Friend or Foe

by Frankie


All stories are based on true events and real people.

     At the age of sixteen, I remember standing on the steps of my childhood home when a small voice told me, "You're special; don't you forget it!" I didn't understand why or where it came from, so I ignored it. But it quickly returned, leaving me unsure if I'd heard it again or something I'd made up.

     It wasn't a voice in the conventional sense but rather a vivid notion, so when I finally acknowledged that it came from an unusual source, all I could think of was being cautious. But after several days, it seemed less necessary to live each day expecting something awful to happen and more days having fun with my new BFF.

     Olivia was the type of friend who would gladly give you the shirt off her back. She always went out of her way for me and ensured everyone knew we were best friends. Although our personalities were different, we shared a kinship based on the amount of fun we always seemed to have. But when we started dating identical twins Justin and Jordan, our friendship transformed into a sisterhood. And as awesome as that sounds, it was even better because I had a crush on Justin since I was in the third grade.

    I recall telling Justin how much I liked him then, but he reciprocated with a quarter and said, "If you were just a little older..." I had no idea what the quarter symbolized, but it started to make sense when I used it to purchase a candy bar later that day. So, now seven years later, I was finally old enough to date him, yet, Justin was only two years older than me. In any case, it was the best summer of my life. Justin and I quickly fell in love, and nothing was more fitting about our love than the fact that we were both virgins.

    Nonetheless, our intimacy grew deeper over time, and I couldn't imagine my life without him. Justin demonstrated his love and commitment in every way imaginable, as did I. Although his near future included joining the military, he assured me we would remain together. And after my high school graduation, we would get married. Yet, though everything seemed to be moving fast, I kept sight of my own goals.

    After my sister Gabby refused, I began playing the clarinet at eight. Despite being forced to play, however, I did well and went on to play for the next eight years, frequently competing with my fellow cheer mate for the first chair during my high school years. I also had a strong interest in track and field and excelled above the norm. Unfortunately, the overall school experience wasn't my favorite. But I did take an interest in math and accounting; health class was one of my favorites too. Even so, I knew I would need above-average grades to enter a four-year university.

    Attending college was always a goal I'd set for myself, and if I had it my way, my parents wouldn't pay a dime; I'd planned to receive a full ride. A scholarship awaited me between playing the clarinet and my athletic aptitude. None of this implies that it came easy. Still, whether in the classroom, band room, or on the track field, the right people took notice. So, imagining my life any different than what was happening seemed inconceivable, but I quickly discovered that life isn't that simple.

    Within a year, everything I'd come to know came to an end. After a routine doctor's visit in February 1988, I learned I was pregnant, and my worst fear became a reality: telling my parents something I knew would devastate them. Another major mistake was thinking it would be easier to tell Justin first and then have him accompany me home to tell my mom and dad. However, when I broke the news, Justin didn't hesitate to tell me he wasn't ready for a baby! I initially mistook it for a joke until I noticed the disappointment on his face. But that couldn't be real; I must be dreaming; Justin wouldn't respond to me like that. But I couldn't deny what I was hearing, and that's when I understood the father of my unborn child didn't want anything to do with us. Nonetheless, I persuaded myself it was the shock talking, so I approached him again, but Justin made it very clear when he told me, "Get the f*ck away from me!"

    Justin was the same guy who willfully had intercourse with me, knowing the implications but somehow felt he had the right to take himself out of the equation; who does that? More importantly, who was the man standing in front of me? What happened to Justin? I had no idea this degree of cruelty existed in him. Apparently, it was in him the entire time. Justin was only concerned with himself, never considering I was sixteen and still in high school. Not even on my best day could I accept his disapproval, making me even more anxious about telling my parents.

    After spending the entire night in my car trying to figure out how to tell my mom and dad, I kept hearing Justin's voice repeating, "Stay the F*ck away from me!" How was I supposed to grasp my emotional state while watching the 18-year-old father be allowed to walk away simply because he wasn't ready to be a father? I couldn't get my head around it, no matter how often I told myself, "Everything will work itself out."

