The first light of the morning crept in the window though the narrow space between the pink-and-blue flowered curtains. A calm breeze wafted in with the scent of dewy grass and flowers that had just woken up. Dozens of bird chirped to welcome the morning and greet their friends. Emily's eyes fluttered open when one of these birds landed on her window sill and chirped a wake-up call.
"Wake up, wake up," the bird seemed to say. "The sun has risen and now it is time for you to do so as well."
Emily kicked away her My Little Pony blanket and sat up surrounded by her animal friends. She scooted down to the end of her bed and opened the curtains. The little brown bird that stood there might have come in had the window not been covered in a wire mesh that prevented anything larger than an ant from getting through.
"Good morning, Ariel," Emily said to the bird, bright and sugary, as if she had been awake for hours, not like all the other children who still lay in their beds. But none of the other children were turning eight today!
"How are you?" she asked the bird she called Ariel, who then whistled a happy reply. "That's lovely. The man on TV said that there won't be any rain all week!" Ariel chirped her excitement, because everyone knew it was no fun flying in the rain.
"We can have a party in the backyard after Mommy takes me to the mall to get my birthday presents." Emily never liked getting her presents wrapped up in all that silly paper. It was such a waste to wrap them up in something you're just going to throw away once you open them. Emily never played with the other children, so she wasn't going to get any presents from them.
And they weren't invited to her backyard party either! That was strictly reserved for local animals and Emily's army of toy creatures. Not that she thought of them as toys. They were as alive to her as Ariel and the neighbbourhood cats. The silly children at school didn't like her, so she had to make friends her own way.
Ariel whistled and chirped as if to say, "Have fun. I will see you later."
"Good-bye," Emily called out to her.
She then hopped off her bed, accidentally knocking down a purple rabbit with short fur and big, shimmery eyes. She picked it up, saying, "I'm sorry, Owen." Stroking the rabbit's fur, she gingerly returned it to its place on the bed.
Emily's room was like a museum for everything fanciful. The bookshelf was crammed to capacity with the best in folklore, fairy tales, and high fantasy, from the latest bestsellers to classics like The Hobbit. The walls were plastered with posters from all the cartoons and movies she loved so much. If she were to put all her DVDs into one stack, it would be as tall as she was. From the top of her white dresser to the edges of her floor dolls, every kind of stuffed animal, and plastic figurines, filled just about every available space.
But of all her treasures, Emily's favourite was the picture of a unicorn. It had a dark yellow frame, and a pink backing. The white-pink unicorn stood on its hind legs as if it was preparing to take off, surrounded by flecks of pink-and purple pixie dust. In the background the sun was sinking behind distant mountains, making everything appear pink and orange. A brilliant rainbow streaked across the sky. The words "Pastel Unicorn" were written in periwinkle letters below the picture. Unicorns were the most magical creatures in all the stories Emily had read. The Pastel Unicorn had been a surprise for her seventh birthday from her grandmother. Ever since then, Emily knew that she had to meet a real unicorn.
She changed out of her baby blue night gown and into a white skirt that fell just below her knees and an iridescent red blouse. After brushing her wavy, red hair, she braided it into pig tales, holding them in place with navy blue elastics. The look was finished with baby blue sock, folded at the ankle, and white tennis shoes. She inspected herself in the mirror, and as soon as she was satisfied, trotted downstairs for breakfast.
In the kitchen, her mom was busy at the stove preparing pancakes. Her dad was sitting at the table, all dressed for work. He was a teacher at the high school, where all the older kids went. Emily liked that her dad was a teacher because he was always home during the summer and had two weeks off at Christmas, the same as her. School wouldn't be over for another three weeks, but Emily was allowed to do anything she wanted on her birthday, and that included not going to school.
She climbed up onto a chair across from her dad. Her mom handed her a big glass of grape juice and said, "Happy birthday, Emily,"
"Thank you, Mummy," Emily replied, then drank almost half of the juice in one big gulp. Normally, she was only allowed to have milk with her breakfast, but not even chocolate milk was as good as grape juice on her birthday!
"Emily," her dad said, sipping coffee, "who did I hear you talk to in your room?"
"Oh, that was just Ariel, one of the birds in the backyard."
Her mom turned from the stove and put a plate of silver-dollar pancakes in front of her. "Thank you, Mummy," she said in a sing-song voice.
Her mom set down her own plate of pancakes and sat in the chair next to Emily. "But how do you know it's always the same bird?" she asked.
"How do the people at the zoo tell the difference between all those horses?" Emily countered. "They have twelve of them, and they all look the same to me." She gulped down the rest of her juice. "I know my birds," she concluded with a triumphant nod.
"All right, honey, whatever you say," her dad said, getting up from his chair. "I have to get to work. I love you, sweetie." He kissed Emily on the forehead and walked away.
"Have a good day, Daddy!" Emily shouted to him, though she was a bit annoyed that he didn't believe her about the birds. She was smart enough to know that "whatever you say" meant that he was just going to pretend to believe her.
"You too," her dad called from the door. "And happy birthday!"
As soon as he was gone, Emily hurried to finish eating her pancakes as fast as she could. Soon after she and her mom had finished washing the dishes, her mom asked, "Are you ready to go?"
"Yep," Emily answered. "I just gotta get one thing."
She ran up to her room to get her leopard-shaped backpack, which she had hung on the doorknob. As she pulled the backpack onto her shoulders, she took one last look at The Pastel Unicorn. She kissed her fingers and touched the picture. "I'm gonna meet you for real one day," she said. "I promise you that, my Pastel Unicorn."