Sarah was awakened early Sunday morning by the sensation of someone jumping on her bed.
“Easter!” Toby was shouting, far too loudly for this pre-coffee hour. “Easter-Easter-Easter, wake up!”
Sarah’s groan was only half-annoyed as she flipped over on her stomach and pulled a pillow over her head. “Tobes, it’s not even daylight yet.”
“Is too! Look!”
Reluctantly, Sarah peaked from beneath her pillow to see a very faint hint of dawn sunlight creeping under her bedroom-turned-guestroom window curtains. Her brother grinned, his blond hair matted against his face. He was wearing bright blue pajamas that covered his feet and seemed to be on the verge of jumping out of his own skin with excitement.
“Toby, why don’t you read one of your books for just another hour?”
“Another hour?!!” Toby looked horrified. “But then the Easter bunny might take the eggs back!”
Sarah propped herself up on one arm, intrigued in spite of herself. “Why would he take the eggs back?”
Toby’s expression was deadly serious. “Because other kids wanted them more.”
Sarah laughed. “Right. Silly me. Okay, let’s at least get you dressed, I don’t want you getting your pajamas all wet.”
The sun was brighter by the time they ventured out into the yard, though the chill in the air made Sarah glad she’d dressed Toby in trousers and a bright red fleece. He carried a brown wicker Easter basket (having soundly rejected Sarah’s old Easter basket as “too girly”) and was scanning the yard with a seriousness that belied his young age.
They’d painted the eggs together the day before and Sarah had hidden them in the yard after Toby had gone to bed, which of course raised all sorts of questions about this version of the Easter bunny that she’d created—was she supposed to have given the eggs to the bunny? If so, why did he hide them? It didn’t make much sense, but egg-decorating was the thing that Toby seemed to enjoy most, and thankfully he didn’t ask too many questions about Easter bunny logic.
She’d been careful not to hide the eggs too well but also not to put them in plain sight—Toby was seven now and resented any hint that he was being coddled or treated like a baby. She knew he’d have a fit if she tried to help him find the eggs, so she just walked patiently nearby as he stalked through the yard.
Finally he caught a glimpse of green plastic grass near the tool shed and pointed wildly. “I see one! I see one!” He darted toward it and Sarah ran after him, trying to remember which particular combination of egg and chocolate candy she’d left in this spot…
…and then she froze when she saw what was in the plastic grass nest.
The individually wrapped chocolate eggs were as she’d left them, along with a bunny-shaped candy. But there was no painted egg in the nest.
There was a small crystal ball.
“Wow!” Toby leaned down and picked up the crystal before she could stop him, and she gasped as it shimmered slightly in his hand, turned into a bubble, and floated away. Toby watched it go, pure delight on his face. “I didn’t know the Easter bunny could do magic!”
Sarah only half-heard Toby’s words as he inelegantly scooped the rest of the plastic nest’s contents into his Easter basket and immediately went in search of the next batch of treasure. By the time it dawned on her that she should probably be grabbing him and locking him in his bedroom, tantrums about Easter candy deprivation be damned, he’d already found the next green grass nest, which, not surprisingly, contained yet another egg-turned-crystal.
Sarah tried to keep her voice calm. “Toby, I think you should give that one to me.”
Her brother frowned and held the crystal close to his chest. “No way! The Easter bunny left these for me.”
The Easter bunny is going to be boiled up for supper when I find him. “Actually, I think there was a mistake, you were supposed to get—“
Her explanation was interrupted by a loud popping sound. The crystal had exploded in a shower of glitter that now coated Toby’s fleece, Sarah’s jeans, and a good portion of the ground.
Toby grinned, glitter falling off his eyelashes. “This is the best Easter ever!”
Sarah watched helplessly as Toby collected the rest of his “eggs,” expecting at any moment that one of them might poof itself into a fire-breathing dragon or an oubliette-style cage. Thankfully, nothing particularly menacing transpired, though she had a feeling Toby’s new puzzle box—with interlocking pieces made of a strange, metallic substance that she was fairly sure didn’t exist in the mortal realm—would require a lot of explanation.
