Joanna’s first conscious thought was that she had fallen off a cliff or into a cement mixer. Was she dreaming? No. Even violent dreams, as scary as they could be, lack physical pain, and every inch of her body screamed with pain. She heard moaning, then realized the moans were her own. The voices around her were muffled, but someone was pleading with a figure in white, “Please, she’s in terrible pain.” Thank God for the person pleading her case. She struggled to open her eyes but gave up the fight and let the murky darkness claim her once again.
The next time she became aware of her surroundings, the room was bright, and her pain was more manageable. Her dad was at her bedside holding her hand. He was visibly shaken. The pain is his eyes frightened her more than her own pain.”
“Welcome back, honey.”
Her voice was scratchy. “What awful thing happened to me between the time I went to bed last night and now?”
“You were hit by a car?”
“How is that possible? Did I sleepwalk?”
“I think you have lost some time, honey. Thursday was your last day at Crow’s Nest. You worked until four thirty. We planned to meet for an early dinner at five. According to two witnesses, you were standing at the corner of McFarland and Broad Street waiting for a green light when an assailant pushed you into the street. Fortunately, the driver who hit you had excellent reflexes. Although you have significant injuries, it is only by the grace of God and Ms. Brownlee’s driving skills that you are alive.”
“What day is it?”
“Today is Saturday.”
She mused, “The last thing I remember is going to bed Wednesday evening, and that memory is fuzzy. I can’t believe I lost two whole days.
“Dr. Loomis said you might not remember the accident.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing.” She glanced down at her right wrist and left arm. “Thank heavens I’ve finished Judy’s illustrations. I wouldn’t want to hold up her book’s publication date.”
Her dad shook his head. “Leave it to you to be thinking about someone else’s inconvenience.”
“My insides feel like scrambled eggs. Do I have internal injuries?”
“Miraculously, no. Severe bruising from being hit by a 2,800-pound-car will do that you. In addition to your broken wrist and arm, your right hip and shoulder are severely bruised. You also sustained abrasions, contusions, and a mild concussion.”
She sighed. “This isn’t the way I expected to spend my week of vacation. Please tell me that I am not going to be stuck in the hospital for too much longer. If I have to suffer, I would much rather be in my own bed.”
“Until your pain is more manageable, you are much better off here, honey.”
Joanna wasn’t happy about the situation, but she didn’t have the energy to argue.
“What about the person who hit me? Was she injured?”
“No, but she was badly shaken. She felt responsible for your injuries although there was no way she could have prevented the accident. When the EMT’s released her, she came to the hospital to check on you. She stayed until we received the doctor’s report. Polly has been in and out, and so has Alex. Ed and Betty stopped by to check on you, and several of your friends have called.”
“Tell me again about the witnesses. Who are they and what did they see? Could the push have been accidental?”
“A thirty-five-year-old female and a sixteen-year-old male. Both said the push was deliberate. Ms. Blackburn agreed.”
“I don’t suppose the witnesses could identify the person who pushed me.”
“Neither witness saw the man’s face.”
A slow burning anger washed over Joanna. “I have a good idea who the assailant was.”
“According to Sam, the assailant’s name is Chip Singleton.”
“Sam?” She asked in disbelief, “Was Sam at the scene of the accident?”
“I didn’t see him, but he claims he was.”
She shook her head in frustration. “Unless you are willing to make an anonymous phone call to the police, any information Sam gave you is useless.”
“Not entirely. At least you have confirmation that your suspicions are correct.”
“How does that help when the witness doesn’t have a face? I am shocked that Sam actually spoke to you.”
“It isn’t the first time we have had a conversation.”
“Really? And here I thought I had kept Sam’s friendship a secret.”
He shrugged. “Our first conversation occurred when he was little more than a child.”
“When we lived in Brighton Heights. Your mom’s death was devastating for both of us. At the time, I was so wrapped up in my own grief I was oblivious to what was happening to you. I should have realized you were retreating into a world of your own. Polly showed up at the house one evening and handed me a list of reasons why you needed to be living with a caregiver instead of a housekeeper. Sam was one of the reasons she listed.
“I was aware that you had an imaginary friend. I thought Polly was overacting. I had imaginary friends as a child, so it seemed natural that you did.”
“Friends? How many did you have?”
“An entire community. Do you remember seeing the photographs of the train set I had when I was a child?”
She nodded. “You mean your Taylorsville community? Your train set was a minor part of the town.”
