Dear Readers,

I'm not very good at being persistent with my chapters like some of you champs on this site that can shove the chapters right out your ears like no other. (I'm jealous of you if you can!). I would've had this out about a week ago but unfortunately I didn't save it right on my sister's laptop and I came back from spending a day out with my boyfriend and I came back the next afternoon and POOF! It was gone…without a trace. So, after a week of rewriting everything from memory and some plot notes I had written out and several rough drafts and yet again, getting more ideas as I was writing, here it is. I hope you haven't lost faith in me yet. Please review. J



"So," I began as Andy and me got back into his truck after successfully riding almost every roller coaster repeatedly. And we had both ended up puking after snaking on Dippin' Dots, cheese fries and a funnel cake. Yep, we're fatties. "That was fun."

Andy looked at me as he slammed his door shut then burst into laughter. After a few moments of laughter he laid his hand on my shoulder with eyes glittering with pure happiness.

"Oh my god! I can't believe we did that."

"It was your idea!" I giggled.

Andy shook his head. " could've stopped me though."

"Ha!" I said, Andy started the truck. "Stop you? Andy Goldbem is very hard to defeat."

"Very True." Andy smiles, looking around for any oncoming cars. "Hey, which reminds me." he said, quieter he was probably talking more to himself than to me. He pulled out a wrinkled sheet of notebook paper and pulled a pen out of the glove compartment and scribbled an "X" next to something.

"You still have the list?"

Andy gave me a wild look. "Yeah, you're my best friend but I won't be yours in your opinion until I do all this stuff on the list."


Andy shook his head. "No, I want to do this; Fair and square."

I gave up. Andy could be so competitive sometimes, it was unreal. It was like when we were little; we'd play out the Lion King with other kids on the block and pretend to be lions. Seriously, we acted out the whole movie. Andy always had to be Simba and I always ended up as his mother somehow. Except for that one times when Angel, my neighbor was sick with the chicken pox and I got to be Nala. And if we played House, everything had to be his way. I considered Andy my best friend, but of course he had to do it the hard way. I rolled my eyes.

"AJ, I was talking to my mom last night when you were sleeping and she mentioned something to me. Well, a few things actually. But...there was one big thing I wanted to tell you..."

I drew in a deep breath, preparing myself.

"Don't get upset. Okay?"

"No promising." I say with difficulty.

"Well, my mom is friends with another psychiatrist, her name is Mary Danielson. She's pretty young and I guess gets along with teenagers really well. My mom is more experienced with adults who've dealt with some sort of trauma or right out of jail patients. Anyway, Mary is trying to form a group or a club or soemthing for kids who've dealt with stuff like you have...AJ, I really think you should go. It's not a clinic or school or anything. You would meet at her office with a few other kids around our age and just talk. Or maybe you could just talk to her too if you don't want to talk to me or my mom about it. It could really help and maybe someone can, shed some light on you. Help you more than I can."

You're all I need, I thought to myself but when I looked into Andy's bright blue eyes swimming were pleading and hope, I couldn't say no and the more I thought about it. The more it sounded...okay. I could handle that. It wasn't a clinic, just like a youth group at church. Something I wasn't drawn into.

"Are there any strings attached?" I ask, not wanting to be tied down with a chain.

"As far as I know, no. I mean, you go when you can and just talk. Get advice and help."

"I'll go." I said after a few minutes of thinking everything over.

"You won't fight me like yesterday?" he prodded.

"I had a really hard day the other day and you know it."

"AJ, you went hysterical on me, screaming and kicking, I mean....I knew it was coming. The major breakdown I guess. But, man. It still hit me really hard and to actually see and sort of...feel your pain. I just want you to get better."

I nodded and look ahead into traffic. "There's something else, right? That you want me to do."

Andy swallows. "Yeah. You know, it's been almost three months since it happened. I think maybe you should pack away some of her things."

Whoa, a giant wave of pain hit me so hard in the chest I felt like it stopped my heart from the impact. I was not ready for that. I clenched my fist to control myself and looked away out my window quickly to hide my reaction and trying to calm myself. Tears burned at the thought of putting away her things forever....even selling some. Rosie had not even mentioned that part of the whole mom dying thing to me. Maybe she was afraid too, like Andy was.

"I don't know."

"You'll ever be able to start healing if you don't put some of her behind you."

"It's so hard though." I choked through my throat. I wrapped my arms around myself.

"You can do it. I know you can. I'll help you if you want."

"I need something to do tomorrow. So, I'll start."

"Really? What's it to you today?"

I love you, I shrugged to him. I'd never tell him I loved him as much as I did.

I stepped out of my room and into the hallway after I had taken a shower and put my hair in a messy bun as I prepared for one of the hardest days I had yet to face. I had put this off for so long, I wasn't sure I could do it. Daisy was still asleep on my bed; she was so lazy these days. I looked back at her all curled up in a big ball on my full bed and smiled. She could always do that to me if Andy wasn't around to make me.

And then, I stepped across the hall and into the space where I had forbidden myself to go since Mom's death. I had kept her door open because I knew if I closed it, it would be like throwing my mother out of the house forever. And that wasn't an option for me. I'm looking back at this place that was my home, the way it used to be. This was her home, her domain. This was her room, this was her space. And I don't mean like myspace, where anyone and everyone can enter it, just me and her and the dog.

