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 5

My freshman year was a month old when I got some bad news.

Saturday's in my house were pretty much all the same. I would awake to loud music blaring from the stereo in the living room, generally George Strait trying to persuade some naïve young woman that he loved her. Didn't matter the selection, because no matter what it was, my mother would help the singer along by adding her own high-pitched, off-key vocals.

In theory this practice was simply because my mother liked her music, and liked it loud. At seven-thirty in the morning? Right. In realistic terms, this early morning concert was to get me and Billy's butts out of bed to keep her company, or help with the house work. At that point my brother was gone, so only I was privy to the serenade. After awhile I got real good at tuning it out. But one Saturday in October, I awoke from the silence.

I raised my head, and looked around my room, focusing on the pile of clothes laying on the floor, then rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I pulled on a pair of sweats, as the cold October morning met my bare legs, and slipped into my slippers, and headed out of my room. I stood at the top of the stairs, listening. I held my breath so I could hear better; nothing. If I didn't know better, I would have thought no one was home. Running a hand through wild blonde locks, I slowly descended the stairs until I hit the main floor. The living room was just as it had been the night before, the only indication that anyone had been up this morning was the newspaper that sat, still rolled, in the recliner by the door. I looked over to my right and looked into the kitchen. I could just barely see my mother's socked feet from around the corner. I drew my brows and headed in that direction.

“Mom?” I asked as I stood in the kitchen doorway. She sat at the table, one hand on her forehead, the other fingering the tea bag on the saucer next to her coffee cup. She glanced at me with her eyes at the sound of my voice. With a small smile, she beckoned me to her.

“Come here, honey.” She said, her voice nasal and thick. She'd been crying.

“What's wrong?” I asked, as I took a tentative step toward her before heading straight into her outstretched arm. She pulled me to her, her head against my stomach as she wrapped her arms around my waist. I placed my hands on her shoulders, and stared down at her, my heart beating wildly in my chest as fear gripped me. “Is dad okay?” I asked. She nodded, but said nothing. “Billy? Is he hurt, did he-“

“No, honey. It's not your brother. He's fine. Dad's fine.” She sighed, and pushed me gently away, nodding toward the chair next to hers. I sat and waited expectantly. She took a deep breath, and began to speak.

“Your aunt started noticing some problems about six months ago, and let it go. She never went to a doctor until about a month ago. Have you noticed how much weight Kitty has lost?”

“Yeah. I thought she was on another of her
crazy diets. “ I grinned. My mother chuckled softly.

“She has been on some wild ones, hasn't she? Remember the only corn diet?” we both laughed as we remembered that even still my aunt would not touch corn after only eating that for five weeks. “But, no that's not the problem. She started to get some bad headaches that nothing would kick, and she is constantly tired. She finally went to the doctor, and they found that she has chronic kidney failure.” I drew back in surprise and confusion. What was that? My mother could read my question, and continued. “Aunt Kitty's kidneys are working at about twenty-five percent of where they should be. This has been going on for years, but she had no symptoms, so had no idea.”

“Is this bad?” I asked, my voice weak. My mother nodded.

“Yes. Right now they have things basically under control, but it keeps getting worse every time she goes in. The drugs they have her on just won't seem to stop it or slow it down. They are going to start her on dialysis next week.”

I could feel my heart sink. I had heard that term before, and knew that it wasn't good. True, people could survive on dialysis for years, but in the early eighties, medicine was not as advanced. I could only stare. “What does that mean for her, mom? How did she get this?” I breathed.

“Well,” she took another deep breath and sipped from her tea. “They want to see how this goes for a bit, then they may have to look into transplants. And, she was born with it. It was just never caught until now.”

I sat back in my chair, and stared out the window over the sink. Aunt Kitty was far too young for this sort of thing. She was only in her late twenties somewhere. I was never sure just exactly how old she was. But sure as hell too young for kidney failure. I turned back to my mother.

“So is this why Aunt Kitty was here so early the day we started school?” she nodded. “What does Ron say about this?”

“Well, he's upset, but can't always be here. Aunt Kitty may have to stay here with us off and on, honey. The Air Force sends Ron all over the place, so she'll be alone a lot. I don't want her to be while she's going through this. We'll just make up a room for her in Billy's old room. I'll need your help, Emmy.”

“Of course” I exclaimed. “I would never leave Aunt Kitty alone.” My mother smiled at me, and patted my hand that rested on the table.

“Want some breakfast, honey?” I thought about that for a moment, and nodded.

“I guess.” My mother started to get up, but I stopped her. “No. Breakfast is on me this morning.”

I thought a lot about my aunt, and how I felt about her condition. Aunt Kitty had always seemed so strong, so young, so utterly untouchable by anything bad. The news of her illness definitely put a dent in how I felt about life, and about humans. With just the snap of the fingers, anything could happen. As I walked through the halls of my high school, I looked around at the all the life around me, realizing that there were no certainties. No promise that could not be broken. No one untouchable. I think in that moment, I grew up some, some of the innocents and naïve outlook of childhood shedding like a second skin. I also realized that I wasn't going to like the transition from child to adult very much.

