It was mid-morning, and Bear was seated on the porch, watching the mountains grow – or not grow, as the case might be. Girl was seated in her rocking chair, reading, her knees up under her chin. After a while, she put her book down and said, “Bear?”
Bear’s head swiveled towards her, and said, “Frog?”
She shook her head and said, “What? I’m not a frog, I’m a girl!”
Bear chuckled, “I know. I just wanted to see if you were awake. Besides, I was getting bored saying ‘Girl’ when you said ‘Bear.’“
She tilted her head sideways and looked at him, mouth crooked in a smile, “You’re weird, you know that?”
Bear chuckled, “Well, sure. How many other talking bears do you know, eh?”
She stared at him but her smile broadened.
“Bear?” she repeated with a laugh in her voice.
He sighed, and said, “Girl? Or is it Frog? I get confused.”
“Ribitt,” she said, then burst out laughing, smothering it with her hand across her mouth.
Bear pretended to be cross. “Look, if you’re going to interrupt my Very Important Watching, at least make it worth my while, okay?”
She kept her mouth covered with her hand and laughed, then cleared her throat, “Ahem! Uh…” She looked blankly at him, “I’ve forgotten what I was going to say, Bear! You disrupted my train of thought!”
Bear chuckled, “Didn’t take much, did it?”
He looked away and laughed.
“I was GOING to say that…well, I appreciate what you’ve done for me, but now, I think I’m gonna take it all back!”
Bear looked at her and smiled, “So, you’re going to take back something you’ve never said? Ow. I’m wounded!” And chuckled again.
She was smiling, then got up, walked over to him, kissed him on the forehead, then said, “Silly old Bear. Do you have any idea how much I … well, I love you?”
His head swiveled to look at her, and he gazed fondly into her eyes, then said, “Yes.”
She looked at him for a moment, then slapped him on the shoulder, and cried “Bear! I’m trying to be cereal here!”
Bear looked fondly at her, then leaned forward and kissed her on the nose. “I know, Girl. And believe me – you have no idea how important it is to me. You are…I don’t even know how to say it. But whatever it is, you’re it.”
Girl threw back her head and laughed. “That’s one of the many things I love about you Bear – you have an absolute way with words. I think.”
She leaned her head forward and placed her cheek on his forehead, hugging his neck. “Silly old Bear.” Then she walked back to her rocking chair, sat back down, and pretended to read so he couldn’t see the tears in her eyes
Bear sighed and turned back to look at the mountains so Girl couldn’t see the tears in his eyes.
Later that day, after supper, the two friends started the trek home. They had visited the waterfall, and while Girl had not gone into it this time – too cold in the gathering shadows – she had once again marveled at its ethereal beauty. The spray created rainbows in the air, and the shiny rocks and moss made everything seem otherworldly.
They made their way back towards the cabin, stopping from time to time to greet or speak with one or another of the creatures in the woods, all of whom now seemed quite comfortable with Girl, and many of whom wished to climb up on her, or cuddle up next to her.
It got to the point that Bear had to push some of them off.
He said, somewhat huffily, that they seem to like her more than him.
Girl laughed at him, and said, “Well, what do you expect? I’m better looking!”
Bear stopped, turned his head slightly, giving her a side-eye.
“Hunh” was all he said then kept on walking.
She giggled, but caught up and ran her fingers through his fur.
“Silly old Bear. They all love you. You know that.”
Bear lifted his head haughtily and looked straight ahead. “Humph.”
“Bear! They love you! You know that!”
Girl stopped, then said, more quietly, “Besides, I’m not sure if they really know me. If they did they…”
And she looked down at the ground, silent.
Bear waited a moment, turned and walked back, then sat on his haunches, looking directly into her eyes.
“Girl, you are a lovely creature. They know that. I know that.” He sighed. “I just wish that you knew that.”
He turned side-on to her and said, “Get on kiddo. I’ll give you a horsey-back ride home.”
She looked at him through her eyelashes, a slow smile spreading across her face, then leaped on and shouted, “Ride ’em, cowgirl! YEE-HAA!”
