by Eric J. Krause
Riley's eyes flashed open, and he flung his pillow off the bed. Instead of a crisp dollar bill, his tooth lay there mocking him. Tears flashed in his eyes, but he refused to give into them. Instead, he picked up his tooth and stormed out to find his parents. And answers.
Mom sat at the kitchen table, reading the morning paper on her laptop. Dad stood cooking eggs and bacon at the stove. Neither noticed him until he slammed his tooth onto the table.
"The Tooth Fairy didn't come."
Mom and Dad shared a panicked look that wasn't lost on Riley.
"She's fake, just like Santa, right? Even though you promised me she wasn't, you lied about her."
Mom's face had gone pale, and Dad had turned off the burners even though breakfast wasn't done. Dad put a hand on Mom's shoulder. Riley saw it was shaking. Mom started to cry.
"She . . . she really didn't come?" Dad asked.
Riley sighed and shook his head. "Bobby Milken told me she was just like Santa, but I didn't want to believe him. I guess he was right." Riley stuck out his hand. "So just give me the dollar and we'll pretend none of this happened." It stunk that they lied to him, and then got caught in it, but he didn't really care. He just wanted the dollar promised to him.
Mom sobbed harder, leaped forward to give him a big hug, and then ran from the room. Dad, whose face might've looked paler than Mom's, sat down in her chair.
"What's going on?" This went way beyond them forgetting to trade out his tooth with a dollar.
Dad didn't answer right away, and when he did, Riley had to strain to hear. Dad sounded like he'd break down into tears any moment, just like Mom.
"I swear to you, Riles, the Tooth Fairy does exist."
Riley scoffed and held up his tooth. "Earth to Dad. If she existed, I'd have a dollar right now instead of this."
"She only skips kids if . . . if . . . " He stared crying, but managed to finish with, "if that kid is going to die the next day."
His dad grabbed him in a bear hug and sobbed into his shoulder.
"So should I stay home from school today?" he asked when Dad finally let go. A missed day of school wouldn't be so bad. Sounded like a fair trade to him.
Mom walked up behind him and tousled his hair. Her eyes were red and puffy. "No. It's said if you hide from your troubles, it'll get you for sure. But if you go about your normal day, there's a chance the curse won't hit." She did her best to give him a brave smile. "And you can put your tooth back under the pillow tomorrow night." She nudged him towards his room. "Go get set for school."
Riley frowned but complied. Why did he have to go? He was the one dying, not them. It wasn't fair!
Ten minutes later, he emerged with his backpack slung over his shoulder. "Are you sure I can't stay here and hide out?"
They both shook their heads. Mom gave him a big hug and kiss before breaking down into tears again. Dad hugged him while scrunching up his face to keep from crying. They both waved and closed the front door.
Riley sighed and headed for the sidewalk and school.