What You Need

There once lived a girl with a magical gift: she could look in your eyes and know just what you need.

Her parents named her Starlett, for she was born on a night when an autumn wind stripped the leaves from the wide trees around her home, then the sky filled with falling stars like the tears of angels, and perhaps some of their stardust settled into her soul.

Growing up, Starlett always knew when her mother needed help, and she helped. She always knew when her father needed affection, and she gave it. Most of all, she knew when they needed peace, and she stayed away.

When her siblings and friends were troubled, she knew if they needed cheering up and she would tell a joke, or if they needed to confide in her and she would listen. So everyone loved to have Starlett around. And if there were days when she felt sad or lonely, she knew never to show it, for nobody needed that from her.

Starlett took pleasure in giving those around her what they needed, so it came as a surprise one day to realize that a girl who seldom needed anything from her, the happiest person Starlett knew, had become her closest friend.

When the man who would be her husband asked for Starlett’s hand, she looked in his eyes and saw how much he needed her. She might have preferred a taller, darker man; certainly she would have chosen one not so loud and brash. But he needed her with an urgency she did not think any other man would equal, so she said yes.

After they married Starlett would look into his eyes every day, and was glad she had said yes, for surely no one else could have adjusted so quickly to the man’s abruptly changing needs.

The man came to need a family, so Starlett gave him many children. As infants they seldom cried, for their mother always knew just when they needed feeding or changing or comforting. The women in the village marveled at Starlett’s good fortune to have such well-behaved children. Starlett scoffed when her closest friend warned that the children would not remain so agreeable. But the passing years proved her friend right, for to be disagreeable is just what teenagers need.

Husband, children, closest friend, neighbors, everyone in Starlett’s life became accustomed to her talent and came to expect its use. Starlett would offer food when they were hungry, drink when they thirsted, advice when confused, praise and gratitude when feeling unappreciated. When they did not return these favors, Starlett reminded herself they did not share her magical gift.

Having met all his needs without fail, Starlett was unprepared the day she looked in her husband’s eyes and saw what he had come to need most: someone else. She fled her home and ran to her closest friend, seeking solace from another for the first time. But when she found her friend, Starlett made the mistake of looking in her eyes. That night, Starlett ordered her husband to leave, knowing where he would go.

Starlett continued to provide for all her children’s needs. But she soon realized they were not so happy as they should be. She looked in their eyes, and saw that what they most needed was independence.

And so Starlett left the village and traveled far away, because that was just what her loved ones needed.

There once lived a woman with a terrible curse: she could look in your eyes and know just what you need.

The woman lived in a cabin high in the mountains, among tall thin trees whose needles never fell, but forever pointed accusingly at the stars that had cursed her. She avoided the company of all but a single companion, a mule, whose needs were few.

Once a month, the mule carried her to a village in the valley for supplies. In the village, the woman spoke as little as possible and looked no one in the eye.

On one such trip, the woman rested on a bench outside the village square, gathering energy for the ascent to her cabin. A man approached and sat next to her. She turned away.

“Look at me,” he urged in a gentle voice.

She did not.


She waited a long time for the strange, quiet man to go away, but he remained. Finally, she decided. She would do something she had never done before. She would look in this man’s eyes, she would see just what he needed, and she would not give it to him.

She turned and faced him defiantly. She had to look up to meet his eyes, the rich brown irises matching his hair. He was a young man with striking features. Yet incredibly, he looked into her eyes with interest and caring, perhaps even desire.

Even more incredibly, she looked into his eyes, and . . .

She didn’t know.

She couldn’t tell.

Somehow he was immune to her magic. Like gazing at a mirror, when she looked into his eyes she saw only . . . his eyes.

She stared at him in wonder, until her vision blurred.

The man took her hands and held them tenderly. He said, “It’s all right,” his voice soft with compassion.

She wiped away her tears so she could look in his eyes again and savor the experience of not-knowing. She dared to wonder if she might be with this man, simply be with him, without the constant struggle to give him everything he needed.

“It’s all right,” he repeated. “Now everything is going to be all right. I know just——”

In sudden horror, Starlett pulled her hands from him and clapped them over her ears. She saw his lips move, but could not bear to hear his next three words.