The going-gray-girl sat boringly on a swing just barely swinging. She didn’t reach for the sky with her toes. She didn’t imagine she flew. See, this was the problem: the going-gray-girl lacked imagination and imaginary friends to share her daydreams with.
Quite differently, completely opposite, Jules bounded around the playground full of energy from the five mini-cupcakes her auntie had bought her for her birthday. Up the slide she went. Or, in her imagination up from the bottom of the ocean (which was the ground) she swam until she burst out into the air (the top of the slide) with a flick of her pinky-diamondy tail. Fellow mermaids, Zalina and Aloha, swam at her side.
(Jules had twenty-one other imaginary mermaid friends, all their names ending in –ina: Tina, Zina, Nina, Bina, Cina, Dina, Fina…etc.)
At the top of the slide, Jules’ tail disappeared and fairy wings (pink-diamondy-sparkly) grew from her back. Jules grasped the hand of Jacey and Lina, her imaginary fairy friends, and flitted about the fairy forest sprinkling fairy dust. Once the dust had been liberally shared, Jules left her fairy friends and rejoined all her mermaid friends with her three human imaginary friends in tow, Joelle, Lunia, and Sally. Jules lived a rich imaginary life. She practically glowed with all the imaging going on.
Ellie, fueled by several cupcakes herself, swung from bar to bar of the jungle gym, rushed up the stairs, two fingers pointing out and the rest wrapped around each other. She made shooting noises before diving down the slide. Or, in her imagination, she infiltrated the base of the evil fairies that only wore black. She aimed her imaginary gun, ready to capture their Queen. No! They spotted Ellie and now millions of evil black fairies were after her. Quick! Down the garbage chute. Ellie escaped only to realize she’d left Ellie, her imaginary fairy friend, behind in the castle.
(Yes, it’s confusing having the same name sometimes, but they don’t mind. Usually Ellie and Ellie just yell their location, instead of their names.)
Rushing around to the start of the jungle gym, Ellie made her way back inside the evil Queen’s lair. Imaginary-Ellie had to be saved.
While Ellie didn’t have the plethora of imaginary friends which Jules did, she did create very elaborate rescue plans every time Imaginary-Ellie was captured, which was often. Her imagination-fed glow equaled her sister’s easily.
While wonderful adventures were being enjoyed by Jules and company, and Ellie and Imaginary-Ellie, the going-gray-girl just sat. She didn’t even push with her feet to swing a little higher. A squeal of laughter from Jules and Ellie as their two imaginary worlds collided in a shower of glitter and explosions didn’t even raise the going-gray-girl’s hanging head. It hung lower and lower with no imagination to lift it up.
It was after they separated their two imaginary worlds and Jules helped Ellie rescue Imaginary-Ellie, that the sisters noticed the going-gray-girl for the first time.
“Oh! Look everyone, that little girl looks so sad.” Jules pointed across the playground. “Let’s invite her to play.”
Down the slide and to the swings everyone slid, swam, or flew.
“Hi!” Jules and Ellie said together, all smiles.
“We’re playing with our imaginary friends,” Jules explained and then proceeded to introduce and describe each of the mermaids, fairies, and just humans gathered around her. As she talked the going-gray-girl only went grayer and droopier. Finished, Jules asked, “Would you like to play with us?”
The going-gray-girl slipped from the swing. “No thank you.” Her shoulders slumped, her head dipped, and her feet shuffled.
“Do you have any imaginary friends?” Ellie bent over trying to look the going-gray-girl in the eyes.
“No,” she whispered.
Jules and Ellie gasped.
“Everyone needs imaginary friends!” Jules exclaimed. “Otherwise, who do you play with when your real friends are gone?”
“Who do you tell stories to at night when you can’t sleep or you’re scared?” Ellie asked.
“I don’t need imaginary friends,” the gone-gray-girl said softly. “They don’t exist. I don’t need them.”
