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Hey, everybody. This is a standalone story, though it involves characters from the Girls of Manchester story line and another story I have yet to finish. I hope you enjoy it. There is nothing in the way of sexual activity in this story. I am placing it here merely because it involves an active story line that does. Either way, I hope you will still be willing to read it and judge it according to its’ merits.
It is a very emotional piece, and I had a hard time with it (I was crying like, half the time I was writing it).
Yeah, spoiler alert. There are spoilers in this story. End spoiler alert.
She exited her car, leaving it parked along the sidewalk. Fumbling in her small leather clutch purse for change to put in the meter, she made her way around the small Nissan and deposited quarters into the meter. The Fall weather was well underway, the leaves turning various shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown. They fell from the trees in bushels, many branches above empty of their burden. They rustled along the sidewalks and the street. Skittering along with the wind as it swept relentlessly along the street. The sky above was a crisp, clear blue, the occasional tuft of cloud floating along in a meandering crawl across the endless expanse above. The air had an eerie clarity to it, the sun seemed to shine brighter. Winter was around the corner and the air was already cool and heavy. With every draw of fresh air into her lungs, it seemed to sink to the very bottom of her lungs cooling her down from the inside.
She enjoyed this time of year, the changing of the seasons. She loved how everything so beautiful and green could go away, then come back again the next year. Every year at this time it was as if the Earth were taking another fresh breath in the course of its existence. Every exhale brought out the decay and rot of the old year to join with its creator only to become bright and beautiful again in the Spring as though Earth was taking in a fresh new breath, reinvigorating the life within and without in an endless cycle that reflected the one simple truth that every being faced on Earth. Where there was life, there was death. Every living thing is bound to this one simple concept, and she was ever more keenly aware of this face than ever before.
The reason for this renewed awareness was, sadly, not all on Earth would be renewed along with the passing of the seasons. Her spirits dropped as she was reminded once more of her reason for being at this place. The sadness engulfed her as she once more dwelt upon what had happened to cause everything to fall apart so completely in her life. Her chin quavered as she gazed upon the facade of the old building in front of her. It was one of those older-style buildings that reeked of the slow decay of time and the elements, yet still managed to retain a semblance of bygone nobility. The large wraparound porch was covered by an awning supported by stone pillars. The wooden boards of the porch groaned in protest underfoot as though her weight upon their ancient mass were a violation that demanded attention.
By the time she reached the heavy twin oak doors she felt her tears start to slowly fall down her cheeks. The heavy wood creaked open on squeaking hinges to reveal a spacious interior dimly lit and paneled in oak. She walked along slowly, gazing at the walls in an attempt to distract herself from the sorrow that was ever the fresher in her mind since the day she received the unexpected invitation. Brass lighting fixtures still lit by natural gas flame stood in silent testimony to the passing of an age, a betrayal of the building’s sole purpose. The dim illumination provided by flickering spurts of flame caused shadows to dance along the wall each time the door was opened to allow a gust of wind to burst through the space.
Heavy antique furniture complimented the surroundings nicely, their construction beautiful, but solid with a craftsmanship that had long gone by the wayside. The patterns were drab yet elegant in the way they tend to be from that era. Paintings of long ago figures, various flowers and landscapes dominated the walls. From room to room, the simple, yet elegant antiquity of the surroundings was matched by the stuffy, black-clad figures that wandered the hallways. It was as though the entire house were a throwback to an earlier time. Ironic as it may seem, that was certainly the desire of the various attendees. The mood among the few that were there was as somber and muted as the decor they were surrounded with. Were it not for what led them to this place, they would surely be someplace else where the air was fresher, the smell of ancient cigar smoke still clung faintly to the walls where they had been wallpapered instead. If nothing else, they would certainly have wished to not have been in this place at all. Life has a way of throwing odd curve-balls, so here she was sitting among the empty rows of chairs watching the somber mood on bahis firmaları the passing faces as though they were mere phantasms rather than living, vibrant beings.
