On Becoming a Woman
All boys grow up …
Wendy Moira Angela Darling, it is highly recognized, personifies the image of a lady. She is daughter to the Mr. George Darling, manager of the Bank of London, sister to the John Darling, who'd written the best-selling novel of the passed century, and close companion to the Lost Boys, the most popular singing troupe throughout all Europe and North America. Wendy sits contentedly at the top of her class, displays advanced skills in sewing, dance, and above all oratory, and of course, most importantly, Wendy Darling is the proud owner of a woman's chin (topped nicely with a kiss, just in the corner of her mouth).
And to top it all off, Wendy possesses a powerfully maternal quality. Wendy Moira Angela Darling, it is hardly recognized, will make a wonderful wife and mother.
Parents everywhere hope that, someday, their budding young gentlemen might find favor in Wendy's eyes. Until now, that hope has been merely a dream, for until now Wendy Darling remained protected by childhood.
But no longer: for tonight, on Saturday the first of April, Mr. and Mrs. George Darling are proud to host the coming-out party for their sixteen year old daughter, Wendy Moira Angela Darling. It is to be a grand affair, and anyone who is anyone has received an invitation. Not only will the Lost Boys sing all of their hits—as well as three so-far unheard songs from the new album—but her brother John Darling promises to sign the books of the first sixteen arrivals (in celebration of Wendy's sixteen years of exemplary existence).
Not to mention, of course, that this is the night when mothers may showcase their sons in hopes that any one of the Darlings might take notice.
Naturally, practically all of London is in a hubbub. Wendy herself feels rather blasé about the whole affair; Mrs. Darling organized the event and Mr. Darling took care of all the expenses. Wendy's only responsibility is to show up, look beautiful, and dance with all the boys.
She stands nervously at the top of the staircase; Mr. and Mrs. Darling rented an entire dance hall for the occasion. A ruby carpet descends before her before widening into a large dance floor. Round tables for dinner and conversation line the walls, each with a name tag and specific group of individuals. (Everyone knows that where you sit is almost as important as how soon your invitation arrives.)
"…And now," her father raises an arm, concluding his speech, "My wife Mary and I are thrilled to present to society our daughter, Wendy Moira Angela Darling."
She takes the cue, pushing aside the large curtain and curtseying lightly for the crowd. Oohs and Ahhs welcome her; she grips the railing and steps carefully downward, where she is immediately engulfed by her friends. "Oh, everyone looks so beautiful!" She gasps, complimenting even the chubbiest of girls.
According to the general consensus, Wendy Moira Angela Darling is the kindest of all the young ladies in London.
Her father receives the honor of the first dance. "I am very proud of you, Wendy," he tells her fondly, lightly kissing her cheek. "This is your special night, darling, I hope you enjoy it…and take advantage of the young gentlemen you might meet. You are a woman now, Wendy, and the time for childhood is over. It's time you started thinking about marriage."
She smiles, a light pink tinting her cheeks. "I shall, Father," she agrees mildly. "Thank-you for the dance."
She spends the next twenty minutes on the dance floor, passed from suitor to suitor until her head is spinning along with the rest of her body. "Excuse me," she says as the echoes of the waltz fade and the first notes of 'Never Never Land' (by the Lost Boys and currently topping the charts) trail from the piano. "I really must rest."
The boy looks disappointed. "Let me fetch you something to drink," he offers eagerly. "Stay here."
But Wendy Moira Angela Darling knows that it's embarrassing to stand by oneself in the middle of the dance floor; so instead she excuses herself to the balcony and takes a seat, breathing in the warm April air.
Her feet are terribly tired. Glancing around to be sure she is alone, Wendy kicks off her shoe and gently massages her toes. "Oh," she murmurs quietly to herself, "Only a half-hour into the party and already I want to go home."
She glances at the sky—her eyes find her lucky star (the second to the right) and she searches her mind for a wish. "Give me strength to make it through the night!" She begs. "If I hear one more 'you look magical, Miss Wendy', I might be sick!"
