The sleek black car gently eased into the garage of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. After the ignition was turned off, the driver's door swung open to reveal an exhausted young woman, clad in a purple skirt, pink shirt, knee-high leather boots, and fiery-red hair worn down around her shoulders. Dressed in such flashy party attire, one would've thought that the girl would match the mood of her clothes, that is, light-hearted, upbeat, and a bit giggly after a night out with her friends.
However, Frances "Frankie" Foster was feeling anything but gleeful as she clambered out of her grandmother's car. As soon as she slammed the door shut, the somber caretaker of Foster's leaned herself against the vehicle with a weary groan. Muttering ruefully under he breath, she closed her eyes briefly as the memories of her night out quickly flashed through her mind.
"…Hey! Bartender! Two more, right down here!"
"Two more? Blech, Frankie, I couldn't even handle one shot of that stuff."
"Just sit back and watch a pro do it…"
"…Yeah babe! Shake it!"
"Woohoo! Go for it, sweet-cakes!"
"You boys want some of this? Huh? Do ya…"
"…Baby-Doll, what's wrong? C'mon, why don't…"
"No, no I can't! I just can't! I gotta go!"
"Honey, what's the deal? Why-"
"I just CAN'T!"
"Huh? What the fu-"
"Get away from me! I gotta go…"
Frankie winced painfully as the events of the night played over in her head. Quickly she tried to tune it from her mind, but to little avail; her brain insisted on replaying the awful memories again and again like repeats of some God-awful movie. Sighing heavily, the girl woefully dragged her feet into the old Victorian mansion she called her home, shoulders sagged and head bowed as if she was a mourner taking part in a funeral procession.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid." She growled angrily at herself as she lurched through the front door and into the foyer. How could she have acted so carelessly? Even her own friends, who loved nothing better than a fun night out, even they had been disgusted by her outrageous behavior. The drinks she had chugged down like a wild sorority girl…the flamboyant manner in which she had acted on the dance floor…not forget of course that nasty "incident" in the parking lot.
Frankie moaned. How long did she talk to Mr. Herriman in a complete role-reversal before she had left? How many times did she go over where she had left all the phone numbers that she could be reached at? How many times did she insist over and over that he swear to her that everything would be all right, and nothing bad would happen to a certain eight-year-old child while she was out? After what she put him through, she knew very well the Bunny would have a field day if he learned how she had really conducted herself that night, after endlessly going over the motions to show how "responsible" she really was-
The somber girl interrupted her train of thought as an odd noise reached her ears. Did someone leave the TV on again? Groaning in annoyance at the carelessness of some of the resident imaginary friends, the caretaker wearily plodded off to the nearby TV room to take care of it.
As soon as she reached her destination however, an all-too-familiar sight immediately befell her. In the darkened room, she saw the dull glare of the TV, on which rolled the credits of some movie that had just ended. From the "spooky" lettering and cheesy music playing in the background, Frankie guessed the last person to use the TV set had been watching some old, B-rated horror flick.
Someone however, who had obviously missed the ending in his attempt to get in some late-night movie time to himself. Even in the dim lighting, Frankie instantly recognized the dozing culprit splayed out along one end of the couch. The unusually gangly imaginary friend cut a ridiculous sight in the manner in which he had fallen asleep. His head was cocked to one side in an odd fashion, his long legs and single arm were lying askew in a bizarre tangle, and a small puddle of drool had begun to pool up in his half-open mouth. Trying to stifle a weak smile, Frankie quietly tiptoed her way over to the side of the napping creature.
"Wilt?" she asked softly, giving the lanky imaginary friend a gentle prod. "Wilt? You awake?"
After another poke, Wilt suddenly stirred, opening his eyes with a tired groan. Mumbling something incomprehensible under his breath, he turned around to give her a blank, half-awake stare. Glaring at her through bleary eyes, it took him a few seconds to fully comprehend exactly what was going on.
"Huh? Wha-GAH!" He yelped in surprise, jerking violently in his seat.
"EEK!" The startled Frankie squealed in surprise.
"Frankie! Oh jeez, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I really didn't mean to, I mean, it was just one little movie! I'm sorry!" Wilt began to apologize profusely almost immediately.
