She swore she would never again tell the truth, at least not when it really mattered.
Telling the truth only hurt her parents and made the kids at school act like jerks. The truth forced her to sit in this room for an hour, three times a week. Defending her actions, thoughts, and emotions was taking its toll. The problem was, if your truth was different from the people around you, didn’t it become a lie?
“How was school today?” Doctor Abernathy asked.
“Fine,” she lied. She turned from the window to face him.
He sighed and brought his rollie chair around his desk to be close for their ‘casual conversation’. Three times a week for four weeks, and you think he would anticipate her preference for the window.
Her head was foggy and she tried to push it away. She needed to be sharp.
Elodie looked back out through the glass to the trees lining the parking lot; hedge maple, amur maple, sweet crabapple. Maple trees symbolized prosperity in many cultures, while an apple tree could be used for regeneration. Bitter rejuvenation. Somewhat fitting for the view. All under-watered from the drought, overpruned by poor maintenance, and jam-packed into the few feet of space separating the building from the parking lot. She could feel them in her bones, calling out for space, sunlight, and water. The fog flowed through her mind and she closed her eyes trying to focus on her immediate surroundings.
“And yesterday? Was school fine yesterday as well?” She opened her eyes and tried not to wince.
“Yep.” She didn’t make eye contact, he always got her when she looked him in the eye.
The doctor examined her with one eyebrow raised. She would try the expression later in a mirror to see if she could replicate the look. He dropped his gaze and took off his glasses. Pulling a small cloth out of his pocket, he cleaned each lens slowly as she waited for him to continue. Her parents were paying the bill, not her.
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. Your mother told me about the incident at lunch yesterday, I was worried you would be upset.” He put the glasses back on his nose. The cloth went back into his shirt pocket and he leaned back. His chair creaked loudly.
She shrugged, eyes firmly on the wheels of his chair.
“Elodie, what have we agreed about non-verbal responses?”
“It’s not helpful,” she responded.
“Correct. It is not helpful for what we are trying to accomplish. Now”—the doctor straightened out his arm as if readying the pen in his hand—“would you like to try again and tell me how your day was?”
Elodie sighed to herself. She didn’t have to lie, just downplay her feelings, and leave out anything which would make her mom close her eyes and start muttering under her breath.
She could do this.
“They made it into a bigger deal than it was,” she began. “Some kids were playing around and trying to get me to tell them another story. I didn’t feel like playing, so I told them no. They were pretending like my stories were real and one of the boys was sword fighting a pretend monster and accidentally knocked someone’s tray into my table right as Mr. Roberts walked by. He didn’t know it was just a game, so he talked to the principal.”
Doctor Abernathy shifted in his seat, and the long pause afterward almost made Elodie look up. Maybe he would believe her.
“To clarify, Jackson Gram didn’t intentionally drop a plate of spaghetti on your head?” the doctor asked.
No, he definitely didn’t believe her.
“I get how it may have seemed like it, but no, it was an accident.”
“And these boys were playing a game with you, not making fun of the fantasy world you say you belong in, or about the spell you tell me is trapping you in this world?” His voice dripped with skepticism.
He was silent again. Was this a thing all doctors did? Leave long pauses in the hopes their victims would crack?
“Up until now, you have been . . . adamant your stories were reality. You said you were living between two worlds, ours and a magical one. Do you no longer feel this way?”
This was it. Time to see if lying really would get her out of trouble. “It was just a game I used to play, but I think I’m done with it. Everyone got so mad at me for pretending my stories were real, it’s not fun anymore.”
She glanced up at the doctor to see if he was buying it. His eyebrows were raised and his mouth was slightly open. He schooled his features into the quizzical distant look she knew so well and cleared his throat.
“I’m done with all the fairy tales,” Elodie lied.
She glanced up again. He was examining her closely. She averted her eyes out the window again, watching the sway of the trees in the wind.
Doctor Abernathy cleared his throat again and leafed through his notebook. “So to clarify, you are saying you do not believe you are trapped in a spell?”
He peered at her with his eyebrows drawn together. “What planet were you born on?”
“Earth,” she said firmly.
“Nope. It was just made up.”
More flipping through pages full of tiny scribbled notes. “And you have never been to the Kingdom of Fourteen?”
“Sixteen,” she corrected automatically. “And no, it was pretend.”
Doctor Abernathy tapped his pen on his notepad, not taking his eyes off of her. “I thought there were only fourteen countries, not sixteen.”
Elodie sighed. “No, that was the point. There were originally sixteen but two of them got disassembled. That’s why they call it the Twoshy . . . in the stories I created. It doesn’t really matter. It was just pretend.”
“Right. And so you are saying you do not believe you are a princess and heir to the throne of”—he thumbed through his notes, and tapped a page with the end of his pen—“Aluna. You’re not really Princess Elodie of Aluna? The lost princess who was trapped in a spell by an evil wizard?”
“Of course not!” Elodie gave him a look as if to say she thought he was foolish. She thought it was a nice touch, and judging by his flabbergasted look, she counted it as a point to herself.
