How do you know about this place, Aunt Kitty?" I asked, happily following.
"Your grandfather used to take us here when me and your mom were kids. I was pretty little, but I never forgot it." She smiled back over her shoulder at me. Finally we emerged from the mini forest, and ended up right on the bank of the small lake. "I think this is a man-made lake that some crazy old man had put on his property in the twenties." Aunt Kitty said as she opened the basket and brought out a large red and white checkered tablecloth and spread it out on the wild grass. I reached my hand toward the basket only for it to be slapped. I looked at her with surprised eyes. "No. You sit and relax. I do the work."
I sat cross-legged and watched my aunt as she brought out a container full of hot Kentucky Friend Chicken mashed potatoes, and another of gravy. She opened the box of chicken and waited expectantly for my approval. I giggled and nodded. She nodded in response, then took out the four, hot biscuits and little pads of butter.
"And to wash it all down, our house wine." she produced two bottles of Dr. Pepper, handing one to me, which I immediately opened and took a long sip of to try and alleviate the hot day. As we ate we talked about school, that would begin in just under two weeks.
"So are you nervous?" she asked around a mouthful of biscuit.
"No." I said a little too quickly. She glared at me, just the hint of a smile at the corner of her lips. "Yes." I grinned. "But I'm looking forward to it. I've always wanted to go to high school. I remember when Billy started. I was so jealous." Aunt Kitty grinned.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. When your mom started I was only, jeez, how old was I?" she said as she stared off into the past. "Six, seven? But I remember it clear as day." I chewed the chicken I had just bit off the bone, then turned serious. Well, at least as serious as I could ever get around Aunt Kitty.
"So, why are we here?"
"Why, to eat of course."
"No, no. I mean why just you and me?" Aunt Kitty put her hand on her chest and looked stunned.
"I am wounded, child. Can I not enjoy a day with my favorite niece?"
"I'm your only niece." I giggled.
"Yeah, so all the more reason for me to spend time with you, yes?"
"Yes. But this isn't usual, Aunt Kitty. You always just come over to our place." My aunt's face turned serious, which worried me.
"Okay, kiddo. Yes, there is a reason we're here,” Aunt Kitty's words were cut off as she began one of her coughing fits. The year before she had been struck with a severe case of pneumonia, and had not been able to completely shake the cough. I waited patiently, a shard of concern filling me. She took a deep breath, and continued. “Your mom is worried about you."
"What! Why?" I could feel myself beginning to get angry.
"Now, now. Calm down. Don't have a brain explosion. Emily, your folks love you very much, and they just want you to be happy. Which, I got to tell ya is a pretty stupid thing for a parent to want. I mean, a teenager happy? Yeah. And they think I'm crazy? Paaleeze!" I smiled, feeling myself calming. Sort of. She smiled at me, and reached out to gently brush some hair out of my eyes. "They want what's best for you. But, see, I am not here to tell you to do anything special with yourself. No, no. That's what your mom would want me to do. Un uh. That's not what you need. What you need is for someone to listen. Someone who can be objective. So spit it out." Aunt Kitty leaned back on her elbows, her legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles, her eyes boring into my very soul.
"Spit what out? What do you want me to tell you?" I asked as I lazily made patterns on the tablecloth with my fingertips, not wanting to look at my aunt. I was afraid that everything I was feeling would just tumble out of my mouth. My aunt always had that affect on me.
"Tell me what's going through that noggin of yours. Even I've noticed that for about the last six months or so you have been acting a little on the strange side. Your mom seems to think that your friend Beth has something to do with it." My head shot up at the mention of Beth. This caught Aunt Kitty's attention, and she raised a brow. "Ah, Houston we have contact. Okay. So we talk about Beth."
My mind raced as I thought about how much I should tell her. She studied my face, her eyes filled with infinite patience. I knew I had always been able to tell Aunt Kitty anything in the past, my secrets never passing through her lips. But this. This was something different. I wanted to tell her all about me and Beth on New Year's, and all the fights we had been having since then. How jealous I felt now.
"Come on, Emmy. Talk to me." I looked at my aunt again. I could feel my throat constrict with unshed emotion that threatened to spill out and embarrass me, so I decided to talk before my tears could beat me to it.
"See, me and Beth, we have a very special friendship. Oh, Aunt Kitty." I cried. I angrily ground my fists into my eyes like a five year old child, angry at the tears that leaked out. Aunt Kitty smiled and gently rubbed my leg.
"I thought so." she said quietly, almost too quiet for me to hear. "Tell me about it."
An hour later I felt drained. Everything I had told Aunt Kitty hung in the air between us as if it had a palpable existence of its own. Aunt Kitty, who was now laying on her back, looked up at the gathering clouds. It looked like it might rain. She sighed. I looked over at her from my own position on my back. I was terrified to hear what she would say. Through my entire tale she had remained completely silent, her full attention on every word I said.
"Oh, Emmy." she finally breathed. Her voice was full of sadness. "I had a friend like Beth once, too." My eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Yup." she nodded. "We were friends from the time we were in about seventh grade. That's when we met. We were friends until we were, oh, I'd say eighteen, nineteen, maybe."
"What happened?" I asked, breathless. Aunt Kitty smiled, but there was no humor in that smile.
"I met Ron." she said simply. I didn't understand. She saw my confusion and smiled as she continued. "See, Karen, that was her name, Karen and I moved out of our parent's houses when we were seniors in high school,"
"Why?" I asked, intrigued by the idea, and surprised that I had never heard about that.
"Because we were young and stupid, that's why. We thought we were old enough to handle the world, and anything it had to throw at us. Boy were we wrong." She grinned at me. "Anyway, we found this rundown, cheap apartment, and moved in together. We were roommates. Karen wanted to be 'special' roommates, like when we were younger. I went along with it for a little while, but then I met Ron."
"Um, by 'special', do you mean like me and Beth at New Year's?" I asked, my voice timid. She nodded.
"Yes. I loved Karen very much. But I didn't want to live the rest of my life with her, like that. She did."
"Why? Why didn't you want to spend the rest of your life with Karen, as her roommate?" I asked, somewhat confused. If you loved somebody.....?
"Because. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with her." Aunt Kitty was quiet for a moment, a smile spread across her lips. She blinked, and continued. "But I felt more comfortable with Ron. I felt like my life belonged with him, not her. Karen was a very strong person. Those kind of people with strength like that fulfill the emptiness in their lives. It's a special breed, Emmy. It sounds like your friend, Beth has that same inner strength."
"Like Karen."
"Like Karen." Aunt Kitty agreed with a smile. "You should be glad that you've had this special bond with her. I will warn you, Emily. You two will eventually go your separate ways. Maybe not today, or two years from now, but Beth will go out to find her own life, and her own fulfillment. Don't try and stop her, and most importantly, Emmy, don't try and change her. Okay?"
"Okay, Aunt Kitty. I promise."
"Beth is who she is, just as you are who you are."
I helped Aunt Kitty clean up our mess, and load it all back into her trunk. I slammed the heavy door shut, and turned to Aunt Kitty. She looked at me with raised brows, waiting for my question.

