“Could we go and do something fun tomorrow?” Abigail asked as she played with the food on her plate at dinner. “Since it’s my birthday. Could we go out and see a movie, maybe?”
“No,” her father said. “I’m sorry, Abigail, but we can’t. I have an important meeting tomorrow and it’s going to last all day. I probably won’t be home until late.”
“I have some important things I need to get done as well,” her mother said. “It’s just not going to work out tomorrow.”
Abigail frowned and stared down at her plate, then she asked in a quieter voice, “What about later?”
“I don’t know right now, Abigail,” her mother said, sounding a little irritated now. “You know how busy we are.”
“Yeah,” she mumbled, putting an end to the conversation. She wasn’t allowed to leave the table until she had finished all the food on her plate. She gagged down the green beans and slipped away up the stairs, going to her room and closing the door behind her before throwing herself down on her bed.
“Are they always telling you that?” Cecil asked, his voice soft. He sat down on the end of her bed and peered at her, pulling up one knee to rest his head on.
Abigail nodded, her face buried in her pillow. “They’re always busy.”
“That’s not how parents should be,” he muttered, furrowing his brow. “They should be making time for you even if they are busy.”
“Well they don’t,” she said. She hugged her pillow against her chest and let out a shaky sigh. Cecil stared at her silently, then he reached one hand out and laid it on the back of her head.
“I’m sorry, Abbey. If there was something I could do to make them see what they were doing wrong, and to make them change, I would. But I’m afraid that’s not within my power to do. They’re the only ones who can change themselves.”
She sniffed and slowly sat up, scooting closer to Cecil and leaning her head against his side. “I wish Axel was here. He always makes me feel better. He’d do something with me.”
“Well, I’m here,” Cecil said, a slight smile on his face. “I’ll do something with you. Whatever you like. I’m afraid I can’t take you out or do any of the things you wanted to do with the rest of your family, though, but anything else.”
She peered up at him and wrapped her arms around his waist, letting out a shaky breath. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
“It’s what I’m here for, after all.” He folded his arms around her, hugging her close and gently resting his chin on her head. “You know, you could always ask them, maybe, if you could have a big birthday party whenever they aren’t busy. Maybe after your brother comes back, even. You could invite your friends.”
Abigail scrunched up her face when he said this. “What friends?”
Cecil tilted his head down at her. “Don’t you have friends from school?”
“I guess, but I don’t know if I’d want any of them to come.”
“Why is that?” he asked, lightly running his hand through her hair. She snuggled a bit closer to him, squeezing her arms around him tighter.
“I don’t know, I just don’t really want to. They’re fun to play with at school I guess, but they don’t feel like friends I can go play with anywhere else.”
“Hrm.” Cecil furrowed his brow, clearly not understanding, but he didn’t push the subject any further. “Well, regardless, we can do something together. And who knows, maybe your parents are actually planning something for your birthday and they just want to keep it a surprise.” He smiled encouragingly at her but it didn’t do anything to brighten her mood.
“I doubt it,” she mumbled. “They’ve never done anything like that before, and they’ve been even busier since we moved here.”
“It’ll be alright, Abbey,” Cecil said quietly as he stroked her hair. “Things will get better in time.”
She sat there with him for awhile, then she murmured, “Cecil, will you read me a story?”
He blinked and glanced down at her. “Read to you?”
“Dad used to read to me all the time before I went to bed. He hasn’t for a long time. Axel will do it sometimes, but he hasn’t done it for awhile either.”
He smiled a little sadly at her then nodded his head. “Why don’t you go get your favorite book?”
Abigail slid off the bed and went over to the small bookcase in the corner of her room. It took her a few moments to decide, then she returned with a book about four children who make it on their own in the wilderness, surviving off their wit and creativity.
“Axel and I like that book,” she said as she climbed back into bed and handed it to him. “We’ve thought about going to do the kinds of things they do ourselves. He said it’d be too hard, though.”
Cecil chuckled and opened the book, skimming through the pages. “Your brother seems smart. I’m glad you have him to look out for you.”
