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Girl Talk: Letters Between Friends Copyright Š 2016 by Vicki Hinze All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Characters and events in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is pure coincidental. Published by Magnolia Leaf Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-939016-17-1

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“Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.” —Cicero

⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ May 14, 1962 Dear Meg Ladner: My mother made me write this letter. She says I have to write four, just like Mrs. Hornaday, my English teacher, said. Is your mom making you write four letters, too? I don’t know how I feel about this. What good does it do to write to somebody you don’t even know? I mean, what are you supposed to say? I think the idea is stupid. But my mom says I have to do it, so this is it. She says I should write to you about New Orleans. That’s where we live. Well, it’s where we live now. We don’t move around much anymore, but we used to move a lot because of my dad’s work. He’s a royal grouch. My mom says he’s just tired because he works too hard. I think he’s just mean. Is your dad mean, too? I’m in seventh grade. I wish I knew what else to write. But I don’t, so that’s it. Oh, if you could write back, I’ll be your friend forever. Pinky promise. I have to write these stupid letters till I get four back and the next name on my list is Gilbert Kliensbeck. God, I’d slit my throat if I had a nerdy name like that! So write me, okay? Sincerely, Victoria Sampson

*** % Meg Ladner % May 24, 1962 Dear Victoria: I was glad to get your letter. Yes, my mom’s making me write four letters, too. I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we write each other four times, and then they’ll think that we’ve done this stupid stuff and they’ll leave us alone. Sign your next letter with a different name, okay? I’ve never moved. I wish we would. I hate Mississippi. It’s got too many pine trees and they shed. This really gross green mold gets all over everything. And there’s nothing to do here. When I finish school, I’m out of here. I’m going someplace exciting. New York, maybe. I don’t remember my dad. He died before I was born. But I’ve seen pictures of him and I think I would’ve liked him. He doesn’t look at all like Harry. That’s my stepfather. I hate him. But it’s okay, because he hates me, too. He’s always hanging all over my mom. Can I ask you a question, Victoria? I’ll write it on a separate piece of paper, because Mrs. Hornaday would stroke out if she saw it. It’s about Harry. Something he told me. He lies all the time. I told my mom but she doesn’t believe me. She just laughs and says Harry’s teasing. I could slap her. Harry is not teasing. Anyway, I’ve changed my mind about asking the question. It’s too embarrassing. Tell me if it’s okay to ask you something really personal, and I’ll ask it in my next letter, maybe. I hate math. I swear, when I grow up and get out of here, I’m never doing math again. Never. Do you like Sonny and Cher? Your friend forever, Meg *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘

February 10, 1963 Dear Meg: Hey, did you hear what’s going on? In three years, we’re supposed to land on the moon! God, it sounds terrific. We heard about it at school. My heart started pumping harder than it did when James Collins asked me to the Valentine’s dance. He’s only the most groovy eighth grader at East Jefferson Junior High. Do they have Valentine’s dances in Mississippi? I got a letter from a girl named Patrice Standish. God, I’d slit my throat if I had a name like Standish. She sounds like a snob, but she really isn’t. She thinks Sonny and Cher are groovy, like you. I like Barbara Streisand. I told Patrice to write to you. She’s got a grouchy dad, too. But at least hers isn’t around to hassle her much. He’s gone “on business” all the time. I think she must be rich because she said her dad has oil wells, or something like that. And guess where she’s from. God help her, it’s Texas. I guess somebody’s got to live there, but God, Meg, when you get out of Mississippi don’t go to Texas. Promise me. James Collins told me that all of the guys in Texas have big ones. Only girls from Texas can do it with them and survive. I’m not even going to visit there. And when we go to California this summer to visit my aunt, I’m not even peeing in Texas. James Collins says if a guy from Texas catches you with your pants down, you’ve had it. He’ll pop it to you right there in front of everybody. Do you think James is teasing? I did, at first. But he swore it on the Bible, and his dad’s a preacher, so I don’t think he’d lie. Do you? And what’s your question about Harry? You’re driving me nuts, bringing it up then not telling me about it for so long. I ask you what it is in every darned letter. Your friend forever, Victoria ***

% Meg Ladner % March 1, 1966 Dear Victoria, I hope your dance was better than mine. I’m driving you nuts? You ought to live with Harry. He’s awful. He got fired again. This time from the lumberyard. Mom says they laid him off because business is bad. But Bobby Jo Morrison, the guy who took me to the dance this year, says Harry got caught balling the big boss’s wife. When I told Mom, of course, she didn’t believe me. She took up for Harry, like she always does. And she put me on restriction for a month (except for the dance) for “having evil thoughts about Harry.” If she only knew. I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t care what Harry does, next time, I’m not telling her. Because Harry got fired, I had to wear a dress to the dance that my mom borrowed from the lady who fixes her hair. God, Victoria, I could have died. It was awful. Pine-mold green crepe and it had tiny straps with rhinestones, for God’s sake, on them. Bobby Jo was pretty good about it. We went down to Wolf Creek and parked after the dance. He kept biting on my neck. I swear that guy’s half vampire. Cute, but half vampire. Anyway, he got mad because I wouldn’t do it, and took me home. Just my luck, Harry was up raiding the fridge. This guy is so gross; he eats mayonnaise right out of the jar. Sick, huh? He does that all the time, and he’s naked. I hate seeing him naked, Victoria. I wish Mom would make him put clothes on, but she says it’s Harry’s house and that I should just look away. Anyway, Harry saw the hickeys on my neck. He called me a whore, locked me in my room, and he’s been on the phone, raising hell at Bobby Jo’s dad ever since. God, I hate Harry. I didn’t do anything, Victoria. It’s not right for Harry to say that stuff when I didn’t do anything. God, get me out of here! Take me anywhere . . . except Texas. Your friend forever, Meg

*** { Patrice Standish } May 1, 1966 Dear Victoria: I tried telling my Aunt Sally that I absolutely had to move out of Texas, but she just laughed at me. So I’ve come up with an alternate plan. I just won’t have sex or pee in public restrooms. How’s that? We live in Corpus Christi, and I’m hoping that’ll help. Corpus Christi means body of Christ, and I wouldn’t think a Texas man would pop it to a girl in a city named after Christ. I asked Aunt Sally your friend Meg’s question. A woman really can get pregnant without a man putting it into her! I couldn’t believe it, but Aunt Sally swears it’s true. And she never lies. My mother died six years ago, and my Aunt Sally is her sister. She moved in with us right after Mom died. She and Dad sleep together sometimes, but I’m not supposed to know it. Like I can’t hear them bouncing off the walls. I’d have to be deaf! I really love Aunt Sally, but she should love a man who’s around more than my dad. I think he was home in March. Or was it February? Anyway, he’s supposed to fly home tomorrow. Aunt Sally bought herself a pair of those new black fishnet stockings. Oh, boy. We both know what that means. Dad says we’ll do some things this time. But we won’t. He always means to, but he never has enough time. Are you going to college? I am. I’m going to study music, I hope. I so want to be a concert pianist. Then I’ll be the one always gone. I wonder how long it’ll take Dad to notice that I’m not here? Hey, have you heard from our fourth, Jackie Madison? I got a letter from her last week, but Aunt Sally says I can’t write to her anymore because she’s a Yankee. I’m going to anyway. I’ll put her envelope inside yours, and you mail it for me, okay? It’s not Jackie’s fault she was born north of Houston. To Aunt Sally, that’s the cut-off. Everyone north of Houston is a damn

