Guardian

“Geez, you need to clean your room up. People will think you hoard stuff.”

Suzie’s room was packed with a hundred days’ worth of outfits, watermelon flavored sports drink bottles, and a library of comic books ranging from Garfield to Batman. Despite her excellent grades and aggressively organized planner, Susie could be a slob when it came to organizing anything beyond homework.

Susie was busy typing up an English paper for her high school class. She’d managed to get into the college-level courses sponsored by the community college, but the weekly papers required by the teacher were a struggle. She didn’t respond to my comment, which was typical nowadays. Instead, I focused on my new shoes. They were black with red and green striped laces. I picked them specifically because of their unusual color combo.

Sighing, I slacked further into her red lounge chair – one of those round ones with a mesh net. Along with the typical mess, Susie’s room was elaborately decorated with superhero figures, posters of bands, and her bed was piled with blankets and pillows. One poster she plastered over her bed was of the Avengers arranged like a rock band. Hulk banged on the drums, Hawkeye played bass, Thor rocked an electric guitar, and Captain America lead with his voice. Iron Man worked the electric board, but his face was replaced with some guy at school, Kyle, I’d never met him.

Susie groaned, “These papers will be the death of me! If I have to explain every one of these metaphors and symbols in the book, I may as well write the book myself!”

“It’s just part of understanding the story.”

“I mean, so what if the house is green? It represents growth and maturity… Bullshit! Maybe I think green is boring! What if green made me think of sickness?”

“Or jealousy?”

“–Or jealousy? Hell, maybe I’m green with anger! It just makes me want to smash something.”

“Like that baseball bat today?”

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I broke the baseball bat today. And Kyle was right there, on the sidelines! I must’ve looked like a freak… I even threw the pieces.”

“It was a good thing that nobody was sitting in those bleachers. Really ‘Suz, you’re freakishly strong.”

“He just smiled and waved, too, that cheeky ass. He should have looked scared at least, or pretended like he didn’t see anything. But no, he had to be polite, like it was a silly accident.”

She drew her knees up on the chair and pulled a cap over her eyes. She’s been doing this since preschool, whenever she becomes insecure or unsure of herself. Until eighth grade, she was an outcast from her peers. At first she was picked on by the other girls. They thought she was a weirdo because of her love for comic books and super heroes. They called her a tomboy, and said her head was stuck in space. Even the boys left her alone. Her only friend for a long time was me, Jason, her imaginary friend.

*

We met when she was playing on the swing set in her backyard; she was six. It was the day some of the other girls had spilled her comic books on the ground.

Susie was crying and pushing herself on the swing with her tip-toes. The swing was just low enough for her, and her shoes were getting dirty from the dust. I was peeking from behind the tree behind her. I was nervous because this was the first time I’d been sent to become someone’s friend. That was my job, Imaginary Friend. It was my first day, and I was simply dropped off behind the tree.

Taking a breath, I eased myself from my hiding place and gathered my courage. I was the same age as her, so we should be able to get along.

“Hey there, Susie, what’s wrong?” She jumped off the swing at the sound of my voice, but her feet caught the ground and she landed on her knees.

“Who are you?” The pain in her knees just blended in with her crying, but she was trying to act tough, and stood up to wipe her cheeks.

“I’m Jason, I heard you crying and I was worried.”

Sniffing, Susie just stared at her shoes for a bit. They were red with the Flash’s symbol stretching across the sides.

I felt weird, and at a loss, so I pressed a little more, “Are the kids at school teasing you?”

Finally, Susie nodded her head. It seemed like a lot of the crying had stopped, but sniffing hadn’t.

“Can I help you in some way?”

“..no..” I could barely hear her, but I expected her to say no. She was a strong person inside, I could tell. She wasn’t the kind of girl to ask for people’s help.

“Okay, then how about we play a game instead?”

Susie brightened up a little. Her cheeks and eyes were runny and red, but she was smiling, and that’s what mattered. It was as if she’d been waiting for someone to ask.

*

For six years, we did everything together. We told each other stories, played board games, went on walks, and Susie and I would read comic books together. We tried playing tag once, but that didn’t work out well since I couldn’t actually touch anything. Well, I could, but it just felt like a pressure against my hands if I tried. I can’t lift things unless Susie wants me to, like if we’re having a dinner party or drinking tea. I still can’t eat, but I pretend, and Susie usually finishes my food. After a while, she started gaining a little weight, and so instead of preparing two plates she began dividing her own portions in half for me to ‘eat’.