His odd reaction took her completely off guard. "Huh? Wilt, it's okay! I just-"
"I'm sorry!" he only continued as he begged for mercy from the bewildered young woman. "Everyone else had gone to bed, I really didn't see what the big deal was, I mean it's not like the movie wasn't that scary or anything, I would've put him to bed if I hadn't fallen asleep before him, honestly! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm…" Wilt babbled uncontrollably, like a broken faucet.
Upset by his behavior, Frankie immediately tried to calm him by flashing a weak, reassuring smile. "It's okay! So you stayed up a little late to watch a scary movie, you do that all the time! What's the…big …"
She trailed off as an unusual lump near the end of the couch spotted her eye. Despite the fact that the flickering TV light provided only the lowest visibility, Frankie recognized the dim outline of the little figure completely.
Clad in light blue pajamas, head resting against an old sofa cushion, Mac's chest rose and fell softly as he lay in a deep sleep. Immediately Frankie walked over and gently sat herself down next to him upon the large couch with the utmost of care, so as not to disturb the resting child. At this point Wilt had raised himself from his own seat and faced Frankie guiltily, and shamefully hung his head and scuffed the floor like a naughty child.
"I'm sorry, Frankie...I-I…I know you probably wanted him in bed earlier, but since it's Friday night, I thought I'd be okay if he stayed up a little later. Okay, The Swamp Beast of Skull Lagoon 2 probably wasn't a good movie to let him watch, but honestly, I'm really sorry! I won't let it happen again, I-"
Wilt quickly put a halt to his frantic prattle as soon as he realized he wasn't getting any response. Looking up, he saw that Frankie hadn't so much as given him a second glance since she had spotted Mac. Instead of giving him a lecture on the importance of bedtime, or even so much as shoot him a disapproving glare, Frankie simply remained with her eyes fixated on the sleeping eight-year-old, gently running her fingers through his chestnut-brown hair. Wilt frowned confusedly.
"Frankie?" he asked cautiously. "Frankie, you-"
The girl suddenly shut her eyes and let out a long, painful sigh, oblivious to everything around her but an overwhelming feeling of guilt. After a few moments, she finally opened her eyelids again and glanced back down at the child
"I'm sorry." She whispered somberly. Before her imaginary friend had a chance to reply, the melancholy girl suddenly scooped the still dozing Mac into her arms, and without another word got up and made her way into the foyer and up the staircase.
Wilt could only remain completely rooted to where he stood as he watched leave. Even after Frankie had exited upstairs, the baffled imaginary friend continued to stand stock-still.
He wasn't quite sure what happened; but she had sounded so much like him just now it was almost frightening.
Rocking Mac gently in her arms, Frankie wearily made her way up through the many staircases and winding hallways that made up the massive Victorian mansion, traveling at an arduously slow pace that made her eerily reminiscent of a wounded soldier returning from the horrors of the battlefield.
All the while, pangs of guilt gnawed at her mercilessly from within. To think, that Wilt had been apologizing to her of all people, all but dropping to his knees and begging for mercy. The very thought of the episode that had taken place only moments ago made Frankie want to violently gag in complete disgust at herself. Her, being free of vice and Wilt, being the one in need of forgiveness; she felt that nothing could have been further from the truth.
Frankie felt that if she had a whip, she would flog herself until her back was raw and bleeding. If she had a bucket of hot coals on her right now, she would dig her hands into the scorching contents without a second thought and keep them there for hours. If she possessed heavy manacles, she would chain herself up without food or water for days until she was utterly emaciated. These and a myriad of medieval punishments raced furiously through her head, each one more gruesome and barbaric than the last.
However, Frankie eventually rejected them all. Not because of the sheer harsh cruelty or it all or because she realized how unreasonably harsh she was being with herself, but because she felt none of them were sufficient enough to purge her of her atrocious transgression. How dare she think herself fit to be called Mac's older sister? Or guardian? Then again, overall if anything she was more of a motherly figu-
Frankie groaned unhappily. The very fact that after these past few months she still didn't even know what to designate herself in relation to the child only seemed to prove her point further. Frankie gasped as a horrific thought crossed her mind. Maybe that's because she really wasn't meant to be the one to look him in the first place.
