A/N: short story (9 pages in Word Perfect). . .and I don't really have a further explanation. Read and find out, I suppose.

"Imaginary Friend"

I close my eyes and all the world drops dead

(I think I made you up inside my head)

-Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl's Love Song

I don't know when the obsession started, if it was a gradual thing or if I've always been this way. It's a hard, sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach and the thought of it makes me so dizzy sometimes that I can hardly breathe. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be like this. I don't know if it should truly hurt as much as it does.

His eyes make me stumble. They are the exact colour of the champagne my dad used to serve at their parties, the kind that tastes pleasant but burns your throat. I have this feeling that I would do anything if those eyes were on me. It frightens me.

I am lying in my bed now, waiting for the clock to strike twelve. For the past two weeks, I have not seen him and for the past two weeks I have felt like dying. It is a strange hold that he has on me. I don't even think he realizes that he has it.

There, twelve tolls and I rise, letting my nightgown fall over my knees. Three quick steps and I'm to the door, feeling lighter then air. I count each step as I go down, letting my hand trail the banister. I grasp the doorknob firmly and walk out into the night air.

He stands in our small garden, a welcome sight against the darkness. I take the time to study him as I walk. A pale, sharp face is framed by messy black hair and his body is tall and lean. He leans into the oak tree. When I was younger and we played there together, I used to think he was part of the tree. I sometimes find myself believing it now. I can see him smiling at me. He greets me with a hand on my arm.

"Where have you been?" The words escape me before I can stop them. He frowns.

"I've been busy." he murmurs, lowering his gaze.

"Oh." I whisper, "I'm sorry." I don't know what I'm sorry about, but it seems to make him feel better. He stretches sinewy muscles and arches his back like a cat, stifling a yawn.

"It's not your fault." He touches my hand again. For a moment I sway where I stand.

"Does that mean I can't be sorry?" I ask, laughing softly. He smiles patiently.

"I suppose not." He replies, helping me sit down. I arrange the folds of my nightgown over my bare legs. A slow silence throws itself over us. His fingers play absently with a lock of my hair, back and forth, tugging it gently.

"Have you ever had that feeling. . ." I begin finally, catching his hand and carefully sitting it down, "where the entire world seems to be moving while you're standing completely still?"

"When there's nothing you can do to make your own world start moving again?" He asks.

"Exactly." I feel a rush of relief that he isn't entirely devoid of worries. I jump as he leans in closer and claims my mouth with his own. A small, surprised noise erupts from my chest. He lets go of me.

"Did you feel it move?" he whispers.

"Who's there?" I blink and he's gone. I glance up to see a window open, my dad leaning out of the space, ". . .now, what are you doing there at this time of night?"

"I couldn't sleep." This isn't a lie. I haven't slept for days. He gives me one long, concerned look and shuts the window firmly. I sink further into the grass and wait. The shadow appears at my side, slowly taking form and he sits next to me again. I stare at him severely, and he does the same to me.

"Who are you?" I ask finally.

"You know who I am." His answer is vague and it makes me angry.

"No. I've known you for years but I still don't know who you are. . .better yet, what you are. You can't be real, not like I am. Flesh and blood and bone. What are you? Shadows? Leaves?" My voice rises as desperation closes up my throat. I won't cry. I won't let myself.

"What do you think I am?" he asks. I bite down on my lip. He is smiling again.

"I don't know. A faerie? A god?" I raise my eyebrows. He makes a slight, pleased noise.

"That's flattering."

"Are you real?" I say again. His tongue moves over the front of his teeth. He does that when he's thinking. I wait impatiently.

"I'm as real as you want to be, love." He is taunting me. I can hear it in the soft lilt of his voice.

"That's not an answer."

He sighs heavily. "I'm part of you. When your mother died, you retreated into the back of your mind and you barely spoke to anyone. That's why I'm here. You created me, I guess you could say."

"Oh. Oh, my." I shake my head roughly. "Christ. You're what. . .an imaginary friend?"

"Something like that."

"That's why nobody else can see you." I say, frowning, a small hysterical laugh coming from the base of my throat, "I'm crazy, then?"

"Hardly." He laughs once more. "If anything you're more sane then most are."

"That doesn't make any sense." I turn away from him. I might have known this was true, if he had gone away when I was young, the way things like this were supposed to. You weren't supposed to have imaginary friends when you were sixteen. I think it's some sort of psychological law.

He patiently says nothing as I stand and lean my forehead against the tree trunk for a moment.

