For complete disclaimer, see part 1.
Note: This one you might keep a hanky handy.
If youíd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
I directed my father and Ron around the corner, opening the bedroom door as far as it would go so they would not bang up the wall with the headboard. With a grunt, they set the heavy piece of furniture down, and headed back upstairs to the truck in the driveway to get the other parts. My mother and Aunt Kitty were in the kitchen making a schedule for my auntís doctor appointments.
"Coming through!" I backed up against the wall to let the guys come by with one of the mattresses. After theyíd passed, I went outside. It was early spring, and the end of my junior year in high school. I would be eighteen in the summer, and could not wait to get through my last year before I was off to CU Boulder for law school.
Aunt Kitty had gotten worse in the last year. The dialysis had been going fine until the tubes they had put in her arm to hook her up to the machine, kept plugging up with blood clots, and one by one her veins were collapsing. Now it was down to one last graph, as they call them, and a place on a donor list. I knew my mother was beyond worried.
I walked into the kitchen, and leaned back against the fridge and watched the two sisters talk. Aunt Kitty looked nothing like her old self. About nine months ago she had cut her hair off short so it would be easier to deal with, and the weight she had lost. She was a shadow of herself, and it made my heart hurt.
I left the house, and sat on the front porch, my gaze drawn to Bethís house.
Beth and I had not spoken in nearly two months. I turned my gaze away, and stared at the Nivensí house across the street, trying to get my mind off of what had happened, and how stupid it had been.
I looked around as the silver Camry made its way down a familiar tree-lined street. In the past ten years this neighborhood had not changed much, though my mother had said that a lot of the houses had been sold, and turned into rentals. What a shame. A renter would never take care of a house the way an owner would.
I saw the Donner house to the left. I guess old Townsend Donner had finally died the year before, and his house was still being fought over by his eleven children. I always wondered just how the hell he and his wife, Martha had raises so many kids in just that simple three bedroom house. I tore my gaze from the old place to see my parentís house just up ahead, and to the right. Rebecca was looking around as much as I was. She had only been here once. The other times my parents had come out to New York to see us.
"You know, honey, you really need to get out here more." She said, her voice hushed in the quiet car.
"I know." I agreed. With a deep breath I pulled the car off to the curb, and pulled the break. My brotherís truck was in the driveway, and I could not wait to see him and his family. Lord, it had been way too long.
No sooner was my door open, then I heard a whoop, and saw Billy running across the front lawn, and grabbed me up in strong arms, pulling me to him. I clung to him, so happy to see him.
"Where you been!" he exclaimed into my ear, his embrace nearly crushing. "Donít ever stay away so long again, Emmy. I mean it." He pulled away and set me down on the ground again. I looked up at him with appraising eyes, and was surprised to see a full beard, dark like his eyebrows in contrast to his blonde hair.
"God, you are such a good looking guy." I grinned. He smiled back.
"I know." He winked, and turned to Rebecca, giving her nearly as breathtaking a hug as heíd given me. I looked up to the porch to see my parents, and Billyís wife, Nina waiting for their turn. A little girl, about seven stood behind her mother watching us with curious green eyes, much the color of mine. A smaller boy ran around the front grass with an airplane, making flying noises as he ran. In Ninaís arms was yet another baby, a little girl who was asleep, tiny little head resting against her motherís breast. I turned to Billy.
"When did you get so many kids?"
"Well, if youíd come home now and then, maybe youíd know." He walked over to flyer boy, and put a proud hand on his narrow shoulder. "This is Kyle. Little Heather is playing shy behind Nina, and our newest bundle of joy, Rachel." Rebecca turned to me with a huge smile across her face. She adored kids, and I could tell that the new babysitter had arrived.
I headed up to the porch, and I was swept into another powerful hug by my father, and then taken into the warm, safe embrace of my mother.
"Iím so glad youíre here, honey." She whispered into my ear.
"I am, too, mom. I wouldnít miss this for the world."
It had been early February, and southern Colorado had been hit with a massive, out of nowhere storm that had dumped eighteen inches of snow on us. The town had been shut down for two days, and things were finally opening back up as the sun came out, and began to melt the snow.
I had bundled up in my winter jacket, and was beginning to shovel the sidewalk when something very wet, and very cold hit the side of my face. I gasped in surprise, and glanced to my right. Beth stood at the line between our two yards with a mile-wide smirk on her face, and a raised brow.
"Why did you do that?" I asked, my voice calm, belying my incredible need to pick up a nice handful, and chuck it at her.
"Because I can." She answered just as coolly. We stared at each other, neither moving, awaiting to see what the other person would do. Then as if an imaginary gun had gone off, I tossed the shovel, and she hit the deck as we both started making snowballs as fast as we could. "Ready?" she called.
"Yeah. Go!!" we stood, and began to throw as hard and as far as we could while trying to use as accurate of aim as possible. Within minutes we were both screaming as we were plowed one after the other, our hair hanging limply in our eyes as the snowballs exploded on contact. "Peace!" I cried as I ran out of ammo, but Bethís kept coming. "No!" I yelled as she moved forward, pelting me as she went. I fell to the wet ground, and covered my head with my arms as I took attack after attack, our giggling filled the air. When she ran out of snow, Beth collapsed next to me, and began to tickle me. I screamed out again as I twisted in the most bizarre ways to try and get away from torturous fingers.
"Say it! Say it, Em!" she laughed.
"No," I cried, almost out of breath from laughing so hard.
"Come on, uncle. Say uncle!í
"Uncle!" I finally exclaimed, about to pee my pants.
"Good girl." She got off me, and helped me up. "Snowman?" she asked, and I readily agreed.
Beth and I worked diligently trying to gather as much snow as we could to build a mammoth snow creation. The bottom ball was at least four feet around, and the entire thing close to six foot in height. We laughed and giggled like children.
