Kim (KP) Pritekel
Copyright 2001 Kim Pritekel

For complete disclaimers see part 1.

Note: Sorry for the delay, folks. Had some technical difficulties.

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 8

"I never thought I knew what love could be, but now I find out." Blue eyes stared in wonder, eyes that were full of life and passion. "I was such a fool, and I pray that you can forgive me. Someday."

My eyes were filled with tears as I shot to my feet, my hands stinging as I clapped, my heart in my throat. The curtains closed, and I felt the impact of Beth's last words hit my heart yet again. She had touched me, and as I looked around, I could see that I had not been the only one. The curtains opened again as the large cast took their curtain calls. Beth finally came out, her smile wide and satisfied. It always had amazed me that no matter how many plays she did, Beth never lost that look of wonderment, and awe. As if realizing for the first time that she could evoke that strong of a reaction out of a group of total strangers.

Beth was looking around in the darkness at the faces that I knew were dark and foreign to her. Wanting to beat the crowd, I stepped out of my aisle seat, and headed out of the theater.

The warm summer night air hit my face with a soft, comforting touch, cooling the drying trails on my cheeks. I walked to my Jeep with a deep sense of gratification. I had wanted to see Beth on stage just once more. She was still as stunning as ever, and only just got better.

I felt very sad then, my heart heavy as I sat behind the wheel. Just two days ago I had been sitting in that very place, crying like I had never cried before. Crying for all the what-ifs, and the missed chances, lost forever. I knew that, and just had to learn to accept it. Beth had waited as long as she could, but could not put her life on hold forever. I didn't blame her. But still

I stuck the key into the ignition, and the Jeep roared to life.

I had sat in the living room talking with Monica and Connie for a couple of hours, catching up on their lives, and them catching up on mine and Rebecca's, when there was a lull in conversation. I sat in my chair sipping my coffee, thinking about the next day. I knew it was going to be extremely difficult, and part of me dreaded it deeply.
"Emily, walk with me." Monica said finally, dragging me from my thoughts. I looked up at her, and without a word I set my cup aside, and stood. "Hang on. Be right back." She disappeared up the stairs, and I pulled my coat on. Moments later, I heard the sound of feet coming down the long staircase, and followed my friend as she led the way to the front door after kissing Connie gently.

We stepped out into the late afternoon, the air crisp, and much colder than when I'd arrived earlier in the day.

"I sure hope it doesn't snow." Monica said as we headed toward the sidewalk, glancing up at the iron-gray sky. I nodded.

"Me, too."

"I'm so glad you came, Emily." She said, smiling at me as she shoved her hands into the pockets of her jacket.

"I am, too. This has been a tough trip, though." I admitted. I knew that I could tell her what was on my mind, and how I really felt about things. She would not judge me. She never had. "I should have come back a long time ago, Monica." I said quietly. "It was very selfish and pretentious of me not to. I see that now."

"Don't be too hard on yourself." She said, just as quietly.

"No, Monica. I had no idea my brother had three kids!" I exclaimed, stopping her with a hand on her arm. She looked at me with sympathetic eyes. "What kind of a sister does that make me? What kind of an aunt?"

"A very busy one." I chuckled softly.

"That's a good excuse, though I'm afraid it has grown old and thin."

"Sometimes we can get our priorities all messed up and backwards. It happens to the best of us." We were both quiet as we continued to walk on. "Beth came to see me last year, Emily." I turned to glance at her. "She came home." I nodded.

"I know. She told me." I almost whispered.

"She gave me something for you."

"What?" I asked, my voice soft with surprise. Monica stopped us again, unzipped her jacket a bit, reaching inside to pull out an envelope. She handed it to me, and numbly I took it. I turned it over in my hands, seeing my name scrawled on the front in her usual large, bold writing. It simply read: To Em. I could only stare, not sure what to do. I knew that I didn't want to open it up then. I was not ready.
"Are you okay?" I heard whispered near my ear. I nodded, unable to speak for fear I might choke on whatever I might say.

We were closing up the office early in honor of my leaving the next day. Monica wanted to so something special for me, but I had to chose what it was.

"I told you, Emily, it's your choice." She said for the tenth time. I closed the blinds around the office, and turned back to her as she locked up her desk, and threw some papers into her briefcase. I drew my brows, frustrated. I didn't know what I wanted to do. There really weren't any good movies out that I hadn't already seen with her, and I wasn't hungry. I stopped in my tracks, an idea hitting me like the preverbal brick wall. I turned to her, my hand on my hip, my head cocked to the side in curiosity.

"Would you take me to that place?" Monica looked up, one brow raised.

"Care to be a little more specific?" she drawled.

"That one place. That bar." She stood and stared at me for a moment

"You mean Campy's?" I nodded. "Oh, Emily, I don't know." I walked over to her, leaning on the desk, giving her my most beseeching look. She looked up at me and grinned, rolling her eyes. "What's the puppy-dog eyes for?"

"I want to go." I said simply. She continued to stare at me.

"You're too young. That is a bar, Emily."

"Oh, come on, Monica. You can't tell me that you can't get me in?" she stood, crossing her arms over her chest, chewing on one side of her lip. Finally nodding, as if she had come to some sort of decision.

