“Imaginary Jace”

short story by: Ava Reiss

            It was the first day of the “best years” of Eva’s life; the first day of high school. Her hands trembled, clutching the straps of her book bag. Studying a map of the halls, she found her homeroom. She turned uncertainly and trudged past a group of large boys. Their jackets indicated they played varsity. She wasn’t the athletic type. She didn’t know what lacrosse was.

            Eva wished Jace were with her. She could picture the way his eyes creased when he smiled. The bottom lid bubbled. He was her imaginary friend.

Eva had started to picture him when she was five. She was at a church picnic and fell into a ditch in the nearby woods. Eva knew she shouldn’t have wandered, but she thought she had seen a butterfly. A really pretty one. She couldn’t climb out and shouted for help. She continued hollering at the top of her lungs for quite some time, but no one came. Afraid she was doomed to stay there alone forever, Eva wept.

In the exhaustion, a boy appeared. Eva couldn’t recall exactly how, but he was covered in mud like her. He said his name was Jace. He couldn’t climb out either. He looked worried but managed a smile. It’s when she first noticed the bubbling lower lid.

Jace had told her they should try shouting together. Eva agreed. Before long, adults found them and there was lots of clamoring. Eva was too young to understand what was going on. Drowsy, she fell asleep.

            Afterwards, Eva had asked her dads about Jace. They didn’t know anyone by that name. As Eva grew older, she never saw the boy at church again. She eventually concluded he was an imaginary friend, created in a moment of distress.

            Eva’s thoughts returned to high school as a tall girl pounded through the halls. She ducked out of the way. As Eva rounded the corner, she sighed in relief to see a familiar face. Seda, from her art class last year, waved her over. She was chatting with some people Eva didn’t recognize. She scooted over. “They go to my Hebrew school!” Seda announced with excitement.

            “Pleased to meet you,” Eva smiled sweetly.

Seda’s friends studied her with curious eyes. She patted her big hair nervously. Eva wanted to say more, to make friends, but it was never easy. Her tongue felt heavy, as if the right words took pleasure in escaping. She wished she could be as eloquent in person as she was on paper. Over the years, she had written slews of letters to Jace.

            Seda introduced the girls first, “Anneli, Soroya.” The boys were, “Elijah, Abner.”

            “I’m Eva,” she squeaked.

            “We’re freshmen too” Soroya beamed. “Where’s your homeroom.”

            “Um…” Eva looked past the group towards her door.

            At the same time, a swarm of people headed their way. Some shouted excitedly. Teachers appeared in the halls to scold the level of noise. The teenagers paid no mind. The ruckus was headed straight for Eva when she noticed a boy at the center of it all. She froze as he stepped beside her.

            No way.

            A boy who could be a grown version of Jace cut into their group, with dozens more people crowding from behind. Eva felt like a sardine. She couldn’t move. Helplessly, she watched the boy lean towards her, eyes down. Eva dared not breathe as his cheek hovered inches away. He spoke pessimistically to Elijah, who was crammed beside her, “Transferring here was no use. I think I’m going to homeschool or drop out.”

            “Alright cousin. We tried,” Elijah responded.

            The boy quickly disappeared around the corner. The boisterousness followed.

            “Was that Jesse Danger?” Anneli squealed. She slapped Elijah’s arm, “You said your cousin was a web celeb, but you didn’t say he was THE Jesse Danger!”

            “Yeah, he doesn’t like people knowing,” Elijah appeared uncomfortable.

            Eva gulped. “W-who’s Jesse Danger?”

            Anneli’s jaw dropped. “The free runner that travels across country, shooting vids on or around national monuments? He also sings a cappella love songs! Everybody loves him!”

            Elijah’s next words floored Eva. “He started really young after falling into a ditch. He got really into climbing things after that. Said he didn’t wanna get stuck again.”

            “A-and it was just him in the ditch?”

            “Yah. Why?”

            Eva shrugged.

            “I think Jesse just got another fan,” Seda teased.

