Sunday morning, I'm in the kitchen mixing instant chocolate pudding. I beat the whisk fast against the sides of the bowl. When all the lumps are out, I divide the pudding slow and evenly into four green plastic dessert dishes. Mom bought them yesterday at Bellair's. The Prezziosos are coming for lunch. Mom's convinced Jenny and Andrea would break her good dessert dishes, the etched glass ones her grandmother gave her. Jenny would do it on purpose. I cover each dish with cellophane and slide them into the refrigerator. My pudding is already in there chilling. Sugar-free pistachio.

After rinsing out the mixing bowls, I put them and the whisk into the dishwasher. It's a fight to fit them. The dishwasher is already crammed full. Mom's been cooking all morning. She's made a lot of food, especially considering that Mr. Prezzioso's bringing an appetizer and a green bean casserole. And now Mom's at the A&P again, picking up last minute ingredients. I check my watch. It's ten. The Prezziosos will arrive at twelve-thirty.

Mom said it was time for us to try again. "Us" being Mom and me and the Prezziosos. We all need to make an effort and if we all try hard enough, we can wear even Jenny down. I guess my slip on Christmas gave Mom renewed hope. This is a fresh start. A new beginning for a new year.

A fresh start.

I lean forward against the sink, staring out the window. The Pikes' backyard is empty, muddy from the just-melted snow. Yesterday, I caught Nicky Pike hiding inside our garbage can. He told me Mallory's leaving tomorrow for her fresh start in New Hampshire. Another fresh start. I wonder how many fresh starts a person gets. Mallory's already wasted two. And me, how many have I wasted? I don't even know.

I survey the kitchen. It's relatively clean. I've washed the new plastic plates and cups Mom bought for today. They match the dishes. I write Mom a quick note, then pull on my white parka and hurry out the back door. I slide across the Pikes' backyard, the soles of my knee-high boots caking with mud. I try to stamp it off on the porch, but it's thick and sticky. I unzip the boots and pull them off and set them neatly beside the door. Through the window of the backdoor, I see Mrs. Pike in the kitchen with her head bent down. Claire's standing on a chair beside her. I rap sharply on the window. Mrs. Pike looks up in surprise. I wave and she gestures for me to come in.

"Hi Stacey!" Claire exclaims, jumping and nearly falling off the chair. She and Mrs. Pike are rolling out pie crust.

"Hello Stacey," Mrs. Pike greets me.

"Hi Claire. Hello Mrs. Pike," I reply, stepping up to the counter. I fold my arms on the counter top.

"What kind of pie are you making?"

"Apple!" cries Claire. "There's already a peach in the oven. Can't you smell it?"

I nod. "Smells good."

Margo steps out of the pantry. I hadn't noticed her. She saunters up to the counter to stand beside her mother. "Hi Stacey," she says, coolly. She sounds like Mallory. "Anyone almost die at your house lately?" she asks.

"Margo!" Mrs. Pike says, sharply. "Please go upstairs and remind Adam to take out the trash."

Margo rolls her eyes, but retreats silently.

Mrs. Pike pushes her hair from her eyes, streaking flour across her forehead. "I'm glad you stopped by, Stacey. It will mean a lot to Mallory that you've come to say goodbye," Mrs. Pike says, then hesitates. "That is why you've come, isn't it?" she asks, as if it's just occurred to her that maybe I've come to borrow a cup of milk.

"Yes. Is she in her room?"

"Yes, she's packing," Mrs. Pike tells me. She glances at Claire, who's engrossed in sprinkling individual grains of sugar on the pie crust. Mrs. Pike returns her attention to me, looking very serious. "I've been concerned about you, Stacey, ever since that day you ran out of here. I'm sure you know I spoke to your mother."

"Yes. I know," I reply, quietly.

Mrs. Pike looks at me expectantly, waiting for more, and when it doesn't come, says, "I'm very sorry about your friend Emily. What a terrible accident." Thankfully, Mrs. Pike doesn't point out that terrible accidents seem to happen when I am near. "It's tragic to lose someone so young. Mallory liked Emily very much."