    Sleeping in my car, by the way, was a strategy. I knew being gone would cause my parents to worry, but relieved upon my return, leaving little room for anger once I broke the news. But before getting the first few words out, my mother asked, "Are you pregnant?" Lowering my head offered the answer, as well as my guilt. Then the tears came pouring out as I explained that I would be raising the baby alone. The look on my dad's face was of someone ready to commit murder, and from that day forward, we were at odds with Justin and his family. Olivia attempted to remain neutral, but things got worse between Justin and me over the weeks, and that's when Olivia started taking sides. A rumor followed, claiming that Justin was not the father of my child. I knew Olivia was behind it immediately but was amazed to discover that Justin's older sister, Maria, was involved too. I couldn't come close to understanding what was going on. I felt like I was in a real-time twilight zone; there was no reasonable explanation for Olivia or Maria to team up against me. But that's when I considered jealousy; even that didn't seem implausible. At the same time, however, the vivid notion I'd had months before convinced me that my situation related to this thought, and that's why it told me, "You're special; don't you forget it!" So, since there was no other explanation for Olivia or Maria's behavior, jealousy had to be their motive, and I figured out why.

    Before I learned I was pregnant, Olivia and Jordan had an on-again, off-again relationship. And, from what I could tell, it all stemmed from Olivia lying about being a virgin when they first began dating. Olivia was also preoccupied with maintaining a strong bond with Jordan's mother and Maria; even after they broke up, she would go to any length to please Ms. Loretta. So, I figured since I was pregnant, that threatened her solidarity with them. Nevertheless, if she could convince Ms. Loretta and Maria that Justin wasn't the father of my baby, they would somehow overlook her promiscuity, and Olivia could label me as promiscuous instead. As a result, it would diminish any potential bond between Ms. Loretta and me. Then there was also the pregnancy itself that bothered Olivia. As warped as it sounds, I had the impression she thought being pregnant at sixteen was cute. So, with all the sex she'd had, why wasn't she pregnant?

    By the age of 16, Olivia slept with more guys than most adult women in our area; Olivia's name and phone number were all over the bathroom stalls when I met her. Even so, I never held that against her. Instead, I judged Olivia entirely on the character she displayed in front of me. I even denied knowing anything when Justin and Maria came to me asking about Olivia's reputation. I couldn't imagine hurting her in any way. Unfortunately, Olivia didn't have that same respect for me. To add insult to injury, she teamed up with Maria, someone who referred to her as a slut. And as for Maria's dislike for me, I suppose there would be some envy if a 16-year-old could get pregnant without trying and Maria's 23-year-old body couldn't give her husband what he desired most.

    Olivia and Maria's involvement was classic jealousy, but it didn't alter how I felt when I learned that the rumor they started claimed that the father of my baby was a guy named Michael. While I did accompany Mike to the movies after a brief breakup with Justin, nothing happened between us. Olivia was aware because I called her immediately after I got home and asked if it were true that she slept with Mike. When she said yes, we left it at that. She and Justin both knew I hadn't slept with him and that he wasn't the father of my child.

    Still, let's suppose I'd gotten pregnant by Michael six months ago--wouldn't I be at least eight months pregnant, so why was I only three? Nevertheless, pointing this out would've been absurd because everyone knew Olivia had an unstable self-image and became destructive when she didn't get what she wanted. But even with the obvious, I still had to accept that Justin did not want to be a father. Equally important was realizing that Olivia wouldn't stop at anything to harm me or recruit other people to dangle from her strings.

    One warm summer day in June, I saw Olivia driving through my neighborhood with an unidentified female in her passenger seat. Seeing her pulling into my driveway as if we were friends instilled a newfound resentment. As justified as my rage seemed, however, I knew vengeance would find her on its own. Thus, I proceeded downstairs. Then, with an authoritative grin, Olivia got out, walked to the passenger side of her car, and began introducing me to the person seated there: "Lauren, Dana— Dana, Lauren." So I immediately thought, "what was the significance?" As a result, I kept silent to hear an explanation until Dana interrupted by saying, "Stop telling everyone you're pregnant with Justin's baby. He told me the truth." So, I responded, "Then why are you standing in my driveway?" After Dana's face turned bright red, she replied, "Well, I trust him!" So, again, I said, "Then you have no reason to be standing in my driveway. But since you are, you can tell Justin that it's more embarrassing for me to tell people he's the father than being pregnant at 16. So, if it is out there that he's the father, you may want to ask Olivia about that." And just as Dana picked her face up off the ground, my sister Gabby came running out of the house, hurling threats, but Olivia was able to get them out of there before anything happened.

