It was Friday morning.  Melissa was so glad that the school week was almost over.  Heck, she was glad that the school year was almost over so that she could have some fun over the summer break.  Since there was no more school that meant she would be able to spend more time with Chris.

Melissa got out of bed to put on her last remaining warm weather outfit from her limited wardrobe.  She scanned her closet and groaned.

"This is sad, really.  I must be the only girl in school with a closet this empty.  In fact, I'm sure of it.  This is Clarion, Michigan after all.  The only city I've ever known of that has laws against the use of neon signs because the council of elders thinks they are too flashy.  This is a city where a lack of clothing could seriously impair one's social standing.  But try telling my mother that.  I swear that she does things like this just so that I will be mocked by my classmates.  Everybody at school has already seen everything I own so far this year.  Would it hurt my mother to go out and buy me something new every so often?  One would think she wouldn't have a problem shopping considering the wide selection of clothes, shoes, and purses she has hiding in her own closet."

She sighed as she pulled out her tan pants that went with her light blue button-down shirt she had.  She put them on and went into the bathroom to figure out what to do with her hair.  It was sticking up in a few places, which wasn't really new to her.  So she leaned over the tub and ran her head under the water.  She then went about blowing it dry so it looked half-way decent.  She then applied some concealer to her pimples and some powder to balance out her face.  That was the only make-up that she was allowed to wear.  She told everyone at school that she didn't wear make-up because people should like her for what she looked like naturally.  She didn't want to admit that her mother said only a slut would wear make-up at her age and that she didn't think it would help any.  In fact, she made sure not to tell most people what life was like for her at home.  Except for her friends Connie Young, Abigail Small, and Katelynn Rogers.  They were her three only friends from her high school who knew anything at all about what really went on in her house.

She met Katelynn on her bus one morning on the way to school. They ended up sitting in the same seat and a conversation ensued. It wasn't the longest discussion she'd ever had, but she had learned that all her friends called her Kat and that it would be cool to add another friend to her list. And even though Melissa and Kat didn't hang out very often, they had become really good friends. Melissa could tell that Kat was gonna help to bring out her wilder side. She had already helped Melissa figure out some really cool ways to annoy the heck out of her mother without getting caught or blamed for it. Yeah, Kat and she would get along just fine.

She had met Abigail in her Algebra class this year.  Ab was a class behind her, but she was just so nice to Melissa that she couldn't help but like her.  They sat right next to each other in two separate rows, so they often had a chance to chat once the teacher was done and gave them some time to work on their assignment for that night.  Ab had introduced her to Connie in band class.  They bonded over the fact that this was their first year in Marching Band.  Not only that, but they all seemed to share a zany sense of humor.  Since about a month after being friends, the three had been inseparable.  Well at least when it was possible.  Melissa wasn't allowed out for social things very often so most of the time they could only spend time together when it was something relating to school or to the band.  They had dubbed themselves "The Three Musketeers."  She knew that those girls would do anything for her and she felt the same about them.

She didn't get to see Abigail until her second period class.  It was Algebra with Mr. Green.  She and Ab made fun of him a lot because he had a lot of very curly chest hair which was almost always stuffed under the tight shirts he liked to wear.  If the shirt happened to be white, the hair actually made it look like he had a bush underneath.  The days he did wear a white shirt were the days that Melissa and Abigail had the hardest time keeping a straight face.  And that man didn't make it any easier by telling jokes that weren't really that funny.  But they would laugh anyway because it was easier to rationalize than bursting out laughing for no apparent reason.  So even on those bad days she had, Melissa had something to make her smile for a little while.

On that particular day, Mr. Green had started rambling on about the math contest that had been held earlier that year.  It was a competition for Algebra students that was given to the whole state.  This year Mr. Green said that he wanted Melissa to go since she was such a good student.  So she did, and she felt she did very well.  Mr. Green said that anyone who placed honorable mention in state or better would get an automatic A on the final and wouldn't have to take it.  It had been two months since the competition and she had almost totally forgotten about it until it was mentioned today.  Mr. Green handed out three certificates of participation to the other three students from her class that had gone.  Then he approached her desk.

"Ms. Grey, I wasn't expecting this from you."

