The creek was bustling with life, as it should be since it was after school and every kid around came down to enjoy their free time. The 10 Speeds were doing their sick jumps and burning rubber. The Ninja Kids were reading their imported manga. The Paintballers were resuming their endless war with one another. But the stump where the Stump Kids would always hang out was surprisingly barren, save for one boy. He knew he was going to be alone today, but it didn't make the absence of his friends less hard on him.
He wasn't going to let this stop him from having fun with other kids. He picked himself up from his seated position against his beloved stump and walked toward a landmark tree in the creek.
This tree was unique for a number of reasons. It was near Kit and her Trading Tree where kids from all over the creek could come and trade what they had for snacks and other fun things. It was also near where the Horse Girls would go around pretending to be horses (but one must never tell them that they are only 'pretend horses'). But according to the inhabitant of the tree, the canopy of the tree had great acoustics for playing her sousaphone.
"Hey there!" Craig called up to the tree, waving to get their attention.
A head popped out from the tree platform. Her blue beret rested on top of her auburn hair, one of her trademark styles, the other being the sousaphone wrapped around her body. "Oh, hello Craig!"
"May I come up?" Craig asked, knowing it'd be rude to climb someone else's tree without their permission.
"Of course!" her voice was excited at both the prospect of Craig's arrival and about having company.
Climbing the tree was just as tricky as he remembered. When Craig reached the platform, he was panting more than he was expecting. "How…." he started before taking a second to get some more air in his lungs, "How do you do this every day?"
A few chuckles escaped from her mouth, "Practice. It's true with everything." She pressed the valves on her instrument to cement her statement. "So what brings you over to my neck of the woods?"
Finally after catching his breath, Craig replied, "Well, I wanted to check up on you, Timeke- I mean, Beth." He caught himself. He remembered that while she might be known as the Timekeeper, she was still a kid and she had a name, "We haven't really seen each other since last week."
"Yeah, that is right, isn't it?" Beth smiled, "Where are your friends, Kelsey and JP, right?"
"Well, Kelsey caught the flu and she swore she will fight it and whatever caused her to get sick to her dying breath."
"Wow. And what about JP?"
"He kept coughing on Kelsey after she said she was immune to his flu."
Beth laughed at this, which Craig joined in.
"So, with both of them at home, it's up to me to visit you and see how you're doing."
The smile on Beth's face became a little weaker as she took a seat on the wooden planks. "I'm doing fine. Still up here, keeping the time for all the kids of the creek."
Craig also took a seat on the boards, "Doesn't sound like you're doing fine."
"I am, really. I'm still trying to make sure all the kids can trust me after that mistake I had with daylight saving time," she still had a smile on her face, but it seemed crestfallen, as if she was trying to cheer herself up.
"It was a simple mistake. We all make mistakes. Like how Kelsey accidently hit Bobby on the head with her sword, or when JP thought he could breathe underwater."
Beth's demeanor didn't change. Rather, her smile vanished as she spoke, "But this is me we're talking about. I'm known as the Timekeeper, whether I like it or not. I have a responsibility, a duty to all the kids of the creek. To help them go home for dinner so they don't get in trouble. If I make a single mistake, everything can be thrown into question."
Craig listened. He never knew that being the Timekeeper was such a huge responsibility for Beth. He was just like one of the countless kids who would play until he heard the dinner horn, never thinking about who was behind the sound.
He wanted to give Beth a comforting word, but he couldn't think of anything. Rather, he had something else come to his mind: "Can I ask you why you're the Timekeeper?"
"Huh?" The question understandably caught Beth by surprise.
"Like, I know why you are the Timekeeper, it allows you to be a part of every kid's life in one form, but I'm more curious why you like being the Timekeeper more than being with other kids."
"Well…." Beth started, "you already know I'm not all that great at playing with other kids. And this way, I feel more comfortable being here at the creek with everyone. And…." she started again, this time, pressing the valves on her sousaphone in a fidgety way, "I really like the concept of time…."
This caught Craig's attention. He didn't say anything, rather, he sat and listened.
"Time is instrumental in so much. Everything from music to cooking, traveling to sleeping, time is so fascinating to me." With each word, Beth was getting more animated. "Like, how this exact second will never happen again, or how that it's afternoon for us here at the creek, but over in Europe it's bedtime. And that how there are weird places that don't follow daylight saving time, like Ecuador, Nepal, and Arizona! And with music, if you don't have the right time, the song can be a jumbled mess and it's chaos!" She quickly realized how loud she was and quickly covered her mouth in embarrassment, "Sorry, I just really like time."
