I had to tell my best friend, Lisa, even though I knew she wouldn't believe me. It was one of my last three wishes in the mortal realm.
Her response was predictable. "Jess, you've been reading too many kid books!"
We were on the edge of sixteen — quite literally, in my case — and Lisa thought we should be reading the books in the adult section. I still liked the fantasy novels she called "kid books." They were far better than the dumb love triangles and other convoluted shapes and romance that permeated everything Lisa read. I'd tried to read a couple of them, but they were boring.
"I mean it, Lisa. Tonight's the night."
"Okay, whatever… Did you do the Algebra homework?"
I sighed loudly, making sure she heard my exasperation. "No. And it won't matter. The fae are coming to take me away. I won't be at school tomorrow. I won't be in Algebra."
"Fat chance. You and I both know neither of us is that lucky."
"You'll see," I said.
"If you say so." She hesitated. "So I shouldn't bring you balloons and cupcakes at school tomorrow?"
I didn't know how to answer that. Assuming everything went as I expected it to, by morning, Lisa wouldn't remember me ever existing. She wouldn't even think about bringing me presents for my birthday. I figured I could humor her, at least a little, for now. "I'm not saying you should skip out on tradition."
"Right," Lisa said, as though in response to my thoughts, not what I'd said aloud. "See ya at school tomorrow, Jess."
Butterflies danced around in my stomach as I hung up the phone. It was done, but it didn't mean I wouldn't miss Lisa, at least a little bit. I had two more wishes.
"Jess, are you off the phone?" Mom's voice sounded far away, like she was yelling up from the kitchen.
I yelled back. "Yeah, Mom, I am."
I looked at the pile of schoolbooks on my desk. I hadn't touched them. "Yeah."
"I'm thinking about ordering pizza for dinner tonight. Sound good?"
"Always!" My stomach rumbled now. Did they have pizza in the land of the fae? The books didn't talk about pizza, but books also didn't talk about people using the bathroom, and I assumed that would still be a thing regardless of where I was.
Before I ran downstairs to figure out what toppings we were getting, though, I realized if Mom wanted pizza tonight, knowing we had plans to go out to dinner tomorrow for my birthday, it meant Dad was working late.
And that meant he might not get home before I left.
I paused at my bedroom door, tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Through their shimmer, I saw all of the fae-related things I'd collected over the past few years — books, posters, clothing and jewelry, all because I knew the fae were going to come and take me away on my sixteenth birthday.
But did I still want to go if I couldn't say goodbye to my dad?
Two wishes left. Two parents. A chance to say goodbye to each of them. Just as soon as I thought it, I knew I'd used them up. Good thing that had been my plan all along. Goodbyes to the three most important people in my life.
I wiped my tears away, checking the mirror to make sure it didn't look like I'd been crying.
Concocting a plan, I ran downstairs. "Hey, Mom, instead of getting pizza, why don't we order Chinese and take it to Dad's office?" It was my best chance to make sure I could tell them both goodbye.
Mom's back straightened, her shoulders stiff. "Oh, I thought we could have a girls' night."
I wasn't sure how to take her response. Normally, she liked the idea of surprising my dad. Why the sudden hesitation?
She turned to face me, and I could tell she'd been crying.
She dabbed at her eyes. "Nothing, sweetie."
"You were crying."
"Don't worry about it. You want ham and pineapple?"
I was confused, but I crossed my arms over my chest, ready to begin the pizza topping negotiations. "You won't want jalapenos, and that's the only good way to get Hawaiian pizza."
"We can get jalapenos today. We'll just get them on half the pizza. Sound good?"
Something was definitely wrong.
I nodded, but my mind wasn't on the pizza. She must have talked to Dad to find out he'd be home late. They must have argued about it. They'd been arguing a lot, lately. And he'd been working late a lot, too. Were these things related?
I didn't like things being so topsy turvy. I was ready to get out of my normal teenage life, with school and dumb teenage boys and even dumb teenage girls. I'd miss my parents, sure. But what if there wasn't a "them" anymore, after I left? If they forgot they had a teenage daughter, would they forget why they were married to each other, too?
Suddenly, this whole running away with the fae at sixteen seemed like the worst plan I'd ever had.
I took a deep breath to remind myself how much I'd wanted this, and for how long. I'd be ready. I had to be ready.
We'd eat our pizza and have a girls' night, and maybe Dad would pop in before I went to bed (at which point I would go to my room and turn out the lights, but there was no way I'd sleep even a wink). And at the stroke of 12:01 a.m., the actual moment of my birth and the moment at which I was sixteen, the fae would come to take me away, and I'd forget all of this worry.
My plan worked up until a point. We had our pizza. We watched some boring sitcoms Mom liked, and I didn't care about. When it was almost time for the news, I feigned tiredness. Dad wasn't home, but Mom wouldn't go to bed until I did. I wanted to make sure she'd be asleep before the fae arrived. I told her good night and gave her an extra big hug. I couldn't bring myself to say the word "goodbye," but this was close enough.
