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 7

I squirmed in my chair again. The hard seat was making my butt and back ache. I blew out a long breath, readjusting my hat as the speaker droned on and on. Who cares! Just give us our damn diplomas, already. I reached down and played with the gold cord around my neck, and looked around. My fellow graduates looked just as bored as I felt. I was sitting in the front row, so couldn't look around too much. Mr. Edwards had already given the guy next to me the evil eye for not paying attention.

I snapped out of my dazed reverie when I heard our speaker finally say,

“And now we will begin to call our graduates of the class of nineteen eighty four, honored with a gold cord, earning a grade point average of three point seven to four point oh.”

Yippy. About time. I sat up straight, and smoothed out my gown. Our row would be first to be called. At the signal, we all stood, waiting in line as one by one we were called up.

“Emily Jane Thomas! Three point nine-five.” I smiled and walked up onto the stage, feeling like a million bucks. I shook the principals hand as he handed me my diploma, and headed toward the ramp that would take me back to my seat. As I stepped back onto the auditorium floor, I searched the audience, seeing my parents and Billy, and his new girlfriend, Nina. My eyes quickly trailed over the other people around them, recognizing some of my friend's parents, but not seeing who I was looking for. I knew she wouldn't come, but I had hoped in the deepest part of me. I think I saw it like some movie where the heroine was surprised as the valiant knight rode up on his white horse, forgiving the naïve maiden. Fact was, I hadn't seen Beth since the day she moved out of her mother's house. That had been back in early November. I had no idea where she had gone, or if she would ever forgive me.

I took my seat, and tried to look interested as everyone else went up to receive their prize for four years of study. My heart cracked just a bit when I heard them say,

“Toby Elliot Samson. Erika Lynn Serky.” No Beth Sayers. Then, never had I heard of a high school drop out getting a diploma.

I was getting more and more frustrated by the day. I was bored out of my mind! The longer I sat at home, the more admiration I had for my mother, staying home all these years. I sat at the kitchen table, the Pueblo Chieftain spread out in front of me. I scanned the Classified section, looking over the help wanted section. My parents had told me I should enjoy this last summer before heading off to college, but I had had enough joy, and was ready to start feeling productive again. With a sigh I scanned the page with my finger, looking over the tons of babysitting jobs. Not interesting. I didn't really know what I was looking for, per se, but I decided that since I was one of the those lucky kids who didn't have to work that summer, I was going to do just what I wanted to do.

My eyes suddenly stopped in their search. I squinted, drawing my brows to make sure I was reading right. Hot damn!

Help wanted in private law firm of Monica Nivens. Secretarial, must be able to type, file, etc. Some training preferred.

I couldn't believe it. I knew absolutely nothing about secretarial work, but to work for a law firm. And I had no idea that my neighbor had her own firm. I was even more impressed than I had been with her as a child.

I unbuckled my seat belt, and glanced over at the building with a deep, nervous breath. Gathering my wits with my resume, I climbed out of the Jeep, and headed toward the darkly tinted, glass double doors. The Nivens law firm shared space with another lawyer that I didn't remember the name of. There was a single receptionist desk in the middle of the small, well air-conditioned lobby. A woman sat at the desk, her brows drawn as she concentrated on a form in front of her.

I walked up to the desk, looking around, waiting for the woman to notice me. She didn't seem to feel the need, so I cleared my throat. Her head snapped up, as if I had surprised her, and she looked at me questioningly.

“Hello.” I smiled. She still looked at my questioningly. “I'm here to see Monica Nivens.” I told her, and got no reaction from her at all. “Um, she is a lawyer here?” maybe if I explained it to her a bit better she'd pretend to be helpful.

“Yeah, that way.” She said, pointing a long-nailed finger as she turned her attention back to her form. I followed her finger, and saw another darkly-tinted glass door. In white letters was stenciled: Monica J. Nivens. Attorney at law. A feeling of awe washed through me. Wow! A real lawyer. I was so excited.

I walked to the door, feeling very nervous for reasons that I couldn't figure out. I pushed it open, and stepped inside a nice office done in maroons and dark greens. Two chairs sat against the wall by the door. A single desk was across the room, a computer set up on it, and tons of paperwork scattered across top. No one was sitting behind it, however. I looked around, confused. Then a door in a short hall off to the left opened, and a man looking to be in his early twenties, stepped out with a cup of coffee. He looked up and nearly threw the cup into the air. He closed his eyes and put his hand on his chest.

“My god, you scared me.” He walked over to the desk, and set the cup down, then turned back to me. “Do you have an appointment?” he asked, dabbing at his tie with a Kleenex. “I guess it's a good thing brown is in this year.” He muttered.

“Sorry about that.” I smiled, hoping that I didn't feel quite as stupid as I felt. “Um, I saw the ad in the paper for-“

“Oh, yeah. Right.” He sat behind the desk and sipped from the coffee, wrinkling his nose and setting the cup down. “She keeps making it this strong, she'll have more hair on her chest than I do.” I grinned as he looked around for a pen.

“How about the one there?” I asked, pointing to my ear. He looked up at me, reaching up to feel the Bic behind his ear. He rolled his eyes, and began to write.

“Okay, sweetie, what's your name?'

“Emily Thomas.”

“Emily Thomas,” he murmured as he wrote it down. “Okay. Wait here. Oh, give me your resume.” He reached his hand out, and I handed him the paper that would tell Monica that I had absolutely no useable experience whatsoever. The man walked off toward another door in the hall, disappearing behind its dark paneling. I sat in one of the chairs against the wall, and crossed my legs. I felt very self-conscious in my summer dress. I rarely wore them, was told I looked good in them, and figured this was definitely an occasion for one. I smoothed out the skirt as I waited.

“Hon?” my head snapped up to see the man from the desk standing in the doorway to what I assumed was Monica's office. He smiled and waved me over.

“Thanks.” I said as I passed him. He shut the door behind me, and I turned to look around. The office itself wasn't that big, but the space it did have was used well. The colors were like that in the reception area, maroons and dark greens. Surprisingly masculine motif. Sitting behind the large cherrywood desk was Monica Nivens. My neighbor. I stood by the door, my arms crossed in front of me, and stared at her. She wore her dark hair very short. Certainly shorter than I had ever seen it, but it was very complimentary to her thin face, and dark eyes. She wore a red pant suit that made for a striking contrast between her dark features and pale skin. She was beautiful.

“Hello there, Emily.” I jumped, started from my appraisal to look into amused dark eyes. “Come on in. I really don't intend to yell across my office at you.” I smiled nervously, and sat in one of the two chairs that were placed before her desk. She looked so professional, so regal sitting there with her elbows on the desk blotter, her fingers steeped under her chin. I noticed a pair black rimmed reading glasses sitting on a manila file.

“Hi.” I said, feeling rather stupid.

“It's been quite a while.” She said.

“Yes.” I answered intelligently. Always impressed with my own communication skills.

“Well,” she said, grabbing my resume from between her elbows that had been resting on the desk. “I have to be honest here, Emily. You really have no experience.” She smiled at me. I nodded, feeling really stupid. “And to be honest, the paper was supposed to take that add out on Friday. The job's been filled.”

“Oh.” I said, my heart sinking. “Well, thank you for seeing me.” I smiled, and began to stand.

“Hold on a sec.” She said, sitting back in her chair, studying me. “You still intend to go to school for law?” she asked conversationally. I nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes. I got a scholarship to CU. Four year.” She raised her brows, obviously impressed.

“Good for you, Emily. It's a good school.” She said with a wink, having graduated from Boulder herself. “Listen, I love to see young people follow their dreams, so I'll tell you what. I have a really big case I'm working on right now, and could really use an assistant. Would you be interested? Could show you a bit of the ropes.” My eyes lit up, and I felt my chest puff out with pride. Was she serious? God, please let her be serious.

“Absolutely!” I said, leaning forward in my chair.

