Jacob slammed the screen door, ignoring his stepfather's stream of profanities. Tears clouded his vision as he headed into the woods that surrounded the lonely trailer home. In his hurry, Jacob forgot to bring a lunch. He knew that his backpack felt too light.
Once again, his mother and stepfather, Justin, were arguing. Jacob didn't know why, but he knew that Justin shouldn't hit his mother. Once the screaming started, that was his was cue to leave. Jacob would be gone for a few hours and then he would return home to a smiling mother and a brooding stepfather like he had so many times before. Justin used to scare Jacob, but now hatred had replaced fear.
Towering pines shaded him from the hot May sun. Jacob found a stick and began cutting a swath through the underbrush, pretending to be an explorer of some far distant place. These woods were a sanctuary to Jacob, a place of peace. Nothing sounded but the calls of songbirds and the chatter of squirrels until a scream pierced the calm. It was his mother's.
Jacob's first instinct was to run home and confront Justin, but what good would that do? It was not Jacob's problem. Every time Jacob criticized his stepfather, he was punished. Eventually, Jacob stopped defending his mother and now he almost resented her as much as Justin.
No, going home wasn't an option, but Jacob was fed up. For two whole years he had lived with Justin and that was enough. If only he had some friends or relatives that would take him in. The only people he knew were an elderly couple that lived a mile away. The Webers taught Sunday school at the church where he and his mother once attended. They were a kind old couple, always sneaking him candy whenever his mother wasn't looking. He had never been to their house, but he knew where they lived. It was a start.
Jacob ran through the woods as fast as he could. Briars and bushes scraped his shins until they bled. He gulped down deep breaths as his chest tightened. Before long, he stopped to catch his breath and found himself beneath a magnificent magnolia in full bloom. A sweet smell lingered in the air like some treat he had never tasted. In the distance, a lonely wooden cabin hid behind a grove of trees. That had to be the Weber's house.
Something rustled nearby and Jacob ducked down instinctively. His head on swivel, Jacob searched for the source of the sound. The rustling happened again and this time he distinctly heard it from above.
Peering up, Jacob noticed strange bugs perched on some low-lying branches. He inched closer to get a better look, pulling a jar from his backpack. These were the strangest insects he had ever seen. Giant multi-colored wings fluttered in the breeze and four legs sprouted from each of their bodies. Almost the size of his action figures, the bugs moved in a peculiar way. Like most boys, Jacob felt the desperate urge to catch one for his bug collection. Jacob pounced at the right moment, scooping a bug into the jar and tightening the lid. It was his!
The other bugs took notice and fluttered away, no doubt frightened by this monstrous attacker. Jacob smiled at his freshly caught prize then nearly dropped the jar in shock.
"What are you doing?" asked a high-pitched voice from inside the jar.
The bug was talking. What's more, Jacob was pretty certain this was no bug.
"What are you?"
"I'm a fairy, of course."
Now it all made sense. The tiny face that resembled his, the miniature hands and feet, the wings that fluttered. What were fairies doing here in the real world?
"I thought fairies were just made up, like Santa or the Easter bunny."
"You can see me, can't you?" asked the fairy. Jacob nodded. "I know you can hear me. How more real can I be?"
Jacob took a long second to ponder this and finally concluded that the fairy must indeed be real. Strangely enough, a part of him wasn't surprised.
"Could you let me out now?" asked the fairy politely.
"Of course," said Jacob, a little red in the face. He gently set the jar on the ground and unscrewed the lid. The pink fairy fluttered out, brushing her hair and smoothing what looked to be fur. Her purples eyes took one look at Jacob's legs and then she exclaimed, "Oh, you're hurt!"
"It's nothing. I ran through some briars. That's all."
The fairy wasn't satisfied with Jacob's answer. "Let me help," she offered.
Jacob didn't know what kind of help a fairy could offer, but he didn't refuse. At first, the fairy began speaking some strange language. Then she reached out with her two tiny palms and gently touched his wounds, one by one. The sensation tickled him causing him to giggle uncontrollably.
"I'm Azalea by the way. What's your name?"
"So why were you running through briars Jacob?"
Were all fairies this curious?
"You can trust me Jacob. I'm only trying to help."
Jacob couldn't see any harm in telling this tiny fairy the truth.
"I'm running away from home," he said emphatically. It felt good to say the words out loud. "I'm going to live with the neighbors over there." He pointed to the Weber's cabin.
"Why don't you like your home?"
Jacob didn't have to think of an answer. It flew right out of his mouth.
"I hate my family."
Azalea stopped her healing. She flew right in front of Jacob's face and scolded him. How could he say such a terrible thing?
