1st Place: Beth Blake
Beth Blake is so excited to be in the top ten of another WOW! contest! She has been writing short stories for as long as she can remember. She was asked to be a part of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference when she was in school, and won the first place award for her university's literary journal contest. She has also been delighted to write the Christmas program for the past three years for her church congregation. She graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a degree in marriage and family studies, child studies, and creative writing. She is from La Grande, a lovely small town in Oregon, and draws much of the material for her stories from the town and people she loves so dearly. She is the second of seven children and really enjoys spending time with her family, including her seven nieces and nephews. She LOVES to cook and makes pretty good desserts if she does say so herself! Her long-term writing goal is to not be so critical of herself and afraid of what others might think. She wants to write a book one day, but most of all simply hopes to continue to touch hearts through words.
The Best Friend
When I married Jenny, I gained her best friend Joy as well. Joy’s husband Carl and I became friends simply because we knew we couldn’t pry our wives apart. We went on double dates and spent vacations and holidays together. We were Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel. The girls were delighted when they became pregnant almost within a month of each other. Our two girls, Katie and Melissa, became inseparable as they grew up. Then one day, I arrived home from work to find a hurriedly scribbled note from my wife, “Munsons in a car accident. Melissa hurt badly.”
When Jenny came home that night, I held her while she cried. Together, we climbed into the little white bed that held our sleeping angel, and both of us took one of her hands in ours as we grieved for our friends’ loss. We grieved again when a year later, Carl and Joy divorced.
It was a little less than nine months after that when my own life was shattered in the garden department at Wal-Mart. Jenny and I were shopping for tomato seeds when she collapsed. I held her hand in the ambulance and then again until the long beep on the monitor told me she was gone. She never opened her eyes again. They told me it was a brain aneurysm. I couldn’t even spell what killed my wife.
For the next week, I was buried in casseroles. Katie and I spent our dinnertime silently poking our forks at mounds of green and gray that neither of us had the stomach to eat. At the funeral, Katie and I held hands as women who wore too much perfume cried over us and murmured, “You poor little things.”
Katie said that the room was too hot and the perfume stuck to her clothes. She said Mommy wouldn’t have liked it at all…and I agreed.
I saw Joy at the funeral, sitting by herself.
Weeks went by, and I was still holding my Jenny’s clothes up to my face at night to smell them. My daughter was still screaming whenever we came within the vicinity of Wal-Mart. I went back to work after leaving my crying, clinging daughter with a sitter. At night, I scorched dinners and left iron-shaped marks on the clothes. By the time school started, Katie and I were exhausted.
The first morning, I helped her pack her backpack, made a peanut butter sandwich (cut diagonally because that’s how Mommy did it), and helped her double-knot her sneakers. But when it came to her hair, that lovely mass of black curls, I was hopeless. I could see her disappointment as I did the best I could. Jenny could work wonders with it. When Katie had started second grade last year, Jenny had done up her hair in braids. I didn’t have the slightest idea how to do a braid.
“I’m sorry, baby,” I whispered as I kissed the back of her head. She shrugged, trying to look brave for the old dad. I placed my hands on her shoulders as I heard the doorbell ring.
“Joy!” I said in surprise as I opened the door.
“Hi John,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry to intrude. I just…I thought Katie might like some help getting ready for her first day of school.”
I honestly had to fight back tears as I nodded. She slipped in quietly, squeezing my arm as she made her way to Katie’s room. Katie was overjoyed to see her. I watched her hands shake slightly as she touched Katie’s hair. She closed her eyes as she ran her fingers through it, a smile crossing her features.
“Now,” she instructed. “Separate the hair into three parts and just go back and forth, overlapping each other…see?”
I leaned in and watched carefully as she skillfully weaved the long hair into a beautiful braid.
“Good?” she asked, holding up a mirror in the back so Katie could see.
Katie gazed up at her with adoration. “Just like Mommy.”
Joy put her arms around Katie and gave her a squeeze. “Have a good day, honey.”
When she was done, I walked with her to the door. “I can come,” she said. “In the morning, if you want, until you get the hang of it.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said, smiling.
“Joy?” I called after she left. “What made you come?”
Her face was full of peace. “Because wherever Jenny is, she’s taking care of my baby, too.”