Amelia Hargrove and Leah Hargrove had been friends since Amelia was seven and Leah was eight. Despite their drastically different upbringings, the two girls had managed to do everything together. They went to each others proms; they threw each other surprise sweet sixteen parties; they helped each other with their homework. Amelia did the English homework and Leah did the Math homework. Thanks to Leah, Amelia got an A- in Calculus, without which she never would have gotten into a good college.
Now, as Amelia hopped in her well-loved car to visit her best friend, she couldn't be more excited. It had been two and a half months since she had seen Leah, but they had talked on the phone at least twice a week and on the days they didn't talk, they emailed. Thanks to Leah's help with her math homework, Amelia had gotten into her dream college which was five hours from home. The girls had planned to go to college together and be roommates, but Leah's father had refused to pay her tuition or help with college loans if she went away, so Leah decided to stay at home. Amelia could still clearly recall the day Mr. Hargrove had broken the news to Leah, and she cringed at the memory.
Amelia had just received her acceptance letter in the mail, and of course, the first thing she did was call Leah to see if she had gotten hers too. She had, she squealed, and they made plans to celebrate as all girls do with ice cream and chick flicks. Amelia stopped at the convenience store on her way across town to pick up pint sized cartons of Cookie Dough, Chunky Monkey, and Cherry Garcia. Amelia lived in a lower middle class neighborhood on the opposite side of town from Leah, and Leah's dad who was the chief of police was always telling her not to stop at the Save-a-Lot on 5th and Union, but Amelia never listened.
Amelia had pulled up in front of the two story red brick house, run across the well manicured yard, and burst through the French doors without knocking. The scene she had walked in on was anything but the celebration she'd expected. Leah had flung herself in her friend's arms, seeking shelter from her father's yelling.
"There is no way in hell any daughter of mine is going to go all the way across the state where you can get into all kinds of trouble when there is a perfectly decent school right down the street!" He had roared at her, shaking what Amelia assumed was Leah's acceptance letter in his fist.
"But Dad," Leah had piped up weakly.
"Gangs, date rape, alcohol, drugs! No absolutely not! It's out of the question!"
Amelia could feel her friend tremble in her arms, and wished she had the backbone to stand up for her friend. She had always been intimidated by Mr. Hargrove. He was constantly interrogating the girls about where they would be and who they would be with. It seemed like every time she saw him, he had some doom and gloom story to tell about the city's latest crime/tragedy/travesty.
She had squeezed Leah tighter and whispered, "That's so unfair! He'll change his mind. He has to!" And then after another supportive squeeze, she guided her friend away from her father. "Let's go to my house tonight."
"Don't you walk away from me young lady! Where do you think you're going?" He stormed after them, but at lease Amelia had had the strength to keep walking.
To say their celebration had turned into commiseration that night was an understatement. Amelia shook her head at the memory and thought of how much fun it would have been to have her best friend at college with her. But it had worked out for the best. They had grown both together and separately. Amelia was studying criminal justice, ironically enough. Even though she couldn't stand Leah's dad, she respected what he did, and she thought there must be a better way to get through to the kids on the streets than by brute force and sirens. She hoped to work in a detention center one day. Leah was studying to be a Math teacher. She was still living at home which was where Amelia was headed now.
The girls saw each other every chance they got. It was the first night of spring break and instead of going to Cancun with her roommates; she had come home to see Leah. Besides the fact that she couldn't afford to go to Cancun, she knew she would have a better week with her best friend than she would have had with her roommates who were all bringing their boyfriends.
Amelia pulled up to the curb in front of Leah's house. It had changed over the years. The lawn now sported a fountain and an addition had been added to the house. She wasn't even half way up the lawn when the front door was flung open and Lean launched herself at Amelia like an over exuberant puppy.
"Mia!" Leah threw her arms around her best friend and squeezed so tight Amelia's feet came off the ground a little bit. "God! I am so glad you're here!" Leah emphasized every word, something Amelia had grown used to since Leah had begun working with little kids as part of her education curriculum at school.
"You got your hair cut! You didn't tell me that!" Mia fingered her friend's shoulder length wisps.
"Yep, now we look even more like each other." Leah hitched her arm around Mia's shoulders and steered her toward the house.
