“What do you think?” I asked, closing the closet door.
The dress was green velvet to my knees, flaring at the waist, and it made me feel like a princess in a fairy tale. I looked up at Donar lounging on my bed. He wasn’t actually there, of course, but I liked to pretend he was. I liked to pretend he kept me safe when I walked home from school by myself, or while I was doing my homework before Dad woke up for dinner, and when I was alone at night. Always when I was alone at night.
I couldn’t remember a time when Donar didn’t stay with me, sitting at the foot of my bed, his blue eyes warm as he told me stories about a beautiful princess with a chariot drawn by cats, and her brother, the prince of all the elves, who rode a great golden boar. I’d had a crush on Donar since third grade. Now I was in eighth and I knew better than to fall in love with imaginary men. Not that I didn’t sometimes catch myself wishing he weren’t imaginary at all.
But he was, and that was that, and even if he had been real, it wouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t like he could have asked me to the dance. He was too old.
Donar smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Peter won’t know what hit him.”
“Do you think he’ll kiss me?”
“I think he’ll want to. Whether he has the courage to act on it or not, I couldn’t say.”
I sighed and flung myself onto the bed next to him. “He just has to! Can’t you make him?”
Donar propped himself up on an elbow. “And is that what you want? A boy who kisses you because someone made him?”
“Well, no,” I said, my face flushing. “But I’ve waited so long, and now he’s finally asked me to the dance, and I made sure to tell Jenny to tell Matt that I wanted him to.”
He laughed. “Why don’t you just tell him yourself?”
“What if he laughed at me? Or he didn’t want to, after all this?”
“Then he isn’t worthy of you, and you’re better off without him.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
The doorbell rang and my stomach twisted into a knot so tight I didn’t think it would ever come undone. I jumped off the bed and ran to answer it. Dad had already left for work, and Peter’s mom was driving us to the dance. I was already down the hall before I remembered Donar. I stopped, turning back. He stood framed in the hallway, watching me, but there was something sad in his eyes.
“Just call my name if you need me,” he said. “I’ll be waiting.”
When I opened the door, he disappeared, but then Peter was there, his tie crooked and a corsage in his hand, and I forgot all about Donar between one stomach flip and the next.
At the end of the night, my lips still tingling from my first real kiss and my stomach still filled with butterflies, I didn’t think about Donar at all.
I cried into my pillowcase, wishing I still believed in Donar enough that he could hold me. But I’d been too old for imaginary friends in eighth grade, and too old for them in elementary school, and if anyone knew I wished I had one now, as a sophomore, it would be the end of my life.
I still missed him, though. Even more when my heart ached like someone had torn it open. I’d given Peter everything I had, and now this. I thought he would be my first everything, and I wanted him to be my last, and then I found him kissing some stupid cheerleader under the bleachers. Donar, at least, had never hurt me. He never could. But I could already imagine Mrs. Philips, dropping hints to Dad that I needed some kind of counseling, and if she ever found out how long I had hung onto Donar, I’d be locked up in a padded room for sure.
“No one has to know,” a familiar voice said, and I felt the mattress springs sink beside me. Donar stroked my hair, and I kept my eyes shut tight, afraid that if I opened them to look, he would disappear. “It’s all right, Anna. He isn’t worth your tears.”
“I thought he loved me,” I sobbed.
“He’s too young to know what love is,” Donar said, stroking my hair. “Boys don’t understand that sort of thing until they’re in their twenties, and even then they’re likely to be fools about it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before now?” I asked. “You’re supposed to protect me. You were supposed to keep me safe!”
Donar’s hand paused on the back of my head. “It was better for you to be with him, even if it ended badly.”
“Better than what?” I asked.
He said nothing. I rolled over carefully, and opened my eyes. He looked so strange, almost transparent, his features blurred around the edges. But his blue eyes still met mine, warm and clear. The only clear part of him. It was like I had forgotten what he looked like, or like those first days, when I was four, and he had been no more than a shadow in the moonlight. My best friend, who whispered words of comfort in the dark when I woke because of some imagined noise in the house after Dad had gone to work. That was all he had been, at first. Just a voice. Just words. Until I had imagined him a face, and a body. I could imagine him again, I thought. My hero. My protector.
“You’ll find someone else, Anna,” he said quietly. “Someone who will love you the way you should be loved.”
“I don’t want someone else. I don’t ever want to feel this way again.”
His fingers felt like static electricity, pins and needles on my cheek. “You’ll change your mind.”
“How do you know?”
I think he smiled, but it was hard to tell when his mouth was nothing more than a smudge of watercolor. “Because the only thing you’ve ever feared is darkness, and love is sunlight, chasing it away.”
“Will you stay with me until then?”
“I’m always with you, Anna.”
I tried to catch his hand, but my fingers went right through it. “Like before,” I said. “Like you’re real.”
“I thought you were too old for imaginary friends,” he teased.
“Nobody has to know,” I said.
“Think of me, and I’ll come.” He dropped his head, seeming to stare at his hands in his lap, such as they were. Milky vague shapes with no substance. “But you might be better off thinking of other things, than trying to bring me back.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “At least with you, I won’t feel so alone.”
“No,” he agreed. “You’ll never be alone if you don’t wish to be.”
“Anna? Are you all right?” Dad called through the door. He opened it a crack, poking his head inside, and Donar blurred into oblivion. “Were you talking to someone?”
“No.” I wiped my eyes. “I was just talking to myself. I’m fine.”
He hesitated, frowning, his hair sticking up and his cheek creased by his pillow. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” I said, staring at the impression of Donar’s body in the blankets.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. “Maybe we could go out for dinner tonight. Catch up a little. I have the night off.”
“Sure,” I said, suppressing a rush of disappointment. I’d been counting on a night alone, but it didn’t matter. Donar would wait until tomorrow.
He’d already waited two years.
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