©A.M. McPherson 2021
Field trips always filled Stella’s heart with excitement. She was particularly excited about this excursion, her chance to visit the most talked about science center in Stalwarth: Blackwell Center of the Sciences. She didn’t even care the field trip was on Saturday.
The chatter had been nonstop since her fifth-grade class stepped off the bus and into the mall where the entrance of the center was located. All the young faces were adorned with joy, eagerness, and curiosity. But Stella had a secret. Her mom and dad would be so disappointed in her—but there was no way she could leave her best friend home today. Lime needed to have this experience with her!
Stella attempted to stay at the back of the class, nervous that someone may spot her small friend hiding in the pocket of her dark blue peacock coat. She slowly peeked inside, and the little limestone golem smiled widely at her. Happiness spread across Stella’s face, and she held her finger to her mouth, signaling for the golem to be quiet.
He nodded and moved his own little rock hand, mimicking the action.
“Hey Stella!” Goldie stepped beside her, trying to peek over her arm. “What do you got?” Goldie’s blue curls moved and looked like ocean waves. They covered the little, barely noticeable gills on her neck. Goldie’s real name was Eva, but she hated it. She insisted on everyone to call her Goldie, inspired by her favorite pet fish.
“Nothing.” Stella released her coat, letting the pocket seal her secret.
“Oh, come on!” Goldie tried to pinch open Stella’s pocket. “Is it candy?”
Stella quickly sidestepped. “I said it’s nothing! If you don’t stop, I’ll tell Mrs. Winter!”
Goldie pouted. “You’re so mean!” She stormed ahead, not giving Stella a second glance.
“She’s so annoying,” Aiden said, trailing beside Stella. “I’d rather be back in class doing math than listen to her.”
Stella snickered. “Yeah. Totally.”
Aiden was a nice kid but seemed a bit sad at times. He had bright blue eyes and short brown hair. He was paler than anyone else in their class and tended to stay to himself. “Oh, wow,” Aiden whispered to himself, his eyes round with adoration, staring at something in the distance. “She’s pretty.”
Stella followed Aiden’s gaze to a young girl with auburn hair at the fountain, standing with a tall woman whose hair was brilliantly red. Next to them was a man just as tall but with messy brown hair. The woman handed the little girl a coin, which she threw into the fountain.
“Is that Emerald Blaze?” a kid shouted somewhere ahead of Stella.
Another student bounced up and down, pointing at the man with the messy brown hair. “Look! It’s Digger!”
“Now class,” Mrs. Winter gently warned, “don’t stare. When Guardians are off duty, they’re just like anyone else. It’s common courtesy to leave them alone to enjoy their day.”
“Yes, Mrs. Winter,” the class murmured.
Mrs. Winter’s warm personality did not match her name, but her appearance did. Even though she was in her midthirties, she had long, snow-white hair that went past the middle of her back, and she always wore a headband adorned with crystal snowflakes. Her skin was grey, like a dreary winter day, and her blue eyes mirrored a frozen lake. She was easily Stella’s favorite teacher of all time, but Stella knew better than to go against anything she said. Mrs. Winter had a bad habit of making it snow when she was upset.
Unbeknownst to Stella though, Lime had peeked out his little head to see what the commotion was about. Lime, who knew nothing but the beauty of the garden in Stella’s back yard, stared with his mouth agape at the wonders around him. Numerous shops lined the wide hallway the class was traversing. Twinkle lights floated above them, sparkling magically and effortlessly. Each shop was lit up and alive with people buzzing in and out of them. The true marvel was the fountain in the middle of what could be perceived as the intersection for the mall. Brass sculptures of dolphins, fish, and stars exploded from the waves that rushed back into the base of the fountain. Water smoothly streamed from the mouth of each mammal, and the water sparkled in the light.
But what really caught the little rock golem’s attention was a tiny shop exploding with color. Huge acrylic cut-out lights of lollipops, gumdrops, and bubblegum hung in the windows. Peppermint-striped awnings gave even more whimsy to the storefront. The shop’s name, Candy Island, was illuminated over top of the front door and swirled between colors of hot pink, lime green, and neon blue.
Lime scurried from Stella’s pocket onto the floor and charged toward his new paradise.
Stella heard a light thud and, at first, thought nothing of it. That was until she glanced down and saw a little rock golem beelining from her. Bewilderment crossed her face. “Lime!” she hissed while taking a couple quick steps after him.
