When I Am With You

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This story has been a way for me to spend quality time with Eli as her friendship with Oskar unfolds. I hope it brings you the happiness it brought me.

WHEN I AM WITH YOU

"Getting to Know You"

The girl wakes for the first time in her new apartment. She wakes at dusk because she has a condition that requires her to remain in total darkness during the day. Her guardian, Håkan, is preparing to go out. He doesn’t need to look at the dark circles under the girl’s eyes to be reminded of the urgency of his errand. After Håkan closes the apartment door behind him, the girl pulls aside the thick curtain that covers one of the windows. She looks down onto the snowy courtyard. Although the weak northern sun is below the horizon, the courtyard is bright from street lamps and the snow.

So this is home, she thinks – a jungle gym – otherwise, no swings, nothing. A boy.

The girl feels dreamy, as though she is not yet fully awake. She opens the apartment door and descends the stairs of the building to the courtyard. She climbs onto the snow-covered jungle gym and stands looking around her. She turns her attention to the boy.

He's playing a kind of game, she thinks. He's stabbing a tree with a hunting knife and cursing as though the tree were a person.

The boy's long blonde hair catches her eye. She thinks the length of it would be better suited to a younger kid. Looking at him, she gets an odd feeling in her stomach. It is not an unpleasant feeling, but she can’t identify it. She turns her mind back to her situation and thinks – I am standing on a jungle gym watching a boy instead of staying in the apartment waiting for Håkan. She wonders what drew her to the courtyard. Boredom? She's just about always bored. Was it the boy? That doesn't seem likely to her. But something. Or maybe nothing? She makes up her mind to go back to the apartment.

But the boy has turned and is looking at her. The girl is struck by how beautiful the boy is, and she gets a fluttery feeling again in her stomach. A phrase comes to mind – too pretty to be a boy – but something about the phrase causes her mood to darken. She wants to go back to the apartment; instead, she hears herself asking the boy what he's doing. Nothing, he says, and he asks her the same thing back. She knows she doesn’t have to answer him. She should just ignore the boy and go in, shouldn't she? But when he asks, Do you live here? – she hears herself give him a smart answer – Yeah, I live here on the jungle gym – and she suppresses a little laugh.

She is aware that the encounter should not be happening. She jumps down from the top shelf jungle gym. She hears herself say they can't be friends and walks away from him. As the door of her building closes behind her, she hears the boy call out that he doesn't want to be friends with her anyway. She doesn't know why that bothers her, doesn’t know how it could bother her, really. The girl goes into her apartment and closes the door. She feels as though she is herself again, fully awake. She shrugs her skinny shoulders and lets the encounter in the courtyard fade. She finds one of her puzzles, sits on the floor, and hums to herself as she begins to play.

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* * *

Håkan returns empty handed. Not what she expected; not what she chose him for. Her old resentment comes back – Grownups made me this way; I shouldn't have to do this myself. Håkan sits silently as she berates him. Hungry and growing weaker, the girl sleeps.

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* * *

When evening comes again, the girl wakes knowing she has to do this herself. She could send her guardian out, but she knows another failure would put her existence further in jeopardy, and not just from lack of sustenance – she feels she is close to losing control. If she acts rashly, they will have to move again. She feels weaker than she has in a long time. Although she lacks energy, she does not lack stealth and skill. She knows, too, that hunger and opportunity will provide the ferocious burst of strength that belies her weakness and her small size.

The boy. He’s in the courtyard again, sitting on the jungle gym. She should just slip past him and continue on to what she has to do, but she wants to put it off. She's still in a bad mood, resentful that she's the one who has to take care of the task. She climbs onto the jungle gym and sits a little above and behind the boy. She hurts. She tells the boy she wants to be alone, but he doesn't leave. He's playing with a toy. No, not a toy. It's some kind of a puzzle, one she hasn’t seen before. The boy tells her it's a Rubik's cube and offers to let her borrow it. The girl feels conflicted – she is doing what she should not be doing – making contact. If she loses control, the boy will not be safe. But the puzzle intrigues her. The boy says how the puzzle works, and she accepts it from him. She focuses on working the puzzle, blocking out the boy and blocking out the feeling that's gnawing at her stomach. The boy interrupts her concentration when he says she smells funny. She thinks – Yeah? Well you smell like dinner. He asks why she is not dressed against the freezing cold. Without looking up from the puzzle, she says she has sort of forgot how you be cold. To the girl’s relief, the boy says goodnight and goes into his building. Good, because the hunger takes over and envelops her until she is nothing but hunger.