"What do you know about families?"
"Everything," replied Azalea, still flustered. "I have five hundred and twenty-two sisters and four-hundred and ninety-five brothers."
Jacob couldn't even count that high.
"Where do they live?"
"Here in the forest with my father and mother. Now, are you sorry for what you said?"
"Yes," Jacob lied.
Azalea resumed her healing allowing Jacob to imagine a thousand fairies flitting around the forest like a swarm of bees.
"Where's the rest of your family? I only saw a a few of you before."
Azalea was still a bit huffy about Jacob's earlier comment.
"I should have been more clear. We live here in the forest but we have another home."
Jacob was about to ask Azalea about the other home when she continued, "But I can tell you that none of my brothers or sisters would think of leaving our family."
A second fairy approached them from behind one of the magnolia blooms. The soft buzzing of wings grew louder and Azalea glanced at the newcomer.
"It's alright Iris, this is Jacob. Come and introduce yourself."
Iris circled around Jacob and then landed on a nearby magnolia branch. Her slender body disappeared, replaced by a ruby bud that opened slowly to reveal two tiny arms of the same color. The arms slowly rose upward, followed by the rest of her body, and finally petals wilted away forming wings.
"How did you do that?"
"All fairies can do that," replied Azalea.
Iris bowed, introducing herself as Lily, daughter of Queen Dianthus and King Aster. The fairies were royalty.
"Haven't you seen one of our kind before?" asked Lily.
"Of course he hasn't," said Azalea. "Why else would he act so surprised?"
"It's true. I didn't even know that fairies were real until...well, a few minutes ago. What you did though, is it magic?"
"Of a sort."
"All fairies can do it," replied Azalea, fluttering over to the same branch as Iris. Then she demonstrated for Jacob, transforming into an azalea bud and then back into a fairy. The effect was slightly diminished the second time, but Jacob tried to act equally impressed.
"What about you, Jacob?" asked Iris. "Do you know any magic?"
Jacob had only seen magic tricks on TV and he had no idea how to perform them. Maybe there was something else he could show them. As Jacob stared at the glass jar in his hand, an idea struck him.
"Ok!" He hoped to impress the fairies.
Jacob knelt down, his bare knees pressing against the soft grass. He gathered twigs, dried leaves and whatever else he could find and piled them together. Perched on his shoulders, the two fairies watched Jacob work, each trying to guess what kind of magic this small boy could produce. Jacob ignored their conversation and angled the jar just above the pile of leaves. A tiny circle of light appeared in the center of the pile. Within a few seconds, smoke started to rise. The fairies chattered incessantly, impressed by this new type of magic.
As Jacob watched the fire lick the air, he wondered what his mother would say about this. She had warned him repeatedly about the dangers of fire, but there was no danger here. Jacob had complete control over the fire. His mother would have no idea that he had disobeyed her.
Lost in his own thoughts, Jacob hadn't even noticed the half dozen or so other fairies that had emerged from the magnolia tree. It delighted Jacob that something so simple could astound the fairies. Soon, they danced around him, singing a song about Jacob's magic. Their dulcet voices created a lightness inside him that he had never felt before. The fairies' mirth was only disrupted when one of them flew too close to the fire and cried out in pain.
"Don't touch it," instructed Jacob.
"It's evil," shouted the burned fairy, distancing herself from the fire as though it might attack again.
"It's not evil. It's fire and it's hot."
Azalea came to Jacob's side, chastising the other fairy for arguing with the boy. Clearly, he knew his own magic better than the burned fairy did. When the other fairy fluttered away in a huff, Azalea whispered to him, "It's not evil, is it?"
Jacob didn't answer, but he stomped on the fire before it grew too large. The other fairies had been frightened away by the scuffle. Once the fire went out, Azalea continued healing the rest of Jacob's wounds, asking him all sorts of questions. Every detail of Jacob's life fascinated the fairy. Simple things like TV, cars, even microwaves excited her. Before long, the simple questions had been asked, and Azalea returned to what originally brought them together.
"So are you still running away?" she asked.
Jacob wanted to say yes, but he couldn't. Meeting the fairies had distracted him from his plan and now the plan didn't seem so good. He barely knew the Webers; they probably wouldn't even remember him. Besides, Jacob couldn't imagine what his mother would do if he didn't come home for dinner. She might call the police.
Shadows stretched as the sun dipped lower in the sky. A symphony of crickets pierced the calm dusk. Jacob took a deep breath and placed his jar in his back pack. He hated to think about going home.
"It was fun meeting you Azalea."
The fairy blushed, hovering a few inches from his nose.
"You should visit again. Maybe bring some more magic." She lowered her voice. "Just not fire."
