"Oh for God's sake Nigel, can't you do anything right?" The Mega Bitch screamed downstairs. Lizzy climbed under her bed, holding in her frightened tears. "Lizzy must take after you!" her mother continued to rage over her father's small, incoherent and impotent complaints. "Useless, both of you are useless! How can I cope with you two holding me back and pulling me down all the time?"
"Pah, she's the one who's useless!" A strong male voice suddenly cried out above her.
"Fred!" in a flash Lizzy climbed out from under the bed. Fred was standing on it (completely uncaring about his shoes being on the bed spread), looking like a hero with his head thrown up proudly and his hands on his hips. Lizzy jumped onto the bed beside him and for a while both of them leapt about on it, giggling and laughing until they finally fell down on it exhausted, or, at least, Fred pretended to be exhausted for a little while; Lizzy had the suspicion that he was never, ever tired, no matter how stuff much they did.
"You know what I hate, Snot Face?" He announced after she had gotten her breath back.
"Being locked up indoors all day long, it sucks!" he finished violently before jumping up and running to the window in a flurry of activity. "Look at the world outside!" he cried in jubilation, making Lizzy laugh, "it's so big! The sun is out! We should be out there!" Running back up and kneeling beside her, Fred declared, "We should go and run away together!"
Lizzy beamed and replied with an honest wish she had harboured ever since she had first gotten to know her imaginary friend, "then can we be together, forever?"
After a moment's thought (something Fred seldom did) he prodded her belly making her squeal and giggle, "of course Snot Face." They did a pinky-swear before opening her bedroom door and sneaking out.
Lizzy's parents were arguing outside, her father was standing next to the family car, threatening to leave. Usually they both looked like the picture of respectability and middle-class success stories, but today they both looked a mess; mother's hair was wild due to her having pulled on it so much during their screaming match; Nigel's shirt was pulled out of his trousers and his tie was loose around his neck. They had been arguing loudly for a long time. Lizzy could see the neighbour's nets in the windows twitching; their neighbours getting a sneaky peak at her parents humiliating- and heartbreaking- behaviour.
"Come on," hurried Fred, pulling her away from the sight in front of the house. Going through the back door they hurried out into the back garden and then down into the main street.
"Where are we going?" Lizzy asked, sounding a bit whiny (she was annoyed and distressed by her parents fighting.)
"Somewhere... fun..." replied Fred slowly, ignoring her bad attitude, "somewhere like that place!" He pointed ahead to an old house at the end of the street. It was completely desolate, having been empty for many years. Mickey had told Lizzy once before that all the local kids thought it was haunted.
"It's scary," she whimpered but Fred laughed at her.
"No it isn't, don't be a coward," he admonished, somewhat hypocritically. "Anyway, we won't go into the house. It's the cool garden we're going into. Come on, I'll race you!"
Racing with Fred was never fair. One reason why was that he was a grown up (or at least someone in a grown up body) and so had legs that were longer than Lizzy's entire body. And the second reason was that Fred was some sort of super human and was unnaturally quick, so she was pretty much doomed; however, she gave it a fair go and only lost to him by a little bit.
They burst into the garden, laughing and shouting, revelling in the feeling of being young and free and far away from the people that made them miserable.
Both of them stopped at the same time and looked in wonder at the garden. It was beautiful. Without an owner, it had grown wild. Roses stretched out and entwined themselves across the small bush trees and hooped around their branches. The grass was long and brown with thousands of insects running about in it. A thousand flowers were growing long with strong stems and in bright colours; Lizzy wasn't sure which ones were flowers and which ones were weeds, but she didn't care; they were all gorgeous.
Going further in, they found a little pond which had a Frog and some Frog Spawn in it. Lizzy wanted to take the Frog Spawn home, but Fred told her that they would die without the pond, so she left them where they were.
"We can always come again," Fred said to keep her from feeling too disappointed. "We can keep coming back, and we will see them change and turn into frogs themselves."
"Then they would get hats and sticks and will form a family band," Lizzy continued, thinking of a cartoon she had watched earlier that day.
"Of course," her flame-haired companion responded in a matter-of-fact voice, as though Lizzy had not said anything bizarre. "They could come and sing for you on your birthday. It'd be way better than anything your mom would do."
"Or what she wouldn't do..." Lizzy muttered feeling ungrateful and angry at the same time.
Fred watched her carefully for a short while before asking, "well should we take at least one thing home to remind us of today?"
She smiled and nodded and he grinned in return before looking around. "Let's take plant!" He cried. "Maybe, if we give it food as well as water it will turn gigantic and get teeth and eat people!"
"Yay! It would chase the mail man all the way down the street!"
They crawled through the grass, trying to find a good enough plant. Finally, Lizzy found one. It was a small blue poppy. She called Fred over and showed him.
"It's small, like me," she explained, "and blue, which is my favourite colour."
