No! Please, please, don’t do it!  You’re gonna make your brother mad!  I screamed in my head.  But Bianca’s not hearing me.  I held my breath as I watched and waited underneath her bed.  My pounding heart was loud enough to wake the dead.

Her bedroom was bare except the tea party table and her “guests”, the dolls.

Listening to her small talk was maddening.  “How much honey in your tea, Mrs. Smith?  Oh, can I pet your dog, Mrs. Jordan?  Lovely dress, where can I get one like yours, Mrs. Jackson?”  Her smile revealed a wide-gapped tooth, something I’d never seen before.

The door burst open.  It was him-the Big Bad Brother!  His face! Redder than a tomato.

“Bi-Bi!  What did I tell you about those stupid dolls!”  He lunged toward her.

“B-B-But I was only…,” Bianca stammered, hiding a doll under her arm.

“You never help with chores ‘round here.  Always havin’ your damn tea parties!”  He overturned the table, grabbed a doll from the chair, hurling it across the room.  Big Bad Brother raised his hand in the air, then paused.  Grunting something I couldn’t make out, he stormed out slamming the door behind him.

Bianca curled into a ball on the floor.  I shivered as I watched.  She can’t see me – no one can – but I’m there.  Brother doesn’t know about me – thank heavens.

“Gretchen,” Bianca sobbed.  “Gretchen?”  She called again.

As I got closer, she calmed a little.  She sensed my hand wiping her tears.

It’s okay, I’m here, I told her, well, kind of.  More like what they call, telepathically.  And I think she got it because her shoulders relaxed.

Must be hard living in this neighborhood in late summer.  An 8-year old and a teenage sibling at home alone, while Deadbeat Dad is out for the night doing who knows what?  Their mama, may God rest her soul, is surely turning in her grave.

Everyone needs a BFF, right?  Most people would say I don’t exist, except in Bianca’s mind.  But I do!  I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.  I’m Bianca’s number one fan.

My shoulders tightened the more I thought about the Brother.  That’s it, no one’s comin’ near you ever again.

“Promise me?” Bianca asked, looking up in my direction.

I promise.  That night, while Bianca slept, I focused my gaze on the bedroom door.  Brother might come back for an encore rage session.  I can’t really remember when I dozed off.

The following morning, I woke to find Bianca’s bed neatly made up.  Her jacket not on the clothes rack.

Oh, that’s right!  Monday morning.  How stupid of me to forget first day of fall.  I’m sure Bianca’s excited about third grade and getting out of the house, away from Brother.  New day, new school year.  She’ll tell me all about it when she gets home.  Cool! I’ll just hang out in the room.

3:30 pm.  Finally!  I can hear muffled voices downstairs – I don’t know whose – but she’s home.  Probably another tongue lashing from knucklehead Brother.

The two voices grew louder, more excited as they came down the hall.  Almost like…laughing and joking?

Bianca entered the room.  With…another girl.  After throwing their backpacks on the bed, Bianca pulled out Monopoly from her drawer.

I couldn’t believe it.  Ummm, who is she?  I demanded.

I think Bianca ignored me on purpose, or at least tried not to hear me.  She kept up her giggly chatter with this other girl.

Determined to get her attention, my “air” head hurt from the effort. Bi-Bi!  I pleaded.  Who is this creature you brought into our room?

“Carla, okay!  Just leave me alone,” Bianca snapped, waving her arms as if I was a fly buzzing around her.

“Huh?  Why’d you yell my name?  I’m right here,” Carla said, puzzled.

“Oh, um, sorry ‘bout that.  Gretchen’s bugging me,” said Bianca.

“Who? Gretchen?” Carla asked.

“Uh, no one special,” Bianca shrugged.  “Can we get back to the game already?”

I tried to grasp her words.  No-one, huh?  Really?

But I don’t blame Bianca.  It’s this girl’s fault!  Carla!  How dare she come into my home, no, it’s our home.  Bi-Bi is my BFF!  Not hers!

I paced – in the “air” of course – hands wringing and a million thoughts racing.  This cannot be happening.  Pull yourself togetherI’m still Bi-Bi’s buddy.  Just need what’s-her-face see that.  I’ll do whatever I can to hold onto what’s mine.

