"Hey Winter! Long time no see."
Sawyer Nelson sat at the edge of the familiar 80,000-gallon pool his old friend had lived in for the past few years. Even now, though she had grown much bigger and was using her tail much more fluently, he felt as if nothing had changed. Coming back to see Winter always felt as natural to Sawyer as coming home after a long day.
Sliding his flip-flops off, he put his feet in the cool water. As she had done so many times before, Winter brought him the yellow duck toy she loved to play with, dropping it at his feet. He picked it up and challenged her in a mini game of tug-of-war.
"Winter, come on! That's cheating," he yelled as she splashed him with water out of her blowhole. Suddenly, he felt the familiar and still momentarily frightening sense of falling, and he knew he was going in. Winter had tricked him too many times and he knew when she was getting the best of him and pulling him into the pool.
And with a splash, that's exactly what happened.
"Winter!" Sawyer laughed, brushing water out of his eyes. As frustrating as he knew it would be to bike home in wet clothes, he couldn't even pretend to be mad at the dolphin. He enjoyed it too much to be angry, and he loved swimming with her too much to worry about his clothes whenever she forced him in.
Winter slowly swam over to him and put her head under water, gently nudging him with her nose, as him apologizing. He couldn't resist a smile; it was too sweet of a gesture for a dolphin to make.
"It's okay, Winter. You know I still love you. At least you should by now, considering how many times you've pulled me in here!" He gently rested his hand on her back and was about to go for a swim with her when a familiar voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Still sneaking in, I see."
He smiled. He didn't even have to glance over to see who it was before responding. "Hi Hazel…"
She laughed and jogged down to the pool to join them. "You do know that my Dad and I are still here all the time, right? Any one of us, even Phoebe, would let you in. You're practically family, and Winter certainly sees you that way," she added, bending down to play with Winter, who made her signature Tweety Bird sound in delight.
Sawyer shrugged. "Where's the fun in knocking and being let in? Sneaking in feels way more…adventurous," he said, flashing Hazel a mischievous grin.
"I guess you're right," she admitted. She knew he always preferred sneaking in. It was why she almost always left that back door unlocked now.
"Come on," Sawyer said, gesturing towards the pool. "Jump in."
"Nice try, Sawyer, but unlike you, I don't like getting wet in my good clothes," she said. She'd been teasing him about that practically since day one.
He rolled his eyes. "I don't like it either, but it's always Winter's fault! She tricks me and pulls me into the pool!"
At that moment, Winter blew more water out of her blowhole, drenching Sawyer once again.
"See?" he exclaimed. "Argue with that!"
"I think she only did that because she knew you were blaming her," Hazel teased. After a well-timed chirp from Winter, she gestured to the dolphin. "See?"
Sawyer pouted. "Jeez, between the two of you, I don't have a chance. I'm always on the losing end of these arguments!"
Winter came swimming back over to the two of them. Then, as if realizing Sawyer was right and deciding to support her friend, she shot water all over Hazel, drenching her and ruining any plan she'd had to keep her clothes dry.
"HA!" Sawyer burst into laughter, patting Winter on her fin supportively as she danced a little circle around him. "Good girl, Winter!"
"Ugh!" Hazel shouted, unable to keep from laughing herself! "Winter, you traitor! You always take his side!"
"I'm her favorite," he teased, hugging the dolphin and letting her pull him around the pool for a moment. "Always have been, always will." He smiled, loving the feeling of swimming with such a beautiful animal.
"Alright, fair enough. Come on, Sawyer, get out of the water, she's been swimming all day. Even with a prosthetic tail, she shouldn't use it as hard as she would a real one, you know?"
Sawyer nodded, knowing she was right but disappointed all the same. "Bye Winter," he said with a slight frown. "I'll be back tomorrow for our duck-toy-tug-of-war rematch!" With one last pat on the fin, he climbed out of the pool. Of course, as was her routine, Winter chirped and jumped out of the water slightly. It was her way of waving goodbye and simultaneously splashing Sawyer one last time before he left for the night.
"Well, at least my flip-flops stayed dry," he said sarcastically. He and Hazel jogged down to the little bench they always sat on to rest and dry off a little after a swim with the dolphins.
"You know," Hazel said as she plopped herself down next to him. "I'm pretty sure we still have one of your old shirts from a couple years ago. You've probably grown into by now," she teased, elbowing him gently.
"Oh ha ha, very funny," he said. "So maybe I was a little scrawny back then, but remember how much fun we used to have? Hanging out here all day, playing with the dolphins, feeding the fish, chasing away Roofus? Ah, those were the days…"
"That's still pretty much what we do every summer, you know," Hazel reminded him, looking out at Winter, who was now playing with another dolphin who swam over to her side of the pool. "Hasn't changed much, except that we don't have to deal with Roofus anymore," she added.
Sawyer chuckled. "I can't believe that was five years ago. We were eleven years old and doing crazy stuff like that. It seems so normal now."
"I know," Hazel said. "I can't how many people never get to do any of this. Oh my God, remember that first time we spent the night watching Winter? That was so much fun!" She had almost burst with excitement at the time, and she felt the same way now just remembering it.
Sawyer laughed. "Oh my God, that was awesome. It was also the first time I really swam with Winter. I mean really swam with her, not holding her while she tried to float." He looked down for a moment, remembering the excitement of that day. "We should do that again."
Hazel looked over at him, seeing the twinkle in his eyes as he read her mind.
"What?" he asked, knowing what he wanted her to say and afraid she wouldn't at the same time.
Fortunately for Sawyer, she did.
"You want to do that again? Tonight. I mean, just hang out up here all night and play with Winter? Gossip, you know, the usual?" she had said everything so quickly in her excitement, she only hoped that he had understood her and she hadn't sounded like a total fool.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the corners of his mouth curve into a smile.
Hazel returned his smile as the excitement from that day five years ago returned to her.