The Farm

Chapter 3

by Kathy Larson
March 4, 2022

The first time, and there was only one other time, that Stan took Sadie to the farm, was for his father’s funeral.

She had asked him a few times before they were married when she would meet his parents, but he had said each time that they were so busy working that there just wasn’t a good time to make the trip. They’d have to stay overnight, because it was a five-hour drive and he wasn’t about to do ten hours of driving for barely a day of visiting. They’d go when he had holidays and they’d stay at least a week; give his folks a chance to really get to know her. It sounded good to her — she’d never been far out of the city, had never been on a farm — the prospect of spending time in the country excited her. In her mind she pictured green fields, lush gardens, and animals, lots of animals.

When Stan got the call that his father had died they had been married nearly 18 months. By that time she was sure he never meant to take her to meet his parents, and he wouldn’t listen to any talk of having them come to stay. Also, by that time, she knew not to push him when he’d said how things were going to be. Not that he ever laid a hand on her, God no, that was something Stan said he would never do and he was very proud of himself for that. It would be her own damned fault if he ever did, though — there was only so much a man could be expected to take, after all. If he had only known just what a useless, lazy, stupid waste of breath she’d become after she got that ring on her finger. . .

For the first few months after they were married she tried everything she could to restore things to how they’d been before. She ignored his moods, took on fixing up the house on her own when he protested that he was too worn out from slaving for her every day, put on a dress and fixed her makeup and hair for when he got home because he’d gone from telling her how sweet and pretty she was to how plain and disgusting she’d become. Nothing worked. Did she think he wanted people to think he’d married a whore? he’d spit at her. Is that what she did all day while he busted his ass to put this roof over her head and the food on her table — sat around playing dress-up and painting her face so that he’d forget what she really was? His mother had tried to warn him, he told her, but he hadn’t listened, and now look what it had got him.

Sadie never thought to fight back — she’d seen what had happened to her mother. She knew that Stan’s anger wasn’t really with her, just as her father’s hadn’t been with her or her mother. Sometimes, she wished Stan would hit her, then she’d have an actual reason to leave him, but to leave because he called her names, or thought she had tricked him into marrying her? That was insane. Who would believe that? Besides, where could she go if she did leave? She had nothing of her own anymore. He’d made her quit the waitressing job — only sluts worked as waitresses, he’d said, and seeing as how she’d got what she wanted with him, he wouldn’t have her embarrass him by throwing herself at other men. She reminded him of how she’d been when they met. That was all an act, he said, she’d played the poor little victim and he’d fallen for it.

He’d even stopped her from refinishing and fixing up furniture. One day he went out to the garage where her supplies were and started throwing them all in the back of his pick-up. What are you doing? she cried, why are you doing this? Because, he’d answered, you have a house to take care of now, you don’t have time for this two-bit hobby anymore. She’d tried to stop him, saying that she could make money doing the furniture, help them save more for fixing up the house and for the acreage they planned to buy, but he had shoved her roughly aside and said he wouldn’t have her wasting her time and his money on such crap. Then he had looked at her with a cold smile and said, there ain’t going to be no acreage. You think I’m stupid enough to let you tie me down with a mortgage I’d never get out from under just so you can play the grand lady? Not gonna happen. After that she simply gave in. The man she had fallen in love with didn’t exist — he had been the one that had fooled her, and sadly she was the only one who knew it.

The days slid by, unremarked, and she busied herself with keeping the house the way he wanted it. She did the best she could to fix it up though he would give her no money for anything he considered frivolous. If she needed anything — there was no such thing as ‘wanting’ anything — he would take her to the local thrift store. In all the years he’d been alive she had never once bought a brand new pair of shoes or piece of clothing. Their dishes, pots and pans, all their linens, and most of their furniture had all come from second-hand stores. He gave her an allowance for groceries and she had to hand him receipts for every penny she spent. Over time she accepted that this was her life, and if it was not the life she had imagined it would be, well, that was, after all, just life.

