“But mum, I don’t want a big birthday party. You never listen.” My mum crouched down. She looked so tired and her brown hair was going grey.
“Milly, ever since your dad went to heaven, you’ve been spending more and more time in your imagination and that’s great, but you’re going to be eight soon. It’ll be good if you make friends with children your own age.”
“But mum, I have friends. Rufus and Mist.” I held them up to show her. I didn’t mention they were my only friends.
“Bug…Rufus and Mist are just toys. I mean real children, okay?”
I nodded, while looking downwards.
“Thank you, bug. I’ll call up the Eden Playzone and invite everyone in your class.”
I ran to my room and sat in front of the mirror, before dressing Rufus in the latest outfit we bought him from the Build-a-Bear Workshop. I squeezed his paw and giggled as he barked. And then I started crying. Sniffing, I wiped my brown eyes, but the tears kept coming. Rufus turned to me.
“Milly sad. I don’t like it when Milly sad.” He hugged me.
Mist started licking my arm. “What is it?” She purred.
“I miss dad. Why is he dead?”
“Milly, don’t say that,” Mist yowled, “he’s not dead. He’s an angel in heaven.”
“No, he’s dead. Mum says that, because she thinks I’m too young to understand the truth. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I should start growing up.”
“No. Milly no change. Milly nice now.”
“Rufus is right,” Mist agreed, “you don’t have to change if you don’t want to.”
“I should make new friends at the party. But I’m scared. What if they don’t like me?”
Mist rubbed her head against my arm. “Do you remember when you were 5? And you and Rufus rescued me from the Valley of Thorns. You fought giant spiders and flew across space to find me. That took a lot of bravery. You can do this.”
I smiled and nodded. My friends were right. I could do this.
A week later and it was my birthday. I was eight years old, but I still looked too young. With Rufus and Mist, I sneaked into mum’s room, while she was doing the washing up, and climbed onto the chair by her beauty table thingy. I picked up her hairbrush and started brushing my short, chestnut hair. How else do people look like grown-ups? I rooted around and found a macsara…I think that’s what my mum called it.
“What are you doing with your mum’s mascara?” Mist asked.
“Mum wears macsara to make her look grown-up. So, I will too.”
“Milly, your dad said you’re beautiful the way you are. You don’t need make-up.”
“Yeah, Milly pretty now. Milly no need the mac thingy.” Rufus agreed.
“Milly, we need to go now.” My mum shouted.
I put the macsara back and grabbing onto my friends, I ran downstairs.
“Milicent June Walker, why do you have your toys with you?”
“Mum…they’re my friends. I want my friends with me at my party.”
“Ok, bug, we don’t have time to argue.”
Mum and I hurried from the house and into the car. I put a seatbelt over Rufus and Mist, before putting mine on. Fifteen minutes later, we had arrived at the Eden Playzone. We rushed inside where my class were waiting by a spotty teenage boy with messy hair.
“Hello everyone and welcome to the Eden Playzone, paradise for children. I am Adam and I am your host today,” Adam droned on. He sounded more bored than me in Maths, “it is Milly Walker’s birthday and so after your time in the playzone, we’ll be having cake and presents. Parents can go in the designated parentzone. As it’s almost Halloween, we’ve decorated the playzone with spiders and bats and stuff. Hope none of you are scared…right that’s everything. Off you go.”
Everybody ran to the playzone, but I held back. Taking a deep breath, I started walking forward and then behind me I heard a stomping and a girl yelling “get out the way, buck-teeth.” And then this girl pushed over another one, before charging into the playzone. Her name was Angela, although those who didn’t know her well called her Angel. Even though she was only 8, she was already tall and pretty with long blonde hair and sky-blue eyes.
The girl she had pushed over was quite the opposite. Emily Collins was small with mousey-brown hair and front teeth, which did stick out. Although, I would never say that of course.
“Are you ok, Emily?” I asked.
“I’m fine, thanks.” She replied.
I looked around to see if Adam had seen what had happened, but he was texting on his phone. When I looked back, Emily had gone.
I stepped into the playzone and looked around. And I had to admit that it looked super-duper. There were weird mirrors that made you look funny and long windy slides and big ball pits. All around us were small toy spiders and bats too. All the other children were cheering, so I breathed in and jumped into the ball pit. I fell through the air, crashing onto the soft balls below. I laughed and waded through to the other side where there were big spinner thingies that I had to squeeze through, keeping a firm grip on Rufus and Mist. Then there was a shriek behind me and I saw Angela throwing balls at Emily. She then pushed a girl called Louise into the ball pit. I stepped forward.
“Angela, stop it. That’s not nice.”
“Milly, you’re 8 years old, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“So, why are you holding toys like a big baby?” Angela laughed, before running deeper into the playzone.
“Are you ok?” Emily asked.
“I’m fine.” I replied.
“Angela’s mean, but let’s just play.”
“No, we’re not going to do that. Stay here. I’ll be right back.” Holding onto Rufus and Mist, I jumped into one of the slides that took me back to the ground level.
“What’s going on?” Rufus asked.
“Angela’s a bully. Dad always told me to stand up to bullies.”
Mist smiled. “That’s my girl.”
“I don’t want you two getting hurt or lost, so I’m going to leave you with mum.”
“Be careful, Milly.” Rufus worried.
I hugged both of my friends before returning to Emily.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“We’re going to teach Angela a lesson, but how…” I looked around, searching for ideas.
“I know what we could do…” Emily started, before whispering the rest of her plan. I smiled and snatched up one of the Halloween decorations.
