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TITLE: Never Leave Me
By Lauren Dahl

Just to warn you, this story is supposed to be more thoughtful than action-packed
I was sitting on a stool, behind my house, watching the trees and the mountain and the sky, watching, but not really seeing. I was lost in a world in my mind, one of many, when she came along. I noticed her the moment that it was humanly possible for her to be seen, but I think I felt her before that. She was dressed exactly like normal children my age, and she looked normal, though perhaps prettier, but she seemed different than the others. Different like me.
“Good morning, Robin,” she called in a cheery melodic voice that sent my eardrums dancing with delight. Though I had never met her before, it seemed perfectly natural that she should know my name. “It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon, where are your friends?”
“Away, playing.”
“And why aren’t you with them?”
“I don’t like their games. Actually, I don’t much like them either. They’re not my sort of people.”
“Who is your sort of people?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never met any, unless, perhaps… you?”
She laughed and her laughter was perfect, ideal, just like everything else about her. “Yes, I am your sort and you are mine. Let’s go into the woods and explore.” It was, possibly, an abrupt question, but it seemed perfectly natural at the time.
I agreed and we left, not running like other children, but walking, enjoying and savoring each other’s company. The next two hours were wonderful as we went through the woods, seeing what it was and pretending something else. But it was the sort of pretending that wasn’t forced. It didn’t need to change the truth; it didn’t need to be real in order to be.
“I don’t know your name,” I said, startled by the discovery as we walked home. I felt as if I knew all about her.
“That’s my favorite name. I suppose you’ll come to the picnic tomorrow?”
“No, I’ll meet you afterwards. You don’t need to share me with others. I am only your friend.”
My heart leapt at that knowledge with selfish joy because I hated sharing people, even as I wondered how she’d read my mind. That was why I had no other real friends.
The next two weeks were beautiful since I at last had someone who was like me, someone who, for no identifiable reason, didn’t fit into the world around her. We spent as much time as we could together. She came by in the evening on the day my parents left on a trip and we watched the sunset together from the backyard.
“We must climb it,” she said all of a sudden. “We must climb the mountain to the very top starting tomorrow.”
Those had been my thoughts not two seconds ago. I was a careful creature and never would have suggested it, but where I was weak: in daring and confidence, there Charlotte was strong. Her boldness must have rubbed off on me, because I said, “Yes, be here tomorrow at eight.”
It was a perfect day to begin an adventure, I thought as we walked down the dirt road leading to the mountain. A tiny smile played about my lips.
“What are you thinking?” Charlotte asked.
“That is a beautiful day and-“ did I dare go on?- “and that I’m glad I can spend it with you.”
“You don’t need to be afraid, Robin. I’m not going to bite if you tell the truth. You’re my best friend and before I met you it was as if the whole world was for others, but not for me. I want to know the true you.”
“But you do, Charlotte. You know me better than anyone.” I rejoiced to hear my words coming from her mouth. I adjusted my backpack and turned to look at my friend. I felt so incredibly lucky to have her that I never wanted to let her go. I thought that I’d do anything to keep her…
“Stop it, Robin.”
“I know that look. You’re imagining me leaving you and running off with other friends. You can’t think like that. You’re an amazing person, but you need to stop looking for the dark cloud behind the silver lining.”
“You’re right. I’m too suspicious of good things. From now on I’ll try to let the good be good and the bad be bad.” I meant the words, but in my heart I knew that my fear would not be shaken, at least not easily.
The sun grew hot. It was about noon now and we had begun our ascent. I was about to suggest lunch when Charlotte looked at me with a mischievous smile on her face and dashed off. We didn’t run much like that, it felt strange and childish, but I let go of my reservations and hurried after her. Just ahead of me was a stream and Charlotte’s backpack, but I didn’t see Charlotte. Twinges of fear pricked at my heart as I approached. You can’t imagine the relief I felt when she surfaced in the water and called, “Come on, we’ll dry as we eat!”
So I shed my backpack and shoes and splashed in after her. When the water grew too cold, we climbed out and lay on a big rock in the sun and got out lunch.
“Are you alright with being alone?” she asked halfway through our peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you feel fine about not fitting in? D you feel like you need to change and become like everyone else?”
“In order to fit, I feel like I’d need to change, but I don’t want to. It’s seems like a necessary isolation.”
“It’s pride too. We’re too proud to let go of our loneliness because it seems so noble.”
There was a pause, and then I asked her, “Are you going to leave me?”
“Of course I’ll have to leave you. There will come a time when you won’t need me anymore.”
“I’ll always need you. You’re the only one who understands me.”
“And soon you’ll understand me too. Let’s go, I want to camp on top of the mountain.” We packed and left, but her last comment weighed heavily on my mind.
The mountain was, truth be told, more of a hill, but it was tall and a good day’s hike to the top. By evening, both of us were tired as we pitched our tent on the summit. After supper I unrolled my sleeping bag, but Charlotte said, “Time’s too short, Robin. Let’s talk.”
I didn’t know what she meant, but I said, “Okay, let’s talk.”
We talked of me, mostly. We talked of my hopes and dreams, irritations and disappointments. All the words that I’d been storing up for a lifetime came out. We talked though the night and I didn’t even grow sleepy. As the first rays of dawn spread over the sky, I asked, “What about you?”
“We’ve already talked about me.”
“Just now.”
“I don’t understand…” Her words from earlier popped into my head. “What did you mean when you said that I’d soon understand you?”
“The time has come for the truth.” No, I thought, I did my best to be a good friend, please, don’t leave me like the others. “Robin, I am you.”
“What? No, you’re Charlotte. You’re nothing like me, really. You look different; you’re bolder, stronger, smarter, and nicer. You can’t be me.”
“I’m the ideal you, I’m everything you would like to be. You invented me because you were lonely and a hard time is coming. You feel it, but you don’t know what it is. I came to give you strength and prepare you. We’ve talked and I have fulfilled my task. You know yourself. Now I must go.”
“No! If a hard time is coming, then I’ll need you more than ever to help me through. You can’t just go.”
“I can’t help you anymore. I am only as strong as you. You must look higher than me, Robin. Look to the One who will never leave you and who can give you the strength for the trials ahead. You must look higher for the Friend you need. Good-bye, Robin.”
Charlotte and all that was hers disappeared, but her last words remained and I obeyed them. For the first time I really looked higher than myself to see if the Creator of my soul had the power to help me. Could I trust Him as a friend? Was He faithful? Did He care? I looked and I found that the answer was always the same. Yes.
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