“I’m right here, Lily. You don’t have to yell.” I responded.
The five-year-old looked at me and smiled. “Sorry.”
Her hazel eyes were red and her face crusty with dried tears. After a couple of sniffs, I walked over to her and placed her on my lap. “What’s wrong, Lily? Why were you crying?” I asked, wiping away some of the freshly escaped tears.
“I’m not crying,” she sniffled.
“Oh, okay, my bad.” I smoothed out some of the curls on the top of her head. “Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Alright, well then how about we take a walk to the castle, and you can talk about it with me there. Does that sound good?”
Lily nodded again before letting out a raspy “Okay.”
The castle in question was the only place I have ever lived; at least, that is what Lily believed. It was majestic — silver towers with rose gold trimmings. From here is where I ruled the land of Lilanticus. Lilanticus was a peaceful kingdom with a little drama here and there. In Lily’s eyes, there was nothing I could not handle.
Lily took my hand, and we walked towards the castle. On our way there, different people stopped us to say hi and give her all types of goodies. She was popular here. All of the people adored her, and she was always so happy to see them. I think I loved her the most out of anyone, though. In Lily’s version of my world, I was a queen who decided to never get married or have children. She surmised that this was the reason the invisible monster chose to attack. Because I didn’t have an heir to take over after me. But, for as long as I have known Lily, I knew she was the right person to inherit my kingdom.
When we reached the castle, the servants took our shoes and gave us giant blankets.
“Shall we go to the best room in the castle?” I asked.
“Yes,” she beamed. “We shall. Do you wanna race?”
“Do you even have to ask? 1, 2, 3 Go!” I exclaimed, taking off down the castle’s main hall.
Our laughter filled the hall as servants and guards dodged out of our way. We entered the brightly lit and colorful room out of breath.
“Have a seat,” I dragged in a deep breath as my hands fluttered to my chest, “anywhere.”
“Okay,” she wheezed and plopped down on a furry light pink bean bag chair. “Everything is so fluffy and soft. This really is my favorite room,” she sighed.
I folded myself up into a teal Papasan beside her and blew a curl out of my eyes.
“Alright, Lily, so tell me about your day.”
She pursed her lips and folded her arms. “Well, dad won’t let me stay home from school tomorrow. “
I felt my eyebrows raise. “I see. Why don’t you want to go to school tomorrow?”
Her eyes darted toward me and then glanced away as she mumbled something I couldn’t make out.
“I don’t feel well!” Lily snapped.
“It’s not funny! I can’t go to school tomorrow, and dad is making me!”
“Lily, you seem fine to me.”
“No! Feel my forehead, it’s hot.”
I leaned over and felt the cool skin on her forehead.
“Mmhmm,” I mused. “I think we need to call the palace doctor..”
“Yes, I’m sick. Doctor!”
Doctor Nurse showed up at the doors of the plush room immediately. “Yes, Ms. Lily, you called?”
“Mhm, I think I have a fever. Right, Tess?” Lily dramatically put her hand to her forehead and allowed her head to fall into the pink plush underneath her.
Doctor Nurse looked at me. I smiled and gave a nod of my head.
“Okay, Ms. Lily, let me get you examined; we’ll have you feeling better in no time.” Doctor Nurse chirped.
“Oh, Doc, I think I just need a day off from school, maybe a month, and then I’ll feel better.” Lily sighed.
“A month, heh! Well, how about I write you a doctor’s note for a month out of school.?”
“Yes, Doc, that would be great. My dad couldn’t deny a doctor’s note and would have to let me stay home.” Her eyes lit up with relief.
“Well then,” the doctor responded, handing Lily the handwritten note. “I guess my job here is done. I’ll be off now.” He tipped his hat to the both of us, murmuring a quick your majesty, and walked out the door.
“So, tell me what’s really wrong, Lily.” I leaned forward, “why don’t you want to go to school tomorrow? We both know you’re not really sick.”
She took a deep breath. “Okay, you got me, I’m not sick. But I can’t go to school tomorrow; they will laugh at me.”
“The kids at school. They say that I’m a throwaway child because my mom didn’t love me enough to stay alive. I told them she did love me, and she still loves me just from heaven. They laughed and told me that I was stupid and that heaven doesn’t exist. So I punched them.”
“Well, they were wrong.”
“I know. I tried to explain it to the teacher, but she wouldn’t listen. She said I was just a troublemaker and told me I had to apologize to them.”
“No!” Tears were streaming down her face at this point. “I only punched them because they were bothering me. I didn’t do anything to them. I don’t want to go to school!”
“I’m so sorry they said those things to you, Lily. You know your mom loves you, and she always will. Did you tell your dad what happened?”
