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Twinkle Twinkle, Little Stars

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Chapter 6. Journey Through The Zoo

 

 

Junna blinks her eyes open slowly, putting a hand to her head as she tries to get her bearings.

The last thing she remembers is falling to the stage with everyone else after some unexplained tremors had occurred and the lights had gone out. So she expects to wake up on the floor in the same clothes.

But to her surprise, she finds herself sitting up on a bench, dressed in a simple blouse and pants as if she'd just gone out on a day off, sat down, and dozed off.

"What…?" She closes her eyes again, removing her glasses for a moment to try and get her bearings. "Did I miss something? What's going on now…?" Heaving a sigh, she puts her glasses back on and pushes them onto her nose. She assumes she's just at the local park.

But then, a sudden and very unexpected sound makes her jolt.

"What the-?!"

It's the unmistakable sound of a trumpeting elephant.

Junna snaps her head up and looks around fully.

She isn't at the park at all. She's at the zoo.

She can see crowds of people walking around, children with balloons and plush animal toys, and adults with food and cameras. Fences and enclosures are spread out all around, and she can already see several kinds of deer and zebra from her spot. When she looks back behind herself, she spots a huge crowd gathered around a much larger enclosure where half a dozen elephants are lumbering around.

Junna blinks, removes her glasses, rubs her eyes, puts her glasses back on, then blinks again, but the images in front of her don't disappear.

"I'm… at the zoo…? Okay. Why? Did I even pay to get in here? And where is everyone else...?"

She gets up now to start looking around for some familiar faces. And almost right away she finds one.

Only… to her surprise, she doesn't have to look up at that face like she usually does.

Now, she has to look down.

Junna is stunned by the little girl she sees across the way, wearing a yellow-and-white sundress with her thick blonde hair tied into sectioned twin-tails. She's standing at the fence to the deer enclosure, bouncing up and down excitedly and giggling.

Junna staggers back and slumps back down onto the bench. She removes her glasses a third time and vigorously wipes them clean on her shirt.

"Okay, calm down. Now you're just seeing things. There's no way that's her…"

She takes a deep breath, inspects her glasses to ensure there's really no smudges or anything, and then puts them back on again. But as soon as she does, the first person her eyes are drawn to is that same little girl jumping excitedly as she points at the deer.

"Mama!" she cries. "Look, look! They're so cute!"

Junna watches a little nervously as the girl turns around now to reveal her face. Junna chokes a little. There's no doubt about it. This girl is Nana.

"B-But how?" she mumbles. "There's no logical explanation at all! Unless this is a dream...? Yeah, that's gotta be it. It has to be…" Not that there's usually much logic to anything that has to do with the giraffe's stage, but somehow this seems a little more ridiculous than the usual fighting of Korosu.

So Junna eases her mind by telling herself it must be a dream, and once she's on board with that, she can see things a bit more calmly.

Like how little Nana is now turning around in confusion to look for someone who clearly isn't there.

"Mama…?"

Her smile disappears in an instant, and Junna tenses up as she realizes what's going on. Nana wanders away from the deer now, nervously trying to make her way through the crowd.

"Ah- I-I'm sorry! E-Excuse me…"

In spite of her distance, Junna can hear Nana's voice above anyone else's, and she can tell that her tone is starting to crack and tremble. Nana turns around again, trying to find the right person.

"Mama…?" A little whimper creeps into her voice, and Junna can't stay put any longer. She dashes forward straight to her, pushing her way past the other adults as politely as possible.

"Sorry! Pardon!"

By the time she reaches her, Nana has started crying. Big tears are dribbling down her cheeks and she's begun to hiccup. Junna weaves through the last two people and finally comes to a stop in front of her.

"H-Hey!" She tries to make herself sound more cheerful than confused. Junna crouches down to her height and offers a kind smile. "Are you all right? Did you get separated from your Mama?"

Nana sniffles again as she peeks up from behind her hands. Her cheeks are all red and puffy, and her eyes are scared.

"Mm…mm…" She gives a tiny nod, and more tears come spilling out. Junna's heart backflips.

She's so cute! Gah, but what am I thinking? I've gotta help her!

"D-Don't worry!" she smiles. "I can help you find your Mama! I'll stay with you, so don't cry. Okay?" She reaches into her jean's pocket and is thankful to find her handkerchief. Junna reaches out slowly so as not to startle the girl, and when Nana doesn't show any signs of refusal, Junna gently brushes the fabric across her cheeks to dry the tears. Nana continues hiccuping for a moment, but her sobs fade away as she blinks up at her.

"You'll help me find Mama…?"

"Yes! Of course!"

"You'll stay with me…?"

"Absolutely. I swear it!" Junna puts her fist to her chest to seal the vow.

The little girl finally cracks a smile now, and relief floods her eyes.