    Imagine the state of perplexity I found myself. I never mentioned Justin being the father to anyone; for starters. In addition, Justin made it clear he didn't want anything to do with me, so why were Olivia and Dana obsessing so much? Honestly, nothing was endearing or enjoyable about being pregnant, even if Justin was there supporting me. My life changed forever! In fact, my future seemed bleak, but somehow Olivia and Dana saw it differently. To better understand Olivia and Dana's overall temperament, consider the movie Mean Girls—Olivia was Regina George multiplied by ten, while Dana was her Cady Heron multiplied by two.

    Meanwhile, as I returned to the house, my mother forbade further contact with Olivia, and my sister Gabby was ready to annihilate her and Dana. I could only imagine what would have occurred if Maria had climbed out of the rear seat (envisioning the movie 'The Ring'). But then again, she was a remote bully. I'm unsure if it was due to her age, but her bullying was usually over the phone or through Olivia.

    Speak of the devil. Maria called a few days after Olivia and Dana's visit, threatening me to have an abortion. After that failed, she decided to come to my house, supposing I was alone because no cars were in the driveway; she was wrong. So, once I saw her at the door, I called downstairs to my brother's girlfriend, Eileen, who, by the way, was Maria's age and was also known for rearranging attitudes. So, picture Maria's face when I opened the front door with Eileen standing beside me. From that day forward, I never heard from or saw Maria again, only if that could've been the case with Olivia and Dana. Keeping them at a distance through the summer was easy, but with school starting back, I would have to face them daily. Adding to this pressure was the abrupt death of my grandma.

    My grandmother was everything to me, the epitome of selflessness, and, despite some odd behaviors at times, there was something extraordinary about her. I will never forget the last few things she said: "Always remember your dreams; it's God's way of warning you. And never forget you are special no matter what!" There it is again. What was it about me being special? It certainly didn't appear that way. Also, it wasn't a coincidence that my grandmother said it too.

    Sadly, my grandmother's death took an emotional toll on me, causing my doctor to recommend only attending the funeral, hoping it would mitigate any additional discomfort for the baby and me. I happily agreed because I could not imagine watching my grandmother in a cold, creepy casket-thinking how I would never hear her voice again, touch her soft skin, kiss her cheeks, hide her shoes, play in her hair, or eat another meal she prepared. Unfortunately, keeping with the doctor's advice gave me too much idle time to think about Olivia and Dana's harassment, wishing God had spared my grandmother and taken me instead.

    I wanted to bury myself under a rock for half the year and never come out. The agony I felt had me contemplating suicide. But I knew I couldn't give up, but unsure just how much more I could take. It was devastating to be mistreated by those I'd loved and trusted, leaving me feeling heartbroken and alone. And despite my mother's constant reassurance and prayers, she couldn't understand my sadness. Eventually, I'd fallen into a deep depression, hardly speaking a word to anyone—just a nod here and there. But then came a dim light at the end of the tunnel when Olivia and Dana decided that skipping school was more important than their attendance, making their absence beneficial to my depression. Being without the added stress gave me hope and a little more energy to start preparing for the delivery of my baby.

    Working in a Catholic Hospital earned me the money to buy diapers, clothes, bottles, and blankets, even enough to help my parents with the financial burden of the delivery. Many times I thought of Justin, only for monetary reasons, however. But as my delivery date approached, those thoughts faded away. Not that I didn't care anymore, there was no room for me to think of anyone else but the baby.