"Have you seen Karen since you moved out, Aunt Kitty?"

"The last time I saw her was a few years ago. I ran into her at the mall. She smiled and waved, and that was the end of it."

"Oh." I walked around the car to the passenger door, my mind spinning. I couldn't stand the thought of me and Beth just waving from a distance. That could never happen to us.

It began to rain as we headed home.
We laughed wildly as we ran across the front yard from Aunt Kitty's car, trying to avoid the downpour. We were drenched when we stumbled through the front door, our clothing stuck like paint to our bodies. My mother took one look at us, and burst out in a fit of laughter. I was annoyed by her laughter until I realized how red and swollen her eyes were.
"Mom? Are you okay? Why were you crying?" I walked over to her, my shoes squishing with every step.
"It's nothing, sweetie. I'm just a little worried right now." she said as she gathered my wet body into a tight embrace. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Aunt Kitty nod at her, my mother nodding in return, as if they had had a secret conversation over my shoulder. Slightly irritated at that, I pulled away from my mother. She held me in place with her hands on my shoulders, and smiled down at me. She gently brushed some strands of hair that were plastered to my forehead out of my eyes.
"I love you so much, Emmy." she said, her voice full of pride.
"I love you, too." I said slowly, not sure where this was leading. She gave me a quick hug before pushing me in the direction of the stairs.
"Go change clothes before you catch your death." She smacked me lightly on the rear end. Aunt Kitty followed me up the stairs heading toward the bathroom.
"Why was she crying, Aunt Kitty?" I asked quietly. My aunt shook her head sadly.
"When the steel mill went under last spring it hit this town hard. Your dad is having a hard time at the dealership. No one is interested in buying a new car right now when they can barely afford to keep their houses. Your mom just gets real worried sometimes." I looked at her, my brow etched with worry.
"Are we going to be okay?" Aunt Kitty smiled at me and ran a hand down my back.
"Fine. Your parents are fighters."
As the summer marched on with its sizzling beat, I began to notice more and more FOR SALE signs dotting the front lawns of houses all through our neighborhood. It was scary to watch the families I had grown up with disappear almost over night. The CF&I steel mill had been work for thousands of men and women in town, and now they were having to go where the work was. Many moved to the bigger cities of Colorado Springs or Denver, others leaving the state all together. I wondered if we would be okay.

Part 4

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