Chapter 24: Ellie's Fawn Friend
A month of winter passed. They continued traveling day-by-day and journeyed a short way from the top. Each night they found a new shelter and region to explore, but it didn’t feel the same without their brothers. What could replace the goofballs that lightened up their world?
This foggy morning, they woke up in Misty Park. Oliver had allowed Ellie and Lizzy to go out and try and find all the white flowers hidden in the fog. Not much snow fell, but fog covered the sky.
“Ready, Ellie?” Lizzy asked.
“Then let’s go back to Oliver. He’s waiting,” Lizzy said.
“There you are,” Oliver said.
“Which way are we going next?” Lizzy asked.
“You see over there.” Oliver pointed. “There’s…a deer!”
“Wait, where?” Lizzy asked.
“Silly Oliver. She’s a baby deer. They’re called fawns,” Ellie said. “Look, Alice. A new friend.”
“She’s beautiful,” Lizzy said.
“Can we go see her?” Ellie asked.
“Why not? It’s on the way.”
The fawn frolicked in a circle. She waited for them to arrived and giddily rubbed her ears on Ellie and Lizzy,
“Did you see that? She even dances!” Ellie said.
“Incredible, huh? What should we call her?” Lizzy asked.
“Hm…Minnie. That should suit her well. Minnie, c’mere.”
“Perfect, Ellie,” Lizzy said.
“Minnie, dance with me,” Ellie said. She and Minnie skipped away and twirled together. Ellie laughed and beamed, even dropping Alice in the snow with Coco.
“I see our sister feels happy,” Oliver said.
“Of course,” Lizzy said.
“She can never get enough of animals.”
“Nope.” Lizzy bounced to Minnie and Ellie.
“Minnie watch.” Ellie leapt again. Minnie hoisted up her foot, but galloped instead. “You silly. We’ll work on it, I promise. We’ll be friends for a long time,” Ellie said. “I don’t think I’ve been this excited to meet somebody since Father showed me that baby snow leopard!”
“You two have had some fun, but I think it’s best we get going,” Oliver said.
“Now?” Lizzy asked.
“Yes. Ideally,” Oliver said.
“May Minnie join us?” Ellie asked. She opened the fawn into her arms. “Oh please.”
“Yay!” Ellie said.
“But…” Oliver said.
“But what?” Ellie asked.
“We’re approaching the top of the mountain.”
“Yes…so?” Ellie said.
“Eventually, we may have to leave Minnie behind.”
“Why?” Ellie asked.
“It may become too dangerous up there. Especially if it starts snowing again,” Oliver said.
“Oh.” Ellie waved her foot through the snow.
“Well, it better not snow,” Lizzy interrupted.
“Lizzy’s right. It hasn’t snowed too much in a while,” Oliver said.
“I hope it doesn’t again. I couldn’t imagine a minute without her!”
“You’re ridiculous. You just spent the last six and a half years without her. Five minutes and you’ll never leave her.”
“Well she’s that great. I don’t know how I went all those years without my fawn friend! We have so much in common.”
“She sure has an imagination, doesn’t she?” Oliver asked.
“I bet she’s dreamed of meeting a fawn for years,” Lizzy said, picking up Alice and Coco.
“So why don’t we get going? Minnie and you can frolic and dance,” Oliver said.
“Really?” She jumped and smiled.
“Sure!” Lizzy said. She escorted Ellie to the path and Minnie followed behind. Along their way, Lizzy walked with Oliver. Ellie danced, skipped, and frolicked with Minnie. Coco stuck close to Lizzy, avoiding proximity with Minnie.
“You know, Minnie,” Ellie said, “I can’t believe I found you. And I get to bring you along…and you want to come. Why, it’s all so great.”
“Up that way, Ellie,” Oliver said.
“I always wondered…” Lizzy said.
“Wondered what?” Oliver asked.
“Why is the ice pond a legend? If someone’s seen it then it’s real, but if they didn’t, then they’re making things up. What makes it so hard to know?” Lizzy asked.
“Well…sometimes, someone did see something, such as the ice pond. However, if one person sees it and doesn’t provide proof, people struggle to believe such a wonderful thing exists. In those cases, it comes down to whether you believe or not.”
