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February 16th, 2004, 03:56 PM
I am going to try to post a book I am working on in pieces. It has been a VERY slow process. I decide I want to work on it, then I decide that I do not. Then I get blocked, then I am open. Really wierd. But anyway, here it comes in the Posts that follow in this thread.

Thanks in advance for reading. :)

Edited to say, I just noticed with the first post, that all the formatting over in Word, is not going to copy over to here. And well, I am not about to retype the entire thing to translate it over here, I hope you can deal with how it copies into MW.

My apologies. If this looks like it can't be read well, please tell me, and I will just refrain from posting it here. thanks.

February 16th, 2004, 04:01 PM
The Beginning

Looking back, I now realize, life isn’t what our mothers tell us it is going to be. Oh, yes of course my childhood was wonderful, if you consider moving from place to place, and being in one man’s home until the next came along wonderful. None of them ever perfect. They all had their problems, which is why the next came so quickly.
I don’t blame my mother after all; she only tried to do what she thought was best. Only her thinking wasn’t so clear after her accident, and people didn’t seem to notice or didn’t care. But she always told me that my life would be great and I would be loved by all. One thing she didn’t tell me was there was a price to pay for it all.
I guess maybe in telling you all this; I should start at the beginning, or what I know as the beginning. When I was six, or somewhere there about, my mother was in an accident. Known to be the worst accident in these parts. She was on a motorcycle ride with a friend, when it collided with a freight truck. She was thrown clear but not spared, her friend was killed on impact. She suffered severe brain trauma, but eventually recovered most of her capabilities, though there seem to be a few that the doctors overlooked. Like her abilities to think for her-self, or finish complete sentences. Both of which are completely necessary in caring for young children.
When they decided to let her return home, seven months later, my grandmother, who I was staying with, was reluctant to let me go with her. Yet still she allowed it. And being young and unknowing, I was happy to be with her once again. After all she was the apple of my eye. I needed her and she needed me. I was sorry to leave my grandmother, but glad all at once. This was to be the beginning of the rest of my life.
She moved us in with a man whom I had never met, but she said was an old friend. Any friend of Mommy’s is a friend of mine. I never could have been more wrong and I learned this quickly. His name was Bert and I didn’t like the smell of him or the way he dressed. He wore rumpled flannel shirts and grease stained blue jeans all the time. His breath reeking of beer when he couldn’t afford wine.
For the first week I made due by hiding behind my mommy and playing outside. Being only six, I didn’t know much, but I knew I didn’t like him. I slept each night on the pullout sofa in the living room; Mommy slept in his room. I got up each morning and went to school, walking the three blocks there. In the afternoon I would walk home the same way. And sometimes Mommy would let me go to the playground with the neighbor’s kids. At dinner I would watch them and hope not to laugh. The two of them were too funny. He would be drinking as always, and trying to finish thoughts for her that she couldn’t. Most of the time they didn’t make sense.
After dinner she would run my bath for me, then sit with me and talk of the day while I washed up and she washed my hair. “Pretty, pretty, long and red, when you’re older, this I will dread.” She always said that to me when she washed or combed my hair. I wondered if I would look like her when I grew up. I hoped I did, she was so pretty. Most of the scarring from the accident was not visible, aside from one faint scar that ran from her left ear under her hairline to about the center of her spine. Her eyes were green, so like mine, her hair was long and black like the night. And skin so fair you would have thought it porcelain.
I would love bedtime, she would read to me, or tell me the most imaginative stories. I thought of her voice as music. I would lay there and listen to her. Trying to stay awake as long as possible. I would never hear the endings, I always fell asleep. She would always continue the next night.
Shortly things there began to deteriorate, and I never thought was safe. Bert began to give me chilling looks when Mommy wasn’t around. And I would catch him watching Mommy and I in the bathroom. He had begun to yell at Mommy and I a lot. I always thought it was me. I began to have nightmares, and Mommy would sleep on the pullout with me. I think this infuriated him. He would be demanding of her. Sometimes he would spit on her or slap her. What I was scared of to begin with was starting to become a reality.
School had let out for the summer, and I spent as much time as I could with neighbor kids. I tried not to be home as much as possible. I just hated being there. I had told Mommy that I didn’t like Bert, but she said he was a good man when he was sober. She also told me our only other option would be to live in a shelter.
So I said nothing more for her.
He made her quit her job, and told her he wanted her home when he got home from work. Dinner had to be ready by the time he got there. She wasn’t allowed to go out. Her friends stopped calling too. It was awful. He would blow up at her if he found the slightest dust on furniture. I’m still not sure what it was he did for a job. I thought at first he was mad at her for all of the time I took her attention from him. One awful night I found out differently. It was a night I will never forget.
I was waiting out on the pullout for Mommy to come and tell me my story. I heard her let out a loud cry. And then a few more muffles screams. Then I listened through the wall to him yelling at her. He was screaming something about a baby and that it couldn’t be his. That he had never been able to father kids, and it was an impossibility. I heard him call her a bunch of names I didn’t quite understand. She was sobbing so hard; I wanted to run to her to comfort her, but I was so scared of him. I heard him yell once again, and then something broke; it fell to the floor. Then again, I could hear him hitting her, and her crying out for him to stop.
Begging and pleading to him as if she herself was a child. His wails to me sounded like the world crashing down on my poor mommy. I sat in a corner crying for her, and for him to stop. Suddenly it all got silent.
Finally, he came out of the room, seeing the pile of blankets on the pullout, thinking it was me, he left. I ran into the room, Mommy was lying on the floor, she didn’t move when I touched her. Her face was covered and I couldn’t pull her over. I tried very hard, calling her name. Her foot was lodged under the dresser. Her dress and the floor around her were covered in blood. I ran out of the room and out the front door to the neighbors.
I frantically knocked on the door, screaming for them to wake up. “Wake up, wake up. I need your help. Call the police my mommy is hurt badly, I think she is dead!” Finally Mr. Blake came to the door, “What is it? What has happened?” I blurted out as much as I could in one breath, and he hurried to the phone to dial 911.
After what seemed like forever, the police arrived. I stood up from the neighbor’s porch and walked to our house. An officer stopped me almost immediately. “You can’t go in there my dear.” he said, “Come with me.” I followed him and he put me into a police car, where I sat and quietly wept. I would periodically look out the window, to see what I could see. And then I had a glimpse of hope. Bert had returned, and he was arguing with the police. I heard them question him and saw him being put into a car of his own. I then saw Mommy being rolled out on a stretcher, but she wasn’t covered all the way. I knew when they didn’t cover them up they weren’t dead. My mommy was alive.
I was escorted by police car to the station. It was the busiest place I think I had ever been up until then. I sat on a bench in the hall and waited until someone told me what was to happen and how mommy was. Sitting outside the Chief’s office, I could hear them talk of my mother. “She was beaten so badly, she’s almost unrecognizable.” said one of them. “Yea, she lost the baby too.” said another. Baby? What baby? My mommy was going to have a baby? I started to sob harder than ever. My poor, poor Mommy. What is she going to do now?
The thoughts started rolling around in my young mind. What’s going to happen now? And is my Mommy going to be OK? Where are we going to live now? Am I going to have to go back to Grammy’s? And what about all my things?
I sat there questioning the world until almost morning.
Finally as the sun was coming up the chief came to talk to me. “Your Mother is going to be in the hospital for just a little while. Your grandma is going to come here to get you sometime today. You may go and sit in the lounge, find something to eat, and watch the TV. until she arrives.” I just nodded my head, and then raised with him to follow. He talked of more as we walked but I don’t recall the most of it. As we entered the lounge, I felt a slight bit of relief. There was another child in the room also. A young boy, maybe a year or two older than I. The chief bent down to talk to me quietly for the last time, “He was brought here last night also, his daddy was hurt badly as well. Maybe the two of you can talk and help each other. I’m sure he needs a friend as much as you do.” I just once again nodded. With my head down I entered the room and took a seat in the chair across from him. I laid my head back and closed my eyes.
I don’t know how long it was, but he finally spoke to me, “So what happened to you? Why are you here? Who are you waiting for?” I opened my eyes slowly, and glanced at him. He was tall for his age, I could tell even though he was sitting. He had shaggy dark brown hair, the bluest eyes I had ever seen, and the most innocent of looks about him. As I pulled myself up in the chair, I responded to him. “My mommy and her friend got in a fight last night, he hurt her badly. I’m waiting on my grammy to come get me, she lives in Boone. What about you?” He gave me a slight smile of hope, and looked out the window. It was raining. “I’m waiting on my aunt. My dad and I were in a car wreck and he is in the hospital now. He didn’t have on his seat belt, and he went through the windshield.
I had mine on so I guess it helped me a lot.” I nodded. He went on to tell me his aunt lived in Blowing Rock, only ten minutes from my grammy. That his cousin Jeff was eleven and the coolest kid he knew. That he did live in Hickory, but his dad moved then to Linville last fall before school had started. I told him of my mommy and her “accident”. Of the fact I hadn’t lived in the same place for a year yet.
That I didn’t know who my dad was, he left when I was a baby. And that when I went to my grammy’s house it was just her and me. And I didn’t even know her well, but I enjoyed being with her. Our talk continued for like hours, I felt comfy with him.
Then I heard the familiar voice, the voice so mellow and calm. It was my grammy. “Well how is the dear, is she okay? Where, where in here?” Then I saw her. “Oh, Grammy!” I cried as I ran to her. She held me and began to comfort me, which made my tears well up once more. “Oh sweetie, things are going to be just fine, you will see.” She turned to the officer, “May I take her home with me now?” she asked. The officer nodded and waved to her in response. “Okay dear, let us be going. It is an hour ride or so to home.” I nodded. I turned with her to go. “Hey, ain’tcha even goin’ to say goodbye? I don’t even know yer name.” It was him. “Oh yes, wait Grammy,” I said. “I will have to come see you sometime. My name is Hailie. I don’t know yours either.” He stood looking at my grammy for a minute, then he leaned forward to hug me, “My name is...” he got silent. “Promise not to laugh first?” I smiled at him and nodded.
“My name is Ryder, my dad likes bikes so I got a dumb name.” I smiled once more before turning to leave, “It’s not dumb it is just different.” I turned and ran and grabbed my grammy’s hand. We walked out of the station, and I could see him through the window. I waved once more, and smiled.

