One’s eighteenth birthday should be a day full of fun and celebration. It is one of those key moments of transition in life, when one finally becomes a legal adult, obtains the right to vote, is permitted to buy property, and can legally make one’s own choices.
For Amber, however, her eighteenth birthday was a day of extreme tragedy. It was the first day of her senior year of high school, so skipping school simply was not an option. It was also the day on which her father was killed in an insurgent ambush in Iraq. Learning of her husband’s death while driving, her mother also died that day, and the shock of his death distracted her greatly, resulting in a fatal collision with a tanker truck.
With her relatives all living on the other side of the country or even on the other side of the world, there was suddenly no place for Amber to stay as, not surprisingly, she definitely did not want to be in the large family home on her own.
No place except for my place.
I had been a family friend for about a decade, since shortly after they had moved to the neighborhood. Paul’s car had broken down just in front of my driveway one morning, and when I saw the situation, I had immediately gone outside to help him push the car back to the house. From just that simple act of kindness, a strong friendship blossomed which also quickly included his wife Francina and their young daughter Amber.
I had watched little Amber grow up. With her father gone so much for his military career, training soldiers at bases around the world in matters so specialized that just hearing the basics would easily make my head swim, Amber seemed to regard me as a second father.
Since I did not have any children of my own, Amber was practically a daughter to me. Given that I lived only four houses away and worked from home as a consultant, I watched for Amber every morning and afternoon, ensuring that she was indeed on her way to and from school and was safe. She would sometimes stop by to see me on the way home from school, and she and I would chat over cookies and milk.
In fact, that is exactly what we were doing when the police called her cell phone to inform her of her parents’ deaths.
I held Amber tightly to me, wishing I could somehow take away her anguish. I had often held her like that – after having fallen from her bike when she was just eight years old, after her favorite and most respected middle school teacher had been arrested for child pornography, after her first boyfriend had dumped her because she refused to let him get underneath her clothes… casino şirketleri But this time, I held Amber even more tightly than usual, because I could truly share her anguish, for I had just lost two dear friends.
Labor Day Weekend is typically the last fun weekend of summer, the last chance for people to get away to the summer destinations such as beaches and amusement parks. In recent years, Paul and Francina and Amber and I had gone canoeing on Labor Day Weekend, usually on Labor Day itself. But this year, however, instead of being on the local river, Amber and I stood in the shade of a massive oak tree, watching as my friends and her parents were lowered into the ground, buried side by side.
Although some of her relatives had been more than willing to stay at the family home with her during the time around the funeral, Amber no longer wanted to stay there for any length of time without her parents there. Some friends’ families were willing to take her in, but she instead chose to come stay with me, and everyone understood. The connection Amber and I had developed over the years was strong indeed, and it would take a significant event to tear us apart, and just about everyone who saw Amber and me together quickly recognized that fact.
For the long term, none of Amber’s relatives could afford to stay with her for her final year of high school, and after having spent so many years with the same friends in the same area, she had no desire to go to the other side of the country and start all over again when she would be moving on to college one year later anyhow. Again, since I was practically a second father to her, everyone agreed that it would be best for Amber to spend her senior year of high school with me.
It was actually good for me as well to have Amber staying with me. The guest room in my small house had always been kept ready, and Amber had on several occasions spent a night or two with me while her parents were both gone out of town, so I already had space for her – I simply needed to buy food for two every week, not food for one.
While Amber had been staying with me since the day she learned of her parents’ deaths, she did not truly move to my place until after the funeral, after the relatives had all left the state and left her alone with me. It was an appropriately dreary Saturday morning when Amber and I began the process of packing up her life and moving things to my guest bedroom. Over the course of the day, her former bedroom became more and more vacant, and by mid-afternoon, while there was plenty of unpacking to casino firmaları be done, my guest bedroom had been transformed into my daughter’s bedroom.
