Tiptoe pushed the cradle with one foot, trying not to crush its delicate vines. Her overalls, woven from stiff tree fibers, rustled with the movement.“Hush, little one. I’m here.”She looked down at the cherry red face of her newest charge and frowned. Tiptoe could feel heat radiating from the infant. She’d never seen a fairy grow so hot, or turn red like this.The baby’s warmth pulled her closer, so different from the chill most fairies radiated. Stroking his face, she cooed at him and rocked the cradle with one foot in time to the sound of her deep, gruff voice.He turned, eyes still screwed shut, and latched onto her smallest finger, sucking vigorously.“Oh, you’re hungry.” Without shifting from her position by the cradle, she reached across the room and grabbed one of the bottles filled with flower juice. Then, she teased the side of his mouth to get her finger free.The new infant didn’t like that at all. His body swelled as he drew in a deep breath. He opened his mouth and released an angry roar that shook the whole nursery.Tiptoe cringed, sure the other fairies would blame her if even one root pulled free. She jammed the nipple into the baby’s mouth, sighing with relief when he started suckling.The red color subsided from his face as fast as the juice vanished from the bottle. He became a pale pink as different from the gray of Tiptoe’s skin as hers was from the usual fairy blue. She pushed back his fine, blond hair and smiled down at the infant, grabbing his bare toes gently with one hand and tugging on them.“You’re a little thing next to me, but my cousins are much smaller. I wonder where they found you.”The boy’s grasping fingers caught her coarse, black arm hair and pulled.“Ouch.” She untangled his hand, letting him grab hold of her fingers instead.He pushed the bottle from his mouth and chortled, jerking her hand about with more strength than she’d ever seen in a fairy baby before.“You have my strength as well. Maybe your feet will grow big like mine and we can be different together. It would be nice to have a cousin who stays with me. All the other babies get their magic shoes and fly off.”A flicker of movement outside the window caught Tiptoe’s attention a moment too late. She stopped speaking, and the muscles along the top of her curved neck tensed.Laughter came first then four fairies followed, popping into the nursery with their magic shoes chiming. Their soft leaf dresses and suits rustled.“You’ll never be like him, Tiptoe. You haven’t a chance.”“No chance at all.”“Nope, not a dream of one.”“Not even a fairy dream.”They laughed again, and Tiptoe turned her head away so they couldn’t see the tears welling up in her big brown eyes.Her dirty eyes, or so the other fairies said when they teased her. She wished she had just one thing to prove she belonged with her cousins. She could accept her big feet, hairy arms, and dull gray skin if only she had green or blue or violet eyes.Blinking away another wash of tears, she looked at the pink baby. He didn’t have the pale blue skin, but his fine hair resembled her cousins’ locks more than her own coarse, black strands.Then the baby opened his eyes for the first time.“He has brown eyes just like mine.”Tiptoe didn’t realize she’d spoken aloud until the other fairies laughed harder.“You think brown eyes make you the same?” The first fairy shook her head as if in sympathy.“You’re only good for doing chores and watching the babies,” the second added. “Your feet are too big.”The third floated over the cradle, his form barely longer than the baby within. “He’s a prince. He’s special.”The last fairy fell to the floor, kicking her sparkling petal slippers in the air as she giggled. “You can barely fit the tip of your big toe in a magic shoe. You’ll never have magic. Nobody wants you, Tiptoe.”The fairy’s voice hardened on Tiptoe’s name, and the others started with a familiar chorus, calling out “Tiptoe” over and over again.“Go away!” Tiptoe waved her arms at them, and the four fairies scuttled back. “Just go away and leave me alone.”They left, their laughter clinging to the air even so.“She’s so sensitive.”“She might be strong, but not where it counts.”The youngest of the four looked back when she reached the window. The little fairy stuck out her tongue then flew away in a series of cartwheels, something Tiptoe would never be able to do.If she could only fit the shoes, she would have fairy magic as well. She could fly and bring the flowers to bloom. She could even fix anything her clumsiness damaged.Aiming a glare at the oversized feet that kept her from being a real fairy, Tiptoe vowed, “Someday, I’ll prove I’m just as good as they are. I’ll prove I’m better.”The baby prince gurgled his agreement before voicing a complaint and thrashing his legs around.“At least you’re wanted, little prince. What have you got to complain about?”Despite her question, Tiptoe had worked in the nursery long enough to know what he needed. As she changed his diaper, she wondered if she’d made the same sound when she was little.“You look big for a fairy prince, though. I suppose you could be like me no matter what they say. Sometimes babies just turn out different.”At least that’s what she’d told herself whenever she noticed her huge feet.
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