True, her thought process was getting brazenly out of hand, but she was so blinded by her shame she honestly didn't know what else to think. At this point, mother, guardian, big sister…it seemed like none of those titles were good enough to grace her, even the simple label of acquaintance seemed all too merciful. If she was anything, then she more life a…
"Liar." Frankie whispered bitterly to herself. Yes, that was it. Fraud, that's all she was at best. How dare she willingly adopt the boy and arrogantly claim that she was more than qualified to care for him when she couldn't even look after herself?
Frankie shuddered violently as the events of the past few hours replayed themselves yet again in her mind. She felt as if what she did wasn't a mistake or a night of clubbing gone bad, but rather undeniable proof that she was completely unfit to raise a small child on her own.
Frankie looked down at Mac, as the boy continued to sleep peacefully in her arms. However, she could only do this for the briefest of moments before she had to withdraw her glance as what felt like a heavy lump form in her throat. The young woman felt as if she didn't even deserve to hold him in her arms right now; that was the privilege of a true parent or guardian, and not a mere immature girl the likes of herself.
Finally, she arrived at her destination. Hurriedly, she made her way into Mac's room and deposited the child gently with the utmost care upon his bed. As Frankie pulled the sheets over him, Mac suddenly stirred briefly in his slumber with a light groan.
"Shhhhhhh." Frankie shushed soothingly, patting his head gently. When the eight-year-old quickly settled down once more however, she continued to softly run her hand through his hair, almost entranced by the sleeping child. Unfortunately, rather than have her heart warmed by such an innocent scene, the sight only caused fresh pangs of guilt to tear ferociously at her heart, ashamed that he was so blissfully ignorant that he was being raised by the unqualified imposter she felt that she truly was. With a sigh, Frankie lowered her head to plant a light kiss on his cheek, and hurriedly rushed out of the room.
As soon as she shut his door, she quickly wiped the tears that had begun to trickle from her eyes. With a whimper she lurched off into to her own room just across the hallway, shoulders sagging and head bowed.
"You're an awful parent, you're an awful parent, you're an awful parent…" she muttered cynically to herself over and over. "All that work to get custody and you just -"
"Um…don't you think you're being a little hard on yourself?" Someone interjected softly from behind. Frankie however only shook her head furiously in denial as she tugged off her knee-high leather boots.
"Pfft! Yeah right!" she scoffed incredulously as she pulled furiously at a stubborn boot, throwing it aside without a care where it landed. "You should've been there tonight, I-EEEEEK!"
The moment she realized she had some unexpected company, Frankie squealed in shock and leapt nearly three feet in the air.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" an all-too-familiar lanky figure immediately apologized as he cautiously sauntered in from the doorway. "Please, I didn't mean to scare you like that, Frankie, honest! I'm so sorry, I just thought that if I could-"
Quickly regaining her composure, Frankie narrowed her eyes and snarled. "You thought? Well maybe you should've thought about sneaking behind my back like a goddamn stalker! God, I think I almost had a heart attack! Dammit, Wilt!" she snapped angrily.
Wilt winced painfully at her venomous reply. "Frankie, please, I'm sorry that-"
"You're sorry? Oh, Wilt's apologizing, what a big surprise!" she sneered sarcastically. "News-flash, 'sorry' doesn't…it doesn't change the fact that…I…you…I…I…"
Once she realized it was her own imaginary friend she was cursing mercilessly for no real reason, it all suddenly became too much for her to handle. An extra sharp jolt of guilt and shame suddenly stabbed viciously at her heart, finally pushing her over the edge completely. Immediately all the anger and fury was wiped clean from her expression as she glanced pleadingly at Wilt.
However, she didn't even get the chance to finish her simple apology before she was interrupted in mid-sentence by a harsh sob. After trying to unsuccessfully fight it for a few seconds, she finally gave up and broke down completely, and buried her face in her hands as the tears began to pour freely down her face like water from a bursting dam.
Wilt instinctively swung into action and in an instant was by the side of his "kid," dropping to his knees and gently taking her into a warm embrace.
"Shhhhhh." He hushed as if she was an upset infant. "It's okay, it's okay Frankie. Shhhhh."
"Oh God…Wilt…I…I didn't mean t-to…" Frankie fought to speak between her sobs.
"Shhhh, don't worry about it, Frankie. It's okay. It's gonna be alright." Wilt continued to try and calm her.
Frankie looked up briefly with puffy, tearstained eyes. Wilt returned her glance by flashing her a comforting smile. With a whimper she threw her arms around his neck and buried her face deep into his shoulder in an attempt to muffle her weeping.
