Friends Until the End
Two kids find friendship in the worst of times
“Stop it! Leave her alone!”
The high-pitched voice came from down the alley behind Riley’s new home. Riley did what Riley always does. She immediately rushed toward the commotion.
“It’s just a cat.”
“Put it down! You’re hurting it!”
When she got to the end of the alley, she found the source of the commotion: A boy holding an orange tabby upside down by its tail. The cat cried as the boy, maybe 14 years old, shook it. A small girl had been knocked to the ground. Red dripped from her nose, and rivers flowed out of her eyes.
“PUT IT DOWN!”
Riley darted behind the kid tormenting the cat so quickly that it almost seemed like she teleported.
“Put the cat down!” Riley demanded with her jaw set and her eyes narrowed.
The boy turned to look at her and laughed. Clearly, he didn’t think much of this short skinny redheaded girl that had snuck upon him.
“What are you going to do, ginger, “the boy said with a smirk drawing across his broad face.
Before the boy could say another word, he found himself flat on his back. The same red ran out of his mouth that ran out of the girl’s nose. The boy looked up at her. The cat ran off.
“You’ll pay for this. Do you know who my dad—”
“Leave,” Riley warned.
He scurried to his feet and sprinted away. Riley laughed a bit, thinking about how unused to exercise the boy must have been.
She approached the girl on the ground, who had stopped the tears and braved a smile.
“Thank you! I hate him. My name is Rose. Rose White, well, my mom calls me Snow White. Maybe it’s because I never tan. That was awesome! What’s your—” Rose rambled on.
“Hey, Hey, calm down! I was just trying to help. Riley turned away quickly. “I have to get home,” she said over her shoulder as he retraced her route down the alley.
The alarm blared through the tiny speaker on Riley’s white iPhone from the dresser beside her bed. She jumped out of bed, startled, and her vision came into focus. Noticing her hair was matted with sweat and needed a shower. She took deep, slow breaths, then screamed loudly and closed her eyes again. Her mom came running in the door and found Riley curled up and shaking in bed. She hurried to the foot of the bed, knowing better than to get near her daughter.
“Riley, it’s OK, you’re safe. You’re at home with me.” Katie said slowly and distinctly, trying to break through the nightmare.
Riley opened her eyes slowly, realizing where she was.
“Was it the same dream?”
Riley stormed out of her room into the bathroom and slammed the door. Almost immediately, her mother heard her crying.
After an hour, she came out of the bathroom with “I’m sorry” written on her face.
“I saved your breakfast. It’s in the microwave. Are you doing OK?”
“Yes, and it was the same dream. Since we moved here, I haven’t had it, but I guess it’s back.”
“They said it should lighten up over time. We’ll get through this. Just you and me!”
Riley knew better than to trust her mother. It was always the same deal every time she met someone. Riley always said her mom “doesn’t pick losers—she picks benchwarmers from the losing team.” She liked the time between guys, though.
After eating breakfast, Riley dressed in her favorite blue jeans and purple t-shirt and headed outside for the day. It wasn’t long before Rose found her. Riley would discover that Rose tended to find someone when she wanted to.
“HI RILEY! Wait, WAIT UP!”
“Hi Rose, or should I say, Snow White?” Riley said irritably.
“How did you get that scar above your eye? It looks like it hurt!”
“It’s nothing. I wrecked my bike a few years back.”
Rose’s words started to accelerate as she went on. “I got a scar! My stomach was hurting one day, and mom took me to the hospital. The doctor saved my life. Something about something going to explode. All I know is I woke up, and she gave me a stuffed cat. I told her I love cats, well I love all animals,”
“The doctor gave you a stuffed cat. I had a doctor give me a stuffed bear when I was hur— Well, I’ve kept it close to me ever since. Was it your appendix she took out? And breathe this time.”
After that, Riley found herself less annoyed, and they talked while walking around the small town. Rose showed Riley her favorite spot to hang out, just down the block from her house, a baseball diamond. The grass hadn’t been mowed in a week, and there were no bases. It looked like this place had been deserted a hundred years ago. Rose explained that no one came here once they built the new baseball diamonds at the school. After a while, Riley’s mom wouldn’t let up with the texts that she needed to come home.
