The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels

chapter 7

Monday, August 7th, 1:41 PM

Sauk Centre, MN

 

Freddy looked at Evan. “Now what?”

“Let’s just sit here again.” He and Freddy both sat down on the sofa seats.

“You really think we should wait for her?” Freddy asked quietly.

Evan recalled Neraeh’s last facial expressions. “Well, yeah. I think she meant it.” 

“But she came out here with a security guard.”

“I know. That’s sort of messed up. Do we look that scary?”

Freddy smirked. “Well, hell. You. Six foot four.”

“Wrong.”

“Oh, excuse me. Three quarters. That whole three quarters since age sixteen.”

Evan smiled. “Right.”

“But I think you grew that extra quarter inch this summer, if not more. You know they have you listed at six foot four on the Bison roster.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s what they noted when they did my height. Even a bit more. So, I guess you’re correct.”

“But, we’re missing the point here. You. Two hundred seventy-something pounds, mostly muscle. Me. Five foot eleven. One-eighty. Her, what, about five foot four, if that? And maybe, what, one-forty, if she’s lucky? And she doesn’t know us?”

Evan eyed his own black T-shirt with the Bison icon symbol. And his knee-length light-colored khaki shorts, along with his high-top light brown hiking boots and barely showing white socks. “I’m dressed all right, don’t you think?” He looked at Freddy’s dark brown buttoned-up shirt, sleeves rolled up. And Freddy’s denim knee-length shorts, and his grey and white high-top sneakers. In his opinion, they both looked sharp, well-dressed, and respectable.

“I think, sure. It’s not about our clothes. It’s about our size. And we’re two guys. And you, no offense, but your pro-wrestler Mexican-look kicking into high gear, with your dark skin and longish black hair doesn’t help. And me, I probably look like a bulked-up clown to her, with my red hair and white face.”

“Fred, bro.” Evan laughed quietly. “You don’t look like that. And no, I wasn’t offended.” Evan sighed and stared down at his hands. Large hands. He turned them over, eying closely his dark-colored skin, with the numerous hairy spots. He grasped his hands together. There was something in her eyes, the way she looked at him. No, not like attracted to him, but something else. Like she was looking for the pain in him, his feelings, what he was thinking. She wasn’t exactly scared of him, just taking precautions. “I still want to wait.”

Freddy looked at his phone. “Sure. It’s okay, dude. It’s your decision and your trip down here. I’m just glad I was able to get today and tomorrow off.”

“Yeah. Me too. Nice of Bob’s son to cover most of your hours.”

“True that.” Freddy lifted his gaze from his phone and stared at Evan a moment. “So, did it happen?”

“You mean, seeing Syrrah, instead of Neraeh?”

“Well, yeah,” Freddy said quietly.

“She definitely looks like Syrrah, in her eyes.” Evan made sure to speak in a hushed tone like Freddy. “But no, I only saw her, not that weird, mental haze that takes over. At least, didn’t happen yet.”

“That’s good.”

“Definitely.”

They both spoke a few more quiet conversations until only gazing at their phones, waiting.

Think, and think hard, Evan mumbled in his mind. What is the best way to say this? He imagined several possible scenarios, while watching more videos that he could barely concentrate on for fixing the dashboard. But he finally concluded there was no easy way, except for brutal honesty, unfortunately.

Twenty minutes seemed to flash by. He noticed motion from his eye’s corner again and heard close-by talking. He looked up from his phone. Neraeh was walking toward them along the long hallway between the receptionist desk and some other nearby rooms. An old lady in a wheelchair was being wheeled from behind by another nurse as Neraeh continued her travel closer. But that darn, annoying security guard was still around, only way down near the far end of the hallway. He was standing there, arms crossed, somehow reminiscent of those DFRs at the underground base.

Weird how those memories were so vivid of late.

Neraeh was approaching closer. She slowed her pace as the distance diminished between all of them.

Evan didn’t stand up. If it was their size, like Freddy said, no point in making it more obvious now. Freddy stayed seated likewise.