"Onee-chan, thank you!"

"Don't mention it! There's no way I'd let you stay here all by yourself. No one should ever have to cry at the zoo! You should be enjoying all the neat animals!"

"Mm!" Now, Nana's eyes are excited again, as any child's at the zoo should be. "Onee-chan, what's your name?"

"Me?" Junna thinks quickly, but presumes if this is a dream, there's no harm in telling the truth. "My name's Hoshimi Junna."

"Junna-Onee-chan," Nana says.

Junna feels a pang through her chest.

S-So cute!

She has to wipe her own forehead with her handkerchief a bit before putting it away again. She decides to go along with things and act like she doesn't already know the girl.

"And what's your name?"

"Nana!" she replies.

"I see. Nice to meet you, Nana-chan."

"Mm! Nice to meet you, Junna-Onee-chan!"

Now that she's succeeded in making contact with Nana and stopping her tears, Junna knows she should take her straight to security so they can put out a call for the girl's mother. But she can't really explain why it feels like she shouldn't do that just yet. Instead, it feels like she should stay with Nana for a while. And evidently, that's what Nana wants, too.

"Junna-Onee-chan, have you seen the deer?" she asks. "They're super cute! And there's even a white one!"

Junna sees no harm in accompanying her to a few enclosures. So she goes along with it.

"Really? Which one? Show me." She follows Nana back to the fence and takes in the sight of the herds of brown and gold deer. Nana starts bouncing excitedly again.

"They're so cute!"

"They're not the only ones," Junna says fondly. "Say, did you know that the babies have those speckles to help keep them camouflaged from danger?"

Nana's jaw drops as she turns to look up at her.

"Really? It keeps them safe?"

"Exactly. And as they get older and learn how to take care of themselves, the speckles go away. Nature is really amazing, huh?"

"Yeah! Oh! Junna-Onee-chan, look!" Nana tugs on her sleeve and starts pointing. "There she is! The white deer!"

Junna follows Nana's finger to a cluster of deer, and sure enough there's a white one amongst them.

"Wow. She's an albino."

"A what?"

"An albino! It's a genetic deformity of the skin pigmentation that- ah…"

She pauses when she realizes Nana isn't really retaining any of the biology of this, so Junna changes her tactic.

"Basically, it just means she's very very special."

"Ooooh…" Little Nana is satisfied with just that much.

They watch the deer for a little while longer, before Junna hears the elephants trumpet again, and evidently Nana does, too. She turns around and starts bouncing on her heels to try and find them.

"Junna-Onee-chan! Can we see the elephants next?"

"Sure! I know where they are. But there are a lot of people there. Do you wanna hold my hand?"

"Mm!"

So Junna offers her hand, and Nana accepts. When she squeezes her little fingers against her palm, Junna feels another skip in her pulse.

She's too cute, what the heck?!

But externally, she maintains her Student Council-like demeanor and posture, slowly guiding Nana away from the deer enclosure and toward the elephants. Nana skips along beside her, and Junna swings her arm a little to let her jump a bit.

As they near the elephants, she realizes the crowd has gotten even larger now, and even more people have appeared to block their view. Junna and Nana stand back for a moment to wait their turn, but it never seems to come. Nana starts to fidget.

"Junna-Onee-chan, I can't really see…"

"I know. Some people aren't waiting their turn and they're cutting…" She grumbles a little at the injustice.

Come on, people! Nana wants to see the elephants!

But to her surprise, Nana takes a step back.

"That's okay. We can come back later."

Too pure, too pure!

"Nope!" Junna says. "You waited your turn long enough, so you deserve to see them now!" She turns to Nana and opens her arms. "Come on, I'll hold you up so you can see!"

Nana's eyes start to twinkle again.

"Really?"

"Yeah!"

It's clear to Junna that the little girl had been doing her best to hold back and try to be mature in saying she'd wait and come back later. But now that she's being told it's okay to take her rightful turn, a smile breaks out across her face.

With a squeal, Nana jumps up into Junna's arms.

Junna perches the girl on her shoulder and keeps her other arm around her while Nana clings to her and straightens up as much as she can.

"Can you see better now?" Junna wonders.

"Mm! I can see all the elephants now! They're so big! Ah! There's a baby one, too!"

"That's amazing!" Junna proudly holds her charge up as high as she can so Nana can see the animals. She reports everything to Junna, who can only see about half of what's going on.

"Aha! The mommy is spraying her baby with water!"

"That sounds like fun! It is a little hot today."

"Ah! And now the baby is trying to spray water, too!"

"Cute!"

Nana continues narrating for several moments, until Junna feels her muscles failing her.

"Sorry, Nana-chan. I've gotta put you down now."

"Okay!"

Junna lowers herself, and Nana jumps back down to the ground.

"That was so much fun! Thank you, Junna-Onee-chan! I was so tall!"