            A bell rang, alerting the students they had five minutes to get to homeroom. The group parted ways. Eva drifted down the hall, lost in her mind.

            What if that was Jace? I was young. I could’ve mistaken his name. Jace sounds a little like Jesse.

            Eva found her seat and pulled out her phone. She searched for Jesse’s history. She didn’t find anything relating to his ditch incident. Perhaps only his family knew.

            “I see you’re a Jesse Danger fan,” the girl behind her said. “Me too.” Eva swirled to see a blonde fanning herself. “I never expected him to come to our little town!”

            “Wh-What?”

            “He’s from the West Coast! Hasn’t been this far east, ever. Only transferred here ‘cause he’s got family in the area.”

            Eva frowned. Jesse couldn’t be Jace. She was crazy to think so in the first place. She’d never left the East Coast. Dejected, she put her phone away.

#

            The bell rang for lunch. Eva rubbed her eyes before putting her glasses back on. Her stomach was in knots. Now came the pressure of figuring out where to sit. Gathering her books, she headed to her locker.

Seda and her friends found her. “Come sit with us.”

            Eva felt relieved. “Okay!”

            As the group made their way to the cafeteria, Anneli busied herself scrolling through her phone. “Check this out!” she cried. “Jesse uploaded a new song this morning!” She leaned onto Eva’s shoulder, flashing her the screen. “I’m sure you’ll dig this!”

            “Dig? Who says that anymore?” Abner snickered.

            “Shut up!”

            Eva gently accepted Anneli’s phone. She had trouble hearing over the noise, so she plugged in her headphones. Jesse’s Danger’s smooth voice flowed into her ears and Eva’s steps slowed.

            You chased pink butterflies,

Because they take you to the world of dreams.

Hopes are fleeting so we hold on tight.

My big-haired darling,

I can see it in your eyes. It’s no surprise.

The loneliness we feel, makes life unreal.

The fire of candles you burn,

late at night, as you write,

Are your only friends, until the end.

Together, we gotta fend…

            Eva pulled out her headphones and quickly returned the phone to Anneli. “Excuse me,” she dashed towards the bathroom, rubbing a sore mark on her thumb. She had burned it the night before with wax. Eva liked to set the mood when writing to Jace, and often used candles.

            Locking herself in a stall, she pulled out her phone. Eva performed a search on Jesse Danger lyrics. As she read, she sank to the floor. “Th- these words. Half are from my letters!” she mumbled. An odd sensation crept up her spine. Eva didn’t feel well. “What does this mean?”

#

            Eva felt like a creep. Yes. She was stalking Jesse Danger, but not because she wanted to. Well, maybe a little bit. But she needed answers!

            It was inconvenient to get him alone. There were things she needed to ask, but she knew she would never have the nerve to do so with others around. It was difficult enough just thinking of speaking to him.

            She joined the journalism club at the first chance. Everyone wanted to interview Jesse Danger. Eva did something she wasn’t proud of. “I’m a good friend of his family. He’ll feel comfortable giving me real answers,” she lied during their first meeting.

            “Yeah, I’ve seen her hanging with that Elijah,” a boy whose name she’d forgotten grumbled.

            “It’s settled then. Eva gets the interview.”

            The rest of the staff groaned.

            It was hard to get Jesse to commit. He didn’t like the idea initially. Eva kept emailing and texting. He eventually agreed to “be nice.”

Eva couldn’t eat for days. She didn’t know which questions to ask first, the ones for the paper, or about her words in his songs. She had never shown her letters to Jace to anyone.

Is Jesse cosmiscally reading my letters somehow?

#

The door to the empty classroom opened. Eva’s heart skipped a beat. A sandy-haired boy peered in.

“Hi Jesse,” her voice broke and her cheeks burned. Eva cleared her throat, and forced herself to try again. “I’m Eva. I’ll be doing your interview today.”

Jesse shrugged, “’Kay.” He found a seat and folded his hands on the desk, disinterested.