"Ok. See you soon."
Jacob certainly hoped that he would visit the fairies again soon. He wondered if he should tell anyone about this adventure. Justin would think he was lying and his mother might punish him for playing so far away from home. No, this was a secret he would keep just for himself. He slung his backpack over his shoulder, waved goodbye to Azalea, and began the journey back home.
Jacob walked onto the deck of the mobile home and put his ear to the door. Good. No one was yelling. He opened the door and carefully shut it.
Justin sat on the couch watching something on the TV. He didn't acknowledge Jacob as he entered the house. Jacob's mother shouted from the bathroom, "Justin turn that thing off!"
Justin didn't move. He wore that same scowl that Jacob had seen too many times before. Jacob walked past his stepfather to get to the bathroom where he saw his mom standing in front of the cluttered mirror.
"Jacob," she smiled, wincing a little as she dabbed on some mascara. "Where have you been? I've been worried sick."
Jacob couldn't help but stare at the bruises. His mother had to repeat the question.
Jacob looked back at his stepfather. How could he sit there that pretending nothing had happened?
"Pizza is on the way. It's your favorite kind too. Hawaiian."
Jacob didn't want pizza. He wanted to know why Justin had hit his mother again. He wanted to know why his mother refused to leave Justin. He wanted to know why she couldn't see how all of this made Jacob sick to his stomach.
The doorbell rang.
"Can you get that?" asked Jacob's mother.
Justin didn't move an inch so Jacob ran to answer the door. A delivery man was holding a fresh, hot pizza.
"That'll be $12.50."
Jacob waited for his step-dad to pay the pizza man, but he just sat on the couch, eyes glued to the TV. Jacob's mother rushed out of the bathroom, purse in hand. She awkwardly fumbled for some cash and pulled out a ten. She continued scrounging for more money until she asked Justin for some extra cash.
"Here's three dollars," he said, pulling out his wallet with great difficulty and ample swears. "Plenty for the tip."
Jacob's mother handed the money to the pizza guy, mouthing the words, "Sorry."
The pizza guy looked at her face and his eyes widened. "No...no problem," he stuttered, handed her the pizza, and left.
"He's late you know," muttered Justin. "Shouldn't have given 'im a tip at all."
Jacob's mother placed the pizza on the table while Jacob found the paper plates. Justin did nothing to help as usual.
"Justin, are you coming, dear?"
Jacob was already opening the box and pulling out his first piece. He went to take a bite, but his mother scolded him.
"Wait for your father."
Jacob wanted to tell her that Justin wasn't his father. Instead, he dropped the pizza slice and waited for his Justin to sit down. Justin stumbled over, knocking into the table as he fell into his seat.
"Jacob, thank your father for the pizza."
Jacob thanked Justin, but his stepfather didn't reply. He took a slice of pizza and shoveled it into his mouth. Sauce dripped down his stained white shirt and onto the floor.
"Honey..." Justin shot a withering stare at Jacob's mother; she didn't finish her sentence. They all sat in silence for the next few minutes while they ate. Finished with his first slice, Jacob went for another.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," said Justin. "Think you've had enough."
"I'm still hungry."
"Who paid for this pizza, huh? You've already had your fill."
Jacob stared at the five remaining slices and tried to ignore his grumbling stomach.
"Honey, he didn't have lunch today."
"Thas' his fault."
"Please, just let him have another piece..."
"Fine!" shouted Justin, standing up with another piece in his hand. "Let 'im eat the whole thing! In fact, let's order another. It's not like we're spending my hard-earned money. Let's order two more!"
"Please, I just meant..."
"You wish you had some rich husband who could buy you and your brat kid whatever you want, is that it?"
"No, not at all..."
Jacob got up from the table without taking another piece. He retreated to his room, shut the door, and buried his head in the pillows. Muffled voices still rang in his ears. Maybe he shouldn't have come home. Maybe he should have stuck with his original plan.
Why had that fairy interfered in the first place? She didn't know his family. Hell, she didn't know anything about humans at all. If she was here, right now, she would certainly understand why Jacob hated his family.
Jacob lifted his head from the pillows when the door creaked open. His mother entered the room carrying a paper plate with her.
"Jacob, are you OK? I brought you another piece."
"I'm not hungry."
"Oh, honey," she said, setting the plate on the bare floor. "I'm sorry, but your father is right. Money is tight right now so we all have to sacrifice. Do you understand?"
"Yes," lied Jacob.
"And Justin loves us both very much. That's why he goes to work and pays the bills. Sometimes, he gets upset, but he can't help it."
She knelt down beside her son and tousled his hair. There was nowhere for her to sit with all the action figures scattered on his bed.