I suspect Mrs. Pike and I both know that's a lie. Mallory didn't like Emily at all.

"It is tragic," I agree. I sound very lame. But how do I voice my true emotions? Disappointment in my own shortcomings and failures, and the knowledge of what I did and didn't do. Those aren't things spoken in words. "Tragic," I repeat in barely a breath of a voice.

"Yes. Very," says Mrs. Pike, sympathetically. She gazes at me strangely for a moment, then says, "Mallory's downstairs. You can go on down. It'll be a nice surprise for her."

I nod. "Thanks," I say and head for the door to Mallory's room, the old rec room. I glance back at Claire and Mrs. Pike, who have their heads bowed once again, working the pie crust into a pan. I wonder if Mrs. Pike suspects something. I know I confused her that day, babbling about secrets and Emily Bernstein. I should have told her that day. Just as I should have told my mother or the Bernsteins or the Sterns. Anyone who would have listened, I should have told. I came so close so many times. I almost told them all. And again and again I backed away. Near misses don't count for anything. They are simply failures that should not have been.

I don't knock on Mallory's door. I just open it, like I used to, and walk down the stairs into her and Vanessa's bedroom. Mallory's back is to me, bent over a suitcase on her bed.

"Hey Mal," I call out, breezily, from the bottom step. I wait there for her to turn around.

Mallory turns slowly toward me. She's dressed very sloppily in baggy teal sweats and a stained SHS phys ed t-shirt. She's even wearing her old glasses, the ones with the red plastic frames. She's gained a few pounds. It looks good on her. "Oh. Hi Stace," she says, glumly, then returns to her packing.

"Let me help," I offer, stepping off the bottom step. "I'm an expert packer." I pick up the laundry basket from Mallory's desk and set it on her bed. I start plucking out socks and finding their matches.

"Sorry about Emily. She was such a...wonderful person," Mallory says. She pauses. "Okay, that's a lie. She was a total bitch. She rode me like I was some dumb mule to her crazy, tyrannical editing cowgirl."

I have no idea what that's supposed to mean.

"But she was your friend. For some reason. So I'm sorry," Mallory continues, then mumbles under her breath, "Sticking me on the freaking sports page. Making me do her stupid research..."

I set a pair of socks in her suitcase. "She shouldn't have made you work on the sports page," I tell her. "That was mean of her. It was just because she didn't like you and that wasn't very professional of her. You're a good writer."

Mallory shrugs, but I know it bothers her more than she lets on. "It doesn't matter anymore. I won't be writing for the Gazette now. Mr. Arden's still trying to woo back Julie Stern. I guess she's still really pissed about that Homecoming thing. Until he gets her back, Shawna and Mary Anne are co-editors-in-chief. I don't know who's worse, Julie or Shawna. I think they both have a little too much Emily Bernstein in them. It's good I'm getting out now," Mallory says a bit too insistently. "Altman Academy has a newspaper. I sent its editor-in-chief some of my Gazette articles. Of course, they're all stupid sports ones."

"That doesn't matter. They're still well-written articles," I say. Maybe the editor at Altman will treat Mallory better than Emily ever did.

"Mom and Dad are hoping that if I bring my grades up maybe I can get a scholarship next fall. They took out a loan to pay for this term. They say it's not too late for me. I can still turn myself around," Mallory tells me. "I've really disappointed them." Mallory stares into her open suitcase for a moment, then slams down the lid and latches it. "Want to see my uniform? It's hideous." Mallory crosses to the closet and slides open the door. She pulls out a burgundy plaid jumper and a white short-sleeved blouse.

I try not to make a face, but fail. "Ew," is the most polite thing I can say.

"I know. It clashes horribly with my hair. Look how long the skirt is," Mallory holds the jumper against her body. The skirt reaches mid-calf. "We have to wear this at all times. Even on the weekends. Even when we get day passes to go into town. Isn't that embarrassing? There's even rules about jewelry! Only stud earrings. And the only make up allowed is mascara and lipgloss! You wouldn't survive, Stacey."