"Well, you know what they say, the more time you spend together, the more you look alike."
"Yeah, they also say that owners and their pets start to look alike after a while." Mia hitched her bag with her going out clothes higher on her shoulder as she bumped her way through the front door.
"So, that would make you my pet right? I mean, I know I'm older than you, but I try really hard not to think of you as my pet." Leah teased flippantly over her shoulder.
Leah led the way through the kitchen and into the den where Mrs. Hargrove sat watching TV. Upon seeing Amelia she jumped up to gather both girls in a hug. "My Leah Mia sandwich is back."
"Oh Mom," Leah rolled her eyes, but grinned crookedly nonetheless.
"Let me look at you two. You always seem to smile brighter when you're together." The girls stood side by side, both slim and within two inches of each other in height. Despite what many people assumed due to the similarity in their names, the two girls were not related in any way.
When Amelia Hargrove was seven, she had looked herself up in the phone book and
dialed the number. Thinking back on it, she wasn't sure who she expected to pick up, her reflection, maybe, but she definitely remembers being startled to hear a voice that was not her own.
"Hello? Hargrove residence. This is Joey." A little boy, who turned out to be Leah's younger brother, answered. She could tell he was young because of his lisp.
"Ahem," she cleared her throat, preparing to sound grown up and important, "I
would like to speak to Amelia Hargrove please."
"That's my mom. She's not here right now. Talk to my sister."
That was how Amelia Hargrove met Leah Hargrove. Amelia was seven with curly blonde hair, buck teeth, and round glasses. Leah was a pudgy eight year-old with straight brown hair, perfect teeth, and clear blue eyes.
Now, as they stood next to each other Mrs. Hargrove thought how uncanny it was how similar they looked. Amelia's hair had straightened and darkened to dirty blond; her teeth had been fixed with braces, and contacts had replaced her glasses. Leah had lost her baby fat, and her brown hair had been lightened with highlights. The two girls spent so much time together they had adopted each other's mannerisms and could finish each others sentences. Mrs. Hargrove shooed the girls upstairs to get ready before Leah's father could come home and interrogate them about where they were going. It was a shame how strict he was with them.
"Come on, we really don't want to be here when he gets home," Upstairs, Leah urged her friend to shower faster.
"I can't find the razor I left over here," Mia mumbled as she pawed through the plastic hanging rack of toiletries in Leah's shower.
"Here," Leah's hand appeared from behind the curtain.
Taking the razor, she asked, "Is he still freaking out over the guy who's pressing charges?" A month ago, Leah had called her upset because her dad was being especially hard to live with. He had pulled over a car on a routine traffic violation when the driver started acting up. Captain Hargrove was forced to be rough with the man to subdue him. Now the man was pressing charges of police brutality.
"Yeah, now he's thinking about pressing charges back or some stupid shit. I don't even see the point of that. They'll never convict him. All I know is that he has been a pain in the ass to be around, so hurry up!"
Half an hour later the girls were on their way to their favorite club dressed in short dresses. Leah's had spaghetti straps and fitted her like a glove. Mia's was a more casual t-shirt dress that barely covered her butt.
The club was on the second floor of a warehouse building. The dance floor was packed already. Smoke and mirrors surrounded them as they made their way to the bar. Grabbing drinks they made their way into the center of the floor where the music was loudest and the bodies were sweatiest. They let the bass soak into them as their hips matched the beat of the music. It was only a few minutes before Mia felt someone slide up behind her and match their hips to hers. She looked for Leah and saw that the same had happened to her. Mia's partner was a good dancer and she didn't mind that he hadn't introduced himself. Leah looked happy with her partner too, so Mia closed her eyes and concentrated on dancing.
When the song changed she opened her eyes to see Leah being led off the floor toward the bar. She felt a flicker of concern for her friend, but shrugged her shoulders. Leah had already had more to drink than she had, but she was a big girl and knew her limit. Either way, Mia figured she better slow down the drinking. Someone had to drive home.
"I'm going to get a drink, do you want to come," The guy behind her yelled in her ear. She shook her head and kept dancing.