"He shouldn't hurt you," muttered Jacob.
"I said he shouldn't hurt you."
Jacob's mother fell silent for a moment then he saw tears springing in her eyes. She brushed her auburn hair awat from her face and covered her mouth.
"Jacob, you were very little when your father, I mean Rob, left us. We had nowhere to go and nobody would help us, not even our own family, except for Justin. He kept you and me fed and even let us come live with him. I know it's tough for you to understand, but Justin does love us. Sometimes, though, he gets angry and he makes mistakes. We can't stop loving him just because he makes a mistake. Would you stop loving me if I made a mistake?"
Jacob didn't answer immediately.
"Good. Are you sure you don't want this slice?"
"Then it's time for bed." She reached over and pulled the blanket over her son, scattering the action figures. She bent down, kissed him on his forehead, and said a quick prayer.
"Good night, son. I love you."
Jacob didn't respond.
Jacob lay awake in his bed long after his mother left the room. He would be tired for school tomorrow but he didn't care. The day's events stayed on his mind until sleep finally took him.
School prevented Jacob from returning to the fairies for a whole week. On Saturday, Justin and Jacob's mother planned a date leaving Jacob by himself for the afternoon. His mother probably expected him to stay home and play videogames, but Jacob had other plans. The moment Justin's pick-up was out of sight, Jacob dashed for the same magnolia tree, eager to meet the fairies again.
All week Jacob had been deciding what sort of magic he would show the fairies. Fire had proven impressive but dangerous. After great deliberation, Jacob packed a bubble blower, a remote-control helicopter, and a disposable camera. If the fairies liked his new magic, Jacob hoped they would show him more of their own magic.
Jacob reached the same magnolia tree, still in full bloom with a sweet smell that permeated the air. Jacob announced himself to his friends and waited for a reply. When no response was given, Jacob started to grow impatient. They had to be here somewhere. Determined to find the fairies, Jacob dropped his backpack and began climbing the tree.
He had climbed about ten feet when buds of every color and type began forming on the branches. Delighted and slightly afraid, Jacob shimmied down the tree as the buds bloomed into myriad fairies. From this large group emerged two white fairies who shone brilliantly even in broad daylight. Dozens of fairies swarmed around the two singing, cheering, and casting spells that exploded like tiny fireworks. The scene reminded Jacob of the fourth of July.
Finally, a single fairy split off from the rest, flew over to Jacob, and announced King Aster and Queen Dianthus. Unlike the other fairies, the king and queen had long feathery plumes in addition to their wings. As they two approached, Jacob's tongue went dry. Finally, Jacob found his voice and tried to introduce himself.
"We know who you are," said the King. "You introduced this fire to some of my children. I would see it for myself."
Jacob explained that he had left his bug jar back at the house, but he had brought other magic with him. If the king was disappointed, it did not show. He merely told Jacob to continue. Anxiety gnawed Jacob as he peered at the many tiny faces. He couldn't disappoint them. Jacob removed the bubble blower from his backpack, enticing a few fairies to draw closer. Once the first bubbles flew, the fairies darted away.
"It's ok," reassured Jacob. "Watch."
One by one, he popped the bubbles until his palms were covered in the sticky solution. Before any fairy could attempt this feat, King Aster declared he was going to try these "bubbles." Taking a deep breath, Jacob blew a stream of bubbles toward the king who quickly attacked them. He laughed and laughed as each bubble showered him. Soon, the other fairies joined in and Jacob could barely produce enough bubbles to keep them entertained.
"This is good magic." Azalea suddenly appeared at Jacob's side. Jacob gave her a turn to blow bubbles, but of course she couldn't blow one.
"I have some more magic." Jacob reached into his backpack to retrieve the RC helicopter.
"What is it?" asked Queen Dianthus, hovering close.
"It's a helicopter. It flies in the air just like you."
Jacob set the helicopter down on a stump, and began waggling controls. LEDs blinked on either side of the helicopter as it soared through the air. The queen and several other fairies began chasing it, playing their own form of tag. King Aster didn't look quite as impressed. He proclaimed that he preferred the bubbles.
"What about your family?" asked Azalea.
Why did she have to keep interrupting his fun?
"They're fine," said Jacob, trying not to look at her.
In the distance, Jacob noticed two solitary figures drawing closer. He recognized them as the Webers. Jacob told the fairies to hide, but they wouldn't stop chasing the helicopter. He landed it and begged them to hide, but they didn't seem to understand him. By now, the elderly couple were beneath the magnolia tree.
"Jacob?" asked Mr. Weber. "What are you doing son?"
