By Julia Moser
It was a chilly September day. A cool, crisp breeze was blowing, and crunchy leaves covered the sidewalk; golden, tan, and brick. There was also a nine-year-old girl walking around the corner, her turquoise backpack sagging over her shoulder as her feet dragged through the fallen leaves. Her name was Jennifer, and it had been her first day of fourth grade. Already she was sure she was going to hate it.
Jenny lugged her backpack up the front steps of her house, and fumbled for her key. She turned it in the lock, walked inside, and plopped down on the dusty couch. Jenny sighed. She and her family were new in this town, their fourth move in three years. Jenny had had high hopes for this town, though. On their first day all the neighbors had come over to welcome them, and the house wasn’t that dusty or dingy for once. She had her own room, a beautiful view, and what she’d seen of the other neighborhood children had made her think school might not be so bad after all. But that first day had squashed her hopes. None of the other fourth graders had made the slightest move towards her all day, and her teacher, Ms. Ceary, hadn’t exactly included her either. Jenny’s dad walked through the kitchen door.
“Hey, Jen. How was your day?”
“Okay.” Jenny changed the topic. “So, where’s Meg?” Meg was Jenny’s four-year-old younger sister. Her father chuckled.
“She fell asleep right after lunch. Still tired from the drive two days ago, I guess.” Jenny yawned. She was tired, too, but unlike her sister she had homework to do.
The next morning, Jenny ate a quick breakfast, slung her backpack over her shoulder, and slowly started the three-block walk to school. She shuffled through the leaves, thinking how lucky Meg was that she didn’t start school until next year. Just then, a little reddish-brown chipmunk scurried onto the path in front of her. It gave a tiny “Squeak!” then dashed back to the side of the path to nibble on an acorn. Jenny chuckled, then set her eyes back on the path ahead.
That afternoon, as Jenny walked back home from another exhausting day at school, she noticed that the chipmunk was still there; staring at her with its big, round, shining eyes. She stopped, and stooped over to look closer at it. Strangely, it didn’t run away. It just stood there, looking up at her. Jenny stared. The chipmunk stared. Jenny stared harder. The chipmunk stared harder. Tentatively, Jenny reached out her hand and gently scooped it up. The chipmunk’s tail twitched, and it looked like it was considering jumping off her hand and running away, but she stroked its fur and it curled up in a ball and was soon fast asleep. A shiver of delight ran through Jenny’s arm as she watched the little chipmunk’s nose twitch as it dreamed. She gently placed it in her coat pocket, and continued the walk home.
When she got there, her father came to the door to greet her.
“How was school, Jens?”
“Good. Dad, do you have a cardboard box? And maybe some cotton balls?”
Her father looked taken aback. “Well, yes, I believe so. What do you need them for?”
“Uhh- for a school project.” Jenny needed somewhere to keep her new pet, and a cardboard box would be the perfect size.
“Well, I think there are a few in the garage you could use. And there’s a bag of cotton balls in the bottom drawer in the cabinet.” Jenny thanked her father, and ran off to the garage with the chipmunk still in her pocket. When she took it out, the chipmunk was wide awake and looking a little grumpy at having been jolted and jostled around in Jenny’s pocket. It squeaked loudly, then proceeded to scurry around and sniff everything in the garage. The chipmunk seemed very attached to an old shoebox, clambering in and refusing to come out, so Jenny picked up the box (which was met with shrill squeaks of protest) and carried it over to the dining room cabinet for cotton balls.
Once the chipmunk was happily situated in its new box, complete with a cotton ball rug, Jenny quickly did her homework and ate dinner. She brought the chipmunk a few kernels of corn, and then she and it settled down for the night. The chipmunk seemed to go straight to sleep, but Jenny lay there, thinking about her new pet. She’d always wanted a dog, but her dad was allergic to their fur. It was the same story with cats, and birds were too noisy for Meg. However, she was sure no one was allergic to chipmunks, and they made almost no noise. It was very cute too, and energetic. She was happy. Jenny closed her eyes and fell asleep.
In the morning, Jenny was awakened to the feeling of tiny paws scrambling up and down on her arm. She sat up with a start, almost flinging the little chipmunk across the room.
“Oh, it’s just you. Sorry about that,” Jenny apologized. She looked back at the shoebox. The cotton balls were in shreds, and the box was lying on its side. Poor thing, Jenny thought, it must have gotten scared during the night. The “poor thing” watched Jenny for a moment, then scrambled up onto her stomach and squeaked at her. Jenny sighed. Just then, her father called up.