“Great.” She smiled, pleased. “I can't pay you much.”

“Oh, that's no problem!” I exclaimed, probably a little too much get go in that one. “To me the experience is priceless.” I smiled. Okay, was I trying to win a beauty pageant, or get this job? I had always had so much admiration for Monica, and the thought of actually working with, and learning from her was almost too much.

I walked through the door of my house as if I were walking on a cloud. Nothing could burst my bubble. I flipped through the pieces of mail in my hand as I headed into the kitchen to get some iced tea when my brows drew, and I tossed the other stuff on the table. Let my mother worry about those later. I saw the heading in the top left hand corner, and recognized it as letters Aunt Kitty used to get from the doctor. I plopped down on one of the kitchen chairs, and slid my finger under the flap, ripping it open. The neatly folded letter came out easily, and I covered my mouth with my hand as I read. I dropped my hands, along with the letter, into my lap, and stared out the window over the sink. I could feel my throat tighten, and immediately tears sprang to my eyes.

“Hey, honey.” My mom said as she brushed by with a large trash bag from gathering trash around the house. When I didn't answer, she turned to me. “Emmy? You okay, babe?” I handed the letter to her, my eyes looking on numbly ahead of me.

“Apparently someone does not keep their records updated very well.” I said quietly. My mother took the letter, setting the bag on the floor. She read over it, her brows drawn in concentration, then her face paled and fell. She gently laid the paper on the table, walked over to the sink, her shoulders slumped as she rested her weight on her arms.

“Now they want to give Kitty a kidney.” She breathed. I walked over to her as she began to quietly cry. I laid my hands on her arms, resting my chin on her shoulder.

“You okay, mom?” I asked, swallowing back my emotions so I wouldn't upset her anymore. She nodded.

I sat in the driver's seat, still parked outside my parent's house, and checked the address that I had been given one last time. Greenwood. Nice area. Impressed, I turned the key in the Camry, and pulled away from the curb. As I drove I looked around the city. My mother had told me about how much Pueblo had been growing over the past five or so years, and she was certainly right. As I looked, I saw so many businesses and neighborhoods that had not been there when I had been a kid. After the big quake in California, people had left the state in droves, and many of them had found new homes in Colorado. Why not? The economy was booming, and Pueblo seemed as good a place to them as any other. They were settling down there, and opening new businesses, or expanding on the one they'd had back on the coast. New York had become my home, but all the same, it felt good to be in a place where you knew you would always be welcome.

I drove by the my old high school, and smiled at the cars in the parking lot. Sunday practices for whatever. A line of yellow buses unloaded kids from a returning sporting event. It all seemed so long ago, like another life time ago. In many ways it was.

I hoped my slacks and simple button-up shirt would do the trick. Monica had told me to dress dressy-casual. Whatever that meant, so I had come up with this. I parked in the back lot where she had told me to, cutting the engine, and readying myself for my first day as an assistant.

“Okay,” Richard, the office manager said as he gave me the “grand tour”. “This is where she keeps all the files. They are all in order by last name. Each case is given a number.” He pulled one of the manila folders from a filing cabinet, and showed me the number and the name printed on the front. He opened the folder, and showed me the file. “This woman here, she is a total loser.” He said, looking very serious as he eyed the details. “Now, don't do what I'm doing right now, because A. Monica gets really, really mad. And B. It's really, really illegal.” I grinned and followed as we walked from the file room where the copy machine and coffee machine's were, and we continued on to his desk in the reception area. “This is my desk, is you hadn't figured that out by now. I answer all the phones, make appointments, yadda, yadda. Any questions about anything other than law stuff, ask me, not Monica. Don't get me wrong, she's a great boss with fabulous taste in clothes, but she has absolutely no clue what goes on here, or how to run this place.” He stopped to take a break, and a sip from his coffee, his finger reaching up to put a perfectly placed piece of blonde hair back in place. “She'd be lost without me.”

“Oh, really?” I jumped, turning to see Monica walking into the office with her briefcase. She had a brow quirked, and a grin on her face. “Don't listen to a word he says, Emily. He's usually full of it, anyway.”

“Am not.” He said, his hand on his hip with an incredulous look on his handsome face.

“Jack, I need you to pull the Reed case, please?” Monica didn't wait for an answer. As she breezed by his desk, she dropped a white bag, which made Jack's blue eyes widen, and headed off into her office. I stayed where I was, not sure what I was supposed to do. Jack jerked toward Monica's office, then back to me. Getting it, I followed.

Monica waited for me at her door, holding it open for me, then closing is behind her. I stood in the center of the room, waiting for her to tell me what I was supposed to do. She walked over to her desk, her black suit well-fitted, high heels sinking into the thick carpet.

“Jack is a pain in the ass, but I'd be lost without him.” She finally said, plopping down into her chair. I sat in the chair I had been in the day before during my interview. She ran her fingers through short, dark hair, and sighed. “Okay, well did he give you a basic tour of the place?” she asked, sitting forward in her chair with her fingers steeped again.

“Yes. He showed me the file room-“

“Ah, yes. Where he goes through and reads the cases and pretends that I don't know?” I stared at her, not sure is she were joking or not. She cracked the slightest bit of a smile, giving me permission to share in the joke.

“Exactly. He showed me how the front is ran.”

“Good. Okay.” She opened her briefcase and removed her reading glasses and a pen, and a stack of folders, then placed it on the floor under her desk. “Here's the deal,”

Monica went on to explain that she was working on a case for a Mrs. Rhoda Mills. Mills was suing her husband for domestic violence, and also to get a restraining order against him for herself and their eleven year old daughter, sighting suspicion of sexual abuse. I listened, transfixed, as my new boss outlined what she had already done in the case, and what still needed to be done in order to go to court in two weeks. We would have a lot of research still to do.

“How good are you at research?” she asked. I looked up from the case I had been reading.

“Really good at it.” She nodded and smiled.

“Excellent. You'll be doing a lot of it here. By time you go off to college you'll either love it or hate it.”

I decided to take the long way, driving through the park, watching families as they laughed and played together. The smells of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grills wafted through the open windows of the rental car. I smiled as I watched children chase each other, or the volleyball nets that had been set up. I braked as I saw a big red ball roll out into the narrow lane of the park road. A man waved as he hurried in front of the car to grab it, then ran back onto the grass to lecture a careless child of the dangers. It seemed as if all was well in the world.

“Where the hell is my wife!” a man's voice screamed out. I glanced up from my work to look at Monica with questioning eyes. She had already been pulling her reading glasses off her nose, and glancing at the closed door.

“Sir, you need to calm down.”

“Get your goddamn hands off me! Rhoda! Rhoda, where the fuck are you?” the voice was getting closer to us in the office, and the sound of the file room door banging open made me jump. Monica sighed deeply, and stood from her desk, her face like stone. A moment later her office door swung open. In the doorway stood a large man with a hanging belly, and greasy baseball cap over graying hair. His face was red from the his upset, his eyes like those of a shrew. He looked around the room, his gaze stopping on me for a moment, before roaming over to Monica. “Which one a you is that Nivens bitch?” he asked, the stench of his breath reaching to me, whiskey prevalent enough to make me feel sick.

“Sir, you have no right to be in here.” Monica said, her voice even, and calm. I had no clue how she was keeping herself together. My knees were beginning to knock. He glared at her.

“Where's my wife?” the man growled.

“I'm not your wife's babysitter, sir. I am her attorney.” He bared crooked, stained teeth, taking a step forward. Monica did not move an inch, crossed her arms over her chest. “You must know this behavior will not help your case any.” She pointed out. He stopped, looked slightly confused, but then the anger returned to his face. “Jack, call the police for Mr. Mills.” She said, raising her voice enough for Jack to hear, never losing eye contact with the man. Ronald Mills understanding the implications of his being there. He took a step out of the office.

