'He's at it again,' Suzanne Patterson announced from the window. Her husband Will rose quickly from the sofa and joined her there. Suzanne nodded to the small figure of their son James, who was sat at the top of the slide in the garden. 'Look.'
Will slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. He looked and saw nothing that immediately alarmed him. James was perched at the top of the slide, sat on his knees, with his hand gripping the sides. He was talking very fast, although he was alone. Every now and then his mouth stopped moving as if he was waiting for someone else to speak. He would even tip his head to one side, make faces, and nod in reply. As they looked on, his face broke into a huge grin, before he threw back his head and roared laughter at the sky.
'Something's funny,' Will remarked casually, as he felt his wife stiffen under his arm. He cleared his throat and looked back out of the window. 'Well, looks like an interesting conversation anyway. I'd love to know what he is saying.'
'He stops talking if you try to join in,' Suzanne told him with a sigh. She was doing that thing she always did when concerned; using her thumb and forefinger to pull at her bottom lip. 'If he sees you coming, or if you walk up to him to join in, he just stops talking. It's like he doesn't want you to hear. Do you think that's right? A five year old having secrets from his parents?'
'It's not secrets exactly,' Will tried to reassure her, rubbing her shoulder to relieve the tension he could feel there. 'I'm sure it's fine, love. Lots of children have an imaginary friend.'
Suzanne nodded and smiled softly. 'I didn't. Did you?'
'Well, no. But then I didn't have the imagination James has. Even his teacher says he is full of stories at school. I think it's great, really.'
'But do you ever wonder where the stories come from, Will?' Suzanne was frowning, as she considered their small son sat up on the slide. Will continued to rub her shoulder.
'No, not really love. I just think he has a vivid imagination. Nothing wrong with that. In fact I think we ought to encourage it.'
Later that morning, Suzanne carried the washing outside to hang on the line. James was now on the swing, chattering away to someone she could not see. As he spoke, he moved his hands, his expressions altered, and he paused to allow the conversation to flow. As soon as he saw her, he fell silent and offered her a sullen, accusing look.
'Hi darling,' she called out to him. 'Who were you talking to?'
'Just Leaf,' he replied with a shrug, staring back at her.
'Leaf?' she asked, pegging a pair of school trousers onto the line. 'Who is Leaf? Your friend that we can't see? The one you're always chatting to out here?'
He doesn't want me to know, she thought then, reaching for a peg, he wants me to shut up and go away, that's what he wants.
'Leaf is an unusual name,' she said. 'Do you know why he is called Leaf?'
'It's not his real name,' James replied, slipping down from the swing. 'It's just what I call him.'
Suzanne picked up a damp t-shirt and paused. 'Why do you call him that?'
'Because he blew down from the tree.'
James nodded towards the end of the garden, before slinking off into the house. Suzanne watched him go; that familiar uneasy feeling nagging at her belly, and then she turned her gaze to the tree. It was one of the reasons they had bought the house. The tall proud Oak was a prominent feature at the end of the large garden. The perfect garden for a child, Will had declared on the first viewing, just think of all the adventures he can have.