She moves swiftly, little more than a shadow flitting between the dark trees. Drawn to the lights and sounds of the town center, she searches for some place where she is likely to encounter people walking alone. She lies down in the shadows beneath a low bridge. She hears men talking on the bridge. They are saying goodnight. One of the men comes along the path under the bridge. She does not have to make her voice sound weak when she cries out to him – she is weak. The man picks her up in his arms so he can carry her someplace to get help. He is big. He could easily hurt her, but she has survived for a very long time. The man struggles briefly as she bites into his throat and drains him of his blood.

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* * *

Håkan returns in a grumpy mood. The girl thinks that's better than the near rage he was in when he went out a little while ago. She had left it to him to get rid of the man's body. The girl, though, is in a buoyant mood. She thinks about the Rubik's cube she solved and left for the boy to find. But mostly she thinks about the boy. She turns his words over in her mind – He said I smell funny, but he means I smell gross. She takes her blankets and her plush bunny out of the bathtub and runs the water. She scrubs herself. She washes her black hair and tries to comb out the tangles. She rummages through the cardboard box she uses as a bin, looking for clothes that are not too worn or too dirty. She finds a sweater that will do. She hangs up the sweater and her pants so they can air out during the day while she sleeps. Håkan wants to know what it's all about. She doesn't know what it's all about. She just wants to see the boy, and she doesn't want to look weird when she does. She hums as she plays with her puzzles. As the reds and oranges of the thick curtains begin to glow softly with pre-dawn light, the girl arranges her bedding in the bathtub, gets in, and pulls the lightproof cover over it. Enveloped in darkness, the girl cuddles her bunny. She smiles and begins to purr as she falls asleep.

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* * *

The girl wakes at dusk and changes into the sweater and pants. She says nothing to Håkan as she goes out. Sated with the blood of the man she killed, she feels strong. She is completely awake, not in the dream-like state when she first saw the boy. And she is fully present – the hunger of the previous few days isn't even a memory. She goes down the stairs and into the snowy courtyard. She sees that the Rubik's cube is not where she left it on the jungle gym. The boy has found it. She sees everything. She hears everything. She sits on the jungle gym and waits for him. She breathes in the frigid air as the call of snowbirds and other sounds fill the courtyard. He will come, she thinks, and soon he does.

She feels a thrill when the boy sits on the jungle gym and excitedly asks her how she solved the puzzle. Now she recognizes the feeling she had the first time she saw him. It is the thrill you feel when you see someone you like, a feeling she has almost forgotten how to have.

She slides close to the boy and asks him if she smells better. He asks her name, and she hears herself say her name for the first time since she recruited Håkan. She starts to say Elias, but out of habit she cuts it off at Eli. The boy tells her his name is Oskar. He asks her how old she is, and Eli answers that she is about twelve. The boy says his age. He's twelve, too.

Only when the boy challenges her as to why she said she's “about twelve” does Eli realize how unprepared she is for the conversation, how few questions she would be able to answer without dissembling or without freaking the boy out. Although she spent the previous night wanting to see him and busying herself to appear normal, she did not think about how seeing him might actually play out. Evidently, just bathing and picking out cleaner, more weather-appropriate clothes isn't enough. The boy asks a few more difficult questions, but he soon turns his attention to the Rubik's cube. Eli begins to show him how she solved it. Showing Oskar how she solved it. His name is Oskar. Eli turns the sound over and over in her mind as she twists the Rubik's cube. Oskar.

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"Getting to Know All about You"

"Too pretty to be a boy." Eli remembers why the phrase puts her in a dark mood. She remembers that her family – and others – said it a lot when she was a boy. The phrase brings back memories that are best forgotten, memories of the powerful grownup who took away her gender and infected her with his curse. Best forgotten, because the memories cause her anger and resentment toward grownups to flare up.

But once she became neither a boy nor a girl, lacking the reproductive capability of either gender, she got used to presenting herself as a girl – as Eli, which worked better than Elias. That way, she could present herself as a normal-sized girl rather than as a pretty, undersized boy.