Riding in Grammy’s old Suburban through the mountains was always fun to me. Especially going on the parkway, you could see for miles. But today was different; we weren’t singing or laughing. The sun wasn’t out for us today, and more than clouds hung over our heads. It was a kind of sulking weather, Where you wish the rain would go away. Only even if it did, you still had rain in your mind. I watched the trees go by and thought of the good times Mommy and I had. Grammy turned to me. I could tell she wasn’t quite comfy, and didn’t know what to say. It hadn’t been long since the last time we saw each other, for us to be seeing each other under similar circumstances. I wished it was a happy visit. We both knew different.
As we rode through Blowing Rock, I thought of Ryder, and his aunt. He said she lived here. Grammy turned to me, “Are you hungry dear?” I nodded, my tummy was rumbling so badly, I could feel it turning. “Well we’ll stop in Boone before we head home.” I nodded once more. “Can we stop at the Hot Griddle?” I asked. I loved to watch them cook my food from sitting at the bar. I was hoping it would cheer me. “Of course dear, I know how you love that place.” she answered. I half smiled. We rounded a few more curves, and I saw the amusement park. It was closed, probably due to the weather. And around one more curve, and I began to see stoplights. This told me the restaurant wasn’t far. I saw the mall on the left, and knew the Hot Griddle would be on the right. Then I saw it. We pulled in and I looked up at Grammy and smiled. I was so hungry. She found us a parking place up close, to avoid getting wet as much as possible.
When it was time to get out, I froze. “What’s the matter dear?” Grammy asked. I sat still, a lone tear running down my cheek. “Oh Grammy, it is just the last time I was here I was with Mommy.” She touched my face to clear the tear, “I understand dear, we can go some place else if you like.” I shook my head, “No, I still want to eat here, I will be OK.” I sniffed. She took my hand, “Your mommy would be so proud of you, just wait until I tell her how strong your being.” I smiled up at her, I had never thought of myself as strong.
I was just a kid.
After sitting there feeling sorry for myself for about five minutes. I decided it was time to get out and go eat. My tummy couldn’t take much more waiting. As I got out of the truck, I looked up. The sun was coming out. I turned to grammy; she was smiling at me. We walked into the Hot Griddle, and sat at the bar as always. Marge, the head waitress, who had been there forever, was there. “Well, hello Hailie, it has been a while since I’ve seen you in here.” I smiled, “Yes I know, I missed this place Marge.”
“So what is it going to be this morning?” she asked. I looked at Grammy, “Get this young lady anything she wants.” said Grammy. I turned to Marge, “I want my favorite, the big breakfast, but add a side of cornedbeef hash to it.” I said with a smile. Marge nodded and turned to Grammy, “What about you Beth?” Grammy thought for a minute, “Give me the same thing but give me coffee, and her milk.” Marge went off to give our order to the cook. Grammy turned to me, “Put out your hand.” I did, she dropped four quarters into my hand. “For the jukebox?” I asked. She gave me the okay, and I ran off to pick out my favorite songs.
I timed it just right, because when I returned to the bar, the cook was getting ready to cook my meal. I watched him flip my overmedium eggs, and my bacon. I heard my stomach rumble as he poured the gravy over my biscuit. And when it came to the bar, and was placed in front of me. I dove in quickly and ate every bit. “Wow, you weren’t kidding, you were very hungry.” said Grammy. I nodded as I finished the rest of my milk.
When Grammy was finished also, we got up and told Marge bye. We got outside; the sun was out good now. When we got into the truck Grammy told me that she had to work that afternoon. And that SueAnn her cook would look after me. Now Grammy wasn’t rich by far, SueAnn came to her a long time ago. She needed a job and Grammy needed help, so they made an arrangement. SueAnn cooks and cleans for free room and board. And when I’m there she looks after me.

“Maybe if you’re still here when school starts,” says Grammy, “well enroll you in school here.” I liked the idea of that. “And when your mommy gets out of the hospital, you both can stay for awhile. We’ll celebrate your birthday in May at the Blowing Rock Park.” I liked the idea of staying already.
The ride from town to Grammy’s was only maybe five minutes, but seemed like forever. I had built up anticipation from all Grammy was telling me we would do. When we finally arrived, I got out and ran into the house. Straight past SueAnn who was in the kitchen doing dishes. And up into my room. Nothing had changed from the last time I was there. I was thrilled to be there, the one constant I knew I always had in my life. My creamy white curtains blowing in the breeze of the open window, and my huggie bear still sat on my bed. The afghan Grammy had made me still hanging on the back of the rocking chair. I felt at home.
I climbed up onto the bed and lay there looking out the window, at the puffy clouds that now hung in the sky. I don’t know how long I lay there for, but I must have fell asleep. I remember being called out of my sleep by SueAnn to come down to dinner. I sat up in the bed, and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I looked out the window, it was now dark. I climbed out of the bed, and headed for the door.
I descended the stairs, and headed into the dining room. Grammy and SueAnn were already seated at the table. “Well there’s the sleepy eyed girl” said SueAnn. “Come, come sit down.” said Grammy. “How did you sleep dear?” she asked. Still rubbing my eyes, I responded, “It was great Grammy, I feel like I slept for days.” SueAnn got up to go and get dinner. “You’ll love what were having.” said Grammy.
SueAnn returned with a bowl full of fried chicken and another with homefried potatoes. All that with the rolls and carrots I saw already on the table made my mouth water. SueAnn placed the food on the table and left once again.
This time she returned with a pitcher of iced tea with lemon.
I could tell I was going to enjoy this meal.

