Lonely adventures, Suzanne had thought at the time, since he is all alone with no hope of another one coming along. She put a hand on her stomach now, briefly, sadly, before letting her hand fall away. That part of their life was over. Trying and waiting and hoping and failing was over. They had James and they were very grateful. They would give everything to James.
The Oak tree had a rope swing on one side and a tyre swing on the other. Will had announced vague plans to construct a treehouse up there one day, but Suzanne was hoping this was just talk. The tree was massive. She could not look at it without imagining James up there, a tiny speck amongst its giant boughs. She had to tear her eyes away when she saw him in her head, falling to the ground. The tree's boughs were almost bare. The ground below was covered in crispy dead leaves.
Suzanne finished pegging the washing out and returned to the house. She found James alone in the kitchen, lining some toy cars up on the floor. 'James,' she asked gently, kneeling down beside him. 'When did your friend Leaf blow out of the tree?'
James screwed his face up in a frown. 'Don't know,' he shrugged. 'Maybe when I went to school the first time.'
Ah, Suzanne thought then, Leaf appeared when James started school. That evening, when Will had tucked their son up for the night, the two of them sat in the lounge with hot cocoa. Suzanne wrapped both hands around hers and blew across the top. Will was chuckling softly, so she looked up at him enquiringly. 'Something funny?'
'Just James and his stories. I was reading to him when he just started taking over the story. You know, adding little bits like he does. Making things up. He really does have an amazing imagination, Suze.'
'Hmm,' she replied, setting her drink down on the coffee table. 'You know, I realised something earlier. James started talking to this Leaf just before school started. I asked him if he could remember when Leaf appeared and he said it was when he went to school for the first time. But now I remember. It was actually a few weeks before, at the end of the summer holiday.'
'Not long after we moved in?' questioned Will. 'Well that would make sense, I suppose. Big changes for a little man. Would make perfect sense for his imagination to construct a little friend for him. I just can't believe he's called him Leaf. Pretty sweet.'
'Well, he said it's not his real name. He just calls him it because he blew out of the tree. Something about that worries me Will.'
'You worry too much,' Will told her, picking up the TV remote and pointing it at the screen. 'You always have done. It's not like the imaginary friend stuff goes on all the time, is it? They say he never mentions it at school. He's made friends there and he's getting on fine. Nothing to worry about love.'
'I can't help worry sometimes...' Suzanne murmured, pulling at her lip. 'I would feel better if he would tell us more about Leaf. Open up to us more.'
Will was staring at the screen. 'As he gets older we'll hear less and less of Leaf, I can assure you,' he said, and that was the end of the conversation.
In later years, Suzanne Patterson reflected that her husband had been both right and wrong about this. Of course, she saw and heard less and less of Leaf. It was impossible, for one thing, to see less of someone you could not see in the first place. And as for James, talking about Leaf was simply not on the agenda. Any information gleaned on Leaf was stolen by spying, something Will refused to do, yet Suzanne felt impelled to do.
By the time James was seven years old, she had learned three things about his imaginary friend. He was the same age as James, he was hilariously funny and he never ever came in the house. In fact, he didn't go anywhere else at all. If James left the garden, then he left Leaf behind and that was that.