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Chapter 1: The Change
If you passed her on the street, you might not give Bethany Johnson a second thought. She was just like any other kid in her late teens. Her auburn hair was long and only mildly styled, her skin near-flawless, her moderate breasts firm with youth. Though she was beautiful she was not doted upon as some girls her age were. She didn't fit the mold; she was smart enough that school was easy yet retained her common sense. Her parents, though uncharacteristically married, lived in Italy and left her to be cared for by her Mother's brother, Jack. Her childhood community was a small college town of twenty thousand tucked away in a beautiful valley in the south of Oregon in the United States. The city was small enough to have only one high school, but large enough that a person could spend their entire lives in the town and not meet everybody.
Tomorrow was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life, graduation from High School. She didn't feel the excitement due in part to her the ease that she accomplished it, but it was exciting to think what college would be like the following fall. Throughout school she had been a wallflower -- not dating much and having only a few friends. With the end of a period of her life she was ready for a change, any change. Life had lost it's luster and she needed something to spice it up again, something new, something unexpected.
Beth looked up from the book she had been reading -- a Tom Clancy thriller -- as the heavy gong of the antique door bell rang twice from downstairs. Beth hurried down the curving oak staircase to answer the door. She opened the heavy ornate wood door to see a young woman leaning on a worn pair of aluminum crutches. She had on a pair of faded cutoff jeans and was wearing a beige tank top. Her dark hair was held back in a ponytail that went down to her shoulder blades. Beth had always admired how Ember could look so divine and draw stares from all the guys even when she merely put her hair in a rubber band and walked out the door.
"Come on in Ember, how's the ankle?" asked Beth, referring to the short green fiberglass cast that Ember was wearing on her left leg.
"The pain's a lot less now, thankfully. I guess that means it's healing nicely. Of course if I hadn't torn the tendons at the game last week it would be a lot better." said Ember with a dimpled smile.
"Well, come on up to my room. You need any help with the stairs?" asked Beth.
"I think I can handle it, I've gotten pretty good on these crutches over the last week." said Ember, flashing a crooked smile.
* * *
Frank looked into the cold blue eyes of his opponent. This was the first time that they had met in person, and it would hopefully be the last.
"It's settled then, we move in three weeks." said Frank's opponent, accented with a heavy accent.
"Three weeks, you better do your part." replied Frank in an even voice. The dossier on this guy had read like a movie teaser, he had been suspected of just about every type of terrorist act imaginable but no one had any proof he had done it. Not yet anyway.
"Don't worry about me, it's your friends you better watch out for." said the man, spitting out the word friends.
Without another word the terrorist stood from the rickety wooden table and walked out of the dank room. Frank stood up from the table shortly thereafter and joined the shadows in the overcast London night.
* * *
They walked slowly up the stairs together. Beth followed slightly behind her so that if Ember lost her balance she wouldn't go crashing down the staircase again. Beth's room was the second door on the right, just past the ornamental antique desk her parents had gotten in Greece or some other place else they had gone without her. Beth opened the white door to her room and held it open for Ember as she crutched in and sat down on the edge of the king size four post bed.
Ember lay back with a sigh, letting the crutches fall to the spotless white carpeting. She pulled a pillow out from under her head and put it under her casted leg. Beth had something to say to Ember, but it was important that it didn't come out the wrong way. Finally she decided to break what she perceived to be an awkward silence, though Ember seemed quite relaxed on the bed. "I need to make a change." she finally blurted out, looking down at the jeans and a white T-shirt she was wearing.
Ember opened her eyes and rolled her head over to look at Beth, "A change?" she asked, perplexed. "Is something wrong?"
"I don't want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I was too boring or unattractive to be noticed by anyone. I want to try something new. I want to be noticed for something -- anything. I'm tired of living in the closet of life."
Ember was surprised, her eyes widened a bit but she was determined not to insult her friend who had just shared a part of herself with her. She had never heard Beth talk of being frustrated or unsure about her life. It was true that Beth hadn't been on many dates, and even those could have been pity or dare dates. It was understandable that she would get angry, but why now? Why the day before graduation? "What kind of a change were you thinking of?" she cautiously asked.
"I don't know," said Beth as her gaze fell to her hands folded in her lap. "Maybe I need some new clothes, something daring. Heck, maybe I just need to paint my nails. What do you think?"