As the year progressed I began to concentrate fully on my studies, determined as always to do my very best. As my focus changed, so did my friends. Darla Newman and I did not hang out much, but I found a new group of academic-oriented students who's only goal in school was to receive the highest grades, and conquer the most academic clubs. By the end of my Freshman year, I had been on the honor roll every semester, and had received an award for perfect attendance, as well as being in Honor Society, the English club, FBLA, and every advanced class that I was allowed to take. Life was good.

Beth had immediately gone to find out about the school's Drama program, led by Ms. Andy White, a young, beautiful recent college grad, who was determined to whip the nearly non-existent department into shape. The old teacher, Mr. Muller, had been on the verge of retiring for almost ten years, and had not cared one way or the other. So, Ms. White had her work cut out for her.

“Okay, Em. You gotta tell me if this is believable or not,” I sat on the dry, winter-browned grass in the park near our neighborhood, where Beth was rehearsing for the new play about to start in three weeks. She played the play's villain, Nadine Kidd, and was shot at the end of the show. I watched on as she looked at an imaginary character, saying her lines flawlessly as I supplied the lines of the person she talked to as I read off her script. Beth put so much into her role, I actually felt a chill run down my spine in fear from her psychotic part.

“You won't get away with it, Nadine.” I said, glancing up at her. She glared at the air in front of her.

“No? Just watch me” she hissed, and tried to walk past the hero.

“Bam!” I yelled out into the cold, quiet afternoon. Beth grabbed at her chest, a look of utter pain and surprise in her blue eyes. She fell to her knees, the hand that did not grip the imaginary wound reaching out for the other character.

“Why?” she breathed, as she fell flat on her face, and remained still. I watched her in awe. How had she gotten so good? With a wide smile, I stood and clapped. Beth rolled over and smiled up at me. “You like?” she asked, and I nodded vigorously.

“Excellent. Had me fooled.” Beth reached her hand up, and I grabbed it to help her stand.

“Cool.” She took the script from me and read it over to make sure she had everything.

“Your character is such a lunatic.” I laughed as we began to head toward the swings. She glanced over at me and smiled.

“I know. Isn't it great? She is such a hoot to play, too. I love being crazy.”

“Hey, what was that you said once about being type-cast?” Beth looked down at me as we walked, and stuck her tongue out.

Beth not only starred as the villain, but also co-wrote, and assistant directed the thing. She had certainly found her niche, and Ms. White had found her helper for the next four years.

Opening night came before we knew it, and I could tell that Beth was nervous as she paced back and forth in my bedroom as I got ready. Her mother had disappeared for two days with her newest boyfriend, so she had no way of getting to the school. My mother had always supported Beth in whatever she did, so she would take us, and stay to watch the show.

“Okay,” Beth whispered, having a conversation with herself it seemed. She stared off into space as she paced, her hands running through her hair, or burying themselves into her pant's pockets, or waving dramatically through the air as she mumbled, and rambled on like a crazy person.

I sat at my mirror, and gave my hair the last finishing touches, glancing at her reflection off and on as she passed by. Beth had always been that way when it came to her art. Sometimes I thought she'd run a bare trail in the carpet as she concentrated. That night was a big one for her, showing the world, well, the school anyway, how well she could act, direct and write all in one shot. I knew in my gut that she would blow them all away, leaving them begging for more. I just with she had that confidence in her own abilities.

I stood from the floor, dressed in a long skirt, and shirt with a sweater over it. It was a cold night in November. I watched her for a moment before I got her attention by calling her name. She glanced up at me, looking like she had forgotten that I was even there.

“It's time.” I said happily. She let out a long breath and nodded.

I sat in that dark theater and watched with unimaginable pride as my best friend pranced across that stage, looking bold, unbelievably intimidating in her part as a ruthless villain, and utterly beautiful. Over the past year Beth had filled out, her body catching up with her long legs, and lanky features. Now she carried herself with pride, and a nonchalance that made you stop and watch her go. Her features were chiseled, her eyes burning an incredible incandescent blue that could burn with just one look. Her hair was long, black and shiny. She had gotten away somewhat from the practice of wearing baseball caps all the time. She had threatened to cut her hair at times, but I would've been surprised if she would have. She was striking.

I glanced around me to see other's reactions to the show, and especially Beth who took that stage, and made it her own. I knew her like no one else there, and at first I could tell that she had been terrified. Her eyes wondered often to find me sitting in the very first row. But as the show went on, she gained momentum, and had not tried to find me for some time. She was at home up there.

“You know what I like about the stage the most?” I had shaken my head. “I can go up there, lose myself in my character, and their problem, and forget my own, knowing that whatever is happening to my character, by the end of the thing, everything will be okay. There's nothing like it.”

