The Happiest Place on Earth

by Rebecca Kelly

"Okay. I'm going to do it. I'm really going to go do it."

"Great!" Ariana paused, then held her hand out in an appropriately supportive "thumbs-up" sign.

Beth smiled, then looked again at the line leading up to the costumed woman. "She really is my favourite. I love that movie and I love the Fairy Godmother."

Ariana nodded; none of this was anything that had not been said before.

Turning back to her friend, her eyes wide, Beth added, "Okay, here I go."


After taking two steps in the direction of the line, Beth turned back. "Oh, I'm going to look so silly, aren't I? I mean, I'm a grown woman and I don't even have a child with me as an excuse! She's going to think I'm insane!"

Ariana took a quick look at the line. "I think that woman is alone. She doesn't have any children with her." There were three children behind the woman Ariana was pointing to, actually, but they were older and looked as if they might have been there on their own. She didn't explain it, however, because Beth wasn't quite finished talking herself out of, and then back into, her plan.

"Well, maybe, but maybe she works here and she's just waiting to talk to her friend or something. Or, or she might be researching an article or..." Beth stopped, shook her head, and smiled tentatively. "I'm being really silly, aren't I?"

Without answering in words, Ariana gave a quiet smile that said "Not silly, but you should relax."

Beth laughed. "Yep. Okay. I'm really going to go do it now."


This time, Beth didn't let herself pause. She grinned, clutched her camera, and got in the line.

Ariana breathed a deep sigh of relief and sat down on a bench to wait for her friend. It wasn’t that Beth’s constant indecision bothered her – it was usually pretty funny, in fact, and she knew Beth found it funny as well. But it could be exhausting.

She looked around the amusement park that Beth had brought her to, and smiled. This wasn’t what she thought of when she heard the word “park”. Far from a woodsy, preserved oasis of nature, the surrounding area was filled with man-made attractions. Even the items that looked like wood were, more often than not, crafted out of a cleverly-designed metal or plastic. Despite the removal of nature, however, the park still had a beauty of its own; the people who had designed clearly cared very much about aesthetics, and the décor was bright and exciting, attractive in its own right. The castle in the middle of the park was breath-taking.

Plus, the whole park was just so happy that Ariana couldn’t dislike it. And even more, behind all the smartly-designed and carefully created visuals, there were ways that the light caught in windows and sparkled, or lengthened shadows of buildings to draw them out in ways that could only be described as magical.

Although the park was wonderful, Ariana was not sure she should be here. She’d heard horror stories from coworkers, when she’d mentioned what Beth had planned for her birthday; it seemed everyone had a story to tell about shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, pushy families, groups who thought that participation rules only applied to other people. She hadn’t realized, when Beth had presented the idea, that this “park” would be so huge or so popular. Ariana did not enjoy crowds, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Beth was so clearly excited to take her there, she wouldn’t have set foot here. She had tried to remain confident that Beth’s excitement meant that it would be okay, but deep down, she’d been dreading this trip all week long.

So far, however, it was going much more smoothly than she’d feared. She was beginning to think that they would enjoy themselves after all. They hadn’t been there long, but it was late morning and still an obviously quiet day in the park. There were no huge crowds in sight so far, even though the weather was gorgeous today. Apparently they’d been lucky and picked just the right day. They’d walked around, taking in a few of the sights (and the smells from some of the shops), Beth had taken some photos, and they’d just been on their way to ride the carousel when Beth had spotted the lady dressed up as some sort of fairy. She’d turned positively giddy at the sight of her, and after a lot of back and forth, had finally made up her mind to meet her.

Ariana turned back to watch the line for the Fairy Godmother's autograph, and found that Beth was the next person. She saw Beth look at her and catch her eye, so she smiled and waved.


Beth waved back at her friend, then clutched her address book. She felt like a fool, almost proudly so. She couldn't pretend she wasn't regretting her decision, but the idea that she'd look even more foolish by slipping out of the line now kept her from trying to disappear.

The family that was in front of her finished up, and the Fairy Godmother waved her wand as they left, and blew each child a little kiss. Beth's heart melted all over again, and when the Godmother beckoned her to come up, she broke into a silly grin.