The doctor broke eye contact first, another point to the crazy girl, and flipped back through his notebook until he looked as if he’d found something good. He nodded slightly to himself, then looked back to Elodie, his eyes narrowed. “So it was all a game? Everything about the Two–shy was made up? All the friends you have told me so much about, even the wizard Gediminas?”
This one was harder for her. The bottom of her stomach was slowly sinking into her shoes. Would it be betraying them to say they weren’t real? No. This world wasn’t real, she was trapped in it and had to do whatever it took to survive until she was free. While she was here, living in this world where magic made her strange, she could pretend like they didn’t exist.
“Nope. They were made up. I made it all up to make myself feel more special,” she parroted. The words were familiar to her. So many times she heard her mom say the same to her dad.
He grilled her for a few more minutes as though trying to catch Elodie out on a lie, but she tried to keep her answers short. It was hard. She made sure to use words like childish and immature a few times with scorn to make it clear this was a decision derived from the enlightenment of her age.
She wasn’t sure he believed her, but he seemed satisfied with her answers and moved on to asking her how she felt about going to school the next day.
When her hour was up, Elodie tried not to show her impatience as she said her goodbye, and opened the office door to her mother flipping through magazines in the waiting room.
“Finished already?” Elodie’s mother asked in a sugary voice.
Her mother adjusted Elodie’s shirt. The movement had become a ritual, her mom pulling the collar of Elodie’s shirt higher until the edge of her stark-brown birthmark was hidden.
Her mom had a running theory it wasn’t really a birthmark at all, regardless of what the pediatrician said. It must be a tattoo. No birthmark was such a clear and distinct shape. Once or twice Elodie overheard conversations, when her mother said the adoption agency kept Elodie fully clothed during their visits to hide the strange mark. It was a crack in the frame of an expensive TV the salesperson covered up, and now they were past their return policy and couldn’t get a perfect model.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Harper,” Doctor Abernathy said. “Before you leave, I wanted a moment to talk about Elodie’s prescription.”
“I’ll be in the car.” Elodie picked up her backpack and headed for the door.
“I think we should keep her dosage where it’s at for the moment, and see how things . . .”
Elodie walked out into the large, open lobby toward the scent of fresh air. Things had gone well considering this was her first time outright lying to an adult. Still, a knot formed in the pit of her stomach.
Wizard Gediminas always said truth and magic were tied together. If a mage wasn’t honest, the fallacy bled into their spells and could cause the spell to break down, backfire, or explode. Gedas was just beginning to teach her what her small plant magic was capable of, but Elodie still felt like not being truthful was a mark against her soul or conscience or whatever was inside of her.
“Hey, Harpy! What are you doing here?”
Elodie stopped, her body cringing at the voice. In the middle of the lobby was a stone fountain, with a wide bench wrapped around. On the bench sat Greg Roberts, Jackson’s best friend, pale skin, dirty blond hair and a nasty glint in his shining blue eyes.
Greg looked back toward the office door Elodie had emerged from and squinted as though reading the nameplate and profession on the door.
“Woah, you really are crazy, aren’t you?”
Elodie’s heart began to pound and the blood rushed into her cheeks. She turned and kept walking toward the exit.
“Hey, wait up!”
Feet pounded behind her as Greg ran up to her. She wanted to run, but he would only make fun of her. She should say something smart or sarcastic to get him to leave her alone.
Her mind went blank, and she gave up on the idea. He would find a way to make her feel dumb for anything she said.
“I knew a kid who used to go to that same office. Doctor Abernathy, right? The kid was so crazy he got locked up in some institution. His parents couldn’t deal with him, and the doctors couldn’t fix him, so they shipped him off.”
Elodie stopped walking. The world tilted for a moment and the blood rushed out of her head. Her parents wouldn’t lock her up. It had to be nonsense. They may look sometimes like they regretted adopting her, but they wouldn’t lock her up.
Greg was examining her, a small smile on his face. “So how much longer do you think we’ll have to deal with you before they send you away?”
A door with a large happy tooth logo opened to their right and a tall beautiful blond woman walked out with a boy who looked like an older version of Greg.
“Greg honey, ready to go?” the woman asked, looking their way.
“Be right there, Mom!” Greg said. He turned back to Elodie. “See you at school, Harpy!” His voice was cheerful and warm and burned against Elodie as he caught up to his family and left the building.
Elodie stood there speechless. She knew her parents were mad at her, but she hadn’t imagined they would send her away. She felt sick.
Stepping out of the stuffy building, Elodie saw her mom’s SUV parked near the small strip of trees. She made her way to the closest tree, standing in the shade of the yellowing leaves. She put one hand on the gray, black bark, ridged and furrowed under her hand, and let the plant’s steady nature seep into her. Reaching into the tree’s leaves, she plucked a few of the maple’s winged seeds and tucked them into a pocket.