"You look magical, Miss Wendy…" She turns, the voice startling her. She pauses for a moment, unsure if the newcomer has heard her outburst before realizing with a small sense of disappointment that he hasn't. "I brought you your drink."
She smiles dispassionately. "Oh, thank you. I feel much better now. We should return to the party."
It isn't proper, after all, that a young lady and a young gentleman be alone, un-chaperoned.
Wendy allows the gentlemen (what was his name?) to lead her back to the dance floor. There she spins and twirls and sways for another fifteen minutes until at last the Lost Boys begin a slow, sad tune and she settles herself in the arms of her youngest brother Michael. "Are you having fun tonight, Wendy?"
She smiles fondly at him. Wendy has always felt a particularly maternal feeling towards the baby of the family. "Yes, darling," she lies cheerfully, "It's been wonderful. I've danced with so many boys that I can't recall them all!"
Michael laughs. "I don't seem to have the same problem," he says happily. "I've found the girl of my dreams, Wendy, and we've been dancing all night!" He leans in. "You know, she's terribly familiar. I think perhaps my soul knows her."
Wendy raises an eyebrow. "Don't be silly, Michael. Don't you know her from school?"
He shakes his head. "No…I thought that at first, but it can't be. None of the girls my age were invited to your coming-out party."
His sister leans in confidentially. "All right, well, spin me so that I can get a good look at her. Perhaps I'll know."
Michael turns her slowly in time to the music and then whispers, "There—in the green dress. Blonde hair. She's quite pretty."
Wendy peers closer at the girl in question. Michael's right—she is quite lovely, with a dainty figure and gold hair. "What a gorgeous dress," Wendy gushes, "It reminds me of…a forest, or…a glade."
Michael nods. "Don't you recognize her?"
"You know," Wendy says curiously, "I think I do, but I can't for the life of me figure out why."
Sometimes, scholars around the world agree, if the moment is right and the correct people are where they ought to be, a moment can occur that many have termed 'a coincidence'. Others, the more romantic, use the name 'fate'.
One such instance happens now, for just as Wendy turns her head to speak to Michael, her ear catches the faintest words on an unknown speaker's lips: "Oh," the gentleman says, "the cleverness of me."
For reasons that Wendy can't recall, those words send a shock all the way through her body, and she stumbles a step. Michael gathers his sister in his arms, recovering the rhythm, but her mind cannot recall the movements. "I think I'll have a sit-down," she says breathlessly. "Perhaps you should finish the dance with—oh, what was her name?"
Michael, always a kind boy, guides his sister to the refreshment table. "Bella Tinker," he tells her gently, and hands her a glass of water. "Although she says that most people call her Tink."
Wendy nods faintly. "I'm fine, Michael, really, I just need to rest," she tells him, warding off any brotherly concern. She thinks that sometimes she is treated too delicately; she imagines she could do all sorts of things that boys do (although of course it would be improper to voice this idea).
She gathers her thoughts; really, she oughtn't to have danced for so long. Especially in these shoes. They are made for grown-ups, not girls like Wendy, who could fight pirates and collect booty and—
She shakes her head, startled at her own feelings. These are dreams she's long since put away. Whatever has made her think of them now?
Shaken, Wendy hands her drink to a nearby hand and hurries back towards the balcony—she likes the fresh air, to clear her thoughts. She can still see the dance floor; Michael, she notes, is dancing happily with his mystery woman.
"Your brother seems to have found a steady companion." Wendy glances up. A gentleman whose name she couldn't recall stands beside her. His voice is laced with humor and his eyes twinkle cheerfully; Wendy finds herself drawn into them, and there's such familiarity that she peers closer…
"Oh…yes," she gasps then, realizing suddenly that she's stared at him for several seconds. He's been quite polite, simply smiling and returning her gaze. "Do you know where she comes from? I can't remember."