“Hello, Neraeh,” Evan said, in his best, friendly voice. “So, are you done with your shift today?”

“Yes, I am done.” Neraeh was still wearing her nurse uniform. She had a brown leather purse hanging from her shoulder. She walked a few steps closer to him but was yet trying to keep her distance. “How old are you, Evan?”

“I actually just turned eighteen.” He again noticed he wasn’t seeing Syrrah, at all, but only Neraeh herself. “Yesterday, August sixth.”

“Then how could you possibly have known my sister? Not sure if you’re aware, but my sister died when she was eighteen, six years ago. I don’t recall her babysitting anyone who looked like you, or had your name. And she didn’t hang with people your age, at least, not that I know of.”

Evan stared up into her eyes. Holy moly. This was far more similar to looking into Syrrah’s eyes than he realized earlier. His heart nearly pounded out of his chest. He could barely think. He felt unable to stand up, even if he wanted to, and could barely move. Somehow though he was able to glance at the empty sofa seat to his left. “Could you please sit down for a moment, and I’ll explain.”

Fortunately, she walked over to the seat and sat down. She was only about four feet away, sitting directly to the left of the corner table next to Evan’s seat on his left. She placed the purse on her lap and stared into his eyes, her face blank, but curious.   

He was as ready as he was going to be. “Yes. I do know she died. And you’re right. I was eleven, almost twelve, at the time. You see, like I said before, my dad was driving my mom to the Mayo clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.”

“I know where it is,” she said. “Why were you going there?”

Damn. Her question struck, mercilessly. Those memories, those brutal memories. The way Mom looked back at him, from the front seat. Her tired, horribly haggard appearance, changed from the vital, beautiful woman she once was. “I umm…it was because…” No. Not working. Recall before that, when Syrrah shot by like a rocket in her black jeep. “Because my mom was dying of cancer. But, like always, I was playing a game, on my PSP, head down. Trying to block it all out. But then I heard, this sound. A loud motor noise. I looked up, and…and…” He couldn’t control it anymore. Tears filled his eyes. He quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand and lowered his gaze, only looking at the floor. “I’m sorry, very sorry. Didn’t mean to bother you.”

Freddy patted Evan on his shoulder. “Evan. It’s all right.”

But Evan began shaking and the tears wouldn’t stop. He wiped them away again, yet still couldn’t look at Neraeh. “We can leave now.”

Neraeh abruptly placed her hand on Evan’s knee. “No. Wait.”

He looked at her.

She released his knee and searched in her purse, soon bringing forth a tissue to him. “Here. I’m sorry if I upset you.”

He took it in a polite manner, and then quickly wiped his eyes and nose. “No. It’s not your fault.” He sniffled a few times, to help stop this darn behavior. Thankfully the shaking was subsiding. “And not sure what’s going on with me. Not usually such a wuss.”

“I can attest to that,” Freddy said. “I’m usually the one crying.”

Evan smiled, laughed a bit. “Yeah, right, no you’re not.” He looked back at Neraeh. “But I’m really sorry, Neraeh.”

“No, it’s okay, it’s okay.” The expression on her face had totally changed. She was blinking a lot, and appeared surprised, confused, yet quite curious. “Listen, guys. I apologize about Tim, our main security officer. I just didn’t know.” She paused a moment, studying both their faces. “Why don’t you two come with me? For some crazy reason, not sure why, I trust you two.” She looked down the hallway at that security guard, Tim. She gave him the thumbs up. He turned and left the hallway area.    

“Come with you where?” Evan asked.

She stood up. “I live up the street. We can walk. It’s not that far.”

Evan stood up too but tried not to make his tall height so obvious. He slouched over a bit.

Freddy stood up too.

Evan wiped the remaining tears around his eyes and face with her tissue. He gazed into her eyes. “I would be honored to walk with you.”

“Honored?” she asked, a half-smile forming on her face. “Well, thank you, I guess.”

“Same with me, Neraeh,” Freddy said. “As long as we are not inconveniencing you.”

Her half smile became a full one. “Well, no. Not at all. Just follow me.”