As we all sat there enjoying good food, and conversation, my thoughts kept drifting back to Mommy. “Grammy?” I asked. She turned to me, “Yes dear?” she said. I squirmed in my seat a bit. “Have you heard anything of Mommy yet?” I looked deep at her for response. “Yes dear, I have.” she said. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until after dinner to talk of this?” I shook my head. “I want to know now Grammy,” I said “Waiting can make things worse.” She nodded, “Okay dear,” she turned to SueAnn and nodded. SueAnn got up and left the table. “I have heard that things are not so well. They are not quite sure that she will make it. She lost a lot of blood. I know they are going to keep her for sometime. They are not quite sure of the effect it will have on her mind.” she looked down at her plate, “It may turn out that her brain is in worse shape than before. And in that case, she will not be allowed to return home. We will know more in a few days.” Most of this I didn’t understand after all, I was only five or six. But I do remember it all well.
After dinner we all three went out to sit on the porch.
As we sat there under the big sky, I could count all the stars. The night animals made their noises and their calls. We sat and talked of the upcoming fair, and how Grammy wanted to take me. That maybe I could go and visit Sara the little girl on the farm about a quarter mile down the road. I liked Sara, she was at one time my best friend, and I could confide in her anything. When we “pinky swore” that meant for keeps.
A light mist started to settle in on us, and Grammy said we should go in before I caught a chill. We went inside and SueAnn made us some hot cocoa. I loved the way SueAnn made hot cocoa; she did something special to it that made it thick, then she piled on the marshmallows. We sat in front of Grammy’s fireplace, and she told me my story before I had to go to bed. I kissed them both lightly on the cheek and headed for my room.
I slept soundly that night. When I woke the next morning, I felt much better. I could smell aromas coming up in the breeze to my room. Pancakes! I hurriedly got out of bed, and got dressed. The clothes were a bit to small, as I had worn them last summer when I was here. But, I didn’t care. I was hungry, and there wasn’t much better then SueAnn’s pancakes. I tied my hair up into a ponytail, and ran down the stairs.
As I ran into the dining room, I came to a halt. “Whoa, there missy.” It was Grammy. “Hailie, you know better then to run through here like that. There is too much to get broken. Including your bones.” I looked at the floor. Grammy had been collecting antiques for as long as I could remember. Most of them could never be replaced. I did know better then to run through the house like I had no sense.
“I am sorry Grammy. I smelled the food, and got excited.” It had been too long since I’d had SueAnn’s cooking. “I won’t do it again, I promise.” She smiled and nodded to my seat. I went to sit down. I began stuffing my cheeks full of the fluffy morsels that tasted so good. I didn’t even need butter!
“Hailie, I have to work today. SueAnn will be here, but you will need to find something to occupy yourself today.” Grammy began. “I will be working a lot this summer. I have things here on the property I need to tend to, and things in town that need me.” I nodded. “Finding yourself something to do for the rest of the summer would be good. Do you have any ideas?”
I swallowed down my last bite of food. “Can I hang out with Sara this summer? We always have great fun.” She thought for a second. “Let me call Roy down there, and we will see what we can get worked out.” Roy was Sara’s daddy. He was a very nice man. Her mother Mary was as nice as could be too.
I drank down my orange juice and asked to be excused. I stood up and started to leave the dining room. “Hold it right there.” Said Grammy. I turned to her. “What are you wearing?” I looked at my clothes. “These are the close I wore last year Grammy. What’s wrong?”
“Well, we will have to do something about that before you start school up here. I can’t have you running around in shorts that should be pants.” I laughed at her. They weren’t quite short enough to be shorts yet. “Go on, you can go.” She said. So I walked out of the room, through the door and out onto the back porch.
The sun was slowly rising; it was going to be a beautiful day. The puffy clouds I love were waltzing their way through the sky. The early morning birds were singing their praises to the day. Just grateful to be alive in such a wondrous place I think. I took a seat on the old bench swing and began to rock myself back and fourth. It wasn’t hard to get lost in the beauty of the mountains.
Grammy came out and joined me shortly. “I called and spoke to Roy. He seems to think it is a wonderful idea for you to come down daily and give Sara someone to play with.” I found myself getting happy. The last time I saw Sara I was five, now I was seven. I knew she was my age, but couldn’t remember if she was older your younger then me.
I had turned seven just a couple weeks before school let out. Mommy had made me a cake, and bought me a music box. A music box that I would likely never see again. She had allowed me a couple of friends over while Bert was still at work, and there was lots of fun had that day. A chill went up my spine.
“Well, you can head off down to their farm when I leave for town. This will let SueAnn get lots done here as well. She won’t be having to worry ‘bout you none.” She said. I jumped up and down. “Thank you Grammy, I know this will be fun.” I gave her a hug and went up to my room, to find some ideas of things to do while down there.
Grammy came up to my room about an hour later and told me she was getting ready to go. “Your bike is still in the barn if you want to ride it.” I had no idea it was still here. “It may be a bit dusty, so you need to bring a towel down.” I nodded. I couldn’t help but be excited. I had not seen Sara in forever.
Grammy left my room, and I finished packing my old backpack with things I wanted to bring down to Sara’s. Then I went down to the laundry room to find an old towel. I didn’t want to ruin one of Grammy’s good ones on my bike. I dig through the cupboards until I found a couple that looked like old rags. I tucked them under my arm and headed out to the barn.
I entered out into the bright sunshine again. It was warming up so nice. I crossed the small pasture where Nattie the cow spent her days. And went into the barn. There it was. Such a site to behold. Of course it looked much smaller now. But it was still good enough to ride. I cleaned off the seat and the handlebars. Then I tossed the rags into the barrel that was close by, and put my backpack into the basket on the back. I rolled the bike out of the barn, and up to the front porch of the house.
“SueAnn!” I called. No answer. “SUEANN!” I called again. She came running out of the door. “What? Are you OK?” She looked at me. “Yes, I am fine.” I said. “I just wanted to let you know I am going to ride down to Sara’s now.” She sighed a breath. “Okay, you had scared me. I thought you were hurt.” She looked down the drive, and back to me. “You be careful, and stay on the right side of the road all the way there. Then you call me when you get there.” I hopped on my bike. “I will, don’t worry.” I called back to her.
The ride down to Sara’s was only about 5 minutes by bike. They were the closest neighbors we had up here. Grammy said that is what she liked so much about living up here. “All of the peace and quiet makes the beauty shine more.” Very few cars even passed me on my way to Sara’s. It was just me and the road. I liked it like that. I crossed the bridge that allowed the road to cross the creek the separated Grammy’s property from Sara’s family’s, and I knew I was there.
I turned into the driveway, and hopped off my bike. I could never ride it up the hill their driveway was on. It was far to steep. So I pushed it on up. I came over the top, and saw the house. The two story white structure was just as big as I remembered. The big red barn off to the back on the left. And the horses prancing around their corral. Not much had changed. I parked my bike beside the porch and headed up the stairs.
A brown haired girl with freckles and glasses came bounding out of the door. “Hailie!” she screamed. In less then seconds she was squeezing me to death. It was Sara. “Wow Sara, your hair is so long, and you have glasses.” I said as I hugged her back. It had been too long. I was glad though to see that she had missed me just as much as I did her.
She grabbed my hand and started dragging me into the house. “Mom!” She called. “Hailie is here.” Mary came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. She was just as I remembered her, and her warm smile warmed me.
“Roy!” She called back into the kitchen. “Come see Hailie.” he came out, and was much taller then I remembered. “Well, hi there kiddo. How have you been?” I told him I was good, and happy to be back up in Boone. He nodded.
“Boy, she is turning into a pretty thing isn’t she?” Mary asked him.
“Sure is.” he said. “Just look at the fiery hair.” Sara started tugging me.
“You two have fun.” said Roy. We turned to head out.
“Wait...” I stopped. “I have to call SueAnn and tell her I got here okay.” Mary pointed over the phone. I went and called SueAnn, and told her I was there and good. “Have a nice time.” she said to me, and we hung up.
Sara then drug me up to her room, where we filled each other in on everything. She was 7 too, and 2 months younger then me. She was starting second grade this year at Rosewood Elementary. I had attended there with her almost 2 years ago. I would be going into second grad this year myself. I just wasn’t sure where. She had gotten glasses last year due to a stigmatism in her right eye. And, she was addicted to music, and swimming.
We spent most of that day down at the creek, swimming, and just chatting with each other about things we wanted to do with the rest of the summer. It was a nice day. I enjoyed myself and had a good time. I was almost sad when it was time to go home. At least I knew I would get to come back the next day, and every other day that summer. We gave each other a long hug, and I hopped back on my bike, for the ride home.
I had a wonderful dinner with Grammy and SueAnn. They treated me to pizza. Once I was done I went to bathe and go to bed. While I was bathing I thought of Mommy. I wondered how she was, and if she missed me. Then I thought of going back to see Sara the next day. I wondered if I was selfish, for wanting to have fun, while my mommy wasn’t well. I decided that was something a child my age shouldn’t be worried about.
I climbed out of the tub, and dried off. Slipped into a new nightgown I had found on my bed. Grammy must have got it for me today. It was a very pretty pink, with a bow on it. And it was very soft. I climbed up into bed and remembering the fun day I had fell promptly asleep.
The rest of the summer went by rather fast. I spent every day I could with Sara. We were still the best of friends. We either spent our days at the creek swimming, or riding out bikes. Sometimes we even rode the horses out in the pasture. We watched her new colt be born into the world, and helped to care for it when we were allowed. There were days that Mary took us to the amusement park, and nights we got to go to the drive in theater.
We loved the triple features, and getting to see and hang out with other kids. Though not many our age were there. And we knew we would never see them outside the drive in. Covering ourselves up with blankets in the back of Mary’s old pickup, and settling in with our popcorn and slushies. Eating ourselves sick before the movie even started, then falling asleep before the movie ended. It was still suck great fun.
Helping with the farm animals that Sara had was a blast too. I learned a lot. I found that everything around me was one more piece to a puzzle I had not figured out, and wondered if I ever would. I liked seeing the world for what is was and people for who they were. There was nothing better then the natural life here.
On the last day I spent with Sara, her mom made us a special cake. Just for the two of us. It was a small celebration for us to be entering the second grade together next week. She had also made us some blackberry jelly candies that were dipped in chocolate, and some milkshakes. I left there that evening with a tummy ache.
On the ride home, I thought about, what it was going to be like to be in school again here. If I would make other friends or if it would just be Sara and me forever. I kinda hoped it would be just us, but I knew that changes happened unexpectedly too.
I reached home, and parked my bike beside our steps, and went inside. Grammy was in the living room, and said hello to me. She told me that if I was hungry, dinner was still on the table. “I am going to change first Grammy” I said, and hurried off to do so.
After changing into my gown, I went down and had some dinner. It was still warm. They had probably tried to wait on me. But I knew I had been coming home later in the evenings. I was having too much fun with Sara. After I ate, I went out onto the porch where Grammy and SueAnn were now sitting. SueAnn poured me a glass of iced tea. We all sat there just admiring the sunset, and talking. I finally grew tired and told them I was heading up to bed. They both hugged me, and told me goodnight.