The last scene of the play, and Beth's Nadine was fighting with the lead, Dylon, played by Collin Adams. His gun was out, and with a deafening bang that echoed throughout the auditorium, Beth fell to her knees, reaching for him as he took a step back. She falls, her last breath coming loud and strong before all is quiet. As the red curtain began to close, I could feel my eyes stinging with the unshed tears. Amazing. She was utterly amazing.

Pride surged through me once again as I stood with the other members of the audience, and clapped for all I was worth. The curtain opened again, and the more minor characters ran out onto the stage to take a bow, followed by more important characters, finally Collin Adams, and last, but certainly not least to this audience, Beth Sayers. The clapping was wild, interlaced with shouts and whistles. Beth smiled from ear to ear, her face flushed with excitement. Her eyes scanned the crowd for a moment, then settled on me, and I tried to tell her everything that I could in that look as our eyes locked for just a moment when she stepped back to allow the director, Andy White, to step out on the apron of the stage. The teacher reached back, and grabbed Beth's hand, pulling her out front with her, and raising their joined hands as they bowed together.

I looked over to my mother who looked as proud as she would had Beth been her own daughter. She leaned over to me.

“Nora Sayers should have been here to see this.” She whispered. I nodded. “That was incredible!”

My eyes opened, and I found that we were still flying through the air, headed for Colorado. I had no clue where we were, or how far into the flight we were. Only that I was sick of it, and really, really wanted to feel the ground below my feet.

I glanced over at Rebecca to see that she had also nodded off, her unread magazine still open on the tray in front of her. I took a deep breath, and unbuckled my seatbelt, headed to the tiny bathroom.

The door clicked behind me, and I stared into the small mirror above the even smaller sink, and marveled at how the strange, bluish light could warp my features. Running a hand through my hair, I thought of the cast party after the show that Beth had invited me to. I had not wanted to go, the “Drama people” not my group, and I had found them very strange, albeit very accepting. They had enfolded me into their group as one of their own for a night, simply because I was a friend of Beth's. Even though Beth had only been a Freshman, she had made quite a lasting mark for herself already. Many of the seasoned actors were looking to her natural ability for ideas.

The party was held out behind one of the cast member's family farm. An open field with a huge bonfire built up to light the darkness, and warm the chilled air. Loads of beer, and other types of heavy alcohol were abundant. I felt out of place there, and did not like it. I wondered how I had agreed to go in the first place.

I sat off by myself on someone's open tailgate, and watched, an untouched cup of beer in my hand. Beth talked, and laughed with the other's, she even danced off and on with a few. It was obvious to me that she was definitely in her element.

“Hi.” I turned to see a guy standing next to the truck, half his face in shadow, the other half dancing orange from the light of the fire. I smiled shyly, but said nothing. “Mind if I sit?” he asked. I thought for a moment. I really did not feel like company, but what the hell. I nodded toward the tailgate. “Do you talk?” he grinned as he sat, the truck shaking slightly with the added weight.

“Depends.” I said, looking back to the party.

“On?” He asked, sipping from his own cup.

“Who I'm talking to.” He grinned, and nodded.

“Fair enough.” He was silent for a moment as he watched the party goers. “Why aren't you out there?” he turned back to me. I just shrugged, really wishing that he would just go away. “You here with someone?”

“Beth.” I said, and turned to him. He really was a good looking guy with short, brown hair, clean-cut, mature, angled features. I couldn't tell what color his eyes were.

“Beth” he asked, his brows drawn.

“Yeah. Beth Sayers. She's my best friend. She asked me to come with her.”

“Oh.” He nodded understanding. “Hey, you want to go take a walk, or something? I don't know about you, but I really don't like parties.” I stared at him for a moment, and without a word hopped off the tailgate, leaving my cup where I had been sitting.

“So why are you here?” I asked, as we made our way toward a thicket of trees off to the right. He shrugged.

“Kind of the same reason you are, I suppose.” He smiled at me, and reached down for my hand. I glared up at him, taking my hand from his. “Sorry.” He said, and tucked his hands into his back pockets. “Wow, look at that.” He said after a while, pointing toward the full moon that was directly ahead of us. It was huge and gold, looked like if we were to walk just a bit further, we could touch it. “Let's stop for a sec, and look.” He said, placing his hand on my arm. I stopped, and did as he said, my heart pounding slightly, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. I glanced back over my shoulder and realized that I could no longer see the party, only the light from the bonfire above the trees. I turned back to the moon, only to find that I was staring directly at this guys chest. I looked up into his face with questioning eyes. He smiled. “You know, I don't even know your name.”

“I think we should be getting back now.” I said, starting to turn back the way we'd come, but he tightened his grip on my arm, keeping me where I was.

“Why? Come on, what's your name?”

“No, look, let's go back to the party, and I'll tell you anything you want to know, okay?”