"Okay. We'll go to Campy's." I smiled. This should be interesting.

As I dressed I thought of where we were going. It had occurred to me what kind of place that bar had been, later. I wasn't sure why it hadn't that day. I had heard of places like that before when I had been in school, but it had never really registered, and I had never paid any attention. I felt a surge of energy, and curiosity, and figured what the hell. I was out of Pueblo soon anyway.

I decided to dress conservatively in lose-fitting blue jeans and a T-shirt. I wore my hair back in a ponytail. I looked into the mirror, and realized I looked like I was twelve. With a sigh, I pulled the band out of my hair, and combed it all down around my shoulders. It helped a bit. I looked fifteen instead. I sat on my bed to put my shoes on, and my mind drifted to Beth. I wondered if she had ever been to Campy's. Wouldn't surprise me. Part of me, a large part, actually, wished that she were going with us. Or with me. I missed her so much. After seeing her twice in the last couple weeks, after not seeing her at all for seven months, I was craving that which only she could fill. I knew that it was crazy of me to wish for something that was just not going to happen. I was far too logical for that. But all the same. I wondered if she was still with that pretty redhead from the theater. Had she been another actress? I didn't recall seeing her in the play. Maybe just a fan. Like me.

"Okay. You're sure about this?" Monica asked as we sat in her Cherokee outside of the bustling Campy's. I stared at the building at the end of the parking lot, and listened as the heavy beat of music pounded out of the open door. I nodded. "Okay. Let's go."

My eyes took in everything as we walked through the door, Monica having to do some pretty smooth talking to the bouncer so I could get in. It certainly looked different than it had with all the lights on. The air was filled with a smoky glow as all the thousands of twinkling lights caught cigarette smoke. It also seemed to vibrate with the beat from the music which was Motley Crüe, the heavy guitar and vocals almost deafening. Faces were hard to make out in the red hue of the place, but I could see tables jam-packed with crowds of talking, drinking, laughing people. Mostly women, but men were wondering around, too.

"Do you want something to drink?" Monica asked, leaning in close so I could hear above the noise. "Non-alcoholic." She said pointedly. I shrugged innocently.

"A coke?" she smiled, and headed toward the bar. I started to follow, and nearly ran smack into someone, or did they nearly run smack into me? I looked up, startled, to see short, curly blonde hair, and half-lidded brown eyes.

"In a hurry?" she asked.

"Sorry." I said. She shrugged bare shoulders, and looked over to Monica who stood at the bar.

"What're you two doing here?" Lee asked.

"I'm leaving tomorrow, so I wanted to check the place out. When it's open." I explained, though I don't know why I was bothering. She nodded, and walked away. I stared after her, shaking my head. What a strange woman.

"What?" I turned to see Monica standing next to me, her brows drawn as she looked to see what had caught my attention, and had me frowning. I nodded with my head toward the table where the blonde sat with a large group of women. "Oh. I'm not surprised. She's here all the time. That was part of the problem." She muttered. I turned to her, curious.

"Part of the problem?" then it dawned on me, making me want to whack myself in the forehead. "You two were together?" I asked, my voice a whisper. She grinned with a nod. "Oh." I looked back to the blonde, new understanding. I felt so thick. "So you are, well, into
Y.this?" I asked, my hand out to include the whole room.

"Have been for almost ten years, now." She smiled. I nodded dumbly. "Come on." She chuckled, walking toward an empty table in a corner. We sat, me with my coke, Monica with her beer, which I eyed. "You like beer?" she asked, taking a sip. I scrunched up my face, shaking my head.

"Tastes like carbonated horse piss." She set the bottle down, and threw her head back in a howl of laughter.

"Something you've tried recently?" she asked as she calmed, an amused smile planted on her face. I stuck my tongue out at her.

"Good evening, ladies." My head snapped up as a woman with a tray walked up to our table. "For you." She set another beer on a small, round cardboard coaster in front of Monica.

"Who?" my friend asked, glancing around the bar. The waitress pointed to a table three tables down, and walked away. Monica strained her neck to look behind her at the table, seeing a woman raise her glass in salute. Monica smiled, and raised her beer. I watched, fascinated. The woman was attractive with long, brown hair. The bar was too dark to see any of her features very clearly. "I'll be right back, Emily." Monica said, turning back to me. "You be okay for a sec?" I nodded.

"Yeah, go ahead." She chugged her beer, taking the new one with her. I sat back in my chair, watching as couples stood from their tables and headed toward the dance floor that was already filled with a steady throng of dancers. It was such a new experience for me to see a woman leading another woman to the dance floor, or back to their seats, talking close, leading to a kiss. It was almost an overload of images, and my body was thrumming with the new knowledge opening to me. How had it happened so suddenly to me? Like a brick falling out of the sky, thumping me on the back of the head? I suppose I just wasn't ready before. Everything happens in its own time.

"You look lost." My head snapped up to see Lee standing at the table, an amused grin on her face. God knows I certainly felt lost in a way at that moment, but I did not want the blonde to know that. I shook my head.

"Just thinking." She pulled out a chair, and plopped down in it, sipping from her water.