This was her bastion; this was her stronghold, her fort or alamo. This had been her house and when I turned eighteen, it would be mine. But not really a "We must protect this house" house or a house party house or a house of the dead house, or not even a house like House of Pain. Even though I felt the hole in my chest beginning to swell up and ache.

When I was little, this was like a castle to me with the sky blue walls with flowers painted all over them, she had done that when she was pregnant with me when she first bought the house. I used to jump up and down on her canopy bed and take naps with Daisy when she was still a puppy. Mom would put a CD in her boom box and we'd dance around the room and play dress up.

They say a little girl should always have her "palace" to play in and this room was for me. It had a moat, a drawbridge, a never ending feast, an army of wenches on hand, a court jester, a wizard in one of the far towers, and a messenger to let me know when foreigners approached so I could raise up the bridge and get the archers ready. And if Andy came over to play with me, he was the Prince. And sure, the door lock never actually prevented any entry, but it was there to give a few seconds of advanced warning, and that was all I ever needed. In my imagination, this was paradise.

This place was my hideout sometimes. I set it up so I and only I knew where everything was, with my own places so no one knew the places and didn't know "how she does what she does." Each pile of laundry placed in meticulously tragic fashion by habit so that to the untrained eye it looked sloppy and rabid but as it happened there was a method to my madness. I'd hide in her e for hours until Mom would sing out my name and finally find me and pick me up in her arms and kiss my cheeks and tell me I was "her baby" forever.

The back left corner.... That was my corner I discovered when I was ten, where her desk still sat like always. I'd stoop over like a mad scientist with evil, twisted, demented and conspiring experimentation bent on world domination, even though all it ever amounted to, as far as abomination, was words, words, words in different formations and operations regarding my own inner postulations, or finding amusement and relaxation on a youtube station or playing my Xbox or portable play station.

There's her walk-in closet. I never really went in there; Mom wouldn't care if I did. But, I was a little girl and I was afraid of monsters and ghouls trying to spook me. But, when we played dress up, we'd always go in there.

But now I come back to the best part of the whole suite. The sweet section, the center of sleep, and the cloud we'd fall onto when the day needs to stall, when she'd leave one day of brawls before another one calls. The huge canopy bed, she called it her dreamboat years ago and this is where she always got her rest and her beauty sleep. She told me the prettiest girls don't have to have all the makeup, just the glow in their cheeks and a spark in their eyes. I could remember coming into her room before I went to bed and find her sitting up and reading a good book. But, now the right side of the bed was empty and had been for months. I couldn't remember the last time she was even in her room. Was it last fall?

I went over to the dresser and looked at all her perfumes and lotions and jewelry all assembled rather awkwardly all over just like she had left for work....but that's the way my mom was. She liked doing things her way. I smelled her favorite and tears stung my eyes. But, I needed to do this. I kept telling myself as I started packing things into boxes. And soon, I needed to stop and cry over packing away all her favorite dresses and her sweaters that she knit and I could still smell her perfume. But, I kept going. It was right. When I went through the box of things I brought home from the hospital I found a leather bound note book, most of the pages were filled with her writing. It was hidden underneath the clothes and the few books she brought and the pictures of us and family. But, I wanted to read her last entry. Slowly, I creased the page so I could view it better and began to read.

It is not a shock to know that the end for me is near. I'm still alive, but barely sometimes. My hearts just not the same and the pain is nearly unbearable at times. I have to be strong for Amanda. The doctor told me today that I have progressed so quickly that my month could turn into two weeks if I keep deteriorating. And there's nothing he can do. Knowing this, it's not so bad. I can't be saved, but I'm still alive. But, am I? I watch Amanda walk out of the room and when she turns the corner to leave I watched her start crying and if she thinks I'm asleep; I still here her frequent sobs. I can't comfort her. How do I? I'm dying and she can't do a thing. I worry constantly what this will do to her. She hasn't a father. I haven't told him of my illness and he doesn't speak to Amanda. She told me today that she won't live with Rosie or any relative. She says she'd rather stay in the house. I'm not fighting her; she is almost seventeen years old and smart enough to make her decisions.

God, I love that child. I thank God for her but now I wonder what it would've been like for her if I just gave her up, she wouldn't have to carry this with her. But, if I could turn back time, I would've never ever traded being a mother and I'm glad I got to be one before this cancer defeats me. I pray to God that she'll be happy. She talks of an old friend since childhood named Andy who is talking to her. And she blushes and smiles and her dimples show when she talks about him. I know she's in love with him and I hope someday she'll find someone to really love someday. I don't regret never marrying because loving Amanda was more than enough for me. I hope she'll find her place when she goes far and if I make it to heaven, I'll watch over her. Sincerely, Me. February 5, 2004

That was four days before she died. There were still pages and pages that she could've written on if she hadn't died. She could be almost done with this journal, but she's not.

And it's all gone now.

The boxes are packed, her clothes contained, the carpet bare to show all the stains me and her had made over the sixteen years of living here. With all her pictures off the walls of all he faraway places that she never visited with me....that empty look of pure disdain as I realized she never would. The desk is gone, the walls are plain, I left on her flowered quilt and the pillows just because I couldn't touch that yet. I got up and fixed my white Volcam tee after duct taping shut the last box and pulled out my cell phone to talk to Andy, I knew I wouldn't last another minute of me being in here like this. Fore, my mother was dead and never returning and this room will never be my palace again.