When they arrived at his parent’s farm for the funeral Sadie was in shock. It was nothing like she had imagined; it did not match the descriptions Stan had detailed for her. The house was small and weather-beaten and badly in need of repairs and paint. Old vehicles and broken-down farm machinery littered the surrounding yard. Though summer was over, it was only the second week of October, and though nothing would be lush and green, everything that should still be living, wasn’t. The garden was an overgrown mass of dying weeds, the trees were nothing more than skeletal outlines against the lead-grey sky, and looking over a barely standing fence was a dusty brown cow that looked to Sadie to be starving. She looked over at Stan and saw that he was not phased at all by anything they were seeing. So, this had been another lie. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands tightly together.

Nothing could have prepared her for Stan’s mother. She had entered the house expecting to find an elderly woman bereft over the loss of her husband. Gloria was not bereft. Sadie knew that Stan’s parents were in their 70s, but Gloria could have been in her 50s. She was in the kitchen when they entered the house talking loudly on the phone. She had a cigarette in one hand and was absentmindedly tapping ashes into a juice glass sitting on the edge of the counter as she talked. She looked up and registered surprise at seeing Stan, looked over at Sadie and gave her a sour frown. Gotta go, she said, the prodigal just came in with his new wife.

Gloria was wearing a dark, bordering-on-the-colour-of-blood, red dress and black, patent leather high heels. Her poorly dyed blonde hair, done up in a loose knot, straggled down around her shoulders. She was heavily made up and the bright red lipstick she wore had bled into the lines around her mouth, making her look haggard and worn. Well, she said, if it isn’t Stanny-boy and the little lady. Sadie understood everything then, and in that moment of understanding felt such an overwhelming sense of pity for Stan that she reached out and took his hand. He startled at her touch, but did not pull away.

The funeral was a small, sad affair. The men in attendance came up to Stan, his mother and Sadie, and offered muted words of condolence. Most of the men avoided touching Gloria by keeping their hats in their hands, but when they got to Stan, they would loose one to shake his. He was a good man, they said. Hard worker. Really tried. Gave it his best. They looked at Sadie with curious expressions and congratulated her on marrying Stan. None of their wives came with them. When it was over Stan drove them back to the farmhouse, but not before stopping at the small hotel on the main street of town to pick up a case of beer and bottle of whiskey.

That night, after he and his mother had gotten into a loud, drunken screaming match he had clawed his way into bed where he forced himself roughly on her. Sadie cried silently throughout the ordeal and when he had finally finished and rolled off her and passed out, she got up and spent the rest of the night sleeping in a lumpy, overstuffed and dusty-smelling chair in one corner of the room. He seemed not to recall anything the next morning, and when he asked why she had slept in the chair she told him it was because she couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to wake him, knowing he had to drive them back to the city. A look of relief, or was it shame, she asked herself, passed over his face; he accepted her lie and within an hour they were on the road. Gloria did not get up to see them off.

They barely spoke on the trip home, Stan was lost in concentration and Sadie spent the time processing all she’d seen and overheard. Armed with the knowledge that everthing Stan had told her about life on the ‘farm’ was all lies, and that he had very good reasons for those lies, Sadie resolved to do the best she could to prove to him that she was not like Gloria. She could win him back, she could help him become that happy, life-loving guy she’d met once again. Without looking at him, she said softly into the space between them, I love you.

He kept his eyes on the road, but she heard him sigh.

Getting Ready

Chapter 2

Kathy Larson
Feb. 22, 2022

Sadie stood at the sink, her right hip leaning against the edge of the counter. She was looking out the window into the backyard, but wasn’t really seeing anything. Her mind was stuck in a memory from four decades previous; the day she and Stan had moved into this house.