"Frankie, c'mon. It's gonna be okay. So what that you had a bad night out, that's okay! That doesn't-" Wilt whispered warmly in an attempt to calm her down.
"I-I don't deserve him." She suddenly moaned dejectedly. Wilt shot her a quizzical look.
"Huh? Don't deserve what-"
"M-Mac!" Frankie continued, keeping her face buried in the protection his shoulder could offer her. "I-I don't deserve Mac!"
Wilt was stunned by her harsh declaration, and for a few seconds was struck utterly speechless. He had been expecting for her to lament about some cute guy that had gotten away, or a nasty fight that she had with one of her girlfriends; just certainly not this.
"I don't deserve Mac because he deserves better than me!" she cried, perplexing him even further.
"I… I don't understand…why-"
"I made out with some guy at the club tonight, that's why!" Frankie suddenly sobbed. Wilt's eyes bulged in shock at this extremely blunt confession.
"What?" he cried, completely taken off guard. Frankie withdrew her head from his shoulder to look at him face to face.
"You heard me! What do you want me to do, paint a picture?" Frankie shrieked angrily, pushing him away and waving her arms wildly for dramatic effect. "I had some drinks, I danced about like…like a goddamn stripper for all the drunken perverts to see, and ten minutes later I was out in the parking lot exchanging saliva with some nobody! God, I don't even think I knew his name!"
"Frankie…" he gasped, staring at her blankly in shock. She glanced into his eyes before she elicited a harsh sob, after which she hastily rushed by him and tossed herself on her bed, burying her face deep in her pillows.
"Wait!" Wilt yelled, rushing over to her side. "I still don't get-"
"You don't get it? Fuck, I don't even get it!" she cried. "Oh God, a few drinks and, and I was dancing about like, like some dirty Los Vegas stripper! All the guys were making catcalls, hooting at me, and…a-and I'll be a liar if I said I didn't encourage them!"
"Frankie…" Wilt sighed painfully as he began to rub her back comfortingly.
"Next thing I know, I was out in the middle of the parking lot, sucking on this guy's face like the was no tomorrow!" Frankie moaned. "God, I was such a whore…such a slut…" she cried.
"C'mon, you're not-"
"Don't say it!" she snapped, roughly cutting him off. "Don't deny it, I was nothing but an out of control whore tonight!"
"Please," Wilt tried to plead with the hysterical redhead. "Will you-"
"Fuck!" Frankie swore uncontrollably in panic. "Who the hell am I kidding?"
"…I'm such a mess…no way I can-"
"Please! Won't you-"
"…I'm a no good dirty…"
"FRANKIE!" Wilt raised his voice in exasperation as the girl continued to mercilessly berate herself. "Please-"
"Wilt can't you see?" Frankie shrieked involuntarily. "Look at me! Just look at me!"
"Now what are you talking about?" the painfully bewildered Wilt demanded wearily. Frankie lifted her head from her pillow and glared daggers. "Is it the guy, or-"
"Everything tonight took just a few drinks! For God's sake, I can I look after an eight-year-old of all things when I can't even control myself after three shots of liquor!"
"Uh…" Wilt grunted in surprise as he finally understood the root of her despair.
"Yeah, that's right!" she snapped furiously. "I can't! That's how! I can't! I can't! I dare you to go find someone who says drunken skanks can make a somewhat half-decent guardian for a little kid!"
"No Frankie, don't say that!" her imaginary friend protested. "C'mon, don't-"
"Jesus Christ!" Frankie swore. "I don't even know how the hell I snapped myself out of it. I mean, thank God it didn't get any further, but fat load of good that did for me!" she scoffed bitterly.
"Will you please just-" Wilt tried in vain to offer a word of solace.
"Cripes, how on earth I got Mac involved in the mess of my life I'll never know, but-"
"Fra-" Wilt again tried to interject to no avail.
"I can't do this, Wilt! I can't! I can't! I can't! I can't!" she wailed as she beat her mattress furiously with tightly clenched fists. "I understand it now, I can't! I can't look after a kid! I can't do this family thing! I-I just can't! Who the fuck am I fooling?"
"Frankie-" he tried one more time before she gazed up through puffy red eyes and wailed heartbrokenly,
"How the hell can I take care of Mac when I can't even take care of myself?"
