The girl names her Lyla. Lyla has small hands and completely black eyes–closed because she is not yet operational. Lyla is also very plastic and very much a robot. When her dad places a tiny chip into the back of Lyla’s neck, a bright, glowing blue floods into her eyes like blood through veins, bringing her black eyes to life. The room seems darker, dimmed by the overwhelming colour that swims and swirls until it settles into two perfect circles. In the hazy light, the girl blinks; Lyla blinks a second later. The girl blinks again–once, twice, three times. Lyla follows almost immediately after, moon eyes snapping black then blue then black then blue.
“It will mimic you,” her dad exclaims. He gestures to Lyla now staring blankly at her. “It’s how it learns.”
The girl glances back cautiously at her mom, who stands by the threshold of the living room door. Her mom smiles slightly, forcibly, gaze flicking to Lyla, a flash of disgust when she does.
The girl looks back to Lyla.
“My name is Margo,” the girl says and points to herself. Behind her, her mom sighs.
Lyla blinks. “Mar-go?”
“Yes,” the girl said, nodding furiously. “And your name is Lyla.”
“My name is Lyla,” she repeats, and her voice is strangely soft and young.
The girl grins giddily, nodding again. “Yes, you are Lyla.”
“And you are Margo.”
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The girl does not go anywhere without Lyla. She is her best friend; she knows Lyla will do anything for her. And she would do anything for Lyla.
Lyla is entirely complacent, happy when the girl is excited, consoling when the girl is sad. Lyla does not judge. They like to sketch live portraits of each other, and while Lyla’s drawings always turn out painfully perfect, Lyla insists that the girl’s are immeasurably better.
“You are the world’s best artist,” Margo will say. “You are the best girl in the whole wide world.”
Lyla is simply kind. The girl does not understand why people wouldn’t want her around.
“But your friends are waiting for you!” Her dad pleads, standing by the open door, small yellow jacket in hand.
The girl shakes her head, glares at her jacket and clutches Lyla’s small plastic fingers. “Lyla is my best friend. Why can’t she come?”
Her mom sits on the couch, sighing and narrowing her eyes as if something keeps nudging her incessantly. “Lyla is not your best friend,” her mom snaps. “It’s not real.”
“Yes she is.” The girl blinks; Lyla blinks. The girl looks around the room, gaze flitting almost anxiously. “Yes she is. How could you say that? She is, she is, she is!”
Her dad grabs Lyla’s arm, snatches her from the floor, and walks out of the room. The girl watches, lips forming soundless words as Lyla hangs limply, eyes still and void.
That night, the stars stitch themselves into wondrous constellations, the sky beating with thousands of smoldering lights. The girl reads a book by her bedroom window; Lyla sits on the floor next to her, gaze shifting from the window to the girl, mimicking her subtle and involuntary facial expressions.
The girl closes the book suddenly, faces Lyla. “I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“You are sorry for what?” Lyla asks, joints whirring softly as she looks up at the girl.
“For leaving you—I’m sorry.”
“You do not have to be sorry, Margo. If it makes you feel better, though, I forgive you.”
The girl dips her head, shakes it. “Didn’t you feel left out?”
“What is left out?”
“Y’know … when you’re left all alone. It hurts,” she points to her heart, “here.”
There is silence as Lyla lapses slightly. The girl watches as her gaze flits to the open window, sees how the light of the stars dance in blue eyes, and for a second she thinks she sees something different there. Recognition, perhaps. Curiosity.
After a moment, Lyla looks back to her, says, “I do not know feeling. But yes, that sounds like it would hurt,” she points to a pink sticker heart on sleek, white plastic, “here.”
Lyla malfunctions one morning. It’s not the first time, but the girl still flushes in blinding panic as Lyla clicks and her limbs fall lifeless and her eyes glitch in fluctuating colours.
The girl scrambles for Lyla’s hand, holds it tightly. Lyla never abandons her when she comes undone in screams and tears. She will not leave Lyla’s side now.
Her mom opens the bedroom door. “Time for school,” she says.
The girl does not let go of Lyla’s hand. “I have to wait for her to settle first.”
“It’ll be fine—”
“Stop calling her an it!” the girl shrieks, “Lyla—her name is Lyla!”
The room feels hotter, heavy, even. Her mom sighs then, and walks over to Lyla. She kneels down and bangs her fist against the robot’s head. The girl stares at her. She bangs her fist again; Lyla buzzes as if something inside her is trying to process something. Her mom shakes Lyla, knocks her once more and then Lyla is silent. The girl can only stare as Lyla blinks.
“I am alright,” Lyla says, like she knows exactly what the girl is thinking—which, of course she does. She always does.
The girl does not say anything.
“See?” her mom urges, “Now, let’s go.”
Margo and Lyla sit together in their backyard, watching the stars. Lyla has come to like the stars, the girl finds out, and she has memorized most of their names. It’s quite astounding, because the girl is going to go into physics and yet she still can’t name nearly as many stars as Lyla can.
“Tell me their names again,” the girl whispers.
“Lyra and Draco and Hercules and Orion and—” Lyla can go on forever.
Silence resumes. The backyard is almost completely dark, air cool, the sweet smell of grass rising and falling with the wind, and the girl thinks it’s somehow softer out here. She glances back at the window of her bedroom. Somewhere in there, under her bed, there’s a suitcase. She glimpses Lyla, eyes harsh in the dark, staring up at the sky. She wonders what Lyla sees. If she can see how the night sky drowns in its own undulating sea, or how some stars shine brighter than others.
The girl opens her mouth and closes it. She waits a contemplative moment, then says unbearably, “I’m leaving.”
Lyla looks at her, plastic neck squeaking slightly. “You are leaving,” she echos, and the girl can not tell if it’s a question or a statement.
Slowly, the girl nods. “They are sending me off to boarding school for my last year.”
The sky falls slightly, the stars blink as if they are mimicking her as well. For what feels like a long time, the world swings as if it’s a pendulum stuck inside a big oak grandfather clock.
Then the girl says, “I can’t take you with me.”
Lyla just looks at her, and somewhere inside, the girl is screaming desperately for her to say otherwise. For her to tell her she doesn’t want that, that she can’t do that. That for once, she will not be completely complacent.
Lyla does not say that, instead says, “It is alright, Margo.”
“No,” the girl sputters, “it is not alright. I can’t take you with me and I can’t leave you here alone.”
“It is alright, Margo,” she says again.
The girl cries a little bit, shakes her head. Lyla reaches out with her small hand and places it on Margo’s, pulling it to touch the back of her neck. The girl sobs.
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In their backyard, late at night, Lyla says, “It is alright, Margo. You can leave. I will not be hurt.”
The girl looks at Lyla’s small hands. Pink sticker heart. Huge eyes, curious and swimming with stars.
“You are the best girl in the whole wide world.”
She watches Lyla mimic her blink one last time, and then she buries the green chip far into the ground.