Chris Nelson had been her best friend since they met each other the summer after her freshman year. The teens at her church had gotten together and decided they wanted to go to a big water park that was in the next state and had decided to camp overnight while they were there. Never did she think that it would be a life-altering trip, but it would be one she would never forget.
She had managed to hook up with some girls she didn’t know and tagged along with them wherever they went. She didn’t like being alone, so she had kind of forced her way into their circle of friendship. They had all known each other a while, but didn’t seem to mind that she wanted in on their fun. They had all climbed to the top of a really high water slide and they couldn’t decide who should go first. She volunteered to go and it was a thrilling ride to the bottom. As she was waiting for them in the pool at the bottom she suddenly felt water hit the back of her head. She turned around to see a mischievous smile on the face of a rather cute guy. Just when she was about to ask what in the world he thought he was doing, he got her again in the face. He started to laugh when she shot him an ugly look. His laughter died suddenly when she got him back. After his shock wore off the two of them engaged in a splashing war and at one point he came over and dunked her under the water. When she surfaced he introduced himself.
“Hello, I’m Chris.”
She shocked him by dunking him under the water. And once he surfaced, she introduced herself.
“Hi, my name is Melissa.”
“It’s nice to meet you. So, do you have a nickname, like maybe Missy?”
“You can call me just about anything EXCEPT Missy.”
“And why is that? Is that some pet name only your boyfriend can use?”
She shot him a sassy look. “Yeah, like I have a boyfriend. But actually it’s what my mom likes to call me and she’s not my favorite person on the planet.”
“Oh. Well then, what would you prefer I call you?”
“Well you can call me Lissa, Beth or Lizbeth.”
“I don’t like any of those so I think I’ll call you Miss Beth. Does that sound okay?”
“I guess. But it might take me a while to get used to that.”
“That’s okay, I’m a patient person.”
Chris and Melissa hit it off immediately and spent a lot of time together during the rest of the trip. Melissa completely forgot about the girls that she had been hanging out with. All she could think about was how this really great guy was interested in being HER friend. Never in a million years did she think any guy would even look at or talk to her, let alone want to be friends with her. But what was really amazing was that she felt totally at ease with him. She felt like she could say anything to him. It was if they had known each other for years. And it was nice to finally have someone to talk to who seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say.
When Christopher Nelson first saw her pop up out of the water, something struck a chord in him. All of a sudden a small voice told him that he needed to know this girl. He wasn’t sure why, but it was almost like he was given no choice. He had to listen and obey. He looked at her and could tell she was distracted by something. So he tried to get her attention the best way he knew how, by being annoying. So he sucked some water in his mouth and spit it at the back of her head.
When she turned around, he almost burst out laughing at the expression on her face. But he was on a roll. She began to say something but he stopped her by spitting more water in her face. At first he wasn’t sure how she was going to react, but now he couldn’t resist laughing at her. But that came to an immediate stop when she spit water back into his face. He was shocked. He really had thought that she was gonna get really mad and walk away. But she didn't. Instead she gave as good as she got. He was impressed with her feistiness. But he didn’t want her to get off that easily, so he started splashing water at her with all of his might. Again, she didn’t just stand there and take it, she joined in and started splashing him also. After a while he decided to put the icing on the cake by getting closer to her and dunking her head under the water. When she finally surfaced, he introduced himself. She stood there for a bit and he thought that maybe he had pushed her too far. He was about to apologize when she lunged at him and pushed him under the water. When he surfaced, she was smiling smugly and said her name was Melissa.
‘Melissa is a nice name’ he thought. When he asked if she had a nickname, she flashed a small look of hurt when he said Missy. That confused him. He asked if it was a pet name from a boyfriend, and he got that look again. Again he was confused, but most especially when she made it seem impossible for a girl like her to have a boyfriend. At that moment, he felt a sudden need to figure out the cause of her pain and try to help her move past it. She offered a list of names that he could call her, but he didn’t like any of them. So he came up with one he liked and asked if he could call her that instead. She seemed to think it was okay, so it was settled.
After that, he spent a lot of time with her, trying to get to know her better. One thing he noticed was how she seemed to shy away from other people and had a tendency to stick close to him in large crowds. That seemed rather odd behavior for the sassy girl he saw in the pool. It was like she had a wall built up and he seemed to be the only one she trusted to let beyond it. It made him feel good and bad at the same time. It was good because he really thought she was a special person and it was nice that she trusted him. But it was bad because he couldn’t understand who had hurt her so badly that she was afraid of the rest of the world.
By the end of the weekend, when they were boarding the bus to go back home, he had a clearer picture of why she was so afraid of people. She had told him about how her mom treated her, and that explained it all. From the moment understanding had dawned on him, he decided that her mom wasn’t his favorite person on the planet either. And he became even more determined to be her friend and to be there for her when she needed him. She was such an amazing person. With him she could smile and act so sassy. He really liked that side of her. He was angry that her mother had made her feel she had to hide this side of her from the world.
That was a time that Chris would never forget. It had been almost ten months since they met. And even though they went to different high schools, they made every effort to at least talk on the phone a few times during the week if they couldn’t see each other. And seeing her had proved to be difficult. From the first moment her parents had met him, they acted as though they didn’t like him at all, especially her mother. But he had her number. He knew that it was because he made Melissa smile and made her happy, and that didn’t please Mrs. Grey one bit. It was almost as if she hated him simply because of that alone. That same night he asked Melissa her for her number so he could call her anytime he wanted to. He also gave her his number so she could do the same.
That night after dinner, Chris got an unsettling feeling in his stomach. So he went downstairs to his room and dialed her number. After three rings, Danny picked up the phone.
“Hey Danny, is your sister there?”
“Yeah, hold on.” Danny cupped his hand over the phone. “BETH! PHONE!”