"Iím gonna go get us some stuff for him." I grinned, and ran to the house, taking my boots off at the front door, then running full speed ahead.
"Whoa!" my mother called from the kitchen. "Whereís the fire?" I was half way up the stairs, and yelled as I ran.
"Iíve got to see this." She said. I ran into my room, and grabbed a long scarf, and some extra buttons from an old pair of pants, and my old cowboy hat. Just as I was about to head out, I glanced out the window, and gasped.
"Shit." I breathed as I watched Beth. She was making our snowman into a rather voluptuous snowwoman. "God," I muttered as I ran down the stairs, nearly knocking my mother over at the front door, her Polaroid in hand. "Hang on a sec, mom. Um, let us get her-it set up." I smiled as innocently as possible, ignoring her youíve lost your mind, look. I ran outside, nearly falling on my butt into the street. I turned on Beth who was still quite into her creation. "What are you doing?!" I asked, watching as large hands sculpted, and molded the snow into very realistic-looking breasts complete with very erect nipples. She turned and grinned at me.
"Iím making old Frosty here a Frosty-et."
"So I see." I glanced back up to the house to see my mother opening the front door. Turning back to the snowwoman, I threw the scarf around its thick neck, and strategically hung the ends over them.
"What are you doing?" Beth exclaimed, pushed back by me. I motioned toward my mother with my head.
"She canít see that." I hissed.
"Why? Your mom has seen boobs before, you know." She grinned.
"This looks great, girls." My mother laughed as she looked over our creation. I glanced down to make absolute sure the mounds could not be seen. Good to go. "Okay. Emmy, Beth, both of you get on either side. I have got to take a picture of this!" I plastered a smile on my face, my blood still boiling as my mother took her picture. She smiled at us one more time and shook her head as she headed back into the house. As soon as the front door closed, I turned on Beth, my fury burning in my cheeks.
"How dare you!" I growled. She smiled down at me, pissing me off that much more.
"What? Come on, Em. Have a sense of humor."
"I have a sense of humor, Beth, but not when you have some Mae West made of snow on my front lawn!" my voice echoed throughout the neighborhood. I looked around to make sure no one had heard me.
"Hey, if God can put balls on man, I sure as hell can put tits on a snowwoman." I just glared up at her.
"Thatís not funny, Beth." I turned to the creation, and threw the scarf off, to the ground, trying to pat down the icy mounds.
"My, Em!" Beth said. I could hear the anger in her voice. "You are so fucking worried what other people might think. Try and just be you for once!" she turned and walked away, toward her house. I stared after her, my fury rushing through my veins with every beat of my heart. Was she right? I turned back to the snowwoman. No. I was. This was all in fun, sure, but what if someone walked by, and saw this thing? They would think that I had done this! Why the hell couldnít she do this kind of crap in her own yard?
I turned around in a slow circle as I took in my room, smiling slightly at all the old posters that still hung on the walls. How outdated the stars were. I walked over to my dresser, and ran my fingers over its smooth surface, ending at my unicorn collection. I picked one of the porcelain figures up, and turned it over in my hands, running my fingers over its mane, forever blowing in an unseen wind. With a deep sigh, I turned to the window, small unicorn still in my hands. I looked out at the street, a red Mazda passing as I watched. Everything looked so much the same, yet so very different. I tried to see the street through young eyes, and bring back another time when I was another person. It was not so hard to imagine.
I laid back against my pillows, my legs crossed at the ankles, arms folded over my trusty teddy Ruffles, who lay on my chest. I stared out through the curtains as night began to fall, the sky slightly orange tinted from the light reflection off the snow. I was still angry, and hurt at Beth. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. True, she had just been having fun with the snowman, but all the same, she knew how I would feel about that; how uncomfortable it made me. It was total lack of consideration for me. She had been doing that a lot lately. I sighed as I thought of how worried I had been about her.
After the incident in the Looms, I had seen her coming home drunk so many times. She was rarely going to school, unless it was for Drama practice. I was surprised that Ms. White was allowing her to do Drama at all considering her grades. It wasnít my place to say anything, so I didnít.
I glanced over into the corner of the room, seeing our bags laying on the floor. This was where Rebecca and I were to stay while we were here. I sat down at the end of the bed, ran one of my hands over the blue and white bedspread. The only other person who had slept in that bed with me had been Beth.
I flopped back onto the soft mattress, stared up at the ceiling. How was I going to get through this? I could feel a lump beginning to form in my throat, and the familiar stinging behind my eyes. I squeezed them shut as I felt a tear slid out from under my lids. I held my breath as I tried to get them to stop as another followed the path of the first.
Aunt Kitty had fallen asleep finally after hours of my mother trying to soothe her raging headache. They had gotten worse. The doctor had said they would. I glanced across the dinner table at my mother. She looked so haggard and tired. She had been taking care of her baby sister for two weeks, and it was beginning to weigh on her. I knew she did not mind helping out my aunt, but the emotional toll on her was awful.
My father glanced up at her from under heavy brows, and shook his head. He had never been good at saying how and what he really felt. He was worried about both his wife and his sister-in-law, but just didnít have the vocabulary. I felt so sad. I was tired of feeling sad.
"Can I be excused?" I asked quietly. The house had been so hushed in those days. My mother had said that Aunt Kitty was staying with us while Ron was away, and until she got better. But we were all privately coming to terms with the fact that we were taking care of Aunt Kitty while Ron was away until she died.
"Go ahead, sweetie." My mother said absently, picking at her chicken. I stood, and headed outside to sit on the front porch, stared out into the star-filled sky. Aunt Kittyís dementia was getting worse. She sometimes had no idea where she was, or who she was with. The voices she heard were getting worse, too. I loved my aunt so much, and it was so hard for me to see her that way. I sighed and looked down at my tennis shoes when I heard some yelling. My head snapped to the right to Bethís house. Something crashed, followed by more yelling.
