"Four o'clock and all is well," she murmured to herself under her breath, wrapping up her review of the week's finances. Things had certainly improved since the summer, oddly enough. Perhaps the holiday season approaching was simply bringing out the generosity in their donors. With a satisfied sigh, she set her paperwork aside, her eye catching one of the framed photographs on her desk. It depicted a short old woman with a cane and glasses grinning widely beside an enormous stout rabbit twice her size, expression vacant - he wore a top hat, monocle, and vest.
I hope you guys are proud of me.
"Miss Foster-Miss Foster-Miss Foster~" sang an excited and familiar tone from the hall, its owner pounding on her office door with ferocity.
The red-headed woman chuckled to herself and slowly shook her head.
"Come in, Goo."
The door burst open and a hyperactive, dark skinned twenty-year-old with freckles and wide eyes stared through the doorway with wonder.
"The Miyazaki family is heeeere, Frankie," Goo chimed.
"Right, four o'clock appointment," Miss Foster muttered, her mind dashing about, having all but forgotten the arranged meeting. "Gimme just a sec and I'll go down with you."
The frizzy-haired girl in the overalls impatiently wobbled to and fro as Frankie retrieved the proper adoption documents and a clipboard to go with it. As she reached Goo, she gently rotated the girl's body so as to face the hallway and eased her to follow along. As they made their way through the rickety hall, various beasts of every color and shape passed by, grunting 'hellos' and going about their business. As they approached the first floor, Frankie checked up on a couple of things.
"How's the laundry coming, Goo?"
"Ship shape, Captain!" replied the quirky girl in the banana yellow sneakers, providing Frankie with a salute. At least Frankie had managed to get her to graduate from bright cowboy boots to sneakers.
"Great. Did you manage to get Big Bum Joe to clean up the mess he made in the Arcade Room?"
"A-yup, a-yup, I sure did, Miss Foster."
"Awesome. While I'm with the family, you get everyone started on dinner, all right?"
"Yooooo got it!"
They made their way down the extravagant staircase in the main lobby of the first floor, and Goo scampered off to the kitchen area while Frankie shifted her bangs a bit and waved to the timid family waiting by the entrance. Somewhere along the line, Frankie had gotten used to the feeling of a suit, though she preferred a deep shade of purple as opposed to something drab like gray or brown.
"Hello," she greeted with the formality she had grown so accustomed to using. "Welcome to Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. I'm Frankie Foster, the Estate Manager." She extended an eager hand and the elderly gentleman who was overlooking the child shook it - his grandfather. She knelt down to the short, scrawny boy with a bowlcut and said, "And you must be Ethan."
"Uh-huh," he nodded with vigor, eyes aglow and wandering across the room to all of the friends around him.
"Did you have any idea of what kind of imaginary friend you wanted to adopt?" Frankie asked sweetly.
"Umm..." He bit his lip and tapped his foot, scratching his head roughly. Frankie laughed at his indeciveness and gave him a gentle pat on the head.
"That's OK, Ethan - let's have a look around and find out who will make a good fit for you."
They proceeded with a tour of the house. When they reached the backyard basketball court, Ethan went about introducing himself to the crowd of friends who were taking a break during halftime.
"He's a shy one," Mr. Miyazaki explained solemnly. "He doesn't seem to have any friends at school. I simply don't know what to do for the boy."
"What happened to his parents?" Frankie wondered, a knowing sense of dread hanging over their conversation.
"A car accident, seven months ago. Poor child hasn't been the same since. He only seems receptive to stories, fantasies...anything that's not real."
"Mm," Frankie hummed with a thoughtful nod. "And you thought maybe an imaginary friend could help develop some social skills."
Where's Mommy and Daddy? I wanna go home!I'm sorry, Frankie, Dear. But your Mommy and Daddy aren't going to be able to see you anymore.How come, Grandma?
"Speaking from experience," Frankie assured, "I can tell you that imaginary friends can definitely help a kid learn how to make friends with other kids."
"Yoos stay sharp dere, Kid," growled out a gruff friend, noogying Ethan across the head as gently as his thuggish orange body would allow.
"Nice to meet you," Ethan squeaked out politely to the creatures as he came back to the two adults.
"Meet anyone you like?" Frankie wondered.
"They are...all nice," the child mumbled. "But they are too big for me!"
"Ahaha!" Frankie belted out a chuckle as they headed back inside, continuing their tour. "So you're looking for a smaller friend, huh?"
Ethan nodded briskly, grabbing his grandfather's hand. As they made their way down the hall, a familiar childish voice cried out to them.
She smiled at the sound as a small boy composed of a collage of burlap and fabrics pranced their way, his eyes bright, as usual. He was carrying a rubber ball and a small stuffed rabbit.
"Hey, Bud," Frankie greeted warmly, humored by his ever-present enthusiasm.
"Watch-watch-watch!" the imaginary friend cried with prideful jubilation, seemingly unaware that Frankie was busy. He threw the bunny up in the air high. As it arced, he threw the rubber ball at it. His body went limp, collapsing to the floor, while the ball collided with the stuffed rabbit in mid-air. The toy sprang to life as large eyes and grin spread across its head. It flipped aound and landed on its feet in a dramatic pose. "Ta-da!~"
Frankie smirked and clapped her hands together in contained amusement.