"Uh, nothing. Just trying out my helicopter." Had they seen the fairies yet?
The Webers continued to approach. They shuffled slowly in their old age. Azalea remained at Jacob's side.
"Don't worry," she said. "They can't see us."
This must be some other form of fairy magic. Jacob desperately wanted to know more, but now was not the time.
Azalea fluttered over to the elderly couple, inches from their faces, and yelled as loud as she could. The old couple made no sign that they saw or heard her.
Jacob was impressed. The Webers were surrounded by hundreds of fairies yet they couldn't see a single one. Jacob tried his best to ignore the whispering fairies as the Weber's continued speaking.
"Who were you talking to?" Mr. Weber kept looking around the magnolia expecting to find something. "Is someone else here?"
"No. It's just me. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...trespassing." A "No Trespassing" sign flashed in Jacob's mind.
"You aren't trespassing, dear," said Mrs. Weber. "Were you playing with that helicopter?"
"Where are your parents?" asked Mr. Weber.
The fairies circled around the elderly couple, inspecting them like animals at a zoo. Their numerous comments kept distracting Jacob. He wished that he could tell them to leave for a few minutes.
Should he have said that?
"They're not at home?" Mr. Weber sounded distressed. "Where are they?"
"On a date. But I'm old enough to take care of myself. I do it all the time."
Mr. Weber's brow furrowed and Mrs. Weber gasped. Jacob watched in horror as one of the fairies nearly flew into Mrs. Weber's mouth. Luckily, Azalea stopped the fairy at the last second.
"I'm sure you can take care of yourself, Jacob" said Mr. Weber. "When are your parents due home?"
"Not for a while."
Mrs. Weber whispered something in her husband's ear and he nodded slowly. A few seconds later, Mr. Weber spoke.
"Why don't you come over to our house for a little while? It's hot out and you look like you could use some lemonade."
Jacob agreed that he could use some lemonade so he grabbed his backpack and followed the Webers back to their house. He made sure to walk behind them so he could wave goodbye to his fairy friends. Disappointed that he didn't get to show the camera, Jacob decided he would have to make another trip to the magnolia tree. For now, he couldn't wait to sample some lemonade and talk to the Webers. Maybe, just maybe, if they liked Jacob enough, he could ask to live with them. The thought exhilirated him.
The Webers welcomed Jacob into their home, providing lemonade and entertaining the young boy with some old TV shows they had on DVD. Sadly, the Webers weren't around too much to talk. They stayed in their bedroom only coming out occasionally to check on Jacob. They seemed to be in a heated discussion whenever Jacob peered around the corner to look down the long hallway that led to their bedroom. Later, they drove him back home. Jacob didn't ask them if he could stay.
As the Webers pulled into his driveway, Jacob thanked them for everything.
"It's no problem, dear," said Mrs. Weber. "You can stop by any time you like."
Mr. Weber looked angry as he walked Jacob to the front porch and knocked on the door. For a change, it was Justin who opened the door.
"We found your son playing by our house alone. He said you weren't home so we invited him in."
"He's a little young to be alone for the whole day don't you think?"
"I said thanks."
"A boy his age needs attention. Especially one so bright."
"'s that right?" asked Justin, leaning on the doorway. Jacob's mother called for him to come inside but he stood right between the two men, watching, listening.
"You don't want people getting the wrong impression about Jacob, about his mother."
"I don't give a shit what impresses other people. I take care of mine and my own."
Justin ruffled Jacob's hair playfully. Fingers danced like a spider on his head.
"All the same, if you ever need someone to watch him just give us a call. Your wife has our number."
"'s that all?"
"Yes, that's all."
Jacob's mother voice sounded angrier, so he scurried inside while the two men stared at each other silently. Finally, Mrs. Weber called her husband back to the car and they pulled away. Justin shut the door, his fists clenched so hard they were white as a sheet.
"What was that about?" asked Jacob's mother.
There was another fight that night.
For the next few weeks, Jacob wasn't allowed to leave the house. The Webers had told Jacob's mother everything that happened the next day on the phone. She talked with her son in secret and warned him not to run away again. Justin seemed to guess what had happened because he kept an unusually close eye on Jacob, barking at him any time he went near the door. Jacob pleaded with his mother to let him leave, but she said it was for the best. After three weeks of not seeing the fairies, he couldn't wait any longer.
He needed to convince his mother why he had to go back to the woods so he told his parents about the fairies. Jacob's mother pretended to believe him, but Justin told him that boys shouldn't talk about such nonsense. Real men didn't play with fairies in the woods. Real men went hunting or fishing with their dads. The more that Jacob tried to explain the fairies, the angrier that Justin got.