“I gotta go. Do you want to hang out here tomorrow? I bet the stars would shine brightly out here.” Riley said.
“Yes! I love the stars! One day I’m going to be an astronaut and go to space! See you tomorrow!” Riley couldn’t help but notice that Rose was breathing between words.
“Riley,” Katie said, coming into Riley’s room, “some girl here says her name is Rose— Snow— White…? I could barely keep up. Do you want me to tell her you’re busy?
“No, let her in. She’s my friend.” Riley said.
“Are you OK? You haven’t had a friend since, well— I will let her in,” she said.
Riley had a big smile when Rose walked into her room. Rose looked around, shocked at how much bigger Riley’s room was than hers.
“Wow, you have a nice dresser! Did you paint it blue yourself! It looks nice! Oh wow, you have a queen-size bed! I love the blue sheets. They match your dresser! Your wall is an awful white. I hate white walls. My room has pink walls. I painted them myself. Well, my mom says she did most of the work, but—”
“I’m happy to see you too. Remember what we talked about. YOU NEED TO BREATHE…” Riley said, laughing.
Rose picked up a teddy bear: “Oh wow, is this your bear you were talking about? The one the doctor gave you? It looks like it has seen better days!”
Riley snatched it from her and put it back.
“Sorry, I just don’t like people messing with it,” Rose snapped.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Your mom was nice! Much nicer than mine. I’m sorry I can’t stay. Mom Is taking me to my grandma’s. It’s apparently her birthday today,” Rose said.
“I will walk you out. I don’t want you getting distracted with the couch,” Riley said, laughing.
“Don’t forget your bag. You left it in my room.” Riley reminded her as she was about to leave.
As Rose went back into Riley’s room, she spotted the bear. She couldn’t help herself. She put it in her bag.
That night Riley showed up and slammed on Rose’s front door as hard as she could until someone answered.
Susan, Rose’s mom, flung open the front door. “What the hell are you doing? Everyone is sleeping!”
“She took my bear. I told her, no one messes with my bear. I WANT IT BACK NOW!”
“ROSE, get down here and deal with your angry friend. NOW!”
Rose came downstairs quaking from head to toe.
“DID YOU TAKE HER!? Rose asked with a penetrating glare...
“Rose, did you steal something again? I’m sick of this. I will make sure she brings whatever it is back in the morning. NOW LEAVE BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE!” After Riley walked out, she could hear screaming from the house.
Two days went by, and Riley still hadn’t seen her bear or Rose.
“I knew she was up to something Riley. You have a poor way of picking your friends. I don’t want her back here again!” Riley hated it when her mom had a reason to scold her.
Finally, at around 11 that night, Riley’s phone dinged with a text from Rose. “Meet me at our spot. I’m sorry I took your bear.”
Riley knew her mom would be angry if she left, but she was out for the night. Her friends, Captain Morgan and the polar bear missed her. She walked through the gate leading to the neglected ball diamond and went immediately to the dugout. There was no Rose, but her bear was there. She picked the bear up, and her anger subsided. Rose had left a note.
I’m sorry I took her. I just wanted to make you smile for once. I stitched her up and cleaned up the stains. I also stitched your name on her, so you can always find her. If you don’t want to talk to me, it’s OK. I will be here tomorrow at the usual time if you want to. Don’t come to my house, my mom hates you now.
That night Riley slept well, now that she had her friend back. It was strange. This time she wasn’t mad. Usually, she would have beat the tar out of anyone that pulled something like that. This was different. She was happy for once.
Riley woke up to a strange noise. “Who is that talking? Mom was at the bar last night.” she thought to herself. Before she could come up with a plan, she heard her mom walking up the stairs and knocking on her door.
“Hunny, come down here. I want you to meet someone. He is really nice. I think I got a winner this time!”