    However, on 16 September 1988, a month before my due date, I received a phone call from Olivia. I wasn't sure what to expect, but she said something that piqued my interest. During a conversation with Justin, she told me he admitted to being the father but was afraid he wouldn't be a good parent. I was more curious to know why he only thought of himself-- I was scared too. Not just about becoming a teenage mother. I went to bed every night, afraid I would hurt myself or that Olivia and Dana would do something to me. Justin couldn't fear being a parent more than I feared being pregnant and bullied. Granted, there was a noticeable change in him, but it was hard to distinguish whether it was related to my pregnancy or something inevitable.

    As Olivia went on to share more of their conversation, I got to a point where I asked, "What changed his mind? And does he want to talk to me?" Olivia replied, "He knew he was lying, and yes, he wants to talk to you about the baby." It all sounded sincere, but Olivia proved that deceit was essential to her character. So, therefore, I asked, "How does Dana feel about all this… considering he'd told her it wasn't his baby?" Olivia responded, "They're not together anymore." That even sounded genuine, but Olivia's involvement seemed more capricious than chivalrous. Still, it wouldn't hurt to give her the benefit of the doubt. Hence, I agreed to meet with Justin that evening. Then after a clash with my mother and sister over me talking to Olivia, I headed to my room to get dressed.


     Fear gripped me as I approached the house for no reason other than to see a party going on, which Olivia never mentioned, and I didn't see her either. My first inclination was to step on the gas immediately; instead, I sat there, mustering up the nerve to walk through all the party guests. That's also when I noticed someone approaching me; hoping it was Olivia, but it turned out to be Justin's younger brother Dean. "What are you doing here?" he inquired. After explaining, he kindly escorted me through the party.

     As I approached Justin's bedroom, sweat beaded on my forehead, and my palms were moist with perspiration as I prayed for kindness on the other side of the door. That wasn't the greeting I received, however. It went more like this: "What the F*ck are you doing here?" (while Dana lay between his legs). I had no idea my heart could cease beating without dropping dead to the floor, but it happened. When it finally resumed, I could still hear Justin shouting at the top of his lungs for me to go and never return. I swear it felt like it went on for at least 30 minutes, but it was only a few seconds.

     Aside from realizing Justin lacked remorse, I concluded he and Olivia were without empathy; if they did, it was insufficient to care about how they treated me. Nonetheless, there was a pleasure in knowing Dana remained silent throughout Justin's outburst. She even appeared concerned, eventually learning that it had nothing to do with me; it was dreading what could happen next. The agony on my face conveyed a heartbreaking tragedy of a shattered soul on the edge of erupting.

     As I left the house, hoping not to lose my composure, I saw Olivia. When she noticed something was off, she inquired about what had happened. Once I explained, her reaction showed to be a concerned friend. Even still, Justin's response was all I could think about as I slowly walked to my car. Olivia stopped me once again, this time to establish she didn't know Justin and Dana were still dating. When I initially contemplated that she was telling the truth, it was most likely because the oxygen flow to my brain got shut off. Yet, Olivia still persuaded me to wait while she dealt with Justin's actions. Soon after, she came out of the house smiling and said, "Justin wants to make up for his behavior; you caught him off guard, and he agreed to meet you at the hangout spot." It all appeared true when I saw him leave the house without Dana; however, she wasn't far behind as I observed her enter the vehicle with Olivia. I briefly questioned my decision but continued to the hangout just up the street.

     As I pulled closer to the spot, I hung back on a side street as a cautionary measure. Olivia and Justin had shown me who they were, so it was difficult to deny the prospect that they might do it again. At the same time, I wondered why I was putting myself through this. I had the insight to realize that if Justin was serious, why would he choose a location where the partygoers would join him? But then there was also the forethought that giving him and Olivia the benefit of the doubt wouldn't hurt. So what are the chances of anything else happening? In truth, I only wanted my child to have a father like me.