"You fuckiní stupid woman!" Beth bellowed followed by another crash. "Where is it? You took it from me, didnít you? Didnít you?"
"Get off me you goddamn kid! I donít know where the fuck your pot is! Let go, let go!" the front door slammed open, and Nora Sayers stumbled down the driveway to her car. She slammed the door shut, and a moment later the old Pinto sputtered to life, and she was gone. I watched on, my eyes bulging in shock. Finally snapping out of it, I stood and ran over to the well-lit house. The door was open, leaving me to stare at a house in shambles through the screen door. I could hear more crashing further into the house. Slowly I opened the door, and stepped into the hot, muggy place.
The place looked like it had been ransacked. Lamps were on the floor, cushions from the couch and chairs were laying on the floor with books and bits of paper.
"Beth?" I asked, carefully making my way through the house, not wanting to step on anything. "Beth?" I called again.
"Get the fuck out!" she yelled from deeper in. I headed toward the voice in Bethís room. I stood in the doorway, my mouth hanging open. Beth was in a rage, tearing posters off the walls, punching at the space behind them, her fist going through the drywall. "Fucking bitch!" she yelled as she tripped her way over to the dresser, grabbing an eight by ten framed picture of her father, and throwing it to the other side of the small room where it crashed into a hundred pieces. I looked at the ruined picture to see that it was of her father and her the summer she had gone to the summer camp. I swallowed, frightened by her temper.
"Beth?" I said quietly, taking a step inside the room.
"I said get the fuck out!" she screamed at me. My heart stopped. Bethís face was beat red from crying and being so upset, her eyes even more bright and vibrant than usual from all the tears, and one was quickly darkening into a deep shiner. Blood was smeared on her face, coming from her nose. Her hair was wild. She looked like some crazy Amazon of a woman, and her fury was quickly being directed toward me. "Get out!" she walked over to me, and pushed me. I lost my breath as I nearly lost my footing, holding onto the doorframe to keep my balance.
"No." I said defiantly. "Whatís going on, Beth?" I asked, stepping back into the room. She stared at me for a moment, then rushed back into the mess that was her room, throwing things, and tearing other things. I had never seen her like this. My god. Then my heart stopped all together as she went back to her dresser, and grabbed one of her acting trophies that she had gotten at camp. Without a word, she chucked it at the far wall, the silver cup bouncing, knocked off the base. She grabbed another, and did the same. "Beth!" I cried. Those trophies meant everything to her. "Please donít." my voice was thick, my vision blurry as I began to cry.
"What the fuck does it matter?" she roared, then she swept her hands across the dresser surface, sending all her prized awards, trophies and ribbons clattering to the floor as I sobbed.
"Oh, Beth." I whispered, my tears not allowing me to speak. Beth seemed to sober for just a moment, realizing what she had done, and her legs sagged out from underneath her. She leaned back against the wall, her head back, eyes shut tight as she cried. Not sure what to do, but knowing that I needed to get to her, I swiped a hand at my eyes, and hurried over to her, sinking down next to her. She kept crying as if I were not even there. "Beth?" I asked quietly. No answer. "Beth? Talk to me. What happened?"
"What do you care?" she asked bitterly, her eyes still closed. I reached for her arm, but she pulled it away. "Donít touch me." She breathed. I was stunned.
"I do care, Beth. Please talk to me." Finally she opened her eyes, and looked over at me. What I saw there scared me. There was no there there. Only empty space.
"Careful, Em. People might think you have a weird friend or something. Canít have that." I jumped back, feeling like Iíd been slapped. All I could do was stare. She smirked. "Wow. Emily Thomas speechless. Should write this one down."
"Why are you saying these things?" I asked, my throat tight.
"It doesnít matter anymore, Em. It just doesnít." she was quiet for a moment, the anger seeming to drain from her like water out of a hose. She took a deep breath, and leaned her head back against the wall again, staring up at the ceiling. "Theyíre dropping the Drama department." She said, her voice dull and lifeless. I glanced over at her, shocked.
"You heard me." She looked over at me. "Thatís it. Andy was fired this week."
"Why?" I was stunned. Drama was everything to Beth. It was her life.
"Donít need it. Football is so important, you know. Gotta have that football." She chuckled ruefully. "Bastards."
"Are you okay, Beth?" I asked, reaching a tentative hand out to touch her arm. She did not move it away.
"Do I look okay, Em?" she met my gaze, and my heart broke all over again. She was struggling. I could see it in her eyes. She was dying inside. "Thatís all I ever wanted to do. The only thing that kept me in that fucking place." Her eyes began to well up. I wanted so badly to pull her to me, but didnít dare. There was still that dangerous look that lurked just beneath the surface. A look that I had never seen before, and definitely had never seen aimed at me. She spoke again, pulling me from my reverie. "What am I going to do now? I give a shit about school, and homework, and all that." She looked at me again. "Iím not smart like you, Em. Brains are your thing. This is mine. This is my craft, the one thing that I have that only I can touch. Only I can feel." Her eyes began to fill in earnest then. "The only time people look at me as if I am something. Some body." Her face crumbled before my eyes, and she was in my arms in a heartbeat. I held her as she clung to me, her sobs wracking her body. Her heart was broken. "Thatís all I have, Em. How can they take it away from me?"
"I donít know, honey. I just donít know." I whispered into her hair as I rocked her gently back and forth. I knew that Beth needed the theater like most people needed food. She would be lost without it. I closed my eyes as I listened to the labored sounds of her breathing against the backdrop of her tears. I remained quiet, knowing there was not one thing I could say that would ease her pain. Finally I felt her pulling away from me. I let go, and looked over at her. She ran her fingers over her eyes and then wiped her nose.
