“Real gentle, sweetie. He’s just a baby, like Little Wynn, so you have to be extra careful with him.”
“Like this?” Allie asked, brushing her fingers over the bunny’s soft fur, thinking, gentle, gentle, gentle
as she did it. He was softer than her favorite teddy bear, but a
different kind of soft than Mom’s silk scarf that she wore to special
dinners. Her fingers felt scratchy and rough against the bunny’s smooth
Mom smiled and Allie’s heart lit up. “Just like that. Isn’t his coat soft?”
Allie nodded, wishing Mom would stay and play, just a little while
longer. “Does he take it off when it’s too hot outside?” she asked.
Mom shifted on the step, shook her head. “Oh no, bunnies like to keep
their coats on. You never know when it’s going to be rainy or windy, so
this way they’re always prepared.”
“What about when they visit friends, wouldn’t it be rude if they didn’t take their coats off then?”
“Not for bunnies. Bunnies have to wear their coats, even inside. It’s considered polite.”
“We can’t keep him, though,” Mom said, exactly as the thought swept
through Allie’s mind. “He has a family that he has to get home to. His
mom and big sister are probably worried about him.”
Mom set the bunny on the grass and they watched it hop away toward the
fence, slowly disappearing into one of the big green bushes. The bunny
was gone, but Mom was still here.
Allie grinned, tilting her head. “How do you know he has a big sister?”
“Oh, all little bunnies have big sisters to watch out for them. Now you watch your little brother while I get ready for work.”
Allie’s smile faded. Mrs. Brack would be over soon and Mom would have
to leave again. Mrs. Brack was nice, but she wasn’t much fun, not the
way Mom was. She looked at Little Wynn as he played in the flower garden
with a toy dump truck that was much, much smaller than a real dump
truck, even though he refused to believe her whenever she told him. She
wished she had a baby bunny for a little brother. She giggled at the
image of Little Wynn covered in soft white fur, hopping through the
garden. Allie turned to inform her mom of this wish, since her birthday
was coming up, but she was already gone.
Allie huffed and walked through the garden to where Little Wynn was
playing. He babbled as he smashed his truck into the dirt. He only had
five baby teeth, so he wasn’t big enough yet to say proper words, and he
wasn’t much fun to talk to. Allie didn’t mind, though. He was a good
little brother, most of the time, and he loved to play with her.
Little Wynn grinned wide when he caught sight of her and Allie found herself grinning back. He handed her his dump truck.
“Thank you,” Allie said politely. She didn’t really like dump trucks,
but it was his favorite and he was sweet to share with her. “You can
keep it for now, though, okay? You’ll need it to move the dirt. I’ll
watch to make sure you do it right.”
He stuck a dirty finger in his mouth and nodded his understanding. It was very important work, moving the dirt.
Allie knelt on the dirt by the strawberry bush, close enough to watch
out for her little brother, but not so close that he got her too muddy
or could smear his boogers on her dress like last time. The oak tree
above them was shady and cool, even though the sun was too hot today for
coats, unless you were a bunny. Allie supposed she didn’t mind that
Little Wynn wasn’t a bunny after all. She liked him just the way he was.
“Mama?” he asked.
“Mom’s busy,” Allie told him. She glanced toward the house, already
missing her. Mom wouldn’t be home until after bed time again, but she
always gave them goodnight kisses even if she was very, very late. “She
has to go to work. But it’s okay, I’ll take care of you.”
Little Wynn nodded again and returned his attention to the dump truck.
Before Dad left, Mom had more time to play with them. Now she was tired
a lot. Allie knew that Little Wynn missed Mom too, so Allie was sure to
spend lots of time with him and give him extra cuddles when she wasn’t
at preschool so he’d forget his sad feelings.
The garden smelled like rich dirt and sweet purple flowers and a
little sour where Mom had added her special dirt to make the garden grow
real big. Allie worked her fingers along the edge of a strawberry leaf,
touching the tiny hairs along its top side, the bumpy veins along the
bottom. That’s when she saw it.
At first, she only saw one: a small, bright-blue egg. As she reached
for it under the pokey strawberry bush, the others were revealed. Allie
counted ten of them. Ten little blue eggs.
They were different from the robin’s eggs they’d found in the park,
and nothing at all like the eggs Mom made for breakfast. They almost
looked like marbles, shiny and bright like Mom’s blue earrings, but they
weren’t quite round enough. One had a crack in it, and that meant it
must be delicate. Not like a marble, but like a baby animal that you had
to be very careful with.
