I note another place where his fur has worn

I wake, as I always do, at her whim. I’m tired. I used to pop out of sleep like the sun through the clouds, but lately it’s been a struggle. We’re on a raft, and the water is rising fast around us. Ah, this old tune. “Land ahead?” I ask him. The stuffed dog glances back and wags a greeting. “No,” he says, his deep voice as gallant as ever. “No sign of it yet.” He glances up. “Storm’s coming, too.” I salute him before heading back to check in with my captain. Scruff nods and I note another place where his fur has worn thin. He’s tired, too. As I near the back, I’m alarmed to see water sloshing across the raft.”Captain Lily,” I say, “You need to move forward–there’s water coming over back here. Let’s get in the middle so we don’t tip.” My fearless captain bites her lip. “I don’t think it will help,” she says. But she takes my hand and lets me lead her to the middle. A wave rocks the raft and we almost capsize. Scruff trots over. “Up ahead–” he begins, but Lily interrupts him by bursting into tears. Scruff and I, a grizzled old pirate and a grizzled old dog, glance at each other. I bend down on one knee, as if I’m playing the knight, rather than the pirate today. “Lily, what’s wrong?” I ask quietly. But I know. I’ve seen it before. Oh, it never happens the same way twice, but it always happens. She sobs. “I’m too big,” she says. Another wave smashes into us. She’s right. But she’s wrong. It’s not the disaster she thinks it is. “Oh, sugar,” I say. “You’re not too big.”The grief in her red rimmed eyes is terrible. They always think they know better than us, because they always think they dreamt us up. They think this is death.”I love you guys,” she says, her tears mixing with the rain that’s now slashing down on the three of us. “But I’m no good at this any more. I can barely see you, Ann, and Scruff, I can hardly hear a word you say.”We know she’s right, we feel the flickering of the scene around us. Of our selves. “Shh,” I say. “It’s okay–“”It’s NOT!” she says, and the storm rages around us. In her. “It’s NOT. I don’t want to lose you. You guys are my best friends.”Scruff lays a head on her knee, and she caresses his worn felt ears almost desperately. I chuckle. She looks up at me, startled. Angry, even. A rumble from the dog’s chest and the rhythmic thump of his tail show that he’s in agreement, though, and her anger turns into bewilderment. “You won’t lose us,” I say. “Me and Scruff, we’re gonna head straight for that island he saw up there–it’s near about paradise, wouldn’t you say, old buddy?”He barks in agreement.”Lily, dear, we’re old. A pirate deserves to retire at some point–and so does an old dog. But that doesn’t mean we’re dead, darling.” The storm begins to subside. “It doesn’t?”I draw my short sword and strike my most swashbuckling pose. “It’ll take more than middle school to kill me, lassie,” I say with a wink. Scruff leans against my leg. “We won’t be gone, Captain,” he says. “It’ll be better than ever before.””But how?” she asks, quiet tears welling up in her eyes again. “How could it be better than this?””I’ll tell you,” I say. “You’ll come and visit, and we’ll remember all of our adventures–even the ones we haven’t had yet–and when you visit, you’ll bring a notebook, and a pencil…” We’ve run aground. The sun shines down like lemonade turned to light on a white sand beach. Scruff shakes the rain from his fur and takes off after a seagull. I kiss her forehead. “Don’t cry for us,” I say. “Write for us. And you’ll always have us.”