Rest Stop

I awoke to the sounds of my mother cleaning her already spotless home. Once, it was my home, but now I am a guest.

My eyes opened and my hand grasped the phone lying on the bedside table. I was startled to see it was after noon—six hours of sleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept that long. Methamphetamine is a wonder for getting through the day, but it’s a bitch at bedtime. Long nights, afraid to close my eyes and see the distorted faces that haunted me each night. Back then, I felt lucky if I could fall into a fitful doze for a few hours. I would wake feeling tired, but a line or two of meth later, I was running about my small apartment, ready to jump back on the merry-go-round that was my life.

As I descended the staircase, my mother’s vacuum went silent.

“Claire, you should have stayed in bed longer. You really need to rest.”

I made my way into the living room to see my mom looking at me. “I just thought that you know. You might be withdrawn or something.”

“You mean in withdrawal, Mom.” My mother did not know the ways of life beyond this small part of Brooklyn. Or so I thought. “I’m fine. More than well rested.”

“Well, let me make you some French Toast.” Food was the cure for everything that ailed us, according to Mrs. Margaret Dayak. I, Claire Dayak, used to happily oblige her need to nourish me. But, not now.

“Nah. You’ve got too much to do already without making me brunch. I’ll grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

I made my way into the kitchen, got the jam from the fridge, the Skippy from the pantry, and sat at the table to make my sandwich. I was hungry and this was a feeling I’d not had in over two years. Sandwich made, I readied myself for the myriad questions I anticipated from my mom.

“How was your flight?” She asked, sitting beside me. “I’m sorry it was the red-eye, but you sounded like you wanted to come home right away.” Her chocolate brown eyes, now dewy with unshed tears, invited me to lose my shit. If I started bawling now, I knew I would not be able to stop. I had to keep myself together.

“It was great, Mom. Thank you for making the reservation and paying for my ticket. I’ll pay you back. It’s just that I couldn’t stay in California anymore.”

She got up and went to the sink to clean the butter knife which I had used then thoughtlessly left it in the sink. As she did so, I could see her hands shake and I knew those tears were going down the drain with the dirty water. She turned to me, her eyes wet and red. I imagined if she were to turn to the mirror, hanging near the sink, she would be embarrassed. My mother did not cry easily.

As she stood there, I got a good look at her. There wasn’t a dark hair on her head of pure silver. Two years ago, after our argument, her hair had been merely streaked with grey, hadn’t it? Did I put those deep wrinkles around her eyes? Had my mother grown ten years older in two?

“Oh, Claire, you don’t have to thank me. I knew you wouldn’t have asked me if you could come home unless you were in trouble.”

My cheeks flushed with shame. She was right. After Dad’s funeral two years ago, we argued. I had not seen my father in twelve years because of her.

“Mom, please don’t go there. I don’t want to start arguing with you right now. I’m just too tired.” The truth was although I felt grateful for the plane ticket and a place to sleep, I wanted to hold my mother at a distance just as I always had.

Her lips pressed together into a thin line. I felt frightened. I believed my mother was getting herself worked up to say something and I was not sure I wanted to hear it. A part of me wished to stay in my hidey hole forever and never face my problems.

She poured herself a cup of coffee. “You called me. After two years of hearing nothing from you, you called me. And I jumped at the chance to help you. You’ve shut me out of your life since you were a teenager and I let you do that. I should have explained things to you years ago.”

There was a buzzing in my head. I wanted to shut her up, but I wanted to hear what she had to say, too. Why was I still blaming my mother for everything wrong that had happened to me? Because she kept my dad away from me. The truth was I believed she didn’t really love me. If she did, why would she have done that?

“Claire, your father was an alcoholic,” Mom said softly as she set her coffee cup on the table. “He left because I told him he had to quit drinking or leave. He chose to leave.”

I couldn’t control my mouth as it opened in shock. Dad. An alcoholic? I immediately felt the need to defend him. “Mom, Dad was a great guy. Everyone loved him. Besides, I never saw Dad drink.”

I needed an answer, an easy one if possible. Anything too complicated would cause me to spin out of control. Until the age of twelve, my dad was the most important person in my young life. Whenever I had a problem, he always made me feel better with his wit and wisdom.

My mom was staring at me, waiting for the truth to sink in. “Honey, everyone loved him because he was a ‘good time Charlie’. Always had a joke. Always in a good mood. At least that’s the persona he took in front of other people. Some drunks get mean. Your dad was a good-natured drunk. That is, except when he was with me. Then he allowed himself a little meanness.”