"Please go, Em." She whispered, turning away from me.
:"Please?" she turned pleading eyes on me, and I stared long and deep into those two pools of ocean. Finally I nodded. I stood, and headed to the door, but turned back to her, my hand on the frame. She had not moved from the floor.
"Beth?" I said quietly. She did not answer, but I knew she was listening. "And youíre wrong. You donít need that stage to be somebody. Youíre always a somebody to me."
I walked through the living room, staring at the mess. With a sigh I began to pick up the downed chair, and put its cushions back in place. As I stood, and noticed something slip out from underneath. A clear plastic bag. The kind used for sandwiches. I picked it up, my brows drawn. I glanced back over my shoulder to see Bethís door still firmly closed. Turning back to the bag, I saw the brown flakes all mixed together, along with two tightly rolled, small cigarettes. Instinctively I knew that this is what Beth had been looking for when she started fighting with Nora. I was torn. Not sure what to do. I held the bag to me for a moment, then began to put it in my Jeanís pocket, determined to get rid of it. I hated the idea that Beth was doing it.
I headed toward the front door, but then stopped, taking the bag out of my pocket again. I turned back toward Bethís door, stopping in the dark hall just outside her room. I raised my fist, ready to knock on the door when I heard the melancholy sounds of La Triviata easing out from under it. I stared at the closed door for a moment, trying to decide what to do. With a small sigh, I lowered my hand, and turned to see a hamper next to the wall by her door. I laid the plastic bag down on its top, and headed out of the Sayersí house.
I stared up at the dark ceiling, my hands behind my head, Rebecca breathing softly beside me. It had been a long day, filled with rediscovery, but all the same I could not sleep. I glanced across the room to the dresser to see that it was almost midnight. My head snapped to the bedroom door as a quiet knock sounded on it.
"Emmy?" I heard whispered on the other side. My mother.
"Yeah?" I whispered back. The door slowly opened, the hall light spilling into the room a bit. She peeked her head in.
"Midnight tea?" she asked, a slight grin on her face. I grinned back, and quietly climbed out of bed, careful not to wake up my lover. We made our way downstairs to the kitchen, and I grabbed the tea bags as my mother filled the kettle, and put it on the stove.
"Iíd forgotten about this." I smiled over my shoulder at her. She nodded, her back to me as she turned on the stove.
"Itís been awhile." She turned to me, a package in each hand. "Oreoís or chocolate chunk?" I pointed to the blue package of Oreoís, and met her at the table with two paper towels. We sat across from each other, and began to dig in. I closed my eyes as my tongue swept up the creamy filling. It had been so long.
"Mmmm." I moaned as I bit into the dark cookie. She smiled as she bit into her own cookie.
"I told you when you were a kid not to grow up too fast, Emmy. This is what happens. You forget about Oreoís."
"Yeah." I said quietly, twisting the top off another cookie. "Seems Iíve forgotten all kinds of things."
The tea pot began to whistle, and I grabbed us a couple of mugs as my mom took the kettle off the burner, pouring hot water into each cup.
"Do you know what today is?" she asked as she put the kettle back on the burner.
"Saturday?" I asked, dipping the mint tea bag into the cup, the water slowly turning a light, honey brown, getting darker by the dip. She raised a brow at me, and I grinned sheepishly.
"Very good, honey. I knew I had a smart daughter. Besides, smart ass, technically itís Sunday." She poured some sugar into her cup, then the tea bag. I had always wondered why she did it that way. She said the sugar got mixed in better. I say it made the sugar sink to the bottom faster. "No, today is the anniversary of Aunt Kittyís death." I glanced up at her, my eyes wide. Wow. How long had it been? I mentally did a tally in my head, and came up with eighteen years. My god. Almost twenty years ago. Where does the time go?
"You keep track?" I asked, sipping to make sure it was strong enough, the minty steam wafting up to tickle my nose, and cause instant perspiration on my forehead. My mother nodded.
"I put flowers on her grave every year. I went this afternoon. I sat there for awhile, telling her all about Beth. She always really liked her." She sipped at her tea, scrunching her features as the hot liquid burned her tongue. I looked at my mother. She was still a very pretty lady, her blonde hair shorter than when we were kids, but very cute, and looked easy to care for. Just the slightest bit of gray showing through. Her green eyes were still bright, but the lines around them were more defined, the smile lines not completely disappearing when she stopped smiling. If I didnít know better, I would never had believed she was in her late fifties.
"Iíve been thinking a lot lately." I said, turning my eyes back to the cookie I was about to eat. "Have you seen Ron lately?"
"Oh, I see him and is wife around town now and then. Once he retired from the Air Force, he settled down back here in town. Heís always very nice. Once in a while when I go to put flowers on Kittyís grave, I see some there that are relatively new. I always wonder if theyíre his."
"Could be." I said, draining my cup, and standing to get more hot water. I offered the kettle to my mother, but she declined. "He always really loved her." I sat back down and prepared my second cup. "You know, I have not had tea in quite some time." I smiled. My mother stared at me, her expression incredulous.
"Say it isnít so? You, my little girl, have switched to coffee?" I nodded, and she placed her hand on her chest. "No. I never thought you would become a traitor. Didnít I teach you better than that?" I chuckled.
"Yes, but Iím afraid coffee keeps me more awake than tea does." We were both quiet as we got lost in our own thoughts. Then my mother broke the silence.
"Itís been wonderful. Iíve been baby-sitting for your brother and Nina now that sheís gone back to work." I smiled up at her, then realized that she had no idea about Rebecca and I. Time like this I realized just how absorbed I had become in my own life; forgetting that perhaps my family may want to know what we were up to.
