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I have two favorite parts in The Wizard of Oz. I know it’s kind of impossible to have more than one favorite of anything, but I think sometimes, like in the case of the best movie ever made, it’s okay to make an exception. Because The Wizard of Oz has so many great moments—like when Dorothy first opens the door of her tornado-tossed house to a bright and colorful new world. And when the merry munchkins and Glinda the Good Witch of the North welcome her over the rainbow and present her with sparkly ruby red slippers. And when she finally makes it to Oz with her new group of friends and they all get head-to-toe makeovers. With so many memorable parts to choose from, it’s practically impossible to pick just one favorite. So, I have two.
The beginning. And the end.
It sounds weird, I know. My two favorite parts of the movie are the only parts in black and white. Most people can’t wait for Dorothy to get whisked away from boring, gray Kansas and wake up surrounded by flowers and lollipops. Who wouldn’t want to go to sleep and wake up somewhere over the rainbow?
Well, me, for one. The beginning and the end are my favorite parts because that’s when Dorothy is surrounded by everyone who loves her most. That’s when she’s happiest. And that’s exactly how I feel at home in Curly Creek . . . and how, after today, I might not ever feel again.
I duck. An overstuffed black garbage bag flies over my head and lands on the walkway in front of me.
Momma crosses the porch and squats next to me. “Is your room done?”
I lower my chin to my knees and frown at the sight of her fluffy pink bathrobe poking through the top of the bag. “Yes.”
She rocks to one side, gently nudging me with her elbow. “Do we have any road trip snacks left?”
I lean forward and grab the open bag of potato chips from the step below mine. I take a handful and hold the bag toward her. “Are you sure you don’t want any help?”
Momma takes the near-empty bag, then tilts it and pours the broken remains into her open mouth. “Yup. We have a very long drive ahead of us, and I need my navigator to be rested and relaxed.”
She gives me the bag and stands. I stay where I am, on the top step of the dusty front stoop, as she selects a cardboard box from the lawn and carries it to the car. The rear of the tiny hatchback already sags from the weight of our belongings, and black trash bags stuffed with clothes puff out of the open back windows.
It’s hard to believe how quickly the car filled up, especially since we gave away a lot of stuff we didn’t need. Mrs. Jenkins, Mom’s boss at the Curly Creek Nail Boutique, got all of our pink dinner dishes, and Miss Amelia, my old babysitter and the lead day care provider at Curly Creek Li’l Peeps, got all of our towels and blankets. Some things Momma sold to Mr. Lou of Curly Creek Junk ’n’ Treasures, like our TV and her self-powered treadmill. Thankfully, we didn’t have to worry about packing up, giving away, or selling any furniture, since Momma had rented the house fully furnished.
But we still have to fit four boxes, three black garbage bags, two piles of coats, and one brown corduroy duffel bag filled with about a thousand balls of yarn and a dozen knitting needles into the car. All that stuff is strewn across the front lawn like a twister lifted our small blue house from its foundation, spun it around, turned it upside down, and shook out everything inside.
“Ruby Lee! Don’t you dare leave me!”
I look up to see Gabby Kibben, my favorite person in the whole entire world (besides Momma), running toward me.
Like Glinda the Good Witch had for Dorothy, Gabby had shown up just when I needed her; on our first day of kindergarten, her momma followed her onto the school bus and handpicked me for Gabby to sit with. I guess I didn’t look like the kind of person who’d demand the Fig Newtons from her lunch box or try to snatch the flower-shaped eraser from her pencil case. Anyway, for seven years we sat together on the bus, played together after school, and slept over at each other’s houses on weekends. Now, I wonder for the millionth time how I’m going to survive without her.
“You can’t go.” She drops to her knees in front of me. “You just can’t.”
Afraid to speak because I know I’ll cry, I concentrate on folding the empty potato-chip bag into a neat foil square.
“I mean, this year is junior high. Junior high! And in two years it’s high school. High school!”
“And after high school it’s college, marriage, kids, and the nursing home.” I try to smile. “Do you really want to spend every second of every day for the next hundred years together?”
Her eyes widen. “Yes.”
I sigh as my eyes fill with tears. “Me too.”
She looks over her shoulder. I look past her to see Momma and Mrs. Kibben talking quietly near our car.