Riley got dressed and slowly went downstairs, knowing that disaster was on the horizon if her mom thought someone was nice. At the kitchen table sat a man in his 40s wearing a do-rag with an eagle clutching an American flag, a tattered jean jacket, and an old motorcycle shirt. In front of him was a soup bowl he had converted into an ashtray for the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
“Riley, this is Brad. Brad, Riley. She’s my daughter I told you all about,” Katie said.
“MOM, every time things are going good for once, you MESS it up by bringing people like him home. WHEN will you learn?”
“Don’t talk to her that way, you little. She is a fine lady and deserves respect.” He said with a voice that sounded like it belonged in an ACDC song.
“Guys, stop. I will not put up with this all over again. Riley, he needs a place to stay, so he will be here for a while. Please get along with him. He makes me happy!” She said while rubbing one of his shoulders with her hand. “Please, will you do it for me? I really need help around here. Sometimes it’s too much for me.”
Riley glared at them and walked out of the house. She tried to text Rose—no response. Hopefully, Rose forgot her phone at home.
“What’s wrong!? The last time I saw that look on your face was when we first met,” Rose said.
“My mom has bad taste in men. The last one before we moved gave me the scar on my eye. He hit me with his beer bottle after I— I— wouldn’t —. That night was the night the nurse gave me the bear. Mom said it would never happen again, and NOW SHE BROUGHT ANOTHER ONE HOME…!” Her eyes started to tear up.
Rose reached over and gave her a hug, “Who is he? What’s his name? Do you want me to kill him!” She was beginning to go off.
“She said his name was Brad. I didn’t get the last name. I’m sure it will pop up on a police report. I need to leave. I need to get out, forever. My uncle lives in New York. I’ll go there. Do you want to come?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, I will go.” Rose agreed.
“Two days from now, 11 o’clock, we meet here.
“Two days, here at 11, and we’re gone,” Rose replied.
“Where’s, mom? She should be off work by now.” Riley asked Brad.
“What’s it to you, ginger. What you don’t think I know how hard you make your mom’s life? Why do you think I am here? She needs someone who cares about her,” he said.
“SHUT UP” Riley yelled.
As quickly as the words left her mouth, his fist connected with her cheek. She collapsed to the ground, holding back tears as blood dripped from her mouth and nose. She just lay there curled in a ball to protect her head and organs in case he kept hitting her.
“No one here to call the cops for you this time. Yeah, I heard what happened. NOW get up to your ROOM! I’ll be up shortly to teach you manners.”
Riley ran to her room and slammed the door. She put a chair up against the door handle, hoping that was enough to keep him out. Riley threw clothes and her bear in her bag then grabbed her phone. She didn’t know how she would jump out her window. It was so high, but this would not let this happen again. She climbed down as far as she could before she fell and twisted her ankle. She gasped in pain, but she knew she had to stay quiet. On her slow trek to the special place, she texted Rose to tell her it was time to go. Then she texted her mom about what happened. She told her that she never cared about her. It ended with a bitter goodbye.
It took Rose about an hour to get there, but she had her bag filled.
“Are you ready?” asked Riley.
“I brought my old crutches for you. I don’t think they are big enough, though,” Rose said.
“I will make do. Let’s go,” Riley said, staring absently.
Riley and Rose barely made it to Main St, a 4-minute walk, when two cop cars pulled up, blocking their way.
“Riley, Riley Walker? I’m officer Grover. You need to come with us. You too, Rose.” The officer said with a firm but soft tone.
Once they were in the car, the officer told her that Brad had hurt her mom after she came home.
After taking Rose home, the officer took Riley to the Police station. There she didn’t hear much of what they had to say. She had trouble concentrating after they said her mom didn’t make it.
“Riley, you got a package in the mail.” Her uncle called out to her as she sat in her tiny room in the small apartment.
She looked at the return address, and tears welled up in her eyes. She immediately opened it. A stuffed cat was holding an envelope.
I always find who I am looking for. Especially a friend. They won’t let us talk, but I want you to have this. She kept me safe for years. Now maybe your bear can have another friend. I stitched my name on her so you can find me one day. I also put my necklace in the envelope. I never told you, but it’s the only thing I have from my dad. I want you to have it. I want it to give you the strength it gave me.