"Rebecca and I are trying." I said quietly, not sure what her reaction would be. I knew that over time my mother had grown to love and see Rebecca as her own, but this was an entirely different matter. Not everyone thought gays and lesbians should have children. Once again I had underestimated my mother.
"What? Children?" she asked, her face lighting up like a Christmas tree. I nodded, still trying not to get my hopes up just yet. Her eyes immediately filled, and the warmest smile spread across her face. "Oh, honey." She whispered, standing, pulling me to my feet. I found myself engulfed in a massive hug. "Oh, baby, why didnít you tell me?" she gently pushed me away to look into my face. I smiled and wiped a tear away with my thumb.
"Well, for one I didnít know how you would react to it. What you would think, oomph!" I laughed as I was squeezed again. "Okay, so I take it youíre excited?"
"Excited? Honey, I wan as many grandchildren as I can possibly get!í she pulled away from me again, finally letting me go. We both sat back down, but she grabbed my hand, holding it within her own. She leaned over the table to give me her full attention. "How long have you been trying?"
"Just under a year. Itís been slow going." She let out a long sigh.
"How wonderful to try for new life on top of all this death." She gave me a smile that melted my heart, and dashed any remaining doubts or fears. "You two will make such wonderful mothers."
"I hope so." I muttered. I had wanted children since I had been a little girl, but with the hours I worked, and the life I had created for myself, I often worried if I had become too selfish for a child I had never shared those deepest thoughts even with Rebecca, but they were very valid, and very nagging.
"Oh!" My eyes snapped up to look at my mother who had hopped up from her seat. "I came across the most beautiful picture of you while cleaning the other day." She disappeared into the living room only to return a moment later. She placed the shot on the table next to my mug. I grabbed it, holding it up to my eyes. The caption read: Emmy in deep thought- 1984. I was bundled up in my dark green winter jacket, standing outside during a cold day. I was standing on a mountain top, the Rockies covered with snow behind me. My hair was blowing back from my face, my eyes squinted ever so slightly against the cold breeze. The expression that I held had my eyes dark green, my brows drawn, posture pensive.
"Come on, Emmy. Just smile once for me. Please? I gotta leave soon." I had turned quickly to my brother, flashed a wide, fake smile, then turned back to look at the mountains. I had nothing to smile about that day. He snapped the camera as I turned away.
I turned away, not wanting to see Mr. Buckleyís sympathetic smile as I shoved my notebook into my backpack. I thought if I looked at the young teacher, I would burst out into tears. I didnít want to do that in the middle of AP English. I made my way through the maze of desks, and out into the hall. Mom had given me the choice of going home, or staying in school. Whatever would make it easier for me, she had said.
The halls were empty as it was in the middle of fourth period. I walked down the long corridor, my backpack slung over one shoulder. I stared down at the highly polished tile floor, the reflection of the door at the end of the hall making parts of the floor blindingly bright. It was a surprisingly nice, clear day considering we were in October.
As I passed the office, headed to senior hall, I glanced inside to see the secretaryís typing away on computer keyboards, or talking on the phone. Two students sat in the waiting area, waiting to see Mr. Edwards about Saturday school I figured. One of them stared at me as I passed, his look of curiosity quickly turning to boredom as he glanced back at the Math book that sat in his lap.
I felt surreal as I walked, the office note still bundled up in my hand. As soon as the office aid had walked into our classroom, my stomach had lurched. I had had a bad feeling. The girl had walked over to Mr. Buckley, handed him the message, then walked out. My eyes did not leave our teacher as I watched him read the message, and his features fell. He looked up, glancing around the room until his eyes landed on me. When he saw he had my attention, he beckoned me to his desk. With shaky legs, I had stood and somehow managed to walk over to him. He handed me the note with a gentle pat to the arm.
I saw my locker just up ahead, and reached out for the lock. I felt like I was moving in slow motion as I put in my combination, and pulled the lock down with a metallic clang, and grabbed the books Iíd need for the homework Mr. Buckley had given me, and closed it back up. I still did not feel anything. I just felt numb inside, like someone had reached in and taken out all the important parts in me. I knew it was just a matter of time before it hit me, but for now I had something to do; get home in one piece.
I re-zipped my backpack with the added books, and to my surprise, the whole bag fell to that highly polished floor. I stared dumbly down at it, not sure how it had gotten there, then before I could stop myself, I leaned back against the cold, metal lockers, and slid down until I landed on my butt with a quiet oomph. I sat there, my legs bent at the knee, hands at my sides on the cool floor, and stared down at my shoes. I didnít know what else to do. Was it real? Had she finally gone? Nothing the doctorís could do? Donor didnít arrive in time? My chin fell to rest against my chest. My thoughts receded into the darkest part of my mind. I didnít want to think about it, but I couldnít stop thinking. I didnít know how long I sat there when somewhere in the real world I heard the sound of soft-soled shoes approaching, stopping just in front of me.
"Gee. Looks serious." I imagined the now ever-present smirk on her face, so didnít even bother to look up. "What, did the captain of the football team dump you, or something?"
"Go away. Leave me alone." I muttered. I did not need this.
"No. Guess not. Maybe the captain of the chess club."
"I said leave me the fuck alone." I heard the slight pop of bad knee joints as she kneeled down to her haunches. I glanced up to see surprised blue eyes looking at me.
"Whoa. Whatís up?" Beth asked, her voice softening. I did not want to talk to her. Ever since the incident at her house, she had been a walking zombie, just a shell of who she had been. There was no life behind those eyes then; only a bitter attitude that she doled out to anyone unlucky enough to evoke it. I felt like she was lost to me.
