Carl swung his legs as hard as he could, willing the swing to go higher, but it was no use. Try as he might, there was no way he was swinging as high as Ellie.
"Hee! Look, Carl! Look how high I am! I bet if I swung even higher, I could go all the way over the top!"
"Aren't you dizzy?" Carl asked. "I'm dizzy just watching you!"
"No way! Adventurers don't get dizzy! It feels like I'm flying!" Ellie giggled as she swung a little higher. Carl watched the red-haired little girl as she swung and smiled. He wondered if this was what grown-ups meant when they talked about love. It sure felt like it.
"Yeah, Carl?" Ellie said absentmindedly, her mind still clearly focused on getting over the top of the swing set.
"What do you want to do tomorrow?"
"I dunno! We'll figure it out. Tomorrow's, like, a whole day away. Who knows what'll happen by then!"
"Yeah. My folks could spring a dentist's appointment on me or something."
"Or, I don't know...Dinosaurs could come back, and we'd try to tame one!"
"Do...do you think Dinosaurs are going to come back?"
Ellie guffawed at the worried expression on Carl's face. "Maybe! But don't worry. I'll protect you!"
A voice came from the houses behind the playground, where they both lived. "Ellie! Dinner!"
"Aw! The day's always over too soon!" Ellie pouted as she jumped down from her swing. She crooked a finger at the top of the swing. "I'll beat you tomorrow, just you wait! Bye, Carl! See you tomorrow!"
Ellie darted off as Carl whispered under his breath. "Always." He leaned back on the swing, waiting to hear his name called. Tomorrow would be another adventure.
Carl groaned and pulled the covers over his head. He didn't know what time it was, but it was way too early to be up.
"Mr. Fredricksen! Wake up!"
Russell's voice was peppy and insistent, as it usually was. He clearly wasn't going away.
"Nnn...what time is it?"
"It's 7:15! The bus leaves in 15 minutes!"
"There's a 7:15 in the morning now?"
"We're going to miss the bus!" Russell lightly tugged on Carl's arm. "The troop won't have enough chaperones if you don't come! You promised!"
"It's a zoo. Everything dangerous is in a cage anyway." Carl mumbled. He apparently had misread the time on the slip he had signed. Because what kind of activity started at 7:15 in the morning? He knew he should get up, because Russell was counting on him. But the bed was making an awfully convincing counter-argument...
Russell walked over to the dog bed next to Carl's and scratched Dug behind the ear. The Golden Retriever woke up and licked Russell's face.
"I MISSED YOU. AND YOUR TREATS!"
"I missed you too, boy!" Russell laughed. "Mr. Fredricksen's really tired this morning, and we need to wake him up a little so we don't miss the bus. Remember what we practiced?"
"YES. I REMEMBER. BACON HELPS ME REMEMBER!"
"Okay, then, boy....Speak!"
"WE'RE NO STRANGERS TO LOVE YOU KNOW THE RULES AND SO DO I A FULL COMMITTMENT'S WHAT I'M - "
Carl shot out of bed and turned down the volume on Dug's collar before the atonal singing could go any further.
"I thought I told you not to show Dug any more videos on the computer." Carl shook his head.
"It worked, didn't it?" Russell bounced up and down as Carl, resigned to the fact that he was getting on that bus at this ungodly hour, put his shoes on.
"So, you're really excited about seeing this zoo, huh? You know, I used to work at a zoo."
"Yeah, I used to sell balloons. My wife...she was the guide. She loved that place." Carl paused for a second. "So, they still got the gorilla cages?"
"Cages? They've got this whole gorilla ecosystem now!" Russell flipped through his wilderness guide. "Gorillas can seem very aggressive, but they will only attack if they feel threatened. The males are prone to displays of strength and dominance, but they are herbivores will no interest in attacking humans."
"You're going to be a real hit on the tour." Carl reached over and ruffled the boy's hair a little. He stood up straight and stretched, working the night's kinks out of his back. "Awright, let's go catch that bus."
Russell clapped and sprinted down the stairs. Carl turned back to Dug before he left and handed him a biscuit.
"And there's plenty more where that came from if you never sing that blasted song again."
The bus was packed with excited young scouts as Carl made his way up the stairs. He could hear Russell in the back, reading off factoids about Meerkats and doing what he assumed was a meerkat call. He smiled to himself, thinking that the boy had a great future ahead of himself as a tour guide. Ellie would have loved him.
Carl snapped out of his thoughts and turned to his right. A woman he instantly recognized as Russell's mother was motioning him over. They had met briefly at Russell's badge ceremony, but had never really gotten to talk.
"Nice to meet you. I'm - "
"Carl Fredricksen. I know." She smiled. "Russell's been talking about you all week. He's been telling me all these crazy things about the adventures you two had."
"Yeah. That was some trip." Carl said wryly. Understatement of the century, that.
"I never really got to thank you for looking after him."
"I did what I had to do." Carl waved it off. "The boy pulled my fat out of the fire once or twice too."
"I'm just glad he's got someone to look up to. I work a lot, and he doesn't always have someone there when he comes home. I'm not worried about him, exactly - he's probably the most responsible kid you'll ever meet - but I worry about him being lonely. He doesn't seem to have many friends at school, and he spends most of his time playing by himself."
"I was like that too. I was an odd little kid. Lost in my own world of fantasy and adventure. Then I met her. The only girl to ever make reality more exciting than fantasy." Carl felt a wide grin creep across his lips.
"She must have been something really special."
"Well...thanks again for being here. This trip was really important to him. He asked his father to be here, but - "
"He told me all about that situation." Carl nodded. "Guy's missing out. On a lot of things."
Carl looked towards the back of the bus, where Russell was showing off his wildlife guide to a bespectacled little girl. For a long time, he had shut himself off from the world after Ellie had passed. It seemed impossible to face the day without the person he had depended on for so long. But, he realized, not everyone got that kind of love in their life, and even though she was gone, he'd keep on remembering what she had taught him. Every day was an adventure, and he was glad to be playing a part in someone else's after getting to live so many of his own.