screamed a second time, he jerked the broom from the chimney and it landed on the roof with a thump.
" Chelsea !" he yelled.
Ben scrambled toward the ladder and climbed down as fast as safety would allow. He rounded the house and burst through the front door.
The sight before him shocked him into speechlessness. Chelsea was gently cradling the small owl in her hands. She crooned soothingly, and the comfort in her tone, the expression of concern on her face was all-consuming. It was clearly evident that the frightened wild creature was, at that moment in time, the most important thing in the world to her.
Ben was completely and utterly dumbfounded by the change in this woman. He had thought her unfeeling and cold. However, seeing her now, he realized that she might purposefully hold her emotions in check, but she definitely was not unfeeling. The gentleness and kindness etched in her beautiful features astounded him. And again he was overwhelmed by the difference in her.
"Help me, Ben," she said, her voice feather soft so as not to upset the owl.
"What can I do?" He emulated her hushed tone as he crossed the room.
Just then May came into the living room with a linen tea towel.
"Here, Chelsea ," May said. "This is the closest I could come to lightweight fabric."
"It's perfect, May," Chelsea said. "Thanks." Then she glanced at Ben. "Take the towel," she told him, "and loosely tie it over his head. Sort of like a hood."
"Over his head?" he asked.
"At least over his eyes," she instructed. "If he can't see, he'll stay calmer. But not too tight. We want him to be able to breathe."
Ben did as he was told, Chelsea quietly talking him through every movement. He marveled at how placid the bird had become when the makeshift hood was covering its head.
"I heard you scream," Ben said.
The sound of her chuckle made his gut tighten with pleasure.
"It was my fault. This little fellow scared me to death when he came down on top of me." She laughed softly again. "I should never have had my head in the hearth when you forced him down."
She held the bird in both hands and softly stroked it with one thumb.
"You're so scared," she crooned to the tiny owl. "It's going to be okay now."
Chelsea looked at Ben. "He's trembling," she said. Her eyes conveyed a tremendous amount of compassion. "Would you take me over to the nature center?"
"I'd go alone, but if I put him in a box I'm afraid he might hurt himself. It would be safer for him if I just held on to him." She rubbed her chin on the owl's soft feathers. "I'd like to have the vet take a look at him. He may have a broken wing, and if he does, I'm not sure how to set it."
"We can go right now," Ben said.
" Chelsea , you did an outstanding job." May's eyes were shining. "You sure did."
"I'm glad you called me," she told his aunt. "Let's go, Ben."
They drove the short distance to the nature center. By now the center was open and Chelsea went inside to hand over the bird to the attendant on duty.
As Ben waited for her to return to the truck, he couldn't help but marvel at what he'd learned about her this morning. As long as he'd known Chelsea , she'd presented a reserved and chilly disposition to the world. And she'd been so consistent in her presentation that everyone believed her act.
But seeing her at May's this morning, actually witnessing the compassion she lavishly bestowed on the tiny, frightened owl, had taught him that his wife's detached demeanor was a façade… a false front that hid the true person inside. His wife clearly had an altruistic nature that she was concealing from him and everyone else around her.
The question that kept popping into his mind was: Why? What had happened to make her want to hide the true Chelsea from the world? Ben couldn't fathom what would compel a person to shut down her emotions, what would push her to stifle what most human beings reveled in. As he sat there with his elbow resting on the steering wheel, his chin tucked into
Thomas E. Sniegoski Christopher Golden