The apple trees in the back west corner were waving gently in the breeze, their new leaves and newly-formed buds seemed to glow almost incandescently in the bright light of this fresh spring morning. If there wasn’t a late frost, there’d be a bumper crop of apples this year. Sadie sighed. They had bought the trees at that little nursery where they had ordered the topsoil for the garden. Stan wanted a big vegetable garden, better and cheaper to grow your own food, he’d told her. She had looked at him in wonder, and with true adoration; this man she was about to marry was such a surprise.

He had grown up on a farm where everything you needed was either raised, harvested or made. Sadie had grown up in the city and the only garden she’d ever tended was the small flower bed her mother had kept. Her mother’s flowers had been the only bit of joy and colour in her world, and when she had died the flowers died too. Sadie had just turned 17 the week before her father finally put an end to her mother. He went to prison and she went into care. She’d never been back to the little house with the peeling blue paint and the sad patch of earth nestled beneath the front window.

She met Stan while she was working as a waitress at a little restaurant in a strip mall close to where she lived. By that time she had moved out on her own and had a small basement apartment in a three story walk-up. The apartment was cold in winter but lovely in summer. She had furnished it almost completely with things she’d found in thrift stores and on the side of the street. If something was at the curb and it looked serviceable she’d drag it home. The library provided her with all the how-to she needed in order to fix things up, and she soon discovered that she had a love and a talent for painting and refinishing furniture. Her little home was bright and airy, filled with colour, and, best of all, peaceful and safe.

The day Stan walked into her life everything changed. He was big, loud and had a laugh that carried her along with it. He’d been coming to the restaurant for a little over a week before he stopped her on his way out after lunch one day and asked if she’d be interested in going out sometime. Until that moment she’d thought she was invisible to him, just the mousy little waitress who brought him his club sandwich with extra fries, large water and a slice of apple pie every day at 11:45. Him, and the crew he was with had established a standing reservation with Gino, the owner of the restaurant, and everyday they trooped in and headed to the large table at the back where it was Sadie’s job to take care of them.

She was a good waitress; attentive, quick and anticipatory of their needs. This came, she knew, from living in an environment of terror. Her mother had taught her early how to read her father’s moods and silences and how to appease them when possible. This also meant, though, that she was constantly on alert for any signs of anger or discontent; she made herself as small and unobtrusive as possible trying as best she could to do her job and get out of their way. Most of them had given up trying to make small talk with her after the first couple of days, but not Stan. He always had a big smile for her, called her darlin’, and left her a decent tip each day. She found herself watching out for him and made sure that it was him she always served first when the orders were ready.

If only she had known, she thought now.

Their courtship had been fast and they were married within six months. During that time he had only ever been patient, kind and indulgent with her. The few times he had stayed at her apartment he had praised her on her ability to make something worn and destined for the garbage look new and usable again, but he wasn’t crazy about her ‘wild’ use of colour. Things were better painted neutral, everyday colours, he said, that way they didn’t stand out, they could fit in anywhere. She saw the wisdom in this and soon began painting things in shades of white, beige and pale grey only. They were still lovely, she thought, but they lacked a sense of life, of vibrancy, but if it meant pleasing him then it was a small thing.

They found the house a month before they were married. It was in an older part of the city, a real fixer-upper — completely neglected, the real estate agent had said — but it had a huge back yard and the price was right. Secretly, she was disappointed that they weren’t going to buy a new house in one of the new neighbourhoods that had sprung up on the outskirts of town, but Stan was adamant about not throwing his money away on crappy construction just to line the pockets of shyster councilmen and their crony business partners. He convinced her that they could make the house look new again with his carpentry skills and her knack for painting and decorating. It would be a solid investment, one they could make a good profit on, and someday they’d build their own new home in the country on an acreage. It was such a convincing argument and she could see how excited he was at the prospect of redeeming this shoddy, worn little house that she couldn’t help getting swept along by his enthusiasm.