My mind turned back the clock to my tenth birthday. I was sitting in the living room with five of my best friends, enjoying a party game. I forget which one. My dad came in the front door at four o’clock which was odd because his work shift ended at two. He had promised me that morning that he would help decorate the room before my party began and I was more than slightly hurt. Without warning, the front door flew open and my dad stepped across the threshold.

“Is this a party?” He asked, his mouth broadening into a wide grin. “What’s the occasion?”

I thought he was joking and merely teasing me about my birthday. “Dad, you’re being silly! It’s my birthday.”

Now, looking back, I realized he’d forgotten his own daughter’s birthday. My mom had come into the room and took him by the hand. “William, come. Help me cut Claire’s birthday cake.” She looked around at my guests and gave them a wink. “Claire’s dad can be such a silly.”

Later, I learned he had no present for me even though that morning, before he left for work, he had promised to bring home something special. As she tucked me into bed that night, my mom said Dad was extremely busy at work and I should just be glad we could afford a party and a nice birthday cake.

Now my mom looked to me for understanding. “You look like you just had an epiphany. Are you remembering any of the times when your dad seemed odd?”

I slowly nodded. Weren’t there other times Dad’s behavior had seemed odd? My feelings of resentment toward my mom were ingrained in me, though. “But why, Mom? Why did you keep him from me after he left us?” The void within me cried out for answers. So many unanswered questions had left me with an intense feeling of abandonment by my father. I had been blaming my mother for his absence since I was twelve.

“That doesn’t explain why you wouldn’t let him see me after he left. Okay, so he was an alcoholic. He was still my father and I wanted to see him.” I couldn’t shake this feeling of longing. “I loved him!”

Mom looked at the ceiling as though she would find an answer to my accusations there. After a long moment, her eyes focused back on me. “Remember when your father was in the hospital when you were eleven?”

I nodded for my mom to go on and she continued. “I told you he got into an accident at work, remember? You begged to see him, but I told you they didn’t allow children to visit.” She tilted her head. “Didn’t you think it was strange that I took the bus to get there?”

My eyes opened wide with sudden comprehension. “Our car was gone! I remember when he came home we bought a new one. He didn’t have an accident at work, did he? He wrecked our old car.” My mother nodded and picked up her cup of coffee.

Now I saw the tears make their way down her cheeks. She made no attempt to hide them. “Claire, he was always drunk. The first couple of times he came by to see you, he put you in the car before I could say no. I was a mental wreck, waiting for him to return you. Luckily, he didn’t keep you very long.”

I looked back at that time, twelve years ago. I remembered my feelings of disappointment when our visits ended so quickly. He took me to the ice cream shop, then straight back home, explaining his need to finish up some work he had.

“I remember. There were three visits, all the same. The ice cream store, then back home with a quick goodbye.”

I saw hope in my mom’s eyes mixed with those tears.

My world was being turned upside-down and I couldn’t stop it from happening. My use of drugs had started early. I think I was fourteen when I smoked my first joint. At sixteen, a boyfriend introduced me to meth and I was hooked.  Each night I returned home after being with him, my mother would be sitting on the sofa, watching TV. She’d look at me with disdain and the arguments would begin. My mother had sent me to two different drug counselors, but nothing stuck. At seventeen, I moved in with a different boyfriend, and while I still snorted cocaine and meth, I was careful. With a job as a secretary for a small cleaning company, I could pay my share of the rent and still have enough left over for my habit. I had not used drugs continuously since then, though—I had even made it through college. But the temptation seemed to find me every two or three years.

Now, I could see Mom had stopped crying and her eyes were full of anger. “If I could go back in time, I would have done things differently. I should have been truthful.” She left the table, plucked a tissue from the box on the counter, and dabbed at her nose. “After your dad’s funeral, I started seeing a therapist, a really good one. We discussed how mature you were when you were twelve. Looking back, I realized that if you knew about your dad’s alcohol abuse, you might not have been so angry with me.” She tossed the tissue into the trash. “Claire, it’s true that I made your father leave, but I did it for you. He couldn’t hold down a job and was drinking even more. I don’t know if you remember, or not, but he was becoming more of a mean drunk than a happy one. I was afraid for both you and me, I guess.”

