Pearl and her little sister Primrose ran quickly through row after row of Christmas trees.
“This one?” Primrose shouted.
“Too small,” Pearl replied as she ran ahead.
“There!” Primrose pointed at a very big tree. Pearl stopped running and turned to her.
“It’s very nice, Prim, but it won’t fit through the door.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that. Do you think we’ll ever find one?”
“Of course we will and when we do you can tie the ribbon on it. You have still got it in your pocket, haven’t you?”
Primrose took off her pink mitten and pulled a long pink ribbon from her coat pocket.
“Good. Let’s keep looking.”
“It doesn’t matter, there are trees everywhere.”
They began to run again.
“Don’t go too far,” Mum shouted.
“What about this one?” asked Dad. “It’s a nice even shape and not too tall.”
Mum checked the tree that Pearl and Primrose in their excitement had ran straight past.
“I think they want to keep searching,” Mum said as she glanced to see Pearl and Primrose dodging through the trees.
“Let them carry on,” Dad said with a big smile, “I’ll tie a marker on this one and we’ll come back for it later, but let them think they found it.” Dad quickly tied a small brown ribbon at the top of the tree then followed Pearl and Primrose once again.
It was half an hour later that Primrose carefully tied her pink ribbon on the tree Dad had marked earlier before going to find the plantation owner who would cut down the tree. Finally, Dad carried the tree to the car with Mum and two tired girls following behind.
“I wish we could have brought Roxy with us,” Pearl said with more than a tinge of sadness in her voice.
“Yes, she would have had a great time running through all the trees,” added Primrose.
For the briefest moment a sad smile crossed Mum’s face.
“Roxy was very tired this morning, she needed to rest.”
“I still missed her though.”
“We all did. Maybe another day she will be better,” said Dad, but he couldn’t hide the sadness in his eyes as he looked at Pearl.
“Then we could all go for a walk together.”
“Yes, we could, Prim, that would be lovely,” Mum agreed.
“I’m going to get her a special Christmas present to make up for her missing today.”
“And me,” Primrose said, not wanting to be left out.
“That’s very nice of you both.”
“It is. I’m sure she will like that.” Dad lifted the tree onto the roof rack.
“Can we decorate the tree as soon as we get home?” Pearl asked.
“You have to have some tea first and Dad has to go on a short errand. When he’s back we’ll get the boxes of decorations and ornaments down from the loft, then we’ll start.”
“And can we have Christmas songs playing? I really like them.”
“Of course you can, Prim. I really like them as well. Now, into the car and seatbelts on.”
Back at the house Pearl and Primrose ran excitedly upstairs to the bathroom to wash their hands before tea. While Dad carried the tree into the garden, Mum went into the kitchen to check on Roxy, their fourteen-year old English Bull Terrier. She was still in her basket, fast asleep. It looked like she hadn’t moved since they went out. As Mum slowly walked towards her Roxy opened her eyes, lifted her head slightly and gave a little wag of her tail. Mum’s eyes filled with tears as she crouched to gently stroke her head.
“My beautiful Roxy.”
Roxy’s big pointy ears went back as she enjoyed the attention and her eyes looked like she was smiling.
‘Click’, the back door opened and in walked Dad. Roxy looked over and gave another little wag of her tail.
“How is she?”
“I’ll take her now before they come down. Tell the girls that Roxy wanted a walk. They don’t need to know I’m taking her to see the vet; not yet anyhow.”
“Come on, Roxy, you need to get up.”
Slowly Roxy stood, stepped out of the basket and stretched. With all the grey hairs on her face that had once been dark brindle and her slow stiff walk, Roxy now looked a very old dog. Dad fastened the lead to her collar.
“Fingers crossed it isn’t too bad,” he said as they walked out.
Once back at home, Dad fixed the tree in the ornate brass stand they used every year, carried it into the living room and placed it in the centre of the bay window. The two large boxes of decorations were already open and with Christmas music playing in the background, Pearl and Primrose just couldn’t wait to get started. Helped by Mum and Dad they carefully decorated the tree whilst being watched by Roxy who lay comfortably on her large beanbag by the open fire. This year there was a second hand-made decoration to go alongside the one made by Pearl. Just like her sister before her, Primrose had made her own decoration in her first year at school.
“Okay, Primrose, time to put your decoration on the tree,” Mum said.
Carefully Primrose hung the pinecone covered in gold and silver glitter on a low branch at the front of the tree; it was almost identical to the one made by Pearl.
“They look lovely together,” Dad said.
Pearl grinned at her little sister and gave her a big hug.
“And now it’s time for the fairy,” said Mum as she took it from the box.
Both girls watched, eyes wide, as the fairy in the beautiful white dress made her Christmas appearance once again.
“We definitely need Dad’s help for this, don’t we? Are you ready Pearl?”
“Mum, I’ve put the fairy on the top of the tree every year, I think Prim should do it this year.”