This once was my castle, my sanctuary, my pyramid and my tomb. Now, it's just a room. I shuddered at the thought and thundered down the stairs and shouted for Daisy to follow. She came loping down the stairs and looked up at me with her almost black irises. I grabbed my black and white plaid pea coat and put in on and slipped on my purple flats. Daisy followed me as I ran frantically around the house to find my keys. Finally, I found them and then I grabbed her leather leash off the counter and clipped it onto her collar.

"Come on girl, we're going out for awhile." I said, smiling through my tears. She whined a little because she knew I was upset about something. She could always pick up on my moods ever since I could remember. She kept up with my pace to the Bug and I closed the door after she was in the car and hopped in beside her in the driver's seat and started the car. I swear I could feel myself falling apart as I called Andy.

"Hello?" he said, answering on the fourth ring and sounding breathless. I jammed the car into reverse and starting backing out of the driveway. Daisy was sitting on the seat whining, wanting to know where we were going.

"Andy, it's me." I said, holding back tears.

"What's wrong sound upset."

I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes as I put the car into drive and stepped on the gas.

"I need you," I said shakily turning left at the corner of my street.

"Where are you? I'll come-" he said, a girl voice was in the background. I heard him talking but I couldn't hear what he and the girl were talking about. But suddenly he seemed annoyed. Andy always had a quick temper.

"Where are you?" he whispered so suddenly my heart lurched at the sound of it. There was a slamming door and a car engine starting.

"I'm going to see my mom." I said and looked over at Daisy sticking her head out the window.

"I'll be there." he said and then there was a click. I hadn't even thought about going by myself, just about seeing Andy. That had never happened to me before. I drove in silence and my face dripping of tears. When I got to the cemetery, I let Daisy out of the car and ran to mom's grave and collapsed on the now fuller grass on the ground. I wasn't sobbing but the tears were rolling down my cheeks loosely and that hole was burning. A short time later, a hand was on my shoulder. I recognized the touch as Andy's.

"Andy?" I whispered brokenly.

"I'm here." He said, pulling me by the shoulders off my stomach somehow draped my crumpled form over his lap awkwardly. I buried my head into his chest and sobbed.

"It was hard." I admitted.

"What was?"

"Putting all her stuff away in boxes." I whispered, still shaking. I closed my eyes tighter. "And duct taping them shut and realizing that she wasn't going to return. That she was...gone forever."

Andy held me tighter, holding me like baby and pressing his cheek firmly against my hair. I gripped his shirt with my hand, afraid he would disappear.

"Don't go." I whimpered.

"I won't." Andy whispered against my hair. "It's why I broke up with Melissa. You needed me, so I ran."

"You liked Melissa."

"Well, she didn't understand."

"Understand what?"

"Amanda," he said, I was surprised he said my first name. "You're my best friend, you know me better than anyone else. You mean something to me, why do you think I came running to you today, dropping everything, even my girlfriend, to come and help you?"

I was silent as the tears fell.

"I care about you." he said and held me a little tighter. I squeezed my eyes shut and pressed my cheek into his chest and listened to his slow heartbeat. The sudden breeze ruffled my hair and I shivered even though I was wearing a jacket.

"Andy?" I whispered a time later, pulling away and looking him deep in the eyes.


"Will you tell me a story? I need distracting..."

"A story?" Andy said, pressing my face back into his shoulder.

"Yes. Please Andy?"

"Okay..." he said, laughing. He played my hair for a minute and I knew he was thinking of something to make up.

"Well, once upon a time, there was this girl. She had the sun beaming in her brown eyes and the clouds...well, they mimicked her moods. Gray when she was sad, black when she was depressed, green and ferocious when she was so angry and there was a storm about to move in. But, light and fluffy when she was happy. Sometimes, the clouds were gone and the sun would shine so bright and shoot out of her hair and fingertips and her toes. She was radiant I tell you. But...lately there have been black clouds all over the sky and I can't see a damn ray of sunshine anymore. I hope the storm blows over and the rain stops falling and that she'll find her way out of the darkness. Because, you what? God, I really fucking miss that sun in her eyes."

I sighed and closed my eyes for a moment and looked at him. "Your stories are always about a girl. Never about really anything else."

"I don't know..." he said, embarrassed.

"I like your stories."

"You're my best girl!" he said, tickling my stomach. I laughed quietly and the remaining tears dripped miserably down my cheeks. Andy smiled back at me. "It's true. I can be me around you and tell you stuff."

"Andy..." I said, looking at him. This was my chance to tell him I loved was single and even if he didn't love me in the way I did. He needed to know. I opened my mouth to talk, breathing deep and then....Andy's cell phone rang.

"Oops! Hold on AJ." said Andy, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. "Hello?"

"Oh, hey Danielle." "Yeah well Missa and I just...weren't seeing eye to eye. No, she broke up with me. It's fine. Dinner tonight sounds nice...we should go to Lone Star. Awesome. I'll pick you up around seven. Okay, bye."

He smiled at me. "Andy's got a date."

I rolled my eyes.

"Now, what were you saying?"

"I'm just...glad you came for me today." I gushed.

Andy smiled. "It's no problem. Let's get you home now. You've got that meeting tonight at St. Mary's, remember?"

"Oh, the Depressed Kids club." I sighed, Andy gets up and pick me up and twirls me around. Then, set me down lightly and ruffled my hair a little roughly.

"No, it's called OneSteps." he said, looking a little stern.

