As Big as a GiantChapter 16
That evening, Mrs. Dolor took Esther to the hospital, while Mr. Dolor stayed behind with Marian and Herbert. After a late supper, Herbert made his way upstairs to his room on the third floor. Dark and still, the room felt small and unremarkable compared to the vast and beautiful forest he had spent his day in. He threw his stained and sweaty clothes on the floor and pulled a pair of Godzilla pajamas over his head. A dim green light was flickering beneath the pile of clothing.
Herbert rushed to free Starlight from the little mountain of apparel. “I’m sorry, Starlight,” he said. She touched her chin and spread her palms out at him, gesturing playfully. He smiled and wished she were the same size as him so he could hug her. It was nice to not be alone in his room.
He sat down at his writing desk in the corner, and she fluttered to the top of it.
“I’m sorry we never found your home, Starlight,” he said. “But you can always live here.”
She nodded and smiled, before looking around the room, and scrunching her face up like she smelled something bad. It wasn’t quite the forest she grew up in. She conceded no better option, shrugged her shoulders, and walked around the top of the drawer.
“The girls have a pet, so it’ll be nice to have someone of my own,” Herbert said, before looking down and making sure he didn’t offend the fairy. She didn’t seem to notice what he implied. She, of course, was no pet. Instead, Starlight was walking to the back of the writing desk and pointed at a small drawer.
“Oh, that,” Herbert said.
He pulled the drawer open and removed the broken panther figurine he had hidden away a week ago. His thumb brushed across the delicate sharp teeth on the granite figurine, before placing it in front of Starlight. It was about the same size as her. She placed her hands on the head of the granite figurine and pet the stone hair, like she was brushing it back.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Herbert asked.
She nodded and smiled at him. Her gentle hands ran down the back of it, where the tail should have been. The figurine didn’t have a back end, though. Herbert assumed he had broken it off, but the fairy discovered the back end of the figurine wasn’t broken at all; eight sharp points were jutting out like a star. She glanced back-and-forth at Herbert and pointed to the figurine.
He laid his head on the desk, despondent. “But it’s not pretty,” he mumbled. “It’s all my fault that the monsters are out. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to Dad now. Esther’s hurt. Mom’s mad. And skunk-apes are all over town. And I did it. And I let Esther take the blame, too. And now’s she hurt because of it. I suppose I could show you to Mom and Dad—but who knows what they would say or do if they found a fairy? Good luck, it’s not sticking you in some science experiment instead of listening to us.”
He sighed and watched the emerald fairy dancing on the desk. He reached for the panther figurine next to her. She lunged forward, pulling at his thumb, and tried to show him her discovery. He shook his hand free and wiped a tear from his eye before reaching for the thing with his other hand. Starlight flew into the air, pointing feverishly at the panther figurine.
“Starlight, your light is too bright,” he said. “I can’t see what you are trying to say. Can’t you dim it?”
Herbert jerked his head toward the bedroom door. He tossed the panther figurine into the trash bin next to his desk, and Starlight flew behind a stuffed-bear on his bed. The door creaked open and Mr. Dolor entered.
“Herbert?” He stuck his head in and flicked the light on. “Why are you sitting in the dark, son?”
“Hi, Dad,” Herbert answered.
Mr. Dolor crossed the room and sat on Herbert’s bed, noticing the tears in his son’s eyes. He grabbed a stuffed raccoon and put in under his elbow, not noticing the little green fairy dashing across the bedspread behind him.
“I missed you today, son,” Mr. Dolor said.
“I know,” Herbert replied. “Mom said you made a tree-house for us. That’s really neat. I’m sorry we weren’t here—”
“No,” Mr. Dolor interrupted. “You don’t need to be sorry. It’s my fault. I’ve been away at the office too much. And you have been trying to get used to a new town. It’s not your fault I’ve been gone and suddenly show up.”
Herbert frowned and looked down.
“But don’t worry,” Mr. Dolor continued, “I think some things are in the works, so I don’t have to be gone from the house as much.”
The two sat in silence for what felt like half an hour, but was probably only thirty seconds.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Mr. Dolor asked. “Why are you so upset, sitting in the dark and not talking? You’re not acting like my adventurous young man, Herb.”