"Please just leave me alone." I said, my voice losing itís commanding force. Though I was angry and hurt with Beth, she still represented a source of strength to me. I did not want to fall into that. To my dismay she moved over, and settled back against the lockers next to me. I could feel her intense gaze on me. I looked over at her, and met her eyes for a moment. She stared deeply into what felt like my soul. She must have seen something there as understanding washed over her features, and she opened her arms to me. Reluctantly I fell against her, my fingers burying themselves into the front of her flannel. Her arms around me were strong and capable.
"Ah, Em. Iím so sorry, honey. So sorry." She murmured into my hair. My resolve crumbled as my soul shattered into a million pieces. She held me, letting me cry. We had all known it was coming, but you can never be prepared for it, for someone you love to die and leave you all alone on earth without their special brand of importance to you. Faintly I heard more footsteps, and then voices that were like distant echoes down a long tunnel.
"Whatís wrong with her?" someone asked.
"Go away." Beth growled low in her throat.
"You deaf?" the footsteps moved quickly away, and I didnít care. Beth held on tighter, her hand in my hair, the other holding the back of my neck. My chest ached as the emotion poured out of me, leaving a wet trail on Bethís shirt. My throat felt raw, my face tight with burning eyes. Finally I was able to get myself under some modicum of control, and pulled away from her. Beth ran cool fingers over heated cheeks, brushing hair back away from my face that was stuck to the tear trails. She looked down at me with such tenderness.
"You okay?" she whispered. My throat hurt too much to talk, so I nodded. She smiled. "Give me your keys. Letís get out of here."
"What about your class?" I managed to croak out. She chuckled lightly.
"You think Iím out in these halls for my health? Letís blow this joint."
Beth helped me to stand on wobbly legs, and grabbed my backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. After signing out in the office, I walked out of the building, numbly handing her the keys to my Jeep. I wondered how my mother was doing.
My mother had gone up to bed about an hour ago, but I sat there in the kitchen, the light above the sink my only light as I stared out the dark window into the backyard. The trampoline that Billy and I had had growing up had long since been sold. The big yard looked so empty without it. I sipped from my mug of coffee. Thank god dad drank the stuff, or I would have been out of luck. The strong, dark taste pushed all need of sleep to the back of my mind. I felt alert, and needed to walk.
I bundled up to keep the cold, October night air away, and slipped quietly out of the house. The street was so quiet, only a far away dog barking now and then. I stuffed my gloved hands into the deep pocket of my London Fog, and stared up into the sky. It had a pinkish hue to it, and I could smell snow in the air. I loved that smell. I loved the snow. And I had missed the smell of fresh air that New York doesnít often offer. Crisp, clean, clear out the lungs. I breathed in deep through my nose, letting out the breath through my mouth, watching as the crystallized air disappeared into the night.
I glanced over at the Sayersí house as I passed it, taking in itís chipped paint, overgrown grass and bushes along the front of the house. A truck was in the driveway. I wondered if it belonged to Nora. Or did she still even live there? Then almost in answer, I saw a large puff of smoke rising into the air near the front door that could not be seen from the massive bush that grew in front of it. I stopped, unsure of what to do. Then, I retraced my steps, and walked toward the driveway, just enough so I could see who sat smoking. To my surprise, it was Nora Sayers. She followed my progress with her eyes, never losing a beat as smoke poured out of her nose and mouth.
"Mrs. Sayers." I said quietly, standing just at the start of the path that would lead to the front stoop.
"How ya doing, Emily?" she asked, her voice deep and rough from too many years of hard drinking and smoking.
"Quite well, thank you." I said, taking a small step forward. She smiled, the deep lines around her mouth deepening more.
"I ainít going to bite, you know." I smiled, and walked up to the porch. Nora Sayers had always made me incredibly nervous. Even now as a woman in her mid-thirties, I did not feel comfortable with her. "So I hear youíre some kind of lawyer?" she said, snuffing the half-smoked butt into an ashtray next to her. I nodded.
"Yes. I live in New York, now."
"Good for you, hon. I always knew youíd be something special. Even when you was a kid." The compliment meant nothing to me coming from her. Why couldnít she have had as much confidence in her own daughter? I thanked her anyway. "So, what you doing up so late?" I dug my hands deeper into my pockets, and glanced up at the sky.
"Couldnít sleep." She nodded, and stood.
"I hear you. Havenít been able to sleep a wink in about a week." She put a hand on my shoulder, and I got a good look at her. Nora was younger than my mother, but looked at least ten years older. Gone was the beautiful woman of my youth. "Freezing my ass off. Gonna go try and get some sleep. Good to see you again, Emily." With that, she headed back into the house. I watched her, and then headed back toward the sidewalk. She had not mentioned Beth once. Did she even give a damn?
I turned right at the end of the Sayersí drive, not even thinking of a destination, just that I needed to walk. I gazed at the quiet houses around me, wondering who lived in them, and what they did. My mother had told me that much of the old neighborhood was gone. New families moving in every year. My feet stopped suddenly, and I was not surprised to find myself at the start of the trail to the Bowl. With a small smile, I headed down the semi-dark trail. I could have walked back in time, for all I knew. It looked exactly the same; all the trees on either side of the path, slightly overhanging it, blocking out the moonlight. As I got closer, I could see the scarce light reflecting off the rippling water of the small pond. I chuckled to myself when I glanced down at the small body of water. It had seemed so much bigger to me as a kid. I walked in a circle, taking in everything around me, my eyes stopping when I saw a small tent in the trees, pictures of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on the sides. The circular light from a flashlight lens could be seen through the thin walls. I grinned, and decided to leave before I scared the occupants to death.
"What was that, Beth?" I had asked, my green eyes the size of saucers. My best friend looked around, her eyes just as big. We could see nothing through the blue walls of our tent, but imagined we could. She slowly shook her head.
