[Cheerless #6] CheerSoaked: A Tale Of Two Freaks

Freaks For The Memories

Bawling, I threw myself into her arms. "Oh, Mommy, she's gone! How c-can she be gone? I- I don't understand..."

"Shh," she soothed, crying as well. "It's okay, baby... it's okay."

Later, my friends told me they could see the somewhat amusing looks of semi-contempt shooting between my parents; I wish I had a tape of that. At the time, I was totally oblivious, sobbing into my mother's dress and trying not to sink any lower than that.

"So," I finally said, sniffling as I stood up, "what- what are you doing here?"

"David phoned us about your Gran," she said quietly, and I could tell that for one brief moment in her life, my mother wasn't sure what she was saying. "And... and I know things have been bad, with us that is, but I told Reed I just had to be here, and he understood. So... right. Anyway, how are you holding up?"

"How do you think?" I snapped. Then I settled again, clearing my throat. "I'm sorry, that-"

"Don't worry about it," she shushed, holding my chin to look at me better. "Nobody's going to hold anything against you today."

Adymm came over right about then, and Sabrina, Roxie, Ophelia, TQ and Milnot weren't far behind (oh, and in case you're wondering where dear ole Greg was, he couldn't get his Nazi boss to let him off work, but he sent his regards). My mother glanced at them before looking back at me. "My, my, you must really have some good friends there if they've come all this way."

"I do," I whispered, flashing them a watery smile; though I was too distraught at that moment, I knew the memory of TQ's musty-looking, ruffly crimson tux would make me laugh years later. "They're the best."

"Do you, uh, need some time?" Adymm asked me. "We can meet you somewhere if you want."

"Yeah... I'll catch up." They all patted me on the back as they passed, but I noticed Ophelia's hand moved the quickest; in my state of grief, it didn't occur to me why... until about ten seconds after they had left.

"Hmm," mother said. "Wasn't that green-haired girl the one who...?"

"Yes, mother," I sighed, hoping I wouldn't have to do this now; I mean, the guys with shovels were hanging around their truck nearby, and it felt like completely the wrong time.

"No, no, it's fine," she said quickly, as if she'd practiced this moment meticulously. "As long as you're happy, that's all that matters. You're my daughter, and I love you very much."

"Did you see the one with the blue spikes?" I asked patiently. "That's Adymm. He's my better half."

"Oh," she sighed in relief (the big faker). "Well, as I said, if you're happy, I'm-"

"Yeah, yeah." Just then, I spotted this oversized mop of frizzy red hair heading toward me; it seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it. "So... you coming with us to the wake?"

"Oh, I don't know," Mother said, shaking her head. "I'm not much for wakes; it always seemed kind of strange to me to throw a big party after someone... well, you know."

"Me too... but it's what she wanted."

"Libby Chessler? Oh my God, is that really you?!"

I blinked; the redhead was inches away from me now, blinking in the sunlight. Her clothes were proper and tasteful, but not black and severe like mine and my mother's. "Uh... yeah, it is."

"You don't recognise me, huh? Guess it has been a long time."

But she was wrong, because at that exact moment it hit me. "Hey... you used to be friends with Sabrina, didn't you? Yeah... Jenny something!"

She rolled her eyes. "Jenny Something of the Richmond Somethings, or something." We both laughed, and then she looked at her shoes. "So... you can't be here for anything good."

"Yeah. Well, my-" It almost choked me up again, but my mother squeezed my shoulder, and - again, even though I should have been kicking her ass from here to Tuesday - it made me feel better. "My grandmother passed away yesterday."

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I... I don't remember my grandma, but I've always been told how kind she was. Were you two... close?"

"Very." She nodded solemnly as I cleared my throat. "So... how about you? Why are you here?"

"Oh, my parents."

"WHAT?!"

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

To make this part less tedious, a couple hours later found us all at Gran's house, crowded around a table and sipping at various alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, listening to Jennifer Kelly give us the short version of her life story. Don't blow a gasket - you'll be able to infer the important parts.

"...and I've been living with Aunt Joan and Uncle Randy down in Virginia ever since."

"Wow..." Ophelia shook her head. "I... I think I might have to go hang out with my dad today."

"Yeah." For my part, I was sitting between my biological parents, squeezing their arms with fervor.

"Hey, cut it out, you guys," she laughed nervously. "I mean, yes, it's a horrible tragedy, but that was almost three years ago now; the wound has mostly healed."

"Still," Roxie breathed, "it's so... I mean, a zamboni?!"

"I know, right? I can't pass a skating rink without bursting into tears. It's... actually funny to think about when it's not happening."