She led the way out the front entrance and then continued onward under the canopy.

Soon they were walking on a sidewalk in a northerly direction, along a residential street they hadn’t driven on before arriving at the nursing home. The sidewalk bordered the parking lot where Evan had parked the Ram.

Evan walked to her right, while Freddy walked behind, due to the narrowness of the sidewalk.

“So, Evan,” she said, “where do you live?”

“I live in Park River, Minnesota, not far from the Fargo-Moorhead area.”

“Oh yes, I think I know where it is. So, you’re eighteen. Are you still in high school?”

“No. I just graduated in May. Same as Freddy. He’s eighteen too.”

“You guys good friends?”

Evan smiled. “Yes. He’s my best friend in the entire world.”

Freddy chuckled a little. “Yeah. Most of the time, when he isn’t challenging my point of view.”

“Oh, that’s understandable,” Neraeh said. “Friends don’t always agree.” She began to pick up the pace some. “I apologize, but I like to walk sort of fast.”

“No, don’t mind at all,” Evan said. “We both love a good work out, don’t you worry about that.”

“Oh yeah? What sports do you play?”

Maybe not mention the martial arts, he realized, not now. “Football, for both of us, although Freddy likes running more.”

“Oh, I see. What position did you play, Evan?”

“This last year, I played quarterback, though I’ve done defensive and offensive lines before. Our team did well with my leadership, I have to admit. Won me a scholarship to NDSU.”

She glanced over at his shirt, at the upper left side, the location of that yellow Bison logo. “Oh yes, I did notice.” She directed her gaze ahead again. 

He sensed a little apprehension in her voice with those last words. Change the subject, quick. “How about you? Are you in school?”

“Yes, my last semester for nursing coming up this fall. I’ll have a bachelor’s degree.”

“Oh, wow, that’s awesome.”

“Yeah, that is great,” Freddy said.

“Thank you, guys. Has been a lot of work, but worth it all. So…well…” Neraeh paused in her words, yet kept walking, appearing to think upon what to say. Evan remained quiet, as did Freddy. “I think I know what happened. You saw my sister’s accident. And you were already devastated from your mom’s condition.”

Evan made sure to keep his steps in pace with Neraeh’s steps, and his eyes on any cracks or bumps in the sidewalk; last thing he needed now was an embarrassing tumble. But wonderment filled him at her clear assessment. “Wow. Yeah. Quite on target, Neraeh, really. I did see it, though actually before the accident happened. But something else. After I looked up, from my PSP…and I saw the jeep heading toward us, but on the opposite highway. She looked at me, Syrrah looked at me. The divided highway wasn’t that far apart there. She looked right at me, for a microsecond. I will never forget that.” He eyed Neraeh.

She held her gaze straight ahead, her face now slightly pale. “How did my sister appear?”

“A teenage girl. Determined. Not scared. And very pretty.”

“Hmm. Really. When did you find out who she was?”

“Later. After my mom died, it was much later. My dad and I checked online.”

“I understand how this could have affected you, but why…why didn’t you just let it go, by now?”

“That is why I’m here. I’m trying to find out about her, to settle my…to settle my heart, my mind…so I can let her go. You see, for a while afterwards, after I found out who she was, I would have these dreams. I turn back, and see the accident. And then, somehow, whereas I didn’t see her before, when the accident happened, I do see her now. She is standing, on the side of the road.” He looked over to see Neraeh staring right up into his eyes. “She was alive and waving at me.”

Neraeh faced ahead and slowed her pace somewhat. “Funny. How complete strangers can so greatly affect other people’s lives. Someone’s death can affect another person’s life.” She glanced at Evan. “We used to live out on a farm, about ten miles from here. It was beautiful. I loved it there.”