Yet Eli still thinks of herself as a boy, when she thinks about it at all. She likes boy stuff, stuff like puzzles and wrestling in the snow. She sometimes takes boy clothes as well as girl clothes from used clothing bins. But mostly she doesn't think about it. She loves to play, is all, and she and Oskar have played hard since she showed him how she solved the Rubik's cube. Not much talking, though – just running and laughing, shoving and tripping. That's good. She would not trade that for anything, and talking could raise issues that might scare Oskar or gross him out.

Or not. She wonders. After all, Oscar says he doesn't have any friends. Maybe he could still be her friend if...but the thought of putting the friendship at risk freezes her mind and causes her stomach to churn. She pushes the thought from her.

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* * *

When Håkan sees that Eli is getting ready to go out to meet the boy again, he reminds her that contact with others is dangerous. Eli knows Håkan wants to protect her, but she also hears a bat-squeak of jealousy. She goes out without saying anything to him.

Eli sits on the snow-covered jungle gym and waits. She can see that Oskar is excited as he comes running across the courtyard. He shows her a sheet of notebook paper he has written on. It's a code, something like the puzzles she loves to work. Oskar shows her how they can use the code to tap out messages between the adjoining walls of their apartments.

Once Eli shows Oskar that she gets it and takes the paper from him, she feels she can ask him about the fresh bandage on his cheek. He averts his eyes and mumbles that some classmates did it. Oskar tries to change the subject. Eli sees how frail Oskar looks, how slender he is. She can see his blood through the translucent skin of his cold fingers, cheeks, and nose. Eli gets a feeling in her chest that is different from any of her usual feelings. It is a heavy feeling, like wanting to cry. She sees a beautiful boy who is alone and vulnerable – maybe even more alone and vulnerable than she is.

And Eli knows bullying. She gets that. And she gets the value of resistance. Eli tells Oskar that he must hit back. Oskar avoids looking at her. He mumbles that there are three of them. She tells him he must hit back even harder. Oskar mutters, But if they...? Then I'll help you, Eli says. She places her hand on his and adds, I can do it. After a moment, Oskar pulls his hand away and gets off the jungle gym. He tells her to come with him. Eli gets off the jungle gym and runs behind him to the apartment building. Inside her apartment, she makes Håkan move from his pallet beside the wall she shares with Oskar. She shoos Håkan out of the room and, with a little smile, she enters into their new game. They tap back and forth until Oskar ends the game with S-L-E-E-P-G-O-O-D.

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* * *

Eli and Oskar continue to meet in the courtyard to play, and one evening Oskar asks if she wants to go with him to the town center and walk around. Eli is dressed okay, and it sounds like fun – two friends just messing about. As they stroll together, Eli enjoys mingling with the sparse crowds, hearing couples talking and laughing, just as she and Oskar are talking and laughing about the stuff they see.

Oskar asks Eli to wait a minute while he buys a bag of candy at a kiosk. He offers the candy to her, but Eli says no. Oskar looks disappointed. Oskar's change of mood catches Eli off guard. She thinks maybe offering candy means something that she hasn't learned about yet. Maybe it's something friends do, like birthday presents or something. She says she'll try a piece, but it doesn't turn out well. Eli has to run behind the kiosk to throw up out of sight of the other strollers.

Oskar follows and watches her without saying anything, and Eli apologizes for getting sick. It gets weird when Oskar takes a few uncertain steps toward her and embraces her awkwardly, causing Eli to stagger back. From feeling comfortable and happy walking around together, Eli now feels unsure, out of her depth. It starts to seem like a boy-girl thing instead of two friends just goofing around. She wonders, Is that what the offer of candy meant, like this is some kind of a date? As Oskar continues to hug her, Eli stands stiffly, without responding, not knowing what response would be appropriate. She asks Oskar if he likes her, using words that mean more-than-friends kind of liking. He says he likes her a lot.

Now Eli feels even more confused. Does Oskar really like me as a friend, or is he just attracted to me because he thinks I'm a girl? She asks Oskar if he would still like her if she were not a girl. His response is vague but reassuring. He wants to know why she asked, but she feels too at sea to put any kind of answer together.

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"Getting to Like You"

Eli and Oskar can't meet because Oskar is visiting his father in the country. Eli wanders around the small apartment, humming distractedly, feeling at loose ends. She feels unsettled about how her evening with Oskar turned out. She tries to think about it, but her thoughts lead nowhere. She wonders if Oskar will still want to play with her when he gets back.

