I fell. 

It wasn't down a rabbit's hole, though it felt close.  I landed on my hands and knees, feeling the grass beneath me, cushioning me.  I wasn't too battered; I'd live.  I dusted myself off as I got to my feet.  Took a moment to glance around me and realized I was suddenly a long way from home.  Immediately I was afraid.  I wanted to return to the comforts of the familiar and the safety of the ordinary.  Everything I saw looked ominous and menacing-- the fragrant roses threatened to tear my flesh with their thorns.  The glimmering lake could bury me beneath its surface.  It was all so dangerous and unknown.  I closed my eyes and wished myself home, but it didn't work.  I was here and I was alone.

Except that I wasn't alone.  There was a kind face staring into my own, smiling at me.  A hand outstretched in offering.  So harmless, if I would only just trust.  Yet my trained eyes saw what was sneaking in the shawdows of unassuming goodness.  Oh yes, there was a truer danger here in the sweet looks and the caring smiles.  More so than that of thorns and thrashing waves. 

I could not allow myself to be fooled by the enticing beauty, so I pushed.  As hard as I possibly could, I pushed the affection away from me.  I pushed until I fell backwards.  And it hurt.  But as I looked up, the person was still looming, still a tender figure, a look of amusement in its eyes.  A hand stretched out farther this time, so to reach me, prostrate on the ground.  After moments of torn silence I gave in.  What could it hurt, to allow a stranger to help me in the slightest of ways?  It felt uncomfortable and thrilling, all at once, to put a morsel of faith in someone I truly didn't know.  But it didn't mean I liked them.

As soon as I was on my feet, I pulled my hand away.  But it wouldn't come.  At first I assumed it was because the gentle grip had tightened, forcing my appendage to stay.  I looked into the brown eys, feeling panicked and afraid, but the eyes were still calm and kind.  Then I saw that my very own hand was the traitor.  Tightly I held onto the soft palm, against my will.  My hand liked the strange hand and it wanted to stay where it was.  Stupid hand.

Fine.  I would indulge my hand.  I would stay for a few, stay and cast a sideways glance at the person who had seduced my reckless fingers.  The face was resplendent and the glow hurt my eyes.  I would look away, but I really didn't want to.  What was happening to me?  How and when did I become so careless?  I used to be an expert at protecting myself, and here I was, begging for the wolves to come and eat me alive.

"Who are you?"  My voice had an echo in this mysterious place. 

A smile, wider this time.  Dimples.  Of course this angel had dimples.  It was a mirage of innocence, designed to make me fall.  "You know who I am." 

Did I?  I squinted at the radiant stranger.  It was rather familiar, this hand in mine, this warmth that was now embracing me.  I felt a peace, a fearlessness I hadn't felt in so long.  I never wanted to let go.  I looked in awe at my surroundings.  There were an array of the most vibrant flowers, slashed across a lazy meadow.  The lake that had threatened to engulf me turned out to be placid and blue.  There were butterflies and hummingbirds and robins scattered through the caressing breeze.  I was most definitely standing in a wonderland, accompanied by the loveliest creature I had ever seen.  The tranquility never left Stranger's face.  I wanted to be lost in its enchantments.  I desperately yearned to feel the joy that flowed from its eyes.  That's when careful arms wrapped themselves around me.

Those arms were a cacophony of strength and fragility, as though they knew the importance of slow caution.  I was the proverbial deer in the headlights.  But the strangest thing yet happened.  Instead of the desire to flee, I melted into the folded arms.  All of my fears, all of my hurt and all of my lonelieness came forth and I began to cry.  I cried for the lost child inside of me.  I cried for the years I had spent pushing and for the wasted breath of a life unlived.  The arms became tighter.  So much so that I could do nothing but allow all my weight to be born by Stranger and its comforting arms.  

Eventually my eyes dried and I rested my weary soul on the shoulder of Stranger.  It was the most peculiar feeling I had ever experienced.  I was safe, I was cared for, I was happy.  It was devine.  I spent what felt like hours drinking in the effervescent colours that danced around us.  I would never leave this Utopia, with all it's whimsy and hope.  

My breathing slowed and I knew I had slept for several minutes as soon as I reopened my heavy eyes.  Again I stared at the glorious scenery.  I noticed with mild surprise that there was a chill in the air, but it was all right.  Stranger emanated heat from its body and I was able to look up into the great sky.  It was now a speckled navy blue, freckles of stars blinking and giggling down on us.  I fell back into sleep.

This time when I woke we were laying in the soft grass, daisies and daffodils swaying around us.  Stranger appeared to be asleep and the breeze blew colder than before.  I pressed myself into Stranger's hold, and in doing so, Stranger's eyes flicked open and I was greeted with a smile.  

"I'm sorry I woke you, Stranger...  I'm just a little cold."

Stranger laughed.  It was a pretty, chiming sound, like bells or chattering water in a magical stream.  "My name is not Stranger."  As the echos of Stranger's words calmed, a soft cloak was wrapped around me.

I blushed furiously.  "I know.  But... but I don't know your name.  You haven't told me."

