It was a long time before I started to understand exactly why she was so guarded, at first I thought it was because she was shy, then I thought it was because she hated the world, or maybe hated herself. I came to realize it was simply because she was afraid.
Chelsea Reece had a very rare condition, so rare that I doubted the medical practice even had a name for it. My best guess, in my limited knowledge, was some sub variation of Heterochromia, though some people would just call her a mutant, or a freak. I was best friends with her brother, Dylan, our families lived at the end of a dead-end court, just across the street from each other. We would play street hockey, football and baseball, pretending we were the greatest sports heroes of our time. We would play outside all summer long, from dawn until dusk, and sometimes Chelsea would sit on the steps to watch and cheer Dylan on. But she always stayed grounded on the patio, or a padded hammock chair hanging beneath a large shade tree in the back yard. She never left those stations or came to play with us, I couldn’t even tell you what she looked like, beyond having pale, porcelain skin, and raven black hair. I’d never gotten close enough to get a good look. Sometimes she would call Dylan over, and like a good big brother, he would go. But she never once came to us, or left her places of protection from the sun. Dylan had a dog, Molasses, she was so named because she was the slowest and laziest of the pups, she was affectionately called Molly. She would often sit with Chelsea in the shade to keep her company. She almost seemed so afraid of the sun that for a long time I even thought she was a vampire.
I don’t exactly remember when it started happening, but over the years, I started to see less and less of Chelsea. But she was so quiet and in the background all the time that I hardly even noticed. Then slowly, I started to see less of Dylan too. He said it was because Chelsea was becoming more sickly, and couldn’t spend much time outside. We were only nine, so while I hoped she felt better, I didn’t understand why her being sick should keep me from my best friend.
The night of the fire was one I’ll never forget. It was winter, one of the coldest winters I can remember, with very little snow. It was the middle of the night, the shouts and screams woke me up first. There was a blinding orange blaze coming through my bedroom window. Wide eyed, I screamed for my parents as I ran down the stairs, but they were already outside. Mom was calling the fire department, while my dad was keeping Chelsea from running back inside the house, she was crying and screaming Dylan’s name.
“Dad!” I ran over to him and frantically asked him what was happening. Molly ran out the front door at a speed I’m sure none of us thought she’d achieve.
“Get back inside!” He shouted at me, he was having a hard time keeping Chelsea still. For being “sickly” she was impressively strong. Out of nowhere Mom grabbed me and pulled me back across the street with her, she pushed me towards the house.
“Go back inside the house!” Of everything from that night, it was the sounds I remember most. Molly was barking and whining, everyone shouting and crying, pleading, The fire roaring and cracking, the house crashing as the flames devoured it. The blaring sirens of the firemen, the police and ambulance. More shouting as they fought the fire. I stood on our front porch barefooted, frozen and shivering, but unable to move. My eyes glued to the horrific scene in a terrifying need to know what would happen. I noticed a lot of the other neighbors were doing the same. The firemen aimed their hoses at the house as a team of two or three went inside. Dylans mom was holding Molly by the collar, staring at the house in a wide eyed fear that matched my own.
After what felt like hours, Chelsea was exhausted and gave up fighting my dad, she stood almost limp in his arms, shaking, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. The firemen finally came back out of the house, carrying a charred and burned body. As I looked around, I realized the only one who hadn’t come out of the house... was Dylan. That’s why Chelsea had been screaming his name. At the sight of him, his mom seemed to come out of her frozen state, about the same time I did.
“Dylan!” She cried, letting go of Molly who barked and ran at the fireman. They carried him over to the EMT’s who sprung into action. After I finally got my legs to move, I went over to Dad, who was still holding Chelsea. I clutched his sleeve as I watched them work with both speed and skill.
“Is he going to be okay?” I asked in a quiet voice, still quivering from the cold. I could see a puff of breath as he sighed.
“I pray to God.”
There were more sirens as the ambulance sped off down the street with my best friend in the back. Then the world seemed to go silent. The neighbors slowly meandered back into their houses as the chaos died down, and the firemen slowly worked on drowning the fire. I don’t know why I remember this, but the sky was clear, aside from the fire smoke. The midnight sky was clear and alight with a million stars.
Dylan died that night.
At that time I didn’t really understand the concept of death, all I knew was I missed my best friend. It was odd, or maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but of all the people at Dylan’s funeral, Chelsea showed the least emotion. The poor seven year old was as stoic and motionless as a graveside angel was imagined to be.
She looked almost like a ghost, her black hair flowing down her back, her long thick eyelashes resting on her cheek, tinted pink from the cold. The rest of her was a stark contrast from the black dress she was wearing and her pale cream skin.
The words of the minister and the sniffles of the family were blocked out as I studied the girl. How long had I known her, and had never gotten this close to her. She was on the other side of the casket, mere feet from me. As emotionless as she appeared to be, I thought I saw her wipe a tear, but then I guess she was just scratching an inch by her ear. My mom nudged me, whispering to me that it was rude to stare, I glanced at the ground.
Then all at once, she looked up at me. Her eyes were... incredible. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t like I was seeing her eyes at all. It felt more like I was looking through a window to the memory of that night. Her eyes were dark blue like the night, they shone with tears the same way the stars twinkled in the sky, but then they were clouded with a gray sadness, just as the fire smoke had created a depressing haze that hung over the night. I know my mom had scolded me a mere second earlier, but I
couldn’t look away. Arriving at the funeral that morning, I hadn’t understood why I was there, I didn’t understand death.
Looking into her eyes, she taught me what it was to die, she showed me sadness and complete emptiness. What it meant to be broken, torn apart from the inside out, the utter terror of having your whole world shattered in the blink of an eye. She looked back at the ground, then just like that, in the blink of an eye, the image was gone. The world came back to me louder and more vivid than before, but I felt sadder, my heart was racing, but I couldn’t understand why. I felt such a heartache and pain that it physically hurt to breathe.
I didn’t see Chelsea at the reception, and I didn’t see her at all before her family moved away. Soon, my childhood friend was a distant memory, the name and face of my best friend’s little sister was long lost. That is, until fate brought me face to face with the night of Dylan’s death, throwing me back almost ten years.
Chelsea was back, and with her, came a torrent of memories from a long forgotten past.