"Um, hi!" she said, still holding her address book to her chest.

The Fairy Godmother beamed back at her and said enthusiastically, "Hello, my dear! I'm so glad you came to see me today!"

All the fear disappeared, and Beth felt herself breathe comfortably again. "Me, too!" she said. "I, um, I loved your movie!"

"Oh, well, thank you, dear." The older woman gestured at the address book, and the camera. "Did you want me to write a little something for you?"

"Oh! Yes! I would love that!" Feeling like a little child, Beth handed her address book over and turned to a blank page. "Here, just... um, my name is Beth, and - c-can I take your picture too?"

"Naturally," said the Fairy Godmother kindly. She took the book, and pen, and began to write.

Beth just barely had the Godmother in the camera frame when a strident voice rang out behind her. "Oh, for GOODness SAKE, Mother, who is that?"

Uncertain if the words were directed at her, Beth tried to be subtle in looking around. She didn't see much over her left shoulder, but when she peeked over to her right she saw the edge of an ornate dress in a rather gaudy colour. Another dress joined the first, and both stepped forward into her line of vision. The women whom the dresses adorned looked Beth up and down, critically.

"How did YOU get in here? I thought this castle had some royal standards!" The woman speaking was not the one who had spoken before, but the tone was exactly the same. The two women were wearing far too much makeup and their hair was done up in ludicrous adornments. Beth recognized them as the Ugly Stepsisters, and her heart sank; these had never been two of her favourite characters, and she wasn't exactly adept at playing along. Maybe they would leave her alone if she was unfailingly polite?

The other stepsister was looking at her, and now she gestured at her clothes. "I see there's no dress code here."

Beth blushed and tried to play along. "Um, well, I.. I guess I d-didn't get the invititation with the details on what dress to wear," she said, and tried to laugh.

The Stepsisters were delighted with this. "I can't believe YOU got an invitation at ALL!" one said, and they both squealed in laughter.

"Girls," said a deep, refined voice behind Beth. The squeals stopped, but a muffled giggling continued. The Stepmother appeared; she gave Beth a once-over that was just as critical as the one from her daughters, and without any words made it clear she too found the subject lacking. In spite of this, she said evenly, "We must be understanding of others; after all, not everyone is so fortunate in their upbringing, means, and taste." Another look at Beth sent the "taste" comment home.

Beth blushed again, and looked helplessly over at Ariana. Ariana gave her a questioning look, but Beth realized she didn't want to draw her friend into this kind of situation; it could ruin her birthday. Instead she just shrugged and tried to look like she thought it was funny.

"Just ignore them, dear," the Fairy Godmother said quietly, touching Beth's sleeve. She smiled sweetly. "After all, true beauty is inside, and it's rewarded in the end."

"Uh-huh," said Beth weakly. She raised the camera again, with the intention of taking her photo and making a hasty retreat. Instead, one of the Stepsisters gasped.

"OOOOH! She has a CAMERA!" she exclaimed. The Stepsisters pushed their way over and struck ridiculously animated poses. "Well? SHOOT us!"

Beth blinked and wished she could.


Back at her bench, Ariana watched Beth and tried to figure out if it was going okay, or not. Beth didn't look happy, but she kept smiling oddly anyway. Meanwhile, the two strange-looking women in big dresses were posing and primping, and the forboding woman was telling Beth something that was making her friend look at her clothing almost unhappily.

She wondered if there was a way she could go rescue her, something she could do or say that would neatly remove Beth from the situation... unless, of course, this was part of the experience and Beth was enjoying it? She wasn't sure, but she had a feeling that wasn't the case. But she had no idea what she could do to help.

"Oh dear me! You're late, young lady!" said an odd voice behind Ariana.

She spun about to face a man in an orange coat and a very large hat. "I - I am?" How could he know where she was supposed to be? Had Beth arranged something? But surely she would have told her if that had been the case.

The man giggled. His voice was strange and cartoonish. "Oh, yes indeed! In fact, according to your watch-" He stopped and produced a large pocketwatch - "You're exactly two days behind schedule!"

