Authors: Chelsea Camaron
When the little stick showed a pink line, I puked and Erin cried. Her parents immediately kicked her out and never got past it. With no job, no education, and nowhere to go, she moved in with my mom and me.
My mom was determined that we would both finish high school. Stepping up to help us in every way she could, she worked two jobs to cover daycare costs, and then spent many nights up with baby Brooke so Erin and I could study or do homework. I was a senior, and Erin was only a junior in high school. It wasn’t easy, but we made it through. Having a family to support, I graduated and joined the Army right after.
Leaving Erin and a barely one-year-old Brooke behind was hard, but I was focused on having a career to support us, not only a paycheck. My mom was supportive of my young girlfriend, helping out with Brooke as I was now gone more than I was home. Selection to Special Forces was hard, training even harder, but having my green beret was everything. I developed pride in myself, pride in my country, pride for my family, and pride in joining together with my brothers to give our all to something more than just ourselves. Young? Naïve? Yes, I was. However, drive, dedication, and commitment to my team were what pushed me through the realities of my situation.
I thought life was going well for my family. I was making something of myself in the Army, somebody my wife and child could be proud of. Erin was supportive during my deployments and missions. She was always quick to show me how much she loved me. And my mom was enjoying the time she spent with both Erin and Brooke, especially while I was gone.
Then the red-cross message came in while I was on a mission in Kosovo. When on a mission, communication to and from back home is limited, to say the least. There was no direct line to reach me. My mom followed protocol and used the red-cross to send the devastating news to my command, who then allowed it to trickle down to me.
Erin was hit by a drunk driver. D-O-A, dead on arrival.
She was nineteen years old with an almost three-year-old little girl at home, and just like that, she was gone.
The woman who hit her was leaving a kid’s birthday party with her own two children in tow. According to the police report, she admitted to having a few glasses of wine at the party. The toxicology report showed a blood alcohol level double the legal limit. Doesn’t matter what any of the reports say, bottom line, she walked away with only minor injuries and her children. Meanwhile, my daughter will never get the chance to really know her mom.
It’s the epitome of a fucked-up tragedy.
Brooke will never see for herself the way Erin used to smile down at her as she fell asleep. Tuck the blankets around her little body. Sing her a lullaby. Kiss her on the forehead goodnight.
She will never hear the melodic sounds of her mother’s laughter. God, I loved Erin’s laughter. It was loud and beautiful. Anyone who heard it either stopped and stared, or laughed along with her.
Brooke had no mom to explain her body to her. That was a nightmare for me of epic proportions. What man wants his teenaged daughter to ask him what an orgasm feels like? I still shudder every time I remember that awkward conversation.
She had no mom to do her hair for her first homecoming dance, or go dress shopping with her. Instead, I sprung for her to go to a well-known hairstylist and asked my mom to help her pick out a dress. I’ve already decided, for prom this year, I will give her my cash, and she can shop with her friends. When she comes home, she will twirl around in her dress, much like she did when she was a little girl, and I will tell her she’s beautiful.
Brooke will never be able to see for herself that she is her mother’s daughter. No, my daughter misses all of this and so much more, all because of the poor choices of one individual.
My mom stepped up after Erin’s death, practically raising Brooke until I got out of the Army three years ago. That was when my mom got the news of her cancer, and I had to step up. I had always been an active part of Brooke’s life while I was home, but then it was time to tackle twenty-four-seven single parenthood.
Needless to say, Brooke and I are still adjusting, especially after Mom lost her battle with cancer not quite six months ago. It has been hard, my lifestyle making it more challenging; however, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my baby girl.
Thinking about my mom and the influence she had on Brooke, I can’t help smiling. She did her best to teach Brooke, guiding her into young womanhood. She did not just instill in Brooke how to have confidence and be an independent girl, but also the basics around the house she was afraid I wouldn’t teach as a man.
“You could cook, ya know? Grams taught you to bake cookies and shit,” I remind my teen.
Brooke laughs her mother’s laugh. “Shit. If I cook, that’s what you’re gonna get for dinner.”
In my days in the Army, I had enough MREs—Meals Ready to Eat—and tasteless chow hall grub to last me a lifetime. There’s no way I want to risk a dinner that tastes that bad again.
“Steakhouse or Mexican?” I ask, turning to make my way back down the hall.
“Mexican,” she replies, running past me to grab her helmet, letting me know she wants to take the bike.
Spoiled rotten little shit. She knows I won’t deny her.
Looking at my phone screen, I smile at the text in front of me.