She was just allowing herself to feel a rush of relief as the last crystal morphed harmlessly into a colorful rubber ball when she heard a rustling in the bushes. Toby’s mouth fell open.
“Easter bunny?” he whispered. “Is that you?”
Sarah gripped Toby’s shoulder and pushed him slightly behind her as she backed him away from the bushes, ready to fight whatever monster might emerge…
…as a white rabbit hopped onto the grass.
Toby gasped and ran toward the rabbit, which, suspiciously, did not run away. Didn’t even flinch when Toby reached down to give it a hug.
“Thank you so much for my Easter presents!” he said.
Sarah glared at the rabbit, which she could swear was smirking at her. She glanced toward the kitchen windows and saw that Karen was making breakfast.
“Toby, why don’t you go inside and have breakfast? Me and the Easter bunny need to have a little chat.”
Toby’s expression was pitiful. “Can I take him with me?”
Sarah smiled. “No, Easter bunnies can’t go in the house. And if you spend too much time with him he might not bring you toys next year.”
Toby looked horrified. “Why?”
Sarah didn’t miss a beat. “Because when Easter bunnies spend too much time around humans they start to lose their magic.”
Toby nodded and let go of the rabbit as if this were the most logical explanation in the world. “Thanks, Easter bunny,” he said reverently, lugging his (rather heavy-looking) basket toward the house.
Sarah put her hands on her hips. “Cute owl thing not working out for you anymore?”
The rabbit cocked its head at her and brushed one paw over its ear in a not-quite-accurate imitation of bunny-ness.
“Oh, enough. You’re not getting any coos and snuggles from me in that form, show yourself already.”
The bunny sighed—actually sighed—and then there was a small flash of light and another shower of glitter (I will be cleaning this stuff out of my clothes for MONTHS), and the Goblin King stood before her.
“Happy Easter, Sarah,” he said, giving a small bow.
Sarah folded her arms, aware that she should probably be a bit more weirded out by the fact that she was chatting with the Goblin King in her parents’ back yard, but after watching multiple eggs-turned-crystals morph into toys and glitter, not much was fazing her at the moment.
“Let me guess—you got tired of waiting for me to wish Toby away again, so you thought you’d lure him into the Underground with…Easter presents?”
The Goblin King shook his head. “I did not come here for Toby.”
“Really? You went to the trouble of transforming a bunch of Easter eggs—which took a hell of a long time to paint, by the way—turning yourself into a rabbit, and magicking yourself here to, what, selflessly help a mortal boy experience the joys of Ea—“
“I missed you.”
Sarah’s mouth fell open, the rest of her words forgotten. “You…what?”
He shrugged, trying very unsuccessfully to look casual. “I wished to be near you again, and…Easter is connected to rituals that favor my kind, meaning our worlds drift somewhat closer…and I thought entertaining your brother might be a way to get myself into your good graces…”
“Yeah, giving him presents doesn’t exactly make up for holding him prisoner in your castle—“
“As I have assured you, he was never in any danger and enjoyed himself quite a bit—“
“Plus now he’s going to expect magic crystals every year, thanks for stealing my thunder—“
“I can always produce more gifts for him—“
“—and anyway, don’t I get a present?”
The shock on his face mirrored her own as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Then he smiled, and she felt herself blushing as his hand reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
From the kitchen window, Toby looked up from his plate of pancakes and collection of strange new Easter toys to see Sarah talking to the Easter bunny…who then transformed into a strangely familiar-looking man. Behind him, his mother chopped fruit and poured more pancake batter into a skillet.
“What’re you looking at, Toby?” she asked.
Toby chewed his pancakes and continued to gaze out the window. “Sarah was talking to the Easter bunny and now he’s a person,” he said absently.
He heard a faint sound from the stove that indicated his mother was only half-listening.
“Ew, now she’s kissing him,” Toby groaned.
“That’s nice, hon,” his mother replied. “Eat your pancakes.”