“Do you believe?”
“Believe in what?”
“The ice pond,” she said.
“Of course,” he said. He shifted the other direction. Do I believe? I don’t know much about it besides what Lizzy’s told me. And I didn’t always listen closely. Is it possible for something to be as great as what Lizzy says the ice pond is? How? How wouldn’t everyone know about it? It would be amazing to have something so great, after all that’s happened.
Ellie and Minnie tired each other out. When they reached their shelter, the two dozed off before the others had entered. Lizzy stepped in along with Coco. Oliver set up the fire and Lizzy gazed as the first sparks flamed. Soon it turned to a wonderful and warm glow. She snuck under the second blanket and lay down as she sent herself to sleep.
The girls and animals slept, but Oliver stayed up. The night remained early at seven o’clock. Oliver grabbed Charlie’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. A happy story like this should help me sleep. It’s too early for me. Oliver flipped open the book and read the words, but didn’t think of them. He set the book down. Why does she talk so much about the ice pond? Where would we find it? It doesn’t seem to be anywhere near. Does it even exist? I guess I’ll wait and see.
“I can’t believe you caught that, Minnie! With your legs too!” Ellie said.
“El-lie! Ellie? Where are you?” Oliver called from the cave. He and Lizzy had woken after Ellie and saw she vanished.
“I’m here,” she said.
“Ellie, why’d you go out alone?” Oliver said.
“I didn’t go alone. I went with Minnie and Alice. Right, Alice? You were there with me.”
“Ellie, you’re not allowed out without Lizzy or I,” Oliver said.
“What’s wrong with Minnie and Alice?”
“You said it yourself, Minnie’s a baby deer. You need someone older to watch you. I want the rest of us to stick together. Understand?”
Ellie peeked down at Minnie and back at Oliver. She nodded.
“Good. You can’t scare me like this. I may have to punish you.”
“What? I didn’t…”
“Go sit in there, in the cave. Minnie will stay out here for a few minutes.”
“You can’t do that!”
“I will, I haven’t been hard enough with you and I can’t risk anything happening. You don’t know how much I worry,” Oliver said.
“You’re so mean,” Ellie said, running to the cave in tears. Lizzy hurried to her side to console her.
Oliver seated himself next to the fawn. That was too close for comfort. I could’ve lost her too. This can’t happen again. I miss Charlie and Jeffrey…and it’s all my fault. I have to take any necessary protective measure. Anything, anything. I can’t have anymore misery.”
The next few days went the same. Lizzy, Oliver, and Coco trooped behind as Ellie twinkled up on her toes. Up the hills she twirled and around the corners she whirled. With Minnie, she pivoted, spun, and beamed as if nothing had happened or was wrong.
One thing did change after those few days. When Ellie woke up the morning after, she noticed something falling she didn’t want to see.
“Snow,” she whispered. She peered back at Minnie. She picked up her doll and clutched it to her chest.
A little later when Lizzy woke up, Ellie confronted her. “It’s snowing, Lizzy. Does this mean Minnie can’t come?”
“I don’t think so,” Lizzy said. “Not much has fallen. I’m pretty sure it’ll go away soon.”
“I hope so,” Ellie sighed. “I don’t want to go anywhere without her.”
“Don’t think of it. Enjoy every moment with her. Smile again, smile. You have one of the best friends ever. Remember that.”
“Thanks Lizzy,” Ellie said, hopping to Minnie.
“Are you okay, Lizzy?” Oliver woke.
They headed out. Ellie and Minnie walked together, but Minnie tended to go off path to avoid the snow falling. Ellie rushed to her side every time. “What’s wrong, Minnie? You don’t dance much and you keep running away. Minnie? Come back to the path.”
“It’s snowing for real,” Oliver said.
“Indeed,” Lizzy said.
“I don’t think Minnie can come along much longer,” Oliver said.
“Are you sure?”
“Look at her. She keeps going off to duck under trees and avoid snow. She doesn’t like it.”
“Yes, but I can’t imagine how much it would hurt Ellie,” Lizzy said.
“She still has Coco, and that doll of hers.”