Gabby turns back to me. “Come on.”
I shake my head as she jumps up and bounds down the porch steps. “We’re leaving any minute. I should probably—”
“You should probably follow me.” Reaching the ground, she runs to the side of the porch steps and smiles at me through the skinny wooden bars. “If you’re leaving any minute, then we’re down to seconds.”
She has a point.
I tuck the foil square in the snack bag at my feet and hurry after her. As I run, I try to ignore everything I pass. Because if I think about the wooden cellar doors, where Gabby and I spent hours tanning every summer, or the yard’s lone apple tree, from which Momma made the most amazing pies, or even the neatly coiled garden hose that always worked as a sprinkler on superhot days, I’ll stop running. I’ll lock myself in the cellar, climb out of reach in the apple tree, or tangle my arms and legs in the garden hose so that it’s physically impossible to leave.
And according to Momma, we have to leave. Nana Dottie needs us.
“Stay right there!”
I skid to a stop, holding out my arms for balance and practically falling forward anyway. “What is that?”
Gabby stands in the middle of the backyard. She presses one finger to her lips, signaling me to be quiet, and carefully brings the big black box even closer to her face.
“Is it a time travel machine that’ll take us back to last year?” I ask hopefully, trying to hold still.
“Close.” Gabby presses one finger down on top of the box, and a flash of light brighter than the Kansas afternoon sun illuminates the backyard.
I close my eyes and cover my face with my hands. When the white spots bursting across the insides of my eyelids finally dim, I open one eye, then the other, and peer through my spread fingers. The light goes off again, this time only six inches from where I stand. I spin around. “Are you trying to blind me so I can’t read the map?”
“Trust me,” Gabby says. “That was a great shot.”
“How can I trust you when I can’t even see you?” I rub my eyes and slowly turn back. (Because, of course, I do trust her. Completely.)
“The flash always goes off, no matter how bright it is outside. And you have to keep the back taped so the film doesn’t fall out. But besides those minor flaws, it’s pretty much perfect.”
I eye the ancient black contraption she holds toward me.
“I got a great deal on it,” Gabby declares proudly. “But Mr. Lou said it’s in excellent working condition and that the pictures look surprisingly professional.”
I take the camera—and immediately almost drop it. “It weighs, like, a hundred pounds!”
“You’ll never lose it.”
I look up. “It’s for me?”
She grins. “It’s not quite a time travel machine . . . but I thought if we got a bunch of shots now, you could develop them later and have a little bit of Kansas with you in Florida.”
Despite almost crying a few minutes before, I smile. “You know, there is one thing that would make all of this much, much easier.”
“Don’t.” Gabby holds up one hand. “Don’t even say it.”
“One last little moment that will create one last unforgettable memory that I can hold on to all the way to Florida.”
“My mom took away TV and phone privileges for an entire week the last time I got caught.”
I pout. “Please?”
“And if I’m caught this time, I’ll be serving my sentence alone.” She gives me a look. “All alone.”
I try to pretend like I don’t hear that last part. “Pretty please? It’s my very last best friend request—at least for now.”
She pauses. “You’re going to take a picture, aren’t you?”
“No.” I nod.
“A lifetime of gratitude.” I cross my heart and manage not to laugh.
She takes a deep breath, exhales dramatically, and then sprints across the lawn. When she reaches the tall wooden fence that divides our backyard from Mr. Finkle’s backyard, she grabs the tops of the wooden slates and hoists herself up. After making sure the coast is clear, she pulls up her feet and drops to the ground on the other side.
I hold my breath and raise the camera. The last time Gabby did this, Mr. Finkle spotted her from his kitchen window and stormed out to lecture her about the importance of respecting your neighbors—and not falling into their strawberry patches and crushing what could’ve been the annual Pick of the Year at the Curly Creek Summer Fair. He then came over and gave Momma the same lecture, Momma told Mrs. Kibben, and Mrs. Kibben took away Gabby’s phone and TV privileges for a week.
When a few seconds pass and Gabby remains out of sight, I count to ten and lower the camera, ready to bolt across the yard and rescue her from strawberry-patch-protecting Mr. Finkle.
And then I see her. Launching into the sky like a kite caught in a gust of wind. I lift the camera and snap a picture right before she disappears again.
