Tata was feeling very sad. She sat alone in the garden and a tear rolled down her cheek. She looked around at all the pretty flowers and sighed loudly.
“Why me?” she cried. “I have been such a good fairy. I did not pull the wings off the ladybugs. I gently brush the rose petals so they are velvety soft. I always help the baby birds who fall out of their nests.”
Earlier that day the Fairy Queen had given all the five-year old fairies their very own jobs. Now all the flowers and the trees, the birds and the insects, had a special fairy to take care of them. Tata had been named the Dandelion Fairy.
She was so upset that she did not see the Fairy Queen come into the garden. She sat on a little rock, her wings drooping, and sobbed loudly and deeply.
“Why Tata,” said the Fairy Queen softly, “what is the matter? Why are you crying so hard?” She sat down beside the little fairy and gently took her hand.
“Oh your majesty,” said Tata, feeling very unhappy. “Please do not be angry with me. I did so want to be a very special fairy with a very special job. I have worked very hard and I think I deserve to be the Rose Fairy or the Baby Bird Fairy. The Dandelion is just an ugly weed.”
The Fairy Queen looked very grave as she spoke to Tata. “My dear Tata, I think that you are indeed a very special fairy. In fact, I think you are the best five-year old fairy in my kingdom. That is why I have given you such an important job to do.”
Tata looked up at the Fairy Queen in great surprise. She did not understand. How could taking care of a silly weed be so important? She listened carefully as the Fairy Queen spoke again.
“You see Tata, the Dandelion may be just a weed, but it is also very important. It’s leaves are very good in salad, and there are many people who enjoy a hot drink made from them. But the best part is the fruit.”
Tata’s eyes opened wide. “I did not know the Dandelion had a fruit. Is it sweet?” she asked.
The Fairy Queen smiled. “No Tata, it is not sweet. You cannot even eat it, but it brings lots of joy. You see, when the flower dies a big ball of white fluff comes in its place. When boys and girls find these they have great fun blowing them into the air.
On the end of each strand of fluff is a tiny fruit, the seed, which then floats away on the wind. When they come down to the ground again they grow into more Dandelions. So you see Tata, even weeds are important. Now do you understand why I need you to take great care of the Dandelions?”
Tata smiled at the Fairy Queen. “Oh yes, your majesty. Thank you so much for choosing me for this job. I will be the best Dandelion Fairy that you ever had.”
Toby stopped in his tracks. There, in the middle of the path, lay a shining, gold ring. Toby reached down to pick it up and gasped. A huge diamond sparkled up at him.
“Hey Toby, wait up for me,” shouted a familiar voice behind him.
Toby spun around and forced a smile for his friend Matt. His fingers closed tightly over the ring and he quickly stuffed it down into his pocket.
“What’s wrong Toby?” asked Matt staring intently at Toby’s face.
Toby’s brain was working at warp speed. He needed time to think, time to decide what to do. He looked at the ground and kicked at a stone.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Didn’t want to get up this morning. We’d better hurry or we’ll be late for school.
Toby and Matt had been friends since starting first grade. They had stood on opposite sides of the classroom, two little strangers pulled together by one thing they had in common – bright red hair! They had been inseparable since then.
Toby wanted to tell Matt about the ring, but something stopped him. Later he sat in math class and his fingers touched the smooth metal circle in his pocket. Then they rubbed over the cut surface of the diamond. He knew the ring had to be worth a lot of money.
He knew his mother really wanted an electric sewing machine, and his father had just said the other day how much easier it would be to cut the grass with an electric mower. And Toby himself really wanted that blue and silver mountain bike in the store over on Oak Street……..
“Toby Dawson, perhaps you can tell me what the answer is,” said the teacher.
“I, er…… uhm, I’m sorry Ma’am, but I didn’t hear the question,” stammered Toby. Matt grinned and winked at him. Toby immediately felt guilty about keeping his secret from Matt.
After that Toby forced himself to keep his mind on his work. When the lunch bell rang he grabbed his lunch and raced to the door. He didn’t want to face Matt because he wasn’t sure what to tell him.
Toby went around the back of the school to eat and to think about the ring. As he sat on an empty crate and chewed his sandwich, he heard a male voice above his head.