"Penny for your thoughts?" she said, leaning back in the chair, bringing her booted foot up to rest on the chair next to her. I studied her for a moment, wondering what she wanted. Seeing nothing but genuine curiosity, I decided what the hell.

"I've never been to a place like this before." I said, my voice almost shy. I felt really young at that moment. She nodded.

"Kind of interesting, isn't it? Whole new world, kid." I nodded, she smiled. "Monica teaching you the ropes?" she wiggled her brows, and glared, catching her obvious meaning.

"She's my boss."

"All the better."

I rolled my eyes, and looked out toward the dance floor. She chuckled.

"I'm just kidding, Emily. Hey, just a joke." I glance back at her, annoyed. "Come on. Let's dance." Fear gripped me immediately, and I shook my head. "Come on, I won't bite. Let's go." She stood, scooting her chair back under the table. I glanced over to see Monica talking to the woman who had bought her a drink, then looked up to see Lee patiently waiting for me. On shaky legs, I stood, and slowly followed the blonde to the dance floor. The song was fast paced, and bodies were thrashing about. I tried to be careful not to get smacked in the face by a weaving hand or arm. Lee found us a place near the edge of the floor, and began to move. I watched her for a moment, then began to dance myself. I loved to dance, and so decided to just let go. The blonde smiled, and I smiled back Maybe this wasn't so bad.

The song ended, and another began, Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". I giggled as Lee joined in to help Cyndi along, her voice often getting lost in the loud volume of the music, her movement wild and silly to match the song. I was having a ball when I turned around and noticed Monica sitting at our table. She was watching us, an unreadable look on her face. Lee noticed where my attention had gone, and turned back to me.

"She tell you we used to date?" she asked, moving a bit closer to be heard above the beat. I nodded. "What did she tell you?"

"Not much." I answered with a shrug. Part of me wanted to ask questions, but then I thought better of it. Any questions I asked should be to Monica, not her ex.

"We lived together." She continued. I just watched on, quietly hoping she'd tell me more. "For just over a year." She turned, grinding with a friend of hers who danced next to us. I watched them as they laughed, and hugged each other. That had been interesting. I had a feeling the new world I had become a part of would bring forth many new discoveries. Lee turned back to me and inched her way to me until next thing I knew, she was behind me, her hands on the sides of my thighs as she hunched down, taking me with her, her front grinding into my rear-end. I wasn't sure what to do, but realized that just underlying the uncomfortable surface was a complete sense of being turned on. Just a bit disconcerted, I scooted away from her, and turned to find her grinning at me.

"Why'd you break up?" I asked, just this side of sarcastic.

"I like to have too much fun." She said with a shrug. I couldn't believe she was so nonchalant about it. I glanced back over in my boss' direction to find her still staring at us, the slightest pained expression on her face. "But," I turned my attention back to her. She had dropped the careless smile, was looking at Monica. "I do have my regrets." I was surprised at the wistful tone in her voice. The blonde seemed to shake herself out of her reverie, and smiled at me. "Come outside and have a smoke with me."

"I don't smoke." I said.

"Well I do. Come on."

I followed Lee off the dance floor, and out the front door of the club. She walked us over to a large Ford, and yanked the tailgate down, hopping up onto it. I did the same, our legs dangling back and forth. Lee took a pack of Marlboro's out of her shirt pocket, and stuck a slim, white cigarette into her mouth. She offered me the pack.

"You sure?" she asked when I shook my head. With a shrug, she stuck the pack back into her shirt, taking a lighter out, flicking the wheel to release the small, yellow flame. I stared out into the night as she took a deep drag, expelling the smoke from her nose and mouth with a sigh. "Gets so crowded in there." She said, putting her hands on the cool metal of the gate on either side of her legs.

"You come here a lot?" I asked, glancing at her. She nodded, taking another drag.

"Few times a week."

"Don't you work?" I asked, incredulous. She chuckled.

"Sure do. This is how I relax." She explained. To me it seemed far more stressful than relaxing, but to each her own. "So, you like working for Monica?" I nodded. That seemed safe enough territory. "She a good boss?" again, I nodded. "Good." She took another, long drag, staring off at the cars that drove by on the highway. "She seeing anyone?" I glanced over at her, not comfortable with the question at all.

"I really don't think that's any of our business, Lee." She nodded.

"Fair enough. I'm sorry. Don't mean to get you involved."

"S'okay." I said with a small smile. I understood. If I had run into that little redhead that had been with Beth at the theater, I would have picked her brain, too. Does she talk about me? Does she think about me? Does she miss me? All questions that I would probably never know. Never get to ask or find out.

My head drooped slightly as I thought about the ramifications of those thoughts.

"You okay, kid?" I glanced over to see Lee staring at me, her dark blonde brows drawn as she studied me. I nodded.

"You're kind of new to this world, aren't you?" she asked, indicating the building to our left. I nodded again. Was it stamped on my forehead? I couldn't help but wonder, was there some sort of right of passage I was supposed to take? What was this new world she spoke of? Was it like its own community, or could you just continue to be you? It was all very confusing for me then. I sighed.