Ember looked her up and down thoughtfully. She certainly could be more attractive if she put some effort into it, she thought, she just needs some tasteful makeup and a good, short dress. "Okay Beth," she said with conviction, "let's go shopping."
They arrived at the mall a half hour later in Beth's brand new red Mazda Miata convertible. The car was one of the many cars kept at the house for her, a perfect example of how her parents tried to buy her love from afar. They kept promising that they would come home, but it just never seemed to work out. In reality they only came back once or twice a year to see their only daughter, but Beth suspected that they really came back just to check on their physical investments.
Beth got out and went around to Ember's door to get the crutches out from behind the seats and help her out of the car. Ember stood holding the car door and balancing on one foot and, as always, smiling. Beth had noticed that she had never been sad or depressed even though she had to wear that sweaty, inconvenient cast for at least another month. But, then again, she had noticed that over the years nothing seemed to phase Ember's jubilant mood. When Ember affirmed that she was ready to go, Beth locked the car and they walked together to the mall entrance. The car beeped behind them as Beth armed the security systemp
"So," said Beth nervously as they walked through the lobby, "What do you think my new look should be?"
"I was thinking that we could get you a nice miniskirt, and maybe a crop top or something. We should definitely get your hair cut too." said Ember.
Beth was starting to lose some of her resolve. Change my hair? I like my hair. "Em..."
"Just trust me will ya? You'll love the change!" Ember said with a devilish grin that was only there for a second before she covered it up with a gentle smile.
They arrived at their first stop, the hair salon after a few silent minutes. Ember directed Beth to an open chair and said hello to her friend who was going to do the cut.
"She wants her hair cut short, a bit shorter than mine, I'd say around shoulder length. Make it so it will sort of frame the face when it's loose, but so that it can still be held back in a ponytail if she wants to." Ember told the 18 year old stylist. "And while you're at it, give her a good, deep shampooing, and use the expensive perfumed ones, price is no object right Beth?"
"Right." said Beth, suddenly decisive again.
Ember crutched off to the waiting area to watch and wait for her friend to finish with Beth. She leaned her crutches against the wall, and kneeled on the chair and looked over at Beth, two chairs away. They were tilting the chair back so that they could wash her hair in the sink on the counter. Beth sat back down and grabbed a several months out of date magazine from the coffee table and flipped through idly. She peeked out over the magazine and winked at the guy sitting across the room staring at her.
Several magazines later Beth called to Ember.
"I'm not so sure I want to cut my hair so short!" said Beth as Ember looked over from her seat.
"Oh calm down you big baby. You said you wanted a change, and this will be change! Besides, if you don't like it than just let it grow out again. I think that you will like it though." said Ember, flicking her ponytail and smiling.
"Alright, go ahead." said Beth, realizing that she was being childish. "I said I was going to change, and I am." She said as she settled down into the chair. Ember watched as the stylist cut off two whole feet of Beth's straight hair. She smiled as Beth couldn't help but let out a small eep when the stylist held up the length of hair for her to see. The stylist went back to work neatening things up and Ember weth back to her magazine.
When it was all over, Beth looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was cut beautifully, ending just above the shoulders and with a slight curl around the face. Long enough that when she shook her head the hair flowed around her, but short enough that it didn't catch on her shoulders. She paid with her parent-funded credit card and they moved on to the next store.
As they walked down the tiled walk to the nearby department store Ember smiled as Beth talked nonstop about her great new hair. She really seemed to love how it felt when she moved her head. When they entered the department store, Ember led Beth right to the Women's Apparel section.
"The first thing you need is a new bra." said Ember.
"Okay," Beth said. Reddening slightly in embarracement, did Ember really notice these things?
Ember led Beth to the back wall of the store and picked out pair of lacy black bras. She also grabbed a pair of white sports bras from another rack. She put the items in the basket Beth was carrying and they moved on to the next area of the store: dresses.
"I think you would look really hot in one of these," said Ember holding up a beige summer dress with a floral pattern on it for Beth to see.
"I don't know, I suppose so..." said Beth. "I've never worn a skirt shorter than my knees before. I always felt so naked and vulnerable in them..."
