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A short story by Sally Berneathy

            Paula and I met in the first grade. Since her last name was Brent and mine was Berneathy, she sat behind me. We were both shy and had nothing to say to each other until the day she asked to borrow my ruler.


            We lived in a small town in southern Oklahoma where money was scarce, and my six-inch red plastic ruler was a valued possession. Reluctantly, I loaned it to Paula--and she kept it for too long, or so it seemed to me. I turned around to take it back, but Paula wasn't through with it. I grabbed, she held on...the ruler broke.


            I cried. She cried. I blamed her, and she blamed me.


            And, in the manner of six-year olds, from that day forward, we were inseparable, the best of friends.


            As the years passed, we spent many nights at each other's houses, whispering the night away about our plans for the future. We were going to move to a big city and be room-mates in a gorgeous apartment. I would be a writer, and she would be an artist. She would illustrate my books, and we would both be rich and famous. When we were older, probably around twenty-five, we would marry and live next door to each other and be aunt to each other's children.


            When we were ten years old, we saw an episode of "Lassie" in which Timmy and his friend pricked their fingers and became blood brothers. Paula came home with me the next evening. We dug a hole in the hard earth out behind my family's weathered old barn, took a thorn from the locust tree and pricked our thumbs, joining our blood. We buried the thorn, each adding an item we prized, as the friends on "Lassie" had done. Paula contributed her dime-store set of water colors, and I added a paper back book. Our most valuable possessions--but not as valuable as our friendship.


            Then life intruded. When we were fourteen, Paula's father took a job in Dallas. Their last stop on the way out of town was my house. I stood in middle of the dirt road, waving and crying while Paula looked out the back window of the car, waving and crying.


            Still we stayed in touch, writing letters regularly. Still we planned. As we neared high school graduation, we swore that we'd move to Oklahoma City and get that apartment together.


            But Paula got married and had a baby. I married, too, and convinced my husband to move to Dallas. For years our friendship continued even though our dreams had fallen by the wayside. Paula became a nurse, and I a legal secretary. I wrote short stories and poems and shared them with her, and she painted me a picture of the old barn where our thorn lay buried.


            The years flew by. Then while we were both going through divorces, during the confusion and turmoil, we lost touch. Paula moved, changed jobs, remarried, got a new name and phone number.


            I remarried and moved to Kansas City, but I didn't know how to reach Paula to tell her. When my new husband and I bought a house, I hung her picture of our barn over my bed and wondered if I'd ever again see her. Her parents were both dead, and my mother was becoming senile, rarely remembering my phone number or address. Short of hiring a detective, I didn't know how I would ever find my friend again.


Often I looked at the picture, thought of my friend and wondered if I'd ever see her again.


            But behind the scenes, the magic spell of that thorn was working. Our childish sacrifices of prized possessions must have touched some angel's heart.


            Several years later I got a phone call and heard a familiar voice.


"Do you know who this is?"


            Of course I knew. I cried. She cried.


            She told me that she'd called my mother twice and been given wrong phone numbers both times. She'd almost given up, but decided to try one more time...and caught my mother in a rare moment of lucidity.


            Now Paula's back in Oklahoma, and I live in Missouri. We see each other every summer and call each other regularly.


            During the years we'd lost touch, she had another, unexpected, child...a girl, named after me.


            A girl who calls me "Aunt."


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