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Room Mates

By Janet K. Brennan
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Part One, 1960-Camp Kettleford

The day began cool as only a mid-summer New Hampshire day can. Sarah Burke dressed in her madras shorts and white tee-shirt sporting the logo, “Camp Kettleford” across the front. Today was going to be a grand day! Today began their sleepover weekend and each girl would have their own cabin to share with another girl. It was, of course, not a great mystery who would be sharing this honor other than Natalie McCormick, Sarah’s best friend. They had grown up together through elementary school and now that they were getting ready to graduate and head off to high school, the two were even closer with the anticipation of the next four years. Sarah and Natalie were indeed joined at the hip. Neither one had ever taken so much as a summer vacation without the other one, and they knew each others most intense secrets. Now at age 13, they had made that step from Barbie dolls to boys in a graceful transition that brought joy and anxiety to both of them. This would be the last year at Camp Kettleford. They had both gone each summer from the time they were Brownies together in troop 23.. Sarah had been a bit reluctant to spend two weeks of her summer singing camp songs, raising flags and swimming in Lake Nut, which was stocked with the largest leeches in the world. It had been Natalie who wanted to go but would not take on the adventure alone and had persuaded Sarah to join in the camping experience. They had been nothing more than babies when both mothers escorted the two little girls to the camp bus each morning and met them at the end of the day. Before long, Sarah found that she enjoyed camp and looked forward to it each year.

There would be a dance to celebrate the end of the summer and the boys from across the Lake at Camp Jefferson would be joining them. A few boys had already asked their girl friends to go, but most of the boys would be winging it with full intention of spending a night in flirtatious bliss. That was the plan.

Both Sarah and Natalie had thought of nothing else on the days leading up to their weekend and the dance. Natalie’s old boyfriend, Michael Murray, would be going but she insisted that she would not give him a second look, nor a dance

“I don’t like him anymore, Sarah. He’s a nerd. I want to go to the dance alone and see if Bobby Hanscom will ask me to dance. He’s a doll!”

“Oh, right,” chided Sarah. “I know that you still like Mike.”

Oh, no, really. I want to go out with Bobby. You’ve read my diary. You know how I like him!”

And, in fact, Sarah had read every page of the journal and had to admit that it did seem as if Mike Murray was now a thing of the past for her best friend. And so, she saw nothing wrong in accepting an invitation from Mike to be his date at the end of camp dance.

Sarah was excited. This would be her first date, and first time going to a social function without having Natalie by her side; but Natalie had insisted that “It was time” and being more knowledgeable in the area of boys and life, Sarah felt her friend was probably right. And, the one thing that Sarah had not confided to her best friend was that she had always loved Mike Murray from the first day she had ever laid eyes on him waiting in line after recess bell. When Natalie announced that Mike was “hers”, she never again hoped for his heart, not even in her diary.

Friday night brought fair skies and a wonderful time for singing around the old campfire. As for Sarah, about the only thing she could think about was Mike and the dance on Saturday night. She barely thought to look for her friend Natalie but suddenly realized that Natalie had taken a long nap in the late afternoon and had not arrived at the camp fire.

“She must have over-slept” Running to the cabin at breakneck speed, Sarah was surprised to see a dim light inside and the sound of laughter emanating from behind the log walls of their temporary home. Peeking inside, she was even more surprised to see Natalie sitting on the edge of the bed with several of the other campers at her feet. They were falling on the floor in hysterical laughter as Natalie read to them from a book. Looking closer, Sarah knew that it was not just any book, but her diary that was causing the girls to fall apart in side-splitting laughter. Natalie was reading her diary out loud to them!

“Natalie, why?” was all she could manage to say in her wavering little voice that resounded with sorrow and betrayed.

With this, all of the girls jumped to their feet and made a quick exit from the cabin leaving only Natalie on the bed with her best friend facing her in tears.

Saturday night arrived but Sarah could not bring herself to attend the dance. She listened to the far away laughter of the other campers and the music which echoed across the lake. Natalie had gone with some of the other girls, and Sarah learned on the bus ride home on that last Sunday at camp that Mike Murray and Sarah had reunited at the dance and that they were now “going out” again.

“Oh well,” thought Sarah. All’s well that ends well, I guess.”

