KATIE was timeless. She danced on every rooftop and climbed every tree. She skipped down every sidewalk and lay her head on every patch of grass, giving a story to each cloud in the sky. In the summer she hiked mountains and sailed ships, and in the dead cold of winter she’d strip naked and jump in the ocean, screaming with glee as her breath rose in the freezing air. She was limitless, her future composed of endless possibilities; yet, she never simply opened a door. She’d paint it yellow, add something cheery and then walk through. Her past was not perfect, I knew that from the day we met. She had wounds that ran deeper and blacker than words could express, but still she chose every day to paint the future in yellow. Still, she chose to walk in the light.
She’d arrive at school, top down in her red convertible, dreadlocks flying. Her wrists were always decorated in beaded bracelets, her overalls splattered in colorful paint. She was bright-eyed and full of energy, her spirits nearly as infectious as her wild ideas.
“Come to class with me!” she’d cry, hooking her arm through mine. We’d skip shoulder to shoulder; me a little hesitant, but Katie with her head held high, always.
We’d arrive to English breathless and giggling, wistfully throwing ourselves into our desks by the window. There we’d immediately proceed to writing notes and drawing pictures folded up and passed off as origami.
Looking back, I wish those days could have lasted forever. I remember jumping off docks and squealing as our ankles got caught in the lake-weed. I remember singing obnoxiously loud, riding shotgun in her convertible. I remember sledding down hills and snowball fights, beach fires and long walks in the spring. I remember laying drunk in the middle of a back road, declaring that this was my Notebook moment, as Katie stood above me howling with laughter. She then plunked herself beside me on the cool, hard ground and we watched the stars spin for a short eternity.
In many ways Katie saved me from myself. My mind had a way of going to dark places, but she was there to take my hand and lead me from my cave. So often I heard her tapping on the window above my bed. I’d open the blinds to find her sitting out on the lawn smiling in at me, and we’d chat through the screen for hours. I’d give just about anything to see her there now, but it’s been months since I opened those blinds. It’s been years since the night she took my hand and led me out beneath the stars.
Katie lay on the sidewalk, her chest rising and falling in the moonlight. I watched her for a moment, finding myself before I lay on my back beside her on the pavement.
“Look up,” she’d said.
I did. I opened my eyes and saw a thousand stars twinkling down on us, on our own little patch of the world.
“Do you think there’s aliens?” I asked.
“I’ve seen one,” she told me without hesitation.
I raised my eyebrows, but not in a skeptical way. If Katie said she saw an alien, then she did, whether it was truly there or not.
So instead of, “Really?” I asked, “When?”
“A few months ago,” she said. “I saw a UFO. It came down from the sky, hovered, and then it was gone.”
“Were you sober?” I asked her.
“Just on shrooms,” she said, shrugging. “But I know what I saw.”
I smiled because in a way, I really believed her. I believed she saw aliens the same way I believed I was looking at one right at that moment. Katie was alien. She was so strange, so beautiful, so different, and I loved her. I loved her so much it made my chest expand so that my heart swelled into my lungs a little bit and it became difficult to breathe.
We continued looking at the sky.
“Hey,” I said. “When you go to Thailand, will you see different constellations?”
“I think so,” she said.
“But the same moon?” I asked, although it wasn’t a real question.
Katie did go to Thailand, and Cambodia. She was gone for a year, but when she returned home, it was almost like she never left. At least at first. I was thrilled that all the distance hadn’t impacted our friendship on a colossal level. Then Katie went to school to become a welder and I was working full time as a dental assistant. We didn’t see each other as often as we would have liked, but our hearts remained intertwined at the seams and that was enough to keep our friendship stronger than most could manage.
Then Vancouver happened. After she finished college, Katie got a job as a welder in the big city and moved away from our little island. We rarely spoke, but not a day went by that I didn’t think of her. I sent texts, which received short replies days, and sometimes weeks, later. I attempted to spark her interest with inside jokes or else assorted hilarious tales about perfectly average moments in my life. Times came when I faced challenges where I definitely could have used my best friend, but still Katie remained distant, the ties that connected our hearts suffering under the strain as our binds slowly unravelled.
It was late one afternoon when I heard it. It was that tap, tap, tap against the windowpane and my heart sored with the audacity of a child at Christmas. I scrambled upon my bed, threw open the blinds and there she was, perched out on the lawn with some crazy hat upon her head, grinning from ear to ear, whole-heartedly Katie.
“Hello friendship,” she greeted me in her usual fashion. “Let me in.”
I ran upstairs, tripping over my feet, and tore open the door. She was in my arms before I could utter a word, squeezing me to within an inch of my life. She was tiny, but freakishly strong, and I came up gasping for air when she finally released me.
“Hi,” I beamed. “Come into the kitchen.”
She followed me and I poured her a glass of water. She sighed heavily and plunked herself at the counter, eyes wide, staring at me.
“So,” I said, “how’s life?”
“Quite fucked,” she replied.
I watched her intently over the top of my glass as I took a sip. Something was different, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. She’d dyed her hair black but that wasn’t it. There was an unsettling shadow in her eyes; a secret.
“Fucked how?” I asked apprehensively.
She had her hands over her face and she was peering at me through the gaps in her fingers.
“Fucked like my walls are tarps,” she said. “Fucked like I have no money, like a homeless man sleeps on my couch.” She pointed to her head. “He gave me the hat.”
I set my glass down and pursed my lips, watching her. In the back of my mind somewhere I suddenly understood, even then. Katie had danced with The Dragon, and now she was on a chase. I opened my mouth and closed it again. I had to tread lightly.
So we talked, the kind of conversation where she told me enough without really telling me much of anything. I listened and nodded and asked all the questions I thought a best friend should, and then I forced a smile and walked her to the door.
“I’ll call you,” she said. I nodded and gave her a quick hug before she left.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, I watched her walk down the path from my front porch for the very last time.
Katie was timeless, but her design was not perfect. It wasn’t flawed, either; not as much as it was just complicated. I held on to that thought with every fibre of my being as I watched the shadow behind her eyes growing stronger. She told me it wasn’t just The Dragon; there were other monsters. I tried to be there, I did, but in the real world there are no heroes. There are only choices. So in the end I did the one thing she could never forgive me for. I told. And then I watched in quiet contemplation as The Dragon unleashed itself. I just stood there and took the fall for everything it had done, wishing we could go back; back to our little patch of the world when we were out beneath the stars.
Once in a while I still think I hear her tap, tap, tapping.
Kailey DeFehr is a young Canadian writer from Vancouver Island. Writing has been her passion ever since she was a little girl. She writes short stories and poetry, and is currently working on her first novel. You can read more of Kailey's work at kddefehr.wordpress.com.