Careful in his steps, Evan let his eyes take in the surroundings. The homes to their left were mostly modern ranch or bi-level homes, more on the expensive side, with big yards. Sunlight flickered on a low-lying reflective surface between the trees in the yards, and the scent of ponds and fish permeated the air. Scanning deeper beyond those lawns full of pine, maple, and other leafy trees, he could see a massive lake that had to be the smaller section of Sauk Lake, a humungous, long lake that ran mostly south and north. He looked to his right. Beyond one last home on the other side of this street was a huge, expansive hilly field, mostly lawn-covered with a few trees. He quickly knew. A golf course. “It sure is picturesque here too. Very nice.”

“Yeah,” Freddy said. “I definitely have to agree. Quite beautiful.”

“Thank you. We like it here too.”

“But, please, continue,” Evan said. “Why are you living here now?”

Neraeh inhaled deeply and slowly released her breath. “We had to move here, so we could be closer to my mom. She has multiple mental disorders, complicated grief, catatonic depression, dissociation, and derealization. All of it, well, it’s rather severe, and basically incapacitating for her.”

A deep, painful sadness suddenly tore through Evan’s gut. He knew why. “Damn. I’m so sorry. Because of what happened to Syrrah.” 

“Yes, Evan. This all happened when Syrrah died.”

“Again, I’m very sorry to hear this.” He truly meant it more than she could ever know. And, odd. Like his dad. Even like himself, in a manner. But he simply couldn’t explain any of this now, not at all. 

“Like I said, things can happen. My mom, Beverly, is at the nursing home we just left. Once I get my RN, I’ll be able to take even better care of her, or at least monitor her care better.”

“Excuse me for asking,” Freddy said, “but why would your mom be in a nursing home? Her older age?”

“No, not really, not her age. She is forty-nine. Often nursing homes are best equipped to treat the mentally disabled. It’s quite the case throughout the country.”

“Oh,” Freddy said, “I didn’t realize that.”

“I think I’ve heard that before too.” Evan had another question. “What about your dad?”

“He struggles every day. But he’s doing better than my mom. He’s not hospitalized, that’s for sure. He and some church members own a concrete business here in Sauk Centre. He’s very busy most of the time. Keeps his mind off things.”

“Oh, well, that’s good to hear.” Yet Neraeh’s tone, her sad declarations made Evan feel as though he was sinking down into a dark abyss. And was this even any of his business? This poor family. Syrrah’s departure had absolutely crushed them. “Neraeh. I hope we’re not bothering you much. Maybe we should head back. I don’t want to be a burden on you or your family.”

“No, no, you’re not.” She stopped walking. Evan and Freddy did the same. She looked at Evan, and then gazed out toward the lake, beyond the trees. “I think…I think it might help you a lot, if you come to our house, and visit her room.” She directed her pretty blue eyes at Evan again. “My mom would have wanted it that way. My dad and I maintain it. Maybe this will help you get the closure you need. And in a way, this is helping me too, somehow.”

Her words lifted Evan many feet up from that deep darkness. “Really? In that case, I would definitely like to see her room.”

“Sure,” she said, a slight smile forming.

They continued walking. Fortunately, the discussion now centered mostly on the surroundings. Well-kept sidewalks. A few old ladies walking their leashed dogs. Kids in swimming suits running around in their yards with water hoses or those slippery-wet plastic ground slides. Adults and kids could be heard splashing and swimming in the lake. After all, it was rather hot today, at 85, and the bright, high sunlight was beaming down a good warming feeling all around them. Or Neraeh discretely pointed out neighbors she recognized in their cars or trucks driving along the winding road they walked directly next to.

Before long, Neraeh began veering off to her left, upon a long driveway leading up to a garage connected to a home, her home. The house, one of those ranch bi-levels, had tones of light brown and grey, with big windows, and the garage was on the same level as the main floor.

She led them up the driveway. Right before the garage, Neraeh then led them onto a brick path that drew a semi-circle around the front of the home until coming to a small, enclosed porch, bordered by brick column beams. It was a charming, clean home and property.

Neraeh lifted some keys from her purse. She was about to unlock the door, but then looked up at Evan. “I don’t know. My father would never approve. But, just weird, how I trust you two.”

“Neraeh,” Evan said. “I would never, ever hurt you. You have nothing to fear with either of us.”

