“Don’t go too far, okay honey?”
Ginny pulled herself away from her mother’s doting hands, and purposely unzipped the top of her coat again.
“We’ll be fine, mom.”
“I know. But don’t go so far that you won’t be back in time for dinner, alright?” Her mother snuck in a quick kiss on her forehead and Ginny made a face, before turning away and sprinting towards the back door.
“Come on, Jack!” She yelled, before throwing the door open and hurdling herself into freedom.
They ran across the freshly mown grass towards the trees just near the end of their backyard. With one hand, Ginny held onto Jack, the other was stuffed into her coat pocket, going through its contents. Compass? Check. Money? Yes. She ran the coins through her fingers, hearing the soft clinks when they fell back down. Food? She grinned triumphantly. Mom hadn’t even noticed she’d swiped a candy bar and a packet of gummy bears from the cupboard underneath the sink.
“What do you want to play today, Jack?” she asked, as they reached the first trees. “We could look for treasure? Or collect bugs.” She kicked a couple of leaves. Somewhere near them a bird flapped its wings and flew off.
“We could play hide and seek again, but… I don’t think you like that game very much, do you?” Ginny hummed to herself as they walked on, carefully making their way past the tree with roots that seemed intent on trying to trip you. The coins jingled in her pocket, and Ginny was reminded of the compass. She pulled it out and held it in front of her face.
“We’ll just be adventurers then, shall we?” She looked at the compass’s tiny little needle and they headed North.
They’d been walking for quite some time, long enough that the gummy bear package in her pocket was now empty, when something glittery caught her eye. Curious, they followed the glint; Ginny on her tiptoes, just in case their noises would scare it away.
“Ooh”. They stopped in their tracks. Usually, they didn’t make it this deep into the woods, but they’d been here before; walking with mom and dad. It was the river. Dad had called it a ‘creek’, but that was a stupid name. Water didn’t creak, it had a nice, splashing sound to it. She looked down at the stream, to all the shiny rocks in the water, and how the lower branches of the trees dipped down into it, as if to take a drink. She walked closer and crouched down carefully, touching its surface with her fingers. The water was cold, but it felt nice.
“Come on Jack, let’s play pirates!” She called over her shoulder to Jack, who hadn’t moved since they’d arrived at the river. She went back to get him, looking for things she could use at the same time.
“Pirates need a boat, don’t you agree, Jack?” They started collecting the biggest branches they could find, although some were a little too heavy for them to carry, so they decided to just leave them there. They added some leaves too, for good measure.
“No Jack, I don’t think rocks are a good idea. We don’t want the boat to be too heavy. It’ll sink, you know.”
They set to work, but it turned out making a boat was pretty difficult, especially if the closest you’d ever been to one was that one time your dad had taken you all to beach one summer, and you’d seen some ships in the distance. They’d actually been closer to one when they drove back home, because it was on the highway! Mom said they were driving it to sea on a truck, which was kinda dumb, when you thought about it. Why not just build boats where there was water?
Ginny wiped her forehead and looked at their attempt at a boat. She shook her head. “Come on Jack, we’ll just walk along the river, that’ll be nice too.” They got up and started walking, but hadn’t really thought about how muddy the ground would be that close to the water. Ginny felt her right foot slip away, and she stumbled a little, but managed to stay upright. However, she did let go of Jack for just a second, and with a soft splash, he landed in the river.
“Jack!” She couldn’t quite keep the panic from her voice. Jack couldn’t swim.
“Oh no no no no no.” He was moving up the stream, occasionally going under, and she knew she had to go in after him. She wasn’t particularly fond of swimming herself, either, but she’d done it often enough to know she could do it. She threw off her coat and hurriedly walked to the spot where she’d last seen Jack. He seemed to be staying under this time. No time to waste. She sat down and put one foot in the water, then the other. Nothing for it. She plunged in, boots and all. Mom was going to be so mad, but that wasn’t important now. All that was important was saving Jack. Thankfully the water was pretty clear, so she sucked in a deep breath, and stuck her head into the water, frantically looking around for her friend. Nothing. She came up, gasped for air, and tried again. There! Something grey seemed to be clinging to a rock a few feet away from her. She swam to it as fast as she could, one arm outstretched long before she reached it. When she felt Jack’s soft fur, she let out a sigh of relief, which turned into a coughing fit, as she accidentally swallowed some water. She pulled Jack to her, made sure his head was out of the water, and hugged him tightly.
