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Authors: Rebecca Milton

A Small Town Dream

BOOK: A Small Town Dream
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A Small Town Dream

 

by
Rebecca Milton

***

 

1

 

She was too big for the borders of her tiny town. All she wanted was to stretch her wings, to break the bonds of prying eyes, judgmental voices, and whispered disbelief, to be somewhere she could be herself, without fear, without worry. Somewhere she could finally be who and what she really was…

 

Annie put down the book and looked out the window. The light summer novel she’d picked up on a whim was about spreading your wings and finding yourself in the world. But while wanting to be somewhere else might be true for someone else, as it was for the girl in the book, it wasn’t true for Annie Stewart.

 

Her small town fit her like a favorite dress, one worn all summer long. One to wear walking through the fields, or down Main Street. One to wear with friends at county fairs and barn dances. She was happiest in that dress, just as she was happiest in her little town. She was happy in Rockland. Happy with her friends, her school, her place in life. She loved her parents, and she knew others who wanted to leave, to spread
their
wings, and many had, but not Annie.

 

That last summer, as she and her little circle of friends looked forward to high school graduation, many nights found them sitting atop of the water tower that looked out over well-ordered streets that were margined with historical buildings. Brick buildings, full of history, real history. Their numbers varied, depending on work schedules, or dates, or family vacations, and they would pass a bottle of cheap whiskey, feeling like rebels. They would spin stories of breaking out, of shaking this small town’s dust off their shoes and really living.

 

Annie passed the bottle, tilting it from time to time, but she never spoke of leaving. She liked Rockford’s dust on her shoes. It smelled of home and comfort. She couldn’t imagine her wings spreading any wider. She was happy where she was, and happy with
who
she was.

 

“Nothing to add, Annie?” they would ask. She’d just smile, shake her head, shrug her shoulders.

 

“I’m sure going to miss you all when you go but—” Then she’d take a sip, pass the bottle back, and look into the night, into the cosmos of earth-bound stars, the streetlights and shop windows. “—I’m happy here.”

 

The girls would laugh and tease her. They’d never believe her. How could they? How could you, they’d ask, smart, funny, beautiful Annie Stewart, be happy in this nowhere town, with its nowhere people, doing nothing? In their eyes, people like Annie didn’t settle for mundane. They ventured out and conquered.

 

So, the girls would laugh, say
sure, sure
, hug her, and cherish her, because, in spite of all her blessings, she didn’t see the truth they fully believed. Her naiveté made her even more appealing and for that, they loved her even more. And because they were her friends, she saw something special, wonderful, and perfect in each of them. She loved all of them back with a strength she never questioned and believed would last forever, no matter how far apart they ever were.

 

A feeling of sweeping change filled the air that July, a change they all pretended to welcome and look forward to, but one they also secretly feared. Apprehension bubbled beneath the
skin, so there were even more gatherings at the water tower. Boys, always fascinating before, took a back seat to girl-time, to talking, planning, or just sitting quietly, the fear held at bay by the company of those who shared it. Those summer nights were more precious and held more meaning. The talk grew deeper, and so eventually, the fear surfaced.

 

“Well,” Connie Baker said, missing her mouth with the bottle, whiskey spilling down her chin and ratty t-shirt, sending the girls into a chorus of laughter and teasing. She recovered, laughed at herself, and loved them for their kindness of laughing with her and not at her. “I, at least, am going to be just fine.”

 

No doubt. Connie was smart and pretty, nowhere in Annie’s league, but her parents had money enough to dress her well, and for dance lessons, all to make her a lady as a sort of insurance. Not enough for Europe or an out of state college, however. Still, Connie had drive and determination. She had a plan and would always land on her feet. Her friends were more than curious and encouraged her to share.

 

“I’ll be leaving this little town as soon as I graduate,” she said, smiling and pleased with herself, “because last night, Parker and I…
went all the way
.” Everyone shrieked, demanded details. Connie demurred, protesting,
a lady doesn’t kiss and tell
. She hinted, skirted, gave just enough specifics to hold her audience. “He’s going to New York City, early acceptance and all that, and naturally, now I’ll be going with him.” She sighed, thinking of life in a
real
city, with thousands of people and something to do, every night of the week.

