"Her Rocky Nirvana"

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Amy Graduates

It’s a brisk Saturday morning with the exhilarating sounds of college football escaping the confines of several homes in Greg’s neighborhood. Amy’s shiny red Vette occupies the left side of Greg’s driveway, a U.C.L.A. banner flutters from the eve, but the house remains silent. In the front room, Amy’s frequent occupancy and free spirited influence has become very apparent. There’s a clutter of books, clothes and dishes in every direction; the once stalwart bastion of neat and organized has been overrun by hurricane Amy. Grading essays at the dining table, Greg shows no signs of stress; apparently at ease with the new normal. Nearby, Amy lies across the floor (studying a book) yet looking distracted. Suddenly she checks her watch, flicks on the T.V. and starts watching a free climbing event. Just as suddenly the television goes black. Amy’s head snaps around, finding Greg with the remote in-hand. “Hey!” Amy yells.

“You have finals.”

“It’s free-climbing!” She protests. ”That’s my thing!” Jumping to her feet, Amy tries to wrestle the remote free from his hand, but he won’t let her win this match. He literally sweeps her off her feet, carrying his mildly rebellious girlfriend (like a baby) back to her shag-carpeted study spot. He gently deposits Amy right next to her recently abandoned book.

“No, your thing is graduating. I promised your parents.”

“Uh huh. And do you sleep with my parents?”

“Yeah, but it’s not casual like it is with you.” Within a second, a balled-up sock bounces off his face. It falls silently to the floor, joining several other garments from Amy’s wardrobe. With a shrug and a smile, Greg starts tossing a few of Amy’s garments from the couch. “Have seen my –“

“Breakfast?” Amy replies. Without looking up from her book, she pulls a half-eaten bagel out from under a sweater.

“No. And also, ew. My iPAD.”

Shaking her head, Amy decides to expand the search by sifting through the many scattered piles of clothing. “Sports bra, running shorts.” She says.

Over by the bookcase, Greg finally has some luck. He retrieves the iPAD from under a pair of Amy’s crumpled jeans.” Seriously?... How did I ever fall in love with someone so messy and disorganized?”

Amy looks up at Greg, scrutinizing the last comment... first time for the L-word. She’s hesitant to ask if that was intentional, she may get an undesirable response. ..but she has to test the waters. ”Was that like a figure of speech or do you really... you know... love...”

“Figure of speech –“

Trying not to sound disappointed, she says. “No. Right.“ Amy’s eyes return to her book.

Setting the iPAd down on the table, Greg sends his gaze back to Amy. “But it’s one that’s apropos-- which means you are the most amazing woman I have ever known and yes I do.”

She looks up again, this time a little misty. She slowly walks to Greg, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head upon his chest. Then with a low matter of fact tone, she says. “Boy, the day I graduate are you ever gonna get laid.”

Greg places both hands on her shoulders quickly spinning her back in the direction from which she came. “Study! Study!”

And study she did. On a warm day in June a sea of black gowns, many accented with a blue and gold sash, flood the floor of Pauley Pavilion. Today the storied venue contains another excited and deserving group of graduating young men and women; all of them ready to make their mark on the world. The plethora of personalized mortarboards, that rest upon their heads, help display the many diverse personalities and in some cases a microcosm of their educational journey. Atop one girls cap is ‘I usually wear a crown, but today this will do’ another reads ‘The best is yet to come’ and Amy’s little flat-top sports ‘took nine to get mine’. Yes, although it’s been nine years in coming, one of those excited and deserving young women is Amy Garrett. The adventurous and fearless young woman is finally going to climb the stairs to the podium, instead of the rocky slope of a distant mountain peak--another challenge accepted and fulfilled. Inching her way toward the base of the stage, Amy’s mind drifts. Her extended scholastic journey nearly over, she can’t help but mentally revisit portions of that long and winding road.