~~

Part 2 1966-Party of Six

This was going to be exciting! After four years of college and another two years of graduate school, Sarah Burke and her long time friend, Natalie McCormick were together again. They had weathered high school well and remained wonderful friends, double dating, sharing clothes and records, as well as secrets. Upon graduation, Natalie had gone off to New York University to pursue a degree in Psychology and Sarah stayed on in Boston at Boston University , and then on to George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C.. Upon graduation, they decided it was time to get a place together and found a charming loft that overlooked the River Charles. Natalie had procured a job with a small Doctor’s office located behind Boston Children’s Hospital, and Sarah had been fortunate enough to be invited into a young law firm specializing in family law.

Life was good. Natalie had set up housekeeping on one side of the spacious loft and Sarah took the other side. Both had wonderful views of the River.

Sarah was in love. For the first time in her life, she was finally at the point where she felt she could actually invest some time in a relationship. Busy as she was with her job, another young attorney in the firm had begun asking her to lunch. At first, she had declined, but his persistence and natty good looks won her heart even before she took her first bite of fettuccini Alfredo at Luigi’s on the River. This, of course, became their favorite place to dine. It was “their place”

Life had taken on a rosy glow and the two spent long sunny afternoons walking through the Boston Common or exploring antique shops down on Newberry Street. More often than not, they preferred to be alone but on occasion, they double dated with Natalie McCormick and her love interest at the time. Yes, life was wonderful! Then, on one Sunday afternoon, just as the leaves were beginning to change color along the river, Josh asked Sarah to marry him. He presented her with a beautiful diamond ring which she readily slipped on her finger. They planned a year engagement with a wedding the following autumn. It would be small. His family from Waltham and hers from Manchester as well as friends from the firm.

And so, on the spectacular evening in November, Sarah set the table for their engagement dinner. Using her mother’s Desert Rose pattern which had been in the family for years, she placed pink napkins and silverware in their proper places against a white linen backdrop. She was pleased with the white roses that Natalie contributed to make their table proper and finished. . Dinner would be at eight o’clock and with this in mind, Josh came to the loft an hour early to shower after an afternoon of racquetball with some of his partners in the firm. Natalie complained of a headache and decided to lie down for just a few minutes while Sarah put the finishing touches on the evening’s festivities.

At 7:45 Sarah decided which music would be right for the evening

“Natalie, do you mind if I borrow your Kenny Loggins tape?”

There was no answer coming from Natalie’s side of the loft and it occurred to Sarah that Natalie may have fallen asleep while resting. Making her way to Natalie’s bedroom, she was surprised to see that Natalie was not in her bed. Just as she turned to exit the room, she heard a slight giggle and whispers coming from Natalie’s bathroom. Could Josh still be in the shower? Opening up the bathroom door wide, Sarah gasped in shock. Through the glass of the etched shower door she saw two figures entangled in sex Quickly a sob escaped her throat and the shower door flew open and banged against the wall behind it.

“Oh my God, Sarah, let us explain,” came the guttural with lust voice of her fiancé as Natalie slipped to her knees to cover her nakedness.

Sarah could only think to run from the scene. Grabbing her coat and heading for the door, she was surprised to find both sets of parents on the other side getting ready to ring the bell. A broken hearted young lawyer disappeared into the night leaving her party of six far behind her.

Part 3, 2000-The Mystery

Sarah’s left ear hurt. It always did after her lengthy conversations with her best friend, Natalie. They had, had their differences over the years, but nothing that could not be worked out and forgiven. Natalie had been with Sarah through thick and thin. She helped with the birth of both of Sarah’s children and lent them money when times were tough. It seemed that was a long time ago, as both Sarah and her husband, Tim Schuman now enjoyed a life of financial comfort.

“Tim, is that you?”

“Yes, Babe…I came home a bit early tonight because I have to prepare for a deposition on Monday and I can’t do it at the office. Too many interruptions!”

Sarah watched her now aging and near retirement husband walk slowly across the living room and into his office. It seemed they hardly new each other any more. In spite of the fact that they had just celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary, Sarah felt they were noting more than room mates during these latter years of their lives together. They had raised two children, sent them off to college and successful marriages, traveled around the world, made it through three minor strokes, Tim’s, and yet. . .. . .

Sarah and Tim met at a cocktail party when Sarah was thirty. He had just come from a sad and unfulfilling marriage and she had yet to enter the matrimonial arena. Both were successful attorneys in their respective law firms and both enjoyed sailing on sunny Sundays in Falmouth or Martha’s Vineyard. They were perfect for each other and they knew it. Life in the early years had been wonderful and they had been desperately in love.