 

The others listened in awe. Not only had Connie been the first of them to reach that coveted feminine milestone, she had done it with Parker Levitt, the pride and joy of Rockland. The smartest boy in school. The boy destined to change the world. A full scholarship to Columbia University in prelaw, darling of the church choir, baseball team hero, captain of the debate team, class president, and, of course, a shoe-in for prom king. He was
the
dream.
The
bright future and Connie Baker landed him. She was congratulated, and both admired and envied.

 

But after the praise and cheers, the pleading for more, the peals of giddy laughter abating to giggles and winks, Annie Stewart spoke up.

 

“Did you use protection?”

 

Silence reigned, everyone suddenly considering the question. Connie was special, no doubt, but she, of all of them, wanted out the most. Her parents couldn’t afford more than state college, only three miles east. She didn’t have the grades for a scholarship to a big school in a city far away. What she
did
have was determination, a can-do spirit, and a
get it done at any cost
river running through her heart. The girls all suddenly wondered if
she
would do something like
that
.

 

“You wouldn’t, would you, Connie?” Annie continued. “I mean, that would be bad for poor Parker, wouldn’t it?”

 

Again, silence. Connie held the bottle, leaned her forehead against the railing of the tower, looked out over the dark town she finally saw herself putting behind her, and soon.

 


Poor Parker
,” she echoed, chuckling. She took a swig from the bottle then passed it along. “Let me tell you about
Poor
Parker.” She was quiet for a time. Something was there, inside her, now boiling. She looked down the line to Annie. “
Poor
Parker has it all.
Poor
Parker has the future in his pocket. He knows it, his parents know it, everybody does. He’s smart, he’s careful, and above all, Parker Levitt is a
gentleman
.”

 

They listened intently, knowing somehow another shoe would drop. Connie motioned for the bottle.

 

“A
gentleman
,” she saluted the boy with another slug of whiskey,
“always
carries a condom.” She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and the rest released a collective sigh. Then they laughed again, congratulating her as if she had won a blue ribbon at the fair. But Annie still sat quietly.
There’s more to this story
, she thought. But she had already over-stepped too far for one night, so she let it go.

 

“But Annie,
seriously
,” Connie said, “thank you
so
much for thinking so highly of me. It makes me feel so very loved.” Annie shrugged. “Except…I thought you were my friend.”

 

“She
is
your friend.” Ellen Lane turned to face Connie. “She only asked because she was worried about you.”

 


Really
,” Connie said.

 

“Sure,” Ellen continued, trying to make peace. “Look, we all know Annie says she’s happy here but, we also know…she’s full of shit.” Almost everyone snickered. “She wants out just like the rest of us. She was probably dreaming herself into your life and, you know Annie, practical to the end, even in her fantasies she’s going to be
safe
. She was just...you know, hoping that, in the heat of the moment, you hadn’t… Knowing you had your way out, that you still remembered to…look out for yourself.”

 

Connie considered Ellen’s proposal.

 

“Is that
true
, Annie?” Connie asked finally. “Were you
really
worried about
me
?”

 

Annie thought before responding. She was not prone to lying. The truth, she believed, no matter how painful, was always the way to go. She looked out into the night, realizing that sometimes, though, the truth was
not
the best option. This was one of those times. Did she want Connie hating her all through their senior year? Did she need that stress and hassle? No, she didn’t, and it wasn’t worth it. This time, the truth would
not
set her free.

 

“Connie,” she began tentatively, feeling her way, “I’m happy you have a way out, I
am
. I was just worried that you’d get caught up in the moment and…spoil it by…not being careful.” The other girls murmured in agreement. “I mean, New York City...wow. You’d want to spend time just
living
in that place before you started a family…
right
?” More mumbled agreement, more support for Annie’s wisdom. “And, honestly, Connie,” she continued, “El is probably right. Maybe I
do
want out of here as badly as you. I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of my…freedom…once I had it.” They all sat quietly, taking it in. Finally, Connie spoke.

 

“I figured that’s where you were coming from, Annie.” The group relaxed. “Truth be told, if Parker hadn’t come prepared, I don’t know if I could have said no. He is just so—” She wolf-whistled and the others burst out in giggles and shrieks. Crisis averted, friendship intact, evening unspoiled. Annie leaned her head on Ellen’s shoulder and whispered,
thank you
.

 

“You’re welcome,” Ellen whispered back, “but we still need to talk about this.” Annie nodded. The bottle went around again. The laughter continued. Connie shared more of her elaborate plans, and Annie sat quietly, wondering if Connie was being truthful.

BOOK: A Small Town Dream
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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