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Aunt Emma

When an older man bumped into me from behind with his basket, I was jerked out of my daydream, back to waiting in the pharmacy line.

“So sorry, young lady.”

“It’s alright,” I tried to smile at him.

I was impatient as I had to hurry and get ready for the dance. It took me a whole afternoon to get ready. I tapped my foot as the lady ahead of me asked the pharmacist endless questions. I heard her ask something about voices with her new medication.

Feeling ashamed, I tried to stop eavesdropping and my mind wandered again to the memory of my odd aunt. When I call her odd, it’s not in a bad way; it just means she’s different. When I was a little girl, my Aunt Emma had taken me shopping. It was near Christmas. I remember the day clearly. I even remember the song and some of the lyrics that played over the store intercom. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas...It’s the best time of the year...”

I trailed behind my humming aunt in my cashmere coat. People would stare at us. Some smiled and some whispered as we walked by. My aunt was wearing a mini skirt, halter top and rhinestone high heels, but no coat even though it was 40 degrees outside.

I adored her. I thought she was so ladylike and beautiful.

Aunt Emma had been piling frozen turkeys into her cart when the manager walked up to us. She started to cry when the manager said she couldn’t buy 15 turkeys. She called my mom on her cell phone. Someone had called the police and they came before my mother had time to get there. They found Aunt Emma sitting on the dirty floor of the baking aisle, talking to someone who wasn’t there. I was standing next to her trying to see what she was seeing.

Now, ten years later, I sighed, wondering why I lost touch with her as the pharmacist said, “Next.”

I paid for my medication, took the bag from the pharmacist and said thank you.

As I walked home, I knew I had to see my aunt. She was in a mental hospital but my parents called it something nicer. I imagined how I would give her a huge hug and make up for lost time. I thought about how I would be a better niece. I would love her but I wouldn’t judge her.

I smiled as I unlocked the front door to the house and walked in. I set the bag down and looked up the phone number of the hospital. I would see her next week. She would love to hear about the dance.

Suddenly, I was back in the humiliating position of being on my hands and knees on the floor at the school dance. I saw the pill bottle still rolling. I watched Luke’s shiny dress shoe gently stop it. Luke picked the bottle up, looked at my name on it, and handed it to me. His handsome face looked confused but concerned. He started helping me pick everything up.

A crowd of kids had gathered and started whispering, but Luke, Brandon and Maddie tried to block their view as much as they could by encircling me, but I still heard them talking about me as if I were invisible.

“What were those white pills all over the ground?”

“Who knows. Probably uppers or downers.”

“You mean drugs?”

“Yeah, dumbass.”

“She’s so together. Why would she take drugs?”

“How should I know?”

Principal Jensen walked over to us and cleared the crowd. He told them to go back to dancing. Then he asked if I was okay and continued around the dance floor monitoring dance moves.

Luke and I stood up.

“I never knew,” Maddie said, shocked and surprised. She looked a little hurt.

“I’m so sorry guys. I just-I didn’t want anyone to know.” I felt a tear slide down my cheek. Furiously, I wiped it away.

“Hey,” Luke’s voice was gentle. “It’s okay.” He put his arm around me.

I brushed the dust and dirt from my dress.

“Are you alright?” Brandon asked.

Maddie looked upset. “My best friend since seventh grade kept a huge secret from me. You didn’t trust me, Julianne and that really hurts.”

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