Allie lifted one into the palm of her hand, careful not to squeeze. It
was cold and heavy. Allie frowned. Babies were supposed to be kept
warm. Maybe these babies didn’t have a mom to keep them cozy and safe.
Sometimes babies got lost and their moms couldn’t find them.
Her heart dropped. They must be so lonely and scared all by themselves
in the garden. It was dangerous out here for little creatures. If
Little Wynn had been any closer to the strawberry bush, he might have
smushed them with his truck. He’d never do it on purpose, of course—he
was a good boy—but like Mom said, accidents happen when you aren’t
careful, and Little Wynn wasn’t big enough to be careful all the time.
Allie lifted the hem of her skirt and placed the egg safely in the
slope of fabric. Then she wondered what to do with them. She could ask
Mom, but she was probably busy. Someone had to take care of them.
Allie gathered the shiny blue eggs in her dress.
Gentle, gentle, gentle.
The lights were all off when she heard the scratching noises coming from under her bed.
At first, she thought it must have been a monster, but after listening
to the noises with her blanket pulled tight to her chin, Allie
remembered: the eggs. She dove out of bed, scrambling to turn on her lamp.
The floor creaked under her. She stilled, listening.
The house was quiet, except for the tiny scratch, scratch, scratch
from under the bed. Allie got on her knees, lifted the blanket, and
peeked under the bed. No monsters jumped out, but the cardboard box was
gasped, sliding the box out from where it was safely tucked next to her
winter slippers and that half-eaten sandwich on a plate she’d forgotten
to take back to the kitchen. She lifted the lid to peer inside. Tiny
blue eyes peered back at her.
With a gasp of surprise, Allie closed the lid. A giggle escaped her and she opened it again.
Ten sets of bright shiny eyes blinked as light flooded the box. They
must have been bird eggs after all—they had little wings folded up
behind their shoulders. But they looked more like butterfly wings than
bird wings. None of them had feathers. Their skin was smooth and gray.
But Allie had seen baby birds in her picture books that didn’t have
feathers either, so maybe they just hadn’t grown them yet. That meant it
was even more important that they be kept warm.
One of the little creatures yawned real wide. Already it had dozens of
itsy-bitsy white teeth, far more than Little Wynn had. They almost
looked like small people. Of course, she realised, they must be fairies.
Allie smiled as it curled up into a ball and wrapped its long arms
around its legs, falling back to sleep. Some of the others did the same,
but a couple fairies still stared up at her. She couldn’t be sure, but
they looked like they were pleased to see her. Allie realised that they
must think she was their mommy now. Her chest puffed up with pride at
Carefully, she reached into the box and stroked one. It leaned toward
the warmth of her hand and Allie knew in her heart that they were meant
to be hers and she was meant to be their new mother. She would take such
good care of them.
She picked out the broken bits of egg shells so they didn’t poke
themselves on them, and rearranged the tissue in the box to make sure
they were warm. Allie hummed a lullaby to them under her breath like she
always did for Little Wynn, so as not to wake Mrs. Brack in the living
room. She’d have to pick out names for them. And maybe bath them, and
get them toys. Little Wynn wouldn’t be the baby of the family
anymore—he’d be a big brother. Allie would teach him to be real gentle
with the little fairies. Then she thought about food. She’d have to feed
them, of course. Probably a lot. Babies were always hungry because they
were growing. But these weren’t like any babies Allie had ever seen.
What did baby fairies eat?
Allie reached for the sandwich, but it was hard and crumbly and
smelled funny, and besides, didn’t babies drink milk? They were probably
too little for sandwiches. Allie sneaked out of her room. She checked on
Little Wynn quietly as she passed his crib, but he was fast asleep so
she didn’t wake him. Mrs. Brack was snoring on the couch, the TV on low.
Allie returned to her room with a glass of milk. It was too big to put
in the box, so she poured a little into a purple teacup from her tea set
and placed it inside.
They sniffed at the milk but didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
“You drink it, silly,” Allie whispered to them. “See?” She dipped her
finger in the milk and sucked on it. Allie waited a few minutes for them
to follow her lead, but they didn’t taste the milk. Dipping her finger
again, Allie raised a drop of milk to one of the baby’s mouths. It
dripped onto its lips. It stared at her for a second, then licked it up
Carefully, Allie dipped her finger again and reached out for one of the
others. It sniffed her finger and lifted itself up to inspect the milk.
Allie would name him Edwin. He looked like a boy and like an Edwin.
Edwin sank his teeth into her finger. Allie jerked away. A little bit
of red coated Edwin’s mouth and he lapped it up like the milk.
