Mary Lynn Reed
When I was eleven I decided to introduce my imaginary friends to my real ones. I’d never thought of Kyle and his younger brother Ryan as imaginary before that. They were just personas I played with, when I lay awake at night, dreaming of kissing my real best friend, Amy.
It’d be more complicated to describe now but back then, I identified as a tomboy. As it turned out, I was also a natural born liar. When my mother brought up subjects like training bras and menstruation, I stopped looking in the mirror altogether. We lived in a double-wide trailer surrounded by cow pastures and orange groves. I ached to be as far from my backwoods reality as my mind would take me. So every night, I closed my eyes and became sixteen-year-old Kyle Taylor. As Kyle, I played the guitar, wore a black leather jacket, drove a Camaro. All the girls loved me. Sometimes, when I’d had a tough day at school and wasn’t feeling that bold, I’d become twelve-year-old Ryan, doe-eyed and shy, so the girls would protect me.
I collected pin-ups from Teen Beat like all my friends. In my own way, I loved those smooth-skinned boys in the pictures. My best friend Amy loved Shaun Cassidy best, wanted me to go for Parker Stevenson so we could be The Hardy Boys’ girls. But Leif Garrett was my pick, with his messy blond hair and swooping satin V-necks. Even at the pin-up game I didn’t fit in.
When I grew tired of Amy and Marcy Myers swooning over those air-brushed photos, I started telling stories about the two adorable boys who lived behind my house. We had twenty acres of land and it seemed perfectly plausible, to me, that there could be another trailer back there in the woods, another family I’d met that no one else had.
“Why don’t Kyle and Ryan come to school with us?” Amy asked.
“Their parents are teachers in another county. They go to school with them,” I said.
Marcy and Amy were starved for entertainment on our long school bus ride to town. They wanted to believe in these boys so badly, and I worked to make them real. They couldn’t be too perfect, so I gave Kyle a slight limp (it was hardly noticeable but his left leg was a few inches longer than his right). And Ryan had an occasional stutter when he was scared or nervous. I paid attention to the way Marcy and Amy reacted. It all flowed so easily, following their leads.
“This kid Kyle sounds a lot like Keith Partridge,” Marcy said. “I bet he’s funny, too. Isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” I said. “And he looks a little like David Cassidy, now that you mention it.”
I had them going for weeks; every question they asked sparked a new series of adventures for Ryan and Kyle. I was careful not to know every answer right away. That way I could “ask the boys” at night and come back with more details the next day. I wasn’t entirely crazy; I didn’t buy my own bullshit. But when Marcy and Amy’s puppy love crushes started to sway from Shaun and Parker to my Kyle and my Ryan, it was a rush like no other. After all, if I could make Amy fall for a boy who was entirely my creation, it was almost as if she were falling for me.
So, when Amy said, “I sure wish we could meet them,” of course I replied, “I told Kyle about you last night. He’s writing you a letter.”
“He has a Camaro. Why can’t he just pick us up after school?” Marcy barked.
“He sprained his ankle,” I said. “He’s laid up at home.”
The next day I brought in the note, written in my best dreamy-boy hand. In addition to my natural skills as a liar, I was also a childhood savant at versatile handwriting. I could write small or large, could do neat little block letters, or a precision-spaced grandmother-style. I spent hours practicing writing in a variety of styles, in total secrecy, as if I were a spy preparing my arsenal of deception.
Amy examined more than the handwriting, of course. She dissected every word, and fell under their spell, completely.
The game went on for weeks, this love letter affair between my best friend and the make-believe boy I created. Of course, I didn’t yet understand the finite trap of happiness. Somehow, I never stopped to contemplate the inevitable end of my deception.
It was Marcy who caught me. She took one of Kyle’s letters home and showed it to her older brother. He said there was no way a real boy would have written such sappy ridiculous crap. “Unless he’s a faggot.”
Marcy repeated that word over and over again on the school bus, until everyone was looking at me, and Amy covered her ears and screamed. Once Marcy shut up, Amy looked at me a long time, with that red-hot Best-Friends-Don’t-Lie-to-Each-Other glare.
A few weeks later, standing underneath a bank of pine trees in my backyard, Amy kissed me for the first and last time. When I asked her, quite seriously, if I had been Kyle Taylor, would she have liked me the way she liked him, she said, Yes, she thought she would.
Amy’s family moved away the next summer, and we lost touch. That July I turned twelve, my period came, and Mom said I couldn’t ignore things anymore. She bought me a bra and insisted I wear it.
On the first day of junior high, Marcy Meyers told a crowd of kids I was a dyke and a pathological liar.
Or at least, that’s how I still imagine the story ending.
Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared, or will soon appear, in Fourteen Hills, Colorado Review, Mississippi Review, Free State Review, and many other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review.