A-ha!  Light bulb moment!  I sure hope this works.

I got in between them, positioning myself right in front of Carla.  Her blue eyes sparkled, clearly having a grand old time.  I was too focused on Carla to look at Bianca, but I could sense she had her gapped tooth smile again.  How come she can’t smile like that around me?

Carla was too preoccupied with the game.  I focused again, harder this time.

“Hey, can you quit doing that?” Carla asked.

Bianca frowned. “Quit doing what?”

“Don’t know, but I just feel something…it’s sort of weird.”

“You sure it wasn’t something you ate at lunch,” Bianca laughed.

Carla pondered this, “Well, OK, maybe it was.”  A buzzing came from her backpack.  “Oh, that’s probably my dad calling.  Gimme one second.”

Now’s my chance!  Sorry, Bi-Bi!

With Carla’s back turned, I grabbed the board game and whacked it into her head.  Bianca’s jaw dropped.  Good, that’ll teach them!

“Ouch!” Carla cried, dropping the phone to the floor.

“Omigosh, are you okay?”  Bianca asked, trying to comfort her.

“What did you do that for?”  Carla rubbed the spot where I’d hit her.

“What?  No, I didn’t do it.  It was…uh…Gretchen!”  Bianca pointed, then realized she shouldn’t have said that.

“Gretchen, huh?  Whatever.  I’m outta here!”  Carla snatched her backpack, storming out of the room.

I did it!  The “intruder” was gone, and now Bianca can tell me about her day at school.

Only she wasn’t in the mood for bestie chat now.  The look on her face startled me.

“You did that, didn’t you?”  Bianca fumed.  “How could you embarrass me?  Don’t you want me to have any real friends?  You’re nothing but a wacko!”

I hung there motionless, trying not to hear her words.  She couldn’t be saying those things to me, could she?

Tears streaming down her face, Bianca grabbed her jacket and bolted from the room.  I had a million thoughts in my head, but my instinct was to follow her.  Can I convince her I meant no harm?  I only wanted to scare Carla a little.

Bianca ran down the hall.  My thoughts were jumbled and became a blur.  I hoped she could hear me over her crying.

Bi-Bi, please don’t go!  We can talk about this!  She didn’t look my way.

I had to make her understand.  It’s probably too late to understand!

Bianca’s racing down the stairs.  Can’t let her leave!

Before I realized it, my “arms” grabbed hold of her ankles, and she tumbled down the staircase.  She lay on the floor, groaning and struggling to move.  Brother came out of the kitchen.

“Oh no, Bi-Bi?  What the hell happened?”  He comforted her while calling 911.

I hung by the top of the stairs, unable to process things.  What did I do to her?  What’s wrong with me?

I had to make things right.  Bi-Bi didn’t deserve what I’d done.

Finally, the paramedics came and helped Brother get Bianca ready for the stretcher.  She whimpered, yet still in a lot of pain.  I “followed” them as they carried her to the ambulance.  Most of the neighborhood gathered to see what the commotion was about.  One person close by, I recognized.  I tried not to, but I did.

Carla was among those watching.

I knew what needed to be done.  I drifted to Carla, stopping directly in front of her.  I didn’t know if I would have the same effect, but it was worth a shot.  I focused on her blue, sparkly eyes.

Bianca still moaned as she was carried inside the ambulance.  Her eyes blinked open.

“Hey!  Bianca, can you hear me?” Carla called out.

Bianca looked in her direction, disoriented, but glad to hear a friendly voice.

“Car-Carla, is that you?” Bianca slurred.

“Bianca?  I’m so glad you’re okay!”

“But I thought you were mad at me.”

“Well, yeah, I was.  But something told me to come back.  Don’t know what it was, but I’m glad I did.”

I did the right thing bringing Carla here, I convinced myself.

I think Bianca sensed it too.  Her gapped-tooth smile slowly came.

I hesitated to go near Bianca, but I forced myself, “touching” her hand.

I love you, my dearest Bi-Bi.  She felt my presence and didn’t flinch.

I backed away, watching Bianca and Carla get close again.  It thrilled me, seeing them reconnect.

But just for old times’ sake, I asked, Promise me you’ll never leave?

And Bi-Bi mouthed the words, “Yes, I promise.”