Primrose’s mouth dropped open with surprise, then changed to a big beaming smile.
“Pearl, how lovely of you to say that.”
“Do you want to, Prim?” Pearl asked. Primrose nodded her head quickly, and in that instant, unseen by anyone, the fairy smiled at Pearl for her kindness.
Mum passed the fairy to Primrose and Dad lifted her up high. Carefully she placed the fairy on the top of the tree.
“Hooray! Prim did it,” said Pearl, clapping her hands.
“Yes, she did. She’s a big girl now,” agreed Mum.
All the while Roxy watched with smiling eyes, thinking how wonderful it was to be with this family and that perhaps the vet was wrong. Pearl saw Roxy watching and went over to give her a hug.
“Dad, Roxy looks all right now, can we take her for a walk?”
“I already took her a for a little walk when you were having tea. We should let her rest.”
“But she looks okay and I want to.”
“Me, too,” said Primrose.
Mum looked at Dad and sighed.
“I’m sorry but Roxy can’t go for a walk tonight because she isn’t too well.”
Pearl and Primrose both frowned. Pearl held Roxy tight.
“No, she’s not ill. Look.” Roxy wagged her tail a little. “See, she wants a walk.” Pearl buried her head into Roxy’s neck and hugged her tight.
Primrose was unsure what was happening. She looked at Mum.
“I took Roxy to the vet’s earlier and he has given her some medicine. She has to rest,” Dad said.
Primrose ran to Mum to be picked up.
“Don’t worry, she just has to take her medicine.”
“Will it make her better?” asked Primrose.
“Yes,” Mum said, but there was sadness in her voice.
Pearl did not look up she just held Roxy in her arms and stared at the fire.
Later that night when Mum and Dad were reading Primrose her bedtime story, Pearl sat with Roxy again and gently stroked her.
“I think you look sad, Roxy, and I don’t want you to be sad, especially at Christmas. I know you’re not very well, but we all get poorly sometimes, just don’t be sad because it makes me sad as well.”
Roxy looked into Pearl’s eyes and lifted her paw to rest it on Pearl’s arm.
“I love you too, Roxy.” Pearl thought quietly for a moment before speaking again. “I wish there was a present I could get for you, something so very special that it would make you happy. That would be good, wouldn’t it? I’d give up all my Christmas presents in exchange for a present like that.”
Pearl’s eyes filled with tears and she hugged Roxy again. What Pearl didn’t know was that the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree was watching and even the fairy had tears in her eyes after hearing what Pearl had offered. It was such a kind wish that it must be rewarded. The fairy decided there was only one thing to do: she waved her wand to make a cloud of tiny silver stars and directed them to fall on Roxy’s head.
Roxy saw the stars falling towards her but they disappeared as soon as they touched her. Her ears stood up straight causing Pearl to pull back in surprise.
“What is it, Roxy?”
For the first time in her life Roxy spoke.
“I want to see Bella.”
Pearl stared in amazement, unable to move. Then at the top of her voice she shouted.
Footsteps sounded upstairs.
“Pearl! What?” Mum called back with panic in her voice. “Are you all right?”
Pearl could hear the footsteps hurrying down the stairs as she continued to stare at Roxy. The door burst open.
“Pearl, what is it?” Mum looked around the room. Nothing had moved, there was nothing broken, everything seemed the same, except for Pearl who just stared at Roxy.
“Roxy just spoke to me,” Pearl said as though she didn’t quite believe it herself.
“What? Don’t be silly, dogs can’t talk.”
“She did, Mum, she did. Say it again, Roxy.” But Roxy said nothing as she stared at Pearl. “She did speak, honest she did.”
Mum walked to Pearl and put her arm around her.
“Maybe you drifted off to sleep while you sat with her. It was probably a dream.”
“No, Mum, I wasn’t asleep, I was talking to her. I asked her what she would want if she could have an extra special present for Christmas.”
“And she told you, did she?” Mum smiled at the thought and glanced at the door as Dad walked in carrying Primrose.
“Yes, she said she wanted to see Bella. Who is Bella?”
“Mum, I asked who is Bella?”
Mum, shocked by the question, turned to Dad.
“Have you mentioned her?”
“No, never, we agreed not to.”
“And I certainly haven’t.” Mum knelt to look directly at Pearl. “How can you possibly know about Bella? Have you found some old photographs?” Mum quickly turned to Dad. “You haven’t moved them, have you, or looked at them and forgotten to put them away?”
Dad shook his head.
“Who is she, Mum? Why is it a secret?” Pearl asked softly.
“It isn’t a secret, there was simply no point in you knowing about her.”
“Then tell me.”
Mum looked at Dad and he nodded his head.
“Let’s all sit down. Primrose, do you want to hear as well?”
“Yes, Mum,” she said quietly.