As the years passed, Sarah decided it was time to leave her firm and put her concentrations into her writing. Tim was more than proud of his wife and told her so often. He had always felt himself the lucky one to nab a beautiful woman who also possessed the quality most admired by an intelligent professional man, she was brilliant. Not only had she managed to have a successful career in law, but she also managed their household and raised their two children to be fine, productive adults. Now, her career as a novelist was taking off and even though he had to admit, he would have enjoyed a closer relationship with her, he was happy.

And so it was with good reason that he was shocked when he opened up his e-mail that night to find a letter from a name he did not recognize.

“Your wife is having an affair.” It said. Just that one line and yet it sent shock waves through his body and he gasped. Printing the message, he took it into the kitchen where Sarah was preparing a salad for their dinner.

Throwing her head back, Sarah laughed. “Now who would want an old, craggy woman like me?” She teased and he laughed, crinkling the paper up and throwing it into the trash. The following night he received another message.

“Your wife will be meeting her lover on the banks of the River Charles between Charles and Cambridge streets tonight at seven.”

That night, as he arrived home he noticed that Sarah’s car was not in the driveway and he immediately headed back into the city to see what he would find. Upon arriving at the designated location, he saw two individuals off in the distance. They held each other passionately and kissed. “Yes, it could be Sarah,” he thought. But he could not get a close enough look to be sure. Inching his car up the road to a better vantage point he gasped at what he thought he saw.

“My God,” he thought. “ I can’t be certain but I do believe that is Sarah!” How could this be? Everything he had worked so hard for all of these years could be gone in an instant. He loved her. Maybe he did not tell her that often enough. Tears filled his eyes. He had not cried since he had been a small boy and his mother had announced that Dad had been killed in a car accident

It happened just as he made the decision to exit the car and confront his wife, just about the same time as he was pulling his keys from the ignition. A sharp, knife like pain in the chest followed by intense nausea and sweating. “ This time it was the big event,” he thought. “ This time it was not a stroke…goodbye my love, Sarah. Goodbye.”

Tim Schuman, successful Boston Attorney, husband of Sarah Burke Schuman and father of two children, Jonathan and Leigh Schuman, was found slumped over the steering wheel of his black Mercedes. A woman identifying herself as Natalie McCormick and close personal friend of the family had been coming from a “meeting” with an unidentified, married man, found him.

Part 4, 2010-Grace in The Hills ,Manor

“You are going to love this place, Natalie! It is beautiful. Grace In the Hills, Manor is nestled in the rolling countryside just outside of Sturbridge, Mass. It has white picket fences, traveling rose vines and a wine cellar to match anything you could find in France. It is not anywhere near being a nursing home. It is, at best, assisted living.”

Natalie McCormick rolled her eyes and shook her head which still boasted of rich, auburn hair.

“But we are not at that point in life yet, Sarah. We have several years before anything like that is required.” Sarah threw her head back in her usual hearty laugh. “My dear old friend. You love to bury your head in the sand. You know it is something that we both need. And we will be roomies again! Oh, we won’t live in the same cottage, but right next to each other. I will be in cottage one and you will be in cottage two. We will be there for each other to make sure we take our medicines when we are supposed to, have dinner together, go into Boston for concerts and late lunches. All the things we love to do, just with a bit of assistance. What could be better?”

Sarah was certain that she had found just the right solution for she and her aging friend. Although both women remained in fairly good health, Sarah often needed her cane when going into the city and Natalie, although still quite fit, had been suffering from some dizziness and minor heart problems. They could both benefit from a darling place like Grace Manor

Natalie McCormick had never married. She simply had not found “the right partner” in life but claimed to always be “looking.” Sarah had been devastated by the loss of her husband, Tim and had decided that she would never give her heart again. She did accept the occasional dinner date and a movie , but had never considered taking a second husband. Both women had done well with their professions and Sarah had managed to sell several of her novels to Doubleday and Random House. Although life had its ups and downs and intense life changing sorrows, they had always surfaced as friends and gone on strong and healthy. Natalie McCormick had always been there with a ready shoulder to cry upon when Sarah needed it. ‘You know, my dear, according to Nietzsche, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And Sarah found that she had to agree.

And so, after much discussion and persuasive argument, Sarah convinced Natalie to take the cottages at Grace in The Hills, Manor. It was a wonderful arrangement with the two best friends living next door to each other.

