Kim (KP) Pritekel
Copyright 2001 Kim Pritekel

For complete disclaimers see part 1.

Note: Kleenex alert!

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:

Part 9

“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.

I could only stare. Who would have thought. Beth. She grinned at me, that familiar twinkle in her blue eyes.

“Careful. You'll catch flies that way.” My mouth closed with an audible snap.

“What are you doing here?” I finally managed. Patty looked on, from me to Beth and back.

“What does it look like?” she said, running her hand up the strap of her backpack. “I happened to see you in here from the door there.” I had not yet regained my thoughts enough to do more than nod. She chuckled. “Listen, I can see you're busy here. When do you get done? Maybe we can go get some coffee?” she asked, the tiniest bit of hope in her voice. Again I nodded.

“Well, I'm stuck here until five, but-“

“Hey, I can wait.” she said, shrugging the pack down her arm, and setting it on the table with a loud thud.

“Just go, Emily. I really don't think I'm going to get bombarded, or anything.” I turned to my friend, and stared. I really didn't know how to react to this. I felt silly, and like a child. I looked back up at Beth, almost as if to see with my own eyes that she had not disappeared, and was indeed still standing there. Then I felt a tiny spurt of anger surge through me, taking me by surprise.

The last time I had seen her had been at the theater with that red head. Well, at least the last time she'd seen me. It all came back to me, the hope and fear that had mixed in my chest, spurring me on to do what at the time had seemed the right thing; tell her that I loved her, and wanted to be with her. The way she had wanted to be with me. But, I had been too late. Too late.

As I stared up at her at that moment, I realized just how much I had missed just her presence in my life. Though I had vowed two years ago to forget about her, and just tie up all loose ends. It had been a time in my life, a time that she had been a very big part of, but that had been over, and was time to move on. Then, as my past stood there, staring me in the face, I knew that would never be possible to forget about Beth, and I had been a fool to think otherwise.

I sat on the closed lid of the toilet, a towel wrapped around my body, the ends held together in my fist. I stared out the frosted-glass window in the shower, not able to see anything clearly, just the light from the morning. I knew that the sky was gray, like iron. A storm was due later in the evening. That was fine by me. Perhaps a little snow would do me good. Coincide with my heart that felt like a lump of ice in my chest.

I took a deep breath, crossing my legs at the ankles, feeling the cool porcelain of the toilet against my shower-heated skin. A small shiver passed down my spine. Tearing my eyes away from the window, I squeezed them shut, trying to shut out what they so badly wanted to do. I could feel the stinging behind my lids, the tightness in my throat. Never in my life did I think I'd have to face such a day, nor had I any clue how difficult it really would be. At that moment I wanted to just find some deep, dark cave, curl up, and cry. I felt my lips part as I whispered one word.


The café was nearly empty. That time of day was good to go, I knew this from many, many months of experience. I often went to The C Ground, just to get away from the school, study, or whatever. Beth followed behind me as I led us to my usual table way in the back of the place, in the corner. I took my regular seat, tipping my chair back against the corner where the two walls met. She sat across from me, grinning at my childish antics.

“What?” I asked, my whole body jolted as the front two legs of the chair landed solidly onto the tile. “Ow.”

“Nothing. I've missed you, Em.” She said, her voice low. I stared at her, my mouth open. “There you go again. You majoring in fly-catching?” I chuckled lightly, and shook my head.

“No. I guess I'm just a bit shocked to see you here, is all. Who would have guessed?” I waved to Barney, my usual waiter, and he walked over to us.

“Hey, ladies.” He said, smiling and lifting his brows at Beth. I had to stop myself from grinning. Barney flirted with anything in a skirt, but was he ever barking up the wrong tree. Beth glanced up at him with vacant eyes, and raised a brow. I put my hand in front of my mouth, chewing on my lower lip as I watched.

“Yes?” Beth drawled at Barney's continuous stare. He seemed to get the drift as he cleared his throat, and looked over at me.

“The usual, squirt?” he asked. I glared. I then turned the glare on Beth when I heard her laugh. She sobered, giving me that innocent look that I realized just how much I had missed. I had missed everything about her.

“Call me that again, Barney, and you'll be missing a very integral part of your identity.” I smiled sweetly up at him. He rolled his eyes, and walked off before turning around only to stand back next to our table.

“I, um, forgot to get your orders.”

I felt Beth's eyes on me as I looked at her, that familiar gleam in those baby blues, telling me I had done well. I smiled. I had missed that silent communication, too. Never needing to say a word.

I finally stood from the toilet lid, unwrapping the towel, and drying my skin that was still dotted with drops of water. I stared at my reflection in the mirror after swiping a hand across its smooth surface. I stared at myself, my hair turned dark from the water, my eyes very green from the emotion that lay just behind. I had to be strong, I knew that. I just wished I knew how.

People were beginning to flow into the café in earnest. The sun was going down on that Saturday, Beth and I still sitting across from each other. I sipped from my coffee cup, the hot fluid sliding down my throat, engulfing my stomach with heat. Beth narrowed her eyes, staring at my hands. I raised my brows in question.

“You hate that stuff.” She said, nodding at the cup. I glanced down, confused, then it came to me what she was saying.

“Never.” I smiled. “Are you kidding me? I owe my sanity and my grades to this stuff.” I sipped to prove my point all the more, smacking my lips together. She shook her head, one of her trademark smiles firmly in place. “So,” I said, taking a bite of my cheeseburger. “After you spent that summer in Wyoming, what did you do? Where did you go? And why did you leave in the first place?”

“Well, after I left Cheyenne, I drove that old rickety pick-up back into Colorado. I went to Denver, and I left because I was sick of the place. I was tired of roaming from one place to the other. When I got back to Denver it occurred to me to,” she sighed as she stared out toward the door to the place, her eyes a million miles away. “I wanted to get my life going, settle in somewhere.” Her eyes then turned to me, “You know I didn't graduate?” she asked, her voice quiet, almost ashamed. I nodded.

“Yeah. I know.” I said just as quietly. Her eyes left mine, staring down at the remains of her pancakes.

“I'm tired of running from things, Em. I'm tired of running from me.”

I buttoned the last button on my silk blouse, running my hands down the front, feeling the smooth silk under my fingertips. I stared at my reflection in the mirror over the dresser in my old bedroom. I flipped my hair back over my shoulder, wanting to wear it down. Beth always liked it down. I ran my hands down over my hips that were covered by the black material of my black slacks. The final touch would be the jacket that went with the suit. I wore black heels. My face was somewhat pale, so I applied just the barest touch of make-up, a light lipstick. I was ready to go. Well, that is to say I was dressed. I would never be ready to go.

I slipped my arms through the sleeves of the jacket, and picked up my purse, headed for the closed door to the bedroom.

“Can I ask you a question?”

I looked at Beth for a moment, almost afraid of what it would be.

“Sure.” I said, holding my breath. I wasn't sure why I was nervous, but just was.

“You came out, didn't you?” I stared at her, seeing those half-hooded eyes, she knew the answer to her own question, but wanted to hear what I would say. I decided not to be coy.

“How did you know?” she shrugged.

“There's a confidence about you, a sense of self that you didn't have before. It's like you are who you are, and don't give a shit what anyone else says or thinks. It looks good on you.” She smiled. I stared, then smiled, too.

Rebecca met me in the hall just before the stairs. She looked beautiful in a black skirt suit, green silk blouse, her long red hair bound on top of her head, small ringlets falling around her face and neck. I smiled when I saw her.

“You ready?” she asked. I stifled a small chuckle. Had been asking myself that question all day. I nodded. Ready as I'd ever be.

The drive back to campus was a quiet one. I drove Beth to her dorm building, which was next to mine, and we sat in the Jeep, neither of us speaking. We had sat at the café for nearly four hours, and had covered so much ground. I felt at peace with her, as if were we to never see each other again after that night, I would not have felt any regrets or hurt any longer. Beth had explained to me that the girl at the theater had meant nothing, just a fling. She had not had any real steady relationships in the last two years, was just trying to keep moving. Trying to figure out who she was, and where she was headed.

“I decided school was it. I want to make something out of myself.” She had said. I felt so much pride at that moment. As we sat in the dark Jeep, she stared out the windshield when she said,

“You know why I chose CU?” she turned to me then. I shook my head. “I saw you that night in the theater. You got up before everyone else, and I saw you. You walked out through the rear exit door, and out of my life.” I stared in awe.

“You saw me?” I asked, shocked. She nodded. “But it was so dark. How could you,” she shrugged.

“I don't know. I think it was mainly I recognized the way you move, the way you walk. It was just a gut feeling, I guess.”

“Yeah, I was there. Had to see the show. I've never missed a production of yours, Beth. Wasn't going to start then. Or now. You are in the drama department, right?” she nodded with a small smile and a nod.

“Of course. If that wasn't a stupid question.” We smiled knowingly together, then both stared out the window again. We had said all there was to say for one night, but I think neither of us wanted to go, wanted to be separated again. Finally Beth sighed, and turned to me again. “I'm going to go. Have to be at work early in the morning.”

