The rain from last night has cleared without any help from him. He does not like influencing the weather unduly. All the same, he is glad for a dry, sunny day for Jared’s sake. Humans can be so finicky when it comes to that sort of thing.
Humans can be finicky about a great number of things. Not all of it makes sense. Maybe it is just that there are so many differences between humans and fairies, he is having a hard time making sense of much. At first, he thought he would make a list of all the differences. There were too many, though, so he decided it would be easier to catalogue the things that are the same.
But that, too, is difficult, for Jared says no two humans are exactly alike. They are like snowflakes in this regard. To Jensen, this makes them all the more interesting, all the more worth knowing. No matter how many humans he meets, he will never know everything there is to know about being human because every human has their own unique personality, their own individual life story. It makes his mind spin. It is like thinking about the number of stars in the sky or about reaching the end of the rainbow.
He met a lot of humans yesterday. He fairly vibrates from the memory of it, even though the end of the evening is fuzzy in his head. He remembers posing for many, many pictures and performing complicated aero-acrobatics for videos, both things he enjoys very much. He remembers allowing a white-haired human to touch his wings for luck, and how her eyes lit up when he sprinkled fairy dust on her wrinkled, paper-like palm. He remembers joy building, cresting, crashing over him, the song bursting free like a host of sparrows all taking flight at once, and very little after that.
Except Jared. Jared’s longish hair brushing against his wings and back as he lay curled up on his shoulder. Jared taking him back to his house. Jared holding him, touching him, caring for him.
When he thinks about Jared, he gets this overwhelming sense of comfort. It feels like sunshine warming him up from the inside out. Jared is sturdy like a pillar, a rock, his stone number one. With Jared nearby, he feels like anything is possible. Jared provides a safe launching pad and landing zone for all his adventures. He is the only reason this Grand, Super-Awesome, Fantastical Odyssey Into the Human World can even take place.
Thinking about Jared is one of his favorite pastimes. He got to spend the whole day with Jared yesterday, and he will get to spend the whole day with him again today. They will be leaving as soon as Jared is done with his breakfast.
They have just come back inside from leaving a note on the back door for the Guardian. The note says they are going to a place called a Petting Zoo today.
Outside in a tree near the back porch, a mourning dove coos.
Jensen coos back, palms pressed against the kitchen window that overlooks the yard and the forest beyond.
“What’s it saying?” Jared asks with a gentle smile as he stirs the breakfast items he is cooking. Jensen recognizes the eggs, but he is not sure what the strips of meat are called.
“She is welcoming the day.”
“Yeah? It’s supposed to be a good one. The groundhog forecast an early spring this year. Weatherman’s calling for mild temperatures all week.” Jared finishes cooking, puts his food on a plate, and sits at the kitchen table.
Jensen cocks his head in surprise. He did not realize that the groundhogs were in communication with humans or that they were particularly good at forecasting the weather. He makes a mental note to ask about it next time he comes across a groundhog in his meadow.
The meat Jared is eating has a strong, smokey smell to it. “What is the name of the meat you are eating?” In an attempt to learn as many human words as he can, he asks the names of things every time he comes across something new for the first time. There are so many to learn - the names for all the items humans keep in their houses, the names for all the different foods they eat, the tools they use, the names for all the places they go, just to name a few.
“It’s called bacon.”
“Bacon.” Jensen commits it to memory. “Bacon smells...” He sniffs the air. “Bacon smells like a forest fire, but in a good way.”
Jared sniffs. “Yeah, I guess it kinda does, if a forest fire was a good thing.” He takes a bite of bacon. “A very good, very delicious thing. Mmmmmm, bacon.” His eyes lose focus for a moment as if he is in bacon-induced ecstasy. Blinking himself back from wherever he had just gone, he taps the table in front of his plate. “C’mere, Comet. I want to talk to you about something.”
“It is not about more clothing, is it?” He has not completely forgiven Jared for Ken’s short pants yet. Flying over, he settles cross-legged on the table, looking around warily for another bag or box where Jared may have more uncomfortable clothing items hidden.