"Donít know." She whispered. Being the brave soul she was, she grabbed up our flashlight, and unzipped the tent flap, crawling out of the small opening. I sat, holding my breath as I waited for her to come back. Our first night "camping" at the Bowl, and I had been scared to death. I had been so glad that Beth had been there. I knew she could protect me. I jumped when someone tapped the tent, my breath held in my throat.
"Beth?" I whispered. She didnít answer. "Beth?" I asked again, my voice becoming desperate. Another thump, and another gasp from me. Oh no. Beth was captured, I just knew it. They were coming for me. I scrambled onto all fours, and searched for another flashlight when the flap suddenly opened, and Bethís smiling face looked in at me. I glared, rolling my eyes at her mischievous look.
I turned around, heading for the path again when my long coat brushed some bushes. I grinned as I heard a whispered,
"What was that?"
Our time at the Bowl was over. It belonged to the new generation. Now all I felt was like an intruder. A giant who had no place among the little people. It was a daunting feeling.
I headed back toward my parentís house, looking into the street. That had been where I had learned to ride a bike for the first time, where an endless number of adventures and games of football had been played out. Where I ran over the mailbox twice. It all felt so strange, and unknown to me as an adult. Did everyone feel that way after going home?
I stood in the darkness of my old room, removing my clothes.
"Babe?" was quietly whispered. I turned to the bed. Rebeccaís head was raised, but I could not see her face.
"Yeah?" I said, tossing my shirt into the pile on the floor.
"Fine." I walked over to the bed, and crawled under the blankets, feeling her grab me, and pull me to her. She was warm from being under the blankets, and I snuggled up to her, the chill night air finally getting to me. With a soft sigh, I closed my eyes.
The ride over to the church seemed to take forever. I sat in the backseat of my parentís car, my hands beginning to sweat in my lap. I felt a soft touch on my knee, and turned to meet soft, blue eyes. I tried to return the smile, but if faltered somewhere. I got an understanding nod instead. I turned my attention back to the street, and passing cars around us, wishing that I were in any of them, going anywhere but where I was going.
I ran my hands down my legs to smooth the skirt of my black dress. The church was cold, I noticed. I wondered why. I watched as my parents walked out from the side room, my mother wiping at her eyes with a Kleenex, my father leading her by the elbow toward the sanctuary. I glanced back to that small room, unsure if I would be able to go in or not. I felt warmth along my right side, and turned to see Beth, never more than a few inches away from me. I could see just the barest bit of the shiny, brown casket from the doorway. I took a deep breath, and took a step forward, then stopped. My heart was in my mouth, and I couldnít breath.
"Itís okay, Em." Beth whispered in my ear. I leaned back into her a bit, then turned away from the door.
"I canít." I murmured
"Itís okay. You donít have to." She said, rubbing my back with her hand. "Kitty wonít know the difference, anyway." I turned to look into Bethís eyes. She looked so beautiful in her black pant suit. It was well-fitted, and looked gorgeous on her. She wore her long hair down, the colors coming in from the stained glass window turning its darkness into brilliant red and blue. "Letís just go sit down, okay?" I nodded, and let her lead me to the sanctuary by my hand.
I glanced around as I sat in the wingback next to the fireplace. Beth sat on the hearth, her hand on my knee in support. People talked in that hushed tone that always seemed to befit a funeral. They balanced plates of food as they looked for a place to sit. I glanced down at the nearly full cup of bunch that sat my feet. Beth had been trying all afternoon to get me to eat something, but I couldnít do it. She had never left my side. I wondered if she would ever know just what her presence had meant to me.
"Thereís a lot of people here." Beth said quietly. I nodded, but said nothing. It had been a huge funeral. Usually when one so young dies, it is. It made me proud to know that my aunt had touched so many people in her short life. Ron walked out of the kitchen, his black tie loosened a bit, the top button of his shirt open. He had held it together in the church admirably. But once we got to the cemetery, he had lost it. I had watched him, holding on to his brother, Steve as if his life had depended on it. I donít think there had been a dry eye as we all watched his anguish, sitting in the front row near her grave. My father, who had been sitting behind him, had kept one hand on my motherís shoulder, and the other on Ronís through the whole ceremony. Ron glanced over at us, and smiled weakly. I did the same, but we could both see it in the otherís eyes.
I looked around our living room, and the last place Aunt Kitty had ever seen. She had lived with us for just under six months. I thought back to a week ago, just two days before she had died.
"Honey, your aunt wants some water. Will you take this down to her?" my mother had asked as I walked into the kitchen, a long day at school behind me.
"Sure." I took the small pitcher and glass, and headed downstairs. I tried to go see my aunt at least once a day, but with the hectic schedule I had, she was usually already asleep. I walked toward the closed door of my brotherís old room, and quietly pushed it open with my shoulder, both hands full. My auntís head turned slowly, and she smiled when she saw me. I smiled back. "Hey, you." I said.
"Hi." She whispered. It had been rare to hear her talk above a whisper for a month or so. I set the glass on the side table, and poured water into it, then helped her to drink. She closed her eyes as the water slid down a parched throat, and smiled a thanks. It was truly heartbreaking to see her. She was almost skeletal, her cheeks shrunken in, making already big eyes bulge. Her hair, which used to be so rich and thick, was dull, looking more like straw. "Have a good day?" she asked, her eyes full of interest. I nodded.
"Wasnít bad. I had to fill out some more forms today for my scholarship. Thatís such a pain." I sat on the side of her bed, careful not to jostle her too much.
"Iím so proud of you, Emmy." She breathed, reaching her hand out. I grabbed it, and held it in my lap, gently caressing the frail skin. "You make me happy seeing you so involved with your life." I smiled, but said nothing. "Howís Beth?" she asked after a moment.
"I donít know. She wonít talk to me." I said, staring off out the window. So much pain was attached to that name.