Fred nodded and looked impressed, "it's a good choice. Here," he held up two pieces of wood, "I found things we can dig the plant up with."
Using the slightly sharper blade of wood, Fred and Lizzy worked slowly but eagerly on getting the plant dug up. They had to make sure they didn't ruin the roots. Finally, when they got it out, Lizzy carefully held it while Fred rooted around in the scary house to find something to put it in. Lizzy was glad he had told her to wait outside, because though she didn't want to show it, she was actually still a little bit scared of the house.
After waiting a few moments with nothing but bird song and Fred's occasional swearing from within the house, Fred leapt out of the window screaming, "TA-DAA!" and holding an old cracked cup in his hand. Lizzy beamed. It was perfect! Carefully they put in her plant, and going over to the pond, put in a little water so that it wouldn't go thirsty.
"Hungry, Snot Face? Then let's go, I have another idea! Have you ever had gooseberries? NO? You haven't lived!"
Fred ran off, forcing Lizzy to follow him whilst still holding her plant. They stopped beside a small green bush. Fred picked off a small, green ball and gave it to her. "This is a gooseberry. Try it." Lizzy had always been taught not to eat stuff from off trees, but she trusted Fred, so put it into her mouth. The gooseberry burst when she bit it. It tasted very sweet. She smiled at Fred, showing her surprise and happiness.
"Told you they were good."
She swallowed, "no you didn't, but you are right about them being nice. Can I have some more please?"
They sat down together. Lizzy wiped her hands clean, not wanting to get mud on her berries and began to munch on all the one's Fred gave her. "Don't do this without me," he said to her in his serious voice, "'Cause I know the best ones. And some stuff that grows outside is bad for you. You can't eat all berries."
He smiled at her, "I'll tell you another time. Right now we have to get you back home or the mega-bitch will be after you."
They walked home slowly and after a while (and with much cajoling) Fred eventually agreed to hold her hand. Lizzy smiled contentedly; she liked it when things were like this. Sure, it was fun when Fred was crazy and wacky, but every now and then, it was nice to wind down, times like now, when it was just she and Fred and all were quiet. In fact, at times like these, Fred reminded her a little of a dad, or, at least, something like a father. She held each of these moments as precious because Fred was seldom quiet and she seldom felt this loved and safe.
She gripped his hand a little tighter and held her cup with the plant inside closer to her chest as they returned home. The car was missing from the front lawn. Memories of that morning crowded back into her mind and her good mood dissipated.
"Daddy must have left," she said sadly. Fred looked down at her and nodded silently.
They snuck into the house the same way they had left and quietly began to tip-toe through to hallway and up the stairs. Fred quietly disappeared into a thin green haze that itself eventually dissipated into nothingness. By the time she was at the top of the stairs, she was alone.
In her bedroom Lizzy put the plant on her window's ledge. "There, it can see the sun all day now, but not get too hot." She took out a gooseberry she had saved in her pocket and put it next to the plant. "Here you can eat this if you want. It's very nice." She told the plant.
Suddenly, her mother burst into the room.
"Lizzy why are you so dirty?" She cried in horror. "You have been inside all day! Haven't you?"
Lizzy nodded, terrified at her mother's angry words and deep voice. Mother grabbed Lizzy's arm and dragged her into the bathroom before starting up the shower. "Well your father has left." She complained to her daughter. "No doubt having a dirty little girl wasn't very nice for him." She stripped Lizzy of her clothes and dumped her into the bath, before slamming on the shower and putting the shower-head over her. Lizzy shivered, the water was still too cold. "And so now he's gone leaving me all alone to look after you. How convenient. He didn't take you, so now I have to look after you by myself. See, he gets to live the high life whilst I'm stuck in a suburban hell with a miscreant of a daughter."
She turned off the shower and pulled out Lizzy, drying her roughly with a towel. "Get your night clothes on and go straight to bed."
"But it's early!" protested Lizzy without thinking, she regretted her words as soon as they were shouted.
"You will go to bed!" yelled mother, "how dare you shout at me! Mommy is tired and you are very naughty! Now go!"
Lizzy made it into her room before bursting into tears. She got dressed alone (she noticed Fred was never around when she got dressed, probably because he was a boy) and managed to get her night clothes on by herself (though they were on inside-out and back-to-front). She closed the curtains, ignoring the children who were still playing outside, and got into bed wondering how long daddy would be away this time.
"Hiya Snot Face, bit early for bed isn't it?" Fred had just appeared in her room. He looked at her. "Snot Face, are you crying?"
She shook her head and wiped the tears away angrily. The last thing she wanted was Fred laughing at her for being a girl, or even worse, not wanting to be her friend anymore because she was being a cry-baby. Fred climbed onto the bed and lay next to her.