She’s a lanky fourteen year old girl, frolicking with friends in her backyard pool; on the same day a nineteen year old boy mourns the loss of a foster parent. A mere twenty miles of coast line separate these two teenagers. Both kids love warm apple pie and root for the same major league baseball team, but today their emotions do not even share the same universe. The young girl launches her body out of the water, gracefully striking a fast moving volleyball back over a dripping net. The ear splitting smack of leather contacting water, precedes a quick shower and defeat for three slow moving opponents. Six arms rise skyward, accompanied by excited screams of victory, on the lanky girl’s side of the pool. Her two team mates exchange ‘high-fives’ and in unison shout. “Awesome shot Amy!” She smiles, slaps hands then glides under the net. Popping up between her former opponents, Amy’s maize colored hair sheds streams of water as she throws her arms around the other girls. Only minutes later, at a pool side table, the six young ladies are enjoying pepperoni pizza and tunes by Eminem. With only a few weeks separating the girls from the start of their freshman year of high school; clothes and boys seem to dominate the conversation. Amy’s closest friend (Heather) grabs her second slice, saying. “I’m gonna’ wear my Roxy jeans and this cute top I found at Hollister. Whatta’ ’bout you Amy?”

Amy shrugs. “Haven’t made up my mind yet…There’s still some time.”

“I think you should…” Heather abruptly ends her sentence when she spots Amy’s older brother approaching. He’s wearing only a pair of board shorts. She leans into Amy’s ear, lowering her voice. “Wow, your brother’s buff.”

Amy wrinkles her nose. “He’s also a jerk… Thinks he’s my third parent or something.”

Hank stops at the table with a smirk. “How’s the water chickies?” There’s a chorus of nice and fine from everyone, except Amy.

Amy snaps. “Wet.”

Hank stares at his little sister for a moment then swipes the pizza slice off her plate. “Finished with that, Buffy?”

With her arm extended outward, Amy spins in her seat yelling. “Hey!” Hank quickly stuffs the entire slice into his mouth. Wearing an intense sneer, Amy screams. “You’re so disgusting!” Hank backs away from the table, expelling a muffled laugh through his engorged cheeks. Amy turns back toward her friends with widened eyes. “Yuh see.”

Heather smiles, watching Hank cannonball into the pool. “He’s still cute.”

Freshman year Amy makes the honor roll, both semesters, while also making the Water Polo and Softball teams. She briefly dates a couple of boys spring semester, but the guys felt more than a little intimidated by ‘big bro’. Being an all-conference football star, Hank enjoyed god-like status on campus. Subsequently it was easy to make sure any dude hanging out with his lil’ sister was subject to surveillance. Despite Amy’s vigorous objections, her social life played out in similar fashion sophomore year. Visions of freedom flashed before her eyes (on her sixteenth birthday) when her parents bought a used Subaru Outback. It wasn’t exactly the car of her dreams, but Amy immediately realized the safety minded purchase was an opportunity to escape her brother’s overreach. But six weeks and two speeding tickets later, the car was put into parental impound for the remainder of the school year. As a junior, Amy was finally free of her meddling brother, at least while at school. Hank had graduated and was on to college, but still living at home. Again Amy was proving to be an exceptional athlete. By playing three varsity level sports and also nailing her academics, Amy caught the attention of some major universities. As did her best friend Heather. Amy was being recruited by eight different schools and Heather six. But both girls received offers, to play softball, from the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma. The girls were absolutely giddy at the thought of attending the same university. Friends since grammar school, the ‘BFF’s’ could now see an avenue, offering an opportunity to share the same college experience. With acceptance into a major university all but guaranteed, senior year was going to be hella awesome.

