Chapter Eight:

For their meeting with Frankie, Imaginary Parents had rented a hall in a downtown conference centre, and attendance was good. There were nearly three dozen members present, and like Frankie had been expecting, they were mostly middle-aged couples and older ladies.

As it turned out, the IP did have a specific idea as to how Foster's Home could allow childless adults to adopt Imaginary Friends without compromising on its integrity. It was even a workable idea, Frankie reasoned, if she pulled a few strings. But she didn't want to tell them that just yet.

What intrigued her most about Imaginary Parents, other than their plan, was their spokesman. Unlike most of the groups' members, Eric Johnstone wasn't middle-aged or older. He was a tall, well-dressed man with brown hair, and looked like he was around thirty. Also, he didn't seem to have brought a spouse. He had a soft, soothing voice, and Frankie began to suspect that might have been the reason why he was the group's spokesman.

After the meeting was finished off with Frankie giving the IP vague, but sincere-sounding promises that she would see what she could arrange, and that she would give them feedback soon, she was apprehended personally by said Johnstone:

"Excuse me, Miss Foster? First of all I'd just like to thank you for agreeing to meet us for a constructive dialogue."

"Pleasure's all mine, Mr. Johnstone. And like I said, I'll get back to your group in about a week."

"Yes, that's all good and well, but if I may be so forward… I would like to request a private meeting with you. I feel there are certain details that need to be discussed under four eyes."

Frankie shrugged. "I see. Well, feel free to drop by my office one of these days."

"Your office?" The man looked a bit puzzled, as if that was not quite the suggestion he was hoping for. "Yes, that'll do nicely.", he added uncertainly. "Is Tuesday at eight P.M. okay?"

"That late? Oh well, I live there, so it's no problem. Although I don't see what you need to discuss that couldn't have been brought up during the meeting we just had."

Johnstone smiled. "To tell, the truth, what I want to talk to you about doesn't have anything to do with the IP directly." He picked something out of his pocket, and handed it to Frankie. "This might give you a hint, ma'am. My card."

"Eric Johnstone, Imaginary Friend psychiatrist.", Frankie read. "What the…? Okay, Doctor Johnstone, you've piqued my curiosity. Just one more question…"

"Anything."

"Aren't you a bit too young to be a member of a group like Imaginary Parents? I mean, have you and your wife really tried everything to have children of your own?"

"Actually, ma'am, I'm not married. The IP asked me to be their spokesman, but my primary interest in Imaginary Friends lies in another field. But I'd like to get back to that on Tuesday, if it's okay with you."

"Y… yes… that's fine with me.", Frankie replied, hoping that the man hadn't noticed how interested she suddenly became the moment he revealed that he wasn't married.

***

When Frankie got home, her head was filled with so many different and complicated thoughts that she completely failed to notice a creature that was standing right beside her until it cried out:

"HEY, LADY!!"

After jumping nearly two feet into he air from the sheer surprise, the startled Frankie looked down and finally noticed...

"Cheese…?"

"Where's my horsie?" the short, yellow Imaginary wheezed.

"Wilt!", Frankie shouted. She could see the caretaker come walking down the stairs.

"Oh, there you are Cheese!", the tall red Imaginary exclaimed.

"The real question is, why is he there? I mean, here? What is Cheese doing back already?", Frankie demanded.

"Well, it's a long story…"

"There's my horsie!"

"I thought he was adopted just a few months ago"

"Yes, by the McDonnell's."

"Barup, barup, barup, barup..."

"Did they run tired of him already?"

"No, I called them, and apparently, the problem is that he simply walked out on his own this morning.", Wilt explained. "That happened a lot when he was living with Louise too, I'm sure you remember…"

"Do I ever! Only… aren't the McDonnell's living in another town?"

"That is correct."

"So how did Cheese get here?"

"A fair question. Goo's been interrogating him about it - That's the word she was using anyway, interrogating. And… apparently, he simply hopped on a bus."

Knowing Cheese, Frankie realized that this was a perfectly plausible explanation. "Well, in that case, I'll just buy him a return ticket so he can get back home…"

Wilt shrugged "I already called the McDonnell's and suggested that, but they're afraid he'll get lost. So they were wondering if we could just keep him here until they come to pick him up - on Saturday."

Frankie sighed. If she had made that call the McDonnell's, she probably would've argued that if Cheese's instincts were good enough to lead him back to Foster's, even when he was living in another town, they should be good enough to lead him back home. But the costumer is always right...

"Okay, I'm sure we can manage until Saturday.", she concluded. "I got more important business to deal with nowadays, anyway."

