Amy's alarm went off promptly at 12:00. Remembering that Lauren and Madison would be coming over soon, she got up and made her way to the kitchen to decide what they'd be making for lunch. As she was rummaging in the fridge, the house phone rang.
"Hello, Amy? This is Margaret."
"I'm calling to let you know that Shakur will be free Saturday evening after 4:30. We discussed it and wondered if you'd like to come over at 5:00 and then stay for dinner."
"That would be fine, Margaret, thank you. I'll see you Saturday at 5:00."
"Alright, Amy. Bye now." As soon as she hung up the phone her cell phone rang. It was Ben.
"Hi, Amy. I got your message. Saturday afternoon would be great. I get off work at 12:30 so I can come over then."
"That's alright. I'll meet you at your house instead."
"Okay, if that's what you want."
"Listen Ben, Lauren and Madison are on their way over so I need to get off the phone. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay. See you tomorrow, Amy. I love you."
"Bye, Ben." She hung up and began to pull items out of the fridge. Ben stared at his phone for a moment. Why didn't she say 'I love you too' he wondered as he finished his lunch. Ricky had overheard Ben's side of the conversation and again found himself angry. I know she's dating the guy but I need to talk to her too and she's brushing me off 'til Monday!? Why does that bother me so much? Oh well, at least I'll see her tonight. Lauren and Madison knocked on the back door just as Amy finished preparations for their lunch. She smiled and motioned for her friends to come in.
"So how does Caesar salad and mini pizzas for lunch sound?"
"Sounds good to me," Madison said. "Me too," Lauren agreed. They all washed their hands and got ready to prepare their lunch.
"So, how was New York?" Madison asked, slicing up left over chicken breasts for their salads.
"It was so great! There's so many old buildings mixed with skyscrapers and lots of artwork. On the weekends there was so much to see!"
"So what was your favorite building?" Lauren asked, splitting English muffins for their pizzas and arranging them on a cookie sheet.
"Definitely the Radio City Music Hall," Amy replied with a smile as she separated the lettuce for their salads and started rinsing it.
"So what was the program like?" Madison asked.
"Eye opening and encouraging."
"What do you mean?" Lauren asked, now spreading sauce on the split muffins.
"I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to do with my life and got some perspective."
"Oh?" Lauren said. "Like what?"
"Well, for starters I learned that while I enjoy playing the French horn I don't love it enough or play it well enough to get into the Philharmonic."
"What!? You're a great French horn player, Amy!" Madison assured her friend, now shredding cheese to toss with their salad. Amy chuckled.
"I'm good, I'm just not great. I didn't play in enough competitions or start early enough to be Philharmonic material. But I'm not sad about it. Instead I've decided to become a teacher." Lauren and Madison stopped what they were doing and looked at Amy, asking in unison, "Why a teacher?"
"Going through the program helped me learn to believe in myself and find my voice. I wished that someone had been there to help me do those things during my freshman year and so I wanna teach English and helps kids find their voices, even if it's only through writing, and hopefully help them believe in themselves at the same time." She finished rinsing the lettuce and placed it in a large salad bowl. Madison dumped in the cut up chicken and shredded cheese before asking, "So was that the eye opening part?"
"No," Amy said with a smile. "Part of the program was group discussion sessions. Listening to some of the other girls' stories showed me just how lucky I've been. My family and friends didn't turn their backs and abandon me when they found out I was pregnant and my relationship with Ricky could be a lot worse, or non-existent." Madison added croutons to the salad and began tossing it while Lauren and Amy began adding pepperoni slices to the pizzas.
"So overall you enjoyed the program?" Lauren asked.
"Yeah," Amy said with a genuine smile before asking, "So what have you two been up to while I've been gone?"
"Not much," Madison said with a frown. "We have to work at the food court all summer as punishment for our little sleep over and my dad won't let me see Jack so I've just been texting with Lauren lately or watching TV." She finished tossing the salad and went to put the bowl in the fridge to chill while their pizzas cooked.
"Same here," Lauren stated, as she and Amy finished topping the pizzas with cheese. The buzzer on the stove sounded, letting them know it had finished preheating and Amy put the cookie sheet in the oven and set the timer. Each girl poured themselves something to drink and they sat at the kitchen table.
"So why'd you come back early, Amy?" Madison asked. Amy had anticipated this question and had already formed an answer.
"Well, when Ricky came to see me we had quite a bit to talk about concerning John. On top of that, like I said, the program helped give me a confidence boost and find my voice and I was ready to come home and deal with some issues that needed to be faced." Lauren and Madison shared a look, thinking she was talking about Ben and Adrian. Lauren was brave enough to ask the question they had both been thinking.
"Do you mean Ben and Adrian and their baby?"
"Yes, that's one set of issues but also just my life in general."
"What do you mean?" Madison asked, taking a sip of her juice.
"I mean that I'm tired of all the drama in my life and it's time to do something about it. Namely, removing as much of it from my life as possible."
