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In the end he dies. I wasn't sure where to put that or if I should mention it at all, but really it's not much of a story if there isn't any ending. And I thought it would be better if you knew the ending.

Authors love to do that to you. You'll be plodding along happily through their little story, and before you know it that character with whom you felt a special bond, the one with all those traits that reminded you of you when you were that age in that place--well, you know the feeling; you know how it goes. It's always that one that dies.

And it's not like you can really blame the authors; as much as you might have felt it, those imaginary friends, stuck sandwiched between the leaves of a familiar text, were never yours to keep. And I think you knew it was coming; you always do; in the back of our heads we all are always conscious of our own mortality.

Enough despondency. It's a hard drug and it's tough to kick. Time for a game.

Shaking open the box, I stand and watch as the Scrabble tiles spill out onto the floor. Six of the small wooden squares stand out from the rest and seem almost to speak in a hollow voice. Encircled by the rest -- an unlikely coincidence -- these six are all face up, straight and close together. They spell: "LONELY". Thomas, my poltergeist-doppelgänger-companion, is so lonely.

My alter ego. Thomas my sweetheart. Thomas my one and only. Thomas, who am I kidding? You're not real. If I were watched alone I'd be considered insane. Thomas was my brother. My twin.

When I was younger, seven maybe, I used to read science fiction about twins. They were always sending one twin away in a space ship while the other one stayed at home; sometimes they'd have telepathy but it always stopped working and they grew apart and then after the triumphant return home there was the tragic denouement. Well, we never had a space ship and there was no fiddling with relativistic physics; there was just the sickness, and then he was gone.

For a while I thought it was my fault. The doctors say that's normal. I don't tell anyone how I still see him sometimes. It's not weird or scary like the way Willy Loman always sees his brother Ben in "Death of a Salesman" or the way Blanche Dubois always hears her husband Alan right before he dies in "Streetcar". It's different with Thomas and me; it feels natural, somehow, to have his presence beside me.

You know sometimes when you're all alone and you feel a sudden chill, or a draft when there's no vents? I do. It's not just that; there are feelings, manifestations, words and phrases that pop into my head, unbidden, when no one is there. Maybe it's all psychosomatic. But how do you explain the Scrabble tiles?

I play the six tiles for Thomas, count up his points, draw his tiles. My turn, but I only have vowels. "EYE" is the best I see. I play it and draw, but now the room feels cold. This is an insufficient diversion and I should not be avoiding my real problems like this anyway.

There. That, for example. That wasn't my just me thinking; Thomas helped, I'm sure of it. He never liked Scrabble much. I would play Pictionary and spell along with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street while he was out climbing trees or leaping in mud puddles. That's probably how he got it, outside in the cold (it wasn't the cold that got him; it never is; it's the moisture in your lungs). After I got over the guilt and the self-loathing, the memory of his incaution made me meticulously, practically obsessively careful, and nearly a hypochondriac. Or rather it would have if he hadn't been there with me, helping.

Mom and Dad aren't much help any more; they live in a retirement home and their memories are going and sometimes when I visit they ask me where Thomas is and when he's coming and I have to keep from breaking down and crying right there in front of them. Even though they wouldn't remember if I did. I looked to the Bible, too, and I swear I read it cover to cover but it just didn't speak to me. Maybe some day but right now I feel like the only way I could believe would be if I could put my hands into His.

Thomas I have to leave this place. Thomas I'm tired of this two-room apartment and this forty-hour white-collar life and the emptiness of the television and the way it gets quiet at night all alone. Thomas I know you're there for me but you're not enough and I can't keep using you like this. Thomas you have to help me go; you have to let me go. This will be the hardest thing you ever do. This is the closest to an invocation of a saint I think I'll ever get. Saint Thomas the Archangel, defend me in chatter. Be my guard against the wickedness and snares of the world.

Thomas, listen to me, this has to end. It's time for me to find myself, to take this college education off the wall; it was too easy to forget all that schooling and gain a wall decoration and I regret that. It's time for me to grow up and it's time for me to satisfy all those desires I've suppressed for years because they were too dangerous, too frightening, too antithetical to the sterile little world where I eked out a miserable little existence with your help. If you're listening--I know you're listening--I know you would approve.

I am decided. I clean up the game habitually, methodically. Somehow Thomas's tray slips as I pick it up and the tiles spill out. Five land face up, aligned with the squares of the board, parallel to "EYE" and flanking the "O" in "LONELY". I read the message once, twice, again to be sure. "GOODBYE".

Farewell, Thomas, and fare well. Save me a halo.

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