"Good, let's get one." said Ember. She knew that she had to be the dominant person here, Beth was always so non-committal. It was maddening sometimes when Beth couldn't decide what to do.
"Did you say that I would look good in a crop top?" asked Beth, looking at a nearby display with a headless granite torso modeling the latest exercise-wear.
"Yeah, yeah I did say that. And you really would look stunning in one. How about this one?" said Ember, holding up a black top that looked like it would barely cover Beth's breasts.
"I really don't know. It's so ... so ... skimpy." was the only excuse that Beth could come up with.
"That's the point! It drives guys crazy! You've got to start thinking Sexy!" said Ember as she put the top in the shopping basket Beth was carrying.
The next thing they bought, or rather Ember bought for Beth, was a short cotton skirt to go with the black cotton top. Ember decided on a red and black plaid wrap-around skirt for Beth, and Beth happily went along, really getting into the mood.
After picking up a few other items, they moved on to the next stop: the tanning salon. Beth was a little leery of the tanning beds since she had never used one before, and didn't feel all that comfortable about getting naked in a store. Ember persuaded her to try it since her belly was really white from the winter months, and the years of wearing a one-piece bathing suit would clash horribly with her new outfits. Beth lay down cautiously and a little self-consciously onto the tanning booth's bed wearing the tanning suit that the store had given her. She emerged a half-hour later with a perfect bronze tan, helped by a little tanning lotion of course.
They left the mall with Beth carrying the bag of new clothes and Ember crutching back out to the car. Beth got there first and opened the passenger door for Ember, then she went around to the back to put the shopping bag into the trunk. She started up the car and they drove back to the white mansion on the hill.
* * *
Frank had been at the marina for nearly an hour. He spent the time getting his 20' boat, The Beautiful Sandy, ready for the upcoming 300 mile trek up the California coast. The cargo had been loaded under the cover of moonless darkness and a thick oily fog. Seventeen wooden boxes were now stacked in the passenger cabin and in every below-deck space available. If for any reason they were boarded by the US Coast Guard they would be busted for sure. That was why John was spending so much time checking every last detail. Just as the engines were reaching their ideal idle temperature, a spotless bronze BMW pulled up near the dock and a heavyset Mexican stepped out of the car.
"Juan, buenos dias, tu tienes" said the newcomer.
"Lo tenía. Vamanos." Frank replied tersely, motioning to the cabin.
John readied the boat to go and slipped the lines. As he motored out of the harbor his friend came back topside.
"That storm looks bad, are you sure the cargo'll be safe?" he asked in accented English.
"I can handle it, get me a beer will ya?"
Frank watched as his business partner went below decks. He did not trust him, he was unreliable, always late, and couldn't take orders -- but he did have access to money, lots of money. After this deal was done Frank couldn't see any reason to keep him as a business partner. It was just too risky.
The man came back up from below and handed Frank his beer, then walked over to the railing to look out at the storm brewing out over the Pacific.
* * *
Ember was sitting crosslegged on Beth's bed painting her toenails bright red. Beth was in the bathroom changing into the new clothes that they had bought that morning. Ember sat up when she heard the door open and saw Beth walk out. She was wearing the plaid miniskirt and black halter top, on her feet were a pair of short red socks.
"Good god you look good." said Ember with her mouth hanging open.
"Thanks, I guess. You really helped me to change -- Thankyou, thankyou." said Beth.
"No problem, glad to help." replied Ember, recovering her composure. "So are you ready for the big party tomorrow?"
"You bet. I'm still a little nervous about dressing like this though.."
"You'll be fine, I'll be with you the whole night, but I bet guys will be swarming all over you like flies on honey." said Ember. Beth could only reply with a sheepish smile as she looked down at her new self.
Ember returned to painting her toenairs. Beth sat down on the bed. "I like how the red clashes with your green cast." Said Beth.
"Thanks, want to do yours next?"
"Sure, what color do you think would look best on me?"
"You're going to wear those red heels right? I think Valentine Red would look good then." decided Ember.
"Okay, I'll go get it" said Beth, getting up to get the nail polish from the bathroom.
Beth returned and sat down. "Want some help with that? I looks like the cast is getting in the way."
"Yeah, I can't seem to get the whole nail. Here." said Ember handing Beth the nail polish. "Finish up will ya?"