The morning of July 5, 2005 began like most for Amy: breakfast with the family, a prolonged exchange of verbal jabs with Hank and a phone call to Heather. But today, Heather didn’t answer her phone. Amy tried three times over the course of an hour and still nothing--this doesn’t ever happen. Other than being a holiday, yesterday didn’t seem unusual to Amy. The girls took their morning coast line jog along Blufftop Trail, down to Bluff Cove, spending the afternoon by Amy’s pool. After dinner, Heather drove Amy and some other girls down to the beach to catch the fireworks display. Amy however, didn’t get to stay until midnight like the others. Her dad’s flight was due in at twelve and tradition dictated a complete family greeting upon arrival. So shortly after the final barrage of colorful explosions, Amy was on her way to the airport with Mom and Hank. A few considerations flew through Amy’s mind about this anomaly with Heather. Maybe she was sleeping in, perhaps her phone battery died or maybe she was mad about something. The latter was the most concerning, but made the least amount of sense. After all, they had shared a hug in the sand just before Amy left for the night. As the clock approached eleven, that morning, Amy got a call from Heather’s mother. Fighting through bouts of tears, Heather’s mom told Amy, Heather had been in an accident and was going into surgery. Amy immediately drove to the hospital and spent the rest of the day with Heather’s family. After several hours of emotional torment, a surgeon finally found his way to the waiting room. With a sympathetic tone he informed the family that Heather’s many injuries, while severe, would heal. But, unfortunately they were unable to save her left leg; it had just been too badly mangled. For the next several weeks, regardless of what the day threw at her; Amy always found a window of time to see Heather. She watched the physical wounds heal, day by day, but Heather’s emotional damage remained intact. As hard as Amy tried to lift her friend’s spirits, Heather saw only a ruined future. Her mind dwelled on the awesome senior year that, in a mere four seconds, just faded away. In the span of four seconds her whole life had been horribly changed. If only she’d left her phone alone; just left it on floor, after it slid from the seat. She looked away, from the road, for only four fucking seconds. And that’s all it took to send her over the side of a fifty foot embankment. As hard as Heather tried to withdraw into a shell of misery, Amy worked even harder to pull her friend out. Once Heather was home from the hospital, Amy started planning their class schedule, took her shopping for clothes and even on the morning jogs. For the benefit of the wheelchair, she modified the route to incorporate mostly asphalt. But she ran just as far, pushing her solemn faced friend all the way. After a few weeks of Amy’s unwavering inclusion and optimism, Heather showed a little spark. After days and days of showing little interest in much of anything, one sunny morning Heather changed her outfit three times before an ensemble met with her satisfaction. And for the first time since the accident, Heather was already waiting in her driveway when Amy arrived. As Amy drew near, Heather looked up, sporting a slight grin. “You ready to get this show on the road?” She said.

Amy’s initial look of surprise, gradually transformed into a big smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” And down the road they went--for about five minutes. Without warning, Heather abruptly hit the brakes. Taken by surprise, Amy lurches forward; her chest colliding with the back of Heather’s head. The impact forces a section of Heather’s long chestnut hair upward into the shape of a wigwam. “Whoa.” Catching her breath, Amy says. “What’s with the brakes, something the matter?”

Heather glances over her shoulder. “Yeah, this route’s boring, girlfriend.” Sending her gaze off toward the ocean, she says. “Let’s try Blufftop.” They were at a point in the road that could take them to either the Blufftop trail head or along their modified and less challenging route.

“Blufftop?...” Amy says. “That seems a little rough, considering.”

“Considering what?” Amy is silent, mentally visualizing the uneven dirt trail with abundant ruts and steep rocky hills. “You afraid of a little challenge?” Amy remains silent, answering her friend by spinning the wheelchair toward the coast. Breaking into a smile, Heather smooths out the back of her hair as she says. “And stop messin’ up my do with your big boobs.”

The ensuing ride along Blufftop was akin to one orchestrated by Mr. Toad: adventurous, but sometimes nearing disaster. Always keeping a brisk pace, Amy rolled over dusty berms, bounced through rutted trail and piloted zigzag slides down rocky hills. There were a couple of ‘oh shit’ moments, when Amy had to really dig her heels in, to keep Heather from tipping over, but the jaunt bore fruit. Both girls wore big grins, on their perspiring faces, when they got back to Heather’s place. And that was the most satisfying reward Amy could have received. “Aww man.” Amy tries brushing some of the gritty dirt (from Blufftop) off the wheelchair, as she says. “Your Mom’s gonna’ kill me.”

