This story was originally submitted for the SimWriters.com April Super-Short contest. To read the winning entry and staff picks for this and previous contests, see the Super-Short Writing Challenges page.
“I’ve cleared up space in the attic,” said her father. “We’ll pack the stuffed animals and move them up there tomorrow.”
“But Mr. Higgins?” Sasha asked. “Him, too?”
Her father nodded. “You’ll be a teen. Too old for playing with toys. And, too old to play with little boys, so you might as well start making new friends.”
“But we can’t put Mr. Higgins in the attic!” Sasha said. “He’s afraid of the dark! And what do you mean I can’t play with Danny and Jamie? Who will tell them stories? Who will be their princess warrior?”
“Not you,” said her father, kissing her cheek. “You will be far too busy doing grown-up things to even think about childish games.”
The next morning, Sasha stayed in bed as long as she could. Anything to delay her birthday. Thirteen. No longer a child.
Teens don’t climb trees. Teens don’t play pretend games. Teens don’t make robot noises and pictures with macaroni. Teens don’t talk to stuffed animals.
What was there that teens did that interested Sasha?
When at last she dressed (teens don’t wear animal hats), she saw Mr. Higgins standing in his corner, looking lonesome.
She ran to him. “I’ll figure out something!” she said. “Don’t worry. Even if you do get moved up to the attic, every night, after everyone’s asleep, I’ll sneak up there, so you won’t be alone in the dark.”
Her father noticed her red eyes at breakfast.
“What’s this?” he asked. “On your birthday? Why have you been crying?”
“Mr. Higgins,” was all she could say. Her words choked in her throat. She blinked to keep away the tears.
Her father tugged on his right earlobe, the way he does when he thinks.
“It’s too sudden, is that it?” he said at last. “You need a little time to prepare. We can wait a week before we move your toys to the attic. But watch and see. After your birthday, you’ll have no interest in them!”
Sasha tried to look happy at her birthday party, though all she felt was impending loneliness and boredom.
After the presents were opened–clothes, a few books, and not a single stuffed animal–Sasha snuck out with Danny and Jamie. While the other guests danced indoors, she and her friends raced through the meadows, chasing dragons and defending dwarfs.
“Best game ever!” said Jamie, breathless, as they made their way back.
“Play tomorrow?” asked Danny.
“I’ll try,” said Sasha. “I’ve got homework and piano. But if not tomorrow, soon, ok?”
Her father stared when she came into the house. Her hair had tumbled out of her braids, her face was streaked with mud, and her shirt was untucked. She ran into the bathroom to tidy up and returned in time to bid the party guests goodbye.
Each morning that week, she woke early to spend extra time with Mr. Higgins. They read Wind in the Willows, his favorite book. She listened to stories about his past, when he’d lived in a big basement in a department store. They reminisced about favorite times together. She assured him that he’d always have a special place in her heart and that she’d visit him in the attic whenever she could.
Towards the end of the week, her father received a phone call from Dr. Jasmine, who had been helping evaluate some tests for Sasha’s school.
“We’ve been administering some tests to our students this week,” Dr. Jasmine said.
The father steeled himself for those words he had been expecting and dreading: arrested development.
“Sasha’s results were so remarkable that I wanted to call you personally,” she continued.
He looked sadly towards Sasha, who was talking at the moment with Mr. Higgins. “I’ve been too indulgent,” he said, “I knew it.”
Dr. Jasmine continued. “Sasha’s scores in imagination and creativity were extremely high! Such a gifted child.”
The father paused.
“But it was her scores in compassion and kindness that were off the charts,” Dr. Jasmine added. “And we’ve been observing Sasha’s interactions with others. She is truly one of the most kind, compassionate, and thoughtful students to have ever attended this school. A true gift. Whatever it is that you are doing to raise such a thoughtful, caring child, please continue.”
When the phone call ended, the father looked across at his daughter, giving the giant stuffed bear a final hug.
“Ok,” Sasha said, turning towards her father. “We are ready. Mr. Higgins will go to the attic now.”
The father opened his arms and grabbed his daughter in a bear hug of his own. “Mr. Higgins is staying in your room,” he said. “Keep your toys. Keep your friends. You be the girl, the young woman, that you want to be. You keep listening to the promptings of your heart, my daughter, not the dictates of my mind.”