They propped up the pillows and Cecil leaned back against them as he began to read to her in a clear but quiet voice. Abigail leaned against him, hanging on to his every word, his voice almost as soothing as the purr of a cat.
By the time he reached the end of the chapter, Abigail’s eyes were falling shut. He set the book aside and slowly stood, pulling the covers back and laying her down before tucking the blankets close around her. He stroked her hair for a few moments then leaned forward and kissed her head.
“Sleep well, Abbey.”
When Abigail went downstairs the next morning, she was greeted with the wonderful scent of cinnamon and sugar. She crept into the kitchen and, to her astonishment, she found a plate filled with french toast waiting for her at the table.
Her mother appeared beside her and bent down to hug her and give her a kiss on the forehead. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
Abigail smiled and hugged her mother. She couldn’t remember the last time her mother had been so nice. Abigail settled into her chair at the table and dug in to the french toast after drowning it in maple syrup.
As she ate, Cecil stood in the corner leaning against the wall, a smile on his face. Abigail’s mother didn’t seem to notice him at all, but Abigail could still see him. She smiled in his direction as she ate.
When she finished eating, she went over to her mother who was cleaning up the dishes and asked, “Mom, do you think you could pack me a lunch so I could take it with me into the woods?”
Her mother peered down at her with a scrutinizing look. “I’m not sure how comfortable I am with you going out there on your own. I’ve let you go out there with Axel before, but–”
“I’ve gone there by myself before,” she said. “Please?”
Her mother gazed at her for a moment longer then sighed. “Alright. Just don’t be out there too long. I don’t want to have to come out there and get you, understood?”
Abigail nodded her head and smiled, then hugged her mother. “Thank you, Mom.”
Her mother patted her on the head then gave her a gentle nudge. “If you’re going out into the woods, go put on more appropriate clothes first. I’ll make you something to take with you if that’s what you really want.”
Abigail smiled wide and ran out of the kitchen and back up to her room. She put on a long sleeved t-shirt to protect her arms just in case she got caught on branches or bugs decided to bother her. She grabbed her backpack and made sure she had her camera as well as a book and a few other things she wanted to bring with her for something to do.
When she returned to the kitchen, her mother had a small sack lunch for her, which she put carefully into Abigail’s backpack. “Remember what I said, and be careful.”
“Okay, Mom, I will.” She gave her mother a hug before heading out the back door, going up the hill toward the pond and the woods.
Cecil followed along beside her and she noticed something strange hanging out of his mouth. She tilted her head at him and asked, “What is that?”
“Hm? Oh, this.” He pulled what appeared to be a stick out of his mouth and smiled at her. “Just some cinnamon. Might sound odd, but I like the flavor.”
Abigail scrunched her face, remembering a time when she was unfortunate enough to try licking a cinnamon stick herself and how awful it had tasted. Nothing at all like cinnamon and sugar flavored things.
They rounded the pond and headed deep into the woods together, listening to the sounds of the birds and bugs and other creatures. Cecil inhaled and closed his eyes, a smile coming to his face.
“Do you want to know the reason why I chose this place to stay?” he said as they walked. Abigail glanced up at him with a quizzical look on her face. “It’s peaceful here,” he said. “There’s nothing but the sounds of nature out here, and it’s a good place for me to relax and meditate. To find myself, I suppose you could say.”
She tilted her head to the side then nodded and reached out to take his hand. “I like it here, too. Axel and I made up a game. Do you wanna hear about it?”
“Of course,” Cecil said with a smile. “Tell me all about it. Maybe I can play with you.”
As they traveled through the woods and over to the field with the willow tree, Abigail told him all about the world Axel had created with her. About the evil monarchs and their plans to suck all of the magic from her brother through his music playing. How she was a great thief that had never once been caught in the act. How they were hiding out here in this enchanted forest, searching for help from different sorts of magical creatures.
“I was looking for a dragon too, one that we could get on our side to go and burn down the monarchs’ castle, and it would be our friend forever, but I could never find one. Axel said dragons don’t live around here.”
