Crowe helped his aunt Audrey prepare dinner quite soon after they had all finished lunch that day. The dinner they were making required quite a lot of preparation, and with so many people to serve they had to start early.
"Aunt Audrey…" Crowe began, while cutting some peculiar vegetable into thin slices. "Where are you going to go once the land is sold?
"Oh, don't you worry about me." Audrey replied with a soft chuckle, rummaging through the pantry. "I have pen-pals up North who said they'd welcome me in if ever I found my dear old self in trouble."
Crowe nodded slowly in response. It was strange enough that he was missing something before it had gone, but he was missing it for someone else. He already missed the way his family lived together so happily on this farm.
"I know this is hard for you to take, dear. It's hard for us, too." Audrey said with a sigh, placing some jars on the kitchen counter and turning to Crowe with a compassionate expression on her periwinkle-feathered face. "But unless some sort of miracle comes to our old farm, I'm afraid there's nothing we can do but accept our loss and move on."
Crowe nodded again and continued washing, peeling and cutting vegetables quietly. He wished Red had joined him to visit the farm for the last time, but he knew he had his reasons for staying behind.
Dinner had been finished a little earlier than expected, likely due to Crowe's rather swift food preparation skills. Everyone came pouring in at the call and gathered around the table for the meal.
"What's it this time, mama?" Jeremiah queried, rubbing his hands together in anticipation as everyone was served their plates of food.
"It's that pie you like, Jerry." Audrey responded. "You, know, the one that takes an awfully long time to make."
"Oh, Mable's brought the ukulele to the table again!" Another family member called out, as everyone gave a collective groan and Mable simply rolled her eyes at them.
"Play us a song!" Pinewing joked, digging his fork into his steaming hot slice of pie.
Mable lifted the small instrument and was about to play the first strum when there was an unexpected knock at the door.
"Oh, who would possibly come knocking at our door at this time?" Pinewing wondered out loud, rather surprised. "Mable, could you be so kind as to answer the door for us?"
Mable rose from the seat, the ukulele still in her grasp, and left the table. Crowe gave a light shrug and continued eating his dinner as the rest of the table engaged in light conversation. Mable soon returned to the dining room with a face that looked like she'd just seen a ghost and was happy about it.
"G-Guys, you're not going to believe who's just showed up…" She said with a bit of a stutter, her gaze subtly directed at Crowe.
Mable stepped aside and the two guests walked in. At the doorway was none other than Red, and alongside him, Donnie. Crowe's eyes widened as his jaw dropped in disbelief, gasps rang throughout the table.
"Oh, we came at a bad time, didn't we…?" Red uttered rather sheepishly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you'd all just sat down for-"
"Red!? DONNIE!?" Crowe exclaimed, jumping up from his seat and running over to them, hugging them both tightly. "Wh-what are you two doing here? H-how did Donnie get out!?"
"Now, now, darling." Audrey chuckled, interrupting before Donnie or Red could reply. "We've got plenty of leftovers, why don't we let our dear guests sit down with us for dinner?"
"Y-yes Aunt Audrey." Crowe stuttered in response, still in shock as he led his friends to the last two unoccupied seats left at the table.
Donnie looked down eagerly at the pie served to him, while Red looked at it rather gingerly. Knowing this family, it probably had insects baked into it. As perfectly edible as they were, Red still got the jitters at the thought. The seemingly knowing nod Crowe gave to him confirmed his suspicion. Donnie either didn't know or didn't care as he happily began consuming the food.
"Donnie, it's been such a long time since we've seen you!" Pinewing stated. "You've grown a lot since then, kid!"
"I didn't even recognise Mable at first." Donnie replied, pausing from his food to speak. "It's great to be back here again. Really, I'm just glad I made it out of that place in one piece."
"That's what we've all been wondering about since you walked in." One of Crowe's cousins admitted. "Crowe told us all you were gone, and that you would probably never be seen or heard from again!"
"When I saw my dad this morning he said he had no idea how he'd managed to raise such an escape artist." Donnie began with a soft giggle. "I broke out of that facility a few days ago and made my way back to the house. By the time I got there I was exhausted and pretty scratched up but I'd made it nonetheless!"
Everyone listened in silently to Donnie's story, more intrigued than they had ever been at any dinner conversation.
"That day I was taken in, I was really confused and upset. I had absolutely no idea why they were taking me, I wasn't born on June 19th, and I didn't think I had done anything wrong. Eventually I found out it's because of a weird little talent I have…"
Donnie and Red both Glanced at Crowe, expecting him to roll his eyes or make some comment about the illegitimacy of Donnie's 'talent', but he didn't, he just sat with a thoughtful look.
