Friends Forever
By Kristen Sheley
Written October 1993

Summer Bradford and I had been friends since before we were even born. Our mothers grew up together, shared the same dorm at college, and then, after they both married, moved into the same neighborhood. Mrs. Bradford and my mother were even pregnant at the same time, so Summer's birthday and mine were only three weeks apart. I, Rebecca Newton, was born first.

Summer was tall and slim. She looked like a model and was the envy of many girls at Fuller High School with her long, golden hair. The hair was Summer, her trademark. Lots of girls thought her to be a snob, but not me. I looked like my mom, on the short side with frizzy red hair and freckles. Summer was a dancer; I was more of a bookworm and writer. We couldn't have been more different, yet we had been best friends for over seventeen years.

On November 22nd of my senior year, I walked home the five blocks from school alone. Summer had dance class that day and had to bike across town to get there. Personally, I never liked that. Why couldn't she catch a bus to get there faster? Summer always laughed when I asked her that question.

"Rebecca, it keeps me in shape," she would said, then smile at me. "I appreciate your concern but honestly, you know I've done this for years and nothing bad has happened."

Nothing yet, I would always think.

The day had been fairly normal as days go. Miss Wallace assigned three pages of math, as usual. Mr. McDonald had given us a page of Spanish to do. All normal stuff. Summer and I had eaten lunch together at the back corner table, as usual, and talked about the upcoming holidays. Her family was going skiing during Thanksgiving weekend and she was wondering if I might be able to come. I planned to ask my parents that evening.

It took me fifteen minutes to reach home. After getting the mail and unlocking the door, I tossed my backpack on the floor and headed straight for the kitchen, sorting through the mail as I went. Three bills, a clothing catalog, and a business magazine for my dad. Nothing for me. I tossed the mail in the basket my parents have by the front door and got out a pack of cookies from the cabinet and brought those up to my room to snack on while I did my homework.

I wanted to butter my parents up for the ski trip proposal, so after my homework I cleaned the downstairs. My dad was a teacher at a high school across town and my mom was a nurse at the local hospital, so I knew that I should be done with the chores by five, since my dad would be home by then. My mom's hours were as crazy as my dad's were predictable, so I had no idea when to expect her. Since both of my parents were always exhausted when they came home from work, I decided to start dinner for them as an added bonus. I was just slipping the chicken into the oven when I heard a car pull into the driveway.

"Bingo!" I said softly as I shut the oven's door with a slam. I rushed over to the family room and switched on the TV, pretending to watch the five o' clock news. A minute later, just as this story about some girl getting hit by a car on a bike came on, my dad entered the room. He looked pale and extremely serious. Of course, I didn't even notice this until I thought about it later.

"Hi Dad. I started dinner for you and Mom," I announced, sliding off the couch and switching the TV off. "How was your day?"

"Rebecca, get your coat," he said brusquely, stepping into the kitchen. I followed and was surprised when he turned off the oven.

"Dad, what are you doing? That's my chicken!" I cried, wondering what was going on.

"We're not eating now," he said. "Get your coat and into the car."

I frowned, feeling uneasy for the first time. "Is something wrong? Is Mom okay?"

"Your mother is fine," Dad replied, already halfway out to the garage. "She called me before I left work and told me to pick you up and come straight to the hospital."

I got my coat and ran out to my dad's car, wondering what had happened. He said Mom was fine, so I knew that it wasn't like someone had died. Maybe Mom's car stalled. It wouldn't have been the first time that happened.

It was only a five minute drive to the hospital. Dad surprised me by parking in the lot, instead of just driving around to the front entrance and picking Mom up. He surprised me even further by heading for the emergency room. As we entered the big sliding glass doors, I caught sight of my mom talking with Summer's parents. I ran right over to them, curious.

"Mom, what's going on?" I asked, noticing the tears on Mr. and Mrs. Bradford's faces. And, I saw with a start, on my mother's face too.

"Rebecca, sit down," Mom told me softly. I swear, those are the worst words to hear in the world. My heart dropped down to my feet, but it had much further to go before it would hit rock bottom.

"What?" I whispered. "Something's happened, hasn't it?" I looked at Mrs. Bradford, who was sobbing silently into a tissue.