"That's terrible, Mallory," I say, although I think that's just the kind of strictness and order that Mallory needs.

Mallory opens a second suitcase and begins stacking books inside. I smile when I notice several Saddle Club books and a well-worn copy of Misty of Chincoteague. "I haven't been to the school yet. Mom and Dad have, of course. The headmistress called me last week. She was very cheery-acting. It was really fake. I can see through people like that. She knows all about me. Mom and Dad told her about all my problems here and at Riverbend. She thinks she can save me."

I fold my arms over my chest, protectively, as if expecting Mallory to strikeout at my next words. "Mallory," I begin, soft and calm, "what happened at Riverbend?"

Mallory shakes her head, so that her tight red curls bounce side to side in their ponytail. "It's stupid," she says. "I was stupid."

I don't say anything. I wait patiently. Sometimes people need a few minutes of quiet to decide what to reveal.

"I fell in love with my writing teacher. Mr. Bowmen. He was married to the Latin teacher."

"So?" I say. Surely Riverbend doesn't object so strongly to teacher crushes.

"So? So, I thought he liked me, too. I told you, I was stupid."

I knit my brow. That doesn't make any sense. I pursued a teacher once, in eighth grade. I was naive and foolish, but SMS never would have thrown me out for it. Then it dawns on me. "Oh, Mallory! Did he take advantage of you?" I exclaim, hand flying to my mouth.

"No! Of course not. It wasn't like that," Mallory insists. She sighs and sits down on the edge of her bed. "I really did think he liked me though. He always praised my writing and encouraged me to visit during his office hours for extra help. He wanted me to enter a national short story competition for middle-schoolers. My crush grew and grew all through eighth grade year. I became sort of obsessed. And my friends," Mallory laughs, bitterly. "My friends told me he liked me too. They kept insisting and encouraging me. They convinced me to make my move at the end of the year. They planned it out and everything. I did exactly what they said. I am." Mallory stands again and continues stacking books inside her suitcase.

I close my open mouth that dropped in shock. "What did you do, Mallory?" I ask.

"It doesn't matter. Mr. Bowmen didn't appreciate it. He took me straight to the headmistress. The next day, I was gone. I'm sure my friends got a good laugh out of it. A great trick on their part. A real laugh riot."

"I'm sure they didn't expect for you to be forced to leave. They probably believed he liked you."

"I wouldn't know. It's not like any of them ever wrote."

"I'm sorry, Mallory."

"I don't want your pity, Stacey," Mallory grunts. "That's all you've ever had for me. Pity. I don't want it anymore."

I don't protest. Maybe she's right.

"Mom and Dad say it'll be different this time. They're wrong." Mallory tells me, bitterly. "They're cutting me off from everyone. They wrote out this list for Dr. Meadows - the headmistress - and I can only send mail to and receive it from those people. It's only my dumb siblings and my grandparents. None of them are ever going to write me. Mom and Dad just don't want Ben writing me. Or Benny Ott or Mara Semple. Or anyone else who might screw me up more. They're so optimistic, my parents."

"You haven't really given them reason to trust you," I point out.

"I guess not."

I watch Mallory shut the second suitcase and latch it. She drags it off the bed and sets it by the stairs. She does the same with the other suitcase. Then she stands in the center of the room, hands on her hips, surveying for anything she's forgotten. I can't stop pitying her, even if she doesn't want it. I try to remember exactly when we stopped being friends, when I realized I no longer liked her. She hasn't been my Mallory for a long time, the Mallory who was my friend. Odd, practical, slightly immature Mallory. I still catch glimmers of her breaking through that hardened exterior. She's there. Somewhere. I would like to know her again.

"Maybe I could ask your mom to put me on that list," I offer.

"Maybe you could."

Mallory and I don't hug goodbye. We don't even smile. We're not that kind of friends anymore. We're not any kind of friends. We're somewhere in-between, in the gray that blurs from friend to acquaintance. Maybe we'll always be like that. Maybe not.