“Oh Oliver, but not every animal is the same. Do you even care about Ellie? I know you always defended Ellie and Alice from Charlie and Jeffrey, but do you actually understand what they mean to her?” Lizzy said.
“Of course I do. Do you know how much I’ve lost in my life? Over these past few months.”
“Believe me, I do,” Lizzy said as a couple tears streamed down her face.
“We all have to lose something. And it hurts, it’s painful, and she’ll cry, but she can save Minnie from this storm. I know she understands animals, and that sometimes they have to be let free. It’s most important to let the fawn go.”
“I agree. Give Ellie one more night. She loves Minnie,” Lizzy said.
“I understand. One more night,” he said.
“Are you sure you’re good, Lizzy?” Oliver asked.
“Yes. No need to worry. I caught a small cold,” Lizzy said.
“You’re the best, Minnie,” Ellie said, hugging Minnie.
Their hug caught Oliver’s eyes. He shook his head. Saying goodbye will be awful. How can I watch either of them cry again? Why do I have to do this to her? No wonder they all think I’m the bad guy. I hate this, but oh well. It’s the best for everyone.
Ellie leapt across thick plains of snow. She pranced with Minnie until they discovered a spot for the night. Ellie danced around with Minnie as Oliver prepared a fire.
“If you don’t mind, we’d like to show you our dance,” Ellie said.
“Please. We need some entertainment,” Oliver said.
“Here we are,” Ellie said. She got in position. Lizzy and Oliver watched beside each other. Ellie completed a plié and rose up to her toes and moved on the tip of her feet. Minnie skipped in timing to Ellie’s movements. Ellie twirled her left foot around her right and swirled a double spin in passé before leaping the opposite way of Minnie. The two turned the opposite way and finished with a triple spin.
“Bravo.” Oliver and Lizzy clapped.
“Thank you, thank you,” Ellie said.
“Wonderful dance,” Lizzy said.
“It was quite the spectacle. I do believe we better get to bed soon though,” Oliver said.
“So soon?” Ellie asked.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Lizzy said.
“May we please have five more minutes?” Ellie asked.
“No, no. You all better get under the covers before I put the fire out. I want lots of time to travel tomorrow,” Oliver said. He grabbed a clump of snow. Lizzy and Ellie readied under the blankets. Before they got comfy, the light and warmth vanished.
Through the night, the snow plowed down faster and heavier. A heavy draft swept through lanes of snow. Back and forth, it whooshed the trees’ leaves. With the fog clouding the view ahead, not much time awaited before they’d realize another storm was taking place.
Lizzy and Oliver woke earlier than usual. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay in today? It’s stormy out there,” she asked, gazing at the pelting snow.
“But who knows how long this storm could last,” Oliver said.
“It’s cold and hard out there.”
“Yes, but we’ve marched through a storm way worse than this. We can do it again. I just hate to make this trip last any longer. We need to move on, desperately,” Oliver said.
“Where are we to even go?” Lizzy asked.
Oliver turned to her and lowered his eyebrows. “Just wait. You’ll see soon. I promise.”
In an hour, Ellie awoke. Oliver and Lizzy dressed and packed their things. Coco waited at their side. “Wake up, Minnie. We slept in.” Ellie rubbed her hands across the fawn’s back. Minnie rolled over, and fidgeted up on her legs. Ellie stood and walked to her brother and sister. For once, Minnie didn’t follow.
“Ready to go, Ellie?” Oliver asked.
“Let me go get Minnie,” Ellie said. “Minnie, it’s time to go.” Minnie whimpered back into the corner. “Minnie? What’s gotten into you?”
Oliver sighed. “Ellie.” He set his hand on her shoulder. “It’s time for us to go.”
“We have to wait for Minnie,” she said.
“I think it’s best we don’t,” Oliver said.
“What do you mean?”
“Ellie, she doesn’t even want to come,” Oliver said.
“Not true. She always wants to follow me.”
“Ellie, it’s snowy, cold, and windy. No condition for Minnie,” Oliver said.
“But I can’t leave her behind,” Ellie said. Tears swelled her eyes. She rubbed her fists against her eyes.