Håkan is in their kitchen preparing his tools – rope, long knife, funnel, plastic jug, and other stuff. Eli sees that he is putting something new into his kit, a glass container of acid. Håkan tells her that some people in the neighborhood know his face, and some know he lives here with her. Maybe you shouldn't go, she offers. She hears the bitterness in Håkan's reply – What else am I good for? As she tries to think of a reassuring answer, he asks her for a favor, to leave off meeting "that boy" tonight. Håkan turns to face her. He half sits on the edge of the table to be more at Eli's level. Eli reaches up and gently caresses his cheek. Håkan's old eyes soften, and he returns to his preparations.

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* * *

It grows late and Håkan isn't back. Eli sits on Håkan's pallet, facing the wall she shares with Oskar, her back and shoulders hunched over. By habit, Eli lifts her hand as though to tap a message to Oskar, but she stops. She knows Oscar isn't on the other side of the wall. When dawn approaches and Håkan hasn't returned, Eli feels certain that something has happened. All she can do is curl up in the tub with her bunny and sleep.

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* * *

The next evening, Eli is lying on Håkan's pallet when the radio announces that a man had been arrested the day before, charged with murder and attempted murder. The radio says the man hasn't been identified yet because of self-inflicted injuries. Eli leaves the apartment and goes to find the hospital. The receptionist tells her Håkan is in a restricted ward on the seventh floor, and Eli leaves before the receptionist can ask her any questions. Eli effortlessly scales the front of the hospital and locates Håkan's room. She taps on his window, and he rises slowly and with difficulty from the bed. As Håkan opens the window for her, Eli sees the terrible damage the acid has done to his face. He can no longer speak, so he can't invite her to cross into the room. Håkan leans far out and offers Eli his throat. She quickly drains him of blood and lets his body fall to the ground far below.

Eli leaves her perch outside the hospital room and goes directly to Oskar's window. Oscar is in his bed asleep. She taps on the window to wake him. Because of the blood on her face and sweater, Eli tells Oskar to not peek at her. She tells Oskar he has to invite her in. She enters, tells Oskar to look the other way, and strips off her clothes. She gets under the covers with him and lies on her side at his back. Oskar wants to know how she got in. She answers simply that she flew. Oskar says, yeah, sure, as though Eli were kidding him. But Eli has no thoughts. She is just here. She used up her few thoughts the night before and is now just reacting to events. There is no place she wants to be but here with Oskar.

Oscar expresses shock that Eli isn’t wearing anything and that her body is ice cold against his. The fear that Oskar will find her to be too strange floats always just below the surface of Eli's awareness. It doesn't take much for it to break through. She asks Oskar if he is disgusted, but he says he isn't. Eli starts to play bulleribock with him, a little kid game that Oskar taught her to play earlier.

Perhaps Oskar, too, has been thinking about their night in the town center and about what happened at the kiosk. Instead of playing the kid game with her, Eli hears Oskar ask if she will go steady with him and be his girlfriend. Caught off guard, Eli tells Oskar she's not a girl. Instead of acting surprised, Oskar presses Eli for an answer. Eli asks if they can just keep things the way they are. Oskar says yes, but Eli can tell that Oskar is not happy. She has disappointed him again. Eli wants to know if anything is different when you go steady. Oskar says no. When Eli says in that case they can go steady, Oskar is like, Really? Yes, Eli says, and as though that were just something he needed to get settled, Oskar drifts into the untroubled sleep of childhood. Eli caresses his bare arm and lovingly entwines her fingers with his.

Unlike the night before, when her few thoughts led nowhere, Eli now has plenty to think about. When she asked if couldn't they just keep things the way they are, Eli meant just keep on meeting and playing, right? But maybe it's Oskar who understands "the way things are" better than she does. Maybe there was more to their friendship from the start than she understood, like the feeling she got when she first saw Oskar in the courtyard. Eli thinks about how she likes being with Oskar, whether they are playing or just hanging out. And she definitely enjoyed Oskar’s hug behind the candy kiosk.

She understands, when Oskar asked her if she would go steady with him, he naturally meant in a boy-girl way. Eli considers the idea of their friendship in this new way. She thinks of how beautiful Oskar is, of the thrill she feels when she sees him, of how she misses him when she is not with him. What does it mean that she enjoyed the hug and that she wants to cuddle with him? Maybe it means everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe it's just some friendship stuff mixed up with some boy-girl stuff. Why wouldn't that be okay?