A hand under my chin lifted my embarassed gaze back to the bewitching face.  "Yes, my dear, I assure you, you do know my name."

Another flash of shame.  How could I not know my wonderful savior?  Surely I would've remembered someone so... so...  good.  But there it was again.  A tiny hint of familiarity.  Just out of my reach.  On the edge of my memory.  I was angry at myself for not being able to capture the thought.  Really, though.  Clearly, I wasn`t the one in control of this situation.  Stranger, or whatever its name was, could just tell me.  Have an ounce of mercy, for crying out loud.  Look at what I had been through.  I was desolate for so long.

The indignation flowed through my veins, igniting me.  I shoved back slightly, only to let loose a grunt when I realized Stranger`s arms were too securely engulfing me.  That only irritated me more.  ``Let go.``

Stranger`s face, for the first time since I had entered this mysterious location, wasn't warm and soft and joyful.  There was a mixture of compassion and a pulsing hurt in its expression.  I felt a jab of guilt, but the guilt only served to feed my fire.  Why should I be to blame for it holding onto me that firmly?

It dawned on me that I felt a little cramped.  I needed to stand and stretch and Stranger wasn't releasing me fast enough.  I kicked slightly, and squirmed like a toddler in the beginnings of a tantrum.  "I said, let go!"

Stranger dropped its arm as though I had struck it.  The distress on its face turned my heart cold with regret, but I ignored it and scrambled to my feet.  Once there, I looked down on the majestic creature.  Now that I was standing above Stranger, I saw a vulnerabilty I hadn't noticed before.  I softened.  "Please tell me your name?" I queried.

A hint of delight crept back into Stranger's expression and my guilt was assuaged.  "You truly do not recall my name, dearest?  Not even from when you were a child?"

"What," I exploded, "does this have to do with my childhood?  You know nothing of me or where I have come from!  Do not pressume that you've seen my type before and that you know how to ease my troubles!  Those are none of your concern!"  I spun quickly away from the cowered being and crossed my arms over my chest, protecting my bare arms from the biting cold.

The contrast of a tender hand on my shoulder nearly warmed my whole back.  I ached with the desire to just forget this whole thing and fall back into kind and gracious arms.  But my pride, ah, such a noble and terrible thing, my pride kept me from turning around.  I would not crumble.  I had been weak enough for one day.  "Leave me, Stranger."

The silence hung in the air like fish suspended in water, swarming me with the pain it often causes.  "I mean it, Stranger.  I don't care what your name is.  I want you to go."  I felt my insides quake at the thought of Stranger actually leaving.  A part of me knew it would call my bluff and sweep me off my feet and never let go.  Another part of me worried, What if it actually goes away?  I couldn't bear to be alone again.  Not after feeling the protection and hope I had experienced here in Never Neverland.

"Do you mean this, dearest one?"  There was a tremble in the powerful voice that hadn't been there before.  "Do you truly know what you ask?"

I huffed with exasperation.  "Yes, of course I do.  I don't need you.  I don't need anyone but myself."  I paused to steel myself.  Like a Band-aid, I told myself.  "Now, go."

And it went.  I could feel it leave, though there was no sound.  Stranger, with all its glory and devastating goodness, had left me.  And the break in my heart nearly dropped me to my knees.  I was a once-full vessel that was now dried up and barren and the loss of it all shocked me.  I could lay down to die, the affliction so horrible.  Indeed, death would be a welcome relief.

I did eventually fall to the ground.  For a time I couldn't even bring myself to cry, I simply curled up and bled out my self-pity.  But the tears came.  They came and they swept me away.  I didn't notice when it began to rain.  I didn't notice the winds pick up and whip my hair around.  I didn't even notice the menacing eyes in the night, sizing me up for tonight's dinner.  I would've gladly gone with the beasts, had I known.

At a point in the night, I got to my feet and began to walk.  I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, I just walked.  And walked.  I walked until I was no longer numb.  The ache in my tired feet spread to my legs, which awaked my torso and made its way to my head.  Then I stopped abruptly.  I was home.

I felt an enormous amount of consolation at the sight of my beloved little house and I rushed inside, slamming the door behind me.  I leaned against the door, hoping my weight would keep the whole nightmare at bay.  One long breath, in, out, then another.  It was all going to be okay.

But it wasn't.  I looked at my things.  Flat.  Lifeless.  Dull.  The belongings that once meant so much to me, the small joys I had missed so much when they were gone... it was all meaningless.  It was meaningless because I had discovered a new kind of meaning, one I had not enjoyed since I was a child, in the arms of my mother.  The love she had given me so freely, the way she held me tight enough to keep the horrors of the world out of reach, it was so similar to Stranger's unceasing embrace.

Stranger.  Oh, god.  Of course.  Stranger wasn't a stranger at all.  Stranger was Love.  Love that I had known so well when my mother held me safe and sound.  Love that I had run away from in rebellion and spite.  Love which I had just banished. 

And now I was alone.  Just as I had asked. 

I had thought that I could protect myself from pain by building the walls that would keep Love out.  Little did I know how cold and empty I was, until I let Love in.

And now I was alone.  Just as I had asked.

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