I rocked back and forth in my seat with my arms folded tightly across my chest. I couldn’t think straight. My mind was in chaos as I attempted to hold onto the pedestal where I had put my dad since I was a small child. When I thought of my mom, I remembered thinking she was like a drill sergeant, always making me stick to the rules. I had no way of knowing then, but as I looked at the past with this new knowledge, I thought maybe she just wanted what was best for me. Dad was fun, full of laughter, never serious. Mom always reminded me to do my homework, nagged at me to get good grades, and wear clean socks. My dad brought home candy for me, but it was Mom who made sure I brushed and flossed before bedtime.

How could I have been so blind before today? My mother had worked two jobs to keep us in a small apartment, I always had food to eat, and clean clothes. she really tried to give me a good life. There were still birthday parties with special cakes and presents after Dad left. She made every attempt to give me a secure and happy life. Sure, Dad couldn’t take me anywhere in the car, but he still could have visited, couldn’t he? It was so difficult to admit, but after leaving, my dad never even sent me a birthday card.

This time it was my turn to cry. “Mom, I didn’t know. Maybe I didn’t want to know. There was this hunger inside me. I needed something. I never knew what it was until Dad’s funeral. Dad abandoned me. Growing up, I felt so ashamed when my friends talked about their dads. I felt so angry with you. To me, you were the cause of his leaving, and his abandoning me. Plus, you hated me for using drugs!” I held my head in my hands as I tried to absorb the facts of my life, not the suppositions.

She grabbed my hands and held them. “My Claire. I never hated you. I was angry, and terrified, too. Terrified of losing my marriage, and so afraid that you would get hurt. Then you started using drugs and I felt responsible for your drug use, but never knew how to fix it, fix you.”

I had to interrupt. “Mom, I blamed you for my drug use. I felt like I had to fill this hollowness inside me. There was a vacuum where Dad had been.”

She smiled a sad smile. “Going through therapy, I found out that addiction can be hereditary. I let go of those feelings of guilt.”

I knew addiction could be hereditary, but since I didn’t know my dad was an alcoholic, I had blamed my mother for my drug use. It was her fault that I was broken. She took away my father. The twelve-year-old child in me still fought with these feelings. I wanted to forgive her, knew I had to forgive her to move on, but I continued to vacillate. The resentment I held for my mother was so deeply ingrained that it felt like a ball of tar, stuck inside my heart.

Finally, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. This was the moment I had to decide whether or not I wanted to be free of that heavy black ball of tar forever.

I looked at this woman I called my mother. How could I have harbored such hate for her when I knew deep down that she loved me? The pain she must have felt all these years! If only we had sat and had this conversation long ago. So much suffering would have been avoided. But, was I ready to listen, really listen to her before now?

I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the falsehoods I held to be true for these seventeen years. Suddenly, uncontrollably, the corners of my mouth raised up and I let out a little laugh. “Well, it looks like we both need to recover from years of abuse-—the abuse of ourselves. Me with an awful, nasty drug habit, and you, living each year in silent suffering caused by a selfish daughter.”

She pushed a piece of hair out of my eyes and held my chin in her hands. “I think we both need to forgive each other in order to move on. And, there are some wonderful facilities in this city. Places where people can help you. I know you want to get clean. If you didn’t, you never would have called to come home. Home. This is your home Claire. You can stay if you like. We can work on our recoveries together. I don’t think I can get away from all the guilt I’ve felt without help, so I’ll research counselors.” She wiped away all signs of her tears and nodded. “Yes, I believe we can do this.”

I gently took my mother’s hand and kissed it. How could I have been so blind, so cruel all these years. There had been a huge part of me who wanted to punish my mother for my unhappiness. That was over. I could still feel that void, that hunger inside me, but maybe it was not so big now. Maybe she and I had managed to fill it just a bit. I knew I could learn to fill it more, though. Now that I knew my mom was on my side, I could face my life and work to change it. My goal was to become unbroken.

Best Friends

This would be our third tea “date” since we met online six months ago.

We met in a thread for fans of Stephen King.  My handle is @Kings#1Fan.  I’ve read everything he’s ever written except for Carrie.  Allison never read Carrie either.  Both of us were avid King fans, but neither read Carrie before; now’s that’s Kismet!  I suggested we each read it and then talk about it on JustFriends.com.  That was the beginning of this great friendship.  Since then we ‘spoke’ every day.  We even emailed each other; long emails full of information about each other’s lives. 

