She had it all figured out. Well, sort of. The fine details didn't matter, all that did was escaping from her tyrannical parents. Jocelyn Journeycake was a big dreamer, but this was one dream she would make come true. "No more chores!" the nine-year-old chanted like a street protester, hugging the straps that held the backpack in place with an exhale of alleviation and a grin hanging below blinking, obsidian eyes that faced the long stretch of yard leading to the road to freedom.
"I will see Canada first!" The itinerary would include it all, in roughly this order: Canada, then Alaska; cross the Bering Strait into Russia; swing down through Mongolia into China; climb over Mt. Everest and into India; stroll on into Pakistan and mosy across the entire Middle East, cutting up into Europe after Turkey; the European tour would conclude in Spain, where she would then drop down into Africa for a leisurely safari, beginning in Morocco and ending in Liberia, where she'd board a cruise ship across the South Atlantic to Brazil; from there she would go south into Antarctica for a snow cone via the Drake Passage, hop aboard another cruise ship to New Zealand, and finally Australia, her destination. The kangaroo feed was zipped up in there somewhere among all the mess, and ready to go.
"Aren't you forgetting Mexico and Central America? What about Indonesia?" Jocelyn's mother added to the extensive list of questions she'd already thrown at the stumpy-nosed, string-haired toothpick in an effort to change her mind about running away.
Jocelyn gave a hand gesture which didn't have to be obscene to inflict the intended damage while whipping her smartphone out and throwing her first leg forward to depart for all eternity.
Her mother stood on the bottom step of the porch, grimacing while feeling the tangled, Sienna curls of her own short hair with tightened, puffy fingers. "She's so much unlike me. Yet so much alike." Deanna understood the child's fascination with travel. It was one thing the two did share in a kindred way. She and her husband Don had been to many of the countries on Jocelyn's list before their daughter had come into their lives, but poor Jocelyn hadn't gotten to go much of anywhere yet. And Deanna could see how maybe all of her stories had rubbed off on her over the years. As she monitored the girl's progress toward the road, a gentle glare washed over. Jocelyn had this both concerning and adorable habit of gradually veering to the left as she walked. Which was why Deanna, to this day, had always made her hold her hand while walking in town.
Jocelyn had her virtues, but patience was not one. By the fifth step toward Canada, she was already glued to the screen of her phone. Out of the corners of her eyes, she saw the thick, laced leather of her hiking boots as they took turns lifting into the air above the milky green of the yard's well-kept grass. That and the vapory grey of the surrounding Washington-State sky, with its steady tickle of mist.
In the middle of Googling "things to do in British Columbia", a marble-white "block" of fur, fat, and whiskers interrupted her concentration. She leaned over and gave it a scratchy pat. "Well, Lego, I guess this is goodbye." She was a big girl now, so she resisted the faint plea floating in her head to turn around for one last look.
"What is there to do in Vancouver? Wrong question! What isn't there to do in Vancouver?" the online brochure began. As her physical surroundings disappeared from consciousness, Jocelyn buzzed all over imagining the reality of actually being there that she would soon experience. Steaming seafood straight from the ocean for dinner! The salty air and crashing waves practically jumped off the dense-pixeled images into her eyes and ears.
"Things to do in Alaska" she searched. "Mt. McKinley." she read aloud in her chirpy Fourth-Grade voice. "Whoa! Highest point in North America, 20,000'! I wanna ski there! And when I reach the bottom, I wanna go on one of those glacier tours!
The Bering Land Bridge? I thought it was the 'Bering Strait.'" she questioned as she read. "The Land Bridge once literally connected the continents of North America and Asia. It is believed that today's Native Americans are, in fact, descendants of migrants who crossed the Land Bridge from what is now present-day Russia."
Jocelyn visualized getting Putin's autograph while in Moscow. "He'll be honored when he hears I've walked all the way from America all by myself!" she said as she continued "counting her chickens". "And then, when I get to St. Petersburg..."
"Go home, Lego! Go! You're too young and inexperienced to go on an adventure like this. It's too dangerous. Get!" The steps resumed, as did the fantasies.
The length of the Great Wall would be next, and then, Nepal. "Guess I'll need one of those ropes with the carabiner dealies for that." she anticipated while reading about Everest. An annoying sensation at the tops of her ankles made her conscious of the hiking boots again. She loosened the laces a bit trying to ease the friction.
A scene from a really, really old movie called "The Temple of Doom" gave her goosebumps about India. She pictured riding that inflatable raft down Everest's slope into the Ganges and floating her way into Pakistan. From there, she'd be a big hit all over the Middle East, using her charm to end all the fighting. For once, she lifted her head skyward--eyes closed--basking in the warmth of the thought. Then returned to the phone screen.