'Nah. I think we should stay here.' He bent down, and before I knew it, he was trying to kiss me, one large hand on the back of my head, holding me to him. I pounded on his chest, trying to get away, but he was a lot bigger than I was. I was suddenly being pushed back toward a tree, his weight holding me against it. I tried to scream around his tongue in my mouth, but it only came out as a muted groan. I was stuck, and realized just how much trouble I was in as I felt how excited he was getting, against my lower stomach. His free hand was all over the place, groping what he could, trying to get under my shirt when suddenly I was met with nothing but the cold night air. I opened my eyes in confusion as I saw him being slammed into the tree across from the one I still leaned against. Beth was in his face, his shirt entwined in her fist.

“I should have your balls for doing this.” She hissed, one hand reaching down to grab his crotch. His eyes squeezed shut in pain as his arms waved uselessly through the air.

“What are you doing?! We were just-“

We weren't just doing anything. You were just trying to do something very stupid to my best friend.” His eyes opened, and he glared at Beth, then over at me, as I stood, and ran a shaking hand down my sweater to try and calm myself. “Look at me, you fucker, not her.” Wide, frightened eyes turned back on her. “You do anything this stupid again, and I will have your balls. You got it?” he nodded, his eyes never leaving hers. She let go of his shirt, and punched him in the stomach. He doubled over with a groan, then turned to run. I watched him go, my breathing heavy, yet labored as the fear of what almost happened turned to the shock of what could have happened. The next thing I knew, I was enveloped in a strong, warm embrace. I clung to Beth, the tears finally coming to wet the front of her shirt. She caressed my hair, whispering soothing words into the late, quiet night.

Finally getting myself under control, I pulled away from her, wiping my eyes with the backs of my hands. She held me by my shoulders, staring down into my face.

“You okay, Em?” she asked, running her finger under my eye to catch a last tear that was trying to slip out. I nodded numbly. “I had seen you talking to him, then when I saw you were gone, your cup on the tailgate, I had a bad feeling.” She whispered, fear washing over her features. “If anything would have happened to you, I never would have forgiven myself.” Her voice broke on the last word. I reached up and cupped the side of her face.

“Nothing happened, thanks to you. I'm fine, Beth.” She nodded, but I could still see the guilt written all over her face. “It's okay.”

“That guy is known as an asshole. I should of gone over to you sooner. I'm sorry.”

“Hey, it's okay.” I drew her to me, this time comforting her. “I'm okay.” I whispered into her shoulder.

I stared at myself again in small mirror as the toilet whooshed to life behind me. I had always wondered just what Beth had done to that guy later. Whenever I saw him in the halls at school, he had gone out of his way to go down another hall, or duck into a near-by door. I chuckled to myself, and opened the bathroom door, headed back toward our seats.

“Everything okay?” Rebecca asked as I sat down, and re-buckled my seatbelt.

“Yeah. Fine.” I smiled. She returned the smile, and placed her hand over mine, squeezing it gently before she entwined our fingers in her lap, and shut her eyes again.

I glanced out the window and watched the clouds gather as we flew through a thick group, the window becoming white, and nearly opaque. With a sigh I closed my eyes again, too.

“No way! That one does not look like a clown.” Beth exclaimed, squinting her eyes.

“Yes it does. Look,” I raised my arm up toward the sky, and pointed with my finger. “See, there's his nose, that great big round cloud, then see how it kind of goes up into a point? That's his hat.”

“It does not go up into a point.” She insisted.

“Well, it did before the clouds started to move.” She looked over at me, one brow raised, looking at me like I was nuts. I grinned. “Well, it did.” She shook her head, and turned it to look back up at the sky.

“You know, you really suck at this game, Em. You try and make too elaborate of shapes. Whatever happened to just plain old fashioned bunny rabbits and bananas?” I shrugged.

“I don't know. I guess I just see what I see.”

I raised my arms over my head, feeling the cool, thick grass under my hands as I stretched my body, closing my eyes in pleasure with a groan.

“It is so nice out here.” I breathed as I relaxed again, my hands laying on my stomach.

“Un huh.” Beth agreed, placing her hands behind her head, then reaching down to scratch her leg where a blade of grass was making her itch. “Your birthday ended up being a pretty nice day. Not too hot, like it usually is.” She turned on her side, her head resting on her hand, and looked down at me. “Tonight we're all going down to the lake on the east side. Wanna come?” I looked up at her and wrinkled my nose.

“No way. You remember what happened last time I went to one of your friend's parties.”

“Different people. It'll just be me, Collin, Mary and Sheila.”

“Nah.” I looked back up into the sky. “Why tonight, though, Em? Aren't you going to stay for our party here? Aunt Kitty and Ron are coming, and maybe one or two of my friends from Honor Society.” I glanced over at her again. She shook her head and looked over toward the house.

“Nah. We've had this planned for awhile, and that's all your family. Besides, “ she rolled over and sat up, wrapping long arms around her bent knees. “Your friends from Honor Society look at me like I'm a leper.”

“Okay.” I was hurt, but I knew she was right. None of my friends understood why Beth and I were best friends, and I suspected that her friends wondered the same thing. That was just the way things were now. “You guys going to drink, again?” I asked, sitting up next to her. She glanced over at me and nodded.