Melissa shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  Had she really done that badly?  She had felt sure she had done a good job.  But that would be typical of her life.  Things she did almost always seemed to go badly.  She looked up at Mr. Green with a disappointed face and was shocked to see him smiling.

"Not only did you place honorable mention in state, but you got 7th place in our college district, 4th place in our school district and you scored the highest out of everyone who took it from this school!"

Melissa beamed.  She looked over at Ab who gave her a big smile and a small thumbs up sign.

"It looks like you won't have to take the final Ms. Grey."  The other kids in the class started to whisper and complain about it.  "I don't want to hear that class.  Melissa did a great job in the competition and I think we should be proud of her.  She has worked very hard in this class and I think this is a fitting reward for her efforts."

Melissa started to turn red when she got some angry stares from some of the other kids in the class.

"Ignore them Beth, they are just jealous.  If they had done well in this class they might have been able to be in the competition and might have placed well enough to get out of the final as well.  I'm so proud of you right now."

Melissa shot her a warm smile right before the bell rang.  When it did ring they hugged each other and said they would see each other in band class.

The rest of the day flew by.  She couldn't wait until her last period class, which was band.  She wanted to tell Connie the good news.  But not only that, she couldn't wait to get home so she could call her dad at work and tell him what happened.  When she walked in Connie and Ab were looking at her with big smiles on their faces.

"Dang it Ab.  You're such a stinker.  I wanted to tell her the good news."  She pretended to pout but couldn't hold her composure for long.  Finally Connie squealed and called for a group hug.  "Girl we are so proud of you.  That is so awesome.  I wish it was that easy for me to get out of some of my finals.  I'm so jealous."

"Thanks you guys.  It means a lot to me that you're proud of me.  I can't wait to tell my dad.  He is going to be so happy.  Now let's get our instruments out so we can get this class over with and go home."

They broke up and got their instruments.  Class seemed to drag on, but she and Ab managed to keep themselves entertained.  There was a boy from Ab's class who liked to steal glances at them and they had taken it upon themselves to start annotating and keeping track of how many times they caught him staring.  They were already up to fifteen and it was only twenty minutes into class.  At one point they both went to make a mark at the same time and started to giggle.  Ms. Seems, the associate band director looked at them so as to suggest they stop.  They did, but found it hard to keep smiles off their faces.  Finally class was over and they let out the laugh they had been holding in.  They both laughed so hard that tears were rolling down their faces when Connie finally caught up to them.  A few other band members looked at them like they were out of their minds.  But they just didn't care.

"Have you two completely lost it?"

"No, Connie.  It's just and Ab went"  she couldn't get it out because she was laughing so hard.  So Ab tried to finish.  ..."we went to mark on the paper at the same time and it just struck us as funny."  Connie shook her head.  "Let me guess, you were keeping tabs on Dr. Pepper again?"  Dr. Pepper was a nickname they had come up with for Kevin Pepperidge who was the guy who liked to look at them a lot.  "Yep."  At that, they all started laughing again as they put away their instruments and got ready to head home.

"Do you think the poor boy has any idea what you are doing?"

"I sure hope not Connie, that would be embarrassing."

"Well Beth, you're the one who got this whole thing started as I remember."

"Yeah, but you know how easily embarrassed I get about things, so I'm sure you're not going to mention it to him."

"Mention what to whom?" Kevin asked as he walked up.

The three girls looked at each other unsure of what to say.  But since Connie was the least bashful of the three she came up with a reasonable answer.

"We weren't going to mention to you how we have been calling you Dr. Pepper almost all year long."

"Dr. Pepper?  What kind of nickname is that?"

"Don't look at me, look at Beth over there.  She was the clever one who thought of that."

"Well Kevin I thought it was appropriate given your last name and the fact that your dad is a doctor."

"Oh, okay.  Well I guess that is rather clever, but would you mind keeping that one to yourself?  I'd hate to be called that for the rest of my time here at good old Clarion High."

"Now Kevin, what kind of fun would that be?"  Connie and Ab started to laugh not only at Beth's question but the look of horror on Kevin's face.

"I was just kidding Kevin, relax."

