“Mother!” Abbi tugged on her mother’s hand. “Mother!”
“Mmmhmmm.” Her mother didn’t bother to pull her nose from the novel she was currently buried nose-deep in. Slouched against the towering bookcases of the local bookstore, her mother looked like a frizzy-haired caterpillar in her voluminous tunic and huge frames.
“Mother, I need to go!” Abbi hissed, pulling her mother’s fingers until the joints popped.
“Then go.” Her mother turned the page.
“I can take her,” the clerk volunteered, watching from the counter. Abbi twisted and squirmed, gluing her thighs together. The clerk adored her mother and after weekly trips to the store, knew that the longer her mother stayed entrenched in her novel, the more novels she would purchase. Sometimes, Abbi felt the only way she would get her mother’s true attention was if she pressed herself onto blank white pages and bound herself up in hard pressed board and cloth. Abbi pressed the fingers to the front of her dress.
“Abbi, ladies don’t hold themselves,” her mother chastised, never lifting her eyes from the words.
“Mother, I’m going to wet myself!” she whined, her cheeks hot and cold at the same time. She shifted out of the path of the air conditioner to her mother’s left. What was it about icy air that made one’s bladder want to loosen?
“I really don’t mind taking her,” the clerk said, louder. The clerk really didn’t relish cleaning up a puddle of pity pee.
Her mother sighed and raised her annoyed eyes to her squirming daughter. “Abbi, the bathroom is right over there. You can go by yourself. You’re six years old.”
“But”– Abbi bit her lip. Her eyes shifted toward the clerk. The clerk pretended to stack and scan books, but her left ear was tilted toward them. “I’m scared of the bathroom,” she confided in the faintest whisper, barely louder than the flickering of her mother’s pages. “Please go with me.”
Her mother sighed, her sign that Abbi was being ridiculous and was to be barely tolerated. “Let me finish this chapter.” The clerk snickered and furious color flooded Abbi’s cheeks. She might have to pee, but she still had pride. “I’ll go by myself,” she announced, sticking her tongue out at the clerk. The clerk’s smile faded. “Are there any books you’d like me to pull for you, ma’am?” she asked, glaring as Abbi stormed past her.
The only thing that could rouse her mother from a book was the promise of more books. “Oh yes.” She closed the pages around her thumb and pointed. “I need the new Charles Roberts, the new Chelsea Brooks, the third and forth in the Magnolia Tea Rose Mystery series…”
Abbi closed the door on her mother’s demands and flipped on the light. The whispers started right away, soft and inviting. “Won’t you come see us, Abbi with an i? Won’t you come play?”
She hitched up her skirts, keeping her eyes trained on the floor. The whispers became orders. Playful orders, but still orders.
“You know we’re much more fun than any silly old book! Why would you want to read about an adventure when you could have one?”
Abbi began to hum. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands, careful to keep her eyes on her own terrified reflection. Something shimmered in the corner of her eye, but she would not look. Last time, she had barely made it out.
“Abbi.” They were singing now, so pretty and sweet. “Abbi with an i, won’t you come play? We miss you!” The paint rustled and a breeze fluttered the toilet paper. The water trickling onto her palms turned gold, flicked with glitter. “We’ll let you win this time. We promise.”
She scowled but didn’t respond. A bunch of cheats, they were. Drying her hands on the towel, she turned and twisted the doorknob. It wouldn’t turn. When she heard his voice behind her, she wasn’t surprised.
“Come on, Abbi with an i. Or are you scared?”
This time, she did turn, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes. The boy peered out of the wall-length mural, his sharp ears wiggling faster than the wings on his back. “Ah, there’s my pretty girl!”
“I’m not scared of anything. And I’m not your girl,” she sniffed. You couldn’t give fairies ownership of everything. You never knew what they would take.
“Some day, you might be.” He held out his hand, his curled fingernails kissing the pads of his fingertips. “Come on, Abbi with an i. The pixies are having a party and the elves have missed you.”
Abbi considered. “No witches or ogres this time.”
He nodded, but his lips teased with the blooming of a smile. “This will be the third time you’ve visited us, Abbi with an i. Are you comfortable with the terms of our arrangement?” Behind him, the flowers bloomed and trees rustled, drawing her in with their sweet scent. She glanced behind her, then shrugged. Her mother had her books, after all. Pressing her hand in his, she followed him into the painting.
Later that night, after a successful day at the shop thanks to a group of retirees and a few buses of tourists looking for local cookbooks, the clerk stopped in the restroom. She inspected the crow’s feet and etches across her forehead and grimaced. Drying her hands, she turned and looked at the painting, as she did every night. “Can you imagine children are afraid of you?” she smirked, returning the towel to the metal ring. “I can’t imagine why.”
She traced the fairy’s face, her lips outlining his impish grin. Next to him, a small girl in a blue dress was gathering daisies, her face turned to the yellow centers. The clerk hesitated. She went out and returned after a moment, leaving a book of fairy tales on top of the toilet. “It was your mother’s favorite. She bought it for you, earlier.”
The fairy didn’t stir. Neither did the girl. The clerk left for good this time, but didn’t turn off the light.
She didn’t want Abbi with an i to get scared, after all.
Stay tuned, Invisible Friends! A new fun week awaits! Have a wonderful Easter!