For complete disclaimer see part 1
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I looked to Beths stone, and was surprised to see that the guys had already finished burying it. I looked around, trying to shake memory from my mind, and saw them driving the back ho back toward the utility house further into the cemetery. It truly was just me and Beth. I took a step forward, standing just at the edge of the new dirt. I wiped a wet snowflake out of my eye. Or was that a tear? I wasnt sure anymore. I gazed around and saw the green tarp covering, the words Pioneer Cemetery printed in white lettering. I smiled slightly.
"Well, Beth. Looks like we finally made it to Pioneer, huh?" I looked back to her stone, the wind my only answer. "Youre right. It is beautiful."
My thoughts returned to that Christmas in college. That time during finals week when Beth and I had been together, and I relived the pain of waking up to find out that Beth had not only left my bed, but the school, and my life. For ten years.
"Why did you go, Beth?" I asked the gray winter sky. "Why? Was it a way of running again? You know, after that I didnt date for a very long time." I smiled ruefully. "I thought it was bad luck. I decided to just study, worry about classes, and being the best. I was the best." I buried my gloved hands into the pocket of my overcoat. "Until I met Rebecca, seven years ago, I really thought that was it for me. I really thought you had ruined it for me, Beth."
The snow was beginning to come down in earnest now, though it was not too cold. I lifted my head, closed my eyes, and stuck my tongue out, catching half a dozen flakes into my mouth. I grinned and looked back to Beths stone.
"Remember our snow days? God, we had fun, didnt we?" I looked down to the winter-dead grass at my feet, the brittle blades crunching under my feet. "You know, for ten years I tried to get you out of my mind. Yet, I couldnt stay away from your plays. Go figure." I chuckled quietly. "I took Rebecca to see your play on our first date. You were playing Pippa in that strange production of Storage. Very strange play, might I add. But you were great. As always." I kicked at a small ball of snow that had begun to form. "Ten years, Beth. Ten years too long."
I walked in the door from a late day at the office, and Rebecca had been out with a friend. I dropped my briefcase and jacket onto the couch, and glanced over at the answering machine. The light was beeping. I pressed play, and began to sort through the mail.
"Bill, bill, junk, bill, junk, hmm. Coupons. Bill,-"
"Hi, Em. This is Beth."
I stopped the stack of mail in my hand, and looked down at the machine. Beths voice sounded far away and metallic over the speaker. I was stunned.
"Im in town this week, and would really like to see you. You know, kind of touch base with my old roots. So, if youd like to get together, um, give me a call in my hotel room." I listened dumbly as she recited her number, my heart beating quickly in my chest. I pushed play again.
God, had it only been last year that that had happened? I stared off at the rows of stones that led up the hill, most at least a hundred years old. All its rich history had been one reason why Beth had loved Pioneer so much. Just a year ago.
I could hear my blood pounding in my ears as I listened to the rings on the phone, part of me so tempted to just slam the phone down, and not deal with it. I had cleared my head and heart of Beth Sayers long ago. I did not need a reminder. I-
"Hello?" came the low, husky voice I remembered too well. I was struck speechless for a moment. "Hello?"
"Uh, hi." I closed my eyes, feeling really stupid.
"Hi. Em?" came the quiet question, the hope unmistakable.
"Hello, Beth. How are you?" I opened my eyes, and plopped down on the couch, my fingers playing with the phone cord nervously.
"Im fine. You?"
"Well. Its been awhile." I could hear the faintest bit of a smile in Beths voice. She also sounded very tired. I glanced at my watch; only seven-fifteen.
"Did I wake you?" I asked.
"No. No, just taking a nap. So tired these days. I swear, Im getting old." I smiled, but said nothing. "Listen, I really would like to see you, Em. Is that possible?" I remained silent for a moment, trying to make an impromptu decision. My brain refused to work.
"Okay." I said, not able to come up with anything more intelligent than that.
"Great." I heard the sigh of relief, and was surprised. "When? I leave Thursday."
"Well, how about lunch? Tomorrow? Theres a park outside my building. Say around twelve-thirty?"