“Okay.” I said quietly, not sure where this would go. Was that it? We made our peace, and now that would be all? I wanted her friendship back. Wanted her back in my life, but didn't quite know how to say it. So I didn't.

“Well, good talking to you. Maybe we can talk again later.” Beth grabbed her pack out of the back, and hopped down from the Jeep, her hand still on the roll-bar as she stared up at me. She smiled, then walked away.

I stepped from my parent's car in the parking lot, and right away saw Monica and Connie walking toward the church. The air was heavy and wet from the impending storm. Monica saw us and walked over to me.

“Hey, honey.” She said, gathering me up into a tight embrace. We pulled apart, and she smiled at me, everything she thought and wanted to say reflected in her dark eyes. I nodded, her words not necessary. “You must be Rebecca.” She said, stepping over to my lover. Rebecca smiled, and grabbed the hand that Monica held out to her. Rebecca nodded with a smile.

“Hello, Monica. Nice to meet you, though I certainly wish it were under different circumstances.” Monica patted the hand within hers.

“Yes. If this one here is up to it, Connie and I would like to have you both over for dinner tonight.” I looked up as I felt three pairs of eyes on me. I looked from one to the other, gazing into the expectant eyes of Monica, the sympathetic of Connie, and the loving of Rebecca. How could I feel so loved, yet so alone at the same time? I truly didn't believe anyone there understood just what was going through my head. What I was feeling. Hell, at that time I'm not so sure I was completely aware of the extent of things. So, I just nodded, figuring it was a safe gesture.

“You ladies ready to go in?” I turned to see my father standing just outside our little circle of women, my mother standing next to him. She reached out, and grabbed my hand, pulling me with her. Rebecca followed us, into the church.

I unlocked the door to the room I shared with a Freshman named Candice Parker. I was surprised that she wasn't home. I don't recall her ever going anywhere on a Saturday night. But, perhaps she'd gone to get something to eat. Part of me was glad, then I could relax and think without any interruptions. The other part of me was disappointed. I felt the need to talk at that moment. About life, about school, about Beth. Whatever.

I took a deep breath, expelling it as I plopped down on my bed on my back, my arms up over my head, stared at the ceiling. I sighed then jumped as I heard a knock at the door. I looked back, craning my neck to look at it as if that would help me figure out who it was any better.

“Who is it?” I yelled out.

“Me.” came a muffled reply. I rolled my eyes.

“Me, who?” I said, irritated, and in no mood for games. I sat up, swinging my legs off the side of the bed, hurrying to the door, yanking it open. A stunned Beth stood in the hall, her mouth open as if to speak. She closed her mouth, and grinned at me.

“Uh, hi.” she said with a little wave. I waved back, still looking at her as if she'd lost her mind. “Um, well, it's later. Wanna talk?” I grinned back, and nodded as I closed the door behind me. Leading the way down the hall.

I thumbed through the little pamphlet that had been handed to me at the door of the church. I sat in the hard, cold pew, my body sliding against its polished, wooden surface. I sat between Rebecca and my mother, Rebecca to my left, my mother to my right. One held my hand, the other had their hand on my knee. I felt the smooth paper against my fingers as I looked at the smiling picture of Beth, probably taken a few years before. She looked healthy, happy, and beautiful. I read through the information they gave about her, her theater credits, as well as a commercial I had not been aware of. Then I had to smile at the part about her childhood. I saw my name, and what her mother had dubbed us many years before, “Trouble Twins”. Lord, hadn't that been the truth. Then it occurred to me that I had yet to see Nora Sayers. I knew she had to be there, so began to scan the crowed. Finally, I spotted her, near the door to the sanctuary, standing and talking with a good-looking man. To my surprise, I realized it was Jim Sayers. Had not seen him in years. Neither had Beth, as far as I knew. Fine time for him to decide to show. Standing with him was a woman who I remembered from a picture; his wife, Lynn. Jim nodded his head a few times from something Nora had said, then with a dismissive smile, led Lynn with a hand on her back toward a pew near the back. Nora watched them walk away, then turned to make her way toward the front. Shouldn't Jim be there? I watched Nora, her graying hair teased to a ridiculous height. Her red and black dress, mostly red, was a bit tight for her body that had become pudgy through the middle with age. She looked tired, too much make-up on to cover her heavily lined face. She turned and her eyes landed on me, and she smiled, the red lipstick a bloody slash through a pale face. I smiled wanly, nodding slightly. She walked to her place at the front, sitting next to a blonde woman. I turned to look over my shoulder at Monica who sat behind me.

“Who is that?” I asked, nodding toward the blonde. Monica leaned up and looked at the back of the woman's head, then turned to me.

“I think that's Lana. She and Beth were living together when, well. They were living together.” she sat back, squeezing my shoulder, leaving me to stare, and wonder.

The campus was dark, the sporadically placed lamps not bright enough to break through the dense darkness in places. I felt perfectly safe, however, as Beth walked at my side. We had been strolling for about half an hour, neither saying much, just soaking in the cool night air, each lost in her own thoughts. As usual, I felt no need to speak, or any reason to make frivolous conversation. With Beth it was just a matter of feeling. Words were not necessary.

“It's very peaceful out here.” she said finally, her voice hushed, not wanting to disturb the quiet of the clear night. I nodded.

“Yeah. I used to go out walking all the time, but then last semester a girl was raped over there.” I pointed off toward the library. Beth followed my finger, her brows knitted together, shaking her head.

“Well, if you want to walk at night, come get me.” she smiled down at me. I looked up at her, the realization dawning on me that I had not told her where I lived.

“Hey, how did you find me, anyway?” she shoved her hands into the pocket of her jeans, and shrugged.

“I followed you in.” she said simply. I shook my head again, grinning. What a goof.

“I do believe you've turned into a stalker, Beth Sayers.” she chuckled at that.

“Guess so.” We continued to walk on for a moment. “You don't mind, right?” she looked down at me, the moonlight catching in her eyes, making them seem transparent. I smiled.


“Alright then.” she grinned, and stopped, falling to the ground. I looked down, shocked, wondering what the hell she was doing. She sprawled out on the grass, her hands behind her head, legs crossed at the ankles, and stared up into the sky, a big, goofy grin on her face.

“Um, hello,” I said, my hands on my hips. “What are you doing?”

“Stargazing.” she said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to just plop down in the middle of a college campus at nearly midnight and look up at the stars. I stared at her for a moment, trying to decide if I were to join her, if she'd pop back up, telling me she was only kidding, or if she was serious. Biting my bottom lip, I decided on the latter. I lowered myself to the ground next to her, resting my hands on my stomach, and stared up into the sky. “Look.” she said, her voice quiet, as she pointed up near a tree. “A shooting star.”

“Make a wish.” I said, reveling in the feeling of peace that stole over me. I glanced over at her in time to see her close her eyes for a moment, her lips moving as she silently mouthed her wish. Eyes made gray by the night opened and looked over at me with a smile. She raised her brows, looked back up into the sky. I heard her chuckle softly. I looked over at her again. “You know, it's funny. When I decided to come here, here I thought I'd be starting out new. Fresh. Then I run into you.”

The slight smile that had been on my lips fell. I stared back up at the sky. “Well, I'm sorry I ruined that new start for you, Beth.” I said, my voice soft, trying to not let the hurt or surprise surface. I knew I had not done a very good job of hiding it. I never could. Here I had been so happy to see her, to maybe attempt to rebuild a lost friendship with a woman I had been friends with for over eleven years.

“No, Em. No. I mean,” Beth sat up, pulling her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her shins. I stayed where I was, staring up at her back. “What I mean is, I thought I'd get here, have to start over. Meet new people. Make new friends. Something I was not really looking forward to, you know?” she glanced back at me over her shoulder, her long bangs partially covering her eyes. I met her gaze, but said nothing. A soft smile spread across her lips. “Here I was, thinking I'd know no one, be alone, and I find you. My best friend.”

My chest swelled. She always knew what to say to alleviate any fears or worries I may have. She just knew. Somehow.

A very large man standing at the front of the dais began to sing Ava Maria, his powerful voice filling the large space. My throat tightened as I heard wheels running along carpet, the slightest squeak foretelling their progress. I knew what it was. I knew what that squeaking was announcing the arrival of. I could not look, could not make myself see it. If I were to see that, then that would mean that I was seeing the finality of the situation. There was no end to Beth. There just couldn't be. Not for her.

As I stared straight ahead, staring up at the crucifix placed above the front of the church, large, brightly colored stained-glass windows on either side, I thought back to those days in college. Those days of new discovery with Beth. My best friend. I felt a hand tighten around my own as the squeaking passed our row, headed up to the front of the church, the obvious weight burden keeping those squeaky wheels at a slow, steady pace. I could not look. Could not look. Could not.

“Heads!” I ducked just in time to see a football whiz by my nose, the wind blowing my bangs off my forehead. As the ball plowed into my books, scattering my papers all over the blanket that covered the grass, I looked up, my glaring green eyes aiming to pin the person who dare interrupt my study time. Those green daggers met two sparkling blue eyes.