@Kings#1Fan:  Alli, I’ll be thinking of you this week.  It would have been your tenth anniversary, right? ☹

Minutes passed, then….

@IAmAlli:  Yeah, ten years this Thurs. I’m going to the cemetery every day this week. I know it’s crazy, but it’s something I have to do.

@Kings#1Fan: It’s not crazy. It’s something that makes you feel better. I wish you’d let me come with you. It wouldn’t be hard. I can drive out and help you deal with it.

@IAmAlli: That’s okay. I’d rather be alone right now. But, hey! You and I will meet up soon. You’re my best friend and I don’t know what you look like. Pics never show the real person, right?

@Kings#1Fan: No, they don’t. 😊

Three weeks later I had an idea.  This coming weekend there would be a book festival in town.  We could browse thousands of books; first editions to complete our libraries!

@Kings#1Fan:  Ted’s away this weekend.  There’s an awesome book festival on Saturday!  It would be great to finally meet, right?  My house is huge; you can stay here.  That is, if you want.”

@IAmAlli:  Oh, Pam!  That would be the best time for us to meet!  I couldn’t stay at your house; it would be a bother to you.  I’ll check out Motel 8s in your area.”

@Kings#1Fan: Cool! That’s fine.  Oh, Alli, I can’t wait! 😊

Now here we were three days later, sitting in my kitchen, sipping our favorite tea.  Earl Grey had no competition, we agreed.  We always agreed!

“Allison, would you like another cookie? I know I shouldn’t have another cookie, but you only live once.  Allison, would you like another one?”

“No, thank you, Pam.  But I wouldn’t mind more of that soup you gave me yesterday.  Do you think you’ll be going to the store today?” she asked.  “You said you would buy more.”

“No, I have other soup I know you’ll like,” I said.  I thought her idea was suspicious.  She might be thinking of running away again.

“All finished?” I asked.

“No, I’m still drinking my tea,” she said.  Her voice seemed to go up an octave.  This part of our tea time was the worst.

“Well, I’m done,” I said. “It’s time for you to go back downstairs.”

“Pam, please let me go!” she sobbed.

I hated when she pleaded like this.  We were best friends!  Okay, so I lied a bit when I told her I was married.  It had been part of my backstory.  I wanted to appear completely normal to everyone on JustFriends.com, so I created a little fiction.  My profile read I was fifty-two, married, a college professor, and avid Stephen King fan.  Well, that last one was absolutely true!  My handle was no fiction.  I chose the name of his “number one fan”.   In truth, I was fifty-nine, divorced (his idea, not mine) and a retired truck driver.  I had a little weight to lose, but I was still in pretty good shape.  I still went to the YMCA every day; lifting weights was my passion.

“Allison, don’t make me angry, ok?” I pleaded back. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I’ll have to if you don’t go to your room.  Really, why all this negativity?  You have no one to go back to.  You’re all alone in this world.  I know because you told me, ‘Pam, I have no one.’  You said that to me months ago.  I thought you would enjoy living here.  We could be best buds living together and doing anything we want.”

“Pam, you have to know that somebody will notice I’m gone.  I have a job for God’s sake!”

“Whoa, now,” I said.  I didn’t like her tone.  Friends don’t talk to one another like that.  “They’ll think you took off, wanted to start life somewhere new.  In every email you sent me you told me we were besties.  What changed?”

“You’re keeping me in your basement!” she yelled.

At that moment I had a great idea that I was sure would brighten her mood.

“We’ll have a horror fest tonight!  I’ll bring out the DVDs of all my King movies and I’ll make popcorn!  Allie, we’ll have a wonderful time!

“Oh, Pam,” she said.  “You’re sick.  You need help.”

“You’re just being a negative Nancy, silly!  You can take a nap and I’ll bring you up later this evening.  I’ll have to put your collar and chain on you, but we’ll have such fun!”

After I finally got her downstairs, into her room, I started thinking.  I didn’t believe Allie would last as a bestie for very long.  I’d have to take care of her like the last two and continue my search for that perfect BFF.  I got on my laptop and accessed JustFriends.com

@Kings#1Fan:  Hi all!  Where’s all the King fans tonight?  Anyone wanting to discuss Carrie?

@Joanne10/64: Hi Pam! Since you raved about it, I had to read it. 😊 I loved it! What’s going on with you? How are you?

Maybe this time would be different ……

Mourning Roses

William woke to the sound of his mother’s sobbing, two doors down.  He could hear his dad talking to her.

