Waiting

"Amy!" Mrs. Lowler called up the stairs, wiping her sticky hands on a dishrag. "Lunch is ready darling!"

"Yes Mom," Amy Lowler called back absently. She stood in front of the mirror hung on the back of her door, critically surveying herself. Frowning, Amy smoothed down her tight black shirt, and twitched her baggy black pants, the ones with all the buckles and pockets, until they hung just right off her hips. She pulled at her bangs, trying to get the stubborn things to curl properly, and frowned at her reflection. Amy sighed, still unhappy with her look, but thought very quietly to herself that there was just no hope for it.

Shutting her bedroom door behind her, Amy started down the stairs. In the kitchen, she found her mother setting the platter of pancakes on the table and her stepfather, Adam, with his nose buried in the Saturday Times.

"Amy," Mrs. Lowler said, turning from the table and smiling at her daughter. "Please get the butter and the syrup."

"Yes mom," said Amy, going to the refrigerator.

"I have to run over to Mrs. Jared's for a moment," Mrs. Lowler continued. "I know you want to go out this afternoon so just go ahead and start eating while I'm gone."

"Yes Mom," Amy said softly, biting her lip as she watched her mother slide on her shoes and rush out the door.

"Where are you going?" Adam asked sharply, fixing his eyes on her.

"Out," said Amy quietly, not meeting his eyes as she sat at the table at the opposite end and quickly began to cut her pancakes.

Adam slammed his fist down on the table, sending Amy's plate flying off the table to shatter in a syrupy mess on the floor.

"Girl!" He roared, as he slammed his fist down on the table, and sent Amy's plate flying off the table to shatter in a syrupy mess on the floor. "I asked you a question and I expect an answer!"

A single tear slid slowly down Amy's face as she sat cringing silently, hands trembling in her lap. "I'm going to the bridge in the woods," she whispered, not daring to look up.

Adam slapped her open-handed across her face. Amy crashed to floor with a cry. She huddled against the dark cabinetry, crying softly and not looking at her step-father as he crouched over her.

"Ameila," he said, voice soft. "Don't lie to me."

"I'm. . . I'm not lying," Amy managed in between sobs.

With a growl, Adam grabbed her by her hair and wrenched her head back so that she was forced to meet his eyes. "Don't lie to me girl, or you are really gonna regret it. You made your mother's life a living hell, know that? Shoplifting and staying away from home days at a time, she was worried sick about you! Well now I'm here and all that is going to change. I am going to make your mother happy, and no ugly, fat, stupid little slut is gonna stop me! Understand!? "

Amy shut her eyes tightly, trying to stop the tears flooding down her face as she nodded.

"Good, Adam snarled, slamming the side of Amy's head in the cabinet before releasing his hold on her hair. "Now get out, and you had better be back before dark or else!"

Amy clung to the countertop as she raised herself unsteadily off the floor. Adam had turned his entire attention to the mess on the floor and did not watch as his step-daughter fled out the back door in tears.

The pasta was boiling over, splashing steaming water over the stovetop. The teapot was

screaming that the hot water was ready. The portable phone was ringing somewhere, misplaced again. Someone was ringing the doorbell over and over again.

"I'm coming!" Chris yelled, half running, half tripping, from the bed room, pulling on his

shirt and buckling his belt while fumbling with his black and white Nikes. Slipping on yesterday's unread newspaper, still in it's plastic sheath, Chris slid across the foyer still wet from his rainy entrance the night before and crash into the door.

Breathing like a winded bull, he pulled himself up and fumbled for the doorknob.

Kate was standing on the front porch in ankle boots, fashionably tight jeans, and matching faux shearling hat and coat. She raised one carefully shaped eyebrow when she saw Chris's bedraggled appearance and pursed her red-stained lips in a pretty pout. "I've been ringing for ten minutes. Having a bad morning Chris?" She stepped in as he open the screen door for her.

"Bad life," he returned, gasping for breath. "Bad freaking life."