“You tell that bitch , Rhoda that she will never take Carrie away from me.” He growled, taking another step back.

“You can tell her yourself in court. Good day, sir.” Mills stared at her for a moment before with a breath of disgust, walked out of the office. I glanced over at my boss, my eyes as big as saucers. Monica turned away from the door, her fingers at her temples. I could tell she was shaken up, and was trying to get herself under control.

“You were brilliant.” I finally breathed. Monica chuckled ruefully.

“That is one thing they don't teach you in law school. How to deal with irate husbands. I really thought he was going to pull a gun, or something.” She turned toward me, perching on the edge of her desk, her hands still slightly shaking.

“Well, you were great. I can't believe you were able to talk him down like that.” My admiration had grown by leaps and bounds. Monica glanced down at her watch, then clapped her hands together.

“Well, I don't know about you, but I could use a break.” She smiled at me, and I returned it eagerly. “What do you say to some lunch?”

Jack had other lunch plans, so we found ourselves out in the historic district of Pueblo on B Street, sitting at an outside café. I ran my hands through my hair, pulling it back away from my face. It was a hot day, and days like that I understood the inclination to chop the hair. I looked across the small, round table at my boss. She picked at her salad, taking a bite now and then. I stared down at my own plate, the cheeseburger and fries long gone.

“Are you okay?” I asked. Monica glanced up at me, and nodded.

“Yeah. That just shook me up.” She set her fork down, and sat back in the wrought iron chair. “You know, I try and do so much for this community. When I finished my four years of college, then headed into law school, I had the typical idealism of youth and being naïve.” She took a drink from her ice water. “I really thought I could make a difference, you know?”

“But you do.” I said. She chuckled quietly.

“Oh, Emily. I look at you, and I see myself all over again.”

“Do you regret it? Going into law?” I stirred my straw around my Coke before taking a sip. Monica was quiet for a moment as she thought of her answer. Then with a sigh she shook her head.

“No. I don't.”

We talked for another hour, and she told me all about law school, and what I had too look forward to after my pre-law degree. I ate up every word, excitement soaring through me. I wanted to move on with my life, get away from the life of my childhood. What my age couldn't tell me then was that those would be some of the best years, the years that I would return to in my mind.

I pulled the Camry to a stop at a stop light, and tapped the wheel with my fingers as I waited for it to turn green. A large part of me was glad to be back home, though it would have been better under different circumstances, obviously. I shook my head as I realized that my twenty year class reunion was coming up in a few years. I never went to my ten year. At the time, it seemed pointless. Now, I wasn't so sure.

I realized as I began to drive again, that I had through my arrogance, thought that nothing pre-New York mattered. When in retrospect, everything pre-New York had shaped me into the woman I had become. I think now and then we all need a good lesson like that, as painful as it may be at the time.

As the weeks went by I realized just how much research Monica had been talking about that first day. Was she ever wrong. There was not just a lot of research, there was a ton of it. I did not mind after while, after I got passed the overwhelmed feeling, that is. I found out that during law school I would have to have some time in as an intern, and this could take up some of that slack. I was thrilled. Monica was the most amazing person to work for, She was tough, but extremely fair and very generous. And, to my surprise, was a lot of fun.

I stared up at the dark ceiling of my bedroom, tired from another long night of depositions. After we'd left the office, Monica and I had headed to her small house over on Park. We set up the Burger King we'd bought on the carpet, and went to work, trying to find every angle of the case we'd need. She went over every point line for line with me so I would understand the ins and outs. I was impressed with Monica's extensive knowledge, and the way her mind worked. She had already told me that I could go to court with her the following Thursday so I could see how this case, that I had worked so hard on, was fought. It was a simple custody case, but nonetheless, I was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. My first real case to witness, and I would get to sit at the table with Monica and her client as her assistant. She had told me that after the trial, she had a surprise for me.

I glanced out my window as a car passed outside, the headlights shining across the ceiling like an apparition. I hugged my trusty teddy, Ruffles to my chest as my gaze landed on the overhead light. I thought about my new boss. I wondered if she was married, which I doubted, or had a boyfriend. I had sort of brought it up one day, and she had made pretty plain that the subject was off limits. I wondered why? Was it too painful to discuss? Had she been through a really terrible break-up? I grinned as I realized I sounded like one of Beth's stories. Beth. It had been so long since I'd seen her. I'd heard through the grapevine of the neighborhood that she'd gotten some job, though what, I had no idea, and was doing the community theater. That part I did not doubt at all. I hoped she was happy. Beth deserved a bit of happiness after such an unhappy childhood.

That old saying, don't know what you've got until it's gone, really made sense to me that night. I realized just how much I had taken Beth for granted, thinking that she'd always be there. But wasn't that what she had always said? I would be nineteen in a few days, and Beth would soon follow in October. We were growing up.

I sat at the table, digging anything out what Monica asked for. She was brilliant, pleading her case to show why Laura Martinez should have custody of her daughter, and not the father, Jose Sanchez. I watched the judge, and the jurors to see how they responded to her. They watched with interest, and sometimes out and out awe. This was definitely what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, and where I wanted to be. Monica Nivens was a sight to behold. My eyes trailed over her well cut suit, the way the gray, pin-stripped skirt clung to her hips, the jacket dipping in at the waist, then flaring out at the shoulders and bust. She wore a silk blouse underneath, and a simple silver chain around her neck to match the small, silver hoops in her ears. I gazed back down to her legs, long, shapely, and ending in sleek, black heels. She was beautiful.

I was shaken from my thoughts by her low voice, asking for her notes. I shook my head to shake myself out of my daze, and handed her the yellow legal pad. She grinned, and turned back to her witness. I tried my best to concentrate on what was going on, but could not help but watch her every move. I mean, I admired and wanted to be like her some day. I should look. Right?

Monica was elated as we walked out of the court room, her client right next to her. They laughed, and talked, and Miss. Martinez thanked her over and over again for helping to get her daughter, Maria back under her roof. Monica was gracious, and kind.

“Please take care of her, Laura.” She said softly, taking the younger woman's hand in hers as we waited for the elevator doors to open. Laura Martinez nodded enthusiastically.

“Of course, of course!” she said in her heavily accented English, then her happiness seemed to fade. She looked down at the floor. “Miss. Nivens, I talked with my father this morning, and he is not going to be able to get the money.” She looked up at Monica with tear-stained cheeks. “Will you let me make payments to you?” Monica patted her hand and smiled.

“Tell you what, Laura. You just concentrate on your daughter right now, okay?” the young woman's eyes widened, as did her mouth.

“What are you saying?” she breathed, her dark eyes filled with hope, and disbelief.

“I'm saying, concentrate on you and little Maria.” The small woman gasped, and grabbed Monica in a tight, crushing hug. Monica smiled, surprised, and hugged the sobbing woman back.

“Oh, thank you, thank you! I pray for you.” Monica slowly pulled away and smiled down at her.

“That works for me.”

I stood off to the side, not wanting to intrude upon such a touching moment. I looked from one to the other, my smile a mile wide. I could not believe Monica had just waived her fees. All that work for what? That question was answered when I saw the happiness on the young mother's face when her two year old daughter was brought to her by the bailiff. I knew from the case file, and what we'd heard in court that day, that the woman had been through enough with the father, and his family, and just needed some peace with her daughter.

“Come on.” I was yanked from my thoughts by a hand on my arm, and a voice in my ear. I looked up to see Monica standing in the elevator cage. I hurried in after her. As the doors closed, I turned to her.

“I can't believe you did that. I thought that sort of thing only happened on Matlock, or Perry Mason.” She chuckled, switching her briefcase from her left hand to her right.

“Well, sometimes you have to do what's right instead of what's popular.” She pushed the button that would take us to the lobby of the courthouse, and then turned back to me. “Tell you what, Emily, why don't you go on home, get ready, then I'll pick you up at your house in an hour, okay?” I nodded. What on earth did she have planned?