“No,” Jared chuckles. “The shorts are enough. I know you don’t like wearing them. Thank you for indulging strange human preferences.” The remaining bacon disappears into his mouth. “No, I wanted to ask if you had fun yesterday.”
“Oh yes, most assuredly so!”
“What was your favorite part?” Jared consumes a fork full of eggs.
“Hmmmm.” Jensen mulls this over, chin in his hands and elbows on his knees. It is difficult to decide. There were so many amazing things about yesterday.
Jared lets him ponder, all the while quietly eating his food and sipping his orange drink. No coffee this morning, Jensen notes, which is unusual. Jared always seems to enjoy his morning coffee.
After choosing and discarding a half dozen favorite things, he decides it is impossible to pick only one, so with an impish grin, he declares, “All of it! I loved playing with the children and learning their games. I loved meeting your friends and your family. I loved spending the whole day with you. I loved listening to stories and providing entertainment for the humans at the restaurant. I loved all the smells and the sights and learning new things. I loved it all!”
The naming of each thing makes the buzzing thrill, that is always there inside him when he is with Jared, grow. By the time he gets to the last item on his list, he is unable to contain his enthusiasm. He shoots straight up, arms wrapped tightly around his middle, then surges forward without thought, and kisses Jared right on the lips. It is nothing more than a peck really. Still, a sensation like ground lightning ripples through him, sparking along nerve endings from his lips all the way to his toes. A flush suffuses his entire body, so hot that he would swear he had turned a fluorescent shade of pink if he could not see for himself that his skin tone is the same as it has always been.
Strange, he...he has kissed others before, his quadral mates: many times, the Guardian: on occasion, but he has never felt anything like that before.
Jared seems surprised, like maybe he felt the shock of it, too. He runs a finger over his lips, then shakes his head slowly, a dazed look in his sea-foam colored eyes. When his gaze returns to Jensen, his lips quirk up in a half-smile. He holds out his hand, and Jensen goes willingly, eagerly even, perching on his palm. Jared has finished his breakfast, now it is Jensen’s turn to receive nourishment. There can never be enough touching to satisfy him.
Jared strokes his chest and stomach with one gentle finger. He opens his mouth to say something, but seems to think better of it, shaking his head again, a bemused quirk to his lips.
Jensen tilts his head. “Do you need something, Jared?”
Smiling, Jared says, “No, I’m fine. I’m glad you had a good time yesterday. I do have something else I need to talk to you about though. It’s about last night.”
“At the restaurant?”
“Yes, well...there are a couple things that happened at the restaurant we should probably talk about, but the one that concerns me most is the beer.”
“The beer?” Jensen feels at a loss. He remembers smelling the beer all night long. Everyone at the restaurant seemed to have a glass of the amber-colored liquid in front of them. The fragrance was heady. But why is this a concern for Jared? “It smelled earthy. I enjoyed the way it tickled my nose,” he offers, perplexed.
Jared uses his fingertip to rub under Jensen’s smooth jaw. Unlike humans, fairies don’t grow hair on their faces. “You were pretty out of it by the time we left the restaurant. Do you remember that?”
Jensen cocks his head further to the side, allowing Jared more access to his chin and neck. “I remember feeling drained and heavy, like someone had tied weights to my wings. I was more tired than usual, so tired it was difficult to keep my eyes open. Is that what you mean?”
“Tired can’t account for the way you were acting. You were drunk. You couldn’t fly without crashing into things. You passed out while sitting on my shoulder as I walked from the car to the house. If I hadn’t caught you, you could’ve done some serious damage, maybe broken some bones or injured your wings, falling from such a height.” Jared’s tone is sharp.
Jensen shudders and curls into himself on Jared’s palm, eyes downcast to show how sorry he is. Not because he is worried about hurting himself, but because Jared sounds so upset. It is the worst thing ever. “I apologize, Jared.” He is not even sure what he is sorry for, has no idea what he did wrong. He just does not want Jared to be angry with him.