“Probably some, yeah.” She said. Beth had started to do that a lot. It worried me for her. Her mother had made such a mess out of her own life, and in some ways, that of Beth, and I did not want to see Beth make the same mistake. I had heard that alcoholism ran in families. “Well, “ she said, standing, and reaching down to help me up. “You said I could have the first ride in your Jeep.”

We walked around the back gate to the front yard. I could not help but smile as I spotted my birthday present. Never in a million years did I think I'd get a car for my sixteenth birthday. I guess it was good having a father who managed a car dealership.

The Jeep was a 1979 model, and was painted bright yellow with a black, rubber roll bar. The color was not one that I would have chosen, but I had to admit that it had character to it. I sure would be able to spot it easily in a parking lot.

Beth jumped into the passenger side, and I climbed behind the wheel, bringing it rumbling to life. I grinned over at my best friend, and backed out of the drive. We drove around town in companionable silence, neither feeling the need to talk. I had left the hard top at home, so the warm, summer air ran through our hair, and our lungs, beating out the cold, stale air of the winter finally gone by. It felt so good just to be with Beth, no pressure from any of our friends, or our new lives. Just us. Like it used to be. We rarely saw each other at school, and I was rarely home before nightfall with all of the after school activities I had, and with Beth's Drama practice. It was times like these that I grew to look forward to, and treasure.

Whatever happened, wherever we ended up, Beth would always be my best friend.

“We are approaching Denver International Airport. Please make sure your chairs and trays are securely locked into their upright position, and that your seatbelts are securely in place, snug around you. We are preparing for landing.”

I held on to the arms of my chair as I felt the plane lose altitude, glancing outside at the lowered wing as we banked around for a solid landing on the runway. I saw the town of Denver spread out before us as we got closer, and I could not help but smile. It had been far too long since I'd been home. I knew Rebecca and I still had a three hour drive ahead of us, but nonetheless, I was glad to be home.

We rented a silver Toyota Camry, and made our way out to I-25, and headed south.

I was tired as I pulled into the driveway of my house, a long day behind me. It was dark, well after eight on a warm, late September night. I grabbed my backpack from the back of my Jeep, and slung it over my shoulder as I headed toward the house, only to be met by my mother who ran out onto the front porch.

“Hey.” I said, my brows drawn.

“Honey, have you seen Beth?” she asked.

“What?” I was confused.

“Did you see Beth today at school?”

“No, I-“ come to think of it, I hadn't seen Beth for a couple of days.

“Nora has been calling all day. Beth hasn't been home since Monday.”

“It's Thursday.” I said, my voice incredulous. My mother shrugged.

“Honey, you've got to go look for her.” Before the words were out of my mother's mouth, I had hopped back into the Jeep, tossing my bag in back, and she roared to life. The tires squealed in protest as I pealed out of the drive.

I started at all the places and parts of town that I knew Beth hung out at, to no avail. Starting at the lake, and heading down Northern, checking out all the bars. Beth was underage, but most never carded her as she looked to be no less than in her mid-twenties. Nothing. I drove by the school, and stopped by the park. I had to think. Where else does she go? I rally didn't know any of her friends.

“Damn.” I breathed, slamming my hand into the wheel. Where could she be? I knew that lately she was getting with a crowd that was notorious for partying, no matter what time of day, or if it was a school night. It didn't matter. What was that girl's name that I saw her with all the time? Carry? Corey? Cora. I could still see her with her short, dyed black hair, pale skin, and dark make-up. She always wore black, usually leather. I had seen her and Beth together more than once. Where did her group usually hang out? I remembered overhearing some kids talking about them one day, and they said they all hung out at some old run-down warehouse. Where was it? I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel as I thought, and then like the proverbial light bulb, it clicked, and I put the Jeep in gear, and made a U-turn in the middle of the street, headed off toward the Looms. That's what they called it.

It was nearly eleven when I finally found the place. The neighborhood was industry, and did not look exactly safe. I was extremely nervous as I slowed the Jeep, looking around to find the exact building. I heard deep, pounding music, and turned toward it, finding a massive, old gray cinderblock building with large windows, most painted over black. The only light the place spewed was from the door on the side. Deciding that was probably the place to go, I pulled up to it, and killed the ignition. With a deep breath, and a small prayer to whoever, I headed inside.

The place was too big to be lit very well by the scattering of naked bulbs hanging, so the light was dim, the air heavy and acrid, smelling of old cigarettes, and the sweet smell of pot. I looked around to find various groups of people huddled in corners, talking, some making out. My eyes bulged as I saw a couple actually having sex under a far table. I scanned the room some more, seeing some dancing to the bone-shattering music. Two women were grinding together, and then I saw a figure slumped against an old loading dock door. The figure was completely in black, as were most of the people, her upper shoulders were against the metal door, her legs straight out in front of her, her arms laying limply at her side. My eyes began to move on when I froze.