Mom and Dad sat down next to me and each held my hand. I had never seen my mom look as serious or upset as she did then. It was only then I thought of death, which didn't make sense. My mom saw tons of people die everyday, and I had never before seen her look this upset.

"Rebecca, I had the emergency shift this afternoon," my mother began slowly. "At approximately 3:46 this afternoon, an ambulance brought in a seventeen-year-old who had been hit by a car while on her bike at 34th street."

"I heard about that on the news," I said, not seeing what they were getting at. Looking back, I wonder if I had known the moment my dad walked in the door, and had yet to really accept it.

"You know, then?" my mom asked, looking shocked.

"Yeah, some girl got hit by a car while biking."

Both of my parents squeezed my hands. "Then you don't know," Mom whispered, her eyes filling with more tears.

"Rebecca," my dad said gently. "That girl was Summer Bradford. She died here, fifteen minutes after arriving in the emergency room. She wasn't wearing a helmet and her head hit the pavement."

I felt absolutely nothing for a minute. I think it was the shock of the entire situation numbing me. Then I smiled. "Oh, right. You're kidding, right mom?" It was more begging than a question.

Mrs. Bradford reached over at put her hand on my shoulder. "Summer died, Rebecca. My baby" - she had a hard time getting the next word out - "died."

"She can't be dead!" I cried, feeling like someone had taken a knife and was twisting it into my chest. "I was talking to her just this morning and she was perfectly fine!"

"Death is like that, sweetheart," Mom said quietly. "There's no reason for it to happen, it just does."

Something deep inside me cracked and I began to cry, softly at first, then in big gulping sobs. Mom held me and stroked my hair, not saying anything. She knew that there were no words to say that would make me feel better.

I have no memory of getting home. The next thing I can remember after crying at the hospital is waking up in my bed. The day was sunny and bright and I smiled, thinking of going skiing with Summer in a few days. I rolled over and looked at the clock, sitting up with a start when I saw that it was nine in the morning. I was going to be so late to school! I jumped out of bed, noticing that I was fully dressed in what I had been wearing the day before. Then I remembered what had happened. I ran downstairs to see my mom and dad both in the kitchen, talking in low voices. They both looked like they had never gone to bed the night before. As soon as I entered the kitchen, they stopped talking.

"How are you feeling today, Rebecca?" my mom asked me, her eyes red rimmed and her hands circling a cup of coffee.

I smiled brightly. "Terrific. Why shouldn't I be?"

Dad cleared his throat. "Don't you remember yesterday?" he asked.

I shrugged, getting some cereal out of the cabinet. "Sure, Summer's dead. That's life, I guess. I'm late for school, so could I borrow the car?"

Though I had my back to my parents, I could tell that they were exchanging a look. "You don't have to go to school today, Rebecca. I already called the office and explained the circumstances," my mom said a moment later.

I turned around, a bowl of cereal in my hand. "I want to go to school," I told them, a slight edge to my voice. "Just let me eat something and get a shower okay?" I shoved a spoonful of the cereal in my mouth and looked down at the paper that was lying on the counter. The front headline said "Fuller High Student Hit and Killed By Motorist". I turned away, trying to forget the picture of the car with a crumpled yellow bike on the hood. Yellow had always been Summer's favorite color.

An hour later I was standing at my locker and wondering why on earth I chose to come to school. As soon as I walked in the door, I was swarmed with people saying how sorry they were. I know that they were trying to be nice, but it infuriated me. None of them would have given Summer a second thought when she was alive. And now they decided to, after she was dead.

School passed slowly. The worst part of the day for me was lunch. I sat at the third table from the window at the back, the one Summer and I always sat at. But now it was only me. It was doubly hard to believe that only twenty four hours before, Summer and I had been talking and laughing here, not having the faintest idea that either of us would die until we were old and grey.

The funeral for Summer was two days later. It was a damp, grey day. My mom bought me a long black dress to wear, which I reluctantly put on. Black never was my favorite color. The funeral took place in the church Summer's family and mine went to. Yellow and white roses were draped over the white coffin. I saw Summer's family in the front row. Summer's three brothers and her father were all wearing black suits, and her mother a black dress. In fact, about all the people there were in black. When the minister was almost finished with the service, I heard Summer's three-year-old brother, Tommy, ask loudly and innocently when Summer was going to come back home. I tightened my lips and stared straight ahead, at the picture of Summer the Bradfords had chosen for the service.