Time passed slowly as she gazed for what had to be the hundredth time since yesterday at the small piece of paper she now held in her hand. She had not even realized that she had taken it out. Yet she sat, waiting as the space around her began to fill. Some of the people she had known, and those gave her kind smiles as though they could draw away her pain. Other stares were hostile, and she tried to avoid them as much as possible. She did not need to cause a scene, let alone be the cause of one. Not here, not when there was so much more to be considered in the long run. She watched in silence as finally, more familiar faces began to enter the room. A group of women entered the room, dressed for the occasion as they glanced around. Like so many who had come in already, they seemed to be in a trance-like state, as though everything were a dream they would soon find themselves waking up from.
This was no dream. Over the past couple of weeks, she had checked many times to make sure that everything was truly real, that her pain and suffering over the past fourteen days were not a part of some awful nightmare. There was no end in sight for her. Not any longer. The dreams of long prosperity and happiness had come to a crashing halt on many levels for her when events took such a calamitous turn. The worst part was, there was nothing else it could be but her fault. She had yet to be noticed by the women, and she was grateful for that. She was sure they would blame her for everything that happened, well a couple of them at least. If nothing else, she had given nearly all of them some reason to hate her at one time or another.
Thirty years old and moderately successful as a supervising engineer at her father’s construction company, Jessica Long had long had a reputation for being a cold-hearted bitch. It was earned. Jessica knew she was callous and disrespectful when she was younger. She knew she had been a bully, taunting others and making their lives miserable to promote her own status within the popular niche at school. Her graduation had been nearly ruined because she had underestimated the number of people she had made enemies out of. Despite her circle of friends being quite large, they were still outnumbered by the people who had finally started to make a stand. Her last two years of high school had been pure hell.
When she left for college, her ego was almost nonexistent. Most of her graduating class refused to clap as she walked across the stage, the applause from even the best of her friends muted and awkward in the dim silence of the large auditorium at Manchester High School. When it was over, she had refused to throw her cap in the air with everyone else, she was ashamed beyond reckoning. She remembered well the fanning flame that spread across her cheeks as she merely ducked her head and walked slowly past everyone towards the exit with what remained of her once-large circle of friends. A fall from grace for sure for a girl who had built up her reputation as one of the popular girls every girl should have aspired to be.
Jessica was smart, witty, sarcastic, but with a mean streak and a vicious desire to climb the school hierarchy no matter who she needed to stomp on in the process. She had been put in her place a few times before that point. Most notably by one of the women who had presently wandered in, Elizabeth Greene. After Elizabeth graduated along with Hope and Samantha, she had found herself suddenly cast into the position she had placed so many others in for so long. Every day was a new flood of curses, catcalls and fights for her own existence. She had never been so thoroughly humiliated in her life.
It was one person, and perhaps the one person that had the most cause to hate her and wish for her to be pounded into the sidewalk, that had saved her from at least the worst of the harassment. One day a couple girls from the soccer team had caught her alone walking from cheer-leading practice to the locker room. They had dragged her by the hair to a place out of sight. By this point, she had already learned to keep quiet and take the pounding she knew was coming. The beating would just go on harder and longer if she resisted or tried to scream for help. She had resigned herself to another beating, and one of the girls had already drawn her arm back for the first hit when the arm was arrested from behind. Amanda Mondale, the petite redheaded girl who had once been her favorite victim of harassment was suddenly standing between her and the two girls demanding an end to the beatings. The two girls had walked off, but gave her death stares as they departed. She would never forget the look of kindness and pity in Amanda’s eyes as she helped her up.
Still, it did nothing to prepare her for what came next. She graduated and faced an existence where kaçak iddaa all of her careful planning would mean nothing if she did not act quickly. She was always Daddy’s little girl, and so she went off to college to learn to become an engineer. She had quickly found out that none of her schemes for control or power over her social life would work in that environment. By the time she had reached tenth grade, her status was above reproach in a town where everyone grew up knowing each other. The same faces every year with few new additions ensured that everyone knew her and not to cross her. She had a name, a reputation, and she was above all else known. That was what mattered if you were trying to be popular in school. In college, she was merely a new face to add to the growing number of faces that were pulled in every year to pay for the simple act of bringing an education to the young in order to supplement the economy of tomorrow. She was a face, but no more except to the few she happened to come into contact with during her classes. Of course, she had made a few friends, but in college, where so many competing interests and ideologies were now suddenly thrust upon her, where ideas were more important than standing, she would never gain the popularity she had once held so dear in her life.