"I've just about had it with this fairy nonsense!" shouted Justin in the middle of lunch one Friday.
"He's a boy with an imagination," defended Jacob's mother. "It's fine."
"It's not fine. I'm not gonna have people think that my boy is some sort of...of...of queer!" he shouted.
"He is not queer!" shouted Jacob's mother. "He has an imagination!"
"Well, he can have an imagination, that's fine, but I won't have any more of this fairy talk. This summer, the boy's coming to work with me and learn what a real man does."
"Justin, he's just a boy!" shouted Jacob's mother.
"I wasn't much older than him when I started working. It'll be good for him. It'll keep his mind off this fairy stuff and God knows we could use some extra money around this house."
"That's not fair!" shouted Jacob's mother. "You know I would go to work if you only let me."
"Yeah, that'd be real smart wouldn't it. Let you go to work so you can meet some other man behind my back!"
Jacob got up to leave while his parents were distracted. He grabbed his backpack and dashed for the door. Justin screamed at the boy, telling him that he would beat him senseless if he stepped through that door. Hesitating for only a moment, Jacob heard Justin's curses as he bounded through the door. Jacob ran faster than he ever had before.
Jacob didn't think about how angry Justin would be when he returned home. He only thought of reaching the fairies and asking them for help. Jacob had turned to the Webers, but they wouldn't help him so that left the fairies. They had their magic. Surely, they could help him somehow. Maybe they could teach him how to turn his stepfather into a flower. That would be a dramatic improvement for his appearance and personality.
He was in tears by the time he reached the magnolia tree and could barely speak amidst the sobs. Calling out repeatedly for his friends, he waited for them to appear. A single voice broke the silence.
"We're here, we're here!" Azalea's familiar voice came from beside him.
He turned to be greeted by her familiar pink figure, but instead he saw nothing. Was this some more of their magic? Jacob was not in the mood for this kind of trickery.
"I can't see you," said Jacob.
He could hear a tiny gasp.
"Are you sure? I'm right in front of you."
Jacob's patience was growing thin. "Very funny Azalea, but I need your help so can you please stop messing around."
"She's not...what did you call it...messing around," said the voice of King Aster. Like Azalea, he was nowhere to be seen either.
"Then why can't I see you?" said Jacob.
A sickening fear expanded inside Jacob. He wasn't even sure that he wanted to hear the answer.
"You are growing up. I don't know how, but that's why you can't see us anymore. You are becoming an adult."
Jacob wanted to punch something hard.
"But I'm a kid! I'm not even eight!"
"I can't explain it any more than you can Jacob. I am very sorry. We all enjoyed your magic, but our time is nearly over."
Hot tears stung the boy's eyes. This was the ultimate betrayal.
"But it's not FAIR!" he roared. "I NEED your help."
Something from behind caught Jacob's attention. Justin had found him.
"Thought you would run away, again, eh boy?"
Justin grabbed his backpack, but he barely ran a few yards before Justin caught up with him. Belt in hand, Justin pushed Jacob to the ground.
"I've had it. You're going to learn to obey me."
Jacob had nothing to hide. "You're not my father!" he screamed. "You're an angry, sad man and I hate you!"
Jacob saw stars before he realized that he had been hit. He fell on his back, staring straight up to the magnolia tree. Maybe his friends would help him now.
Justin pulled Jacob up, bent him over his knee, and lashed him with the belt over and over. Jacob did not cry out once. After a while, he barely noticed the pain. The entire time he could hear the fairies sobbing and screaming for Justin to stop. They couldn't help Jacob. After a while, Justin had grown tired and he stopped. Jacob fell to the ground, trying to stay conscious.
"Come on. We're going home."
Jacob winced as he stood. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and followed Justin back home.
Jacob had barely made it through the door before his mother shrieked in horror.
"Jacob!" shouted his mother, rushing to inspect his face. "What did you do to him?"
"Nothing he didn't deserve," said Justin. "The boy has a mouth just like his mother."
Jacob's mother held him tighter than she ever had before. She buried his head against her shoulder and Jacob could feel her heart racing.
"How dare you?" shouted back Jacob's mother still holding Jacob close. "How dare you abuse my child?"
"I'll do what I damn well please. I had to teach him a lesson. This boy's made a fool of me too many times."
"To be fair, it's pretty easy," shot back Jacob's mother, releasing her son.
Justin stared at her, jaw slack. Then, Jacob's mother spoke in a tone that he had never heard before.
"Jacob, go pack your things. We're leaving."
For one blissful second, Jacob wanted to hug his mother. Finally, he would be free of Justin, free of the fear, free of this awful place. Then it was Justin's turn to speak.