Europe! Starting with London! "Why not?" she asked herself while pondering over Scotland Yard. "I'll pick up one of those neato caps and a magnifying glass somewhere and say 'Elementary!' as I help them solve their crimes." A whole vat of Swiss chocolate for breakfast. A piece of the Berlin Wall for a souvenir. A shopping spree all over Paris. "Oh, and Italy!" She'd almost forgotten about the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which she intended to restore to life as a restaurant called the "Leaning Tower of Pizza". She thought aloud about how the profits from the business would buy her passage for the remainder of the trip. "And after setting all the rodeo bulls in Spain free and taking them to Africa with me for the safari..."
"Lego!" Jocelyn shouted. "You're gonna be in big trouble with Mom if you don't get your hairy little hide back home!" It didn't make any sense. Lego had never behaved this way before. Ever since he was a kitten, he'd always been a lazy house cat. "Well...alright." she gave in with a puff of breath from the lower lip that made the stringy hair hanging from her forehead rustle. "You need the exercise anyway. Maybe you and me can stop on street corners and do shows for money. But you're gonna have to learn how to dance, or fetch, or jump through a hoop or something. You do realize that, right?"
Oblivious to her mind, the blotch of white disappeared from the corner of her eye again and was replaced by the milky green as she started walking and gawking at more Google results.
"I shall be the Monkey Whisperer...and the Cheetah Whisperer...and the Zebra Whisperer! I shall be the Queen of all Whisperers by the time I get through with this safari! And then onward to Brazil!" But she wasn't going to be the queen of anything if she didn't change to a pair of shoes more suitable for tens of thousands of miles of power-walking. Her ankles stung with rawness, making it difficult to concentrate on her quest for adventure and greatness.
"Um...Let's see...Things to do in South America..." Jocelyn stopped walking for a moment. There was, of course, the Andes; but after McKinley, Everest, and every other mountain in-between, she was growing weary of the thought. The Colombian coffee fields; but the one time she'd ever sneaked a sip of coffee was a memory she'd sworn never to repeat.
The same drizzle that zigged down the sleeves of her jacket zagged down her neck. Shivering as she wiped the screen dry, she Googled: "Is there anything to do in Antarctica?" There were lots of pictures of faceless people with hoods, thick goggles, and ski masks who looked like they weighed 200 lbs. counting the clothing. And no apparent cruise ships going from there to New Zealand and Australia.
Everything she read and saw about Australia was as bland to her senses as the blurs of grass, ground, and sky she'd been seeing since departure on this grand voyage. As she paced onward, her attention shifted away from a phone screen full of enticing promise, with all its vivid colors, flowery travel language, bells and whistles. She re-zipped the backpack from behind after turning the phone off and dropping it in there, aiming her head upward with her eyes closed.
"Meee-yeee-yeee-OWWW!" Lego screamed.
Ear-piercing laughter came from a familiar voice. Never before in all human history had a nine-year-old named Jocelyn with a cat named Lego and a tendency to veer to the left as she walked been more red in the face. "Oh, Lego, I am so sorry!" she whined as she lifted the boot off the cat's tail and consoled as best she could with a fur rub. She knew the voice. She knew where she was. She slowly lowered her head and opened her eyes.
"Well, my little munchkin: How was the trip? From what I heard, you pretty much went everywhere." Her mother laughed a tearful laugh. "I think we also may have set a Guinness record for 'Most times anyone has ever circled their own yard'."
"We?" thought Jocelyn. Her mother's white sneakers were stained milky green and covered with bits of grass. Her own carelessness today began to sink in as she looked into her angelic face. "I'm sorry, Mom."
Hoisted above the ground by the armpits, hugs and kisses came at her in a blitzkrieg of understanding and forgiveness. "That was so sweet, Dear, what you said about 'making the fighting stop' and caring for animals and such. You'll make a great leader one of these days..." Deanna paused, then giggled with her hand cupped under her nose. "But first you're gonna have to learn to take your eyes off that darn phone once in a while."
They both laughed, but then Deanna turned her head away and sobbed. "I have been a little heavy on you about chores lately, haven't I?" Jocelyn didn't answer, verbally or otherwise.
"Don and I...I mean...your father and I, just want you to grow up knowing how to take care of yourself. You will run away one of these days, and we won't be able to stop you because you'll be a grown woman then. But we sincerely hope that when you do, the three of us will always be friends."
Jocelyn's opened mouth formed a perfect "O", with eyes to match. She realized the truth now as she silently compared her features to Deanna's and deciphered what she was referring to by "running away one of these days." But it all went away as she reached up and gripped Deanna's hand the same way as when crossing the street with her. "You'll always be more than that! You're my parents."
"I do have one chore for you today." Deanna warned with a radiant smile after leaving the room for a moment to tame her emotions.
"Alexa: Repeat Jocelyn's Schedule for Friday afternoon."
"At 3:35 PM, after returning from running away, Jocelyn is scheduled to help Mother bake a pizza for dinner." the metallic female voice spoke from Deanna's phone speaker while she held it out to Jocelyn.
"It's a skill that'll come in handy when you open your 'Leaning Tower of Pizza' restaurant."