I throw my arms out wide and a laugh escapes my mouth, the laugh blowing around me as I run, as I run all of the way down the hill. My lungs are on fire, burning with the excitement, with the thrill of running through the long grass, getting faster and faster as I near the fence. My knees get higher and higher and before I know it I am in the air, leaping over the fence and landing on the other side. On my feet. I always land on my feet. I take a bow, even though there is no one there to see it, and I drop to my knees as I draw the loose strands of hair back into my high ponytail. My mouth opens and closes like a fish, gulping the air around me as I regain my breath. The sun is bright in the sky, and I shield my eyes from its rays as I scan the horizon for him. I hear him before I see him, I hear the roar he lets out, starting at his diaphragm, well at least I assume tigers have diaphragms, and then come loudly and powerfully out of his mouth, over his fangs which he then swipes with his pink tongue. I put my hands out in front of me, palms facing up at the blue cloud-less sky. He makes his way over towards me, slowly, setting one padded paw in front of the other. Then his right one is on top of mine, and his left follows suit, and I wrap my fingers around his, “Come here, Stripes,” I coo. He purrs softly and edges his big furry head into the space where my head and neck meet my shoulder. “I’m going to miss you, boy,” I say in the same gentle voice you would speak in when talking to a baby or young child. All of a sudden, something brushes against the top of my head, wraps itself around the base of my ponytail and gives my hair a tug. “You naughty monkey,” I laugh as Coco falls into my arms from the tree above. I try to bring him in for a cuddle but he scrambles up my chest instead and sits on my shoulders, his long tail swatting Stripes. I know who will join us next, and when I hear the trumpet coming from my right, I turn and smile at Tiny. Her long grey trunk, looking almost dry and cracked in the hot sun, swings back and forth as she moves slowly towards us. Born on the same day as me, she soon speeds up when she sees me, and charges like a young elephant should. I stand up, swatting the insects away, and pat one of Tiny’s front legs. She shakes it slightly and I let go. Then I watch as she gives me a slight shove with it to her front, where her big trunk wraps itself around my waist and throws me up onto her back. I land right where I always do, Coco still hanging onto me, and we run through the jungle, Stripes racing next to us. When we pass under a strong tree, I grab one of its hovering branches, and hang from it whilst I watch how Tiny will react. I smile to myself as she runs on a bit further and then spins around as soon as she notices the absence of my weight. I drop down onto her back whilst she waits underneath, flicking her trunk around, and she brings me back to the fence.
“There you are,” says Logan, sounding annoyed.
“You know I always come and say goodbye before we leave,” I snap back.
“Well I don’t want to be late getting back, I’m meeting the guys to watch the football.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say as sarcastically as I can. “Am I interfering with your social life?"
“Yeah, you kind of are, Zie,” he says, almost as sarcastically as me.
“Okay, well I’m coming, let me just-” but the animals have wandered back off into the trees and so I turn to face Logan. “I’m coming, help me?”
He leans over the fence and lifts me up and over, me jumping to make it easier.
I brush myself down and look wistfully back over the fence, sighing ever so slightly.
“Pick up the pace Xyla, wheels up in ten,” my dad reminds me as soon I enter the room with Logan.
“Do we have to leave?” I whine, even though I already know the answer.
“You know we do,” says Jakob, my other brother.
“Fine,” I sulk, “is mum staying here?”
“Yes, she has work to finish up, we have the international conference in a few months.”
“I know, I know, I’ll be ready in a second. Jakob can you come and grab my case for me?”
“What else are big brothers for?”
“Watch it, you’re only a little older.”
I lead the way up to my room upstairs, where I dive into the bathroom and tug a hairbrush through my wavy hair, then run some serum through it to stop it from frizzing the moment I step outside. I shove all of my products into my wash bag and throw it out the door. “That’s all. Can you zip it up and I’ll be down in a second,” I call out. I hear the zip running around the edge of the case and then it being set on its four wheels as Jakob wheels it out of the room. I have my lip balm still out and run it over my lips, winking at myself in the mirror as I blow a kiss at my reflection. I throw a pillow back onto the bed as I leave the room, turning off the light as I go out into the hall and trudge down the stairs with my travel bag slung over my shoulder.
“That look’s enough to turn milk sour,” says my mum as I step outside into the sun.
“I’m just going to miss it here. And I’m going to miss you.”
“Aww my baby girl,” mum says, pulling me into a hug, “I’ll see you very soon.”
“Technically I’m not a baby. I’m fifteen, remember?”
“Me too,” says Logan, giving mum a kiss on her cheek.
“Me three,” says Jakob, kissing her other cheek.
“Make sure you tell Cameron I say hi,” she reminds us.
“We will,” we all say at the same time, rolling our eyes.
Dad gives her a quick kiss and then walks up the steps and onto the plane, waving out at the people who came to wish us farewell before he disappears through the door. Jakob taps my shoulder and indicates that I should follow him, Logan has already joined dad inside.
“I’ll text you,” I tell mum as I turn to leave, “and I’ll try and get someone to bring us back next weekend if we can.”
The engines have started whirring and I think that my last words have been lost in the noise, but even still I walk up the metal steps, grimacing as I hurry, freaked out by the dangerous gaps between them. A cool blast of air conditioning hits me as soon as I walk through the oddly shaped door, and I realize that I’ve left my cardigan somewhere. A shiver runs over me and I decide I’ll just ask for a blanket or something later on. The journey is long but I’m used to it and I settle down in one of the seats near the window. Logan comes out of the bathroom, and I give him a look, we literally only just got on, but he just sits back in his seat in the first row. We have our own seats on the jet. I like the left hand side by the window, but not necessarily a particular row, dad sits at the front on the left, Logan across the aisle, and Jakob likes the aisle seats on any side. I decline a drink, I have a bottle of water in my bag, but I take the cheddar pretzels and munch on them as I put my earplugs into place and start at the beginning of my playlist. I always listen to the same one, starting it when we get on. It goes on for about three hours, by which time we are around 2,000 miles closer to home and a third of the journey has gone by. I turn to face the window and smile as I start daydreaming. I’ll be back at school in the morning and I think of the boy I’ve been crushing on for a while now. Looking at the clouds as we fly though the sky, it seems as though talking to him could be as easy as licking the cheddar dust off of my fingers. Imagining him asking me out, I slowly drift off to sleep.