I didn't dress for bed. I put on my favorite dress, the one everyone said made me look like an elven princess (they said elven, I said fae), did my hair and makeup, and settled a flower crown atop my head. Then I perched myself on my bed, sitting with my back against the headboard, my skirt splayed across the bedspread.
I tried not to think about the fact that I hadn't gotten to tell my dad good night or get one last hug from him. Maybe he'd be home soon, and I could say goodbye, in my own way, before the fae whisked me away.
I'd underestimated how tired I'd let myself get.
My eyes drooped as I stifled a yawn. Maybe I'd just close my eyes for a few minutes.
When I opened my eyes again, someone had turned out my bedroom light. I was tucked into my bed. My flower crown was gone.
The baleful green numbers of my alarm clock told me it was 2:09 a.m.
I was still here.
I leapt out of bed and ran to the window, hoping the fae would be waiting for me outside. But the yard was just the yard, and my heart sank.
Turning back to look at my room, I tried to piece together what had gone wrong. I'd been ready, even if I was asleep.
My gaze caught the flower crown, hanging from my doorknob. It seemed like such a small thing, but was that the key?
If I'd fallen asleep before Dad got home, had he been the one to tuck me in? Had he taken the flower crown from my head and hung it on the doorknob so it wouldn't get crushed? Was that why the fae had passed me by?
Or had Lisa been right? Was this all just a ridiculous dream I'd had, a hope that I could be whisked away from reality into the realm of my books?
I didn't want her to be right. Tears started flowing down my face, even as I tried to push them back, tried to convince myself the fae were real.
But she'd planted the seed of disbelief in me, and my tears were watering it.
Sobbing, I crawled back into my bed, at first ignoring the rustling and scrabbling I heard behind me. But when I paused my crying to gulp at the air, I caught a snippet of something that sounded like whispered words.
I froze, holding in that breath, willing myself to be silent and still, as I listened for another hint of speech.
Outside, the trees rustled, shaking their dying leaves on skeletal branches. The wind whispered through them, and I recognized the sound, the same I'd heard before. It wasn't the fae. It was just the trees.
I slipped under the blankets, and my door opened, just a crack. Again I heard the rustling and faint whispers.
Fae didn't need to be invited into the house. That rule only applied to vampires. But what if ... what if they decided to wait for me outside for some other reason? What if Mom's fancy black candlesticks were wrought iron, and not just painted aluminum?
I slipped out into the hallway, listening at the top of the stairs. From that vantage point, I recognized the sounds I'd heard before.
I ran downstairs, and there he was, stretched out in his recliner. When I was younger, he fell asleep there while watching TV. Now, when he came home from work extra late, he slept in the living room so he didn't wake Mom.
He stirred when I scrambled across the tile at the bottom of the stairs and onto the carpet of the living room.
"Hey, Punkin," he murmured, his voice thick with sleep. "Happy birthday. I didn't want to wake you when I got home."
I ran over and hugged him. "Good night, Daddy." I didn't care that I hadn't called him Daddy since I was seven. Right now, at sixteen, and having been abandoned by the fae, all I wanted was comfort, and reverting to my childhood name for him did the trick.
"Good night, Punkin. Want me to tuck you back in?"
I did, but I shook my head, still pressed against his chest. "Nope, just wanted to say good night." I stood back up and hesitated. I wanted to ask him what he and Mom had fought about, why he'd been working so late, so many questions.
But I was too tired for that, and my bed was beckoning me.
Anyway, the fae had left me behind. There would be time to ask another day.
As I walked back up the stairs, the desire to be in my room pulled at me. I'd left my bedroom door open. It was closed now, and a trickle of light seeped out from beneath the door.
I threw it open and squinted, surprised by the sudden brightness of a sunlit grove, filled with fae of all shapes, sizes, and ages. A banner hung from the trees, spelling out "Happy Birthday, Jess."
I blinked three times. I wasn't just imagining it.
One of the fae approached me. "All done here, then?" he asked, his voice soft.
"You didn't come at midnight," I said, baffled by the fae's sudden appearance.
"You weren't done here at midnight, Jess," he replied. "We couldn't take you until all your mortal wishes were complete. So. Are you ready to go?"
I hesitated in the doorway for a minute. I'd had my three wishes. I'd told Lisa goodbye, and both of my parents too. I was ready.
Text copyright © 2021 by Dawn Vogel. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: Dawn Vogel’s academic background is in history, so it’s not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-runs a small press, and tries to find time for writing. Her steampunk series, Brass and Glass, is published by DefCon One Publishing. She is a member of Broad Universe, Codex Writers, and SFWA. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at http://historythatneverwas.com or on Twitter @historyneverwas.