After the last of Amber’s belongings had been brought to my house, she wanted to go back to her house one more time. I waited downstairs, allowing her some time to herself in her old bedroom. When she had not come back downstairs some twenty minutes later, I went upstairs to check on her.
Dressed in her red flip-flops and blue denim shorts and pink t-shirt, her amber hair disheveled and her sweat-laden clothes still clinging to her from the physical activity of the move, Amber looked just like the little girl I would sometimes console as she knelt on the ground, crying after a small injury.
Perhaps that is why, when I found her kneeling in the doorway to her old bedroom and sobbing quietly, I thought nothing of kneeling behind her and wrapping my arms around her.
The quiet sobs grew in intensity, and my tears joined hers. We may not have been father and daughter by blood, but her heartache was still very much my heartache, which is why at that moment, more than at any other time in our lives, we truly needed each other.
The next few weeks were telling ones for us. For the first time in over a decade, I was truly living with someone, and that required time to become accustomed to the situation. It was the little things which surprised me most: a long strand of amber hair found on the arm of the sofa, an extra set of towels in the bathroom, a second car in the driveway, a recent issue of Seventeen on the coffee table, the radio set to a local rock station, diet drinks in the refrigerator, a bra which had been accidentally dropped between the washer and the dryer…
But most of all, even when Amber was at school or out with friends, the house no longer felt empty. Typically, only Amber and her parents would visit me, but with Amber living with me, I came to know her friends – teenagers I had previously met in some cases but never truly knew.
It took several weeks for Amber to truly catch up on the schoolwork she had missed because of the funeral and the legal issues surrounding her parents’ estate. By this time, fall was definitely noticeable in the air, signaling the end of summer and hinting at the coming winter, the leaves starting to change from green to a plethora of fiery colors. When she was home, I largely left Amber alone to focus on catching up with her schoolwork, and that allowed me to catch up as in my own work, since I had needed to accompany her for the güvenilir casino various legal issues.
The leaves fell – first in singles, then in small groups… then seemingly overnight, the entire yard was full of multicolored leaves attempting to blanket the green grass. As I raked the leaves into a large pile, I stopped for a moment, looking at the pile and remembering how, after having spent several years living in the desert, Francina had marveled at the many natural colors during her first fall in the northern town.
A sudden feminine cry of joy snapped my attention back to the present, and I turned around to witness Amber running toward me. It shocked me, for while I had seen her in all types of activities before, I had not seen such sheer, pure joy light her face since she was a little girl on a park swing. Her joy was contagious, and I could only laugh openly when she leapt into the air with her arms flung wide apart and practically dove into the tall pile of leaves.
That was when I knew that Amber was truly finished mourning the loss of her parents, and somehow, I felt that if she was done mourning, then I could be done mourning the loss of my friends.
Admittedly, Amber and I made quite a spectacle that afternoon, jumping repeatedly into the pile of leaves, her giddiness and her youth incredibly infecting me. And when at last we were done, I was in the pile of leaves, their unmistakable scent filling my nostrils, with Amber laying atop me, grinning with her lips and her eyes as she gazed fondly upon me.
After a few moments, I hugged this special young woman tightly to me, reveling in the feel of her pressing against me. Suddenly, I was aware that she was no longer the little girl I once knew. The almost-unnoticeable scent of her shampoo, her gentle curves, and especially her softness signaled that I was in the presence of a woman.
…and her presence made itself known between us.
Amber kissed my neck, moving slightly upon my growing length. Then, with a sweet smile, she stood and offered me her hand, and I accepted and allowed her to help me to stand once again. We stood there in the front yard for several long seconds, simply looking at each other and smiling, both of us fully aware that something had indeed changed between us.
Finally, Amber headed back toward the house, and I returned to raking. When I heard the front door open a few minutes later, I was genuinely surprised to see Amber returning to me with the second rake. Without a word, she joined me in the yardwork.
No words were said until we were done. No words needed to be said. We were each simply content to be in the other’s presence. That was good enough, for while I had lost two close friends and she had lost both her parents, Amber and I had each other for life.