Fantasy Fiction Friendship

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

   Brock stared at her throughout history class. Why does she dress like that? Her clothes hang on her, badly soiled and worn out. And those shoes! They’re men’s shoes! He was sure his uncle had a pair. His father called his uncle a deadbeat, whatever that was. All Brock knew was he stunk like smoke. But at least he never stayed long, his dad always ushered him out after he asked for money. Anyway, why would a ten-year old girl want to wear men’s shoes?

               Mrs. Ellingsworth’s voice droned on about the American Revolution, going in one of Brock’s ears and out the other. He wouldn’t have to study; he would ace the exam. His mother said he wasn’t challenged enough and should be moved up a grade but his father wouldn’t allow it. Dad coached his little league, flag football, soccer, and basketball teams since he was old enough to play. He also scouted out the ages above and below Brock, wanting to see the competition against his son’s chance to be the star athlete when his time came. Brock’s autumn birthday let him stay in pre-k one more year, then start kindergarten as one of the oldest kids in the class. This gave him an obvious advantage in sports but also gave him an edge in academics. He was the best at everything grade school had thrown at him so far.

               The skinny, brown-haired girl was not one of the brightest in the class, nor was she athletic, and certainly not the best at…well, anything. Josie had very few friends and was miserable at school. It was quite difficult for her to make friends because she was so timid that she rarely spoke. Whenever a teacher or another student asked her something, she often was too frightened to answer in a way that made sense. Of course, that just made it worse. The other children said she was weird and mostly left her alone. But occasionally one of the boys would decide she was an easy target and tease her until she cried.

               This afternoon, she was listening intently to Mrs. Ellingsworth review their study guide for the American Revolution test tomorrow. She had tried to complete the study guide last night, but it was hard to study at home. If her parents weren’t fighting, then the tv was blaring or the baby was crying. Or, even worse, her father went to the pub. On those nights, she and her mother were so frantic with worry that it was impossible to concentrate on her homework. Would he come home? Would he be looking for a fight with her mother when he got there? Or would he find fault with her? It was best if he didn’t come home or fell asleep as soon as he got there.

               As she was marking out her wrong answers and frantically scribbling Mrs. Ellingsworth’s correct ones, Josie felt someone staring at her. She didn’t dare turn around and silently prayed she was wrong. She tried to shrink into her seat a bit, tucking her dress tighter under her legs so it wouldn’t look so big on her small frame. She crossed her ankles and tried to hide her shoes. Her last defense was to let her hair fall forward over her shoulders to shield her face. Only then did she return to her study guide, safe in her cocoon.

               The final bell blasted the shrill sound signaling the end of another day. The room burst alive with the sound of books slamming shut, chairs scraping across the floor, and friends rushing out. The girls left arm in arm and the boys playfully pushing one another. Josie held back, afraid to be swept into the mass exodus which potentially made her an easy target for teasing or getting knocked around. She slipped on her sweater to cover her skinny bruised arms. Mrs. Ellingsworth watched as Josie took her time, glancing around to be sure the room was empty before putting on her backpack. 

               “Josie?” her teacher called softly, “I made too much for my lunch today, would you do me a favor and take it? I have a dinner meeting after school, and don’t want my sandwich to go to waste.”

               “Oh, yes, I’ll take it. Thank you, ma’am, I…I appreciate it.” Josie’s stomach growled as she accepted the turkey sandwich and carton of milk Mrs. Ellingsworth pulled from the small refrigerator in the corner. Even with the reduced lunch price the school provided, Josie could only select the most inexpensive options in the cafeteria.  Sadly, there were too many days that the school lunch was her only meal. She never dared to complain, but there often just wasn’t enough at home for supper. Josie and her mother would take a bite or two and give the rest to her father and the smaller children. This was another reason she started school when she was four instead of five. If she was at school all day, that was one less mouth to feed at home.

               As she left the classroom, she took a bite. The thick wheat bread and moist slice of turkey tasted heavenly. She chewed slowly to make it last. By this time, the buses were gone and only a few kids were outside waiting for their parents. Josie always walked to school because her family only had one car and her dad had to drive it to work at the refinery across town. If her mother needed to go to the store during the day, she put the little ones into the stroller and walked. Walking was Josie’s only option too, but she didn’t mind. She liked being alone and took her time, especially today, since she could eat in peace and quiet.

               Brock watched as she walked down the school steps. Her backpack was so large that it hit against the back of her knees. She was eating as she walked. His mother would be upset if he ate on the way home from school, saying it would spoil his appetite for dinner. He wondered if Josie would get in trouble for eating before dinner. She was so small, she probably didn’t eat much anyway, so he figured her mother wouldn’t notice if she spoiled her appetite. There was something about her. She was just so odd. Her whole family was probably weird and maybe even a strange dog or cat. He followed her. Not to talk to her though, that wouldn’t be cool. He just wanted to watch her a bit longer. But he was curious, why was she so…what? He had to know.