"Barup, barup, barup...."

***

It was Tuesday, three minutes to eight in the evening. Frankie quickly took another peek out of one of the windows in the hallway. Bingo.

She turned around and prepared to go upstairs when she ran into Goo:

"So what's the occasion, Frankie?", the assistant caretaker asked, studying Frankie's outfit.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you usually only wear that formal attire when you're going to meet the media or some potential sponsors or some actual sponsors or city hall or sometimes on adopt-a-thought-Saturday when the weather is nice and you're expecting a lot of guests…. Well, okay that's a lot of different occasions, but the point is, I've never seen you wear it on an ordinary weekday evening when you're at home. Unless you're going out for some reason… Heeey, I bet that's it! You're going out on a date, right? Well, about time! I don't think you've even been on a date since you took over this place. Good for you! Uh, good for you that you're going out on a date, that is. Not good for you that you've never even been on a date since you took over Foster's. That's not good for you. Unless that's your choice, of course…"

Frankie waved her hands frantically, a gesture that Goo correctly interpreted as a request for her to shut up.

"I'm not going on a date, Goo! I'm not even going out. But I'm expecting a guest any minute now."

The door rang.

"That'll be him. Escort him to my office please", Frankie just had time to say before she hurried up the stairs.

"And you can't escort him to the office yourself, even though you were standing a mere twenty feet from the door when the bell rang, because....?" Goo sneered, but Frankie was already out of hearing range.

"Fine, I'll play the butler this one time, but only because I'm curious what this is about." Goo muttered to herself before she opened the front door and greeted Dr. Eric Johnstone.

Frankie got seated behind her desk and grabbed a newspaper. When Goo led Johnstone into the office, Frankie had her face buried halfway into the paper, and pretended to barely notice that he had arrived.

"Ahem, Miss Foster?". Dr. Johnstone carefully

"Ah, Dr. Johnstone, sorry, I didn't notice you were coming in.", she replied, putting down the newspaper. "Please take a seat."

The relatively young, self-proclaimed Imaginary Friend psychiatrist got a chair and tried to make himself comfortable, although he looked slightly nervous about the whole set-up, to Frankie's slight amusement.

Goo left, and closed the door behind her.

"So" she said while giving him a firm, but friendly look. "Imaginary Friend psychiatrist, huh?"

The man shrugged. "To tell the truth, it's a fairly new branch…"

"It has to be." Frankie commented "I took the liberty of googling the term 'Imaginary Friend psychiatry', and the only thing I found was a thesis, written by you."

"So did you read it?", he asked hopefully.

Frankie, who had read the whole thing as soon as she got home from her meeting with Imaginary Parents, shrugged and replied:

"Well, I read parts of it. Running Foster's is keeping me very busy, after all."

"I understand. Well, I kind of got the idea from two scientists, Douglas Terry and Adam Pratchett. You know them?"

Frankie gave out a frustrated sigh at the mention of Douglas and Adam, the two colossally geeky science students who had once adopted Coco, and who were smitten with her, Frankie, for a quite a while. For many years, they paid regular visits to Foster's and often tried, but failed completely, to have a continuous chat with her. In fairness, their visits were justified, since they were doing research for their biology projects. Their goal was to have the biology of Imaginary Friends defined as a scientific genre of its own, and eventually, they did in fact accomplish this.

"Vaguely…" she responded.

"Because they sure seemed to know you very well.", Johnstone pointed out. Noticing that the mention of Douglas and Adam did not seem to bring back very fond memories with Frankie, he hurriedly got back to the subject: "I met them at a college conference three years ago. They were doing a lecture on figmentology, the biology of Imaginary Friends. But what surprised me was that they claimed to have invented figmentology."

"Yeah, I heard about it", Frankie commented, and picked a book out of the shelf next to her desk. It was Defining Figmentology , Douglas and Adam's first published book on the subject. Four years ago, when they had figmentology down to a science, they sent Foster's a copy. Frankie hadn't read much of it, although she knew she ought to, now that she was in charge. They might have found out something about Imaginary Friends that could be useful for her to know. He handed it to Johnstone, who began to study it with mild interest.

"I talked with them after the lecture because I was surprised to learn that the science of Imaginary Friends biology had been defined so recently", Eric explained while flipping through the book. "And it occurred to me that if the biology of Imaginary Friends had not been defined until recently, then maybe the psychiatry of Imaginary Friends had yet to be defined."

"Ah, I see…"

"So I thought, here's my chance to be a pioneer in a special field of psychiatry!"