Suddenly Mrs. Grey got on the phone. “Who is this?”
“Hi Mrs. Grey, it’s me Chris.”
“Well Chris, Missy is in trouble tonight and isn’t allowed to speak on the phone.”
“Oh, okay. Can you please tell her I called and that I’ll try to talk to her later?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks Mrs. Grey.”
He hung up the phone and slammed his fist on the floor. More than anything he wanted to tell that woman where to shove it, but he knew he had to be nice. Otherwise she would never let Beth talk to him again. And it would be hard for him to lose his best friend. As much as he liked to think that he helped Beth out, he had noticed that she had helped him out as well. Every time some small thing would make him angry, he would think about what she had gone through and was still going through. And he would smile knowing that if she had enough grace to smile through all the pain, that this little thing wasn’t something to get too upset about. But that wasn’t the only way she had helped him. Her trust in him was something else that changed him. She made him feel somewhat independent. He loved his family, but they always seemed too eager to help him with whatever he needed anytime he needed it. And because of that he had never really made any effort to be a responsible person. But she had turned him into one in a way. He felt very responsible for her. He felt like aside from Danny, he was her sole protector in the world. As he thought of the times they had spent together, he smiled. He always did feel better whenever he thought about her. About half an hour later, his phone rang.
“Chris, it’s me.”
“Good LAWDY Miss Beth! I didna think I would ever hear yore sweet voice again!”
She giggled. “Shut up with that already, sheesh.”
“Hey young lady, I thought you were in trouble and couldn’t use the phone.”
“Well my dad sent my mom to the store for a few minutes so I thought I would call you.”
“I’m glad you did. I got this bad feeling earlier and I was worried about you.”
“You know me, I always manage to take care of myself.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t worry about you. You’re my best friend and I would be miserable if anything bad ever happened to you.” He could hear her choke quietly when he said that. “C’mon Miss Beth, don’t cry.”
“I’m sorry Chris. It’s just that sometimes I forget that someone like you actually cares about me, but when you remind me it just makes me cry. And it’s not always a bad kinda crying. Ya know, it’s like that crying that girls do when they are really happy about something. And the one thing in my life that makes me the happiest is having you for a friend.”
He wished he could reach through the phone so he could wipe away her tears and give her a big hug. “Miss Beth you know I wish I could be there all the time to make sure nobody ever hurt you again. But I can’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing you.”
“Christopher Nelson! I don’t want to hear talk like that from you. You could never fail me, no matter what. Aww crap!”
“My mom is home. I gotta go.”
“Okay Miss Beth, I’ll talk to you soon. Take care of yourself.”
“I sure will. Later tater.”
He heard the dial tone and hung up the phone. His mom came down the stairs to see who had called and saw her son sitting there with a strange look on his face.
“Chris, was that Beth?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Sometimes I just wish she could come stay with us. She doesn’t belong there mom. All her mother ever does is hurt her. And every time she does, Beth retreats again. And there are some days that Beth retreats so far that I can’t reach her and it scares me. She has become too important to me. I can’t lose her.”
“I know it’s hard Chris, but there isn’t a whole lot we can do. All I can tell you is just to be there for her. I see how she is when she is around you. She feels free around you. And it’s the time that you spend with her that will keep her strong. I don’t think I have ever been as proud of you as I have been since you two became friends.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you finally let someone in far enough to matter to you. I’m not saying that you’re a cold person, but you do have a tendency to put barriers up when they get too close. It’s almost like how Beth is. Except that it’s just your personality, not because of any pain. And I think you know that and it’s why you can identify with what she’s feeling. I don’t think I have ever seen you this concerned with the pain of another person and it brings out a side of you that I like very much.”
“Thanks mom. I really mean that. I’ll always be there for her, but there are days when I wonder if it’s enough.”
“I think it is son. The next time you’re with her, take a really close look at her. It’s very obvious that there is no doubt in her mind that you would do whatever it takes to help her through anything. She lights up from head to toe whenever she’s near you.”
“Thanks for listening mom.” He got up and hugged her. “And thanks for being a great mom.”
Mrs. Nelson smiled at her son and walked back up the stairs.
Chris felt better after talking to his mom, but he still had a bad feeling in his stomach. It seemed to be something that settled in most nights around this time. Sometimes he wondered if it was somehow connected to Beth. She told him once how she cried a lot at night because life was so hard for her. It was weird sometimes the connection they had. It was almost as if they were linked in a very cosmic way. He could almost always sense when things weren’t right with her. Something about her just had a way of cutting straight into his heart. If he was honest with himself, he would admit that in more ways than one, he wished he could be more like Beth.
It’s not like he wanted to experience the same pain she did, but there were certain qualities about her that made him strive to be a better person. She was the strongest person he had ever met. No matter how harsh or cruel life seemed to be for her, she never totally gave up or gave in. Sure, she had days when it seemed as though the world had knocked her down a peg or two, but it was only temporary. And because of that strength in her, he felt stronger being around her. He sometimes felt that when the two of them were together, they were unstoppable. It was them against the world, and the world was starting to show signs of defeat.
There was one quality about her that scared him. She was so open. It’s not like being open is necessarily a bad thing, but with her it could be downright dangerous. It seemed she had a pattern of letting in so many people who did nothing but hurt her over and over again. He feared that one day someone was going to hurt her so deeply and so badly that she would totally cut herself off from reality, which also meant cutting herself off from him. And that was not something he even wanted to consider. It was true that he would never fall in love with her, but loving her as his best friend was about the best feeling he had going for him. There wasn’t one day that went by when he didn’t feel like his life was so much better and richer for having her in it. He truly hoped that the day never came when she would totally shut him out of her life. He didn’t know if he could take that.
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