Cecil chuckled and settled down on the ground with her at the base of the willow tree. “No, it appears they don’t, but that’s alright. You don’t need a dragon for what you’re doing. You have something even better than that. Do you know what it is?”
“What?” she asked, her eyes sparkling.
“A guardian angel,” he said with a grin. “The guardian spirit of the forest, in fact, and now that I know your plight, I take pity on you, and I shall help you break free of the grasp of those evil monarchs. We shall set your brother free from the prison they have taken him to where they’re sucking out all his magic. We’ll fell that terrible kingdom, and you can live in my forest in harmony after it’s all finished.”
“Really? Yes, thank you, spirit of the forest. Thank you for granting my wish!”
“You’re quite welcome, Abbey. But before I can grant your wish, I require an offering.”
Abigail frowned at him, tipping her head to the side and leaning away from him slightly. “What kind of offering?”
“A sweet spice,” he said with a grin. “I can smell it there in your pack, you know.”
Abigail blinked and pulled her backpack from her shoulders, unzipping it and peering inside. There was a small plastic bag next to the paper one holding her lunch. She pulled it out and found it had several sticks of cinnamon in it. She frowned and peered at Cecil skeptically.
“Where’d these come from? Mom wouldn’t have packed them.”
“I dunno,” Cecil said with a grin. “Maybe it’s just magic.” He winked at her and held his hand out. “May I?”
Abigail huffed then set the bag in his hands. He pulled one of the sticks out of it and put it in his mouth, closing his eyes and leaning back against the tree.
“Mmm, a perfect offering. Your wish shall be granted, and I will aid you in your quest, child. We’ll get your brother back, and everything will be okay.”
She smiled at him and snuggled a little closer, setting her backpack on her knees. Cecil put an arm around her shoulders and they sat together with their backs against the tree, just enjoying the nature around them.
“You wanna know something?” he said quietly after a moment. “I may have influenced your mother a little while she slept and given her that idea to make you breakfast this morning. She acted on the idea on her own, of course, because I can’t make people do things they don’t want to do. I just whispered it to her while she slept. So it seems she does care for you after all.”
“I know she does,” Abigail said with a slight nod of her head. “Thank you, though. I wondered if you had done something.”
He smiled at her, running his hand through her hair gently. “Perhaps with time their hearts will soften a bit more, and they’ll see they need to spend more time with you.” He glanced toward the bag on her lap and reached his hand into it, pulling out the book she had packed away. “Would you like me to read more of this to you?”
She nodded her head and pulled the bag lunch out as well. “Yes, please.”
Cecil hugged her close to his side and opened the book to where they had left off the night before. He read in a clear, soothing voice, though this time she didn’t feel like she was going to fall asleep to it. It was just pleasantly relaxing, similar to the feeling when he had wrapped his wings around her.
She ate her lunch as he read to her, gobbling down the peanut butter and jelly sandwich rather quickly and gnawing on the little carrot sticks. When Cecil came to the end of the chapter, he set the book down and peered at her, a wide smile on his face.
“I do hope you’re enjoying yourself, Abbey. It is your birthday after all. Seven years old, isn’t that right?”
She nodded her head and smiled. “I am having fun, thanks to you. I still wish Axel was here, but I’m glad you’re here in his place.” She hugged him tight and let out a sigh. “Thank you, Cecil. Thank you for being my friend.”
He hugged her back, a smile on his lips. “You are most welcome, Abbey.”
When they tired of sitting there, Abigail stood up and peered back toward the path to the forest. “Come on, let’s go do something else.”
“Very well. What would you like to–” Cecil froze when he was halfway off the ground, his eyes growing wide. Abigail stared at him and tipped her head to the side.
“Cecil? What’s wrong?”
“Abbey,” he whispered, “run away, run far away, right now.”
She took a step back, a shiver running up her spine. “What’s going on, Cecil?”
“Nothing much,” a new voice said from behind her. “He just doesn’t like that I’m here.”
Abigail slowly turned around and fear stabbed into her heart. A terrifying figure stood there with glowing red eyes and black horns on his head. The most terrifying thing about him was that he looked just like Cecil.