“Jenny, it’s time to get up!”
“Yeah!” Meg called. “Daddy says you’ll be late for school if you don’t hurry up!” Jenny patted the little chipmunk on the head one last time, relocated the box to the corner of the bedroom, and left, firmly shutting the door behind her.
The weeks passed. Jenny’s father eventually found out about the chipmunk, but, to her relief, said it was all right for it to stay. She named the chipmunk “Squeaks”, which was approved by the chipmunk with a loud
“Squeak!” School became more bearable for Jenny with the promise of scrambling about with the chipmunk after it was done. They would run/scamper across the sidewalk, and at the street corner they’d stop. Jenny would toss Squeaks some of the berries that grew on the hedges there, and see if he could catch them in his tiny mouth. Those were Jenny’s favorite times, and she wished they could last forever. Then one day, Jenny had just finished her homework and was heading outside, when Meg jumped in front of her.
“Can I play with the mousie too?” the four year old asked, grinning.
“ Meg, it’s not a mouse, it’s a chipmunk, and no, you can’t play.” Jenny was annoyed with her little sister, and she knew Meg didn’t know how to behave with animals. Meg pouted.
“Daddy, Jenny says I can’t come and play with her mousie!” Their father, busy with dinner, called out of the kitchen, “Jenny, let your sister play!” Jenny sighed, and allowed her sister to walk outside with her. They walked to the corner in silence, then Jenny gently placed the chipmunk down on the sidewalk.
“Can I pet him?” Meg asked, excitedly.
“N-yeah, sure” Jenny said, reluctantly. She wasn’t quite sure what happened next, but it looked like Meg raised her hand to “pet” the chipmunk, (it looked more like a whack than a pet) the chipmunk gave a loud squeak and scurried the other way, and the next thing she knew Meg was dangling the chipmunk by its tail, scolding it. Jenny was horrified.
“Meg! Put him down!” Her sister ignored her and began to wag her index finger at the poor little chipmunk.
“Meg-“ Jenny began, but Squeaks nipped Meg’s finger and she gave a cry and dropped him. The chipmunk scampered off, not heeding Jenny’s cries. She turned on her sister, furious.
“You scared him away!”
“I-I-“ Meg whimpered.
“Go. Go home. I’m going to look for him.” Meg ran away, clutching her finger. Jenny stormed around the corner, poked through the hedge, and checked around the bases of trees. She searched everywhere, but Squeaks was gone. Jenny slowly walked home, threw herself down on her bed, and cried.
Over the next few weeks, Jenny’s father tried to cheer her up, but to no avail. Before now, Jenny had never realized how attached she’d become to Squeaks, and now she was heartbroken. Meg was deliberately avoiding her sister, knowing that Jenny blamed her for “the mousie’s” absence. However, next Tuesday was Jenny’s tenth birthday, and Meg had something planned. She would go out and look for Squeaks, find him, and bring him back on Jenny’s birthday for a surprise. So, early Monday morning, Meg slipped outside and began her search.
Jenny woke up on Monday morning, stretched, and went downstairs. She sat down at the breakfast table next to her father, and started in on the plate of pancakes her father passed her. Wait a minute, Jenny thought, where’s Meg? She voiced her concern to her father, who replied, uncertainly,
“She was up early this morning. Went outside to look for something.” He checked his watch.
“My, she has been gone a while, hasn’t she?” Jenny jumped up, and went to get her jacket.
“Wait, Jens, where are you going?”
“Sorry, gotta go!” she called. Jenny rushed out the door. She thought she knew what Meg had done. Her little sister had felt bad about scaring Squeaks, and so had set of to find him again. She had to stop her before she got into real trouble- oh, no. Meg was standing inches in front of a very busy street, about to cross. A car, driving extremely fast, was coming right this way, and Meg, not watching where she was going, was about to step right in front of it...
“No, MEG!” Jenny screamed. Meg barely turned her head. Jenny started to run towards her sister, but it felt like she was moving through thick cream. The five yards separating them were five miles... One of Meg’s feet was in the street...
“Ouch! Bad mousie!” Something small and reddish brown had nipped Meg’s ankle, causing her to jump back. Meg took a double take.“Mousie!”
“Meg! You’re O.K!” Jenny tackled her sister in a huge hug. Squeaks, not to be left out, scurried up to Jenny’s shoulder and nuzzled her ear. Jenny’s eyes filled with joyful tears. She sank to her knees as her father jogged around the block, saw the two sisters, and joined the hug. Jenny felt she could sit there forever with her family around her and her chipmunk on her shoulder.