     Natalie, a classmate from school who was also one of the partygoers, volunteered to stay with me while I waited for Justin. She first avoided saying anything but later admitted she stayed because she didn't like what Justin and Olivia were doing. At the same time, Olivia and Dana pulled up and asked if I'd talked to Justin yet. I replied, "No. I'm still waiting." Olivia gestured to hold on as if she were becoming impatient. After waiting another twenty minutes, Natalie decided enough was enough and made her way to confront Justin in front of everyone. After returning, she tenderly spoke: "Lauren, you need to go home and put this night behind you. Justin had no intentions of talking with you. And Olivia was lying the entire time; she's there laughing with him and everyone else."

       A few short moments later, I heard engines roaring. It was like something out of a movie, and Justin was there leading the convoy. However, he did take a moment to slow down and say a few words: "I wish you would stop following me and quit telling people that's my baby." As if that weren't enough, Dana then said a few words of her own, essentially an extension of what she'd said three months earlier in my driveway. And, of course, Olivia had to leave her footprint with a wicked grin, at the same time kicking up dirt as she drove off.

Olivia demonstrated her true nature countless times, yet I still believed in her. I couldn't decide which was worse:

    Chasing my baby's daddy and looking like a fool, or

    Looking like a fool for believing Olivia had any good in her.

     As a result, it made for an emotional evening. The fact that I was humiliated in front of half of our town's adolescent population tore through me like a blade. The worry of returning home made the night even worse as I imagined how my mother and father would react. Judging by my tears, my mom knew what had happened and that Olivia was at the center of it all. So she focused on stopping the tears that eventually soaked through half of a box of Kleenex rather than lecture me about Olivia.

     On the contrary, my dad saw Justin at the heart of it all. As a result, the only way he knew how to react was to do physical harm. But I begged him not to hurt Justin before he left. My father gave a look that said, "No guarantees." I couldn't blame him, however. Indeed, Justin and Olivia's episode heightened tensions among our family and friends, culminating in multiple arrests later that night.

     While my family was out rioting, my mother sat with me, reciting the Twenty-third Psalm over and again. Her tears showed to be as big as mine, and I could also see the fear in her eyes. My mother's concern wasn't just about Olivia and Justin but rather that I would harm myself. As much as I wanted to die, I knew it wasn't in me to hurt myself or my baby, but the pain wouldn't go away. I wasn't even sure whether I was heartbroken because Justin didn't want the baby or because I knew he and Olivia enjoyed tormenting me. So that night, I reached out to God in faith—something I learned about but never had to apply before. And though my mother taught me the difference between religion and a relationship with God, I thought it all entailed love and kindness. But that evening gave me a different experience when I started praying; I could feel something extraordinary happening. As I prayed, my tears fell like large puddles of water on the ground, but a feeling came over me and offered hope. Before ending my prayer, I prayed for Justin, Olivia, and Dana; maybe one day, He could soften their hearts.

     Before going to bed, I continued praying the 23rd Psalm to seal my prayer, yet it didn't mean I was ready for a new day. But as I woke to a beautiful Saturday morning, I woke to a new me. Since depression dominated the past five months of my life, even the slightest change would have made a difference; this one was significant, however. But, while it felt good to be back to normalcy, I had to be sure it was over. Hence, I scrutinized the scene involving Olivia and Justin the night before, and when the same smile rested on my face as it did when I awoke, I knew God had given me a miracle.

     It didn't matter anymore whether Justin considered my baby his; I had a child to raise. While Olivia's poison always seemed to impact a good thing, anyone who ignored it needed to consider whether fitting in was more valuable than independence; Dana was the first to come to mind. Nevertheless, though I felt like superwoman, there was still motherhood to face- raising a baby on my own wasn't going to be easy, which meant adjusting my plans to attend college, perhaps never getting an opportunity to go. But honestly, my worst fear was being humiliated and treated like I was nothing again. However, the more I thought about it, the more I kept repeating, "You are special, and don't you forget it!"

     Only a week later, on September 24, 1988, I gave birth to a healthy 6-pound, 5-ounce boy, whom I called Jaxon (original due date October 15, 1988). Even though Justin denied paternity, there was a striking resemblance. So his attempt to visit wasn't unexpected. When that failed, however, he dispatched his minion to determine whether my son was his. There were no objections to Olivia's visit; I was even more delighted since I knew the only thing she could relay was that Jaxon was Justin's son.