Kate nodded in deep sympathy. "You gonna be ready to go in a few minutes?" She asked. "The Senior picnic started at noon, we're late already. You can't miss the first picnic of the school year."

Chris sighed, sitting down on the wet floor. "I don't know Kate," He said, tying his shoes. "It's Saturday and Amy-"

"For Christ's sakes," Kate cut in with an extravagated groan. "How long are you going to keep this up? It's been how long?"

"Six months yesterday," Chris murmured, not looking up.

"Chris. . . You need to let Amy go."

"No."

Kate sighed. "Why is the floor all wet?"

"It was raining last night and so I was wet when I came in. Neither me or mom felt like cleaning it up," Chris stood up and headed for the kitchen.

"Your butt's wet," Kate said, trailing after him. "Come on Christ, why're you making pasta? There'll be plenty of food at the picnic."

"I'm making lunch," Chris said, sliding his hands into the red and white checkered oven mitts. He lifted the spitting pot and carried it, holding it away from him as not to splash the boiling on himself, and poured it into a strainer in the sink. "I'm not going to the picnic, Kate. I'm going to the bridge."

"Chris. . ." Kate let her voice trail off as she watched him serve pasta into a bowl. "There isn't any talking to you, is there? You just won't see sense. I hate to say it, but, I told you so."

"Amy isn't like that," Chris said, not looking at Kate. He went to the fridge and grabbed a jar of cheese sauce. "She is coming back. One Saturday, she's gonna be at the bridge just like she always is."

"She hasn't been there for six months. She is gone, Chris. Got it? Gone. Get over it!"

"Thanks for coming by Kate," Christ grabbed a knife and fork and head for the table in the dining room. "I'll see you on Monday."

Kate sighed, but left with a roll of her eyes.

Chris sat down at the table by himself. He poured the cheese sauce over the pasta and then used his fork to thoroughly coat every piece. No matter what Kate and everybody said, Amy was coming back.

"The dust-bunnies kept me up last night," Amy whispered in Chris's ear. "I told you not to give them the left over brownies."

Chris chuckled, running his fingers through her sun-dappled dark hair. "Who knew that dust bunnies could get a sugar high?" He whispered, dropping a kiss on her earlobe. Amy giggled, hugging him tighter. The April sun shone down on them, warm and comforting. "If they hadn't eaten them, I would have and you know I'm watching my figure."

"Chris!" Amy gasped, poking him in the side. "Don't tease!"

Chris laughed, holding her close. "You're beautiful just the way you are, Amelia. You don't need to be watching your weight."

She laughed softly. "I'm only beautiful cause you love me," she said. "Only."

Chris shook his head. "There is no only about it, baby. You are b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l."

"Don't tease."

"I'm not."

Amy turned away, beaming too brightly to hide. "Chris. . ."

Chris laughed softly, hugging her tightly and smiling all around them. The bridge in the forest, down a hill or across a stream, was a happy place. On cloudy, rainy days, it was lit with sunbeams and rainbows. It was here, that life had begun, because life truly begins when you fall in love.

Chris remembered the beginning of his life, and remembered it well. The day had been a cool, but sunshiny Saturday in August. Whipped-cream clouds sailing lazily across an azure sea of blue had opened wide and angels had sung when, standing on the rough hewn boards of the rusting old bridge, Chris had first seen Amy coming from across the stream and his heart had done funny flip-floppy things in his chest. They had met in the center of the bridge, smiling awkwardly, the bubbling of rejoicing creek water and happy birdsong the only sounds.

He had never seen Amy before because went to two different highschools, Highbrow and Middleton, but the magic of the moment worked it's silent wonder and they there together on the bridge 'til it grew dark.

Every Saturday since, they met there. Sometimes, they would sit on the banks of the creek, skipping stones across. The moss was cool and springy comfortable beneath the boughs of the tower oaks and walnuts above them. Bordering on a state park, sometimes they would see animals coming to drink. They would bend their heads together and whisper, smiling in shared joy and awe as they watched a doe bring her fawn to the water. Quietly, hesitantly at first but with more rancor at finding it a shared a hope, they wished together that this be their future, to shepherd a new life into the world. They watched birds in the shallows, laughing until they cried at the puffed up little fellows antics and sharing the dream of having little birds of their own.

