I was feeding Tuttle when my brother walked into my bedroom. He didn’t knock or anything; he just marched in and flopped down on my bed. Then he stared at Tuttle’s glass bowl and said, “Ricky feed . . . Ricky feed.”
“No way,” I answered. “Tuttle is my goldfish, and I take care of him.”
Ricky started to yell. He’s only 3 years old, and he always yells when he can’t have his way.
I placed Tuttle’s bowl back on my dresser. It was all cleaned up, with fresh water and everything. I watched Tuttle swim around. He looked happy. I wanted to say goodbye to him, but Ricky wouldn’t leave. He was sitting on the floor now, eating fuzzballs off the carpet. I wondered if I had ever done stuff like that when I was his age. It’s hard to remember that far back.
I checked my duffel bag one more time to make sure I had everything. Then I zipped it up and grabbed my jacket. Ricky watched me as I headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” he demanded of me.
“On a campout with Tracy,” I told him. “I won’t be home tonight, so I want you to stay out of my room and away from Tuttle. Get it?”
“Get it . . . get it,” Ricky echoed, and then he laughed like crazy. He is so weird sometimes!
When I got home the next day, our house was quiet. For once Ricky wasn’t screaming all over the place.
I found my mom in the den leafing through one of her favorite magazines. Ricky sat on the floor looking at a picture book.
“Hi, Mom.” I flopped down onto the sofa next to her. I felt tired. My best friend, Tracy, and I had stayed up very late. I guess I wasn’t used to that.
“I’m glad you’re home, honey.” Mom kissed my cheek. Then she looked at me strangely.
“What is it, Mom?”
Mom looked at her shoes. “I don’t know exactly how to tell you this. It’s about Tuttle.”
“What about him?” I couldn’t help feeling alarmed. “He isn’t sick or anything, is he?”
“Worse than that, honey.”
“What do you mean, ‘worse’?” I didn’t understand. And then it hit me. “You mean he’s dead?” I didn’t want to say that word, but I had to know. Mom nodded.
I jumped up before she could say anything else and raced up the stairs. Mom and Ricky followed. My bedroom door was open, and I could see Tuttle’s empty glass bowl.
Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach.
“What happened?” I could hardly speak. Mom didn’t answer right away.
“Was it Ricky?” Silence.
“It was him, wasn’t it, Mom?”
I was shouting now. Mom nodded.
“Yes, honey . . . but believe me, he never intended to harm Tuttle. Ricky wanted to keep him company while you were gone. So last night he fished Tuttle out of his bowl and took him to bed. I found Tuttle this morning under Ricky’s blanket.”
“Dead . . . all dead,” Ricky said. His hand disappeared into his pocket. Then he stuck his fist in my face and opened it–and there was Tuttle. My Tuttle. His eyes were open, and he looked small and very dead.
“Ricky!” Mom was aghast. “Where did you–”
“What did you do?” I interrupted. “I hate you! I wish you were dead too!” He started bawling. But I didn’t care.
I ran into my room and slammed the door shut. I flung myself on my bed and buried my face in my pillow. I was miserable. I was lonely. Why hadn’t Mom locked my bedroom door? Didn’t she care about me at all?
I guess I finally cried myself to sleep. The next thing I knew, Dad was shaking me and saying, “Wake up . . . wake up. Have you seen Ricky?”
“No.” I rubbed my eyes. “And I don’t want to, either.”
“I know you don’t mean that, honey. You’re just upset. Mom and I feel terrible about Tuttle, but right now we’re very concerned. Ricky is gone.”
Mom came in. Her eyes were all puffed up. I could tell she had been crying. I was wide awake now. “Have you looked for him?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mom answered. “Everywhere. Oh, my poor baby . . . he was so upset over Tuttle.” She started to cry again, and I felt sick and guilty. I grabbed my jacket and dashed for the door.
“I’ll go and search for him.
I know all his favorite hiding places,” I told my parents.
“It’s already dark outside,” Dad called after me.
“Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll take my flashlight.”
Mom started to say something, but I interrupted her quickly. “I’ll take Dusty along, Mom. You know he’s a good watchdog.” She didn’t argue with that.
At the front door I stopped. Suddenly I felt all sweaty, and my heart started to pound like crazy. What if something really bad had happened to Ricky? How could I live with myself then, after the terrible way I had yelled at him?
“Please, God,” I prayed, “let Ricky be safe. You know
I didn’t mean what I said earlier. He is a goofy kid, but I do love him. Please watch over him, God.”
I felt a little calmer as I opened the door. It was a dark night, and our porch lights were extremely dim.
I whistled for Dusty. He answered right away with a soft bark, but he didn’t come running. I went over to his doghouse and dropped onto my knees.
“Come on, boy, we have to look for Ricky.” He didn’t move. “What’s the matter with you tonight?” I directed the beam of my flashlight on Dusty, and that’s when I noticed a bundle of clothes behind him. I stuck my head into the opening of the doghouse to take a closer look. And then I sucked in air. This was unbelievable. Curled up, his head buried in Dusty’s fur, was Ricky. He was sound asleep with his thumb stuck in his mouth.
I was so relieved to see him that I started to cry all over again. “Thank You, God . . . thank You so much,” I whispered. I felt Dusty’s tongue slobbering all over my face.
I kissed the dog on top of his head. “You are a good boy,” I told him.
When I started to walk back to our house to get my parents, I looked up at the sky. It was clear now, and the stars twinkled brightly–almost as if they were sending a secret message that God had forgiven me, and I hoped Ricky would as well. I knew that I would be all right, even though I would miss Tuttle for a very long time.
Illustrated by Bill Mayer