Maybe this has all been a dream.

That's it, a dream. A long, life-like dream. I'll wake up tomorrow to my mom smoothing my hair away from my face and to the early sunlight. I will be six again. That must be right. It will be the first day of kindergarten and I will be nervous, but soon I won't be able to wait to come home and tell my mom all about it. My mom won't be there when I get home, though. Dad will be there, early from work, and he'll have lines in his forehead that I've never seen before and what I think must be tears in his eyes, but they can't be. Daddy never cries. He'll try to explain what happened, that Mom wasn't coming home, that she was an angel now. He will think this is comforting but I don't like the stories they teach us in Sunday school about angels. They stay in Heaven with God. I think this is selfish of him.

I'll go to sleep that night and dream up a boy who sits with me in a long field that I think must be just as beautiful as Heaven, and he talks to me. He'll tell me stories and he won't cringe or look away when I cry.

I am brought back to reality with a hand on my hair. He is gently pushing it away from my face and wiping away the tears that have begun to flood down my cheeks. I feel a sob catch in my throat. He slips his arms around me and I cry into his shirt. It makes me feel small and helpless, but the feeling isn't all that bad because in the back of my mind I want to have someone protect me. I need someone to protect me. My eyes are wide when I look up at him.

"Is this right?" I whisper. I'm not sure if he knows what I'm talking about, him holding me like he is or the fact that he still exists at all.

"I think so." He murmurs into my hair. He sounds unsure, as much as I am if not more. I breathe in hard for a moment then pull away from him. My face is still wet but I'm not crying anymore.

"I think so, too." My smile is shaky. He returns it, showing his even, sharp teeth. They remind me of a wolf, but they hold no fear for me. It is oddly consoling, this strange, wonderful person in front of me. He slips his hand in mine, big and warm, and leads me to the back door.

"I have to leave. Your dad will be waking up soon."

"I know." I say, because I do know. It doesn't make it hurt any less, though. "When will you come back?"

"Soon." He promises, backing away from me, "Soon." He steps back into the dark shadows of the garden and disappears. I close my eyes and I can still see a pale imprint of his face there. I think for a moment that it might not be enough to last until he came, but I banish the thought as soon as it glimmers into my mind. I think I might be too young to love him this much, to the extent where I spend all the time I'm not with him wanting to throw myself off something very tall.

Once inside I sit down at the kitchen table and lay my head down on my arms. I breathe in the scent of old wood and spices, cherishing the familiarity of it. I used to sit there while my mom made dinner. I could barely see over the edge of the table then. Remembering this, I smiled.

I would sit there for the rest of the morning until Dad came down for work. He would give me that same worried look, but he wouldn't say anything. He tried to pretend there wasn't anything happening and I was thankful.

Dad leaves at five every morning and this one was the same as always. He nods to me as he comes down the stairs, suit and tie, playing at being a businessman. Nobody knows what he does for certain, just that he sells things and occasionally comes home with a paycheck. My aunt says he's a slave to the system. She's my mom's sister and Dad doesn't let her visit very often. He says she a hippie who's missing her drugs and a war to protest. I don't like my dad sometimes.

It is Saturday, the first in April. Outside the sun is bright and streams in through the windows. I slip a sweater on over my nightgown and go back out to the garden. I spend my summers there, all day among the trees and flowers. I see a small white flash near the big oak tree and go to inspect it. Gingerly, I pick up the small scrap of paper and read over it with a smile.

Meet me in the churchyard Sunday morning it said, in my friend's messy scrawl. He really meant soon when he said it. My stomach turned over happily.

The next morning I woke early, having had a dreamless sleep the night before. I rose and pulled out a dress. The dress I wear whenever I go to church, which normally consists of Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve, or when my aunt married her yoga instructor. We're not even Sunday Protestants.

I leave my dad a note on the coffee maker, saying I was going out. He never needs much explanation. He thinks that since I'm sixteen, I can handle myself. It's nice to have that freedom but sometimes I wish he cared a little bit more.

I decide to walk to the church. It is only a block away from our house and it seems a waste to drive. I make it there in three minutes and see a tall, dark figure standing in the graveyard. He is there, wearing a black suit, and staring down at my mother's headstone. As I get closer, I feel awkward and childish compared to him. His sharp face is serious and I can see small lines etched around his mouth. I stop for a moment as he kneels down and lays a small bouquet of roses on the cold stone. He touches his forehead to it and I hear him cry out softly.