As I walked through the kitchen to the stairs, I saw something that caught my eye. It was a newspaper sticking up out of the trash. I went over and pulled it out. I stuffed it under my gown and hurried up the stairs. I burst through my bedroom door, and turned on my night-light. I couldn’t read very well, but I did make out my mommy’s name on the front page. There was also a picture of Bert. It said something of jail, so that made me feel better. At least I knew now the police kept him. I wadded up the paper, and put it under my mattress, I would cut out the article at a later time, and find someone to read it to me. It was obvious Grammy didn’t want to, so I wouldn’t ask her.
I climbed into bed and pulled up the covers to my chin. I lay there looking out the window, and thinking of Mommy until I fell asleep. I think I must have had a rough nights sleep, when I woke up Grammy was sitting beside me in the rocker. There was also sweat pouring from my body. “I think you had a nightmare, you tossed and turned all night.” she said. “Well let’s get you up and go have breakfast.” I rolled out of bed, and got dressed. Grammy turned to leave, “I’ll see you downstairs when your ready.” she told me.
This day went smoothly as any other. And more days came and went, nothing was said of the article. Was Grammy never going to tell me? Finally she sat down to have a talk to me. It was two days before the school year started. She told me she didn’t know how soon they would release Mommy nor if they were going to; that was why she enrolled me in school. I would be starting school there on Monday. My second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Notting. Grammy said she was a very nice woman.
I woke up on Monday morning with cobwebs in my head. I slowly rose and got dressed, Grammy had bought me some new things. I was going to wear my favorite of them all. A yellow trimmed dress, with pink and yellow flowers. Once I was dressed, I went to the mirror to comb my hair. A thought crossed my mind, and I went to my mattress and pulled out the clipping, I had saved of Mommy. If Mrs. Notting did turn out to be nice, I was going to get her to read it to me after school. I folded it up and put it in my bag, and went downstairs.
As I sat and ate breakfast Grammy and I talked of the fact that she would take me to school in the mornings, and I would ride the bus home everyday. That if I wanted to take my lunch I needed to let SueAnn know the day before. Things like that. After breakfast we went out and got in the Suburban for the ride to school.

March 3rd, 2004, 06:52 PM
~Chapter Two~

The ride wasn’t long at all. As we pulled up Grammy told me to have a nice day and she would see me at home about dinnertime. I nodded and got out of the truck and slowly climbed the stairs.
I went straight to the office to be showed where my class was. When I entered the office a nice woman who introduced herself as Ms. Brant greeted me. She was the school secretary. I felt warm about her right away.
She asked me to have a seat, and went into one of the offices. Soon later she came out and went to the intercom. “Ryder Stark, please report to the office, Ryder Stark.”
Where did I know that name from? It sounded too familiar. She came over to me, “Hailie, I’m going to have one of our nicest students show you around today.” I nodded. Still thinking of from where I knew the name.
He entered the office and it all came back to me. That horrible night, that morning he was there too. He was so comforting to me. He walked over to me, “Hello, I’m Ryder.” I stood there speechless. Then the words came, “I know, I’ve met you before.” He glanced at me like a lost puppy. “We have?” He asked. I nodded and smiled, “Yes, a few months ago in Linville.” He looked at me closer. “At the police station.” I said. The look on his face brightened, “I remember now, Hailie right?” I Just continued to nod and smile. “Wow this is great! I was wondering what happened to you.”
Ms. Brant looked at us with surprise; “You two know each other? That is good. Well Ryder show her everywhere she needs to go. You two have a nice day.” We both gave our okays and headed out into the hall. He showed me everywhere I would go throughout the day. Then he took me to my classroom and told me goodbye and that maybe he would see me at lunch.
After that day, we were inseparable. He would meet me out front in the morning, and walk Sara and me to the bus in the afternoon. I found out he was nine and in the fourth grade. He liked to play sports, and was on a little league team. His father hadn’t made it through the accident they were in, and he was permanently living with his Aunt Billie and cousin Jeff. Jeff had recently turned twelve and was in the seventh grade.
Sara and I had only lunch together. But we saw each other after school as well as on weekends. We were not going to let things come between us. We would meet in the hall when we could. Just to check on each other.

