The Traveling Best Friend
Inside a large treehouse, a small girl sat alone, holding dolls and switching between highly exaggerated male and female voices. Occasionally, she would make one of the dolls say something and smile to herself. Every afternoon was the same for the little girl – she would play alone in her treehouse while her father finished up with work and cooked dinner.
But this time, things changed. Unbeknownst to her and her father, a seemingly lost small creature toddled its way into their well-kept backyard. It stopped right at the base of the tree and looked up at the ladder. The little girl’s sporadic laughter continued to drift out of the treehouse until her father called from the kitchen.
“Alexis, it’s almost time for dinner! Come help me set the table!”
“I’m coming, Daddy!” Alexis carefully laid her dolls on the floor of the treehouse and rushed down the ladder. But something got in the way of her foot as it was headed toward the bottom rung. She turned to look down and stifled a scream when she saw the small creature.
It was about two feet tall and barely came up to her waist. Its skin had a greenish hue and its wide, green eyes took up about half of its face. Instead of running for her father, she bent down on her knees. “Hello,” Alexis whispered. “Are you lost?” The only response it provided was a blink of its huge eyes. As she pondered what to do next, her father called again, louder this time. After reassuring him that she was coming, she reached down and picked the creature up. “Let’s get you into the treehouse, and I can figure out what to do with you after dinner.” With a gentle push, the creature was able to climb the ladder and find its way up into the treehouse.
“Now stay put!” she called, craning her neck upward. The creature seemed to get the message and sat still inside the structure, gazing around in wonder. Alexis turned away from the treehouse with the brightest smile she’d had the entire afternoon.
After dinner, Alexis hoisted herself up into the treehouse to find the creature sitting patiently in the same spot. “Did you not move at all?” she asked, amazed. But, before the creature could provide any semblance of an answer, she shook her head, taking back her last question. “I’ve decided to keep you! I can bring you food and we can be friends and we’ll have so much fun!” She continued on excitedly, and though the creature didn’t seem to actually understand what she was saying, her obvious joy was contagious. “And,” she continued, “most importantly, I’ve decided to name you Bo! Is that okay?” Bo just smiled.
“Alright, Bo! My name is Alexis and I’m five years old.” She held up her hand with five fingers extended. “And I brought us some tea! Daddy made extra!” Beaming, Alexis reached toward Bo and handed him a steaming cup of tea. He immediately reached over and began to drink it. Alexis stared at him as he drank the entire cup of scalding tea in almost an instant. “How did you do that?” she asked curiously. Bo only responded with a silent grin.
Over the next month, each of them introduced the other to new things. Alexis showed Bo her extensive doll collection, her art projects from school, and twirled around during mini fashion shows to show off her new clothes. In turn, Bo helped her fix the treehouse as it groaned with age and was the first to introduce her to stargazing. Night after night, they would lay on a blanket together looking up at the vast sky spotted with bright stars. They would smile and drink hot tea until her father called her in to go to sleep. Bo would head up the treehouse ladder and Alexis would fall asleep with her thoughts still on her friend outside.
Bo had changed Alexis’ afternoon routine, and more importantly, her life. Every day, Alexis had someone to come home to, someone to smile and joke with. She no longer had to pretend to bring dolls to life so she could have something to talk to – she had her own, real, friend who was always right beside her. One afternoon, when she was seven, she looked across at Bo as he downed his cup of scalding tea and said, “You’re my best friend Bo. You’re my best friend in the whole wide world.” Bo’s eyes shone brightly and a smile stretched across his face. Alexis wrapped him in a huge bear hug, beaming.
Two years later, things changed. Again. One day, when Alexis came home from school, she wasn’t alone. From the treehouse, Bo could spot a short girl with brown hair holding hands with his red-headed best friend. Instead of coming up to the treehouse like she usually did, Alexis sat on the grass with the girl and they began to braid each other’s hair. Bo watched as Alexis laughed and smiled without him.
Just as Bo was going to turn away from the window of the treehouse, however, Alexis took the brown-haired girl’s hand and led her toward the ladder at the base of the tree. Bo’s heart skipped a beat, and before he could find a place to hide, the girls were pulling themselves into the treehouse.
“Norah, this is Bo,” Alexis told the other girl proudly, gesturing to Bo. Bo gave a small wave as Alexis continued. “Bo is my best friend!”