"Apparently the big guys in charge of keeping to paranormal in check don't take kindly to anyone rain-dancing. I learned that the hard way. I ended up in the same ward as the 19-6ers. Some were older, some were younger, and the latest generation were still babies. It was kind of unsettling. I was treated alright in there, but… I felt miserable. I knew they thought of me as some kind of monster. I mean, I'm not a monster, am I? And it didn't help I'd already spent my whole life freely, living out in the world with everyone else."
"Wh-what was it like in there?" Crowe asked eagerly. "How did you escape?"
"I don't really remember, for some reason." Donnie replied, holding his head and frowning as if mimicking a headache or dizziness. "I was in there for a long time but a lot of it was really a blur. All I remember is there were lots of halls, we each got our own room, and we were almost always being watched over by someone, especially when let out of our rooms. Anyone who did anything unexplainable or out of the ordinary was taken away somewhere, maybe for a few hours, maybe for a few days, before returning. I swear I remember some girl, the same species as Red, being taken away when a guard saw her fur change colour from yellow to green. They don't take chances…"
Murmurs flowed through the room as everyone tried to make sense of what they had heard. Donnie ate another forkful of pie as he tried to recall his great escape.
"One day I realised there was no way they would ever just let me out." He continued. "The only way I was getting out is if I broke out. I wasn't really thinking straight at the time, I dunno if it was something they put in the air but my head was all over the place. When we were given our meals I smeared it all over the wall, spelling out '19-6' just to get attention. Looking back, it was pretty funny! Some patrollers came in screaming their heads off about how bad '19-6' was. The more I think about it, the sillier it seems, actually. So anyway, I bolted right out of that room while they tried to clean that wall. I don't know where I went, but the only way out was through a closed window. I wouldn't go jumping through any closed windows now, but like I said, my head wasn't in the right place at the time. That's also why I didn't feel the cuts of the broken glass much until later. I don't remember much about what that place looked like from the outside, but it was inside some little valley surrounded by forest. The trees helped cover me while I scrambled all the way to the big fence, which I climbed pretty easily until I made it to the top and got electrocuted."
Everyone else at the table gasped and cringed at the thought of Donnie being shocked by an electric fence. They still eagerly waited to hear what happened next in their guest's thrilling story.
"Luckily I landed on the other side of the fence. It was only then that my head started to clear itself of whatever was running through the air vents in that building. You can bet I was relieved, and as a final in-your-face I danced as I hadn't been allowed to since my arrival, and boy did I start a rainstorm! It poured all over that valley, and the thunder and lightning probably scared the pants off those people searching for me. I didn't stick around long, though, I had to get going. I journeyed away throughout the entire night, reaching the nearest town around the next morning. People seemed a bit freaked out when they saw me, I was all damp and dirty and still wearing my plain uniform from the facility, but they were nice enough to give me food and water and directions back home."
"What happened when you got home, kid?" Pinewing asked. Red looked down a little shamefacedly.
"I thought I'd have to bang on the door to wake someone up, or find a way to break in, but for some reason the front door was unlocked so I just walked right it." Donnie began. "Red was asleep in his armchair with the television on. At first I thought he was just up really late, but his eyes were closed and he didn't react to me coming in. I was pretty exhausted, so I turned the television off for him before pasting some Band-Aids on any open cuts or blisters I had and grabbing some snacks and a drink from the fridge before heading off to bed. I fell asleep pretty quickly; it was great to be in my own bed again."
"I… I guess Red told you what's going on with the farm, huh?" Crowe asked glumly as the rest of his family exchanged astonished murmurs.
Donnie gave a sad nod and continued eating. Earlier that morning he had found out all about his mother from his father, and on the way to the farm he learned of its poor condition. Pinewing and the others still had so much to ask and tell, but they decided to save their questions and such for after dinner, to give their guests a chance to enjoy their food.
Soon, everyone had finished their dinner. Donnie had quite hungrily polished off most of the leftovers while Red only picked at his pie, only eating the bits we was sure were vegetables. Crowe couldn't help but chuckle as Aunt Audrey worriedly insisted that Red eat more, despite Red claiming he was "Not hungry, really!". Donnie's return had provided a surprising amount of relief, even though the inevitable loss of the family farm was still a looming concern.
The three friends wandered out into the dry expanse that was the front yard, the crunching of the brittle dead grass under each step complimenting the chirping of evening crickets. They were all a bit lost for words. Crowe and Red had heard all they needed to know at the dinner table, save for a few miscellaneous curiosities. Some of Crowe's cousins were out in the yard with them, cleaning things up a bit while the older folks washed the dishes inside.
"Crowe, do you think it would be alright if we stayed here with you for the last couple of days of your visit?" Red asked. "Or… At least Donnie? He's still a wanted runaway after all, they're after him and the first place they'll go looking is back at the house."
"They'll be fine with that, I'm sure." Crowe replied, glancing back at the house.
"That's good; I was worried we'd caused trouble by turning up unexpectedly."
