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Dear Esther,

It all seems so long ago, doesn’t it? So long since we were young girls, playing in your bedroom on rainy afternoons, foraging through the woods on sunny ones. So long since we fantasized about our futures together, golden dreams of life in the city, shops and restaurants and strong coffee, just like the grown-ups drank. So long since we grew up together in this nowhere, nothing town, and thus became each other’s everything. Still, it’s hard to believe that seventeen years have passed since... you know what. Sometimes, late at night, I’ll lie in bed and wonder if, maybe, it could have gone differently. I wonder if, maybe, we could have been sharing an apartment at this very moment, if we had been open with each other, if we had been better people. God, this is hard, this is so much harder than I ever could have anticipated, so much harder than it should be. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this letter, and even if I do, I seriously doubt that I’ll ever deliver it, that you’ll ever read it. But I know that I need to do this, not for you, but for me. I need to let you go. But I’m not ready to do that just yet, so I’m going to start at the beginning.

You moved here when you were about five, after your father’s death. The house used to belong to your grandparents before they died, and now, with your dad gone and your mother out of work and drowning herself in alcohol, it was the only place you could go. You were so sad, I felt it the moment you walked into the room. It felt like you were broken, little pieces crumbling away from your heart, until nothing was left. You filled the air with pain and darkness. You scared me. You excited me. You made my heart thump. I looked into your eyes, and you looked into mine. And all the invisible barriers separating me from the outside world collapsed. And I must thank you for that. No matter what was or wasn’t between us, no matter what happened after the fact, you were the first person who ever made me feel so real. And for that I thank you.

From that moment onward, we were inseparable. We walked the same walk, talked the same talk. We played together, with everything from pretty, polished dolls to the strange beetles we found scuttling over the dirt. I don’t even remember any kind of transitional period, instead, it seemed as if we shifted instantly from complete and total strangers to the best of friends. And wouldn’t all that trust -all of that love- have been pointless if I didn’t learn a few things about you in the years we were together?

I know you, Esther. I know you, perhaps even better than you know yourself. So I know you won’t want to think about those precious years- after all, those were good times for us. You probably wish we had never met. But I refuse to pretend our love for each other never existed, because that would be lying, and this is my last chance to tell you the truth. And the truth is that we were happy. We were the loners, the creeps of the school, two writhing beetles someone had found in their milkshake and just hadn’t had the chance to toss away yet. We lingered at the fringe, poking in the dirt and making up macabre stories about our classmates, who acted as though, if they got too close, we would curse them. Who knows? Maybe they were right to fear us. But it didn’t matter, because we were so close, so content with each other, and, for some stupid reason, I had hopes that we would stay that way forever.

Of course we didn’t. Of course we wouldn’t. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself so many things about the future. I wish I could have told myself what was going to happen, so I wouldn’t have felt so hurt, so betrayed. I regret so much about my childhood... the way I never thought of myself, the way I followed you around like a little lost puppy. I regret putting you up on a pedestal, as if I deserved any less than you.

Still, there are some things I don’t regret. For example, I don’t regret protecting us.

Do you remember Rosie Morin? She would be fairly hard to forget. Rosie was the kind of girl who smiled angelically at the teacher after uprooting fistfuls of her classmate’s hair, the kind who whispered lies into unsuspecting ears and broke other little girl’s noses with her flowery pink sneakers. I’m sure you remember her. I’m sure you remember the lies she told about your father’s death, about your mother’s work. I’m sure you remember the way she would sneak up behind you and shove your chair up against the desk, so hard that it left dark purple bruises on your chest.

That little witch made my skin tighten and my blood boil. I wanted you to tell someone about the things she did, but I knew you would hate me for it. I also knew you would never say anything. You would never tell anyone what she did, not the teachers who loved her, not the mother who drank until she passed out, and hollered at you from her room. In that way, you were the perfect prey. You were alone. I was all you had. So I decided to protect you.

It was dark that night, in case you were wondering. It was dark, and I was cold, shivering as I carefully opened my window and slipped out into the night, the stars swirling and swooping far above my head. As I walked down those abandoned country lanes, it seemed as if I could hear the whispers of the wind. Don’t do it, don’t do it, the world seemed to say. Yet, even with all these quiet warnings following me, echoing into my ears and creeping under my skin, all I could think about was you. Even then, my love for you was steady as the magma flowing below the earth, tracing paths through my soul as the stars do the sky.

I can’t begin to explain how I found her house, let alone her window. At the time, I thought it was the power of my determination, or the aid of some ethereal force. Some part of me imagined it was an angel, helping me along. Now, I think it might have been something deeper, more primal. It doesn’t matter anyway. All that matters now is that, on a cold winter night, twenty-three years ago, I suddenly found myself shivering in my threadbare pajamas on Rosie’s lawn. Twenty-three years ago, I found myself staring at a young girl’s room through her window and deciding to go inside.