               A few blocks from school, she entered an alleyway. She had finished the sandwich and was drinking the rest of the milk. He stayed as far back as he could without losing her. She stopped and placed the milk carton and waxed paper into a trash can in the alley. She must be at the back of her house, he thought. He looked down the alley at the back of the big white house with the picket fence. That’s a nice house, he thought, so why doesn’t she wear better clothes? As he was trying to figure out why there was such a vast difference between her appearance and her house, she closed the lid to the trash can, adjusted her backpack and walked on.

               She walked to the end of the overgrown alley. She opened a rusty gate and disappeared through the hedge into a backyard. Brock found a gap in the branches to peek through and crouched outside the chain link fence. Josie disappeared into the house but maybe she would come back outside so he waited. He could see the back porch was leaning a bit to one side and at least two of the steps had rotted through. The old wood siding was painted at one time, but now was a dingy gray. Like her clothes and her hair, her house was a mess. There were garbage bags piled up along the fence next to the can that was spilling over. From inside he heard a baby cry and some voices he couldn’t make out. Suddenly, Josie came back outside, dragging some large wooden sticks and maybe, paper? She had her hands full, but nimbly hopped down the stairs, skipping the rotted boards.

               He shrunk back into the shadows to remain hidden. He didn’t need to worry about being seen though, she was more focused on getting all that stuff out into the yard. A few minutes later, Brock watched as she carefully set everything down, then picked up the wooden sticks. She tugged at the lower portion and the legs popped open into a pyramid, then she swiveled another stick to make a ledge. She propped her pad of paper on the ledge.

               Oh, it was an easel! Brock was intrigued, why would anyone want to draw or paint if they weren’t at school? Art was his least favorite subject and he thought it was a total waste of time. Why paint when you could dominate at a sport? Be a hero! Artists were dorks. And here was the dorkiest girl in school to prove his point.

               Unaware Brock was watching, Josie continued setting out her paints and brushes carefully on the small ledge. She shook out a smock and slipped it over her clothes. He continued watching her as she unscrewed the caps off the paint bottles and carefully selected a brush. She stepped back and stared at the blank paper. She looked thoughtful, then furrowed her brows and glanced at the back porch of her house. Her eyes went back to the paper, she sighed, then set to work. She sketched a light outline then stepped back to scrutinize her work. Satisfied, she returned to her sketch. It was only a light pencil outline so Brock couldn’t see what it was. She moved to another part of the paper and sketched a circle with a line curving out from the side, then picked out a brush. She made long uneven strokes with different shades of gray and went back over the gray with patches of white. Now a little brown, some golden yellow and a little blue. She had painted a kitten! He could see it from the alleyway. He was impressed, it was pretty good.

               Josie kept painting, adding little details like whiskers, stray hairs on the tail and a sparkle in the eye which made it look mischievous. Next, she selected another brush and started painting the ball looking object in the corner. Brock couldn’t believe how talented she was. He never guessed this weirdo Josie could create something beautiful. As she swirled her brush in the water and stepped back, he could see the whole painting. She had painted a calico kitten that looked ready to pounce on a red ball of yarn. She even had the pose of the cat just right; he could almost see her flick her tail as she crouched down playfully.

               Smiling, Josie removed her smock and stood back to admire her work. This was the first time he’d seen her smile. It was nice. He was watching her when suddenly she spoke.

               “Here kitty, come kitty, let’s play.”

               Was she crazy? It’s a painting! But as he was thinking what a dork she was, the kitten pounced down from the picture and ran to her.

               “What?” Brock said aloud, then moved back into the alley. What just happened? Was he seeing things? He had to look again! As he parted the hedge again, he saw Josie with the red ball of yarn in her hand rolling it to the kitten. She let the kitten paw it and then she would take it away, leaving the string trailing behind. The kitten pounced on the string and Josie would pull it just out of her reach, giggling and teasing the cat. She played for a few minutes and then scooped up the kitten who purred and curled up in her arms.

               “Josie! Get in here! Help your mother!” Josie’s dad stumbled out onto the porch holding a beer in his hand. He took a drink while he scratched his belly through his stained white t-shirt. “Come on! Get your junk and be useful.”

               Brock watched as Josie ran to gather her things, trying not to spill any of her paint. She put the lids on the paint, dumped the water and shook out her brushes. She had her arms wrapped tightly around everything. She stumbled on the stairs and her dad grabbed her, pushing her toward the house. He could hear her father shouting after the door closed behind them, but now he was shouting at both Josie and her mother.