Mom's in the kitchen when I get home, rolling chicken breasts in bread crumbs. "I decided to make chicken and rice instead of grilled salmon. You're right. Most kids won't eat fish," Mom says, looking up from the kitchen table. "What were you doing at the Pikes?"

"Saying goodbye to Mallory. She leaves for that religious school in New Hampshire tomorrow. It's supposed to save her, you know."

"Maybe it will. She's a very unhappy girl," Mom says, laying the chicken breasts in a glass pan.

"Yes. She is," I agree. I wet a rag and wipe up the bread crumbs that have fallen on the table.

Mom checks her watch, then carries the glass pan to the refrigerator and slides it onto an empty shelf. "A bit too early to cook that," she tells me, then washes her hands at the sink. She walks back to the table where I'm still cleaning up. Mom watches me, drying her hands on her apron. "Mr. Bernstein called while you were gone," she says.

My stomach sinks. I glance back down at the table and continue wiping, although the table is clean. "Oh? What did he want?"

"The Bernsteins found a Christmas gift for you in Emily's closet. Mr. Bernstein said for you to drop by anytime to pick it up."

I stop wiping the table and fold the rag into a small square. Emily bought me a Christmas gift? Like it was any other year when everything was normal? But then, Emily always did her shopping months in advance. That gift has probably been sitting in her closet, wrapped and ready, since May. I wonder if I should take over Emily's Hanukkah gift. I didn't know if I was even going to give it to her. It's a yellow and blue striped frame from Bellair's. I put a photo in it of our old group - me, Mary Anne, Emily, Grace, and Julie - from when we were still a group. The photo was taken last spring after a swim meet. Grace, Julie, and I are in our school suits, dripping wet. Grace's mouth is wide open because she was shouting at Paul Stern to not take her photo while she was wet. Mary Anne and I have our arms around each other, hugging and mugging for the camera. Julie and Emily are doing something weird with Julie's wet towel. It's draped over their heads with their faces peering out. Emily, caught in a brief moment of strangeness. Is that something the Bernsteins would want? Maybe it would just make things worse for them.

I wonder about that picture in Emily's bedroom. The one she had facing the wall. I hadn't thought about it until now. What was it about that picture that bothered Emily so? I'll probably never know.

"Are you okay?" Mom asks. She's watching me, concerned. "I shouldn't have told you. I should have waited."

I shake my head. "No. It's all right. Maybe I'll go over next week. Maybe." I can't see the Bernsteins yet. I don't know what to say to them. "Is it okay if I go for a walk?" I ask Mom.

"Of course. You should change though. You don't need to be walking around in those boots. You'll slip and hurt yourself."

My mother. A worrier to the end.

I race upstairs just as the phone rings. I hear Mom answer it as I reach my bedroom. I pull off the boots and my black skirt. I slip into an old pair of jeans, then slide my feet into ratty sneakers. I keep on my black and white Shetland sweater. It's thick and warm. I hurry back down the stairs just as Mom's hanging up the phone.

"Fay Blume and I are playing racquetball next weekend," she tells me.

I stop in the doorway. "You don't play racquetball," I reply.

"I can learn."

I cross the kitchen to where I draped my parka over a chair. "I don't think you should be hanging around with Mrs. Blume," I inform her.

"Why not?"

"I think she's a bad influence."

Mom laughs.

I slip into my parka and zip it up. "I think you should make up with Mrs. Pike."

Mom stops laughing. She frowns, deeply, and busies herself at the sink. "I don't think so, Stacey."

"You could try."

"I thought you were taking a walk?"

"I am," I reply. Poor Mom. All she wants is a friend. It's unfortunate she had to choose Mrs. Blume. "I'll be back before Nick and the girls get here," I promise and start toward the dining room. I pause and turn around. "When you and Mrs. Blume have your racquetball date be sure to tell her there wasn't an autopsy on Emily. I think she's interested in knowing that." I leave before Mom has a chance to answer.