The three girls headed out the door, but Connie couldn't resist one more jab.  "See you around Dr. Pepper!"

Their laughter echoed down the hallway as they made their way outside to catch their busses.  Kevin just looked in their direction as they left and shook his head.


When Melissa got home, she was so excited.  She ran into the house to call her father only to discover that her mom had gotten home early.

"Is something wrong mom?  What are you doing home so early?"

"Well, since Spring Break is next week at the school, they let everyone out early today.  So here I am.  You looked awfully happy a minute ago.  Anything you want to tell me?"

This one time Melissa decided not to let her mom ruin her happy moment.  So she gushed about her awards and how she didn't have to take her final in Algebra.  "Can I call Dad at work and tell him?  I know he'll be so happy to hear about it."

"Just this once Missy, but we aren't going to make a habit of it.  Okay?"

"Okay mom."  She dialed the number.  It rang a few times when a woman answered the phone.

"This is Miss Campbell, can I help you?"

"Hello, this is Melissa Grey, is my father there?"

"Hello Beth, it's nice to hear your voice again.  He is here, can you hold on a minute while I get him for you?"

"I sure can, thanks."  A minute or two went by.

"Meg?  Is something wrong?"

"No dad, nothing is wrong.  I called to give you some wonderful news!"  She smiled and began to tell her dad what happened.

"Meg that is so wonderful!  I knew you would do well.  I'm so proud of you!"

By now Melissa was smiling ear to ear.  Her dad always did know just what to say to her to make her feel good about herself.

"Well Meg, I need to get back to work, but we will talk more when I get home, okay?"

"Of course dad.  You have a good rest of your day and I'll see you when you get home.  I love you."

"I love you too Meg, see you later."

She hung up the phone and without taking another look at her mom, she bounded up the stair to start her homework.  Usually homework wasn't something she enjoyed doing, but today was different.  Today she felt like she was on top of the world.  When she finished her homework, her father still wasn't home, so she asked her mom if she could use the phone.

"Yes you can, but please limit your time to ten minutes."

"Thanks mom.  Can I use the one in your bedroom?"

"I guess, just don't make a mess of the bed while you're in there."

"I won't.  Thanks mom!"

She smiled as she dialed the familiar number.


"Hello Mrs. Nelson, is Chris home from school yet?"

"He sure is sweetie, hold on.  Chris, phone."

"Thanks mom, I got it.  Hello?"

"Chris!  Guess what?"

"I don't know Miss Beth, what?"

"Oh come on, you have to at least guess."

"Okay, you threw water on your mom and lo and behold she melted on the spot?"

"Chris!"  She yelled into the phone as she started laughing.  When she settled down, she began again.  "As nice as that sounds, that's not what happened.  But it is something that's almost as nice as that."

"Okay, you're killing me here Miss Beth, just tell me already."

She told him about her awards and she could hear his grin getting bigger and bigger on the other end of the phone.

"Miss Beth, I am so proud of you.  I always knew you were good with numbers."

"Oh really?  And how did you know this?"

"Because when you came into my life, you added so much to it and now I consider it a plus to have you in my life."

"Oh my God Chris, that is so cheesy!"  They both laughed.  "Well, mom limited me to ten minutes and it's probably been that long already, so I'm going to go before I get yelled at.  I'll talk to you later.  I love you Chris."

"I love you too Miss Beth, take care."

They both hung up the phone but neither one realized that Mrs. Grey had picked up the phone while they were talking only long enough to hear them tell each other how they loved each other.  This was not a good thing as far as Mrs. Grey was concerned.  She had to find a way to limit the time those two spent together.  She knew that summer was coming up and she didn't want them to spend a lot of time together.  She had to find some way to keep those two apart.  The last thing she wanted was some guy in her daughter's life.  No, this wasn't good at all.


When she saw headlights shine across her wall she ran downstairs to welcome her dad home.  She almost tripped on the dog on her way through the kitchen into the living room, but she wanted her smiling face to be the first thing he saw when he came through the door.  She stopped and waited by the door and it seemed like an eternity until he finally opened the door.  "Dad!  You're home!"  She hugged him and then suddenly drew back.  "What do you have back there dad?"

