The Lost Fairy
Steve knew Christmas wouldn’t be the same without her . . .
OH, no. Not now. Please.” Candy’s heart sank as her car juddered to a halt in the forest. She had been to the garage with it twice, had parts replaced and repaired, but still it was letting her down.
The conifers stood tall and regimental either side of the road, and in the darkness of the December evening she could almost feel them creeping in on her. Then the first spits of rain peppered her windscreen, drawing her eyes to the twinkle of village lights round the bend of the road.
Candy grabbed her mobile and phoned her brother.
“Kev, the car’s died on me again. Kev, you’re breaking up. Kev?” She cursed the lack of a signal as she hung up.
Earlier that day, he’d bustled into her flat in a panic.
“I need your dancing skills. A week in, and one of the fairies has dropped out with flu. You know the routine – it’s one I choreographed when we were kids. Here’s her fairy gear. It should fit you.”
He dumped three carrier bags on her sofa. He was directing an original pantomime called “The Fairy’s Story” at Whitton Junior School, where he also taught maths.
“Kev, I’ve got a job interview!”
“Not at seven this evening, surely?”
“In an hour, and I can’t miss it. I’ve been out of work a month now, and the car’s costing me a fortune as it is.”
She’d worked in the office of a small builder’s firm, playing every role from accountant to telephonist to tea girl. And she had even stayed loyal as they slid into bankruptcy.
“Do this for me and I’ll pay your garage bill.”
The unexpected offer had persuaded her to agree.
The spitting rain suddenly rapped on her windscreen with force.
Those lights were looking very inviting. It might even be Whitton village, though she couldn’t be sure.
She’d come a different way for his first night, and this wasn’t an area she knew very well.
Candy took a breath, tugged the hood of her white padded coat over her head, grabbed her bag and opened the door to the hissing downpour.
Snatching the bags from the back seat, she locked the car and scuttled towards the lights, gripping the hood over her head.
In his bedroom, tapping on his laptop, Steve heard the girls giggling. The creaky stairs in the cottage were a giveaway to anyone trying to creep up or down.
He rubbed his hand across his brow, fearful for the oncoming festive season. He looked at the photo of his wife on the desk. This would be their first Christmas without Sally.
Seven-year-old Ava and her younger sister, Mae, had raced in from school today.
They’d halted in awe at the tree Steve had brought in, which stood in a red, tinsel-covered container in the lounge.
They’d clamoured to decorate it there and then, tea forgotten.
He’d given in to them, knowing Sally would have.
Once it sparkled with decorations and fairy lights, they ate toast and marshmallows cooked over the log fire.
He then tucked them in their beds to watch “Frozen” before going to his own room to work on the accounts.
But his mind wouldn’t hold the figures.
The fancy-dress shop in town had been Sally’s all along – a dream she hoped the girls would take on when they grew up.
Steve was trying to hold on to that dream while working as a freelance journalist.
He needed help. Someone competent to work in the shop instead of the two part-timers, and do the accounts as Sally had done. Where would he find that combination?
He left the laptop and went downstairs, peeping into the lounge.
In their matching pyjamas, the girls were staring at the glittering tree. The lights reflected the happiness on their faces so strongly that Steve, taking in the scene, swallowed his emotion and turned away to lean on the hall wall.
“It’s not the same without the fairy on top of the tree,” he heard Mae say.
“I told you, Daddy’s lost it,” was Ava’s reply. A moment’s silence.
“If Mummy was here, she’d know where it is. Do you think if we prayed to Mummy, she might tell Daddy where it is?”
“I have been praying,” Steve said under his breath.
Sally had made the fairy for their first Christmas.
Last year, when he’d packed the tree decorations away, he couldn’t find it. But then he spotted it on the girls’ bedroom window-sill, and decided to remove it at a later date. But by then couldn’t find it anywhere.
Steve was about to step back into the lounge again when the bell trilled.
He opened the door and stared at a bedraggled young woman, hunched over in a mud-streaked white coat and clutching carrier bags.
“Oh, thank goodness.” Candy said as he beckoned her in. “It’s chucking it down out there.”
He shut the door.
“Let me help you off with that coat.”
She found that the skirt front of her pink satin dress was in a similarly muddied state.
“It’s a long story,” she said, smiling.
Her wet hair dripped round the edges of her face and there was a sparkle of raindrops on her cheeks and eyelashes.
Realising he was staring, Steve blinked.
“You sure? I’m muddy.” She took her phone from her bag and kicked off her trainers.
He hustled his daughters back from the doorway where they were watching, open-mouthed at this life-sized pink fairy.
“I’ll bank up the fire.” He took the guard away.
“Please don’t go to a lot of trouble,” she said, smiling at the girls as she moved closer to the fire.
“I just need to phone my brother and get him to collect me. I’m playing a fairy at the kiddies’ pantomime at the village hall in Whitton. Standing in for one that has flu. This isn’t Whitton, I suppose?”
“No. It’s the next village on, about six miles.”
“Ah, a decent signal! Kev? The car broke down again. Can you collect me? I’m at . . .”
Steve gave her the address and she passed it on.