“But if you are having second thoughts, and don’t want us to come in,” Freddy added kindly, “we totally understand.”

“Yes. My same thoughts too,” Evan said. “It is entirely up to you.”

She studied both their faces. She smiled, and then gazed down at her keys. “Sorry. Just have to be careful nowadays, as I’m sure you’re aware.” She unlocked the door and stepped inside.

Evan waited, holding the door ajar. Freddy waited with him.  

She turned around.

“I’m sorry, Neraeh, but are you sure?” Evan asked. “Do you really still want us to come in? I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

She walked over to a small table on the other side of the room. She placed her purse and keys upon the table and turned around. “Seriously, Evan. And Freddy. It’s okay. I trust you guys. Yes. Please. Come in.”

Evan walked in first, with Freddy following.

At once Evan felt enveloped in light and brightness coming from his right. He looked in that direction. Across a rather long living room, with tan carpet and nice, cozy sandstone-colored furniture, a large, framed window gave an awesome view of pine trees and the lake beyond. And a modern, upright piano was positioned against the wall on the left side of the room. Again, familiarity hit; Evan felt reminded of Robert’s cousin’s home, out in that wooded, mountainous location in Australia. Of course, why not? “Gorgeous view, Neraeh.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Please. Come this way. Syrrah’s room is just over here.”

As he followed her, Evan glanced right, noticing a kitchen and dining area through a doorway off from the living room. No one was in there. He directed his gaze back on Neraeh. She walked them into a dark, short hallway that jut off from the living room, near the piano. She flipped on a light switch, thankfully. Three doors were in the hallway, with one probably leading to the garage. Neraeh opened the door on the right.

Like when Neraeh’s eyes first met his gaze, devastating him, that same feeling struck again. “So, Syrrah…never actually lived here?”

“No. But these are all her belongings,” Neraeh said, “her furniture, just like she used to have them. Her arrangements.”

Evan looked around the room, as did Freddy. Another large window gave a similar stunning view of those pine trees and the lake. Semi-transparent white curtains, with tiny pink and tan flowers bordered the window. Her bed was on the left side of the window, from his position. The single-sized bed had a smooth, wooden headframe and was covered with a few small, colorful pillows and cuddly stuffed animals, all on top of a plush, white bedcover that poured over the bed until touching the floor. On the right side of the room stood a narrow wooden dresser with an attached mirror. A few photos were stuck on the mirror’s sides, while framed-in photos, perfume bottles, various small ornament statues and other girl trinkets were positioned neatly across the dresser’s top surface. Evan turned around. Another shorter though wider matching dresser, without a mirror, was positioned against the far wall.

He glanced around the walls. Posters of music groups and other musicians were taped up here and there. Interestingly, one of them was an older Tom Petty poster, dated 1991. He also noticed an Adele poster, and even a few Christian groups, which seemed a bit out of character. She even had a few CDs in a small CD holder, in one corner of the room.

But that mirror dresser. Those photos just begged to be seen. He stepped closer. Strange. A few necklaces with cross pendants hung from the mirror. And even stranger, he could now see a Bible was on the dresser too. Really, a Bible, for someone like Syrrah? Didn’t add up right. He focused more on the photos.  

“Yes. I was going to say,” Neraeh said. “The best place to start. A few when she was young, and a few more recent ones, before she…before she passed away.”

Evan pointed to a framed photo that appeared the most recent, that resembled her the way he last recalled, when standing before her. “May I pick this up?”

“Yes. You can,” she said. “Just place it down where it was when you are finished.”

Cradling the frame in his hands, Evan lifted the photo closer to his eyes. Syrrah, my beautiful Syrrah. She was leaning against a tree, wearing jeans and a red T-shirt. Neraeh was leaning against the same tree likewise, on the tree’s other side. “Nice photo of you two. What are your ages here?”

Neraeh leaned a little closer to Evan, even lightly touching on his upper arm. Freddy walked around to Evan’s other side and gazed at the photo too. “This was taken on September twenty-first, Syrrah’s birthday,” she said. “I was fifteen. She had just turned eighteen.”