Her dad brought his hands in front of him and flashed a smile as her face lit up.  He knew how much she loved sparkling grape juice, so he thought he would pick up two bottles at the store on the way home to help them celebrate.  He had first let Meg and Danny have some while they watched fireworks one year when they were both in elementary school.  She had taken to it right away and they had made it a habit to have it on July 4th and New Year's every year, and any other special occasion that required toasting of some kind.

"Oh Dad!  You brought me sparkling grape juice!  This is so awesome!  This will make a perfect addition to our celebration."  Meg grinned again and hugged her dad.  When she let go of him she turned around to find her mother giving her a nasty look.

"Hello Patricia.  How was your day?  Isn't it great news about our little Meg?"

"My day was fine.  And yes, I heard.  It's all I've heard about since she got home.  Well, dinner is ready.  Missy, if you will set the table, I'll get out some wine glasses and get dinner put on plates so we can eat."

"No problem mom!" Melissa said happily as she went into the kitchen to put utensils and napkins on the table.

Mrs. Grey looked at her husband.  "Henry, I wish you hadn't bought her some of that stuff.  You're making a big deal out of this when it's only a small thing.  This won't help her out in her future.  It won't even matter next year."

"I think it's a big deal to her Patti.  I mean have you seen her face?"

"Yes and that's my point.  She doesn't need to go get overly excited about something this small and trivial."

"How about we sit down, eat dinner and let her be excited just for a little bit."

"Okay Henry, okay."  Then she muttered, "but only for just a little bit, that's all I can tolerate."  She got out the wine glasses, called Danny downstairs and then sat down to what would be sheer torture for her.

She watched in amazement as Danny and Henry seemed to fall all over themselves trying to pay her compliments and tell her how proud they were of her.  It made her sick to see that smile of pure joy plastered on Missy's face.  Finally she resigned herself to sitting back and eating her dinner quietly.


Out of the corner of her eye, she watched her mother's stone face.  'Why can't she be happy for me?  Why can't she at least be proud of me?'  She shook off the questions and tried to concentrate on what Danny and her father were saying.

"I tell ya dad, Mr. Green really had me going for a minute.  I thought I had really botched it up."  She picked up her four certificates and showed them to her dad.  "Dad, can we put these in frames so I can put them up in my room?"

"Sure thing Meg.  I'll go out to the store tomorrow and look for some.  Then I'll help you hang them."  He smiled at his daughter.  She was so intelligent.  He was so proud of her.

The rest of the dinner was fairly quiet except for the toasts that Danny and her father made to her.  She stole looks at her mom, but she could tell that her mom was only going through the motions.  As much as she tried to stay or at least appear happy, this kept gnawing at her mind.  After dinner was over, she excused herself and said that she was going to listen to her radio and then go to bed.  "I think all the excitement of the day has finally gotten to me.  I'm tired."

"Okay Meg.  Sleep tight honey.  I'm so proud of you."

"Thanks daddy."

Danny followed her up the stairs.  "Beth, are you really all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine.  Well, it's just"

"C'mon Beth, tell me what it is."

"I just wish that mom had said she was proud of me."

"Don't you worry about what she thinks, dad and I are both proud of you.  I always knew you could do it."

"Thanks Danny, I love you."

"I love you too Beth.  Get some rest and try not to think about what mom thinks."

"Okay."  She walked into her room and closed the door.  She got into her pajamas and sighed as she laid down on her bed.  She leaned over to turn her radio on and attempted to let the music soothe her.  After ten minutes, she turned it off when she realized it wasn't helping matters any.

More than anything she wanted her mother to be proud of her, to like her, to LOVE her.  But to Beth it seemed like some unattainable treasure.

"What did I ever do to deserve this?  God, what did I do?  What can I do to make this better?  I'll do whatever it takes.  I just want her to love me.  But how can she love me when most days I don't even like myself?"  Melissa grasped her pillow tightly as the tears began to run down her face.  She finally gave into her grief and buried her head under her pillow until her sobbing ceased.  She whispered a small prayer before finally drifting off to sleep...'God, please let me wake up and be somebody else, anybody but me.'

Chapter 4
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