I’ve always loved to explore. Sometimes I’ll just put on my roller blades and go, turning onto the paths I know so well and trying to turn around corners I haven’t turned around before. Usually I only find more houses, but sometimes I’ll come out by the forest, which kind of looks all the same, but I don’t really think about that.
The other day, when I first met Ally, I was skating over to the reservoir where I saw the fox a few weeks ago. The reservoir is in the middle of a huge, flat field covered with wild grass and prairie dogs and, of course, the reservoir. I saw the fox trotting over the stones to get a drink of water, clean, fresh running water that was spurting out of the wall. The fox had silky, fluffy, long fur and ears that pricked up at everything, and a sandpaper pink tongue like cats have. The tip of its tail was bright white like snow.
Anyway, I guess Ally’d seen the fox too, because there she was, sitting on the stones of the reservoir, admiring her handful of dandelions and talking to herself. I sneaked up behind Ally like I had sneaked up behind the fox, as if she were an exotic specimen that could only be observed under silence.
“Hi,” I said before I knew what in the world I was doing, and Ally didn’t jump three feet in the air like I would have, she just turned around and said “hi” back to me.
“I’m Ally,” she told me, and tucked her stringy brown- blond hair behind her ear. “Who are you?”
“Jessie.” I slowly sat down on the rocks. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh . . .” Ally sighed dreamily and looked up at the sky. “I don’t know. I just felt like coming here. I like to do whatever I feel like doing.”
I’d never met anyone who just did something if they felt like it. More often than not, someone did something because it seemed sensible and productive and interesting. It sounded like a nice life, doing whatever you felt like doing, not really caring if it was weird, maybe even useless.
“I came to look for the fox,” I explained to Ally, feeling that if I asked her what she was doing, I had to at least say what I was doing myself.
“That’s OK.” Ally twirled her hair around her finger. “Some people come down to shoot it, not to look at it.”
“Yep, the woman from the museum comes every day, to see if Foxy’s died during the night. I guess she doesn’t shoot it, but she wants it to die.”
I noticed for the first time how hot it was that day. It was the middle of summer and Mom had said it was ninety-six degrees that day.
“Do you want to go swimming?” Ally asked me brightly.
“Here!” Ally took off her Tevas and walked down to the water. “It’s nice and cool, you know.”
The water did look kind of inviting. “Are you sure we’re allowed to?”
“Well, there aren’t any ‘No Swimming’ signs.”
“Good point.” I slowly took off my socks. Mom always made us wear socks in the summer. I tiptoed over the rocks, burning my toes, to the water.
“Don’t slip,” Ally warned me, but before I knew what was happening, I did slip. Right off a rock into the water.
“Eek!” I squealed as my feet sank into the sand. I started to tilt backwards to the rocks. Ally grabbed my arm and pushed me back up.
Ally nodded. “I fall in all the time, and my mom gets angry at me. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble too.”
The water was ice cold. I took a deep breath and slowly walked further into the water. When it was a few inches below the bottom of my shorts, I stopped. Ally walked in behind me.
I wasn’t sure what was so interesting about standing in a reservoir, but Ally knew what to do. “Look for little splashes,” she told me. “There’s a frog over in this corner of the reservoir.”
In a few minutes Ally had caught the frog. She held her hands together, her fingers twitching, then slowly opened up her hands. There sat a frog, looking like a short, oval-shaped pickle. “Here it is,” she said.
I smiled down at the frog. “Hi froggy,” I mumbled, stroking its head. I’d always expected frogs to be slimy and gross, but this one felt like . . . well, it felt like a frog, if you know what frogs feel like.
Ally dropped the frog back into the water. “Isn’t this fun?”
I nodded. “It’s like . . . I don’t know, it just seems more like summer down here in the reservoir.”
“Look!” Ally suddenly pointed behind me. I turned around slowly, and when I saw what it was, I gasped.
The fox! It stood on top of the rocks, staring hypnotically at the mountains, its ear twitching just the slightest bit. It had a black nose and that fluffy fur, and white on the end of its tail, looking as bright as snow.
Ally and I watched it for a few minutes until the fox left. “Wow,” I whispered. “Do you see her a lot?”
“Everything is amazing,” Ally said in a casual tone. “So if you want to see miracles, just go ahead. You shouldn’t let people stop you with that kind of stuff.”
Everything was amazing. This seemed like a genius idea. “That sounds about right.”
“It is.” Ally turned and looked right into my eyes, smiling. “It’s OK. Better than OK, even.”
Then she turned away, walked up the rocks, and started to leave. Before she rode off on her bicycle, she looked back and said, “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“OK,” I called back. Then I went to put on my roller blades. Everything was amazing . . . maybe I’d known that all along, always liking to explore and see new things. Maybe from then on I should just do what I felt like doing. It sounded OK.