It was during this time that Jessica Long the popular girl, the schoolyard bully among the female population of Manchester High School, and the entitled little princess finally learned to grow up. Among many changes in her life during that hectic time were a series of events that had irrevocably changed her attitude forever. Her first day of college was a memorable one indeed. In the end, she had become almost fast friends with Elizabeth Greene, had earned the forgiveness and maybe even the admiration of Amanda, and had embarked on a journey where her entire self-conceptualization was turned violently upside down. In a way, given the circumstances, it no longer mattered. Yet she could not let it go because it mattered a lot as well, everything had changed her life around so drastically. It was her confusion that drove her mad. It was the ungainly added burden of her new life that had caused her to lash out and cry for help at the same time. It was the frustration of not having control of her own destiny that drove her to do things that she knew she shouldn’t have. If it weren’t for her, perhaps nobody would have been gathered in that dusty old building.
“Jess-“a sweet voice broke her reverie as she felt herself swiftly engulfed in a hug. Her vision was obscured by red hair, redder than any flame. She felt a knot growing in her stomach as she found herself in Amanda’s strong embrace.
“A-Aman-A-Amanda, can’t- breathe.” Jessica choked out as she tried to pry the weeping woman’s arms from around her neck.
Amanda pulled back slowly, the tears falling unashamedly from her jade green eyes reflecting those that fell down her own. Amanda’s entire demeanor was of a woman crushed beyond belief, and the rest of the group that had only just begun to notice her surrounded her. Amanda sat in her lap facing her, she could feel her chin quavering against her collarbone, and the unabashed tears soaking the shoulder of her dress. She returned Amanda’s hug with vigor as they cried in the chair together. There were no dry eyes in the group that circled around them as if to keep prying eyes from witnessing the pain the two ladies, above all others, shared. They had both loved her, and they had both hurt her. The pain and grief for the two girls was beyond imagining for any of the women around them, all of whom knew the story. After a few minutes of shared pain, Amanda got up pulling Jessica with her.
“Hey, Jess. I am so sorry, I know it wasn’t intentional. Amanda and I are here for you whenever you need it.” Elizabeth said quietly, her eyes moist. She wrapped strong arms around Jessica, squeezing her tight. Jessica’s arms were pinned against her side so she could not return the gesture. After she was released, she wiped yet more tears from her face as she was pulled into a hug by Sam.
“Girl, I have no idea what to say. All I can tell you is that I am here for you. You have matured so much and become such a beautiful person. It wasn’t your fault. Learn to let go and live your life.” Sam whispered into her ear, her voice trembling.
“I’m not sure I know how.” Jessica said whispering as Hope quickly whirled her around and embraced her tightly. Hope’s head laid against her shoulder. Jessica embraced her tightly as the blonde cried unashamedly. Jessica was having a hard time breathing as Hope was squeezing her for everything she was worth.
“Are you okay, Hope?” Jessica asked.
“I should be asking you that question, silly girl.” Hope replied in a tremulous voice.
“You were closer to her than anyone else. She also got you and Sam together. How should-.”
“I wasn’t the one in love with her. You are. That is a whole different kaçak bahis level of love.” Hope replied through tears of her own.
“No buts, butthead.” Hope interrupted with a quavering laugh. She had yet to lift her head during this conversation. “Walk with me?”