“You.” I growled. The blue eyes got closer until they were right across from me. Beth plopped down on my blanket, her shorts-clad legs crossing Indian style, her hands on her knees. She grinned at me as she reached for her ball. “You are evil, Beth. Leave me alone.” I pouted.

“Ah, huh. I believe you want me to do that.” she tossed the ball in the air from hand to hand, daring me to take it from her.

“I'm warning you, Beth,” I said through clenched teeth, the ball in my peripheral vision. “I'm gonna shove that ball right up your-“

“I'd love to see you try.” she challenged. Beginning to get more than a little annoyed, I raised a brow at her, which caused her to cock one of her own. “Yes?” she drawled, as I bit my bottom lip, then the inside of my cheek, my brain calculating. I eyed the ball that continued to meet air, when with lightning fast movement, I grabbed it, and stood, nearly stumbling onto my face in my effort to get away from her before she could take the ball that I had just taken from her. “You're asking for it, Em.” she said, her voice soft, almost sing-song like. I stood away, tossing the ball up into the tree, only to catch it as it fell.


“Yeah, really.”

“I'm shakin' in my boots, here.”

“Should be.” Beth stood, her legs set wide apart, her hands rubbing together. For just a moment I felt a bit of fear, knowing Beth was a bunch taller than I, and that much faster.

“You know, I can just about smell the smoke from the wheels turning in there.” I said, my voice casual, though I did not even remotely feel casual in my idle threats. I saw that brow of hers quirk again, but nothing else. I took a step back, still casually tossing the ball up into the air, a little higher each time, my body ready to take off at a moment's notice. She lunged, putting my legs into action. I screamed as I took off at breakneck speed, hearing her growl behind me as she chased, still a bit behind, but gaining with every heartbeat, which were fast and few in between.

“Run, little girl. Run!” I heard chanted behind me, her voice low and evil. I couldn't help but grin as I continued to pump those short legs of mine as fast as I possibly could, determined to give myself at least half a chance by sheer determination alone. To no avail. I screamed again as I felt hands wrap around my waist, stopping me from crashing to the ground. I was suddenly pulled back against her, breath in my ear as she husked for me to say uncle. “Say it!”

“No!” I said, my voice just as breathy as I attempted to bring my heart rate under control from my little run. I struggled against the arms that held me captive, the ball held to my body.

“Say it,” I managed to twist out of Beth's grasp, and ran, only to stumble and fall to a knee. I winced as I felt the grass embed itself into my skin. I fell, and rolled over onto my back in time to see her coming at me, falling down onto me, straddling my hips, pinning my arms down to the grass with her own. “Say it,” she husked again, her eyes wild, a half smirk on her lips. I tried to twist out of her grip, which I knew was absolutely useless. I clenched my teeth and eyes shut as I attempted to break out of her unbelievably strong grasp. “This isn't hard, Em.” She chuckled. “You're so stubborn. Just say it. Uncle,”

“Never!” I opened my eyes to see her grinning, relaxing her grip a bit, but still determined. Suddenly those blue eyes flashed, and I knew I was in trouble. She brought both my wrists up to one hand, and with the other began to tickle me. “No!” I cried, squirming for all I was worth as I felt fingers attacking my ribs, my sides, my stomach, under my arms. “Oh, god, no! No! Won't, ugh, won't say, uhhh!” I could hear her laughing as she assaulted my poor body. Feeling like I could pee my pants, I shouted, “Okay! Uncle! Uncle! Aunt! Brother! Whatever you want! Just let me up,”

“Ha.” She said with satisfaction, and the weight that was holding me down was gone, my wrists released. I tried to catch my breath, opened my eyes to see Beth kneeling next to me, a grin on her face. “How ya feeling?” she asked, her words dripping with sarcasm. I stuck my tongue out at her, which got me another quirked brow. “Careful what you do with that.” She warned, tapping her thumb and index finger together.

“You are evil.” I said, finally able to speak as I held myself up on my elbows. She grinned.

“Yes, that I am.' She stood, reaching her hand down to help me up.

I stood at the pulpit, the bible that the minister had given me laying flat against the inclined board. My fingers caressed the thin, tissue-paper like pages, open to the scripture that I had been given the previous night, the scripture that I was to read. I did not see the lines that were before me, the words that I was to say, words that Beth never said, that meant nothing to her.

Clearing my throat, I looked up, meeting the gaze of the audience before me. A small smile spread across my lips, and with a soft thump, I closed the heavy bible.

“I am supposed to read this scripture.” I said, raising the bible for all to see. I looked around the congregation, filled with people that I did not know, save for a handful. Who were they all to Beth? Would she be able to stand here and identify all of them?

My gaze went to Nora Sayers, and I saw the confusion in her own eyes, so much like Beth's. I smiled at her. I was not sure exactly what I was doing, and I think she understood that.

“As I look out at you all, staring up at me, wondering what I am doing, wondering myself what I'm doing, I think to myself. I think that this is the sight that Beth loved the most.” I smiled warmly at the rows of people. “She did love an audience.” I nearly whispered, the microphone before me catching my words, filling the large quiet space with them. Someone coughed near the back. “I don't really want to read these words, as beautiful and meaningful as they may be.” I placed the bible back on the pulpit, and once again faced my listeners. “I just have something very simple to say.” I could feel my eyes beginning to sting. God, not now. If I could only hold it down for a minute. This would all be over in a minute. “Beth was my best friend for many, many years. We were children together. Teenaged demons together.” A few chuckles filled the room. I smiled, memories from the last few days flying by my eyes,

“Oh, my god! Strickland is like, the absolute best director I have ever worked with!” Beth gushed, her eyes wide, excited. I sat across from her at our regular table in the café, a smile on my lips. I had not seen her so happy about anything in a long, long time. The bells above the door dinged as someone rushed in, trying to get out of the snow that continued to blow outside. “He has this incredible vision for this production, Em. I mean, his ideas are incredible!”

Beth's voice began to echo in my head, filling it as I stared at her. I noticed a small scar above her right eye that I had never noticed before. I had to wonder if that had been from the time she'd banged her head against the swing set at the school in fifth grade. Her head had bled like a stuck pig. But then, head wounds always seemed so much worse than they actually were, as she had reminded me at the time. Then I noticed the tiny specs of darker blue that littered her eyes, the color of the bluest June sky. So beautiful. Her dark brows above them raising and falling with her excitement level, a couple tiny dark hairs straying away from the others, marring what would otherwise be a perfectly arched brow. But it didn't matter. Nothing could mar Beth's beauty. Her beauty shone from the inside, blinding in its purity. She left me awe inspired. My eyes roamed down her face, down that straight nose, the tiniest beginning of a line on the right side. In another ten years that line would stick more, stay a little longer after a smile. My eyes trailed down to her lips, moving quickly as she spoke, the words now mute against my deaf ears. The flash of straight, white teeth as she formed words, made sounds, breathed. A tiny bit of saliva escaping the corner of her mouth, only for an errant tongue to snake out and catch it before it could go anywhere. The lips moist from her words, looking soft, just the slightest bit chapped from the cold, Boulder air. That dry, Colorado cold. Played havoc on skin. My eyes began to retrace their path until they fell upon twin eyes, half-hooded, one brow raised.

“Are you listening to a word I'm saying?” I was snapped back into the café.

“Um, incredible.” I stuttered, blinking hard to knock myself back into the conversation. “His ideas are incredible.” I smiled, proud that I could remember what she'd been talking about. She bit the side of her lip, wiping her hands on her napkin.

“Uh, huh. His ideas were incredible about five minutes ago.” She threw the napkin into her empty plate, and sat back in her chair, one arm hanging over the back.

“Oh.” I said, completely embarrassed. Where had my mind gone, anyway? To cover my feeling stupid-ness, I grabbed my cup of coffee, and sipped. I felt Beth's eyes on me, but I could not meet her gaze. I had been staring again, hadn't I? I had been doing a lot of that lately, and had no idea why. Beth was Beth. The same everyday. The same she'd been for the last ten or so years. But I just couldn't help myself! My eyes refused to behave.

“You going to Laney's party tonight?” I heard asked. My eyes finally snapped up from my hands that were wrapped around the warm mug. I met the amused look, but shook my head. “Why? Should be fun.” She tried to entice, but wouldn't work.

“Have to study.”

“God, Em!” she whipped her head back, her hands in the air with exasperation. “Live a little, for crying out loud.”

“Beth, we've had this conversation before. I am here to study. Not party.” I explained, for the millionth time. Beth and I would just never see eye to eye on this subject.

“What, and I'm not?” she said, suddenly sobering.