“Hey, no. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know. How could you? I didn’t even know it was possible.” Jared’s tone softens. He rubs up and down first one of Jensen’s arms and then the other. “I didn’t mean to sound so harsh. I was just worried about you, that’s all.”
“Why were you worried? Tell me what I did so I will know better next time.” Jensen uncurls from his defensive position and looks up at Jared earnestly.
“Okay, first you need to understand what drinking alcohol does to humans.” Jared continues his ministrations, stroking across Jensen’s back, between his shoulder blades, and around the spot where his wings attach. “Beer has alcohol in it, that’s the main reason humans drink it. In humans, alcohol acts as a depressant. In small doses, it does nothing more than relax us, make us feel less inhibited, but the more we drink, the more it affects us. It causes different reactions in different people depending on our chemistry and tolerance. Some people get really happy, others get angry and mean, while some people get touchy-feely.”
A deep thrumming sound emanates from deep in Jensen’s throat. He cannot help it. Despite the seriousness of Jared’s tone, Jensen’s body is responding favorably to all the touching. “It’s like you were telling me before, about how all humans are different.”
“Right, except some things are the same. Because it acts as a depressant, if humans drink too much alcohol, enough to make them very drunk, they will probably experience some very common symptoms including a slurring of speech, uncoordinated movements, extreme tiredness to the point of passing out, and even blackouts where they don’t remember what they did while drinking. All the things that happened to you last night.”
Jensen sits up, and Jared’s fingers fall away. He misses the contact immediately, but he needs to make sense of what Jared is trying to tell him. “How can I have been drunk? I did not consume any beer. Nary a drop.”
“I have a theory about that. I don’t know for sure I’m right. It’s just a guess, but I think you absorbed the alcohol into your body the same way you absorb moisture. And if that’s true, we need to be very careful about the things we..I...subject you to. We don’t know how your fairy biology will react to human things like the caffeine in coffee, the alcohol in beer, the smoke from cigarettes, or any number of other things I haven’t even thought of yet.”
The lack of coffee with Jared’s breakfast suddenly makes sense. “Did you forego your morning coffee because of me?”
“Yeah,” Jared’s smile is small and wistful. “Until we know for sure that it isn’t harmful to you, I don’t want to take the chance. How do you feel this morning, by the way? Any headache?”
Jensen reaches up and knuckles at his temple. There is a slight throbbing there, now that Jared has mentioned it. “Only a little.”
The crease that Jared gets on his forehead when he is worried makes an appearance. “Here, let me see.” Strong fingers come up on either side of Jensen’s head, carefully kneading his nape and along his hairline.
Jensen closes his eyes in bliss. A little headache is nothing compared to the feeling of Jared’s fingers on him like this. It is completely worth it.
It’s completely worth it, forgoing his coffee fix in order to keep Jensen safe. Between coffee or Jensen, there’s no contest. He’ll pick Jensen every time. Until they know for sure that caffeine has no negative side effects for fairies, he won’t be drinking it around him. Period.
He’s really got to be more careful, think things through better. He’s been entrusted with something, someone, precious. Jensen is his responsibility and if he develops some kind of never-before-heard-of fairy illness because Jared wasn’t alert to all the possible dangers, that’s on him, and he’ll never be able to forgive himself.
He’ll just have to do better in future, that’s all there is to it.
The drive to Bergy’s Dairy Farm and Petting Zoo has been entertaining. Jensen has been amusing himself and Jared by naming animals he thinks might be at a petting zoo. For some reason, Jared didn’t think Jensen would know as much about animals as he does. Jensen may not have ever seen - or as he puts it has never met - many animals outside the ones that live in and around his meadow, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about them. Apparently, he does. The funny thing is that he doesn’t have any concept of whether they would make good animals for a petting zoo or not.
Jared has listened to his conjectures and chuckled along without reining him in. It’ll be more fun to see his surprise at each animal they do encounter, and besides, Jared’s never been to this particular petting zoo himself, so he’s not sure what animals they’ll have.
