The next day, my parents sent me back to art therapy.
I had stopped going to see my art therapist once I got over my dog dying, I was better now. Happier. Tony was all that I needed now. I was working on a sculpture of Tony out of clay as my art therapist sat beside me, working on some miniature food out of her clay.
“Jessica,” Ms. Reynolds said, smiling up at me as we worked. “Your parents seem… concerned about you. I thought after our previous sessions that you were all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said, surprised. “I don’t know what’s wrong with them. Some strange girl practically breaks into our house and I’m the one sent to get help. It doesn’t make sense to me, Ms. Reynolds.”
Ms. Reynolds paused and looked at my sculpture. “That’s Tony?” she asked.
I nodded. “I should bring him by sometime so you can meet him. He’s really nice, he’s always been there for me. Ever since my dog died.”
Ms. Reynolds seemed confused. “This sculpture is so good, it looks like an actual person.”
I laughed. “I should know what my best friend looks like, Ms. Reynolds. I see him every day. Do you think it’s because I’m 14 now that my parents are concerned that we might be, like, dating or something?”
“That could be it,” Ms. Reynolds said, seemingly transfixed by my sculpture. “It’s… that sculpture is really good.”
“I’ve been practicing my art, thank you,” I said, soaking up the compliment. But Ms. Reynolds had that funny look on her face that everyone else seemed to be getting around me. Especially when I was at school. Everyone avoided me like the plague, teachers tried not to call on me because Tony tended to help out with my answers. They knew how much he spoiled me, maybe they were jealous.
After my appointment, my parents talked with Ms. Reynolds some more while I waited outside. The day was warm and bright and I saw Tony and Chelsea walking past. I waved at them, relieved to see somebody who didn’t treat me like I was crazy.
“Jess!” Tony exclaimed, wrapping me in the biggest hug possible.
“Tony! I’m so glad you happened to be going by, my parents are treating me like I’ve lost my mind or something,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I see you’ve met Chelsea. Thanks a lot for freaking my parents out with that break in and sending me here.”
Chelsea laughed. “I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. I just moved here, Tony told me so much about you I had to meet the amazing Jess. It probably wasn’t the best time, huh?”
“The worst!” I agreed and we all laughed together. But the way Tony looked at Chelsea, I got the feeling he didn’t really want her there.
“They sending you back to art therapy?” Tony asked, concerned. “Have you been feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I’ve been feeling fine emotionally. I have no idea what they’re doing. You know how parents are though,” I said, leaning against him, still wrapped up in his arms.
“Boy do I,” Tony said. “I got one little tattoo and they start freaking out on me, do I want to become a criminal? Over one tattoo, one, Jess!”
“Can we live?” I asked, jokingly.
My parents came out then and looked at us. I hadn’t noticed how tired and drained they looked until now. I broke away from Tony and pulled back, hoping they didn’t think we were a couple or something.
“Sorry, Tony and Chelsea were just leaving,” I said quickly. I got the feeling they didn’t like Tony anymore and they would never like Chelsea. Was it because he got the tattoo?
“Yeah, bye,” Tony said quickly. “I’ll see you later though, Jess. Movie tonight?”
“Sounds good to me.”
My parents ushered me into the car without a word. Looking closer at them in the rearview mirror. I realized my mom had been crying. “Mom,” I said gently. “I know you don’t approve of Tony as a friend, but there are way worse people I could be hanging out with, you know. He’s the best around.”
“I know, honey,” my mom said quietly.
“But if it bothers you guys that much… I’ll try and make some other friends too. It’s just that people treat me like a weirdo.”
My father clenched the wheel a little tighter.
I tried to hurry and go on. “But I’m sure someone out there won’t mind me. I’m not even that crazy about Chelsea you know, but Tony and I have been friends for years.”
My father pulled the car to the side of the road violently.
“Harry, no, no,” my mom was saying, her crying had started up again. “You know what Ms. Reynolds said, now is not the time.”
“I’m tired of pretending everything is okay!” he yelled, dad never yelled. I stiffened in my seat. He turned around to face me. “Jessica, listen to me. Tony and Chelsea are just imaginary friends and imaginary friends are not real. It’s beyond time that you grow up. I’m tired of babying you and waiting for you to get over it. Tony. Is. Not. Real,” he said firmly, staring into my eyes.
“What?” I said, laughing. This was over the top. Parents, really. “He’s been over our house all the time, you guys just saw him and Chelsea there with me.”
“Harry…” My mom said in a warning voice, but it was too late for him to stop now.
“We saw you, Jessica. You standing there having a conversation by yourself. Nobody was there,” her father said, exasperated. “Think about it, think about it real hard. Why do you think you scare the mess out of everyone at your school? Nobody sees or hears Tony except for you. That’s the reason you have no friends, that’s the reason nobody wants to come over our house anymore. You’re scaring everyone. This obsession has to stop. Right now.”
I sat there, speechless. It all made sense, it did add up. Maybe I was crazy after all.
“Honey?” my mom asked, still crying and looking at me.
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there, stunned. My entire reality seemed to tilt and I felt myself falling back into the same dark abyss I had been in before Tony.
My dad started the car again and began to drive. He looked regretful but also relieved he had let it out.
None of us spoke on the drive home.