Published August 09. 2009 4:00AM
"C'mon," I said. "We haven't gone out to Seal Island yet."
"Yeah. It's my favorite part."
We walked to an outdoor walkway with a pond on either side. In the pond to our right, enormous goldfish floated up and kissed the surface. The pond to our left was crowded with ducks.
"I can see why this is your favorite part," she said, grinning at me.
"Look," I said. "There's a green-winged teal, and there's a merganser." I leaned on the steel fence. "There. There's the best one: the wood duck." Suddenly I remembered myself. "I guess I must be boring you, huh?"
"Not at all," Minerva said. "Actually, I find it interesting there are so many kinds. But why do they have such ridiculous names?"
"I don't know. They're no more ridiculous than Wimberly, I guess." I grinned, daring to tease her.
But Minerva only turned and looked across the pond. "Hey, look at that one."
"Isn't that a red-snoodled Frimhaus?"
We held on to the fence and laughed.
"And over there," I said. "A green-beaned Snowdenstoke."
We laughed so hard, we had to hold onto the fence to keep from falling down.
Finally, we leaned against the rails and sighed. I looked into her moony eyes and - suddenly shy - quickly looked away. What was happening to me? She made my stomach do somersaults like one of those crazy dolphins.
"C'mon," I said. "Let's check out the seals."
We followed the walkway to a smaller pond. Across the pond on concrete rocks, a group of harbor seals slept in the sun. Others swam back and forth in the tiny pond.
The harbor seals had round, blimpy bodies and blotchy brown coats. Huge black eyes looked up from sad, puppy faces. They always made me smile the way they bulleted through the water like fat torpedoes.
"I love to watch them swim up and down," I said, but when I turned to look at her, she was frowning.
"Let me show you the others," I said.
I led her to another pond where fur seals, slim and chocolate brown, barked and chased each other.
Still, Minerva was silent.
"C'mon," I said. "There's one more pond."
We walked down to the final pond, where there were sea lions and an elephant seal sunning on the rocks. Minerva glanced at them and turned away.
"Let's go back to the harbor seals," she said.
I followed her back to the smallest pond. She hooked her arms over the fence and stared, her forehead furrowed, and her lower lip poking out.
"Do you think it's fair?" She spoke so abuptly, she made me jump.
"To keep them like this?" There were gathering clouds in her gray eyes.
"What do you mean 'fair?' They don't seem to mind."
"No? Just look at their faces."
I looked. The seals looked sad. But they always looked sad.
"That's just how they look," I said.
"How do you know?" Her eyes flashed. "Have you ever seen one that was free?"
"No, I guess not."
"Just look at them swim back and forth," she said. "They're like prisoners pacing the floor of their cell."
"You didn't seem to mind the other animals." I knew it was a lame thing to say.
"They were happy!" She was almost shouting. "Or too stupid to know they were prisoners!"
I looked around uneasily. People were staring.
"OK," I said. "OK, just don't yell, OK?"
"W.," she spoke in a fierce whisper. "I'm telling you I know how they feel. I can feel it here." She put a hand over her heart. "All my life I've been shuffled around all over the place, whether I wanted to go or not, like a prisoner. And I've been stuck in schools where strangers would stare at me like I was some kind of a freak. Do you know how that feels?"
"I know how they feel, W." She stared at the seals.
"Hey," I said at last. "Let's go, OK?"
As we started back down the walkway, she gripped my arm.
"Listen," she rasped. "We're gonna get them out!"
She stared into my face with wild and piercing eyes.
"You and me," she said. "We're gonna bust them out of here."
Chapter 21: The Plan
"I've got a plan," Minerva said, getting down to business. "You mean," I said, gulping, "about the seals?"