She sat in the family room with her parents, sniffling the remnants of tears out of her eyes. She knew he was there, but no one else did. Promptly ignoring him for the sake of her parents, she got up. Black lace clung to her deflated figure, bunching us around the waist where it was too loose. Her curls were limp, her chestnut hair frizzy and escaping out of the bun that her mother did so carefully before the funeral. Pale, frozen skin made her shiver, and made her look even deader than he was.
"Honey, you know Stevie's dead," her mother said, cracking the thin words with her unstable voice. "You're going to more on, you will, honey. You have to."
The girl, always so frail and worrisome, got a look in her eyes that he had never seen before. Anger. She dropped her shaking arms to her sides and turned ever so slowly toward her mother, but not before looking right at him.
"He's still here," she said, the confidence breaking through the fear and anger she was trying so desperately to suppress. Her little hands squeezed into fists – he was always astounded at how tiny her hands were compared to his – and he walked up next to her and wrapped his around hers. He doubted she could feel it, but she glanced over at him and a faint smile was still there.
"Beth-" She turned on her father, who was now speaking. All that anger fizzling and popping under her skin as if it was ignited by a match.
"HE'S STILL HERE. HE'S NOT DEAD HE'S RIGHT NEXT TO ME!" Her tears were back. She silently sobbed as she raced away from her parents reaching embraces. She tore away from his grip as well, but he ran ahead of her. She stopped at her door, and he opened it for her. Beneath her tears she smiled.
"Thank you, Stevie," she said, and despite her parents calling after her, those were the only words he heard.
They were watching a movie, and for the sake of her parents, they had been pretending he was simply an imaginary friend of her. His new name was Phil – short for Philomena. It was the name of her first cat, who ran away years ago. He and she had ran crying through the neighborhood until their parents dragged them home, telling them it was futile. Both of them always wondered if they had kept looking, would they have found her?
Condensation coated the windows and the snow brought on a layer of fog so thick you couldn't step outside without worrying that you were suffocating. The schools had been shut down today.
Matilda played on the spotty TV, buzzing with static, but not interrupting their fun.
"Wow," Beth said. "I wish I could do things like that. Whaddabout you, Ste-Phil?"
He was laying out on the floor, pretending he could feel the itchy carpet against his skin. Smiling up at her, he nodded. She smiled back, and it lit up her whole face. He always liked being the reason behind her smile.
"Hey, maybe I can do it!" she said excitedly, but still in a whisper. She focused on their bowl of popcorn, staring at it and pressing her lips together in determined concentration. She sat like that for a full minute, then sighed. With a new burst of energy she straightened her back and sat criss-cross, her eyes tight slits under crumpled lids.
He jumped up from the ground and grabbed the popcorn bowl, and set it soundlessly on top of the TV before she opened her eyes.
When she finally did after a minute of meditating, she fell back. She shrieked with joy and looked over at him with an expression of pure giddiness. She leaped to her feet and ran over to her parents, shouting about how she was magic. They returned her ecstatic joy with pats on the back and nervous glances, as their smiles stretched just a little too far when they said, "That's great, honey!"
He got mad, mad at them, mad at the fact he was dead and she wasn't, but the smile on her face made all of that fade into the back of his mind. As long as she was smiling, it was enough to make him feel alive.