I climbed into my Jeep outside of Monica's office, and blew out a breath. I was surprisingly tired. I think it had been more of an emotionally tiring day as opposed to anything physical I did; which was next to nothing. I switched on the ignition, and smiled as Wham began to sing, “Wake me up, before you go-go, instead of hanging me on like a yo-yo,” I sang along as I pulled out of the parking lot, and headed home, a smile on my face.

I gave my mother a brief description of the trial as she sat on my bed, watching me finish up with my hair, getting ready to go with Monica. My mother listened, and asked questions. She had been so thrilled when I'd told her where I'd be working, and what I was doing.

“There's a client that we're sort of worried about, though.” I said, as I tucked my shirt in, and stuck my comb in my back pocket. My mother looked at me strange.

“Honey, why are you taking a comb with you when you have enough hairspray in there to keep a small community together?” I shrugged and looked into the mirror, patting my feathered bangs down.

“I don't know. Guess it just looks cool.” I watched her reflection in the mirror as she shook her head in confusion. Parents. They never understood anything about fashion.

“So, tell me about the client you're worried about.”

“Oh!” I turned to face her, my face colored with excitement. “Well, we have this client who's name is, well, actually I can't tell you that. Confidentiality.” I said, feeling rather important that I knew something my mother didn't. I was slightly irritated when I saw her try to hide a small grin. What was so funny? “Well, anyway, so this client is trying to get their little girl away from the father who is a complete monster. Just two weeks ago he barged into the office, and threatened Monica. The man's crazy!” I turned back to the mirror as I put on my lip gloss, smacking my lips together. “The wife is afraid of what he might do. I know Monica is really worried about it.”

“Wow. Sounds exciting.” My mother said, leaning back on her hands. I looked at her with wide eyes, and nodded.

“It is.” She smiled, and cocked her head to the side a bit.

“Where are you going tonight, honey?”

“Monica has some sort of surprise for me. Don't know what's up.”

“Oh.' She said, looking down at her hands as she sat up, entwining her fingers together. I drew my brows together.

“Why?” I asked, grabbing my purple, Velcro wallet, and sticking it into my pocket.

“Well, It's just that it's your birthday, and you're never home lately. I know me and dad aren't as exciting as Monica, but I thought you might want to spend some time with us.” She looked up shyly at me, then looked back down to her hands. I stared at her dumbly. Not spend time with Monica? It had never even occurred to me. I sighed. Try and be diplomatic, Em.

“I'm sorry, mom.” I walked over to her and sat on the bed next to her. “If she hadn't already made plans for us, I would stay home. Tell you what,” I put my arm around her shoulders, “Tomorrow is Saturday, and I don't have to work, so why don't you and me go down to the mall, and just window shop all day like we used to? We can even go into that music store, and laugh at all those crazy groups coming out.” She looked at me and grinned slightly, nodding.

“Okay.” I smiled back.

“Thanks, mom.” I gave her a quick hug when I heard the doorbell. I shot up from the mattress, nearly knocking my mother off the bed. “She's here.” I was running out the door when my mother stopped me.

“Emmy?” I turned back to her, my hand on the door frame.


“I'm so proud of you, honey. Have a good time.” I smiled, and raced down the stairs.

I jumped into Monica's white Jeep Cherokee with a smile, and glanced over at her. My eyes were nailed to the spot.

“Wow.” I breathed. “You look really good.” I muttered, then blushed deeply. I hadn't meant to say that out loud as I looked at her red tank top that showed off trim, well-tanned shoulders and arms. That simple silver chain still around her neck, a good contrast against her skin tone. She wore Jean shorts, and sandals. Her short, dark hair was clean and shiny, and combed back. She smiled.

“Thanks. So do you.” I smiled, and looked down at my own T-shirt and shorts. I felt like just a kid next to her graceful countenance. She backed us out of the driveway, and we were off.

“So where are we going?” I asked, reaching my arm out of the open passenger window so I could try and catch the breeze. She shook her head with a smile, her eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead of us.

“Not going to tell you. However, we do have a quick stop to make. Is that okay?” she turned briefly to me before her eyes darted back to the road.

“Fine by me.” I said calmly, but inside I was jumping for joy. Monica made me feel so important, as if what I said really mattered, and she saw me as an equal, not as some kid. I felt a smile spread across my face as I stared out into the early evening, everything turning gold as the sun went down.

“And now, a big hit for Rick Springfield, 'Jesse's Girl.'” I turned back to see that she was messing with the radio, about to change the channel.

“No, wait. I love that song.” She put her hand back on the steering wheel as the car was filled with the song about a guy who had fallen in love with his best friend's girlfriend.

We jammed to the song as we passed through downtown, and headed toward Santa Fe Avenue, and a back road that I had never seen before. I looked around. The small building was low to the ground as if it were hiding from something, a few cars littering the dirt parking lot. Monica pulled up in front of the building, and cut the engine. Turning to me she smiled.

“This will only take a sec.” She said.

“Wait, I want to go in with you.” I said, looking through the windshield at the building seeing a Budweiser sign in a window. Hmm. Must be a bar of sort. Monica's face darkened slightly.

“Uh, well, are you sure?” she asked, her voice slightly nervous. My curiosity was definitely piqued then. I nodded enthusiastically.


“Okay. Come on.”

We walked toward the door of the place, a piece of wood painted black, and nearly were bowled over by someone coming out.

“Monica! Where you been, girl?” I looked up, and up to the tallest man I had ever seen, his dark skin like polished onyx. He was extremely thin with very feminine features, chiseled cheek bones, and straight, white teeth. I squinted as I stared up at him. Was he wearing eye make-up?

“Hi, Magenta!” Monica exclaimed, succumbing to the massive bear hug. I watched on. Magenta? They parted, and the large man looked over at me.

“Who's this precious young thing?” he asked, extending a long, narrow, yet surprisingly elegant hand for me to shake. As I slowly pumped our hands up and down I noticed that he had his nails painted a deep pink. What the hell?

“This is Emily. She's working for me for the summer.” Monica explained proudly. Magenta nodded with a bright smile.

“Well, it's sure nice to meet you, sweets.” He let go of my hand and turned back to my boss. “Sweetheart, I'd love to chat with you, but I must be going. You need to come in some time. We miss you, girl.” He said dramatically with an affectionate pat on Monica's shoulder.

“I will. I've been so busy lately.”

“Well, catch you two cuties later.” He said with a wink, and walked past us, out into the parking lot. I glanced over my shoulder as I watched him sashay to his car, then turned back to Monica to meet amused dark eyes.

“Come on, Emily.” She chuckled, holding the door open for me. I walked ahead of her, looking around as I did. The place was dim, but obviously not open for business. As I looked at the string of lights strung around the ceiling and support poles, my guess was that the place was only lit by those tiny lights, and probably on the dark side. Small round tables were everywhere, chairs stacked neatly on top, a hardwood dance floor in the center of the largish room. The long bar was to the left, and back toward the back of the room. Two women were sitting at bar stools talking to the bartender. Other than that, the place was empty.

I moved to the side, allowing Monica to walk past me as I had no clue where we were going, and why we were there. The two women, and male bar tender looked over in our direction, one of the women standing, but not walking toward us. Her eyes were on Monica, only briefly darting to me. She was a short woman, not much taller than me, with short blonde hair tucked under a cowboy hat. She wore tight-fitting Wranglers, and black boots. Her western-style shirt was half unbuttoned, revealing some of her cleavage. My eyes bulged slightly when I saw that, and quickly found the juke box in the back incredibly interesting.

“Hey, Mon.” she said, her voice low and smoky.