He’s pretty sure they won’t have any sloths though. Or chimpanzees.
“What about penguins? Will there be any penguins there, do you think? I would love to pet a penguin!”
Jared puts on his turn signal and pulls into the U-shaped, gravel parking lot. “You’ll just have to see for yourself. We’re here.”
The second Jared gets his door open, Jensen whizzes past him like a bottle rocket. A flash of green and the trailing fairy dust show the direction in which he’s gone - toward the first of several wooden buildings. Jared jumps out of the car, slams the door shut and goes charging after him. He doesn’t get far before he sees that Jensen has stopped, and is waiting for him, twirling in place.
Impatient as he can often be, it’s good to know Jensen heard Jared’s warnings from yesterday and understands the importance of not rushing off on his own.
The building they’re heading toward gives off an old time-y general store type vibe. It’s a quaint wooden building with a wrap-around porch complete with hanging flowers and rocking chairs. There are people milling about on the porch. They seem to be examining potted plants that are probably for sale.
Beyond the first building are several barns, some fenced in areas that may be coops or corrals, and further back are fields, some planted with crops and some that are clearly pasture land. A sign next to a path that leads around the general store reads Petting Zoo. There’s a donation box with a piece of paper stapled to it that simply says Donations Appreciated.
“Which do you want to do first? The store or the petting zoo?” Jared thinks he knows which Jensen will pick, especially given all the speculation he’d been doing in the car about which animals they might see. He’s even got Jared wondering if there will be kangaroos here, and if it were his choice, he’d for sure want to go ‘meet’ the animals first.
He should have known better.
“Let’s go see what the humans are doing.” Jensen points at the store.
Of course, the humans hold more fascination for Jensen than the animals they’re here to see. This is their Grand, Super-Awesome, Fantastical Odyssey Into the Human World after all. Emphasis on Human.
They walk up the porch steps. Jensen doesn’t fly around introducing himself as he might have done yesterday morning. He’s learned that not all humans will be as happy to meet him as he is to meet them. Jared’s not sure how that makes him feel. Relieved in a way because it’s an important lesson. And sad that Jensen has to harness some of his natural zeal and passion just because some people can’t appreciate how special he is.
They haven’t had the other talk yet, the one about how not only are some people not thrilled to meet a fairy, they might be downright hostile, or worse, want to capture or even harm him. Jared just hasn’t had the heart to burst Jensen’s Humans-are-amazing bubble yet. He knows he needs to do it, but part of him thinks if he can keep a close enough eye on him, maybe it won’t be necessary. After all, it’s only a week. How much trouble can he get into in just one week?
A husky, thirty-something guy, wearing blue jeans and a canvas jacket, perusing a display of potted herbs, turns and is the first person to spot Jensen where he hovers at Jared’s side. The guy’s eyes widen in his plump face, jaw dropping. He reaches behind himself, blindly grabbing a woman’s arm. “Martha, you’ve gotta see this.”
The woman looks over. Her shrill, “Oh my heavens!” quiets all the conversations being held amongst the other store’s patrons as every head turns to see what caused the exclamation.
“Hello, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Jensen of the meadow. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He pairs his greeting with a regal bow, chin to his chest, fist over his heart, bending only slightly at the waist. He looks like a dashing prince. A prince wearing red and white Hawaiian shorts and nothing else, but a prince nonetheless.
Jared absolutely dares a single person there not to be charmed to within an inch of their lives.
There’s a collective gasp.
A pre-teen-ish looking boy ducks between Martha and herb guy, and makes a swipe at Jensen with one grubby hand. He has to stand on his tiptoes and hop to even get close. Jensen easily evades him. The kid says, “Hey! I only want to hold it.”
People all begin talking at once. “What is it?” “Is that a fairy?” “No way, I’ve never seen one before.” “They have fairies here?” The porch shudders as everyone, all ten or so people there, begin jostling one another on their way toward Jensen, whether to get a better look or to all make a grab, Jared isn’t sure.