“I didn't say that. I was not talking about you, Beth. I was talking about me.” I said, my voice edged just slightly with irritation. Why did she always have to infer that I was talking about her? I tried to catch her eyes, but she would not look at me. Then it hit me. Like a ton of bricks, it hit me. Beth still thought of herself as lower than me. Like she was not worthy. I felt my heart sink, then reached across the table to take her hand in mine. Her gazed raised to meet mine. She looked so shy. Jackpot. “Beth, don't feel that you have to compete with me.” I said, my voice soft. “We are different people.” She opened her mouth to speak, but I stopped her, holding a hand up. “I could never do what you do on stage. Ever.” She stared at me, and I stared back. We must have sat there for five minutes, just staring, holding hands. I did not want to let go, and was surprised when I felt her thumb rubbing over the back of my hand and thumb. A small, soft smile spread across those lips, and she nodded, as if coming to some sort of decision in her head.

“Thanks.” She said, her voice just above a whisper. I smiled back, squeezing her hand a bit tighter. She looked away, looking out the glass door of the place, seeing the wind had slowed, but the snow continued to fall. She turned back to me. “Wanna go walk in it?” Without hesitation I nodded. One of my favorite past times. We stood, and tugging our heavy coats on, tossing some bills onto the table, and heading out into the early winter evening.

I swallowed hard, trying to make those snow-filled images leave my mind. I closed my eyes for a moment, only to open them to see the church still before me. “Beth,” I stopped to clear my throat. “Sorry.” I whispered, smiling slightly. “Beth was the kind of person who, who you could count on for anything. For everything.” I glanced out the window, seeing the snow beginning to lightly fall. I smiled. “How many of you from the neighborhood remember Beth's snow creations?” again, chuckling around the sanctuary, as I saw heads bobbing with the memory. “What about the year she made the anatomically correct reindeer?” I grinned, looking to Billy, who had helped her. He tried to hide his smile behind his hand. “Or how about that horrible victory cry she'd yell when we played street football?” I found myself chuckling along with that one, as well. Seeing and hearing it plain as day in my mind's eye. “And could she ever make a good snowball,”

The campus was nearly empty as the later the night got, the colder it got. Beth and I strolled along the path, my hands tucked inside my coat pockets, hers tossing a ball of snow around from hand to hand. We talked. And then she said something that for some reason made me get quiet.

“I've decided to take that cute little blonde out.” She said, her tone casual. She glanced over at me, the devil in her eyes. I didn't look back.

“Oh.” Was all I said.

“You know the one I'm talking about, right?” she threw the snowball up in the air, catching it mid-fall. I nodded.

“Yeah. Madeleine Briggs from your Aspects of Theater class.” I said, my voice low, even.

“Gee, don't sound so excited about it, Em.”

“Sorry.” I said, putting a smile on my face. Why the hell was I ticked? She had a right. Just because we had been spending every single free minute together for the last semester didn't mean I had any claim to her, or anything. She smiled back, though it was obviously forced. For just a second I got the strange feeling that she was not all that excited over the prospects of Madeleine Briggs, either. “What are you planning to do?” I asked, I suppose trying to pry information out of her that I could take home and dissect later. God, I was a bad person. She shrugged.

“I don't know. I was thinking about taking her to Laney's party.”

“Oh.” Now I really didn't want to go.

“But, I don't know.” She said with a sigh, then I sucked in my breath as I felt incredibly cold fingers slide incredibly more cold snow down the back of my shirt. I stopped, bringing my shoulder blades together to attempt to stop the progress of the snow from chilling any more of my back than necessary.

“You are evil,” I managed through clenched teeth. She began to laugh, then backed away, gathering more snow as I tried to get myself composed enough to attack, or at the very least, defend myself.

“You're gonna get it!”

I head the words echoing in my mind as I lowered my head, my eyes closed as a lone tear managed to escape past the walls of my heart that were quickly weakening, falling with every memory, every moment I ever spent with her. Every time I saw her look at me in that special way that only Beth could look, making you feel special, separate from the rest of the crowd. I liked to think that that look was just for me, but never really knew for sure. The tear slid down my cheek, falling to the bible on the pulpit below, making a dark spot on the already dark leather.

“Beth was a presence,” I continued shakily. “Not a person. She had a gift. A gift to be able to reach down inside you, touch a part of your soul, and take it with her.” I did not raise my head as another tear slipped out to follow the path of the first. I could not face the eyes that watched me struggle, watched my internal battle that I was quickly losing. As my voice began to quiver just a bit, I heard the sound of someone blowing their nose, and yet someone else crying quietly. I could not look into the tortured eyes of someone else when I could barely face my own torment. “She was my best friend.” I whispered, and stepped away from the microphone, from the very visible eyes of the others, stepping away from myself, from my self-control. I needed air. Needed to be alone.

“Hello?” I said into the receiver, just a bit more than annoyed. I hated being bothered when I was writing a paper. But then, I was the one who forget to unplug the phone.

“Ha ha! Got you at home. Goody.”

“Beth. What do you want?” I asked, flipping through my dictionary, looking for the perfect word that would fit.

“Come out with me.”

“Can't. Give me a word for alike?” I said, my brows drawn as I continued my search.

“Um, let me think. Oh, got a good one.” I could hear the smile in her voice, and so looked up from my dictionary, waiting to hear the terms of use. “I'll give you this wonderful, great, terrific word if you come out with me.”

“Beth, I have a dictionary in my hands as we speak.”

“So? But it wouldn't come from me.” She countered. I took my reading glasses off, tossing them onto the desk, rubbed my eyes.

“Okay. Where?”

“To Laney's party.” I groaned.


“No whining. Yay or nay?” with a loud sigh, I agreed.

“Fine. Spill it.” I said, my fingers poised above my type writer. “And this better be good.” I warned.

“Symbiotic.” She said, obviously proud of herself. I re-read my sentence, fitting Beth's word in, and having to admit that it worked perfectly. “I did good, right?”

“Yes. You did good. Fine. I'll go.” I was about to hang up, but stopped. “What about Madeleine? I thought she was going to go with you?”

“Nah. Decided I'd rather go with you. See you in fifteen minutes.”

I sat there, the phone still in my hand as I processed what she had just said. What did she mean by that? Or had she meant anything at all? I buried my face in my hands. I seemed to be reading into everything she said, and that was not good.

“Why?” I moaned into the empty room.

Beth drove us to Laney's house in the piece of crap car she'd bought over the summer. “Hey, it was cheap and gets me where I need to go.” Had been her defense. “Okay. Well it sort of gets me where I'm going.” She had grudgingly amended.

Laney Wilson was one of my best friends at CU, and had taken to Beth right away. Everyone had fallen in love with Beth when I'd introduced her. She was so charming, and fun. She had fit in just fine. Sitting in the passenger seat that had been taped together with duct tape, I thought about this. I was glad Beth got along with my friends. It made it much easier for us. However, part of me, the childish, selfish part, wanted Beth all to myself. When she had shown up at my dorm, she had looked great in a pair of loose cords, and a tucked in flannel. Her hair, which she had begun to grow out the year before, was shiny and clean, her long bangs tucked behind her ears. She had looked great. But then, Beth would look great in a potato sack.

I watched as the night passed by the windows, the darkness tinged with a pinkish/orange hue from the snow reflecting off the street lights. It was truly a wondrous night.

Laney's house was well lit, cars everywhere they could possibly find a place to park, as well as one or two on the front lawn. I wondered if Laney knew this? Pulsing base bounced around the night, vibrating the air. The Go Gos song, “Head Over Heels” throbbed out the front door. I smiled. I had fond memories of that song from the year before. Beth and I made our way up to the house, and went inside.

Blindly, I made my way down the side aisle of the church, the tears in my eyes making it impossible to see any of the sympathetic faces that I passed. I didn't want to see them, anyway. I had to get myself together.

Once out in the cold, October air, I leaned against the brick building, my eyes closed as I took in deep breaths, filling my lungs.

“Emily.” My eyes opened and I turned my head to see Rebecca standing just outside the door. “Are you okay, babe.” She said, her voice quiet as she walked over to me. I pushed away from the wall, crossing my arms over my chest to ward off the chill. I think I was also trying to push her out, make myself inaccessible to her.

“Yes. I'm fine.” I said with a sigh. I really just wanted to be alone. She stepped closer, placing her hand on my arm. I could feel her eyes on me, the worry radiating off her in waves.

“What is it, Emily? Pleas don't shut me out. Talk to me.”

“What would you like me to say?” I asked, turning on her, taking a step back. She sucked in a surprised breath, her eyes wide. “I just,” I stopped, looking out into the parking lot, trying to think just what I was trying to say. “I think I just need to be alone right now, Rebecca. I need to think.” I looked back at her with pleading eyes. She nodded, her eyes wondering, not able to meet mine.

“Okay.” She said, then walked away. I could see the slump in her shoulders, the edge in her walk. She was hurt, and confused. I felt terrible. Why was I not able to let her in? Explain to her what was going through my head? I supposed because I was not sure, myself.

“Hey, you two.” Laney grinned when she saw us walk into the small house. She came over to us and hugged me, patting Beth on the shoulder. “Good for you, Beth. Don't know how you got her to come, but good for you.” Beth grinned down at me.

“I gave her a word.” Laney's brows drew in confusion, but she just shrugged when Beth did not explain any further.