"That was great," Frankie congratulated. "Did you see what he did there?" she asked her company. Ethan seemed confused, so the friend, now assuming the form of a rabbit, picked up the rubber ball off the floor and handed it to Ethan. As he did so, his simple face - two eyes and a mouth - slid down from the rabbit head, shrunk, and attached itself to the ball. He winked at Ethan as he bounced across the boys fingers.
"Woooow," Ethan murmured, accenting his awe with a giggle. "Cooool!"
"Pretty neat, right?" said Frankie.
"I like this one! This one, Grampy! This one!"
Frankie's intestines wound themselves into a knot as Ethan bounced up and down, the expression on the ball in his hands bulged with enthusiasm.
"Th-that one-..." Frankie began, trailing off as the quiet boy exploded with excitement, tugging at his grandfather's shirt. "We have...plenty of other friends you haven't met yet, are you sure-?"
"This one-this one-this one!"
Frankie's head felt light and her guts churned with uncertainty but she couldn't deny the joy pouring out of the child like a waterfall as he and the imaginary friend frolicked about, the floating face moving into the stuffed rabbit and back into its original body.
"O-OK, well...Let me...I can look into that for you. You're sure you don't want to meet any of the others?"
"I like him thiiiiisssss much!" Ethan shouted, stretching his arms out wide.
"Gosh, I think we've found a winner," the grandfather guffawed.
"All...all right," Frankie muttered, fiddling her hands together. She took a deep breath, somewhat flustered by how easily the imaginary friend seemed to be taking the idea of finally leaving the house after all these years. "Let's head to my office and I'll...get the paperwork you need, then."
The walk to Frankie's desk was long and daunting as memories swirled through her mind of people she had once known who had left. It struck her like a sack of bricks that ever since she had taken up this job, this one single friend was the very last one who had been a resident on the day of her induction who had not yet been adopted. Every other member of the house had been changed out over time, and, to her realization, this one friend had likely remained due to her own unwillingness to let him go. Any other time someone had requested that friend, it had been immediately dismissed, but for some reason, on this day, that friend seemed fine with the idea of leaving.
"So, umm..." Frankie directed them to the bench in the hall beside her door. "If you can wait here a moment, I'll get everything ready for you." She met the eyes of the ragdoll with a face and nodded him along. His demeanor had drizzled into a wistful sulk during their trek across the mansion.
Frankie approached her desk and began to scribble away at the proper documentation, going through the same motions she had done so many times before, her mind elsewhere.
"You're...actually gonna let me get adopted this time?" inquired the child's voice from her side. Frankie was forced with the truth of the matter: she had grown older, she had changed, but he had stayed the same, as imaginary friends do. She had more responsibilities to uphold and couldn't shower him with affection the way she once could.
"Is that...what you want?" she wondered.
The friend paused to reflect on the situation.
"I think so," he confessed. "I've been here for so long, but...It'd be real nice to go out and see more of the world. The real one."
In the same way this friend had once been imprisoned inside a magical toy chest, in some ways, she had not really freed him from imprisonment, but merely changed his prison. He'd volunteered to be stuck inside it - the same way she'd chosen to remain inside that chest.
"Well..." Frankie rubbed her hand across his stitched head. "If it's what you want, Kiddo, then go for it." Frankie had her doubts about this. The situation reminded her of one she had dealt with mere months ago.
"Have you thought this through, Mac?"
"'Course I have, Frankie. Why?"
"Because...-" Frankie shrugged and shook her head dubiously. "I always thought you'd head off to college."
"College isn't for everybody, though. I'm so sick of school." Mac scribbled his signature onto the documentation and handed it to Frankie. "Besides, I can always go later on if I need to."
"Don't you want to?"
"Nnnnot really," Mac grumbled, off-put by her insistence. "I wouldn't be able to take Bloo with me there, anyway. Are you crazy?"
"Listen." Frankie pressed a hand on his shoulder as he made to sign another sheet. "Mac." She took a deep breath and pried to receive his gaze. "You're eighteen now. Don't you want to...see the world? Do something with yourself?"
"Are you kidding?" Mac countered. "Of course I do. I don't wanna be stuck in a stuffy dorm at a dumb campus where there's rules and crap."
"So you're just going to...What? Get an apartment somewhere with your imaginary friend?"
"Mac," Frankie pleaded, squeezing his arm. "I'm really not sure this is what's best for you."
Mac glared at her before shrugging her hand off and continuing to sign.
"Right," he growled. "'Cuz you think I'm too old for imaginary friends..."
"Kind of," Frankie admitted. "I mean, if they're going to hold you back from-"
"You're such a hypocrite," interjected Mac with a ferocious bite. "How old are you? And you live in a house full of them..."
"I think it's a little different, Mac. I have to stay here - I'm in charge. That's my job: to help make kids lives easier. Kids, Mac. You're supposed to be an adult now."
"Bloo is my best friend, Frankie."