It’s not a mob. Not quite. Not yet.
Acting quickly to forestall the rapidly developing mob mentality, Jared steps in front of Jensen, hands raised in a calming gesture. “Hold it. Stop right there.” There are times he’s very grateful for his height advantage. He uses it now, making himself into an imposing wall with Jensen behind him. “Jensen just introduced himself to you. It’s only polite to return the favor. I’m sure if you ask nicely, he’ll be more than happy to talk to you all.” He levels his gaze on the boy in front. “You, what’s your name?”
The boy lifts his chin, a rebellious glint in his eyes. “Dylan.”
Jeez, he remembers that age, all cock-sure attitude and no common sense. “Okay Dylan, meet Jensen. Jensen, this is Dylan.”
Without the slightest hesitation, Jensen flits up and over Jared’s head to hovering in front of Dylan. “Hello Dylan. Have you already seen the animals here at the petting zoo?” He doesn’t give Dylan a chance to answer before he continues. “I have not seen them yet. I am very much looking forward to it. I was trying to decide what the best animal to pet would be during the drive here. Perhaps an orangutan. What do you think?”
Dylan scoffs, “They don’t have orangutans at petting zoos. You don’t know very much about animals, do you?”
“Oh, that is disappointing.” There’s a sparkle in Jensen’s eye, and Jared gets the distinct impression that he’s teasing Dylan, that he’s known all along there wouldn’t be sloths or penguins at the petting zoo, which means he’s also been teasing him. Clever little fairy.
Dylan smirks, thinking he’s gotten one over on the cordial fae, never dreaming that he is being teased.
Jensen flutters higher. “In that case, tell me, for I am most interested to know, if you could pet any animal in the entire world, what animal would you choose?”
“A lion, obviously.” Dylan rolls his eyes.
“That is a good one. I imagine a lion’s mane to be amazingly soft.” Jensen throws a wink over his shoulder at Jared, then turns back to Dylan. “Did you know that the sharp, pointed rasps on a lion’s tongue are used for striping the meat off the bones of its prey?”
Dylan shakes his head.
“Yes, it is true. I met a cougar once. She told me so.”
“Cool,” Dylan says, not nearly so sure of his superior animal knowledge as he had been moments before.
A young girl sitting on her father’s shoulders calls out, “I want to talk to the fairy!”
Her father says, “We have to wait our turn, Chrissy.”
At his words, people begin shuffling around until a haphazard line has formed.
Jared is pleased. He’d been expecting the worst out of these people, but instead they’ve shown a better, more rational side of human nature.
Jared leans in close to the hovering fairy. “I gotta admit, you had me going. A sloth at a petting zoo, huh?”
Jensen bats his long eyelashes, in a way that is distinctly flirtatious. “What? They could have a sloth at a petting zoo, could they not? Did you know that sloths can, and frequently do, fall out of trees without sustaining the slightest injury?”
“No, I didn’t. Where did you learn that factoid?”
“I know many things. You might be surprised at the things I know.” Jensen grins.
Jared is beginning to believe he may have underestimated Jensen in more ways than just his knowledge about animal facts.
A middle-aged woman is next in line. “Do you live here?” she asks.
“Here at the petting zoo?” Jensen wraps his arms around his slender waist and laughs. His quiet laughter sounds like the babbling of a brook. “Not at all. I am visiting, same as you. I am curious to meet the animals, and even more curious to meet the humans who have come to see the animals. Do you enjoy it here?”
The breeze ruffles her greying hair. She uses a hand to brush a strand off her face. “I love it here. I come all the time, but I’ve never seen you here before.”
“It is my first time.” Jensen twirls mid-air. “Why do you like it so?”
She tugs at her lip, thinking. “I’ve always had an affinity for animals. Not much of a people person, I guess. Animals I get, people are crazy.” She smiles. “I have a cat and two dogs at home. Sometimes animals are better company than people, you know?”