"Yes. Absolutely. Ill be there. But, you must let me bring lunch. I know of this great little deli around the cornier-"
"Lonnys? Yes, I know it. I go there a lot. Perhaps a bit too often." I heard the low chuckle on the other side of the line. I had missed that, then was angry at myself for thinking that. I wanted to drop that part of my life. It was over with. Beth and I were over with.
"Okay, well. Ill see you at twelve-thirty, then."
"You should have seen how jumpy I was the next day, Beth. I felt like a child." I chuckled, realizing how stupid it had been. How childish. "I think Rebecca thought I was on drugs, or something." I smiled again, thinking about how I had glanced up at the clock, seeing that it was twenty after noon, and had tried to gather myself to go meet my best friend.
"Here you go. I hope you still like turkey?" Beth asked, handing me a six inch sub and a Styrofoam cup filled with Dr. Pepper. I nodded.
"Yup." She smiled. I studied her. She was so thin. I hardly recognized her at first when Id seen her standing in the lobby of our office building. Her hair was cut short again, but looked good on her. Her blue eyes were not as bright, but still full of life. I noticed how her clothes hung from her tall frame. I wondered but did not ask.
We made our way out of the building and to the park, finding an empty park bench, and sat and began to eat. Neither of us said much. I had many questions for her, but had packed those away many years before, and did not want to dig them out again. So I didnt.
"How have you been, Em?" she asked, licking a bit of Mayo off her lip.
"Good. Ive been doing real good. The firm is wonderful, and Ive done well here. Im due in court tomorrow, actually." Beth nodded, eyes wide with surprise and pride.
"I always knew youd do just fine." she smiled, sipping from her Coke.
"And you?" I asked, taking a bite from the turkey/Swiss sub.
"Cant complain. I live in Oregon now. Who would have guessed, huh? I did, however go home a few months back. You know, just touch roots." I smiled politely. Part of me wanted to run, get away from my past. I did not need that. I had a new life, a good life with Rebecca, and my career was booming. All this making up for lost time, and catching up was for other people. Not for me. Who needed it?
I rewrapped my sandwich, and put it into its plastic bag, standing from the bench, smoothing my skirt as I did. I tossed the sandwich into the trash can next to the bench, and turned back to Beth.
"Listen, it was nice to see you, Beth. But, I have to get going." She looked up at me, looking like Id just hit her with a baseball bat. She quickly composed herself, and stood also.
"Well, Im glad you were able to get away for a few minutes, anyway." she also tossed her lunch. We stood there for a few minutes, neither sure what to do. I didnt know why I just didnt say later, and walk back to work. "Take care, Em." she said finally with a smile. I smiled back.
"You, too. Goodbye." I turned to start back, when she called out to me. I stopped, but did not turn around.
"Em? Dont I even rate a hug?" I heard her say, pain behind those words. Slowly I turned around, looked at her. She stood next to the bench, her hands in her pockets, and stared at me, her eyes filled with pain, hope, and what looked to be regret. I took a few steps back toward her until we were little more than a yard apart.
"You want a hug?" I asked, my voice low and even. She nodded.
"Very much so."
"After all this time. After all that happened. You want a hug?" again she nodded.
"Yes. Especially after all this time. And especially after all that happened."
"I dont think so." I began to turn to head back when she caught my arm, gently turning me back to face her. I looked up at her, the strangest lump in my throat. Then I fell into her, wrapping my arms around her waist, and burying my face into her neck. I felt her arms around my shoulders, one hand at the back of my head, her head against mine. For just a moment I felt so at peace. So at home. Like I had come home. The missing piece had been found. My Beth was here. My rock. I could feel her heart beating, I swear I could, as Im sure she could feel mine. Something, I realized, was very different in that hug. It seemed to desperate, so final. I could not understand it, nor did I want to. The need to run began to fill my body, and I wanted to escape, escape the warmth before it beckoned me again. I could not afford to embrace it again.
I pulled away, and without another look back, I turned and hurried back toward my office. My safety. My life.
I wiped one last errant tear away as I took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
"I have to go now, Beth." I whispered. "I love you. My best friend. Always." I kissed two of my fingers, and placed them on Beths name on her stone, and turned away.
