"STALKER!" I was three seconds away from running out from under the cover of the pier and flagging down the Beach police. But something stopped me; and it wasn't my dread of facing my parents behind bars. Why? Why was this cute--outside of the shadows I could see the definition of his sharp features and his flashing, grey eyes-- somewhat funny, older guy waiting at the Beach to talk to me?
"What do you want with me?" I was far enough away that I would have a good headstart and while screaming my head off I was sure that I could attract the Beach police.
He was much closer by this time. "I'm here to offer you one wish."
I didnt' say anything. He's joking. He waited for my response. He's not joking. He must be crazy.
"Thank you. That's very kind of you," I said and then turned and ran down the Beach towards the police. I was hoping to throw him off gaurd, but he pounced at me before I had run a dozen steps. It would have been a gentle tackle by most standards if I hadn't ended up stretched facedown with a mouth full of sand.
"Get off of me! HELP! Get. Off. Me." I wasn't scared anymore. I was seriously annoyed. I bucked him off and flipped onto my back glaring.
"Sorry Nilly, but you shouldn't go running around like that. People are going to think you're crazy."
My jaw dropped. Either he was a hardcore stalker or this Nate-guy knew me, because no one had called me Nilly in about 7 years.
He could read the shock clear on my face and Nate grinned, "It's me. Natty."
Natty was my only friend growing up. We would play almost every afternoon together until I turned six, when my mom remarried and we moved away. Mom would ask me questions about Natty, like where were his parents, what did they do for work or where did he live or was he in the room with us at that moment.
Natty was my imaginary friend. Or at least that's what my mom had thought. Over the years he had faded enough that I thought she might be right.
I looked closely at the guy sitting across from me. I ran my tongue over my gritty teeth as I tried to process. Impossible. "Natty?" I spat sand. "How do I know that you're him. Besides, you're not real. I mean he's not real."
Still with that same strangely familiar grin on his face, Natty--Nate--reached over and poked my side. "You're favorite animal is a seadragon. You love to read comic books. And you stole a tootsie roll from the corner store on Irving Park."
I squirmed and fought hard not to squeal when he poked me. "You said you wouldn't tell anyone."
"It's not secret-breaking if you remind the person who told you in the first place, silly Nilly." He hooked his pinkie finger with mine and pressed his thumb to my thumb. Our secret-keeper promise shake.
"Don't call me that. I'm not a little girl anymore." I yanked my hand away from his and jumped up from the ground, brushing sand from my jeans. "Besides, we're not friends like that anymore. You left me." I whispered the last part more to myself. I knew it was illogical, since I was the one who'd moved away.
A firefly flew in between us trailing light like a small fairy.
"I'm here now."
"So what? Is that supposed to make everything all better? Natty, you can't change the way things are, with me or my life." The tide was drawing the further onto the shore. I slid a few steps back.
"That's what the wish is for. You can have anything you want. A happier family. Your independence. That castle we talked about building." He scuffed sand at me. What an annoying boy.
"I'd need more than just one wish," I said wistfully. "Besides, aren't there limitations to that sort of thing? And what happens afterwards; you disappear again?"
This time he kicked water towards me. Ick. "Here." He reached into his pocket and threw a crumpled paper at me. I picked it up and unscrunched it. 'I hereby grant the carrier of this paper 1 wish,' it read. Natty shifted from one foot to the other. "Use it when you need it. But for now can we do something fun? Before the trash men wake up."
Huh? I looked towards the parking lot. From my angle on the shore I could see the parking lot more clearly. The headlights belonged to a garbage truck not a police car. And the vehicle hadn't moved from its spot the entire time Natty and I had been talking. Odd. The Beach was a magical place. Being with Natty here felt right. More peaceful than I had felt in a long time. Maybe tonight I can play pretend one more time.
Another light flickered nearby. I smiled. "I bet I can catch more lightning bugs then you can." I challenged Natty, already lunging towards the glimmer.
"Ha! You're on."