“Don’t you love her?”
“Yes. Don’t make me leave her! Can’t we stay here until the storm ends so Minnie can come.”
“No. We have to go.”
“Because I want to leave here.”
“But I need Minnie. I can’t leave here!”
“Yes, you can,” Oliver said. “Minnie has already left her home and gone all this way for you. Now it’s time you do something for Minnie. Remember all those times you told Jeffrey to let those animals be free?”
“It’s your turn now. You have to let Minnie free, it’s what she wants. You’ll still have Coco,” Oliver said.
“But Coco’s not the same.”
“What do you mean? I thought you loved Coco,” Oliver said.
“I do. I’ve seen many bunnies, but a fawn. I’ve never had a fawn follow me all over,” she cried.
“And Alice? What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing. I love Alice and I also love Minnie. I shouldn’t have to choose. I hate to decide. I could never choose between who I wanted or loved more!”
“You don’t have to. I’m deciding for you. Why don’t you say your goodbye,” Oliver said.
“I can’t. It’s too painful.”
“You’d regret not saying anything. Please, Ellie, I know you’re feeling terrible, but you have to.”
“Will I ever see her again?”
“I don’t know. Go along now.”
Ellie dawdled to Minnie. She bent down and let the tears pour. She sniffled. “Good…bye, Minnie. I’ll miss you.” She turned to Oliver, letting her cries drown her. Oliver lifted her into his arms, grabbed Lizzy’s hand, and darted out before they could go back.
The way to the top proved to be the hardest. Each of their steps dug deep into the snow and Snow pummeled across their face, coats, and legs. Every step took as much energy as twenty. Surreal winds swished them left to right.
“Do you see anything?” Oliver asked.
“Snow,” Lizzy said, shaking her head, “this storm could become worse than the first.”
“I don’t know how that’d be possible, but you’re right. It’s already terrible,” Oliver said.
*Cough cough cough*
“Lizzy? Are you sure you’re not sick. How do you feel?” Oliver asked.
“Fine and dandy.”
“At least come in closer.”
“Alright,” she said.
Oliver peeked at Ellie. “Let me go!”
“I don’t think I should,” Oliver said.
“Put me down,” she said.
“Why can’t you stay?”
“I can walk. Put me down,” Ellie said.
“Alright. One rule, hold my hand,” Oliver said.
“Fine,” she said.
“Why don’t I hold you?”
Oliver lifted Lizzy and she hugged Oliver’s neck, almost choking him. Winds tried straining each sister apart, but Oliver held on. It became impossible for Ellie to make it three steps on her own. Her fingers clung to the tips of Oliver’s.
“How much further for today?” Lizzy asked.
“As far as we can get until I see a site,” Oliver said.
“How long will that take?” Lizzy asked.
“I haven’t the slightest idea since the fog blocks everything but you and your sister. How are you doing, Ellie?” Oliver asked.
“Horrible. I want Minnie back, I want Daddy! It’s freezing too,” she said. He wrapped his mitten around her wrist.
“I hope we find somewhere soon,” Lizzy said.
“Me too,” Ellie said.
“We’ll find something soon.”
“How long will soon be? I’m sick of this” Ellie asked.
“Ah-choo.” Lizzy sneezed. Oliver left his gaze on Ellie and shifted to Lizzy. He tapped her on the back to cough everything out. His grip loosened on Ellie’s wrist. The snow slipped his mitten off hers. The winds sent her tumbling backward, rolling backwards down the hills into a plush pile snow. Snow quickly pounded over her, preventing her from lifting herself out of the snow. “AH!” Ellie said.
“Ellie!” he said.
“Help!” She tried heaving herself up and out, but snow thumped over her. She used all her might to lift herself, but the pummeling storm kept pushing her down.
“I’m coming, hold on.” Oliver set Lizzy down and scurried to Ellie.
“No, Ellie!” Lizzy said. She covered her eyes.
“Don’t move, Lizzy. Stay safe,” Oliver said. He raced down to Ellie with only the tip of her head left in view. He shoveled out the snow, but more fell on top of her. He tried thrusting at her hand, but he couldn’t find it. “No, Ellie! No!” Oliver said. He shook at the pile that covered her. He stared at his thumping chest, overwhelmed with guilt. What have I done? Lizzy was right. Lizzy! I better keep her safe too. He dashed back to Lizzy.