And smacked Bear on the rump.
Bear looked at her, sat down, dumping Girl on the ground, where she fell – splat! – on her ass.
Bear wheeled around and put his face into hers, and growled, “Are you SURE you want to do that?”
Girl giggled, “Absolutely!”
Bear tried to look fierce, but eventually, she got to him, and he started giggling, too.
Soon the two friends were rolling on the ground, laughing so hard they could Bear-ly breathe!
Finally, they collapsed, exhausted, in the grass, leaning on each other, and huffing quietly in the aftermath.
Bear got up, and, at his urging, Girl got back on him.
He carried her to the cabin, up the stairs, and to her room.
By this time, everything that had happened over the last couple of days came falling in on her.
He placed her gently into bed, pulled up the blanket, kissed her on the forehead, and said, “Sleep now, Girl.”
She closed her eyes, put her hand up to his muzzle, and said, “Bear?”
“I’m still better smelling than you…” and her face spread into a slow grin, even as her eyes were closed.
Bear huffed. “Maybe so, Girl. Maybe so.”
He padded softly out of the bedroom and heard her start to snore. Quietly.
Late that night, Bear’s eyes opened, but he didn’t know why. He lifted his head and listened, then sniffed the air.
Everything seemed right – there were no indications of danger or difficulty. But something…something had disturbed him.
Slowly, he lumbered up and quietly padded off to see if Girl was all right.
Her door was closed, so he stopped, and listened.
He could hear her breathing, and smell her. She seemed fine.
He padded back to the rag rug and was about to slump down again…but felt…odd. He walked slowly to the door of the cabin, then paused. He was strangely afraid to go outside, but finally pushed the door open, and walked out onto the porch.
He sniffed the air and smelt…nothing. The air was clean, and bright. He looked up at the stars, and they were beautiful…but they were not why he was awake.
Slowly, reluctantly, he stalked out onto the meadow grasses. Finally, he sat, and looked at the sky…and waited.
Nothing happened. Nothing stirred. The night was…still.
Then, he cocked his head and listened. There was no sound…but…
“Mother, please…” he said.
“Bear,” She replied, “You cannot keep her. She is only yours on loan.”
Bear’s head dropped, and hung there for a long time, then he raised it.
“I know, Mother, I know. But…” He fell silent.
“Yes, Bear…go on,” She said, kindly.
“Mother…please look after her for me?”
Mother Nature appeared in the grassy meadow, and caressed Bear’s head, and said, “Of course, Bear. When have I ever not looked after my Children?”
Bear’s eyes filled with tears. “Thank you, Mother. She means…so much to me.”
Mother Nature stroked his head, and looked at him fondly.
“I never intended to cross one of my creatures with a human…but, Bear, you have continually surprised me.”
Bear was silent, not knowing what to say, or, indeed, what was expected of him. Mother Nature lifted his head to look into Her eyes. She leaned forward, and touched Her head to his, then lifted, and kissed him on the forehead.
“I will look after her, Bear,” and slowly she vanished, leaving only a sense of peace and fulfillment.
Bear stayed where he was for a long time.
He grew cold and stiff, but still did not move.
Finally, he heaved a great sigh, got up, and very slowly walked back to the cabin. He mounted the steps, one-by-one, and walked wearily through the door.
He very quietly padded to Girl’s door, and stood, silent, outside, listening and smelling her presence.
Finally, he walked back to the great room, and slumped down on the rug, letting the fire finally warm him.
He gazed into the leaping flames, wishing it were otherwise than it was, until he heard Mother’s voice in his head.
“Oh, Bear. You, of all My creatures, are the kindest. Do not fear, and be at peace, My lovely child. I promised I would look after her.”
He gazed into the flames, and huffed.
Mother chuckled, “Silly old Bear. Sleep now. You deserve it.”
At Her bidding, he closed his eyes, but his heart was heavy, and tears leaked onto the floor.
Finally, at long last, he slept.