“He’s coming straight away,” she told Steve. “Sorry to be a nuisance.”
“No problem. I’d drive you, but I can’t leave the girls.”
“Did you fall from heaven and land in a ditch?” Mae asked.
“Something like that. I didn’t see it till I fell in it!”
She held her mud-caked hands to the fire.
“I’ve had problems all day,” she told Steve. “Late for a job interview, due to the car playing up.
“And then, when I tried the dress on, it was too tight and it split, so I sewed myself into it. Oh, dear, it’s split again.
“Told you.” She shrugged. “It’s just not my day.”
“Let me see if I can improve it a bit.
“Ava, take the lady up to the bathroom. You’re welcome to take a shower.”
“My name’s Candice – Candy for short. Thanks. If I take this dress off I doubt I’d get it on again, but a sponge down will probably help.”
“I’ll make you a hot drink.”
“We’ve got a spare costume, Daddy,” Mae said, tugging his shirt sleeve.
“We’ve rented them all out, darling.” He turned to Candy. “I run a fancy-dress shop in Rutherford.”
“I mean Mummy’s,” Mae argued.
“She’s in heaven,” Steve heard Ava add as she led Candy upstairs.
“She could have Mummy’s costume,” Mae persisted, running after Steve to the kitchen. “I bet that’s why she got Candy to knock on our door.” “Shush, Mae!”
She stood her ground as he filled the kettle.
“Mummy said we should always try to please and make people happy!”
Steve took a mug from the stand. He swallowed, seeing in his mind’s eye Sally talking to her girls in those last weeks.
Her words to him came back, too. To give in to them now and then; to let them have a wish come true.
For if you didn’t give hope, life was a poor old thing. It was better to give than receive.
He turned to apologise to Mae, but she’d gone.
While he made the tea, he pictured Sally’s fairy costume in a cardboard box, high on top of the wardrobe.
On the last shopping day before Christmas they’d always dressed up in the shop: Sally as a fairy, he as Santa Claus, giving discount on the remaining costumes. It was always a success.
Last year she’d been too ill.
A scream broke through his thoughts. He dashed out of the kitchen and took the stairs two at a time. Candy was in his bedroom, kneeling in front of the wardrobe, rocking a snivelling Mae in her arms.
Ava, looking guilty, was surreptitiously uprighting a chair. The white cardboard box with Sally’s fairy outfit lay on the floor close by.
“She’s fine, no worries.” Candy smiled at Steve. “Up we come.”
She got to her feet and pulled Mae up, too.
Candy excused herself to finish cleaning up in the bathroom.
He opened his arms and the girls walked into them. He held them close.
“You could have been seriously hurt.”
“But I’m not, because Mummy was looking after me.”
“Mummy would have let Candy borrow the dress,” Ava said. “It’s what Christmas is all about – giving.”
Steve swallowed hard. Candy was Sally’s size. If the girls wanted to give their mum’s dress to Candy, he should be proud of them.
“OK. Let’s take a look at it.”
The girls clustered round as he lifted the box on to the bed, his heart thudding as he pulled back the lid.
His gasp at what was lying there was overpowered by the girls’ shriek.
Candy dashed in.
“Is everything OK?” “It’s our fairy!” Ava cried. “Mummy found her for us!”
Mae held the doll up to show Candy.
Steve was stunned. The box hadn’t been opened for two years.
“She says you can borrow her dress. Doesn’t she, Daddy?”
“You’re her size. Please, try it on.” Steve handed Candy the box.
He saw the appreciation in her eyes, that she knew what it meant for him to make this offer.
“We’ll wait downstairs. Come on, girls, let’s put the fairy on the tree.”
Candy hovered nervously in the doorway to the lounge, unsure of the response now she was wearing the dress.
It fitted perfectly, the skirt flared with floaty petticoats.
There was also a pair of pink slippers and a wand.
“Doesn’t she look pretty, Daddy?” Mae asked.
The three were looking up at the fairy he’d fixed on top of the tree.
“She looks perfect.” Just then Ava saw Candy and squealed in delight.
“Ooh, doesn’t she look perfect, too, Daddy?” The girls ran to her. “I knew it would fit you,” Steve said.
“Of course, it would. Mummy wouldn’t send a fairy that wouldn’t fit!” Ava tutted.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Kev!” Candy cried. Steve gestured for him to enter.
As Kev stared at her dress, Candy explained.
“Thank you,” Kev said appreciatively. “I’ll pop some tickets for the show through your door.”
“I’ll bring them. I have to return the dress.” Candy bent to the girls. “You be good and take care of your daddy.”
Already she was thinking what little gifts she could buy them. She hoped Steve liked her enough to let her visit again.
Steve and the girls waved them off.
As he stepped into the lounge, Ava and Mae were saying a prayer.
“Thank you, Mummy, for finding the pink fairy for us.”
“And will you let Candy come and see us again? We like her a lot.”
Mae opened an eye and beamed up at her dad.
“Happy Christmas, Mummy, we love you,” the girls chorused.
Steve added his own prayer.
He hadn’t found out much about Candy, but he’d picked up that she’d been to a job interview. Was it too much to wish for that she might accept his job offer? ■