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  • The hedgehog woke up that morning in a terrible mood. The sunbird was now two whole days late, and he missed her terribly. He didn't feel like eating his slugs, his snails, his bread or his sausages. Even the comfy clutter of his little hut brought him no comfort. Only the sunbird could bathe his whole existence in a warm, glowing light and bring back his appetite and his joy.

    “Knock, knock!” The sunbird cried outside the door to his hut. “Anyone home?”

    The hedgehog bounced out of bed and rolled right out the door. He was so overjoyed to see his friend that he gave her a hug that was a little too prickly, and she hopped back from him laughing.

    “Missed me, I see, you silly goose,” she clucked.

    “You have no idea how much,” said the hedgehog with a hint of sadness in his eyes.

    The sunbird was a very bright bird, and she didn't miss the shadow that passed over her friend's face, but she didn't call attention to it.

    Instead, she said: "Are you going to offer me a breakfast picnic, or do I have to go in there and get the slugs and bread and sausages myself?"

    And so they had the first of many feasts they would share that summer, sprawled out on the lush green grass sunning their backs. They toasted with black tea in glass mugs to the wonderful times they had shared together and the wonderful times to come. Their simple delight in each other was the envy of all the meadow. And so it continued day in day out, week in week out with toasting and picnics, with naps and games, with old memories lovingly recalled and new memories joyfully created.

    Until one day, halfway through the summer, the hedgehog woke up once again in a terrible mood. He didn't want to crawl out of his bed of twigs and leaves, and he didn’t want to stretch on the porch of his hut in the warm summer sun, for on that morning, there was no sun warming his heart.

    “What's the matter with you?” the sunbird called to him through the window, but he just turned his bristles to her and burrowed deeper into his twigs.

    “Can I at least come in?” the sunbird asked. After a moment, the hedgehog snorted his agreement.

    The sunbird perched on the floor next to his bed, and for a while they sat in sad, companionable silence. Then, the hedgehog began to speak.

    “You don't know what it's like when you're gone and you take the sun, and the blue sky, and the rainbows with you. It is so dark and cold here in the meadow without you, and no one else will talk to me. Maybe the owl will hoot outside my hut once or twice a night, but she's not really talking to me. She is wise, and she mainly talks to herself.

    When I woke up this morning thinking about what it would be like when you're gone, it spoiled all my fun. How can I laugh and toast and eat sausages knowing that one day it will all end?”

    By this point, the hedgehog had rolled himself into a tight ball so that his friend would not know that he was crying. But of course she did.

    The sunbird reflected on all of this for a moment, and then she answered: “My dearest friend, there is something about me that I have never told you, and maybe I never would have told you, but I feel that I should at this moment . . . even if it may come as a shock.

    I am not really a sunbird at all, you see. I am a simple goose that comes home every year after flying down south for the winter. I don't bring the sun. I just happen to come when it comes. And I don't take it away. It just happens to leave when I do.

    The reason why you see me the way you do is not because I have fluffy golden feathers but because you look at me with love. And that love can stay with you to warm your heart and your hut when I leave. It can brighten the long, cold winter days and it can attract new friends to keep you company in my absence. All you have to do is put down those bristles when I'm gone and be your wonderful self.”

    The hedgehog listened carefully to his friend's words, his head bent in concentration. It was hard to believe that the love in his heart could transform a simple goose into a sunbird, but the sunbird had never lied to him before, so this goose probably wasn't lying either. He crawled gingerly out of his bed of twigs and sidled up to the goose to sniff her. She still smelled like his old friend, and he felt overcome with inner peace and comfort.

    That night, the hedgehog went down into the cellar where he kept his winter provisions and brought up extra snails and slugs, extra bread and sausages, and even his very favorite special occasion treat: potato chips. And he went around the meadow inviting other creatures to share with him and the goose in their great feast. The fox came, and the squirrel came. The deer came and the woodpecker came. Even the owl popped in for a hoot.

    Emboldened by a few glass mugs of black tea with condensed milk, the hedgehog asked the owl why she never talked to him in the winter even though she obviously perched right outside his hut at night.

    “Whooo, me?” said the owl. Why I've been talking to you the whole time. “What I want to know is why you haven't answered.”

    They all had a hearty laugh over this — and so many sausages and slugs, and snails and slices of pumpernickel bread that the hedgehog had to spend a good week replenishing his winter supplies.

    The rest of the summer flew by on a breeze with parties and toasting and games that included the whole meadow. When the time came for the goose to fly down south for the winter, the hedgehog gave her a big prickle-free hug.

    You are still my sunbird, he said, and I will miss you, but until I see you next year, I know I am going to be just fine.

    THE END
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