Anyway, she wonders, How is a friendship with Oskar supposed to look? I guess it would look like this, she thinks, and she shrugs her skinny little shoulders.

Eli lets her thoughts turn to what she has to do now that Håkan is dead. She's on her own. Of course they'll probably figure out a way to identify Håkan. Then won’t they figure out where he lived? I'll have to go away, she thinks, find a safe place, maybe the one I had before I met Håkan. Eli doesn’t feel safe, but right now she doesn’t want to do anything about it. She only wants to be with Oskar.

As dawn approaches, Eli thinks about something Håkan said when they moved last time – To flee is life; to stay, death. The words sounded pretty, the way he said them. She writes a note with those words and leaves it for Oskar to find when he wakes up. She draws a heart on the note and signs it, “Your Eli.”

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* * *

But she doesn't flee. She puts the thought of danger out of her mind and agrees to meet Oskar at the bathhouse after he finishes his training session. So she won't draw unwanted attention, Eli dresses more like a boy – wide trousers, a jacket and gloves, a wool cap pulled low. She watches Oskar doing water aerobics through the plate glass window of the pool. She sees a boy stop and say something to him. Oskar has told her he doesn't have any friends at school, so the scene gives Eli an uneasy feeling.

Soon Oskar comes out of the bathhouse. He kicks his heels like a colt as he leads her to a basement room he wants to show her. Eli can see that he is bursting with excitement to tell her something. He says the bullies tried to push him into a hole in the ice today. Oskar says he had a stick and that he hit their leader so hard he had to go to the hospital. Eli says Hurrah, and her beautiful boy beams with pride at having pleased her.

The basement has an armchair, a makeshift table, couches, and other old furniture. A cool poster on the wall. Oskar tells her that the big kids use the room as a kind of hangout. Eli pushes the play button on a cassette player. She gets it that the woman is singing about having made a mistake and is asking for forgiveness. But Eli's theme for the night is feeling good and hanging out with Oskar, safe within the circle of where their friendship has got to. She asks Oskar what it is he wanted them to do in the basement. Oskar says they are going to blend, to mix their blood, like blood brothers. He has cut his palm with his hunting knife, and the blood is pooling in his cupped hand and dripping onto the floor. Eli throws herself to the floor and begins lapping up the blood. She sees the look of shock on Oskar's face and orders him to Scram! Beat it!

Eli has blown it, but that's not the only reason she yells at Oskar – the sight and the taste of blood pushes her over the line. Oskar isn't safe. She runs swiftly toward the town center, climbs a tree next to a walkway, and waits. When a woman passes under the tree, Eli drops down onto her and knocks her to the ground. As she drinks the struggling woman's blood, a man rushes up and kicks Eli off the woman. Eli looks at the man and considers killing him, but she hears more voices coming toward them. Eli's mind clears. Now it's Eli who has to scram.

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"Getting to Hope You Like Me"

Oskar doesn't meet Eli in the courtyard the next night, and Eli doesn't know where he is. She taps a message to him on their shared wall, but there are no taps back. She despairs. Oskar has seen what she most wanted to keep from him. She knows that seeing her drink blood from the dirty floor of the basement must have totally disgusted and frightened him. Eli can only sit on the floor of her apartment and ache. She can't get into playing with her puzzles. She won't go out. She doesn't change out of her worn shift, doesn't bathe. She can only wait for her long night to end at dawn.

When it has grown very late, Eli hears tapping and goes quickly to her door. She recognizes that the tapping is E-L-I in their code. She is so surprised and so filled with doubts that she has to ask through the door – Oskar, is that you?

It is, and she opens the door so Oskar can enter. She feels unsure. She is so downcast that she can only stare at the floor while Oskar stands in the entryway and looks around, wrinkling his nose at the way the apartment smells. Oskar doesn't go to her, doesn't try to hug her. He moves toward the glass door that leads to the rest of the apartment, and Eli moves to stop him. She closes the door between them and sets the latch. She feels rather than thinks, Hasn't he seen enough stuff that I never wanted him to see? Oskar tries the door. They stand watching each other through the glass for a moment before Oskar asks the question she hoped she would never have to answer –

Are you a vampire?