“Beth.” I whispered, my gaze zooming back in on the unmoving woman. “My god.” I ran over to her, not caring about the strange looks I got as I passed different people and groups. Just as I was about to reach her, Cora stepped into view. She walked over to Beth, but then her head swung around when she caught me coming out of the corner of heavily blacked eyes with eyeliner. “Get away from her!” I yelled, as I reached my friend, throwing myself to my knees next to her. Beth's eyes were open, but extremely glazed and unfocused. Cora said nothing as she stood over us, looking down at me. “What is wrong with her?” I asked, my hand reaching out and righting Beth's lulled head. Eyes that were so dilated the blue irises barely showed.

“I don't know. I think she had some bad shit.” Cora said, her voice casual. I looked up at her, incredulous.

“Some bad shit?” I repeated. “Does she need a doctor?” I asked, near hysterical.

“Nah. Just get 'er home, and let her sleep. Give her a bunch to drink. Water's usually good.”

“Come on, Beth honey. I'm getting you out of here.” I said. I could feel my throat tightening, and wanted to get the hell out of there before I out and out bawled. “Help me!” I yelled up at the girl as I tried to lift Beth's dead body weight. With Cora's help, I managed to get Beth buckled into the passenger side of the Jeep. “You stay away from her.” I growled at the girl from behind the wheel. She shrugged as she took a step back toward the door.

“She needs to learn to hold her shit better. She's a good lay, though.” And disappeared into the warehouse. I stared after her, my mouth hanging open, then turned back to Beth. She lay with her arms hanging over the sides of the seat, her head back against the head rest, mouth open, eyes closed.

“Beth? Beth!” I shook her when she didn't answer. Her head lulled again, but then she righted herself, and glanced over at me.

“Huh?” she slurred, followed by a grin.

“I'm getting you the hell out of here.” I muttered, nearly killing the Jeep as I ground the gears in my haste.

The neighborhood was quiet as I pulled into our drive. I sat in the Jeep for a minute trying to decide what to do. I looked over at the Sayers' house, no lights were on at all. Gee. Nora must have been really worried about her daughter who'd been gone for three days.

“Bitch.” I muttered as I climbed out of the car, and went around to Beth's side. “You've got to help me, Beth.” I said as I unbuckled her. She nearly fell out, taking me with her. She got to her feet, and I had to push her up against the side of the car to hold her up so I could get my balance. “Okay. We can do this.” I moved to the side of her, and slung her arm around my shoulder. “Ready?”

“Huh?” I wrapped my other arm around her waist as we started very slowly toward the porch, the light on to guide us.

“One step at a time, honey. That's it. Good girl.” Finally making it to the door, the screen door flew open, scaring the crap out of me, and nearly making Beth fall to the grass.

“Thank god you found her.” My mother said, her eyes narrowing in worry at Beth's condition. She wrinkled her nose. “My god. Where has she been? A land fill?”

“Long story, mom. Just help me get her to my room.” I muttered.

“Honey, shouldn't she go home? Or to a hospital? My god, she looks like she's half dead.”

“Mom, please. I can't take her home. You know Nora will leave her to rot on the floor, if she doesn't beat her half dead first. She does not need a doctor. Please , mom. Please just let me take care of her?” my mother stared into my eyes, and could see how serious I was. With a sigh she nodded, and helped me get Beth to my bedroom.

I shut the door after pushing my mother out, and turned back to Beth who lay spread across my bed. I wasn't sure what to do first, but then decided to get the stuff I'd need. I left the bedroom, and headed for the kitchen where I filled a huge plastic cup with cold water, and grabbed some fruit, and bread. Easy stuff for her to eat. I set my offerings on my dresser, and turned back to my friend.

“Mom's right, Beth. You do stink.” I walked over to her, and sat on the edge of the bed next to her. Her breathing was normal now, and she seemed to be more with it as her eyes opened. They were still glazed, but not near as bad. “Hey.” I said when she somewhat focused on me.

“Hey.” She said, her voice scratchy. I grabbed the glass of water, and brought it to her lips, holding her head up as she sipped. She choked a bit, and I sat her all the way up, leaning her body weight against me.

“Okay?” I asked. She nodded, and buried her face in my neck. I could feel her body shake as she began to sob. “Hey, hey.” I said, pulling her into me. She wrapped her arms around me. I could feel her tears against the skin of my neck. “Shhh, baby. It's okay.”

“I'm sorry, Em.” She whimpered. “I never meant for you to see me this way.”

“Shh. I know. I was so worried about you.” I whispered, my own tears coming to the surface. “When my mother told me no one could find you, you don't know what went through my head.” I laid back, taking her with me. She curled her body up to me, holding me so tight it almost hurt.

“I know.” She cried on for almost ten minutes before she began to calm, her tears turning into hiccups. “I didn't mean to scare you, Em.” She whispered, moving down so her head laid upon my stomach. Just like old times. I reached down, my fingers trying to run through the tangles in her dark hair. “I feel so weird.” She said.