"Whatever." I laughed and then called for Daisy. A few minutes later she was weaving through the headstones and grass towards Andy and me. I knelt down and stroked her ears. She licked my hands and then begged for Andy's attention. He patted her head and then looked at me. We walked to our cars and stood in front of each other. He brushed the piece of hair off my face. I blushed, feeling the blood flame up into my cheeks.

"Finally, some color on your cheeks."

I shrugged. "Mhm."

"Well, go to your meeting. You never know, it could be enough to help you. It's at-"

"Seven, I know."

He smiled again. "Okay, well..." he said, hugging me briefly. "Try hard."

"I will." I smiled and opened the door, Daisy leapt in onto the seat. Slamming the door, I walked around the hood and over to the driver's seat, got in and started the car. I watched Andy in the rear view mirror back out and drive away. I followed soon after and drove home. But, when I walked upstairs, I didn't dare look to the box filled room. Instead I shut my eyes and closed the door halfway and darted back to my room, Daisy trailing behind me. I changed into a gray loose fitting top and a fresh pair of jeans and ended up washing my hair in the kitchen sink since it was entirely impossible. I ran some gel through it and let it air dry. I didn't bother with the makeup as I realized it was six and I knew better than to procrastinate. Slipping on my clogs and my coat, I slammed the door behind me, and got into the bug and drove away.

When I was approaching the hospital doors, I felt sick with grief from a very hard day of grief. Putting away Mom's things in boxes was the right thing to do, I knew that, but it didn't make it any easier because those memories nearly consumed me. I took a deep breath as the automatic doors slid open and I stepped into the main lobby of the hospital. The hole in my chest was searing with pain, I wrapped an arm around myself as I walked through a crowd of people and into the elevator. I had to go up to the fifth floor.

My psychiatrist's name was Mary, but I had since forgotten her last name even though I had talked to her the other day on the phone. Andy's mother was close friends with her and apparently, Mary was skilled with dealing with teenagers. I really could've cared less. All I wanted right now was to fast forward through this whole night, snuggle up with Daisy and be done.

This group that Mary formed together was called "OneSteps" and it was for kids who had been suffering with depression from some cases like mine; death. I shuddered from another memory when I was outside of her office door. I stood in front of it, unsure. I checked my phone for the time, it was 6:50. I had ten minutes to bring myself together and get together the courage to step through the door. I stood silently, and then I took a deep breath, a really deep one. Like the time when I was six and about to jump off of the diving board into the pool below. I closed my eyes and went back into the memory. I was six, my hair long and straight and nearly touching my butt, and I was in my new 'Little Mermaid' swimsuit and bright blue floaties on my arms, standing on the edge of the diving board. Mom was swimming below me and smiling as she waited for me to jump. "Come on baby girl!" she called playfully and gestured with her arm. "I'll catch you, I promise." she said, and held up her arms for me. I had taken a deep breath and jumped. And now, instead of jumping I opened the door with a tiny squeak and stepped in. Although, I didn't know who was going to catch me tonight if the waters of pain started to drown me.

The office was small, painted a warm shade of brown with a couch to my right and over on the far wall behind her computer desk was a huge shelf of books. The blinds were drawn on the drapes. The desk wasn't very messy like mine at home. An Apple laptop and a few picture frames, a few stacks of papers. And in the far end of the small room was a circle of folding chairs. Two teenagers about my age already occupied two of them. I ignored their looks as a young woman; perhaps pushing thirty turned to me and smiled kindly. And sadly, I couldn't manage a smile as good as hers. Must be Mary, I thought.

I clutched my purse to my side as she approached me. Her smile was still kind as she reached out and clasped my hand and held it between hers firmly. Instinct told me to snatch my hand away quickly, but I was frozen by her kindness and dark green eyes brought out with makeup. She was pretty in her knee length navy blue dress and she had long, honey brown hair in sweeping waves and delicate facial features. Her stomach was swollen, she must been expecting.

"Hello, I'm Mary. You must be Amanda."

I nodded. "That's me." She squeezed my hand with another smile and then released it, I let it drop to my side absently.

"I'm glad you could come. Ellen has told me so much about you."

I tried to smile; all I got was a corner of my mouth to smile. "Oh."

"Well, why don't you have a seat over there? We'll be starting soon."

I turned away quickly and sat in the farthest chair away from the two other kids there. I stared at my flat shoes and my ripped jeans and wished I could disappear from the curious stares of the other kids.

When seven o'clock rolled around and two other kids had arrived and sat in the circe of chairs, Mary joined us and filled the last empty chair of the circle and set her clipboard on her lap. I took a deep breath silently and looked up from my lap shyly. I looked into three pairs of young eyes like mine, but the thing was they were exactly like mine. Not in color, no, the colors were all different, From blue to nearly black. But, the feature that was dominant in all of them was that they were pained and showing nothing else but pain. All of ours should've been showing youth, spunk, and happiness but they weren't...just like mine. I blinked slowly and looked back down.

"Welcome to OneSteps." said Mary. "I'm really glad all of you could come tonight. I've been trying to get a group together of kids like you since I graduated college six years ago and finally I did it. And it's all thanks to your physicists, they've brought me all of you who haven't had it so easy in the past. I want you all to know you can talk about it. I know its hard. But I brought you all together so you can heal. All of us need it, including myself. So, starting with you there." she said, pointing to a pretty blond girl. "I want you to tell us your name, how old you are, and why you're here briefly."