The got married by a justice of the peace. There was no honeymoon. He got drunk that night and she cried herself to sleep. In the morning he went and picked up the rented moving truck and they piled her few belongings into it and they moved into the house. They had taken possession two weeks previous and had spent that time cleaning and painting walls, removing old, stained carpet, replacing broken fixtures and, as her mother had once told her, simply nesting. It had been fun working alongside him and he had been full of smiles and laughs and had grabbed her up in big bear hugs whenever they completed one of the projects they’d set themselves. What happened, she wondered. Did I do something wrong? Was he disappointed because their wedding night hadn’t been more special?

When he came back from returning the truck he had a bottle of whiskey and a two-four of beer. She had never seen him buy booze before and seeing this made her think of her father. An involuntary shudder ran through her.

Sadie had told Stan very little about her background, but she had told him her father was an alcoholic and that he had beat her mother to death. He had held her while she told him this and stroked her hair and kissed her gently and promised that he would never let anyone hurt her ever again.

Unable to stop herself from shaking she approached him carefully. “Stan?,” she said in as small a voice as she could, “why are you so angry?”

The look he have her was so cold and filled with contempt it stilled her breath. “I ain’t angry,” he said. “I’m tired. You’ve had me working like a goddamned dog and now I need a break.” He stalked to the refrigerator and put the beer inside. “You got what you wanted — a hardworking husband, a nice house — but this ain’t no free ride, sweetie. You got to earn your keep.” He pulled a glass out of a box, filled it half full with whiskey, added a splash of water from the tap. “I’m hungry. Make something to eat. I don’t care what it is.”

It hit her then. The inevitability of it. Everything, her childhood, her mother’s death, the group home, all of it had all been preparation for this day. She turned inward into the dull and dingy kitchen and began preparing his meal. He stayed outside and waited until she called to tell him it was ready.

A steady, loud beeping interrupted Sadie’s thoughts. Startled, she sloshed coffee over her hand and was mildly surprised to find that it was cold. With a rueful smile she placed the mug into the sink. The tree removal company she’d hired was here. She slipped into the new, bulky, bright yellow sweater she’d bought last week and stepped out into the sunshine, waving at the young man backing his truck into the driveway. Her smile broadened as she walked past all of the colourful plants and flowers spread out across the patio. She’d canned her last damned jar of applesauce.

Today

Chapter 1

by Kathy Larson
Feb 17, 2022

“When I wake up tomorrow,” she said to the empty room, “I’m going to do two things that will get me closer to my goal.” Then, she looked around herself, took in the faded wallpaper, the fraying pillowcases and the dust that lined her dresser and sighed. What goal would that be, she asked silently.

The next morning, as she sat eating her usual bowl of oatmeal with trail mix, honey and a half a banana (which she hated) and a sprinkle of cinnamon, she thought about her proclamation of the night before. What exactly was the goal she had been thinking of? Truth was, she didn’t have any goals. Not a one. She spooned oatmeal into her mouth and asked herself when and why it was that she’d started eating the stuff everyday for breakfast.

Once upon a time she’d eaten other things for breakfast — eggs, Frosted Flakes, muffins, bagels and cream cheese — she’d kind of chosen her meal based on how she felt that particular day. Not anymore. It was oatmeal every day. Every single day. She put the spoon down as it was halfway to her mouth and oatmeal splattered on the placemat and on to the table. Why? She couldn’t get the ‘why?’ out of her thoughts.

With a heavy sigh she looked down at the mess she’d made then picked up the faded cloth napkin laying beside her bowl and wiped it up. I’ve had these napkins for over 40 years, she thought, and they’re still holding up. The flower pattern had dulled from the brilliant reds, blues and yellows they’d once been to a sort of uniform dull grayish-brownish taupe. She told herself that she was proud of the fact that they had lasted so long, but looking at this one, all gummed up with congealing globs of oatmeal she felt suddenly embarrassed. She gave these to guests to use! My God, what did they think? She stood up quickly, knocking her chair back hard against the wall and practically ran across the room to the drawer where she kept the rest of the napkins and grabbed them up. She hurried over to the garbage can and without stopping to consider what she was doing tossed them in.

