Jared sat on the rug in the small room he shared with his sister, talking animatedly to himself. “Yeah! I know, it’s really very odd. Did you do that? Wow, cool!” He stopped when his twin walked in to the room, and turned round to face her. “What do you want, Grace? You know he likes me better than you, he told you so.”
Grace pouted. “Did not! You know that he likes me just as much as you! He told me that you were annoying, actually,” she said matter-of-factly. Jared stuck his tongue out at Grace, and she wrinkled her nose. “Fine, then. I’ll talk to him later,” she said, then turned and stomped back out of the bedroom.
Jared resumed his chatter, but was soon interrupted again by Jane, who walked in carrying a pile of clothes. He didn’t greet her, and she went about putting the clothes away. After she had finished, however, and he still hadn’t uttered a word to her, she became curious.
“Hey, Jared. What’s up today, huh? I heard you talking a moment ago,” she said softly. Jared sighed and shifted round to face her. He looked up at her with his big, honey coloured eyes.
“Jane, you wouldn’t get it,” he said. “Charlie says grown-ups can’t see him. And I think he’s right, because you didn’t even look at him when you came in.” The corner of Jane’s mouth twitched, but she tried to remain serious.
“Ah,” she said. “An imaginary friend? I had one as well. His name was Jeremy.” And with that she launched into a description of her imaginary friend Jeremy. Jared listened politely for a while, but then he had to interrupt.
“No, Jane, it isn’t like that at all. I’m not making this up- Charlie is sitting here next to me right now. He doesn’t wear a bow-tie, or play with me when I’m bored or anything like that. Grace can see him too, you know. He’s just... I don’t know. There? And sometimes he talks to us,” Jared said.
“Sure thing, kid,” replied Jane. “Hey, if you get a minute, why not draw me a picture of Charlie? I’d like that. It’s up to you, though. I guess you better ask Charlie as well. Seeya, Jared,” she said, and left the room chuckling to herself.
Jared scowled after her, and became even more frustrated when he heard her muttering something about “kids and their imaginations” on the stair. He got up and slammed his bedroom door shut. Jane dropped the book she was carrying on her foot, and cursed in pain. Jared sat down at his desk, satisfied that he had got his own back, and pulled out a piece of paper from the drawer.
“Charlie, we’ll show her what you look like, wont we? A nice picture to put on the fridge,” He hissed. He grabbed a black crayon from the box on the desk and began to scribble a shape on the middle of the page. When he finished, he stood up and held the picture out in front of him to examine his handiwork. He nodded, fixed a smile on his face and skipped downstairs.
“Jane!” He called in the sweetest voice he could muster. “Jane! I finished that picture! I’m sorry about the door earlier, I had the window open and the wind blew it shut- I couldn’t stop it.” Jane walked into the living room through the side door that led on to the kitchen. She had a streak of flour on her cheek and was wearing a chequered apron. The smell of cinnamon was drifting through the door that she had left open.
She walked over to him, grinning. “Aw, honey, that’s all right. Let’s see this picture then- I’ll put it on the fridge!” she cooed. He smiled his most angelic smile, and held out the picture for her to see. Jane took it, and her grin disappeared. It was replaced with the small crease between her eyes which she got when she was worried. She lowered the picture down to her side, and then looked at Jared in confusion. “Um... Jared, why don’t you go and get a cookie? I just baked them; they’re on the kitchen table. And I think Grace is outside...” Her voice drifted away.
“Sure thing, Jane! I hope you like my picture!” he said, skipping away. Before he even got to the kitchen, he saw her grab the phone and start punching in numbers as quickly as she could. He entered the kitchen and closed the door, smirking. He grabbed a cookie from the table, and was about to go get Grace when he saw the small blue bowl next to the cookies. It was a sugar bowl, and was full to the brim with snowy white crystals. He paused.
“Charlie... I have an idea...” Jared said. He grabbed a seat from the table and moved it- with some difficulty- over to the kitchen unit. He climbed on and stood up, then opened the door to the cupboard just above his head. He stretched as tall as he could, and shuffled the items on the shelves around until he found what he was looking for- “La Baltaine Fine Sea Salt”.
He jumped down from the chair, and moved it back to where it had been before. Then he grabbed the bowl of sugar, and tipped it into the bin, replacing the whole dish with salt. He put the bowl back on the table and looked at it. He definitely couldn’t tell the difference. Satisfied, he ran out of the back door to get Grace.
She was sitting under the tree at the bottom of the garden. Jared sprinted over to her. She looked up, and he could see that she was still in a bad mood with him. Not for long, he thought smugly. “Hey Grace! You’ll never guess what I just did!” he squealed.
Grace looked away. “Don’t care!” she said huffily. He stood next to her patiently, knowing it wouldn’t take long for her to cave. It was only a short time before her curiosity got the better of her. “What, then?” she snapped.
Jared looked at the leafy branches above him. “On second thoughts,” he said, “Just wait until Jane makes herself a coffee. This should be good,” he said. Grace frowned, but was silent. He wandered back to the house, and she followed. Apparently all of her anger had been replaced by curiosity.
When they got into the kitchen they were in luck- Jane was sitting at the table, stirring a mug of coffee after putting in three sugars. She lifted the cup to her lips, blew softly on the surface and took a mouthful. She swallowed without really tasting, but then she coughed. She put the coffee down on the marked-but now clean- table, and stared at it suspiciously.
Grace looked just as confused as Jane did. “What’s wrong, Jane?” she asked. Jane shrugged, then picked up the coffee and sniffed it tentatively. She took another small sip, and then coughed again.
“Ugh...” she said. “That was gross! I put in as much sugar as I usually do, and I used the same coffee as well,” she said. The crease between her eyes was back. She looked around until her eyes fell upon the sugar dish. She licked the tip of her forefinger and dipped it into the contents. She put her finger in her mouth, and frowned. “That’s not sugar- it’s salt! But that doesn’t make sense- I filled up that bowl myself after I made the cookies. I’m sure I put sugar in...” Her voice trailed off again.
Then Jane looked at Jared, who was smiling innocently, and Grace, who was staring at him in awe. "Jared? Jared, you did this, didn't you? It's not like you to be so unkind! I think you should apologize!"
Jared was still smiling. “Hmm... Maybe. But that doesn’t matter, because Charlie told me that it was ok. I thought of it, and then he told me that it would be ok. He said that you couldn’t punish me anyway, because you’re not my mother,” he said. With that he flounced out of the room. Jane stared after him indignantly.
“What?” she exclaimed. Grace shrugged, and then ran after Jared. Jane was close to tears. It never bothered them that I wasn’t their mother before, she thought. They love me anyway. Don’t they?
She poured the salty coffee down the sink, and then walked into the living room. She sat in front of the television, lost in her own thoughts. And that was just how Paul found her when he returned home from work that evening.