"Oh!" Ariana recognized belatedly that this man was a performer at the park, just like the people Beth was speaking to, but her tongue didn't catch up to her mind. "But, but that's not my watch!"

"It's NOT?" The man blinked at the watch, continuing to grin oddly, and popped it open. Springs shot out dramatically. "Well, it's in horrible disrepair in any case! I'll HAVE to take a closer look."

"No, please - you really don't need to!"

"Oh dear! My watch! I'm late!" A white Rabbit went dashing by, and Ariana realized horribly that there was a very good chance this was his watch. She hoped fervently that he was a performer here, too; the idea that she could be pushed into theft and property damage seemed very unlikely, but quite a lot of unlikely things had happened to her in the course of her short life. Before she could say anything, he was gone.

"Well, at the very least," said the strange little man, tossing the watch over his shoulder and taking her by the hands, "you simply MUST join me in a cup of tea!"

"Oh no no, I can't!" Ariana looked at Beth, who was surrounded by the women in big dresses. They looked like they were telling her at length what was wrong with her outfit. She looked back desperately at the man. "M-my friend is over there and she's waiting..."

"Come along, my dear! We'll celebrate your unbirthday!"

"But it's NOT my unbirthday!" Ariana shouted in exasperation, and regretted it instantly. What was an unbirthday? If it wasn't her unbirthday, wasn't saying so the same as telling everyone that it was her birthday? In such a public place, that was exactly what she did NOT want.

However, the odd little man took a step back and gave a little frown. "Oh, dear. Not your unbirthday? Dear me, how strange. Hm. Well, there's nothing I can do to help the likes of you!" he exclaimed, and shook her hand so enthusiastically that she felt herself bouncing. Then he gave her a little nod and sauntered off.

Ariana had just enough time to sink back onto her bench, trying to catch her breath and compose herself, before Beth appeared at her side. She looked shaken, and she took a careful seat on the bench, too.

Neither spoke for a second. Then Beth asked, "Who were you talking to?"

"I don't know," Ariana answered. "He just sort of... appeared, and told me I was late and that I had to go to a party."

"Gosh. I'm sorry," Beth said sincerely.

"Don't worry. Did you like meeting the fairy?"

Beth cleared her throat awkwardly. "Well, um, yes. Until the Wicked Stepmother and the Ugly Stepsisters showed up and started critiquing my fashion sense."

Ariana looked in their direction; they were now harassing a family of four, who were all laughing. "Their fashion sense is very... different from yours." It reminded her of the ensemble she'd worn to her school formal, although she thought the materials of their dresses were probably a good deal cheaper. Regardless, she didn't think Beth would like wearing a dress like that.

"I could take everything except the comments about the hair," Beth said. "I spent a good five minutes on my hair every morning."

She said it with such a straight face that Ariana had to look at her for a moment to be sure she was kidding. Beth cracked a smile after a moment, then started laughing helplessly. Ariana joined her, and felt the anxiety of the previous moments leaving her quickly.

"Oh boy... Maybe we came to the wrong place, huh?" said Beth when she could speak again.

"I don't know," Ariana answered, catching her breath, "it's all kind of too silly, if you think about it!"

This sent them off into fresh giggles. Eventually, both friends calmed down and breathed normally again. "Okay. If this is the worst thing that happens today, I think we're going to do okay. Maybe we can just stay under the radar for the rest of the day, and enjoy ourselves quietly. What do you say?" Beth asked.

Ariana smiled and nodded. "I think you're right."

"So we stay?" When Ariana nodded, Beth nodded too. "Great! Okay, well, the parade isn't until three so if we go THAT way, we'll get to all the fairy tale rides and if we go THAT way, we'll get to the adventure rides and I think I'm more of a fairy tale person than an adventure person. Although this is YOUR birthday, so I totally defer to you, and if you need more information there are little descriptions in the map right here!" She unfolded the little brochure they'd picked up at the entrance and offered it to Ariana, who took it, smiled, and said nothing. They walked towards the fairy tale section of the park, with Beth narrating and Ariana listening, and the day stretched on ahead of them.