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Imaginary Friends

Bio: Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. Her Web page is here: https://carpelibris.wordpress.com/

****Editor's Note: Trigger warning. Loss of a child.****
"Mom! Mom! Can Icya stay for dinner?"
Gina turned around slowly. Ryan stood in the doorway, tousled and muddy, his four-year-old face aglow. There was no one on the porch with him.
"Um, what was your friend's name again, sweetheart?"
"Icya." He sounded it out for the benefit of her aging adult ears. "Eee-See-Ya. He's from the moon."
"The moon, really?" Gina pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Bob wasn't going to like hearing their son talk like this. He thought that imaginary friends were a symptom of something wrong with a person's mind.
"I don't know, Ryan honey. Maybe he can't eat our food. What do moon boys eat?"
"Ice cream. And candy." Ryan tilted his head as though listening to a smaller child. "Icya likes peppermints best."
"Just like you." Gina smiled. "Doesn't Icya have to be back home to the moon before dark? Once it's up in the air it'll be pretty far away."
Ryan's face fell. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He held a quick whispered conversation with his invisible buddy, then stood waving and calling "Bye-bye, Icya! Seeya tomorrow!" Gina gave a little wave herself. Mrs. Davis, coming out to take down her laundry, gave her an odd look, but Ryan's joy was worth it.
"You waved too, Mom! You believe me."
"Of course. Now, come inside before you let the bugs in, and I'll tell you a story while we wait for Daddy to come home."
The rocker had stopped squeaking. Bob must have oiled it like he said he would, despite all his talk about putting the rocker and the crib away.
Gina sat with Ryan on her lap, rocking gently. Soon he'd be too big for this. In fact, next year he'd be five. School age. Her heart turned over just thinking about it. She remembered all the nights she'd spent in this rocker, swaying back and forth with a warm bundle in her arms, resisting Bob's pleas to come to bed.
"Yes, Ryan?"
"Mrs. Davis said she couldn't see Icya. That he wasn't really there. But he's my friend!"
"I know, Sweetie. It's all right."
The front door opened. Gina stopped rocking and straightened up, listening to the sound of her husband's footsteps in the hall.
"Gina? Where are you? What..." He stopped, taking in the sight of Gina in the rocker. "Oh, honey. Have you been here all day? In the dark?"
"I just sat down to rest for a bit." Ryan had vanished, as he always did when anyone else came into the room. No, Bob didn't approve of invisible friends. Or invisible children. But the hurt in his face, and the love, were so deep that Gina didn't have the heart to say anything about Ryan. She left the room, with its rocker and dusty crib. Ryan always slept through the night. He was such a good boy. Time to get Bob his dinner. Maybe spaghetti. His favorite. That might get him to smile again.
"Sleep tight, Ryan sweetie," she whispered, and closed the door behind her.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 19th, 2022
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