“That girl Cora said you had had some bad shit. What exactly does that mean?” I began to stroke her back with my other hand.

“I don't know. I took so much stuff. I don't remember. I don't remember much of anything, except seeing you barge in there like that.” She chuckled quietly. “This little pint-sized thing rushing in there so tough. You're lucky that Cora was pretty gone, or she may have tried to kick your ass.” She took a deep breath. “I don't feel so good.” The next think I knew, Beth leaned up, and threw up over the side of the bed. I held her hair back as she continued to spew, having put my trash can under her. I rubbed her back as her stomach made the most awful noises, the veins in her neck standing on end as her body continued to pump more and more of the stuff out of her system.

“Oh, god.” She groaned, her strength gone, laying on her stomach, only to start all over again.

“Get it all out, Beth.” I encouraged, holding her hair back again as she was once more wracked with a spasm. Finally spent, and I was pretty sure done throwing up, I helped Beth stand on weak legs, and we headed for the bathroom. She smelled of old clothes, smoke, sex, and now throw up. She said she was starting to make herself feel sick again just from the smell, so she wanted a bath.

I flicked on the light, the smallish bathroom coming to life. I guided her to the toilet where she sat on the lid as I began to run her a bath. She watched with half-hooded eyes. I looked at her over my shoulder.

“Will you be okay to do this by yourself?” she looked down at herself, then back over at me, shaking her head.

“I think I'm gonna need your help.”

I let the water fill up the tub as I walked back over to her, kneeling to remove her shoes and socks. Throwing them aside, I moved up to her jeans, unbuttoning and unzipping them.

“Lift.” I instructed. When she did, I slid them and her underwear out from under her all in one shot. I caught sight of dark hair, and for just a moment a strange bolt of heat ran through me to land squarely in the pit of my stomach. I swallowed, and continued with my mission. Her grimy T-shirt came next followed by her bra. I wrapped my arms around her so I could unhook it. This put us in a hug, and I could feel her breasts against my own. I thought back to when I had been at that warehouse, and what I had thought of Cora. I realized that not only did I not like her because of where she had taken Beth, but also, even before she had said anything, I knew that she and Beth were sleeping together. I didn't like it. I didn't like it one bit.

I cleared my head of all these thoughts as I made myself concentrate on what I was doing. Beth was weak, and could not do any of this for herself.

“I have to pee.” She said, her voice quiet, and embarrassed. I looked down at her and nodded. She leaned on me as she stood so I could lift the lid.

“You be okay for a sec while I get you something to put on after your bath?” she nodded, looking relieved that she'd be alone to go to the bathroom. I hurried into my bedroom, and dug through my drawers trying to find something that would fit her. Beth was so much taller than I was, and bigger. Finally remembering a pair of shorts that my grandmother had sent me one time that were at least four sizes too big for me, that I had buried in a drawer. I dug the sweat shorts out, and tossed them on the bed, going on a search for a shirt next. I found one that was too big for me that I often slept in, I headed back to the bathroom. Beth sat on the toilet lid again, apparently done. She smiled up at me, and I smiled back, locking the bathroom door behind me.

Beth sighed deeply as she sat in the hot water, the steam swirling up around us. I knelt next to the tub, and helped her lay back so I could wash her hair, and her body. I tried to use clinical detachment as I smoothed the soap over Beth's skin, her body so beautiful. She had grown to be an incredible woman. Her legs were still long, but had filled out, her thighs strong, and shapely. Her stomach was flat, her breasts full and firm, the hardened nipples dark, but not too large. I watched as long fingers held on to the edge of the tub to help keep her balance, the nails short, but well taken care of . Her neck was also long, the collar bones well defined, her shoulders wide and well developed. My eyes moved up to her face, her eyes closed with dark, relaxed brows, naturally arched. Her nose was straight, and well proportioned to her face. Her full lips were slightly parted, her breathing shallow. She was breathtaking. I had a strong desire to run my hands over her shoulders, feeling the muscle under my fingers, knowing the planes of Beth.

I pushed the thought from my mind as blue eyes opened and stared up at me. I helped her sit up, and she wrapped her arms around her drawn knees. She looked deeply into my eyes that I prayed did not show what I was feeling inside.

“Thank you, Em.” She whispered. “I'm so glad you found me. You're the only person on earth that I would want to take care of me like this.” I smiled, and pushed some hair that was stuck to the side of her face back.

“I'm always here for you, Beth. Just like you are for me.”

We got Beth dressed, and back to my bedroom. She collapsed onto the bed, and reached for me. I stared at her for a moment, and she grinned shyly up at me.

“I know it seems odd, and this isn't something I ask just anybody, but would you just, well, just hold me for a little bit?” her eyes ducked to the quilt on the bed, her cheeks colored slightly from embarrassment. “I just seem to be embarrassing myself over and over again tonight.” She muttered. My face fell into a soft smile, and I lowered myself onto the bed next to her, opening my arms wide. Beth looked up at me, and fell into the embrace, pushing her legs under the covers, and bringing the blankets up around us. I held her to me, her head laying against my chest, and we talked. We talked about everything that night from favorite shows on television to politics, to where we wanted to end up in twenty years.

