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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wish I May Wish I Might by Carol Ayer

“Look, Mommy, there's the Mad Hatter!” My daughter, Clara, tugged at my right arm. Sure enough, a statue of the Mad Hatter presided over the long tea table in front of us. Alice, a sleepy Dormouse, and the March Hare completed the party.

“I see him,” I said. “Isn't that neat?”

Just then, I felt a pat on my back. I turned to see a nice-looking man with soft brown eyes looking at me.

“Pardon me,” he said. “I thought you were someone else.”

Gazing into the man's kind eyes, I briefly wished I were that someone else. But my fantasy had to be put aside as Clara rushed on through the above-ground tunnel to the next scene from Alice in Wonderland. I followed quickly.

Clara and I enjoyed coming to Storyland. The small storybook park had been around forever, and had been my first choice of outing when I was a kid. I loved seeing the stories I read come to life, and Clara was definitely on the same wavelength. Every time we got home from a trip to the park, she asked to be introduced to a new tale we'd seen represented there.

After climbing up Jack's beanstalk, sliding down the frog's tongue a half dozen times, and reenacting an impromptu wedding between Prince Charming and Cinderella (naturally I had to take the man's part), Clara and I were exhausted. But we still had a piece of business to take care of.

“Before we go, why don't we stop at the office and book your birthday party?” I asked my daughter.

Clara perked up at my suggestion, and nodded vigorously.

We stepped into the building shaped like the Emerald City and took our place in line at the counter. The man from the tunnel was ahead of us, talking to the clerk. He stood beside a young girl about Clara's age.

“Right,” the man said to the clerk. “The fifteenth. In the Sleeping Beauty Area. The princess-themed party.”

Clara and I exchanged looks. That was the exact date and location we'd been hoping for.

The man finished his transaction, nodded at us politely, and stepped aside with the little girl.

The clerk greeted me. “Hi, how can I help you?”

“Well, Clara and I wanted to book a party on the fifteenth in the Sleeping Beauty Area, but that gentleman seems to have taken it already.”

“Yes, that's right. I could give you the twenty-ninth, though. Or the week after.”

I looked down at Clara, who screwed up her mouth in protest.

“I'm afraid that won't work,” I said. “We really wanted the fifteenth. That's Clara's actual birthday.”

“The only other opening on the fifteenth is a pirate party in the Treasure Island Area.”

Clara frowned, and shook her head in double time.

“Let's just book it,” I said to her. “It could be fun.”

My generally well-behaved daughter threw quite a fit on the way home. She'd had her heart set on dressing like a princess and reigning over her friends.

“Your friends might want to be pirates. We can give them swords, and hooks to wear over their hands. We can talk like pirates!” I coaxed in between her whines.

“No! No! No!”

My heart ached. My sweet six-year-old was only throwing a temper tantrum because she missed her dad. My ex had moved out of state for work a month ago. He wouldn't be able to see Clara for her birthday. She wouldn't be spending time with her father, and now she wouldn't even have the party she wished for.

I couldn't come up with any attractive alternatives, so the pirate party was on. The fifteenth dawned bright and sunny, but Clara was anything but. It didn't help that only five of her eight invitees would be able to join us. I helped the birthday girl into her pirate costume and placed a patch over her right eye.

“I can't see!” she protested. “I wish I was having a princess party instead!” She stomped her foot for emphasis.

I took off the patch and sighed. “Let's go. We don't want to be late.”

Half an hour later, I felt again the sting of remorse. None of the girls seemed to be having a good time. The cake, shaped like a pirate ship, arrived. The kids barely acknowledged it. I swiped some chocolate frosting from the gangplank and licked my finger.

One of the park's costumed characters--the frog footman from Alice in Wonderland--approached us, and my spirits rose. Surely this would please the girls.

“I have a message for Clara,” the frog announced.

“I'm Clara,” my daughter cried, and he handed her a scroll.

I helped her unfurl the paper, and we read it together. “Come join us in the Sleeping Beauty Area.”

Clara looked at me with wide eyes. “Mommy? Who sent it?”

“I don't know. But let's go find out!”

We all headed over to the Sleeping Beauty Area. The man and girl we'd seen in the office came up to us.

“I hope you don't mind,” the man said. “Elisa and I thought you might want to join us. We've got extra tiaras and wands. And there's plenty of cake.” Clara and her friends squealed with delight and ran off with Elisa to join the other girls.

“ did you know Clara's name?” I stammered.

“I overheard you in the office. I'm Matt Weston, father to Elisa.”

“Sandra Bates.”

“Nice to meet you, Sandra. Anyway, if I've learned anything about six-year-old girls since I've had custody of Elisa, it's that they don't like pirates. Princesses are the only way to go.”

“That's so kind of you.”

“I'm not much into cake, but I brought some coffee. Care to join me?”

I accepted. Maybe wishes really did come true, even for grown-ups.

About the Author: Carol Ayer's short romantic fiction has appeared in The Prairie Times, Woman's World, and in previous editions of The Long and the Short of It. Her romance novella, Storybook Love, is set at a park like the one in this story and is available from Wild Child Publishing.

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