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The Pact

by Amy Castillo

Amy is a wife and mom to two amazingly creative kids.  She has always wanted to be a writer from the time she was a young girl and started writing again after seeing how much her children loved to create stories of their own.  Recently she has written short stories and created a blog documenting some of her adventures with her family, her writing, and her love of books. Amy is currently working on what she hopes could one day become her first published novel.

Josephine Dupree lived at the corner of Maple and Elm.  Her yard was always perfectly manicured and she sat on her giant wraparound porch in her wooden rocker drinking sweet tea from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. every night rain or shine.  When the temperature dropped below 60 degrees, she would switch to hot tea. Since Josephine lived in the south, winters were mild and so it was a rare evening when she wasn’t on her porch promptly at 6:00 p.m.  

Most of the neighbors had no idea of her age and knew her only as the single older woman in the neighborhood.  She was very sophisticated and beautiful with silver hair always fixed just so, and she would never be caught dead in jeans or sweatpants.  The kids in the neighborhood always switched to the other side of the street when she was outside, not necessarily because they were afraid of her, but just because she would look out at them with her arms crossed and a look on her face that warned them not to set foot on her perfectly manicured lawn.

One cool fall day before Thanksgiving break, four ten-year old girls, Molly, Kate, Anna, and Celeste, were roller skating down Maple Drive and decided not to cross the street before passing her house.  Instead they paused two houses down and then decided to race past the Dupree house. Tearing down the street as fast as they could, Kate rolled to the corner of the Dupree yard first and fell down, ripping the knee of her jeans and scraping her knee pretty badly.  Kate immediately started crying and the girls stopped to see if she was okay.

When the girls looked up Josephine Dupree was standing at the end of her driveway with her arms crossed.  The girls let out a collective gasp when they saw Ms. Dupree standing next to them. “Why don’t you girls come in for some tea and I can help Kate clean up her knee before you head home?”  Ultimately the girls’ curiosity won out, and they ended up inside sitting around Ms. Dupree’s table while she made some hot tea. Ms. Dupree hummed the entire time she made the tea while the girls whispered anxiously about why and how they ended up in Ms. Dupree’s house.  The girls couldn’t wait to tell the other kids in the neighborhood.

Ms. Dupree brought the hot tea over to the table in a dainty white tea set with pink flowers. Anna was the first to break the ice between the girls and the older woman.  She said, “I can’t believe we are in your house and having tea with you! The other kids are never going to believe it.” Josephine Dupree smiled as she smoothed down her perfectly pressed slacks and then sat down at the table to join them.

That afternoon started a lifelong friendship between the girls and Josephine.  As that afternoon ended, Josephine found herself asking the girls to come back to have tea again the following week.  Eight years passed quickly as the girls continued to meet Ms. Dupree at least once a week for tea. It was a bright, sunny Friday evening when the four girls graduated from high school, and although the girls didn’t know it, Josephine watched with tears streaming down her face while she beamed with pride as each girl walked across the stage for their high school diplomas.

The girls continued to visit Ms. Dupree throughout that summer, although they didn’t always come at the same time until the week when the visits stopped as, one by one, the girls left for different colleges across the state.

Celeste Martin sat down with a glass of red wine and her stack of mail.  She had just returned from a business trip overseas and was exhausted but wanted to go through her mail before turning in for the night.  It was just before 9:00, but she wanted to go to bed early so she could get up and try to get back into the routine of completing her four-mile jog at least five days a week.  Jogging on the treadmill in the hotel during her business trip just wasn’t the same.  

Flipping through the mail, the name Anna Carson caught her eye.  Celeste grew up with Anna, but she hadn’t heard from her since Christmas break of her freshman year of college.  Celeste’s mother moved out of state that spring and Celeste hadn’t returned to her childhood neighborhood since. Sadly, Celeste hadn’t kept in touch with her childhood friends.  Curious, Celeste reached for her rose gold letter opener and carefully ran it through the top of the envelope. She pulled out a note “Celeste, just thought you would like to know about this. Maybe we can catch up sometime soon.”  It was signed Anna Carson McMillan and had her phone number and email address underneath. Along with the note was a newspaper clipping. It was an obituary for Josephine Dupree. Tears immediately started rolling down Celeste’s cheeks.

