Updated: Aug 27
Vyra had known him all her life. Tommie, the boy who lived in the streets but never missed a beat. She knew his secret, how he kept alive, that he was a chameleon, never living in the same skin for longer than he needed it. He always stopped by, when he was around, with his blushing freckled face and silver-threaded hair. He was older than her, just enough that she was never sure if he thought of her as a friend or a sister. He’d always stop by with that cheeky grin on his face, tousle her hair, and say, “Look, Vyra, another toy.”
Of course, that was before. Before Vyra had gotten sick, and she was pale in bed for days at a time. Her parents and her tutor would never let her near a street rat like Tommie, not while she was too ill to get up. But she didn’t need to see Tommie, not in his human flesh, anyway. At night, he’d twinkle over her head as a lightning bug, or when she was scared he’d be a big gray hound. When she was cold, a big grizzly bear, where she could snuggle into his fur for warmth. In the day time, when he could come around, he was a caterpillar hiding under the covers on her finger, or a silly moth camouflaged on the wall. Her favorite part, though, was right at dawn, when the daylight was creeping in and she knew her mother was bound to wake up. Then, when Tommie was going to be gone for a while, he’d turn into himself and kiss her on the forehead. “Get well, little hero,” he’d whisper, running a dirty, raggedly gloved hand over her hair. “I’ll be watching, always.”
When Vyra could move again, but was too ill to go back into the world, she’d sit with her face pressed against the window, looking for some sign of an urchin who’d lurk under her window for a little while. The worst days were those when he didn’t come and it rained. He’d be a raven, she knew it, peering keenly into the dark, unnoticed and sly, but he’d never come by her house. She looked and looked for some glimpse of those sweet black eyes, but she never saw them. The sorrow drooped from her like the rivulets of rain streaming from the sky. “Tommie,” she’d whisper, with her fingers against the glass, “I miss you.” She never noticed the stealthy spider’s web in the corner of the frame, the little street urchin just sheltering from the wet.
“I miss you too,” he’d whisper, not so much in a voice but in a prayer. “Get well, little hero.”
Some days were worse than others. Sometimes, Vy could hardly open her eyes. Those days, her parents sent away the tutor, called for the nurse, and prayed by her feet, desperate for their little girl to continue. Those days were the hardest for Tommie, who could do little more than be a kitten under her arm, or a mouse burrowed in the pillow by her neck. But when her parents left, he’d turn into himself and take her hand, praying himself for his precious Vyra to be alive to play again.
It wasn’t always this way. She was so vibrant, so pure and gentle and carefree. That’s what captivated Tommie so much; she was the first person who’d ever given to him so freely of herself, without asking for anything in return. She wasn’t the only one who knew of his talents, the way he could shift in and out of shapes like water slid from the sky, but she was the only one who’d never ask him to change. She just accepted it, and he always knew what to do for her. When she was feeling feisty, he’d be a fox, sneaking stealthily throughout the house, dashing at her when she least expected it. When she felt like reading, he’d ball up at her toes as a very large red cat. When she wanted to play, that was easy — he’d be any kind of dog that suited him. Sometimes, a golden retriever, to play fetch, or a German Shepherd, to play Simon Says. They never missed a beat, those two, and her parents always shook their heads at their carefree daughter.
“If we’re not careful,” her mother would say, “that girl will adopt a zoo.” They never did put it together that Tommie was all of those things, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Vyra loved to play, and she loved all the tricks Tommie knew to keep her attention. Sometimes he’d be a flying squirrel to keep her entertained by jumping wall to wall, or sometimes he’d zoom through his transformations to find something that made her laugh. A sloth, an orangutan, a baby giraffe (so he could fit in the house), and he never smiled more than when she giggled so hard she hiccoughed. But they both secretly preferred it when they were both humans, him telling her of his fantastic adventures across the world, and her listening, bursting with questions. “And where did you meet the snow queen again? Are you sure that was real? and you made friends with the fairies?” She’d never seen anything so grand; the most adventure she’d been through was playing The Legend of Zelda, and it paled in comparison to what Tommie had been through.
“Be filled, little hero. Let’s hope one day you won’t have to make an adventure of your own,” he’d chuckle, eyes brimming with joy that he could share his life with her without ever putting her in harm’s way.