“Oh, it’s just dirt.” Heather replies. “It’ll clean-up.”

“Yeah, but your mom may not be too thrilled, if she realizes we hit Blufftop” Amy continues her attempt at swiping away evidence, when Heather’s mom steps from the house. Amy abruptly spins around to face her. “Oh, hey, Mrs. Raskin.” Amy looks at Heather. “We’re back…”She puts a hand on Heather’s shoulder. “Safe and sound.”

With a giggly tone Heather reiterates. “Yup, safe and sound.”

With a nod and thin smile Mrs. Raskin says. “You girls hungry?”

“Starved!” Heather says, immediately rolling her wheelchair toward and through the front door.

As Amy reaches the threshold Mrs. Raskin places a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you.” Amy looks into the hopeful eyes of her best friend’s mother, realizing they share a common sense of purpose and gratitude. All things considered, the day seemed to mark a positive milestone; finally some visible light in that deep tunnel.

A few days before the fall semester began, Heather was no longer in a wheelchair. She’d been fitted with a new prosthetic leg, giving her increased mobility, but also a fair amount of discomfort. The new device was something less than a perfect fit and she knew, getting modifications or a new device would take time. But Heather, being Heather, was determined to walk, not roll into class. Obviously she preferred walking with her friends on campus, but by the end of the day the stump pain was intense. And prescription pain killers seemed to be the ideal remedy.

A light rain filters through a canopy of pine needles, gently striking the top of a white easy-up. Huddled beneath the temporary structure, a crowd of somber faces listen to words, meant to be comforting, from an ordained speaker. Even aided by the soothing patter of soft rain, the words do little to stem the tears of many in attendance--Amy among them. It was less than a week ago when she sat on the edge of her best friend’s bed, excitingly making plans for the European vacation they would enjoy after graduation. From London to Vienna and Nice to Amsterdam, the new grads were going to spend a month, exploring foreign countries and cultures. But now that plan was gone, suddenly dying along with Heather. It was buried that day, on a lush green hill, below a weeping pine tree with one of its creators. So many questions without answers filled Amy’s grieving mind. Heather is the first person she has ever personally known to pass away, and besides being tragic it was confusing. An endless stream of tears, whys and hows accompanied Amy home that day. And they lingered into the ensuing weeks. Nothing unusual was found in Heather’s room; she’d been taking the prescribed Oxycodone for weeks. There wasn’t a note or a call or an action that would indicate suicide; just a lifeless body, discovered by her traumatized mother. Not knowing if it was an act of desperation or just a horrible accident, bothered Amy for a long time. But as graduation day drew near, she decided it didn’t matter. What she thought mattered now, would be to learn something from her friend’s death. She came to the realization that your health can fade and your life can end at any time and without warning. So she wasn’t going to waste any of hers.

The European vacation turned into a solo trek through the rugged peaks of New Zealand; hiking, biking, kayaking or rock climbing filled most every day. After two months of witnessing astonishing beauty and freezing her butt off, Amy returned home to start college. The loss of her best friend and favorite team mate seemed to extinguish the desire to pursue any of her athletic scholarships. So after some heartfelt discussions with her family, Amy enrolled locally at UCLA. She completed her first year with a 4.0, but chose to skip the following year. Amy felt a calling to help with an effort to educate children of semi-nomadic tribes in Kenya. Eight months of harsh living was tempered by the warmth and gratitude she received from the Maasai people. Amy taught the children basic English, while she tried to learn how to milk cows and make jewelry. She eventually got the knack of milking, but her necklaces and ear rings never did compare to those of the locals. Amy left Africa with the realization that educating youth is a noble and rewarding endeavor and that someday she would do it again.

