An excerpt from Holly's work Candyland
I looked at the ruby red color and thought of Spain. The way the light passed through the bottle. It was a comfort to me. It took me to a better memory and I needed something to distract me from the pain.
My best friend was dead. I couldn't wrap my mind around what that really meant and how I was supposed to feel. I was numb. It didn't make any sense and no matter what anyone said I couldn't accept it as true. My mother gently touched my shoulder, "Grace, we have to go".
My black dress was laying on my bed. I couldn't get up the courage to put it on.
"Please get dressed honey," she paused "do you want me to stay up here and help you?" I felt five again in an instant. I wished that my mommy could still kiss me and make the pain go away. "Can you just hand me my shoes in the closet please?" My voice was shaky from crying.
I slipped the black dress over my head and pushed my hair back from my face. Claire was always trying to give me tips on how to make my hair behave. My curls were out of control and it always just looked messy. Tears welled up again as I thought of her reaching out to smooth down a stray curl sticking up off my head. She was so kind. Now she was just gone.
Claire and I had met in second grade. I was the new kid, just moved to this tiny seaside town from the Midwest and realizing, even at the age of eight, how different I was from everyone else. I hated it. Claire thought it was cool. "Did you live on a farm?" When you say you are from Kansas, people expect that at one point you've milked a cow. "No." I was noticing her clothes and how the sparkles on her tennis shoes matched the bow in her hair. Her jeans were cuffed and showed her tan ankles. I felt awkward in my jean shorts and white shoes. Claire never made me feel that way. She accepted me as I was from the beginning. Even I knew, at fifteen, that she was a special friend that doesn't come along very often. Most people would give anything to have a friend like her. The fact that she was gone was too overwhelming and my heart was broken.
"Hi! I'm Claire," she stood in front of me on the swings, her hair in a perfect braid and her bow that matched her shoes. I immediately wanted to be friends with her. "What's your name? Are you new?"
"I'm Grace. I just moved here. I'm in Mrs. Gill's class."
"Mrs. Gill is SO nice, you're lucky. I'm in Mr. Tower's class, he's OK, but he really likes Science and bugs, Yuck!"
After that we were inseperable. Claire had plenty of friends but she had chosen me to sit with at lunch and she looked for me at recess. She made me feel special and she liked that I wasn't like everyone else. We were very different too. My father was a Pastor. Her father was a business man that she hardly ever saw. I had four brothers. She was an only child. Her parents were divorced. My parents had a "date-night" every week no matter what. She liked being at my house even though it was so small. Her house was big with five bedrooms. The "compound" we liked to call it. At my first play date at her house we played spies and hide and seek. It took me almost twenty minutes to find her because her yard was so big. I thought it was the greatest house ever! My three bedroom house was cramped and I always felt like I needed more space. Someone was ALWAYS there, and I think that's what she liked. Claire did not like to be alone and she never had to worry about that at my house. She always wanted to eat dinner with us and in forth grade she started spending the night on Saturday's and coming to church on Sunday mornings. Her mom, Savannah (she didn't like being called Mrs. Phillips), came a few times.
"A miracle," Claire laughed and rolled her eyes.
Claire's mom always looked like she walked out of a fashion magazine. Her hair was long and curled in all the right places. She always had her nails done and her clothes were always immaculate. I was amazed that she was a mom. The one thing that Claire and I liked best was her homemade chocolate chip cookies. She was funny and liked to tell us stories. But Claire said she was lonely and was looking for a husband. Claire's own dad was wealthy but worked so much they had eventually divorced and Claire never saw him.
"At least he sends me birthday cards and I get to see him in the summer," Claire shared with me one day. Boy did she get to see him in the summer! She had been EVERYWHERE! A cabin in the mountains, a beach house in Carmel. But my favorite story was her trip to Spain. In seventh grade her father took her to Europe for three whole weeks. She brought back a hand painted tile and a red bottle that she had gotten from a farm that grew olives. She gave me the bottle because she said that she knew I would like the color. She was right. I kept it on my shelf by the window in my room so the sun would shine through it and cast red light over my bed. It always made me happy. I would day dream about going to Spain with her and traveling across Europe together. I was saving my money for that.
The church was bright from the sunny Spring day. The stained glass windows lit up from the outside. Peonies were everywhere. Claire's favorite flower. Her favorite song from church was playing softly in the background, Josh Wilson's, "See You." I almost couldn't walk forward. I just stayed where I was and listened to the words:
"Maybe this is how it starts, I find you when I fall apart....I'm praying for the pain to pass...."
Even in death she knew what I needed to hear. How would I ever make it without her? I sat in the nearest pew and put my head down. I opened my eyes when I felt someone walk up to me. I saw manicured toes and perfect un-scuffed heels. I looked up into Savannah's face. It was amazing how much Claire looked like her mother.
"Grace," her voice was full of tears. I stood up and hugged her. We just stayed still like that for a few minutes. "She loved you so much you know. You were the sister she never had."
I knew that and it made the tears come a little faster. We let each other go and stood back, watching other people file into the church. I looked up and saw my father standing by the alter, directing people and grabbing hands, nodding, and smiling. He had done so many funerals. But only one other of someone so young. Usually it was someone's grandmother or grandfather. Claire was fifteen. We shouldn't be doing this for her. It all felt wrong. Savannah grabbed my hand and led me down to the front of the church. My father met my eyes and held them there for a moment. He winked at me. His way, since I was little, of letting me know that everything was going to be OK. This time it didn't give me the relief that I wanted. But I loved him for the gesture.
I took my seat in the front and waited for the service to start. I tried not to think of anything because I was tired of crying. I looked around and saw our friends sitting quietly and some whispering to each other. Shock on their faces. My friends Melanie and Brooke sat close together crying. They saw me watching them and cried a little harder. I turned away and tried to think of what Claire would say right now. Probably something about how puffy everyone's eyes were going to be tomorrow. Something to make me laugh. In spite of myself, I smiled. Claire always knew how to make me smile and would work hard to point out silly things or say something that made no sense. Just to get a giggle out of me.
One movie night we were watching one of our favorite's, Return of the King, and I told her, all serious, that she was my Sam, always watching out for me. She said she was glad her feet weren't that big and she would never fight a giant spider for me, "just sayin'." It was moments like that I never wanted to forget.
The rest of the funeral was a blur. I don't remember it and I really don't want to. Her mom and dad had everyone over to her mom's house and had a catered buffet of all Claire's favorite things, including her mom's cookies. I grabbed a few and when no one was paying attention, I snuck upstairs to her room. I slowly pushed open the door and took my shoes off to feel the thick carpet under my bare feet. Claire always said her room was too pink but I loved it. She was getting ready to totally redo everything. She had picked out new colors and new pillows. She wanted it to look more grown up so she had decided on blues and shades of brown. She wanted a "beachy" look. On her desk was a mason jar filled with beach glass and shells that she had collected from different places. She had a huge canopy bed in the middle with ruffled pillows and a pink chandelier that hung in the corner. The carpet was a light pink color and the furniture was all white. It was the princess room that I had always wanted. Posters of Harry and Niles from One Direction hung on the walls. One wall was pink and white striped. For that reason, we had started calling her room Candyland when were young and the name had stuck. So many great memories in that room. I was glad that it hadn't changed yet. I wanted to remember all the slumber parties and movie nights we had shared in that pink room. Thinking that we would never have another moment together brought me back to reality. Candyland was gone forever anyway, with no new paint or pillows, it had disappeared forever along with my best friend. I sat still and closed my eyes, quietly listening, wanting to hear her voice one last time, wishing that it wasn't too late.