“Hi, Lee. Thanks for meeting me.” They embraced, then stepped back from each other. I moved away a couple steps, not wanting to eavesdrop. I looked around, walking out to the dance floor, and turning in a small circle. I had never been in a bar before. It wasn't so bad, granted it was closed at the time. I saw the bathrooms at the back, near the pool table. A large picture of James Dean was on the men's, and a picture of Marilyn Monroe was on the women's. Hmm. Kind of cool, I supposed. I looked past those to see more liquor signs, mostly different beers, and saw a giant upside down pink triangle on one of the mirrors. I drew my brows, and walked a little closer. I thought it a bit strange, having no clue what that was supposed to mean. Shrugging, I turned back toward the bar. Monica was sitting with the other three, talking to the bar tender, and laughing. I decided to see what the joke was.

“You guys have got to behave!” Monica was chuckling, rubbing at her eyes with her fingertips. “See, you're making me cry.”

“You big baby.” The blonde woman called Lee said, lightly punching her on the arm. “Always was a problem.” Monica sobered slightly, and glared at her. The bar tender who had been leaning on the bar on his forearms stood, and smiled.

“Hey, kid.” He said. I smiled back at him through clenched teeth. I hated it when people called me kid.

“Hi.' I said.

“This her?” the blonde asked, looking over at me, taking in my shorts and tee, then her eyes traveled down to my bare legs, and shoes before making her way back up.

“Lee.” Monica warned in a low voice. I was utterly confused, and I'm sure it showed on my face. I looked from one to the other, then back to the bar tender who was trying to stifle a chuckle. I glanced at the blonde, irritated by her arrogant stance, and condescending gaze.

“I'm Emily.” I said, my chin raised higher than I actually felt. The blonde looked at me with hooded brown eyes, as if she were bored. Finally after further contemplation of my legs, she swiveled her bar stool around to face me, her boot heels hooked on the bar of the stool.

“Lee.” She said, tipping her hat. I felt a strange flush rush up my neck and cheeks. She was a really pretty lady, and something in that stare made me slightly uncomfortable. She looked as if she were taking in all of me with that stare, my outer as well as inner person. It was kind of eerie. Suddenly I felt a boldness flow through me that I had never felt before.

“Well, now that we have that straight, why don't you ask me if I'm her or not?” the only way her expression changed was by the slightest lift of a dark blonde brow. She grinned a bit, and nodded. The bar tender and other woman whistled quietly under their breath, and glanced over at Monica, then back at me.

“Fair enough.” Lee said, then tipped her hat again, and turned back around to grab her beer, and take a drink. I took a deep, shaky breath, not sure I believed I had done that. I was not the type to confront people like Lee. I glanced at Monica to meet impressed, albeit surprised, eyes. She smiled and shook her head, turning to the others.

“We better go. It's this one's birthday today.” She said proudly, standing, and putting a hand on my back. Part of me was irritated that she would tell that blonde woman that. I didn't want her to know anything about me. I didn't even like her!

“Hey, congrats, kid. Happy birthday.” The bar tender said with a genuine smile. I smiled back, shyness sliding in again. Monica picked up a book off the bar that I hadn't even noticed.

“Thanks for bringing it by, Lee. It's only been nine months.” Monica smiled, but just as quickly it was gone.

“Well, get everything next time.” Lee said, crossing her arms over her chest, her shirt opening a bit more with the movement, which caught my eye. I blushed, and tried to look away, but caught myself sneaking a peek.

“Come on, Emily. Later, all.”

With a round of good-byes, we finally left the bar. I felt refreshed as we headed out into the parking lot that was certainly much darker than it had been when we'd gone in. Tall street lights were spaced strategically through out to rain bright, bluish light down on the cars. I took in a deep breath of fresh, summer air, and let it out with a smile. Monica turned to me with a grin.

“You look happy.” She said as she unlocked the driver's side door of her Cherokee.

“I am.' I grinned back. Somehow that place had revived me, cleansed me. I knew that seemed stupid. It had only been a bar, I assumed like any other, but despite that blonde, I had felt a kinship to those people, even that strange guy, Magenta. I couldn't explain it any better to Monica than I could to myself, I knew, so I didn't tell her. “It's a great night.” I said, in answer to her silent question, but only revealing half the truth. “It's my birthday, I'm headed to my last year as a teenager, and I have something wonderful to look forward to.” I opened my door that she had unlocked from the inside of the Jeep, and climbed in, reaching for my seatbelt. I stared out the window, looking at the place as I saw the sign outside suddenly turn on. Campy's Bar. “I like that place.” I said, turning to my friend. She raised her brows.


“Yeah. I want to go back some time. When they're open.”

I slowly scanned the houses that lined the street, large, old houses that had graces the streets of Pueblo for nearly a century or more. I glanced down at the piece of paper in my hand to compare the address, when I saw it. The house was on the left, and stood tall, a three story Victorian. The dark green paint was accented with white shutters, and columns on the porch. I was breathless. Monica and Connie's house was truly beautiful. Two cars were parked in the narrow drive, one behind the other. I assumed both were home. I had not called to say I was coming, but instead wanted the element of surprise. I did a U-turn in the street so I could park along the front of the place, but not face the dead end that was behind me. I knew it was silly. Just my nerves getting the better of me, should I need to leave quickly. I cut the engine of the Camry, and sat for a moment, staring at the lawn that I knew was well taken care of, winter-yellow. With a deep breath, I got out of the car. Time to say hello to the past once more.

Monica had taken me to eat at a crazy place called Papa's Bag that had clowns running around, squirting unsuspecting guests with flower-squirt guns, or they would go up to you and honk your nose. It had been great fun, then she had taken me to see the newest Molly Ringwald movie. We had laughed, talked, and laughed some more. It had turned out to be one of the best birthdays I'd had in a long time.

I had called Jack earlier to tell him that I was going to be in late because I had had some last minute things to take care of before I left for Boulder in a month. The summer had gone so fast, and part of me didn't want to go. I almost wished I could have just stayed in Pueblo, and worked for Monica in her practice. As I drove to the office, I remembered what she had said to me when I had mentioned the thought to her.

“Emily, I'm flattered, believe me. And you have been of immense help to me. But this is not your dream, to be stuck here, working for an attorney. Your dream is to be the attorney. Don't give up on that. Ever.”

I turned the wheel of my banana yellow Jeep, and pulled into the lot of the office, only to draw my brow as I saw a policemen getting into his cruiser, and heading out. I followed the black and white with my eyes until he disappeared around the corner. Nudged out of my daze by my fear, I tugged at my seatbelt, finally getting it unbuckled, and hurried to the side door of the office that would take me into the hall by Monica's office. The door was closed, so I by-passed it and went into the lobby to ask Jack what was going on. He sat at the desk as usual, chewing on the end of a pencil.

“Jack?” I asked, walking up to his desk. He looked up at me, surprised.

“Hey.” He said, tossing the yellow number two to the desk top. “Glad you're in. You should really go talk to Mon.”

“What happened? I saw that police car outside. Did someone break in?” I asked, looking around to see if anything was awry. He shook his head, his perfectly styled hair not moving an inch.

“No. Mon can explain it to you.” He patted my hand that rested on the edge of the desk, and pointed to the closed office door. “Besides, I think that you're the only one who can keep us in our jobs.” Confused, and worried, I hurried over to Monica's door. I knocked softly.

“Monica?” I asked, my voice low. No answer. “Monica?” I heard a very faint “Come in.” so I opened the door, and closed it softly behind me. Monica sat behind her desk, her head in her hands. I walked up to the desk, looking down at her. “Monica?” I asked again, my voice low, careful.

“Hey.” She said, her voice thick and wet from crying. I pulled one of the chairs up to the desk, and sat, never losing sight of her. Finally after a moment of silence that seemed to stretch on forever, she looked up at me. Her eyes were heavy, and her face pale.

“What is it?” I whispered. “What happened?”