"They're happy to have friendly guests over unexpectedly, especially you and Donnie, they adore you two."
There was a wave of silence after that. Crowe stood in the yard with his gaze lowered slightly and his hands held together behind his back in a formal, almost mournful manner. Red wandered aimlessly, scanning the drought-stricken surroundings while Donnie frolicked like a child through the withered fields. Their attentions turned back to the house when the door creaked open and old Uncle Pinewing hobbled out.
"Are you boys having fun out here?" He called out in his gravelly voice.
"We're doing fine, Uncle." Crowe replied with a smile, a nod and a wave.
"Uhm, Crowe…" Red uttered softly to his companion, a hint of nervousness in his voice. "Can I have a word alone with you and Pinewing?"
Crowe, Red and Pinewing discretely gathered around the back of the house to hear what Red had to say. They were always willing to listen, and it sounded important.
"Crowe, I don't think you'll like this idea," Red began, to Crowe's concern. "But I think Donnie can save this farm."
There was a silence and Crowe and his uncle exchanged glances.
"…Wait, do you mean… The thing… With the… Y'know, the dance?" The older bird stuttered.
"Donnie can summon rain, and that's what this farm needs, isn't it?" Red explained. "Crowe, I know you don't believe the rain-dance is real, but there's no harm in trying."
Crowe was silent, glaring into empty space, expressionless.
"Y'know, I was going to ask the lad myself, but I didn't want to risk sounding silly in case Crowe was right about it just being a coincidence." Pinewing admitted with a soft chuckle. "A few of us were thinking about it, I'm sure."
"So… Who's going to ask?" Red finally questioned.
Both gazes turned to Crowe, whose face seemed to be slowly sinking from blank and dead, to that of someone losing sanity in hopeless desperation. Without warning, Crowe pivoted around and stormed away briskly back out towards the yard.
"Crowe!" Red and Pinewing called out in unison.
He ignored them as his hurried footsteps pounded the dry ground and his hands trembled.
"DONNIE!" Crowe suddenly cried out, his scratchy voice cracking as if he was on the verge of breaking down.
Donnie flinched at the sudden cry and spun around, a look of concern on his face as Crowe briskly approached him, Red and Pinewing following some distance behind. A few family members inside the house hurried out upon hearing the cry, and those outside turned their attention to the commotion. Donnie looked almost a bit frightened when his friend placed his feathered hands firmly upon his shoulders and stared him in the eyes.
"D-Donnie… Donnie…" Crowe sighed, shaking his head with a pleading expression. "Donnie, you're our last hope, buddy. Y-you can make it rain, can't you? Please Donnie, I know I haven't done enough for you, but please, make it rain for us!"
Those who weren't close enough to hear what was going on drew closer, curious and concerned. Donnie stood slack-jawed, the sides of his mouth curling into a confused smile.
"But Crowe, I thought you didn't believe in that?" He replied in a tone that was partly playful but also genuinely surprised by his friend's sudden change of mind.
"I know, I know!" Crowe shrieked, before dropping to his knees and begging. "But I'm desperate, Donnie, we all are! I can't stand to see such a large, loving part of my family forced to sell and leave the land that's been owned and loved for generations! I'm willing to believe anything at this point if it can save them! Anything!"
Some bystanders placed their hands over their beaks in shock, having witnessed such an irregular change in behaviour from their once level-headed family member. Donnie knelt down to get eye-level with Crowe once again and smiled reassuringly.
"Of course I'll give it a go." He responded warmly. "We're best buddies, why wouldn't I?"
Everyone was gathered around in the front yard under the freshly emerged stars. There was tension in the air and murmuring through the small crowd as Donnie calmly stretched and warmed up his muscles. Crowe stared at the clear dark sky with a soft sigh; he expected this to end only in disappointment. Red paced back and forth quietly feeling rather unsure of what to expect.
"Are you ready, darling?" Audrey called out.
Donnie smiled and nodded in reply, and then Pinewing's voice abruptly rang out.
"Play him a song, Mable!" He shouted cheerfully.
"Hey, you're not making her fetch that dreaded instrument, are you?" Jeremiah joked.
"Of course I am! Donnie needs something to dance to!"
Donnie watched as Mable jogged back into the house to fetch her beloved ukulele. Donnie didn't feel like such a big fuss needed to be made over something he had done so easily and regularly before, but of course, this was a big deal to them. He wasn't going to let them or Crowe down tonight. Mable soon returned with the small wooden instrument in her grasp, smiling brightly at the opportunity to play it for a good reason.
The onlookers seemed to hold their breath in anticipation as the first few notes of Mable's ukulele echoed out across the farm. Once a rhythm was established, Donnie began his dance. Some of Crowe's cousins raised eyebrows in perplexity at the strange movements Donnie called a 'dance', but they spoke not a word, they just watched on. Donnie was hunched over, waving his arms and kicking his legs around like a madman to the tune of the ukulele. Crowe had his head lowered, not watching as everyone else was, for he felt he would only be watching his friend embarrass himself.