Beth took hold of Ember's casted foot and put it up on a pillow. She opened the nail polish and started painting Ember's casted toes.
"Did you get to choose the color of the this?" Beth asked, referring to the cast.
"Well, the doctor said I could choose between black and green. So I chose green -- a black cast seems like it would be a lot hotter. Plus I don't like black nail polish." She said with a laugh.
Beth smiled and said, "Is it comfortable? It looks like there's a lot of padding in there."
"Yeah, it's really comfortable. It actually feels kind of neat, I can't move my ankle at all but I can still wiggle my toes."
Ember wiggled her toes, causing Beth to pull back the nail polish. "Hey, stop that or I might paint your cast."
Ember laughed at that and watched as Beth finished painting her nails.
"Okay, my turn." Said Beth, closing the bottle of nail polish and putting it on the dresser.
Ember shifted to her stomach and put her feet up into the air while the polish dried. Beth sat against the headboard and handed Ember her bottle of polish.
"You have really nick toes" said Ember as she started painting her friend's toenails.
"Really? I never really thought about it." said Beth.
"Oh yeah, they're long and smooth and beautiful. You shouldn't be afraid to show them off."
Beth thought about that as Ember continued to paint.
When the finished they turned on the TV and they fell asleep together in the bed.
Beth woke up before Ember the next morning, she quietly moved Ember's arm off her stomach and crept downstairs to make breakfast. She prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toasted bagels to show her appreciation for Ember's help the day before. Ember crutched though the archway just as everything was ready.
"Morning Ember," said Beth. "You slept well I hope?"
"Yeah, I actually sleep better here than at home" she said with a grin. "I should stay here more often."
Beth smiled and thought to herself that she would like that, it got so lonely living alone in such a big house with only a drunk Uncle to keep her company.
They sat down in the sun room and started eating. Ember said "Well, we have a long day ahead of us, I hope you're up to it."
"I'm ready, I've been preparing for weeks. I have to be ready."
When they were done Beth cleared the dishes so Ember could stay sitting. "Does your leg hurt any more in the mornings?"
"Not anymore, I'm starting to like the attention it gets me." said Ember.
"You like it?" asked Beth, "I'm sorry but I gotta say that that's weird. Of course I can understand how you like the way that guys stare at you, but do you really think it's because of the cast?"
"Well it's not like I want to have the injury, the initial pain really sucked. But I really do like the attention I get from the cast, green was a good choice."
Beth nodded and finished washing the dishes. Then they went back upstairs to Beth's room to get dressed for their graduation.
"Beth! Let's go, we're going to be late!" Ember called up the stairs from the foyer. She was wearing her white satin graduation cap and gown, underneath she wore a flower pattern miniskirt. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail that fell down between her shoulder blades. Beth appeared at the top of the stairs wearing a matching white gown, she didn't have her heels on yet but tried to get them on as she hopped down the stairs.
"Come on, come on. We've got to go!" said Ember. "What took so long?"
"Long story, let's go!" she said as she rushed out the door.
They ran out to the Beth's Miata and jumped in, Ember was a little slow getting out there because of the crutches, but she had gotten pretty good on them in the last week. Beth, being an aggressive driver was driving well over the speed limit so that they would make their graduation ceremonies on time. Ember was a little nervous about them hitting something or someone, but had full confidence in Beth's skill as a driver.
They approached a four-way intersection with a stoplight, the light was yellow, but about to go red. Beth tried her best to make it before it would change, but realized she couldn't make it. She slammed on the brakes and would have locked up the tires if not for the advanced anti-lock braking system the car sported. The car shuddered to a stop in the middle of the crosswalk, fortunately no one was trying to cross or they would surely have been hit. Ember started breathing again and Beth let out an angry sigh.
After waiting for a single car to use the intersection, the light turned green and Beth stomped on the acceleration, the sports car jumped into the intersection and right into the path of a green Bronco trying to make the light on the cross-street. The Bronco hit the drivers side door of the Miata and spun the car in wild circles. Ember was thrown against the windshield splaying blood everywhere. Beth was nearly crushed when the drivers door buckled inward from the initial collision. They were both well into unconsciousness before the car came to rest against a tree on the opposite street corner.
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