She then immediately let her head collapse back into her pillow in a vain attempt to stifle her sobs.
For the next few minutes, all the badly stunned Wilt could do was wait out the deafening silence that followed by continuing to gently rub her back in a futile attempt to calm the hysterical girl somewhat. However, by the sounds of her uncontrollable weeping, it was quite obvious that wasn't doing him very much too good. Unfortunately, besides this, Wilt felt almost helpless. Usually, it just took a few well-chosen words of comfort, a couple warm hugs, and a reassuring smile and Frankie would be back to herself in no time, infected by his ever-optimistic mood.
The problem was though, from the second Frankie had returned home to the pitiful state she had reduced herself to now, he had barely gotten so much as ten full words in before she had dragged herself through nine levels of hell. It would be ridiculous to simply hope she'd fall asleep and everything would be better in the morning; she was seriously questioning her abilities to run her tiny, unorthodox family she had worked so hard for and loved so much.
But what was there to say? If felt like every time he had tried to say something before, Frankie responded by bitterly denouncing herself for a full minute straight, using only the very worst names and curses that came to her, utterly convinced she was an evil hag who crawled straight from the depths of hell. Now how was he, Mr. Nice Guy, supposed to compete with that? A criticism of her from Mr. Herriman would seem like a compliment at this point compared to the verbal lashing Frankie had just all-too-eagerly given herself.
For what felt like an eternity of painful silence, the imaginary friend strove frantically to try and find an exit from her despair.
"… Frankie?" He finally whispered hoarsely as an idea came to mind.
"Hmm?" the somber girl replied with a muffled grunt.
"Who…who was it…" Wilt stuttered as he searched his memories frantically. "Who…wh-who was it that… taught Mac how to…play basketball?" he asked a bit apprehensively.
At this Frankie lifted her head up and craned her neck to give him a profoundly befuddled look.
"…W-what?" she sniffled while wiping a few tears from her eyes.
Wilt grinned weakly, feeling a bit more confident. "That time a couple of months ago… remember? Mac really wanted to learn how to play basketball so he could play with the other kids at school at recess….Now, who was it who gave up every bit of free time she had for two weeks straight just so she could spend a few hours teaching him how to shoot hoops out back?"
"Well…um…" Frankie stammered as she clambered into a sitting position next to the lanky imaginary friend on the bed. "…uh…that was…well…"
"Go on…" he encouraged her warmly.
"…Me." She finally answered. "B-but…that was only because you were sick that time, and-"
"When Mac's own Mom was too busy to make it and see him perform in his school play, who was it who went out to see him, even though-" Wilt immediately demanded, much to her puzzlement.
"Well…me." Frankie admitted softly before he could finish. "It was only because Bloo needed a ride there though, and-"
"You stayed there for the whole show, Frankie." He reminded her gently. "You showed me the pictures you took."
"I…I just…" she attempted to argue, but it was of little use.
"When Mac fell down and got that nasty cut on his knee last week, who was it outside with the first-aid kit literally a minute later?"
"…Me." She answered. "But I only saw it because I-I was about to get the mail-"
"When Terrence gave Mac that black eye, who was it who hung him up by his underwear on top of that oak tree out back until he apologized and promised not to do it again?"
"…Me." Frankie acknowledged, this time with a bit of a slight grin.
"Who literally stayed up with him all night when he had that nasty fever last month?"
"…Me." She affirmed yet again.
"Who was there at his side within half an hour after she leaned his mom and brother died in a car accident? Who was it that voluntarily took it entirely upon herself to willingly adopt the little guy in the first place? Who was it who was so happy when he moved in to Foster's, I don't think she stopped smiling for the first two weeks? Who?"
Gnawing on her lip anxiously, the thoroughly embarrassed Frankie tried to avert her gaze.
Wilt gently put a hand to the side of her face and turned her head so she faced him eye to eye. "Are these really the kind of things a bad big sister does?" he asked her bluntly.
"No, but…I, uh…" she unsuccessfully tried to object.
"Frankie, please." he beseeched. "So tonight things didn't go so well…so what?"
"But-" she tried to protest, but to no avail.
"Frankie, you just made a few mistakes. That's all it was tonight, one mistake." He reassured her with a warm smile. "No one's perfect. Remember that one time when you were little and while we were playing tag I somehow got you stuck in the laundry chute for half-an-hour?" he reminded her with a lighthearted chuckle.