“It’s nothing,” Herbert answered quickly, staring at the floor.
“Son…” Mr. Dolor dropped to the floor and knelt before Herbert. “I’m here. Talk to me.”
Herbert looked at his father. Dad always gave him strength.
“I did something bad,” Herbert said.
“Okay,” Mr. Dolor listened.
“And I let someone else take the blame. It doesn’t matter anymore—I guess—what I did, but I just feel gross.”
A smirk crossed Mr. Dolor’s lips briefly. His eyes were caring. “That’s called integrity, Herbert.”
“Integrity is when something you’ve done eats at you until you fix it. What do we always say Herbert: Quick to apologize—”
“—quick to forgive,” Herbert recited.
“If you done something wrong, you need to apologize, Herbert. Integrity is everything, son. It’s as big as a giant that you can never really get past. Be the same, whether someone is looking or not. Always remember that.”
Herbert furrowed his brow and sucked his lips.
“But Herbert, remember something else,” Mr. Dolor said. He lifted his arm to Herbert’s shoulder.
Herbert looked up at him.
“Someone else took all the blame before, too. And He did it so that you don’t have to beat yourself up forever. Forgive yourself. And remember that your father is proud of you. Always.”
Herbert looked down at the trash bin next to him.
The next morning, Herbert felt awful when he discovered Esther had a line of sutures down her lower calf and ankle, but he was happy she was okay. Mr. Dolor had carried her into their new tree-house so she could play with him and Marian. Herbert was coloring a picture next to Starlight while Esther read her book about talking bunnies. Marian held the logbook tight against her chest, wishing she could figure out what they did wrong. She noticed Aaron riding his bicycle in circles in front of the Dolor’s house.
“Aaron!” She hollered from the tree. His bike turned and entered the yard.
He threw the bike into the grass and grabbed the two-by-four nailed into the trunk of the tree. His elbows appeared over the floor of the treehouse and he lifted himself up. The Dolors smiled when they saw him.
“Anyone else wake up thinking they dreamed all of that?” Aaron asked, catching his breath. He looked at the green fairy walking in the middle of the treehouse and smiled.
“It’s funny,” Esther agreed. “Something about not being there anymore makes it feel like we never were.”
“What should we do?” Marian asked the group.
Starlight stood on Herbert’s sneakers and tugged at his coloring book. He looked at her, and she scolded him, pulling her wagging finger out.
“Ess,” Herbert said.
“Yes?” She replied.
“I need to confess something.” Tears formed around his eyes, and his bottom lip quivered. “I let you take the blame for opening the gate. But it’s not true.”
“Oh?” Esther said.
Herbert pulled the panther figurine from his pocket. “I broke this off the gate,” he explained. “That’s when everything started erupting. And when the gate swung open. And when the monsters came out. I don’t think you really did anything. You both said we shouldn’t touch it or try to get in, but I broke this off the wall.”
He handed Esther the figurine, and a tear fell off his nose. Marian put her hand on his shoulder.
Aaron pursed his lips and sighed. “I’ve been rotten to you guys since you moved here,” he said. The siblings looked at him. “You’re good friends. I just—” He frowned and looked at the floorboards. “I don’t have many friends like you guys. I’m sorry for being so mean to you, Herbert, and for fighting with you, Marian.”
“Friends fight,” Marian smiled at him. “We forgive you.”
Starlight fluttered up to Aaron’s cheek and kissed him.
“Hey!” He said, “I don’t know about all that kinda stuff. I just needed to say sorry, too.”
“Herbert!” Esther seemed distracted from all the apologies and was far more interested in the panther figurine. “Where did you say you got this?”
“I broke it off the wall next to the gate,” he replied.
“I don’t think it’s broken, Herb,” she said. “Look at this end—Herbert, I think you found the artifact that goes to Ponce de León’s grave!”
“What?” Herbert asked.
The children peered over Esther and looked at the piece of granite. The eight-point star looked identical to the missing piece from the gravestone.
“We need to go back!” Marian hollered. “—Oh, but Esther, your leg.”
“You couldn’t stop me if you tried!” She grinned and stood to her feet.