Eli meets his eyes – I live off blood. Yes. Oskar asks hesitantly, Are you…dead? Eli assures him she isn't. Oskar asks – But, like, are you old? Eli answers – I'm twelve, but I have been for a long long time. She makes a decision. She opens the door and lets Oskar in.

As Oskar stands looking at Eli's stuff on the table, Eli goes into another room to change out of her shift. She picks up Håkan's red sweater and pulls it on. When she goes back to him, Oskar asks her if she is poor. The way he says it, she's sure her bare apartment disappoints him, so she shows Oskar her most valuable possession, a Faberge-like puzzle in the shape of an egg. She tells Oskar to push down on the release, and the pieces of the puzzle fall away to reveal a yolk of solid gold. Oskar asks about the rings he sees on the table – Where did you get them from? She senses that Oskar is drawing away from her, that she is losing him. A rising sense of panic squeezes her chest. She is at a loss for what to say, just as she was when Oskar asked difficult questions on the jungle gym that time. Oskar makes an excuse to leave – I have to deliver flyers tomorrow, he says. Eli asks, To make money? But you can get money from me. Eli quickly goes out of the room to get the money. She goes back in and offers it to him. Oskar takes the money from her, looks at it, and throws it down. He looks down his nose at Eli and accuses her of having stolen the money from people she killed. She answers evasively. He taunts her, saying, I want to go home now, if I may.

Each thing Eli did to keep Oskar near just pushed him farther away. Eli's heart is breaking. She aches. She waits for the dawn and the sweet oblivion that sleep will bring.

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* * *

When Eli wakes, she moves with a purpose. She bathes; she washes her hair; she selects a clean outfit – a cute off-white shirt and navy bellbottoms.

It is not courage and not self-confidence that lets Eli ring Oskar's doorbell – it is desperation. She yearns to be with him. He is all she has or wants. She doesn't wonder how seeing Oskar will turn out because she can't put any thoughts together. Her heart is beating fast. Her mind is blank. She smiles brightly when Oskar opens his door. Her smile fades when she realizes that Oskar still wants to be mean to her. Oskar barely speaks, and he won't say that she may come in. If Eli were a girl, she would probably have enough sense to burst into tears. Oskar taunts her and steps aside for her to enter uninvited.

Oskar doesn't know about the hemophilia of rejection.

Eli steps through the door and moves into the room. She turns to face Oskar. She begins to tremble. Blood starts to seep through her shirt and to run from her scalp, ears, and eyes. Oskar rushes to Eli and yells – No! You may come in! – and he gently hugs her to him. She relaxes her little shoulders for the first time since the basement disaster.

Who are you? – Oskar asks. Eli repeats the words she heard Oskar say when he was stabbing the tree in the courtyard – Are you staring at me? Squeal then. Squeal!

Oskar seems to get Eli's point, because he responds – I don't kill people. Eli challenges him – But you'd like to, wouldn't you, if you could? To get revenge, right? Oskar says yes, and Eli asks Oskar to accept that she kills because she has to. Please, Oskar – she says – be me for a little while. Oskar closes his eyes. When he opens them, he seems to Eli to be himself again, to be her Oskar. He tells Eli she can use his shower. Eli showers and wraps herself in a big towel. She goes back to Oskar, holding her bloody clothes. She sees that Oskar has put a record on his turntable and has cranked up the volume. They bob their heads to the music, just two regular kids getting into the beat. Over the music, she hears Oskar tell her she can borrow one of his mother's dresses. The dresses are way too big for her, but she picks one and puts it on. When she goes back in, Eli smiles and pantomimes a girl twirl so Oskar can admire how she looks, but she drops out of the twirl as she completes the turn. She hasn't practiced girl twirls a lot.

Eli hears the doorbell. Oskar's mom is yelling at him over the music to open the door for her. Oskar grabs Eli's arm and hustles her into his bedroom, remembering to grab Eli's bloody clothes. Eli opens Oskar's window. When Oskar turns and yells to his mother that he's coming, Eli flits across to her window, 10 feet away. As Oskar sticks his head out to see where Eli disappeared to, she smiles and waves to him. She sees that Oskar is smiling back. Life is good.