For the rest of the night, Mia barely left the dance floor while Leah kept making trips to the bar. Just when she was getting tired and had decided to go look for Leah, someone came up behind her and began to grind on her hips. Ok, just one more song, she thought. Her water sloshed over the brim and she wiped her hand off on her dress. The guy behind her took that as an invitation to snake his hand around to her ribs right under her breast. Um, yeah, this was not going to work for her.
Mia grabbed his hand and turned to face him. He was a short squirrely looking guy. "I have to go to the bathroom," she yelled and began to walk away. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her back.
"One more song," he yelled in her ear all the while keeping a tight grip on her wrist. Wrinkling her nose, she tried to keep as much distance between them as possible and scanned the room for Leah. Where was she? Mia tried to remember the last time she had seen her. Which guy was it with? Had she had a drink in her hand?
Suddenly, a thin arm wrapped around her and she was whirled around and pulled in close against boney hips. "Oh my gosh, Leah! You scared me to death!" She grasped her friend who was stumbling against her.
"You lookt like ooo needed help," Leah slurred, and Mia looked around realizing the squirrely guy was gone. Hey eyes fell on a tall blond guy who was making his way through the crowd toward them.
"Hey, look," Mia exclaimed, "Its Jeremy!" She waved her arm high above her head.
"What! Where? We have to get out of here!" Leah began dragging Mia off the floor.
"Slow down! I thought you liked him. What is your problem?" Jeremy and Leah had met last time the two girls had gone to the club over Christmas break. The tall blond and her friend had hit it off instantly. And as far as Mia knew nothing had changed.
"What's wrong?" she repeated.
"We had sex and he was terrible. He got all serious on me." Leah had pulled her down the stairs and they stumbled into the breezy night. The guard at the security stand tipped his hat to them. Usually, the cops were roaming everywhere trying to pick up drunk drivers, but it was relatively early. The bar wasn't due to close for another two hours or so. They crossed the street, heading for the car. Mia remembered Leah had parked next to the exit and was grateful she wouldn't have to navigate the packed parking lot.
"You did? He was? Why didn't you tell me? Give me your keys; I'm driving."
"I didn't tell you because you seemed to approve of him." It was true that in the past Mia had been less than thrilled about some of her friend's dating choices. "You shure, you don't wannme to drive?"
"Ha. No. Hand them over."
Leah dug the keys out of her purse and slapped them in Mia's hand. "I owe you one."
"You owe me like fourteen by now." Mia retorted as she slid into the driver's seat of Leah's MiniCoop. She didn't even have to adjust the seat. When the passenger door didn't immediately open she rolled the electric window down and leaned across the passenger seat to see what happened to Leah.
"Come on," she yelled.
"My shoe's messed up." Leah was crouched down fiddling with the strap.
Mia leaned back to start the car, yelling, "You can fix it in the -." She gasped as she was cut off by an arm wrapping around her throat. She could feel the cold barrel of a gun pressed to her temple. She froze in fear.
"Are you Mia Hargrove?" A muffled voice asked and for a minute Mia thought this must be some friends' idea of a joke. In relief she nodded, and the gun was shoved harder against her head. Ok, this was not a joke.
Just then she heard the passenger door handle move, and the barrel jerked against her skin. She had to do something. She couldn't let them both be hurt and Leah might be her only hope for rescue.
"RUN!" she screamed at the top of her lungs and laid both hands on the horn.
"Oh my god!" Leah stumbled away from the car and started screaming "Help!" at the top of her lungs.
"Shut up," yelled the man behind her, "SHUT UP!" Mia's upper arms were restrained by the arm that had been around her neck.
"Run!" she screamed again at Leah, who was still in the parking lot, screaming but staring at the car. She realized this might be the last time she ever saw her best friend.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up you bitch!" The man behind her pointed the gun out the window and fired.
Leah screamed and then it was silent. Shouting started somewhere nearby and Mia could hear running footsteps as they approached. She twisted trying to see Leah, but was jerked back by the arm around her.
She began to shake. She tried to stop but she couldn't. She didn't want to make the man angry again, but her breath was only coming in choked uncontrollable sobs.
"Drive," the man hissed in her ear. The barrel was shoved in her neck. "Now," he screamed. And trembling Mia started the car and peeled out of the lot.