Lime looked back and squeaked. His little legs moved quicker, taking him even farther from her.
“Miss Morris! Where do you think you’re going?” Mrs. Winter yelled.
Stella stopped, wide eyed with fear. She didn’t want to get in trouble. Not knowing what else to say, she said the only thing she could think of. “I have to use the bathroom.”
“Are you supposed to just run off?”
Stella hung her head low but, at the same time, glanced to the side to see Lime run into the candy store, now out of sight. Her heart fell a little. “No.” She turned to see the rest of her class had stopped and was now staring at her.
“The science center is just around the corner. Can it wait until we are there?”
Stella knew if they went to the science center, it would be even harder to find Lime. Who knows what he would do inside the store, let alone if he would leave and go to another shop! Her parents were right; she should’ve left Lime at home. Now she was risking getting into trouble with Mrs. Winter, as well as lying. Hadn’t she just thought about how it wasn’t smart to go against what her teacher said? She’d do anything to get Lime back.
“No. It’s an emergency,” Stella said while crossing her legs, feigning urgency.
Mrs. Winter sighed. “Alright. There’s one next to the candy shop, but take Goldie with you. When both of you are done, come immediately to the science center; do you understand?”
Stella’s eyes opened wider with surprise. “What! Why does Goldie have to come with me?”
“Because she said she needed to go when we got off the bus. Plus, you need a bathroom buddy.” Mrs. Winter looked ahead, searching the students for the one she was looking for. “Goldie, come here. Will you go to the restroom with Stella?”
After a huff and a puff, Goldie marched toward Stella. They grabbed hands, both looking disgruntled.
Stella now would have to concoct a way to distract Goldie from her true plan. Every second doing that was another second lost trying to recapture Lime.
While Stella tried to figure out how to get to Lime, the little golem was having the time of his life. He discovered a land he could have never imagined. Colorful tubes, full of all different kinds of sweets, covered the walls. Some were rainbow in color, while different shades of chocolate filled others. The store was packed with kids and adults filling plastic bags with the treats, but that didn’t faze Lime. No one seemed to notice him. At a quick glance, he could be misjudged for a large piece of chocolate rock candy that had dropped on the floor.
But then, horror struck him. The eyes of a huge brown frog bore down on him. He backed up into a ginormous, plastic-like red bear and squealed loudly. He slowly glanced around the store. The store had several large creatures, including pastel-colored fish, that could easily eat him in one bite. But none of them were moving or reacting to the kids who were touching or taking photos of them. They were larger candy creations, and they wouldn’t hurt anyone—including him. He sighed in relief.
A jar full of orange, yellow, and white candy near the register caught his attention. It reminded him of a vegetable Stella had eaten for dinner the other night but much more whimsical. He took off for his new destination, scurrying between everyone, determined to check out the treat.
Meanwhile, Stella and Goldie left the bathroom. While waiting for Goldie to finish, Stella devised a way to find Lime without telling Goldie too much. She didn’t want to get in trouble for bringing a stowaway on their trip, but the thought of losing Lime forever made her heart pound harder. She really hoped Lime hadn’t already left the candy store. She would have to tear apart the whole mall to look for him.
It was hard not to ditch Goldie and just rush off inside the candy store on her own, but she knew if she did, she’d definitely get in trouble. There would be no way Goldie would stay quiet if Stella just disappeared, and she needed to keep her mission a secret.
“Hey, Goldie?” Stella asked, stopping in front of the candy shop.
Goldie spun around with her arms crossed. “What?”
Stella took a deep breath, trying to ease the sickening feeling in her stomach. “You know how you asked if I had any candy earlier?”
She pursed her lips and tapped her foot impatiently. “Yeah?”
“Well, I really don’t have any, but I was thinking, how about I buy some? I have some money my mom gave me, and we could go inside and get some to share!”
Goldie tilted her head in thought and tapped her chin. “But Mrs. Winter said we needed to go to the center right after.”
“I know, but this should only take a minute.” Stella forced a smile; she really didn’t like the idea of buying Goldie some candy, but if this was what it would take for her to get Lime back more discreetly, then so be it. “So, what do you say?”
A smile spread across Goldie’s face. “Sure. Okay!” Goldie marched past Stella into the shop. “I want to get something sour!”
Stella released her breath, not realizing she had been holding it, and followed Goldie.
