Two young lovers sat under a blossoming apple tree, oblivious to approaching doom. Suddenly the space aliens descended in a cloud of purple smoke. When the cloud lifted, only a small withered tree remained.
Skyla and Beth giggled nervously from their front row seats as the aliens moved on towards an unsuspecting city. Rick and his buddy, Jeff, assumed brave faces, although they had been as startled as the girls.
“Let’s go get some more candy, Jeff.”
“Just trying to get away from the aliens”, Skyla whispered to Beth as the boys headed off. “We’re lots braver than they are.”
Beth nodded, but kept her eyes on the screen.
“Beth. Look. Harry’s over there. I think he’s looking at me. Do you think he is?”
“Beth, what is wrong with you? He is so good looking. You’d rather watch the movie than look at Harry?”
“Yup. But I can tell that you wouldn’t.”
Skyla got the message and Beth continued to watch the movie.
Lucy was sitting at the kitchen table when Amanda appeared in the doorway.
“It’s Skyla’s birthday. Her mother dropped them at the movies. Then they’re going to her house for cake and ice cream.”
“Good. We need to talk and I don’t want Beth to hear this.”
Amanda turned and headed towards the study. Ten months had passed since she’d returned from her emergency business trip. Soon after, Lucy became aware of a change. Amanda had always seemed confident, sometimes even arrogant. The confidence had eroded. Amanda seemed nervous and distracted. As if she were looking over her shoulder, waiting for something to appear.
Lucy followed her to the study. Amanda pointed at a chair and motioned for her to sit. She closed the doors to the study, but remained standing and began to slowly pace around the room.
“Greg and I had our wills updated a couple months ago. The lawyer noted that we had not designated a guardian for Beth. Someone to care for her if we both died.”
“That seems unlikely.”
“Yes. But it does happen. Car accidents, for example. He said it was important to choose someone.”
“I know you’ve both lost your parents. Are there other relatives?”
“Greg’s mother died when he was an infant. He lost his father when he was a college freshman. My parents are still alive.”
“But I thought they had died.“
“That’s what we told Beth. She doesn’t know about them and they don’t know about her.”
“It’s what they chose. What my father chose. He has a very rigid belief system. My life was an affront to him.”
“And your mother?”
“Bethany is named for her. I know she would have loved her. I know that she loved me. But she couldn’t say no to my father and Jacques Cantreau made my life a living hell.”
Lucy waited, but Amanda did not say more. Finally she sat and looked directly at Lucy.
“I know how much you love Beth. And she loves you far more than she loves us.”
She waived away the protest.
“It’s true. That’s why I’m asking you. If anything happens to us, would you take care of Beth?”
“Of course. I pray that never happens. But I would gladly care for her. I can’t even imagine life without her.”
She thought a moment. “Do you think that her grandparents would fight for custody?”
“It’s possible. But I don’t think so. Anyway, the lawyer says the parents’ choice would hold a lot of weight.”
“And Greg agrees with this?”
“Greg doesn’t care. Surely you’ve seen the way he is with Beth. He never wanted a child. I’d hoped that might change.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“He said he’d agree to any decision I made.”
“When Beth is older, when she has graduated from high school, I want her to know about her grandparents. Then she can decided what she wants to do.”
She handed Lucy a thick packet.
“My parents’ address is on top. The rest is my story. It’s my parents’ story too. At least what I know of it. Please give it to Beth after graduation.”
She spoke as if the worst had already happened. Lucy struggled to find words, but none came. They sat in silence. Perhaps there was nothing more to say. Lucy started to rise, but Amanda held up a hand.
“Wait. There are things I need to tell you. And something I need to show you.”
It was another hour before they emerged from the study and headed up the stairs. Lucy returned a few minutes later and headed back to the kitchen. Amanda followed shortly with a suitcase in her hand.
“I’ll be back on Thursday. Greg should be coming home then too.”
For the first time in almost a year, Amanda stood tall. A weight had been lifted. Now it sat on Lucy’s shoulders. She had vowed to always be honest with Beth. Now she must break that vow. There are things that no child should know.
Skyla and Beth sat in the kitchen savoring a second piece of birthday cake.
“I wish Harry was my boyfriend. Now that would be a real birthday present.”
“Come on Skyla, we’re too young for boyfriends.”
“What are you talking about? You have Rick.”
Beth could not believe her ears.
“Rick? He’s just my friend, Skyla. We’ve been friends forever.”
“So you say. But I bet the two of you will be married some day.”
Beth pretended to vomit.
“Don’t be disgusting, Skyla. I’m never getting married.”
“Don’t you want to be happy Beth?”
“Yes. And that’s why I’m never getting married. It certainly doesn’t make my parents happy.“
“Eat your cake, Skyla. Chocolate cake and chocolate frosting. That’s happiness.”
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