“Oh, wow. Like I told you,” Evan said, “I just turned eighteen yesterday.”

“Yes, I know.” Neraeh sighed. “Eighteen. Just wasn’t a good year for Syrrah.”

“I’m so sorry, Neraeh.” Best to alter her thoughts, and quickly. He kept the framed photo secure in one hand and glanced around the mirror again, ignoring his reflection. Well, that’s different. Taped and tied up along the left frame side of the mirror were three small clumps of hair, one blond, the other in purple, and the last one brunette. He reached out to touch the blond one, gently pressing thin strands between two fingertips. “Different hair dyes, I assume?”

Neraeh laughed softly. “Yes. That’s correct. Syrrah kept hair strands of her dyed hair, for reference. Not that she dyed her hair that often, mind you.”

Evan smiled. “Sure. Makes sense.” He wanted to keep touching Syrrah’s beautiful hair, but he stopped. His heart was beating fast enough already.

Calm. Must practice calm! His eyes scanned around the other photos and most showed Syrrah when she was younger. She was so beautiful back then but appeared even more drop-dead gorgeous at eighteen. One framed photo was placed farther back, against the wall behind the dresser, away from the mirror’s right edge. Evan drew closer and instantly wished he hadn’t; his heart sank; Syrrah was being embraced by some guy. He moved back a few inches. “Her boyfriend?”

“Yes.” Neraeh gently removed the framed photo from Evan’s hand and placed it back in the same spot as before. “Tate Hernandez. He is going to medical school now in Minneapolis. But, he too…like my parents, like me, never seemed to have recovered, from…from her passing. He stops by often, sometimes several times a month, to visit my dad and me, and my mom too.”

Evan could still see well enough from his moved-back position. The guy did look Hispanic, maybe even part Native, like himself, with blond spiked dark hair and tan skin. “Hernandez?”

“His mom is Swedish. His dad is from Puerto Rico. Tate, like you, played football. He was captain for several years and is quite the athlete, and smart too. He was even able to skip a grade in college. He plans on doing his residency down there.”

“Oh, wow, nice,” Evan said, though his heart felt like it was sinking even deeper. But did this guy have his thoughts transformed into actions, like going to the Moon, Jupiter, or Titan, by Syrrah? Highly doubtful.

“Besides being the quarterback,” Freddy said, “Evan was captain of our football team too, just this last year, his senior year.”

“Was only helping you guys out. They needed someone to help us win games. So, I accepted.”  

“How did you guys do?” Neraeh asked.

“Well, umm…” This was getting too much. Evan targeted his eyes on a large white book with gold trim at the right end of the dresser. “Pretty good.”

Freddy stepped closer to them both. “We went to state champions, eventually playing in Minneapolis.”

“Wow,” she said. “I guess you are quite the athlete too.”

“Thank you, Neraeh. I do try my best.” Evan touched the white book. “And is this a photo album?”

“Oh, yes. One of Syrrah’s favorite.” Neraeh picked up the book and walked over by Syrrah’s bed. She sat down on the plush, white bed cover and opened the book, slowly flipping through the photo-heavy pages. She stopped on one page. “See. Here is Syrrah, and me. I’m younger, age two, she’s four at that time.”

Evan stepped closer and eyed the photo. “You guys look so cute.”

Neraeh looked up at him. “Please. Sit down.”

The thought of sitting upon the same bed where Syrrah slept sent waves of conflicting sensations throughout Evan’s body. But he kept this hidden. He sat down on the bed to Neraeh’s right side, the bed creaking a bit from his large size, and simply locked his eyes on the book’s pages.

Freddy knelt on the floor, to Neraeh’s left, since there wasn’t much room available with all those pillows and stuffed animals. He leaned his elbow on a small space of the bed, relaxing back against a few pillows.

At least in the beginning of the book, most of the photos were from Syrrah and Neraeh’s childhood, along with photos of their mom and dad here and there. The mom, Beverly, was actually quite pretty when she was younger, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, and a slim shape. The dad was Scandinavian-looking, with sandy blond hair, a large build, and big arms and hands, obviously born for concrete work.

