Chapter 2: Tilly

I hated him. 
I wanted my daddy—my
real daddy.

Warm tears slid down my sticky cheeks, and I allowed them to form a puddle on my bed.  If I licked my lips I would taste the salt on my face.  This time I wasn’t embarrassed for acting like a baby; he couldn’t see me cry in here.  My room had always been my own personal escape, a place for me to hide from the rest of the world.  He couldn’t see me so I could cry all I wanted to and there was nothing he could do about it.

I picked up my stuffed rabbit, Benny.  His stringy smile was always there for me.  Seven was too old to be playing with a ratty stuffed animal—Jim had told me so.  Last week my stepfather had thrown Benny away, and I’d had to rescue him from the full garbage can.  He still smelled a bit like rotten bananas but it didn’t matter.  Even a stinky Benny could make me feel better when I was sad. 

He wasn’t real, but sometimes I talked to him anyway, and he always listened; his big ears were good for listening.  Benny never talked back, but I knew he understood my problems.  He was smart for a rabbit.  His steady smile reminded me that, although I rarely saw them, smiles still existed.  I hugged his worn body to my chest and closed my eyes.  I would never be too old for Benny, no matter what.

“Why are you crying?”

My eyes shot open, and I scrubbed at the moisture on my face before looking around my room.  Someone had been watching me cry.  My cheeks got hot but there was no reason for me to be embarrassed; there was no one in the bedroom with me.  I looked down at my rabbit, wondering if maybe…

“I said, why are you crying?”  The voice asked, louder this time.  It sounded high, like a girl’s voice.

“I’m not,” I countered automatically, my voice shaking.  Benny’s mouth hadn’t moved, but…

“Yes, you are.  Your face is all wet.”

“So?”

“So, why are you crying?  I won’t tell anyone,” the voice promised.

I chewed on my lip while I decided what to do.  I had always told Benny everything and knew he could keep a secret.  Just because he decided to talk back for the first time didn’t mean I couldn’t tell him what was bothering me.  Talking had always made me feel better before.  “My stepdad tried to make me eat liver, but it’s gross.  I won’t do it no matter what.  He caught me stuffing it into my napkin so he sent me to my room without dinner.”

“I like liver.”

I snorted.  “Rabbits don’t eat liver.”

“I’m not a rabbit, silly,” the voice giggled.

A shadow by the corner window caught my eye.  I tiptoed over to the gold-framed mirror at the edge of my room.  These mirrors were in some of the other bedrooms in my new house so the angels staring down at me didn’t catch my eye anymore.  I peeked around the frame where it leaned carelessly against the wall.  The hidden person giggled again.  Someone was playing tricks on me.

“Hello!”

The reflection in the mirror caught my attention because it wasn’t my reflection.  I had yellow hair; my mom had called it spun gold back when she had loved me.  Back home in Georgia I had played outside all the time so I still had a tan and a lot of fading cuts and bruises on my knees from where I had fallen down.  My dad would always say I wasn’t clumsy; my big feet and long legs just got in the way.  Then he would laugh and promise that I would grow into them someday.  He had promised a lot of things.

The girl in the mirror staring back at me was short and pale with black, curly hair.  And she was smiling.  One of her front teeth was missing.  I had lost that tooth last year.  The tooth fairy had left me two dollars instead of just one because it had hurt so much when my dad had pulled it. 

“H…h…hello,” I returned.  I wasn’t really scared of the girl; after all, she was smiling.  But I was confused.  How had she gotten into the mirror?

“I’m Matilda Dalton, but you can call me Tilly, everyone else does.  Except my brother, he calls me all kinds of really mean names instead.”  Her hands curled into tiny fists and she put them on her hips. 

I took note of my own stance; my hands were behind my back and I was pinching my thumb with my fingers.  After careful thought, I decided it would probably be rude if I did not to introduce myself.

“I’m Callista.  People just call me Callista.”  Although I really wanted a cool nickname like Tilly. 

“I like the name Callista.  I think it is quite pretty.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Callista, Callista, Callista.  Would you like to be my friend, Callista?”

I poked the cold glass with my finger.  How could a person be friends with a decoration?  But if mirrors needed friends…

“I guess…” I’d never had a friend before so a friend made of furniture was better than no friend at all.  My heart swelled inside my chest, filling with excitement.  Maybe this England place wouldn’t be so miserable after all.

“I was sent to my room too,” Tilly admitted with a toothless grin.

“Why?  You said you like liver.”  I stuck my tongue out at the thought of the yucky meat.  How anyone could eat it was a mystery. 

Tilly laughed.  “I do like liver.  But I like cookies too.”

“Cookies?”