Across the country Kate Newsome Rawlins was nervously tapping her fingers on the kitchen table.  She has just gotten a call from Josephine Dupree’s lawyer with some rather interesting news. Kate had known Josephine since she was ten years old when she fell and scraped her knee in front of Josephine’s house.  The kind and lonely woman had quickly befriended Kate and her three best friends. They had shared many happy times and had also shed some tears over tea with Josephine for the eight years that followed until the girls left for college.  Kate was the only one of the girls that had kept in close contact with Josephine all these years and now she was gone.

Kate knew she needed to get in contact with Celeste, Anna, and Molly.  Josephine had left some very specific wishes in the event of her passing that Josephine’s lawyer had just shared.  Kate smiled as she remembered Josephine. She was a tall, sophisticated, beauty even at the age of 89, when Kate last saw her.

Once Kate graduated from college she settled into her career as an elementary art teacher, married her college sweetheart, and had two children.  She lived about 45 miles from the neighborhood where she grew up, but she had continued to visit Josephine at least once a month up until Josephine passed away peacefully in her sleep.

Walter Matthews, Josephine’s lawyer, had given Kate Celeste, Anna, and Molly’s home addresses, emails, and phone numbers.  Kate decided she would start with email. She hadn’t talked to the girls in years and thought it may be easier to start typing than to pick up the phone and know exactly what to say.  Kate sighed as she opened her laptop, signed into her email, and started typing.

Molly McKendrick sighed as she sat down to check her email before going to sleep.  Her husband Michael was still at work even though it was after 10:00. He was a chef at the hot new restaurant in town and it would probably be at least another two hours before he got home.  Molly had spent the evening helping with homework and had finally gotten the kids into bed for the night. She was scheduled to volunteer at her sons’ school tomorrow morning, and she wanted to check her email to make sure she hadn’t gotten another email from one of the boys’ teachers.  Scrolling quickly through her inbox she didn’t see anything important, and just as she was getting ready to close her laptop an email from her old friend Kate caught her eye.  

Molly opened Kate’s email while reaching for her wine glass and started reading.  Ms. Dupree, her sweet neighbor and friend, had passed away and it seemed that her lawyer was requesting her presence back in her hometown next week.  It seemed that Ms. Dupree had left something specific in her will regarding herself and her three closest childhood friends. Since it was the last week of school and the kids were off to summer camp next week, Molly figured she could get away for a little while without too much planning.

A week later Kate, Celeste, Anna, and Molly arrived at Ms. Dupree’s house and were greeted by Walter Matthews.  The girls exchanged hugs and made small talk about what had happened in their lives over the years while they waited anxiously for Mr. Matthews to let them know why they had all been called back to Ms. Dupree’s house.  Thirty minutes after they arrived, Mr. Matthews called the anxious women into Josephine’s office. It was one room in Josephine’s home that they had never ventured into as children. The door had always been closed and Josephine had never invited anyone behind those closed doors.

The girls took in rows of books lining the walls and stacks next to the massive and beautifully ornate wooden desk.  Anna, an aspiring author and self-proclaimed bookworm, scanned the book titles before announcing to the girls, “the majority of these books were written by Josie Harrison.  I never would have pegged Josephine as such a fangirl, but apparently she loved Josie Harrison books.”

Mr. Matthews smiled and cleared his throat.  All eyes in the room turned to him. “It amazes me that you were so close to Ms. Dupree and never realized that she and Ms. Josie Harrison were one and the same.”  Mr. Matthews took a seat in the leather desk chair and gave the women a minute to let this shocking piece of information set in.

“I don’t understand.” Kate was the first to speak.  “We all grew up with Josephine and she never once mentioned she was a writer.”  Kate opened to the back flap of one of the book’s covers and quickly skimmed the section about the author.  “There is no picture here, but this definitely doesn’t describe Josephine. It says here she is from the south, loves to travel the world, and does so with her beloved cocker spaniels Mille and Mason.  Josephine rarely left her home, most certainly never ventured past the city limits, and she is allergic to dogs.”