"C'mon, you've known Mac for how long? A year? A little more? In that time, you've probably cared for him more than anyone I know, and he's not even related to you! I'm going to be real honest Frankie, if none of what you've done for Mac is out of pure love for the little guy, than I don't know what is! For Pete's sake, you actually adopted him, how is that not a-"
"You think tonight was just a mistake? No, actually thinking he'd actually be better off being raised by the likes of me, that's the big mistake!" Frankie protested heartbrokenly.
"Frankie," Wilt couldn't help but scold her lightly. "You know that's not what I meant-"
"Do I look like the kind of person who can actually make a half-decent parent? I told you what I did tonight, didn't I? I danced about like a professional stripper! I almost had a one-night stand with some guy whose name I didn't even know! How can I possibly take care of Mac when I can barely control myself the second I'm out of the house? Look at me! Look at the crap I get myself into! I can't possibly be trusted to look after an eight-year-old! I can't do this! I can't! I can't-" she cried, throwing up her arms in hysterics.
Despite her frenzied outbreak however, he doggedly refused to be swayed by her fevered objections. Rather than relent to her vehement doubt, Wilt merely flashed her a weak smile.
"You still haven't convinced me yet." He whispered truthfully with a shake of his head.
Frankie immediately went silent and stared at him blankly for a few moments. As much as she wanted to claim it was just a ruse to make her feel better, the unmistakable look in his eye said absolutely otherwise, much to her dumb shock.
Finally, a harsh sob suddenly escaped her throat and immediately the miserable girl flung her arms open and tossed them around her imaginary friend in a tight hug. Quickly Wilt snaked his arm around her and held her close.
"It's okay Frankie, it's okay-" he automatically began to murmur in reassurance.
"N-no." Frankie whimpered in reply. "No, it's not…I-I don't deserve you guys…I don't deserve any of you…"
Wilt could feel his heart plummet into his stomach in despair. "What? Frankie, I thought-"
She just moaned and shook her head. "Slut…just a whiny, slutty drunk…" she grumbled darkly. "Why you deal with me, I…I-I don't know…none of you, I just don't deserve it…"
The desolate Wilt sighed painfully as she continued on. Just when he thought he had made a breakthrough, she had only revealed that they had progressed barely any further from where she started. With all the solace he offered completely rejected, he felt completely helpless as the miserable redhead clung to him like a sad infant hugging a favorite stuffed animal.
What else was there for him to do? Wilt had basically used up everything he had to mend her broken spirits. Unfortunately, as could be seen, all his effort resulted inadvertently with simply more absolutely unnecessary guilt to burden her soul with.
The frantic imaginary friend hastily tried to wrack his brain for answers. Was there nothing that he could possibly say to alleviate her sense of shame? How could he possibly-
Wilt put his train of thought to a screeching halt as soon as he felt Frankie suddenly tense up, and actually forcefully halt her own weeping, much to his surprise.
"…Frankie?" he asked apprehensively. "What's wro-"
"Shh!" she quickly turned her head with a finger to her lips, hushing him into silence. Frankie suddenly went very quiet as she listened intently, with eyes wide open and alert. Her head perked up.
"There!" she whispered in alarm. "Did you hear that?"
Wilt scratched his head in befuddlement. He was honestly listening as hard as he could, but couldn't hear a single thing out of the ordinary. "I can't-"
"No…" Frankie whispered to herself. "Is he actually…?"
Wilt was becoming extremely unnerved by her skyrocketing alarm. "Frankie, what is-"
She suddenly elicited a flustered yelp. In one fluid movement she slipped from his grip, leapt off the bed, and darted for the door the second her bare feet came in contact with the floor.
"Wait! Wait!" The baffled creature cried. "What-"
"I'm coming, pal!" Frankie yelped determinedly as she hurled her door open and zipped across the hallway in a blur, with the bewildered Wilt bounding close behind.
"Frankie, where are you-" As soon as he followed her into the small bedroom across the hall, he silenced himself in mid-sentence as he quickly understood the root of her panic.
Rolling about uneasily in his bed, Mac whimpered in fright in his sleep, as he lay deep in the clutches of some horrific nightmare. To Wilt, the whimpering was barely audible and he heard it only after he had entered the room. But the way Frankie dashed headlong to his side and dropped to her knees next to his bed, it was as if was the soft squeaks and whines were the most deafening sounds in the world.