After the first week I stayed after class a little longer than most of the kids. I had met and liked Mrs. Notting very well. I felt I could trust her. I pulled up a chair and sat in front of her desk. “Is there something I can help you with Hailie?” she asked. At first I didn’t know whether or not to continue, but then I gathered my courage. “Yes ma’am, I would like for you to read this to me.” I pulled the article from my bag, and handed it to her.
She glanced at it for a moment, “Where did you get this from sweetheart?” she asked. I squirmed for a moment thinking I had made a mistake. “I pulled it from my trash at home.” I answered. She looked at me with concern. “Well sweetie, I’m not sure I understand why you have this.” I looked up at her straight in the eye, “This,” I said, pointing to the picture, “is my mother, and this was her friend.” Her eyes widened with surprise and hurt.
“Oh my you poor dear, I would have never known. And I’m really not sure I should read this to you.” I looked down; the tears were beginning to come. “Why is that?” I asked sobbing, “Noone has ever told me all of it yet, I want to know what it says. If you won’t read it to me, I’ll find someone else to do it.” She sat back and took a long breath.
“Okay, I will read this to you, but I’m going to tell you now it is bad news, and after which I think we should call your grandma and set up a meeting with her.” I nodded reluctantly. The thought of involving my grammy scared me; she didn’t want me to know this for some reason. “Okay are you ready?” she asked. Once again I slowly nodded.
She began, “Back in June we brought you a story of a woman who was brutally attacked in her boyfriend’s home, by her boyfriend himself. She was beaten all about her body. The bruises on her face, along with the cuts, left her unrecognizable. She was four months pregnant at the time; the baby was lost. Not quite a year earlier she was in a severe collision while on a motorcycle. The combination of these two accidents appears to be more than the woman could take. She died at Linville Memorial Hospital at 2:37am this morning. Her boyfriend Bert Cummins has been charged with her murder. His trial is set for November eighteenth.
Her mother Rose Mast, and daughter Hailie Mast survive her. Both of which are now living in Boone. Services will be held on September ninth at 3:00pm at Mountain Stream Funeral Home. Closed casket. Close family members only.
We are sorry we couldn’t bring you a nicer end to this story. Our hopes and prayers our with her family.”
I felt the tears begin to weld up under my lids as I sat there with my eyes closed, sobbing and hoping to wake from this nightmare. I wept and wept as I lay my head in my hands. Mrs. Notting came around her desk to comfort me, “My poor dear how could they not tell you, I’m so sorry.” I cried into her shoulder, as she patted me on the back.
I heard someone enter, I glanced up. It was Ryder. “Hailie, here you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. We missed the bus. Why are you crying, what is wrong?” I started sobbing uncontrollably. I got up and ran to him to hug him, “My mommy is dead, Ms. Notting just read it to me.” I cried into his arms, and he tried to comfort me.
“Hailie, let me give the two of you a ride home. Then I’ll come back to your house around dinnertime to talk to you and your grandma. Maybe the two of you talking will help you to understand her more.” I nodded through my tears. Ryder and I followed her to her car, and rode in silence to my home where I got out. “See you tomorrow Hailie.” said Ryder. “Remember I’ll be back.” said Mrs. Notting. I waved a goodbye and headed up to my house.
As I was walking up the stairs of the porch, I stopped and turned around. Looking up at the sky was a sight. I thought I could see my mommy, no I swear by it. I sat down on a step and buried my face in my hands. At first I just sat there like that, then the tears came once again. I heard the front door open and it was SueAnn. “Hailie, dear why are you so late, did the bus run late today? Honey, what is the matter?” I turned to look at her, my face soaked with tears. I couldn’t see her well the tears blurred my vision. Yet I said nothing. I stood up and ran past her, and up to my room. I burst through the door and threw myself on my bed. After a few minutes, I rolled over and got up. I went to my bag where I had threw it on the floor, and removed the article. Sitting down in the rocking chair, I sat there and stared at it forever. I was still just sitting there when my grammy got home.
I could hear her come up the stairs, she was saying something to SueAnn. Then she opened my door and came in. “Hailie, what is wrong with you dear? You had SueAnn worried to death.” Then she noticed the article in my hands. She walked over to me and removed it from my grip. “Oh dear, where did you get this?” I still just sat there staring. “Why didn’t you come to me when you found this?” She was beginning to look annoyed. “Hailie, I am speaking to you. Look at me.” I looked up at her, her face warmed. “Grammy, why didn’t you tell me, why did I have to ask?” I looked at her hard. “The funeral was two days ago, and I wasn’t even there, she was my mommy, and I missed it.” I began to cry again.
“Oh sweetie, I didn’t know how to tell you.” Then she thought, “Hailie, who read this to you?” I turned away. “Hailie?” I thought for a minute, and not knowing what else to say, I told her, “Mrs. Notting did, I found it in our trash can, and I took it to her. She didn’t want to read it to me, but I told her I would just find someone else to do it. So she did. She is coming here around dinner time.” Grammy looked furious.
“She should not have read this to you, she should have called me and asked me first. She and I will have a long talk about this when she comes.” All I could do was nod. “Now, Hailie dear, you just go on ahead and get ready for dinner. Everything will be okay.” With that she turned and left.
I sat back in the chair for a few more moments to collect my thoughts. I wondered if Mommy was happy in heaven. I wondered if she could see me. These were all questions I would ask Grammy later. Does this mean I’m going to live with Grammy forever? Soon I was awoke from my thoughts by Grammy calling me to dinner, “Hailie, come on dear it is going to get cold.”
I got up and went to the bathroom to wash my face and hands. Then I descended the stairs to the kitchen, the food sure smelled good. I walked through the kitchen and into the dining room where I heard voices. Mrs. Notting was there, her and Grammy were talking and neither of them looked happy. The last thing I heard before I saw Mrs. Notting turn to leave was Grammy. “If you think I’m going to let this go lightly, you are very mistaken.” And all I saw then was Mrs. Notting going out the door.
“Come dear, sit down and eat.” said Grammy. I did so. “Hailie, Mrs. Notting and I had our talk, and from now on she will not be interfering in our home life.” I nodded, but in the back of my mind I was wondering about everything was said. I just sat there in silence and ate my food.
After dinner I went up to the bathroom and took my bath. I lay there in the tub wondering about the day’s events. After a while I began to wrinkle so I got out and got dressed for bed. As I climbed into bed I thought about tomorrow, it was Saturday; maybe it would prove to be better.
The weekend went smoothly. I found peace with myself. Grammy took me to my mommy’s gravesite, and I got to say goodbye. She took me to different places, she said she had taken my Mommy when she was young. I spent the evenings in my room just thinking. I was bound and determined not to let this get the best of me. Mommy would have wanted me to be happy. And I bet she was happy now in heaven, she would suffer no more pain or anguish.
On Monday I went back to school, Grammy took me. She told me things would be OK. I saw Ryder as I got out of her truck. He came over to me as she pulled away. “Did things go okay for you this weekend?” I told him yes and that I was feeling better. The rest of the school day went as any other. But one thing was different; Mrs. Notting wasn’t in class. We were all told she had had an emergency, and wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the school year. I knew in my heart that Grammy had something to do with that.

The school year passed by quickly. Then year after year went by. I found that having friends that were close, was the best part. Sara, Ryder and I spent a lot of time together. We had the weekends, and the summers to get into mischief, and fun.
Sara’s mom Mary had had a new baby, so Sara had a baby brother. His name was Thomas. I helped Sara care for him when Mary needed help. Sara and I spent a lot of time in each other’s homes. It was to distinguish who lived where.
Ryder could be counted on to be found in the oddest places, and he would pop up freely, when he wanted to. It made for a great friendship. Grammy started calling us the Three Musketeers. For whenever you saw one, you knew the others were close by.
The summer Sara and I were 12 and Ryder was 14, we all got into a heap of trouble. Grammy caught us all down at the creek skinny-dipping. It was hot, and none of us wanted to run home for suits. We didn’t think anything of it. We just stripped down and jumped in. Took Sara a few moments to get over herself and then she was in with us.
Grammy had told me I couldn’t see either of them for a month. She finally relented after I did nothing but mope around the house for a week. Then we were all back up to our silly antics.