Craig smiled and gave a warm laugh, "It's okay, you have nothing to be sorry about! We're at the creek, and here you are allowed to love what you love. Like how I love making a map of the whole creek."
"A map?" Beth sounded intrigued.
"Yeah, I have it right here," Craig moved the blue purse that he always has across his body to his lap. Opening it up, he dug it a big piece of parchment. He began to unfold it and it quickly grew to where both kids had to hold it up.
Beth was in awe as she looked at the homemade map. "Whoa," was the only word to escape her mouth as she looked at it up and down.
"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of it," Craig lightly boasted.
"You drew this all by yourself?"
"Yup, I really like exploring the creek with my friends. And when we explore, I like to draw all the places that we find," Craig started count them with his free hand, "The Junk Pile, the Vulture's Nest, the Sewer Kingdom, Cardboard City, that bridge with the weird kid who acts like a troll for some reason. The point is, the creek offers endless opportunities for kids to explore and set up their home. And I want to draw it out so we can all be connected together." Craig realized he had gotten carried away as well, "Heh, sorry, guess I was going on and on as well."
There was a smile on Beth's face as Craig was talking. "I don't mind," she commented, "I enjoy it when others share something they really like. Also, you listened to me geeking out about my love of time, so it's only fair."
Craig smiled back as he began to fold up his massive map, "I still think it's awesome what you do, Beth."
She blushed, "M-Me? Awesome?"
"Of course! Think about it. You're like a legend here as the Timekeeper. You help kids get home and stay out of trouble. The entire creek waits for your call everyday. You help kids in more ways that you realize. If it wasn't for you, I don't think any of our parents would allow us to come to the creek anymore. You're important to every kid in the creek, even if they might not thank you personally," Craig explained, placing the now folded map back into his purse. He then stood up on his feet, "And, on behalf of every single kid in the creek, stretching from Duck Mart to the Overpass, I want to formally thank you, Beth the Timekeeper, for your service, your punctuality, and for keeping us all out of trouble!" With his final word, Craig bowed as a knight would to his queen.
Beth's face was still rosy and it seemed to be growing at Craig's kind words, "I….I don't know what to say…."
Craig pointed at the many clocks that adorned the tree, "How about 'it's time for dinner'?"
Turning to look at the clocks, Beth let out an 'eep' at the time, "Oh, it's already six!" Quickly getting to her feet, Beth positioned herself and her sousaphone correctly before she took a deep breath and blew into it.
The loud and low tone echoed throughout all of the creek. No matter where the kids were playing or hiding, they all could here Beth playing her instrument. Craig watched as she played. A small smile crept onto his face. He could tell that despite all her beating herself up and all the negative things she might have said about her failing, this was her calling. Just as exploring and mapmaking was Craig's calling at the creek, it was Beth's destiny to keep track of the time for all the kids.
Some rustling and groans sprung up throughout the creek after Beth stopped playing. All the kids started to head home.
"Aren't you going to head home?" Beth asked Craig.
"I just have one quick question before I go; is really not all that lonely for you up here?"
Beth didn't respond right away, as if she had to think about her answer, "Well, it's not all that lonely for me up here, as I still get to kinda play with all the kids in my own way…." she explained while looking down at the floorboards. However, she looked back at Craig with a smile, brush the hair away from her face, "but it was much more fun with you today."
Craig smiled back and gave Beth a hug, sousaphone and all, "I know it can be a bit lonely at times, and I know what it's like to feel that way, but never be afraid to reach out. You might be the Timekeeper, but you're still a kid. And us kids gotta stick together." Craig broke off the hug and saw that Beth was slightly shaken about the hug, "Oh, sorry about the sudden hug!"
Beth was both blushing and shaking, "It's okay, I-I just wasn't expecting it!"
"Heh, sorry, I should have asked," Craig gave a slight chuckle as he rubbed the back of his neck, "But I do mean it, you have friends in all of us at the creek."
She smiled right back at him, "Thank you, Craig."
The two stood in silence silence for a few moments before Craig broken it, "Well, I should hurry home for dinner before I get grounded."
She simply nodded as he climbed down the tree.
"Bye, Beth! See you tomorrow!" Craig called back up the tree once he got to the bottom. He then waved as he began to run homeward through the trees.
"Goodbye, Craig!" she called back as she watched him disappear from her sight through the trees, leaves, and canopies.
She needed to get home too, but she wasn't in a rush, mostly because Beth wanted to enjoy the feeling she had within her. It was a happiness one gets from finding something that they didn't know was missing.
Beth smiled as she spoke a single word to herself, "Friends." She liked the sound of that.