I walk briskly down Elm. I pass Erica Blumberg's house. All the windows are dark. I turn down Reilly Lane and slow my walk. I was wrong. I shouldn't have spoken to Mom like that. Why do I never learn? The same mistakes, over and over. I stuff my hands into my pockets and bow my head, so the cold wind cannot continue its full assault on my face. I'll apologize as soon as I get home. As soon as I walk through the door. Mrs. Blume could like my mother. She doesn't have to have an agenda every time. And after all I've done, perhaps I am in no position to judge.

These are the sort of things I'll talk about when I meet Dr. Petrinski. She is my new therapist. The man Grace is going to see in Stamford, he is too expensive. But Mrs. Blume gave Mom Dr. Petrinski's number and her fee is more reasonable. Dr. Petrinski's office is in Mercer, so Mom says I don't have to worry about anyone finding out. I'm not worried. I know people won't think I'm crazy. Emily Bernstein just died. I have a lot to deal with, more than anyone knows, but I think Emily is enough for everyone.

I'll meet Dr. Petrinski in two weeks when she returns from vacation. I wonder what I'll tell her. Maybe I'll tell her everything. I'll start from the beginning and work my way through the autumn. But where is the beginning? Was it my dinner with Dad? Was it last summer when Mary Anne hid out at my house because she didn't want to share her car? Or was it when Emily Bernstein decided she could pray and worship her way into Georgetown? All our stories, my stories, have their own beginnings. We're connected, crisscrossing and intersecting, running in and out. Because we are friends. We will always be friends, at some past point in our lives, connected always. And where is the end? My story, my problems, don't end here. My life will go on. And I hope it will be happy.

I end up at Stoneybrook Elementary. I walk around to the side where the playground is. It's overcast out, making the empty school appear cold and sinister. I wipe off a swing with my gloved hand, then sit down. I swing slowly, back and forth, for awhile, thinking all the thoughts that are jumbled in my mind. I'm on the swing a few minutes, lost in thought, when I notice a silver car creeping down Kimball Street at a crawl of about three miles per hour. I stop swinging and stare. At first I worry it's a child molester surveying the playground for kids. Should I run and call the cops? Then the driver comes into view, hunched over the steering wheel, gripping it tight. I see the silver car is an older model Mitsubishi Eclipse. I sit in my swing, still staring, as the car comes to a stop (which it was practically at already) and the driver's side door opens.

Mary Anne climbs out. She locks the door, checking it three times, then satisfied, leaves the car and walks toward me. She's wearing her white parka, too. I haven't seen her wear it in a very long time.

"When did you get your license?" I ask when Mary Anne gets near.

Mary Anne glances over her shoulder, back at the car, as if she's already forgotten she drove here. "Friday. I only passed by one point. I think the instructor felt sorry for me. I'm only allowed to drive in the neighborhood. I can't go downtown, or drive to school when it starts. Dad's rules."

"Mr. Strict."

"Yeah," Mary Anne sits down in the swing beside mine. It rocks back and forth a little. "I went to your house. Your mom said you'd gone for a walk. I've been out looking for you. I caught sight of you on Forest Drive and followed you this way. It took me awhile to get here."

I wait for her to tell me why she's looking for me, but she doesn't, so I ask, "Are you going to Lauren Hoffman's birthday party tonight?"

"I wasn't invited."


Mary Anne nudges the damp sand with her tennis shoe. "My dad's in Minneapolis. He left last night. Some case is in trouble there. I'm staying with Grandma Baker," she tells me. "Sharon's in California. She wanted to spend the holidays with her real family. That's what she said. I hope she doesn't come back."

"I'm sorry," I say. What else is there to say?

"I'm sorry, too. Not about Sharon. I'm sorry about the way I've treated you. You and Emily and Grace and Julie. Especially you. Especially Emily," Mary Anne stops kicking at the sand. Her feet still, firmly planted in the sand. "We were supposed to be best friends. You and I. I wasn't a very good best friend."

"Neither was I."

"Honestly, Stacey, I don't remember why I got so angry with you. I forgot a long time ago. Some stupid reason. Something meaningless."

"I was keeping secrets."