The first girl had sleek blond hair that looked a little older than me. Her blue eyes were expressing grief in some of its deepest forms. She was beautiful and that's why I wondered what could be so wrong for her to come here tonight. "My name is Bliss, I'm eighteen." her eyes clouded suddenly. "My fiancé Corey is dead." she blinked away the tears but I saw a few fall onto her dress skirt.

To her right was a boy with dark brown curly hair and tanned skin and bright green eyes that expressed, of course the pain, but also anger. His jaw was clenched. "My name is Chris, I'm seventeen and my twin brother Robby was just killed in a freak accident." he spit out the words, like he knew some terrible story. And of course most death stories are horrible. But, looking into his eyes burning with grief and anger told me this story was different. My thoughts were interrupted by another boy speaking.

"My names's Marshawn, but call me Shawn. I'm seventeen and my father murdered my mother." He had dark skin and full lips. I noticed a tattoo running down from what looked like his whole right arm and an earring gleaming in his left ear. I looked into his nearly black eyes and immediately felt a strong connection to him. His eyes were anguished and defeated. His mother was dead, just like mine. It felt like my heart flew from my chest and over to comfort for his. We had experienced the same kind of loss. Our mothers didn't die the same way, but they did. His gaze was friendly but he didn't smile, neither did I. If I would've seen him on the street, I would've never guessed his past. He dressed well and with his friendly expression, it was almost deceiving. But his eyes were all wrong.

Shit, I thought. It was my turn. I winced inwardly and tried to shush my thudding heart. "I'm Amanda; I'm going to be seventeen. My mother is dead." Maybe it was the way I said it, with hardly any emotion in my voice like everyone else; just monotone and how my voice nearly failed me. Because, well, I got the most bewildered stares like I had just told them I slept naked or something. Shawn met my gaze and I knew he felt the connection then too.

Mary cleared her throat and I broke Shawn's gaze. "My name is Mary, I'm twenty nine years old and expecting as you can tell." she laughed a little, but no one said a word or moved as her eyes brimmed with tears. "When I was seventeen, I lost both my parents in a fire."

It took my breath away to know that all of these people were feeling the same pain I was. Maybe they expressed it in different ways or felt it differently. But, we all felt it. Mary seemed to be moved on, but of course she would, it was a long time ago and I didn't blame her at all. But, this was almost unreal. Nearly impossible. Minutes of pure breathing ticked by until Mary spoke again.

"I'm sure you all see the similarity through all of us."

"We've all lost someone." Chris said quietly.

Mary nodded slowly. "Yes, that's exactly it. We've all lost someone very close to us. Whether it was family, lover, or friend, we've lost them and suffered through pain some people never may experience. And I want you all to know as we start telling more of our story, that you know that you are not alone in this. That's one of the things I tell all my patients."

"It feels like it."

"It does." Shawn said and I looked him again and felt butterflies. Blushing, I looked away back at Mary who seemed to be deep in thought. Shawn kept looking at me.

"It's hard to talk about." whispered Chris.

"Start small." Advised Mary. "Chris, I want you to start this time."

Chris nodded, folded his arms and began to speak. "My brother Robby other half, literally, I mean, he was my twin and older than me by six minutes. We looked alike, our hair, eyes...voice even, the only thing to tell us apart was the fact that I was an inch taller. But, mom still called us by the wrong names." he laughed a little. "We did everything together....sports especially. We both joined this traveling soccer league when we were ten. Robby was an amazing player and he deserved since he worked hard all the time. A year later when we joined again, we were on our way back to the hotel in San Francisco. We were all tired and lost that game by a stupid point. Anyway, the highway was really busy. My coach was driving and was pissed and worn out and we veered off the highway and rolled the bus a few times. All I can remember is all the shouting and feeling the blood on my head and hearing the shattering of glass and groaning of the metal bending. But, I was screaming for Robby. He had been thrown out of the window somehow. It took a few minutes for the paramedics to find him and I can't even remember all of his injuries. But, I'll tell you...he was messed up and needed a lot of blood transfusions. If I could've I would've given him the blood, but we had different types and so they took it out of the blood bank. And we recovered and came home; luckily no one was killed that night. But, when sophomore year rolled around and we went for our sports was bad news. They did a blood test and my brother's wasn't good. We had taken him to the doctor before because he started getting sick all the time. Coughs, sneezing, he had the flu and mono. But, until that day, the Doctor's had shrugged it off, gave him medicine and that was it. The blood test that day showed he was infected with AIDS… my brother who had a hot girlfriend and star of the Varsity team. He had no way of getting it, right? WRONG." Chris said, louder and sobbed and held his hand in his hands but then he looked up again. "My brother was going to die from a disease that fags get." everyone froze. "I'm sorry if you root for them but it makes me sick, okay? He could've gone far but he had to stop soccer after the end of the season forever because the disease was killing him alive. And all I could do was watch him. His girlfriend Shannon stayed with him the entire time and we three spent so much time together for that last year and a half of his life...and I fell in love with her. And two months ago, my brother died of AIDS and he was a virgin; clean. Never slept around not even with Shannon." he cried in his hands.

"I'm sorry." we all mumbled at different times.

"My mother died of a disease too." I said, trying to comfort him somehow. Shawn met my gaze but mine was on Chris.


"Amanda will tell her story in a minute after Shawn's. Chris is there anymore you want to say?" Mary said.

