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by Beth Groundwater





Jill watched her daughter, Katie, stuff two more T-shirts into her suitcase, flip the lid over, then sit on the bag. Jill hugged her terrycloth robe tight. She had to ask. "Did you remember to pack Lucky Bear?"

Katie rolled her eyes and bounced on the suitcase to squash its contents. "Of course. And before you ask, I've packed my retainer, checkbook, cell phone, and pajamas, too."

Excuse me for caring. Jill knew that forgetting the worn, one-eyed stuffed bear that had absorbed so many of Katie's tears and listened to so many whispered confidences would devastate her daughter.

After zipping the suitcase, Katie stood with hands on her hips and surveyed her stripped bedroom, as if she could find one more hip-hop CD, rolled poster of a male heartthrob, spare sock, or tube of makeup to pack up.

Jill had wanted to drive Katie to the state university three hours away, so she could impart some final words of wisdom about staying safe and healthy. But independent as always, Katie made her own plans to hitch a ride with a girlfriend. While Katie lugged the suitcase downstairs, Jill trailed behind, trying to think of one last thing to say that wouldn't make her burst into tears.

A car honked outside. Katie rushed out the front door with her first two suitcases. She chatted excitedly with her friend as they rearranged the contents of the car's trunk. The September Chinook lifted their hair, covering their smiles with long tresses that the girls flung back impatiently.

Jill stood on the stoop watching her daughter prepare to step out of the nest, memories swirling in with the wind. Katie's first sentence, said with a stamp of her tiny foot, "My do it self." Her first awkward dance recital with a frozen grimace of excitement and fear on her chubby-cheeked face. Her first date to a school dance wearing clunky platform shoes and a purple dress that clung to her bony frame. The screams when Katie opened her university acceptance letter with trembling hands.

Katie slid her last bag into the car's back seat, turned and raised a hand, then hesitated, as if changing her mind. She ran up to embrace Jill in a strong hug. "Love you, Mom."

Jill breathed in the familiar scent of herbal shampoo, vanilla cologne, and clean young skin of her oldest child. She swallowed the cloying lump in her throat. "Love you, too."

Eyes bright with promise, Katie whirled away. Jill's arms were empty again, the chill breeze schussing through her open fingertips, but with a glimmer of her daughter's warmth still lingering on her skin.

As the car backed out of the driveway, Katie smiled at her mom and waved out the open window. "See you soon."

Jill returned the wave until she could no longer see the car, then slid her hand into the deep pocket of her robe. She squeezed the soft, furry mass there--Lucky Bear. "Sooner than you think, Katie."

Beth Groundwater, 2005
All Rights Reserved



BIO: "I've been writing fiction for six years. I have finished three novels, a novella, and a half dozen short stories. I am an active member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Pikes Peak Writers (PPW), and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW). Last September, my short story, "New Zealand," was published in the RMFW anthology titled Dry Spell: Tales of Thirst and Longing. This spring, my short story, "Global Domination," will be published in the Kansas Writers Association anthology, Words Out of the Flatlands.

Also, my works have finaled in five writing contests: 2004, Finalist, Mystery/Suspense, RMFW Colorado Gold Contest for To Hell in a Handbasket. 2004, Third Place, Mystery/Suspense, PPW Paul Gillette Writing Contest for Virtual Death. 2003, Honorable Mention, UPC Science Fiction Novella Prize, Barcelona, Spain for Epsilon Eridani Alternative. 2003, First Place, Short Story, PPW Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest for New Zealand. 2002, Finalist, Mystery/Suspense, RMFW Colorado Gold Contest for Midlife Crisis."