     When Olivia arrived, she came across as compassionate and supportive, leaving no doubt Justin was Jaxon's father. But then she returned to him and his family with an entirely different point of view, stating: "The baby is very pale-skinned, with straight black hair, and she named him Michael," implying that it was Mike's baby. Unfortunately, Olivia hadn't learned her lesson, but this time it made no difference because she knew my son's first name was not Michael, and I even told her why I chose the name; my nephew and younger brother's middle name was Miguel, so I chose Michael.

    Olivia's misfortune was just a matter of time, but then again, she was already experiencing some of it, for "there is no rest for the wicked, says the Lord" (Isaiah 48:22). In any event, Ms. Loretta had had enough of Olivia's vitriol and contacted me. Jaxon met his other grandmother later that evening and introduced to Justin a few days later.

     It was finally over, and although Olivia deserved to be in a mental hospital, knowing she had left town was just as satisfying. Before leaving, however, she did everything she could to shift the blame solely on Dana and Justin. Some say she moved to California. Others said Olivia moved 125 miles away to live with a cousin. In truth, no one cared; the debate only existed after Olivia made it seem she was living in California until we found out she was in a nearby town. Olivia was gone but left a lasting impression. There was no middle ground; most people would agree that she was only good for two things: having fun and making trouble.

     Over the next several months, Justin made an effort to spend time with Jaxon, and because Dana was still a part of his life, it was best for us to put our differences aside. When Justin's amnesia resurfaced, however, after his breakup with Dana and began his new romance with Paula, Dana assured me that the details Justin used to persuade her were likely the same as those he used to convince Paula that Jaxon wasn't his son. While I appreciated Dana's support, I was far beyond pressuring Justin to be Jaxon's father. I gave him one opportunity, and he blew it, so if he ever wanted another, he would have to wait until Jaxon was old enough to decide.

      Dana and I remained on good terms throughout the year, and even when Olivia decided to return nine months later, it was all water under the bridge, and I didn't see any harm in offering Olivia the same terms; perhaps Olivia's hiatus did her some good. Meanwhile, Gabby and Eileen felt I was being too nice because "a leopard never changes its spots," they were right. So there was no surprise when Olivia attempted to befriend Paula shortly after her return. Thankfully, Justin didn't allow the transaction because he knew why Olivia wanted to be friends. Everyone who knew Olivia knew she only wanted to be friends with Paula to get back in good with the family. When that didn't happen, Olivia sought to resurrect old friendship by alleging that Dana and I were conspiring against her for something she didn't do.

      When Olivia's embellishments didn't go as planned, she returned to Dana, entreating forgiveness. Dana ultimately gave Olivia one more chance after wrestling with her inner voice, urging her not to. Initially, I opposed Dana's decision but felt sorry for Olivia, but unsure why. At the same time, convincing myself, it was the godly thing to do. Besides, how would Olivia ever change if no example existed? So there we were, Olivia, Dana, and I, hanging around town as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, however, Olivia and my "friendship" returned to our customary social status after my high school graduation three months later, while she and Dana blissfully moved on and started dating cousins.

      Dana's introduction to Carter came just after Olivia started dating his cousin, James. He wasn't someone I'd approve of, nor did I think her parents did. She did, however, choose who she dated; I only wish she hadn't allowed Olivia to be involved in her choice. Olivia never had one successful relationship, so acting as a matchmaker seemed absurd. But, on the other hand, as I got to know Carter, he appeared loving, so much so that he and Dana moved in together after six months.