Her parents worried, of course, since they saw her pretending to have a friend as a sign of loneliness. They didn’t mind too much at first, since it was normal for young kids to make-believe. But when it persisted into fifth and sixth grade they began to really worry. When Susie’s father left, however, that changed. He’d been cheating, and when Susie’s mother found out she was furious and their argument went for hours. He left the house and didn’t return until he came to pack a suitcase. Her father leaving left Susie feeling betrayed and exposed, like there was no one to protect her or her mother. After a week or so, Susie asked to take up martial arts lessons. To her, it was a way to feel stronger, more capable on her own. For her mother, it was a way she believed Susie to meet more people, and possibly make some friends. She practiced until she was the best in her class, then dropped out in seventh grade to start softball.

One of the proudest days in my life was when she hit that ball during try-outs. That sound felt like lightning passing across the shoulders and hair of anyone who was watching, and the silence from the other girls was stunning. Most of them had teased Susie for years, and now they realized just how strong of a person she was. They didn’t become her friends immediately, but each of them accepted her as a peer.

It was eighth grade when she started drawing her own comics. I thought her class notes were funny to read, because she drew little doodles to help illustrate ideas her teachers talked about. However, this was also the time when she began to forget about me. I knew it’d happen sooner or later, but when my birthday came around (the same day of the year as when I met her) she forgot about it.

When I first met Susie, I knew she’d forget me one day. But I thought it’d be a gradual process. When she did, it was like I got lost in her dreams, and when she woke up I was left behind. I stuck around, hoping she’d remember me one more time, and I could say goodbye to her properly.

Seeing as she was still hiding under her hat, and avoiding her paper for class, that wouldn’t happen today. I like making quips to whatever she says, even if she didn’t hear them. It made me feel like we were talking.

“…not my fault I’m strong.” Susie was still grumbling to herself about the baseball bat. “What’s not to like about a strong girl?”

I sat a little straighter, trying to get a glance at a comic she was half-finished with from the other day, “Nothing, ‘Suz.” The comic was a girl running to catch a floating umbrella in the rain. However, the next panel showed that the umbrella was held by an invisible boy.

“I worked hard to become this strong, it was how I managed to make the friends I have now.”

“I’m so proud of you, ‘Suz, and the other guys will see why and come flooding to you.”

She smiled a bit, “Thanks.”

I froze as she suddenly looked up, confused. I almost asked if she heard, but her mother knocked on the door, “Dinner’s ready, Susie, come down and eat.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask, and, frankly, I was too stunned to try anyway.

*

“It’s okay, ma’am, she’s fine, just a mild concussion from the fall.” The doctor was doing his best to calm Susie’s frantic mother.

Holding her daughter’s hand, Susie’s mother asked the police what happened, and all he and the witness could agree on was that Susie fell and hit her head, just narrowly missing being hit by a car. The doctor said that she’d have some memory issues and a headache over the next week, but there shouldn’t be lasting damage. Right now, Susie was sleeping, so they’d save the questions for later.

*

It’s been three years since Susie said ‘Thanks’, and she’s about to leave for college. There hasn’t been another instance like it though. I’m beginning to think it was a fluke.

She’s been dating the guy from the baseball bat fiasco. He asked her out the next day, since the fall dance was coming up, and they’ve been dating ever since. It’s funny, I don’t technically exist to other people, and Susie’s forgotten about me, but I still feel protective over her. We age the same, so I’m also eighteen, but I feel older, in a way. When Kyle came over after they’d been dating for six months, I wanted to kick him out of the house. He didn’t try anything, but just seeing them on the couch together, watching The Avengers, I felt anxious.

She’s leaving home now, and everything is changing. She’s going to study digital art and writing to become a professional comic artist, and while I’ll have to follow, I feel like she’s leaving me behind. Her mother is selling the house, and she’ll be moving to a two bedroom apartment in Boston. So now everything will be new to me. I feel like a thread sticking out the end of a coat.

The car’s packed now, and she’s hugging her mother goodbye. Susie’s dressed in a light grey cloth jacket with large black buttons, slim jeans, and some brown boots. Her red and blue Spiderman scarf is the most colorful piece on her. Despite her otherwise dim outfit, she looks more excited than I’ve ever seen her. I can’t believe she’s eighteen.

*

There was one day we built a fort in the living room. We were nine, and we were watching as many Sponge-Bob episodes as we could before we fell asleep, all while eating ice cream. It’s Susie’s favorite food.

“It has everything you could want in it! It has milk, sugar, and you can add fruit, nuts, and even oatmeal. I think that makes it dinner, but mom won’t believe me,” Susie told me once.

“What if we added vegetables to it?” I knew it was a terrible idea, but I loved to annoy Susie with this stuff.