Back in her apartment, Eli plays with her puzzles to pass the rest of the night. She hums to herself, happy to still have Oskar. A couple of hours after midnight, Eli hears tapping. Oskar taps that he wants to come over, and Eli taps back that she wants him to. She shows him her puzzles, and they play. After a while, Oskar gets sleepy. Eli gives him a blanket, and Oskar falls asleep on her floor. Before she goes off to sleep in her bathtub, Eli writes Oskar a note asking if he wants meet her that evening. I like you so much, she writes, and signs it, "Your Eli." She goes into her bathroom and locks the door. She gets into her bathtub, pulls the lightproof cover over it, and goes to sleep with her bunny.

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* * *

She wakes when she hears Oskar scream No! A man is standing in the bathroom with a knife in his hand. She recognizes the man – He's the one who kicked her off the woman. The man has turned away from Eli to face her Oskar. Eli leaps onto the man from behind. The man's shouts of Let go, dammit! and the sounds of crashing around in the small bathroom fill the apartment and beyond. When Eli goes out of the bathroom, she sees that Oskar is standing with his back to the bloody scene. A neighbor is pounding on the ceiling and shouting angrily. Eli hugs Oskar from behind and says Thanks. She faces Oskar and tells him she has to go away. She presses her lips against Oscar's as if to say – I like you so much, and I have no words to express how much it hurts me to leave you. Goodbye forever, my dear and only friend.

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* * *

Eli has every reason to believe that her life will go on as it always has. Things happen and she has to move, right?

Not this time. Eli realizes she is no longer willing to go back to her old life of mere survival. Being with Oskar has awakened feelings that Eli had forgotten she ever had, and the best of those feelings is joy. Without Oskar, there is no joy.

Eli makes up her mind – It's Oskar and Eli, or it's nothing. If Oskar doesn't want to be with her, this will be her last night on earth.

She goes looking for Oskar. She finds him doing water aerobics at the pool. Oscar's teacher is leading him in the exercises. A boy approaches the teacher and says something to him. It is the same boy Eli saw speaking to Oskar at the pool before. The teacher hurries away. Maybe the boy is Oskar's friend after all. Or maybe just the teacher's helper. He takes over for the teacher and they continue the exercise. But something about how the boy smiles and looks toward the pool entrance puts Eli on guard.

Things happen quickly. Two kids and an older boy enter and start running the other kids out. She identifies the leader of the bullies by the bandage covering his ear. But it's the older boy who takes off his jacket and kneels down by the pool's edge. He is saying something to Oskar. He has a knife. He wants to hurt Oskar. He's holding Oskar's head under the water so he can't breathe.

Eli's rage explodes in a storm of raw power. She crashes through the plate glass window of the pool and flies among the bullies. In less time than it would take to describe how each boy died, the carnage ends and her fury abates. Eli takes Oskar's arm and pulls him to the surface. Oskar is okay. Eli's heart soars when she sees Oskar's beautiful smile.

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"Getting to Feel Free and Easy"

It is day, but Eli isn't asleep. She feels giddy with excitement in the darkness of the box she's in. She taps K-I-S-S, and Oscar taps back. The gentle motion of the train calms her. She will sleep, and when she wakes, she and her beautiful Oskar will start a new life. What will happen to them? Good stuff, bad stuff. The same as for everyone. Life will happen to them.

.
***

Note: The story, Let the Right One In, and the characters and ideas found in it are the intellectual property of John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote the novel and screenplay upon which "When I Am With You" is entirely based.

My desire was to cast John's tale into the seamless whole that I experienced upon my very first viewing of the film. In my retelling of John's story from Eli's point of view, I show her as a child living largely in the moment, a child whose attention is mostly facing outward – playing with puzzles and dealing with her grumpy helper. When she tries to think things through, she mostly hits a wall or ends up with more questions. Her conversations, too, are brief and about matters at hand – where she and Håkan will stow their gear as they are moving into their new apartment; how a Rubik's cube works; giving Oskar practical advice about dealing with bullies. If I were to include Oskar's point of view, I would show him as inward-looking and as possessed of a very busy mind, one filled with ideas and plans, a mind that moves from the past to the future but that spends little time in the present. In contrast, I perceive and present Eli's quiet mind as finely tuned to the present, child-like, with little reason or inclination to dwell on the past or to wonder much beyond tomorrow.

And I see the whole tale as something wonderful and unexpected, something powerful and irresistible that happened to Eli and Oskar for the first time for either of them, something that shook them to the very core of their being.

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