"Mac, Mac!" She whispered as she shook the little boy gently. "You okay, pal?"
Unfortunately, her efforts proved futile, and the child now began to squirm about restlessly, his distressed whimpering becoming even more high pitched and frantic. Frightened by this digression, Frankie instinctively swept the boy up into her arms, stood back up and began to rock him back and forth gently in her embrace as she continued to try and wake him up.
"Mac, please!" she pleaded softly. "C'mon pal, it's okay! You just gotta wake up! It's okay, I'm right h-"
Still asleep, Mac's arms suddenly shot up and wrapped around Frankie's neck in a dazzling speed. Before the startled young woman could respond, almost immediately his frightened whining and restless squirming came to a dead halt as the boy suddenly became perfectly at peace once again. With a blissful sigh, the sleeping child burrowed his head into the crook of her neck and appeared so completely content it was as if nothing had happened.
Frankie was genuinely stunned, to say the very least. For a few seconds, all she could do was dumbly stand there, arms clamped tightly around the resting eight-year-old as her mouth hung slightly agape.
Finally though, slowly but surely, she turned her head in the direction of the equally surprised Wilt. After a few moments of befuddled silence though the imaginary friend suddenly clapped a hand over his mouth to try and stifle a burst of relieved laughter, much to her confusion.
"…What?" she demanded weakly.
"All you have to do is show up and…suddenly everything's better for him?" he inquired with a triumphant sparkle in his eye.
"I…" the still baffled young woman tried to protest, unsure of what to think.
"With those results, I think you have to be doing something right." Wilt concluded with a smirk.
"I…I just…well, he was...having a bad dream and…a-and…" she still found herself trying to sputter out an objection in a peculiar last-ditch attempt to prove her guilt.
"Is this good enough for a second opinion?" he joked lightly as he gave the dozing Mac a gentle pat on the head.
For a moment, Frankie stared blankly at him, wordlessly glanced down to the undeniably contented child in her arms, and passed into a state of silent contemplation. Once she realized her earlier panic attack had perhaps been all for naught, a weak grin snaked its way across her face, despite her best efforts to fight it.
"M-maybe…" she finally relented in a low murmur as a fresh wave of tears welled up in her eyes. As tiny rivulets began to trickle down her cheeks again, it felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and she couldn't help but laugh softly as she nuzzled the child in her embrace.
Before she knew it, Frankie suddenly found herself instinctively humming a lullaby, a comforting gesture further supplemented by gently rocking the boy back and forth in her warm embrace. For a few more minutes, she continued as she was, cradling the boy affectionately in her arms as her eyes lay fixated on the little figure in a tender and loving gaze.
"Psst! Frankie!" A short whisper suddenly interrupted the moment. She looked up as Wilt deposited himself comfortingly on Mac's bed and rested his head on the headboard while his longs legs spill out over the end. Shooting her a warm smile, the imaginary friend began to pat the mattress gently in a welcoming gesture.
"C'mon, I think you've had a long night."
Trying to unsuccessfully stifle a gaping yawn, Frankie nodded wearily in agreement as she plodded over; she had to admit it was extremely late, and exhaustion had begun to seep through every ounce of her being. Without so much as a second thought, she plopped herself on her imaginary friend's lap and nestled her head in the crook of his neck. Chuckling softly, Wilt wrapped his long, skinny arm about her and hugged her close, Frankie responding by only trying to snuggle closer.
"Th-thank you." She whispered drowsily while her eyelids rapidly drooped shut. "Thanks for everything t-tonight…s-sorry that I-"
The imaginary friend just grinned modestly and gently cut her off.
"No need to think you don't deserve it; Mac can't ask for anyone better." He happily reminded her. "Don't worry about tonight; everyone makes mistakes. It's all right, these things just happen-"
The young woman interrupted with a sleepy grin. "And when they do…y-you'll be there to remind me…right?"
She never heard his answer, however. Just moments later her eyes had closed permanently for the night, and in a minute she had fallen fast asleep, mouth slightly curved into a relieved smile as she held Mac close. Still beaming uncontrollably at the pair, Wilt nevertheless ruffled her hair affectionately while he whispered softly into her ear,