Yankee. You’d think she was from Georgia instead of Vicksburg. She’s okay about everything else, but Aunt Sally is still ticked off at the Yankees for burning down her great-greatgrandfather’s plantation during the Civil War. Can you believe it? And she tells me I shouldn’t hold a grudge! Anyway, I’m enclosing a letter to Jackie. She’s in Washington, protesting the war, but she should be back after the 15th. And tell Meg to make Bobby Jo keep his teeth and his penis (pecker, she calls it) away from all of her body openings! Friends forever, Patrice Standish *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ June 12, 1966 Dear Jackie: Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is Patrice isn’t a snob or a twit and you really need to stop calling her one. She’s written you a letter and it’s inside here with mine. The bad news is about Meg. You need to write her right away. Harry, the sucker slob, tried to rape her. Oh, Meg stopped him. He didn’t get it in, but he played with himself until he squirted her down good. And wait, here’s the next to the scariest part. Patrice’s Aunt Sally says that Meg could get pregnant from that. Harry didn’t have to put it inside Meg! I know. You don’t believe it. I didn’t, either. But Patrice’s Aunt Sally doesn’t lie, and she knows about sex and stuff like that because she’s sleeping with Patrice’s dad. I guess he told her. Patrice didn’t say. Anyway, Meg’s having a cow about this, and, as usual, her mom’s siding with the sucker slob, Harry. I’d like to wring her stupid neck. Write soon to Meg, because she’s running away in two weeks. She’s waiting because Bobby Jo said he’d give her his entire paycheck from the lumberyard. Man, he must love her a lot!

Patrice says she’s going to college in the fall. Something happened. I don’t know what. She always wanted to be a concert pianist but now she says she’s going to be a doctor. Are you going to college? I am. I’m going to be a nurse, I think, since they won’t let women into the space program. Only men and monkeys get to orbit earth. I wish, Jackie, you would protest about that. About the grass. Yeah, it’s all over around here, too. James Collins smokes it all the time. He looks and acts like a fool when he’s doing it, too. He used to be really a groovy guy. But last Saturday night we had a date and we went out to the lakefront with a bunch of other guys. James was on about his third beer when he lit up. He got really mean, Jackie. Before I knew what happened, he attacked me! God, I was scared. He was so strong, and he didn’t seem to feel anything, and he kept mumbling something stupid about giving it to me. He called me a prick teaser, Jackie. Me! And he tore my blouse right off my back. I don’t remember exactly how it all happened. When he called me that I got so mad I couldn’t see straight. I beat the crap out of him. Keith, my brother Tom’s friend, held James down, and I frosted his cookies. Then I cried like a baby. I was so embarrassed. Keith took me home. He told me to stay away from James, that he was headed for major trouble. Keith was so nice. I cried and cried and he just held me. I don’t remember anybody else ever holding me while I cried. It felt kind of good. No, it felt kind of wonderful. Write Meg soon, okay? She needs us. Your friend forever, Victoria *** % Meg Ladner % November 2, 1967 Dear Victoria:

I know it’s been a year since I’ve written, but I had to make sure I was safe. Harry and Mom have hired a detective to look for me. I call Bobby Jo every once in a while to let him know I’m okay. Last time, he said Harry’s daddy died and left him a lot of money. I’m scared of Harry, Victoria. I wouldn’t tell that to anyone else, but I’m really scared of Harry. What he did to me was disgusting. I never, never want a man to touch me like that again! I’m living with Bobby Jo’s grandmother in Illinois. Guess Patrice’s Aunt Sally won’t want Patrice writing to me anymore, now that I’m a damn Yankee like Jackie. Bobby Jo’s grandma is nice. She doesn’t hold with swearing, drinking, or smoking, and she’s strict about going to church and to school. She has a stroke though, if you say anything about the Beatles. John Lennon is a demon from hell, she says. He really shouldn’t have said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Did they take the Beatles’ records off the radio there, too? Anyway, I don’t mind all that so much. There aren’t any Harrys around here. That’s the biggie. God, if it’ll just work out until we graduate in June! Tell Jackie I got her last letter. What exactly are equal rights? And who’s Betty Friedan? Jackie talked like I’m supposed to know. Bobby Jo sent her letter. I’m glad she’s studying law. If Harry finds me, I’m going to need a good lawyer. Bobby Jo says no one has the right to touch you unless you want them to, and I do not want Harry to touch me. I hope I can hide out until Jackie graduates. Bobby Jo has been so good to me. He’s really down right now because his best friend, Sam Walters, just got sent over to Viet Nam. God, I hate even the sound of the place. I haven’t forgotten about your brother, Tom, getting killed over there, either, Victoria. It gives me the heebie-jeebies about Sam. I told Bobby Jo that Sam ought to go to Canada instead. Lots of guys are. But Bobby Jo said that Sam won’t run. He’d never be able to come back home and that would break his mother’s heart. I don’t know. I think if I were a mother I would rather my son be alive in Canada than to have people shooting at him, or him being dead in Viet Nam. Wouldn’t you? I mean, this isn’t even our war, anyway, is it?

One day I’m going to pay Bobby Jo back for everything he’s done for me. I don’t know how, but I am going to do it, Victoria. Maybe Jackie will help me. She’ll be a good lawyer. She asks nine zillion questions in her letters. Well, got to close. It’s time for church. Tell Patrice to pray to God she gets out of Texas soon. I can’t stand the thought of what happened to me with Harry happening to her with a man from Texas. And pray for Sam. Your friend forever, Meg *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ August 25, 1967 Dear Patrice: You aren’t going to believe this. No, you’ll believe it. It’s just two months since graduation and James Collins is dead. Last night I had a date with Keith. He doesn’t make my heart go thump, but he’s so nice. Anyway, we went down to the French Quarter. Some guys renting an apartment down there invited us over. It was a screaming party. They did it right. Psychedelic lights, strobes, the whole nine yards. They even had a band. Anyway, James was there with Meredith Bates. She’s the drug fiend I told you about who balled the entire football team for winning the homecoming game. Remember? Her dad’s a cop. Well, anyway, Meredith had the stuff. Everyone’s saying that she dropped acid into James’s beer! He didn’t even know it. Keith tried to get James to go to the hospital, but James was really out of it. He wouldn’t listen. He stripped down to his shorts and was jumping all over the furniture. Then he found the balcony. Keith tried to stop him, but Meredith pushed Keith away and he couldn’t get to James

in time. “Let him go,” she said. “He can fly.” She was laughing and mascara was running down her face. God, she looked awful. James tried to fly. When he hit the street, I swear I heard his bones crunch. He was so bloody and twisted up. I’m still shaking. And, I swear, I’ll never forget it. Keith was wonderful. He held me for a long time. I love the way he holds me. I wish sometimes he’d do more than just hold, you know? We’ve been going together a long time. And he’s good to me like Bobby Jo is to Meg. Keith’s tender, and I like that, but he never tells me I’m pretty or that he wants me. What’s wrong with me, Patrice? People are making love everywhere like crazy—all around us—and Keith’s never done more than to kiss me on the forehead. Am I a dog, or what? I’ve got to go. James’s mother is here. How am I supposed to tell her that her son was drugged to the gills? I’m not going to. I know I should, but I’m not. I’m going to tell her that someone put the stuff in his cup—I did hear that, honest to God. If she finds out the truth about James, it isn’t going to be from me. Love, Victoria P. S. Keith just called. He’s on his way back to Arkansas and college. We’re going to meet in Florida for spring break. I’m so excited. Surely he wouldn’t want me to meet him there if he wasn’t planning on us being together. Would he? Keith’s a great guy. And he looks really boss in a Nehru jacket. Frankly though, I’d give my eyeteeth to see him out of it. But at the rate I’m going I’ll be the oldest virgin in New Orleans! I almost forgot. I’m on a diet. Have you seen Twiggy? Love, Victoria *** { Patrice Standish }

