“You’re not real.”
She was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed, staring at Ian, who was staring out the window. He hadn’t said anything in awhile since she found him up here after she retreated from downstairs.
“Of course I am,” he muttered. “I’m real to you, Ava. That’s all that matters.”
She picked up a stuffed elephant and held it. “Mom keeps saying I’m sick, but she won’t tell me anything else. She made an appointment with the doctor for tomorrow. I don’t want to go.”
Finally, he came away from the window and sat next to her. “You can’t go,” he said softly. “If you go, they’ll fix you, and we won’t be able to see each other anymore.”
“Then we’ll run away,” she said, smiling.
Ian shook his head. “That would only hurt your mom and brother.”
“They don’t care about me,” she muttered, poking the elephant in the eye.
“Are you listening to yourself?” Ian asked, frowning. “You can’t be serious in thinking that your family doesn’t care about you.”
“I’m not well,” she said, staring into his face. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“You’re fine,” he said, taking hold of her shoulders.
“They’re not going to fix you, Ava. I won’t let them.”
“You can’t stop them,” she said, standing. She walked to her door and opened it a crack. She could hear her mom and Jake arguing, their voices somewhat faint.
“You should have told her the truth years ago. It’s hard enough pretending that she’s normal.”
“Don’t you think I know that, Jacob? She doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s scared so she made up this imaginary friend to help her cope. She’s at that age.”
“Mom,” Jake’s tone was cautious, “do you think this friend of Ava’s is a symptom instead of a distraction?”
Defeat was evident in her voice. “I’m going to go check on her, and we’re not going to talk about this again, understood?”
Ava, tears in her eyes, slammed the door. She turned to see Ian standing a few feet from her. He was frowning, but his blue eyes were hard with anger. He reached a hand out to touch her cheek.
“We’ll get out of here,” he said, drawing her toward him. “I promise.”
“When?” she asked, squeezing her eyes shut.
“Soon,” he said. “I hear your mom coming.”
Ava’s fingers tightened around the air as her door opened and her mother stood there, eyes full of worry. They stared at each other until the awkward silence was broken.
“What are you doing?”
Ava squirmed and looked around, finding only two people in the room instead of three. Confused, she looked at her mom.
“I don’t know,” she confessed.
“Honey, don’t you think you’re a little old to have an imaginary friend?”
“But you said—” She bit her tongue. She knew eavesdropping was wrong, so she couldn’t let her mom know she heard the conversation. “I mean, you want me to have a friend, don’t you?”
“I used to say that when you were younger. It was okay at that time to have an imaginary friend, but not now.”
“Ian’s real, mom.”
“I’m sure there is someone like him somewhere.”
“Ava please, I’m tired. I was just coming to check on you. Do you want any dinner?”
“No,” she said.
“I’ll leave some food on a plate for you in case you get hungry.” Her mom stood and headed toward the door. “Oh, and your appointment got canceled for tomorrow.” She didn’t sound too happy about that.
“Great,” Ava muttered as the door shut.
“You should pack.” His voice was cool against her ear as she felt him sit next to her. “We can leave as soon as you’re ready.”
Ava turned to nod at him, but found that no one resided on the bed with her.