Jensen cocks his head. “I do not know enough humans to judge if that is true for me, yet. However, I can say with certainty that I enjoy Jared’s company above any of the animals I know.”
Those words, unexpected as they are, do strange things to Jared’s heart rate. His lips twitch up in a soft smile.
The woman gives Jared a knowing look. “Is this Jared, then? He’s very tall.”
Jensen laughs his bubbling laugh again. “Jared has always been tall to me. It has only recently come to my attention that he is also quite a bit taller than most other humans, as well.”
They talk some more about the merits of animals and why humans enjoy being around them before she takes her leave.
More people arrive and join the line. No one can resist the opportunity to meet one of the wee folk. Jensen talks to them all, never at a loss for what to say. He asks as many questions as he answers, gives each person his undivided attention, makes them feel special. There’s something about his good-natured interest and joyful spirit that delights the most ill-tempered among them. No one leaves in a bad mood. The fairy dust doesn’t hurt in that regard, either.
Not only that, he speaks so plainly, so freely, to everyone that by the time the line has dispersed, no one is looking at him as though he’s an oddity. They’re all looking at him as though having a fairy attend the petting zoo is a wonderful occurrence, but not in any way strange. He could be a fairy ambassador to the human race, he’s so adept at putting everyone at their ease. It’s extraordinary.
Jensen is extraordinary.
They wander inside the store briefly. The man behind the counter does a double take at the sight of Jensen flitting through the door at Jared’s side. He doesn’t make a fuss over him, though. Who knows, maybe he’s seen one of the fae before. It’s certainly possible, if he lives near this sparsely populated farming district.
The other customers in the store are ones who have already met Jensen outside. They smile or nod at him, but otherwise are content to go about their business.
The store sells a variety of freshly baked pies, breads, cakes, and cookies. A refrigerated display case holds dairy products in abundance - milk in glass bottles, all types, and freshly churned butter. There’s even homemade ice cream being sold by the cone or by the quart.
Jared makes himself a promise to come back for a double scoop cone - strawberry and mint chocolate chip - before they leave.
“You could have told me you already know all about animals,” Jared says as they leave the building and turn onto the path leading to the petting zoo. “We don’t need to stay here if you aren’t actually all that interested. There are other places we could go.”
“The plan to come here today was made by the both of us together,” Jensen points out. “If I had not wanted to come, I would have told you. Have I given you cause to think I would fail to speak my mind should I dislike something?” He laughs, giving the waist band of Ken’s short pants a dismissive tug.
Jared snorts. “Well, no, when you put it like that, I guess you are plenty forthright about your likes and dislikes. It’s just that this whole week is supposed to be your week to learn about humans. I thought you might be interested in the way humans interact with the animals that live with us or in association with us, but I didn’t account for how much you already know.” He makes a face that Jensen interprets as uncertain. “I feel like a jerk for not giving you enough credit.”
Jensen flies in front of Jared, wheels around to face him, and crosses his arms over his chest. Voice stern, he says, “Jared, you are kind and thoughtful and smart and most definitely not a jerk.” Here, he pokes Jared in the chest. “You must never, ever, think such a thing about yourself. You do not know everything there is to know about the fae; that is not a short-coming nor do I feel that you have slighted me. I do not know everything there is to know about humans. We are learning together. That is what our Grand, Super-Awesome, Fantastical Odyssey Into the Human World is all about.” If it would not look ridiculous with him hovering in the air, he would stomp his foot.
A grudging smile spreads across Jared’s face. “You’re a spit-fire when you get angry, you know that?”
Jensen lets his frown melt away. Anger is hard to hold onto. “It is a good thing for you I cannot stay angry for long.”
Jared rubs at his chest where he got poked. “You’re telling me.” But his dimples have made an appearance, so Jensen does not think him hurt too badly.
Flying up to Jared’s shoulder, he settles in for a ride. “Besides, just because I know many facts about penguins, does not mean I know what a penguin looks like for real.” He smirks at his own joke. “It will be good to see how well the pictures in my head match up with the animals themselves. Today, I will put faces with the names of the animals I have only heard about, but never before seen.”