I recognized it from there house. It had been taken only a month before. In it, Summer was wearing a long white dress that trailed across the floor. Her long golden hair was loosely curled and fell past her waist. Her blue eyes looked like bright, exotic jewels, but the smile on her face was not big and dazzling. Rather it was small and secretive, like she knew something the rest of us didn't. The photography place where Summer had her picture done asked her permission to put it on display in their viewing gallery it was so good. A copy hangs there still, as far as I know.

I went through the funeral without shedding a tear. In fact, I had not cried at all since that day at the hospital. I know that my parents were worried about it. I heard them talking about it the night before through the heating vent. My mom said my behavior was not normal, and my dad said to her that they should give me more time, that I was still in denial about Summer's sudden death. I was not in denial. I knew Summer was dead and that she was gone forever. I also knew that all the time in the world could pass and I still wouldn't cry.

Not long after the funeral, the dreams started. In them, Summer and I would be walking together next to a river. The weather was spring-like and you could hear bird chirping in the background. Summer was wearing the same clothes that I had last seen her in, jeans and a green sweater. I was also wearing the same clothes that I had on the day she died. Summer and I would always come to a bridge that someone had made by laying a board across the roaring river. On the other side was an endless field full of flowers.

"Hey Rebecca, let's cross the bridge," Summer would say. "I want to look at those flowers."

"I don't think that's a good idea," I said, always having this strange feeling of dread, but never knowing what was going to happen. "The bridge can't hold both of us."

"I'll cross first then, and you can follow later," Summer announced, tossing her long golden hair over one shoulder. I wanted to tell her not to, but my mouth wouldn't open.

Summer stepped onto the bridge and slowly edged her way across. I held my breath as she balanced on the frail wood, sighing in relief when her feet touched solid ground again. Summer smiled at me from across the water.

"Now it's your turn," she would say.

"All right," I would answer, nervous. I stepped on the board, and inched across it slowly. When I was in the middle of it, directly over the water, there was a horrible crack. Then I was falling, into the water. "Summer!" I cried before I hit the cold water.

"Rebecca," she gasped back, stretching out her hand to me. We touched for a moment in the dream. I actually felt the warmth of her hand. Then the water's current pulled us apart and carried me away from Summer, forever. I would wake up then, my heart pounding, relief always coming over me when I realized it was a dream. Then came the crushing pain when, a moment later, I would remember that Summer was truly gone forever. She had reached the other side of that bridge between life and death and left me behind.

A few weeks passed. Life began to get back to normal. Thanksgiving came and went. The Bradfords never left for the ski trip. I was getting A's and B's in school, as usual. I kept myself busy, signing up for yearbook and newspaper. If I was busy, then I wouldn't have to think about Summer's not being around. One day after I got home from school, I saw Mrs. Bradford in our house. She had undergone dramatic change since Summer's death. She used to be tall, like Summer, but her shoulders were hunched, as if she bore the weight of the world on them. Her short blond hair now had some grey in it, and she had deeper lines etched in her face. She was sitting in the living room of my house with a large cardboard box in front of her on the floor.

"I have a copy of your housekey," she explained when I stepped into the house and came face to face with her. The yearbook meeting after school had been canceled, so I found myself with the afternoon free.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, shrugging my coat off. It was bitterly cold out and with a week to go until Christmas, the weathermen were thinking we might have a white one. Snow was supposed to start falling later that day.

Mrs. Bradford gestured to the box. "I was going through Summer's room and I thought that she would want you to have some things." She smiled at me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "You were her best friend, Rebecca."

"She was mine," I told Mrs. Bradford, avoiding eye contact. "Thank you."

"Tell Elaine that we will be taking her up on the invitation for Christmas dinner," Mrs. Bradford said on her way out the door. Elaine was my mother.

"I will," I called after her, shutting the door against the cold wind that was starting to blow. I turned around and walked hesitantly to the box. I stood above it and looked at it for a long, long time. Feelings that I had been keeping deep inside me began to stir. Finally, I hefted the box up and carried it to my room, setting it on the floor. Then I finally opened it.