“I stole cookies from the kitchen.  Mum caught me and had to hide them from me.  Then she sent me to my room.”

“You stole them?” I gasped. 

“Sure!  Haven’t you ever stolen anything?”

“No.” Stealing was bad.  My punishment would be harsh if I ever took anything I was not supposed to have—which was anything fun or cool.

“Not even cookies?” she asked, shocked. 

“No.  I’m not allowed to have any sweets.”

Tilly seemed surprised.  “No sweets!  Why not?”

“Because they will make me fat.”  My mom had always said that if I gave in to temptation now it would be harder to resist later in life when something called my metap-olism slowed down.  

“Do you think mommy is beautiful?” she had asked.

“Yes, mommy.”  Sylvia Franklyn Burns was beautiful.  Her hair was the color of fire and her eyes looked like the grass.  She was always in magazines with other beautiful girls too but my mom was the prettiest.  When I grew up I wanted to be just like her.

“I didn’t become beautiful by eating sweets,” she had reminded me.

My new friend Tilly was beautiful too but in a different way.  Her dark curls were pulled back with a pink ribbon that matched the apron over her white dress.  She wasn’t fat at all and she ate cookies.

Tilly laughed.  “That’s silly.  You really have never had a cookie?”

“No.”  They had always looked yummy in the store, decorated with frosting or sprinkles.  Some were boring circles but others looked like green dinosaurs or red clowns.  But I wasn’t allowed to eat any of them.

“Hold on.”

“Where are you going?”

“Downstairs.”

“Tilly, I thought you were supposed to stay in your room!” 

“No one will see me if I use the servants’ stairs.”  She grinned mischievously before sneaking out the door. 

I looked back at my own door, knowing I would never sneak out if I wasn’t supposed to.

Five minutes of waiting felt like a lifetime.  If Tilly had been caught she would not be allowed to be my friend anymore.  She had left because of me; all of it would be my fault.  She could be beaten or worse.  I jumped and hid behind my bed when her door opened, terrified that someone had come to yell at me.

“Callista?”

I stole a look over my mattress and saw Tilly looking for me.  “Where did you go?”  When she saw me she shook her head with a smile.

“Downstairs.  Don’t you remember me telling you?”

“But where downstairs?” I whispered so she wouldn’t get into trouble because my voice was too loud. 

“To the kitchen.”

“Why did you do that?” 

“To get a cookie,” she replied matter-of-factly, holding the dessert up like a prize.

“But I thought your mom hid them from you.”

“She’s not very creative.  She always hides them in the same spots.”

“Are you going to eat it even though you’re not supposed to?” I whispered, curious.

“No, you are going to eat it!”

“But I’m not allowed!” I shrieked, realizing too late how noisy I had been.  Jim hated it when I was loud.

“I won’t tell, silly.  Catch!”

And just like that, my new friend tossed the cookie at the mirror, and it landed by my feet.  I rushed to pick it up, staring at it reverently as it crumbled in my hand.  I sniffed the small pieces, and my stomach growled.  My belly was awfully hungry since I had refused to eat the liver.  Surely just one bite wouldn’t hurt…  If I felt fat after the first taste then I would stop.

“You’re supposed to eat it, Callista!”  Tilly laughed.  As commanded, I took a bite.  “Do you like it?”

The sweetness sank into my mouth as I chewed.  I nodded my head and offered my friend a shy smile.  She bounced and danced around her room, and I giggled at how crazy she looked. 

That June I had my first cookie—and my first friend.

***

I woke with a start, shooting out of my bed and looking around my room, disoriented.  Only it was not my room; it was a room in a house I had not been in for years.  I fell back onto the mattress and attempted to control my breathing. 

In. Out. In. Out.

My heart no longer tried to escape my chest as it slowed to its resting pace.  In the early-morning darkness I attempted to logically analyze my dream. 

My return to the house had obviously drudged up some long-forgotten memories from my childhood hallucinations.  The vision was only in my mind, easy to dispel.  Yet, I swore I could taste the chocolaty chunks in my mouth.  The dream had felt so authentic; I had been seven years old, and Tilly had been real. 

No, she hadn’t been real.  It was important to focus on the facts of the present instead of the more fanciful notions created in a seven-year-old kid’s imagination.  The dull light streaming through the window, that was real.  I touched my chest and felt my heart beat beneath my palm.  I was real. 

My mother’s funeral later today, that was real too.

Chapter 3 awaits… Click HERE

Don’t want to read this on the screen?  Click to download and print the .pdf version of Chapter 2

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2 Responses to “Chapter 2: Tilly”

  1. Vividhunter April 18, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Hi, I enjoyed this chapter, but I wasn’t able to access the first one (it seems to be linked to chapter 18)

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