He lay there wishing he could stay in his room; today they would be burying his brother, Ethan.  He wanted to stay right there, in the comfort of his bed; it was his sanctuary. He had enough of his uncles and aunts, even his cousins, telling him it was a miracle he had survived the car crash.  Everyone told him the accident was just an accident; no one caused it. William knew differently; he didn’t want anyone else to know, so he nodded his head yes, each time someone said this.

His mother had been walking around the house, like a dead person, picking up Ethan’s photographs from the piano.  Each time she did this, the sobbing began again. Everyone ran to her bearing tissues and hugs. William found himself resenting his mom for doing this.  She still had a son left. If it was a miracle, he was alive, so shouldn’t she be glad he was there?

His dad gave him the job of bringing drinks to all the people who had suddenly invaded their home.  He was to ask them if they wanted anything from the kitchen; the table was laden with casseroles, cakes, and cookies.  That was odd, he thought. Weren’t cookies for fun occasions like snow days and Christmastime? When you die, people bring over cookies? Thinking about this caused him to let out a strange laugh that frightened him.

“Oh, William,” Aunt Jean called from the living room. “Would you please bring me some of those chocolate chip cookies I brought?”

He stepped back into the living room and with a voice he didn’t recognize as his own asked, “Would anyone else like some cookies?”  The strange laugh made another appearance causing some to look at him and murmur to one another.

He went back into the kitchen, took the plate of cookies and smashed it into the countertop.  The plate shattered; some mourners to come in to investigate.

Aunt Jean bent down to pick up the broken plate and mumbled something about clumsy children.  William tried to help, but she shooed him away as if he were a bothersome insect.

As he lay there, he thought about excuses he could give to avoid the funeral.  He could fake a stomach ache or a sore throat and cough, maybe. Anything to avoid going to the cemetery.  The door opened and his dad stepped in. It was time to go.

At the cemetery, his mother sobbed endlessly.  Even his dad cried. William refused to look at either of them.  

As the pastor spoke, his mind drifted back to that evening.  

The car had been Ethan’s gift for his seventeenth birthday.  William couldn’t wait for his turn; he had four years to go. It wasn’t new, but his brother was crazy about it.  He’d keep it clean, wouldn’t allow William to eat or drink in it, and he waxed it every weekend. Ethan was proud of his new vehicle and used any excuse to drive it.  That night like any other, he was happy to take his little brother to a friend’s house.

“Be careful, son,” his dad said as they were leaving.

Once they were on the road, William bounced up and down in his seat, happy to get out of the house.  He looked at Ethan from the corner of his eye and noticed he was frowning.

“Son be careful,” William said, mocking his dad.  “I don’t want to see my insurance rates go up!!”

“Billy, grow up.” His brother chided.  “He was just showing us he cares.”

William was annoyed Ethan had called him Billy.  It was a name he felt he was too old for and he had told Ethan not to call him that.  So, he punched Ethan in the arm and cursed at him.

“Cut it out, Will!” shouted Ethan. “I’ll hit back and make you cry, you idiot!”

Now angry, William slapped at him. Ethan took a hand off the wheel and clouted William on the chest.  Next, William smacked at Ethan’s face, blinding him to the red stop light. The car went through the intersection; neither of them saw the truck barreling down at them.  It hit the driver’s side, crushing Ethan. William had a couple of scratches. The EMTs were the first to tell him how lucky he was. He wanted to know about his brother; they told him Ethan was fine.  Ethan wasn’t fine. The impact had killed him instantly.

At the gravesite, each mourner was given a rose which they could keep or throw onto Ethan’s coffin as it was lowered into the ground.  As William took his flower he noticed the richness of its deep red color. He ran his fingers over its petals liking their velvety smoothness.  It was a beautiful rose and he thought about keeping it. Then he sniffed the flower and noticed there was no scent to it; this bothered him. He asked his father why the rose had no scent, but his dad told him to keep quiet, he might further upset his mother.

He turned the rose over in his hands, unaware of the tears leaking from his eyes.

“This rose is nothing but a fake,” he whispered to himself.  Listening to the pastor, he clutched the flower in his hand so hard his nails caused his palm to bleed.

Suddenly sobs welled up from his chest;  he backed away from everyone and stumbled.  His dad reached out to steady him, but William slowly dropped to the ground.  He wept beside his big brother’s coffin. The petals of the now forgotten rose escaped his hand and fell into the freshly dug grave.  