Jessica nodded her head slowly as Hope lifted her baby blue eyes to see Jessica’s answer. Hope slowly dropped her arms, holding Jessica reassuringly at the waist before turning to Sam. Sam already knew the unasked question, and nodded tearfully that she would wait there for Hope and Jessica to return. Hope smiled kindly as she turned her head to face Jessica and removed a hand to grab Jessica’s leading her slowly through the dim corridors back towards the entrance. The silence of their walk was interrupted by the failed attempts of both women to stifle their sobs. Hope led her to the doorway, straining to move the heavy object, but persistent in her attempt until it finally gave way to her will. She led Jessica outside by the hand into the cool air, the sun still shining brightly outside and permeating through the remains of shade provided by the few leaves that clung stoically to their places.
Hope refused to drop Jessica’s hand, leading her along the covered wrap-around porch to a side that would be out of view from any new arrivals. When they reached the other side, Jessica noticed there were several wicker benches lining the wall. She was very grateful for the respite from the sadness that engulfed her in the tomb-like darkness of the building interior. If she were allowed to wallow in her sadness much longer, she would have gone crazy. Suddenly, Hope came to a near-complete stop, her movements staggering. She watched with rapidly-mounting concern as Hope clutched at her stomach and gave a small whimper of pain.
“Hope! Oh my god, are you okay?” Jessica asked, she could hear the panic in her own voice. It reflected the fear she felt inside when she saw Hope stagger around, suddenly very weak.
“It’s-,” Hope started breathing heavily, almost panting. “It’s okay. I am fine. I just haven’t been eating well the past few days. The nausea is the worst.” Hope said with a forced giggle as she continued clutching at her stomach. Jessica moved around to get a better look when she noticed the swell in Hope’s abdomen.
“Oh my God, I am so dense!” Jessica screamed.
She quickly took Hope’s hand and led her to a seat at one of the wicker benches. She ran to the other two benches and grabbed the small decorative pillows off of them and returned to Hope. She arranged the pillows so that Hope could lay back upon them. Jessica continued to fuss with the pillows which were reluctant to go the way she wanted to arrange them. She was getting frustrated when she felt Hope’s hand touch her arm with a gentle frailty that alarmed her. She had long been used to the strong outgoing and ever-energetic girl that Hope had always been. Even in the days when she was constantly looking down upon everyone else over the end of her nose, Jessica had always admired and even envied the strength and vitality that Hope took with her everywhere. This was something new, but the way Hope’s touch felt was oddly enough to soothe her sense of alarm. She looked into baby blue eyes to see Hope watching her with a very kind smile, a look that she had only recently gotten used to from any of Hope’s circle of friends.
“Don’t bother yourself too much, the pillows are fine as they are. Thank you, girlie.” Hope said with a smile.
Hope leaned back slowly into the pillows, Jessica assisting Hope’s efforts to get comfortable. She laid her palm flat against the nape of Hope’s neck and guided her slowly to a comfortable position. Hope looked intensely relieved as she reclined on the wicker basket. Jessica stood back up as she watched Hope get comfortable, occasionally wincing.
“So how long- “Jessica started.
“Sit with me.” Hope stated weakly.
“What?” Jessica asked, confused.
“Sit with me, I’m not contagious- I promise.” Hope said with a light laugh.
“How-?” Jessica asked, gesturing to the obvious lack of space on the wicker bench.
“Are you saying I’m fat?” Hope teased.
“I’m not sure it can hold all three of us.” Jessica shot back. Both women giggled.
Jessica picked up Hope’s legs and noticed the pain it put her in, she was about to put them back down when a hand stopped her.
“Don’t you dare, girlie. Sit” Hope said with a firmness in her voice. She looked to see a sharp glint in Hope’s eyes that reminded Jessica of one day on the bus when she and Hope had nearly gone at each other. Jessica swallowed quickly and complied. Hope laid back against the pillows once more, wincing at the pain from her efforts and Jessica’s effort to move her legs at once. It took a few seconds before Jessica was finally seated with Hope’s legs propped up on her lap, but it seemed like an eternity for Hope through all of the pain. When both women had finally settled, an odd silence came over the porch. The sounds of the world around them seemed dull and distant, as if by sound alone they were caught in a small bubble of time where nothing ever changed.
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