December 25, 1968 Dear Victoria: I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and it made me think of you. I just can’t seem to get everything done, and what I do get done, doesn’t seem to be done right. College is fine. Aunt Sally is fine. Dad is fine. I’m falling apart at the seams. I don’t want to be a doctor. I still want to study music. You know how good I am at piano. Well, I made the mistake yesterday of telling Dad I would love to study at Julliard. Now, he’s ruined everything! He told me this morning. He called “a friend” last night and I can start at Julliard next semester—two weeks. Hasn’t he ruined everything? Why did he have to call his friend? Didn’t he think I could do it on my own? He didn’t. He thinks I’m stupid. A silly piece of fluff that hasn’t got spit for talent or brains. I think I might just kill him for this. I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to know if I was good enough. Damn him! Victoria, I haven’t yet done it, so I can’t say much with experience or authority. But if getting yourself laid is so damn important to you, just go to Texas and drop your pants. Somebody will give it to you. Make the guy use a rubber, though. Loving, you want. Pregnancy, you don’t. I saw some slides of venereal diseases in class the other day that would have you swearing off men like Meg. Tell Jackie I got her last letter and to study her behind off in law school. I’ll write her when I’m in a better mood—if I haven’t landed my own backside in jail for killing my faithless father. I think I might stick with medicine after all. At least it’s mine and I’m doing it on my own. Yes, I’ve seen Twiggy—pictures of her, anyway. I’m down from a size ten to a seven. Aunt Sally thinks I’m sick or nuts to want to look like a twig, but I’m not. Friends forever, Patrice

*** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ January 1, 1969 Dear Patrice, So you’d give my cherry, (ah, excuse me, future doctor, my hymen) to a Texan, huh? Well, up yours. I’m still so excited I can’t see straight. Did you catch the flicks from Apollo 8? Imagine, an image of earth rising above the lunar surface. God, I wish they’d let women into the space program. It’s not fair, Patrice. Have you heard about aerobics? I’m heavy into them and looking more like Twiggy every day. I’m in a five, so eat my dust on that one. Keith says he doesn’t want me to lose any more weight, but I want to get down to a three. Then I’ll stop. I have little bones. Victoria *** % Meg Ladner % January 3, 1969 Dear Victoria: I’m crushed. Why did you tell Jackie about Harry looking for me? You know she thought I ought to go home and fight him. And you know I’m not like Jackie. She isn’t afraid of anything. But I am. I’m scared to death of Harry. You’ve fixed me good. Harry knows where I am. No, he didn’t find out from Jackie. Bobby Jo told him. But Jackie told Bobby Jo that I wished I could work things out with Harry. Damn it. Harry called Bobby Jo’s grandma. She couldn’t lie to him; she’s a Christian. And now he and my mom are on the way up here. I’ve got to run again. And I was damn near through junior college. Tell Jackie I said to keep her damn mouth shut. And I mean it. You, too.

Meg *** - Jacqueline Madison January 9, 1969 Dear Victoria: Oh God, I’m devastated. An institution died today. Can you believe that the Saturday Evening Post won’t be around anymore? That it’s history? This never would have happened if Kennedy or Martin Luther King were still alive. I still can’t believe King was killed. A nonviolent activist for peace and some stupid jerk shoots him. It makes me sick. Speaking of being sick, what are you doing, telling Meg that I told Bobby Jo she wanted to patch things up with the slob sucker, Harry? I do think Meg should fight him. Running again is as wrong as running was to start with. But Harry’s warped, and she can’t fight him while she’s living there under his thumb. She’ll be twenty-one in two weeks. Then she can tell him to take a flying you know what. Tell her I said that, okay? And next time, keep your mouth shut about what I tell you—and Bobby Jo. Got it? The crime rate has doubled in the last decade. Lots of work for lawyers. They made abortion legal in Canada, too. I’m gonna make a fortune. Forever, Jackie *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ January 11, 1969 Dear Jackie:

The Post died, but hey, we’ve still got Life! And I’ll bet Robert Kennedy runs for president. True, he’s not Jack, and he doesn’t have the vision of Martin Luther King, but Robert will do okay. Do you think that Teddy killed that girl? He says he didn’t. I want to believe him. Tell Meg yourself. I’m finally meeting Keith for spring break in Florida—only two years after our original date—and I don’t need this extra stress in my life. Calm, serenity, peace. That’s what I want, and I sure as heck am not going to get it from you guys. Handle your own hate messages, okay? As for Bobby Jo, you can tell him what you want, too. If you can find him, bless his heart. Meg says that his best friend, Sam Walters, got killed in Viet Nam three weeks ago and Bobby Jo freaked. Overnight, he turned hippie. Quit his job, bought himself a big Harley, and took off like a gypsy for parts unknown. He’s searching for himself, he said. I feel so silly. I didn’t know he was lost. I can’t wait until Florida. I just know Keith is supposed to be my first and that it’ll happen during this spring break. I bought one of those new see-through nightgowns. The sucker looks like Saran Wrap. Which reminds me. Ask Patrice what kind of rubbers I should buy, will you, Jackie? I don’t want any mistakes. Hey, did you see the moon landing? God, my heart nearly pounded out of my chest! Meg says she has something important to tell us all. I can’t imagine what it is. I hope to God it doesn’t have anything to do with Harry. Forever, Victoria


“And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” —Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ September 10, 1974 Dear Meg, Patrice, and Jackie: I know it’s been a long time, and I hope that this letter gets to you. I’ve missed you all so much, and so much has happened that I really don’t know where to begin. I guess at the last letter, hmm? Well, I went to Florida and met Keith. I bought all this sexy lingerie—no paisley and pink daisies for me. Aren’t these ‘love children’ weird? Anyway, back to Keith. When he met me at the airport, it was like something out of a movie. He scooped me up—he’s a very large man— and cuddled me. There’s nothing quite like being cuddled by Keith. He’d gotten a terrific job offer. He graduated from University of Arkansas that summer, if you’ll recall. Engineering. But there was a hitch to the job. His prospective boss, Malcolm G. Longwood, didn’t hire single men. You got it. Keith proposed. I wasn’t too thrilled that he wanted to marry me because of Malcolm G., but a lifetime of Keith’s cuddling sounded really good to me, so I accepted. We got married three days later. Meredith Bates streaked at our wedding and her dad had to arrest her. Boy, was he ticked. He wouldn’t bail her out, either, so Donald did. He took off for Canada as soon as he sobered up. That was probably the smartest thing he could have done.

If he stayed in New Orleans, Donald would get tickets from Meredith’s dad for breathing— forever. Officially, your return letters—God, I hope you’ll all write back—should be addressed to Victoria Grimms. Yes, Grimms, as in fairy tales, more or less. I know, I should slit my throat. But I don’t care what his name is, Keith is terrific. He’s doing great—still with Malcolm G.— and we’re living in New Orleans. College was a drag. Nursing was one bedpan after another. I hated it. Jackie, you can have NOW, and I know you’re spitting mad because Ford pardoned Nixon. But, even knowing that you’re on cloud nine about Roe v. Wade and I’m definitely anti-abortion, I’m turning over all my political inclinations on equality issues and governmental reform to you. I’m gonna be too busy to be bothered. I’ve decided to devote myself to nursing babies—mine and Keith’s. I’m proud to announce that our first is due in December. I think Keith is relieved. He was getting tired of the thermometers and command performances in the bedroom. I know you aren’t going to believe this. No, you’ll believe it. I had a hard time getting pregnant. Isn’t that hilarious? All those letters between us discussing the “best” brand of rubbers on the market, and I didn’t even need them! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from any of you. Please forgive me for past infractions and let me get started on making some new ones, okay? I expect, Patrice, that you’re in med school now. I heard on the news today about the Heimlich maneuver. Can you send me the instructions on it? As a mother (to-be), I should know this stuff. If you’re not in med school, I guess you did kill your dad and are now playing the piano in a Texas prison. Which is it? Are you nearly a doctor or incarcerated? Are you married, engaged? What? Meg. I know you’re upset with me about things, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I miss you. I’m not sure where to send this, but I feel like Bobby Jo’s grandma will see to it that you get it. What happened to you? Did Harry find you? Please write to me.