"Thought so. Tell your folks, yet? I mean, I assume you still live with them?" I stared at her. Tell my folks? It had not even occurred to me. Suddenly I was mortified! What would they say? How would they react? Did I have to tell them? Maybe they didn't need to know. After all, I was no different then I had been all my life. I shook my head. "Yeah, it's tough to do." I just stared at her as she blew a puff of smoke up into the dark sky, watching as it got lost above the reach of the parking lot lights. "You know my mother kicked me out when I told her." She glanced down at me from the corner of her eye, grinned at my look of shock, a small dimple playing near her mouth. "Sorry. Guess that's not the kind of thing you need to hear." She dropped the cigarette on the ground, reaching her booted foot down to smash the butt into the gravel. She stared up at the sky, so I did the same. A star fell across to our right. Lee pointed up. "See that?" she asked, glancing at me. I nodded. "Make a wish, kid. Hope it sticks."

I could not remember the wish that I had made that night while siting on that tailgate with Lee. As I drove away from Monica and Connie's house. I glanced over at the envelope that laid on the passenger seat of the Camry. What did Beth have to say? I pulled up to a stop light, and stared out at the street, my hands on the wheel, thumbs caressing the leather. I looked over at the letter again, grabbing it, looking at it. Only my name. I ran my fingertip over the bold writing, a small smile playing across my lips. Just like Beth. Bold, but solid. The light turned green, so I laid the envelope down, and drove on.

"So what did Lee have to say?" I was pulled from thoughts of breaking the news to my parents when I heard Monica's voice. I blinked twice as what she had asked registered.

"Oh, ah, not much. Just talked about when she was younger, her mother. That sort of thing." She nodded, steering the Cherokee through town.

"Yeah. You know the way Beth and her mom used to fight?" she didn't wait for a response. "That was Lee and Ann all over again. God, night and day." She shook her head sadly.

"You remember Beth, then?" I asked, trying to hide my surprise with nonchalance. She nodded, and grinned over at me.

"Yeah. I do. I didn't pay much attention to you guys growing up, but once I saw her that day, I remembered her. Poor kid."

"Beth's not a kid." I pouted. "And neither am I." I glanced out the side window. At the bar I had hoped that Monica would have danced with me. She never asked. I had felt left out as most of her time had been with the woman who had bought her a drink. After Lee had finished her cigarette, she had wished me good night and good luck, and had headed home. Monica had been nowhere in sight when I went back to our table. I had felt young and vulnerable like a child who had lost her mother in a shopping mall, hungry pairs of eyes sizing me up. Monica said nothing to my childish retort, but I could feel her eyes on me.

"Okay, Emily. What's wrong? Are you mad because I talked to Arlene?"

"Who?" I asked, knowing full well who she meant. I was feeling difficult.

"The woman with the beer?" she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. I tried to hide a slight smile, but failed miserably. Monica was seeing right through my brooding, and refused to play along. I could never stay mad at her long, anyway.

"No. I just felt really alone." I muttered. Monica turned into her driveway, pulling the break, and shutting down the engine. I looked around, surprised to see she had taken us to her house. It was late, and I had wanted to get an early start the next morning. I turned to her, questioning.

"I want to give you your going away gift." She said with a smile. "Come on." She opened her door. "I'm sorry about that, Emily, really, I am. I saw you talking to Lee, so figured you didn't want me around. I mean, I got you in, the rest was up to you." She explained quietly as she searched for the right key to let us in the small house. I put my hand on her arm to stop her, and get her to look at me.

"Monica, why did you think that? I wanted to go there, yes, but I wanted to go with you." Her face brightened, but she said nothing. "You're such a good friend, and so much fun to be with." She smiled shyly, and turned back to the door, holding it open for me. I walked in ahead of her, running my hands through my hair as I made my way to the living room, hearing Monica not far behind. "You know, Lee brought up a really good point tonight; one that I had not thought of."

"What's that?" my friend and boss asked absently as she knelt in front of her stereo, finding Laura Branigan, 'Gloria'. "Oh, love this song." She said, sitting on the couch, taking off her shoes with a contented sigh, tossing them aside.

"My parents." I said, sitting in the chair across from her. Monica glanced at me under her bangs, her brows drawn in confusion. "Telling them? About me?" I said.

"Oh." She breathed, sitting back against the soft, green material. She stared at me for a moment, her eyes half-hooded in thought. "Well, you could not tell them, I suppose." She chuckled. "I'm sure that would go over well." I sighed.

"Don't you think maybe I should wait to tell them until I'm really sure?"

"Aren't you?"

"I don't know!" I exclaimed, plopping back in the chair, my face buried in my hands.

"Hey." I heard quietly spoken next to me. I peeked an eye out to see Monica kneeling next to the chair, her hands on the arm. She looked up at me with the softest smile.

"Believe me, Emily. You'll know. When the time is right, you'll know." She smiled encouragement, I tried to smile back, but only managed for a millisecond. Monica stood, offering her hand to me. "Come on. Let's dance."

"What, now? Here?" I asked, taken off guard by the sudden change of subject. She nodded.

"Yeah. I didn't get to dance with you at Campy's."