For the next few years, focusing on any one thing was not something Amy subscribed to. She continued her push toward a degree, but there were many interruptions along the way. There were just too many mountains to climb, snowy slopes to shred and countries to explore. Eventually Amy’s parents grew concerned with her lack of focus and the snail’s pace toward graduation; and they worked out a deal. If Amy would stop globetrotting long enough to complete her degree, Dad would trade her old Subaru for a new car. The prospect of a trade-up was appealing to Amy, but she knew in her heart, keeping her end of the deal would be a major challenge. After a few days of contemplation, Amy accepted the offer, but at such a steep price, this ride was going to have to be more accommodating to her personality. Vroom.

When Amy’s name is read aloud, she returns to present-day, graciously accepting her diploma from the provost. She holds it high in victory and smiles at her cheering family. With tears welling in his eyes, Al marvels at the sight of his graduating daughter. Standing next to Greg, the proud father wipes his dampened cheeks and gives him a hug, saying. “I never thought I’d see this day...I never thought I’d see this day...” Hank, observing this overt display of emotion from his father, is feeling a renewed fervor of sibling rivalry. Although he continues to clap for his sister, Hank’s enthusiasm has become noticeably diminished. The touching yet annoying spectacle compels him to comment to both Tina and Evy.

“He didn’t cry when I graduated...”

Sitting inside Greg’s SUV, Amy nervously twists a long silky bundle of hair around her index finger. With a new and formidable hurdle awaiting her, she’s wearing a rarely seen look of dread upon her face. It’s a barricade that she’s been eyeing and longing to leap over for many years. And now, with all the ground work complete, it’s only feet away. But unlike the others, this challenge doesn’t require her athletic skills. This one demands a life style change, that’s both exciting and scary at the same time. And Amy is uncharacteristically, doubting her capabilities and readiness for the very first time. She actually needs some encouragement to take that first step. She glances toward Greg, biting her lower lip. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes you can.”

“I don’t know. You sure?”

“Positive.”

Looking at the floor, Amy says. “What if they hate me?”

“They’re gonna’ love you -- just like I do.” Greg adds. Amy nods, reluctantly opening her door. Greg grabs a small paper bag from the backseat. “Hey, don’t forget your snack money and your lunch.” Greg passes Amy the brown paper bag as she releases a deep breath and slides out of the vehicle. Behind her is a throng of young children, most black and brown, making their way into the entrance of a South Central grammar school. ”I made all your favorites: cucumber and honey sandwich, almonds and orange slices.”

Amy’s eyes light up, as she takes the lunch bag from Greg. “Cara, Cara?”

Greg nods as he says. “It’s your first day.”

Sticking her head back into the car, Amy gives Greg a kiss, then joins the steady stream of kids heading for school. A couple of fourth graders, Silvio and Rita, notice the fresh face, moving in stride with them.

“You new?” Silvio asks.

“Yes. I’m Ms. Garrett, fourth grade.”

“You a good teacher?” Rita responds.

“Uh, I hope so...” Amy replies.

“Me too.” Rita says. “I want to go to college.”

Amy smiles at Rita then disappears inside the school, ready to start a new vocation and adventure. Still observing from his vehicle, Greg is emotionally moved by the sight of so many caring parents seeing their kids off to class; their parental words of encouragement, usually followed by an embarrassing hug goodbye. Continuing to watch the farewells, his mind starts straddling the line that separates today from yesterday. Mixed emotions begin to rise when he recalls his own grammar school days. He can visualize Mom, holding his hand all the way to class, and that generates a warm smile. But the smile quickly fades away with his mother, ushering back those years of emptiness; the empty hand, empty dreams and empty heart. Those awful days did exert a toll, but somehow he still ended up here: involved in a committed relationship (with a beautiful woman) and holding down a great job--how? That very question, that Amy asked not long ago, pushes him over the line and back to those earlier days; the ones of constant transition, the days when he was essentially without a family. The first few years, following the arrest of his father, Greg remembers bouncing around from one foster home to another. It was Mel and Dee Webster who took him in initially. They were an older couple who had already raised two boys of their own, along with two foster children. Having a large home and an abundance of patience, the Webster’s were a great match for Greg. The couple grew most of their own vegetables in the backyard and Mel liked to work on an old project car in the garage: a 57’ Chevy Bel-Air that was still a long way from hitting the streets. Yeah, life improved for a while; cultivating veggies with Dee and helping Mel restore his old Chevy. Unfortunately though, Mel had a stroke about six months after Greg’s arrival. He survived, but with many months of extensive rehab looming on the horizon, Social Services decided to relocate Greg. He was rather hastily placed into the home of Ms. Josephine Talbot. Now Ms. Talbot or ‘Joey’, as some of her close associates called her, was an attractive woman in her early forties, with an interesting side gig--that very few knew about. Until Greg came along, Joey had always fostered much younger children; usually never older than three--and that was the way she liked it. The younger ones were typically adopted quite quickly; long before they could ask questions about the backroom. She usually had two, sometimes three little ones living in her home at any one time, and for the most part, took very good care of them. However, on numerous occasions, after a conspicuous phone call, all the kids were quickly tucked snugly into their cribs. And a short time later, Joey and one of her clients (usually a gentlemen caller) would retreat to the backroom. That process was modified slightly when Greg came into the picture; Joey started to receive clients only during his school hours. The new process worked out well for Joey--for about eight months.

