I had travelled on this trail more times than I could count.
My pace quickened as I made my way inside the woods to the river’s edge. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a duck just beyond the thick, downed tree trunk. The boldness of this beautiful creature being so close to the footpath was not lost on me.
It would take some clever planning on my part, but perhaps today was my lucky day! My steps would need to be light and quiet, not my usual racehorse variety that instantly announced my presence. Caroline wouldn’t mind if I ditched her now, I reasoned. She’d understand that I just had to see the duck in all its glory.
All of this plotting must have taken more time than I realized, making me lose track of the passing minutes. How long had I been away from Caroline already? Was she near me now? In the distance, I could hear her calling for me.
“Leo, where are you?”
My conscience was weighing heavy on me as I moved further along the trail, following the duck’s movements as discreetly as I could muster. I felt like it was intentionally distracting me, diving under the water in one spot, and then popping up for air in an entirely different location. Was the duck playing tricks on me? Were we playing a game?
I stopped counting how many times the duck swam underwater and relocated. I also noticed that Caroline stopped calling for me. Maybe she gave up because I didn’t come when she called me. I figured I’d better head back to save face.
As I retraced my steps, there was no need to tread carefully or quietly as the duck was no longer my main priority. I found myself sprinting through the trail back to the start, thinking Caroline would be waiting for me at the picnic table. My heart was racing and my breath was coming in short bursts as I came to a stop and was disappointed to see an empty bench – no sign of people anywhere.
Did I dare walk back to the house alone? I certainly knew my way. Impatience set in almost immediately, and I climbed the hill up to the main road. Passing the farm on my left, and the Distillery on my right, I started to breathe a little easier knowing that I was on my way home.
Everything seemed to be on track, until I was approached by a strange man. He guided me into his tan sedan. I know what you’re thinking. Adults are always telling us not to get into cars with strangers. Believe me when I tell you that I had no choice.
I decided to sit in the front on the driver’s side. Trapped, I waited until I saw a familiar face.
My heart leaped when I saw Caroline walking toward the car. Her face looked different somehow, like she had been crying. Next to her was my dad. What had I done?
Then I heard my dad apologize to the Animal Control Officer. He promised that I wouldn’t be left unattended in the center of town again.
So much for knowing my way home.