Mary Anne chuckles, almost bitterly. "Secrets. Everyone keeping secrets," Mary Anne chuckles again, then rests her head against the swing chain, gazing at me. "I have a secret for you, Stacey."

Maybe I've had enough secrets. Maybe I am through with them. But curiosity and suspicion win out. Such downfalls. "What is your secret, Mary Anne?"

"You know, I think I was so mad at you because you kept riding me about Pete Black. All the time, you were asking if we were getting back together. It made me feel so guilty, I could barely breathe. Pete wanted me and I couldn't make up my mind. Because of all the guilt. I knew all about you, Stacey, about the things you did with Robert and Jeremy. I didn't believe it for a long time, but then I realized it was the truth. You made a mistake, but kept it from me. I made a mistake, too, and kept it from you. Do you remember last April when Dawn and Jeff came out for Easter?"

I nod. "Of course. Dawn and Sharon made it a mother-daughter vacation and didn't include you. You were very upset."

"Yeah, I was," Mary Anne agrees, sadly. "Things hadn't been good for a long time between Dad and Sharon. Or Sharon and me. She wanted me to be Dawn. I couldn't be Dawn and Sharon couldn't forgive me for that. After Dawn and Jeff went back to California, Sharon came to me mad. Dawn had told her something, in confidence, but Sharon had to spill. Dawn was dating some college guy, which wasn't a secret, and her stepmom made her go on the birth control pill. Sharon was mad, not because Dawn was on the pill, but because Carol thought of it first. Carol was a cool stepmom. Sharon wanted to be a cool stepmom, too. She took me to Dr. Wallingford. Have you ever been to the gynecologist?"

I shake my head.

"It was awful. I felt humiliated. Exposed. I nearly cried. Dr. Wallingford wrote me a prescription for the pill. I didn't want it. Pete and I had only dated a few weeks. We weren't even discussing sex. Sharon didn't care what I wanted. She didn't listen. She even had the prescription filled at the Bernsteins' pharmacy! I still can't look the Bernsteins in the eye."

I lay my cheek against the chain, regarding Mary Anne. "I don't understand, Mary Anne, why didn't you tell me this? We were best friends."

Mary Anne stares at the ground. "I don't know. I was embarrassed," she answers, simply. "I didn't take the pill. I hid them in my sock drawer. Then Pete and I got more serious. I really liked him, Stacey. I may have even loved him. Pete and I...we decided to have sex," Mary Anne confesses, still staring at the ground. "His parents were going out of town. I told him I was on the pill. I started taking it three days before. I was scared, but I kept thinking about you and Dawn. You've always been so much more sophisticated and mature than me. I thought about what you did in eighth grade when Logan and I were still giggling and holding hands. And I thought about Dawn and her college boyfriend and..." Mary Anne shrugs, but doesn't finish.

"I made a mistake, Mary Anne. A lot of mistakes. I wasn't mature or sophisticated. Just dumb."

Mary Anne shrugs again, sort of defeated. "It doesn't matter now. Pete and I didn't have sex. He backed out at the last possible second. Panicked. I cried. Mostly out of relief. Partially out of wounded feelings. I was there, naked in his bed, and he didn't want me," Mary Anne's shoulders quiver and she wipes her eyes. "I would have gone through with it, you know. I would have done it for all the wrong reasons. Because I was angry and jealous and stupid. Pete and I went to prom the next week, doubled with you and Jay Marsden, just as we planned. Then I broke up with him."

I remember none of us had a very good time at prom.

"You didn't have to keep that a secret," I tell Mary Anne. "I would have been there for you."

Mary Anne looks at me again. "I was so embarrassed," she says. "Dad found the birth control pills. He went berserk. I was so bursting to confess to someone, I told him everything. I think he wanted to murder Sharon. I honestly think he could have killed her at that moment. There was a huge blowout. Then they both started yelling at me because apparently, I was supposed to take the pills longer than three days before having sex. Dad took me back to Dr. Wallingford for a pregnancy test. I guess he didn't believe I hadn't had sex. Dr. Wallingford looked at me like I was a total moron who couldn't even take a pill properly. By then, Dad and Sharon weren't speaking to me. Sharon was furious that I ratted her out. She called me ungrateful. Then Dawn came for the summer. Sharon told her everything. Dawn laughed. It turns out, she hadn't wanted the pills either. She wasn't having sex. She told me I was stupid. That's why I wouldn't let her drive my car. That's why I hid out at your house all summer."