Oliver lifted Lizzy over his shoulder and ran. He sprinted up the hill as fast as he could and immediately sought shelter.
Lizzy lifted Alice in front of her eyes and stared into Alice’s eyes. “No! No!” she said, setting Alice down and turning away from Ellie’s doll. “I…I can’t even look at you anymore! What’s happened? How?”
“Here,” Oliver said, digging out two blankets inside the cave. He wrapped her in both. Minutes of silence filled the air.
Coco hopped between them. Lizzy petted the bunny to soothe her.
“How’d we lose them all?”
“I don’t know,” Oliver said.
“The first storm, Ruth’s storm, and now this storm. I wish I didn’t even know what snow was,” she said.
He turned to her. “Don’t say that. You know, like I, the snow didn’t cause all the bad. You love the snow. We wouldn’t have fun without those puddles of white.”
“Well, now I’m left with a puddle of tears.”
“Nonsense. You still have Coco and I. I know that will never fill the gaps of your siblings, but at some point it’ll have to do…for both of us.”
“I hope so, but I don’t see that happening.”
“I only want you to feel happy again.”
“Let’s try and get some sleep,” Oliver said. “We’ve had a long day.”
“Okay, Oliver.” She put her head on his stomach and fell asleep. He swept her hair out of her face and lay back on the pillow. Too tired to think or process, he crashed out too.
It didn’t feel like long before morning hit, but they slept longer than usual. Lizzy lifted herself off Oliver and rubbed her eyes. She yawned and blinked outside to view snow fell hard and heavy, fast and fierce. She cowered against the wall, eyeing her bunny. She plucked Coco on her lap and petted her. “Tell the snow to stop, Coco. Please. I miss when the snow fell soft and slow. I wish you could’ve seen.”
“Oof.” Oliver woke up with a banging on the wall.
“You fool,” Lizzy giggled.
“I feel like Charlie,” he said. They snickered and glanced at each other. “Good to get a laugh. Good to remember them too.”
“Yeah,” Lizzy sighed, “I’d rather be laughing with them though.”
“No question about that,” Oliver said.
“Do you have the time?”
“Time we better get up. I think we can make it through the storm today,” Oliver said.
“Should I put the blankets away?”
“One. You should keep the other for the trip. It’s cold,” Oliver said.
“If you say so.” Together they got up and approached the outside.
Coco hopped to Lizzy’s hands. They waited for the snow to stop, to sneak under and escape. More waiting minutes followed. Oliver tapped his wrist, Lizzy crossed her arms over her chest.
“You know what,” Lizzy said, “let’s go. We’ve done this before. Besides, what more do we have to lose?”
“Are you sure? You’ve hated this storm.”
“I certainly have, but I don’t want to fear anything. We need to finish this trip and move on.”
“You’re right. Here I come,” Oliver said.
The weather turned out to be no big deal. Both of them ducked their heads down at the ground to avoid getting thrashed in the face.
Several times the wind chill struck Lizzy, causing a cough. For every cough, Oliver glared at her. She didn’t turn to him, but she knew he inspected her. Why must he always worry? It’s only a cold.
“We’re almost there,” Lizzy said.
“The fog’s cleared. Faster now. Before it comes back,” Oliver said.
Snow poured on him while wind whipped his face. Lizzy and Coco followed their brother. The mountain’s summit arrived within their reach.
“I can’t believe it. We’re almost there!” Lizzy said.
“A little more. Let’s make it there now,” Oliver said.
“We’ve traveled for so long. The wait seems worth it,” Lizzy said.
“Hold my hand,” Oliver said. “Let’s finish this together.”
“A few more steps,” Lizzy said. The anticipation hit them. Oliver tried running faster, but didn’t want Lizzy to trip. A little ledge paved the top out. They had a few feet to go.
“We’re within ten steps,” Oliver cheered. Nine steps, eight steps, seven steps. The wind blistering at their faces never felt so good. Six steps, five steps, four steps. Oliver halted to a stop as a car flashed in front of only his eyes.
