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~~

Now, I roll out of bed and stumble over to Ruby’s cot. I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep. Dustin groans and puts his pillow over his ears. I don’t think he’s been able to sleep much either.

As I lift Ruby out of her cot to work out what’s wrong, however, I’m startled to see Dad as he opens our bedroom door.

I must still be dreaming, because Dad never leaves his study anymore, except to use the bathroom and sometimes bathe. I bring him food every day, but he never finishes it. Some days he doesn’t even touch it at all. At first, I tried to get him to talk to me – I would tell him how Ruby and Dustin were, or what the weather was like that day.

He never responded. I haven’t heard him speak since he told us he was taking time off work.

I gave up trying after the first week.

I rub my eyes with my free hand. He’s still there.

I chew my lip, not sure what to do. Should I say good morning? Ask how he is? Before I can decide, he speaks up.

“Get dressed,” he says to me. Dustin sits up, looking just as surprised as I am. “Help your siblings to get ready as well. We’re going out.”

I blink. We haven’t left the house in forever. We couldn’t, not since Mum had grown what she’d called her ‘baby bump’ whilst she was pregnant, and then more recently because of everything that had happened after she had…

Died. I swallow. It’s still hard to say it, even weeks later. Especially when I keep having nightmares about that night, over and over again.

I hate it.

Dad is about to leave the room when I ask, “Where are we going?”

He looks back, running a hand through his hair. “It’s a surprise,” he says after a moment.

I’m a little bit confused, but I nod anyway. He is out of the study, after all – maybe he’s finally starting to feel better. A trip outside could be good for him. For all of us.

“Do you think we will go to the beach again?” Dustin asks.

It takes me a moment to reply. Dustin has been almost as silent as Dad, only speaking when he’s had to. It’s odd to hear their voices again, to hear something other than Ruby’s cries.

“I don’t know.” I say eventually. “Maybe we’ll go to the Fall Forest. You know, where the leaves are all different colours?”

“Or maybe the one where there’s pink flowers on the trees,” he says, climbing out of bed.

“Or it could be the place with the fireflies.” I frown. “Or was it firebugs?”

It feels so strange to be having a normal conversation with him, as if the last few weeks didn’t happen at all. Strange, but… Nice. It’s nice to talk like we used to. After all, it’s a step closer to feeling better. To being a family again.

“Let’s ask Dad at breakfast,” he suggests.

We get dressed before going downstairs. I grab the first thing I see on my side of the wardrobe – a made from pink lily petals – tie my shell necklace around my neck, and tuck the photo of Dustin, Mum and I into my pocket. Dustin chooses to wear a leafy green shirt and a pair of shorts that are just a little too big on him. Whilst he looks for Dr Cuddles, I change Ruby’s nappy and clothes so that she’s nice and clean. This will be her first time outside, after all.

We find Dad already in the kitchen. He sits at the dining table, using a quill and ink to write on a piece of leaf paper. There’re two more lying on the chair next to him.

“What’s that?” I ask as we enter the room, Ruby in my arms. He looks up, startled.

“It’s nothing,” he says quickly, picking up the papers and stuffing them into his pocket. “Just some papers for work.”

I ask Dad about the fireflies – it is fireflies, not firebugs; he says they’re a different animal completely – whilst I prepare Ruby’s bottle. Dustin holds our sister so that my hands are free.

This has become a daily routine for Dustin and I. Once the bottle is ready, Dustin will feed Ruby whilst I make breakfast for the rest of us. Usually we work in silence, but to my surprise, Dustin continues to make conversation, trying to guess where we might go today. It’s almost like he can’t help but be a little excited at the chance to leave the house again.

To be honest, I’m a bit excited too. I just wish Mum was here with us. Is it right, to feel excited, when she’s gone?

Dad watches us quietly, only speaking when we ask him a question. I wish he would talk more, but he’s outside the study for the longest time in weeks, so I’m careful not to bother him.

“Gross!”

I look away from the bowls I’m pouring muesli into to find that Ruby has puked all over Dustin’s shirt. It’s not the first time he’s ended up with puke on his clothes – both of us have gone through up to four pairs of clothes in a day because of it – but it doesn’t make it any less gross.

I set down the muesli jar. “Come on,” I say. “Let’s get you both cleaned up.”

I fetch some water so Dustin can have a quick bath and find him a clean shirt. We have a big tub downstairs in the laundry, where we keep water for baths and washing clothes, but we’re almost out. Dad will to refill it soon – he’s the only one that can, because Dustin and I aren’t meant to leave the house alone. I don’t think that we could carry the full tub back on our own anyway, even if we were allowed.

I finish feeding Ruby whilst Dustin has his bath. His dirty clothes go into the laundry basket – they smell horrible, but we can wash them later.

Dad is putting the stopper back into the ink jar when we return to the kitchen to have breakfast. He’s already eaten – hopefully more than he has recently. On a good day, I only have to throw half of his meal away, but I’m getting more and more scared for him every day. He’s become so skinny in the past month… But maybe he’ll go back to eating normally now. He’s outside of the study – maybe that means he’s a step closer to being okay again.

After Dustin and I have had our own breakfast, we find Dad again and let him know we’re ready to leave. He’s reading over the papers he had at in the kitchen, but he folds them when we walk into the front room, tucking them back into his pocket.

“You got your shoes on?” he asks as he stands.

Both of us nod.

Dad takes some pixie dust from his pouch and throws it over all of us, and I close my eyes as I feel my entire body become lighter, the dust falling like rain.

“Well then,” Dad says as the last of it disappears, soaking into our skin. “Let’s get going.”

Together, we step out into the early morning sunlight.

~~

It’s been so long since I’ve flown that I feel like I’ve almost forgotten how. My wings feel stiff from months of no use, and I have to focus on each wingbeat to keep myself in the air. Still, it feels wonderful to be out of the house again.

Dad leads the way – it is his surprise, after all – carrying Ruby, so Dustin and I can enjoy the fresh air. We’re heading towards Dewdrop Vale – a meadow filled with tall grass and colourful flowers. The lake connects to a river that twists through the field, leading to Soapstone Stream, where the Water Talents practice their magic. From here, I can see the spooky old tree that grows on the hill on the other side of the meadow. I’ve always wondered what’s over there. I asked Dad once, but he just said it was too dangerous for us to visit, so I guess I’ll never know.

With the sun barely up, most pixies are still in bed, meaning there’s less pixies around who might see us, which is probably why Dad chose to leave for this trip now, instead of later in the day. Still, we’re sure to fly above the homes floating on the lake, out of sight of anyone who might be looking out their windows.

It may be quiet now, but we probably only have a few hours before pixies start to fill the meadows, which means that this trip will probably be short, unless…

“Are we going to Auntie Bella’s?” I ask Dad. If we’re going to her place, we could stay the whole day.

Auntie Bella runs a shop in Treetop Bend and is – no, was – a friend of Mum’s. She used to babysit me when both of my parents were busy at work. That was before Dustin was born, and Mum quit her job to start working from home.

Auntie Bella wouldn’t know about Mum yet. Maybe we’re going to go tell her. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach – how many other friends will have to be told the terrible news?

But Dad shakes his head, and I push those thoughts away.

“No. Today we’re going somewhere new.”

“Where?” Dustin asks. Excited – he really does sound excited.

Dad shrugs. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

~~

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