Walter Matthews clasped his hands together and sat them on the wooden desktop.  “I have known Josephine for nearly twenty years and when she approached me about wanting to publish a book she had been working on, she wanted to know what it would take to write under a pen name.  She had created an entire backstory for Josie Harrison as she didn’t want the attention publishing a book could bring and she wanted to write for the joy it brought her and not for any other reason.  You ladies surely know how stuck in her ways Josephine was.”  

“I never realized that Josephine was so sneaky.”  Celeste giggled. “What we don’t quite understand though, Mr. Matthews, is why you called all of us here together.” 

“Well, ladies it seems that you ladies made a promise to Josephine right before you graduated high school, a pact of sorts, and it was her wish that you make good on that promise.”  Walter could tell that the girls were all clueless as to what he could be talking about and he was enjoying seeing the women’s puzzled glances among each other.

Molly was the first to answer.  “The only thing I vaguely remember promising Ms. Dupree was that we would keep in touch and that we would have a big birthday blowout when she turned ninety.  She had always said if she made it to ninety she would be ready to party because it seemed like such a big milestone to her for some reason. It was just a silly thing she mentioned when we were all discussing life goals one afternoon over tea.  I remember nothing, however, about making a pact with her or anyone else.”

Walter Matthews cleared his throat and then replied, “Apparently, it wasn’t just a silly thing to Josephine and she was bound and determined to see that this wish was carried out.  Her will states that, in the event of her death, a celebration is still to occur on her ninetieth birthday with all of you in attendance. Friendship was very important to Josephine Dupree and she knew that what you ladies once had was very special.  It saddened her to know that you all had not kept in close contact and only sent the obligatory Christmas card over the holidays to each other.”

Kate opened the calendar app on her smartphone and realized that Josephine Dupree would have turned ninety next week.  “Her birthday would have been next week.” The girls all glanced around the room sadly at each other.  

“You are correct.”  Walter said to Kate.  “I have gathered you all here today to let you know that Josephine had a trip planned for you ladies.  She left me strict instructions on what to do, and she wanted you to celebrate her life and to reunite you girls at the same time.  I have plane tickets here for each of you as well as reservations at a beautiful house right on the beach. I also have a box she wanted you to pack and take with you.  It is not to be opened until you arrive at the place you will be staying. As you know, Ms. Dupree never married and had no children, but you all were more like daughters to her than you may have realized.”

Celeste was the first to respond.  “Mr. Matthews, as sweet as this all is, I have to work next week.  We have a deadline coming up at work, and I absolutely cannot get away.”  Celeste didn’t exactly love her job, but it was all she had in her life at the moment, and she was nothing if not driven to succeed.

The women all had lives to get back to, but Josephine always did have a special place in their hearts.  When they first started having their weekly teas with Ms. Dupree, the other kids in the neighborhood looked at them as if they were crazy and always thought it must have been something their parents made them do, but the girls quickly came to enjoy their time with Ms. Dupree and looked at her only with love and respect.  “Celeste, I think we all probably have things to get back to, but this is something that was obviously important to Josephine and I really do think it is important that we respect her wishes. Besides, if you are anything like you used to be, you are probably a workaholic and could use a nice break. I am sure there is someone at your firm that could cover for you.”

Three days later Kate, Molly, Celeste, and Anna took a short flight and arrived in a beautiful beach town.  They rented a car and followed directions to the beach house where they would be staying for the next few days.  Josephine had planned everything, down to the car they rented. She wanted the women to experience a “carefree time and feel the wind in their hair,” so the women found themselves traveling to their destination in a red convertible. 

“You know this really seems like the complete opposite of the Josephine we knew.”  Anna said. “She was always so prim and proper and I absolutely cannot envision her riding in a convertible down the highway and letting her hair get messed up.”  Kate and Celeste smiled and nodded in agreement.

“I think that is exactly why this is fitting for a celebration of Josephine.”  Molly said as she finished up a text to her husband, reminding him that the kids would need to be picked up at camp on Wednesday.  “She never really let her hair down and was always so serious. I think she wanted to make sure we didn’t forget to stop and enjoy life.” 