As I headed up the hill toward the road, I was surprised to see the rental car parked there, and Rebecca leaning against the side. Her hands were stuffed into the pockets of her wool overcoat. I walked up to her, and without a word, leaned into her, wrapping my arms around her neck. I felt her arms slowly, almost hesitantly, wind their way around my waist.
"Im sorry." I breathed into her neck, then began to cry.
I listened to the sound of the shower as I sat in our bed, my reading glasses on as I looked over the file so I would be prepared for work in two days. Satisfied that I knew it well enough, I put it aside, and reached up to remove my glasses when I glanced over at the night table, and saw the white envelope. I had not read it yet. Breathing deeply, I grabbed it, fingering the smoothness, tracing the bold words on the front. Finally as I dug up my courage, and carefully ripped the envelope open.
How to start this. Should it be something so dramatic as, if you are reading this letter, then I am surely dead!? No? I agree. I played too many roles in my life. Now isnt the time.
I know you have a lot of questions. Probably about as many as I do. But, see the thing is, long ago I came to the realization that chances were good I would never get the answers to those, so I stopped searching. But, I never stopped believing. And I never stopped loving. You, Em. I never stopped loving you.
So many years ago when we were in our prime, in college, and you and I made love. I cant even begin to explain to you what that was like for me. Well, I probably dont have to, now do I? I think you know. You felt it, too. Im sorry things happened the way they did, Em. I was a coward. I had made a promise to myself that nothing would ever happen between you and I again. When I started at CU, I had every intention of keeping that decision. But there you were, big as day. The apple for my temptation. I fought it, Em. Really I did. Finally I couldnt anymore. I wanted you so bad, and I wanted to be able to show you. So I did. We did. But then my heart couldnt take it.
Early that morning I had awoke, and had watched you. Watched you sleep for hours. Trying to decide what to do. I decided to do what I always do; leave. Flee. Run. I ran from you, Em. Now as I look back at it, I have to wonder; was it the wrong thing to do? Or should it have happened no other way? I dont have the answer for that, though I wish I did.
During my days trying to get into the real world, the world of acting and living, and I had to struggle doing meaningless jobs waiting tables, or whatever, I would think of you. Seeing you before my minds eye, imagining you, got me through it, Em. When I wanted to take the serving tray at the restaurant I was waitressing at, and bang the customer over the head with it out of frustration, I would think of you. Wonder what you were doing. Wonder if you could ever forgive me, for I was having a hell of a time forgiving myself.
If I had to describe what you are to me, other than my best friend, then Id have to say my first. My first best friend. My first kiss. My first crush. My first experience with sex. My first love. You were so many firsts for me, Em. Even now. My first thoughts were of you when my doctor told me I would be gone in six months. Ha! Showed him. I hit six months last week. All joking aside, I know its coming. And Im ready. Ive had a full life, experienced many things. You were a part of many of those things, Em. You are a part of me. Always have been, always will be. I love you, Emily.
I laid the letter down, staring across the room with unseeing eyes. Slowly I removed my glasses, setting them aside on the table. Deep inside I felt Beth. I felt her meaning, and I understood. This letter was not a goodbye. It was a beginning. The beginning of peace. Understanding. Love. A slow smile spread across my face.
"What are you smiling about?" I glanced toward Rebeccas voice, seeing her standing in the bathroom doorway. She was standing in her towel, her red hair slicked back from her shower, and she held something in her hands. I smiled up at her and shook my head.
"Well," she said, seeming to understand that the smile upon my face was the key to a secret that was not for sharing.
She looked me in the eye, making sure she had my full attention. She raised the white stick for me to see. "Its blue." she said, her voice soft. I blinked, not sure I had heard her right. As those two precious words sunk in, I began to find that peace. I understood it now. Rebecca walked over to the bed, and fell into my awaiting arms. As I held her, I realized something. Life was full of experiences. Some good. Some bad. But none were to ever be forgotten. Beth was an experience from the past to get me to my future. She was one of the building blocks that helped me to be who I was today. For that, I would always be grateful.
To you, the reader: I thank you for sticking it out with me. This was a very difficult story to write, and your support and encouragement through it was beyond appreciated. Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed it.