How To Say Goodbye
Small towns are the perfect place to make friends, especially when born into one. Hope’s Nest is one such town, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else, and the only secrets anybody managed to keep were those about surprise birthday parties. With a population that had hovered around 2,000 for the better part of twenty years, it was where many of the tourists that passed through would hope to one day call home.
Katrina Dunn was born and raised in Hope’s Nest. Her parents owned a farm located only a short drive from town. Having lived on the farm for almost half a century, she had the kind of family roots many people longed for.
Growing up in the town meant making friends early on in life, the kinds of friends you’d eventually call life-long. For Kat, it wasn’t just one or two friends she called close, but six. Six friends who she would call the closest she would ever know. The girls grew up together in an endless cycle of sleepovers, birthday parties, and vacations that felt almost surreal, as if the subject of a storybook.
The seven of them would often come together after school, choosing one of their homes to hang out and do what all girls did growing up. Nothing could ever come between them, and it formed a bond many could never understand. But for Katrina, these were the best friends of her life, and nothing could ever change that.
Life on the farm seemed to provide the best of both worlds for Katrina, with her father working for several large internet-based companies as a freelance writer. Her mother didn’t need to work, although she kept busy with a part-time job at a local florist. The shop was owned by a close friend from her own school days and meant each workday felt more like the old times, but without the sleepovers.
With Kate’s Mum having to drive into town regularly, Katrina had the perfect opportunity to visit her friends. Often she was dropped off in the morning and then picked up again at the end of the day. The parents all knew each other, and it always felt as if one of their own children had returned home. That was the kind of upbringing each of the girls enjoyed, surrounded by friends and family and the people they called home.
Time passed quickly, and before anyone knew it happened, the 16th birthday party invitations began to flow, each inviting the rest to one of several locations. A few held theirs at the local diner, which had the reputation of serving the best pizza in the county, while Faye’s parents had hired a local hall.
But there was one place all the girls looked forward to each year, and that was Katrina’s birthday get-together. It was always held around the family’s swimming pool on the farm, an oasis of fun and excitement made even more memorable by Kat’s parents.
Her father had a habit of taking the girls for a drive on the farm’s massive John Deere, while her Mum always had the most delicious snacks, drinks, and treats to offer. But the part the girls loved the most about coming to the farm was the freedom. Neither parent would interfere with the girls, for the most part, giving them space to really let their hair down, get dirty if they wanted to, and be themselves. It was something they all looked forward to as each new year rolled around.
The day slowly disappeared from the sky as seven friends sat around the pool, the day’s activities far from over. Birthday parties had always been a crowd favorite for them, and this one was no different. “I still get so amazed every time I’m out here,” Faye said as Katrina offered her a fresh can of Coke. “Look at how bright the stars are.” Katrina paused, gazed up into the night sky as the fire crackled beside her, and tried to see something in what she’d looked at her entire life.
“I guess you just get used to it,” she replied to Faye and then to the group, “Anyone else while I’m up?” None of the girls spoke up, the rest continuing to stare into the flames of the open pit as music played in the background. The pool sat behind them, its gentle ripples lit up by the kitchen light where Katrina’s Mum was adding the final touches to her daughter’s birthday cake, the number 17 sitting atop. Rubi and Danni were singing along to “Fireflies” for the dozenth time that night as Katrina sat back on her sun lounge.
“If only I had a camera,” Faye said, sipping her soda. “That hill over there as the backdrop is perfect.”
“There she goes again,” Kellie said as her toes danced along the surface of the water. “Looking at everything as if it’s a damn photograph.”
“So? What’s wrong with that? At least I have a dream,” Faye responded, almost defensively.
“Calm down, Sister. She’s just jealous,” Susana piped in, looking at Kellie sideways as if annunciating her comment.
“Jealous? Of wanting to take photos for the rest of my life? No way, not this girl.”
“Really?” Susana said, shuffling a little closer to the fire. “So, share your big plans with us then?” The other girls all seemed to lean a bit closer at this, 7 faces lit up by the flames in anticipation of hearing her dream.
Although she was one of Katrina’s closest friends, Kellie was extremely introverted; speaking in a group environment was rare for her. Katrina couldn’t remember ever seeing her sit any closer to the front of a classroom than herself, her attempt to reduce the chances of being called upon.
“Once I’ve finished school, I’m gonna find myself a Kombi and just travel. At least once around the entire country.”
Faye giggled, realized that everyone turned to look at her, and clapped a hand over her mouth.
With the color rising in Kellie’s cheeks. “What? That’s a dream,” she said defiantly.
“How are you going to support yourself? You’re gonna need quite a bit of money for that little adventure,” Katrina said, sitting forward on her sun lounge.
