III.

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Over the next few years, Hattie waited patiently in the basement each for day Maya to come home. Almost every day Gizmo ran down the steps and played with her, or at least curled up in a corner slept. At one point they made enough noise to prompt Mrs. Townsend to call an exterminator, thinking the dog was hunting mice. They looked around and found no evidence of mice nor the basement's oldest resident.

"Feels a little cold down there, like there's a draft coming in from somewhere," he said as he left. "You should have that looked into."

"It's probably just Hattie," Mrs. Townsend said with a chuckle.

Their adventures slowed over time, as Maya found herself with both more homework and additional chores and responsibilities around the house. Bit by bit, she grew taller than Hattie and she started caring more about her appearance. Gone were the grass stained shirts and torn jeans, replaced with more fashionable choices she picked out of magazines. First she stopped wearing her hair in pigtails, then she cut it short, just below her shoulders. She boxed up old toys and either put them in the attic or donated them to kids in need.

Maya still told her stories, though they grew in complexity. She created a princess who grew tired of waiting of waiting for a knight to save her and learned to use a sword herself to escape her evil stepmother's tower, or about twins who met aliens that came to Earth not to conquer the planet, but to sample the local cuisine. They didn't act these stories out like the old ones, but Maya wrote them into her notebooks or sketched them out on her computer(she could draw without paper!) then printed them out.

When Maya moved up to middle school, nothing changed at first. Sure, she brought home more homework and thrilled at the prospect of picking her own classes, but they still spent time together every day once she came home.

At first, nothing changed when Maya started middle school, though it meant a lot more work. But two weeks into that first year, Hattie scrambled up the steps like always and dashed to the front door, Gizmo right behind her. She'd been so excited to see Maya that she failed to notice a second voice coming from outside. But when the door opened, Maya wasn't alone. A second girl stood next to her, a bit shorter and paler, with long red hair and freckles. As soon as Maya caught sight of Hattie and Gizmo, she beamed. Gizmo bounded over and raced around the newcomer in excitement.

"That's Gizmo right there," Maya said, then pointed to her best friend. "And that's Hattie. Hattie, this is my new friend from school, Brianna!"

But Brianna looked right through Hattie. "Who are you talking to?"

Maya wasn't discouraged, and the three went upstairs to her room, where they played on Maya's computer and talked about how mean their English teacher was and speculated what was in the meatloaf the cafeteria served that afternoon. Every so often, Maya tried to bring Hattie into the conversation, but Brianna couldn't hear a word she said. Before long, the red haired girl started rolling her eyes.

Finally, just after Maya asked Hattie what she thought about a sketch she was working on, Brianna sat her notebook down and gave Maya a serious look.

"See, this is why people at school think you're weird. You're always sitting by yourself, writing and drawing. And you still talking to your imaginary friend."

"She's not imaginary. She's right there!" Maya waved her hand in Hattie's direction.

Gizmo looked at Hattie and gestured with his paw in an attempt to strengthen the case.

Brianna looked over her shoulder, to the walls covered with drawings of Hattie, usually dressed with a pith helmet or a construction hat, based on their various adventures. "She's a neat character, but it's obvious you made her up. You're too old for this, Maya."

The Echo of Hattie PalmerWhere stories live. Discover now