In all the years that I had known Beth up to that point, I had never seen her be so candid and honest about herself. Her vulnerability from the situation gave way to an unprecedented honesty that I don't recall ever sharing again with another human being. I cherished that night for what it was; a special intimacy that no sex act could ever equal.

“You know, I've thought about your Aunt a lot lately.” Beth said, her voice hushed. “So sad for someone so young.” She was quiet for a moment, then, “Em, do you have any regrets?” I ran my fingers through her dark hair as I thought of an answer.

“Yes.” I admitted. She was quiet, letting me explain if I wished. What were my regrets? The admission had flown out of my mouth before I even had a full answer Apparently my subconscious knew more than I did. I had a lot of regrets where Beth was concerned, that I knew. I was not about to tell her that, though for fear of sounding hypocritical. I regretted how our friendship had begun to deteriorate on a more surface level. Deep down I knew that we both loved each other as much, if not more, than we ever had. I would have done anything for Beth, and I knew the same was true of her. I regretted my weakness in ability to admit that I felt equally as attracted to my best friend as I knew she was to me. My mind reeled hack to just a few hours before when I had been bathing her. My thoughts were not my own, or perhaps they were more my own than ever. I didn't know. I was too young to sort it all out in one night.

I glanced over at the window to see the first rays of the sun beginning to peek its head over the houses behind ours. We had been talking all night. I turned my attention back to her.

“Do you?”

“Yes I do. Many.” She readjusted her head on my chest, wrapping her arm around me a bit tighter. “Someone told me once that to live with regret is to not live at all.” I sighed.

“How true.” I felt my body beginning to respond to her closeness, and tiny nerve endings were reaching out to worship every part of her body that touched mine. There was just something about the silence of late night, early morning that made the body that much aware of its surroundings, and true desires. I closed my eyes, and swallowed.

“Think maybe we should get some sleep.” Beth said, her voice soft. I opened my eyes, and sighed with relief. Sleep. What a good idea. I wondered if Beth were being as affected as bad as I was. With that thought, I closed my eyes, and let the darkness enfold me.

Rebecca and I stopped at an IHOP in Colorado Springs for lunch. We sat at our table, and I stared down at my nearly untouched cheeseburger, a fry in my hand as I dipped it over and over again in my ketchup/Mayo mixture.

“You know, I think that fry is about as covered as it's going to get.” I glanced up and met Rebecca's twinkling eyes. I grinned, and popped it into my mouth. “So where was Beth living? Was she with anyone?” my lover asked, wiping some Ranch dressing from her lip. I shrugged.

“I honestly don't know. She never told me.” I met her gaze again to see her understanding, yet confused look. “I was thinking about that last night. I have no clue where she lived, or with who, is she was living with someone. What she was doing, though knowing Beth, she was on stage to the end.” I smiled in remembrance. “The only place on earth she ever felt truly at home. On that stage.”

“She was very talented. I'm glad I was able to see her that one time.”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

“Did Beth like school?” Rebecca asked, sipping from her iced tea. I shook my head.

“Hated it. I think the only reason she went as long as she did was because of Drama. That was her life. Well, that and partying.” Rebecca nodded with a small chuckle.

I awoke with a heat against my back, and knocking in my head. As reality came back to me, I realized that Beth was spooned up behind me, her arm holding me tightly to her, and someone was knocking on my door.

“Emmy? Honey, are you awake?”

I raised my head, and looked around. My room was a disaster, the smelly trash can still near my bed on the floor, clothes thrown everywhere, and the sun blaring in through the window. I groaned.

“Yeah.” I mumbled, and carefully, trying not to wake Beth up, climbed out of bed, and walked over to the door to unlock it. I opened it to find my mother looking at me in her robe.

“Honey, are you going to go to school today?” she asked, her brows drawn.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Almost eight-thirty.” I groaned again. Classes had stared almost forty-five minutes ago.

“No.” I decided. “Class is already started, we went to bed about three hours ago, and,” I turned and looked at Beth's sleeping form over my shoulder. “Beth needs me today.” I turned back to my mother.

“Okay, Emmy.” Her face turned serious. “You tell Beth if she pulls a stunt like that again, she won't have to worry about Nora Sayers. She'll have me to deal with.”

“Point taken, Mrs. Thomas.” Came a groggy voice from behind me. I chuckled, and my mother glanced over my shoulder.

“Better be” she said, waggling her finger at Beth. Beth smiled apologetically, and laid her raised head back down with a moan. “You girls get some sleep.” My mother said, and gave me a quick hug before leaving us. I turned and walked back to the bed, my body feeling like it had been hit by a Mac truck the night before. Beth grabbed me to her again as I climbed back into bed, and I settled into her embrace, and fell asleep.

Part 6

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