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Every neighbourhood has them. That old, abandoned, antique mansion at the end of a quiet, sububerban street. The porch is usually lopsided, the roof sunken in, with the door falling off of its hinges and the windows either boarded up or smashed to bits. If you saw it, you know that it was probably beautiful once, in its own time, but now, it's nothing but a ragged mess, that's depressing in the day and unnerving at night. My road had one. In fact, it was only about four houses down from my own. But this house wasn't abandoned. In fact, the same woman had been living in it for twenty-two years. Kids would say she was a witch, or she was insane, and only stayed in there because she thought she saw the ghost of her dead husband floating through the halls. Parents would warn their young ones never to stray onto her lawn, because she was an angry old coot, and screamed at all children who stepped foot on her yard. So everybody was shocked when they saw me go into the Bealor house and come out alive and well.
I was fourteen years old and hating my life. I was always sulking, always pouting, always whining about what was wrong with my school, my family, my friends, My attitude was terrible, and I was rude and snarky to pratically everyone I met. My dad told me I was lucky, but I refused to believe him. I simply saw my world as one big disaster, when I actually had it great. Big house, nice parents, two dogs, an adoring sister, and a fancy, rich school. I got whatever I asked for, and had tons of friends. But, for some reason, I could never just appreciate what I had. Everyone had to prove to me that they were worth talking to, that my life was worth living and blah, blah, blah.
So, one day, in the middle of school, a girl named Melanie FitzGerald walked up to me, crossed her arms across her chest, and called me out on it. "What's your problem, Marie?" She asked, her gaze penetrating into my skull. I tried to keep my constant I-don't-care look on my face, but it was getting harder and harder by the second. Especially with all the people crowding around to watch, big grins splayed across their faces.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I retorted, raising my nails to my face and inspecting them in a bored, immpassive way.
"Well let me clarify it for you," she announced. "You're always crying about how everything sucks for you, but it really doesn't. You never bother to think that there are people who have it worse than you. Who are dealing with way more than you ever will."
"I don't remember asking you for your view on things Melanie!" I screamed, my eyes welling up with tears. Don't cry, I told myself. Whatever you do, do not cry.
"Too bad!" She shrieked. "I'm giving it to you! You're such a brat, I'm surprised no one else has done this yet! Everyone's tired of it Marie! So smarten up, or shut up!" Suddenly, all the other kids in a circle around the two of us started hollering and hooting, repeating Melanie's line of "smarten up, or shut up," and laughing at the scared look on my face. I didn't know what to do. I was so mad, so worried, so confused. I just ran. I pushed through the crowd and darted for home, but before I could, I bumped into someone, sending the two of us scattered across the sidewalk. I got back up on my feet fast, brushing gravel off my knees and preparing to run again, when I saw who I had run into. Ms. Bealor. I gasped. I was sure, at that moment, that I was probably one of the only people to ever see her in person, not just from quick glances through her window.
She looked different than I thought. Her hair was long, curly, and pure white. It was pulled back in a tight bun, but some curls still escaped, and were sticking out in light strands around her head. Her face was wrinkled, but not unfriendly, and her eyes were dark green, really intense and penetrating like, when she looked at you, she was seeing all of you. Even the parts you didn't want others to notice, that you wanted to hide. Her clothes were mismatched and clumsy, like she was in a rush. She had on a blue plaid dress, with an open brown overcoat, that was missing two or three buttons, and she was wearing one black sock and one white, with a pair of those black button shoes that little girls sport to church. The ones that pinch at your toes and make that funny clomp clomp noise when you walk. Ms. Bealor had obviously just gotten back from grocery shopping, since there were plastic bags lying around her, oranges and shampoo bottles rolling around on the cement. I saw her looking at something and grinning kindly, and it took me a moment to realize that something was me.
"Hello dear," She said to me. She had a sharp British accent and pronounced every word just so, so they sounded precise and perfect. "How interesting a way to meet."
"Yeah, whatever," my mind was already traveling to other things. Like how long it would take me to get home from here, and if my mom was working today or not. She was a real estate agent, but sometimes took days off to relax, and would work from home. If she suddenly saw me standing in the doorway when I was supposed to be in 5th period, she would freak out. "Um...do you need any help, or can I go?"
"Well," Ms. Bealor continued, her tone changing to one of irritation. "If you're not too busy with you're hectic lifestyle, I would very much appreciate some help standing up and gathering my foods. But, of course, you needn't worry about me. You simply smacked right into me, w-"
"Okay! Okay! I'll help!" I rolled my eyes and took the woman's outstreched hand, pulling her into a standing position. Without asking her if she was alright or not, I kneeled down and began shoving all of her stuff that had fallen out back into her bags. I finished, stood back up, and thrust them into her hands, then turned to go. But before I could even take a step, Ms. Bealor grabbed me by the elbow, her fingers refusing to let go. I whirled to face her, putting on my darkest, most intimidating glare. "What now?" I asked through gritted teeth.
"Well, I was just wondering..." she paused and looked towards the sky, and I knew she was doing it just to bother me. "What is a young girl like you doing outside, when you should be inside learning?"
"I'm sick," I lied, not even bothering to cough or hold my stomach for effect. "The school sent me home."
"And your mother or father didn't pick you up?"
I shrugged. "They're busy. They have jobs, you know."
I knew she didn't believe me, but she pretended to. "How terrible! A sickling like you should be cared for, not sent to tend for herself, alone, in an empty house. Come, you'll go to my home with me, and I'll make you some chicken soup and tea."
"I...um, I don't think my mom would like that," I told her.
"Nonsense! You'll call her when you arrive! I'm sure she'll just be relieved that you have someone taking after you!"
I groaned as Ms. Bealor looped her arm through mine and pulled me in the direction of our street.
"So what do you have?" She asked, her eyes widening as she stared at me. "Lupus? Typhoid? The black plague?"
I knew she was mocking me and I couldn't help myself. For the first time in what seemed like forever...I smiled.
From that day on, Ms. Bealor and I spent more time together than I did with anyone at my school. I had gone there for the first time expecting a scary house with a cranky, frightening old lady. But I got exactly the opposite. Ms. Bealor helped me with my problems and smartened me up when I had no problem,s but was still complaining. She told me stories about her experiences living in England during the second world war and moving to Canada, and we would tell jokes and talk about anything that came to our minds.
Ms. Bealor was there for everything. When I got a D in math and didn't know how to tell my parents. When my first boyfriend broke up with me. When my first ex-boyfriend hooked up with my best friend, and everything in between. When I walked in on that day, when I was fourteen, I had no idea I would be walking in on more days than I could count, and that I would find a friend and confidant in someone most people are scared to even talk about.
When Ms. Bealor died, she died sleeping. I like to think she died peacefully. That she died dreaming of her husband, of her mother, father, brother. Of all the things that made her happy.
A lot of people ask me if finding Ms. Bealor was traumatizing. Some tell me that they heard the last time you see someone is the way you'll remember them for your entire life. But with me, that's not true. I don't remember Ms. Bealor as a hollow, cold shell. I don't remember Ms. Bealor as a corpse. I remember her as a beautiful woman, who had a wonderful imagination, and little patience for ungratefulness. I remember her as the woman that helped me through more things in my life than anyone I've ever known. I'll remember Ms. Bealor the way she ought to be remembered. With a smile.