Do you know what I did that night? Do you want to know what happened in the shadow of a moonless sky? I mean, surely some part of you must have figured it out, right? Surely some part of you must have at least suspected that what happened was more than chaotic chance, beautiful luck. No? Then I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything.

I’ll tell you how easily her window slid open, how demurely it yielded to my rapidly steadying fingers. I’ll tell you how simple it was to slip into her ground level room, my stealthy, ratty tennis shoes barely making a sound against her thick, soft carpet. I’ll tell you how peaceful she looked in that moment, her pretty, innocent face resting against her pillow, nestled in her soft blond curls. Her room shone silver in the starlight. For a moment there, just a moment, I hesitated. I considered turning back, heading home. Then I imagined her returning to school the next day, smirking and smug, slamming you against your desk in delight. The moment ended. I reached over her sleeping form to the far side of the bed. I grabbed a plushy, frilly pillow. And I pressed it against her face.

Do you have any idea what it feels like to smother someone? I’ll tell you. You grip the pillow in your hands. Your eyes widen as the slumbering victim suddenly jolts awake, the soft fabric muffling their shocked cries. You press harder, marvel at your newfound strength, almost glad you decided to do it, because you’ve already learned so much about yourself. She claws at your face but can’t find a grip as you shove her desperate arms under your knees, pinning them down and pushing harder. You bite your tongue and taste blood, like she must, and you revel in the flavor. You’ve learned that you can be petty. You’ve learned that you can be cruel. You’ve also learned how utterly, undeniably powerful you are, because by the time the initial flailing begins to wane, you aren’t even tired yet. Your arms have barely begun to ache. You pin down the figure without pity, without remorse, without anger. The minutes pass, slow and steady. The young girl stops moving, but you still don’t give in. You hold on long after the blood stalls in her collapsed veins, long after the spark of life is gone. And when you finally lean back, barely even panting, you don’t feel guilty. You don’t feel victorious, angry, or even sad. You breathe in the cool air. You carefully place the pillow back where you found it. You stare at the corpse lying among the soft sheets, notice that the soft blond curls are only slightly tousled after the struggle, that the blue eyes are halfway open and hideously bloodshot. You reach over to close them. You feel absolutely nothing.

I arrived home just as the east began to lighten, yielding to the inexorable turn of the Earth, welcoming the dawn. No one heard me sneak in. No one realized I had left. And no one ever would.

The next day, we walked to school like normal. I was so excited, so proud. I wanted so badly to tell you what I had done for us. But I was too scared. I didn’t know how you would respond. So I stayed quiet. We arrived at school. Then, in fourth period, we received news of Rosie’s death. When they announced it, you gasped, sat up straight in your seat. I stared lasers at the back of your head, silently willing you to turn around, look me in the eye. I wanted to know that I had done the right thing. The seconds I waited seemed like millennia. My anxiety mounted as I stared. My breath caught in my throat. By the time you glanced over, I was practically suffocating with fear. But glance over you did. And I saw the relief, tangible in your eyes. And I knew, blissfully, without a doubt, that I had been right to trust my instinct. I knew that I had done the right thing.

Lunch came almost immediately after the announcement, and, naturally, the rumors spread like wildfire. No details were given, but by the time lunch hour had ended, everyone knew she had been smothered in her sleep, and that her father had been taken to the city to be tried for her murder. Was it wrong of me to be thrilled when I heard that? Because I was. Somehow, I had managed to both end her life and tear her family apart in the very same night. It was murder. It was justice. It was … so immensely satisfying.

And so the years flew by. We entered middle school together, then high school. We stayed up late and watched horror films. We ripped our jeans and learned to curse. We talked and laughed, we gossiped and dreamed. We were happy just being in the same room as each other.

Sometimes, late at night, I would see you in my dreams. You were slender and tall, radiant in the dim light of a dying sun. You smiled as you approached me, tossed your hair as you began to remove your tattered dress. And, without variation, I was too impatient to wait. I ran over, held you in my arms. I kissed you, kissed you like you would never let me in real life. I drew your lower lip between my lip and kissed you until I tasted blood. Then I pulled back. I opened my eyes to see whether you were as thrilled as I was, whether you were in love. And I saw Rosie.

Did you ever suspect that I wanted more than friendship? Did you even care? I still can’t decide whether you were taunting me, or just trying not to hurt my feelings. It didn’t matter anyway. Not back then. I loved you anyway.