I didn't want to, but I took her hand, stood. I followed her to the middle of her living room, and she turned to face me, letting go of my hand. A fast one by Def Leppard played, and we began to dance, chuckling as one tried to outdo the other. She began to twist, her arms tucked into her sides, knees together as she got lower and lower, her body twisting in the strangest way. I stopped, my hands on my hips.

"How the hell can you twist to this?" I asked, indicting the stereo with a nod of my head. She grinned.

"All's fair in love and rock and roll." She said, her voice breathy from the exertion.

"Um, isn't that love and war? Oomph-!" my head flew back as I was suddenly pulled to her, one of her hands on my lower back, the other holding mine. She began to hum along to the fast beat of the music as she led us around the limited space of the room, twirling me under her arm, then leading us back the way we had just come. I could not stop giggling as she tried to dip me, only to nearly dip us both. She helped me up, and we both tried to get our breath back as we laughed, unable to stop. God, it felt so good to laugh. Monica could always make me.

"Oh. Oh, yeah. Now here is a song to dance to." She said with a wistful smile as the beginning chords to 'I Want To Know What Love Is' by Foreigner began. "Come here." She said with a gentle smile. I felt a bit strange, but walked to her anyway. She grabbed me, and we got much in the same position as before; her hand on my back, mine on her shoulder, our other hand joined. She set a slow pace, staying with the song, and began to talk. "This used to be our song. Lee and me." She said softly.

"We can stop if-"

"No." she smiled. "No. That's over now. I really thought we had something special, though. Lee just liked to have a bit too much fun."

"That's what she said." Monica looked at me for a moment, trying to read me.

"Did you two talk about me? About us?" she asked finally.

"A little. Nothing major. She just told me that. The too much fun thing." Monica nodded acknowledgment, and pulled me in a bit closer, surprising me as she laid her head on my shoulder. I glanced around the room, not sure what I was supposed to do. So I just kept us moving.

"I really wanted to dance with you tonight." I heard muttered near my ear. "I'm sorry."

"That's okay." I said, a small nervous laugh following. "I knew you were busy." I lied. Truth of the matter, that was one of the reasons why I had wanted to go in the first place. I wanted to dance, and dance with Monica. She had been such a good friend, and invaluable in helping me prepare for college, and what I would face later on in law school. I would truly miss her, and I told her so. She lifted her head from my shoulder, a smile across her lips.

"Really?" I nodded. "I'll miss you, too. After all, who will I get to file for me?" I gave her a dirty look, which earned me a chuckle. "Just kidding. Though I will miss you, Emily." Her voice softened just a bit, and she looked into my eyes. I studied those dark irises. I felt butterflies attack my insides, feeling as if they might try and fly right out of my chest and be free. I saw her head incline just the barest inch, and then it hit me. She was going to kiss me. My heart began to pound, my stomach beginning a series of somersaults. I tried to steady my breathing, ready myself for it. Beth was the only woman I had ever kissed like that. My god. What should I do? Say? Then I was ripped out of my fantasy as Monica backed away, her eyes wide with surprise. "Uh." She stumbled. "It's getting late, and a," she took several steps back from me. "I need to get you your going away gifts." That said, she quickly disappeared in the back of the house near the bedrooms.

I stood where I was for a moment, stunned into silence, nailed to the spot. I could still feel her breath against my face, the urgency had washed off her in waves, flowing straight to me. I swallowed as I felt my body still thrumming, trying to get under control. My god. Was I ready for this?

"Okay." My head shot up as I heard Monica's voice coming down the hall. She held two wrapped packages in her hands. "Here ya go." I shook myself out of my daze, and put a smile upon my face as I walked over to her. I took the smaller package first, wanting to save the larger one for last. I took my prize over to the couch, and tore into the colorful paper that read Good Luck in silver letters all over it. I smiled at the hand-held tape recorder. "Trust me. You'll need that." She said with a smile, nodding at the small, silver machine. I smiled my thanks, and set it aside next to me on the couch. I grabbed the other one, knowing it was a book of some sort as I tore into the paper that matched the other. I drew my brows as I held the brown leather book in my hands. The pages were tooled in gold, and in gold lettering on the front it told me that it was the first volume in a set of law books.

"Um, thanks. Should I get the others in the set from the library?"

"No. I'm giving you the whole set. I just didn't feel like wrapping a million books, thank you." I smiled, truly astonished.

"Monica." I breathed, staring up at her in awe. I knew that a set of those books were ridiculously expensive. "Why, you shouldn't, wow." She chuckled.

"They're used. My mother gave these to me when I went to college. Some of it might be a little outdated, but you can always look up the new stuff."

"My god. Thank you." I smiled from ear to ear. I was speechless. I jumped off the couch, book still in hand, and ran over to her, wrapping my arms around her neck.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed as I nearly knocked her to the ground.

"Thank you." I said over and over again. She rubbed my back, hugging me tight.

"You're welcome. Just do me proud, okay?" she pulled back from me, holding me at arms length. She looked deep into my eyes. "I really am going to miss you, Emily."

"Me, too." I said, feeling the tears stinging at the back of my eyes. Why was it that the women I most cared about seemed to walk out of my life before I was ready?

I stopped the rental car just in front of my parent's house, seeing Billy's truck in the drive. I tapped my fingers on the wheel, unsure what to do. I really did not yet want to go in. There was still so much more I needed to clarify within myself. So much more history I needed to dig through before I could face the next day. I needed to face Beth with understanding, and remembrance.