Jackie. You survived Woodstock and Watergate and Teddy only getting a two-month suspended sentence and a year’s probation. I figure you can survive another year of law school. Soon you’ll be setting up your practice in Pennsylvania. That was the plan—your own practice right off the bat. Is it still? Are you still involved with the sit-ins and peace marches? Knowing you, you’re demonstrating for or against something. I bought a bumper sticker for you a long time ago. It’s enclosed now. “Trust God—She Provides.” Knew you’d love it. What’s new with you? You’re all going to just die when I tell you this. I’ve planted an herb garden in our back yard. Me, who hated pine pollen more than Meg and who couldn’t have sex with James Collins in seventh grade because we’d have to lay on the grass! I’ve come to like gardening. It’s soothing, and you know me. I love being soothed. We’ll be moving soon. Keith designed us a house and it’s going to be grand. An old plantation style with all the modern conveniences. Your Aunt Sally would love it, Patrice. It’s outside of New Orleans, too, kind of in the country, and there’s a pretty lake on the property with an Artisian well. I can’t wait to get moved in. We’re trying to get it finished before the baby comes. The other day we were out there and Keith broke his level. He got really quiet, like he does when he’s upset. I filled a glass half full of water and set it on his board. There, problem solved, I said. He made love to me on that board. If my life with him is a dream, please God, don’t ever let me wake up! Whew! Back to the business at hand. Sorry I’m such a lousy groveler, guys, but come on. Forgive me, anyway. I need some sympathy. I have a wonderful husband, yes. But a god-awful name and I look like something out of a horror flick. A beached whale looks like a miniature next to me. God, I love being pregnant. You can eat whatever you want and not feel guilty. You can be loving or a grouch or a slob, and no one says a word; it’s expected. You can cry, scream, or sit silent and it’s all okay. I think I might stay pregnant straight through menopause. When exactly does that occur, Patrice?

Nearly a decade ago, we four vowed to be friends forever. I’m holding you all to it. I’m a fat prego. I can do that. Insist, I mean. So forgive me—now. And write. Love, Victoria *** % Meg Ladner % November 18, 1974 Dear Victoria, Patrice, and Jackie: It was so good to hear from you, Victoria! A baby—you? I can’t believe it. I’m so jealous I could spit. When I left Illinois, I met up with a group of men and women at the airport. They were very kind to me and offered me a place to stay. They were dressed kind of funny, but hell, who isn’t these days? Yes, Jackie, I know I should’ve known better, but I didn’t. If you’ll recall, I’ve lived a little more sheltered life than you have. Except for Harry. Anyway, it turned out that “home” was a commune and the owners were followers of Amuda. Jesus, I nearly died. I didn’t know what to do. If you know anything at all about cults, you know that they’ll let you into the commune, but they don’t take well to letting you out. I met this man named Hawk. Actually, I think it was Blue Hawk . . . maybe. Everyone just called him Hawk, so I don’t really remember. Anyway, Hawk latched onto me and kind of became my protector. Hell, he did become my protector. God knows I needed one. The Amudas have all kinds of rituals—especially for virgins. They weren’t at all appealing, at least not to me. I mean, who wants to be forced to marry a fat fart of a man with hair growing out of his ears and nose? Good God, I’d rather marry a Texan!

Anyway, I was summoned and told to marry Wilburt—that was the old fart’s name. He was ancient, too—at least forty-five. I started to refuse right off the bat, but Hawk warned me against it, so I stayed quiet. That night, Hawk slipped into the barracks and woke me up. We went outside and talked. I wanted out and he knew it. At first, I was afraid he would tell me that there wasn’t a way out, but he didn’t. He said that the next morning, we’d both be working in the fields, hoeing. That we’d break away then. And that’s what we did. There was a forest abutting the field. And when everyone was busy, we kind of slipped away. The problem came after we got away. No one chased us down. They might have come looking for us, but if they did, they didn’t find us. Still, we had enough problems without worrying about them. We couldn’t find us, either. Talk about lost! For three days, we wandered around the woods. The trees were thick and leafy. The sun couldn’t really get through, but it dappled the forest floor. It was always damp. We damn near froze to death at night and it was blistering hot during the day. We found fresh water and wild berries, and Hawk speared a couple of fish. He didn’t seem at all worried about being lost. He sure had the build for a mountain man. What a body! We were in the Ozarks, remember. And I was scared enough for both of us. At the commune, someone was always telling horror stories of escapees getting lost in the woods and never being seen again. But, all in all, there are worse fates a woman could suffer than being lost in the woods with Hawk. It wasn’t until the second night that we made love. It hurt like hell. I asked him if he was from Texas. He said he was from Maine, and I remember thinking to myself that no man from Texas could have been bigger than Hawk. But after the first time . . . (I’m sighing here), well, let’s just say that you’ve never been loved until you’ve spent a few hours in Hawk’s arms under a waterfall in the Ozarks. It wasn’t until later that Hawk confessed he was a detective Harry had hired to find me. I duped him at the Memphis airport, then split. Later, I called Bobby Jo’s grandma, and she sent me to her old friend, Jake. I’ve been lost deep in the Rockies ever since, working and going to college. I’m studying interior decorating, but I’m thinking of switching my major to

forestry. I’ve really got a thing for nature, these days. It’s hard taking just a course or two at the time, but with my job at the bank, that’s all I can afford and all I have time to take right now. You can quit laughing, Victoria. I well remember swearing I’d never again do math. Bobby Jo is back home, which is good. He’s just finished getting his business degree at Mississippi State, and he sold the Harley. I’ve met a man. He’s quiet, shy, a dentist, and special. But I can’t seem to get close to him without breaking into a cold sweat. Every time Jerry tries to touch me, I think of Hawk. Damn him for ruining me for any other man. One day, when I have the time and money, I’m going to find out where he is. It shouldn’t be hard. Harry probably hired him in Illinois, since that’s where we hooked up. But with Harry’s warped mind, who knows? Anyway, when I do find Hawk, I’m going to create a little mischief in his life to pay him back for what he’s done to me. Victoria, let me know when the baby comes! Your friend forever, Meg *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ January 27, 1975 Dear Meg, Patrice, and Jackie: This was my best Christmas ever, even though I missed the feast! At one in the afternoon, guys, your Godchild and my daughter, Bliss was born. She weighed in at seven pounds and ten ounces of pure love. It was incredible. Indescribable. Labor was god-awful. I cursed Keith for everything he was worth and then some. He just held me and kept saying, “I know, baby. I know.” When it got really bad, he swore he’d never put me through this again. He actually had tears in his eyes. God, I love him.