Sabrina, who had almost literally exploded upon seeing her one-time best friend again, was now stabbing at her pool of ranch dip with a carrot stick and listening intently... while avoiding eye contact with me. Oh, what, you think I couldn't tell? She didn't want to acknowledge me, because that would mean we were on speaking terms - which I guess was fine, since I wasn't sure I could process anything remotely stressful in the midst of all the grief. Still, she was there, which meant something.

Eventually, Jenny started playing some heavy catch-up with Sabrina, and I got tired of watching Adymm and Roxie whispering urgently (about me, I'm sure), so I excused myself and went to the ladies' room, where I sobbed like a baby. It was hard not to that day, for so many different reasons up to and including Gran, but I felt like if I did it in front of the others I wouldn't be able to stop. Which I didn't want, 'cos it seemed like all anybody did these days was watch my waterworks.

There's no way to know how long I was in there; somewhere between five minutes and infinity. I was trying to dry it up again in order to rejoin the throng when in walks...

"Oh, Sabrina!" Frantically, I wiped my face off, trying to paste together something resembling a smile. Hadn't that door been locked? Not that it would stop her, being what she is. "Hi, I was j-just leaving, I-"

"You wanted to know the real reason I was in New York, right?"

The moment was incredibly tense; we hadn't held a real conversation with each other since the night I found out her secret, and yet so much had transpired in that one day between that it was hard to feel our way around this one. Without knowing what else to do, I decided to go with honesty. "Yeah."

She nodded, still not making eye contact. "I- I don't know why I'm telling you this now. It's probably the worst time, I'm sure, with your Gran and all, but- but for some reason it seems oddly right. Why is that?"

"I- I don't know," I sniffled, dabbing at my eyes with a piece of toilet paper. "What is it?"

"It's you," she whispered. "Something you did for me... I don't wonder if you forgot about it already? Actually, that would be hilarious if you didn't even remember, and here it is this majorly important deal to me."

"What-"

"My yearbook." For a painfully brief moment, her eyes darted up to mine, and I could see them shining. "I- I guess you did it over Christmas sometime, but- but you wrote something in my yearbook."

"Oh yeah... you're right, I did forget." Any other day, I would have laughed out loud at that; presently, all I could muster was a quiet chuckle. "But... I meant every word of it."

A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth for all-too-brief a moment before she cleared her throat and pressed onward, forcing out the words that she'd been too shy to tackle before. "A couple weeks ago I was kinda bored, so I cracked it open and found your note in there; it was after I sent that letter, I'm sure of that much. We seem to keep communicating through high school nostalgia, don't we? But, the thing is..." Her lip quivered for a moment, but she took a deep breath, biting it back. "You have no idea how deep it touched me. All those beautiful things you said, about me, about being my friend, they- they... but just telling you, it was never gonna be enough. I wanted to show you. I wanted to brave the hurricane of our bizarre friendship again by going to New York to see you, despite the fact that I wasn't sure about... about where you and me stand."

My heart rate quickened. What was she trying to say here? It felt more like an apology than a thanks, or even a confession.

"But... but from the minute my plane touched down in LaGuardia, I started screwing everything up. Nothing was working out the way I wanted, I kept ending up shouting at people, and- and even though we had some good times, and I wouldn't trade those for all the Oolong in China, it seemed like everything quickly approached the meltdown stage. I'm sorry, Libby - I'm so sorry I failed you as a friend."

Yep - an apology, then. My throat felt like it was closing up. "Sabrina-"

"And you don't have to say anything," she added quickly, a single tear hovering at the end of her eyelashes. "This is a freebie. Maybe we'll grow and learn or whatever, or maybe we- we'll grow apart, but- but I wanted to at least give you that one explanation you'd been asking me for. I thought you should- yeah. Yeah, it was your right to know. That... that's all." Not meeting my eyes again, she pushed me out the door and into the hall, locking it behind her.

There it was, the reason she thought she had to tell me today; even if it hadn't occurred to her yet, which I don't think it had, I figured it out on my own. I had lost so much in the past twenty-four hours that she felt she had to give me the only thing she could to help ease the pain... and, much to my surprise, it did. Even through the storm of conflicting emotions and grief, that simple gesture shone like a beacon. Without thinking too much about what I was doing anymore, my hand stretched wide, fingertips pressed against the door.

"Sabrina, I- I-"

"You probably shouldn't linger," she said through the door, full of false joviality. "I, uh... had the chili for lunch. This might not be pretty."

Only her...

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~~*~ END Chapter Two

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