“Rhoda Mills is dead.” She said, her voice dull. I stared at her, my stomach in knots. “I knew it, Emily. When her husband came slamming in here that day I knew I should have called the police.” Fresh tears began to form in her dark eyes. My heart went out to her. I could see that she was trying to completely take the blame for what had happened.

“Oh, Monica. There was nothing you could have done. Nothing.” I said, feeling totally helpless to say anything that would make her feel better. Guilt was a hard thing to levy.

“I knew he was dangerous though!” she cried. “He just walked into the house this morning, pointed his .38 at his wife and their daughter, and pumped three bullets each into them. They never had a chance.” She swiped at her falling tears, frustrated that she couldn't get them to stop. I grabbed her hand that rested on the desk, and took it into my own, hoping to offer some semblance of comfort. “Why am I doing this, Emily? I don't make a difference. These people in this town are screwed. Just plain and simple, they're screwed, and no one, and nothing can help them, least of all Monica Nivens, Attorney at law. What a joke.” She said bitterly.

“No, Monica. Please don't say that.” I begged, fighting back my own tears at her pain, frustration and disappointment. “Just think about all the cases we've worked on these last six weeks, and,” suddenly the face of Laura Martinez flashed before my eyes. “Just think of what you did for Laura Martinez!” I exclaimed, trying to hold on to anything to help her out of the funk she was in. “Her face that day in court when you waived her fees,” I stopped to take a breath, “Monica, do you know how profoundly you changed that girl's life?” she looked up at me through tear-puffed eyes.

“Do you really think so?” she asked, her voice child-like with hope. I nodded enthusiastically.

“Absolutely!” I moved around her desk until I was kneeling next to her chair, looking up at her with pleading eyes. “Monica, I wanted to be a lawyer before, but after watching you, it makes me want it that much more, just so I can be like you.” She looked down at me, her eyes unwavering as she let all that I had said soak in. Suddenly the sunlight burst through the clouds, and she smiled.

“Thank you, Emily. I think that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.” She said quietly, her hand gently coming to rest against my jaw. I nodded dumbly. My soliloquy over, I didn't know what to say. With a deep breath, the spell was broken, and she turned back to her desk. “Come on, woman. We have some cases to work on.” She winked at me, and I stood, plopping down into a chair to hear what was on the menu for that day.

It was a Saturday, and a rare occasion where we had to work, but some unpleasant surprises had come up on our latest case, and had to be dealt with pronto. I had spent the night at Monica's the night before, crashing in her spare bedroom after going over new depositions, and trying to find holes in the defense's case. I sat on the floor, my head resting against my hand as I poured over the file that rested on the coffee table. I was going cross-eyed, and wanted to fall asleep again.

“Monica?” I called out, never breaking a sentence on the file with my eyes, “Did you fall in, or what?” I heard the toilet flush further into the house, and turned the page to start on the backside when I felt something wet dribble on my head. “What the” I looked up at the ceiling, no leaks. It hadn't even rained lately. I went back to the file when I felt it again. I turned around to get hit smack in the face with a thin stream of water, and a laughing lawyer. “You!” I stood, putting my hands in front of my face to protect myself from the onslaught of the squirt gun. Monica screamed with joy as she completely soaked me. She put the emptied gun down, and grinned, looking at my T-shirt that stuck to me like a second skin, and bangs that hung in my eyes. I stared back, my hands on my hips. “You think this is pretty funny, don't you?” I asked. She nodded.

“Uh huh.” She screamed again and took off running through the small house, me on her heels, and into the backyard. I immediately went for the hose, turning on the faucet as fast as I could, and then chasing her around, trying to spray around potted plants, trees, and even the house. She disappeared around a corner, and the hose would not reach that far, so I decided to take up camp. I could wait. Patience is a virtue, after all. I grinned to myself as I thought of just how wet she actually was. Her white polo was virtually see-through, and her cotton shorts hung on her frame, her hair pasted to her scull. Teach her to try and sneak up on me-

“Huh!” with that thought I gasped as I felt ice cold water pour over my head, into my eyes, and down my shirt, getting me even wetter than I already was. I closed my eyes as my body adjusted to the cold water and the heat of the day. When I was finally able to lower my hunched shoulders, I turned to see a grinning Monica holding a water cooler at her side. “You are evil.” I breathed. She nodded.


“Went around the fence?”

“Yup.” I nodded, then got my bearings back, and brought up the hose, and pressed the nozzle on the sprayer, and giggled as she screamed, and tried to protect herself from the barrage of water. She began to advance on me blindly, spitting water out of her mouth, her eyes tightly closed, peeking one open now and then, until she reached me, and we began to struggle with the hose for dominance. We were laughing and screaming like school girls, but it was just too funny.

“Noo!” I yelped as she began to take control, nearly getting the hose out of my hands. She laughed evilly.

“Ha ha!” she managed to wrestle the hose from out of my hands, and I took a step back, my foot getting caught in the hose, and down I went, pulling her down with me. We hit hard, me on the grass, her on me, leaving me breathless.

“Ow.” I giggled opening my eyes to look up at her. She was giggling, too. She put her hands down on the grass on either side of me, having tossed the hose aside, and pushed herself up a bit, but then stopped as she stared down at me. I looked up at her, laughing as I got my breath back, only to lose it again as I stared into her eyes. Her grin slowly faded from her face as she continued to stare. I didn't know what to do, only that I wasn't so sure I wanted her to get up, so I just laid there, my arms out to my sides. I could feel Monica's warm breath on my face, as she seemed to get closer to me, spreading that warmth to other areas, her eyes lowering, staring at my open mouth. Then as suddenly as it had happened, she blinked, and pushed herself off me, reaching a hand down to help me up.

“You okay?” she asked, looking at the hose, gathering it up, and taking it over to the sidewalk by the house.

“Uh, yeah.” I said, still in a daze. Once she had it wrapped around the hose-stand, she turned back to, her hands wringing the water out of her shirt tail.

“Sorry, Emily.” She grinned. “We've both been working so hard, and I figured we could use a break.” I grinned back and began to wring my own clothes out.

“That was fun.” She nodded with a smile.

I took the keys from the ignition, and opened my door, mindful of any oncoming traffic. The walk up to the large, green house was done in flagstone with bits of colored pebbles thrown into the mix of mortar. I smiled at the porch swing that swung slightly from the light breeze. I glanced up at the increasingly darkening sky. It was beginning to get cold again. I hoped a storm wasn't going to come in. Finally reaching the porch, I mounted the couple of stairs, and took a deep breath as I reached out to press the doorbell. Far off in the house I could hear chimes, and then the barking of a dog. Footsteps on hardwood floors, then the door was pulled open.

It was a hot day. Not just regular, want some ice cold lemonade hot, but let's run and hide in the air-conditioner hot. Monica and I walked down the street, doing some window shopping on Main on our way to our favorite little outside café to eat lunch. She was dragging me from window to window as she gawked at the different types of candles. Monica was wanting to re-decorate her house, and I was to help her.

“Oh!” I stopped, my gaze riveted on one of the most beautiful candles I'd ever seen. It was a large wolf, standing at the edge of a cliff, howling at a full moon. It was carved from ivory wax, and the detail was exquisite, down to the wolf's fur, and tail tucked between its legs. “Look at that.” I breathed. I got no answer, and turned to see my friend's attention had completely gone somewhere else. Annoyed, I grabbed her sleeve. Then my eyes wondered out to the street to see what had caught her eye. My own eyes bulged in surprise. A woman was walking down the sidewalk in our direction, though she was still a good fifteen, twenty feet away. She was tall, long legs in loose-fitting worn blue jeans with matching holes in each knee. She wore a tight, ribbed black tank that showed off tanned skin, and an incredible physique. She had dark, nearly black hair, cut short, but with long bangs that flaked either side of her forehead. As she got closer, I stared into her blue eyes that seemed to glow against the reflection of the sun, and when those blue eyes crinkled in recognition, my stomach fell.