He chuckled. “My obsession started with the train set. I began collecting tunnels, bridges, houses, shops, trees, and other accessories for the town when I was six. By the time I was twelve, I had built the town of Taylorsville around the train track. I chose names for all of the families who lived and worked in Taylorsville, and I knew their histories. I knew which families were friends, and which families were feuding. I even knew their dogs and cats names. I spent hours interacting with the people of Taylorsville, so the idea of imaginary friends was not threatening.
“While I was involved with my town, my friends were into Superman, Spiderman or cowboys and the girls I knew were imagining all kinds of activities with their baby dolls or Barbie’s. I’ve always considered imagination one of the best parts of childhood.
“It wasn’t until I went to your room one evening to tell you it was bedtime that I realized that Sam had capabilities that most imaginary friends don’t have. When I reached for the doorknob, I heard voices. I hurriedly opened the door to find that you were alone. The incident was unsettling. Later that evening, I was in my office cat napping when I heard the same voice I heard in your room. I think I muttered something about hearing voices because Sam laughed.
“I don’t remember his exact words, but he made it clear that I was an irresponsible dad. He told me that unless I wanted to lose you entirely that I needed to find a caregiver who was concerned about your welfare. He suggested that Polly’s house was a good choice. I had already given Polly’s list a lot of thought, but it was Sam who convinced me to act quickly. The next day, I packed some of your clothes and took you to her house. She already had a room ready for you. I fully intended to pack up all of your toys and take them to Polly’s, but the only toys you wanted were your stuffed bunny, your bike, and your art supplies.”
“And I never knew Sam played a part in your decision. Thanks for sharing, Dad.”
“I would have shared the information before now, but like you, it is unsettling to talk about him.
“I’m grateful somebody understands my dilemma when trying to come up with words to describe Sam’s friendship. When I was old enough to realize that imaginary friends were only for young kids, I was devastated. I asked Sam why he had to go away. He promised to hang around as long as I needed him. He said that a lot of creative people had imaginary friends. True or not, his answer calmed some of my fears.
“I am not by nature secretive, it is just that as a teacher, I need to be taken seriously. I guess you could say that by keeping Sam’s identity a secret, I’m protecting myself.”
“We all do that in one way or another. There are many things in this world that can’t be logically explained. I explained Sam away by convincing myself that it was my conscious talking to me. After yesterday, I have accepted that Sam exits.”
Joanna took a deep breath. “I don’t understand Sam existence any more than you do, Dad, but he has been a great friend.”
“In time, imaginary friends are typically replaced by childhood playmates. After moving in with Polly, your lack of friends was no longer an issue. Since you didn’t mention Sam, I assumed that he was nothing more than a fond memory.”
“He disappeared for a time after I moved in with Aunt Polly. I had almost forgotten about him until he reappeared when I was in eighth grade. That was the year I was having self-esteem issues. Rhonda’s jabs were particularly vicious, and I was still way behind the other girls in physical development. Then, when I was in high school, he occasionally showed up to warn me about an unsuitable boy I had my eye on. The next time I saw him was the evening Matt proposed. When I returned to my room, Sam was there to warn me not to rush into marriage. I was angry with him at the time, but he was far more objective about Matthew’s true colors than I was.
“He has been around off and on since Matthew married Megan. He claims that he has an assignment, whatever that means, and he will leave when he has completed his assignment.”
“Have you asked Sam where he goes when he isn’t here in Fairview?
“Dozens of times. He claims I wouldn’t understand if he told me.”
“Probably not. Getting back to Chip Singleton, why does the name Singleton sound familiar?”
“Chip’s dad is Martin Singleton, the president of Fairview National Bank. His friends believe that he lacks a sense of responsibility because he’s never held down a job. He can be generous, but only when it suits him. He drives a late model BMW and wears designer clothes. In winter he spends his time on ski slopes and in the summer he can usually be found on a golf course. In other words, he has led a privileged life.
“According to Logan Cox, Chip’s parents have used their influence to cover up Chip’s brushes with the law. He was recently picked up for selling drugs, and the police weren’t as lenient as they had been in the past. He was given probation and ordered to complete 20 hours of community service. He was hopping mad that he had to go to court.”
“Why was Sam involved?”
“It’s complicated, and my mind is still too fuzzy to explain.”
“In that case, your explanation can wait. Unless I’m mistaken, I hear the rumbling of the breakfast cart moving this way. I need to go home and get some sleep. I’ll be back later today.” He stood, leaned over, and kissed her cheek. “Love you, honey.”
“Love you back, Dad.”