"I understand, Mac, but Bloo isn't a...-"
"What? Huh? He isn't a real person?"
"Well...No, he isn't," Frankie sighed. "Bloo still acts just like a little kid, because that's what you were when you imagined him."
"What's wrong with that? That's how he is."
"I'm just not so sure he's been a good influence on you lately, Bud..."
"You're not my freakin' mom, Frankie."
"That doesn't mean I'm not allowed to be worried about you, Mac. You're like a little brother to me."
"Pff. Yea. A little brother," he grumbled with dissatisfaction. "Whoop-dee-doo."
"Ugh, Mac," Frankie puffed out irritably. "Get over it, OK? That's in the past."
"Damn straight it is," Mac agreed defiantly as he slapped another sheet of paperwork on the pile and set to work on the next.
"This..." Frankie grabbed her forehead as if to hold back her increasing headache. "That's not what we're discussing right now, anyway," Frankie dismissed the matter, a bit shocked that he still seemd bent out of shape over unrequited puppy love from years ago. "The point is, Mac, that you're an adult now. Maybe you should reconsider this and-"
"That's right, I am an adult, Frankie. Which means no one gets to boss me around anymore. Not you, not my mom, not my brother. No one. For once, I can do whatever I want." He slammed the last piece of paper onto the pile. "There. Can I finally take him with me now?"
"But-but-but Miss Foster," Goo cried in exasperation with that endearing lisp of hers. "Isn't he, like, your bestest best imaginary friend evahrrr?"
Frankie cracked a smile, nodding to the enthusiastic but worried girl.
"He is, yea. My best imaginary friend."
"Then...Then why would say good-bye to him like that?" Goo demanded, her eyes were welling up, as she flailed her arms with each syllable she uttered.
"Because there's a kid who needs him, Goo," Frankie advised, words drenched with sympathy. "And he wants to go."
Goo's fret melted, giving way to comprehension. "Yeeaaaa."
Frankie made the final touches on the last of the pending documents and filed them away in the corresponding folder. She set it aside on her desk and rose from the tall, elderly chair with resolve.
She proceeded through her office doors, Goo galloping close behind. They approached the boy, his grandfather, and the eager friend with the free-moving face.
"All right," Frankie announced, hands folded formally before her. "I just finished filing everything. You guys should be all set."
"Yaaaaaay~" frolicked Ethan, wedging his hands under the armpits of his new partner and twirling him around. They both giggled their little laughs, and Frankie accepted the truth of that matter. Her friend was made from the mind of a child and would always be a child - that was his purpose. Hers was to move on, to continue being this adult she had made of herself, and to fulfill her dedication to her grandmother's work.
"This means so much. Thank you," Ethan's grandfather insisted, vigorously shaking Frankies skinny hand. She savored the gratitude the oozed from his words, the way Ethan has transformed in a matter of minutes upon meeting the imaginary friend that had once given her the same type of joy.
"I'm just doing my job, Sir," she assured, trying to humble herself. "I hope this is the start of great things for Ethan."
Treading carefully in her high heels, Frankie approached Ethan and his new playmate. She exchanged a warm, nostalgic glance with the metamorphing face, his bright eyes shining back at her with anticipation.
"I'll miss you, Little Guy," she told him calmly as she kneels down, holding back the bittersweet emotions suddenly pumping through her brain. "You'd better take good care of Ethan here, all right?"
"I will! I will!" the tiny, explosive voice declared boldly.
"I think you're going to be in good hands, Ethan," Frankie concluded, running her hand through his surprisingly groomed bowlcut. He grinned and blushed when she poked him in the nose. "And if he ever gets hurt, you just take him right back here and I promise I'll fix him up. OK?"
"OK," he squeaked, nodding his head around haphazardly.
"All right, then." Frankie stood upright and twirled them around, patting them on the back to ease them along. "Look out for each other, boys."
"Thanks again for everything, Miss Foster."
"You're very welcome, Sir. And really, if you ever need any help, please let me know, OK?"
And just like that, he was gone. The first imaginary friend that had ever felt like her own had finally left. As she contemplated the entire circumstance, she found herself confident that this had been the best decision. Everyone ended up happy. Even she did - happy in the assurance that this friend she had fought so hard to free had finally found a destiny in aiding this troubled child.
Goo's hand - always slightly damp, oddly - clutched Frankie's for a tender moment of empathetic expression as Frankie dabbed at her wet eyelashes.
"You all right, Miss Foster?"
"Yea. I'm fine, Goo. Thanks."
"You wanna have some cookies?"
"Cookies. I could go maaaake your faaaaavorite~"
"Haha...I'm not one to turn down homemade cookies. Sure."
"Yesss!" Goo pumped her fist. "Baking Queen saves the day again!" And off she bounded, fist held high. "Come, my minions!" Frankie could hear her shouting down the hall. "We must defeat the evil Chocolate Chip Overlord!"
Frankie's reflections flooded her mind as she made her way up the stairs of the mansion and to the attic. She surveyed the many dusty old boxes that littered the room, but her eyes locked onto the yellow toy chest at the back of the room.
Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.Where good ideas are not forgotten.
I won't be forgetting you, Buddy.