Lovers and Friends
by KitLee

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters aren't mine.

A/N: The title comes from The Beatles song "There are places I remember." All of the chapter titles are also from oldies.

Chapter 1 - My Girl

Throughout my life, there's been only one friend I would truly call my best friend. One friend whom I could tell anything. And it wasn't Aaron.

Don't get me wrong, Aaron Shutt was a great friend; but Amanda Garrison was my *best* friend. My very best friend.

When I was a kid, she lived right next door. She moved when I was nine, and she was six. I can remember exactly how she looked that day. Mom made me take a casserole over to them, so I was avoiding her in the backyard. Suddenly, I felt acorns hit my head and heard a high, girlish giggle. I looked up, and there was Mandy.

I still don't know how she got up in that tree. She was small for six and looked younger; of course, she had a smart mouth and sounded older. That day, she was wearing denim overalls, a pink shirt, pink socks, white Keds, and a pink headband in her blonde hair. Mandy was the only blonde Jew I ever met, and somehow that made her even more rare and precious in my eyes.

Anyway, we exchanged words (me being, at that age, pretty much the same as I am now). She jumped from the tree, surprising me with her safe landing. Standing, she was tiny next to me. And ever since then, we were best friends.

It was an awkward begining, I know. Certainly not one that would suggest the creation of best friends. But I was lonely in the neighborhood with no other children, and Mandy and I grew close by necessity. Besides, Mandy was perfect for me. She tolerated my moods, teased me with immunity, and seemed to like me, faults and all. She could do or say anything, and I never got mad. On the other hand, I could be myself without fear of her ditching me.

Everyday - rain or shine, summer or winter - Mandy would climb over the fence separating our houses and wait for me in my kitchen. She would hurry me through breakfast, and then we walked to the bus stop together during school, or we played in the backyard during holidays. During the summer we spent every morning in the backyard practicing baseball - either catching or hitting. I hate to admit it, but Mandy (3 years younger and a girl!) was a much better athlete than me. Actually, Mandy was better than me at everything. (Don't tell anyone else that, espcially not Kate Austin.) She was a great student, quick and smart. She was a great athlete. She played the piano and sang beautifully. And she was outgoing and friendly.

Somehow, Mandy managed to find kids our age in the neighborhood, after years of my looking. They were closer to her age than mine - David Kessler, Keith Donnoly, Andrew Keegan, and Jason Asher - but we all played together, mostly baseball. They actually lived a couple miles away, so Mandy and I remained a duo.

It's hard to describe our friendship after all these years. Heck, it was tough even in the middle of it, when guys would ask me why I was friends with a little girl. What we had, though, was magical and rare. She was like my best friend, advice columnist, friendly rival, and kid sister all in one. In short, she was my everything. I loved her.

Mandy built this world for us, powered by her imagination and spirit. In it, nothing bad could ever happen to us. In it, even my mother's disapproval and pushing seemed to lessen. You see, Mandy had one of those rare, perfect families where everything is always . . . well, perfect. So her view of the world - all shiny, pink, and golden - spilled into mine; and Mandy could help me out of any mood I fell into. I realize now that we had a very one-sided friendship: I helped her with (some) schoolwork, and she helped me with everything else.

It worked fine for the first several years of our friendship. But then, the one time she needed me, I couldn't.