The new order of his life, Chris thought as he looked down at the girl in his arms, suited him just fine. Amy twisted in his arms to look up into his face.

"Am I beautiful?" She asked softly, eyes shining as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

"More beautiful then you can ever know," Chris whispered, smiling. Gently, he touched her cheek. "Amy, angel, wouldn't you tell me how you got this bruise?"

Amy didn't meet his eyes. "Please Chris," she whispered. "Please, just hold me and tell me that you love me."

"I love you," Chris said, and he bent his head over hers.

Amy stayed at the bridge long after Chris had left, watching the April stars through the outstretched branches of the trees. It was good to be alive, she decided. Very good right now. She didn't want to lose this feeling of goodness, of wholeness, of contentment in life that she found in Chris's company. Together in town, at each other houses, and especially here in the woods by this bridge, whenever his arms were wrapped around her, Amy felt safe for perhaps the first and only time in her life.

They had needed each other so much. His mother had been shattered when his dad left, and her mother was married to a man who hated his step-daughter with murderous passion. Amy hoped that she gave Chris at least part of peace that he gave her.

With a sigh, Amy hugged herself tight and leaned back against the bridge-rail. She didn't want to go home, didn't want to lose this peace.

"I thought I'd find you here," Amy started, her head snapping towards the voice. A man was standing in the shadows at the foot of the bridge. "Your mother is worried to death about you. You've been very bad Amelia, and I've told you before, home before dark!" Her step-father stepped onto the bridge, his glaring eyes never leaving her for a moment.

Amy began to cry. "Please Adam, please," she whimpered, huddling against the rail as if trying to make herself smaller. "I just forgot and-and it's so peaceful here with the stars and the moon. . ."

"It's peaceful at home," Adam said softly," without you. Charlene and I. . . We would be so happy without you."

"Mom loves me!" Amy protested, angrily dashing away her tears. "She needs me!"

"She needs me," Adam said, growling. "Just me."

Amy screamed. Adam yelled. A heavy fist made contact with a delicate face. A wild, desperate kick made contact with groin. There was a muffled oath from the man and the girl sobbed for breath. Then, a crash and a loud splash as two bodies hit the water. Strong arms wrapped around the girl, submerging her beneath the cold water. There was desperate splashing, which grew feeble, before stopping.

A limp body was carried to the bank and laid down. There was the harsh rasp of pebbles and the scrape of rock as a deep trench was made on the bank. The moon moved a distance in the sky, while the man dug and then lay the limp body in the trench before shoving peoples and coarse sand . The man groaned and cursed as he struggled to roll a huge boulder over the trench. He sagged against the rock for a moment, catching his breath, and then limped quickly away.

Then, there was only the mournful murmuring of the creek under the bridge.

Kate was alright, Christ thought, wandering down the hill towards the bridge. She was nice an cute an all, and he knew that she was willing and eager but somehow. . . Somehow he couldn't bring himself to move on.

Amy's mother and stepfather had the police looking for her, and had for the past six months, without a trace. Not a pip, not a squeak, not a blip on the radar, but Chris still clung to hope. He'd wait forever if he had to.

Chris stretched his neck for the first glimpse of the bridge. Butterflies started in his stomach. Maybe, just maybe, she probably wouldn't but maybe, just maybe, she'd be there today.

She wasn't.

Crestfallen, Chris wandered to his rock by the waters edge. He'd never really noticed it until after Amy left. Settling himself comfortably atop it, he turned his eyes to the creek, sliding past.

"I love you, Amy," he told her. "Kate's crushing on me, and she's nice, but she's not you, and it's you I want. I'm going to wait for you Amy. I'll wait forever if I have to. I am, and I will."

And so, sitting on his rock by their bridge over the creek, he waited.