"Like hell you are."
Justin back-handed Jacob's mother so hard she flew back and hit the fridge, sending magnets scattering all over the floor.
"Don't hit my mother!" shouted Jacob, charging at Justin. Jacob kicked Justin's shin as hard as he could and the man howled in pain. Jacob tried to run away, but Justin picked him up and held him in one arm. Jacob flailed his arms and legs, trying to break free.
"You two aren't goin' anywhere," declared Justin.
"Jacob!" shouted his mother. She brandished a cutting knife she had pulled from the sink. "Stay away from my son, you bastard!"
Justin dropped Jacob to the ground. The landing took all the air from his lungs.
"This is the thanks I get!" he shouted back at her, spit foaming at his mouth like some rabid animal. "This is the thanks I get for putting up with you for all these years!"
"I said get away from him," she screamed, tears streaming down her face.
"I'm gonna give you three seconds to put down the knife," said Justin inching toward her.
"Jacob, go to your room."
Justin grabbed at the knife, but Jacob's mother cut him on the arm. He screamed and batted the knife away. Justin pulled back and punched Jacob's mother so hard that she fell unconscious to the floor, her head slamming the sink on the way down. Jacob's mother lay still on the floor while a red pool swelled beneath her head.
"Connie," said Justin, shaking his wife. "Connie."
She didn't move. Now he was screaming her name.
"Oh my god," said Justin. "Oh my god."
Finally, he realized that Jacob was still in the room. He looked at the boy, eyes full of tears and told him that he was sorry. Jacob didn't remember what happened next. One minute he was sitting on the couch and the next he was sitting in Justin's car with his travel bag packed. Justin was starting the car.
"What about my mom?" asked Jacob, finally speaking.
The car engine roared to life.
"What about my mom!" he shouted again.
Justin started down the long drive way. Jacob tried to open the door, but it was locked.
"Don't do that, buddy," said Justin. "We're going to be ok."
"I want my mom!" shouted Jacob.
"I know you do, buddy. I do too. I do too."
"Where are we going? Why isn't my mom coming?"
Justin wasn't listening to a word he said. He was driving faster and faster. Jacob couldn't see over the dashboard but he knew they were going fast.
"Stop!" Jacob shouted. "Stop!"
Just then, the car lurched to a stop and Jacob could hear police sirens nearby.
"Oh God," said Justin. He repeated that same phrase over and over even when a police officer opened Justin's door and asked them what was going on. Justin said that nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong?
"My mother," said Jacob. "She's hurt."
"Who hurt your mother, son?" asked the police officer.
Jacob pointed at Justin. "He did."
"Where is she now, son?" asked the police officer.
"Dead." As Jacob spoke, the full weight of his words crushed him like a sledgehammer. His mother was dead.
Jacob wasn't scared by death. His mother had told him all about heaven and hell and what happens when people die. She was in heaven now with the angels and some day he would be there too. Now that he thought about it, angels and fairies weren't too different. They both had wings and they were both magical. Of course, part of him wondered if heaven could be real. Angels were supposed to watch over you and protect you, so why hadn't his mother's angel protected her?
Even if angels couldn't protect Jacob, he still had Mr. and Mrs. Weber. They had been the ones who saved him. They saw Justin beating him by the magnolia tree and they called the police. After his father was taken away, the Webers took Jacob in while the police asked him lots of questions. Their house was just as amazing as Jacob had remembered. Jacob could have candy any time that he wanted and he could watch TV for hours. Once or twice, Jacob thought about visiting the magnolia tree, but a part of him resented the fairies. They didn't do anything to help him when he needed them the most. He didn't care what their magic could or couldn't do. They should have done something.
The funeral for Jacob's mother took place two days after she died. Jacob didn't have any good clothes, so the Webers went out and bought him a nice shirt and a pair of pants. Jacob had never been to a funeral before, but he decided that he didn't like them. For one thing, there weren't very many people there. His mother never talked about her family so Jacob never asked. He didn't even know if he had grandparents. The whole thing just made him feel even more alone. Some strange man spoke about his mother as if he knew her. Jacob couldn't even watch when they put his mother in the ground. He waited in the car for the Webers until the funeral was done.
"This could have been a very different funeral if I had my way," muttered Mr. Weber.
"Hush," said Mrs. Weber. "It's the police's job, not yours."
Jacob didn't understand. They remained quiet for the whole ride back to the Webers house. As Jacob stared out the window, he thought about his future. Maybe the Webers would take him in now that he had no home.