"Well, I –" Frankie hesitated. She was about to ask Johnstone if he really believed that the psyche of Imaginary Friends were that different from human psyche, and if it really would take some kind of specialist to understand it. Even after having read his thesis, she wasn't entirely convinced. But then she thought about all the Imaginaries that had given her grief over the years - Bloo, Duchess, Mr. Herriman, Cheese, ****ing Goofball!!! - and all the Imaginaries whose mental stability she had seriously questioned over the years - Coco, Berry, Cheese again - and decided that maybe this was something she really ought to encourage…

"Yes…?" he responded uncertainly.

" – I think it's a great idea, Dr. Johnstone! Is there anything we can do to help you?"

"Ah, well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, I've gotten a scholarship to further study Imaginary Friends, but I got it on the condition that I moved to this city. The thing is, while there are many other homes for Imaginary Friends throughout the country, none of them are anywhere near as big as this one. Foster's is the mother lode, so to speak."

He paused

"Besides, the two figmentology professors heavily recommended me to go here" Eric added, giving Frankie a sheepish grin that was eerily similar to the ones that Douglas and Adam had used to give her. But somehow, that grin didn't look quite as creepy coming from him. He regained himself quickly. "So anyway", he said in a more professional voice, "I need to do some field studies, and so I'd like to ask you, Madame Foster, if…uh…"

"...If it's okay that you become a regular house guest?"

The psychiatrist merely nodded. Frankie leaned back in her chair.

"Well, we allowed Douglas and Adams to do field studies, so it's only fair that you get the same opportunity. Foster's won't stand in the way of medical science doing progress. You're welcome at Foster's anytime you like, Doctor! Uh… provided you always call me or text me in advance. I need to know when… uh, what's going on."

"As you wish, Madame Foster. And thank you!"

"If you actually manage to help some of our residents in the process, I'm the one who owe you thanks, Doctor. And I suggest you start your psychoanalyzing alphabetically. 'B', 'C' and 'D' should provide you with some real challenges."

The man gave her a confused look. "You'll understand what I mean soon enough, Doctor", Frankie added.

The psychiatrist smiled. "Please… call me Eric"

"Okay, Eric, then you can call me Frankie"

"Frankie? But in the papers, it's always…"

"I never liked the name Frances. My friends call me Frankie"

Eric got up. "Frankie it is, then. I'll be looking forward to see…." He interrupted himself, and gave Frankie an embarrassed smile - I'll be looking forward to see more of your great institution.", he emphasized.

Frankie returned his smile. "We can start already now. Would you like me to give you the tour?"

"Uh, the tour?"

"The tour of the house, obviously"

"Oh, of course! Yes, gladly!"

It was a little past nine o'clock when Frankie finally escorted the world's first Imaginary Friend psychiatrist out the front door with yet another assurance that she and Foster's were looking forward to working with him. As she closed the door, she smiled brightly. However, her smile stiffened as she noticed that Goo was standing behind her, grinning.

"Euh, Doc-teur Johnst-euhn" Goo said mockingly with an exaggerated "theatre diva" voice, while waving her hands nonchalantly "I didn't neuh-tice you were coming eeen!"

"I didn't say it in that stupid accent" Frankie said irritably.

"Look at me, I'm too important to open doors!" Goo continued (although she wasn't using the accent anymore) "I've got people doing it for me! Aren't you impressed, Dr. Johnstone?"

This, of course, wasn't making Frankie any less irritable. "What's your beef anyway?" she growled.

"A better question might be: What's your beef, Frankie?" Goo paused momentarily. She suddenly seemed to be in a better mood. "Or who…"

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about" Frankie firmly continued.

"And I'm sure you have plenty idea what I'm talking about", Goo replied defiantly. "Come on, Frankie, are you really gonna waste time beating around the bush? He's cute, he's got a promising career, and you've got at least one important thing in common. Okay, so he was acting a bit awkward, but that was sorta cute too – "

"One: have you been eavesdropping?" Frankie interrupted her while frowning. "And two: are we still talking about Dr. Johnstone?"

"Oooh, he's not "Eric" after all?" Goo taunted, ignoring Frankie's first question.

"He's Dr. Johnstone to you", Frankie said firmly. "Believe what you want, Goo, but Dr. Johnstone and I have a purely professional relationship. In any case, I don't see why it's any of your business who I choose to date or not to date."

"Of course it's any of my business." Goo replied in a more serious voice. "I'm your friend, Frankie, I don't want to see you get hurt!"

"I'm a grown woman, I think I can trust my own judgement."

"Sure, like you trusted your own judgement when it came to Dylan!"

There was a moment of awkward silence, and for the first time during this conversation, Goo looked a little nervous, as if she was wondering if she had just crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed.

