I the middle. A wave rocks the raft and

I wake, as I always do, at her whim. I’m tired. I used to burst out of sleep like the sun above the horizon, but lately it’s been more and more difficult. We’re on a brightly coloured wooden raft, crafted by tiny hands and furry paws, planks and masts and sails scrawled excitedly in a kaleidoscope of Crayola: Raspberry red, emerald green, sky blue, sunflower yellow. The water rises fast around them. Ah, this old tune. “Land ahead?” I asks. A white stuffed dog, yellowed with age, turns back and wags a greeting. “No, none in sight,” he says, his deep voice as gallant as ever. “and there’s a storm’s coming.” I salute Scruff before heading back to check in with the captain. He nods and I note another place where the dog’s fur has worn thin. I’m tired, too. As he nears the back, I’m alarmed to see water sloshing across the raft.”Captain Lily,” I advise, “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 whispers. But she takes my hand and lets me lead her to the middle. A wave rocks the raft and the boat nearly tips over completely. Scruff trots over. “Up ahead–” he begins, but Lily interrupts him by bursting into tears. Duke 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 asks gently. But I know. I’ve seen it before. It never happens the same way twice, but it always happens. She sobs. “I’m too big,” she whimpers through a torrent of tears.Another wave smashes into us. She’s right, yet she’s wrong – it’s not the disaster she thinks it is.”Oh, sugar,” I say. “You’re not too big.”The pain in her red rimmed eyes is heartbreaking. They always think they know better than us, because they always think they dreamt us up. They think this is where we end.”I love you guys,” she says, her tears mixing with the rain that’s now slashing painfully down on the three of us. “But I’m not good at this any more. I can barely see you, and Ann, and Dolly 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 ourselves, as we begin to dim.”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 all of you. You’re 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 rhythmic thump of the dog’s tail show he’s in agreement, though, and her anger turns into bewilderment. “You won’t lose us,” I tell her. “Me and Scruff, we’re gonna head straight for that island he saw up there–yeah, bud?”He barks in agreement.”Lily, 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, dear.” The storm begins to subside. “It doesn’t?”I draw my 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 ever be better than this?””Let me 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. “Remember us. And you’ll always have us.”