Authors: Kitty Richards
RILLA’S HEART SANK
. She stared at Nettle’s hopeful face.
No, thank you,
she said in her head.
I have other plans. I don
t like caterpillars. I don
t like them at all.
She just didn’t say the words out loud.
“Why, sure,” Prilla found herself saying. “I’d be happy to help you out again.”
“Great!” said Nettle. “I knew you’d love my talent as much as I do!”
Nettle stood and picked up the last sack of caterpillar fuzz. She slung it over her shoulder and headed back to the Home Tree, whistling merrily.
Well, that didn
t go very well,
And it certainly changes my plans for tomorrow!
She’d have to blink over to the mainland that night after dinner instead.
As she got up to leave, the still evening air was stirred by a sudden brisk breeze. Out of the corner of her eye, Prilla saw a flash of purple. And there, standing in front of her, was Vidia.
“Hello, dearest,” said Vidia. “Did you have a nice day today? Do something fun?” Her tone was mocking, as usual.
“Well, I—” Prilla began.
“Come, darling. Let’s go for a walk, shall we?” Without waiting for Prilla’s response, Vidia set off at a quick pace.
Prilla stared at Vidia’s retreating back in confusion. As the fastest of the fast-flying-talent fairies, Vidia never walked when she could fly. It went against her nature.
What is going on?
Prilla wondered. She followed Vidia to find out, racing to catch up. Even on land, Vidia was fast.
Finally, Vidia came to a stop at the edge of a minnow pond. It was nearly sunset, and the sky was a soft shade of pinkish purple. There was a pleasant chorus of chirping crickets and peeping frogs. Fireflies had begun lighting up the dusky air around them.
Vidia turned to face Prilla. “So what have you been up to lately, dearest?” she asked.
“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” Prilla answered.
“Mmm-hmm,” replied Vidia. She had a funny look on her face, as if she was trying not to smirk. “A little tree-bark grading?” Vidia asked sweetly.
Prilla nodded. She remembered the splinters she had gotten that day.
“Maybe some floor polishing?” Vidia went on.
Prilla winced. She had spent an entire afternoon on her hands and knees, helping polish the mica entryway in the Home Tree.
“And some dandelion-fluff sorting?”
“That made me sneeze,” Prilla recalled. She was beginning to feel self-conscious. Had she
been spending that much time helping out other talents?
“Not to mention the time you helped the ink-making-talent fairies.”
Prilla glanced down at her hands. If she looked closely, she could still see some of the purple ink under her fingernails and in the wrinkly skin around her knuckles.
She cleared her throat to speak. But Vidia wasn’t through.
“And then a little caterpillar shearing today…Look, Prilla,” Vidia said. She put her hands on her hips. “I’ve been trying to ignore it, but your nicey-nice behavior is getting on my last nerve. I’ve got a new talent for you, sweetness—doormat talent. You let everyone walk all over you.”
Prilla cringed. Was she really that bad?
“Don’t look at me as if I’ve been pulling the wings off dragonflies. I know everyone around here thinks I’m horrible, but I do try to help out a fellow fairy now and then. So I’m helping you now. I don’t want to see you hurt.”
Vidia scowled fiercely. Prilla had the feeling Vidia hadn’t meant to say that last part.
Raising her chin, Vidia flipped her hair back and said, “Face it, Prilla, you’ve got a problem.”
“A problem? What do you mean, Vidia?” asked Prilla.
“You are the fairy who just can’t say no.”
Prilla stared at her shoes. “Well, what’s wrong with being helpful?” she asked, a little defensively.
She didn’t want to say it out loud to Vidia, but she
it when other fairies asked her for help. In Pixie Hollow, talent groups did everything together. They worked together, played together, ate their meals together. When Prilla had first arrived, she hadn’t known what her talent was. She had felt very alone.
Prilla had desperately wanted to fit in back then. In the end, she’d found her talent and her place among the fairies. But even now, every time someone asked for her help, she felt glad.
She knew that Vidia would never understand. Vidia was a loner. She preferred her own company to that of anyone else. Why, she even lived alone in a sour-plum tree, apart from the rest of the fairies.
Vidia gave Prilla an exasperated look. “Sweetness, what is the only thing that’s important to me?” she asked.
That wasn’t hard to answer. “Flying fast, of course,” Prilla replied.
“And why is that?” Vidia asked.
Prilla was puzzled. “Because you like to…fly quickly?”
Vidia rolled her eyes. “Because it’s my
pumpkin. The most important thing to any fairy is her talent.” She crossed her arms and smirked at Prilla. “But the most important thing to you, apparently, is being helpful!” Vidia made a disgusted face as she said the word “helpful.”
With a sinking heart, Prilla realized that Vidia was right. She had been spending too much time on other fairies’ talents and not enough time on her own.
“But I don’t like to say no,” Prilla admitted. “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
“Why not just say, ‘Be gone with you! Your stupid talent bores me!’?” Vidia suggested.
Prilla gasped. “You know I could never say that!”
“Okay, okay,” Vidia said. “Maybe that isn’t your style. But the next time a fairy asks you to help with some dreadful task, you should say, ‘Forget it. I’m not interested. I have my own talent to attend to.’”
Prilla frowned. “Why do you care, Vidia? Why do you want to help me?”
Vidia paused. Then she shrugged. “You helped me once. I’m just returning the favor.”
And quick as a wink, she was gone.
Prilla walked home slowly, deep in thought. Vidia was right. Prilla was not a caterpillar-shearing fairy. She wasn’t a tree-bark-grading fairy. Or an entryway-polishing fairy. Or one of any of those other talents.
