My Name is Caroline (rewritten for the third and final time)

(Then: 13)

I once tried to count all of the stars from where they stretched out over my upturned face in the inky night's sky, lying on the forest floor on my back, my head resting against my father's shoulder, my body curled snugly under his heavy arm. I counted until my eyes drooped and I was sure I had missed some, and counted others twice, but I was determined, back then, that I could do it one day, when I was older, wiser, and more alert. I thought then that I could do almost anything, and that if I couldn't, my father could.

It's funny how when you are a child, there is nothing that you can rule out as impossible. I guess if you were born knowing how many limits there really are, though, it would be hard to want to ever grow up at all.

"It's beautiful, isn't it, Caroline?" my father asked me as I pondered this, and I nodded. I was older then, thirteen, almost fourteen, but I had not lost my appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the stars we had long considered made for only us.

"Do you see any constellations?" he asked me, turning his face slightly towards me, and his beard brushed my face, scratching my cheek. I didn't pull away. I had gotten to where I liked the feeling of such accidental contact, almost as much as the deliberate physicality of his arm around my shoulders, my knee against his leg where we lay together. It was comfortable, casual, and somehow, it made me feel safe. Like he would never willingly let me go.

"Show me," I said, although he had taught me all that he knew, and we both knew I could find the constellations perfectly well on my own, maybe better than he could, because I had better vision. Nevertheless, he took my hand in his, his rough, callused skin warm against the softness of my own, and he raised my arm with my index finger sticking out, moving my hand with his to trace the outlines in the sky.

"Gemini…Castor, Pollux…Virgo…Big Dipper, Little Dipper…those are the easy ones, anyone can see those…and there's Andromeda…"

I followed our hands with my eyes, my breathing even, relaxed, almost in sync with my father's. When it's just the two of us, his eyes are soft, warm, like a man who's in no hurry to leave the present moment. Like a man who's found his peace. It's only with others, when we're out among the rest of the world, that his eyes darken and his jaw tenses, his voice dropping, terse and strained, and he can't let down his guard. I don't blame him. He's afraid of what they might do, of what they could take from us. I'm afraid too. I don't think my father would survive, if they were to ever take me away. Sometimes, I'm not sure if I would either.

We are not like others, my father has told me. We are different. Better, in some ways. They do not understand us, so it's best to not let them see enough to realize what they are missing. Because people always envy what they don't have, and envy is the cause of terrible deeds. He tells me this, and I know it to be true. My father is the only person I know who has never lied to me.

"Which star is the brightest, Caroline?" he asked me, and I pointed one out, a particularly large one that was probably actually a planet, maybe even a planet that had already been dead for thousands of years before I was born. There isn't much you can count on for certain in the world. Even the stars deceive you when it comes down to it.

"I think so too," he agreed, and when I shivered slightly, a light breeze blowing forward a few strands of my long dark hair, he pulled me closer against his side, sharing with me his warmth.

"Make a wish, Caroline," he said softly, and even though I was almost fourteen, old enough to not believe in my own personal power when it came to things like wishes, I did it anyway, staring without blinking at my chosen star, in the hope that if I didn't look away the whole time, maybe, just maybe, it would bow to my command.

I wish that I'll always have this….I wish I'll always have my father. I wish that nothing will ever take this away.