Stan would have had a holy fit. “There’s nothing wrong with those!” he would have bellowed. “You wash’em after we use’em, don’t you? Too bloody bad if people think they’re dirty! They ain’t!” He would have fished them out of the garbage and flung them back at her telling her to not be so stupid and wasteful.

He’d been gone now for three years and lately she’d begun to forget what his face looked like. She’d begun to feel guilty, too, because, truthfully, she wasn’t missing him anymore. At first, it had been hard. Honestly, how could it not be after 38 years together? There’d never been any children, just the two of them, always. She had wanted a child desperately in the beginning, but Stan refused, saying the cost of raising a child in North America was enough to bankrupt a small third-world country and, besides, the government had taken away all rights from parents and he wouldn’t raise no spoiled, self-entitled brat who’d never want to leave home and they’d end up in the poor house supporting it. So, that was that. He’d made sure she took her birth control pills every day so that on those rare occasions he ‘felt like it’, she wouldn’t get knocked up.

She stood over the garbage can and looked at the pile of grubby cloth the napkins made. Her right hand moved tremulously forward as though Stan was somehow guiding it down to pick them out of the trash.

“No!” Her yell startled her and she pulled her hand back, stuffing it into the ratty, thread-bare pocket of her ancient house coat. A wedding gift from Stan. She’d been wearing this same house coat for 40 years! Her face crumpled and her shoulders shook as she struggled to untie the belt that held it closed. With trembling hands she pulled it off and let it fall to the floor. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dropped with fat plops onto the thin material of her nightgown. She looked down at herself and then around at the kitchen. Through the prism of her tears the room looked bright, looked fresh and new.

Sadie smiled. She knew what her goal was.

Untitled — something I’m working on

© KLarson 2019

Maybe that’s what happens, she thought. As we get older, the longer we’re together, the more we find to dislike about one another.

She was busy, or rather, she was trying to be. There really wasn’t that much to do. Now that they’d down-sized. She snorted inwardly at that — “down-sizing” — the new in thing to do when you retired. All of their friends had done it — some all the way to Mexico, Belize or the Caymans. Those were the truly successful down-sizers. Everyone else, she and Dan included, had simply traded down and stayed local.

The reasons were numerous and all legitimate. Lower living expenses, no stairs (so much easier on the joints), less cleaning, minimal yard work, no snow shoveling, zero maintenance and close proximity to shopping, transit and hospitals.  It all sounded so reasonable and smart, so mature and well-considered.

The truth was that it was boring. Dull and boring. Of course, it hadn’t been, not at first. When they had first started considering the idea of selling the house it had been exciting. A new start. Purging 40 plus years of accumulated stuff to make way for new stuff.

It was only when she got to the boxes of old school reports, handmade cards and favourite books and items of clothes she’d saved for each of the kids that it hit her. They were ridding themselves of their life. The one they’d worked at building for over 40 years together.

But she couldn’t say anything.

Because down-sizing had been her idea. Dan had resisted from the beginning, and he’d had plenty of good arguments for staying in their house — their home — not least among them the history that their place embodied.

It had taken a lot of persuasion, arguments, enlisting the help of friends and family, even the kids, to get him on board. When he finally agreed that it made sense to move into something smaller, something they could just lock the door on and walk away from when they wanted to travel for more than 2 weeks at a time, something situated right next door to a golf course, well, there was no turning back then.

Be careful what you wish for, her mother had always said.

.   .   .

Dan came through the door on cue at 5:30. She forced herself to smile.

“Supper in five,” she said, as she reached to take their plates out of the cupboard.

” ‘kay. I’m just going to jump in the shower,” He hung his keys on the hook by the door, dropped the day’s mail on the hall table and headed to their room with barely a glance in her direction.