“Um, okay. Well, anyway, have fun, ladies.” She winked at me, and I stared at her retreating back as she disappeared between dancing bodies.

“Alrighty then,” Beth said, rubbing her hands together. “I want a drink.” She began to look around, trying to find where the alcohol was being kept. “A ha!” she exclaimed, tugging me by the hand toward a distant place in the corner of the room.

“You know, it really must be nice being tall.” I grumbled as I tried to avoid a nasty collision with some writhing person who was getting into the beat of the Go Gos just a bit too much.

“What are you having, Em?” I heard asked. I snapped my head around from looking at the other party-goers to see Beth holding two bottles in each hand. I scrunched up my nose. “Come on, Em. Just have one drink. For me?” she begged, the bottom lip sticking out. I had such an urge to nip that protruding lip between my teeth. Taken aback by my thoughts, I actually took a step back.

“Okay. One. I don't care. Whatever you're drinking.”

Beth handed me a glass bottle, which surprised me. I looked up at her, and she shrugged. “Eh, figured you'd be able to handle a Coors and still study later.” I grinned at her, and followed her through the throng of people until we ran into a few of our other friends. We all stood around talking when I noticed a woman walk into the house with another girl, neither of which I knew. The woman looked around her long, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She spotted our little circle of friends, and stared at me, then brown eyes moved on to Beth where they stayed. I stared at her as she stared at my best friend. I wanted to find some way to ward her off, get her to leave Beth alone, even if she was just looking. I hated the feeling of jealousy, but it permeated my body, making me angry.

“Hello? Earth to Emily?” my head snapped around until I saw our friend Richard staring at me, his eyes expectant.

“Sorry. What?” I asked as I sipped my beer, trying to not wince. Nasty, nasty stuff.

The party dragged on, as parties tend to do. I was not a fan of them. Never had been, and certainly never saw myself as being one. As my conversation continued with Richard and his girlfriend, Ann, I turned to ask Beth a question, and noticed that she was gone. My brows drew, and I looked around.

“She want dancing, Emily.” Richard said. I looked back at him, shocked. I had never seen her go. I sighed, suddenly feeling very alone.

I stood in the back of the sanctuary leaning against the wall as the minister said his last words, bringing the service to an end. My eyes grazed the crowd, seeing the backs of their heads as they all listened, some putting their coats on, or gathering their children. Ready to leave. My eyes strayed back to the front, seeing the minister with his eyes closed as he finished with a prayer, then gave the congregation instructions as to where the service would be to inter Beth. I walked out, headed toward my parent's car. I'd wait for them there.

Many beers, a few dances, and many discussions later, I began to wonder through Laney's house, looking for Beth. I was ready to go home. It was late, and I was beyond tired, my mind reeling to the test I had the next day. I peeked into the bedrooms, the kitchen, even the bathroom, but she was nowhere to be found. Curiously enough, I realized that I had not seen the brunette since, either. I knew I was being silly, but still….

I tossed my half-empty beer into the trash under the kitchen sink, and glanced out the window, and saw some people scattered throughout the backyard. Curious, I opened the back door, and stepped out onto the back porch, then froze. Out in the yard, just barely in the light from the porch light, stood the huge cottonwood. Sitting on the hard, cold ground, her back against the massive trunk, sat Beth. The cute brunette on her lap, straddling her. They were kissing, hands everywhere. The brunette, with closed eyes, broke the kiss, arching her neck for Beth's mouth to probe. Struck, I felt nauseous. Suddenly images crashed into my mind: stepping out of the bathroom at the State Fair to see Beth and Casey ducked behind the trailer of a rig making out. Opening the big, metal door at the theater only to find Beth and the redhead at the far end of the hallway. I felt hurt and betrayed. Why? Why couldn't she see me like that? Why couldn't it be me who sat on Beth's lap, tasting her mouth, then having her mouth on my neck?

Suddenly feeling suffocated, I needed to get out of there. I wiped an impatient hand over my eye before the tears that were threatening to seep out could dare fall, and searched my pockets for my keys before remembering that Beth had driven us.

“Damnit!” I searched through the house until I found Laney. I called to her, and she turned to look at me, concern immediately filling her face.

“Emily? What is it?” she walked over to me, placing a hand on my shoulder.

“Please take me home, Laney.” I said, my voice small, feeling even smaller.

“What? Why? Are you okay?” she pushed me away from the group she'd been talking to, taking us to a place a little less populated. I was grateful. I felt ridiculous enough as it was.

“Please, Laney?”

“Where's Beth? I thought-“

“Laney!” I exclaimed, not wanting to go into it, and getting extremely irritated. Damnit, why couldn't I just go home? She could read it on my face. She nodded, her face softening.

“Okay. Let me get my keys.”

I sat in the passenger seat of Laney's little Honda, my coat folded in my lap, staring out the window. Laney drove in silence, and I was glad. Finally we reached my building. The car idled quietly as we sat there. Me not ready to get out quite yet, Laney not ready for me to go. I knew she wanted answers, but I wasn't so sure I had them.

“What do you want me to tell her?” she finally asked. I took a deep breath followed by a shrug.

“You know, I really don't know.” I smiled ruefully over at her. “I guess just tell her that I had to go home.”

My friend smiled sadly at me, but nodded. “Okay.”

I gathered my belongings and myself together, and opened the car door, stepping out. She leaned across the passenger seat and looked out at me.

“You know, I don't know why you two don't just do it and get it over with.” I could only stare. She smiled, and drove away. Why, indeed.

I could feel the rough bark against my hands, my fingers digging into it as I felt soft lips beneath mine, parting for me. My eyes were closed, but I knew who's lips they were. Beth, I whispered, feeling her beneath me, as I sat in her lap, my knees on either side of her. I felt hands in my hair, running down my back, down lower until they slipped underneath my sweater. I sighed, feeling the wetness of a tongue against my neck suddenly. I sighed again.


My eyes snapped open, my surrounding strange, me completely disoriented. I sat up on my elbows, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. I began to realize I was in my bed, in my dorm room when I heard the banging again, and realized it was my door. Someone was knocking on my door. Well, more like banging on it.

“What?” I called out, irritated as I looked over at the clock to see it was barely eight in the morning. More banging. “Jesus,” I muttered as I threw back the covers, and sauntered over to the door in my sweats and tee. “It is too god damn early-“ I stopped as Beth stared back at me. I just looked at her, not sure what to say. Then my dream began to filter back in, and I remembered her mouth on mine, her hands on me, and I knew my face must have turned every color known to man. I took a step back. “Hi.”

“Hi.” She returned, though she did not sound like a happy camper. Then without a moment's hesitation, she strolled past me into the room.

“Come on in.” I quipped, standing near the door, but pushing it shut. I turned to look at her, waiting for her to speak. She took her leather jacket off, tossing it on Candice's made bed. Good thing she had a morning class.

“So what's the deal?” she asked, turning to me, her arms crossed over her chest, her stance very imposing.

“With what?” I asked, crossing my own arms.

“Why did you leave the party?”

“I had to get home.” I answered simply.

“Yeah, that's what Laney said. But I want to hear it form you. Why did you leave.” She took a step toward me. I held my ground.

“Like I said, I had to get home.” I said again, though my voice a bit less believable. Even to my own ears. I sounded weak. She took another step.

“I don't believe you, Em.” Beth said, her voice low, deep, almost menacing. I raised my chin in challenge.

“I don't care what you do or do not believe, Beth. You knew I had things to do. I needed to get home. I was tired. I went to find you, but-“ I cut myself off, my eyes snatched away from hers. I did not want her to know that I saw her with that girl for some reason.


“But I couldn't find you.” I lied, my voice quiet, belying everything I had just said.

“You saw me, didn't you?”

“Beth, please just go. I need some sleep. I don't have class for another three hours,”

“Don't lie to me, Em.” Beth grabbed her jacket off of Candice's bed, and headed toward the door. I stared at the ground when I saw her stop in front of me. I could feel her breath against my bangs, tickling my forehead. Somehow I garnered the courage to look up at her. She stood not half a foot away, staring into my eyes, looking at my face, down to my mouth, then back up to my eyes. She was guarding her expression, and I could not read her at all. I hated when she did that. I looked deep into those baby blues, trying to see past the wall she had put up, trying to read what she was thinking. Was she angry with me? I didn't think so. There was another emotion that fell from her in waves, but I didn't dare give voice to what I thought it was, because I felt it, too. “Get some sleep.” She finally said, her voice low and husky, then turned away, and stepped out into the hall, closing the door softly behind her. I stared at the door, trying to figure out what had just happened. She had come to get answers from me, but instead left so many of her own questions. I covered my face with my hands, and leaned back against the wall behind me, sliding down until I sat upon the carpet. Oh, Beth.