It was an abnormally hot day in May when the ancient water main, suppling Greg’s school, suddenly burst; forcing the cancellation of all remaining classes for the day. Arriving home a good three hours earlier than normal, Greg was alarmed when he heard sounds of distress coming from the backroom. As he cautiously walked closer and closer to the room, loud smacking sounds accompanied with moans in Ms. Talbot’s timbre, sent a chill up Greg’s sweaty spine. He placed his hand on the door knob, but hearing the masculine recital of “you’ve been bad”, sent his heart racing and his hand quickly recoiled. Greg backpedaled to the phone; where he nervously dialed 911. As the tortuous sounds continued, Greg franticly searched for a weapon. Eventually arming himself with one of Joey’s large skillets, Greg summoned all of his courage in an effort to rescue poor Ms. Talbot. Taking a deep breath, he barged into the backroom, just as a police cruiser pulled up to the house. To say everyone in that backroom was surprised, when Greg burst through the door, would be a major understatement. When Greg caught a glimpse of Ms. Talbot, his eyes expanded to the size of that skillet, dangling from his hand. Naked as the day she was born, Joey was stretched across some nude man’s lap, getting her bare bottom spanked. During that moment, the naked couple and Greg looked like statues; each staring frozen and horrified at the other. But within seconds, before there was time to cover-up, two police officers entered the room. One officer quickly escorted Greg, with a face that had turned the same bright rosy shade of red as Josephine’s recently tenderized backside, out of the house. Later that evening Greg was being hastily relocated by Social Services once again.

After brief, and mostly uneventful, stays in a couple more foster homes, Greg was placed in a more institutional setting. A youth farm, situated deep in the San Fernando Valley, became home for the next eighteen months. Housing twenty boys between the ages of 13 and 17, the seventy acre property is one of the least favorite options for Social Services. Their data has repeatedly shown: kids growing up in an institutional setting are far less successful than those living in a family environment. However, Greg was nearly fifteen then, and finding a foster family for a boy that age is challenging. Most of his fellow residents had similar or worse experiences; their brutally defective childhoods leading to abundant anger issues and that condition progressing to the unavoidable: differences being settled with fists. As an emotional defense, Greg tried to keep to himself, replacing the absence of human love with an emersion into nature and a quest for knowledge. But despite all of his efforts to remain focused and studious, he had his triggers too: taking or abusing something he valued would get some kid a knuckle sandwich every time. So that year and a half spent at the youth farm saw numerous fights, but it also resulted in Greg gaining valuable experience. He learned the nuances of working with subsistence crops and trees; mostly the fruit and nut bearing variety. It was new and beneficial botanical knowledge that would suit him well down the road. Just before Greg was about to begin his junior year of high school, good fortune finally made an appearance, and it wore a familiar face. Mel and Dee Webster started inquiring, with Social Services, about the fate of young Greg shortly after Mel left the hospital. They were hopeful that someday, once Mel felt reasonably adapted to the extreme weakness the stroke had induced to his entire left side, that they could help the young man once more. The Webster’s had a soft spot in their ample sized hearts for Greg as he did for them. So after learning of Greg’s current quasi-internment, Mel and Dee applied for foster custody immediately. The following three years, Greg lived a near normal existence under the Webster’s roof. He flourished in an environment of genuine concern for his wellbeing and success. He graduated with honors from high school and was accepted at UCLA, his freshman year. Greg recalls the anxiety when he turned eighteen and assumed he would have to find his own place. But the Webster’s soon eased that worry when they insisted he stay while attending college. So with Mel doing the research and Greg the heavy lifting the two guys continued to get that 57’Chevy runnin’ good and lookin’ sharp. Mel offered to let Greg drive it to school whenever he wanted, but Greg didn’t relish the thought of leaving a sweet classic unattended in the student parking lot. So when the Bel-Air did escape the garage, Greg mostly just chauffeured Mel and Dee to the market and church; in the slickest car on the block.

