October 2002 - Burn the Witch
Hansel and Gretel finally pushed the evil witch into the big oven and latched the iron door. From inside, the witch's pitiful cries could be heard, but the two children did not show any mercy. They took more gingerbread from the house and traipsed towards the back of the stage where they disappeared behind the curtain.
The audience, mostly parents, applauded good-naturedly while the students of Edna Monrose Junior High School came to the front of the stage and bowed. Of course, Hansel and Gretel were the main characters and they were played by Zach Adams and Julia Monrose, the kids of two prominent local families who contributed heavily to the school. Both kids received their applause, but when Emily Brewer who had played the witch stepped forward, the clapping went up one notch. Emily, with her copper-red hair, her green eyes, and her pointy nose was perfect for the role, and she had played it with enthusiasm and considerable acting talent. She was one of the cutest girls in the class and certainly the smartest. She bowed one more time, beaming with pride, before she stepped back to where Mrs. Monrose already fussed over her precious daughter.
Mrs. Monrose looked at Emily with a smirk. "You did quite a good witch, Emily," she stated regally. "Then again, with that nose, what else can you play?"
Emily could only stand and stare at the woman.
"What? Did nobody ever tell you?"
There was a mirror to the side of the stage entrance for the performers to check their costumes, and Emily looked at herself. A long, thin nose with a bump was all she could see. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she fled the stage. Emily could already imagine how the next days would be like, with Julia Monrose repeating her mother's words ad nauseam. She wanted nothing more than to hide for the next weeks or even years.
In the following nights, lying in her narrow bed in the small bedroom that she shared with her two younger siblings, Emily racked her brain to come up with a solution. She knew about the possibilities of plastic surgery. Straightening or shortening a nose was no magic at all. Yet when she used the ancient computer in the community library to find out more about rhinoplasty, she quickly realized the folly of that idea.
Talk about sticker shock! Prices were in the range up to $ 8.000, and no surgeon would touch her before she was sixteen. Her father's health plan at the sawmill did not cover anything beyond basic health care, and her father was just a foreman with five mouths to feed. No way he could come up with that amount of money.
In the small West Virginia community where they lived, jobs for junior high school students were rare and they payed only pittances. There was no way for Emily to come up with the money for the rhinoplasty. The prospects were dim, too. Scotstown did not even have enough jobs for all the men, and women had an even harder time finding employment. Emily knew that her own mother was looking for ways to supplement her father's wages by sewing dresses for people. The sound of the sewing machine was a constant companion in the trailer where they lived. Yet, her mother earned barely enough to finance her own and her kids' clothing.
No, if Emily wanted her nose fixed, she had to get out of Scotstown, and there was only one way – finish school at the top and get a scholarship for college. Get a degree, get a job, earn money, and then find a topnotch plastic surgeon! In those days in November 2002, 13 year-old Emily Brewer committed herself to a plan.
October 31, 2006 - A Friend for Life
Emily Brewer was preparing herself for the annual Halloween party at Henry Monrose High School. She had spent more than a week to obtain the cloth she needed, to cut the patterns, and to sew her costume. Now she tried to judge her appearance in the smallish mirror in the shared bedroom. A smile spread over her face. The costume was picture-perfect.
In some way, Emily had taken the words of Mrs. Monrose to heart. If she was limited to playing the witch, she would play the witch. Every year so far, Emily had won the costume contest over Julia Monrose. Not even the tailor made princess costumes her mother had made in Raleigh could change that. Halloween was Emily's night, no matter how shy, how withdrawn, how bookish she was during the rest of the year.
Now for the piece de resistance! At a flea market two towns over, Emily had found Fido. Fido was a raven. A stuffed raven. Her father had fashioned a wire contraption to affix the stuffed bird on Emily's left shoulder, and tonight would be Fido's premiere. Grinning, Emily attached the wires to the lashes on the shoulder of her costume and studied her mirror image again. Yes! That ought to do it. Emily nodded to her image.
