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She had waited almost all day before she got her chance. Finally, while her mother was busy in the kitchen and her father was on the phone, she slipped out of the house and ran down the garden as fast as she could.

Her friends were waiting for her.

“You came!”

She smiled as she bent over, hands on knees, trying to catch her breath.

“Of course I came. I had to say goodbye,” she said eventually, sinking down to sit on the grass. “I’m so glad you’re still here.”

Her friends gathered around her.

“We wanted to give you some presents,” one of them said. “Farewell gifts.”

Another friend shook her head. “We don’t have time!”

The little girl sniffed, trying not to cry. “It isn’t fair,” she said. “I’ll never see you again.”

“We wish it could be different,” they told her, “but the spell is broken on your birthday.”

“But…” It was the smallest who spoke, pausing to look at the others for reassurance, in case she was speaking out of turn. “But we’ll still be here.”

They all smiled at her. One of the fairies flew up to sit on her shoulder.

“We’ll always be your friends,” she whispered.

The others nodded. “Even when you’re all grown up, with children of your own, we’ll be your friends and we will always be here,” they told her.

She smiled through her tears. Back in the house, the clock in the sitting room began to strike, its melodic chimes floating out to the small gathering at the bottom of the garden. She had been born at six o’clock, precisely ten years ago, and as the chimes struck they rushed to give her their presents. A polished chestnut; an acorn; pretty feathers and flowers. The last, the smallest, had nothing in her hands. As the last chimes rang out, she flew up and kissed the girl on her cheek.

“For luck,” the fairy whispered as she faded from view.

The girl felt a tickle by her ear- perhaps of tiny wings taking flight- and she stayed perfectly still for a few minutes for fear of hurting her tiny and now invisible friends.

“I have to go,” she whispered. She got up and walked slowly back up the garden and into the house.

Her mother saw how unhappy she looked as she reached the kitchen, and rushed to embrace her. The little girl gasped as she dropped one of the feathers, but her mother caught it before it floated down to the floor.

“I have something to show you,” her mother said. She took the little girl up to her room, and opened a drawer beside her bed. There was a little wooden box there, which she handed to the little girl.

“Open it,” she told her.

The little girl opened the box. Her mother’s tenth birthday card lay on top, and beneath it, an acorn, a chestnut, some pressed flowers and a pretty feather.

© Kari Fay