When he came down nearly 20 minutes later she was finishing the last few bites on her plate.

“You didn’t wait?” Dan looked at her coldly.

“I told you in five,” she said, picking up her wine glass.

“Yeah, I guess you did.” He lifted the cover off the plate she’d made up for him. “What is this?” He sounded slightly disgusted at the sight of the food on his plate.

“It’s spaghetti squash with vegan chili. And gluten-free corn bread.” She took a sip of wine to hide the smirk forming on her lips. Dan scowled, grunted and continued to stare disdainfully at his plate.

Inwardly, Leslie was daring him to make a remark. The whole time she’d been preparing the meal she’d been anticipating his reaction. She knew he’d hate it. Dan was a meat and potatoes man. Had been his whole life. Once upon a time he’d been open to trying something new or different, but since turning 60 he’d made it clear that his days of adventurous eating were over.

So, every so often she treated him to something special. Like tonight.

“Can you get me a beer?” he said looking at her with thinly disguised anger.

“Excuse me?” she said with raise brows.

“Please. For Christ’s sake. Get me a beer.”

“Love to,” she answered cheerily.

Leslie stayed at the table, nursing her wine the whole while he ate. When he was done, he looked up at her and with a smile, said, “That wasn’t half bad. Tasty.”

Leslie tipped her wine glass at him. “Thanks.”

They’d cleaned up the dinner dishes and tidied the kitchen. Aside from a few questions and answers about each others day they barely spoke. She was heading into the bedroom to brush her teeth when when saw him pick up his phone. Tight-lipped she listened as she heard him order two pounds of wings from Jerry’s around the corner.

“Yeah, buffalo and some honey garlic. Twenty minutes? No problem.” As he hung up he looked at her and smiled.

.   .   .

 

A Short Story — Rainbow Party

The following is a story I wrote for a competition last year (didn’t win, sigh) and I thought, considering the absolutely horrible story coming out of BC this week about the 16-year-old girl who was drugged and gang raped while people took pictures and video and then posted the images online, that it was, in a sordid way, appropriate.  A ‘rainbow party’ for anyone who doesn’t know is a party where girls give blow-jobs while wearing vibrant colours of lipstick — the guy who has the most colours on his cock at the end of the night wins.

I was utterly appalled by this when I found out about it, but sadly, it’s quite a common event with kids these days.  As are ‘friends with benefits’.  This latest incident in BC is not an isolated event — these types of assaults seem to be happening more and more frequently.  The truly sickening part for me is that there are bystanders who film it, photograph it and then distribute it.  To add to the yuck factor is the knowledge that there are many, many people who will search these disturbing images out, deliberately, and then pass it on to friends as though it were nothing.

What, oh what, is happening to our world?  To the youth on whom the future is going to depend?  It literally makes me cry.  All I can think about is that poor girl.  I pray she recovers, but really, how can she?  After being violated in such a terrible and public manner?

I need to stop now.

© 2010 Kathy Larson
All rights reserved

Rainbow Party

Kassie looked in the mirror and made kissy-fish lips.  Then, she sucked in her cheeks and made her lips wiggle.  Jess, perched on the edge of the toilet, laughed.

“You geek!”  she said.

“Just loosening them up,”  Kassie replied.  She didn’t smile.  Jess looked down at her fingernails.  Her nails were ragged and chewed on; the polish – orange on one nail, black on the next – was chipped and picked away.  She grimaced and folded her hands together, tucked them between her thighs out of sight.

“We could do something else, you know,” she ventured.  She looked up at Kassie quickly, then away.  She seemed to be studying the tiny vase of blue straw flowers that Kassie’s mom kept on the second shelf of the cabinet above the toilet.  That vase had been there, she thought, forever.  As long as she could remember, anyway.  They, she and Kassie, had been friends since Grade 2, when they were six years old.  Seven years.  A long time.