Before I knew it I was in Junior High. My life seemed to be going in an up direction. Before I knew it I was fourteen and in the eighth grade. My Grammy was still hanging in with me and SueAnn was still here. Ryder was along my side the entire time, he and Sara were my best friends, my one true thing. I felt the stirring f puppy love under my chest. That is something I never planned on telling him.
He was sixteen now and he had what I guessed was his girlfriend. She seemed to be everywhere he was. She probably thought the same of me. He had gotten his license over the summer, and Grammy agreed that he could take me to and from school. He had grown up to be such a nice looking young man. I only wished he looked at me with the same interest as he looked at Sharron, that was her name.
She was blonde hared, and brown eyed. She looked like one of the girls you would see on the cover of Cosmo. Her father owned one of the law firms in town, so she also had money. Most of the boys in middle school drooled over themselves when she was with us when Ryder would drop me off or pick me up. She was also sixteen and like Ryder she went to the highschool.
I had taken up sports in school and Ryder would come to all my games. I don’t think Sharron liked that much. Sharron’s little sister Meg was on the team with me, and the two of us didn’t get along well. I think because of things Sharron said to her. Her nickname for me was “stick”, I suppose because I was so thin. Most of the girls teased me once in awhile. But none in as harsh away as Sharron and Meg. Meg was the spitting image of Sharron. Both of them were very filled out and voluptuous for their ages.
On a cold autumn day in November, we were waiting for the rain outside to stop so we could have our soccer practice. And Meg out of sheer boredom or meanness took my books and placed them in a commode in the girl’s locker room. I had returned from the snack room to get some of the other girls and I something to drink. Her and a few of her friends were in a corner laughing and talking. Sara told me what they had done. “Why didn’t you stop her?” I whispered to her. She glanced at me and back to them. “It wasn’t just her it was all of them. I couldn’t stop them on my own.” she whispered back. “Ho, well they will all get what is coming to them don’t you worry.” I told her under my breath.
When the coach called for us, and told us that the rain had stopped. Most everyone went outside, I lingered back. I told Sara to cover for me with the coach and she agreed. I went into the lockers and removed all of their belongings. Then I took them to the showers and laid them all out on the floor. I went one by one and turned all the faucets on, making sure to soak everything. Then I ran out onto the field. I made my way over to Sara with a silly smirk on my face. “What did you do?” she asked. “You’ll see.” I told her. She just smiled back at me. That day we played one mean and muddy game of soccer.
After practice, we returned to the locker room. We could hear gasps and screams from inside. I began laughing hysterically, and when Sara had seen what I had done she began to join me. The coach came in, “What in heaven’s name is going on in here?” Meg was the first one over to her, “It seems someone has soaked our clothes in the showers.” she said looking at me. The coach looked furious. “Well,” She began, “Who is responsible for this?” I along with everyone else just stood there trying to contain out giggles. “I am pretty sure it was Hailie.” said Meg. The coach turned to me with surprise, “You Hailie? Did you do this?” I stood back for a minute; all grew quiet in the room. “Yes ma’am, I did. I had darn good reason though.” I said in my defense. The coach turned to walk away, “I will see you both in my office after school.” she said, as she rounded the corner.
I blurted out laughing again, and went to get dressed. Sara followed me just giggling away. The other girls went to ring out their clothes and put them under the hand dryers for a bit. When we were dressed, Sara went to catch her ride, and I went to the coach’s office. We were waiting on Meg. “So before Meg gets here what was your darn good reason?” she asked. I told her of my books and the other girls laughter. That Sara had told me that they had done it. I told her I was just trying to get even. I told her my books and notes I would have to fix, but their clothes would dry. She glanced at me for a moment, then Meg entered.
“Meg, Hailie has told me something I find very interesting.” she began. “Is it true that you and your friends placed Hailie’s books in a commode earlier today?” Meg’s eyes got wide. She began to fidget, “Yes ma'am, we did.” The coach nodded, “Well Hailie has a solution to this problem.”
I looked up quick, “I do?” I asked. The coached turned to me. “Yes Hailie, I think your idea is a very good one for this. Hailie you will take Meg’s clothes, along with the others, home with you tonight, wash them dry them and bring them back to them tomorrow.” I was dumbfounded.
“But I...” she stopped me mid sentence. “And Meg you will take Hailie’s books and notes home with you, you will recopy them and repair them as necessary.” We both began to protest, “That is all.” she said. Then she got up and left.
We both turned and looked at each other, then Meg got up and ran out of the office. I sat back for a moment, then began to laugh when I realized I got the better end of the deal.
I looked at the clock on the wall, and jumped up when I noticed the time. Ryder would be waiting for me now. I ran out of the office, and into the parking lot. There he was waiting for me with Sharron. Oh, and Meg was there too. My heart stopped.
“Where have you been?” he asked. I stopped running; I tried to catch my breath. “I was in the coach’s office.” I glared at Meg, who was smiling. She must have told them something.
I got into the jeep’s back seat beside Meg. We drove through town and things were kinda silent. Ryder was the first to speak up. Anyone up for ice cream or shakes? “Sure!” I said. It was a Friday, and I knew that Grammy wouldn’t be home till right at dinnertime anyway. “I just have to be home by 6 Ryder,” I said.
Sharron and Meg finally piped up that they would like to go too. “Then it is settled.” Said Ryder, as he turned to head towards the ice cream parlor. Ryder pulled to a stop and hopped out of the side of the jeep without opening the door. I love it when he did that.
I dug into my pockets. One dollar, that was all I had. I went up to Ryder and whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry, get what you want it is my treat. Oh, and get me a chocolate dipped cone.” he said.
Ryder had taken on a job over the summer as well. He was working down on the Patterson’s farm. He only worked weekends while school was in though. I found that he spent a lot of that money on me, so I hate3d even asking him for something. He did so much anyway, and never thought anything of it. Some days he was working I would bring down a picnic lunch and eat with him. Sometimes Sara would join us.
I ordered myself a rootbeer float, I loved those best, and I got Ryder his cone. As I was turning around with them I heard someone say something about a “Stick” stuck up Ryder’s ass. Next thing I know I am wearing my rootbeer float, and Ryder’s ice cream cone and Ryder is punching some kids lights out. “Ryder! Stop! Christ break it up! I screamed. “Dammit!” I yelled. Then Ryder grabbed my hand and drug me back to the jeep.
He threw Sharron and Meg’s things out of the jeep slammed my door, and hopped in. He took off squealing tires the whole way. The look of anger and disgust on his face was something I had never seen before on him.

“What the hell happened back there?” I asked. He didn’t say anything. “Ryder, what is going on?” He pulled over to the side of the road, about two miles from my home and got out of the Jeep. He started kicking the tire on his side. I got out too.
“Ryder” I started. “Are you OK?” He just looked at me. Then he took my hand. “Come with me.” he said. I followed him into the brush, which then became a small path. It seemed like the path would never end and the silence between us deafening.
Finally, the path ended into a small clearing. There was a small pond formed by rocks in the creek. I had never been here. There was one big rock, big enough to sit, dive off or lie on. It was the most beautiful place I had ever been. And it was like it was hidden here. Untouched and perfect.
He stopped, turned to me, and then sat me on a big tree that had fallen, adding to the beauty of the area. “Hail...” He started. What do you think of me? I sat quiet for a moment. “What do you mean Ryder?
“I mean what I said, what do you think of me?” OK, yes I was a dumb kid.
“I think your great, you know that.” I said. “You and Sara are my best friends.”
I looked at him. He was looking off into the current of the water in the pond.
“Hailie, I mean...” He sat down beside me. “Do you think of me as only a friend?” I started getting shaky feelings inside. I was not sure how to answer that. Where was he going with this?
“Back there, at the ice cream shop, I couldn’t take it anymore. I am tired of hearing what people say to me and behind my back.” He stopped. Looking up at the sky he continued. “I hate when they say things about you, or about me. It makes me sick when they act like you’re just a stick stuck up my ass.” Ohh, so that was what it was all about back there. “I hate is so much, because I like having you around. Having you with me. Your part of me.” I sat quietly, listening.
“I like Sharron, but not like I should like her. I hang with her because it is like it is expected of me. When in truth, I hate every moment I am with her. She is so stuck up, so stubborn and bitchy.” He paused. “She is not like you.” He picked up a stick, and started poking it at the dirt.
“I am only with her, was only with her because the guys picked on me for always being with you and Sara. And I hated the things they would say about us.” He looked back to me. “I don’t want to be with Sharron.” He looked down. “I want to be with someone else. I love you Hailie.”
My voice got caught in my throat. I couldn’t say anything. Tears formed at the corners of my eyes. One slowly escaped. I turned away; I didn’t want him to see the tears. He reached up and touched my chin. Slowly he turned my face towards him. He brushed the tears away with his fingers. Then he leaned in towards me and kissed me gently.
My heart stopped. There was no sound, not from the pond, or the breeze that was definitely blowing. He pulled back and looked at me. All I could do was smile. This was my first kiss ever from a boy. This was the most excitement my body had ever felt, and I liked it. “I love you Hailie.” He repeated.
This time I leaned into him kissing him harder. I leaned closer, and I could feel his heart beating hard against my small breast. I was trying to hold onto this moment for as long as I could.
When I pulled back this time, I looked at his face. He had a tear on his cheek. “I love you too Ryder.” And I could not have been telling a truer tale. “I have loved you forever I think.” he smiled. Then he kissed me gently again and grabbed my hand. We headed back to the jeep.
He started the jeep up, and I looked at the time. It was only 5:30. At least I wasn’t going to be late. Everything else in the world had just became perfect. I didn’t need anything to ruin it. Especially being late on Grammy.

