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Braelyn Schulz

Make-Believe


Tobias wasn’t a child anymore. You knew that. Still, calling the detail to mind was like a punch in the face. Not that you were aware of what that felt like, but you could imagine it, just like Tobias could imagine you. He referred to you as Jack, but his therapist referred to you as his “make-believe friend” that he should simply try to forget. He couldn’t forget you, though, not for many years. He needed you as much as you needed him. Lately, though, he didn’t think about you as much, and so you remained in the back of his mind, staying planted in the corner of his room like a gentle reminder that you were always there for him in case he needed you.

            You remembered the first time Tobias had thought of you. It was a bitter day for everyone, but to you, it was the start of what you thought could be a lifelong friendship. His middle school had been closed for a week or two because of something you’d heard about only briefly, Tobias mentioning “gun violence” once and never speaking about it again. He’d wandered out into the forest at the outskirts of his neighborhood to go visit a treehouse he and his dad had built, and when he climbed the ladder, he came face to face with you.

            “Hi there! I’m Jack,” you smiled, and he smiled back instantly.

            “Nice to meet you,” he shook your hand. He didn’t introduce himself, but there was no need. You already knew who he was.

            The two of you walked back to his house, carrying easy conversation the entire way. When you walked through his back door, a woman came rushing over to Tobias, completely ignoring you.

            “Where have you been?” the woman fretted. She looked exhausted, the bags under her eyes purple with fatigue.

            “I was out for a walk with Jack,” Tobias shrugged. The tired lady froze at the words. “Mom, what’s wrong?”

            “Jack? Tobias, honey, Jack is…” she trailed off. Tobias looked confused. You hung your head. “Never mind.” She left the room, grabbing her phone on the way out.

            “I don’t think she likes me too much,” you whispered. He shrugged again.

            “I don’t know what her problem is. She’s been worrying a lot lately, but I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Tobias assured you.

            Eventually, Tobias went back to school. You followed him, of course. You went everywhere with him. Well, everywhere except to the therapist’s. The one and only time you tried entering the office, the lady slammed the door on your face, leaving you to wait outside. You hated the therapist. She said awful things about you to Tobias, even though he tried to convince you he didn’t believe her.

            In high school, you were in the cafeteria when an ape of a teenager tripped Tobias, sending him sprawling onto the floor. The kids surrounding him whooped with laughter. “Where’s Jack?” the boy sneered. Tobias looked up to where you stood, and you stared back, as helpless as he was. “You think he’s gonna protect you?” More laughter. Tobias ran off, you chasing after him.

            “Tobias, I’m sorry,” you called to him, but he didn’t turn around. You could sense he was mad, but not at you. Suddenly, you felt something change, as if a part of you had gone missing. You stopped walking, and Tobias kept going.

            After school that day, when you arrived at his house, you took a step forward to follow Tobias inside, but the door slammed shut. You stood there, bewildered. Did he forget about you? He couldn’t, not that quickly. You spent the night on the porch, and the next morning, he stepped outside, looked down at you, and then left without saying a word, you following behind.

            As time advanced, Tobias began talking to you less and less. His visits with the therapist were lessening as well, but strangely enough, that wasn’t helping your friendship. For the first time, you heard him talk about Jack. It came up one night when he and his mom were eating supper together.

            “I went to the cemetery today,” Tobias spoke suddenly.

            “Oh?” his mom prompted him to continue.

            “I visited Jack,” he replied. You looked up from your place in the corner, frowning. He visited Jack? You were Jack, and you were with him all the time. “I miss him.”

            “By Jack, do you mean…” his mom paused.

            “Real Jack,” Tobias finished her sentence. You gasped.

            “Real Jack?” You yelled. Tobias flinched, but said nothing. “I’m real Jack, in case you weren’t aware.”

            “The medicine that Dr. Roberts gave me has been helping, I think,” Tobias ignored you. “I haven’t been talking to my make-believe friend as much.” You felt a pang in your chest, and suddenly you felt as though a mile had been placed between yourself and Tobias.

            “That’s wonderful, sweetheart,” his mom smiled. You left the room.

            You remembered the last time Tobias thought of you. It was a bitter day, and it broke your heart to see him forgetting you, but you knew it would happen eventually. Tobias wasn’t a child anymore, after all.