Then Frankie smirked.

"So…Mac has told you about Dylan, has he?"

Goo nodded, still a little uncertain.

"And did he also tell you that the reason he was stalking me on that particular date, was that he had a major crush on me?"

Goo's eyes widened. "No!" she snarled "He didn't!!"

The suddenly very angry look on Goo's face made Frankie realize that her attempt to distract Goo's attention might have been too effective…

"Whoa Goo, calm down! He was only eight years old at the time, after all."

"Oh yeah, that's right…" Goo muttered, looking almost disappointed that the opportunity to have a fit of righteous, jealous anger had been taken away from her so quickly.

"It was a harmless schoolboy crush,", Frankie continued, "and he probably thought I didn't notice. Heck, even Bloo had a crush on me back then!"

"SAY WHAT??"

Goo and Frankie both looked up the stairs. A small, pink blob that was running while shouting "Bloo, you two-timing, cheating…"

"I didn't even know Berry was listening…"

"Me neither. But at least she's taking it out on Bloo rather than you."

"Cold comfort. I still have to go between them" Frankie sighed and began walking up the stairs.

"Dr. Johnstone's got his work cut out for him if he wants to try and psychoanalyze the Friends in this house, huh?" Goo commented.

Frankie turned around and gave her employee a weak smile. "On second thought, it's okay for you to call him Eric."

***

Thursday, at noon, Goo suddenly heard a crashing noise from the entrance hall while she was carrying laundry up from the basement. She put down the laundry basket and ran towards the direction of the sound. From a distance, she thought she noticed a familiar figure:

"Cheese? Is that you again?"

She came closer.

"Oh wait you're not Cheese."

"Well, duh!" the figure responded.

"You look a bit like him, though. What's your name, little fella?"

The figure just stared at her for a moment.

"You don't know who I am?"

"Can't say I recognize you, no. I'm pretty sure you're not one of my own creations, anyway…" Goo turned her head just too late to notice that the figure was now grinning. She had suddenly noticed where the crashing noise came from:

"The Foster family's antique mantel clock!" she gasped. Then she caught sight of a short, pink elephant that was standing right next to the broken object.

"Clumsy!" she shouted, "I thought Mr. Herriman and Frankie had told you a million times not to go near that clock!"

"I didn't do it!" Clumsy protested. "I had just opened the front door and let this new guy in – " he pointed in the direction of the figure "- and then he just went right over to the clock and threw it on the floor!"

"What?" The figure gave Goo a terrified look. "No, miss, I didn't do it, you must believe me!" he said desperately. "I wasn't anywhere near that fine antique! I was just looking around for a moment, when I heard a crashing noise. And when I turned around, the clock was already in pieces on the floor and that elephant guy was giving me a malicious grin! Please lady, I'm completely new here, I wouldn't dare to do something like that! But I suppose it's always easy to blame everything on the new guy..." he said, his voice trembling. Then he grabbed Goo's blouse and started to sob loudly.

"Whoa, easy there!" Goo muttered. Not surprisingly, she was feeling more than a little bit uncomfortable with the whole situation. "Look, I'll go get the caretaker, and then we'll sort this out."

The figure stopped crying as soon as he had begun.

"Uh, surely there's no need to bother Frankie with this?" he said nervously

"Actually, Frankie is not the caretaker anymore", Goo pointed out.

"She… she's not? Oh, very well, let's have a word with the new caretaker.", the figure said with sudden confidence.

Giving the mysterious new guy a confused look, Goo turned and ran up the stairs.

About a minute later…

"… and then this new guy got all panicky and started to cry. Anyway they're both saying they didn't do it."

"… Well, if the description you just gave me of the new guy fits, I think I know exactly who did it..."

This time, the figure looked really terrified.

"Wilt?" he "You're the new caretaker? Aw nuts...!"

Wilt was rarely angry. But those who had the opportunity to see him right now would be witnesses to this unusual phenomenon.

"Hello..." he said with a dark, foreboding voice. "...Bendy!"


A/N: Well, I finally finished this chapter. It took me longer than I expected, partly because november has been a very busy month, and partly because I had to add a lot of new details to make it work properly. Chapter nine should be up sooner, especially because I got that whole chapter pretty much finished in my head already.

This big deal in this chapter is of course the debut of my first Foster's Home OC, Eric Johnstone, who we'll be seeing more of in chapter ten. I've been trying to avoid using OC's but the plot was beginning to require something like that. I only hope I can make him work. Tell me what you think, please!

NEXT: Eduardo becomes a rebel, and Mac reveals new details about his family!