"How well did you know my mom?" I am uncomfortable and I know that I sound like it. He looks up. His eyes are defensive, guarded, glistening with unshed tears. He doesn't answer me. "More then I should know?" I feel a sudden realization dawn on me, something that I can read in his eyes. I wait quietly before asking my final question.

"How old are you?" It comes out in a hard whisper. He shuts his eyes and stands, but I catch his arm. "Answer me, please."

"You're too smart for your own good sometimes." He says this almost admiringly, but with a threatened tone to his voice. For once, I've bested him. I can't take the time to wonder at it.

"How old are you?" I repeat firmly.

"Why don't you guess?" This is the first time I've ever sensed venom in his words. His fists tighten at his sides. He expects me to be frightened, but I am too numb to be frightened.

"You were friends with my mom, weren't you?" It made sense. I don't know why it made sense, but it did.

"You look just like her." His laugh is closer to a bark. It frightens me more then his muscles tensing at his shoulders and back. He could kill me. How appropriate, to die in front of a grave. I don't say anything and he continues. "The same hair, the same eyes. It's absurd, really. You're hardly the same person. She, eternally patient and soft-spoken, you. . .loud and full of opinions and wonderful."

"Is this the time to flatter me?"

"Probably not. I was friends with your mother, to answer your question, and I am older than you think. Does that make you uncomfortable?" He doesn't move, face inexplicably like marble.

"You loved her." This is a statement and I know it is true.

"I did."

"Did you love before her?"

"I did."

My heart sinks quietly and my stomach turns over once. There is an overbearing force pushing at my mind, brimming over like water, screaming for me to get away from him. There is something undeniably wrong with me. My feet don't move.

A flurry of thoughts erupts. He kissed me before. He loved my mother, he probably told her all the same things he told me. Did he love her mother, too? I think I might have loved him once. How could I? It has to be wrong, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. I should ask him to leave. Or I should leave. I don't want to leave.

"I don't want to leave." I say this aloud, testing the words on my tongue.

"I'm glad." He touches the soft skin beneath my wrist, lightly, grasping it with his long fingers, "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you this before. I just thought you wouldn't trust me."

He's right. I wouldn't have. I still don't entirely trust him now, but the way he's looking at me brings back memories of all those classic loves I've read about, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Romeo and Juliet, Cathy and Heathcliff. Tragic, and beautiful, and destined for heartbreak. I wasn't a heroine, though, and I felt out of place. I knew what would happen if I let him stay.

My grandmother died when she was 25, drowned. My mother died when she was 25, in a car accident. I can't be expected to live any longer then they did. My father says it is a curse, the only amount of imagination that he lets himself have these days. I realize now that it is our unlucky choice in friends.

He is watching me with outrageously patient eyes, the same amber colour as always. It isn't his fault that they died, I understand this somehow. It's some kind of force, something beyond him. A horrible twist of fate to go along with his presence in your life. A sick kind of irony.

"I understand if you don't want to see me again." His voice displays innocence that I've never heard in it before. He would miss me. It brings a dull rush of pleasure to my cheeks.

"I don't want that either." I whisper. I am of the firm belief that if he goes away, I will only die sooner. It doesn't seem too dramatic to me. The church doors open behind us, and people begin to file out. Their eyes fall on me, then turn away sympathetically. They can't see him.

"I have to go." He leans down and swiftly kisses my cheek. He is gone as suddenly as I can turn. I don't entirely know what to think anymore, and I turn on my heel and run.

At home, my dad is still asleep. I snatch the note from the coffee maker and throw it away. I barely make it to the bathroom before I throw up. It is a strong, brassy taste in my mouth. For a moment, I think I feel a cool hand smoothing the hair away from my face, but when I look around there is no one there. My forehead touches the cold plastic of the toilet seat. I think I might have a problem. The thought hadn't occurred to me before, that my mother must have been seeing our friend even after she was married. She hadn't loved my father. I was too young to notice it then, but now I can see all the signs. They barely spoke to each other, and when they did, it was in the quiet civil tones that were obviously strained. She had been having an affair, and I think my father must have known about it.

I can see him in a new light now, but all I have for him is my sympathy. He never seems to want that.

My knees scrape against the dirty tile floor as I rise, cradling my head. All of my senses feel clear, amazingly acute. It is a strange sensation. I stumble across the hallway to my room.

I don't bother to change before I fall onto my bed, pulling the blankets around me. If I can hide under there, I can forget anything ever happened. I shut my eyes tight. As I drift towards unconsciousness, I swear I can feel someone drawing me into their arms.