"Donít let her go, honey." She said, her eyes pleading.
"I donít have a choice, Aunt Kitty."
"Sure you do."
"How are you doing?" I was snapped out of my reverie by my brother. I looked up at him with wide eyes. He grinned.
"Fine." I said with a nervous smile. He patted my shoulder, and bent down so he was mere inches away.
"Listen, Emmy, you need anything, you tell me, okay?" I smiled up at my big brother, and nodded. He gave me a light peck on the cheek, and walked away. I looked on as the crowd seemed to be thinning a bit. Then I looked to the wall above the couch, and saw the family portrait we had taken the fall before. My gaze met that of my aunt, and I felt my throat clench shut, and the tears just below the surface.
"Are you okay, Em?" Beth whispered, squeezing my knee. I bowed my head, taking deep breaths so I wouldnít lose it again. I was so tired of crying. "Em?" I couldnít answer. "Come on." I felt myself being pulled to my feet, and blindly I followed as Beth pulled me by my hand. We walked through the crowd of people, headed toward the stairs. My father was coming down as we started to go up. He stopped, as did we. I nearly ran into Bethís back. My father recovered his surprise, and glanced down at our joined hands, then his eyes traveled up to meet my eyes. I couldnít read his expression.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Emís getting upset again. Iím taking her upstairs so she can calm down." Beth answered, her head raised defiantly, her protective mode kicking in to my fatherís speculative gaze. He nodded, and walked on. I next found myself in my room. Beth let go of my hand, and went to the bathroom to return a moment later with a warm washcloth. I stood in the middle of my room, my shoulders slumped, my eyes feeling so heavy. I just wanted to lay down and sleep. Forever.
"Here." I looked up to find Beth standing in front of me, the washcloth in her hand. I ignored the cloth, and collapsed into her. "Whoa." She breathed, nearly toppling over backward. She wrapped her arms around me, holding me tight as I felt my emotions rise, and spill over my reserve. I cried like I had never cried before. I was crying for my aunt. I was crying for Beth. I was crying for me. I was crying for all that could be, but never would. Soon, to my surprise I felt Bethís body shaking against mine as she cried her own tears, for her own reasons. My tears almost immediately dried up in my concern for her. I rested my face against the warm skin of her neck as she did mine, and rubbed my hands up and down her back, raising to play in her hair, then back down to soothe across the wide expanse of her shoulders. The sensations under my fingertips were amazing. I felt her pull even closer as her tears slowed, finally dying altogether.
We stood where we were, just holding each other, our bodies swaying slightly. I closed my eyes as I felt utterly content. Being in Bethís arms like that was like coming home. I needed to feel her, to know she was still with me. I opened my eyes only to close them again as I felt warm lips against my neck. I buried my face deeper into her, intoxicated by her smell. The lips moved up to my ear, warm breath tickling the flesh there. I heard my name barely whispered. I raised my head ever so slightly, why, I did not know. It was almost on instinct, or as if my body had gained a mind all itís own. My fingers found their way into thick, dark hair, leading somehow. I felt hands on my back, running down lower with every caress, my lower body on fire, begging to be next. The lips moved from my ear to my throat, my head arching back even more. Those roaming hands found their way to my side, moving up my ribs up to the sides of my breasts, gentle thumbs exploring over increasingly sensitive areas. Another hand found its way down some more, cupping one side of my butt, pulling me ever closer to the warmth. Eyes still closed, my lips opened for what I sensed was coming. I felt those warm lips move up my throat, over my chin, and finally finding mine. I leaned into her as a sigh escaped me, and I gave in to the pressure against my mouth, willing it to crush me, eat me alive. The softest touch of a tongue ran over my lip, and my own tongue reached out, desperate to touch, and invite. Beth groaned deep in her throat as she filled me, her hand on the back of my head to bring me in as much as possible. I was being barraged by sensation when I was pulled from my world with the soft knocking on my bedroom door.
"Emmy?" I pulled away from Beth, my chest heaving. Her cheeks were stained red, as I had no doubt mine were. I stared at her, backing up a step to put some distance between us.
"Yes?" I managed to call out.
"You okay?" Billy asked. "Sorry to bother you, but dad asked me to come up and check on you." I closed my eyes and swallowed hard.
"Iím fine." I blurted out. I could hear my brotherís steps as he walked away. I could not look away from Beth as I stood there, realization of what had just happened, and what could have happened set in. Her eyes began to wonder, looking at anything but me. She reached into her jacket pocket, bringing out a hairband. With shaking hands, she began to pull her long hair back away from her face.
"Why did you do that?" I finally breathed. Blue eyes darted to meet mine. She stared at me for a moment.
"Why did you let me?" she asked, her voice quiet, calm. Deadly calm.
"I didnít." I ran my hands through my hair, my heart still pounding.
"Well, I sure as hell didnít force you." Her voice dropped yet another octave.
"Damnit, Beth! Iím not into that!" I yelled. My panic was quickly turning to guilt, which was quickly turning to anger. At who?
"Then maybe you shouldnít have started something you didnít want." She growled, her eyes on fire. I met her gaze dagger for dagger.
"I was vulnerable. You, you took advantage of that. I-"
"I donít have to hear this shit." She took a step toward the door, then turned to look over her shoulder. "Especially not from you."
"Get out, Beth. Get out and donít come back." My voice was shaking. I couldnít believe I had just said that. I couldnít breath. She turned slowly to fully face me, searching my face to see my sincerity. She must have seen something that she didnít like. She took a deep breath, adjusting her shoulders as if she had just been slapped.
"Later." She said, her voice barely audible, and she turned to open the door, closing it with a soft click behind her.
I stood where I was, staring at the door in shock. What had just happened? A wave of nausea raced through me, and I hurried over to the bed, plopping down face first as the tears came yet again that day.