Dedication: there is a very real chance that, without her prompting, "Lilly and the Troll" would've never gotten finished. I would be terribly remiss if I didn't give Gathering Crows a bunch of credit here.
Lilly knows that there's something old and thoughtful living under the little stone bridge in the park. She's known this from the moment she first saw it, and she continues to know it in spite of the size of the bridge (barely five footsteps long) and in spite of the look that her mother gives her when she refuses to walk across it.
The look is equal parts practical and blind, making it very grown-up.
It says things like don't be silly there's nothing under the bed and what do you mean it's scary it's just a flu shot?
Lilly responds to the look with a look of her own. This one says you just don't want to admit that every day you walk over a bridge with something living under it. When her mother tugs at her arm, trying to pull her across the bridge, Lilly slips out of her grasp and—giving the bridge a wide berth—jumps the narrow stream.
She does this as unhurriedly as possible, but once she's safely on the other side she moves away from the river quick. Images of a too-long arm snaking out from under the bridge and grabbing her haunt her mind.
When it's finally time for bed, Lilly does not make a fuss about leaving the door open to let in light from the downstairs TV. She doesn't ask her mom to check under the bed, or rustle through the coats in the closet. She doesn't even keep a night light on. Lilly is not afraid of the dark.
All her worries are balled up under that stone bridge in the park.
Christine wants to be an adult. She even calls them "adults." Not grown-ups. Because they're not just kids that've gotten older. They're some totally different species of creature, with responsibilities and privileges and cars and jobs.
Her parents think this is charming. They say "isn't our Christine so precious, playing at being gro—oh, sorry. I didn't see you there, Christine. I meant 'playing at being an adult," and if they were to notice how indignant she gets when they do this, they would probably think that's adorable, too.
Christine does not play at being an adult when she's around them if she can help it. Instead, when she invites Lilly over, she claims that they are going to play something normal like dolls or tea party or Captain Teddy Bear versus The Space Armada. Lilly is always excited by this, and makes sure to stuff a good handful of barbies, plastic cups, or X-Men figurines into her backpack.
However, once they're safely barricaded behind the "only adults alowd" sign on Christine's door, whatever game they're playing ultimately ends up turning into What It's Like To Be A Grown Up I Mean Adult.
For example, the tea party is broken up when Mrs. Mallory and Dr. Bear have to go off to work. Or the doll houses have to pay their mortgages. Even Captain Teddy Bear solves most of his problems with a credit card.
This doesn't bother Lilly very much. She's used to people being weird, but sometimes it gets a little inconvenient.
Like the day when Christine says that they need to dress like adults.
Lilly's parents are away for the afternoon. She is okay with this and so are they (although her mom hugged her for a bit longer than usual before going out the door.) She is not scared of being home alone, and they trust her to be responsible—at least as long as bridges aren't involved. So, when the telephone rings and Lilly picks up and there's Christine's voice, asking her to come over, Lilly's first response is to say no.
Unfortunately, Christine is faster than her first response. She says "See you very soon Mrs. Lilly," and hangs up the phone before Lilly can get a word in edgewise.
Lilly sighs, but she does not call Christine back. Maybe dressing as a grown-up just once might be fun.
Going to her mom's closet, she rifles through the dresses, finally pulling a long calico one off of its hanger and stuffing it in her backpack. Folds of fabric stick out around the edges like the legs of a spider hiding under a drain, but Lilly isn't done packing yet. She goes to her mom's jewelry draw next and selects an elegant, silver bracelet from the glittery confusion inside. This she sticks in her pocket.
Finally, she goes down to the kitchen and takes the house key off of the counter top. Her parents always lock up when they leave the house, and it's become part habit, part religion for Lilly.
As an after-thought, she takes a few sandwiches from the refrigerator and packs them on top of her mom's dress.
Then she sets off.
The quickest route to Christine's house is through the park. The quickest route through the park is over the old stone bridge. A trained logician would thereby deduce that the best way to get to Christine's house is over the bridge. Logicians are not nearly as smart as they think they are.
Lilly stands a few steps away from the bridge, hesitating. An old lady with a dog has just crossed it, and they are now headed off in the direction of an interesting looking squirrel. They were lucky.