If Elodie became a tree she vowed never to be a hedge maple, and to never be planted in a parking lot. Trees lent peace and protection to their surroundings, while magically they provided strength. Standing there, she had to put the feeling of otherness out of her mind and ignore what she felt from the tree. It was a good way to clear her head and let the anxiety and fear leave her.
Gedas always said trees didn’t have feelings, they weren’t sentient. While Elodie knew he was probably correct, when her magic made a diagnostic scan of the plants around her it was easier to understand the results by thinking of them as feelings. The plants felt sentient to her.
If her mom overheard, she would say such notions were exactly why she had to take pills, and why she had to talk to Doctor Abernathy, and for goodness sake to get such dangerous ideas out of her mind.
By the time her mom exited the building, Elodie was out from under the tree, and leaning against the locked car. The locks clicked and Elodie opened the door and was buckled in before her mom reached her.
Her mom was silent as they left the parking space and drove to the end of the lot before sitting with the blinker on, waiting for a gap in traffic.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Her mother merged into traffic.
“Doctor Abernathy told me you had a great session. He said I should ask you about it,” her mom said in her sweetly scripted voice. “So honey, would you like to tell me what you talked about? Did you tell him another story?” The question was posed with a shaky note, and Elodie prepared herself for what she hoped would be a short conversation.
“No, Mom, I didn’t tell him any stories. I told him I was done playing that game.”
“What game are we talking about exactly, honey?”
Elodie took a deep breath. After years of her mother ordering her to stop making up stories and to quit playing pretend, after years and years of yelling back, pleading, praying, begging for her mother to believe she was telling the truth, Elodie was going to surrender the battle. There was this part of her, deep in her chest that shook with rage at giving up. Her pride wanted to dig in and never back down. Realizing she was clenching her fists, Elodie forced herself to relax and stick her hands in her jacket pockets. She fingered the winged seeds.
“I told him I was done pretending magic and the Twoshy were real. It was a fun game when I was little, but everyone started taking it so seriously, and it’s not fun anymore.”
Silence reigned again. The car rolled to a stop at the next red light. Elodie threaded the maple seed pod through her fingers and listened for her mother’s reaction. Nonverbal communication really did suck when you were trying not to look at someone.
“It was all pretend?” her mother asked, her voice soft and breathy.
Was it disbelief in her voice? Elodie hoped not. “Yeah.”
The light turned green. “So, you don’t believe it’s all real?”
Yep, definitely disbelief.
“I never did, Mom.” Her voice wavered, full of defeat. “It was all imagination. Magic, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Hogwarts, God, the Twoshy. Didn’t Dad say last week when I lost my molar, twelve was old enough to know the Tooth Fairy isn’t real and to grow up and stop playing make-believe?”
She saw her mom flinch out of the corner of her eye. She probably hadn’t realized Elodie heard that particular discussion.
“Well I’m stopping now,” Elodie said.
The overheard conversation between her parents made its way back through her mind. “Could it be genetic?” her father had asked. The fear of a closed adoption. Maybe her birth mother had been forced to give up Elodie due to mental illness. Maybe Elodie would follow the same path.
Her mom didn’t speak, and Elodie resigned herself to looking out the window. She tracked their progress on the familiar route home. When they passed the high school and pulled onto their road, her mom finally spoke.
“Maybe it’s for the best, honey. Maybe make-believe and pretending is too dangerous for you. If this whole time you really have been playing a game in your head, it clearly got out of hand. You do see that, right? How your game has hurt people?” There was a realness in her mother’s voice Elodie didn’t think she’d ever heard.
“What about when you went missing? We searched and searched for so long. The police set up alerts looking for you all over the state, the mall went on lockdown. And then for weeks . . .” Her voice broke, and she took a deep breath as she pulled into the driveway and turned to her daughter. Elodie faced her. “Elodie, we thought you were dead. Do you understand?” A tear fell out of her mother’s eye. She’d never seen her mother cry, and the sight was shocking.
Maybe lying really would be for the best.
Her mother wiped away the tear and took a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice was solid. “I’m not going to ask you right now what you were really doing when you went missing. We can have the conversation another day, but, Elodie, I want you to really think about what you’re saying. I want you to decide if admitting it was all a game is true, or . . . Well, just think about why you’re saying this now. Why after pretending this fantasy was real, are you suddenly willing to admit you made it up? Why now?”
Elodie looked at her mom with so many questions on the tip of her brain, but only nodded. Satisfied, her mom exited the car.
Elodie hung back, sitting in the car in their shady driveway. The afternoon sun shone through the thick canopy of the old oak tree filling their front yard. She tried to figure out what exactly her mom wanted her to think about. The way she’d asked her ‘why now’, there was a point she wasn’t getting, some fact her mother saw and Elodie hadn’t made the connection to. In the end it didn’t really matter since she was lying about it all anyway.
The Twoshy was real. Magic was real, even if she could barely feel it in this world. The wizard Gedas, and everyone living in Aluna, her kingdom, they were all real. None of it would change just because of what she told her parents and Doctor Abernathy.