Glen was perhaps seven and walking with his grandma to the dining hall when he first saw the tree. It was not that he never noticed before, but you might say this was the first time he saw it. Glen and Grandma just climbed the hill path to where it ran in front of the Big House. Grandma walked slow and steady with her cane while Glen danced all around in the exuberance of youth. He slipped on a pinecone and slid down the steep side of the hill that faced the lake. He caught himself quick enough, but his eyes went to what seemed a peculiar sight.
There was a tree. But it did not grow straight up like trees were supposed to grow. Instead, it grew horizontally, straight out from the steep side of the hill, out over the lake. It appeared like it was reaching out for the sunset which always set behind the other side of the lake. True, the tree was stunted, but it was big and thick and old, and Glen realized then that he could walk out on the trunk itself. The following morning, he did just that and found where a big branch made something like a natural seat. And best of all, it was out of sight from the Big House, and even from the path that ran in front of the big house.
Glen sat there for hours on and off for the next eight or ten years, untouched by the world of people, undisturbed by the ways of human life. He was touched only by the tree and the lake and the sun reaching for the trees that he could just make out on that distant shore. He let his imagination roam free and he imagined great tales of high adventure.
Once when he sat there, though he might have been a whole year older by then, it was near the time for the people down at the dining hall to ring the great dinner bell that was out by the lake. Fishermen and travelers all across the lake could hear that bell as it sounded for miles. Glen was just thinking he ought to get back to the cabin and wash up when something caught the corner of his eye.
He thought at first it might be a horsefly. He turned his head and the fly turned with him. He turned his head back and forth several times but could not catch sight of it. He thought to get clever. He sat about as long as an eight-year-old can sit still and then turned as fast as he could. Still, the thing stayed out of sight, just at the outer edge of his peripheral vision. He had to ask.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” He was almost shocked to death when he heard a shy little answer.
“I’m a girl.”
He sat for far longer than a normal eight-year-old might sit and thought about what he heard.
“Why can’t I see you?” Glen asked at last.
“I’m supposed to stay hidden,” the answer came.
“You can let me see you if you want to. I won’t hurt you.”
There was a moment of silence before the girl spoke again. “I’m glad you won’t hurt me, but I am not supposed to be seen.”
“A bit late for that,” Glen responded. “We are already talking so you should let me see you. It is only polite.”
“Well.” The girl drew out the word like it was a whole sentence. “If it is only polite.” She fluttered into view, a fairy, bigger than Glen’s hand but not as big as his forearm; and perhaps not as big as Glen’s eyes.”
“Hello.” He hardly knew what else to say.
“Hello,” the fairy responded.
“My name is Glen.”
“I know. I’ve been watching.” The fairy flitted to a small branch a bit further out over the lake and took a seat. “My name is Aster.”
“Good to meet you,” Glen said as he tried not to stare. The fairy was wearing a short dress that was yellow but flared to lavender-white at the collar, on the sleeves and at the bottom. A passing glance might easily mistake her for a flower, perhaps a daisy.
“Good to meet you. I’ve been watching.”
“You said that.”
“No, I mean you already said you were watching.”
“I did? Well it’s true.”
Glen shook his head. “Tell me, why were you watching me?”
The fairy looked away like one suddenly shy. She turned a bit pink and for a second her dress mirrored the color. “I like you,” she said.
“I like you too.” It was an easy thing for Glen to say because it was true. The fairy smiled broadly at his response before she got suddenly serious.
“Oh, but my sisters say I am not supposed to bother you. They say all the Little Ones are supposed to stay away from you.”
“Yes, Apple and Iris. They say we are not supposed to disturb any of the people.”
“But I’m not disturbed,” Glen said. “And this is such a nice tree for dreaming, but it is better to share it with a friend.”
The fairy looked around. “You have a friend?”
Glen was the one who smiled this time. “You could be my friend, if you want.”
The fairy turned shy again and looked away.
The dinner bell rang from down the shore. Glen automatically looked in that direction though he could not see anything. When he looked back, the fairy was gone. He slowly got to his feet.
“I’m sorry,” he spoke up nice and loud. “I’m late, but I can come here tomorrow. I would love to see you again tomorrow. If you came earlier we could spend some time together. Aster. My friend.” There was no response.