Kassie said into the mirror, “Don’t come, if you don’t want to.”  Her words were flat, but she darted a quick glance in the mirror at her best friend.  She didn’t want to do this alone, but if Jess bailed on her. . .  Well, she would.  She’d do it.  This party was their chance and she wasn’t about to blow it.  Her stomach tightened at this last thought and she was suddenly grateful she hadn’t eaten supper.

Laid out on the vanity counter was an array of her mother’s lipsticks.  From the time she was little she had loved to come in and rummage through the drawer where her mom kept her dizzying collection of cosmetics.  Why her mom had all this stuff, she couldn’t figure, because other than once or twice a year Kassie never saw her wearing any of it.  The drawer had a nice smell when you opened it, like flowers and powder, but of something else, too.  It was the smell of ‘grown-up’, and in it was a mystery, a secret something about the woman her mother was, not the mom part, but the other part, the part Kassie tried to find every time she came in and fooled around with her mother’s makeup.

“You know I want to go, it’s just. . .”  Jess’ voice trailed off.  She reached out and picked up a shiny silver tube, plucked off the top and rolled up the lip colour.  It was a brilliant shade of red.  She looked up at Kassie.  “This is wrong, Kass.”  A tear slid from the corner of one eye.

Angrily Kassie snatched the tube from Jess.  “I told you, don’t come, then.”  She couldn’t believe this.  Her best friend, the one person she counted on, the one who knew, was chickening out.  “You don’t even have to do anything, for crying out loud.  If you don’t want to. “  She leaned back against the door and slid down to the floor, her knees tucked in tight to her chest.  Her flat chest.  She sighed.  Now she felt like crying.  “You were all excited about this when they asked us.”  Her voice trembled, and when she looked up Jess saw the tears brimming in her eyes.

“I know, but I didn’t know.  You know?”

Kassie looked at her.  “That was stupid.”

“Yeah.”

They burst out laughing.  And for a moment it was just like it had always been, just the two of them having fun, messing around in the bathroom.  Kassie twirled the tube of lipstick between her fingers.

“What would we do instead?”

Jess scooted down on to the floor beside her, wrapped her arms around Kassie’s knees and leaned in so that their faces were inches apart.  She was smiling.  A big wide-eyed, happy smile, full of excitement.  “We could stay at my house.  Rent a movie, or surf YouTube.  My mom would let us order a pizza.  I need to change my polish.”  It came out all in a rush and she rocked the two of them back and forth in her exuberance.

Kassie leaned her head back against the door.  “We always do that.”

Jess released her hold on Kassie and sat back, cross-legged on the floor in front of her.  “I know.  It’s lame.”

“No, it’s not,”  Kassie replied quickly.  “It’s just, . . . oh, I don’t know.”  She pulled the top off the tube of lipstick again and studied the beautiful shade of red as it emerged.

“It’s kid stuff.”  Jess whispered.

“Yeah.”

They sat not speaking for another minute, then Jess looked up into Kassie’s face.  Kassie looked into her friend’s eyes.  “Did you check it out online?  How to do it?”

“Yeah.  It’s pretty gross.”

Jess’ eyes looked so big and blue in her pale face.  There was a look caught in them, a frightened little girl look that said:  Please, don’t make me do this.  She wondered if Jess was seeing the same thing in hers.  She closed her eyes, in case.

“I have to go.  I told them we’d be there.  But you don’t have to.  Go, I mean.  Really.”

Silence.  Then the sound of Jess standing up.  Kassie kept her eyes closed.  There was the sound of a brush being pulled through hair.  Jess’ long, straight blonde hair.  Kassie suddenly thought of them playing ‘My Pretty Pony’ and how Jess’ long hair streamed behind her like the flaxen tail of a Palomino when she ran.  She got to her feet.  Gently took the brush from her friend’s hand.

“Here, let me do that.”