A boy who had spent most of his life locked away from other people finally meets a girl who helps him realize his dream of having a friend.
Dennis spent all his time in front of the window facing an abandoned house. It was all he could do since he was not allowed to step outside the mansion in which he lived with his mother, Juliet.
His father died along with his sister in a car crash when he was much younger, and he had no memories of ever being outside. It was all thanks to his faulty genes.
Dennis had a medical condition that left him with an inferior immune system which meant he could not afford to be in an unprotected atmosphere where he could catch an illness.
It would take a lot to keep him alive if he did catch one, as his immune system was practically non-existent. At least, that was how Juliet explained it to him. She drilled it into him every night when she brought him vitamins and water before he slept: “To go outside is to die.”
Dennis never questioned why he was the way he was. He had never known another human, so he knew little about what they were really like. All he had to go on was what his mother taught him.
For example, she always warned him never to interact with people should he ever come in contact with them as they would infect him with diseases he could not recover from. Juliet often painted such a vivid picture that Dennis never forgot.
Things changed one day when a new family moved into the abandoned house opposite theirs. His mother had left the house for a supply run — it’s what they called her grocery shopping.
Dennis was glued to the window, watching the family unpack. There was a young girl about his age with an orange cat, and her parents looked nice. They laughed and had fun as they moved their things into their new home.
By the time his mother returned, they had moved into the house thoroughly, but Dennis still let his mother have the full details, including how there was a kid his age with them.
“Quiet!” his mother interrupted him. “You are to avoid those people by all means otherwise they will be the death of you.”
“But mom, all I want is a friend who could play with me. A friend besides you,” Dennis begged.
“Listen to what I just told you,” Juliet groaned, effectively ending the subject.
The next morning when Dennis woke up, he discovered that his mother had boarded up all the windows to prevent him from looking outside. It saddened him, but he knew it was in his interest.
Weeks passed, and Dennis was able to forget about the new family. They were mostly quiet neighbors, so it was easy to forget they existed.
But one day, he heard scratching coming from behind the attic door not far from his room. He had been banned from the attic by his mom, but he could not resist his own curiosity, especially when the scratching became thudding.
He lowered the ladder leading up to the attic, and two pairs of eyes stared at him. He was so shocked by it all, he promptly fainted.
Dennis woke up to a rough tongue licking his face. It belonged to the neighbor’s orange cat, and beside the animal sat its owner, the young girl.
Dennis was stunned, and all he could manage was a showed stare.
“What’s the matter?” the girl asked. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Who are you and how are you in here?” Dennis asked.
“Well, I’m Sabrina and this is my cat,” she answered cheerily. “He is also the reason I’m in your home like this.”
“What do you mean?” Dennis asked.
“He loves getting to high places so he climbed up to your attic window and somehow got in. I wanted to retrieve him without intruding so I followed, I’m sorry,” she hastily replied.
It was at that moment, Dennis remembered his mother’s words.
“Back away from me!” he yelled immediately. “Your cat licked me, is he safe from diseases?!”
“I — uh ” Sabrina stuttered, unsure how to respond to the frantic edge she heard in his voice.
“Oh my God! I’m going to die,” Dennis said.
“Calm down, you’re fine,” Sabrina said. “Come let’s play a game.”
They played games for several hours before she left the attic. His mother returned an hour later, and Dennis pretended nothing had changed. But inwardly, he couldn’t wait for the following day — Sabrina had promised to return to play with him.
To stay safe, Dennis wore long-sleeved clothes and avoided contact with Sabrina and her cat; however, their time together was a balm on his lonely soul.
He continued to meet Sabrina whenever his mom went out, and it went unnoticed for a month, until one day, Juliet returned home earlier than she usually did.
She caught Sabrina sneaking into the attic, and she immediately understood what was happening. She quickened her pace, and by the time she reached her doors, she was running.
As soon as she entered, she screamed for Dennis at the top of her lungs as though afraid he was lying dead in the attic. He heard her and rushed to her, accompanied by Sabrina, who looked alarmed.
“Who is she?” Juliet asked. “Why is she here?”
“Mom, she’s the girl from across our house and she is my friend.”
“Your friend?” Juliet echoed.
“Yes Mom, she has been my friend for a month now and I didn’t get infected. Her cat even licked my face,” Dennis happily narrated.
“Her cat did what?” Juliet was horrified.
“Why did you lie mother?” Dennis asked. “If nothing has happened since I’ve known Sabrina it must mean I can go outside.”
Juliet was shocked by her son’s statement but only because it was true. She had indeed made everything up, but it was to preserve his life.
“It was to preserve your life,” she replied. “Your father and sister died in tragic accidents OUTSIDE! I couldn’t let the same thing happen to you so I made up your medical condition to get you to remain indoors.”
Indeed, Juliet had been more concerned about keeping her only remaining family alive and she had decided that the best way to do that was to avoid putting him in scenarios that could bring about an accident.
She had done it because of how much she loved Dennis but she also knew it was selfish of her to have kept him from living his life all because of her own anxiety and trauma.
“I’m very sorry son,” Juliet said as she waited for her child to respond.
After a minute of silence, the boy looked up at her and said, “All is forgiven mom, I just want to be able to spend time with other kids.”
Juliet burst into tears, finally overcome by the grief she had kept at bay by controlling every aspect of her son’s life. Dennis joined her and Sabrina left them to deal with their emotions. Things changed from that day forward, and Dennis was allowed to see the world, with supervision, of course.
What did we learn from this story?
- It is always better to tell the truth. Juliet cooked up a story to prevent her son from ever living in her house because she was afraid that what happened to her husband and daughter would happen to him too. The sentiment was good, but it affected Dennis negatively. He was not allowed outside, and it almost cost him his childhood. Telling him the truth would have been much better.
- Always stay level-headed. When Dennis realized Sabrina’s cat had licked him, he started to freak out, scared he would catch a disease. Sabrina kept her head and distracted him from his own panicking by proposing they play a game. It worked wonders.
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