Shelly quickly closes her balcony doors hopping on her feet, which sting on the freezing tiles. Giddily leaping onto her bed like a child, she is overcome by the total excitement of being able to talk to Tommy finally. A wish granted by a greater power, by a guardian angel, someone watching over her like how she has done over Tommy. The thought makes her giggle and she quickly warms from her own built up energy. But, suddenly, she remembers how she left Tommy, the last image of his eyes wide with fright at hearing a disembodied voice. Her exhilaration falls through a large hole in her stomach, formed by her own fear that he may be hurt. She has to go back and see him, see if he is all right, immediately. And as she gets up for the bathroom she curses herself at allowing this to happen, at not being careful enough, for scaring the only person she loves.
A loud knock raps on Tommy’s door, hundreds of miles away from Shelly. His mother screams his name, terrified that her deepest fear may have come to life in the dead of night. And when she receives no answer, she knocks harder and louder, fear slithering through her consciousness, breaking apart her ability to make sane decisions. But before any desperate thoughts could be acted upon, Tommy unlocks the door; the key jingles as his hands tremble. His mother slams it open, perhaps harder than she should, and she flicks the light switch to check for intruders. Only when she sees her child is alone and safe does she hugs him tightly, almost frantically, tears streaming down her face with the sudden wash of relief.
“I heard a voice…” whispers Tommy in his mother’s ear, “over there.”
She looks to where he is pointing; his sisters shrine.
“Are you sure you heard a voice?”
“Yes”, he continued, his voice shaking. “A girls voice from there.”
His mother, looking at where Tommy is pointing, pieces together a frightening truth, that her son’s sleepy mind imagined his sister’s voice. As if Tommy’s innermost guilt manifested itself, his mind trying to rationalize the irrational feelings he kept barred inside him over his sister’s death. She hugs her son tighter, almost out of pity rather than love.
“It’s ok, Tom. You were only having a bad dream. It’s over.”
But Tommy, still shaking, remains adamant he heard the voice and that he wasn’t just dreaming. So, carefully, his mother looks about the room as reassurance to her son that he was just dreaming. Simple acts, almost too childish for a boy his age, she performs with care and patience, reserved only by a mother for her child. First she looks behind his sister’s photo, making a show of the empty space.
“See, nothing there.”
This visibly relieves Tommy, so his mother continues, including in the show the traditional areas of in the closet and under the bed, which she looks to with theatrical grace, never treating her child with anything other than respect. She flicks through the clothes in the closet one by one meticulously, ensuring he sees every area, every dark space revealed. Under his bed, she waves her arm, reproducing it unharmed and still attached, smiling.
“See, there’s nothing here”, she takes him by the shoulders, “You were just dreaming. But I know you miss her. We all do.”
The feelings Tommy holds over his sister’s death have been pushed to the back of his mind in a way only an eleven-year-old child could manage. But his mother’s words tonight sprang those feelings loose, returning them to a sharp focus, and he couldn’t withhold the torrent of tears that come naturally with those emotions.
“I wish she didn’t die!” weeps Tommy into his mother’s breast.
“You know she’ll always be alive if you love her and think of her. If you do that, she’ll be happy in Heaven with God.”
His crying subsides gently, slowly; his mother caresses his head lovingly.
“Thanks mom… for looking”, breathes Tommy easily to his mother, his crying in the past and she hugs him tenderly.
“Time for bed, kiddo. You’ll be alright, won’t you?” And he nods a sleepy response so, when she leaves, she is satisfied he is calm and relaxed. But as the door clicks shut, Tommy comes alive and put his ear to the door to guarantee his mother is indeed gone to bed. And again he locks it, slowly, ensuring no noise is made. As before, he rests in front of the monitor, turns it back on, the image of Shelly reappearing, Tommy’s young eyes widen with a hungry lust. Within a few seconds, he has finished what he had started before his mother came into the room, before he heard the voice from the poster.
Shelly’s breathing becomes shallow and spaced as the sleeping pills took hold. Her mind, once speeding through worries, slows down into a sleepy state. Images form in front of her eyes, piecing together like they are being drawn before her and finally Tommy’s room comes into view. It is dark, lit only by the low moon, and it takes a moment before she can recognise objects. His PC, TV, cars, roller coaster and finally his bed, his small frame lifting and falling with his breathe. Relief floods Shelly and warmth returns to her at seeing him.
But now that they could communicate, a tension grows. Should she risk frightening the boy again and possibly loosing him to her own hastiness, or should she fulfil her desire and speak to him? She weighs the alternatives, quietly deciding while watching him. But a simple action is to determine for her as Tommy rolls over in his sleep, his face becoming visible in the soft moonlight and before she could stop herself, she whispers his name.
Immediately she regrets it but as if she is a puppet, following someone else’s lead, she whispers his name a second time.
And this time his head lifts from his pillow. A tiny, soft grunt and exhale come from his dark shape. She ventures on, furious at herself for pushing her own luck.
With a jolt, he sits up on his bed; sure he heard something and he speaks to the air. “Whu? Who’s there?
Acting quickly, Shelly responds with care and calm, so as to not unnerve him.
“Don’t be afraid. Shhh! It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
Tommy’s hand shoots out from under the duvet and he flicks on his bedside light to reveal a room empty of people. Shelly can see his face scrunching up with fear and she recognises the prospect of tears, his mind incapable of understanding where the voice is coming from.
“Don’t cry, please, don’t cry. It’s okay. I’m a friend.”
“Where are you? I can’t see you.”
“I’m in the poster. The poster of Shelly Lloyd.”
And instead of screaming or crying, he relaxes, suddenly interested, the novelty of the idea sparking off his imagination and scattering his fear. And he bounds from his bed to the poster.
“Say something else.”
“You’re not going to tell your mother about this, are you?
“But this is so cool.”
“If you do, I will never talk to you again. It must be our little secret.”
“Okay, sure. Whatever you say.”
Shelly is delighted with Tommy’s reaction to her. He isn’t frightened at all, but open to the possibility that a voice is coming from a poster and is willing to embrace it fully. This gives Shelly incalculable hope that they will, in fact, become very good friends and that a relationship between them is possible despite the obvious limitations. Tommy pauses, a thought crossing his mind.
“Hey, where you here already tonight?” he asks, almost frightened of what the answer might be. Shelly already decided what answer to give.
“No, I only came here now.”
He relaxes noticeably and continues to touch the poster, which induces Shelly to imagine what it would be like if she could feel his tender touch, increasing her interaction with the boy to the most desirable level Shelly can imagine.
“But would you have liked if I came earlier tonight?”
Tommy turns his face away, red with embarrassment but not hurt by the idea.
“Maybe” creeps from Tommy’s mouth like the squeak of a mouse. “But you weren’t here, were you?”
Trying not to let her satisfaction reveal itself in her tone, she affects the most serious voice she can and says quickly, “No, I wasn’t.”
He seems satisfied with this answer and every answer she gave to all of his questions for the next couple of hours. And only when he becomes too tired to keep his eyes open, does the conversation end and he goes to bed. But Shelly stays the rest of the night, watching him sleep, until the new sun broke through the blinds and it was time for both of them to wake up.