The pages started showing more of Syrrah’s recent years toward the book’s end. In one photo she was sitting at their piano, singing. “Syrrah was musical?”

Neraeh’s pretty eyes were edged in sadness when she looked at Evan. “Yes, very much so. She played the piano, electronic keyboard, and she sang. She had a beautiful voice.”  

Evan locked his eyes with her gaze. “Really? Seriously?”

She smiled and placed the photo album on the floor. After bringing forth her phone from her pants pocket, she opened up Facebook and soon clicked on a video. “These are private, in case you may have tried searching before.” She held her phone outward, so Evan and Freddy could see. Syrrah was onstage, singing.

“At your high school?” Evan asked.

“No. This was a performance at our Baptist church.”

Evan listened attentively. She sounded beautiful, as Neraeh had said. She was singing Oceans, that Hillsong United song. This song had quite the range, and Syrrah handled it beautifully, with maybe a few minor glitches here and there, but overall a job well done. “She seems so calm, and confident.”

“Oh, she was not as calm as she looks. She was quite nervous, believe me.”

Again, things weren’t adding up right. “You mentioned earlier about your dad’s concrete business, and church members. Were all of you quite, well, religious?”

“Yes. We were, mostly. Things sort of changed…after Syrrah…but not completely.” Neraeh clicked on another video, again holding the phone outward so they could all see. “Syrrah was just hanging around, having fun with her friends. This is more what she was like.”

Evan watched the video, as did Freddy. Syrrah was being video recorded by some girl, who was laughing, challenging Syrrah to sing, telling her don’t be shy, that her voice, her singing was awesome. Syrrah finally did sing, quite well again, but she spoke and giggled in between. He recognized the song. You Wreck Me, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She sang the first verse up until the main chorus. But Syrrah was so beautiful, so enchanting, and like Neraeh said, being more herself - silly, charming, sort of shy, and absolutely devastating, pulling Evan in so close to her that he thought he would die. And then the video ended. It was way too short, only 1:20 minutes long.

She closed off Facebook and held the phone in her hands, on her lap.

“Neraeh,” Evan said. “Do you think, if this is okay for you, that you could send me these two videos?”

“Sure. I think that would be fine.” Once Evan gave her his phone number, she accessed the videos from the phone itself and sent both to him, acknowledging that they were large files and might take a bit to arrive.

“You know, my dad would often tell us,” she said, gazing into Evan’s eyes, “that I was named by him, and Syrrah was named by my mother. You see, my name, spelled backwards, h-e-a-r-e-n, spells Hearen. He originally wanted to name me Nevaeh, you know, Heaven spelled backwards.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard that before,” Evan told her gently.

“But, instead, he went with Hearen. He said, my name, it means she hears the voice of God, and listens.” Neraeh smiled and gazed down at her phone in her hands. She let out a quiet laugh. “But Syrrah and I, we would kid around with it, that Syrrah spelled backwards is just Harrys.”

Evan smiled. “I see. Yeah, there is a difference.”

“It’s just that my mom, she wanted to name her that, since she liked the name better. But my dad and all of us would goof on it. Was a funny, silly thing in our family.” She looked up at the ceiling and then lowered her gaze, settling her eyes on all the photos near and around Syrrah’s dresser mirror. She sighed. “Who am I kidding. Happiness…really isn’t here anymore, even after all these years.” Her hands began trembling, the phone nearly slipping off her lap and onto the floor. She placed the phone near Freddy’s arm on the bed. “My mom, she’s a complete mess, because…” Her breathing increased. “Because…”

“Neraeh, are you all right?”

She quietly shook her head ‘yes’ but then lowered her face down into her trembling hands. She was crying but attempting to hide it.   

“Neraeh, I’m so sorry,” Evan said. “I didn’t mean to bring you there, again.” No. That wasn’t good enough. He had to touch her, comfort her. He gently, respectfully placed his hand upon her upper back, and then carefully smoothed his palm up and down along her back several times. “It’s all right, it’s all right. I understand, believe me I do.”