Making my decision, I headed for the park. I zipped my heavy winter jacket against the bitter cold that tried to get inside, blowing my hair around my face. I tucked my hands into my coat pockets, headed for the swings. I had to chuckle to myself at how small everything felt to me. The swings never seemed to sit that low to the ground, and surly those black, rubber seats were wider than that?

I pushed off with my booted feet, feeling the slight breeze blow against me as I gained altitude. I stared up into the gray sky, watching as it got closer, then farther away, only to get closer again. Maybe if I just reached out, I could touch it. I smiled as I did just that, my gloved hand reaching for the unattainable that was so deceptively close. Just like reaching for the stars. So close, yet so terribly far.

The morning sun rushed in at me, making me squeeze my tortured eyes shut, groaning into the new day. I had stayed at Monica's far too late the night before. I opened one eye, and looked at the clock, only to groan again. Damn. I had wanted to be on my way out by that time. Finally with a sigh, I rolled over and sat up, rubbing my eyes. As I opened them again and looked around my room, it suddenly occurred to me that that had been the last night I would spend there for quite a while. The realization hit me in the stomach. I glanced over to the corner of the room and saw my bags, packed the day before. Ready to go. Ready for me to go. I looked around the room again, seeing all my posters still hanging where they'd been for a few years, the same faces greeting me every single morning, the last faces I'd see every single night. I glanced over to my unicorn collection, realizing that I hadn't added to it for quite a few years. Just sort of forgot about it.

I stood from the bed, stretching my arms over my head with a strange half-yawn, half-groan. Finally getting myself together, I headed for the bathroom to shower.

Monica had told me to stop by her place on my way out of town to pick up the books. I hoped I would have room for them in my dorm room. My Jeep was loaded, all my worldly possessions crammed into every available space. I stood in the living room, one parents both flanking me on either side.

"You sure you don't want us to go with you, honey?" my mom asked, her shaky voice just on this side of all out bawling. I shook my head.

"I'm sure. You guys have more important things to do then waste three hours driving to Boulder with me.

"Well, you know it's really no trouble." My father chimed in. I smiled and hugged him.

"Thanks, dad. I'll be fine." Even as I said that, I had to wonder if they would. I pulled away from him and kissed his cheek. He smiled down at me, saying with his expressive eyes all that he couldn't in words. I nodded, our silent communication complete. I turned to my mother, knowing I had to stay strong for her. She was already battling her emotions, and I knew if mine slipped even just a little, that would be it, and she'd be a puddle. "I love you, mom." I said, hugging her to me. I felt her body jerk as she swallowed in a sob. My own tears began to burn in my throat. I pulled away, a solid smile on my lips. "I'll be home before you know it for Christmas." I said with exaggerated enthusiasm. My parents nodded silently. With one more round of hugs, I climbed into my Jeep.

"Morning." Monica smiled, a cup of coffee in her hand as she answered the door.

"God, how can you drink that stuff." I muttered. She chuckled.

"Give it time. You'll be downing the stuff like it's water." She stepped away from the door, allowing me to enter. "Come on in, grumpy." I hissed at her, and she laughed. "Your books are in the spare bedroom." Together we managed to load the three boxes into my Jeep, and it was tie for me to go. We stood by Monica's front door, neither of us wanting to say goodbye. Finally she smiled, and grabbed me for a hug. "Good luck, Emily. I know you'll do so well." She said into my hair. I nodded, holding her just as tight, my eyes closed. She gently pulled away from me, and looked at me. "I have one more gift for you." She said quietly. I stared at her, the butterflies from the night before returning to my stomach. She smiled softly, seeming to sense my nervousness. She placed a hand on either side of my face, and took a step closer. "I don't think you give yourself enough credit, Emily." She said. I could only stare. "I think you are ready. Whenever you doubt yourself, think of this." She moved in, her eyes closing as she leaned in, my eyes closing instinctively as she touched my lips softly with her own, like the wings of those butterflies. Simple, but entirely pleasant. She drew back from me, my eyes slowly opening to see her smiling at me. "Good luck Emily." She whispered. "I'll miss you."

I pressed my fingers to my lips as I drove the long, straight highway that would take me to college. I could still feel Monica's kiss, the softness, the tenderness. Maybe she was right, and I was ready. My thoughts inevitably turned to Beth. I had replayed the scene at the theater in my mind so many times. Each time it turned out different. My favorite one was where she turned to me, her back to the redhead against the wall, and smiled that cocky little smile of hers, and told me that she was glad I had finally come to my senses. She had taken me in her arms, just as she had the redhead, and it had been her lips against mine; not Monica's. She had kissed me the way she had at my aunt's funeral. Deep, filled with passion and love. Then my thoughts stopped. Did Beth love me? The way I loved her? Or thought I did, anyway. I had been so confused at that time, I didn't know much of anything, and in all honesty had been glad to head off to Boulder, away from Pueblo. Too much drama, and too much to try and figure out at nineteen.

