“Stop wiggling, you’re getting glitter all over the place,” Jack said, taking a step to the side. “You got it all over my pants.”
Ellie hadn’t stopped smiling since she came downstairs. It looked suspiciously like she’d slept in her leotard and tights. She held her arms up and turned a circle on tip toes, the fabric panels spinning out to the side, bells at the ends tinkling.
“Hold still,” Hannah had said, trying to tie the vest in place. Jack thought his sister was going to have to tie the girl to her chair to get the makeup done.
She lined Ellie’s eyes with something black, making them look even bigger than they were. In a feat of coloration Jack didn’t think possible, his sister managed to blend the eyeshadows and rouge to compliment both Ellie’s dark eyes and hair, as well as the pinks and purples of the vest, leotard and tights. And then there was the glitter — glitter along her eyelids, glitter in her hair. She got glitter in her breakfast.
Jack tried to be happy for Ellie. He thought maybe she’d sapped away all his energy with her fairy magic. She announced to everyone on the bus that Jack had designed her costume, and that it was going to win at the night’s contest.
Jack grew uncomfortable with the looks that information garnered him. Several of the girls actually smiled, nodding in approval. It almost balanced out the sneers from Kyle and his pack of friends. Appropriately, they were all done up like zombies.
“Run out of time to make your own fairy costume, Shrimpy?”
“Stuff it, Kyle.”
* * * * *
Jack’s parents had forbidden him from coming home after school. Ellie needed to be watched at the carnival, and since Jack was already there, he got the job. They gave him some money to buy tickets, and told Ellie not to use all of them.
“Jack is supposed to be having fun, there, too,” they told Ellie. “He helped make that wonderful costume, so you let him have some tickets.”
But Jack’s mood was subdued, and dipped into downright melancholy as the day wore on.
“Jack, why aren’t you smiling?” Ellie asked, standing over him as he sat on a flight of stairs. Several of the other girls in her class had also done fairy queen costumes (“But I had the idea first!” said Ellie), and they all stared at him, little hands on hips.
“Go on and play with your friends, Ellie. Just don’t run too far off.”
“Your brother is a weirdo,” said one of the girls as they scampered away. “Who ever heard of an imaginary friend who doesn’t show up?”
“Shhh!” Ellie said. “He’s very sensitive about that. It’s one of his ‘issues.’”
The other fairies nodded sagely, and then left in search of brownies and punch.
* * * * *
Jack found himself being dragged to the field behind the school by the pack of fairies as the sun was sinking towards the horizon.
“Come ON, Jack. This is the really fun part.”
“You said that about the ring toss booth,” he said.
“Well, this is the really really fun part,” Ellie said. She pulled on one hand, and several hands were at his back. They were beginning to draw stares, and Jack guessed it would be in bad form to knock over kindergarteners just so he could go back to feeling sorry for himself.
“They’re going to do two bonfires this year. Its going to be pretty!”
“Do we have to stand so close?” Jack asked. He wrinkled his nose at the harsh smell of kerosene or whatever it was the wood had soaked in.
The mayor gave a few words, the usual spiel about community and friends and family. As the sun sank into the tops of the trees, he touched off one and then the other great piles of wood.
The cheer from the crowd was lost in the roaring ‘whoosh’ as the two fires ate their way up to the tops of the stacks of wood.
Jack had to turn away from the wash of heat, his eyes stinging with tears.
“Ellie, I don’t think it was such a good idea to get so close,” Jack said, coughing. “Are you trying to roast me alive? Is that the thanks I get for helping you win first place?”
“She was only trying to help.”
Jack froze. He closed his eyes. He’d imagined it, surely.
He turned around. Opened his eyes.
Standing before him, hair aglow, pale skin warm with the heat and color from the bonfire, gold flecks in her green eyes blazing in response to the flames, was Beth.
“Hey,” she said, her lips turning in a small, slightly crooked smile.
She was dressed in a gown of white, long sleeves billowing at her wrists. A pair of wings poked up from behind her shoulders, the feathers ruffling in the hot air currents rushing off the bonfires. A halo of tinsel hovered above her hair, joined to the silver tiara she wore by what looked like a coat hanger.
Jack reached out, took her hands. He turned one over, then the other. They were warm. One of them reached up and pinched him hard on the arm.
“Ow!” he cried. “What’d you do— How did you—”
“I broke about a billion rules,” she said.
Jack hugged her.
Some of the people closest in the crowd cheered.