But by yesterday morning, I was warning him to get the thermometers ready and himself into the bedroom. Next year, we’ll be right back in labor and delivery. I think he liked the idea. Keith might be quiet, but he’s as loyal and as steady as a rock. If I want a dozen kids, it’s fine with him. Our folks and grandparents all came over and fawned over Bliss. Of course their praise was genuine; she’s a remarkable child. It’s been over a month since she was born, and to tell you the truth I’m getting itchy to get her daddy back into more than my bed. My doctor warned me about postpartum depression. But so far the only “baby blues” around here have been not mine, but her daddy’s. Keith might not have wanted me before we married—he’s terribly old-fashioned about sex before marriage—but he sure has made up for it since. I know I said that he was sick of the command performances, and he was. But once I got pregnant everything changed. He was so warm and loving and attentive, which is why we named our daughter Bliss. Being pregnant with Keith was Bliss. I really might stay pregnant straight through menopause, Patrice. Keith loves to look at me when I’m swollen-bellied. He rubs my tummy and growls, “Mine.” It’s adorable. My dad’s done a one-eighty since Bliss was born. You’d think I had conquered the world instead of giving birth. He’s been so . . ., well, nice. I’m glad he’s not grouchy anymore, but I still keep waiting for the proverbial ax to fall. Meg. If forestry is what you want, go for it. You only go around once, so make it worth the ride. A little stardust in your eyes is a terrific way to live. It’s healthy to be happy—no matter what anyone else says. Grab your star and hang on. If you’re half as lucky as I’ve been, you’re in for a hell of a ride. Patrice. By my reckoning, you’ve got about three and a half years left in med school, counting your residency and internship. I talked to my gynecologist about you and he says this is the roughest time. Be sure to take vitamins, not uppers, and drink Chamomile tea to stay calm. Cramming for tests is wicked, you need to relax. Back to the doctor. I told him you were hoping to specialize in pediatrics. He was duly impressed with your 4.0 grade point average and said he hoped you’d apply to his hospital here,

in New Orleans. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll get you some more info. Oschner’s is the name of it and, from what I saw, people come from all over for treatment. All of the doctors here are in an uproar because the insurance companies aren’t wanting to insure them against malpractice. Are you worried about that? Jackie. I imagine you’re on cloud nine or hovering somewhere in the upper stratosphere. I’m so glad your work on Ella Grasso’s campaign paid off. How does it feel to have helped elect Connecticut’s new woman governor? Did you cry? I hope you say you did. I swear, I’m beginning to think you’re a machine. You never get emotional. This is a really big year for you, what with Ella and finishing law school. When do you take the bar exam? Oops, Bliss is awake and demanding food. I might not be a nurse, but I am nursing. The bonding is beautiful. Forever, Victoria *** % Meg Ladner % February 14, 1975 Dear Victoria, Patrice, and Jackie: Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m thrilled to tell you that I narrowly escaped making the biggest mistake of my life. It happened today. I almost married Jerry. He was livid that I wouldn’t marry him, which I took as a compliment considering he rarely gets hyped about anything. At least I did, until Bobby Jo turned up and snatched me out of the church. It was very dramatic. There we were, standing in front of the preacher at the altar, and all of a sudden I got this sick feeling inside. I interrupted and told Jerry I couldn’t do it. And just then, Bobby Jo came storming in, grabbed me up in his arms, and hauled me out of the church.

He put me in his truck, then went back inside. He wasn’t gone long, and when he got back, I didn’t ask him any questions; he had raw knuckles and blood on his shirt. I know I should’ve told you guys what was going on here, but everyone’s so busy and . . . hell, I don’t know why I didn’t tell you, I just didn’t. No, that’s not true. I didn’t tell any of you because down deep I knew marrying Jerry was wrong. He was good to me, but Hawk’s still in my blood, and that’s the bottom line. Back to Bobby Jo. He had that same look he did when he sent me to his grandma’s in Illinois after Harry’s attack. So naturally, I kept my mouth shut and waited until he didn’t have murder in his eye to ask any questions. We rode around for hours, then he parked at this waterfall and told me why he’d done it. Can you guess what’s coming? Harry. Seems the slob sucker paid Jerry twenty thousand to marry me. God, I’m twentyseven and I’m still not free of that son of a bitch. Seems his plan was for Jerry to participate in the wedding and Harry would take over for the honeymoon. Since we’d planned a deep woods camping trip, it could’ve happened. God, my skin’s crawling just thinking about it. But, once again, Bobby Jo came through for me. If I didn’t love him like a brother, I’d marry that man. Anyway, I’m back at Jake’s and safe again. Seems like Harry either can’t find me here, or he’s scared to mess with me while I’m under Jake’s protection. More than likely, he can’t find me. Mountain folks are really closed-mouthed to outsiders. They protect their own, and because of Jake, I’m one of them. Bobby Jo’s been seeing your Meredith Bates, Victoria. Why did you introduce them? I nearly died. I was so upset about it. But he says she’s clean now. No dope, no booze, no whoring. He feels like she really needs him, and that’s awfully important to Bobby Jo. He promised me he wouldn’t marry Meredith for a year, though. Just to make sure she stays straight. Maybe I’m borrowing trouble, but I still don’t feel good about this. A friend of Jake’s came for a visit from California. He had an invention he wanted to patent but he needed money. Jake trusts him and gave the guy $200. So did I. It means overtime for a month so I’ll have tuition money, but hey, when I’ve needed help, someone’s always been there for me. I doubt anything will ever come of it. The stock is in the guy’s

company and probably won’t ever be worth more than the paper it’s printed on. It’s a new kind of game he calls video and he’s named it “Space Invaders.” I couldn’t help but think of you and your thing for space, Victoria. I took that as an omen that I was supposed to do this guy a good turn. Patrice. Go for the gold in New Orleans—but only if that’s what you want. Personally, I think Texas suits you. And Texas women, I hear, need Texas men. How’s Aunt Sally? Lord, the questions we put her through. Has she forgiven me for becoming a damn Yankee yet? Tell her I love her, anyway. Jackie. Study hard. I’m still planning on going after Hawk—when time and money permit. I know I’m going to need a good lawyer. Victoria. Just how many kids are you gonna have? Big families are definitely out of vogue, dear heart. Not that I think that makes a fig of difference to you. But what about Keith? I know you said he wants you happy. But if he’s so sexy when you’re pregnant, maybe he’s got a thing for pregnant women. On the other hand, tell me to shut up. If you and Keith want to have a dozen kids, well, I think that’s great. Just tell me Keith has a choice in this, okay? Then you can tell me to shut up and mind my own business. I just reread this and am convinced I’m as stupid as Patrice’s dad thinks she is. Of course Keith wants a dozen kids. He’d move heaven and earth if that’s what you wanted, Victoria. The man’s crazy about you. Which means he might just be plain crazy. Patrice, if you go to New Orleans, run a close check on Keith. I want to know the man’s every fault and flaw. God, I’m jealous. Forever, Meg *** - Jacqueline Madison June 21, 1975 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Patrice:

Well, I did it. I graduated law school and am cramming for the bar. It’s wicked, but I’ll make it. I’ve found an office in old Philly that I absolutely love. It’s a dump, but it won’t be when I’m done. As soon as I pass the bar, I’ll start practicing. I’ve hired a contractor to get the repairs and remodeling going. He’s married, an excellent builder, and a good lay, so there’s no worry about him getting lazy or possessive. Now I know you’re all going to pitch a fit about me seeing a married man—especially you, Victoria—but before you come unglued, let me state my rationale. Victoria, you have Keith. You love him, and he loves you and only you. He’s not the kind to sleep around, so don’t go getting sidetracked worrying that he will. He won’t. The only guys who do are those who aren’t getting what they need at home—and I don’t necessarily mean sex. I hear you asking how I can say something like that with such certainty. I can. I am certain. I’ve dated only married men all through college and law school. For me, it’s right. They’re the best dates. They’re fun, the sex is great, and there are no strings. Which is exactly what I want. For the rest of you, it wouldn’t work. For me, seeing married men is utopia. In a way, I guess I’m like you, Meg. You can’t get Hawk out of your system. I can’t get men out of mine. But I don’t want to marry—ever. I don’t want to be “the little wife” or a mother, and I don’t want to feel I have to answer to anyone. I’m selfish. Pure and simple. So this way’s best for me. Now, Patrice, I can feel that you’re worried about me and VD. Don’t. I know the risks, and I’m protecting myself. And I know what I’m doing isn’t harmless. One guy, two years ago wanted to leave his wife and to marry me. I disabused him of the idea fast enough, but he started following me every damn where I went. It was scary, but after I called his wife—not mentioning our affair, of course—she yanked his chain and brought him home for good. And, yes, I do know the legal risk I’m running here as well. I could be named corespondent in a divorce case. But I’m very cautious and very selective about my partners. So you can all see that I’ve really thought this out. It was in the plan from the beginning, and it’s staying in the plan. I won’t apologize for what I’m doing. This is my choice, and it’s right for me.