"Well, I guess I'm sorry for calling it a fag disease, the doctors should've known that that blood transfusion they gave him was bad."

"They don't test them as much as they should."

"AIDS and HIV isn't a widely spread disease, thats why they didnt check for it."

"If they did my brother would probably still be alive."

Mary scribbled something on her clipboard. "Do you feel guilty?"

"Some, but...I'm just so angry."

"At who? Yourself?"

"The Doctors...and God."

"I am too," said Bliss, and she shook her head.

"My father killed my mom, that's my story. Shot her right through the head because he was drunk and mom had caught him cheating and told him she was leaving. My dad came home wasted that night and was mad about something, my mom had been takin' care of my little brother who's three and she had just told him that she was pregnant again and planned on leaving him with us. Well, he didn't take it too well and screamed at her and as I was walking down the stairs to break it up the shot was fired, right through her head, I walked in the room after the shot and my dad was gone. Mom looked me right in the eye and told me I was a good man and never to let her down." Shawn looked tearful too. "My dad is in jail and I'm never going to let him live the fact down that he killed my mom. I don't give a fuck if he kills me too."

Mary stiffened and wrote on her clipboard again "Revenge? That's what you want?"

"I don't know what I want." he murmured and then looked at me. "I don't want to let my mom down though."

"Bliss, please tell us your story."

Bliss looked around the room, her eyes full of tears. "Is it possible to lose your heart and soul? For me it was. When Corey died, he took my heart and soul with him. It's like he took everything that had been keeping me alive and well. I loved him more than anything in this world. I loved him then and I love him now. But I can't have him anymore because he's in that grave six feet under. That's what hurts; it hurts to know that I can't have the one thing I need. I miss him. Corey was wild, crazy, but somehow intoxicating. And when God took him away from me, I lost my will to live. I feel like a zombie. I answer questions when asked, and I respond to light, but I'm not really alive anymore. Even when everything was going wrong, he kept me sane. But now he's gone, and I'm still here and I can't stop wishing that he was still here. At night, when I lay awake and stare at his picture, tears fall. It hurts to look at that perfect smile and know that I'll never see it again. The tears fall faster. I imagine that I feel his arms around me and I weep because he's not here to stop the tears. If he was, these tears wouldn't be falling. There wouldn't be a reason to cry. I would be happy, and things would be normal again. He always knew just what to say to make me laugh and I knew he loved me. I knew just by the way his eyes lit up when he saw me, by the way he'd call my name and run towards me, he loved me as much as I loved him." Bliss takes a shaky breath and closes her eyes. "I remember the day of his death, it was two months ago...February 8th. We were together, and it was a chilly night He was holding my hand as we crossed the street. We were laughing, and happy to be together. Then a truck came out of nowhere and almost hit me. Corey pushed me out of the way but couldn't get out of the way himself. The truck hit him and he flew back, hitting his pretty head on the concrete. I ran over to him, pulling his bleeding head onto my lap. Screaming for help, I watched as he died in my arms, I had whispered to him the whole time through my tears.. He had just enough strength to tell me he loved me before he died." Now she had the whole room stunned. "I was screaming after his eyes closed, telling him to wake up. He didn't. Those beautiful green eyes stayed closed in defeat. He was dead; my only lifeline was dead. And he wasn't going to wake up. That's when I lost my heart and soul." Bliss sobs and looks at Mary.

"Keep going, I know you're not done."

Bliss nods. "I miss the way we could be screaming at each other one second and kissing the next. I miss our crazy, two second fights. But most of all, I miss the way he loved me. And now, when it rains," she sobs again. "I remember all those times we stood in the rain kissing until our lips had turned blue. When it rains, I remember how he loved the smell afterwards, and I remember his kiss. But most of all, when it rains, I remember him... and how he'll never come back."

I met eyes with Bliss's for a second and then she looked to Mary. Mary took a breath and dabbed her eyes. "That was a really beautiful story."

"Tragic. I'm so sorry."

"I can't believe he's gone." Bliss said, barely above a whisper. "We had plans. We wanted to get married and have a real life together. As soon as I was eighteen, he was going to join the Air Force and we were going to get married and move out West to the air base...just us and I would transfer into some sort of college. But, now I haven't gotten a chance to make plans for college because it was so sudden."

"You don't have to go to college."

"What else am I supposed to do?" she fumed, tears running down her cheeks. "Sit him and knit? I can't do that. I have to make my own life now that he's...he's gone."

Mary looked at me and I knew it was my turn to tell my story. I took another deep breath and plunged into it full force, for once, and this time I didn't hesitate at telling someone about me. I told them everything, I told them about my mother and what she meant to me. I told them how I have never met my father and right now I didn't even know where he was in the world. I told them how she got cancer twice and the second battle was fatal. I told them her last words to me and how I feel if Andy wasn't around to save me. I told them everything and I didn't hold back for once.

"Who's Andy?"

I blushed and looked up from my tear stained lap. "My best friend."

That was all the time we had, it was 8:30 and Mary had to go home. So, we all left, feeling a little awkward and I knew the next time would be better. And that night when I laid down in my bed with Daisy, I waited for the rushing aves of pain to wash over me. But, they didn't for the first night in a long time. Bewildered, I called Andy on the phone. It was midnight, but I knew he needed to know.

"AJ? What's wrong? Do you need me to lie to you again?" he mumbled out in a rush. I had to strain to hear his gush of words. His voice sounded hoarse from sleep and worried.

