Part 8 – 'The pistachio gambit.'
The rest of the evening went by in a nice cozy blur of confetti, balloons and ice cream. Gadget's new and improved machine was even set up to make different flavors… Zipper got apple-cherry swirl, Monty had a double helping of gouda and swiss cheese sundae with parmesean sprinkles (ugh), Gadget had a cup of vanilla with brownie bits, and of course I had my own personal favorite, seven-nut peanut butter crunch with everything and caramel sauce. (When we get home, I'm going to ask Gadget to put an ice cream machine in every room in the Ranger Tree.)
After we were done eating, we played catch with acorns until the light completely faded. From where we were at way up in the tree, we could see the moon when it finally came out, still just a sliver but thicker than yesterday. Pretty soon there were thousands of stars sparkling away, so bright and clear you could even see the band of the Milky Way like a pale white stripe across the sky.
For a while everyone sat around on the branch and just talked about stuff – Monty told another one of his tall tales while Gadget went on about how she built her ice cream maker and I explained to Zipper how to say 'apple-cherry swirl' in Vietnamese. As the evening went on, we started talking quieter and quieter, until at last we didn't say much of anything but just relaxed and enjoyed the sounds of the forest at night.
Chip and I lay on our backs next to each other and stared up at the sky. Below us, we could hear the crickets chirping away, and the breeze whispering in the branches… the sound reminded me of the soft rushing noise the fountain makes in City Park after all the humans have gone to bed.
"It's funny…" Chip murmured beside me.
"I kind of wish we didn't have to go home tomorrow."
I turned my head to the side and looked at him. "Yeah… but think of all the cases we might miss out on if we didn't."
"That's true," he agreed, once again not picking up on the fact that I wasn't being entirely serious. "And I ought to get a head start on painting the window shutters too," he added. (Only Chip could lay down under the stars, stare up at the sky and think about housework.) We were quiet for a little while. Then he said, "Even still, I'm glad we were able to get away for a while."
I nodded. "We should do it more often."
"Mm. We'll see."
I started to daydream a little (can you daydream at night?) "There's always Maui. Or Norway. Or we could go to Japan…"
"…China? Nepal? Thailand? Grand Cayman?"
"All right, I get the idea," he said with a chuckle. "But I'd like to let this vacation sink in a little before we start planning the next one, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed. After a pause I said, "I'm really happy that you had a good time."
"Me too," he said as he pulled gently at his chest fur with his fingers. "I, ah…" he started to say, then stopped. For a moment he pursed his lips together, like he was trying to suck a poppy seed out of his front teeth or something. I thought I recognized the look – he gets it sometimes when he's struggling with the right way to say something. I guess that's important to him, to get all the words right. I'm not sure why, though, because I always know what he means anyway.
I waited for him to finish whatever it was he was going to say, but he was quiet for a while and I started to think he'd forgotten about it. I was just about to clear my throat when he glanced over at me. "Dale, I just wanted to thank you for everything you did today," he said quietly.
I smiled. "You already thanked me, remember? Back in the tent…"
"That was for the hike. But when I said it I didn't know about all the other stuff you guys were planning, so thank you for that too. It means a lot to me." Then he did something I don't think he's ever done before in all the years I've known him… he reached his arm out, put his paw on the back of mine, and patted it.
I was starting to blush under my fur as he spoke, and when he put his paw on mine my belly suddenly felt warm like I'd just eaten another toasted marshmallow. It took me a few moments to realize what it was… I was proud of myself. Really proud. "Well," I said as I gave his fingers a little squeeze, "that's what best friends are for."
I don't know how late it was when we came shambling back into the campsite, still full of ice cream and yawning every other second. "G'night, everybody. See you bright and early." Gadget said as she ducked into her tent and closed the flap.
Monty stretched his arms out and yawned really loud, then held open his tent door so Zipper could fly in. "Right-o," he said, "sleep tight and don't let the great big carnivorous bedbugs bite."
"I heard that!" snapped Gadget from inside her tent.
Monty chuckled and gave us a wink. "Catch you blokes in the morning. And don't oversleep… I'm fixin' pepper jack biscuits." He disappeared into his tent, but we could still hear him grumbling at Zipper. "Course, they ought to be cheddar, but we're out somehow. I dunno why we didn't bring more cheese, wasn't enough to fit in a ladybird's thimble…"
Chip took off his hat and slipped into the tent with me right behind him. He sat down on his sleeping bag, eyes all drooped, and clicked off his light.
"Aren't you going to write in your journal-thingy tonight?" I asked.
"Nah," he said, "I'm way too sleepy. I'll get all the important details down when we get back home."
"If you don't mind, I'd like to stay up a little," I said as I dug out my diary and a pencil.
"Help yourself. Just don't stay up too late… oh, and don't click your pencil on your teeth."
"Do I do that?" (He nodded, but I still don't think I do that).
Chip scooted into his sleeping bag and set his jacket down beside his head. He folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. I thought he'd drift right off to sleep, but after a minute or two he said, "Say Dale, I was wondering something…"
"Where did you get all those balloons and things from?"
I smiled. "From my supply bag."
"Really? I didn't see them in there yesterday."
"Not the big bag, the little one next to the inflatable raft."
"Oh, I didn't see that one. Is that where you're hiding the pistachios?"
"Nope," I said, "those are in – heyyy, I'm not telling you where my pistachios are."
He laughed softly without opening his eyes. "Worth a shot," he said and yawned again. "Good night, Dale." He was asleep in a few minutes.
So like I said, it was a really cool day, and everything worked out even better than we planned it. What really makes me feel good, though, is that while we were camping we didn't have to worry so much about being Rescue Rangers. Not that I don't love being a Ranger, of course, but now and again it's nice to set everything aside and just be friends. (I'm pretty sure that this time next week Chip and I will be yelling at each other like always, but I don't really care because the way I see it a pat on the paw outweighs a lot of fights.)
Okay, I think I've stayed up way past my bedtime, so I'm going to stop writing now and get some sleep… if I can tune out Chip, anyway. He doesn't believe me when I tell him this, but he snores.