"Good morning, Jason!" The only male accompanying Trakina on this sunny morn was an injured Chip Chodesworth. Trakina was wrapping a bandage around his grooved paw while lecturing him about the burden a family takes on after the self-inflicted death of a loved one. Chip meowed a humble, "M'yaooo…"
"Trakina! Where's breakfast?"
Trakina sighed and then paused for a minute or so. "I think today should be special, Jason. I want you, me, and Chip to go out somewhere today. Not sure where, just a long road trip, we'll pick up treats along the way," she explained that reality had been setting in for her and she was realizing just how soon Jason needed to go home and get ready for school. Most unusual for the boy, Jason didn't make any complaints about going back to his awful, insensitive parents this time around. As difficult of a decision as it was, she decided that today was going to be her last full day with Jason. He would be returned home tomorrow afternoon.
Unstrapped and bent on his knees on the backseats, he faced the back of the car, watching the driveway grow longer and skinnier. Trakina's two-story, boxy home shrunk into the distance until it was just another memory to the young nephew. He waved goodbye, already missing everything from the weird breakfasts to Trakina's wide smile.
Before they were even two miles into their road trip, Chip became anxious as he stared at Trakina from the passenger's seat and delivered a loud and concerned, "M'yao!" Not diverting her attention from the road ahead of her, she assured him that she would pull over in a minute and urged him to quiet down. A clever creature, Chip took matters into his own hands and unflappably pushed his paw against the window control; once low enough, he leapt gracefully from the front window and into the rundown grass.
"Chip! Damn it!" Trakina pulled the car to the side of the road and chased after the unexpectedly noncompliant Chip. Jason followed closely after. Chip took off through the woods, causing Trakina and Jason to be pelted with stickers and scraped by hanging branches. "What has gotten into you, you crazy bas… tard?" Chip had led them to a small campsite. There was a weakening fire inside a circle of stones and a curly blonde had his back facing the crew as he poked at the tinder. Hearing crackles from the footsteps on the dead leaves, the boy turned around with his typical confused look.
"Peter?" Unsure as to whether or not she wanted to talk to him and how she was there to begin with, Peter didn't respond but had a look of homesickness in his eyes. "How have you been?" She asked him, taken aback.
"I'm alright," he said, turning his attention back to his fire, even though it had completely diminished at this point and he had no more matches. He awkwardly poked at the ashes, hoping he could trick the others into thinking this was not something he was just doing out of awkwardness. Chip Chodesworth trotted toward him and sat beside Peter on a log, much to the boy's surprise. Peter smiled at the seemingly bipolar cat before he noticed that his paw was bandaged up. "What happened to you, Chip?"
"He witnessed an atrocious incident and then tried to kill himself," Jason said, factually. Peter dug his first-aid kit out of his backpack and dressed Chip's paw with a clean bandage. Chip appreciatively meowed and then scampered toward Jason; he motioned for Jason to hide behind a bush with him and pretend that they weren't going to spy on whatever Trakina and Peter were going to do from this point.
There was silence for a while… Trakina, acknowledging that she was the one who told Peter to leave some weeks before, decided to break the ice. "So, did you hear about that dolphin whose best friend died?"
"Um, no; no I didn't," Peter said with a shaky voice.
"He felt as though he lost his porpoise in life." She assembled herself beside him on the log with a gauche smile, unsure if he liked or even got the joke. They avoided eye contact as he sifted through the ashes with his stick and she tapped her fingers on the log as if it was a useless piano with the keys glued together. Eventually, the two of them did shift their eyes toward the space between them and they simultaneously blushed with no words exchanged. Within moments, they couldn't take it anymore and grabbed each other's faces before falling to the ground. They rolled all over the campsite, getting gray-and-white ash on their clothes and bumping into the surrounding log-benches, muddying any visible skin on the loose pieces of squelchy bark.
"Gross!" Jason pulled a U-turn and announced that he was going to lock himself in the car. Chip agreed to do the same and followed the boy as he crunched through the foliage. While truthfully happy for the seemingly reunited couple, he did not care to stick around for the live entertainment.
The two embraced each other, shrouded by the surrounding vegetation and ignoring the microscopic insects and one snake voyaging across their ankles. Peter expressed his regret for lying about his age, but he feared she would have rejected him had she known. "Seven years is a long time, Trakina… but if it's what you want, I can wait it out for you."
"How about you let me become a memory of yours while you enjoy your young years; and if you're still thinking about me then… I'll still be down the street." Peter promised he'd still love her then, but Trakina was obstinate and politely suggested he not make promises. He lifted his head from the brush and asked her if he could run back earlier if he got his life together when he was twenty-one, twenty-two? "You can come back tomorrow if you miraculously graduate in a day and get your life together," she smiled. After a long embrace, Trakina realized that Jason was likely frying in the car and that being arrested for neglect and possibly the accidental death of her nephew would be an inopportune way to end the boy's big adventure. She kissed Peter, gave him a quick sideways hug, and vanished out of the forest like the caboose of a train fading into a lightless tunnel. As the shape of her spirited body vanished into the air, Peter reached for a strap on his backpack as he continued to laze in the mulch. He pulled out a textbook titled "The Basics of Nursing Kittens Back to Health for Pre-Med Students".
Out the corner of his eye, Peter noticed a gray flash loping toward him. With the textbook being held above his reclined head, he twisted his neck to discover that the approaching gray blur was a hurried Chip Chodesworth.
Having reached the boy's sprawled body, Chip pounced onto Peter's surfboard-flat stomach and took note of the textbook's title before he spoke. The cat nodded with approval before he delivered an indebted, "M'yao." This unforeseen expression of gratitude translated to, "Do you remember that orphaned kitten that you rescued from a pack of rabid miniature pinschers that had cornered him between a bear trap and a puddle of radioactive waste as they plotted to maul him to death with their un-manicured nails before dining on his flesh in a ravenous manner? … That was me." Not comprehending what Chip had said but knowing that this very well may have been one of the numerous kittens he had rescued from a grisly demise, he responded to the cat's revelation with a humble, "you're welcome."