I tried to concentrate on school, as the holidays were quickly approaching, which meant finals soon. Thanksgiving was behind us, and now it was a race to make it through the end of the semester, and get to Christmas. I had stayed clear of many of my friends, as was my custom around that time of year. They all knew me well enough to know to leave me well enough alone. But there was really one person in particular that I was trying to stay away from. I did not want to get myself feeling things that I should not be feeling. Again. I had a nasty suspicion that it was too late, but if the old adage: out of sight, out of mind, ever worked, I wanted to find out. It didn't. My mind strayed to Beth constantly, and I really didn't know what to do about it. She had called my dorm a few times, and Laney had told me that she constantly asked for and about me. I could not do it. I only had a year and a half of school to go before going on to law school. I needed no interruptions.

I did, however, hear that Beth had turned into quite the heartbreaker. She dated this one, and that one, then not a week or two later, was on to the next. Why? Just what exactly was she trying to prove? To whom? I just reasoned it was not my problem to worry about anymore. Not that it had ever been.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first saw the face, then heard the voice of Laney as I removed the book from the shelf in the library. She stood on the other side of the stack, and grinned at me in the gap between books. I glared at her.

“That was hardly funny, Laney.”

“I thought it was.” She chuckled, then disappeared, only to stroll around to my isle. “Okay, woman. Here's the deal. Richard is having a small, intimate get together at his place for Christmas. I figure we can all exchange gifts, that sort of thing.” I just stared at her, already not interested. I began to shake my head when she held up a hand. “Ah. Wait, before you say no. It's on Friday, the week before finals start, so don't even try that one.” I rolled my eyes, not wanting to get boxed into anything. I just wanted to study in relative peace.

“Laney, I have to study..” I whined.

“So study Saturday.” I sighed. I knew I should go. I hadn't spent any time with the gang in over a month. Finally with a resigned nod, I agreed. Laney smiled with glee, and clapped her hands together. “Yay!”

I threw on my coat, and grabbed my keys, ready to go to Richard's. I did not want go, but had promised. The week before we had all drawn names for who we were supposed to buy for. I had drawn our Richard's girlfriend, Ann. I knew she was into Def Leppard, so got her the newest cassette they had released. Keys, and package in hands, I walked out to my Jeep. The weather was cold, December well in hand, and a bad storm the previous weekend. The holiday spirit was everywhere, decorations all over campus and the town. I had to smile as I saw a Santa Clause talking to a little girl on the street corner, his big bulk having to kneel down to be at her eye level. She grinned up at the big, jolly one. An old holiday tune sung by Elvis blared out of my speakers, and I could not help but sing along, beating my palm against the cold steering wheel. I truly loved the holiday season, and could not wait to get home, and my mom and I could do our annual Christmas shopping in Denver. I just wanted the semester to be over with.

I pulled up to Richard's apartment building, and locked the Jeep up, jogged up the two flights of stairs. I knocked on the door once, when it was thrown open and I stared up at Richard. He grinned.

“Merry Christmas.” He said, pulling me in, hugging me.

“Um, Merry Christmas to you, too.” I said, surprised by his near giddiness. I walked over to the four foot tree that stood upon a table in the corner of the room, and placed my gift under it with the others.

“Give me your coat, Emily.” I turned to see Ann standing behind me with anther coat tossed over her arm. I struggled out of mine, and handed it to her. She disappeared down the hall. I turned to see who all was there. Richard, of course, Laney and her boyfriend, our friends Tanya and Lauren. Sitting in the recliner by the window was Beth. I just stared, not expecting to see her. Laney had not mentioned her, though why would she?

A light drizzling snow was beginning to fall. The type where you could look up, stick your tongue out, and catch tiny flakes of watery snow. I walked around the graves, trying to not step on them. That had been something Beth had gotten on my case for once.

“You can't step on 'em, Em! That's just rude.”

Just up ahead I could see the green tarp covering that had been set up over the graveside. A few chairs had been set up for the immediate family, which was not much. Rebecca walked next to me, but said nothing, nor did she try and touch me. I knew I had some apologizing and explaining to do, but later. Not now. My parents and Billy brought up the tail end of our little parade.

We stood under the tarp, but did not sit. Nora Sayers sat front and center, flanked by Jim and his wife to her left, and a blonde woman I didn't know on her right. Monica and Connie walked up next to me, Monica squeezing my fingers. With a deep sigh, I looked to the center of attention. The casket was beautiful; white with silver handles and decoration. Flowers of different colors and types were placed atop it. I wondered where they had found such beautiful flowers this time of year. Must have cost a lot. The minister walked up to the other side of the casket, facing us, and opened his large book. He reached up, straightened his glasses, then began to speak.

It never ceased to amaze me how Beth could just pop in and out of my life at the strangest, and most inopportune times. She looked up from her chair, and smiled at me.

“Merry Christmas, Em.” She said. I nodded.

“Merry Christmas.” I walked over to the kitchen where Richard and Ann were piling snacks on trays: crackers with cheese logs, cookies with brightly colored icing making silly Santa faces or snowmen. “Can I help?” I asked, leaning against the breakfast bar. Richard looked over his shoulder at me.

“Yeah. Get drinks ready.” He said, nodding toward the fridge with his head. I walked over to it, taking out cans of different kinds of canned soda, grabbing as many as I could with my hands and arms, holding them all against my chest, and setting them on the counter.

“Want some help?” I looked up to see Beth standing next to me, her hand on her hip. I took in her festive sweater and black cords. She wore a Broncos baseball cap. I chuckled.

“Do you have any idea how much you clash?” I grinned, taking in the red and green sweater, then the blue and orange of the hat. She looked down at herself, and smiled.

“Hey, a true die-hard fan does not care. They're in the play-offs. Got to support my boys. Elway's first Suprebowl, you know.”

“They're not there, yet, Beth.” I pointed out, handing her a stack of cups to fill with ice.

“They will be. Mark my words.”

“Uh huh.” I said, purposefully trying to tick her off with my lack of interest. A point of contention between us for years.

Many Christmas cookies, and spiked egg nogs later, we all sat on the floor in the living room, ready to play a game of Conscience.

“Okay. The way the game is played is this,” explained Richard, holding up an empty tequila bottle. “Couple spin the bottle with truth or dare. You spin the bottle, making you the conscience of the person who it points to. You ask them any question you want. They have a choice of either answering it, honestly,” he looked around the circle, eyeing us all with that word, “or taking a drink.”

I heard nothing the minister said as I stared at the stone near the casket:

Elizabeth Sayers
October 23, 1967
October 12, 2001
She lived as she loved.

My mind focused only on those few lines. My brain refusing to make them real, make them even remotely permanent. I watched Nora as she sat there, the blanket the funeral home had provided spread across her legs. Her hand raised up to her nose every few minutes, the white Kleenex she clutched becoming more and more saturated, small black marks as her mascara was cried off. Jim sat dry-eyed. He almost looked as if he either felt nothing, or perhaps was just numb. Like me.

As I stood there, I felt so strange, as if I weren't even really there. As if I were just a doll, waiting to go home. Waiting for my owner to come and pick me up. It was very surreal. My eyes were heavy, my lungs heavier from the cold air. Then, to my surprise, I realized that the cold was coming from inside of me. Something had died in me that day. Something I couldn't quite define, but wondered if I would ever get back. Or, ever figure out what it was.

I felt the smooth glass of the bottle in my fingers. It was my turn to spin the bottle, already having embarrassed the hell out of myself when answering Laney's question to tell her about the time I'd lost my virginity. Not pleasant conversation, I assure you. So, I placed the bottle on the piece of cardboard we had put on the floor to make spinning easier, and let it go. It spun round and round, and I couldn't take my eyes off of it as I wondered where it would land, already formulating questions in my head that would pertain to anyone present. Then, with one final shaky spin, it stopped. I looked up, following the path of the mouth of the bottle, meeting blue eyes. Oh, boy. I stared at Beth for a moment, trying to decide what I wanted to ask her. The entire night she had hung around me, hanging on my every word, confusing me all the more. She had been touchy, quite unusual for her. Even Laney had asked me about it. I had no answer for her. So I sat there, tapping my chin with my finger, studying my best friend with hooded, thoughtful eyes.

“Okay.” I said finally. Everyone waited, breathless, to see what I'd say. “Beth,”

“Yes, Em?” she asked, quirking a brow. I grinned.

“If you could kiss anyone in this room, who would it be.” I asked, my voice quiet, almost daring. Quiet chuckles were heard, as everyone there knew the situation, and I believed had secretly been making bets. The three other women in the room looked on, curious to see what Beth would say. Most everyone had answered their question, a near full bottle of tequila waiting for someone to take their drink option. Surly that would not happen. After all, we all had said we wanted to stay sober, and level headed for study time over the weekend. Beth stared at me, her eyes never leaving mine as she thought about my question. Part of me wanted to look away so badly, almost ashamed for asking. It had been a bit manipulative. I hoped I knew the answer, but didn't want to hear it. Yet,…

Beth sighed deeply, then cleared her throat, never breaking eye contact with me.

“I think I'm going to have to choose to take a shot.” She said, her voice just as low and daring as mine had been. Without a word, she reached her hand out to grab the shot of tequila that Richard had poured for her. She raised the small shooter to me, then downed it in one gulp, her face contorting as the liquid fire slid down her throat. My face fell, but I tried to hold it together. Not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction there of knowing that I was crushed. Beth had hurt me. And she had hurt me bad.

