Read The Neverland Wars - Audrey Greathouse Page 0,1

stay up as late as Mommy and Daddy.”

She nestled in her covers, listening to the tinny sound of the music box. As her mother kissed her forehead, Gwen thought about all the wonderful things she would do, when she was older and could stay up late. As she began to think of the future, the piping faded from her mind.

“You’ll be able to stay up as late as you want, someday,” her mother promised, and Gwen nuzzled her stuffed lion in eager anticipation of that magical, late-night someday.

“And then what happened?” Rosemary asked, clutching Tootles in her arms until he mewed with discomfort.

“Shush!” Gwen warned, whispering. “If Mom hears, we’ll both be in trouble.”

Rosemary let go of poor Tootles, and the tabby cat immediately scampered off the bed and away from the enthralled eight-year-old. Gwen sat cross-legged on her bed, trying to imagine how she could conclude her story. It was already past her little sister’s bedtime, and Gwen still needed to finish writing a paper. Regardless, she was as happy as her sister to be sitting on her downy purple comforter under the glow of the twinkling white Christmas lights strung up over her bed. “And then,” Gwen continued, knowing that Rosemary preferred all of her plot points to be prefaced with those two words, “Margaret May ran through the woods. Even though the mysterious old woman had given her the beautiful music box, she was still lost and afraid she would never make it home in time for Prince Jay’s coronation. It was starting to get dark in the woods and, seeing no other option, Margaret May gave up and sat down under a willow tree.”

Rosemary’s eyes went wide with disbelief. She clutched a limp teddy bear close to her, one of the many old stuffed animals that still resided on her big sister’s bed. “Margaret May can’t give up!”

“Shush. But she did.” Gwen chucked a handful of popcorn into her mouth and let Rosemary wallow in surprise a moment more before continuing. She ignored the chime of a new text on her phone—she held her own stuffed lion and stayed wrapped in the story she was spinning. “Under the willow tree, Margaret May did not cry, because she was still very brave. She was also very clever, so she decided to wind the music box and listen to its song. This caused something very strange to happen. Although the music box didn’t make any noise, Margaret May heard a mysterious music in the distance. She got up and followed the magical music until it stopped, at which point she wound her music box and the music started again somewhere far away.”

“Where was the music coming from?”

“Quiet, Rosemary. Mom will be mad if she finds out I’m keeping you up.”

“Okay,” Rosemary whispered. Taking a tiny handful of popcorn, she put it up to her face to nibble at it like a squirrel. She’d been chewing everything with only her front teeth for the past week.

“And then,” Gwen watched Rosemary’s eyes twinkle at those words, “Margaret May followed the music until she found where it was coming from… the raven tree.”

Rosemary gasped. “She found it!” When she laughed, she bounced on the bed, her poofy hair bobbing ridiculously with her. The missing tooth in her broad smile only made her look happier. Gwen couldn’t help but laugh too. Even at sixteen, she felt totally in her element sharing the joy of a fairy tale with her little sister. Rosemary’s whimsy was catching.

The young girl felt totally at home in her big sister’s room, still surrounded by stuffed animals, art projects, and relics from Gwen’s childhood that had nowhere else to go. The biggest difference between the girls’ rooms was the size of the furniture.

“After all her searching, she had finally found the raven tree, full of its feather-leafs and egg fruit. The bark was covered in little snapping beaks, but Margaret May did not need to get close in order to pluck one of the sparkling, black eggs from a low branch. Its shell looked like the night sky, and Margaret May tucked it into the pocket of her plaid dress before—”

The bedroom door opened. “What’s going on in here?”

Mrs. Hoffman found her daughters huddled on the bed, staring at her with guilty eyes. Her hand still on the doorknob, an unamused look took an immediate hold of her features. She was a wiry woman, and her fashionable slacks and blouse hung on her the same way they hung