Best Friends Forever

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1. Chapter 1

The alarm clock next to Lilly's bed sang its annoying, jingling song at its usual hour that morning, just like so many other mornings before it.  She lifted her hand aimlessly in the direction of the irritating sound and finally managed to silence it after a few attempts before inadvertently dragging it off the end table and onto the floor.  The sudden crash jolted her awake.  She dragged herself to the side of the bed to inspect the damage to the clock from her comfortable position.  Right now, though, she couldn't have cared if it had shattered into a thousand pieces.

She sighed heavily and flopped her face back onto her pillow.  For the first time in a while, she simply wasn't ready to rise, shine, or attack the day.  The soft mattress, fluffy pillow and warm blankets beckoned her to stay, but she had prior obligations that morning that she had to keep.  She did make a promise to help her best friend Amber after all.  Amber had run behind a bit with the apple picking that week thanks to a minor but bothersome injury and didn't want a repeat of what happened months ago when she cooked up a batch of baked bads or sent Chloe careening into the library.  Lilly and a couple of other friends had agreed to lend her a hand that day and hopefully get her back on track.

Still laying on her stomach, enjoying every extra second possible, she flipped her covers away and crawled out of bed.  After replacing the clock onto the end table, relieved that it still worked, she dragged herself to her dresser and looked herself over in the mirror.

She was a wreck.  She had thrown a party six days in a row prior to yesterday. Thursdays were generally slower than most other days of the week and thankfully for Lilly, that trend had continued.  

Even though it was relatively, mercifully slow during the day, the night had other plans. Lilly had wanted to get to bed early to catch up on some rest but was forced to stay up later than she wanted at work.

She headed to the bathroom for a nice, hot shower.  She silently prayed it would snap her back to reality, but after she had finished up, she didn't look any less exhausted than she had before.  After toweling herself off, her hair poofed into its usual wavy style and she forced a smile onto her face.  It took more strength than she had and after a moment, the smile fell into an uncharacteristic frown, coupled with large bags hanging from her eyes.  Feeling defeated, she carried herself downstairs.

A few minutes after arriving in the lobby and checking the store out one final time before heading out, Chloe entered.  She had a bounce in her step that morning similarly to how Lilly typically does.

"Hey Lilly, what's up?  Ready to head to the farm?"  Chloe got a good look at the her and grimaced.  "Jeez, you OK?  You don't look so good."

Lilly perked up as best as her groggy state would let her.  "Sure am, Chloe!  Just a little tired but I'll be fine."

Chloe chuckled, "You, tired?  Heh, good one, Lilly!  That's something I never thought I'd hear....well  I'm going to catch on ahead.  I'll see you there!"

Lilly sighed.  "The one time I'm being serious and nobody believes me," she mumbled to herself.  With a large yawn, she headed out the door.

 

-----

 

Even though the one closer to Amber's farm was Millie, Lilly was one of the last ones to arrive.  The only one that took longer was Rose, and not by much despite how much farther away her Boutique was and how long it took the sophisticated girl to get ready.  She even had to pick out just the right hat to bring with her to wear during lunch, lest the midday sun get in her eyes or make her sweat and cause her make-up to run.

Most of the morning, Lilly drudged through her work, taking much longer to knock the apples from their branches than the others.  They were too caught up in what they were doing to ask if she was alright, even though it was plain on her face.  She even caught herself leaning up against a couple tree trunks asleep.  Nobody mentioned seeing her in such a precarious position, so she tried not to think about it.  She didn't want to let her friends down, after all.  As lunch crawled closer, she hoped that the food Millie brought would give her a little bit of a boost for the afternoon.

 

-----

 

Amber had eaten quickly and gotten back to picking sooner than the rest.  Chloe spent her lunch relaxing on the ground. Jade was going over the projected schedule and route on some papers she brought. Rose and Millie sat and gossiped while they ate.  The normally hyperactive Lilly nibbled at her sandwich without saying a word.

                                                                             -----

"Aw, shoot," Amber sighed.  "This was one o' the older trees in this orchard.  It's so much larger than most o' the others, y'see.  One of our most productive trees too.  Ah've seen plenty o' cracks before, thanks ta all the stuff we do ta these things, but not like this one.  We'll probably need ta take 'er down.  Poor thing."

"How long does it usually take to get a tree removed?" Lilly asked.

"Depends on how deep the roots go really.  Can take anywhere from a couple hours ta several.  Bein' an older tree, it's more likely to take a while," Amber explained, "but it should be OK for now.  We still got a long way ta go before we're done doin' these trees today, otherwise Ah'd say we take care of it now.  But, me 'n Dan can take care of it tomorrow."