Norah stared at Bo for a while, confused, and then turned back toward Alexis. Her confused look had morphed into one of haughtiness, as though she thought she was better than Alexis. “Alexis, I ditched my imaginary friend like five years ago. Maybe you should try to find real friends.” Without another word, she turned and climbed out of the treehouse, alone.
Now it was Alexis’ turn to be confused. “What does she mean ‘imaginary’?” she muttered, both to herself and Bo. Cautiously, she reached out to touch Bo and was met with a solid body. “Was she joking?” Bo, though he seemed to understand what was happening, stayed completely still and silent. Alexis shook her head, attempting to clear her experience from her mind. “It’s alright. I’ll always have you, Bo. Norah wasn’t that great anyway.” But, it seemed even she couldn’t find the bright side because, for a moment, she had had a friend. A human friend. And just like that, she was gone.
As Alexis grew up, she visited her treehouse less and less, often leaving Bo alone for long periods of time. He would watch her sit on the grass in her new yoga pants with five other girls, all making friendship bracelets. There was occasional laughter but they mostly just talked. Bo never got to meet any of them. Although Alexis had seemed to forget about Bo, she never forgot about what had happened the first and only time she had tried to introduce one of her friends to Bo. She wasn’t willing to risk losing any more of her friends.
One weekend, when she was 17, her father left for a business trip. That night, people Bo had never seen before showed up at their house. Loud music shook the treehouse all through the night and bright, colorful lights blocked out the natural light coming from the stars. Red cups seemed to float through the crowd and phone flashlights contributed to the chaos even further. Bo squeezed his huge eyes shut and shoved his fingers into his greenish ears, trying to shut out the overwhelming situation. But, his pounding headache persisted.
The next morning, Alexis walked around her backyard, alone, picking up empty cups and food wrappers with the occasional sigh. Bo watched sadly, drinking his four-day-old tea and desperately hoping that Alexis would come up to talk to him, even if only to ask for help cleaning. But she didn’t.
Two days later, Alexis stumbled into the treehouse, sobbing. Bo rushed over to comfort her, reaching up to pat her head and occasionally hugging her knees (he was now much smaller than she was). She was unable to string a full sentence together, but between her sobs, she managed to say, “Brandi – told – and – Sara – horrible – never wanna talk to them again.” Bo just sat with her until she ran out of tears. She didn’t leave the treehouse for a long time after she had finished crying though, as she seemed to enjoy Bo’s silent company. Alexis must have dealt with her problems and found new friends though because that was the last time she came up into the treehouse for a while.
A year later, she climbed up into the treehouse to talk to Bo again, carrying two cups of steaming tea. Bo smiled, but it wasn’t reciprocated. “Hey,” she said softly, handing him his cup, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m leaving for college.” His eyes widened and began to fill with tears. “I know. I’ll be back during summers but you’re gonna have to fend for yourself for a while. Can you do that?” It was what he had practically been doing for the past couple of years, as Alexis’ visits became few and far between, so he nodded. She gave a small little smile and quietly told him, “I’m gonna miss you.” Bo ran to hug her shins, blinking large tears out of his eyes.
Over the next four years, Bo crept around the town at night, stealing food from dumpsters. Occasionally, when he was really hungry, he would sneak into Alexis’ house and eat food from the fridge. But, he only needed to eat a few times a month, so he spent most of his time in the treehouse, staring around at the abandoned dolls and grimy blankets.
One morning, when he was cleaning the treehouse, he found an old polaroid selfie of him and Alexis from when she was about six. He smiled at it and found himself wishing that she hadn’t grown up and changed. But, he sternly reminded himself, she has other friends now. That’s better, no matter how questionable they are.
Alexis came home every summer, as she had promised. She brought home new friends each year – she seemed to go through them quickly. One time, she brought one up to the treehouse to introduce to Bo and have tea. It went about as well as last time – Alexis’ friend couldn’t see Bo – but Alexis managed to play it off as a prank and they continued their conversation as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. When her friend climbed down the ladder first, Alexis lagged behind to hand Bo an extra cup of tea she had brought for him. With a silent smile, she disappeared through the floor. That was the last time he saw her before she left for her last year of college.