“Beth.” I breathed. Monica turned to me, broken from her strange daze. “And she cut her hair.” I added dumbly.

“You know her?” she asked. I nodded, sticking my hands in my pockets to stop them from fidgeting with the sudden attack of nerves I felt. As Beth got closer, I noticed that her eyes darted back and forth between me and Monica, a question in her lop-sided grin. God, she was so beautiful.

“Fancy seeing you here, Em.” She said as she walked up to us, and stopped. I said nothing, but watched her as she began to watch Monica. “Hi.” She said to my boss.

“Hello.” Monica said with a sweet smile. “Friend of Emily's?” I was curious to see how Beth would answer that. She glanced at me for a moment, then looked at Monica.

“We know each other.” She finally said. “You're Monica from across the street.” Beth said, cocking her head to the side to take in all of Monica, and her cream-colored, light-weight suit. Her eyes gazed down at her legs, and the fitted skirt to the silk, sleeveless blouse, finally to smile with a raised brow. “Right?” I watched, torn between the two, not sure I believed what I was seeing. If I didn't know better, I would have said that Beth was flirting with Monica. Was, was she flirting back? I was baffled, and felt another strange feeling wash over me. Jealousy. I was taken aback by that. No. Couldn't be.

My attention turned back to the two women standing before me, talking. “Yeah, I'm Beth Sayers. Lived next door to Em, here.” Recognition seemed to dawn on Monica, and she nodded.

“Of course.” She looked back at me with a smile of wonder on her face. “My god. You have definitely grown up.” She said, her voice lowering just a bit.

“Well, it does tend to happen. And so have you, by the way.”

They continued to talk, and I blocked them out, my own feelings like a tempest inside my head. How could I be so glad to see Beth, yet wish that she'd go away? I never in my wildest dreams saw Beth as a threat of any kind, and then at that moment, standing on the sidewalk out front of that candle shop, I saw her as just that. Why? How could I have jealousy that was aimed at Beth, and aimed at Monica? It was obvious to the most dense person that something was flying through the air with those two, yet I was not yet ready at that time to put a name to it, or to even try and identify it.

I would sneak a peek at Beth every once in a while only to find my gaze meeting blue. As always, no matter what she did, I was still always in her sights. That was both comforting, and unsettling at the same time. Old habits die hard, I guess.

“Emily?” I looked up to meet the dark gaze of my old friend and boss. I smiled, and nodded. “Oh my god.” She breathed, stepping forward onto the porch to wrap me in a tight hug. “Why didn't you tell me you were coming?” she said against my shoulder.

“I guess I wanted to surprise you.” I explained as we parted. I looked into Monica's face, now that of a woman in her mid-forties. She was still beautiful, with her shiny black hair, just the tiniest bit of gray mixed in. It was longer than it had been last I'd seen her, but looked great on her. She wore a baggy sweatshirt and matching sweats, her feet in thick, wool socks. She held me at arm's length, and looked me over.

“You look wonderful.” She beamed. “My god, you've grown up.” She said, shaking her head in wonder. “Come in, come in.”

Monica stepped aside to allow me to enter into a large entryway, a long, narrow hall leading out from it. I looked down when I felt something by my leg, and grinned at the little Beagle that looked up at me with great big brown eyes, brown, black and white tail about to wag off.

“This is Molly.” She said.

“Hey, Molly.” I cooed, bending down to give the excited dog some attention. Monica led me through the large house, showing me all of the antiques she had collected over the years, and her prized collection of candles of every kind and color. The house that she had always wanted.

“You have got to meet Connie.” She said, tugging me by the arm up to the third floor of the old house. As we got further up the stairs, I could hear hammering. “Honey?” she called out, leading me through a maze of rooms and doors until we finally ended up in a well-lit room filled with windows. A woman was at the far end, up on a ladder, hammering away on the rafters there.

“Connie?” Monica said, though the woman did not acknowledge. “Connie!”

“What?!” the woman almost fell off the ladder as she jerked in surprise. She put her hand to her chest, and glared at Monica. “Are you trying to kill me?” she wheezed. Monica grinned.

“Sorry, babe. I want you to meet someone. Connie, this is Emily Thomas. Emily, my partner Connie.” I smiled, so glad to meet the woman who had finally been able to give my old friend what she had always wanted; love, and a steady home.

“Emily. Hi.” Connie said, stepping down the rungs of the ladder, wiping her hands on her paint-stained pants. “Sorry about the mess. We're remodeling.” She smiled, extending her hand.

“Not a problem.” I smiled, taking her hand into a warm handshake.

“I certainly wish we were meeting under better circumstances, but I'm glad to meet you all the same.” She said, covering our joined hands with her other one.

“Same here.” I said, looking into her deep, blue eyes. Kind eyes. Her hair, that was swept back into a messy ponytail, with specks of white paint in it, was a deep blonde color, almost butterscotch. Very different. She was a simple looking woman, but beautiful in that simplicity, and her good heart shone through, exuding from her like an aura.

“So where's Rebecca?” Monica asked. I turned back to her.

“She stayed and is babysitting.” I said sheepishly. “She just adores kids, and Billy and Nina jumped at the opportunity.” They both smiled knowingly.

“Well, let's all go downstairs and you can tell us all about life in the Big Apple.”

I stood from the stack of files on the floor, and walked over to the window, looking out at the dark street, the single streetlight illuminating part of the front yard. I crossed my arms over my chest, and leaned my shoulder against the wall.

“Emily?” I heard quietly from the room behind me.

“Hmm?” I asked absently, my mind faraway.

“You okay, hon?” I could hear the concern in Monica's voice. I nodded.

“Yeah. Just thinking.”


About what indeed. I watched as two boys raced down the street, lit for just a second beneath the orange glow of the streetlight, then disappearing, only their laughter to be heard in the night still. I tried to focus in on my thoughts, to get them in order so they'd make some sort of sense to my friend. They made absolutely no sense to me. I turned away from the window.

“I'm so confused, Monica.” I said quietly, my gaze locked on the coffee table.

“About.” She asked again, her voice soft, encouraging.

“Remember last week, when we ran into Beth?” I asked, she nodded. I turned back to the window, not wanting to see her face as I told my story, staring at my reflection in the glass, the night turning it into a mirror. My eyes were drawn to the west as a large bolt of lightning lit the night sky, turning night into day, and making my reflection disappear for just a moment, then there I was again. “How can,” I stopped, trying to find the words. “How can you miss something you never had?” I stared into the eyes in the reflection, my eyes, eyes that were transparent, the darkness just on the other side, and I wondered if the whole time had I been just as transparent? Had I known what I had wanted, but wasn't strong enough to grab it?

“What do you mean?” I heard the soft question, but did I understand the words? What did I mean?

“Beth.” Was spoken almost like a prayer. “When you two were talking that day on the street, I was jealous. Not the first time the two have been in the same sentence before. Beth and jealousy.” I said. “And as I watched her talk to you, I realized that the word Monica had to be added to that sentence, too.” I didn't dare look at her, terrified of what implications that admission could bring up. “I was scared.”

“Of what, Emily?” I heard asked, not far behind me. I still did not turn around, able to make out the hazy reflection of Monica's face behind me. I had gotten myself in that deep, might as well finish it. I would be leaving for school soon, anyway.

“Of losing either one of you. To each other.” I smiled ruefully. “Silly, huh?” I finally garnered the courage to turn and face my friend. She had a look of understanding on her face, her hands buried deep into her pockets. “I don't understand this, Monica.” I shrugged, showing my defeat. She smiled.

“You're so young, Emily. You have no idea how much you remind me of myself ten years ago. So ambitious, intelligent, yet utterly confused and blind. I once asked myself, how can I be so smart, yet so dumb at the same time?” she smiled in remembrance, and took a step toward me. “Emily, go to Beth. She is where your heart really lies. You look up to me, see what you want to be. Don't confuse that with something that it isn't.” I could feel the sting of confused emotions behind my eyes.