Lilly took another look at the jagged crack in the massive trunk.  "Well, I suppose.  It's just that- " she tried to say before she was cut off by a twitch in her back.  She forgot how tired she was upon feeling her back going crazy.  "Girls!  My back is tingling!"  She looked skyward trying to spot what could possibly, randomly, fall out of the sky, but it had been a clear day so far.  She turned nervously toward the tree and began to sweat.

"Lilly dear, I trust Amber's judgment on the matter.  If she says the tree will be fine until tomorrow, then it will be fine," Rose said.  "She's been doing this sort of thing long enough, so she probably knows what she's talking about."  She looked through the dense orchard and raised a hand to her chin.  Amber obviously was more familiar with her acres of land, but trying to find the damaged tree the next day could possibly take more time away from actually removing it than she and her brother would like.  With this in mind, Rose had an idea and pulled off the bright purple bow adorning her hat, and wrapped it around one of the lower branches.

Amber and Lilly were the only ones who noticed Rose's actions and didn't know what to make of it.  "What's that for?" Lilly finally asked.

"Well, I thought that the purple would stand out well against the sea of greens and browns and make it easier for Amber to find the tree tomorrow when she and Dan come out here to dispose of it," Rose explained, almost too proud of her idea.

"Um.. I guess that makes some sense," Lilly admitted, rubbing the back of her neck uncertainly.  "I still think we should at least pull it down.  Just in case, y'know?"

Rose chuckled at Lilly's insistence, "Darling, Amber and Dan will handle it.  Don't worry so much!"

Suddenly, there was a soft ruffle from the grass behind the broken tree. Lilly and Millie looked around the trunk and saw a squirrel laying on the ground.  It hadn't been there a minute ago.  Millie darted over to the critter with a gasp.  "Oh my goodness!  Are you OK?"  She picked up the squirrel and checked him for any injuries.  It seemed to be ok so she put the animal down again.

Millie, will you help me pull this tree down?  Please?  You've been listening.  I'd rather not leave it like this."  She was starting to wonder if it was paranoia or fatigue that was making her carry on about a situation that seemed to already have a solution.

"Well, I'm not as strong as Amber or Chloe, but yes, I'll help.  Just let me find a new home real quick for this squirrel," she said.

"But.. can't they just hang out for a minute somewhere out of the way?"

Millie laid a hand on Lilly's shoulder reassuringly, "Don't worry, it shouldn't take long to find another tree with some shelter for them."  The squirrel skittered down the tree trunk ready to follow Millie to wherever she led them.

Lilly slouched low, frustrated that her words were falling on deaf ears.  'Why do they have such a hard time taking what I say seriously sometimes?' she thought to herself.  'I know I can be hyper and random a lot but still..'  She tried to pay it no mind.  Millie did agree to help, which was more than Amber or Rose could say right now.

Chloe was still lounging at the time, intent on taking a bit longer of a break than the others. Seeing Millie leading a squirrel expedition gave her an almost mean idea.  She and Lilly agreed a long time ago not to prank Millie, but they didn't say anything about her little friends. 

Jade was just finishing up her lunch, ready to bring her work over to Amber and go over her papers again.  So far, they had made fair time, but she felt they could do better and had spent most of her break drawing up some possible ways to shave some time off their chore.  She lifted her parchments up and-

BOOM!

The sudden loud thunderclap made Jade jump and accidentally throw all her parchments and inkwells in random directions, one of which nearly hit Lilly.  Unfortunately, it didn't miss the tree behind her that she was vigilantly guarding. One of the inkwells connected right on the crack and splintered some of the exposed heartwood, causing the rift to widen even further.  Millie's squirrel had darted away at the noise the second it happened.  The two girls looked up angrily at Chloe as she rolled on the ground laughing.

"Guys, come on!  That almost hit me!" Lilly yelled angrily.  All their bickering and scolding each other drowned out the Lilly's pleas.  Her weariness started eating away at her patience.  "Will somebody listen to me?!"

A few quiet crackles coming from behind caused Lilly to freeze up and hold her breath.  Any exhaustion she had completely disappeared in an instant.  The breaking of wood under intense weight coupled with a loud, ominous moan spun her around and she screamed as the old tree started to fall toward her.  A moment later, she was silenced.  A sickening crunch, followed by the snapping of twigs and rustling of leaves on the ground, took everybody's attention away from what they were doing.

"Lilly?" Jade whispered nervously.

The five anxiously approached the fallen tree that their friend had asked repeatedly for help with, silently begging that what they were all thinking wasn't true.  A few feet from the new stump, beneath the trunk, a single leg stuck out motionlessly.  They gasped as one.  Jade grabbed the large tree, trying desperately to pull it off Lilly.  It was still partially stuck on the stump and wouldn't budge.  Millie and Rose were on the verge of hysterics, weeping openly at what they feared.  Chloe and Amber dashed over and pushed at the connection with all their strength until it finally came apart.  Jade tossed the tree away the second she could, tears streaming down her cheeks.  They finally saw their friend.

"Oh no..."

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