To Jacob's disappointment, the Webers told him they could not be his parents. No matter how he pleaded or begged, their answer remained the same. The police talked with him again and promised him that they would find him a new home, a better home. Jacob asked them if he could stay with the Webers, but the police said the same thing that the Webers did. Once or twice, Jacob could see Mrs. Weber tear up when he asked her. He still had one more day to convince them before the police took him to this new home.
The morning of the last day with the Webers, Jacob asked if he could go to the magnolia tree. His anger at them had subsided a little and he wanted to say goodbye. The Webers insisted on walking with Jacob, although he didn't know why.
"I came to the fairies for help," explained Jacob. "They couldn't do anything."
"I'm sure they had their reasons," said Mr. Weber.
The same sweet smell filled the air as Jacob and the Webers approached the towering magnolia tree. Despite not being able to see the fairies anymore, Jacob still felt some lingering magic as he stared at beautiful tree.
"I don't know if you can hear me," started Jacob. "I am going away, so I don't think I will ever be able to say this again. Thank you."
The Webers waited quietly as Jacob continued his speech.
"I hope that you remember me. I know that I will remember all of you."
Jacob broke his conversation with the fairies to address the Webers standing silently behind him. "Are you sure I can't stay with you? I promise I won't cause any trouble."
Mrs. Weber could not hold back the tears any longer and she looked away, stifling her sobs. Mr. Weber knelt down to talk with Jacob.
"Jacob, I'm sorry, but this is what has to happen. You need a better life than Mrs. Weber and I could provide. We've never been able to have children. You need someone who knows how to be a parent. Do you understand?"
"I could teach you." Jacob had to convince them.
Mr. Weber smiled. "I'm sure you could, but we're much too old to be raising a child like you. You need someone strong and young to raise you right."
Jacob nodded, ignoring the sinking in his gut. He didn't want a new family. Despite that, he needed to finish his goodbyes to the fairies.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye," said Jacob. "Keep an eye on the Webers for me."
Jacob stepped away from the tree and returned to the Webers. His feet seemed ten times heavier as he walked back to the house. They were at the edge of the clearing when a strange sensation took hold of Jacob's body. He felt...lighter, and what's more Mr. and Mrs. Weber were no longer standing on the ground. For a second, Jacob felt terrified then he realized what was happening.
"It's magic!" he exclaimed. "It's fairy magic!"
Sure enough, the elderly couple began shrinking and seconds later tiny wings appeared on their back. The world expanded violently, the wind blew stronger, and the air smelled fresher. Jacob could hear much better than before and the world was cast in an entirely new light. He could see colors that he didn't even know existed. The wings were a welcome addition and he fluttered around the forest with ease. The Webers simply hovered in place, Mr. Weber uttering a swear in disbelief.
Jacob swiveled to catch the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. All thousand or so fairies danced around the magnolia tree. King Aster and Queen Dianthus approached the newly made fairies. Jacob was worried when he noticed that their natural luster was appearing to fade. They looked weak, sick even.
"What's wrong?" asked Jacob.
"Nothing to be concerned about," said King Aster. "We are moving on, my queen and I."
"Passing on," said Queen Dianthus. "We will fade from this world and ours and find a new home."
"What?" asked Jacob. "Why?"
"Magic has its costs," said King Aster. "Besides, we have found able replacements," he said nodding toward Mr. and Mrs. Weber. "This is your chance to be parents and I can promise you it will be rewarding."
By now, the King and Queen were all but gone. The other fairies stopped their frivolity to listen to their final words.
"We leave you now, my children, but I give you one final gift. Jacob, maker of fire, and your new parents, King and Queen Weber. Do not weep for us for we will be reunited again one day."
Some of the fairies cried while others just stared in awe.
"We love you all," said Queen Dianthus. "We love you all so much." Her voice faded as the last glimpse of the King and Queen disappeared.
The thousand or so fairies watched silently, too shocked for words, until Azalea fluttered over.
"All hail King and Queen Weber!"
The fairies cheered excitedly, displaying more of their tiny fireworks.
"Come," she said leading Jacob and the Webers back to the tree. "It's time you saw our real home."
The magnolia blooms began quivering as though suddenly brought to life. One by one, the fairies stepped in between the petals and disappeared. Jacob looked nervously at Mr. and Mrs. Weber.
"What the hell," said Mrs. Weber, fluttering over to a bloom and disappearing.
Mr. Weber cried out and then fluttered over to his own and vanished just as quickly. Before long, only Azalea and Jacob were left. He turned to Azalea, tears in his eyes.
She smiled and took his hand.
He nodded and lighted on one of the blooms standing just beside Azalea. He felt his body being pulled from this world and took one final glimpse of the magnolia tree. Jacob couldn't wait to see what was on the other side.