"Mommy! Mommy! Look what I found!" Trish squealed as she entered the living room, dragging behind her what appeared to be a giant book. I set down the magazine I had been flipping through; there was something familiar about that book, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it.
"What do you have there?" I asked.
"It's a photo album." Trish plopped down next to me on the couch. "And look, it has your name on it."
Sure enough, there was my name scribbled on the cover.
"Oh my, I used to keep this when I was just a few years older than you. I haven't seen this in years," I murmured wonderingly, running my fingers over the worn and creased edges. As I opened to the first page, deeply buried memories came flooding back.
"Who's that?" Trish asked, pointing to a middle-aged woman smiling up at us.
"That's my mother, your grandmother, way back when I was a kid."
"That's Grandma?" Trish said doubtfully.
"And who's that?"
"That's my old dog, Suki."
Next, Trish pointed to a trio of young girls. Their arms were linked together and they wore huge smiles from ear to ear. "Is that you?" Trish asked, pointing to the middle girl.
"Yes it is. And those two girls are Clara and Megan. We were the best of friends up until high school."
"What happened at high school?"
"Oh, nothing. We were just districted for different schools and after that we kind of drifted apart . . . we were such good friends . . ." As my voice trailed off, my mind drifted back to that last summer's night I had spent with those two . . .
* * *
Night had already set in when we stumbled out of the movie theater, doubled over with laughter.
"Did you see that guy?" Megan squealed in between giggles.
"He was such an idiot!" I agreed.
"What are you talking about?" Clara cried indignantly, wearing an expression of mock disbelief. Then she leaped forward and brandished an invisible sword, mimicking the character perfectly. "Art thou thy dragon I musteth slay?"
"Musteth?" I inquired.
And we all fell over in another wave of laughter.
I lifted my jacket sleeve and wiped away mirthful tears. "When's your dad getting here?" I finally managed to ask once we had settled down a bit.
Clara glanced at her watch. "We still have about ten more minutes."
"Any of you have some money left?"
Both Clara and Megan shook their heads solemnly.
"Sorry, spent mine on that last bag of popcorn," Clara said.
I sighed deeply and sank down onto one of the steps leading to the theater entrance.
"Well, what do we do now?"
We all stared down at the ground, the same thought passing through our minds, but no one wanting to speak it aloud. Finally, Clara whispered out the painful words, "You know, school starts up tomorrow I guess we won't see each other for a while."
I bit my lower lip and nodded.
"It sucks we all have to go to separate high schools," Megan muttered, sadness and rage blended deep within her tone.
"Sure does," I said.
Thinking back, I tried to recall just how long ago we all had met. Was it second grade? Maybe. But ever since that fateful day many, many years ago, the three of us had been inseparable. It seemed a rather cruel punishment to split us apart this late in our friendship.
"But it's not like we can't still be friends," I added, my voice brimming with hope. "I'll call you both right when I get home tomorrow."
"Yeah, I guess," Clara sighed.
No one spoke for a long while. I glanced from one sad face to the next, not sure of what to do or say. Our silence was only broken when the theater door swung open behind us, and two people strode out.
Megan quickly shielded her face with her hand and whispered through gritted teeth, "Look away! Look away!"
Almost instinctively, I turned to see who it was. Clara grabbed my arm and tried to yank me back, but not before I had caught a glimpse of them. The two most irritating people, Shauna and Zack, were walking hand in hand down the theater steps. I waited a few moments, making sure they were far enough away, then turned to my friends and raised an eyebrow. We watched as they walked off, slowly being swallowed by the night. Once again alone, we were consumed by another fit of hysteria.
I was clutching my stomach, giggling like crazy, when Clara's dad pulled up in his old wreck of a truck. Most of the paint had chipped off, revealing a thick layer of rust, and the engine made a mysterious clunking noise at spontaneous moments throughout the ride. We didn't give it a second thought. Rising from our seats, we piled into the dilapidated truck.
"So how was it, gals?" Clara's dad asked as I pulled the door shut and strapped myself in. For some odd reason he always emphasized the last word of every sentence. But we were used to it by now.
"Not worth the time," Clara said.
We both agreed.
"Ah, well. So are you gals ready for school tomorrow? First day of high school, that's a big deal. Shame you're all going to different places."
"Yeah . . . a shame," Megan said. Then, we all grew quiet, each staring out their own window into the dark, moonlit night. Regret hung heavily in the air, nearly choking me. Why did it have to be this way? Why did we have to be split up now? Clara finally ended the mesmerizing silence. "You won't believe what I saw this morning . . ."
And the spell was broken, our words slurring together in our haste to get them out.
"No way . . ."
"Did you guys see that show . . . ?"
"Are you sure that wasn't . . . ?"
"I saw something like that a week ago . . ."
On and on and on. Just like old times. We laughed and giggled and lost ourselves in the moment. No worries, no cares, just us and the open road ahead. If only there were some way I could pause time, making this moment last just a bit longer. But all too suddenly, Clara's dad was pulling up to my house.
"I'll call you tomorrow," I said as I swung open the door and stepped out.
"Have fun tomorrow!"
"See you soon!"
They both were leaning dangerously out the car windows, waving wildly at me. I smiled and waved back. I don't believe there could have been two better best friends. I gazed after them, still waving, even when the taillights dimmed from view and the clunking of the engine faded. It once again struck me just how much I would miss my friends. I sighed deeply and gazed up with longing at the stars and the moon and the dark velvet sky. As my last summer's night drew to a close, I could not help but wonder what my future might hold and whether these moments would mean anything in the years to come . . .
* * *
The garage door rumbled open and you could dimly hear the puttering of an old Honda Civic pulling in.
"Daddy's home!" Trish cried gleefully as she leaped off the couch and darted toward the garage.
My eyes lingered for a moment on the picture, a smile playing across my lips. I couldn't help but wonder what Clara and Megan were up to these days, if they were as happy and contented as I was. Slipping my finger beneath the plastic covering, I removed the picture from the photo album and slid it into my purse. Rising from the couch, I went to join my family.