Familiar Gatherings

Prologue: Are You Ten Years Ago

"Truth or dare?"

"Gimme a second." All of us turned to stare at Mike. "I'm having a high school flashback."

"That's the point." When Jessica had first announced we were going to play truth or dare she hadn't been able to keep the smile off of her face. Thirty minutes later and we had yet to start—and her smile was wearing thin. "Ask again, Tyler."

"Lauren: truth or dare?"


Lauren didn't need to say anything; we all knew what she would pick. The best thing about being friends with the same people for thirty years was that you started thinking you had ESP because you could read their minds. Since Tyler was going first he was going to ask Lauren and she would pick dare. It was just the way things went.

"I dare you to go skinny dipping!"

Giggles erupted around the fire, just like they had when we were in high school. Like Jess had said, that was the point of this weekend.

"Too easy," Lauren complained. "Anyone takes my clothes and they die."

We had played this game far too many times over the years not to know what would happen next. But that was back when we were teenagers. Now that we were adults, mature and responsible, with families and mortgages and a list of household chores a mile long…

It took the guys two minutes instead of one to work up the nerve to take her clothes.

I brought a blanket to the water so Lauren wouldn't be too upset when she got out as the rest tried to muffle their laughter. Just because Lauren knew it was coming didn't mean she wasn't going to tell us how upset she was about it. At least she was calmer than she would have been fifteen years ago. Age had made us mellow—or maybe just desensitized us to each other's nakedness.

"Perverts," Lauren declared. "I'm going to tell on you all."

"Oh no," Eric dead-panned. "Not my mother, anyone but my mother."

"Just your wife."

The circle grew quiet as Lauren's threat became all too real to everyone.

"You're breaking the rules," Jessica snapped. She was still the shortest one of us by far, but when she stamped her foot her hair bounced so much you could be forgiven for thinking she was the tallest. "Forty-eight hours. No wives. No husbands. No children. It's very simple."

"I should go call the girls," Ben said, rising suddenly. "They won't be able to sleep if they don't hear from me."

"Sit down," Jessica insisted. "If anyone here should be worried about their children, it's me. But I don't care that the only thing between them and certain death is the brain-dead stoner from next door because I am not allowed to think about my children this weekend because anything that didn't exist in high school is not allowed in the circle. As we all agreed before!"

There were small murmurs from around the fire (I think Connor took Ben's cell) as Jessica regained control of the night. She was in charge this weekend because it had been her idea. Hers and Mike's, the way most ideas in our little group had been since kindergarten. Planning wasn't always their strong suit (though I had to do less planning than usual this time because Mike was a big camper) but they always had the best ideas.

"Where were we?"

Lauren spoke up: "Jessica: truth or dare?"

Without thinking, I mouthed the word along with Jessica.


"I hate my life."

"Don't say that," I begged Jessica. "It's not that bad."

"Yes it is."

The two of us turned to glare at Lauren, who didn't look guilty but put her drink down anyway. "I'm going to go now."

"Mike'll be back with something for the pain soon," I assured Jessica again. Outside the tent I could hear low murmurs as the others joked about our terrible, terrible luck. I think I heard Samantha mention they had marshmallows and then the voices grew fainter as everyone drifted away.

"You can go," Jessica said. "No point in both of us sitting here. Alone. And miserable."

"I don't mind staying."

"You're too nice, Ang."

We shared a smile. Jessica was my oldest friend—I sometimes said best to simplify things for other people even if that didn't begin to capture everything. I had other friends that I had more in common with and other friends I got along better with but Jessica had been my friend since the first day of kindergarten. No matter what happened to me, she was there. We had an understanding that went beyond just being friends. So when she said I was too nice I knew she was just saying thank you.

"I'm not abandoning you. What happens if I leave and your ankle just keeps swelling up and then explodes on us all?"

"Ew." But she was laughing. "You need to get away from your boys."

"Never. Now is there anything else I can get you? The ice should help the pain, but tell me if I can do anything else. "

Jessica considered for a moment. There wasn't much I could do for her in the middle of nowhere and she knew it. She settled for something ridiculous.

"Tell me a story."


"A story. Come on, Ang. My ankle is killing me."

I relented quickly. "What kind of story?"



"As long as I haven't heard it already."

"Is there anything you haven't heard?"

"You'll think of something." Trying to make herself more comfortable on the cold ground, Jessica continued with her list of demands. "Make sure it has some romance in it. You need a little romance in a good story."

"Romance. Okay. I can do that."

"And there should be some mystery, too. Something exciting."

"I can't promise exciting, but I think I might be able to do something you might not expect."

"And maybe throw in some dwarves or elves or something."


"Katie got me hooked on these books about rings and I'm in the mood for some more. They're kind of neat."

"Um...fantastical. Got it. Anything else?"

"Try to be funny, Angela. I know you have a bit of trouble with that but..."


She laughed. "Sorry, sorry. Okay, I'm done being a diva. Ready?"

"Well, there is one story I could tell..."

I probably shouldn't tell her; I knew I shouldn't tell her. Almost forty years of friendship meant that Jessica had earned my trust a hundred times over but not all secrets were mine to tell. Then again, after forty years the idea of not telling Jessica felt rather sacrilegious. Jessica knew everything about everybody in Forks but she didn't know all about me?

"Now, I'm pretty sure I told you about the time I hurt my ankle and met two shirtless men in the forest, but I don't think I ever told you the full story of how I got from that day to my wedding day."

Jessica settled down to listen as I began to talk.