Allie sucked on her finger. It hurt, but she didn’t cry. Babies didn’t
always know how to be gentle, that was all, so sometimes they weren’t
because they didn’t know any better. But they didn’t mean to hurt her,
just like Little Wynn didn’t mean to hurt her when he’d throw toys and
they hit her in the head. He was just playing.
The babies chittered excitedly. Allie frowned. They didn’t seem to
want the milk. But maybe they just didn’t want her to stare at them
while they drank it. Allie left the milk in the box for them and tucked
them away under the bed for safekeeping before Mom got home.
Little Wynn was in Allie’s room again. He was poking through drawers and pulling out her socks and leaving them scattered on the floor.
“Wynn!” she shouted. “Get out!”
Mrs. Brack’s voice drifted in from the living room, “Allie? What’s going on in there?”
Socked feet pounded down the hall. Allie met Wynn’s gaze and his eyes
welled up. She hadn’t meant to make him cry. By the time Mrs. Brack
rounded the corner, the tears were dripping down his face.
“Allie!” Mrs. Brack scolded. “Don’t yell at your brother!” She scooped
up Little Wynn in her arms and he clung to her neck, big tears rolling
down his face. Allie stared at the floor, shame and guilt making her
cheeks burn. “And clean up this mess,” Mrs. Brack added, pointing at the
socks littering the ground. “I told you to clean up your room this
morning. Honestly, Allie, don’t you listen?”
Allie ran to her bed as soon as they were out of the room and flung
herself on top of the blankets. Allie knew better than to yell at Little
Wynn, she knew it would hurt his feelings and make him sad. She didn’t
mean to. Allie sniffled, wishing Mom would come home.
She would just have to cheer him up herself. An idea occurred to
her—she could show him the fairies—but she knew she’d have to wait until
after Mrs. Brack left and Little Wynn would be in bed by then. Allie
resolved to show him tomorrow and figured she should probably check on
them. She lifted the covers up and peeked underneath. The box didn’t
look like it had been moved, but Allie pulled it out just to be sure.
She slid it across the carpet and gently lifted the lid, careful so
they wouldn’t get out. They looked like they were asleep. It was the
middle of the day, but babies needed more sleep than big girls, so it
was probably okay.
She reached into the box and picked one up in the palm of her hand, real gentle just like Mom had taught her.
It blinked slowly at her and made a little whirring noise like the
sound the fridge makes late at night. It lifted one tiny hand out to
her, cried softly, then curled back up into a ball. It looked sad. It
was thinner than it had been the day before, and its skin was greyer,
Allie fretted her bottom lip between her teeth. It didn’t look like any of the milk was gone.
They must be hungry. Maybe they didn’t like milk. Elves liked
milk—everybody knew that—and so did kids, but maybe fairies didn’t.
She wasn’t sure what fairies ate. She had a lot of books about them,
but none of them had ever mentioned what fairies ate. They hatched from
eggs like baby birds, not like baby people. Maybe they needed different
Mom was home for breakfast the next morning. Allie asked her, “Mom, if kittens eat milk and baby fish eat fish food, what do baby birds eat?”
“But what if they aren’t really birds? What would they eat then?”
“I don’t know, Allie. It depends what they are. Finish your breakfast.”
“But what if—”
“Your cereal’s going to get soggy.”
Maybe they ate cereal? Babies drank milk when they were born, but they
didn’t have any teeth to chew real food with. Little Wynn ate milk and cereal, but he was much bigger than the fairies.
Allie’s babies had lots of teeth, though. Maybe they could eat cereal
too. Sneakily, Allie reached into the box when Mom wasn’t looking and
stuffed some Lucky Charms into the pocket of her pants. During playtime
she’d dig a hole in the backyard and look for worms. Allie didn’t think
worms would be very tasty, but if birds liked them, fairies might too.
Today was Wednesday and Mom was supposed to pick her up from preschool with Little Wynn, but they weren’t waiting in the hall when Allie came out. Sometimes Mom was running late, so Allie sat on the bench for a while and waited for them to come, kicking her feet excitedly because Mom only came to pick her up once a week and it was always the best day of the week.
Chase and Amy were waiting for their parents, too, talking about playing pretend.
“It’s all pretend,” Chase claimed, “even Santa and the Easter Bunny.”
“Nuh-uh,” Amy countered. “My mom says they’re all real. I’ve seen them and so has she!”
Chase frowned. “She’s just lying. Parents play pretend too.”
Allie added wisely, “Fairies aren’t pretend.”
They both turned to look at her. Amy smiled.
