For as long as I can remember, there has always been Michael. Nobody else could see Michael, but I could, and that was okay with me. When I was two, I had a bad habit of climbing out of my crib and wandering the house at night. Michael never tried to put me back in the crib, only hovered protectively a few feet away, ready to intervene in case I pulled a knife off the counter or anything like that. When I turned twelve and Brandon Scott gave me my first kiss, Michael smiled and nodded and hugged me tight when I gushed on and on over it, and he held me while I cried when Brandon told me he didn't want to be my boyfriend.
Hey, I was twelve. I was allowed to be emotional back then.
About the same time I started high school, I began realizing nobody else could see Michael as if for the first time, and others were beginning to notice I was still talking to my "imaginary friend". If not for having the highest grade in my class, I'm sure people who have wondered if I was a bit wonky in the head. Slowly I stopped talking to Michael during the school day, then I started playing on the school softball team, and I was home a lot less. Michael came to every practice with me, but I ignored him until he simply stopped showing up.
I started hanging out with the other softball girls and with my boyfriend Ethan, coming home late and sometimes not coming home at all. Mom and Dad were marginally worried, but all I had to do was keep my cell phone with me and they didn't fuss too much. Michael, on the other hand, seemed to come undone every time I came home after missing the night before. So very, very Mom-like, if what I heard about obsessive moms was true.
Hang on--you all don't know Michael, so let me take a second or two to describe him a bit. Michael is not some three-inch-tall man who sits on my shoulder; no, he's about 6' 8" last I measured, with big Hulk Hogan-style muscles, and the strangest aversion to jackets. Not that he needs them; his skin is always warm, like a favorite sweater fresh out the dryer. His hair is blonde, not bleach blonde, but natural blonde, with a couple dark streaks from an unfortunate hair dye accident that was SO not my fault. He's also got eyes, like you or me or anyone, but his eyes are like crystal balls, the color of amber and shiny. Literally shiny, able to cast a light of their own in a dark room, like mini fires.
Michael is tough and strong, able to life my parent's king-sized bed one-handed so I could find my stuffed teddy bear when I was nine, but he's like a teddy bear himself, minus the fur and the stuffing and the button nose. I used to be an avid biter--Well, I still am, but that's beside the point--and I remember ever since my first tooth, I would gnaw on Michael's arm or his shoulder while sitting in his lap, or trying to sleep. All he'd do was smile and pat the top of my head, calling me "cute" and waiting patiently until I got bored or fell asleep.
He was my best friend, my only friend for many, many years, and every night for nearly a decade, when I thought he was asleep, I would crawl out of bed and kneel by the window and pray. I had no idea who I was praying to (my parents talked about a God, but I was and always will be agnostic), but you can't blame a kid for trying, though I swear SOMEONE heard me. I'd thank whoever was up in the sky for giving Michael to me, and ask to have him for another day, to have him forever, and never lose him. Then I'd "amen" like a good girl, crawl back into Michael's arms, and go back to sleep.
Okay, so now you know a bit about Michael, so it might make more sense what my story is going to mean, and how deeply it affected the world... Or, at least, my world.
About the time I started my junior year of high school, I had a boyfriend for almost two years at that point, a fact Michael seemed proud of, but sad about at the same time. I just assumed it was him just worrying again, and thought nothing else of it. One night, one of the nights I didn't plan on going home and was instead staying with my boyfriend Ethan, he and I were curled up on the couch in his living room, watching some romantic comedy and having a popcorn fight. One thing led to another, teenage hormones and all that science-y stuff, and an hour later, we were stretched out on his bed, skin on skin, cuddling and clinging to one another. He's murmuring to me softly, and I'm giggling, all schoolgirl-like, when someone with a heavy hand starts pounding at his door. We both jumped, which had some interesting effects concerning friction, then exchanged a "Guests? Not my guest" look.
Grumbling, he pulled on his jeans and stumbled off to answer the door, leaving me to curl up in the warm spot where he was and wait patiently... Well, quasi-patiently. I heard tapping and looked over at the window, then had to bite my lip to keep from shrieking like a banshee, though a muffled squeal escaped anyways. Michael was there, staring at me through the window, stuck to the side of the house like some kind of human-shaped, overgrown spider. I slid off the bed and out of his sight, knowing my face was burning with embarrassment at being seen nekkid (and yes, I meant to spell it that way) by Michael. She pulled on my boyfriend's t-shirt and a pair of delicates before opening the window, the typical what-the-hell on the tip of my tongue.
Not that it ever came out.
Michael grabbed my shoulders, his amber eyes wide and wild and... Frightened. I gulped in a few deep breaths, whatever tongue-lashing I meant to give him for spying suddenly dying in my throat. Michael didn't fear anything except me getting into life-or-death trouble, and even that wasn't enough to make him look so off-kilter. Our conversation went somewhere along the lines of:
"Are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?"
"No, no, I'm fine. What's wrong with you?"
"I'm worried about you, as always. Where's Ethan?"
"Answered the door. Why?"
I think that night was the first and only time I heard Michael curse, really curse, not the little kid "Ah crap" stuff. Needless to say, seeing my pristinely mouthed Michael curse like a sailor was certainly a shock, but then he was pulling me to the window, still open and letting in the chilly night air.
"Hey! Michael, what the fuck? Let me go!"
The glare he shot over his shoulder at me could have silenced a raging Donald Trump, had it been a raging Mr. Trump he was dragging by the wrist. I quickly shut my mouth and quit struggling, letting him pull me to the window. He scooped me up, bridal-style, his arms tight around me and his heart pounding against my arm. Again, I felt a spike of fear. What the hell was going on that had Michael so afraid?
Before I could protest, before I even realized what was going on, Michael had squeezed through the window and jumped from the third story window. I didn't scream, but my heart missed several beats and my head grew light and fuzzy. Oh hell, this is it. Plummeting to my death without even a suicide note...
We jolted, as if some enormous bird of prey had grabbed us in its talons and was now winging us away, carrying us to God-knows-where, but the ground moved away from us again, a fact for which I was extremely grateful. At least I could breathe again.... Sort of. I was afraid to look at Michael, to confirm some kind of fear I didn't realize I'd always had where he was concerned, so I buried my face into the crook of his neck, a familiar habit of mine ever since my baby days, and squeezed my eyes shut. If I can't see anything, then nothing could see me.