A mysterious smile crops up around his mouth. "She's actually with me," he explains. "Tink's an…old friend of mine."
Wendy nods, and then suddenly starts. "How did you get there?" She asks, her voice marveling. "I've been looking through the door this whole time."
"Why, I flew," he jokes, and in spite of herself Wendy laughs.
"Might you teach me how?" She asks, her tone more flirtatious than she'd meant.
The gentleman winks. "I think you'll find you already know how," he suggests. "All you need is…faith, trust, and…"
The words spill out of her mouth before she could think about them, and Wendy stands shocked at their coming. She laughs. "I don't know where that came from."
He smiles ambiguously. "Perhaps a memory," he offer.
She thinks of her old nursery, the clouds painted on the ceiling, and can almost feel the wind in her face as she soars out of the window. But that was a dream, she recalls. "Perhaps," she agrees distantly.
Nibs Darling—the lead singer of the Lost Boys—wails his last note, and there's a moment for applause before the next song begins. Another gentle one, but perhaps a little sadder. It has always been Wendy's favorite, for she loves the lyrics.
"This belongs to you," Slightly Darling (who usually plays the piano) sings sweetly, "I've held it for so long. But now that time is through…for at the end, at last I know: this hidden kiss, upon your lips, has found its final home."
She feels a soft tap on her shoulder. "May I have this dance?" The gentleman asks, and at her hesitance adds, "I promise…your feet won't hurt."
That teases a smile, and Wendy slips her hand into his. She's startled to feel so comfortable here, as though she's held his hand a thousand times before. I wish I could dance as the fairies, she thinks. They were so lovely.
Wendy can't seem to tear her eyes from his face, although she does notice that he's been quite right: her feet don't hurt at all. In fact, it feels almost as if she were…floating.
"You're still a fantastic dancer," he whispers in his ear.
She tightens her grip on his hand. "Still?" She asks, and then thinks: I am overdressed. This dance wasn't made for evening dresses. But this thought makes no logical sense, except that perhaps the vision was in a dream.
"Don't you remember, Wendy-lady?" The name sends a shiver and a shock through her; Wendy's head is filled suddenly with images that she'd locked away long ago; images of tree houses and pirates and fairies and Peter Pan, the boy that never grew up. But these are all stories, all dreams that she promised to put away in her dream drawer so that she could finally grow up.
She shakes her head. "I can't recall, sir," she manages, trying to push the memor—pictures, from her head.
"Then perhaps…a kiss?"
Wendy is about to reprimand him for his forwardness when the gentleman presents her with a little thimble, laying the object in her palm. "Oh…" Wendy gasps, her eyes snapping up to finally meet those of Peter Pan. "Peter…?"
He beams. "You do remember!"
"No…yes…I…I'd thought it was only a dream…"
He spins her around—completely disregarding all propriety in the placement of his arms (firmly and completely surrounding her waist)—and joyously crows softly. "Of course it wasn't. That's just what the world makes you think, if you're here for long enough."
She blinks then, suddenly taking in his stature. "Why, Peter! You're…you're almost…"
"A man?" She nods hesitantly, not wanting to offend. "Almost. But it's a price I was willing to pay—I'll be stuck in this larger body for the rest of my life, but I've found there's some advantages. It's easier to swordfight, simply because I'm stronger, and now that I'm tall enough I don't have to fly to reach the top cabinets—that's certainly advantage. And of course, I can look all my enemies in the face without my feet ever leaving the ground."
Wendy leans back against Peter's embrace. "So you aren't going to grow up?" She asks, puzzled. "Then why on earth are you…?"
Peter gazes at her as though she's said something quite stupid. "I couldn't let you grow up, Wendy," he explains slowly. "I've barely caught you in time. Tink and I weren't sure that—"
Something clicks into place. "Tink!" She gasps. "That beautiful woman is Tinkerbell! But how?"