"Oh, Mary Anne," I sigh. "That's terrible. You should have told me. You should have." I am so lucky. Mom would never do that to me. Not even Samantha would treat me so coldly.

"I guess I should have," Mary Anne agrees. "I blamed Dawn and Sharon for a long time. Then I guess I started blaming you. I should have blamed myself. I realize that now."

"What about the bruise?" I ask since she's in a confessing mood.

"The bruise? Oh, that. I told you, I tripped over Tigger and fell into the banister."

"You mean, that was the truth?" I reply, surprised. I laugh. A grain of truth buried beneath the secrets and lies.

Mary Anne laughs, too. "What, did you think Sharon was beating me? No. She wounds in other ways."

"And that's everything?" I ask. "There's nothing more?"

Mary Anne hesitates. "Yes. That's everything," She speaks without conviction and I know there is more, hidden and locked away. Maybe I will know someday. And maybe I never will.

"I guess you and Grace are best friends now," Mary Anne says.

"I think I'm too old for best friends."

"Me too."

We fall silent. I rock slowly in the swing. "On Tuesday, Erica, Claudia, and I are driving to New Haven. I've saved enough money to replace Mom's coffee table. You know, the one that broke during Emily's party. You can come, if you like."

"Maybe," Mary Anne replies. "I leave for Shadow Lake on Thursday. Kristy got a new car for Christmas. It's a girls-only trip. Nannie and Elizabeth with all Kristy's friends - Abby and Anna, Greer, a bunch of SDS girls. Everyone except Shannon. She's gotten kind of weird."

I raise an eyebrow. I guess anything is possible in anyone. No one surprises me now.

"We're going to Vermont again in a couple weeks," I tell Mary Anne. "Me, Mom, and Nick."

"Who's Nick?"

I feel my face grow hot. "I mean, Mr. Prezzioso."

"You call him Nick now."


"That's good," Mary Anne says, nodding. "That's good."

"Yeah, I guess it is," I agree.I stretch out my legs and tip back my head, just as the sun breaks through the clouds.

The End

Author's Note: Now that BFF has come to an end, there are several people I must thank:

Emerald-Doll, my oldest friend in the fandom. You are a far better friend than I deserve. You have offered encouragement and advice throughout this entire story. You've been generous with your praise, as well as your criticism. You always set my mind at ease when I e-mail you portions of chapters, worried and stumped, and you reply with suggestions. You've pointed out passages that need editing and the story has been better because of you. Thank you, thank you.

Blanket Apologist, you've been apart of BFF from the very beginning. Literally. You read my first handwritten pages, full of scribbled out lines and cramped notations. You assured me that, no, it was not as bad as I suspected. You knew all the secrets before they were written. I vividly recall you doubled over with laughter after learning Grace's secret. I believe the words "I can't wait to see how you manage to make that not a parody" were spoken. Yeah, that certainly set my mind at ease. I also hold you indirectly responsible for the death of Emily Bernstein. But you know that. (Me and the world's smallest pony still miss you though).

My LJ f-list! Lioness Black, Marauder Punk, Piperrhiannon, Paris Marriott, Chelz22, OffKey,thank you for putting up with all my whining, ranting, and drama queening. Although, I suppose you all may have simply scrolled past those posts. And I wouldn't blame you. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and your occasional sympathy. You always let me know that even if no one else was, at least you were all reading.

My reviewers! Thank you to everyone who has left a review during the course of this story. There is truly no greater reward than to know that people enjoy what I've written. A lot of time and effort goes into each chapter and I'm thrilled to know it is appreciated. Thank you. And a big thank you to those who reviewed almost religiously. For those who have never reviewed...well? What is your excuse?

Thanks for reading!