I stood where I had been before, many of the people leaving. I could still see in my mind as Beth's casket had passed below ground level, disappearing into the earth. So final. My face still felt tight and stiff from the seemingly endless supply of tears that had streamed down my cheeks, I unable to stop them. The numbness that had filled me during the minister's words of finality had melted away, overcome by the unbelievable sorrow as they had begun to lower Beth. Lower her to her resting place. I could hear my mother crying, Monica standing next to me had wept silently, her holding my right hand, Rebecca holding my left arm, as I, too wept silently. Not uttering a sound, just weeping. I could not stop the tears if I had tried, but I hadn't wanted to. I needed to cry. I needed to release. I needed to grieve.

I felt frozen as I stood there, not really sure about who was around me, the numbness returning even though tears still slid from my eyes, warm as they seeped out, then freezing my face as the cold air hit them, making me shiver.

“Honey,” I heard my mother say to my left, her hands wrapped around my arm. “Come on, honey.” She whispered, her voice thick from emotion.

“No.” I said. “I'm going to stay for a bit.”

“Are you sure, baby?” I nodded, like a robot, not feeling the nod, just knowing I was nodding. “Okay. See you at home.” Rebecca hugged and kissed me, then left with my parents. I felt someone standing beside me, and I turned to see it was the blonde who had sat next to Nora. She looked at me, smiled.

“You must be Em?” she said, surprising me by using Beth's name for me. I nodded. She was very beautiful with long, blonde hair, swept back over her shoulders, her blue eyes clear and honest. “I'm Lana.” She extended her hand, which on autopilot I took. “I, well, Beth and I lived together for five years.” She turned and looked over at the stone that had kept my rapt attention. “I was with her when she,” her voice broke just a bit. She cleared her throat, and turned back to me with a smile. “I heard a lot about you over the years. I always wanted to meet you. And here we are.” I smiled weakly.

“I guess so.” I said, my voice quiet, unrecognizable to myself.

“She used to talk about you all the time. At first I was almost jealous.” She smiled again. I could understand how Beth had fallen in love with this woman. Her pure heart was placed upon her sleeve, as well as her undeniable grief. “Um, Em, I want you to know that Beth was happy. She was loved. Very much.” She whispered, ducking her head for a moment. She seemed to get herself under control and smiled once again. “Anyway, just wanted to say hello.”

“Thank you, Lana.” I said, trying to smile through the newest assault of tears. God, how could anything be so painful? Lana took a step closer to me, and before I knew it, I was enveloped in a strong hug. I hugged her back, then she pulled back from me, not even looking at me again. She made her way through the cemetery, her black pant suit the only thing visible on her after awhile, until she was gone. I turned back to Beth's stone, taking a step closer.

“Emily? Emily, wake up,”

I opened my eyes to see Candice standing over me. “What?” I muttered.

“Come on. The study group?” she said, patting her backpack that hung from her arm.

“What about it?” I asked groggily, turning to my other side, giving her a nice view of my back.

“Remember? We're all getting together for the lit class final?”

“Not goin'.” I muttered, then closed my eyes. I had no desire whatsoever to get out of bed, let alone go to some stupid study group. I slept through Saturday, not giving a shit about finals. Let whatever would happen, happen. I didn't need it. I felt such a heavy weight on me since the party at Richard's. Nothing mattered. Why the hell should I care if Beth didn't give a shit? I was tired of caring. I didn't want to care anymore. Why did she have to come back into my life? I was doing just fine! I squeezed my eyes shut as I felt liquid warmth seep out, wetting my pillow, then darkness as sleep once again claimed me.

The darkness dissipated as I heard pounding. Pounding that wouldn't stop. God, what now? Couldn't they just let me sleep through a goddamn Saturday?

“What!” I bellowed, my head ringing with the yell.

“Em?” came the muffled reply. I quirked open an eye. What the hell?

“Go away!”

“Let me in!” the doorknob rattled, and I just got more irritated.

“Go the fuck away, whoever you are!” I yelled again, throwing one of my pillows to emphasize my point. Then I jumped as the person kicked the door. My god. With a growl I jumped from the bed, hurried over to the door, unlocked it, walking back to my bed. The door opened, and I plopped down on the mattress, grabbing my trusty teddy, Ruffles as I sat, holding him close to my chest. Beth barged in, storming to the middle of the room. She looked worried, angry, and all sorts of other things, none of them happy, as she stared down at me, her hands on her hips. “Go away, Beth.” I said into the fur on top of Ruffles head.

“What the hell are you doing, Em?” she asked, her voice hard, angry.

“What do you mean? What am I doing. I'm attempting to sleep, that's what I'm doing. My god, you'd think the world had never heard of sleeping in, for Christ's sake.”

“Sleeping in?” she repeated, nearly spitting the words out at me.

“Yeah. I know you sure as hell know all about that.”

“You've been sleeping in, alright. Do you have any clue what day it is?” she took a step forward. I glared back up at her.

“Saturday? At,” I glanced over at the clock, “one-thirty in the afternoon.”

“Try Monday at one-thirty in the afternoon, Em.” She barked out. I looked at her, incredulous. No. Couldn't be. “Your roommate was worried about you. She hunted me down after class today. Said you didn't do any studying this weekend. Didn't get out of bed this weekend. Em!” she took yet another step closer. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What do you care, Beth? You get pissed that I study so much as it is.” I said, picking at Ruffles fur on his arm. She stared at me, stung. It felt good. It felt good to hurt her. My heart still hurt from Richard's party. She was quiet for a moment, her hands running through her hair, studying the floor.

“What is this about, Em?” she finally said, her voice low, quiet. Unsure.

“Nothing, Beth. It's about nothing.” I tossed Ruffles aside. “Why are you here?” her head jerked up, her eyes narrowed. “Why don't you just go find one of your flavor of the week girlfriends, and leave me the hell alone, okay?” her entire face fell, as did her shoulders, only to regain composure. She took in a deep breath, and stared at me, fire entering her eyes.

“Is this about that stupid game?” she nearly growled. I stared up at her, frightened for just a moment. “Is that it, Em?”

“You took your shot, Beth. That was your prerogative.” I said, my voice hard. She smiled, though no humor lined those lips, and nodded to herself.

“That's it. Because I wouldn't fucking admit to,-“ she cut herself off.

“What?” I challenged. “Admit to what, Beth?” I unfolded myself on my bed, and stood. “Admit to what, Beth?”

“Stop it. This is ridiculous.”

“Is it?” she glared at me.

“Stop it, Em. I'm warning you.”

I took a step closer. I could feel the heat falling from her in waves. She was nearly vibrating with it, though what exactly what “it” was, I didn't know.

“Or what? Huh?” I reached her, staring up into her face. Her fists were clenched at her sides.

“You want to hear it? Hmm? You want me to answer your fucking question? Is that it?” she said through clenched teeth.

“Would be nice.”

“Don't do this, Em.” To my surprise I saw fear flash through those eyes. Just as quickly it was gone. “Fine. I'll answer your fucking question.” she growled. I sucked in my breath as she lunged, grabbing two handfuls of my shirt, whipping me around until my back was slammed against the wall. A picture crashed to the floor next to me. I wrapped my fingers around her hands that still held my shirt, Beth's body pressed against mine, her jean-clad leg held against me, my boxers digging in. “You want to hear who I'd kiss?” Beth rumbled, her face mere inches from mine. She had me pinned to the wall, but I don't know that I would have moved had I been able to. I just stared into her eyes, twin pools of icy fire. “You, Em. I would have kissed you “ her eyes traveled my face, taking in my wide eyes, then down my nose, to my lips where they stayed. “I've always wanted to kiss you, Em. Still do.” the last whispered.

“Then do it.” I whispered back. Her eyes left my lips, and met my own. So many things passed through them; uncertainty, fear, hope, and mostly, desire. The room was filled with the sound of our heavy breaths as we stared at each other. My fingers tightened on her hands, begging her. She clutched my shirt tighter, and roughly pulled me to her, crushing her lips against mine, pinning me further to the wall, her leg sliding between my own. Her tongue pushed through my closed lips, forcing me to let her in, a whimper escaping her throat. She pushed further into my body, her hands loosening their hold on the material, and grasping my shoulders. My hands released her hands, and slid up her forearms until they snaked up around her neck, bringing her in closer. Her mouth began to slow, and soften against my own, her rough taking turning to the soft bestowing of gifts of her tongue, lips, teeth.

“Beth,” I breathed into her mouth, still amazed that she was here, that she was kissing me, that it was her arms and body around me.

“I'm here.” she whispered, her hands sliding down my shoulders, her fingers sneaking up the short sleeves of the tee, rubbing the bare skin of my upper arms and shoulders. My own hands began to stroke her neck, bury themselves into her thick hair, and eventually find themselves at the collar of her jacket, tugging at it, pulling the leather off of her, down her shoulders, and finally down her arms. Beth tossed the coat to the floor, and came back to me, pressing herself against me again. I could feel her breasts through the thin material of her shirt, pressed against mine. I moaned, feeling as if I had never been touched before. As if Beth's kiss and touch was water to a drowning woman. The last life-line.