Jared’s snort indicates that he gets the joke this time. “Shall we meet some animals, then?” He indicates the path ahead.
“Yes, we shall.” Jensen reclines against Jared’s neck, ready for the next part of their Odyssey together.
The path leads first to a red barn. Partitioned areas along the sides hold what must be cows. Jensen flies over to the first one, a mother with her baby beside her. Animals don’t talk in words. It is possible to hold a rudimentary conversation with them, but it is mostly done through interpreting images and feelings. He is able to glean that she is content. She likes her home, is well cared for, and gets plenty to eat which is her major concern. Her calf is too new to make the trip out to the far pasture where the rest of the herd is today.
The baby is frisky and enjoys the pats Jensen gives her. Jensen tells the mama cow that her calf is very fine, as strong and healthy as any mother could wish. This makes her vocalize her pride with a low moo.
The cows in the other stalls tell a similar story. Not all of them have a young one with them, but they are all here in the petting zoo area for one reason or another. They all agree that their lives are pleasant and that they get enough to eat. Having enough food is always at the top of their priorities.
In the last stall, a human is wielding a large shovel amidst a pile of straw. Not yet big enough to be an adult, yet not small enough to be a child, Jensen guesses he must be at some in-between stage of human development. Lanky and with a body he has yet to grow into, he has a mop of chestnut-brown hair and is wearing a plaid flannel shirt. In some ways he reminds Jensen of a younger Jared.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance! I am Jensen. Might I enquire as to your name?”
The human looks up from his task, eye going wide. “I’m Colin.” He looks around as though there might be a prankster hiding nearby or perhaps he wants verification for what he is seeing. When his gaze zeros back in on him, Colin says, “Are you...are you a fairy?”
“Yes, I am.” Jensen preens, but just a little bit. He doesn’t want to come off as bragging.
“Cool,” Colin says on a long exhale such that the O sound is long and pronounced. “My gran says she saw one once a long time ago. I always wanted to see one, but this is the first time I ever have.”
“Not many of my kind are as social as I,” Jensen concurs. “Mostly, they prefer to remain hidden from human eyes. I am fascinated by humans, however, and Jared has agreed to take me on a Grand, Super-Awesome, Fantastical Odyssey Into the Human World. Your petting zoo is one of our destinations.” Speaking of Jared, Jensen glances over his shoulder to see what he is doing. Jared is still back at the stall with the baby calf. He seems to be talking nonsense words to it in a high-pitched, sing-song-y voice. Jensen wonders if that is some strange human custom before turning back to Colin. “Do you work here at the petting zoo?”
Colin scuffs a shoe in the straw. “Yeah, my family owns the farm. Me and my brothers and sisters all work here.” There is a note of dejection in this not-a-man and not-a-child’s voice.
“You do not seem happy. Why is that? I have only seen a small part of your petting zoo so far, but from what I have seen you and your family are to be commended. The cows are quite content. They say they are well cared for and have a good life here. The humans I have spoken with also seem to enjoy your petting zoo very much.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s pretty great here. It’s just...this farm has been in the family for generations, and it takes all of us to keep the place running. Everyone is expected to help out. Raising animals, growing things, it’s the family business, ya know, and I love it here, I do, it’s just...” Trailing off, he gazes out the open barn door and into the far distance.
“You wish to do something else with your life,” Jensen surmises. The idea resonates, strikes a chord somewhere deep within him that he was only dimly aware of up until this moment. He feels an affinity with Colin because Colin recognizes that he has a great life, and yet he longs for something else. That same yearning has been inside Jensen for as long as he can remember. It is what drives him to explore, to learn about other options as represented by humans, to discover what else is out there. His life in the meadow is wonderful. He loves Misha, Alona, and Felicia very, very much. And yet...he wants more.
Jared comes jogging over just then. “That baby cow is as adorable as you are, Comet. I’m gonna call her Precious. Precious the baby cow.”
