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“I wish I was like them, the seals,” I say to Russ, still a little dazed.

“Why the seals? Why not any of the other animals we have seen?” Russ asks with a puzzled look on his face.

“Because they are so free in their own little world with no problems at all,” I think aloud, gazing through the fogged-up glass of the exhibit.

“Sometimes it’s nice to be in a big world, more people to meet and talk to,” Russ says to me with a giant smirk on his face. Russ is always getting after me for being too shy and not knowing more people. I just don’t talk that much. “Only idiots talk when they have nothing to say.” I always say that to people who ask why I’m so quiet. But at least he cares.

Russ and I have been together for almost as long as I can remember. Being older by many years, and being my brother, he has always looked after me like another parent.

I wonder if the seals know that they are in captivity. Or that, even though they are having the time of their lives, they are prisoners, I think to myself, awed. They have nothing to worry about. It must be absolute bliss to live like that. I keep thinking to myself, already in a trance.

Drifting back down from the cloud I was dreaming on, I ask Russ, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be as free as they are?” I turn around for an answer and probably a look from Russ that is sure to call me a dumbstruck dreamer, but no one is there. He wouldn’t just take off like that. Did he tell me he was going somewhere? “Oh man, oh man,” I say while wringing my hands together so tightly they started to turn white. “I shouldn’t be daydreaming. I do it too much, and now because of it I don’t know where Russ went.” I start to ramble on, punishing myself. I feel like cursing. Half running, half tripping, I move quickly around the circular area. Scanning the crowd, I see no sign of Russ. Shouting his name would do no good. No one could hear anything over this grunting mass of tourists.

Dreaming girl on a picnic
Without Russ I am really, truly lost

Swiftly, I squeeze past mobs while looking for a front desk or anyone who could help me. I run backwards up the ramp and look over the building layout and no Russ to be seen. Stopping dead in my tracks, I start to finger the braided ring Russ gave to me. I always do this when I am nervous. I have fingered it and rubbed it so much it is starting to slowly disappear. People tell you that worrying gets you nowhere. That is not true, it gets you more scared.

I walk outside onto the picnic place right outside of the aquarium. I stand across from a table and lean on a wall. I scan the harbor and around the area for the red flame of Russ’s head he calls hair. Thoughts run through my mind that should never enter anyone’s. Did he leave me here on purpose? Will I ever get home? Is Russ all right? What will happen to me? My body’s shaking because of how scared I am—more than the cold fall wind. I still look around, hopeful to see any sign of Russ.

I feel a little pinch on my foot. Scared of what I might find, I take a deep breath and slowly look down with my eyes closed. I’m shaking. Not wanting it to be a giant bug or a snake, I reluctantly open my eyes. I almost laugh. There is a turtle lying at my feet, having a small snack of my sneaker lace. I bend down cautiously to the turtle and soon I’m eye-to-eye with him. I look into the little guy’s eyes and “Russ!” I exclaim, ashamed that I forgot.

Lost. I didn’t think of it that way. I’m lost. Without Russ I am really, truly lost. My legs slide slowly from under me. I sink down against the wall, feeling more invisible than ever. A tear wells up in my eye and slowly it slips down, not seen or heard, only sensed. More and more keep flowing down silently until my face is soaked and my eyes blurred. I flinch; a familiar pinching feeling is now on my elbow. Turning my head, I feel a flow of warm air that stinks of rotten garbage and greens. The turtle is on my legs and crawling into my lap to nibble at my jeans.

“I bet someone is looking for you just like I hope that Russ is looking for me,” I say to the turtle while looking at it and seeing some things I didn’t see before—the turtle’s neck craned over my leg and his eyes darting back and forth, looking for something particular. The turtle looks very determined to get closer to my pant leg to get a little nibble. He is moving very slowly but in such a cute way it seems like time stands still just so I can see this creature journey through an obstacle course.

“Maybe I should have just stayed put with the seals in my own world,” I tell the turtle with a glum look on my face and my arms crossed across my chest. Now more frustrated than scared, I look once more over the crowd in the grassy area. No one and nothing worth seeing. I look down toward the turtle and am almost ready to collapse when a hand lifts my head up. It’s Russ and an expression of pure alarm on his face melts into relief and tears are streaming down both of our faces toward where the turtle had been.

Dreaming Julia Gaitley
Julia Gaitley, 12
Needham, Massachusetts

Dreaming Shanthi Chackalackal
Shanthi Chackalackal, 11
Coralville, Iowa