Now. The bar exam is in three weeks. It’ll be four more weeks before the results are in and I’ll know if I passed. So here’s what I expect from you guys: Victoria. Keep the chocolate chip cookies coming—with pecans. Tons of them. I need the energy. Meg. Tell me you went for forestry. That you love it. That the stock you bought was for ITT and not some goofball game called “Space Invaders” that’ll never go anywhere. ITT will make you rich. You can get revenge on Hawk. Though I feel compelled to add that I don’t think you should seek revenge. Have you heard the old Chinese proverb that says if you seek revenge, dig two graves—one for your victim and one for yourself? Patrice. Tell me that condoms protect a woman from all types of VD. And if they don’t, tell me what does—now! Love, Jackie


“True friendship is seen through the heart not through the eyes.” —Author Unknown *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ July 2, 1975 Dear Jackie: Nix on the married men. They’re all somebody’s husband. And there are too many singles available who don’t want to be tied down. Find yourself a stud who’s a confirmed bachelor and have a rip-roaring time. If you disagree, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this issue like we do on abortion. I’ll still be your friend forever—as long as you stay away from Keith. I’m not through with him yet. The cookies—a double batch with triple pecans—are enclosed. And I’ve got great news. I’m pregnant again. Keith is ecstatic and already paying homage to my body. And Bliss has ordered a brother and named him Tom. I’ve told her about my brother. Finally our guys are out of Viet Nam. I wish to God that Tom had been one of them who came home. Study hard, Jackie. When Patrice becomes a doctor, she might need you. God, people are sue crazy, these days. And Meg is still bent on getting Hawk. I thought your Chinese proverb was darned good, but you know Meg. She’s like a dog with a bone. I almost feel sorry for Hawk. She’s bound to make him miserable—when time and money permit. Keith and I have everything crossed for you on the bar exam. Tear ‘em up, friend. Forever, Victoria

*** % Meg Ladner % July 4, 1975 Dear Victoria: I wrote to Jackie today and I’m writing to you in the hope that you’ve not yet ripped her a new rear end about this married man thing. I know how you feel about it, but the way I see it, Jackie has to do what she’s comfortable with doing. Out here in the world of “unmarried bliss,” men do what they damn well please. Remember sucker slob, Harry? My point is, if Jackie wants to sleep with every married man who sleeps around, more power to her. She’s not out to bust up happy homes, Victoria. Speaking of questionable happy homes, Bobby Jo married Meredith Bates. I hope to God he bought her a chastity belt for a wedding gift. I started to, but I didn’t want to hurt Bobby Jo’s feelings. God knows Meredith will hurt him enough all on her own, and I haven’t forgotten where I’d be without Bobby Jo’s help. I did switch to forestry, and I do love it. I think I’ve become a sucker for mountains—and waterfalls. Why can’t I forget about Hawk? The man haunts me, Victoria. I thought maybe it was because he was the only man I’ve slept with, so I found myself a willing victim and checked out the theory. It didn’t wash. It’s him. Just him. Bobby Jo says my mom dresses like a queen and parades around Pine Cove in a pink Cadillac. I can’t see Harry giving her the money. He’s tight, even now. They’ve built a new house, a mansion, Bobby Jo says, near Wolf Creek. Every time I hear of Wolf Creek I think of that god-awful mold green dress I wore to the Valentine’s Dance in seventh grade. Remember? I think, too, of your James Collins. It’s hard to believe he’s been dead almost ten years. God, where does time go?

You’re pregnant again. That’s terrific. I guess Keith’s pretty fertile—even for a nonTexan. God, can you believe we actually thought all that stuff about Texas men was true? How Patrice’s Aunt Sally must have laughed. How is Patrice? Is her dad still trying to run her life long-distance? And how’s my godchild, Bliss. Still as beautiful as the photos, no doubt. Got to go. Time for work. Forever, Meg

P.S. I still hate math. *** - Jacqueline Madison August 15, 1975 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Patrice: Bow and grovel, ladies. I passed the bar. Yes, it’s official. I’m now a full-fledged doctor of juris prudence. My contractor and I celebrated Jackie-style with a dynamite dinner and night on the town and a terrific bout of sex in my new office. It’s ready and waiting and I officially open the doors tomorrow morning at nine. I can’t believe it. And I have to tell you guys that I wouldn’t have made it without you. Okay, that’s a lie. I would have, but you made the making it so much easier and better and sweeter. Now sue somebody so I don’t starve to death! Love, Jackie P.S. Victoria, the enclosed book is for Bliss. Someone has to tell the child that women can do things other than have babies!

*** { Patrice Standish } October 31, 1975 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Jackie: Greetings from Austin. I’m here working and I do mean working. Not much longer now and I’ll be an honest to God doctor. Sometimes it seems like it’ll never come. Sometimes it seems like I’ll never know all I should know before it does come. A paradox, I know. But it’s true. The other day a Congressman came to visit the hospital. I was given the plum assignment of escorting him around the facility. God, what a hunk. His name is Christopher Wendell, III. I know, Jackie, and you’re right. He’s heavy-duty right wing. But so am I, and you’ve been my friend for years. You’ll all like him. Not only is he tall and blond and gorgeous as all get out, he’s got a brain and a compassionate nature, too. He really cares about his constituents and the services we offer them here at the hospital. And he’s single. He asked me out. I want to go, but the guy has one flaw you’ll all understand. He’s a Texan! I thought about it—but considering I’m a Texan, too, and not at nearly so much risk as you non-Texans would be—I’m going. It’s for tonight. Dinner and dancing. Just looking at him makes me dizzy. I never thought this would happen to me! Wish me luck. I think this one’s a keeper. Love, Patrice


⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ December 25, 1975 Dear Meg, Patrice, and Jackie: Merry Christmas! Keith and I are in seventh heaven. On December 18th, Tom was born. Bliss is thrilled and mothering him to death already. And Keith is giving me those worried looks that say he hopes I won’t be nagging him into bed until the doctor says it’s okay. Personally, I think six weeks restraint is ridiculous. Four is plenty enough. Hell, in other countries, husband and wives make love during delivery, so what’s the big deal here about waiting six weeks? Tom weighed in at ten pounds, four ounces. He’s gorgeous. Has his father’s eyes and my nose. The folks are thrilled and Dad’s strutting around like a peacock. I don’t understand him. He didn’t like me when I was a kid; he was as grouchy as a cross bear all of the time. But these grandkids are something else. They do no wrong. And since I bore them, neither do I. Keith enlarged my garden area and, though it should be cold here, it isn’t. We’re planning a picnic down at the lake tomorrow. It’s so pretty there. All these moss-laden oaks draping over the water. So calm and soothing. In case you can’t tell, I love it here. Jackie. I’m so proud of you. And I think you’ll be the best lawyer in the world. What’s your mom have to say about all of this? Is she married again yet, or what? You haven’t said anything about her in your last three letters. Whether or not you realize it, there’s an established pattern there. Three letters and not a word about your mom means she’s married again if she was divorced, or divorced again if she was married. Before you balk, read your old letters. The pattern’s been exactly the same through three marriages. Patrice. So Aunt Sally’s still living in Corpus Christi with your dad. I’m glad he didn’t toss her out when you left home. Is she happy, Patrice? I’d hate to think that she isn’t happy. She was so good to all of us when we were growing up. She deserves happiness. Meg. I got a letter from Bobby Jo the other day and he tells me that you found a lump in your breast. I bet you didn’t even tell Patrice. Damn it, do you know what it did to me to get news like that from Bobby Jo, not knowing a thing about it? You must have been scared to death. Why didn’t you tell us? We’re your friends, damn it.