On August 10, 2002 Nicolas Cage married Lisa Marie Presley in Maui, the Dodgers beat the Phillies 10 to 8 in Chavez Ravine and Mel Webster suffered his second, and this time fatal, stroke in his own kitchen. It was a sad day for Greg and a devastating one for Dee. The occasional bouts of short term memory loss, Dee was prone to, seem to accelerate at warp speed overnight. The day of the funeral, Dee wasn’t even sure where they were going or why. That was all the motivation Morgan Webster, their oldest son, needed to move Mom to his home in Denver. About a month later, most of the Webster’s estate had been sold. A few pieces of furniture remained, but the house was in escrow, Mel’s shop tools were gone and the beautiful 57’ Bel Air had been scooped up by an avid car collector. Then on the day Dee was leaving with Morgan, she came to Greg in a rare lucid moment. As they said their goodbyes, Dee gave Greg a brand new electronic organizer; to help with his studies, along with a sealed envelope. She leaned forward, kissed his cheek and her parting words were “Study hard kiddo… Oh, the gift inside that envelope is from Mel.” She squeezed his hand. “I know in my heart, he’d want you to have it.” The joyful shrieks, of kids playing tag, bring Greg back from the past. Slowly shaking his head and swallowing the lump in his throat, he pulls away whispering. “Thank god for the Websters’.”

Standing at the front of an aged classroom, Amy is writing her name on a faded green-board when a big, wet, nasty balled-up wad of paper splatters and sticks about two feet to the right of her head. After a casual glace to the right she calmly finishes crossing the T’s in her name. Shortly after that, she takes a large side-step right and draws a soccer ball sized happy face--right next to the dripping projectile. After nonchalantly dislodging the saturated wad of paper, perplexed stares fall upon the new teacher as she begins packing the soggy mess together--like a snowball. In a couple of minutes, she’s transformed the disgusting pulp back into a baseball sized orb. Walking all the way to the back of the classroom, Amy cocks her arm and fires a wicked fastball toward the front board. The repurposed sphere whizzes inches above the young heads, hitting that chalky happy face, dead center. All the students cover their ears when a deafening whack echoes throughout the classroom. The young eyes widen and their mouths become unhinged, as their impressionable minds come to the realization that this teacher has more than academic skills. Amy confidently strides back to the front board, scraping the huge spitball into a trash can. “Just so you all know… I was an all-star shortstop in high school…so I will hit whatever or whomever I’m aiming at”. With that first lesson behind her, the hours turn to days and the days to weeks, as Amy’s metamorphosis into an effective and revered educator flies well ahead of schedule. It takes but a few months for Amy to develop a reputation for expecting the best out of each pupil, while providing an atmosphere that allows for a fun time getting there. Her enthusiastic and animated delivery, of each lesson plan, earns the attention and admiration of both students and faculty. Once, using a pyramid of chairs and bookshelves, Amy even demonstrated ‘free climbing’ in class. The kids loved the demo, but the principle suggested she refrain from any more risky displays. By the end of the first semester, it’s become obvious, that this woman has found yet another discipline, where she’s just a ‘natural’.

