The day was coming to an end, and so was he.
Jared was getting old physically; that was a sure fact. He had children of his own now. When was the last time that years had felt like actual years passing by? A long time, he was sure.
He whistled as he washed the dinner dishes. He missed being young, when he would have actually been able to keep up with his youngest. But that was the joy of being an old guy, really – to watch over the next generation, who would grow up to watch over the generation after that. Ugh. Now he was thinking about when his youngest would be in her forties. He would probably have grandchildren by then. He shook his head. He tried not to think of it. No, he would hold on to being young until he wasn’t allowed to be anymore.
There she was. His brown-eyed little darling was staring up at him as he washed a plate. She was only four years old, and full of life and vigor and all the things that little children ought to be filled with.
He smiled. “Hey, kid. What’s up?”
“What are we reading tonight?”
Of course she would ask that. She had been obsessed with her nightly reads over the past couple months. By dinnertime, she was already thinking about night. Most children were interested about what was happening right now. Not Clary. Clary had her whole life planned out at age four. When he told her that age-old adage that she could “be whatever she wanted to be”, she replied that she wanted to be a mermaid. He didn’t want to tell her that it would most certainly not happen as she planned. But she dreamed. It wasn’t bad to dream, he supposed. He just didn’t want her to stay in dreamland for her whole life.
“Oh, whatever you want to,” he replied.
“I want to read the ‘Little Fork’ one.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Little Folk?”
That was the one book they hadn’t gotten to yet. It was an old story his parents used to read to him when he was small. It was full of stories of ogres and fairies and elves and the like. He had gotten it along with some other children’s books when they’d had their first child. He’d forgotten it existed until she mentioned it just now.
“Yeah, ‘Little Fork’.” She nodded vigorously.
He chuckled. “No, Clary, it’s ‘folk’, not ‘fork’. It’s another word for ‘people’.”
“So, little people?” she asked. “Like Ms. Adams?”
“No, not like Ms. Adams. She’s not little folk, she’s just a midget.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Ms. Adams isn’t magical.”
“I think Ms. Adams is magical,” Clary persisted.
“Well…” He breathed out a quiet sigh. “You’ll get it when I read you the story. Now go help Mum with the table.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She rushed to grab a plate from her mother. They’d gotten it easy with the third child. Normally they say the first one is the easiest, and then it gets harder. Not with their children. Janice was hard, Sandra was harder and then Clary was just a saint for no real reason. Not that he was complaining, just noticing.
That night, after helping Janice with her Algebra, talking over some things with Sandra, and getting the children to bed, he made his way up to Clary’s room. She was eagerly awaiting him, with the book already in her hands. As usual, she had stuffed animals up to her head. She trusted her Daddy, but she always figured a few other teddy bears were helpful when keeping away the monster in the closet. She stilled believed at age four. He hoped that would end soon, but for now she looked adorable as a little head above a mountain of fluff. He grinned.
“Got it set already, have we?”
“Yup!” she exclaimed happily. “And look, it’s got a bunch of butterflies on the front!”
He hushed her and motioned for her to hand him the book. “Actually, it’s a fairy,” he corrected.
“What’s a fairy?” she whispered back.
“It’s kind of like a butterfly, but it’s a really, really small person, but like this big.” He made about a three-inch space between his fingers. “And they have wings.”
“Wings?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Wings!” he agreed. He began to open the book when she said some things that he would never forget.
“I’ve seen one of those,” she claimed.
He raised an eyebrow. “You mean the ones on the coloring books at the store?”
“No, in Mum’s garden.”
He paused. “It was probably a butterfly.”
“No, no!” She determined. “That was it! It had long, pointy ears just like that, but it didn’t have the wings. Maybe it was a baby fairy.”
He was still in a slight shock. Maybe Clary was finally showing some signs of trouble. She didn’t normally tell untrue stories like this. In fact, now that he thought about it, she had never blatantly told them something untrue. But he couldn’t believe something like this, could he? Maybe she was remembering a dream.
“Maybe you dreamt it, Clary,” he consoled. “We can dream some very odd things sometimes.”
She stood firm, though. She was determined she had seen it. And now Jared was very, very confused.
After that, he read her the story. It was a re-telling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, but thankfully not as graphic as the original version. She really seemed to enjoy it. But he was worried she might be a little scared, even if she wouldn’t admit it. After the hero had foiled Rumpelstiltskin’s plans, they ended the book for the night. He kissed her on the forehead and walked to check on the others, who both turned out to be just fine.
He crawled into bed with his wife, his mind still thinking over Clary’s comments on the “baby fairy” she had seen. He couldn’t explain it any other way than a weird dream, but she was so determined to the contrary that it raced through his brain with the power of a sonic boom.
She kissed him softly within a second of him touching the mattress. He smiled and kissed back. They discussed the day, Sandra’s bully issues, how Janice was doing in school, and eventually Clary’s little statement.
His wife laughed quietly. “She said what?”
“Yeah, she legitimately thinks she saw a fairy or something. Weird, right? I feel like it was probably a dream or something odd.”
“I know, but it sounds like she really, really believes it.” She laughed again. “You know, this is what happens when you don’t tell your daughter that she can’t be a mermaid.”
He sat up and looked at her. “Really? I mean, if she’s really that excited about it, who am I to say no? I mean, with all these reconstructive surgeries these days…”
She laughed into the pillow.
“I’m just saying!”
After she calmed down a bit, she said, “Well, I’m just glad we have a daughter with a very active imagination.” She paused. "Are you going to join us at church on Sunday?"
He gave a half-smile. "You know that stuff doesn't interest me."
She gave a full smile. "I figured I'd at least check."
When they said that the night before, they truly meant it. An active imagination, they had said, nothing more. Still, as he walked out to head to work, he saw Clary sitting in the middle of her mum’s garden. This was a strange sight already, but coupled with the fact that it was also four o’clock in the morning… something was off.
She looked like she was talking to the flowers or something. He walked over to where she was in the garden.
“Honey, you shouldn’t be up this early, go to…”
Just before he could finish his sentence, he saw what she was talking to. It was a small little creature, with long pointed ears, a tiny body and four little limbs. For a fraction of a second he’d thought it was a mouse, but then it stood up and stared at him. With the small glimpse he got, he noticed that those front limbs were arms, and that it had long hair. Before he could even react, it vanished into thin air.
He took a few steps back. He blinked profusely.
“Aw, daddy, you made her go away!” Clary whined. “But you saw her, right?”
His mouth hung open a bit. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“It’s the baby fairy I was talking about!” She came in close and whispered. “But she’s not a baby; she’s really old. She’s older than Grandma!”
He stared at the spot it had been, dumfounded. “Clary, you should go back inside. Let’s leave it alone.”
“Okay, daddy.” She walked inside and headed up the stairs to her room.
He continued to stare at the garden after she went up. It didn’t show again. He unlocked his car and drove towards his office. No matter how long he drove, he couldn't remove the feeling that something was watching him.