Bobby Jo told me the lump was benign. Thank God. And keep a close watch. My doctor is raising hell because I won’t let him “fix” me. He says I shouldn’t have any more kids for a while. I fully intend to ignore him, of course. I’m as healthy as a hog, so don’t start worrying. And Keith stuffs my face full of vitamins every day. He always has. Living out in the country, we get tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, too. Doctors are overprotective. Don’t be like mine, Patrice. Respect your patient’s wishes. I hope the next one’s a girl. Bliss is getting so big. I’d love to have another baby girl. They’re so cuddly. All babies are cuddly. So’s Keith. Merry Christmas, guys. Our love to you all. Forever, Victoria

*** - Jacqueline Madison April 10, 1976 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Patrice: I’m in trouble. I can’t believe this happened. I don’t understand how it happened. I’ve always been so careful. God, I hate this. I’m in love. I know. You can’t believe it. I can’t either. It’s outrageous! The real kicker is that he loves me, too. He’s a judge in New York. His name is Clayton Hughes. There are only two problems, but unfortunately they’re both major. One, Clayton has a wife. High-society and well connected, to boot. Two, I’m pregnant. I don’t know what to do. I’m angry and confused. I feel like my body’s betrayed me. The condoms certainly did. And I sure as hell don’t want to marry Clayton, so—especially you,

Victoria—don’t even start getting visions of me and him running through fields of daisies drenched in golden sunshine. Clayton is reasonably upset. His wife will never give him a divorce. And thank God for that. I don’t want her to give him one. The real question is the fetus. He wants it. And, God help me, I don’t. I’ve worked too hard for too long to have my plans upset like this. If you haven’t guessed by now, the reason Clayton is so upset is because I intend to abort the pregnancy. Patrice, please don’t tell Aunt Sally about this. It’s taken thirteen years for her to forgive me for being a Yankee. She’d never get over this. And, Victoria, I know this isn’t your way. But please try to understand that it is mine. I need your support. Meg. Talk to Victoria. You always were better at explaining my emotions to her than I was. I never thought this kind of thing would happen to me. Men were real, meant to be enjoyed but not needed. If Clayton walks out on me over this, I’ll survive. But, damn, will it hurt. Patrice. Just tell me one thing. How much pain does a patient suffer, having an abortion? Don’t fail me, guys. Not now. I need you. Forever, Jackie *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ April 20, 1976 Dear Jackie: I’ve talked to Patrice and to Meg. We’re behind you in whatever you decide. But we all agree that you need to stop and really think this abortion thing through. I guess I’ve kind of been elected spokesperson for all of us.

First, Jackie, right now you don’t want your life disrupted by a child. I can understand that. Having a baby, a child, an adolescent, around is disruptive. But it’s also wonderful. How will you feel about this ten years from now? Twenty years from now? On your deathbed? Will you regret this decision then? Second—and let me warn you, Patrice isn’t trying to seem cold, just honest—you asked her how much pain a patient suffers in having an abortion. The truth, she says, is that a patient suffers a hell of a lot less than the fetus. You can expect to be down a couple of days. Lots of rest. Lots of cramping. But then it’ll be over. She described the procedure to me, Jackie. If you have any inclination that you will be going ahead with this, do not ask Patrice to describe it to you. I’ll admit that I might be touchier about it because I’m pregnant right now, but I think even not pregnant I’d be disturbed. Third. Make sure that your decision is based on logic and emotion. You might bury them, but you do have emotions, Jackie, and they’re bound to rear their ugly heads and demand attention on such a strong and important decision. If you do go ahead with the abortion, be ready for the impact. Patrice says the emotional onslaught can be, and often is, vicious. Know that going in and you’ll do much better coming out. I guess that’s about it. Know that we all love you and we’re hoping that whatever decision you make is the right decision for you. Some of us, namely Meg and me, feel also that Clayton’s opinion in this should matter. He is the father. But considering that he’s married, and that you have all the other pertinent data we don’t have, we’ll leave that judgment in your capable hands, too, and support you in your decision—either way. Now, speaking just for me, I have to be honest. I can’t support the plan to abort your child. But I do support you. As a mother, I know how much children can enrich life. But I know that only from the standpoint of being a mother who wanted children desperately, and from the standpoint of having a warm and remarkably loving husband who also wanted children desperately. Your situation is different. I respect and trust you, Jackie. You can count on my support.

Forever, Victoria *** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ December 28, 1976 Dear Meg, Patrice, and Jackie: Congrats are in order again. This time on Miss Charity Grimms, who made her debut into this world on December 1st. She’s beautiful. Bliss thinks she’s wonderful, and Tom keeps trying to give Charity his bottle. One’s out of diapers now, and two are in them. God, I love being a mother. Keith’s doing great. Malcolm G. Longwood, showing discerning taste for excellence, promoted Keith to Chief Engineer. We’re thrilled, though it does mean he’ll have to go out of town on business about every three months. That shouldn’t be too bad. We’ve hired a housekeeper to help out around here. Her name is Hannah and she weighs in at about 200 pounds. The kids love her. I love her. She’s wonderful. My dad was over yesterday to inspect the latest little Grimms. He cried when he saw her. Talk about mellowing! I wish so much he’d been this loving when I was a kid. But at least he’s loving now. The kids think he’s a hero—second only to their daddy. Jackie. Since you haven’t answered any of our letters, I’m supposing that you went through with the abortion. Why haven’t you written? Didn’t I tell you that you had our unconditional support? What’s up? Patrice. What’s new with Christopher? Is he the one? Why are you being so closed mouth about him? Meg. One more year and you’ll have your forestry degree. I know how much you’ve struggled to get there. I’m so proud of you. Write when you can, guys. I miss you.

Forever, Victoria *** - Jacqueline Madison April 10, 1977 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Patrice: It’s taken me six months to work up the courage to write this. I’m really not ready to talk about it. But I’ll say this much: I had the abortion. Clayton left me. I hate myself. When I’m feeling human again, I’ll write. Until then, please leave me alone. Love, Jackie

*** ⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ April 11, 1977 Dear Meg and Patrice: Jackie’s in crisis. Don’t—I repeat—don’t leave her alone! Write every day until we can pull her out of this. Patrice, is Jackie’s reaction normal?