"No-" I began. Daisy fidgeted and snuggled closer into my side. I stroked her ears and pressed the phone against my unusual dry cheek.

"Then what is it?" he said, a little frantic this time.

"Andy..." And then I laughed a little bit.

"Did you just laugh?"

"Yeah, for real." I said.

"This is so awesome!"

"I'm not crying!" I said, surprised as much as he was.

"So, the meeting was good?"

"Oh Andy, I think I'll go again."

"This sounds lame but I'm so glad I don't hear have to hear you crying on the other side of the phone tonight."

"I'm glad to not feel it tonight."

I hear him smile and he sighs happily. I hear his bed creak as he was shifting.



"I don't want to be alone tonight though. Can you keep the pain away?"

"I'll fight it away. Do you want me to come over?"


"Okay, give me a few minutes." he said and then I snapped the phone shut and reached to put in on my nightstand. I laid there silently waiting. Soon enough, the doorbell rang. Smiling, I got up, Daisy whining because of me waking her up. I dashed down the stairs to the door and I found myself flinging open the door and into his arms. He was surprised maybe at my happiness, but he held me, picked me up and spun me around. I felt his hand brush my wet hair and then he put me down and our faces were so close, I could've kissed him right then and there. But, he just smiled at me and I stepped back a half step.

"You didn't want to be alone?"

"No, I wanted you to see me like this." I said and a huge smile was on my face.

He looked my face over and then his grin widened and then he hugged me again. I sighed and closed my eyes against his chest. He was warm and comforting. He pulled away after a few moments and scrutinized my face. "You look a little better with that goofy smile on your face. But, your eyes need some work."

I hit him playfully. "Thanks." I love you, I thought.

"Come on, it's eleven thirty. I'm tired. Can we at least lay down in your bed or something?" he said, Daisy was begging for his attention. He knept in front of her and

"Long practice?" I said as we went up the stairs.

"Well, no. I 'm just tired."

"How was your date?"

"Why do you ask?"

I stopped before we entered my room. "Well, you're my friend. I just am interested in what you do."

Andy smiled. "It was great. We went to dinner and...picked up where we left off."

I smiled, a small but real one. "That's good, you guys were together all freshman year."

"I don't know." he said, shrugging, brushing past me and flinging himself on the bed. He looked so good laying there looking at me. Strewn across it perfectly. I could've died right there, Andy Goldbem was laying on my bed!!

I climbed on the bed and laid right next to him. We stared up at the ceiling, not saying anything at all. I was so content and relaxed that I ended up closing my eyes. I heard Andy sigh through my level of almost-unconsciousness, then he looked at me and touched the corner of my mouth.

"I've never really seen you like this." he said, rolling over onto his stomach and looking curiously at me with his blue with green and purple eyes. All the colors were there. I could even tell with only the lamp on my nightstand. "You're so...happy and okay. And I don't even care if it lasts for tonight or ends and I don't see you smile for ten years. I'll remember this." he said, I smiled and he pulled me close to him, wrapping a strong arm around my back and my forehead pressed against his collarbone. And I drifted into a peaceful sleep listening to Andy's breathing and his wonderful heart beating.

"You're blushing." Stated Bliss smugly but it wasn't a sneer. "You like him."

I smiled slightly. "Well, yeah. I do, but he's my best friend." Bliss smiles at me.

"This isn't a relationship meeting." Chris said dully. Bliss turned her head quickly to him after that comment, her blond hair whipping around from the sudden movement of hers.

"Well Chris. It sounds like from your story that you have some relationship problems too that could be resolved if you talked about stuff without sounding like such an ass whole."

"Bliss-" Mary said.

"Well, well, well....look who's talking now. Miss mortal bitch." Chris said, interrupting Mary's soft spoken voice. Mary looked uncomfortable.

"Let's not rip each other's heads off." Shawn said, crossing his arms.

"Shannon's the sweetest girl I've ever met in my entire life. And she's honest and nice to me through it all. She's so pretty too. I can't describe her hair, it's this reddish brown and it's so soft and her eyes are dark blue...and I just love her." Chris blurted after Bliss convinced him to tell.

"Why don't you make a move on her?"

"The same reason why Amanda wouldn't on her friend."

Shawn looks confused. "Andy, is that his name?"

I nod.

Chris sighs and scratches his head "Andy and Amanda are best friends, you know it's platonic when they're together. And since Amanda feels more than friends and Andy may or may not. She doesn't want to just make a move on him and say she loves him because if he doesn't it'll ruin everything and they're won't be even that same friendship." Bliss gushed out. Shawn raised his eyebrows.


I smile. "He means way too much for me to ruin it like that."

"So does Shannon. I can't lose her. And since it was my brother she loved so much how could she do that to him?"

Mary cleared her throat. "Love is all about being happy for someone sometimes. If you made Shannon happy by being together in love, then I bet your brother would be happy."

"I agree." Shawn says. "My old girlfriend used to have these two neighbors and they were her best friends and they were both boys. I used to get so jealous and mad about her hanging out with them all the time. But, it made her unhappy if she didn't hang out with them sometimes. So, eventually I told her that I needed her to be true to me and then I'd be okay about it."

"Was she true to you?"

"Yeah, she was."

"But what happened to her?" I asked, Shawn looked at me with eyes different.

"Yeah, she was. We were together for almost two years. She was a year older than me and so she graduated and went to college in New York City for theatre. So, we broke up because we didn't think we were going to make it and in case we did meet someone else."