“I know that Kat, but there are ways. A friend of my Mum’s did the same thing, and she was a masseuse. She would place adverts a couple of towns ahead and then have appointments already waiting for her when she arrived.”
“That is a plan,” Mouse said, the youngest of the group, pointing at Kellie. Her real name was Kristen but had been rechristened on her first day of school due to her nearly absence of eating, the morsels she’d consume barely enough to feed a mouse.
“I know, right? Like I said, that’s my dream. How about you?” Kellie asked, holding her hand up and gesturing for Mouse to take center stage.
“Drag racing. I don’t care what else I do in life. I want to get a car that will scream down a drag strip,” she said without hesitation, a couple of the other girls laughing out loud. “What? You guys said dreams, yeah? Well, that’s my dream. My Dad raced cars way back in the day, and, well, it’s in my blood.” Susana continued to giggle, and Mouse turned to her. “OK, so enlighten us with your life-long ambition then.”
Susana smiled, then stared into the fire long and hard, her smile seeming to grow as her thoughts bloomed inside, brightening her whole face.
“I just want a baby. Two babies. I just want to be a mum,” she whispered, still gazing into the flames as if picturing her future children. “One of each.”
“I just want to travel. Like everywhere,” Dani said from beside Susana. “Every country on this planet, starting with Greece. How about you, Rube?”
“Hmm, I dunno. Anything sporty, my Dad took me rock-climbing a couple of weeks ago, and that was so fun. Maybe mountain climbing? Not like I have to go far for that.” She waved her hand out like a game show presenter, staring out beyond the fence line. Hope’s Nest sat just a short 30-minute drive from Portland, Oregon, and the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range.
“Girls, the cake’s ready,” Katrina’s Mum suddenly called from the door, snapping them back from their conversation. The girls rose and made their way inside as Susana continued to stare into the flames, still lost in her visions of the future.
“Sue?” Katrina called from the door.
“Huh? Oh, sorry. Coming,” she said and quickly followed the others inside.
It was a chocolate mud cake that had no future once seven insatiable girls were unleashed upon it. Once the song had been sung and the candles blown out, Katrina’s Mum handed her the knife and watched as her delicious creation was carved up into slices. All but Mouse grabbed pieces as big as their fists, devouring the dark goodness by the mouthful.
Once the cake’s formalities were finished with, her Mum ushered the girls into the living room for the traditional “present parade.” The girls had left their bags in the hallway by the front door and now went to retrieve them. When they returned parade-like with the gang following close behind, Mouse and Susana carried between them something large wrapped in pink and gold decorative paper. The girls presented the gift to Katrina and placed it on the edge of the small coffee table.
“Just a small keepsake from all of us,” Mouse said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Susana kissed the top of her head and moved aside to let the others closer.
Katrina thanked each of them then began to slowly peel the wrapping paper from one of the corners, an act that always seemed to infuriate Ruby.
“Rip it open already,” she quipped, and Susana elbowed her gently.
“Let her do it her own way,” she whispered through clenched teeth.
“Fine,” Kat said and grasped the corner between her fingers, pulling it vertically across the face of the gift, revealing a large 8 by 12 photograph enclosed in a beautiful gold-edged frame.
“Oh wow,” she remarked as two of the girls held it back so she could admire it completely.
It was a photo of the seven of them, taken the previous year when they had won the volleyball finals. Katrina had been sidelined because of a twisted ankle and was the only one not wearing the team colors, now made special, she being the only one in a yellow top instead of the teal the rest of them wore.
“We thought this might be perfect ’cause you’re the odd one out’,” Susana said, and the others laughed, Sue clueless as to why until she recalled her words. Blushing fiercely, she said, “Sorry, didn’t mean it like that.”
“But hey, look,” Kellie said. “I’m the only one with a necklace.”
“Yeah, and I’m the only one with glasses,” Ruby added. They sat around, staring at the photo while reminiscing about the win that day, the culmination of their best year since starting their team 3 years prior.
“Thank you, guys, this means so much,” Kat said, rising and giving each of her friends a kiss and hug. Once gratitudes had been shared all ’round, the girls returned poolside, each to their previous spot, while Kat took the photo to her room. As she returned to the kitchen, her Mum was clearing the plates, and Kat reached for one.
“Katrina Dunn, don’t you dare pick up that plate,” her mother scolded. “You get right out there and enjoy your company.” Kat smiled, then kissed her Mum on the cheek.
“Thanks, Mum. The cake was amazing.”
“You’re very welcome,” she replied, continuing to stack plates.
The hours rolled by as the girls sat by the fire, Kat’s Dad stoking it with logs one final time a little after 11.
“If you girls need any more wood, there’s some over by the barn,” he said, then kissed his little girl on the top of her head. “Happy birthday, sweetheart. Good night,” and then to the rest, “Good night, ladies.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Katrina said, and the rest of them wished him a good night in return.