Soon, the twosome became a threesome when Norman Bucholtz moved into cottage number three. He was a sweet man who liked to putter around in his small yard. Widowed for twenty years, he made it clear that he had no intention of remarrying and that made it all the more acceptable to both Natalie and Sarah. He loved the theater and late lunches in Boston as much as the two ladies did, and so he was often invited to accompany them on their excursions. Although he was fond of both women, truth be known, he was especially fond of Sarah with her classical beauty and her easy going ways. They often spent long hours on the phone laughing and reminiscing about the “days that were.”. Natalie never did seem to notice or if she did, never showed any jealousy as she was quite content with her friendship the way that it was.

One late autumn day, just as the leaves on the maple were beginning to turn their abundant shade of red, Natalie decided to join Norman in his usual walk down the narrow path that led to Dawson Pond.

“We are walking down to Dawson Pond, Sarah, why don’t you join us?”

“Oh, I would , but I am in the middle of something right at the moment. Perhaps I will walk down later and bring a picnic for us to enjoy. I will meet you there.”

And so it was agreed. Sarah brought her old wicker basket out of hiding, and filled it with ham and cheese sandwiches, hard boiled eggs and huge dill pickles. She pulled a bottle of her best chardonnay out of her wine cellar and made her way down the path to the pond. In a distance she could hear laughter and splashing and she hastened her pace to join her two friends. There ahead of her, through the trees, she saw them. Norman and Natalie, naked as the day they were born were born, skinny dipping in the cold water at Dawson’s Pond.

“Oh my!” Sarah said softly “Well, I won’t join them in that!” Then before she could turn around and head back to the Manor, she witnessed a passionate kiss between the two.

Sarah never said a word to Natalie about what she had seen. She felt that if her best friend wanted her to know, she would tell her. Besides, not a day later, Natalie came down with a hideous cold which progressed into a severe pneumonia. Although Natalie suspected it had been due to the unwise decision to swim naked in the cold water of Dawson’s Pond, she never said anything. Rather she tended to her friend and worried about her through the night, afraid that she might take a turn for the worse and that the pneumonia would effect her tender heart

The doctor had been to visit several times, each time listening to the sound of Natalie’s heart. “I don’t like it,” is all that he would say and left her medicine on the bedside table for Sarah to administer should an emergency arise.

“Natalie, I am here for you, dear friend. Not to worry. The Doctor has given me instructions and says that as long as you continue the way you are, you may remain at home. However, should you take a turn, you will need to be hospitalized.”

Natalie would lay there and smile faintly, nodding all the while secure in the knowledge that she would be fine in the good care of her friend.

Thanksgiving was quickly approaching and Natalie, although still spending most of her days in bed was improving. It was a cold, blustery day and snow had begun to fall blanketing the hills around the manor

“Oh Natalie, can you get up just a bit? The hills are so lovely. You must see them!

Slowly, Natalie raised herself to her elbow. At that precise moment, a sharp and stabbing pain enveloped her chest and spread down her right arm.

“Sarah, Sarah,” she gasped. “My pills. They are on the night stand. Please. I will be fine if you can just get one into my mouth.”

Sarah turned slowly from her perch by the window to see her best friend slump back to her pillow in pain.,

“Oh Lord, not to worry. I will get them. You will be just fine, dear. Hold on.”

Running to the bedside table, Sarah grasped the bottle in her hand.

“Oh, my….no. They have fallen to the floor and rolled under your bed. I can get them. Hold on. I don’t see them, but if I crawl under, I am sure I can find them. I will call Norman..”

The scene was a somber one at cottage number two that afternoon as the ambulance took the body of Sarah Burke Schuman’s best friend. She had tried to hold on, but as Sarah said sadly shaking her head. “I guess it was just her time. She had done much in her life, always there with me. Now it was her time.”

No one had been able to locate the bottle of heart medication, difficult as it had been for them to try to maneuver their bodies under the bed.

Norman left Sarah late that day, making certain that she would be “fine.” With the sound of the door softly closing behind her, and a long sigh escaping from Sarah’s lips, she slowly walked to the bathroom. Opening her left hand, she gently placed a bottle of heart pills on the side of the vanity. Running cold water and dousing her face until it felt refreshed and clean, she picked the bottle up with all of its contents and flushed it down the toilet, standing there until the last gurgle of drowning water could be heard.

The last rays of winter light disappeared and soon a half hung moon turned the hills into a winter paradise with its magical light. Sarah sat down to enjoy the beautiful scene

“Ah yes, good, sweet Natalie McCormick…she had indeed done much in their lives, some of it life altering. No matter what, Natalie was always there. It was just her time. Now it was just “her time.”

The End

(C)opyright 2007 Janet K. Brennan All Rights Reserved

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