Dad sat on the settee still holding Primrose in his arms while Mum sat in the large armchair.
“Come and sit with me, Pearl.” Pearl cuddled next to Mum but her eyes never left Roxy.
“A long time ago, before you were born, Roxy had two puppies.”
“Roxy had puppies?”
“Yes, sadly Ruby was very small and weak; she died before she was a week old.”
“Aw, poor Ruby, and how sad for Roxy.”
“But the other puppy, Bella, was very healthy and strong. She was a lively little thing.”
By the fireside, Roxy lifted her head.
“Look,” said Primrose, “Roxy knows her name.”
“Yes, she does, doesn’t she?” Dad agreed, smiling first at Primrose and then at Pearl.
“So what happened to Bella? Why can’t Roxy see her? I don’t understand.” Pearl looked deep into Mum’s eyes.
“Bella was stolen.”
Pearl’s mouth dropped open. She gasped and looked at Roxy.
“How? How could that have happened?”
“I don’t like this,” said Primrose. She buried her face against Dad’s neck.
“Once Bella had all her injections she could go out for walks and each day I used to take Roxy and Bella along the path by the river, then call at the shops on the way back home. I would tie them up outside while I went into the shop. I did it lots of times, but one day I heard Roxy barking really loud. I ran outside straight away but Bella had gone. Someone had stolen her.”
Mum began to cry. Pearl gently wiped the tears from Mum’s cheeks.
“Poor Roxy.” Pearl glanced over to the hearth where Roxy lay with her head in her paws and her eyes half shut. She looked very sad. Pearl moved from the chair to lie next to Roxy. She stroked her head.
“I love you, Roxy.” Roxy lifted her paw and touched Pearl’s hand. “Did you look for Bella?”
“We did and we also told the police,” said Mum.
“How long did you look? You didn’t give up, did you?”
Mum looked across to Dad.
“We had to,” he said.
“What? Why? Bella was Roxy’s puppy.”
“Pearl, we didn’t want to give up, we had to.”
“Why? What could have been more important?” Pearl stared at Dad then at Mum unable to believe they had given up.
“You were,” said Mum.
“Me?” Pearl said with surprise.
“Mum was pregnant with you. The shock of Bella being stolen caused Mum to go into labour early. You were lucky to survive. I had to look after you and Mum,” explained Dad.
“So it was my fault.”
“No! You must never say that,” Mum responded quickly. “Someone stole Bella. It was their fault.”
“Bella would have been eight years old, just like me.”
“Yes, she would,” Mum smiled.
“That is a long time not to see your little girl,” Pearl said to Roxy.
Later, when Pearl was lying in bed, Mum quietly walked into her room and gave her the few photographs that they had of Bella.
“Sleep tight.” Mum kissed her on the forehead and walked out.
Pearl sat up, and in the soft light of her bedside table lamp looked at the photographs. There were only three of them, two of Roxy and Bella together, and one of Bella sitting alone. She was beautiful. Her big brown ears were still bent over and her paws looked far too big for her little body.
Pearl could feel the tears filling her eyes as she stared at Bella. Her mind was made up. She got out of bed, quietly crept down the stairs and went into the kitchen where Roxy lay in her basket. Roxy looked up curiously. Pearl lovingly stroked her head and told her:
“I’m going to find Bella.”
Breakfast on Sunday mornings was always nice and slow with everyone sitting at the table. No school to go to meant no rushing around and plenty of time to eat and talk, plus Dad was always there because he didn’t have to go to work either. However, this particular morning Pearl was unusually quiet. Mum put it down to the events of last night and finally decided to bring up the subject.
“You know, Pearl, you can tell me the truth about the photographs. Me and Dad know you must have found them in the bottom of the wardrobe.”
“But I didn’t,” Pearl said in surprise, “I’d never seen them before last night.”
Primrose, equally surprised, stared at Mum.
“Come on, Pearl,” said Dad, “you know you should always tell us the truth.”
“But I am telling the truth.”
“No, there is no other way you could have known about Bella.”
“If I had only seen the photographs, how would I have known her name? Roxy told me. She did, she did!” Pearl began to cry.
“I believe you, Pearl,” said Primrose.
“Stop this, now!” Dad said sternly. “Dogs can’t speak. I am not hearing this again.” He stood up and walked out of the kitchen.
“Pearl, look at me,” Mum held her hand, “you must tell the truth, always.” Pearl stared at her breakfast.
“I am telling the truth and I’ve made a promise to Roxy.”
Mum frowned. “Tell me what you’ve promised.”
“I’m going to find Bella and I want you to help me.”
“This has to stop!” The anger was clear in Mum’s voice. Primrose didn’t like it and turned away. “Bella was stolen eight years ago and right now you are not in your Dad’s good books, or mine for that matter. Drop it.”
Mum pushed her chair back and followed Dad out of the kitchen. Pearl turned to Primrose who was sitting with her head down.