Of course, over the next few years there were several other Rosie’s. However, I decided not to kill them. As good as it had felt to end that witch, as good as it felt to keep you safe, I had to face the facts. One murder in a small town was ordinary, to be expected, even. Any more than two was suspicious.

So I found new ways of punishing them. One aggressive boy woke up to discover that his computer had been smashed in, shards of glass hidden in nooks and crannies he slowly discovered over the next few weeks. Another gossipy girl woke up to discover that all the long, lustrous auburn hair she was so proud of was gone, shaved off while she slept and twisted into ropes around her dolls’ necks. Still another girl woke up to the faint sound of scratching at her window, only to turn around and discover that her mirror had been defaced with red and black sharpie ink. It was actually pretty interesting- all it took was a bit of creativity, a vague threat, and they wilted, shriveled up like worms thrown into a fire. And when they spread the word? The moment, halfway through sophomore year, when you realized that no one dared come near us? That was me. I protected you from the darkness of the world. I did that. And I was so proud. And all I wanted was for you to care about me the same way I cared about you. Neither of us realized how little time we had left.

It happened at about 9:00 on a Friday night, in the summer after our senior year. I was sitting on your bed as you laid out your clothes, carefully choosing which to pack for college, and which to leave at home. You had your hair in a sloppy bun, and you were beaming with anticipation. I don’t think you were ever so beautiful as you were then. If I was a planet, then you were the sun. The entire universe centered around you.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember what we were talking about, only that we were laughing. We were laughing so hard. It was a laughter that screeched to a halt the moment you bent down to your sock cabinet where you had hidden your college funds and discovered that all the money was missing.

The front door swung open.

From this point onward, I remember only bits and pieces. You were straightening, your face carved from stone. We were coming down the stairs. You mother was in the kitchen, holding a bag full of bottles. She was swaying slightly on her feet, already drunk. You asked her what she had done with the money. Her words came out slurred when she answered. She had used it to settle some debts. Mainly, she had used it to buy liquor.

Then she was on the floor. The kitchen knife was in my hand. Her blood was like rubies in the air, roses on the ground. She was struggling. She was screaming.

She was gone.

For weeks after that night, I would relive my life in my dreams. I would branch out a little more. You and I would still be friends, but I would learn to temper my obsession. I would not have killed Rosie. I would not have hurt all those other people –who, as I learned recently, all committed suicide. We would have seen what your mother did. We would have screamed at her. We would have driven off in your car, and gotten jobs somewhere far, far away. Maybe we would have stayed together for years. Maybe you wouldn’t have hated me. Maybe we would have loved each other.

I remember the way you screamed. In fact, I think that was what snapped me out of that red haze of anger. I think it was just the way you screamed at me, as if I was all the evil in the world, because, to you, that was what I had become. You called me a monster.

From that point, everything was pure instinct. I grabbed you by the hair, your bun unraveling, your mouth splitting into a shriek of agony that I barely heard. And I started dragging you. I dragged you across the dining room, where we used to build forts around the table. I dragged you up the stairs, where we used to pretend that we were daring mountain climbers. I dragged you down the hallway, where we used to race each other until we knocked down the dismal family photos. I dragged you, and I dragged you, and I dragged you by your beautiful hair, scraping your beautiful skin and ignoring your beautiful cries, until, finally, we were standing in your room. I kicked you in the head, muffling your panicked cries and dropping you, dizzy, onto the floor, where you finally broke down and wept. I opened your closet, removing that floor length mirror you kept hidden there. I leaned it up against the wall. I lifted you once more by the hair. And I threw you in.

Do you know why I fell in love with you? You were petty and dishonest. You were cruel and harsh. The world broke you from an early age, and you had become determined to break the world in return. But on that fateful day when we met, when you entered your bedroom and I first stepped out of that mirror to breathe fresh air, you weren’t scared of me. You only ever saw me as a being with the potential for good. I fell in love with you because you didn’t hate me for what I was. You never tried to make me less than you, even if I was a mere... reflection. You saw a demon. And you believed in her.

I know you’ll never be able to get out of that mirror. And now, I’m almost convinced you shouldn’t. You are nothing but a wraith now, standing in the center of a clouded plane of glass, clawing at your skin, screaming into the void. You are nothing, nothing like who you once were, and nothing to the world. I’m here. And I am strong. And I am real. And I am beautiful.

People wonder why I avoid mirrors. But after today, they won’t have to anymore.

I started this letter from a place of fury and grief. But I end it from a place of peace. Tomorrow, I will smash your mirror, and you will die. And I will cry. And I will grow. I will let you go. I will look in the mirror, and I will finally see myself instead of you. I will finally be free. And maybe, just maybe, I will find love again.

Your oldest friend, Esther

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