Alice Kinnian never knew – truly knew – who Charlie was.
Yes, she had known him before the operation. Before the changes, when he used to come into her class and sit at the back of the room with an open, trusting, half-nervous smile on his face. She had known him soon afterwards, when he took her to the movies and tried to be with her the way they both wanted him to. And she had known him much later, when he became the smartest man alive and she could no longer understand the things he talked about.
While his IQ changed from 70 to 185, she wondered exactly which Charlie was the real one. Was it the retard or the genius? Or somewhere in between? She never found the answer, but she decided it didn't matter; she loved him anyway.
When the changes brought on by the surgery started to reverse themselves, she stayed by his side for as long as she could. In a way, she felt horribly guilty for convincing him to have the operation. Was it better to give him this brief chance at a normal life? Or was it cruel to give him this false hope and then take it away like it had never happened? He finally told her to leave like she knew he would. And she left because she looked into his eyes and saw the despair of a man who was swiftly slipping backwards with no way to climb back up.
She went back to her job at the Beekman School. She ate, drank, worked and slept. She went through the motions of living, but none of the motions held any purpose because her purpose was Charlie and Charlie was lost to her now. More often than she liked, she wondered how he was doing and hoped that he was somewhere close to happiness, wherever he was.
Then one day, she turned around to find him sitting at the back of her class.
"Charlie!" She said, shocked. "Where have you been?"
"Hello, Miss Kinnian," Charlie answered her slowly. "I'm ready for my lesson today only I lossed the book we was using."
She realized – with horror – just how far his intelligence had regressed. And then he smiled his smile – his open, trusting, half-nervous smile that carried all the warmth of the Sun.
It broke her heart.
The tears streamed down her face as the guilt washed over her. She was responsible for this. For ruining the man she loved. She had tried so hard to build him up, but all she did was break him down. Charlie's mouth gaped and she knew that – in his ignorance – he would think he had done something wrong to make her upset. She ran out of the room, unable to face him.
She cried and cried and when she thought she could cry no more, she cried still. She cried until all the tears were drained out of her and she felt hollow. But she knew she wanted to see him. See his face and feel his warmth. So she walked shakily back into the room.
And found him gone.