Surprisingly she drew closer and wrapped her arms around him, placing her head on his chest. Her trembling, her crying increased. The memory of Mom-Kyleigh, racing into Dad’s arms, after they had kept them separated for days erupted in Evan’s mind. Her crying, and Dad’s hesitation to hug her back, at first. That wasn’t going to be him now. No. Not at all. He turned into her embrace and hugged her back with all the love, caring, and gentle firmness he had within him. And his beautiful Syrrah, singing so amazingly upon the stage, and her silly, charming behavior around her friend. And her accident, her death. He would never see her again in this life.

And Neraeh’s terrible sadness.

All of it overtook him. He couldn’t hold back. Tears and sobbing gave way from his eyes and voice. “I’m sorry, Neraeh. I’m so, so sorry.” He closed his eyes tightly and held on to her even more, trying to stop her trembling, and his own, while yet gently stroking her back. And she held on to him even tighter herself.

Seconds, maybe even minutes passed by, though Evan wasn’t sure.

“Hey, hey, guys,” Freddy said softly. “You two okay? Here. Take some tissues.”

Evan opened his eyes. A tissue was right near his face.

He had to get this in check. Slowly, using Master Ren’s controlled breathing, he regained most of his composure.

He took the tissue and wiped his eyes and nose. “Neraeh, I’m so sorry.” He continued to gently stroke her back at the same time lessening his hold on her, and she doing to same, while slowing her breathing, ceasing her crying.

Freddy held a tissue in her view. She graciously took it and thanked him.

She gradually released Evan. She sniffled a few times and sat forward, wiping her eyes and nose. “I didn’t mean to load that on you, Evan. And Freddy. I’m so sorry too.”

“No, no, not a problem at all,” Evan said. “Do not worry whatsoever. I feel totally responsible.”

“No. You didn’t do a thing wrong.” She looked in his eyes. “Thank you for caring so much.” But her face went from sad to perplexed, and curious. “But, wow. You were seriously crying. But you didn’t really know Syrrah. You only saw her that one time, except you had those dreams, but…something…else feels, well…”

Evan took hold of both her hands. “Neraeh. All I can tell you, is it was something supernatural, the connection I have with her.”

Her phone buzzed, on the bed, next to Freddy. She startled from the sound and slipped her hands away from Evan’s grasp.  

“Here you go.” Freddy handed her the phone.

“Thank you.” She swiped the screen and stared at a message. “My dad. But he’s coming home earlier than usual, for some reason. He wants me to cook rice for supper.” She glanced at Evan, and then Freddy. “You guys will have to leave. He will be home soon, and he will not understand.”

Evan slowly stood up. Another vision from the past filled his mind. Mom-Kyleigh’s bus, when they all had to keep in touch. So good thing they already had each other’s numbers. “If for any reason,” he said, his eyes focused directly into her gaze, “any reason at all, you need to contact me, and I truly, truly mean this, then I am here for you. Do you understand?”

She blinked a few times but didn’t turn from his stare. “Well, yes, sure. You…you amaze me, Evan. There’s something about you.”

“I care about you and your family more than you could ever realize.” That familiar reaction many people had when he stared in seriousness was breaking her down; she began glancing away yet tried to keep eye contact with him. “Again. I mean that, very much.” 

“Yes. Somehow I believe you do.” She stood up and walked over to the dresser mirror. She removed the blond hair strand. She presented it to him. “Here. I want you to have this. Her true hair color.”

“Really?” Evan hung his arms by his sides, not reaching forth. “Are you sure? What would your mom and dad say?”

Neraeh took hold of his right hand and force the hair strand into his palm. Then she closed his fingers around it. “I want you to have it.” She looked up at him with intense eyes. “Do YOU understand?”

Evan smiled, and glanced away. “Well, touché.” He gazed back at her. “Yes, okay, if you insist.”

She then led them out of Syrrah’s room and brought them to the front door.  

After both he and Freddy gave her polite hugs, and again thanked her for the visit, they walked out of the Van Meir’s home.