“We need to take a right at the next stop sign, and the beach house we are staying at should be about a mile down that road.”  Celeste was keeping an eye on the directions and Kate was driving. “Mr. Matthews said the kitchen would be fully stocked so I think it would be nice if we all had a nice dinner after we get settled in at the house.  Then we can have some wine and start going through the box Josephine left us. I have to admit, I almost opened it three times before we left for this trip. I am just dying to know what is inside.”

“Oh my gosh!  Ladies, there’s the house up there.”  Anna said as she pointed. “Leave it to Josephine Dupree to leave me speechless yet again.”  Just ahead was the most beautiful white beach house any of the women had ever seen. It was a grand, two story home with columns and porches on the first and second stories.  On each side of the first story porch were porch swings with brightly colored pillows casually thrown across the seats. There were luxurious and regal plants and flowering trees growing near the home and in large pots lining the porch.  The bright blue sky in the background only made the house seem that much more amazing. Kate turned off the engine and the sound of crashing waves and seagulls surrounded them.

Two hours later the Molly, Kate, Celeste, and Anna sat down to dinner on the back porch overlooking the beach.  Molly made a dinner of spinach salad, grilled chicken and asparagus, and fresh fruit tarts for dessert. “Molly, this is absolutely amazing!  Why aren’t you creating dishes like this in a hot new restaurant like your husband?”

Molly smiled somewhat sadly before responding, “With Michael’s schedule and the kids still at home and in school, it just doesn’t really seem an option right now.  I do love cooking though and we have some great dinner parties when Michael isn’t working so much.” The women continued talking throughout dinner and while cleaning up the dishes.  

By the time they all say down to open the box from Josephine, it seemed like no time had passed at all, and they no longer seemed like the strangers they had become to each other before this trip.  Kate carried out a pair of scissors and carefully opened the box. Inside were pictures spanning years. Some of them were of Josephine when she was younger and then as the pictures got more recent, some of the pictures had Molly, Kate, Anna, and Celeste in them.  There were also some of Josephine’s journals, an incomplete manuscript for her last novel, and a letter that Josephine had written to the women.

Throughout the next week Josephine’s life was remembered as the women went through everything in the box and they were reminded of all the good times they had with Josephine and with each other.  They even learned that Josephine was in love once with Harrison Smith, her high school sweetheart, who went to war and never returned.  

Each evening when Celeste, Anna, Kate, and Molly went to their own rooms for the evening they took turns taking “Josie Harrison’s” unfinished book with them to read before bed.  Each woman smiled tearfully when they finished reading and realized the book was about them.

On their last evening at the beach house they realized that Josephine had brought them back together and they decided that they would come back together once a year to this beach house to remember Josephine and to catch up.

Five years later they were still meeting annually at the beach house.  Anna was the first to arrive that year at the beach house, carrying a heavy box through the front door and sitting it on the table.  Anna’s husband Max would be joining her the next day when he finished work for the week. Celeste arrived thirty minutes later with her newborn daughter Lucy asleep in the carrier and her husband Joseph following behind, his arms full of various baby gear that would be needed for their stay.  Molly, Michael, and the boys were the next to arrive and Kate and her family arrived last. Molly and Michael happily cooked dinner for everyone, trying some new recipes from their recently started family catering business.  

“Anna, we are dying to know what you have to show us.  Haven’t we waited long enough? What’s in the box?” Celeste said as she sat in the wooden rocker on the patio, trying to rock Lucy to sleep.

“Alright, alright, I guess I have made you wait long enough.”  Anna opened the box and passed out a smaller box to each of the women.  Kate, Celeste, and Molly all opened their smaller boxes at the same time to find a book titled The Pact, written by Josie Harrison and Anna Carson McMillan.  All the women smiled at each other, knowing that Josephine would be so proud that Anna had a part in making sure her last novel was put out into the world.  

“Come on guys!  The fireworks are going to start.” Kate’s youngest son yelled from the beach.  All the kids took off running ahead of the adults.  

Anna, Kate, Celeste, and Molly walked down to the beach slightly behind their families. “Josephine would have loved this.”  Kate said, knowing that they were now friends that would grow old together, and with any luck, their children would be too.   

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