Prilla was the one and only mainland-visiting clapping-talent fairy. And it was time she started acting like it.
HE MORNING SUNLIGHT
crept into Prilla’s room, waking her. She yawned and stretched.
Feeling very lazy, she located a few grains of fairy dust and, from her bed, sprinkled some on her washing-up items. Magically, the pitcher poured water— not too hot, not too cold, but just right—into the washing bowl. A velvety moss washcloth dipped itself into the warm water, wrung itself out, and gently scrubbed her face. She giggled as it washed behind her ears. It tickled.
Next she flicked a grain onto her pine needle-bristle hairbrush. Exactly twenty-five strokes later, her hair was glossy and tangle free. Prilla considered using fairy dust to get dressed. She laughed at the thought of her clothes marching out of the wardrobe and modeling themselves for her as she considered each outfit.
Instead, Prilla climbed out of bed and made her way to her closet. She took off her whisper-soft white muslin nightgown and put on her favorite pink silk dress with purple trim. After fastening its leafy green belt around her tiny waist, she began to search for her matching shoes. Finally, she found them far underneath her bed. She pulled the buckles tightly around her ankles. Now she was ready to face the day.
She skipped out of her room. In the hallway, she nearly bumped into Cinda, one of Queen Clarion’s helper fairies.
“Excuse me, Cinda,” Prilla said. But Cinda seemed to be in a rush and hardly noticed.
On Prilla’s way to the tearoom, her stomach rumbled. She smiled when she saw the breakfast that Dulcie and the rest of the baking-talent fairies had made. There were chocolate turnovers, acorn bread, lemon poppy-seed rolls, blueberry muffins, and cinnamon twists. There were several different spreads—honey butter, pumpkin butter, and maple butter, plus strawberry, gooseberry, chokecherry, and beach plum jams. Steaming pots of peppermint tea sat next to icy pitchers of raspberry, blueberry, and sparkling red Never berry juice on the table.
Prilla smiled again as she recalled the time she’d helped out in the kitchen. “Anyone can learn to bake!” Dulcie had insisted. After a fallen cake, a dozen rock-hard muffins, and two baking sheets of burnt, misshapen cookies, Dulcie had been forced to admit defeat. “I guess some fairies aren’t meant to bake after all,” she had said with a shake of her head.
Prilla scanned the room, looking for a place to sit. It was a busy morning in the tearoom. She thought she’d like to catch up with her friend Rani, but the water-talent table was full. So was the pots-and-pans-talent table, so she couldn’t sit with Tinker Bell, either. She saw an empty chair at the garden-talent table, where her friend Lily was sitting. But then Rosetta took the seat. Finally, Prilla spotted an open place at the decoration-talent table and headed toward it.
“Yoo-hoo! Prilla!” called a familiar voice. Nettle waved to her from across the room.
Prilla thought. She had planned to tell Nettle the bad news
breakfast. But then she shrugged.
I might as well get it over with,
she thought. She took a deep breath and-headed toward the caterpillar shearers table.
“Our honorary caterpillar shearer!” gushed Jason. “We’re looking forward to working with you again today.”
Nettle patted the seat next to her. “Sit down,” she said. She noticed Prilla hesitate. “What’s the matter, Prilla?” she asked.
Now was the perfect time to tell her. But Prilla didn’t know how to begin.
“Are you ill?” Nettle asked.
Prilla shook her head. She gulped. “Actually, I have to be honest with you, Nettle,” she said.
“Yes?” said Nettle. Her hazel eyes widened.
“Here’s the thing about caterpillars…,” Prilla began. She opened her mouth to say, “I don’t like them.” But nothing came out. She couldn’t say the words aloud.
Nettle smiled. “I know,” she said. “Aren’t they great?”
Prilla lost her nerve. “Yes,” she fibbed. “Caterpillars
great.” Then she had an idea. “But there’s something I like even better.”
“What is it?” asked Nettle. “What could possibly be even better than caterpillars?”
Prilla bit her lip. Her mind was a complete blank. “I like…” She frantically tried to think of something.
Think, Prilla, think!
She stared out the window for inspiration.
At that moment, a pretty pink and blue butterfly flitted past. “Butterflies!” Prilla said triumphantly. “I like butterflies!” She felt relieved for a split second. Then she thought,
Butterflies? Why did I just say that?
Nettle gave her a puzzled look. “Butterflies?” she finally said. “Are you sure?”
It was too late to change her answer now. “Yes, I’m sure,” Prilla said, nodding. “Lovely butterflies. I just can’t get enough of them. Such colorful, delicate creatures. They fly, you know. All over the place. Fascinating,” she babbled.
“Butterflies,” Nettle said. “How unusual.” She shook her head, as if to clear it. “That’s very…interesting.” Nettle paused for a moment. “Well, I guess you won’t be helping us with the caterpillars today, then?”
“I guess not,” said Prilla. “I’ll be focusing on…butterflies.”
Nettle’s brow wrinkled. “If you say so,” she said.
“See you later, Nettle,” said Prilla. She crossed the room and found an empty seat at the keyhole-design table. As she sat down, she braced herself for someone to ask her to help design keyholes.
But to her relief, no one did. Instead, the fairies at the table chatted about the designs they were planning to create that day. Prilla smiled and ate her breakfast in silence.
She took a big bite of a roll. Light and flaky and buttery—delicious. The jam was both tart and sweet.
She had forgotten how hungry she was.
As she ate, she thought about what she had told Nettle. Not being truthful to Nettle had been wrong. But Prilla had only done it to spare her friend’s feelings. There was no reason to think about it anymore. It was over and done with.
That is the end of that,