     Meanwhile, Olivia moved on from James and started dating a married man, and their volatile relationship would go on for the next two years. Of all the men Olivia dated, her longest relationship was with someone she fought with daily and broke up with every other week. I needed help understanding the attraction between the two. He seemed pretty normal when he wasn't around Olivia, and she was sleeping with several other men, so I was confused why they didn't break it off all together. Then again, Olivia thrived on drama; she never hesitated to entangle Dana whenever she could, to the point that it created tension between her and Carter. Dana soon retreated, leaving her and Olivia with sporadic interactions. Of course, that didn't go over so well with Olivia, mainly because it didn't give her unlimited access to Dana'a relationship. Anytime during Olivia's breakups, she would do just about anything to interfere in Dana's life with Carter. Therefore, she realized she had to act fast, so it was no time after Dana yielded distance that Olivia told her that Carter was sleeping with a stripper; Dana didn't hesitate to debunk the lie, nor that Olivia would do or say anything to ruin her relationship despite being the one that introduced her to Carter. Even so, Dana never severed the friendship with Olivia. As much as I tried persuading her to do so, she couldn't. At the same time, Dana knew Olivia was an enigma.

     Dana and Carter celebrated their third-anniversary several months later, and everything seemed to be going well until Dana began hearing sounds outside their apartment. With Carter working the night shift for a major company in the city, 35–40 miles away, it left her alone most nights. So, when she shared her fear with me, I suggested staying with her parents until she felt safe. On the other hand, Olivia reassured her that it was nothing, but if Dana were that afraid, she would sleep over the nights that Carter was working. But Dana knew that wasn't an option seeing how Carter didn't trust Olivia.

     It wasn't that Dana and Carter lived in a bad neighborhood; the woodland backdrop made it quite intimidating, making the noises even scarier. Tragically, two months later, Dana was murdered. The news of her death traveled through our small town like an EF5 tornado, so imagine the shock I faced when it got to me. I had just seen Dana two days before, and she wasn't willing to stay with her parents even then.

     Dana and I not only set aside our grievances but even she and Gabby developed kinship in the final months of her life. So when the police arrived at our house the morning after Dana's death to question Gabby, I already knew it was because she was one of the last people to see her alive.

     As Gabby recounted Dana's last words, "I'm scared," she began sobbing because that very night, Gabby begged Dana to go stay with her parents. And barely three hours later, she was found dead. The investigators believed at least two suspects were involved and implied their visit surrounded money and drugs. They'd also figured that Dana had invited them into the apartment, as there were no signs of a break-in. But based on the trajectory of the rounds fired, Dana must have realized they were there to rob her, so she raced down the hallway toward the bedroom until she was halted by a flesh wound to the shoulder, followed by the fatal bullet that killed her instantly. The suspects then reportedly looted the apartment but fled before James arrived home.

      Although both defendants stood trial a year later, the evidence against them was all circumstantial, and they were acquitted. However, despite being exonerated, months after the acquittal, one of the shooters described Dana's dying moments before being gunned down by someone unrelated to her death.

     Dana's murder held front-page news for weeks, but Olivia acted as if nothing phased her even in the first few days of Dana's death. Some believed she would grieve in her own time; unfortunately, it didn't occur before the funeral. It's one thing for Olivia to be a crappy friend, but it's beyond insane for her to bring up irrelevant topics or tasteless speech during a time of mourning.

     So, just after arriving at Dana's wake, I spotted Olivia. We hadn't spoken in months. At any rate, as I viewed Dana, Olivia utters, "Who's going to take care of me now?" Following that, remarking to those around her, "Why is Lauren even here? She probably wished this on Dana!" If Olivia was so certain I could manifest such a wish, she needed to be more concerned about why I didn't wish it on her! Dana and I had our differences, but nothing happened so bad that I would even think in this manner, but I knew Olivia's twisted mind could.

     Dana's funeral took center stage the following morning. And though the bullet that killed her entered the back of her head and came through her temple, she showed no signs of trauma; Dana only appeared to be sleeping. Then as I sat mesmerized by the silence and disbelief, I noticed Olivia was not in attendance. Spending a second trying to figure out why, when I already knew, shifted my attention to the sadness that overwhelmed Dana's family as the beautiful song "Wind Beneath My Wings" softly played in the background.