New Orleans

Kelly liked her life calm and unobstructed.  She woke, showered, went to work where she sat for seven hours each day and fielded customer service calls.  Her wardrobe was drab and unassuming.

She felt stuck.  It was how she had been brought up.  Her father did not like his daughter to be outgoing; it wasn’t proper.

 Amber wasn’t one to wait around, so she slowly let her foot off the brake.  As soon as the light turned green,She had her foot on the gas pedal and was off to see Kelly.

“Have I got news for you!” Amber purred, kissing her friend on the cheek.  “I’m so excited!  Guess where you and I are going?”

“Going?”  asked Kelly.  “I didn’t think we had plans to go anywhere.”

“My company is sending me to our office in New Orleans during Mardi Gras!   I’m allowed to take a guest since it’s Mardi Gras and you’re it!  Oh, how I love my job.”

At the sound of Mardi Gras, something clicked inside Kelly’s mind.  She felt like someone was pulling at her brain, trying to get through to tell her something; it was so strange!

“Okay!” she replied. “Let’s go!”

Two evenings later, they walked around the streets of the French Quarter and drank large drinks.  Kelly felt out of place, dressed in her blue jeans and a grey tee-shirt.  Everything around her was so colorful!

They came to a small side street and Kelly felt a strong premonition; something was going to happen!  It was as if someone were in her head, pulling her towards the little street.  She felt helpless to resist, so she started walking towards that pull.

“Kelly!” Amber shouted.  “Where are you going?” 

“I need to go this way.” she replied. “There’s a voice inside my head; a man’s voice.  He’s calling me!”

Kelly felt as if she were floating down the middle of the street.  It was as if the crowd was parting for her.  She let the pull of the stranger in her head take her away; always hearing his voice inside her.

Amber ran to catch up, but could not get her friend’s attention, so she followed, her concern for her friend, obvious.

There he is!  Kelly knew him immediately.  She felt as though this was where her whole life had been going; everything she had ever done was to bring her here.  She stood in front of him and shyly looked at the old man sitting on the stoop of a rundown house.  He was surrounded by a small crowd of people, some of them playing small hand drums, all of them smiling and greeting her.

He was the Voodoo Man!  That was his name! Kelly had always known him!  He was there, in her mind, admonishing her each time she said no to a red blouse, whenever she said no to a party, and finally, anytime she felt proud of herself.  He had turned away, powerless to help her at those times. 

The Voodoo Man saw Kelly and stood up.  She went to him, still shy and told him her name.  He took her hand, kissed it and told her he had known about her for many years.  Suddenly Kelly’s mind was flooded with a language; a speech as old as time itself. 

This was a secret tongue only the two of them in the whole crowd could speak.  In this language, the Voodoo Man told her of a life she had lived long ago.  She was filled with images of herself in the middle of a crowd, dancing barefoot on the hot bare ground; other dancers surrounding her, cheering her on. At that moment, she felt the happiest she ever had in her entire life!

Finally, the images ended and the conversation concluded.

“Go now.”  He said to her.  “Step out of the life you have burdened yourself with.  Take with you this magic!  Take laughter and joy!  Take with you the tears you have been denying yourself all these years; let them flow.  Take with you, life!”

In the middle of the night, Amber woke to see Kelly at the window staring down at the street with a strange smile on her face.  Amber was still confused about what she saw that previous afternoon.

Come morning, Kelly was pushing Amber’s shoulder crying, “Wake up sleepyhead!  We have so much to do today!”

Amber opened her eyes and was completely surprised.  Kelly was glowing; she was wearing one of Amber’s colorful dresses, had on lipstick and blush, and her hair was styled.  She looked beautiful!  This was nothing like the usual drab Kelly.

“Hurry and get ready.”  Kelly said.  “I’ll meet you at the cute little café we saw on our way to the hotel.  Then I want to go to all the pretty boutiques; my wardrobe needs color!”  She leaned down and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.

Amber laughed.  “Kelly, you’re a new person, and I love this new person!”

Kelly also laughed.  “I feel like I haven’t been living until now.  I’ve been hiding behind a mask.   Somehow, I got stuck living the life my father made for me, but this is who I really am.  I need to live this life with as much joy as I’ve lived other lives before this one.  This is not my first life, I don’t know if it’s my last, but I’m going to make it my best!”