Eva cleaned her glasses before placing them back on her face. She brushed a loose strand of hair away, knowing she couldn’t stall forever. In her backpack sat a few letters she’d written Jace.

“I- I’d like to start by asking about your inspiration for your songs.”

Jesse shrugged, “Oh, you know, they just come to me.”

“Do you talk to people to get your ideas?” Eva didn’t know how to move forward.

“Look,” he exhaled and leaned back. “Do you just want the usual FAQs?”

Eva knew her chance was slipping away. “I-I,” her mouth went dry.

“If it’s okay, I’ll just email you my press pack. You can use it how you want.”

“No,” Eva whispered.

“What?” Jesse leaned forward.

Unsure what to do, Eva panicked. She grabbed her letters out of her backpack. “Jesse, your words are mine!” she clutched them in his face.

Jesse battled a look of disgust. “Oh no, not another super fan,” he breathed. “This interview’s over.” He stood and headed for the door.

“No wait!” Eva pulled out a letter with lines she knew were in his song. But there were more than just those lines. There were private things she’d only shared with Jace. If Jesse somehow had read her letters, he would know them too.

She started to read, not knowing what she had hoped for. Eva kept on, promising to stop when she heard the door slam.

It never came.

Eva reached the end of her letter. As she set it down, footsteps approached. Jesse sat back down. They stared at each other with uncertainty.

Jesse eventually spoke, “Dreams. That’s where I get my ideas from.”

“D-dreams?”

“Yes. Sometimes I hear someone talking to me. I don’t always see her. But…” Jesse looked scared, “I’m pretty sure those were words I once heard.”

“I also fell into a ditch when I was little…” Eva didn’t know what else to say. “I thought a boy named Jace was with me…” Eva bit her lip before she said she thought Jesse could be the boy. It was preposterous.

Jesse’s face contorted. His eyes darted about as if he were thinking hard. He let out a long breath. “You can’t write in the paper what I’m about to say.” He begged, “Please.”

Eva nodded, “Promise.”

“Yeah I fell into a ditch when I was little… but I thought I heard a kid down there. And,” he clutched his head, “I coulda swore I saw her too! But everyone said it was just me!”

“Jesse, my dads swear I was never in a ditch. They say they didn’t even go to church that year.”

His face paled. “A church?”

“… Yes?”

“Not many people know it was by a church. How do you?”

“I dunno…”

Jesse grew excited, “I had friends tell me it was ghost, buried on the church grounds. I even saw a shrink, and she says the girl was an imaginary friend!” He scrunched his face. “I was messed up for a while. No one believed me.”

“Did you see butterflies in the ditch?” Eva grasped for anything that was similar.

Jesse nodded, “An iridescent one.” He raked fingers through his hair. “My uncle Martin said the girl was astral projecting from someplace. He’s into that stuff.”

Eva frowned, “What’s astral projecting?”

“It’s when you sleep and your mind goes someplace else. Sometimes, other people can see you.” Jesse grew concerned. “Just double-checking, you’re still not planning to write any of this, are you?”

“I promised.” Eva couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Jesse, did you fall into the ditch in the early evening?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, if you were on the West Coast, and I was on the East Coast. It would’ve been my bedtime.”

He sat up with a start. “What are you saying?”

Eva’s head swam. “I- I dunno.” She pulled off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. The chances that she really astral projected were astronomical. With a sigh, she replaced them on her face.

Jesse narrowed his eyes. “Wait…” Slowly, he reached towards Eva. She pulled away a bit when he pinched the sides of her glasses. Yet his eyes were kind. Eva patiently allowed him to remove them. The two stared at each other for a long while. Jesse’s face sifted through a half dozen expressions, each harder to read than the last.

Finally, it settled on a grin. Eva had never seen Jesse smile before. Now, his bottom lid bubbled. “You’ve grown, Ella…”

The End

To read more from this anthology, Ava’s Short Short’s can be purchased on Amazon: here

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