The two sisters glanced back at the tangle of slides, stairs, platforms, poles, tubes, and tunnels. To them, the bright plastic had been the ocean filled with glittering fish, sea turtles, and twenty-three giggling mermaids. To them, it had been a forest filled with butterflies, mushroom circles, and fairies. It had transformed to a frightening castle all in black which required a complicated rescue mission to traverse. The playground became so much more than just a playground, they became so much more than just little girls.
“How boring.” Jules shook her head.
Ellie turned. “Ellie’s in trouble again.” She made her hands a gun and took off for the playground, which had reverted back to an evil castle.
“She’s not real,” The gone-gray-girl said flatly, eyes on the ground. “None of its real.”
Ellie stopped. She looked from the playground to the girl and back, frowning.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re real or not.” Jules said. “They’re our friends.”
“That’s just stupid,” The gone-gray-girl said.
Jules and Ellie’s mouths fell open.
“That’s not a nice word.” Jules put her hands on her hips, her eyebrows raised.
“And it’s not stupid.”
Ellie clapped her hand over her mouth, awed at her own audacity.
“It is stupid. Only babies play with things that aren’t real.”
“You’re a sad little girl and I’m sorry for you,” Jules said. She took Ellie’s hand and returned to the playground. Through fits and starts they rebuilt their imaginary world. Soon, they were squealing, screaming, and racing around the playground.
Ellie had just completed a daring rescue of the fairy Jacey with the help of Imaginary-Ellie and Jules, who was now a pirate, when she looked out at the swings. The gone-gray-girl still swung like a limp dishrag, but an older girl with a mean smirk headed for her.
As the two girls watched surrounded by imaginary friends holding their breath in horrified fascination, the mean girl pushed gone-gray-girl right out of her swing. Plop! She landed in the sand. The mean girl towered over her waving a fist under her nose.
“To the rescue!” Jules raised her fist to the sky pretending it was a sharp hook.
“Arg!” Ellie agreed in her best pirate growl.
They took the fastest slides to the ground and bounded to the swings.
“Leave her alone, you big meany!” Jules bent down beside the gone-gray-girl.
“Yeah. You go away and leave us all alone, meany!” Ellie, eyes bright, got right in the mean girl’s face.
“Why should I?” The mean girl glared at Ellie.
Ellie made a little fist. “If you don’t, I’ll bop you on the nose.”
“I’d like to see you—”
Ellie bopped her on the nose.
The mean girl gasped and clamped her hand over her nose. Ellie stepped closer. The mean girl roared and ran away.
Jules whooped. The going-gray-girl smiled.
Ellie and Jules helped her to her feet. Jules wrapped her arms around the going-gray-girl. Holding her in a tight hug, she whispered, “I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” the going-gray-girl said. “Why did you come save me?”
“Well, we’ve saved Imaginary-Ellie several times today,” Jules explained, “so it was nice to save someone else.”
“But you were so brave. What made you be so brave?”
Ellie smiled. “We have imaginary friends and imaginary stories that we play. We’re brave all the time.”
“You should try it,” Jules said.
The going-gray-girl squinted. She screwed up her face and held her breath. She puffed out her cheeks and her ears turned red.
“Oh,” she whispered. A smile spread across her face. “Oh.”
“What? What is it?” Jules and Ellie said.
“This is my imaginary puppy. Her name is Imagine. She is brown.”
“Nope.” Jules said. “Not brown. Use your imagination on Imagine.”
The grayish-girl sighed and closed her eyes.
“This is Imagine, my white puppy. She has silver wings.”
“Nice to meet you, Imagine,” Jules bent down and held out her hand.
“What’s your name?” Ellie asked.
“I’m Emma. Does Imaginary-Ellie need rescuing again?”
The three girls raced to the playground, swam through the ocean, flew through the fairy forest, and arrived at the Evil Queen’s black castle where all the mermaids and Imaginary-Ellie were suffering in captivity. Emma, with Imagine at her side, preformed some very heroic acts which Jules and Ellie loudly applauded. The last little bits of Emma’s grayness floated away as little by little she imagined more and more.