Anna’s father remained upset with her for a day, and then two days, and by the third, it was clear that she had gravely wounded him. Ever since the ill-fated meeting with Uncle Sam, Mr. McDermott had retreated back into his paperwork, pushing papers and running facts and figures with such an intensity that when he emerged for meals, he was even grumpier than usual, his red-eyes rimmed with dark circles that made him appear something like a fidgety, numbers-obsessed raccoon.
Anna did not point this out to her father. It seemed to her that every conversation the two of them had these days circled back to either her making amends at school or signing the papers, two topics the young girl was becoming exceedingly weary of. Anna would not sign away the farm, no matter what her father said. She respected him, really, but the fact was that he didn’t know the farm the way she did. He didn’t play in the barn until the sun went down, or run through the fields until falling and skinning his knee- he wasn’t even on a first name basis with Oinky, for heaven’s sake! No. It was clear to Anna that she alone appreciated the Acres, and saving it would be her burden to bear.
After careful thought, Anna determined that a central issue at play was the questionable profitability of the Acres. This seemed like an easy enough fix to Anna- she would put twice as much effort into helping Jerry and Ben, and thereby the farm would be twice as succesful. It was so simple, Anna wondered why it hadn’t occurred to her earlier!
However, sitting in the passenger side of Jerry’s dingy truck, clutching the pinkish, shivering form of Oinky close as the vehicle stumbled over pothole after pothole, Anna began to remember why she hadn’t spent all her time on the farm. She’d forgotten that Jerry was disagreeable, rude, and downright condescending, and that he seemed to hate having her around more than anything else in the world.
Still, Anna had insisted on accompanying him on this supply run. It was a shame that Ben had been operating dangerous machinery today- Anna didn’t much enjoy this smelly, loud cabin, drowned in a very loud, conspicuous silence.
“How has your day been?” Anna tried once, midway through the drive to the docks.
“Fine,” Jerry grunted, and that was the end of that.
When they pulled up to the desolate, decaying pier, Anna leapt from the vehicle, ready for action. “Alrighty,” she clasped her small hands together. “Where do we start?”
“‘We’ aren’t starting anything,” Jerry laughed, a bitter, unpleasant laugh. “You can barely carry that pig, kid. There’s nothing you can do to help.”
“That pig has a name,” Anna scowled. “And besides, I can give you directions, keep you from tripping on big rocks.”
“I’m not going to trip on a big rock,” Jerry rolled his eyes.
“The risk is very real,” Anna informed him earnestly. “You could sprain your ankle.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Jerry snickered. “Watch the truck.”
The short, thick boy marched off without a further word to the indignant Anna, heading for the pier’s shabby little office as the little girl turned to regard her pig.
“Unbelievable,” Anna shook her head. “Of all the nerve!”
Oinky couldn’t talk, but if she could, she would’ve nodded in agreement. The piglet snorted derisively and began to sniff the gravel road, only to stiffen and turn towards the pier’s unkempt grass.
“Oinky?” Anna frowned. “What is it?”
“Come on,” Oinky seemed to grunt, scurrying into the tall grass as her child companion stumbled after her.
“Oinky, wait up!” Anna called out, getting decidedly cranky, but the pig didn’t waver, leading her deeper and deeper into the grass until Anna seemed to be lost in a sea of it. Finally, Oinky came to a stop in front of a large, dangerous-looking rock, not unlike the kind Anna had recently warned Jerry against. The piglet turned expectantly towards Anna, as if waiting for something.
“I don’t understand,” Anna frowned. “Do you want–?”
Oinky gave up on waiting for permission and vanished behind the rock, making increasingly angry sounds. A small, lanky, malnourished cub, his fur golden-brown, emerged, yelping as the pig gave chase.
“Oinky!” Anna gasped. “No! Stop!”
Anna hurried after the piglet, even as it began to gain on the terrified, sickly creature, overtaking it and scooping up whatever it was so she could have a better look. As it half-meowed pathetically, she fearlessly held it out in front of her, looking it up and down with curiosity and sympathy.
“Poor thing,” she murmured, stroking the trembling animal gently. He gazed up at her with big, scared eyes, and she kissed his forehead gently.
Oinky grunted again, as if annoyed that Anna hadn’t grasped the gravity of the situation.
“What is it, Oinky?” Anna turned, annoyed, to the piglet. “I’m somewhat distracted by the plight of this–“
For the first time, Anna realized the nature of the animal she held. “Oh,” she blinked. “Well, okay, then.”
When Jerry returned to the truck, his arms laden with heavy crates, he found Anna waiting in the grass, almost fully covered by the mix of green and wildflower.
“Anna,” he shook his head. “What are you doing in there?”
“Oinky and I have found a baby lion,” she explained earnestly. “May I have permission to take it home and make it my pet?”
“Sure, Anna,” Jerry rolled his eyes, returning his gaze to the truck.
Anna smiled, satisfied, and stepped from the grass with her new companion. Jerry’s eyes widened. “Anna!” he yelped. “What in–?”
Next: New Friends!