"I guess that's better." Bliss said.

"Well, I'm over her. I mean, I think I'll always think she'll be special to me but she moved on. I guess, she's dating this guy who goes to the same school as her." Shawn shrugs. He didn't seem very phased at all. I couldn't look at him I ignored my pounding heart in my chest. It was because I was nervous. But, why on earth was it pounding and sort of singing like it did for Andy? At that second I needed to be in touch with Andy. I pulled out my cell phone and texted him, maybe he'd answer. Hey, I typed on the keypad.

"Amanda, don't you have a boyfriend?" Asked Bliss.

"No." I said, looking up. "Not really interested."


"I have enough to do. Getting ready for college, I want to find my dad."

"Find your dad?" Mary said, jumping into the conversation.

"Yeah, well…my mom and dad met in Africa on some trip for World Wildlife Fund, my mom was eighteen then and just graduated high school. Anyway, they fell in love and while she was there she found out she was pregnant with me and when she told my dad…he just didn't want to deal with it. So, my mom came back to the states and had me and that was the end of it. My mom was eighteen, a single parent, went to Beauty School to help pay for me, worked as a hair dresser and at Target, raised me…"

"How'd she die?" Shawn said. It hurt to hear that she was dead still. But, I kept myself composed as I looked him deep in the eyes.

"Well, when I was about eight, my mom found out she had ovarian cancer. Her left ovary was really infected so the doctors removed it in surgery. My mom recovered from it easily and we thought it was cured for good. But, when I was twelve she went in for a pelvic exam that most women go to but, she had been feeling sick and weak for a month or so and it had been two years that she had been to the gynecologist. During that two years…" I stopped and took a deep breath. "Well, she had developed more cancer. It was in her ovaries and spread up to her lungs and in her breasts. There were options, but not many."

"God, cancer is horrible."

I nodded numbly. "It was the lung cancer that killed her. She had a hysterectomy a few weeks later and radiation to her breasts but lung cancer is incurable." I sobbed. "I watched my mother die right in front of me and I couldn't do one damn thing about it."

"But you were there when she needed you." Mary comforted me.

"I know and now I need her and she's… g-g-gone." I closed my tear-filled eyes and instantly my mind was screaming at me to run away, as far as I could and as fast as I could. So, abruptly, making the whole room freeze as I grabbed my bag and ran, kicking my chair out of my way and listened to the clanking as it fell over. I struggled with the door knob as a sob escaped me, finally I got it open after a few long seconds of it, I got open and began to run down the hallway, there was a voice behind me calling; an unfamiliar one and I ignored it. No one should see this. I kept my steady but quick pace through the lobby of the hospital, I stumbled several times but I somehow did not fall over.

I could feel the wind flying through my hair as I ripped open the doors and got outside into the chilly spring night. My heart was pounding as I tore down the street, my lungs burning. My legs felt as if they would never take another step. But I kept running, I was too afraid to ever stop running. "No crying there, go home, to Andy. Just run Amanda!!" my heart yelled in my ears and I kept running. Running to be alone and from that voice that was still calling my name.

There had been too many memories and feelings in that room and some had to do with Shawn. I felt different about him, like I did for Andy. Not love, but attraction…very strong attraction for the boy and it scared me. Alike or not, I didn't want to feel it. And I wouldn't; ever.

"Amanda!!" the voice called.

I sobbed but still I ran. And soon I didn't hear a voice behind me, just my heart's voice.

The pickets of the green fence flew by. I was still running. Still being forced to run, run from it. I flew around the corner, nearly stepping on a calico cat. I continued running, for that was all I had left to do. I kept running until I was at my house. I slammed myself against the door and slid down it into a heap. My knees up to my chin and my arms wrapped protectively around my head. I heard Daisy barking behind the door, she probably smelled me but It was the person who was in front of me that I was paying more attention to. I didn't know who it was.

I looked up and Shawn was standing in front of me, his dark skin being illuminated off the yellow hue from the porch light and I was wondering how he had found me. But, then I remembered the voice calling my name as I ran.

He kneeled in front of me and suddenly, hugged me. I didn't hug him back, I just kept letting him hug me and rock me back and forth. The hug wasn't as comforting as Andy's. It felt empty. We pulled away and his mouth was on mine, a little forceful and I kissed him back willingly but I felt nothing, nothing at all.

He pulled away and then shook his head. "No," We both said, together at once.

"Maybe," Shawn said and then he kissed me again, softer and a lot slower. I closed my eyes and tried to like it.

"Andy..." I whispered.

Shanw was abruptly pulling away from me. "This isn't right."


"I like you, and I know I barely know you but I do."

"I know you like me but I can't be with you."

"Do you love that kid Andy?"

"Yes." I said quietly. "I really do."

"Do something about it."

I was silent as he looked at me.

"Do something about it, Amanda because I let the one girl I loved go and it was the worst decision I have ever made. Do somethng about it."

And then, he got up and walked down the porch steps. I watched him until he was gone from my view. I sat there, not knowing how to go about telling Andy how much I loved him. It seemed unspeakable and like something that was forbidden to be uttered between us. We could talk about anything though, could we possibly talk about this?

I didn't know, but I kept thinking about what Shawn said and I began to get curious what it would be like to have Andy love me too. I wondered if I could actually tell him, to speak of my love.

"Andy, you're a star." I whispered into the wind outside.