The conversations continued to flow as the seven friends discussed everything from babies to boys to school. Only one in the group wanted to continue past college. Ruby wishing to pursue her love of the sea and interests in Marine Biology. With Hope’s Nest not close to the Ocean, the others felt hurt when Ruby said she wouldn’t hesitate to leave and go on an expedition if the opportunity arose.
“You’d leave us all?” Dani asked, her tone mockingly sad.
“Guilt trip?” Ruby replied, tilting her head a little. “They don’t work on me, Sister. Although you could come with me.”
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we all ended up moving away? Like if in 20 years none of us remained here,” Dani said.
“What about our families?” Susana asked. “We wouldn’t leave them, though.”
“But what if they came? Or what if they instigated the move or passed away?” An eerie kind of silence descended over the group, the only sounds being the gentle crackling of the flames and a distant cricket, the soul creature out and about that night.
“Let’s make a pact,” Katrina said, breaking the silence, and they all looked at her. “You guys are the best friends I’ve ever had. Promise me that we’ll always return. At least once a year, we all come back.”
“To where?” Kellie asked.
“How about right here? Not like we’re ever leaving the farm,” Katrina offered. The others looked around, not just at the buildings that hovered just out of the flame’s glow but also each other. Katrina suddenly stood and held her hand out. “Promise we will always return for my birthday.” Kellie stood first, walked to Katrina, and placed her hand on top of Kat’s. Mouse came next, quickly followed by Ruby. The rest followed, and soon all seven stood facing each other in a circle, one hand on top of the other like a team making a pledge.
Each girl said, “I promise,” the glow of the fire lighting their faces enough to show that they all meant it. Kat looked at each, in turn, the moment feeling almost magical in nature.
“But Kat?” Dani suddenly said. Katrina turned to her curiously. “Don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but,” She paused for dramatic effect. And then she pulled her hand free and pointed to the horizon where the night was slowly being invaded by the morning’s light. “It’s not your birthday anymore.”
None of the girls could have known the pledge would hold as long as it did—the friendship seeds they planted.
A few weeks after Katrina’s birthday, Ruby’s father received a promotion that meant he had to relocate to Los Angeles. Her parents had been divorced for a few years, and her Mum decided to say. Hope’s Nest holding fond memories for her. Although pained at leaving her friends, Ruby was excited about the move. To be closer to the Ocean and her dreams. She assured them she’d return, reminding them that her Mum was still close by.
At that time, Dani had been away on a family holiday and could not wish her friend goodbye. Still, she called her several times the previous night.
Two weeks after Christmas, Kellie found out her Grandpa had died, and her Mum decided it would be best if they moved closer to her Grandma, who lived in a small town near San Diego. The following month they had left, their group now down to Five.
Mouse fell in love with a man she met in high school and moved to Maine with him once she graduated. It didn’t take long for her to become pregnant, and she had both a son and a daughter within a couple of years.
Both Dani and Susana moved away in 2011 for different reasons. Dani, who wanted to travel, joined the army, which surprised many, including her bewildered parents. She had various reasons for leaving, one of which she revealed to Katrina during a final get together the pair had the night before Dani left.
Susana was offered an opportunity to work alongside an up and coming author who struck it big with a novel about climbers in hostile alpine environments.
Daniel had entered Katrina’s life in early 2014, and the couple married within a year, Kat feeling like she was caught in a whirlwind romance that never seemed to diminish. She fell pregnant with their first baby a few short months later, and by the time that year’s reunion came around, she made the girls laugh with her baby waddle.
By 2015, only Katrina and Faye remained in Hope’s Nest, but even she wouldn’t stay forever. In November of that year, Faye’s brother was killed in a car accident while returning to the Nest for their parent’s anniversary. Robert had driven through the night, leaving Albuquerque the previous day after finishing work. In the following weeks, life became too hard for her, and she took a job as a secretary in New York City. The next year they made her redundant and moved to Washington, where her new boyfriend had begun work as an architect.
2016 turned into a year full of events with Katrina and Daniel welcoming a sister for Cooper. Piper was born just 2 days shy of their seventh reunion. Katrina’s parents had also decided to travel the world, gifting the farm to their only child and her family.
Dani retired from the army and moved to Florida to live with a friend, while Faye and her now-husband moved to Texas. To Katrina, it felt as if they had spread as far as the wind could blow them.
But no matter how far they traveled or what events shaped their lives, all 7 continued to keep their promise, always returning to the place where the pact had been made. They all remained faithful to the friendships that had been born in the little town of Hope’s Nest, a place where they knew that a small part of each of them would live on forever.
WE&P by EZorrilla
Special thanks to A Jackson.