I’m off 2nite. Movie @ ur house or mine?
Texting back, I tell my best friend I will be at her house after work with takeout. It is not often she gets a Friday night off. Working in a bank, I have every weekend off. Casey’s career path is far different than mine, though, and it is one that requires weekend time.
My day drags on as I review current investment portfolios and market changes. I have the best job ever. I get paid to spend other people’s money as an investment broker here in South Beach. My life is sun, sand, and dollar bills.
Before going to Casey’s, I stop by my condo and change clothes. The down side to my job is the stuffy suits I have to wear: reasonable, past knee-length skirts; reasonable women’s dress pants; and reasonable button up shirts. I might hate them, yet in a sad way, the dress code fits my life—reasonable.
It’s not long into girl’s night before the difference in our lifestyle’s show.
“Damn, we’re not even halfway through the first movie, and you’re ready for bed? What the hell? Grandparents stay up later than you,” my best friend wakes me out of my doze.
“Sorry, some of us keep normal business hours,” I joke back.
“Yeah, your hours scream forty-two, not twenty-four, as does everything else in your life.”
“I’m not that bad,” I protest half-heartedly. However, that voice of doubt says “maybe I am.” Maybe my stiff upbringing has rubbed off on me more than I care to admit.
My parents raised me to be an example. As the oldest of three, I had to be the light to guide my younger sisters, Madyson and Mallory. Everything with my parents was about fitting the mold, keeping up appearances. Their brainwashing worked to some degree. Going away to college did nothing for me in my attempt to escape my overbearing parents, either. No, they live in my head, every rule engraved into my brain matter. Too bad no one warned me there is no cure and no escape once they get those rules engrained into your very being.
I am a twenty-four-year-old virgin. A college educated, suit wearing, have my shit together prude. Yep, that’s me. I wouldn’t know what to do with a penis if it was given to me gift wrapped in Christmas paper, and topped with a bow.
Morgan Ann Powell: pathetic, stiff, and borderline pseudo-old lady—that is me. I am, quite possibly, the only woman in her twenties who can count on one hand how many guys she has kissed. I am not cut out for parties, guys, or any wild times, either. My destiny is to be the old lady who lives alone, feeding all the stray cats in the neighborhood.
“I’m a loser.” Sighing, I look over to my best friend. “Sorry for ruining your night off.”
“Stop it! You aren’t a loser and nothing is ruined. I was dozing off, too.”
“Yeah, but it’s not often you get a Friday night off. Spending it on the couch with your socially inept friend isn’t an ideal night.”
Slapping my thigh, she laughs. “With everything I see at the club, a night in is heaven.”
Casey is my drop-dead gorgeous best friend. She also happens to be a headlining stripper at a local club, After Midnight. Her perky, full breasts; tiny waist; and hips give her the picture-perfect, hourglass figure. Her long, black hair is streaked in purple and teal, adding to the illusion of the wild woman she portrays on the stage. Her curves fall in all the right places, making her suited perfectly for optimal tips in her chosen profession. “Work with what you have been given,” she always says. And, boy, does she work. Inside, Casey is as calm and happy to stay at home as me, though.
We had two completely different childhoods. While I grew up with strict parents and an overly structured life, Casey grew up with an ailing grandmother. Her dad is unknown and her mom overdosed when she was six, leaving a young Casey with her grandmother. When Nana died while we were teens, Casey ended up in foster care.
She was fortunate. None of the horror stories of abuse and neglect happened to her in the many homes she was bounced between. The problem she faced was, at eighteen, she was tossed out. Sink, swim, or when all else fails, strip.
Casey worked a few of the nasty clubs to begin with. After Midnight won’t take just anyone off the street, and she had no dance experience whatsoever. It was hard to watch her struggle. She was at the lowest of the low to begin with, places where the girls aren’t given choices and anything goes.
Things changed when she got the job at After Midnight. The club has rules for the girls, and the patrons. She is well protected, paid, and actually enjoys her job. Other than the occasional drunk grabby guy, Casey doesn’t come home with bruises anymore.
I have offered for her to live with me time and time again, even in college. My parents paid for not only my education, but my apartment and expenses, as well. I begged Casey to come with me, and we would find a way to make it work for her. However, she is stubborn and independent to a fault and refuses any type of handout.
She wants to make it all on her own, and I applaud her determination. At the end of this semester, I will be there, proudly watching my very best friend receive her degree in sports medicine. She took the long, hard road less traveled and made it happen for herself.
She is a fierce beauty, a fierce woman, and she has fierce loyalty—everything I am not.
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