“What kind of question is that? Vegetables are awful in ice cream. They take away the sweetness.”

“What about cake?”

“Now you’re talking! I wish we still had some left.”

“We’re about out of ice cream anyway.” I had only ‘eaten’ two bowls, but that meant Susie had four, “Really, ‘Suz, you can sure eat a lot of ice cream.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Her face was red, but there was some ice cream dripping down her chin. She noticed it right away, and turned away to wipe her face.

I just laughed.

*

It’s been four years. Susie’s graduated college, and she just moved into an apartment located in an art museum in Chicago. In exchange for a place to live, she’s working as a tour guide, along with a couple of projects in designing pamphlets and displays in the children’s section.

She and Kyle ended up splitting after sophomore year in college. Both were becoming enveloped in their studies and dreams, and Kyle transferred to another college soon after in search of a stronger athletics program.

Susie has met a few friends here at the museum, including two other tenants. One’s a painter who’s been doing pieces for the museum to display. His name’s Chris, short for Christopher. He’s two years older than Susie, who’s 22 now, and he’s as passionate of a cook as he is painting. Every week he hosts a meal for the workers and tenants. The other tenant is a middle-aged woman who’s been coordinating events for the facility, named Becky. She’s a big gossip, and once she found out Susie loved ice cream, she told it to Chris. The next meal featured homemade ice cream served on a fruity angel food cake.

Lately I’ve been wandering the museum. I’ve been feeling weaker and more tired. Honestly, I’m exhausted, both mentally and emotionally. Since I don’t really have a physical body, it’s weird for me to feel this way. I think it’s because Susie has become more and more distant now, and I don’t think I’ll ever really get to say goodbye to her. It’s silly that I’ve stayed this long, almost like a doting parent. Susie’s a grown woman now, and I think that I’ll leave soon. I’ll start over, find a new child to watch over.

*

Chris is sitting next to Susie in the hospital. She’d just woken up. It was the evening she’d nearly been hit by a car. The doctors said she’d be able to leave the next morning, they just wanted to keep her overnight to make sure there’s no lasting head trauma.

He apologized for being so late, but she was frantic suddenly, and asked if Jason was okay.

“Who’s Jason?” Chris asked, she’d never mentioned him before.

*

Today was the last day I’d stay with Susie. It’s been six months, and today is technically my birthday. Susie was walking to meet Chris for coffee. They’d just started dating last month. They were about to celebrate Susie’s first serialization of her comic series about a young girl and her imaginary friend. It’d be in Barnes and Noble within a month.

She looked great today. There was a new confidence in her walk, and she was wearing her new spring dress. It was green with white stripes around the skirt. The weather was cool out, and the traffic was fairly light, for a city at least.

Despite the cheery atmosphere, something felt off. I was nervous, and my gut felt uneasy. I began to walk faster after Susie, who was about twenty feet ahead of me.

I began to look everywhere for what was wrong. Then I noticed Susie about to cross the street, except, even though the signal was on, one driver wasn’t paying attention as they turned, and Susie didn’t seem to notice. Her music was on and she looked enveloped in her thoughts.

I ran. Faster than I thought I ever could. Time felt slower, but I raced towards Susie, shoving her ahead just as soon as the car slammed into my body. It felt like a massive fist folding into my side, crushing my lungs. I curled sideways around the front of the car, and my entire body grew stiff and rubbery.

Susie hit the ground, and when my body collapsed to the ground, I felt real for the first time. It was wonderfully painful, but as soon as my vision cleared, I could tell nobody could see me, I’d gone invisible again. Even though no one would ever know it was me that saved Susie, it didn’t matter. She was safe. I didn’t know how the car could hit me, or how I could push Susie. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to my kind. I didn’t know why I still hurt, why I couldn’t lift myself up, and how I couldn’t breathe anymore. I looked towards Susie, and she seemed frozen. Her eyes were open, and she was breathing, but she was just staring towards me, confused. I wasn’t sure if she could see me.

I managed to just barely whisper, “What’s up, ‘Suz? You’re going to be just fine.” She just blinked twice, and her eyes shut as she passed out.

I soaked up this last moment. I didn’t know what would happen now. I was scared, but I felt complete again, like I’d made one last impact in Susie’s life. I memorized this moment as well as I could before the world finally turned black.

*

A year later, Susie stepped out from behind a heavy curtain, and was swallowed by stage-lights. A sleek, sharply-dressed television host spoke up, full of gusto and charm, “Today we have a special guest, everyone. Please welcome Susie Crest, creator of the number one best-selling comic series this year, Abby and Jason.”

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