“He wouldn’t listen. The teacher called and told him what the other kids said happened. The teacher wouldn’t believe me, and dad won’t either. I can’t go back to school. Nobody likes me there, Tess. I wish I could stay here with you.”
I smiled sadly, “your dad would miss you too much, sweetheart. How about this, what if you write down, as best as you can, what happened. Maybe you could even give it to him later. I’m sure he would read it and understand.”
“Okay,” she mumbled into the blanket wrapped around me.
As she wrote, I looked at her dense black curly hair. It had escaped the ponytail and hung wildly around her head. I laughed as I imagined her small, wiry frame punching kids that were probably bigger than her. She would make a great queen. When she finished writing, she looked out into the distance.
“I have to go now Tess, daddy is calling me.”
“Alright darling, I will see you later. “I waved her off, and the castle, the kingdom, and Everything around us disappeared. We were back in Lily’s room. She walked out the door, and I plopped down on her bed and sighed.
The castle wasn’t actually real. None of this queen business was. Wherever I was, though, had allowed me to fabricate a world only Lily could see. It was fascinating but also made me wonder if I really was just a thought in her head.
They never found my body after the accident. I don’t know if I was dead, stuck in between planes, or if my time travel research had some sort of breakthrough. Maybe it was all three, and now I was a ghost who time-traveled three years into the future.
I just knew that I was at the lab one moment, then there was a bright light, and I was here. In my daughter’s room where only she could see me, but she couldn’t recognize me, maybe because she was three years older than when I saw her on the morning of the accident.
The first time I showed up, Lily was already at school, but I didn’t realize that. I ran into our bedroom to let Conrad know about what happened at the lab. In my head, it was still the afternoon of the day of the accident. I thought I achieved a breakthrough of some sort in my research. He was usually home on Tuesdays.
“Conrad!” I yelled as he lay on the bed. He didn’t turn around.
“Conrad?” I walked over to him. “Babe, why are you ignoring me?” My hands shook him, but he didn’t move. His eyes opened, and he got out of bed to stretch.
“Conrad!” No response.
I jumped up and down in front of him, waving my hands, and he walked right through me. I looked down at my body and noticed there was an ethereal glow to it.
What happened to me?
In Conrad’s office, I was able to see a few details about my disappearance. The investigators believed that I had wholly vaporized in the explosion. Pictures of the lab showed that just about Everything, including most of my research, had been destroyed. My funeral was two weeks after the accident.
The initial intake of this information made me feel empty and alone. Whatever happened, I knew that nothing would ever be the same. That was the first time Lily saw me in three years. Balled up in the corner of Conrad’s room, my daughter tapped my shoulder and asked who I was and why I was crying. I had no idea what to tell her. So I said to her that my name was Tess, and I was a queen whose kingdom had recently been attacked by an invisible monster. She swore to help me get my kingdom back, on the condition that I would make her a princess.
Whatever happened in the three years since the lab accident, I had no memory of. I could roam freely but was pulled back to Lily’s room at sunset and was unable to leave until sunrise. It was an unexplainable phenomenon.
I watched as my husband, Conrad, walked into the room with Lily.
“Okay, Lily, what do you want to show me?”
“Tess told me I should write you a note. So I did. She picked up the note off the table and handed it to him.”
“Tess?” His eyes furrowed. “Your m — “ he shook his head. “Is that a new friend at school?”
“I don’t have any friends at school, dad. Tess is the queen of a kingdom called Lilanticus. I talk to her every day. She has made me a princess.” Lily said proudly.
He raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Well, you were already my princess.” He examined the note in his hands and shook his head, and sighed before looking back up at her. “Lily, this is what really happened in school today?”
“Yes, dad, I tried to tell you. But you wouldn’t listen,” she responded exasperatedly.
Conrad picked her up and held her tightly. “I’m so sorry sweetie, I should have listened to you. I was having such a stressful day at — ah, never mind that. How about I make it up to you with some ice cream, and I will have a firm talking with your teacher tomorrow.”
“Okay,” she nodded. “I have a doctor’s note, so I don’t have to go to school tomorrow,” she beamed, whipping the note out of her back pocket and into her dad’s hand.
He laughed, “hmm, says here you have a fever, and you have to stay out of school all month or else there will be a case of zombies?”
“You laugh, dad, but we have to very careful.” Lily admonished with a somber look.
“Alright, my little zombie, let’s go get that ice cream.”
They walked out of the room, and I felt tears fall down my face. Lily would make a great queen, I thought to myself. I wish I could make this whole imaginary world real for her to live this life she dreamed up — a life where I could really be there. I wanted to comfort, teach and show her how to go after all of her dreams. How to be the woman, the queen, I knew she would be. If I wasn’t dead, I would find a way to get back to her again. I would find a way back to my Lily.