"And how do you plan to do that? Our little circle of friends is pretty dramatastic," Madison said, smiling at her creative little description. Lauren and Amy both smiled as well. They and their friends were pretty dramatastic.
"For starters, I'm trying to figure out who in that circle is actually a close friend, who's an enemy, and who's just more of an acquaintance."
"But we're all sort of friends, aren't we?" Madison asked.
"Think about it, Madison, do friends reveal each other's secrets without permission, gossip about each other behind their backs, keep life-changing or altering secrets from each other or go out of their way to hurt each other?"
"No," she answered, nervous that Amy might still be mad at her for some of the times she had slipped up in the past. Amy knew Madison well enough to know exactly what she was thinking.
"I know what you're thinking and I think it's time to clear the air about all of that." The timer on the oven went off just then and the girls silently worked together to finish putting their lunch together. Madison retrieved the salad from the fridge and got out salad plates. Amy removed the pizzas from the oven and transferred them to a serving platter while Lauren got out plates, napkins and forks for each of them. The girls served themselves salad and pizzas before Amy began.
"Lauren, I know Jason was the one who spilled the beans about my pregnancy at school." Lauren's eyes got wide with panic, but Amy just shook her head so she wouldn't speak.
"I went over to your house to ask your mom why she felt my pregnancy was ground to terminate our friendship and I ran into Jason after talking to her. He admitted you'd gone to him for medical advice and he later spilled the beans in the guys' locker room to his football teammates. I know you well enough to know you were just trying to help. You didn't know your brother was a blabber mouth." Lauren sighed in relief but looked down for a moment, guilty.
"I'm sorry I lied to you though Amy. You asked me if I'd told anyone and said no." Madison started crying and Amy looked in her direction.
"I lied too, Amy, sorta" she said tearfully. "Alice and Henry overheard me and Lauren say that you had had sex with Ricky. We didn't know they'd told anyone until we found you in the bathroom the next day and you let us know that people were talking about you and Ricky." She took a breath to sniff and wipe her eyes before continuing, a little less tearfully. "But we confronted them right away for telling Ben. They told us they had to tell Ben because when you know something big like that about your best friend's significant other you were obligated to tell them."
"Yeah," Lauren agreed. "We also asked them if there was anything big about Ben that we should know about and pass along to you but they said no. We had your back, Amy; we still do." Amy smiled at her two best friends.
"I know you guys are on my side. You told me about Ben and Maria when my own sister didn't, you've babysat in a pinch, and you've been there to listen to me rant," Amy said the last line with a smirk. Lauren and Madison smiled back at her. They finished eating their lunch in comfortable silence and then got up and cleaned their dishes. That done, they headed up to Amy's bedroom.
"There's something else we need to talk about." Lauren and Madison exchanged nervous glances as they entered Amy's bedroom but they were momentarily distracted by the change in the room.
"What happened in here, Amy? It' looks like you're moving out," Laruen noted, glancing from Amy's desk to her bookshelves. They all sat on Amy's bed before she explained.
"I said I wanted to remove the drama in my life and I started by removing unnecessary junk from my bedroom. Anyway, I need to talk to you two about some issues we have with honesty and respect."
"What do you mean?" Madison asked.
"I mean that I need to know both of you will always be upfront and honest with me from now on and respect my wishes." Lauren and Madison looked at each other confused. When haven't we been upfront or been disrespectful? They turned back to face Amy but she answered their unspoken question before they could ask it.
"You guys don't do it all the time but you've done it a couple of times. For instance, I didn't know the two of you felt neglected and resentful of me when I started dating Ben until a few days before my baby shower. If you had a problem with my boyfriend, you should've come to me instead of talking about me amongst yourselves and secretly holding a grudge against me." They both opened their mouths to protest but Amy continued. "Then there was Lauren's conversation with Ricky about how little sympathy she felt towards me for getting pregnant coupled with her little outburst that I'd gotten pregnant because I was stupid. And let's not forget that the two of you somehow found out about my illegal wedding and showed up uninvited." Madison looked from Lauren to Amy with confusion before facing Amy to try and explain her actions.
"Amy, it wasn't like that. With Ben we knew he cared about you and you loved him and needed someone to be there for you when we couldn't. We just didn't wanna come between the two of you and make you unhappy. And you were pretty unhappy most of the time when Ben wasn't around." Lauren nodded in agreement.
"And I never said you were stupid! We talked about that kiss, Amy. I thought we'd moved past it?"
"It wasn't the fact that you'd kissed him, Lauren. It was the fact that you were talking to someone I couldn't trust about me instead of first telling me to my face how you felt. I didn't know how you felt until after I confronted you about what you'd done with Ricky after he threw it back in my face."