Oliver leaned into it. This looked familiar. He inspected the same golden-blonde hair, staring at a brave man. Mother! Father! His father tried steering through the snow, but couldn’t see anything through the car windows. He veered into the foggy sides where the car crashed into a tree.
A distant animal emerged from the trees. His tiny brother played in the snow. The animal struck Jeffrey before he could leave. Oliver covered his eyes. The image disappeared for a new one.
Oliver, Lizzy, and Charlie stepped up on the top of the mountain.
Oliver and Lizzy stepped up fine, but Charlie slipped off the edge, tumbling and rolling down the rest of the mountain. Oliver tried reaching for him, but he was gone.
And last he gazed at him with Ellie and Lizzy. He turned to Lizzy, leaving Ellie in the dust of the snow. He shook his head. “No,” he whispered.
“Oliver?” Lizzy asked. “Are you okay? You seem…distant. You stopped right as we would’ve made it to the top.”
“Yeah, I thought of something before we finished the last part,” Oliver said.
“Oh,” Lizzy said.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s finish this,” Oliver said.
“Let’s count slowly.” Lizzy smiled.
“One, two…” Lizzy and Oliver lifted their last foot in an exaggerated manner, “three!”
“We made it!” Lizzy snatched a hug from Oliver.
“I guess so,” Oliver said.
“Not you guess so. This means we’re done climbing up. The rest is down hill, easy-peasy. We’ve accomplished something,” Lizzy said.
“You’re right. When I was little I used to look out at the mountain. Couldn’t even see the top it was so high and tall. I always wanted to climb around the lower parts, but I would’ve never, ever imagined standing here on top. I didn’t dream of it, so yeah, I guess it’s incredible.”
“But not worth everything we lost,” Lizzy said.
“No way,” Oliver said, “I wish they could be here. They’d be amazed and find this unbelievable. I would’ve yelled at them a lot, probably, but I’d do anything to let them witness this. They deserved to feel this amazing feeling of accomplishment, or see what we’re seeing. Look at the sky. It actually feels like we’re on top of the world.”
*Cough* Lizzy sat down. She breathed hard; harder than she should’ve. She coughed.
“Lizzy?” Oliver asked. “What’s happened?”
“I’m tired,” Lizzy said.
“You sure that’s it. You’ve coughed a lot lately.”
“Of course I’m sure. Can you stop asking?”
“I’d rather be safe than sorry, Liz. You should that understand from what’s happened.”
“I’m fine, I insist.”
“Well, do you need anything?”
“I need a break.”
“Anything for you.” He put one arm around her and Coco hopped over their feet.
The two of them peered below. A long ways to go remained and foggy clouds covered the what lay far below, off the mountain.
“What do you think we’ll find down there?” Lizzy asked.
“I don’t know. I hope it’s worth getting there for,” Oliver said.
“Like the ice pond?” Lizzy asked. Oliver smiled, shaking his head.
“What? Do you not believe? To think…”
“No, no, you have it all wrong.” He laughed.
“How so?” she asked.
“You’re funny, with your glimmers of hope and ice pond dreams,” Oliver said.
“Oh I know.”
“Then escort me to the ice pond,” she said.
“If you’re so sure of where it is, why don’t you show me?” Oliver said.
“Okay,” she said. *Cough*
“You’re still coughing. How about you show way from my arms? Let me get the blanket,” Oliver said. He wrapped her in the blanket like a Swiss roll.
“Shut your eyes for a second,” he said. He ran partway down the hill to start the way down. “Open your eyes,” Oliver said.
“So many trees…and, and flowers. It’s beautiful,” Lizzy said.
“We’re on our way down!” Oliver said, “who knows what we’ll find.”
“To the ice pond and beyond!”
While Lizzy and Oliver didn’t find the ice pond in one night, Oliver encountered a small cave to sleep in. When Oliver found the cozy cave, Lizzy had coughed her way to sleep. Oliver let Coco run in. He laid Lizzy down on the cold rock and fetched out the pillow and the other blanket to tuck her in. He stationed himself across from her before shivering and closing his eyes.