Diantha's Gate

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Chapter 4

The following morning had been, to my chagrin, spent at my Pediatrician’s office. I’d told Mom everything about Aemion: how he’d come from another land, how he visited me every night. I even told her that he was a centaur, which was followed by a furrowed brow and a look of complete distress.

I had been gripped by a disappointed exasperation with her ignorance; how did she know nothing about mythological creatures? My dad would have understood every word. I gave her a simple explanation, which had then been met with extreme concern.

I was commanded to relay every bit of this information to the doctor, a task that had my small palms dripping. I hadn’t even told Brynn about Aemion. How was I supposed to confide in a virtual stranger? I’d begun wracking my brain for avoidance tactics.

I thought about my mom when she would get stuck on the phone with her mother-in-law, and how she would later complain that all my grandma ever wanted to talk about was the weather, her garden, and Jesus.

My grandma was old. This man looked kind of old.

I’d had a decent chance of approaching one of his favorite topics, at least in my six year old mind. If I was successful, maybe I could ensure avoiding any discussion of my own recent interests. I’d already found that centaur friends were not well received in conversation, and I didn’t want my relationship with Aemion to lose its magic. I felt that, the more it was discussed, the more I was losing ownership of it. He had no longer been a secret, something that was only mine to share.

I’d begun fidgeting with the tiniest hole in my jacket pocket. I had a habit of shoving my index finger through the tight opening in the fabric, reveling in the pressure of the threads as they choked it. Sliding it back out was nearly as satisfying. The tear had grown substantially as I’d contemplated what my next words were supposed to be. It had seemed as if everyone had been giving me the chance to open the conversation. Upon reflection, this is a really poor strategy with a child.

“Umm,” I’d begun, as Dr. Gregory patiently awaited my story. He was sitting on a faux leather- covered rolling stool, his body propped forward, inviting me to confidence. My palms had grown damp, and I’d massaged the free one on my pant leg.

“Yes, Nia? Your mom says you have a story you would like to share with me.” He’d winked at me, just like my dad used to do. To his credit, this subtle gesture had provided me with some courage.

“Just so you know, you’re not in trouble, not at all. In fact, from what your mom’s told me, it’s quite an interesting tale.” He gave me a winning smile.

I’d nodded and taken a deep breath, wondering frantically if I should approach the subject of his garden, before considering that he may not have one. Jesus had seemed like a pretty iffy bet, as well. I’d narrowed my possible topics down to one within seconds.

My attempt to discuss the weather had been in vain. Dr. Gregory had simply leapt on the opportunity to segue to the storm last night. He had been very skilled in his ability to derive information from me, and he’d done so quite painlessly. Somehow, each piece of information I’d provided would simply lead to another question that would, in turn, more dangerously approach the subject of Aemion’s existence. He’d certainly known what he was doing.

Once I’d perceived his trap and my easy willingness to step right into it, I’d found myself, once again, swimming in nerves and anxiety.

At my hesitation, Dr. Gregory had glanced at my mother with a mild look of reassurance, before turning back to me with a small smile.

Surrounded by the frame of his glasses and friendly crow’s feet, his deep blue eyes had seemed to pierce me. My options had been few, and I’d debated on switching to one of my two remaining “grandma” topics. My long, cornsilk hair had begun to tickle the tops of my thighs, and the lights began to make my head spin.

Later that morning, we had been sent home, Mom with some light reading regarding children and imaginary friends, and myself with a cotton candy sucker. While our car ride to the doctor had been clouded with tension, our car ride home had been one of lighthearted relief. Once again, Mom had basked in the assurances made by a doctor on my behalf. She had been given reason to believe that imaginary friends were not only normal, but were, in fact, healthy. Thanks, Dr. Gregory.

“But,” Mom had said tentatively, “her imaginary friend isn’t even human. I mean, she says he’s this kind of horse man thing.” She used some bizarre hand gestures to conjure a mental image. I shook my head.

“This is perfectly commonplace,” he’d assured her, as she watched me with some unease; it was as if she thought I was going to whip out a stick and start waving it like a wand. Or maybe she thought I would start beating imaginary wings back and forth in imitation of a pegasus. I hadn’t known what, exactly, was going through her head, but I knew that my fantastical imagination caused her distress for some reason.

“Children are much more-” he’d paused, considering his words- “open-minded than their adult counterparts. They see the world as a place capable of so much more. Honestly, Mrs. DeAtta, a centaur is one of the more humdrum friends I’ve encountered in this profession.” He’d chuckled to himself, his eyes bright. “I once had a patient, a young boy around Nia’s age, who had a rock named Barnaby, and you don’t even want to know what kind of filth Barnaby would come up with.”

My mom had indeed looked quite relieved that there were no Barnabys hanging around our house.

My confidence had soared as Dr. Gregory continued explaining to her that children with imaginary friends had tendencies for stronger language skills, bigger imaginations, and more creative problem solving skills. Yes, my new friend was more than likely “a result of loss and trauma,” but no, he was in no way a threat to my social skills or everyday life.

“Unless, young lady, you continue to galavant in the night with him. If Aemion continues to ask that you meet outside, you are going to have to put your foot down and tell him that your mommy wants you sleeping at night. Can you tell him that for me?” A gentle smile. A warm, dry palm on my little knee.

I’d nodded my head cooperatively, grateful that my friendship with Aemion was in no way endangered, thanks to Dr. Gregory. At the time, I’d considered this information inaccurate, but there was no need for me to correct him. In my young mind, Aemion was in no way imaginary. Dr. Gregory told my mom that even I would more than likely recognize that Aemion wasn’t exactly real, but that I would consider him a true companion all the same.

I’d felt certain I knew better, but I’d nodded along.

I’d needed to believe that Aemion was as real as I, a testament to truths in mythology, an entity I could only embrace due to my nightly rendezvous with my dad into realms that my mother would never understand.

He certainly didn’t fit into the same category as Barnaby the Rock.

I couldn’t wait to tell Aemion that my mom wasn’t angry with him, wasn’t angry with me. Gloating was also in order; I’d spilled our secret, and nothing bad had happened. Toward the start of our friendship, I’d tried to assure him that we could trust Mom with the knowledge of his visits. He’d insisted that I tell absolutely no one, which had spurred frequent, but docile, arguments. I’d known that I might have to be sneakier about our late night adventures in the future, but I could jump that hurdle when it neared.

I also couldn’t wait to see that he was ok; I’d hated leaving him alone in the storm the night before. And this idea provoked new questions that had been vexing me. Where exactly did he sleep most nights? What was he really doing in my world?

“I have an idea,” Mom had stated suddenly, interrupting my little reverie. “Let’s have Brynn over for a sleepover tonight. It’s been awhile since you two’ve spent the night with one another, what with my working day shifts. I think we need a little relaxation and celebration, don’t you think?”

While a part of me had felt elation at the idea of a sleepover, and I’d truly loved hearing something like lightheartedness in mom’s tone (a very rare occurrence these days), I found my stomach quickly plummeting. If Brynn stayed the night…. Would I see Aemion? And if I did see Aemion, did this mean Brynn would see him as well? Could she see him? Should she?

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