"You may be a little short now, but don't worry! Something tells me you're gonna grow up to be super tall one day."

"Really? You think so?"

"I know so."

"Wow! I can't wait!"

Junna offers her hand again, and Nana happily takes it.

The next enclosure they pass by are the zebras, who have a large open plain all to themselves to roam around in.

"They're so pretty!" Nana exclaims.

"And did you know their stripes are to confuse predators? When they move as a group it kind of makes you dizzy looking at them, right?"

"A little bit. Wow, Junna-Onee-chan, you're so smart! You know everything!"

"W-Well, not everything." Junna bashfully pushes her glasses further up onto her nose.

The next animals are ones she can already see from here. With their long yellow necks bobbing up and down between the tall trees, Junna grimaces a little at the sight of them. But she puts aside her own biases for the time being to let Nana enjoy herself.

"Oh, look! The giraffes are next."

They come to a brief stop and both look up at the huge animals lumbering peacefully around, sticking their long tongues out to rip off some tree leaves. Junna can't help but feel one of them is going to look directly at her and start talking.

Wow. I never realized that giraffes are kind of ruined for me now…

And even little Nana doesn't seem all that thrilled about them. She actually steps behind Junna and clings to her arm.

"Junna-Onee-chan? Can we keep going? The giraffes are a little scary…"

"Y-Yeah. Let's keep going."

As she looks ahead to what's next, Junna sees several buildings. One is titled Rodent House, one is Amphibians and Reptiles, and one is Creatures of the Night. Junna smiles as she immediately decides which one to go to.

"Hey, Nana-chan? Do you wanna go inside and cool off for a little while?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Okay. Then follow me."

With a grin, Junna begins leading her toward the second building she'd spotted. As soon as they walk in, a blast of cool air blows over them, and both girls sigh.

Inside, the walls on either side of the long hallway are filled with little glass tanks, which are full of wet green leaves and pools of water. Nana gazes at the nearest one, so Junna leads her over to see what's inside.

"Turtles!" Nana gasps. "They're so cute!"

"There's a baby one sitting on that rock there."

"And look at that one swimming!"

"Did you know?" Junna says. "A lot of people think turtles are amphibians, but actually they're reptiles!"

"Really?"

"Yup."

They watch the turtles for a while longer before slowly making their way to the next tank, which is full of little lizards. After that it's some more turtles, some geckos, bearded dragons, and then…

Junna sees the information sign on the next enclosure and grins. This is the entire reason she'd picked this building.

"Nana-chan, are you ready for the next one?"

"Mm!" Nana keeps hold of her hand and skips along.

Junna waits until the girl realizes what's ahead of them. There's a big, excited gasp, and then a squeal.

"Froggies!"

The payoff is everything Junna had hoped it would be, and more.

Nana excitedly hurries over to the large glass tank that's speckled with at least a dozen frogs; some on the soil, some in the water, some hiding in the little plants, and some clinging to the glass walls. Nana makes the happiest sound Junna's ever heard.

"Ahhh! Froggies! They're the cutest! Junna-Onee-chan, I love them!"

Junna has to reach for her handkerchief and wipe her eyes again.

"I'm so glad, Nana-chan."

They spend a long time looking at the frogs, and then discover another tank next to it with toads, and then another with a different species of frogs. Junna is most impressed with the poison dart frogs and their vibrant colors, but Nana seems equally as in love with any and all of the frogs.

They make their way slowly through the entire building, marveling at all of the creatures there. When they finally reach the end, there's a little gift shop, and somehow Junna manages to find a single coin in her pocket. She picks out a tiny plastic green frog and gives it to Nana.

"Sorry it isn't much."

But Nana shakes her head, cupping the little frog in her palms adoringly.

"No! I love him! Thank you, Junna-Onee-chan!"

"You're welcome! Maybe if you kiss him, he'll turn into a prince!"

But Nana shakes her head again.

"No. I like him better as a frog!"

Junna smiles and pats her head.

"Good choice."

By the time they exit the building, Nana has clearly worn herself out from all the excitement, and Junna feels she could do with a rest, too. She brings Nana back to the bench where Junna had first woken up here, and they sit down together. Nana clutches her little frog in her hands and lets out a big yawn. Junna lifts her arm, and Nana cuddles up to her side.

"Tired?"

"Mm…"

"Yeah. Me, too…"

"But it was so much fun!"

"I'm glad."

Junna looks around for a moment, wondering if she should try to find security now. But when she next looks down, Nana is already fast asleep. Junna smiles again and leans down to place a soft kiss on top of her head.

It's a dream anyway, so what's the harm in a quick nap?

So she closes her eyes and leans back against the bench, just to rest her eyes for a moment, keeping Nana close to her side.

And the sounds of the zoo eventually fade away.