Chapter Nine

An Invitation

It was with a very full and heavy heart when I said my tearful farewell to Hannah at the end of that term. That had probably been the worst school term of all the years I spent there, even though Hannah was right with me all the way through it – I just knew each time I looked at her or spent time with her that she would be leaving, and there was always the chance that I would never see her again. America seemed so far away, and my best friend with whom I had grown to treasure and love so well, indeed, the first, true friend I had ever had all my life, was moving away to the far ends of the world (or at least, that was what it seemed to me). True, I still had friends in my roommates, Jas and Tammy, and there were other girls throughout the school with whom I had fun with, but Hannah meant much more to me than that. As I recall from another of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables, Hannah and I were very much like Anne and Diana in that we were 'bosom friends' and 'kindred spirits'. We both shared a love for reading, we enjoyed the same music, we took equal pleasure in fashion and shopping and both loved the same movies, and had the same favourite actors and actresses. Apart from the fact that we differed in the various aspects of studies in which we excelled and particularly enjoyed, we were alike in most areas of our lives. Hannah had grown to be another part of me, and now that she was being torn away from me it felt like a part of me was also missing – like a portion of me had been ripped away and left exposed and bleeding. It was the first time in my life that I had said 'goodbye' to someone I really loved, for I never knew my parents. They had both died when I was too small to have any recollection of them.

So although I still had friends at school with whom I shared happy times with, they could never fill the void that Hannah had left when her parents took her to live in the States. I missed her more than words can tell; but thankfully not even distance could cool our friendship! We e-mailed each other without fail every single day, even during the busy periods when we had school exams and lots of homework. To be honest, there were some nights when I would have to stay up extra late in a desperate effort to complete my assignments ready for the next day, because I had been to engaged 'chatting' to Hannah on MSN (at specified times of course, due to the different time zones we both lived in!), which was an amazing and very effective means for instant communication! I remember thinking how 'cool' technology was, especially for communication purposes!

And Hannah always remembered my birthday, just as I never forgot her. There was always a birthday card and small gift that she had sent for me all the way from California, with a small letter filling me in with all the news she hadn't told me previously on the instant messaging service! And without fail, Hannah would receive a small parcel from me on her birthday, so we never once forgot each other, or lost each other as best friends, despite the large ocean of water that engulfed the distance between us!

Indeed, the following year after Hannah left, I had a wonderful surprise awaiting me one fine Spring Day. It was just after the Easter holidays, which I had happily spent with Tammy's family back in East Yorkshire, when I had returned to school. After a hard day of lessons, and just before beginning my homework, I thought I would check my e-mails on the computer in the lounge. I was pleased to see an e-mail there waiting for me in my Inbox, and proceeded to read the contents with rising delight , which rapidly grew into incomprehensible joy when I came to the following paragraph in the e-mail:

O.K. honey, now here's the REAL bit of news for you! I asked Mum and Dad, and they said 'yes' if your Aunt agrees, and we would LOVE to have you this summer if you would like to spend the hols with us here in California! Dooooooooooo say YES! I know you're dying to see the sunny state where I live (oh, and I guess you might want to see me too! LOL!), so do hurry and ask your Aunt if you can come! (If she says 'no' then she's just about the meanest person in the world and I will write and tell her so!) So, don't delay and ask today! (Like the rhyme?) And get back to me real fast – I assure you I have turned into a real American girl since living here! You'll just love it!

Ton and tons of love and hugs, Hannah xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

I was laughing with sheer ecstasy when I read this, and also at the very typical 'Hannah-ish' language and choice of words in the e-mail. It was so like her, and it was almost like hearing her speak as I read it. Well, of course, I didn't delay as Hannah put it, and immediately wrote a very hurried e-mail to my Aunt, my finger flying over the keyboard with great speed and gusto. I then sent Hannah a reply, telling her how excited and grateful I was at her generous offer, and that I had sent my Aunt an e-mail with my urgent request, and assurance that she would gratify it, as I knew she didn't want me at home with her for the holidays!

I think I must have checked my Inbox that evening a dozen or so times for a reply from Aunt Carol, and each time I was disappointed. I spent that night in one long feverish and fitful sleep, waking and wondering one minute, half-asleep and dreaming the next. Would she say 'yes'? Would she let me go? Would Aunt Carol be willing to pay for a flight to America, even though she didn't have to pay for accommodation for me? The more I thought upon it, the more I felt that I would be disappointed. I kept telling myself not to raise my hopes, because they would only be dashed once I did that. I repeated inside myself several time: She's gonna say 'no'. Face it, Julia – she won't let you go! Anyway, life doesn't bring you all you want. Life is full of disappointments – good things like this just won't happen to me. And yet despite all this, there was a glimmer of hope within me that just wouldn't be distinguished completely.

It was with a rather distracted and preoccupied mind that I approached my lessons the next day. More than once I was reprimanded firmly by my teachers for daydreaming, which was unusual for me. I kept thinking about the invitation from Hannah, which sparked my imagination and I allowed myself to be carried away on its wings and try and visualize what California would be like, and what it would be like seeing Hannah again and what we would do together during the holidays; and then I would get to thinking about my Aunt and what her decision would be, and whether there was an e-mail waiting for me in my Inbox yet . . .

It wasn't until school was over that day that I found out the answer. With trembling and eager hands, and yet with a somewhat hesitant heart lest my hopes and dreams were to be thwarted, I signed in onto my e-mail account, and waited for the page to load. My heart was beating out of my chest, as I waited expectantly for my messages to appear. There it was! A reply from Aunt Carol was waiting for me in my Inbox, just waiting to be opened and read. There it lay – the e-mail that was to determine how I was to spend my summer that year, and whether I was to be reunited with the dear friend that been parted from me . . .