“In the middle of the night, you get an urgent call from a friend you haven’t talked to in years. Something terrible has happened. What is it and why is he/she calling you?”
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Too sleepy to check the caller id, she hit the call button and breathed a quiet hello into the receiver. Her dozing ears were blasted awake by the shrill, nonsensical blabbering on the other end. It took a second to realize it was Cheryl, they hadn’t spoken in the last year or so. Cheryl tried to mother everyone and didn’t approve of Amber’s partying habits.
“Oh my god, Cheryl, calm down! Honey? Honey, I can’t understand anything you’re saying!”
“…fire…my baby…oh god my Lucy…”
“Cheryl, oh god, Cheryl! What fire? Where are the kids? “ She could hear Cheryl sobbing and heaving when suddenly a smooth male voice flowed through the line.
Amber tried to push down her rising panic, “Yes, please can you tell me what’s happened?”
“I think Mrs. Mathis would benefit from your presence…”
Amber clicked off the phone and grabbed her jeans off the floor. After pulling a wrinkled t-shirt over her mess of tawny curls and slipping into her Keds, she rushed out the door.
As Amber entered Cheryl’s neighborhood, she noticed the hazy glow on the horizon. As she crept closer, the apricot glow of flames licked the air. Every emergency vehicle imaginable surrounded Cheryl’s yard like a metal and rubber barrier. Beyond them, flames shot up, engulfing her small A-frame house. She could see Cheryl crumbled, inconsolable at the edge of the yard, surrounded by neighbors.
“Cheryl!” Amber rushed to her side and threw her arms around her friend. “What happened?” She looked at the elderly lady to her left who was shaking her head sadly.
“Worse case o’ sibling rivalry I ever did see,” she muttered.
Amber grabbed at a police officer as he passed, “Please, where are the children?” she pleaded.
He took pity on her and pulled her to the side, “The nine year old, Scott, Mrs. Mathis’ stepson, correct? He’s in the cruiser over there,” he pointed behind her and confusion overshadowed the relief her heart-felt.
“Why is he in the cruiser?” she asked cautiously.
“Ma’am, he wedged his little sister’s door shut, started the fire in her room, and climbed out the window. It’s a miracle Mrs. Mathis woke up and was able to escape.”
She wanted to deny the officer’s claims but she remembered a conversation she’d had with Cheryl a couple of years ago. Scotty had been acting out, a lot. He’d gotten into some trouble at school, started screaming at her, and had been hitting Lucy, who was only 18 months old at the time. With Scott on his second deployment in as many years, Cheryl had her hands full.
When Amber first met Scott, he was married to Donna. They were so happy. Scotty was the sweetest toddler. She tried to help soften the blows life kept throwing at the small boy. After Donna’s fatal car accident, Amber looked after Scotty and help with the funeral arrangements. She dragged Cheryl along as an extra set of hands and watched, bewildered, as something lovely blossomed between her and Scott.
Many of their friends were shocked at how quickly their relationship evolved, but Cheryl was the balm to their aching souls. Scotty clung to her, and Cheryl happily gave up her job to stay home with him. When Scotty was settled into preschool, they were ecstatic to find out they had another baby on the way. Scotty was far less ecstatic and first started acting sullen after Lucy came along. The combination of sharing his Mom and missing his dad must have been tremendous stressor for him, and he was taking it out on everyone. But could he be capable of what they’re suggesting?
She rushed back to Cheryl and settled next to her. She grabbed at her hands and gasped, noticing the destruction of her perfect manicure, her fingertips raw and bleeding.
Beside her Cheryl was muttering, incoherent, “I gotta get my baby, can’t open the door, can’t open the door, my baby, my baby…” followed by more soul shattering sobs.
Suddenly she stilled and looked up at Amber, her gold eyes reflecting the fire behind them, “That little bastard killed my baby.”
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