"Mother said I had to go to bed early," she explained, not wanting him to think she had actually chosen to go to bed early. "I'm being punished for being dirty and naughty." Suddenly her misery welled up inside of her and with a high pitched whine, Lizzy burst into tears.
Fred did something that he had never done before. He drew her into a close, one armed hug.
"You're not dirty or naughty," he said. Her head was by his chest and she could feel his raspy voice in it. It was a little strange but oddly comforting. She leaned further in, cuddling next to him. She knew he would not want to do this again and so wanted to take advantage of it. She could feel his bones through his thin, yellow t-shirt. Fred was pretty thin... and it was then that she realised that she had never actually seen him eat.
"You're great," he continued as Lizzy slowly stopped crying and instead began to hiccup a little. "You're my best friend in the whole, entire world."
She looked up at him, "your mine too."
He smiled and lifted her up so that they were eye level. He was no longer hugging her but she didn't mind. She looked into his eyes and thought that he was very handsome.
"Fred... can we get married when we grow up?"
Fred blinked then laughed. "Sure, if you want, as long as we don't have to kiss or hug or anything gross and girly like that." He paused for a moment before saying, "Do you want to know the reason why not all berries can be eaten?"
She nodded eagerly, remembering his advice from earlier, and the memories of their adventure in the garden caused her to smile again.
"Ok," he grinned, settling down once more on the bed, "well once, long, long, long, long ago, before you were born, or the Mega Bitch was born, or your dad was born, all the animals and all the humans and all the fairytale creatures ate the same food; Everyone could eat the same berries and flowers and plants. It didn't matter. And this caused a lot of problems."
"Why?" asked Lizzy, what could be bad about everyone being able to eat the same stuff? Surely that would be better than now? All that meant was that if she was hungry she wouldn't have to wait for her mom or dad to make her food, she could just run outside and starts munching the grass like a cow.
"Well some things are greedier than others," Fred explained logically, "So all the gentle creatures, like the rabbits and the moles and the pixies, they got no food; while the more vicious creatures, like the elves," he grinned, "the humans and the wolves, well they got to eat everything because they were greedy and strong and called all the shots. So in the end, the gentle creatures complained to the King and Queen."
"The King and Queen?"
"Yes. The King and Queen of nature. The King is called Freyr and the Queen is called Freya. They were brother and sister and they looked after all the natural world. They were both very tall, taller than any human alive, and they both had blonde hair that reached their ankles and both always wore all white clothing with the exception of a thick gold belt they each wore around their tummies."
Lizzy gaped in amazement, trying to imagine such splendid people, "were they a good King and Queen?" she asked.
Fred thought for a while. "Hmm, not exactly...well they were both very fair," he eventually answered, with a diplomacy she never knew he possessed, "The King and Queen got all the animals and people and fairytale creatures together in this big meeting. Then the King and Queen made them all decide amongst themselves which food they liked best and to choose just a few favourites from the world that would belong to them. They couldn't choose everything and if they couldn't decide for themselves the King and Queen would decide for them.
"So the rabbits chose grass; the dogs chose bones and meat; the birds chose berries; the bees chose pollen; the humans chose strawberries and gooseberries and so on; and on and on it went until everyone had some things they could have, and some things they were banned from eating. Of course, occasionally some creatures chose the same foods as others, like the humans and the rabbits both chose lettuce."
"Yuk!" interrupted Lizzy.
Fred nodded in agreement, "poor choice if you ask me, Snot-Face. Point is, in short, not everyone could have everything. That meant that no one group could eat all the food. It meant everyone had something that was theirs."
"Is that kind of like you and me?"
"How do you mean?" Fred looked at her in confusion.
"Well you have no other best friends," she said somewhat hopefully (she never knew what he got up to when he vanished away from her), "and only I can see you."
"I understand," he gave her a wide smile, "yes, it's just like that. I'm just yours; you don't have to share me with anyone, not ever."
They were still for a moment after that, Lizzy stared up at Fred whilst he looked around in a bored, distracted manner. She knew he would soon ask her to do something naughty, like sneaking around the house and playing pranks on her mother in revenge for being sent to bed early, but Lizzy had had enough drama for one day; she just wanted some peace.
After his words, all the horrible, gloomy and gloopy feelings that had welled up in her chest and had made it hard to breath, had suddenly disappeared into nothing. With Fred by her side and claiming that he was only her's, Lizzy experienced that same cosy, warm and safe feeling she had before when he had held her hand. It's why she had asked him to marry her when she grew up; she never wanted to be apart from her best friend.
"Can you stay until I fall asleep?" she asked, sensing that he was either going to run out and be naughty, or vanish into green, sparkling mist again.
"Of course I can!" He climbed under the blankets with her, griping slightly about how they were stupid and girly and pink. Lizzy grinned and snuggled up next to him before falling asleep.
That night she dreamt of fairies and talking rabbits, and of her and Fred running away together, ready to live happily ever after.