But then he felt it. A droplet hit his forehead, rolling over his dark green feathers and down his beak.
No-one had even noticed the sky turn dark until the first few droplets began to fall. When they realised what was happening they cheered and whistled loudly, prancing around in celebration as their clothes and feathers were soaked in the precious miracle. It took Crowe a while to realise, though, as his mind tried to convince him otherwise, but failed.
This wasn't some elaborate joke.
This wasn't his mind playing tricks on him.
This wasn't a coincidence.
It hadn't rained in months and wasn't forecast to any time in the foreseeable future, but Donnie's dance had summoned the rain right then and there.
"Well… It worked, Crowe." Red said in a flat, soft tone, gazing peacefully up at the rainclouds and letting the rain drench his hair. "What do you think?"
Crowe shook his head in astonishment, giggling softly as his eyes began to water. Soon his giggles turned into laughter, then into wild hysterics as he fell to the ground, tears of joy streaming from his eyes as he cackled loudly. The rain poured heavier as the farm's owners celebrated beneath its cool, wet embrace.
"You've lost your marbles, haven't you?" Red asked, watching his companion roll around in the mud.
"It's true, Red!" Crowe wailed between bursts of laughter. "The man can make it rain! He can make it rain by dancing, Red! By DANCING! After all I've learned about meteorology, my lifelong friend has been able to control it at a whim and only now I can see it! What a world, Red!"
The next morning there was a much more pleasant mood throughout the farm. That miracle boy Donnie had brought new hope. Crowe had certainly calmed down quite a bit, having come to terms with realising that the rain-dance was indeed real. Donnie was out of that superstitious facility, Crowe was at ease now that his family's farm was able to be saved, but something still seemed to be bothering Red. He picked uneasily at his oatmeal during breakfast.
"There are no bugs in that, you know." Crowe assured light-heartedly.
"I know, the oatmeal is fine, honest!" Red replied. "It's not the breakfast, Crowe, it's me."
"Oh… What's wrong?"
"Well, when Donnie was gone, you were here and I was at home alone, I started thinking." Red began. "What's going to happen when we are all inevitably separated? I mean, you and Donnie are adults now; you'll be going your own separate ways sooner or later. I'm just not used to living without you two around."
"I see what you mean…" Crowe replied. "You pretty much helped raise us, didn't you? I can imagine it'll be hard to see us go…"
"Red, you know I'm not gonna let myself disappear again that easily!" Donnie interjected. "I mean, being on the run and all, I plan to travel around to all kinds of places, stopping by my home town when the coast is clear. Every place I visit, I'll send you and Crowe letters or postcards or something. Then maybe one day when the authorities think I'm dead, or I've found a place where no-one cares about that stupid June 19th superstition, I'll settle there and you can visit me whenever you want. I'll pretty much be following in my mother's footsteps, but hopefully I'll be more, you know, successful."
Red couldn't help but chuckle at his younger friend's ambition; it almost made him feel a little emotional.
"Maybe one day I'll be the one in charge, and I'll flip the rules back over off its head and Donnie can stay in the town, because I'll end this pointless discrimination against those like him and those born on the 19th of June." Crowe thought out loud. "Red, I know and you know that it won't be long before I find a home of my own. And then I'll get into a good career, I'll start a family… That doesn't mean I'm just going to forget you! Heck, you and Donnie will be the first people I'll want to catch up with to talk all about it!"
"Oh, you two, you've made Red emotional!" Audrey interrupted.
Red let out a nervous laugh as he quickly tried to hide the tears that trickled from eyes.
"Th-thanks you guys…" He chuckled with a sniffle. "That means a lot to me."
It was hard to say precisely what they would do with the future to make things work out as planned, but they had a feeling it would all fall into place somehow. Underneath Donnie's childlike personality lay a hidden cleverness and maturity, he would surely figure a way to evade the authorities while still making time to bring rain to Pinewing's farm until the rainy weather came back on its own. Crowe had most of his future already planned out, and now a more open mind to assist him. Red, despite having been an adult the longest, still wasn't sure what to do with himself. Perhaps this unsureness would be his motivation to get out more and see all of the strange little things the world has to offer.
"So, Red, you reckon you'll be alright?" Pinewing asked, adjusting the old yet functional camera.
"Of course." Red replied, reassuring himself as he glanced at his two friends to his left. "We can't lose touch, but… We can let go."
With a loud click of shutters, the photo was taken. The moment was immortalised, Red, Donnie and Crowe standing in the field of the farm together. Donnie's arms were around his friends' shoulders, Crowe was clad in more casual attire, and Red's eyes held a droopy-lidded peaceful gaze. They were confident that it wouldn't be the last one.