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The hardest thing she ever had to do was say goodbye to her best friends.
It is dark at ten o’ clock this fated evening, not even the light of the moon spreading its silver beams across the girl’s bed. She sits against a pillow, cross-legged, and waits for them to show up.
First to come is a young boy dressed in odd green clothing and pointy shoes, a mop of ginger hair poking out under a red feathered hat. He alights on her windowsill, a goofy smile on his face readied to crack a joke, but drops onto her bed with a sigh when he sees her troubled expression. “What? What is it? If this is about that ol’ scary story, I told you it wasn’t real!”
“No, Peter.” She silences him with a hushed whisper, then tucks her nightgown more securely underneath her legs, blocking out the cool night air. “Wait for the others, then I’ll explain.”
Peter looks slightly put-off about being scolded, and crosses his arms, grumbling. A bright orb of light streaks into the room through the open window, tinkling excitedly. “Quiet, Tink!” Peter hisses.
A few more ticks of the clock. Peter watches the girl carefully, noting the way she avoids his eyes and twirls the end of her hair with a trembling finger. He says nothing.
The door creaks open. In walks a young lady, blonde hair spilling over her shoulders underneath a black headband. Her blue dress and white frock gather light from the girl’s lamp; the girl gestures to the end of the bed across from Peter. “Have a seat, Alice,” she says, stiffly formal. Alice catches Peter’s eye, frowning a question to him, and sits.
A few moments later the clip-clop of hooves on wood flooring can be heard, and a beautiful soot-colored horse nudges the door open. “Hello, Beauty,” the girl whispers as the magnificent horse dips it head towards the girl’s outstretched palm.
By ten-fifteen there is quite a number of colorful characters in the girls’ bedroom, not all of them human. About twenty or so animals and people gather in the small room, sitting on the bookcase and desk, crowding onto the bed and sitting on the floor. Although the girl has a large audience, you could have heard a pin drop for how quiet it is. They all hold their collective breath, waiting.
“Dear friends,” the girl whispers. All eyes turn to her. “Tonight is my last night of… of being…”
“Of being what?” Tom Sawyer says impatiently, perched on a bedpost. Briar Rose shushes him.
“Of being eleven years old.”
A gasp flies from the mouth of each human, squeaks and barks and an anguished neigh fly up into the night.
The girl sits on the bed, tracing the pattern of her quilt with a finger while her comrades chatter furiously amongst themselves, Tink trilling high bell sounds feverishly.
“Enough!” the girl speaks above a whisper to be heard, and everyone is quiet again. “I didn’t call all of you here to argue. I want our last hour together to be special. And happy. So please…” she trails off.
Rapunzel speaks from the corner in a desk chair. “We are really going to miss you. Who will braid my hair? Or play hopscotch with me?” she pouts.
“Yeah, and you’re the best fisher I’ve ever seen! For a girl, anyway,” Tom adds grudgingly, fraying the ends of his straw hat.
Black Beauty swishes his tail and whickers softly.
Time drains away too fast as the friends relax into easy conversation, digging up recent memories and old ones of long ago. The girl clears her throat, interrupting a miffed Aurora.
“It’s nearly midnight.”
The room falls still once again.
One by one, each of her best friends leave the way they came. After nearly ten years with her you’d think they’d be more sentimental, but each of them knew it was beyond harder for the girl to cope. A hug and hair stroking from each of the princesses, a warm pet to each of the animals, and one kiss on the cheek that made Tom Sawyer redder than an Indian. The girl smiled at all the right times, hugging mechanically and blocking all emotions from her head. It’s easier this way, she tells herself, weaving her fingers through Black Beauty’s mane one last time.
By eleven-fifty-six, only two of her best friends are left.
Peter Pan sits on her windowsill, Tinkerbell standing dejectedly by his hand, wings drooping. “You grew up,” he whispers, disbelief coating his strained words. “You promised you wouldn’t.”
“But Peter-” she crosses the room to stand in front of him and takes his hand, pleading. “I was so young then. I didn’t know-”
“You promised!” Peter repeats, anger heating his cheeks. He pulls away from her hand and paces around the room, seething. “I don’t know about you, but when I make a promise, I keep it. And I promised to look after you, to take care of you, to take you on adventures, to-”
“Peter, please!” The girl grabs his shoulder, trying to make him understand. “I can’t do anything about this. In two minutes, you won’t be able to come back. So please, just… just…”
She sniffs, two fat tears streaking down her cheeks, little cracks forming in her carefully structured wall.
Peter catches her into a fierce hug, breathing in her lemony smell, memorizing the way her hair tickles his face. “Maybe this is the greatest adventure of all,” he whispers into her ear.
Tink chimes, worried, and Peter breaks away, joining her on the sill. “Goodbye.”
And with the tick of a clock her last friends disappear into the cool night air.
She sits on her bed, reeling in shock, and a giant crack splinters her wall in two.
The girl sobs, staining the inside of her pillow with salty tears. She has never before felt this hollow emptiness, this wretched alone-ness. She screams into her pillow. It isn’t fair! It isn’t right! That they should come for only such a short time and leave her utterly defenseless against the world. After a few minutes, she sits up and takes a shaky breath, remembering a little phrase Tom used to say. She crosses to her window. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” she murmurs to herself. “Smile because it happened.”
And she shuts the window.