I felt Beth's hands begin to roam down my shirt, stroking my sides on their way down, finally finding the hem of my shirt, and slipping under, tugging my shirt over my head. I lifted my arms, as she took it completely off, throwing it behind her to the floor. Beth returned to my mouth, but her hands cupped my breasts, the nipples already hard against her palms. I needed to feel her against me, skin on skin. I tugged at her shirt, freeing it from the waistband of her jeans, and tugging it over her head. Beth had never been one for bras, so I looked down at her. She was magnificent. She shook her hair free, and pressed against me, both of us moaning at the touch. Fire was sweeping through me at rampant speed.

I gasped as she pushed her thigh further into me, pressing against me as her mouth devoured my own. My fingers dug into her shoulders as her lips left mine, beginning to kiss and lick down my jaw, my head lifting to give her as much access as she wanted; needing to feel her, my skin on fire. She sucked on my neck, biting as her hands slid down my back, fingers dipping into the waistband of my boxers, caressing the smooth skin of my rear end. I brought my hands down to the front of Beth's jeans, and fiddled with the fly, trying to get them unbuttoned, then unzipped, pushing them down her legs. Beth got the hint, and stepped out of them, kicking them behind her. Now we stood, me against the wall, Beth against me, both in just our underwear.

It struck me in that moment as Beth returned to my mouth, kissing me long and deep, just exactly what the term making love meant. Before that moment, I had never had any clue to the real meaning.

I pushed away from the wall, pushing against Beth, toward my bed. She backed up, our lips never missing a beat. The back of Beth's legs hit the mattress, and she let herself fall back, taking me with her, her arms wrapped around my waist, pulling into her. It felt unbelievable to be completely pressed against Beth. It all seemed like a dream that I prayed I would not wake from any time soon.

Beth rolled us over, scooting me up so I laid back against the pillows. She held herself up on her arms, stared down at me. I ran my fingers up and down her back, looking into those eyes that at times haunted me.

“I've waited so long.” she whispered.

“Me, too.”

“I love you, Em.” she leaned her head down, giving me the softest kiss.

“I love you, too, Beth.” she stared at me for a moment longer, then kissed me for all she was worth, pouring everything she felt into the kiss, leaving me breathless. She pulled away from me, kneeling as she removed her underwear, flinging them off the side of the bed, then reaching for my boxers, staring me in the eye as she slid them down my legs, and over the side they went. She stared at my body as I laid back, feasting on me, running her hand up my leg, fingertips teasing the wiry hair between my legs before they continued to trial up over my stomach, then both hands found my breasts, causing me to suck in a breath. I arched into her touch, craving it.

She pulled me up, pulling me onto her lap so I was straddling her, my arms around her neck, fingers in her hair as once again she found my mouth, her hands on my breasts, thumbs playing with my nipples, causing shooting waves to flow through my body. She wrapped her arms under mine, her hands cupping my shoulders as she pushed me back some, her mouth seeking my breasts still tingled from her fingers. I closed my eyes, mouth opening in a silent moan as Beth's lips wrapped around my right nipple, and began to suckle me, her tongue swiping across it, sending fresh jolts of desire through me, landing squarely south.

To my surprise, I felt a hand leave my shoulder, and begin to trail back down, disappearing between our bodies, and my legs. I leaned up a bit on my knees as Beth's fingers pushed through into the immense slickness that greeted her. She moaned as she slid those fingers through the wetness, caressing me, stroking me, until finally she entered me. I breathed into the side of her neck as I was filled, her fingers sliding out only to slide right back in. I began to move my body against her, with her until I was gasping as I rode her hand, my hips pumping as fast as her hand. I closed my eyes, no longer able to keep them open as all I could do was feel. The sensations were mind blowing.

With her free hand, Beth pushed my head back to hers, her mouth finding mine, our breathing mingling, her swallowing my moans and cries as I felt myself teetering on the edge. Then she pushed me over as she reached up with her thumb, pressing down on my clit, rubbing it. Light filled me, and I exploded. Beth continued to pump, her thumb stroking until my body stilled, jerking slightly with a small aftershock. She pushed me back, and laid on top of me, her body between my legs. We kissed, long and hard, my heart still pounding out of control in my chest, my breathing just beginning to get back to normal, only to increase once again as I thought of all the things I wanted to do to Beth.

I had to have my mouth on her, so I flipped her over, me straddling her hips. We were breast to breast. I stared down at her, and I could see the hunger in her eyes, shining, sending bolts of lightning through my body with just one glance. I kissed her, softly, gently, waiting for her to open her lips, invite me in. Didn't take long. The kiss remained soft, exploring, until with a sigh, Beth wrapped her arms around me, running her hands down my back until she cupped my rear, pulling me further into her. The kiss began to heat up, setting both on fire again. It became desperate, fighting for space in my mouth, then in hers, animalistic, her hips grinding against me, searching for some sort of relief. I broke from the kiss, and began to kiss down Beth's body, sucking on her nipples, caressing her breasts with hands, fingers, and mouth., Beth moaning my name, and slightly pushing down on my shoulders, needing my mouth on her. I continued down, able to smell and feel her heat as I got closer, my body snaking down between her legs. When finally I reached her, I spread her legs a bit wider with my hands on the insides of her thighs, and I looked up at her, meeting her gaze.

“Please,” she husked, and I smiled, gladly obliging. I lowered my mouth between Beth's legs, and took in her smell before snaking my tongue out, swiping it up her length, gathering her wetness on my tongue, spreading it, smiling in satisfaction at her shiver. As I lowered my head again, I felt Beth's hands in my hair, guiding me, fingers stroking my scalp. I had never wanted to please a woman as badly as I did that day. Beth meant so much to me, and I wanted her to know it. I brought her to the point where her hips were bucking wildly, her hands pressing my face into her, needing that release that at that moment, only I could give, which I did, with pleasure.

I kissed the insides of her thighs, and worked my way up as Beth tried to get her breathing under control, until I lay on top of her again, and kissed her gently. She wrapped her arms around me, holding me close, whispering soft words into my mouth. As we kissed, we began to move together, neither sated, as Beth's hips began a slow grind, our tongues mimicking the action. I pushed myself up onto my elbows, my fingers digging into the pillow on either side of Beth's head as our kiss deepened, our hips quickening their pace from slow and leisurely to fast and hard. Beth began to pant into my mouth, her hands squeezing, and pulling me further into her, deepening the contact until both our bodies began to tremble, our skin slick from sweat and juices. I broke the kiss, burying my face against Beth's neck, biting the skin as I came, thrusting hard against her, my cries muffled.

“My god,” Beth whispered, holding me close, her face buried in my hair.

“My god.” I repeated.

I opened my eyes to see that it had gotten dark outside. A smile played across my face as I soaked in the heat that ran along the back of my body, the arms that held me fast, and the warm breath against the back of my neck. With a contented sigh, I closed my eyes.

With a small moan, I turned over onto my back, the smile firmly in place before I even opened my eyes. I knew it was morning, and reached my arms up over my head to stretch, feeling almost like a cat. Then realization dawned on me, and I opened my eyes, looking to my right. Nothing. I sat up, looking around the room. No Beth. Candice's bed was already made, her bag tossed onto it. I squinted as I looked over at the alarm clock, and saw it was nearly eight. I had a final at nine-thirty. I got up form the bed, pulling a tee over my head, and looked around. No note, nothing. I had a bad feeling in my stomach, and threw on the rest of my clothes, and headed out of the room, pulling a baseball cap over my uncombed hair, ran to the next building.

I stood outside the door, impatiently waiting for my knock to be answered. I heard movement in the room. I looked up and down the hall where I stood, where Beth's dorm was. Everything was quiet. Finally the door opened. I blinked in surprise when I saw Kelly, Beth's roommate.

“Hey, Emily.” she said, her voice groggy. She rubbed her eyes.

“Sorry to wake you, Kelly. Where's Beth? Did she already go to her class?” I didn't think she had a final that morning, but I could only hope. Kelly looked at me, her brows drawn.

“Emily, you mean you don't know? I mean, I figured of anyone, you would have known.”

“Known what?” I tried to keep the irritation as well as worry from my voice. Don't think I succeeded.

“Beth left.”

“What?” Kelly nodded her dark head.

“Yeah. She left early this morning. Got all her stuff, shoved it into her bags, and off she went. Didn't even wake me up. Heard her as she was leaving. I asked her what was up, and all she said was good-bye.”

I stared at Beth's roommate, her dark eyes looking sad.

“She just went home for the holidays, right?” I said, my voice weak, already knowing the answer. Kelly shook her head.

“I don't think so, Emily. I think she's just gone.” I swallowed, and took a deep breath. Trying to put on a smile,

“Thanks, Kelly.”

I turned away, hearing the soft click as the door was closed behind me. I bit my bottom lip, and walked toward the door to the stairs.

Part 10

original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com