“I’m so sorry Jack”, she sniffled, once her coughs had subsided enough. Jack felt all squishy now, and heavier too. They slowly made it out of the water, where she retrieved her coat and put it on. She shivered a little and pulled it more snugly around them, as she held Jack tightly to her body. They abandoned their makeshift ship, and trudged back through the woods, little drops of water falling from Ginny’s hair onto her face. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand, but that only made it worse. She hugged Jack tighter against her, accidentally squeezing some water out of him, which made her even wetter, but she didn’t care. This was all her fault anyway. Poor Jack.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, a lot longer, certainly, than it had taken them to get there, she could see the edges of their backyard.
“We’re almost there, Jack”, she whispered, before breaking into a run. She didn’t stop until she reached the backdoor, her hand trembling a little. Actually, she was kind of trembling all over. She pulled the door handle and walked in, dripping all over the floor.
“M-mom?” She called out timidly.
“Oh good, you’re back, you’re right in time for – ” her mother’s voice stopped. “Oh honey, what happened?!” Ginny hid her face in Jack’s wet fur. She sniffled a little.
“Jack almost drowned.”
“He did? Where did that happen?” Her mother guided her into the kitchen and helped her take off her coat. She tried to take Jack off her hands as well, but Ginny tightened her grip on him. Her mother threw up her hands in surrender.
“It was…”, Ginny swallowed. “We were playing pirates, near the river.”
“The river?” Her mother frowned, then smiled. “You mean the creek?”
“Creek is a stupid name.” Her mother wiped wiped the drops from her eyebrows.
“So, let me guess, Jack fell in, and you went after him to save him?” Her mother asked, as she got a small towel from the kitchen cabinet and gently rubbed Ginny’s face with it. Ginny nodded.
“Well, let’s get you out of these wet clothes, and see if we can’t take care of Jack too.” Her mother helped her take her boots off, shaking her head slightly, and after taking her socks off as well, Ginny padded behind her mother, up the stairs to the bathroom. They were leaving a steady stream of drops in their wake, but it was hard to tell whether it was Jack or Ginny who was responsible for most of them.
In the bathroom, her mother removed her wet clothes and drew her a bath. While Ginny soaked in the nice, warm water, her mother took a good look at Jack.
“Looks like Jack has got some mud on him.”
“He can come into he bath with me”, Ginny offered, stretching out her arms to bring Jack into the water with her. Her mother squeezed Jack’s little tail, and several drops of murky brown liquid fell onto the bathroom floor.
“Hmm… I think dear old Jack might benefit more from a trip in the washer.”
“No mom, please! Jack hates the washer!”
“I know honey, but Jack hasn’t been washed properly in a long time.”
“He’s a donkey! Donkeys like being dirty!” Ginny held out her hands for him. “Please?”
But her mother shook her head and stood up.
“Come on, let’s get you dried off and dressed, and then we’ll wash Jack, okay?”
Ginny was silent, but she allowed her mother to help her dry off her hair, while Jack sat on the sink, staring at her. She mouthed “I’m sorry” to him, while her mother was turned the other way.
Despite some more protestations from Ginny, her mother wouldn’t budge, and so Ginny sat in front of the washing machine, watching Jack go round and round, tumbling quite roughly sometimes. She held her hand against the glass of the door. This was her fault, and she couldn’t even hug him again for another hour! Mom had promised he could dry outside in the sun though, maybe with the help of a blow-dryer, so at least he didn’t have to suffer through the dryer. She sighed.
Jack tumbled on for what seemed like forever, but finally, eventually, just as she was about to call mom, because the washer was surely broken, the spinning seemed to slow down. “MOM!” she called, because she wasn’t allowed to open it on her own. They carefully took him out, and Ginny gingerly cradled him in her arms.
Together, they brought Jack outside and set him on a sunny spot on the table. Ginny sat down next to him, sipping a lemonade, softly touching his wet fur with the tip of her index finger.
“Next time, we won’t go near the water Jack, I promise. Next time we’ll play Robin Hood. Or Tarzan. Haven’t you always wanted to climb a tree?” She slurped her drink, and they stared at the outline of the forest, looking for a good tree to climb.
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