Now that Amy had a degree in her back pocket and a gratifying position as an educator, she felt as though her two most elusive goals had finally been achieved. But even while bathing in that sense of satisfaction and achievement, she yearned for something else. There was something truly monumental still on her mind: a marriage proposal seemed to be the true summit. She knew Greg loved her and obviously she loved him, but in the back of her mind was the thought: marriage for someone who’s experienced so much loss and betrayal could be ‘A bridge too far’. However, on the occasion of her twenty-eighth birthday, she was delighted to find, that was not the case.

Spaced haphazardly across Greg’s modest dining table reside a few stacks of paper, a near empty bottle of Chardonnay and a silvery MacBook. With an air of scrutiny, Amy shuffles through the papers, stopping occasionally to slide a yellow highlighter across lines of printed text. The highlighted stationary gets a second look before she passes it over to Carla, who starts working the keyboard on that MacBook. “You’re up to 182, Amy.” Carla says.

Amy nods, studying two pages lain side by side. “Wow, only eighteen spots left and quite a few more possibilities.”

Walking in from the kitchen, sipping a chilled bottle of Corona, Greg spies over Carla’s shoulder. “Damn! Judge Walker, Judge Hanson, Judge Kato. Who’s gonna’ man the court house.”

Amy looks up from her task to say. “You know, Daddy wants all his buddies there for the show…” She pauses, nervously rearranging the papers. “Besides, the wedding is on a Saturday silly.”

With a consoling pat on the shoulder, Greg adds. “Just givin’ you a hard time.”

Amy nods, turning toward Greg with a tense look. “We’ve almost hit the max head count Greg. Is there anyone else you want to invite?”

Looking up from the laptop, Carla adds. “This probably goes without sayin’ boss, but your side of the aisle is woefully under represented. Even counting that perv’ Professor Newman you’ve only got eight people…” Crinkling her nose, she asks. “Does he really have to be there?”

“He’s in the botany department Carla. I kinda’ feel obligated.”

“Well, I don’t wanna’ be the one who spoils your wedding, but… if he stares at my boobs like he did at the faculty awards, I might feel obligated to introduce his face to the spinach dip.”

Amy’s look of concern instantly transforms into hysterical laughter. “Now I know why you like her so much.”

All smiles, Greg adds. “Hey, she just might do it.”

Without looking up, Carla says. “Damn straight.”

Carla’s injection of levity provides the tension relief Amy needed to pursue a touchy topic. “Anyway Greg, I wanted to let you know…” She hesitates. “I found out, your father lives in the area.” Greg’s smile evaporates; his intuition immediately anticipating the heavy thud from the other shoe. “So whatta’ yuh think about sending him an invitation?”

Oh, and there it is.

Shaking his head, Greg says “Noo-way…” He draws in a deep breath before walking over to a chair and taking a seat. “Look, I know, to most, my reaction probably seems cold and odd, but I want you to promise me, you’re not going to invite him to the wedding.” Amy, looking surprised, glances over at Carla, who rolls her eyes and shrugs. “Hey, you two both came from good homes. All you’ve ever known is unconditional love from your parents…and that’s awesome. But let me tell yuh from experience, love needs more than just the hereditary connection to survive…It needs to be nurtured… When neglect and abuse replace love in a relationship, it’s just like a plant trying to live on brackish water…after a while it’ll just wither and die. ”Amy starts to speak, but Greg points in her direction saying. “Promise me Amy… You too Carla.”

“Okay, I promise.” Amy says. “No wedding invitation.”

“Carla?” Greg says.

Carla’s eyes bounce between Greg and Amy a few times before she surrenders. “Yeah, alright, I promise.”

“Thank you.”

With her head shaking, Carla goes back to typing on the MacBook. “Hard to imagine this guy bein’ any worse than Newman.” Looking back over at Amy. “You shoulda’ held that gem back until after his third beer.”

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