I sat with my head leaning against the cold chain, the swing just barely moving, my feet moving in the cold, hard dirt as I brought those days back. Getting to Boulder, and the CU campus. What an amazing time, and I had not even realized it. That whole hindsight thing. I sighed as I realized just how simple life had been then. Go to class, do homework, attempt to get enough sleep and live off of Ramon noodles, and PBJ. How hard could it be?

I gripped the pen tighter between my teeth as I growled when the shade fell into my hands again.

"Od amit!" I exclaimed around my Bic, nearly falling backwards off my chair. I reclaimed my balance, and attempted to reach up again, my brows drawn in concentration. I glanced out the window of my third floor dorm, seeing all the people walking around down below. I wondered if any of them could see me standing practically kissing the glass. I managed to get one of the side pegs into the hole, then began to struggle with the other side. I held my breath as I got it close, standing on my tip toes. Being short sucked sometimes. With a victorious whoop, I stepped back, wiping the saliva off my chin that had squeezed out around the pen.

"Nice going."

"Ah!" I screamed, falling back against the window, and the shade, crying out again as it fell on top of my head. I spit out the Bic, and peeked out from under the shade. My roommate, Dana laid on her bed, her hands behind her head, legs bent and spread. She grinned at me. "Damnit, Dana!" I exclaimed, throwing the shade to the floor. "Don't do that!" I stood on the chair to my desk, my hands in fists, fists on my hips.

"Oh, you are just too cute when you're mad, Embo."

"Yeah, well you should know. Lord knows you piss me off enough." I hopped down from the chair. "And don't call me Embo. How many times do I have to tell you?" I plopped down on my own bed, back against the wall, legs hanging off. I was thoroughly exhausted from the exertion of hanging the shade. Well, re-hanging it. Again. I got mad all over again when I realized that I would have to hang it yet again. "I should make you hang that thing back up, Dana."

"You can try and make me." She said, wiggling her eyebrows. I shook my head.

"Give it up. Not gonna sleep with you."

"Why not?" she sat up, her hands resting on her knees. She blew her long, blonde bangs out of her eyes and smiled. "You just might enjoy it." she said, her voice low and teasing. I glared.

"Right. That'll happen." She laid back down with a quick raise of her light brows.

"I know." I stared at her for a moment as she stared up at the ceiling that she had plastered posters of naked women on. I could almost see those wheels turning. I took her in, her long legs clad in torn blue jeans, her scuffed, worn sneakers. The sweater she wore that day was actually hole-free. I was impressed. Dana had been my roomy for the last three months, and had yet to cease amazing me. I often wondered just what exactly she was doing there at CU. She never went to class, never ever opened a book. In fact, I was not even sure that she had ever even bought a book for a class. I knew she was not a stupid person. Far from it. She just had a little too much partying to do.

I shook my head sadly and stood. "I have a study group to go to. See you later." I grabbed my backpack from the floor by the closet, and slung it over a shoulder. I glanced at her at the door. She had not moved. With a shrug, I left. As I headed across campus for the library, I thought of my strange, obstinate roommate. The first day I had met her had certainly been an adventure. I had just gotten to campus, and after many tries, had found the building where my dorm was. She was already there, her things strewn all across the room. She had been sitting on her bed wearing just a pair of extremely brief underwear, and a tiny bra, her legs folded Indian-style, her hands on her knees, her eyes closed. I had stopped in the door, my arms loaded with my own stuff, and had stared. I was not sure if I was interrupting something, or, what.

"Enter, you sexy thing." She had said, her eyes still closed. I stared at her, taken aback.

"Excuse me?" I had taken a step into the room.

"Why certainly." She said with a winning smile. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or run screaming. Though Dana was definitely a laugh a minute at times, I wondered if perhaps the latter would have been wiser.

"Emily? Hello, earth to Emily?"

"Huh?" I snapped my head up, staring wide-eyed at my study partner, Katherine. She was grinning at me, a question in her eyes.

"Where'd you go?" she asked, turning the page of her bio-chem book.

"Sorry." I shook my head to clear it. "What were you saying?" I also turned the page in my own text, trying to figure out where we were.

"I said that you took really great notes. The ones I copied?" I nodded, finally with it. "You ready for this test? I've heard it's a real bitch."

I listened on as Katherine prattled on about the class, and the professor, and the test. Well, I listened sort of. My mind flew back to Dana. Should I just give in to her? She was certainly persistent. One night when I had found her in a semi-serious mood, I began to ask her questions. Questions, which to my detriment, got her asking me to sleep with her on a daily basis. I wanted to know what it was like, the life of a lesbian. If that was what I was, I wanted to know before hand. What was I in for? I still could not say clearly in my own mind if that were the case with me or not. I thought it was, but just could not get myself to tell me if it was so. Dana saw different people constantly. Never staying with the same girl. I never understood this. She said it was simply trying all the different flavors. Certainly more information than I had needed, but I guess I understood.

I walked down the hall of the dorm, stopping to get a Dr. Pepper out of the machine first. When I opened the door, I froze. Dana laid on her bed in much the same position she'd been in when I'd left; legs bent and spread, one hand behind her head. But this time, she didn't have a stitch of clothing on. I watched in part horror, and part wonder as her other hand moved between her legs, dipping and moving. I could not stop my eyes from trailing up from her hand to her breasts that moved up and down with her slow, easy breathing. Her breasts were small, but firm, the light brown nipples erect. I was utterly transfixed, and had no idea what to do. Part of me wanted to leave, yet I couldn't move. My eyes were ripped from her body when I heard her speak.