“I don’t know what to do. The ring was in my pocket so I could take it to the jeweler’s to be cleaned. It must have fallen out, and my wife is going to be so upset. Her father left it to me when he died last year.” The voice sounded desperate.
“Hey Toby!” shouted Matt as he came round the corner. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. What’s up?”
Toby’s heart felt as heavy as lead. What was happening to him? Here he was keeping secrets from his best friend and hiding from him too. Worse yet, he was a thief!
Toby sat bolt upright. Suddenly, he knew exactly what he needed to do. He glanced quickly at Matt who was standing there with a frown on his face. He decided to tell him everything.
“Matt, I’m sorry I’ve been acting so weird this morning. I had to sort some stuff out in my head. I thought I could do it best on my own. Now I think I’d like your help.”
Toby told Matt all about the ring, and he even confessed that he had been tempted to sell it. Then he showed his friend the ring.
“Wow!” said Matt, his eyes getting big. “You sure could buy lots of nice things with that.” Then, looking puzzled, he said, “But how would you sell it? What would happen if you got caught?”
Toby nodded. “I think I knew all along that I couldn’t keep it or sell it. I guess I needed to hear it from someone else. So, what do you think I should do?”
“Just take it to the principal and tell him you found it,” replied Matt. “Come on, I’ll go with you.”
Toby felt a load lift off his shoulders. The ring may have been a great treasure, but having a friend like Matt was worth a lot more.
She straddles her pink bike, feet planted firmly on the ground, and gazes at some undetermined point down the road. In her left hand she holds a sucker which she twists slowly round in her mouth, first one way, then the other, then back again. Her right hand rests loosely on the handlebars. The street stretches before her in the hot afternoon sun.
“Sheila”, another child shouts
Sheila’s head snaps around in the direction of the voice. She stops in middle twist, letting go of the sucker, and grips the handlebars firmly with two pudgy hands. Her lips pucker up around the stick of the sucker and her round cheeks are drawn in as she holds the candy in her mouth through sheer suction.
Honey-brown lashes fringe her piercing china blue eyes that dart to and fro searching for the owner of the voice. Curling tendrils of sun-bleached blond hair fly wispily about her plump face, escapees from the rest of her long thick hair which is swept back in a ponytail and held in place with a bright green ribbon.
As she stands there intently checking out the shadows around gateways and porches, some sticky-looking liquid trickles out of the corner of her mouth and starts to dribble down her chin. Sheila’s left hand reaches up to grab the sucker as her right hand tightens its grip on the handlebars and her legs stiffen to balance the bike. Noisily she sucks up the dribble and her pink tongue sneaks out to lick up the mess on her chin. Almost simultaneously, she lifts her left arm up to her face and drags the back of her long sleeve across her mouth and chin.
“Sheila!” The other voice is more insistent now.
Sheila returns the sucker to her mouth, clenching the stick between her teeth. She grips both handlebars firmly. She leans forward, puts her right foot on the pedal and pushes off with her left foot. As she wobbles along for the first few yards I notice a small hole in the right side of her green leggings. A tiny patch of yellow peeks through. Her white sneakers have green flashes on each side.
Although she is pedaling at a slow pace, her cheeks are quite red and she is already puffing from the exertion. Sheila is only ten years old but she stands as tall as any seventh grader. Her body frame is large and she moves awkwardly. After pedaling for just twenty to thirty yards, a sheen of sweat glistens on her forehead and on her upper lip. Her yellow tee-shirt sticks damply to her round upper torso.
“Boo!” A tousle-headed child jumps out laughing from a nearby garden gate then quickly disappears.
Sheila’s bike wobbles precariously as she starts to lose balance. Her eyes are wide open, nostrils flaring as she breathes heavily through her nose, the sucker still firmly gripped in her mouth. Frown lines crease her forehead as she focuses intently to keep the bike under control. Her left foot comes down, heel first, and scrapes noisily on the ground as the bike grinds to a halt.
Twisting around on the seat, Sheila glowers from beneath knitted eyebrows. Her right hand grabs the sucker and yanks it from her mouth. Gritting her teeth she hisses menacingly in the direction of the disappearing child.
“I’ll get you for this Rachel.”