Her father drove her over to the gymnasium where the ball was held. Emily alighted from the truck and quickly ran over to the entrance. She had not many friends at school, but Marty Connolly was a kinda-sorta friend, or maybe he was just a fellow nerd. Predictably, he had a felt pen lightning on his forehead and was wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He was too tall and skinny to pull off a convincing Harry Potter, but Emily had not the heart to tell him. He looked like he was bursting with news.
"Hey, Marty! You look like you'll pop a stitch if you can't get it off your chest."
"Just heard it from Duke Holloway. Monrose Construction is going belly-up. Tucker Monrose filed for bankruptcy this afternoon."
"Oh shit!" Emily aid softly. That was the worst of news for Scotstown.
Tucker Monrose owned Monrose Plywood, Monrose Timber, and Monrose Construction in Scotstown, a business inherited from his father and grandfather. He was Scotstown's inofficial dictator providing more than half of the jobs and sixty percent of the town's tax income.
He was married to a woman from a good Virginia family, a real charm school-bred Southern Belle, and together they had ruled over the small town. Unfortunately, in the last winter, the good Tucker suffered the mishap of a small coronary while dipping his wick into another man's inkwell, namely the Reverend Calhoun's young wife. With the EMTs responding to the emergency call, the scandal became public within hours. Leonora Monrose immediately filed for divorce. She tried to take her husband to the cleaners, tried to drain him of all his assets, but it came out that there was not much to drain – Tucker Monrose was deeply in debt.
With his separated wife dragging him through the mud and with the medical troubles on top of it, the construction company lost a lot of work, and now it was crunch time. Emily felt a little guilty. Her father was safe for the time being. Monrose Timber was not in trouble. Other families would suffer badly, however, while Tucker and Leonora Monrose slugged it out in court and in public.
"That sucks, Marty," she said sympathetically. "What do you think? How many will be laid off?"
"Don't know. Jeez, it's time to graduate and shake the dust off our shoes." Like Emily, Marty wanted out of Scotstown right after graduation.
Just then, the door opened and Julia stepped in. Emily caught a glimpse of Leonora Monrose's car as it drove off, and there stood Julia. She was wearing a stupid princess costume again, but this year she did not show her trademark pearly-whities to her court of friends. She looked as if she had cried.
Emily and Julia had buried their hatchet two years before. Though Emily felt self-conscious in the presence of the picture-pretty blonde, she felt no animosity anymore. At one point during freshman year, both had sat in the bleachers during PE class both suffering from menstrual cramps. Julia had surprised Emily by apologizing for her mother's tactless taunt after that school play more than a year before. Emily had not thought that the blonde princess would even remember the incident, but apparently it had weighed on Julia's conscience ever since.
That afternoon, the two girls agreed on a nonaggression treaty. They were not friends as both moved in different circles. After all Emily's father was a mere foreman at Monrose Timber. Yet they never spoke bad of the other either, and one time, Julia had driven Emily to the hospital after her father had had a work site accident.
Julia saw Emily and Marty. "H-hey, Em. You ... you look great ... you always do ... I..."
Emily was a kindhearted girl and she sensed the state Julia was in. With an apologizing glance at Marty, she stepped up to Julia and wrapped the surprised blonde in a hug.
"I just heard, Julia. I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how you must feel."
"I-it's s-so t-terrible! Mom and D-dad have been fighting all day. She c-called him a d-disgrace and a ... Oh God, she was like a madwoman. S-she's going back to Virginia, imagine that! She leaving me behind. All because I asked her to back off and th-think of the workers and their f-families. Sh-she's ruining everybody, and sh-she doesn't even c-care! How c-can I look p-people in the eyes now?"
"Sshh! Julia, this isn't your fault," Emily soothed the sobbing girl. The she espied Frances Denham, one of Julia's friends, and she waved at her.
Frances came over reluctantly. "Hey Em. What's up with her?"
Emily rolled her eyes. "Didn't you hear?"
Frances shrugged. "It's not like the world will go under."
"To Julia, it feels that way," Emily returned. "Listen, can you look after her?"
"Shit, no! This is the Halloween Ball. I'm not going to babysit Julia all evening."
Emily's eyes narrowed into angry slits and her posture changed. It was Halloween, her night, and she would not take shit from nobody, least of all from Frances.
.... There is more of this story ...