Julie grinned and nudged her mom playfully. Mom, Im not twelve.
Right, she replied. Pardon me for forgetting that my little girl isnt so little anymore.
Anyway, Im making breakfast. How do pancakes sound?
Thats nice of you, Mom, but were kinda beat. If yo
Ill give you the grand tour later.
After we fed the raccoon, Jesse took me to a different room, where five
frolicking in a shallow heated pool, playing with a stuffed mama duck.
What happened to their real mom? I whispered, as if the fuz
songs. All this natureand great people too! Who could ask for more?
Good! I wanted a fresh start for us, and I think weve found it, said my mom happily.
father and I love this place just as much as you do.
Im glad Mom, really, I said. I think being h
night behind us.
All of the sudden the door opened. In walked a short redhead with her hair
tied back in a
Hey, Jesse, she said, theres a guided tour group waiting for you.
He looked at me, then back at her.
Taylor, this is Jeanie, my best frien
I wasnt sure what to stay. I wanted to tell her to butt out, because it was my chance to take,
but instead I just kept my mouth shut.
Look, Jesses a great friend to have, but if you step out of the friend zone, it
will go all to
hell, she said with a seri
Gimme your number, he said. Ill call you with the official report.
We exchanged numbers, putting them in each others phones. As I gazed into his eyes,
about to say something, his friend cut in.
No time for mushy goodbyes, Billy said. I gotta get Jess
down though, I saw paw prints everywhere. It was still hard to fathom that wed been shot
chased and virtually held prisoner in the cabin by a bunch of wolves. We
cautiously approaching the edge of the forest.
Pushing some vegetation asid
His eyes lit up, as if hed been waiting for someone to ask him that for years.
I also want to heli-ski down the Chugach Range in Alaska.
When Max spent too much time snifng a flower, I gave him a gentle tug. Heliski? I
Yeah. Helicopters are the
Before I knew it, a month had passed by.
Jesse had a part-time job at the local zoo. When he told me that they were
hiring, I filled out
an application, interviewed well, and managed to land a position. If
nothing else, I had all my
dads lectures, and a
injured wild animals every year. We do our best to fix them all up and
release them back out into
the wild as soon as we can so they dont become too dependent on humans or lose their
survival instincts. If you kneel down on the floor, you can
You better hurry and catch up, she said. Until we know what happened, I dont want
anyone off on their own.
I jogged after Jeanie to start inventorying the animals. We checked every
pen, cage and
enclosure, relieved to find that all of the zoos animals wer
With Maxs leash tightly in my grasp, we started to skate down the mountain trail. It wound
through a pine forest and meadows. Birds flitted overhead, and lizards
sunned themselves on big
granite rocks absorbing the heat and all that Vitamin D. Max absolut
The room was pretty typical, with a bed, dresser, and other furnishings.
We searched for
weapons but couldnt find any. Julie and I checked the next two bedrooms,
thankfully they were
I was able to relax a little, my labored breathing easing th
He smiled and nodded. Cant argue with that, he said.
I smiled appreciatively at Julie and her ability to manipulate even the most
Jesse grunted as I helped him into bed and covered him with a blanket.
Julie found some towels in
I nodded. Sure. Ill get right on it.
She wrote something on her clipboard, then handed Jesse a summary of
what we had to do.
At first, we worked together on the items on the list, but then we decided
we could get things
faster if we did our own thing for
Im gonna love working here, I said.
Yeah, I never get tired of it. I love my job, he replied. It sure beats flipping burgers.
Yeah, I said, but, I can tell youre passionate about it.
He smiled sheepishly, obviously uncomfortable taking compliments, even
No need for hospitals, he said, cutting me off. My mom is a doctor.
But Julie added, trying to argue.
Its just a flesh wound, Jesse assured us. Ill be fine.
Jesse, I said, please dont risk your life like this, especially not just to be a tough guy
Yes. I wanted something special and unique to me.
I traced the lines on his arm. I love it. When did you get it done?
Its really cool, Jesse.
Tell me, is Big Bear Lake this pretty in the winter? I asked.
Believe it or not, its even more
a cute, summery look, I slipped on new pair of strappy sandals, but then I
realized tennis shoes
would probably be better for the occasion, so I threw my bright white ones
on. I took one last
glance in the mirror and smoothed out my eyeshadow. I wante
It was as if he refused to believe the obvious, he turned to me and said, Honey, maybe
just having a hard time adjusting to such an isolated life out here in the woods, or maybe
missing Sean. I know how much you cared about him.
Dad, I know I
somebody tried to rob the house? I asked desperately. Maybe the intruder was shocked
he heard me taking a shower. Maybe he wasnt expecting anyone to be home, so he just ran
and left the door open, and some wild animal came in.
Did you notice if t
You are a work of art all your own, Taylorinside and out, she said, pulling me in for
hug. Id say that whether I was your mother or not.
I grinned. Thanks.
Id love to meet his parents.
Its just him and his mother, brother, and sister.
She furrowed a
paint a beautiful natural landscape. With all the natural beauty surrounding me,
I didnt need to
look far for inspiration. Once the paintbrush was in my hand it just glided
over the canvas,
turning my creative energy into a work of art.
My mom approach
huge hug and kiss and hurried for the door. See you guys later.
Have a great day at work, Dad said with that same knowing grin.
I smiled back at him. I will.
Only one thing could put a look like that on a girls face, I heard my father say as I
Julie looked at him and shook her head. You mean if you live that long. Youre sweating
a thief in church, she said, feeling his forehead. Oh my gosh! Youre burning up. She
my arm. He must have a fever of 110! We cant stay here. If we do, the
shower, just like Norman Bates.
A car pulled in the driveway.
When I opened the door and recognized the vehicle, I was relieved. Thank God. Its just
parents. I said to Jesse. I was so grateful that my parents were ok, I threw my arms around
Baby, youve had a rough evening, she said, giving me a hug and kissing my cheek.
Would you like me to make you some hot chocolate?
I squeezed her hand. Mom, Im not ten anymore, but thank you.
You stayed up late with Julie last night watching horror movies
It sounds like a pretty severe crush to me, but whatever it is that has made you so happy,
just glad to see it, she said. Your father and I are just as happy as you. I wasnt so sure at
but now I know it was a great idea to move here.
Mostly, I c
Dont be, he answered, pushing a long, curly piece of hair out of my eyes. You can
me off my feet anytime.
When our eyes locked, my smile was automatic.
You have the most beautiful smile, he said.
He locked his fingers in mine and brushed
If he was high on drugs, how the heck was he able to find us in the dark woods? I asked.
I dunno. Howd Jesse find us, especially when he was shot and bleeding all over the place?
Yeah, youre right. That was weird.
I think theres something Je