Chapter Seventeen.

The strawberry margarita went crashing to the ground, and neither was fazed by it.

Instead, Amanda’s eyes were glued to her own drink, and Sandra was trying to remember how to breathe.

“Oh my.. shit, I did not expect that one,” she said slowly, as Amanda’s gaze lifted to hers. “You’re.. serious?”

“Yeah,” she sighed, tears threatening to make themselves known. “Dead serious.”

“How long?”

“Almost a year.”

“Are you still..?”

Amanda sighed, her eyes glazing over. This was SO not gonna be easy.

“Amanda,” Sandra began, tensing up in her seat. “Talk to me. Please.”

“I met Jay when I went to visit Dad at work one day at the factory. He was new there, I guess, and he was working with Dad, in his department. He was the one who showed me where to find my dad that day. I’m not going to beat around the bush; I liked him right off the bat. Gorgeous blue eyes, almost like Nick’s,” she grinned half-heartedly, “And such a great personality. He was everything I’d wanted in a guy, all rolled into one. So I set out to win him over.

“Dad wondered for a while why I suddenly brought him lunch more than just once a week after that. On one occasion, I got.. sidetracked.. on ym way to Dad’s office, and Dad ended up finding me, distracting Jay from the work he had to be doing. We’d struck up a nice conversation and lost track of time. I think it was then that Dad knew how I felt about Jay. So, being the conspiring dork he is, dear ‘ol Dad began to play matchmaker.

“It didn’t take as long as I’d expected, either. That first date was.. magical, for lack of a better word. By the time that date ended, I knew I’d fallen in love, and that he was the one for me; I’d spend the rest of my life with him. So imagine my surprise when he confessed on our second night out that he felt the same. All without me telling him my own feelings.

“Dad was thrilled. Mom was, well, you know my mom. She was just bonkers over Jay. She loved him. They didn’t object to the engagement when it came around a month later, naturally. I would’ve called you,” she sighed, looking into Sandra’s eyes, “But you’d practically disappeared without a trace. No one knew where to reach you. All we knew was that you’d gone off to Florida.”

Sandra bit her lip. So that was it. In her own careless way, she’d prevented Amanda from sharing all this with her.

“San, don’t,” Amanda told her friend when she saw the saddened look on her face. “It wasn’t you fault. You had things going on in your own life, too. You had your reasons.”

Sandra nodded reluctantly, and Amanda continued.

“The engagement was so... quick. Yeah, it was a whirlwind, basically. Six months. We worked literally day and night on preparations; we wanted everything to be said and done as fast as possible. Being together, that was what mattered the most to us. The wedding day.. San, it was perfect. Absolutely perfect..” she trailed off as she wiped at the tears spilling over her cheeks. “I could never have asked for anything better.”

“Manda.. that all sounds so.. great,” Sandra began slowly. “So why do you look so sad? Why are you crying like that?”

“Nine months and two days,” Amanda sniffled. “Almost a year, like I said before. He was at work, I was at my parent’s place with Mom. There was.. a phone call.. Mom answered. I remember the hysteria. She couldn’t be calmed for hours afterward..”

“What happened?” Sandra asked in a tiny voice, her eyes wide with fear of the knowledge Amanda was about to disclose.

“An explosion,” she choked out. “At the factory.”

“Oh, God,” Sandra breathed.

“All the families,” Amanda continued, despite her shortness of breath, and her tears. “We were told to head over to the hospital. As the workers were being taken out of the factory, they were being sent there, injured or not. We waited, my mom and I, for what seemed years. Then Dad showed up. They brought him in on a stretcher. Smoke inhalation,” she sighed, “But he was going to be just fine. A few scratches here and there, but he was going to be okay.”

There was a long silence that followed, until Sandra couldn’t stand it anymore.

“And.. and Jay?” she asked.

Amanda armed herself with all the courage and strength she could muster before giving Sandra the answer she sought out.

“Jay was brought in, too,” she said. “Unlike Dad, however, Jay... didn’t make it.”

“Oh, Manda,” Sandra cried, going to her friend’s side and eveloping her in a hug. “Manda, I’m so sorry.”

She didn’t want to know the rest of the story all of a sudden; she just wanted to be the friend she should have been all along, and be there for Amanda.

Amanda, on the other hand, wasn’t finished; she had a story to tell, and she wasn’t stopping until she got it all out.

“After the funeral,” she began again, her voice shaking, “I.. didn’t cope well. I was losing my mind, San. Doing the craziest things. Lashing out at anyone that I thought looked at me the wrong way. That’s when they started talking. ‘Manda lost her mind,’ and ‘Poor thing, I wonder how long she’ll last before they send her away.’ It was hurtful, and the stares I got.. unbelieveable. I just.. couldn’t handle it anymore. You got in touch with us, finally, after about a year after all that happened, and I was so happy to hear from you, and how you’d found Nick, and how happy you were, that I didn’t dare ruin that happiness. So, another year of all the talking and staring after your first call home, and I left. I knew that no matter where I went, nothing would be as bad as what was going on back home. I thought of you the night before I left, and coming here seemed so.. right. So here you have me. Trying to move on, trying to live my life, and I just can’t.”

The two friends sat in silence as the story sank in, as Sandra grasped the concept that Amanda’s life had been far from easy and happy as of late.

“I’m really sorry, Manda. I should have been there...”

“Don’t be sorry,” Amanda said sternly. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You didn’t know. You had your own issues to deal with, your own life to live.”

“But you’re a part of my life!” Sandra exclaimed. “In order for me to have lived life completely back then, I should have been there for you! And I wasn’t!! What the hell kind of friend am I?!”

“San.. you’re the best. The very best,” Amanda smiled through her tears. “Don’t ever doubt that. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have thought to come here; I wouldn’t have gotten a chance at a new life, and I wouldn’t have seen what I have in AJ had you not sent Nick to point it out. I know you did that, San. Thank you.”

“So you know.. realize.. about AJ?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “But it still doesn’t change anything.”

And that, Sandra thought smugly, was where Amanda was wrong. She’d make her see how wrong that theory was.

Even if it cost her their very friendship.

[chapter list | chapter eighteen]