“I heard Angela say that she’s going to the big slide at the end.” Emily said.
“Let’s go there then.”
And together, Emily and I journeyed through the Eden Playzone. We climbed across cargo nets and up walls with weird handhold thingies. There were funny curtains with really thick tassies and tube things that spun around. There were rooms with wobbly floors and soft and bouncy walls. As we trekked higher and higher, we swung from rope to rope, squeezed through more of the strange spinner thingies, crawled through tunnels and ran across rope bridges. And then we reached a room with big, big, big bouncy balls that the other children were rolling into each other. But above the cheers rose Angela’s yucky voice.
“Look, it’s the baby and her buck-toothed friend.” She then snatched one ball away from a boy, before throwing it at us and running off.
Unbothered, Emily and I pressed onto the next level, where there was this long, big space that could only be crossed by a rope swing. There was a grown-up there to help you, otherwise you could cross by foot. There was a cackle, as Angela deliberately swung into another child. The grown-up shook his head, but didn’t say anything. He was spotty too and his name badge read Seth.
“I can’t do this, I’m scared.”
“Hey Emily, I know you are, but we need to be brave. Swinging across is much faster than walking and we need to stop Angela as soon as we can.”
Emily nodded, as Seth called out for her. He helped her onto the swing and told her to hold on, until she reached the other side. Once there, she should step off the platform, so the next child could swing. Emily nodded, and Seth pushed her off. She screamed until she came to a stop and then it was my turn. I climbed onto the swing and jumped off.
“Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,” I cheered, as I whizzed across the big space. I joined Emily, and together we journeyed to the final level. Leading down from the top of the playzone was a tall, silver slide and at the bottom was a ball pit to cushion your fall. There was also a staircase for anyone who didn’t want to go down the slide. Waiting by it was yet another bored-looking teenage girl giving instructions. There was supposed to be queue, but Angela was pushing her way to the front of it. I whispered my plan to Emily who nodded and ran forwards, only to trip over and start crying.
I called for help and the girl ran to us. She smelled like strawberries and she was wearing macsara. Her name badge read Eve.
As Eve was looking after Emily, I sneaked up on Angela.
“Leave that buck-toothed girl alone and help me now,” she whined, “what do you want, you big baby? Need a dummy?”
As I approached Angela, I tripped and grabbed onto her shoulder to keep my balance.
“Don’t touch me. What is it?”
“Angela, I know you’re scared of them, so I thought I should tell you. You have a spider on your shoulder.”
Angela screamed and threw her hands in the air. “Get it off me, get it off me, get it off me, please, please, please, help me, help me, please, please, please.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you.” I tried walking up to her, but she was moving so much, she lost her footing and fell over the slide. She screamed, as she hit the ball pit and then she began crying.
I heard Eve say very bad words, as she peered over the edge.
“Go help Angela, I’ll look after Emily.” I winked at my friend.
“You’re a good girl. Take her back to Adam.”
Taking the stairs, Emily and I headed back to the ground. Sure, we had missed out on the big slide, but it was worth it. We had beaten the bully.
30 minutes later, we had been joined by the other children, ready for presents and cake. But then Adam and Eve said they had to talk to us.
“Children,” Adam began, “earlier, a little girl called Angela fell over the big slide. She’s fine and has been taken home, but she claims that Milly pushed her.”
“I didn’t see anything, as I was helping Emily, so, Milly, do you or anybody else want to say anything?” Eve asked.
I felt my face get hot. Was I about to get into trouble? But then Louise raised her hand and I remembered she had been the girl, Angela had pushed into the ball pit.
“Miss Eve, Milly was helping me tie my shoelaces, when Angela fell over the slide. She couldn’t have pushed her.”
“Milly’s been really nice all day. She would never do that.” Chorused the other children whom Angela had been bullying.
Adam shrugged and exchanged a glance with Eve. “Whatever, we’re not getting paid extra for this. Right, as it’s Milly’s birthday, let’s give her a big cheer.”
I grinned, as some of the children yelled my name, while Emily called me a hero. My heart started feeling funny and my eyes were wet. I didn’t understand. I was happy, so why did I want to cry? And then it was time for cake and presents.
After we had finished, I took Emily to the parents’ area, but my mum and the others were still gone. Rufus and Mist were still there though. I picked them up.
“Emily, I want you to meet my friends, Rufus and Mist. I know they’re toys, and you probably think I’m a big baby, but they’re my friends.” I held my breath and hoped Emily wouldn’t laugh.
“Aww, they’re so cute.” Emily stroked Mist’s head and squeezed Rufus’ paw. She jumped, as he started barking.
And then my mum and the others returned. I ran up to her, with Emily in tow.
“Mum, I want you to meet someone. This is Emily.”
My mum smiled. “Nice to meet you, Emily. We were just told what happened to that lovely Angel girl. She said that you pushed her over the slide, but you wouldn’t do that, would you?”
I shrugged and grinned. “I guess that’s what could happen if you bully my friends. Because that’s what Emily is, mum. She’s my new friend.”
This is a sequel of sorts to a story I wrote a few years ago: https://jameslintonwriting.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/mist/
This short story first introduced us to the characters of Milly, Rufus and Mist. It was a children’s story and I had so much writing it and writing from the perspective of a child, I wanted to try again. However, as Milly is a few years older now, I wanted to give her a new challenge to overcome. Maybe sometime I’ll go back and revisit the time in between Mist and My New Friend.