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“It's so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

 

“I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, “You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly.”

 

“I can get six large, easy,” cried Jo, examining the heels of her shoes in a gentlemanly manner. “Ain’t no fool can catch me once I get going.”

 

“You are old enough to leave off boyish tricks, and to behave better, Josephine,” said Meg, beginning to lecture in her elder-sisterly fashion. “It didn't matter so much when you were a little girl, but now you are so tall, and turn up your hair, you should remember that you are a young lady.”

 

“I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” said Jo. “Nothing else matters. Not the money, not the store, not you girls and all your bullsh*t. For those ten seconds or less, I'm free.”

 

****

 

Jo stood tall amidst the other racers, her hands shoved deep in her pockets. Danny Yamato and Edwin Bishop ambled excitedly over to her, anxious to begin the final race of the night.

 

“How shall we proceed, Jo?” asked Edwin. He cracked his knuckles, as all thoughts of propriety dissolved in the wake of his anticipation.

 

“Winner gets the loser’s cars. No second best. Beth’s going to hold the titles.”

 

Each of the racers places their rose slips into Beth’s gentle hands. Unexpectedly, a fourth slip is given to Beth, in addition to Jo’s, Danny’s and Edwin’s.

 

“Add mine to the kitty,” said a new voice. Jo turned around and, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy.'

 

“How is your cat, Miss March?” asked the boy, trying to look sober while his black eyes shone with fun.

 

“I’ll kick your ass you call me that again, Mr. Laurence. Just Jo,” returned the young lady.

 

“I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie.”

 

“Laurie Laurence? Bullsh*t.”

 

****

 

“I dare say I almost had you,” said Laurie rubbing up his hair till it looked as if he had been out in a gale.

 

“You almost had me?” Jo cackled at the very thought of it. “You never had me - you never had your car! Granny shiftin’ not double clutchin' like you should. You're lucky that hundred shot of NOS didn't blow the welds on the intake! You almost had me?”

 

Jo took a moment to regain her composure, and her gentlemanly demeanor returned. “Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning.”

 

****

 

Here, cherished like a household saint in its shrine, sat Beth, tranquil and busy as ever, for nothing could change the sweet, unselfish nature, and even while preparing to leave life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain behind. “If God wants me with Him, there is none who will stop Him. I don't mind. I was never like the rest of you...making plans about the great things I'd do. I never saw myself as anything much. Not a great racer like you. Ride or die, remember?”

 

“Ride or die,” Jo sobbed. “Ride or die.”

 

****

 

Laurie grinned bashfully. “Amy is with your mother at Meg’s home. We stopped there by the way, and there was no getting my wife out of their clutches.”

 

“Back the hell up!” cried Jo, for Laurie uttered those two words with an unconscious pride and satisfaction which betrayed him.

 

“Oh, the dickens! Now I've done it.” And he looked so guilty that Jo was down on him like a flash.

 

“You've gone and got hitched!”

 

“Yes, please, but I never will again.” And he went down upon his knees, with a penitent clasping of hands, and a face full of mischief, mirth, and triumph. Jo clasped her hands behind Laurie’s head so that he could feel the steel in her fingers.

 

“You break her heart,” Jo said quietly, but with an air of powerful confidence. “I will break your neck.”

 

****

 

“I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!” burst out Jo, who was in an unusually up-lifted frame of mind after a blissful evening of family counsels, hopes, and plans. “No matter where you are, whether it's a quarter mile away or half way across the world. The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room, right here, right now. Salute mi familia.”


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Jared Axelrod

Jared Axelrod is an author, an illustrator, and a world changer. Throughout her eventful life she has also been a circus performer, a puppeteer, a graphic designer, a sculptor, a costume designer, a podcaster and quite a few other things that she’s lost track of but will no doubt remember when the situation calls for it. She is the writer and producer of “The Voice Of Free Planet X” podcast, were she interviews stranded time-travelers, low-rent superheroes, unrepentant monsters and other such creature of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as the podcasts “Aliens You Will Meet” and “Fables Of The Flying City.” The story started in “Fables Of The Flying City” is concluded in The Battle Of Blood & Ink, a graphic novel published by Tor. She is not domestic, she is a luxury, and in that sense, necessary.