               It was getting dark. Brock would have to hurry to get home before his mother set dinner out for them and his father arrived home. He took another look back before leaving to see where the kitten had gone. The yard was empty, not even the red yarn was left behind. Where did it go? She left it behind when her father called. Neither the kitten nor the yarn was anywhere to be found.

               Each day for the next week, Brock followed Josie home after school and hid in the hedge to watch her paint. One day, she painted a little girl wearing a princess dress and crown. He watched as they played tea party with the little tea set, table and chairs Josie had painted. Then her father had shouted for her to come inside and the princess disappeared. The next day she painted a three-ring circus. She was the lion tamer while the acrobats jumped and flipped in the ring to her left and the clowns crammed into the tiny car in the ring to her right.

               Another day, she painted a horse and made herself a set of jockey’s clothes. When she called, the horse whinnied and jumped down from her canvas. She and the stallion raced around the yard at breakneck speed. When her father yelled from the house, she was having too much fun to notice and didn’t respond right away. Within minutes he came outside with a leather belt in his hand and beat her. Brock looked away in shame as she cried and picked up her painting supplies. She set her chin and didn’t tremble as she walked past her father into the house with her blank canvas and supplies.

               One stormy evening, he watched as she painted a red fire truck. Soon she and a dalmatian dog were driving with the lights and sirens to a tall burning building. In all the excitement, she didn’t hear her father stumble outside. He had left work early and stopped by the pub. The rain had put him in an especially bad mood tonight. He didn’t even call for her, just walked to her easel and stared at the painting she had made. Blurry-eyed, he tried to focus, then spat on the ground. As Josie watched, he drew his hand back hit the canvas and easel, knocking everything to the ground. She cried out for him to stop, begging him, and promising she’d come inside and be good. He then turned on her and backhanded her across the face. She fell to the ground as he cursed her.

               Brock stood frozen in one spot. Was she dead? Should he run to her? Go get help? He wanted to scream and to punch the man, but he couldn’t move. Finally, Brock saw her father look down at Josie and start to cry. He picked her up and cradled her in his arms. As he climbed the back stairs, he yelled for his wife, saying that Josie had fallen and was hurt.

               Trembling, Brock ran to the yard and picked up her art supplies. He wanted to put them on the porch but it was raining hard now and he feared being caught there. Instead, he ran home and hid it all in his room.

               On Monday, Mrs. Ellingsworth announced to the class that Josie fell and would be in the hospital for a few days. She passed out paper and asked the class to make get well cards. Mrs. Ellingsworth would take them to her after school. Brock stared at the blank paper before him, furious that he knew the truth and couldn’t do anything about it. He folded the paper in half and stuck it in his book.

               Mrs. Ellingsworth collected the cards before the final bell. As the students were walking out, she put her hand on Brock’s arm.

               “I didn’t make one, I’m sorry…I,” he felt ashamed that nothing he made would be good enough for her.

               “Brock, would you like to go with me to see Josie? I can pick you up and explain to your mom.”

               Not looking up, he nodded.

               She looked even smaller in the hospital bed. Gauze was taped to her head and black eye but she smiled when she saw her teacher and Brock.

               “Your classmates made cards for you and I brought some chocolates,” Mrs. Ellingsworth squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek, “I think Brock has something for you too. I’ll step out for a minute and then we’ll visit.”

               Brock pulled out the blank paper and Josie’s paint. She sat up in bed, confused that he had her painting supplies. Without speaking, he painted some green stems and then made some red flowers on top. She smiled and Brock lifted her hand to touch them. As she ran her finger on the card, the room filled with a floral scent.

               “Josie, I know what your dad did, I was watching. Your paintings are magic. But…I don’t want you to be hurt anymore,” Brock whispered. “Can we talk to Mrs. Ellingsworth together?”

               As Josie nodded, Mrs. Ellingsworth stepped back into the room.

December 13, 2022 19:31

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21:18 Jul 23, 2023

loved this! Thank you for taking time to read mine


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Julie Squires
02:50 Dec 19, 2022

I liked this story a lot. It had me mesmerized from start to finish. Really great writing. :)


Susan Williams
17:57 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you Julie!


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E.L. Montague
23:46 Dec 18, 2022

Saying I liked this would be wrong. Child abuse is upsetting, but the other side of that, you had me. I was there. Good job.


Susan Williams
17:56 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you for reading my effort for the prompt.


E.L. Montague
18:04 Dec 21, 2022

It was a captivating read. Thank you for posting it.


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Wendy Kaminski
16:38 Dec 18, 2022

What an extraordinary story! I was so wrapped up, I lost track of everything around me, truly, and that rarely happens! You really have a gift for this, and it was a delight to get to read it in action!


Susan Williams
17:56 Dec 21, 2022

Thank you Wendy, you are very kind. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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