The first thing I noticed about Rachel was how pale she was. Her skin was a ghostly shade of white like unspoiled snow. Her hair fell in ringlets of red copper over her small frame. On the rare occasions when a smile would appear, it was not soon forgotten. She was actually quite a beauty.
No one else seemed to see this, but I couldn’t miss it. I watched her for a while, how she glided through the halls, seemingly invisible to the world. I was fairly transparent myself. However, I didn’t particularly want to be.
She did. She had carefully arranged it so.
Somehow we became friends. It happened very gradually, and it was unspoken. I began to walk her home every night.
Rachel’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy Kennedy, were stockbrokers. They lived with her in a huge estate surrounded by a fence of angry red bricks and steel bars. They would never greet Rachel on the buzzer when she said ’I’m home’ and asked to be let in. They would simply grunt. The buzzer would release a squeal and the steel bars would slide open. She would smile sadly at me and walk through them to her castle.
The funny thing about Rachel was her unwavering optimism despite her circumstances. She had a genuine happiness that seemed to flow easily and naturally from her. It was never forced, never some candy-coated excuse to keep smiling, but an effortless peace with her life. She played the cards she was dealt and learned to accept things.
I had always had a jovial and open relationship with my folks. When I’d get home dad would yell ’Hey there, Devon.’ Mom would invariably be yelling for me to help her with her newest novel. Both my parents worked at home so they’d always been there. Our house was small and fenced in only by the square of green that was our lawn.
I’d always hated the fact that I didn’t have many friends. I wasn’t going to seek anyone out, but I wanted more people to waste the teenage years of my life with. Rachel had tried to tell me that they were probably feeling the same as I was and why did I expect to be seen if I made no effort? I didn’t understand her. I didn’t understand her at all until we got caught in the rain.
We were walking home late that night. The sky was overcast and the air had become damp and chilly. About a block from Rachel’s mansion, the sky finally opened up and rain soaked us in a matter of seconds.
“Come on,” Rachel said calmly as I frantically searched for something to cover us. “We can go to the greenhouse. Can you jump the fence?” I nodded.
We raced across the pavement and over a couple of muddy lawns. Finally the angry red fence loomed towards us. I hurled myself up over the top and landed in a heap on the other side. Mud stained my jeans and wet grass stuck to my hands. Rachel leapt over with a graceful adeptness. She landed on her feet and grabbed my arm.
“Come on.”
I ran to the greenhouse while Rachel strolled calmly across the finely manicured lawn. Occasionally she raised her head up to catch some drops on her face. She completely ignored my urgent cries for her to hurry. When she finally got to the doorway she produced a key and we were in.
I shook some of the water from my hair and sighed. It was dark and the inside of our sanctuary was only lit by the distant glare of streetlights. I glanced over at Rachel. She simply set her bag down and stood in front of a window. I decided to join her. Silent and unmoving, we watched the rain pound against the glass.
The air inside the greenhouse was warm and permeated with the heady scent of soil and leaves. The rain still clinging to my damp skin caused goose bumps to spring up over my arms.
Rachel’s hair had come down when we had run to the fence. Now the copper- red ringlets seemed unaffected by gravity. They stayed curled and spring-like, tiny droplets falling off them and sliding down her porcelain skin. Rachel looked neither cold nor uncomfortable in her drenched state. Her arms were crossed and a small smile graced her face. It spoke of pure contentment as though she and nature were enjoying each other. Her eyes stayed fixed on something unseen out in the yard beyond the muddy grass.
My voice sounded harsh when I finally found it. It echoed slightly over the pounding rain.
“You cold?”
Rachel shook her head. ”I’m fine.”
“You don’t mind being wet like that?” A sigh slid languidly from her small frame and she closed her eyes a moment.
“No.” She finally said with a slight laugh. “I love the rain.”
“Seems a little wet and harsh to me.” I muttered.
I stared at the myriad of plants in their tall colourful rows. White flowers, purple flowers, green gnarled vines and tiny leafy greenery all in identical lines, like a disciplined army of vegetation. Rachel’s back was still turned to it all, surveying the rain with unwavering concentration. After a moment I cleared my throat, dying for some sort of communication.
“So, um, why do you like the rain so much anyway? I figured you’d hate to be wet and cold like this.”
Rachel didn’t even flinch. Instead she finally turned to me, her brown orbs deep enough to fall into.
“We have a bit of a history,” she said, her tone almost wistful. “I used to play in the yard when it was raining and things would be very muddy. I’d always slip a lot and get myself filthy. Mom wouldn’t let me in the house like that. It would have ruined the floors.”
Rachel turned away from me, back to the ever-pulsing rain outside the glass.
“She’d tell me to stand in the rain until I was clean enough to come in.”
I was incredulous. I could think of nothing to say.
“Wasn’t it cold?” I blurted.
Again Rachel shook her head and her ringlets sprayed tiny droplets onto my arm.
“I didn’t mind it. It was peaceful. Consistent.”
I crossed my arms and decided to look at her. It was easier than trying to see what she was seeing. There was no sadness on her face. Rachel looked thoughtful.
“You know when I came in after standing in the rain, mom would look at me and kind of smile. I mean, she’d look at me for more than a second and she’d smile.” She raised her head to the clear ceiling, “The rain did that and that’s worth every drop.”
For a moment it seemed as though she could speak to the rain. Its insistent pulse seemed to throb at her gaze and offer her its unwavering support. It surrounded our glasshouse, a roaring fury of solace. I had a vision of a tiny shivering Rachel, trying to be washed clean in a downpour like this one.
I couldn’t move. I could only feel the inexplicable bond and I finally understood why she was invisible. She didn’t need anyone at school to see her. No one else mattered, just those two stockbrokers behind their red bricks.
“It was your friend.” I said quietly.
Rachel turned to me again, serene without a hint of resentment in her eyes.
“I think it may be jealous that I met you.” She grinned.
The rain roared with renewed ardour. I returned her grin and slid my arm around her.
“Well,” I said gesturing to my muddy jeans. “I hope it’ll still get me clean.”
For a moment she seemed a little confused. Gradually it dawned on her and her grin became a smile. I savoured the moment and then took her hand.
The door to the greenhouse swung open and the rain soaked wind almost knocked us backwards. We kept walking until we stood right in the downpour. The rain drenched us once again, cold, steady and consistent. There was a peace in it. Slowly, the mud began to melt off of us.
Rachel kept smiling. That alone was worth every drop.
© 2004 The Richmond Hill Public Library Board