“You don’t know that,” Chase said. “Have you ever seen one?”
Allie smirked and ducked her head, keeping her secret. She was going
to show Little Wynn tonight. Allie was sure he’d love them just as much
as she did, and it would be their secret then. Maybe she could show Mom too.
“Everybody knows fairies are real!” Amy said, but Chase’s dad walked up before anyone else could add to the debate.
Allie waited a long, long time, and Mom still didn’t come. Amy went home and Mrs. Day stayed to sit with Allie on the bench.
Mom had forgotten about her. Or maybe she had to go to work after all.
She sniffled. She didn’t cry though. She was a big girl and she knew
Mom was busy a lot, and that she didn’t mean to forget. It was just
really quiet in the hall now and Allie felt embarrassed that Mrs. Day
had to stay late to sit with her.
Just when she thought everybody had forgotten about her for sure,
Aunty Nora came around the corner. Aunty Nora never picked her up from
school without Mom or Mrs. Brack before, but Allie was thrilled to see
her. Allie grabbed her bag and ran up to her, wrapping her arms around
Aunty Nora’s legs.
Aunty Nora leaned down and looked at her. She wasn’t smiling though.
She looked pale and shaky. She had a bad-news look, like when Mom told
her their goldfish had run away. Allie swallowed, her smile fading.
Aunty Nora took her hand and said, “Allie, love, something bad
happened today, so your mom sent me to pick you up. Little Wynn’s gone
missing and a lot of people are out looking for him right now. She’s
real sorry she couldn’t come get you, but she’s very busy helping the
Allie twisted the hem of her sleeve. Her tummy started to feel sick. “Where—where did he go?”
“I don’t know yet, love. But don’t worry, everybody’s trying real hard to find him and I’m sure they will very soon.”
Mom didn’t tuck her in. Allie didn’t mind. Mom was crying in the other room and sitting next to the phone in case it rang, so Allie knew she shouldn’t interrupt. She got into her princess pajamas and brushed her teeth. She put out Little Wynn’s jammies for him too, in case he came home, and made sure his favorite teddy bear was waiting in his crib because he couldn’t sleep without it.
Allie missed him. It was her fault he was missing—she had been at
school and wasn’t there to keep an eye on him. Big sisters were always
supposed to look out for their little brothers. Always. That was the rule.
It had been such a long day, Allie had almost forgotten about her
fairies. Wiping her wet cheeks, she slid out of bed and turned the light
on. She pulled out the box from under her bed. It wasn’t exactly where
she left it and for a moment Allie worried that the police had found her
fairies when they were looking for Little Wynn and had taken them away.
She opened the lid, fearing the worst, but when she looked inside all
ten of them were still there. They were sleeping again, but they stirred
at the light.
yawned and rolled over on its fat stomach. They looked much better
today, and Allie was relieved. None of the cereal had been touched, but
the fairies had grown and their tummies stuck far out like they’d just
had thanksgiving dinner. Their tiny mouths and hands were smeared with
sticky red juice. Maybe they’d gotten out and found some strawberries.
Everybody loved strawberries. Why hadn’t Allie thought of that? That
was where she’d found them. Fairies probably loved fruit from the garden
just as much as she and Little Wynn did.
She reached inside and rearranged them, tucking them in with a fuzzy
pink cloth to keep them from getting a chill in the night. She took out
the cereal and put it in the garbage, deciding that tomorrow she’d go to
the garden and bring them more to eat. Then they’d be really healthy
and full and when Little Wynn came home she could show him and he’d be so
excited. Then she could show Mom how good she was at taking care of
them and that she was a good big sister. Mom would stop crying and Wynn
would be safe at home and they’d all be happy together.
As she tidied up, something shiny at the bottom of the box caught her
eye. It was small and round and white, like Mom’s pearls.
Allie picked it up between her fingers and held it close to her eye. It wasn’t as round as Mom’s pearls.
She rolled it over in her palm. It wasn’t a pearl at all! And there
were four more of them at the bottom of the box. They must be tooth fairies,
she realised. Her very own tooth fairies. Allie smiled. Her tummy
filled with butterflies at the thought. Chase would have to believe her
now. And tomorrow was show-and-tell. Mom had been too busy and sad
tonight to help her prepare something, so her fairies would be perfect,
and as soon as Little Wynn came home they’d be waiting for him to cheer
him up if he was sad.
Allie put the fairy back in the box so it could get a good night’s
sleep before school tomorrow. She covered it up with the soft hand towel
from the bathroom to keep it warm.
Gentle, gentle, gentle.