Imaginary Friends pt 2

Kylie Rae
7 min readMay 9, 2023

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Riley jumped into the backseat, her large backpack thumping against her small body. Before she even pulled the seatbelt across her shoulder, she was already talking. Spilling all the gossip about her day and I smiled at her in the rearview mirror.

“- and Steven told Lillian her shoes weren’t pink, they were purple. So then Mrs. Gallagher told us all about how sometimes people are colorblind and don’t see the colors the same as everyone else. But Lillian still said she thinks Steven was being a butthead. I said, yeah, probably. But mom, what if he really thought her shoes were purple?”

Barely a pause before she continued. I nodded at the teacher at the head of the pickup line as we drove out of the parking lot.

“At recess today, I wanted to play four square. But when we got out there, all the squares were taken. So then I thought I’d play tetherball. But all of those were taken too. And then I sat on the bench by the soccer field, hoping someone would get bored of the tetherball. And that’s when I met Sasha. She’s a new girl at our school. I told her I liked her bow, which was pink, and definitely not purple. And she said she liked my unicorn leggings. So, we’re friends now.”

And so her chatter continued for the entire seven minute drive back to the house. Even if she never let me get a word in edge-wise, I cherished this alone time with my daughter. And I hoped that as she got older, she’d still be just as eager to share her day with me when she got home from school.

The next day, Riley ran to the car and climbed into the back seat, a giant smile on her face. Her door was barely shut behind her when she began.

“So, Steven definitely can’t see pink. See, I wore all my pink stuff, and I kept asking him what color he thought it was. And he said purple almost every time. This one, that’s magenta, he said it was red. And then after lunch I think he realized what I was doing, so he told on me to the teacher. He said I was picking on him. But, mom, I swear I just wanted to know if he really couldn’t tell the difference. But Mrs. Gallagher sent home a note for you.”

My eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror, eyebrow raised. Riley hardly ever had notes sent home, but she was still smiling, so she must not have thought it was that big of a deal. Maybe it wasn’t. I didn’t want to be biased, since she is my daughter, but I didn’t believe she would purposely pick on a boy for not being able to see pink.

“And Sasha played with me at recess again. She was wearing this really pretty dress today. There were sunflowers on it. Can we get me a dress with sunflowers? We played on the monkey bars. I can skip one now. My arms are so long, mom. The other girls try all the time, but I’m one of three who can do it. The others are Marley and Jeniffer. Sasha tried once, but she fell down.”

I try to meet her gaze to see if that was bad news, but she was still smiling, looking out the window.

“Was Sasha okay, darling?” I asked in the odd pause in the conversation.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. She’s fine. She has a bruise on her arm, but she says that was there before the monkey bars. We learned long division today. It’s hard. But Mrs. Gallagher makes it easy. She showed us the steps and I think I can do it. I hope she doesn’t have a quiz tomorrow, though. My favorite show is on TV tonight and I don’t want to miss it to study math.”

She continued on with her stories, and I wondered for a moment about the bruise she said Sasha had before the monkey bars. It could be nothing, but my mother gut twinged at the idea and I wondered where it had come from. Riley probably wouldn’t have thought to ask, or she would have already offered the information to me.

Instead of asking, I file the information away for later and listen to the rest of her stories.

Riley isn’t smiling when she jumps into the car the next day. Rain has plastered her hair to her scalp, and the water dripped off her face.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” I asked when she doesn’t start in on her normal talking.

Riley shrugs. “Sasha wasn’t in school today.”

“Oh, that’s okay, dear. I’m sure you’ll see her tomorrow.”

Riley shrugged again. And for the next seven minutes, didn’t say another word.

The next day, Riley is in a better mood again. She hurries to the car and giggles when she jumps and slides across the entire back seat.

“Sasha was at school today, just like you said.”

“Good.”

“Her lip was purple. But she said she fell down the stairs at her house. How come we don’t have stairs, mommy?”

My jaw drops as she skips the information. She doesn’t wait for me to answer before she tells me about show and tell this morning and how Johnathon brought his pet frog.

“And I actually touched it!” She shuddered at the memory. “And we had chicken nuggets with mashed potatoes with lunch. And you know those are my favorite, so I traded my snack money for Angie’s potatoes.”

I barely hear the rest of her story. First Sasha has a bruise on her arm and then she misses a day of school before showing up with a busted lip and an all too familiar sounding story. I didn’t know what to say to Riley. Probably nothing. But I felt compelled to do something about it.

The next day, I arrive a little early to the pickup line and go inside to find Riley’s teacher. The kids are all in their electives and I find Mrs. Gallagher in the teacher’s lounge after checking in at the office.

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Lawrence. What can I do for you?” Mrs. Gallagher stood to shake my hand.

“I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do, but Riley’s come home the last few days with some interesting stories and I felt it only right for me to stop by and talk with someone about it.”

“Oh?”

“She says she’s made friends with a new girl at the school. Which isn’t the problem at all, of course. But then Riley told me about a bruise her friend has on her arm. And then she missed a day of school only to turn up with a bruised lip? And she says she fell down the stairs?” I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. “As a child who came from an abusive household… I have to say, it’s hard to ignore the signs. And I just wanted to come up here and make sure the situation was being monitored.”

“Oh, my.” Mrs. Gallagher’s hand covered her mouth.

The three other teachers in the room were also listening in various states of interest and shock.

“Well, which student is it? Of course I will look into it the best way I can. But I don’t have any new students in my class.”

“Yes, she said she met her at recess. But she said her name is Sasha.”

Mrs. Gallagher frowned, and her brow scrunched together. “I’m not sure I know a student by that name.” She turned in her seat to look at the other teachers. “Do any of you know who Sasha is?”

Slowly, they each shook their head.

“No, not in my class.”

“Or mine.”

“Nope.”

“Hmm…” Mrs. Gallagher frowned again. “Did Riley say Sasha was in another grade, maybe?”

“Do other grades have recess with the third graders?” I asked, confused. How did none of them know the new student?

But then one of the other woman gasped and spun around to face me. “Oh, I think I know… I think I know who you’re talking about. Tammy,” she addressed Mrs. Gallagher, “Will you call Riley in here?”

“I — well, yes, I’ll go get her.”

It was only a minute before they returned. Riley skipped alongside her teacher and beamed when she saw me in the room.

“Mommy! Am I going home early?”

“No, darling. Come, sit down.”

Riley sat down next to me and the other teacher joined us at the table with a folded newspaper clipping in her hand.

“Riley,” she said and then held out the paper. A picture of a smiling girl was all that we could see from the way she had it folded. “Is this your new friend?”

Riley looked down and smiled. “Yes, that’s Sasha. She was in the newspaper? That’s so cool. I wonder why she didn’t tell me.”

The teachers nodded to each other, and Mrs. Gallagher put a hand on Riley’s shoulder. “That’s all, dear. Let’s get you back to class.”

Riley shrugged and shot me a confused look, but followed her teacher out of the room.

“What is this?” I asked, completely lost now.

The other teacher unfolded the newspaper clipping and passed it over to me. The headline over the smiling girl’s picture hit me in the chest with the weight of a truck. I vaguely remembered reading about it, but it had been years.

Local Child Found Dead in a Ditch; Child Abuse Suspected

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Kylie Rae

Independant author | Book lover | Whiskey Drinker | Mother of two crazy boys | www.kylieraewriter.com