He’s looking straight at me. Straight through me. It has been three months, and still I can’t get used to the feeling of being invisible. The only thing keeping me grounded to reality is Jules. My Jules.
Jules with the round cheeks and big blue eyes. Jules who always has something to tell me, something to feed me, something to remind me that I do exist. Jules is my very best friend. Jules is my only friend.
Jules is the only one who can see me.
“Jules, honey,” he says. This man is her father. He is kind to her, but he does not like me very much. I can tell by the way he pats Jules on the hand and tells her that she should make some real friends.
“Why don’t you play outside with Ava?” he says.
Jules smiles, then looks at me. “Can Ruth play, too?”
“Why doesn’t Ruth stay inside with me,” says her father. Jules does not like this idea. I have come to know how her face changes slightly, right before she starts to cry.
“I will go with you,” I tell her. She brightens, and it eases my heart to see her do so. My only purpose in this life is to protect Jules, but I have grown to care for her as a real friend would.
I can still remember the moment I was assigned to Jules. I had spent years waiting in the afterlife, a child taken from my world too young. But then Jules came along, smiling and holding her stuffed cat tight against her chest, and I knew that I would have died again to protect her. I had too.
Ava does not see me either. She pretends that she can, in the way that little kids would, but only Jules can truly see me or hear me.
Jules is always confused when her mother tells her that I am not real. She is young, and she is naive, but she is not pretending when she speaks to me. I wish I could tell her this. But I cannot. She would not understand.
“Hello,” says Ava.
“Hello,” says Jules.
I am silent.
Jules turns her head to me, smiling. “Say hello, Ruth.”
I say hello.
Ava frowns, but Jules does not see. Ava is growing up, and she is beginning to realize that Jules’ invisible friend is not quite so real as she had once thought. Ava has never had a friend like me, and I am sorry for it. But I do not think that Ava needs such a friend.
Jules does. Jules is full of ideas, and I am a good listener. Jules loves stories, and I have plenty to tell.
“Would you like to play a game?” Ava asks. “What about house? I could be the older sister, and you the younger, and we could be orphans.”
“Oh, yes!” Jules agrees. “Ruth can be our cat. Would you like to be our cat, Ruth?”
“I would love to be your cat,” I tell her.
Ava nods as if she understands. “She could be our cat, and maybe we are secretly princesses, except now we are queens because our parents are gone.”
Queen Jules and Queen Ava parade through the grass, giving orders to their citizens and petting their cat. I meow, because it makes Jules laugh when I do.
“I have to go, now,” Ava says. She runs towards her house.
“Let’s go play by the river,” suggests Jules.
“I don’t think we should,” I start to say, but Jules is already tugging me down towards the banks.
“Look at the fishies,” Jules points at the school of fish that are swimming near the surface. “Do you think I could catch one?”
She does not wait for me to answer. She sticks her hand into the water, grasping for a fish, but they are too quick. She frowns and sticks the other hand in, but now she cannot hold on. She can barely shout before she goes toppling into the water.
This is what I do. I grab her, pulling her out of the water and holding her in my arms. She screams and coughs and is soaked in cold water, but she is alive. She is okay.
Her parents are quick to rush outside, and upon seeing their daughter sopping wet on the ground they start to cry out.
Her father gathers Jules up in his arms and holds her close. Her mother rubs her head.
“Jules,” she says, “Jules, are you alright? What happened?”
“I tried to catch the fishies, but they kept swimming away from me. Then I fell. But it’s
okay, Ruth saved me.”
Bewildered, her mother scans the area. Upon seeing no one around, she shakes her head and speaks to her daughter.
“Promise me you won’t play by the river again?”
Jules lip quivers, but she nods.
As her father carries her to the house, she whispers something into the air, just quiet
enough for me to hear, because I am standing just beside her.
“Thank you, Ruth.”
“We should go buy new clothes, since we’re going back to school,” says Ava.
“My mom already bought me new clothes,” Jules says hesitantly.
Ava frowns. “Come on! You don’t want to wear what your mom buys you.”
Jules looks at me, indecision written across her face. She is older now, her face not so round, her eyes not so big. I can’t make choices for her anymore.
“Jules?” Ava asks. I am glad that Jules did not ask me the question aloud. The other kids already think she is strange, because she still believes in her imaginary friend. But she is still too young. And perhaps I cannot bring myself to tell her.
“Okay,” Jules says finally. “I’ll ask my mom.”
“Oh, yes! This will be fun, Jules, I promise.”
Jules nods, the promise reflected in her eyes. A promise still means so much to Jules. But to Ava, it is just something to say.
“See you tomorrow,” Ava says, and waves Jules goodbye.
“You’ll have fun,” I tell Jules. I hope that this will be true.
Jules smiles, now, for the first time. I am not sure how to feel about this. It is one thing to bring her happiness, but it is another to be the only one she can rely on, the only word she can trust.
I wonder if spending more time with Ava will be good for Jules. At the same time, I cannot help but be jealous every time Jules tells her a joke, or a story, that used to belong to me. I chide myself for these feelings. It is not my place to be jealous of Ava, or any real person.
My Jules is not just my friend, anymore.
And it hurts me so to say that, because even though my Jules is not truly mine, I will always and forever be hers.
It is Jules’ fourteenth birthday today. She did not invite me to the party, but I am here anyways.
Why am I here?
Because Jules needs me.
But that is not true.
And yet I still follow her as she walks down the stairs, I sit beside her as she blows out
her candles. I listen to her as she murmurs her wish.
“I wish that I could travel to Europe, one day, with Ava,” she says, quietly, privately. Ava. Not Ruth. It has not been Ruth for some time, now. Maybe that is for the best. After all, this is what I have always wanted for Jules, right? But then, why does something inside of me break when I look at her and realize that somehow, I never realized that Jules’ eyes have turned from blue to green.
Jules cries in her room when her father grounds her. I sit beside her, rubbing her back and telling her stories of when we were young.
She pretends that I don’t exist.
She thinks that I don’t exist.
Do I really exist?
Because if Jules does not believe in me…
Then no one does.
Jules submitted her college application today.
“Oh, Ruth,” she says. My name? Did she really just say my name? Or did I imagine in, like I have so many times before?
“Where did you go?”
What does she mean. I stand up. I walk towards her. She looks at me.
She looks through me.
“Jules,” I say, just to say something. She cannot hear me. “Jules. Jules. Jules.”