"We were talking about the rumors about Adrian and Mr. Mollina's disappearance and he mentioned that not all rumors about people were true. I told him it wasn't a rumor he'd gotten my pregnant. He shot back that the way I'd said that made it sound like I was blaming him even though it had been my fault too and that you agreed with him. I asked him what he meant by that and he just smirked and told me he didn't kiss and tell." Lauren had the grace to look ashamed.
"Lauren, you've always told me the truth, what I needed to hear and not just what I wanted to hear and I've always appreciated you for that. Finding out you'd told Ricky how you felt about my situation behind my back is what hurt, not what you said to him."
"Amy," Madison whined, "I'm sorry I haven't been the kind of best friend I should've. It's just that finding out your best friend's pregnant and then trying to be there for her and help her the best way you know how isn't easy. Sometimes I slipped up; I didn't do it on purpose and I certainly didn't mean to hurt you. You're one of my best friends. Lauren and I even made a pact to be better best friends before our sophomore year. We made it our mission to make sure Ben and Ricky both did right by you and if they didn't we'd tell you right away." Lauren nodded her agreement.
"We know we messed up, bad, and all we wanted to do was make it up to you. We've been friends too long to just end our friendship, not that we want to," Lauren said, looking to Madison for agreement. Seeing her nod Lauren continued, "And I'm sorry for crashing your wedding. I didn't mean to disrespect you I just wanted to share such a momentous occasion with you. I knew we didn't deserve to stand beside you as your maids of honor so at the very least I wanted to be there for you as one of your bridesmaids."
"How did you guys find out about the wedding anyway?"
"Joe," they said in unison before Madison went on to explain. "He offered a deal where if you bought a fake I.D. he'd give you the address and time for your and Ben's wedding." So Joe's a blabbermouth too. Or maybe just a greedy opportunist. "We meant no disrespect Amy. Even Jason got on our case when we tried to figure out why we hadn't been invited. He could tell it was because, at the time, you couldn't trust us to keep your secrets, and that hurt a little. I mean, we hadn't set out to hurt our best friend but we did and ended up not being officially invited to her wedding. I'm so sorry, Amy."
"Me too," Madison added, tears attempting to fall from her eyelashes again. Amy looked at her two best friends and remembered all the things they'd been through since the third grade. She sat there staring at them for several minutes, which made them so uncomfortable they hung their head. Amy mentally weighed the good versus the bad and felt that she could honestly forgive her besties their grievances.
"We've been through too much together for too long to just end our friendship now." Lauren and Madison looked at her, relief clearly written all over their faces. "I'd still like to have you both as my best friends I just need you to promise me something."
"What?" they said in unison.
"From now on we'll talk about anything that's bothering us in our friendship openly and honestly and keep each other's secrets, like best friends should. Deal?"
"Deal," they again said in unison, only with a smile this time. They shared a group hug and laughed, glad the air was a little clearer between them. They spent the next couple of hours catching up some more and talking about whatever came to mind, rebuilding their bonds of friendship and trust.
Lauren and Madison left a little after 3:15 and Amy spent some time emailing some of the new friends she'd made while attending the program. A short while later there was a knock at her bedroom door.
"Come in." It was her mom.
"Hi, sweetie. I need to ask you a question and apologize."
"Huh?" Anne sighed and sat down on Amy's bed, motioning her Amy to join her and she did so. Anne put her arms around her and hugged her tightly.
"I'm so sorry I forgot your birthday honey."
"Let me finish please. I was so excited about remarrying your dad and putting our family back together, so to speak, that I forgot how our little family got started in the first place. I'm so ashamed that I was able to forget to celebrate the little girl who transformed her father and I into a family. Can you ever forgive me sweetie?"
"Mom, I was sad when no one remembered my birthday but I realized that you and dad letting me go to New York was an even better and more meaningful gift."
"Be that as it may sweetie, as your mother I just can't let it go that easily. You're my baby and I'm glad all of my babies are in my life and I feel like such a horrible mother for getting her child's birthday. After realizing what I'd done, your father suggested we throw you a belated little family party when you got back. We'd planned to have the dinner Monday night, assuming you'd spend most of that day sleeping off the jet lag, but we heard you say you were going to talk to Ricky Monday night so I came to ask you if you'd like to have your birthday dinner on Sunday or Tuesday night instead?" Amy thought about it and realized that, if everything went according to plan, her mom might not feel like celebrating on Sunday.
"Tuesday night would be better."
"Okay then. And again, honey, I'm so sorry."
"Really, mom. It's okay." Anne kissed her forehead and then got up to leave her bedroom. "Dinner should be ready by the time you come back home with John. We're having pork steaks tonight!" Amy smiled at her mother's back as she left the room and headed downstairs. I'm so much like her at times. Always worrying about upsetting or offending other people. It's really okay, mom. I'm really no longer upset about my birthday. True I'm curious to know how each of my family members managed to forget that date, but the fact they did isn't weighing me down anymore. Amy went back to her emails, looking at updated pictures of her friend's kids before getting on Facebook and killing time before going to pick up John.