He pulled up to the end of my drive, and I turned and just looked at him for a moment. “I am not going to go to sleep tonight, and wake up to find this was just a dream am I.” I asked. He shook his head. “Never. I am done with being how everyone wants me to be. From now on it is just me and you.” I smiled. He leaned over to kiss me goodbye, but I shied away. “Grammy may be home, I don’t want her to know. She is fine with all the time we spend together right now. I don’t want her to have reason to question us.” He nodded. “See you in the morning.” I touched his hand and got out of the car.
I ran up the driveway and turned to see him pulling away, waving at me. I waved back. I continued on up to the house. When I got inside I could tell dinner was close to being done. I had to call Sara. I had to tell her what had happened to me today.
I took the stairs two at a time, and closed the door to my room behind me. I picked up the phone and dialed her number. I was still all flushed and bursting with joy. It seemed to ring forever. No one ever picked up. I decided I would try again after dinner. I got washed up and changed my clothes. Then I headed down the stairs.
SueAnn had made cornedbeef and potatoes. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but good just the same. Grammy talked about taking a vacation when school let out for spring break. My heart sank. I was just given love in Ryder; I wasn’t ready to have to go away yet. At least I still had 4 months before we would go. Grammy wanted to go to the coast. Over to Hilton Head Island. I guess it could be fun.
After dinner, I helped SueAnn clear the dishes, and I washed them. That was now one of my chores around the house. I also fed and cared for Nattie the cow in the mornings before school. Then there was the laundry and the gardening on weekends. It wasn’t all bad. Some of it I enjoyed.
When I was done with the dishes, I headed back up to my room to call Sara’s house again. I so badly wanted to give her my news. I had to share my news with someone. I sat down on the bed, and picked up the phone again. Again there was no answer. Where could she be? Where could they all be? It was after 7pm now. Maybe they went out to dinner; it was Friday after all.
I went back downstairs. Grammy and SueAnn were sitting in the den. They had a fire roaring, and it was toasty in there. I sat down on the arm of Grammy’s chair and lay back. She started playing, and running her fingers through my hair. That always made me relaxed. My hair was now below my waistline. I wore it in a ponytail or braid most of the time. I used to wear it stuffed under a ball cap. I could not longer do that it was far too long and thick.
Grammy talked more about Hilton Head, and the sites we would see there. It sounded like a good trip. I guess I could try to look forward to it. After all it would only be for a week. Maybe we could take Sara with us. That would be fun. I moved over to the couch. As I lay there listening, I dozed off to sleep.

March 4th, 2004, 12:56 AM
~Chapter 3~

The phone ringing around 8 awaked me. Grammy answered it. She then came to me, and had a very concerned look on her face. “Hailie dear, I am afraid I have some terrible news.” I sat up. “Sara and her family have been in an accident. She is asking for you at the hospital.”
I stood up in shock. I was trembling, and the tears were beginning to flow freely down my face. I grabbed the closest pair of shoes I could find, and ran out the door. Grammy was close behind me, though she was getting up in years; she was still a feisty woman. Grammy got in, and buckled up. Then she peeled out, like I had never seen her drive before. She was worried for me. She was going faster then normal, but was still being very cautious.
I felt this was bad. Grammy had not looked at me once, since getting into the Suburban. “Grammy” I began, “what kind of accident?” Grammy paused and thought a second. “Hailie, hun their house caught fire tonight. Mary, and Thomas have already passed away from Smoke inhalation.” Oh my! Her mom was dead and her baby brother too. Those poor, poor people. I just started crying harder.
“Roy is in pretty bad shape. For that matter so is Sara. They are both in the ICU unit.” Dear god, was my friend going to die? “Grammy, will Sara be OK?” Grammy just looked at me. A moment later she spoke. “Hailie, I really don’t know, but it doesn’t sound promising.” We sat in silence the rest of the way to the hospital.

When we pulled up in the parking of Watauga Medical Center, both of us got out as fast as we could, and ran to the ER entrance. The Nurse behind the counter took our names, and got an orderly to show us up to ICU. He was a short stout older man, maybe 50. He had eyebrows that bushed like brush that had been unkept, but he had a nice smile.
He showed us into an elevator, and I took hold on Grammy’s hand. I was holding it tight. She just held mine back and patted my shoulder with her other hand. I laid my hand against her shoulder.
The elevator stopped on the 3rd floor, and we all walked out. We followed the orderly down a few halls, and into ICU. There he directed us to the room in which both Sara and Roy were. He informed us that they were in rough condition, and their appearances were not good.
We both took a deep breath and entered the room. No amount of warning could have prepared me for what I was about to see. Roy was in the first bed. He was unconscious, and hooked up to so many machines. His head was fully bandaged except for his eyes and mouth. There were blood spots on the bandages.
Sara looked worse. She didn’t have as many bandages on her, so I could see her face. She didn’t look like herself. She had tubes coming out of her nose and IVs all in her arms. I took a seat beside her bed, and picked up her bandaged hand gently.
She moaned. It nearly scared me out of my skin. It was not her voice but a very deep one coming from her. “Hails” she said “is that you?” I moved closer. “Yes, Sara, it is me. How are you feeling?” She tried to take in a breath and started coughing.
“I feel... I feel like I am dying.” she said. I choked back a sob. “No, Sara, don’t say that, your going to be fine.” She tried to shake her head, but didn’t succeed very well.
“No, Hails” She coughed. “The doctor told me I am lucky to be here now.
I have heard them talking. I am probably not going to make it.” She was wheezing now. “I wanted to see you. I had to see you.” By now she was really having a hard time talking.
“Sara, don’t talk, it isn’t good for you.” I said. She shook her head. “I want to talk to you. I want to tell you that you have been my best friend. My...” She was hacking so hard and wheezing I was scared, but she held my hand tight. “You’ve been like a sister to me. I will always love you Hails.”
“Sara, shhh, don’t talk about that now. Just rest.” She closed her eyes. Then she opened them wide and let go of my hand. She was grasping at her throat. I started yelling for a nurse. One came in quite a hurry. “You're going to have to step outside now.” the nurse said to me.
I walked backwards out of the room, watching my best friend, being worked on by numerous doctors. “Code Blue! I heard and an alarm went off. “Begin resuscitation.” came from another direction. I turned and ran from the room.
I found Grammy sitting in the lounge. She had a cup of coffee in her hand, and was staring out the window into the dark. I took a seat beside her. She turned to me and took my hand. “How is she doing?” she asked. “I don’t know.” I cried. “Something happened, and I had to leave.” Grammy placed her arms around me. We just sat there and waited.