"Hey. Was just thinking about you." I stared at her smile, suddenly seeing that mouth in an entirely different way. "You look like a deer caught in the headlights, there, Embo." She husked.

"Don't call me Embo." I muttered, my voice soft and deep, sounding like some dream. I barely recognized it. I suddenly became flooded with heat as embarrassment set in. "I'm sorry. I'll go-"

"No," Dana pulled her hand away from herself, and sat up. "Don't. Come here." She whispered. Utterly void of thought, I dropped my backpack, and walked over to her bed, sitting down next to her, my hands in my lap, not daring to look at her. The mere heat that radiated off her was almost scorching me. "Don't be nervous, Emily." She said into my ear, her fingers pushing my hair back off my shoulder before it strayed to my chin. She tipped my face toward her, and I finally met her eyes. They were heavy from arousal, and I had to gasp at that look. She grinned. "I have you know? Been thinking about you."

"Why?" I asked, my voice a bit stronger, but still a bit breathy.
"Because you, dear Emily, are scrumptious. I want you. I want this." She ran her fingers down my neck, and dipped them just below the collar of my sweatshirt. "May I?" she asked, a small smile playing across her lips. Dumbly I nodded. Her smile got wider, and she leaned in, kissed me.

I laid there, the room dark and cool in the early November night. Thanksgiving break would start I just over two weeks. I could feel Dana sleeping next to me, me on my back, her on her side. One arm was draped over my stomach as she slept. I thought about what we had just done. I didn't regret it. I was glad it had happened. It had certainly helped me to figure out more about myself, to be sure about myself. So much made sense to me at that moment. A sense of clarity I had never experienced.

Once again my thoughts turned to Beth. Why couldn't it have been her who had kissed me like that? Touched me like that? Made me feel like that? I sighed. It had been her at one time. I had not been ready. Why had we come to terms with who and what we were at such drastically different times? I sighed again as I turned to my side, Dana scooting up behind me, her body pressed against mine. I closed my eyes as I imagined in my mind that it was Beth who lay with me. It was her body that spooned my own. I was too young for regrets, but I sure had them. As I felt warm breath against the back of my shoulder, I thought that perhaps it was just time to let Beth go. There was nothing I could do about the past, and she had her own life back in Pueblo, filled with new people. She didn't need a bleeding heart around. I loved Beth, and I knew she loved me, always would. But all the same, things had changed, and sometimes you just can't change them back, no matter how badly you want to. It was time to let Beth go. Begin new in Boulder, discovering more of the woman that had been revealed that day with Dana. See what she had to offer.

The day was getting colder, the iron heavens beginning to spit snow. I glanced up, catching a spiraling flake on my tongue. The park was completely deserted, and suddenly I felt so alone. I stood from the swing, my hips hurting from being shoved against the confines of the rubber seat so long. How on earth did children pull off half the things they did?

I walked through the grass that crunched under my boots, headed for my car when I thought back once again. I had never imagined that a single event could change a person. After that night with Dana, I had come into my own, wanting to see just exactly what kind of stuff I was made of. What I wanted in the new-found woman. In short, I went nuts.

Dana had made very clear to me that she was not even remotely interested in a relationship with me. If we happen to do the occasional tumble, that was fine, but nothing else. I was hurt at first, but then once I realized the possibilities, I was fine with that, too. And the occasional tumble we did. If neither of us had a date on a Friday night, we'd make our date. We actually became very good friends, sharing very intimate conversations. I guess having sex on a semi-regular basis with someone will do that. Don't get me wrong, I was not a player by any means. I stayed completely faithful to whomever I was dating. It's just that on a college campus as liberal as CU, Boulder, it was tough finding women who lived by the same principle.

My first year in college flew by, dedicating myself wholly to academic excellence, and the pursuit of women. I wanted to try and understand this attraction I had to its fullest extent. I had made some wonderful friends, and was having a ball as the middle of my second year rolled around.

I had promised my friend, Patty, that I would help her at the career fair we had every spring. High school seniors, or just curious students could go to the different career booths we had set up. I hated doing those, as I had been bribed into it both springs so far. I did not like it either time, and hated being such a sap I could not say no.

"This sucks." I muttered as we sat at our booth. How many people are there out in the world who really feel the need to find out about, and pick up brochures on accounting? I knew there were some, but not that day, obviously. "We have not had one bite yet." I glared at her.

"Oh, come on. You're doing your duty to the school." She replied, re-straightening the straightened pile of brochures.

"I pay them a lot of money every semester. Now that is doing my duty to the school." I pouted. "God, wasting an entire Saturday for this. I could be studying right now." I sat back in my chair, my arms crossed over my chest.

"That doesn't sound like too much fun." My head slowly rose from its position against my chest, and my mouth fell open. Wearing an old pair of black jeans, a tank with a flannel, and a backpack slung over a shoulder, stood Beth.

Part 9

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