Write back right away. I’m worried sick, pregnant with number four, Hannah quit, and Keith’s out of town. Damn it, I want my belly rubbed! Forever, Victoria

*** { Patrice Standish } April 13, 1977 Dear Victoria and Meg: I’m writing this to both of you at once because I’m majorly busy right now at the hospital. People have gone nuts, killing each other left and right. I swear, we get at least a dozen gunshot victims a night. It’s enough to make a body push for gun control. (A mortal sin for a Texan.) What Jackie is going through is normal. She’s asking herself the “what if” questions now that we tried to get her to ask herself before she had the abortion. Clayton skating out on her didn’t help. I’m surprised at his reaction. I would have thought that with him having a wife, he’d be glad to have the “problem” solved . . . unless he didn’t have any children. Then his reaction would make sense. That said, Victoria, you’re right. We have to write Jackie every day for a while—just until she gets her feet back. This has thrown her over the proverbial cliff and until she remembers she’s a strong woman and that the abortion was her choice, she needs us. By my reckoning—knowing her reactions in past experiences—I’d say the trauma will last about four weeks. Maybe a little longer. After that, she’ll hurt, but she’ll be all right. Christopher is fine. He doesn’t let my father push him around and that’s one of the man’s nicest assets. We’ve considered living together, but nixed the idea because of his political aspirations. (Successful Congressmen do not live in sin . . . openly.) He wants to run for the

Senate next election. And though we’ve toyed with the idea of getting married, we’ve decided nothing firm on that. I want to finish school and get my practice established first. Got to go. They just paged me for—you’ve got it—another gunshot victim. Forever, Patrice

*** % Meg Ladner % June 10, 1977 Dear Victoria, Patrice, and Jackie: Hot damn, I did it! Graduated top of my class from the University of Tennessee. I can’t believe it. I really can’t. Bobby Jo’s grandma came up for graduation, and Jake was there. Bobby Jo drove up, too. He looks wonderful. He used to be so wiry, but he’s gotten into bodybuilding and I swear muscles just bulge out all over the man. Meredith didn’t come. Mainly because she wasn’t invited. Bobby Jo didn’t tell me until after he got here, but he divorced her last January. I should have bought the stupid woman a chastity belt after all. Not only did she commit the ultimate insult of sleeping around on Bobby Jo, she brought the man into Bobby Jo’s house. I’m surprised he didn’t kill them both. But he didn’t. He just packed up and left her. Now she’s calling his grandma every day wanting to know where he is and begging her to send Bobby Jo back home. Meredith can forget it. Bobby Jo doesn’t hold with playing around. He’s good to women, but he’s not stupid.

You’re going to verbally frost my cookies when I tell you this, but really my heart was in the right place. Bobby Jo looked so sad. I think he really loved Meredith. Anyway, we went down to Meyer’s Creek on a picnic so we could talk away from Jake and Bobby Jo’s grandma. He told me all about Meredith, how she’d hurt him time after time. This guy wasn’t the first one she’d slipped around with. Her daddy caught her with a guy a year ago and told Bobby Jo about it. I guess Mr. Bates thought Bobby Jo would straighten Meredith out or something. Anyway, Bobby Jo’s had a real tough year. The problem is he loved her. She knew Bobby Jo knew about the other men, and she taunted him with it. He’d never do anything to hurt a woman, but I swear I think he had grounds for putting her over his knee. So he moved into the spare bedroom, he said. I guess his pride wouldn’t let him leave her right away. Everyone knew what she was doing, of course, and they’d all warned him not to marry her because she would run around on him to start with. So Bobby Jo just moved into another bedroom. Then Meredith started these games. She’d slip into his bed in the middle of the night and seduce him. Well, a stiff pecker has no conscience, and a man’s a man. If it’s offered, nine times out of ten—especially on being awakened in the middle of the night—he’s going to take it. Bobby Jo wasn’t any different. He took it. Meredith swore she’d straighten out, she’d be faithful from then on. He wanted to believe her. But as soon as he forgave her, she started running around again. He caught her and moved back into the guest room. This got to be a vicious circle. Meredith slipping in, seducing him, begging for forgiveness. And Bobby Jo forgiving her, then catching her running around again. Anyway, the upshot is that she started bragging about her other lovers to him. That’s when Bobby Jo decided he’d had enough. He packed his stuff and came up here. At the picnic, by the time he finished telling me about all of this, I was crying. He was so hurt. So betrayed. I felt sorry for him and I hurt for him. We were quiet for a long time, then. It got dark. We were laying on the blanket, looking up at the stars and listening to the crickets. Then he dropped the bomb.

When Meredith started comparing him to her other lovers, Bobby Jo became impotent. She laughed about it. Tormented him. Meredith, the bitch, neutered Bobby Jo! I could’ve killed her with a good heart and a clean conscience. Instead I cried like a baby. Though it was dark and I couldn’t tell for sure, I think Bobby Jo cried, too. I held him in my arms and just let it all out. I cried for him, and for me. I cried about Harry, about Hawk, about Jerry. I cried about life just being so shitty sometimes. How long it went on, I don’t know. Bobby Jo kept asking me “why” over and over again. I couldn’t answer him then. I can’t answer him now. Well, holding and comforting led to soothing. Gentle pats became tender strokes, then crushing embraces. Sweet pecks became lingering ones, then desperate kisses. Before either of us really realized what was happening, we were making love. It was shatteringly beautiful. Afterward, Bobby Jo was triumphant. I was depressed to the gills. I love him, but I’m not in love with him. And I certainly didn’t mean to make love with him. He’s been my best friend my whole life. I don’t want to risk losing that with an intimate relationship that might or might not work. The really bad part—or really good part, depending on perspective—is that not once did Hawk even cross my mind. Not once. And that’s a first. The really bad part—no matter what your perspective—is that I want to make love with Bobby Jo again. Maybe I’ve fallen in love with him, after all. I don’t know. All I know is that if I lose him, I’ll go crazy. He’s always been my anchor, my rock. I can’t lose him. Then there’s Hawk. Do I love him? Is he special because he was my first lover? Am I obsessed because he betrayed me? What? I just can’t tell anymore. What am I going to do? Forever, Meg

⌘ Victoria Sampson ⌘ July 7, 1977 Dear Meg: Well, we are caught in a dilemma, aren’t we? Good grief, I never imagined you and Bobby Jo together. I know you’ve always thought of him as a brother—kind of like I did Keith at first, because he was Tom’s friend. But, speaking from experience, it’s wonderful to have a husband who is also your best friend. It’s like having a partner who knows everything about you, and loves you anyway. From the tone of this letter, you can read between the lines and see what direction I’m headed in. Marry Bobby Jo—if he asks. And if he doesn’t, pull a Jackie and ask him to marry you. Friends are few and far between. You love him already. He loves you already. He has since the beginning. Marry him, Meg. And love him till it hurts. You both could use a good dose of steady love. Forever, Victoria

P. S. I’m sending a copy of this to Patrice and Jackie so they’ll know my opinion—not that it’ll make a spit of difference to either of them on theirs.

*** - Jacqueline Madison August 4, 1977 Dear Victoria, Meg, and Patrice:

On the issue of Meg and Bobby Jo. I agree with you, Victoria. We don’t often agree, which makes me wonder if my experience this past year is clouding my good judgment. But I’ve thought it over and I still feel you’re right. Meg, marry the man. He’s proven he loves you so many times. And that he’s done the impossible—made you forget about Hawk during a very intimate moment—proves, I think, that you love Bobby Jo more than you hate Hawk. Love is always a better recipe for a sweeter life and marriage than hate. Incidentally, I know you know this already and are just trying to get your own opinions validated. Now write back and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you don’t want Bobby Jo—outside of bed. You were right, Victoria. Mom just divorced #4. She’s now having heart palpitations over this rancher—this Texas rancher. Patrice, by God, you had better not tell Aunt Sally! Forever, Jackie

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GIRL TALK: Letters Between Friends Preview  

Read the first three chapters of this epistolary novel from USA Today Bestselling Author, Vicki Hinze. Four friends meet via letters as par...

GIRL TALK: Letters Between Friends Preview  

Read the first three chapters of this epistolary novel from USA Today Bestselling Author, Vicki Hinze. Four friends meet via letters as par...