"Fairies don't belong in London," Peter states matter-of-factly. "So after a period of time, Tinkerbell woke up and London had…set things right, so to speak."
Wendy frowned. "I'm afraid I don't understand," she said sadly. "You are returning to Neverland, aren't you?"
"I hope so."
In spite of herself, Wendy fought back a sniffle. "Then why would you come here?" She cried, pushing away from him. But he wouldn't let her go. Glancing down (to realize that she is several feet above the ground), Wendy suddenly understands why. "Why would you make me remember all these things just as I have to put them in the past for good?"
"So that you won't have to put them in the past," he whispers earnestly. "Wendy, don't you see? I'm not deficient anymore. I'm not just a boy, I'm—I'm almost a man, which means that I can make things right…between us."
"How? You're going back to Neverland, Peter, and I have to stay here and—"
She cannot finish, because suddenly he has pressed a real kiss on her lips, and Wendy is surprised to find that it's quite a different sensation then when they'd been little children. Peter actually kisses her now, and she responds readily (although she knows, of course, that this is entirely rude and improper). "Peter," she scolds, pushing him away, "You can't think that just because you've come back and know how to kiss means that…"
"Wendy," he says then, exasperated, "don't you understand? I haven't come back to make you come with me to Neverland. I've come back to be with you, wherever you want to be."
She blinks. "You mean…?"
"I mean that if you want to stay in London, and grow up, and grow old, and send me to an office…I'll go."
In spite of the fact that she is quite warm in Peter's embrace, Wendy shivers. "But…why?" She asks quietly, suddenly verging on puzzling tears.
"Do you not know why, Wendy-lady?" His voice is gentle and eyes tender; Wendy cannot look at him for fear of what she might do.
"But…you're the boy that won't grow up, Peter! You're—you're meant for adventure and pirates and fairies…and…" She looks away. "And you promised me you'd come back," she manages then, remembering why she'd put her Neverland memories away in the first place. "You promised me you'd come, and you never did."
He tips her chin upwards so that she has to look at him. "I'm sorry," he says truthfully. "But I did come. I stayed just outside, hidden. I didn't want you to see me. I wanted you to forget, so that you could be happy again."
"Then why are you here?"
"Because I wasn't happy." He laughs ruefully. "Imagine that, Wendy…Peter Pan, unable to fly."
She searches for breath in her lungs, and cannot find any for several seconds. "Oh…Oh, Peter…" And Wendy Moira Angela Darling, casting aside all the etiquette of propriety and ladylike demeanor, throws her arms around his neck and begins to cry. "I don't know what to say."
They float like that for a long time, before Peter quietly asks, "What do you want, Wendy? Do you want to go back to the party, to dance to the Lost Boys"—here, his lips twitch amusedly—"and then, eventually, marry and start the cycle over? Or…" he trails off, hesitating. "Or do you still want adventure, daring, and the ability to fly?"
Of course there's only one true answer to that question. Wendy knows that no matter what happens, she was never destined for her mother's life.
"Might I get to say goodbye?" She asks. "I don't want to worry anyone."
A smile splits Peter's face, and he captures her lips in a happy thimble before she can protest. "Tink will explain," he laughs. "But go ahead…kiss your mother, your father, John and Michael…say hello to the Lost Boys for me…and I will wait for you here."
Wendy feels a small jolt of fear. "You won't leave without me," she tells him. "Do you promise?"
She hurries back into the dance hall and hugs her father, kisses her mother's cheek. Wendy fiercely hugs Michael and John, and tells all the Lost Boys that they have been her best friends. She whispers in Tinkerbell's ear, "You are lovely, and I wish you every happiness," the first true show of friendship between them.
Then she returns to Peter. She's always belonged here, and it doesn't matter where they are. She will always belong with Peter—perhaps to Peter—and she cannot be the anchor that keeps him from his Neverland.
For all boys grow up, except one, and Wendy Moira Angel Darling would not change that for the world.