She reached Mr. Finkle’s trampoline, safe and sound.
I take another picture, and another, and at least ten more after that—one shot for every time Gabby springs above the tall wooden fence. As usual, I can’t help but laugh as she twists and turns her body into letters of the alphabet, performing a much longer, much more physically challenging version of “Y.M.C.A.” Most people could never guess what she’s spelling, since some letters look remarkably similar, like D and E, or I and O. But I know.
R and G. Friends forever!
I take one last picture after the exclamation point grand finale—when Gabby hoists herself back onto the fence, clearly exhausted but grinning from ear to ear. By the time she reaches me, we’re both laughing so hard we fall to the ground, tears rolling down our cheeks.
“I’m so developing this film as soon as we get there.” I flop on my back and rest the camera on my chest.
“You know,” Gabby says, lying in the grass next to me, “Mr. Lou said some places will put the pictures on a CD for you.”
“So then we can e-mail them?”
“It’s almost as good as being there as things happen.”
I turn my head to look at her. “I hate e-mail.”
She turns her head to me and frowns. “Me too.”
I stretch out my right arm, palm side up. Gabby’s hand quickly finds mine, and we squeeze tightly.
“Time to hit the road, sweetie!”
I close my eyes at the sound of Momma’s voice calling from the front yard.
“I can’t believe you’re really leaving me, Ruby Lee,” Gabby whispers.
Since I’ve never had to leave anywhere before, I’ve never had to say good-bye to anyone before, and I don’t really know how it works. But I’m pretty sure the longer I stay here the worse I’ll feel, so I jump to my feet and hold out one hand to help Gabby up. I throw my arms around her neck, hug her, and then somehow manage to make my feet move toward the front yard.
“There they are.” Miss Amelia opens her arms wide.
“Aren’t they just the sweetest?” Mrs. Jenkins tilts her head to one side.
“Town won’t be the same without you two running around,” Mr. Lou says.
One good-bye is hard enough, and I’m not prepared to say fifteen more to the neighbors crowded on our front lawn. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, and neither does Momma, so these people, most of whom I’ve known as long as I’ve been breathing, are our family. They’ve been saying good-bye for weeks by helping us pack, bringing us dinner so we didn’t have to worry about cooking, and throwing us a big good-bye barbecue on the town green. Just last night, they brought over pizza and root beer, and we all sat on the front porch, eating, talking, and laughing. (And crying, especially Momma and Mrs. Kibben.)
“Good news.” Momma stands near the car, which is now completely filled, and holds up a stack of black cassettes. “Mix tapes. Courtesy of Mr. Lou.”
“Great.” I try to smile.
Apparently I’m not the only one in Curly Creek who’s never really had to say good-bye before, because after this exchange, everyone just kind of stands there, staring and not saying anything, like at a museum. Or worse—at a funeral.
This makes me think of Nana Dottie, who recently lost Papa Harry. I’d never met Nana Dottie’s second husband (Momma and I didn’t even go down to Florida for his funeral), but she’s apparently out-of-her-mind upset . . . because we’re really going out of our way to make her feel better.
“You know, I hear there are a lot of knitting circles in Florida,” Mrs. Kibben finally offers.
Momma claps her hands and bumps one hip against mine. That’s the thing about friends who are family—they might not know exactly how to tell you good-bye, but they definitely know exactly how to make you smile.
Momma and I hug everyone one last time. When I get to Gabby, I hold on to her until fresh tears begin to brim, and then I make myself let go.
A singsong chorus of “Have a great trip,” “We’ll miss you,” and “Come back soon,” surrounds us as we get in the car. It stays with us as we pull out of the driveway and onto the street, and then it slowly fades as we start driving. I turn in my seat to watch everyone grow smaller through the back window, but Momma’s records are piled to the roof and block my view. When I look in the side view mirror, all I can see is a black garbage bag ballooning from the back window.
And just like that, we’re leaving Curly Creek, the only home we’ve ever known, for a faraway place called Coconut Grove.
Momma says I should try to think of moving as an exciting adventure. But what good is going somewhere over the rainbow if you have no way of knowing what on earth you’ll do once you land?
© 2010 Tricia Rayburn