On the top, in a bundle of tissue paper, was a framed snapshot of me and Summer. It was taken last summer at the lake where our two families would vacation and share a cabin every July. Summer and I had our arms around each other and our heads were thrown back, laughing. I remember that was a week and a half after I turned seventeen, and a week and a half before she did. We were both wearing our bathing suits and standing on the dock, next to the lake. My shoulder length hair was tight with curls, but Summer's hair fell long and straight, gleaming like the sun. I remembered seeing the picture on Summer's desk, when she was alive. I set it on my nightstand.

Next in the pile was a cassette tape. I popped it in my tape deck and started to play it back. I only needed to hear the first song before realizing it was a tape she had made of all her favorite songs last month. I liked lots of the ones she did, and had been on her back to make me a copy when she died. I stopped the tape, not wanting to listen to it all now and turned my attention back to the box.

I came across a jewelry container and opened it to find her friendship necklace. Several years before, she and I had ordered one of those necklaces that are split it two for best friends. The charm was the left half of a split heart with the word 'Friends' on it. I had the right side, the side that said 'Forever'. On the back of her golden half of the necklace were my initials, R.A.N. - Rebecca Ann Newton. On the other side of mine were hers, S.A.B. - Summer Ann Bradford. We shared the same middle name, a joke between our moms. I had not worn my necklace since I was fourteen, but now I opened my nightstand drawer where it was and put it on. It almost made me feel like she was with me again, for some reason.

Eventually I got to the bottom of the box. A video cassette was there, previously hidden by her celebrity scrapbook, the opal ring I had given her for Christmas last year, and some back issues of fashion magazines. I held up the video tape, curious beyond belief on what it contained.

Moments later I was before the TV and VCR, feeling a strange ache in my heart. This was it, my last article of Summer's life that proved she had lived seventeen years. I slipped the tape in the VCR and sat back on the couch to watch. After a moment of black static, Summer's face looked back at me. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, with a pencil in her hand. The eraser end was held up to her mouth and she was speaking into it.

"Welcome to Movie Night, live from the Mr. and Mrs. Steven Bradford's yard. Tonight we will take you on a journey of love and betrayal between two friends. But first, a word from our sponsor." The picture vanished, replaced by me, wearing an apron over my clothes and standing in the Bradford's kitchen.

And I remembered! Last August, when I had slept over at Summer's house, her dad had let us use his video camera and we made this soap operaish movie. The Rebecca who was on camera grinned and spoke in a cultivated accent, pretending to sell stuffed mushrooms. Then Summer came on as a housewife, holding two different bottles of cleaner and debating which one to use.

The 'movie' only went half an hour. I played someone named Rochelle Nicholas, who was the best friend of Samantha Bishop, played by Summer. We were torn by our love of the same man, then Samantha got in a car accident and went into a coma, so I said how sorry I was and she woke up and we were friends again. The man we had fallen in love with got another girlfriend and moved to Mexico. The movie was more comic than sad, but when I saw the part where Samantha got into the car accident (skillfully done by me filming Summer driving her father's car, then having her gasp, scream, and I black out the picture), I realized my face was damp from tears. I could not control them and they fell without stop.

"Summer, why?" I whispered, my shoulders shaking with sobs. "You weren't supposed to die yet. We had so many plans. You were only seventeen!"

"I'm here, Rochelle" Summer whispered on the TV from where she had just woken up from her coma. "I'm alive."

"Why couldn't you take the bus? I told you that biking was dangerous!" I choked out, covering my eyes with my hands, my breath coming in short gasps. The tears slid between my fingers and on to my lap, a few landing on the golden friendship necklace. "Summer, I miss you!"

"I will never leave your side. You know that," Summer said from the TV. "Even if I hadn't survived the accident, you should know that all you have to do is say my name and I will be with you."

For some unexplainable reason, the words had a calming effect on me. It was as if Summer was in the room, saying the words to me right now and not to Rochelle, four months before.

"We have the bond of friendship connecting us, and even death cannot sever it," Summer said softly from the TV. "I will always be with you, in your heart. Remember that, dear friend. Now let me get some rest. We have much to talk about later."

"Oh, Summer, I'll never forget you," I murmured to the empty room, the tears trickling down my cheeks. I looked down at the necklace and the teardrops on it caught the sunlight and sparkled.

On the TV, Summer smiled at me and closed her eyes. It was the last thing I saw as the picture faded to black.

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