Jensen takes in the soft curve of Jared’s lips, the fox-like shape of his blue-green eyes, the cleft of his chin.
There is a reason Jensen is not as content with his lot in life as the other fairies. He is meant for other things. He can feel it like a cord tied around his middle, tugging him inexorably away from his meadow. His destiny lies elsewhere.
And he thinks he knows exactly where.
An airiness fills him, and he chortles at Jared’s comment. A baby cow as adorable as him, indeed! Flying above Colin’s head where the dust from his wings can sprinkle down onto the almost-man, he says. “That is a lie, for nothing is as adorable as I.” He strikes his best pose, hands on his hips and head tilted rakishly to the side, chin up. Ken’s short pants detract from the overall affect, he thinks, but he achieves his desired outcome just the same. Jared’s fond laughter fills the barn, echoing from the rafters.
Even Colin, who has not smiled at all during their conversation, grins up at him. “I’m really glad I got to see you. Just wait until I tell my gran!”
Jensen flutters down closer to Colin’s eye level. “Put out your hand, palm up,” he directs.
With a puzzled quirk to his lips, Colin does as asked. “Like this?”
“Just so.” Jensen settles onto the open palm, legs criss-crossed. The places where his legs touch Colin’s hand do not tingle or spark the way they do when he sits on Jared’s hand. Curious. Not a human thing then, solely a Jared thing. That’s something to think about at a later time. For now, he directs everything he has into what he wants to impart. “Colin, you get but one life, and it is yours. Only yours. Not your family’s. You owe them much, but you do not owe them that. You must search your heart, search your very soul, and when you find what you are meant to do with your life, you must pursue it unto the ends of the earth if that is what it takes. Do not let anything hold you back. Not anything.”
Colin swallows audibly and nods, blinking eyes that have gone watery.
Jared gives him a quizzical look, but seems to understand that the moment is a private one.
After Colin has gotten himself back under control, he offers to show them around the rest of the petting zoo. He shows them the playful baby goats that hop around their enclosure, butting against the legs of the visitors who are offering them feed. They also see the chicken coop where the hens peck at the ground and the rooster struts about as though he is a maharaja with his harem.
The best part, however, comes when they reach the smallest barn. Inside is a series of spaces with tiny houses built out of wood. They all have names written on them.
Jared’s smile broadcasts his happiness better than any human electronic device ever could. “It’s Bunny Town,” he says, pointing to each house in turn. “There’s the Post Office, and the Cozy Inn, and the Major’s House. Bunnies of all sizes and colors hop around inside their town, going freely from building to building as though on a series of errands.
They are a far cry from the wild rabbits Jensen knows from his meadow. Wild rabbits are fearful animals, only coming out at dusk and right before dawn, when the chances of being caught by a predator are lowest. These bunnies have no such fear. They scamper and romp, as carefree as any fairy. The images they send him are of their favorite treats - carrot sticks - and all the cuddles they get from the children who come to see them every day.
“That’s the Major,” Colin says, indicating a brown rabbit, white tips on all four feet and on his belly. “He’s the only male. We get baby rabbits every Spring.”
“He’s living the good life.” Jared grins.
“Yeah, he’s got it made in the shade.” Colin ruffles the Major’s fur. “Doncha, old man?”
From there, they go see the barn cat with her litter of kittens, the pigs, and a solitary donkey.
The smile never leaves Jared’s face. Jensen has as much fun watching Jared interact with the animals as he has meeting them himself. He notices that the animals have an effect on humans he never could have imagined without seeing it for himself. Voices become softer, more soothing, around animals. Faces smile more readily. Hands reach out to touch, to fondle, to caress, as though it is pure instinct to want to connect with the animals in a more tactile way than they do with other humans.
Jared buys himself an ice cream cone on the way back to the car. “No penguins,” he says, slanting a grin.
“No penguins,” Jensen pretends disappointment, but inside he is rejoicing. He has found something much better than penguins at the petting zoo. Something unexpected.
He has found his destiny.