     Many of us remained in disbelief for weeks following Dana's burial. More disbelief arose when Olivia went around town stating she'd chosen the song played at Dana's funeral, a funeral she didn't attend, and a song she couldn't recall until someone else pointed it out. But I knew Dana's parents selected the song because Dana dedicated it to them on their 20th wedding anniversary in 1988, the same year they relocated to Ohio. And if Olivia cared about anyone other than herself, she would have understood that Dana moved in with James because she was tired of arguing with her parents about her friendship with Olivia. So, that's why Olivia didn't show up at the funeral, because the family didn't want her there. Olivia also learned that Dana's parents held her responsible for her death because if Dana had never been friends with Olivia, she wouldn't have ever met Carter, a drug dealer. His job in the city was just a cover.

    Everyone gradually returned to normal as the weeks passed. I'd even earned my associate degree in general studies. My long-term objective was to get a Doctorate in psychology, with a preference for child psychology above any other field. Nevertheless, I understood doing this would take a lot of money, so I started working as a secretary in an accounting firm to aid with that expense. This was my first real good-paying job, but with my school loans, it made my paycheck look like minimum wage.

    While the year flew by, I sought other work to compensate me. An opportunity appeared, but moving out of state wasn't an option, so I continued to look. Glad I stuck around because Olivia reached out to share that she was pregnant and said her ex refused to claim the baby. So naturally, my first instinct was to laugh and hang up the phone, but I wasn't cruel enough to do it, nor was I going to let her go through it alone. Nevertheless, I needed to find out if Nick was the father. Olivia was just as much of a liar as promiscuous, so I couldn't be too sure. I would be right after the paternity test results came out negative; it actually established that there was no possible way Nick could've been the father.

     Upon receiving the news, Olivia quickly accused another guy, but even those returned a negative outcome. Imagine the look on my face and the delight of seeing the tables turn. Don't get me wrong; there was nothing funny about Olivia bringing a child into the world without knowing who the father was. The amusement in knowing that Olivia was blaming the wrong men was my thought process. Furthermore, Nick and Olivia broke up six months ago, and he made it clear that he wanted nothing else to do with her. As for the other guy, I can't speak about him because I didn't know him; however, the test results proved he wasn't the father either.

     Funny enough, Olivia blamed another guy weeks following the last paternity test but swiftly recanted, explaining that they didn't go all the way. No offense, but Olivia was known for going all the way; that's how she'd gotten her reputation. Anyhow, when she'd elected not to test him, I'd concluded that: Olivia chose not to because she likely knew he was the father. Over time, I grew impatient with Olivia's lies, but it didn't force the truth out of her. Even after her son was born and with negative results, Olivia still believed it was Nick's baby. Yet, the baby looked nothing like him. Regardless, she continued to make statements as if Nick was the baby's father.

     While strolling through the mall one afternoon, I encountered a guy with unique characteristics. I'd seen him several times before but wasn't sure where. In any case, it was none of my business; however, his features were so distinct I had to stop and ask if he knew Olivia. When he said yes, it was a done deal, so I inquired whether he knew she was pregnant. When he said yes, I replied, "Is there any way you could be the father?" I took a considerable risk, but when he responded, "Why?" Does the baby look like me? I said, "Yes, he does." He then said, "I've tried asking Olivia, but she continues pushing me away, saying the baby isn't mine; it's her ex-boyfriend." "Who, Nick?" I said. He confirmed, "Yes." So I threw up my hands because there was nothing left to say, it was up to Olivia to tell the truth, and she wasn't going to. However, I did share my encounter; Olivia adamantly denied that he was the father.

     Some might believe I overstepped my boundaries. But truth be told, Olivia deserved far worse than what I did. In addition, if everyone continued to let her do as she pleased, what made us any different than she? Furthermore, she had a son who had a right to know who his father was without the lies because she wanted Nick to be the father. And no man should get blamed for a child he didn't help conceive. So forgive me for caring about someone else besides myself.

   Watching Olivia raise her baby without his father on purpose made me consider my future with Jaxon even more. Of course, having an associate's degree and working in the accounting office helped, but I wanted more, so I applied for an internship that could mean relocating to Michigan. It was difficult to leave all I knew, but it was time to move on.

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