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Autumn Lights
She sits, resting her mug against the banister of the staircase flowing down into the kitchen from the townhouse. Her hair is auburn, medium length with light curls along the bottom, illuminating her delicate mouth. I sit across from her on the opposite of the dining room table sipping a too-sweet cup of coffee, which she often mocks me for. The day is Saturday and warm, giving the kitchen a welcoming atmosphere. Along the edge of the staircase rests four suitcases, one floral and cloth, the other three black leather bags. And this is where the story will begin. Although many tales begin with a melancholy love later sweetening to harmony, I will tell the story the way I, Jane, saw it. It did all began sweetly and warmly. So very warm.
“Should we stop here?” Marea whispered over the radio, barely audible enough to hear.
“I suppose. Do you need anything?” I responded, although already parking and deciding on what soft drink I should pick up for her. We had been traveling three days now, down roads that punctured my car with rocks and past trees so close to the highway I nearly lost myself in the fall. Marea and I had been the closest of partners for going on nearly ten years now. Her parents had moved into the Westfield housing area around the time we had both turned ten, and we soon became inseparable neighbors and classmates. She was always the shy, sweet one and I was always the rebellious, anxious one. But we both did have one thing in common. We lived for adventure and love. I can remember people saying to us as we reached our teens, “There goes Marea and Jane…never can tell where they’re headed.” And that was the way we liked it. We didn’t want anyone telling us where to go. We didn’t want anyone knowing where we went. But when we graduated high school things took an unexpected turn I was accepted to an east coast private university, while she stayed in town working on her degree at the local junior college. Word had it she was working two jobs with three kids. None of it turned out to be true, but nonetheless the rumors brought back to Westfield within a year, and I realized we just weren’t meant to be apart. So when spring arrived and she had finished her degree we decided when the weather cooled, and the people cooled regarding our whereabouts we would take a silent road trip. No girlfriends or boyfriends or friends or dogs or parents or sisters or brothers. It would be the way it was ten years ago. The first fall we met.

I can remember one incident as if it had only happened yesterday. Marea and I had both just turned thirteen within the same week in September, and our newfound teen pride had nearly driven us to the edge of reason. Or so said our parents. I think it was around September 11th or 12th of 1973, school had just let out and we were looking for excitement. I ran by my house and grabbed the puppy Marea and I had found the month earlier when we were digging through the local land fill searching for her sister’s lost engagement ring. We were so hopeful then. The puppy’s name had been Nixxy, after much eavesdrop on my parents political debates. I had no idea what was bad or good about the president. I just new my mom hated him and my dad loved him. And I always tried to please my dad. Anyway, the fall had just settled in around Westfield, North Carolina and the roads were now quiet with a floating of leaves turned brown, and some of the summer’s equipment the neighbors had used up on their pools. So we had just picked up Nixxy, and were walking down 5th street when we ran into the strangest thing. On the side of one of the streets a young girl was sitting, crying and crying, hair tangled and red-eyed. She was of course older than we both were, but still young. Marea didn’t want to upset her any more or bother her, but I couldn’t see just walking by without asking if we could help or at least get her inside where it was warmer. Granted, it wasn’t December, but fall in this part of the state could send you straight into your house searching for the closest thing to wool you could find. The girl looked up at me as I neared her and I realized, under all the running makeup and disheveled hair, that the girl was my sister.
“Linda, what are you doing out here?!” I screamed out of my tiny throat. “Are you ok? Did something do sumthin’ to you?”
“Jane, this just isn’t the time to be asking me questions. Why don’t you get back inside? Mom and dad’ll be looking for you soon, and you don’t wanna make ‘um worry about ya.”
“I'm not leaving til you tell me what happened and why you’re out here in the street looking like somebody just done run you over.” I replied, not easily pushed around.
“Listen, Jane. You and marea need to get out of here. And promise me one thing—don’t let nobody ever kiss you without you two saying it’s ok. You two hold on to one another.” She pleaded back, and I quickly understood.
Marea grabbed my hand and did something I never would have expected from her. She pulled me to her side, and led me to where Linda was sitting on the sidewalk and pulled her up to us. We must have sat there for five minutes holding one another before we brought her back to the house. I never cried about it. While I sat at the dining room table, marea was upstairs with my sister, comforting her and holding her. She listened to her music and played with her clothes. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t jealous. And I wasn’t worried about the future.

So as I’m walking inside, I notice the oddest thing on the side of the gas station we had pulled up to. In the back, near those disgusting outside restrooms most of the gas stations had resorted to, laid a puppy. It wasn’t hurt or crying or even dead. It had covered itself in oil, apparently from one too many leaks of the pumps. As I walked over to the abandoned puppy to see if I could find some water to rinse him off, a little girl pelted out of her parent’s town car and towards the lone dog. She was no older than eight; wrapped in a sunny, floral dress that somewhat resembled the one bag we had brought with us on the trip. But it wasn’t her dress that caught my attention. Inside the car, leaned back against the seat was a teen girl who was bent over, crying. I wasn’t sure if I should tend to the dog, permeating gasoline or the girl who apparently needed more than a car trip to comfort her. I kneeled to the ground to pretend to tie my shoe, when I noticed someone touch my shoulder. In the ten years of our relationship, it was the first time I had seen her face glowing so radiantly. I looked over to the car and then to the dog, and back up to Marea. And she stroked my hair with her small hands and smiled. At twenty years old, it was the first time I had ever cried.

The air is warm and thick, fluid like the sun pelting down on the black tar roofs. I pull open the door of my dresser to grab another pair of underwear out to put in the bag. It has been twenty years and I am now married. I have one little girl, who is dressed in a beautiful yellow sundress, and a puppy named Nixxy. Today we are going on a little road trip. I climb down the stairs to rest at the dining room table, while my little Sophia sits across from me, drinking her juice. She rests her head against the now wooden banister, and I could swear she looks like someone I used to know. She is beauty as her face shines among the kitchen’s …autumn lights.

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