About an hour later, a doctor came to talk to us. He was tall and lean, maybe in his thirties. He had a very stern face, and was not smiling, as he approached. “Hailie Mast?’ He asked. “Yes.” I said and stood up. “Sara is not doing as well as we had hoped. She will be lucky to make it through tonight. She is still asking for you, so you are welcome to stay with her if you like.”
“I would like to, yes sir.” Grammy stood beside me. “Are you sure dear?” she asked. “Yes Grammy, I would want her to be with me, if I was in there, and not her.” She nodded. “ I will be at home, call me when you’re ready to come home.” I kissed her and she left me.
I walked back to Sara’s room. I looked at Roy who was lying there motionless. I wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. I hurriedly walked past him. I was sacred to bother him. When I was back in Sara’s part of the room, I pulled the curtain around us. Then I sat back in the chair beside her bed. I was as quiet as I could be not to wake her.
I sat there just watching her breathe for as long as I could stay awake. Some nurses came in and out to check on her, but they didn’t say anything to me. One of them did give me a smile, and a look of condolence. They mostly just checked her and left. It was 10pm now.
I must have dozed off, because the next time I looked at the next time I looked at my watch it was 2:00am. “Hails....” It was Sara. “You’re still here.” I moved closer. “Yes, Sara, I am. Don’t talk. Just go back to sleep and rest. I will not leave you.
“Hails... I am glad you’re here.” She mumbled something else I didn’t quite catch. Then she seems to fall back asleep. I was thirsty, so I decided to go find a vending machine. Maybe I could grab a can of soda somewhere.
I walked out of her room, and headed for the nurses’ station. There was a young nurse sitting behind the desk. She looked up at me. “Can I help you?” I asked her where I could find a vending machine. “Down the hall and to the left hon.” I thanked her and went to get me a drink.
I found something I could drink, and I started back down the hall towards Sara’s room. “HAILIE! HAILIE! It was Sara. I ran back the rest of the way to her room. There was doctor in there and some nurses were trying to calm her. “I’m here Sara, I’m here.” I went to her, and she took my hand. Her eyes got bigger then I have ever seen anyone’s in my life, and her face contorted with pain.
“Hails... I love you. I will... always be with...” The machine beside her bed let out a long piercing beep. The nurses and doctors all filled the room again, and I was rushed out. This was it, this was the end for her and I knew it.
The tears found their way back to my eyes again, and the sobs started coming. I walked slowly out to the waiting room, and had a seat. My head in my hands I just sat there sobbing, and crying for my friend. It felt like an eternity before anyone came out of that room.

Finally, the same doctor, the tall stern looking one from before came out. He walked towards me. Slowly I rose. “Miss. Mast, I am sorry to bring you such bad news.” He began. “Sara has passed on. Her lungs were damaged far too much for us to repair.
The burns have dehydrated her body too much. I am sorry.” He laid his hand on my shoulder. My whole body started to convulse with shudders and sobs. My best friend, my confidant was gone.
I sat back down, and tried my best to collect myself. My thoughts just kept turning back to my friend. My friend who was so full of life just the day before. The one who had been like a sister to me. Gone.
I decided to step in and see Roy, before I left. He was still lying there so lifeless. I asked the nurse who was in the room cleaning up Sara’s side about him. “He is comatose hon.” she said. “They are hoping he will come out of it soon. I touched his hand, and then I turned to leave. One whole family. Four lives, gone.
I walked back out into the hall and over to the phone to call Grammy. It had been a long night. I was ready to go home. I was ready for her to hug me. “I’ll have SueAnn up there to get you in a minute dear, I am not quite alive.” I told her that I would be waiting at the ER entrance. We hung up.
I made my way back down to ER. I felt so lost. What had all just happened? It felt like it happened so fast. Things would never be the same. I wanted to sleep forever. I wanted to be held by Ryder. Ryder. I had never got to tell her about us. I choked back a tear. It wasn’t time for me to be so selfish.
I walked out the ER doors into the crisp night air. I should have grabbed a jacket. Who had time to think about that earlier? The whole night was running together. I hugged myself to try to keep warm and waited for SueAnn. It wasn’t long and I saw the Suburban pull into the lot.
“You OK dear?” she asked when I got in. I nodded. “Things are sure going to be different for you now aren’t they?” I nodded. “You have had to endure more then any child your age should ever have to. I looked at her.
“SueAnn, can we just not talk about this now?” She nodded with understanding. I placed my hands in front of the heat vent, to try and warm myself up. Then settling back in the seat for the ride home, I turned and looked out the window. Life was precious, and in a split moment it could be gone without warning.
When we got home, I went up and got into bed. The darkness came in on me like raven’s wings. Shutting the rest of the world out. It was 3:30am and my body felt it.

I didn’t wake until after noon on Saturday. No one bothered waking me. I really needed that rest. I felt like a zombie. Visions of Sara lying in the hospital bed continued to flood my head. I tried to shake them out. Finally, I decided it was time to get up. No sense staying in bed all day. I would be of no good to anyone. Now wasn’t the time for that.
I crawled out of bed, and pulled some jeans and a T-shirt out of my dresser. Then I drug myself into the bathroom, and turned on the water for the shower. Making the water as hot as I could stand, I stripped down and got in. The steaming shower was helping to wake me, and to shake the cobwebs out of my head.
I turned off the water, and grabbed a towel. Wrapping it around myself, I walked back into my room. Grammy was sitting on my bed. “How are you feeling dear?” I shrugged. “I feel like I lost my best friend Grammy.” She put her arms out to me.
“I know dear. I am so sorry for your loss. I know what she meant to you.” Hugging me still she continued. “There is more news today. Do you think your ready to hear it?” I pulled out of her embrace. “There is more?”
“Yes dear. It is about Roy.” I hugged her again. “Tell me. Waiting only makes things worse.” She looked at me. “Roy died about 8am this morning. His heart gave out. They had orders not to resuscitate.” I let out a huge sigh.
“How awful Grammy. The whole family. No one left.” She nodded in agreement.
“Life can be amazing for the most part, and yet rip itself apart all at the same time.” She held my hand. “How did you ever get to be so wise Hailie?” I looked out the window. It was a beautiful day. No signs what so ever to signal the horrible night before. “I am not wise Grammy. I just see things how they are.”
“That makes you wise dear.” she replied.
“You better get dressed. You can’t sit here in a towel all day.
“I know. I will get dressed and come on down.” She nodded and left.
I threw my clothes on, and headed downstairs carrying my shoes. I wondered
what the day was going to be like. Heck, what school was going to be like. With Sara gone, things were going to be so different. No more mischief with her. I was always the instigator. She just followed me. That brought a smile to my face. She was in a better place. It was just so sad she had to go so soon.
SueAnn was up late last night waiting on me to call for a ride so she was still asleep. No breakfast or Lunch had been cooked, so I went and found a muffin and a banana. I felt like I was starving. Blueberry muffins from blueberries in our own yard. What could be more perfect? I poured me a glass of orange juice, and had a seat at the table in the kitchen.
It was too quiet. I got up and walked over to the small TV that was on the counter and turned it on. As I flipped through the channels, one was showing a picture of Sara. I flipped back to it.
They were talking about the cause of the fire, the lives lost, the tragedy. Apparently, the fire had started by a coal jumping out of the fireplace, while everyone was upstairs. Roy had come back down to stoke it a bit, and the place was ablaze already. He had fought long and hard to get his entire family out of the home. It was just too late.
With no more living family members it was unclear who was going to take care of funeral arrangements. Who was going to take care of the farm? Or what was yet to happen. They had some farm hands, but no one else.
I finished my food, and turned off the TV. It was too heartbreaking to watch anymore. I went out in search of Grammy.

She was sitting out on the porch reading the paper. “Reading about the fire?” I asked.
“No dear, I saw enough of that on the TV.” she said.
“I talked to the sheriff, and the funeral home. I am going to make the
arrangements for them. There is none of their family left to do it.
I nodded. “I am glad you offered to do that. I will be of as much help as I can.”
“I knew you would be dear.” she said, and patted my hand.
I sat down on the bench swing beside her. I lay over and placed my
head on her shoulder. She patted my leg. “Well come on, there is lots to be done.
I followed her to the Suburban. As she drove us into town, she filled me in on what needed to be done. There was a lot that needed to be done.