Bo’s year was nearly identical to the previous three years he spent alone. The only difference from the dumpster diving and hours alone in the treehouse was the old teacup he placed next to his photo of Alexis. Every night that year, he gazed out of the window, staring at the stars. Little did he know, though she was a thousand miles away, Alexis often looked up at the exact same stars.
Alexis came home that summer as a bundle of joy, with three new friends in tow. After introducing them to her dad, she climbed into the treehouse, alone. “I have some people I want you to meet,” she started hesitantly. “They might not be able to see you, but I’ve already told them that, so everything should be fine. Is that alright with you?” Bo nodded cautiously. He didn’t want this visit to go anything like the previous two, but he figured if they had already been warned no harm could be done.
Two girls climbed through the hole in the floor of the treehouse first – one blonde and one brunette. “This is Brielle,” Alexis said, gesturing to the blonde one, “and this is Stevie.” She pointed to the taller, brown-haired girl. Bo waved, but neither waved back.
“I can’t see him,” whispered Brielle. Alexis’ shoulders dropped – she had desperately wanted her new friends to be able to see Bo. Her disappointment was interrupted by the arrival of a short, pale guy.
“Zeke!” Alexis rushed over and gave him a small kiss. She turned to Bo. “And this is Ezekiel. My boyfriend.” Ezekiel reached over to grab Alexis’ hand. Despite his shock, Bo’s managed to give a small wave. After a moment, Alexis looked sadly at her boyfriend and whispered, “You can’t see him?” He shook his head. She sighed and let go of his hand.
An awkward silence passed. Eventually, after another sigh, Alexis told her friends that she would meet them in the kitchen. The trio helped themselves out of the treehouse, leaving Alexis alone with Bo. She stared unhappily at Bo a moment, but her expression quickly changed into one of concern. “Bo, you look pale! Are you alright?” Bo looked down at his vibrant skin and nodded. He felt perfectly healthy. But, Alexis’ concern persisted and she began to bring him hot tea three times a day.
Though Bo appreciated the regular visits, he was happiest when he saw Alexis and her friends sit on the overgrown grass in the backyard, laughing and having the time of their lives. One night, all four of them – Brielle, Stevie, Zeke, and Alexis – pulled out blankets and laid back on the grass, stargazing. Bo watched them happily as they fixed their eyes on the vast heavens above.
The next morning, Alexis brought Bo a cup of tea as normal. However, when she laid her eyes on Bo, she shrieked and dropped the teacup, letting it shatter all over the floor. “BO! What happened?” She continued, stuttering and pointing, “Pale – worse – WHAT?” She had to take a few deep breaths to get a full sentence out. “You’re so pale!” Bo examined his own skin and saw that it appeared to be full of color. With an expression of understanding, he gave her a small, sad smile and rushed to hug her shins. When he pulled out of the hug, his wide eyes were filled with tears.
Over the next few months, Alexis desperately tried to keep Bo from paling even more. But the tea and hot baths and warm blankets did nothing – she saw the color continue to drain from his skin. The more Bo saw of Alexis, the more he saw of her friends. They showed up every day now, helping Alexis make tea and draw baths, even if they couldn’t actually see Bo.
The daily routine that the four of them had developed to take care of Bo was broken one morning when Alexis scrambled up into the treehouse, screaming with joy. “BO! BO! I’M ENGAGED!!! STEVIE IS GONNA BE MY MAID OF HONOR!!” She waved her ring finger around and only saw an empty treehouse. Alexis did a double-take. “Bo?” she called hesitantly. Bo was standing right in front of her, full of color, no different from how he had ever looked. He stared at her, his eyes shining with tears.
Alexis’ sobs drifted down to the house and within a few minutes, Brielle, Stevie, and Zeke were in the treehouse, trying to find out what had happened. “HE’S GONE,” Alexis sobbed, resting her head on Zeke’s shoulder. All three of her friends surrounded her, providing reassuring words and hugs.
Once Alexis’ tears had dried up, the group of four climbed down the ladder and out of the treehouse. And, after one last long look around the treehouse that he had lived in for seventeen years, Bo followed them out. He watched Alexis walk back into the house surrounded by loving friends and smiled. He was sad to be leaving his best friend, but he had done his job. She had new best friends now, and he wasn’t needed anymore. Without a backward glance, he walked out of the backyard and down the street, searching for a child that could see him. A lonely child in need of a best friend.