Not everyone is as normal as they'd like to think.

When I was five, our family lived in an expansive house in a small town in Virginia. Our region was tiny and uneventful, and the neighbors were friendly nobodies who came over for lemon and ginger tea once a week. There was an orange striped tabby named Horace that roamed our streets at will; whoever was graced with his presence at any one time would consider him their own.

My room was painted a shade of deep rose, with a thin strip of wallpaper edging the ceiling depicting teal leaves. On one wall, opposite the twin bed, stood the closet. It had been crafted of beautifully stained oak; carved into the woodwork were the faces of cherubs, beaming at me as I slept. It was this closet that I loved the most, of all the things in my room; for in it lived my best friend.

Charlotte, she said her name was. She was a little girl, just like me. Her eyes shone, the color of a rainy day. Every day when I returned home from kindergarten, she would be in my room, waiting for my arrival. Charlotte was truly more listener than orator. I would vent to her sometimes, be the news good or bad, and she would sit on the bed, swinging her white- stockinged feet contentedly. At bedtime, she would bid me good night, stepping back into the closet and shutting the wooden door behind her. If I wanted her in the middle of the night she would never be there; whatever I wished to say would have to wait until the next morning.

Yet I noticed something odd about her. She wore strange clothing, I'd give her that-a deep blue print dress with a lacy white frock on top-but beyond that, right down to the soles of her little black mary-janes. The air tended to get a bit fuzzy down by her feet, blurring the edges to her heels as she walked. I paid less attention as time passed. It was just another one of those peculiarities that everyone had, in one form or another.

I never understood other people's attitude towards Charlotte. One day, in the summer between kindergarten and first grade, I invited my friend Kristen to one of our tea parties. It was to be on the porch, complete with Fisher-Price teacups and real, grown-up tea.

Charlotte and I ambled outside to prepare for the party. Chatting amiably, we set up the colorful plastic cups upon the rough wooden table and waited. There was a vague screaming noise as the tea kettle announced itself to the world. My mother hurried to give it attention.

The doorbell rang.

There were some moments of boring adult-chatter to endure between my mother and Kristen's, but finally we were released into the porch where we belonged. Kristen was a blonde, outgoing girl, dressed in a bright pink t- shirt that read 'Belgium' in cursive lettering. I giggled a little.

"What's that supposed to mean? Bell-gh-ee-um?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "But isn't it pretty?"

I nodded approvingly. Charlotte shifted the weight on her feet.

"Belgium. It's a country," she half-whispered. "A country, the way America is. People live in it."

I looked questioningly at her. "Where is it?"

"Across a sea. It takes a long time by boat, and then it takes a couple of days after that to get there by carriage."

Kristen stared at me for a moment. She made a face at me. "Who're you talking to?" She looked all around me, even staring into Charlotte's pale face. "Did you invite someone else, too?" She tugged at a lock of hair, and took a step forward, almost touching Charlotte now. Suddenly she froze, jaw hanging, and shivered. Kristen scrambled backwards.

"What was that?" she squeaked. "Something cold. there's something cold right by here."

I turned to look at Charlotte, but she was gone, the way she usually is when someone sees her. I sighed.

The tea party continued without event. Without Charlotte. Sipping tea like proper ladies, Kristen didn't ask me why there were three settings at the tea table.