“What if it's too late?” I asked. She reached out her hand, and placed it upon my cheek.

“You'll never know until you try. You've managed to get yourself this far, figure out this much. Don't quit now.”

I laid in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling once more, distant thunder continued to rumble deep in the night sky. I held my trusty teddy, Ruffles to me, holding on to something that was a reminder of who I really was, of who I thought I was, and who I pretended to be. Ruffles had been through it all, had seen all the changes. He's seen all of my wishes and dreams, disappointments. Probably knew me better than I knew myself. I released my hold and turned the bear to sit up on my stomach, and stared up into his familiar, worn face.

“What do I do, Ruffles?” I asked, running a finger over the tiny line of stitching where he had ripped once, and had been sewn back together for a teary-eyed five year old. “I wish you could talk, fella.” With a sigh, I pulled him back to me and looked over at my closet doors where Bonnie Tyler and Olivia Newton-John smiled at me. My eyes gazed over their features, as familiar as my own, but yet somehow more beautiful that night. Olivia's big, blue eyes, and innocent smile. I could hear her voice inside my head singing 'Hopelessly Devoted To You.” I chuckled low in my throat. Ironic. “What do I do, girls? Should I go after her?”

I looked to the ceiling again as my thoughts roamed to Beth. Why was I seeing it then, rather then when we had been kids? I knew deep in my gut Beth had always known what I was purposely blind to. Her heart had always been in it, and I realized at that moment just how bad I had hurt her so many times. Why had she always come back? Why hadn't she run away from me? Then I realized she had. I had kept trying to draw her back. She had been happy with Casey, spreading her wings, learning about who and what she was from someone who would accept her for what she was. Just Beth. No pressures, no expectations. Just Beth. Thus the calling of the theater. That didn't care who you were, or who you loved. All it wanted was its own due attention, and Beth could give that freely, give of herself. She knew no other way to do it. And I loved her for it. Had always loved her.

Monica gave me the day off, and I stood in front of my full-length mirror, staring at my reflection as I stood in a towel, my hand clasping the ends together. I studied my face, my eyes picking up more blue in the green color with the blue of my room surrounding me. My hair was slicked back from my face, darkened into a brownish color from the shower I had just taken. My skin was clear, my summer tan still visible. My body, though short, was well-proportioned, and compact, with narrow hips, yet full breasts. Slowly I opened the towel some, staring at what lay beneath. Pleased with what I saw there, I dropped the towel all together, and began to get dressed.

I took special care in what I wore that day, wearing only colors that would bring out my eyes, and the golden tones of my hair. I pulled my tight cut-offs up my freshly shaved legs, careful to not wipe the lotion off too much. I struggled into my snug-fitting baby-doll tank, and pulled it down over my torso, just the barest bit of my stomach showing. I took a deep breath as I watched the outfit coming together, keeping a careful eye out for any imperfection. I ran my hands through my dried hair, letting it fall lose around my shoulders, wisps teasing my neck. I slid my bare feet into white Keds, and studied the finished product. I had to admit, I looked damn good. I applied the tiniest amount of gloss, and grabbed my keys. I was ready. Ready to finally tell her how I felt, what I wanted.

The Rogers Theater was in the center of town, an old, two-story building that had once been a library. The sculpted molding around the edges, and the Roman columns gave it a historic feel. Truly a beautiful building. I walked up the long staircase, my stomach in my throat as I finally reached the large, heavy double doors. The theater was kept dark, the whir of fans filling the near silent space. I looked around, trying to find anyone helpful. Or just anyone at all, for that matter. I found my way to the auditorium, the house lights completely off to keep the heat level down, the lights on the stage making the actor's feel like fast food as it was.

I stood in the back, and watched the rehearsal for a moment, chuckling at the antics of some of the characters. Seeing my fill, and wanting to get on with why I was there, I walked down the long, slanted aisle toward the stage, looking for someone who was not busy. I smiled when I saw a girl sitting in the front row, her legs stretched out in front of her, her eyes glued to the stage. I stopped a few feet from her, and cleared my throat. She glanced over at me with her eyes, raising impatient brows.

“Hi.” I said, she continued to glare. “Um, have you seen Beth Sayers?”

“Yeah.” She said, turning her eyes back to the stage.

“You have seen her?” I asked, trying to prompt her.

“Yeah, several times.” I rolled my eyes.

“Where is she?” I tried to keep the impatience out of my voice. Without taking her eyes from the stage, she reached her arm back behind her, pointing in the general direction of the back of the auditorium. I hurried in that direction, not sure where to look, but figured it was a starting place.

I walked along the back wall, the window of the lighting booth above me, then spotted an EXIT sign just ahead. I pushed the door open, to find myself in a long, cinderblock hallway with harsh, fluorescent lights above. Quite a change from the darkness of the theater. I squinted for a moment until my eyes could adjust. When they did, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Down toward the end of the hall were two figures, two women. One was pushed against the lime-painted wall, the other pressed up against her. The one against the wall was a beautiful woman with short, fiery red hair, and the other one was Beth. I watched as they smiled at each other, rapt up in a conversation too low for me to hear, and then they kissed, long and deep. The red head had wondering hands, slipping underneath Beth's shirt, or in her hair. Beth pulled the woman to her, her hands finding the woman's rear-end.

I was left speechless, wanting to find a hole, and crawl in, never to come out again. I felt like such a fool. I quietly turned, wanting to slink away, Beth never knowing I had ever been there.

“Em?” I cringed, stopping just short of the door. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath before I turned around. Beth had disentangled herself from the redhead, and had taken a couple of steps toward where I stood. I looked at her, unable to say anything. She smiled in confusion, and took another step. “What are you doing here?” the redhead watched me with curious eyes, still leaning against the wall. I turned back to Beth, the question still heavy in the air.

“I, well, I um. I saw you were in the play, and so I wanted to come by and, well, I wanted to tell you, to,” My mind was a mess, which was starting to flow out of my mouth. I stopped myself, took another deep breath, then looked into her eyes again. She was confused, and I couldn't tell if she was also amused or annoyed. “I wanted to tell you that I, well, that.” I took yet another deep breath. “I wanted to come by and say goodbye.” She blinked, taken aback.

“Goodbye?” she repeated the word, tasting it on her tongue.

“Yes.” I said, my heart breaking. “I'm leaving for Boulder on Saturday, and wanted to wish you luck on your play,” I glanced at the redhead, “and everything.” She smiled slightly, but I could not read her at all. She had totally blocked herself off. I had never hit a brick wall with Beth, and found it extremely disconcerting.

“Oh.” She said quietly. “I'm glad you did. Good luck to you, too.” I smiled weakly and nodded, turning away again, heading for the door. “Em?” I glanced at her over my shoulder. “Don't I even rate a hug?” she asked quietly. I felt my chest expand suddenly, my emotions wanting to explode out in relief and regret. I turned, and walked toward her as she walked to me. She reached for me, pulling me to her in a bone-crushing hug. I wrapped my arms around her neck, as hers wrapped around my waist. I could feel her breath against my neck, her body against mine, and closed my eyes as I felt a tremendous sense of loss already, and she was in my arms. I felt her hand move up to cup the back of my head, and the softest kiss against the side of my neck before she slowly released me. She smiled down at me, the old Beth, the Beth that I knew inside and out, then without a word she let me go, and turned to walk back to the redhead. I wanted to watch as long as I could, but my feet had other ideas. Before I knew what was happening, I was out on the sidewalk, headed for my Jeep.

I sat behind the steering wheel, my hand on my chest as it continued to expand until I thought I would burst. Without warning, I grabbed the wheel in a death-grip with shaking hands as my emotions did explode, and the overflow slipped from my eyes to soak through the thin material of my shirt, the spot getting bigger and bigger as the flood kept coming.

Part 8

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