Lilly sizes up the stream. It's flowing faster than usual, full of yesterday's rain. The banks on either side are slippery mud. It looks about as smug as a body of water can manage.
Go on, take the easy way across, it burbles, from down here I can see exactly what's clinging to the stones…and it's hungry.
Swallowing a small knot of panic, Lilly backs up a few paces to get a good running start. Sneakers pattering underneath her, she bolts for the far bank. And she almost makes it, too. There's just a little too much dew on the grass underfoot, and she slips at the end, right as her legs are bunching up for the leap.
Lilly lands knees-first on the far bank, dragging mud stains all the way down her socks. She's aware of a faint clinking noise and a self-satisfied plop coming from the water, but she's too busy scrabbling away from the dark space under the bridge to notice.
She runs the whole rest of the way to Christine's house.
Christine's mom is nice. She lends Lilly an extra pair of clothes, taken from Christine's voluminous wardrobe (as Christine calls it,) to replace her mud splattered ones. Those go in the wash, accompanied by a lot of clucking and muttering about responsibility and stains.
When all that is done, Christine's mom brings out some cookies and tea. The three of them eat and chat, until eventually Christine's mom makes the mistake of asking what's in the backpack.
Christine responds by seizing it protectively and scampering upstairs. Lilly just shrugs, says "sorry Mrs. Flannery. I guess it's a secret," and follows her friend.
"You see, dressing up as adults is very different from playing dress up," says Christine.
Lilly blinks and says "I see." She doesn't, but they're pretending so it's probably okay.
"Adults do not play. Adults do. When you're an adult, you get to make your own decisions. You choose what to wear and what to eat and you do not have to have peas with your dinner unless you want them and you do because you are an adult and adults like vegetables."
Lilly starts to say "I see," again, but she realizes that would be a lie. Lying is different from pretending. It feels like sticking your hand in a great big puddle of oil, or petting a slug. Lilly wrinkles her nose at the thought. "We make our own decisions, don't we?"
Christine shakes her head vigorously. She is in the middle of trying to wriggle into a dress and the whole thing shakes with her, flailing its arms like a ghost. "Nuh-unh. What if my mother had told you that you couldn't come over today? What would you have said to her?"
"I think I would have said 'okay Mrs. Flannery. I will see Christine some other time.'" It sounds like the wrong answer, even if it is honest.
"Exactly." Christine pounces. "If you were an adult, then you could just say 'it is urgent that I see Ms. Christine,' and then she would have to let you."
Lilly thinks this over while Christine struggles the rest of the way through her dress. Its sleeves are much too long and hang off the ends of her arms like snakes, making the whole process more complicated than it ought to be. Whenever she reaches for a button or tries to smooth a bit of fabric, they writhe out of the way, hissing discontent. Or else they flop on the ground like dead slinkies with nowhere to walk, lolling listlessly.
By the time Christine has given up on wearing the dress the proper way and bunched up the sleeves at her elbows, Lilly has decided that she must be wrong, even if neither of them can figure out how. She opens her mouth to say this, but Christine is talking again. "Anyways, that doesn't matter because we are adults now. Or I am, at least. Aren't you going to put on your adult clothes?"
Lilly would much rather be playing Captain Teddy Bear versus the Space Armada, but she unzips her backpack and hauls out her mother's dress. Several sandwiches spill out with it. Those she puts back.
"That doesn't look at all like the dresses my mother wears," says Christine, critically. Lilly shrugs. It's a dress. Specifics aren't all that important. Besides, she has an extremely pretty bracelet to go with it.
There's a curious lightness to her left pocket, and she quickly sticks a hand into it. Her fingers close on lint. But that's impossible.
Maybe it's in the other pocket? No.
The backpack? Not unless it's inside one of the sandwiches.
But that's everywhere it could be. So it has to be in one of those places.
Lilly sits down on her knees and takes a deep breath.
"Is something wrong, Ms. Lilly?"
Yes. Something is very wrong. But she doesn't tell Christine that. Christine is all wrapped up in being an adult and adults don't understand about the bridge in the park that has something living under it and about how her bracelet must have fallen into the stream by the bridge and how she isn't sure whether she's being very brave or a terrible coward but she knows that after she leaves Christine's she's going to try and get it back. It's a terrible, complicated feeling.