Goldie immediately went toward the side of the room that had tubes filled with different types of sour candies, from worms to octopuses. None of that interested Stella though. She just wanted her rock golem back, and her eyes scanned the floor.
“Hey, kid! Stop making a mess with the candy corn!” a man with a deep husky voice said sternly to a little boy standing next to the register.
“It’s not me! It’s just flying out of the jar!”
Stella looked up, filled with hope and concern. Candy corn rained onto the floor from a large jar sitting next to the register. Looking closely, she could tell something was moving inside the jar.
And that something was shaped like a little stone. Relief and fear flooded Stella. She didn’t want Lime to get into trouble for making such a mess.
“What the …!” The cashier’s skin turned a bright orange. He picked up the glass jar and attempted to peek inside while trying not to get pelted in the face with the candy.
Stella ran to the counter and grabbed the jar. “Oh, I would like some of this!” She got a whiff of a sickly, sweet scent coming from the worker.
“Miss, please let go. Something’s not quite right here,” the man replied, sounding irritated.
“Oh, it’s fine. I’ll just scoop some out!”
A tug-of-war soon began with the candy jar.
Lime jumped from the jar, candy corn exploding all around him.
This scared the man, and he dropped the jar.
Stella, not expecting the change in resistance, fell backward and crashed into a container full of gumballs, knocking it to the floor. Gumballs shot off like marbles in all directions.
Lime, frightened by the ruckus, ran from the shop.
“No!” Stella screamed. She stood, trying to avoid touching any broken glass, and ran after Lime, ignoring the shouts from the shop owner and Goldie. Tears flowed freely from Stella’s eyes as she chased after Lime. “Lime! Please! Stop!”
He darted between people’s feet, causing them to yelp in surprise, and ran for the fountain in the middle of the mall.
Stella screamed, “No! Lime! Stop!”
That didn’t stop him but scared him more. He scurried as fast as his little legs would let him. Once he reached the fountain with the strange fish statues, he crawled onto its edge. He peered into the water; it was dark but looked like a good place to hide. It reminded him of the pond in the back yard of their home—a haven.
Lime jumped into the waters, first feeling relieved, since the cool water was comforting. But a strong force pulled him toward the fountain wall. No matter how hard he fought against it, the suction was too strong, and he panicked. It was like the time when Stella’s mom had accidentally used something called a vacuum near him. His body slammed hard against a hole in a wall. He was too big to go any farther into the opening, but the suction had him trapped.
Stella’s heart dropped into her stomach. “Lime!” She rushed to the edge and looked over, unable to see anything in the water. Utter hopelessness consumed her, but she’d have to search the fountain. She had no other choice. She removed her coat, rolled up her sleeves, bent over as far as she could, and thrusted her hands into the freezing water. Goosebumps traveled up her arms as more water coming from the dolphin statues splashed on her.
“Stella? What are you doing?” a confused Goldie asked from behind her. “Why did you make such a mess in the candy store? You shouldn’t have run off like that! You scared me!”
“I’m sor-sorry,” Stella struggled to say, since the force of leaning over was constricting her lungs. “I have to find Lime.”
“Wait, what? You’re doing all this for a lime?”
Stella stood upright, realizing she would have to explain herself to Goldie, and wiped her hands on her pants. “No. Not for a lime. For Lime. He’s my rock golem.”
Goldie’s eyebrows pinched together in confusion. “Oh! Your pet rock? I’ve heard you talk about him, but I’ve never seen him.”
“Yeah.” Stella nodded. “My mom and dad told me not to bring him, but I really wanted him to come with me. He jumped into the fountain!” Stella cried out. “If I don’t find him, he’ll be gone forever!”
Goldie eyed the fountain, then put her hand on Stella’s shoulder. “Let me help. I can see and breathe underwater, after all.”
“I-I couldn’t ask you to help me. I don’t want you to get in trouble because of me.”
“It’s okay.” Goldie shrugged off her coat, let it fall to the floor, and walked near the fountain.
Stella noticed some adults, staring at them, were whispering to each other, seeming to get the hint that something was happening.
Goldie rolled up her pant legs and stepped over the side of the fountain and dropped into the water. She crouched and submerged herself in search of Lime.
“Hey! What’s that girl doing!” a guy from behind Stella yelled.
Stella’s heart pounded a mile a minute. With each second that passed, she worried more about Lime and Goldie, especially since they clearly were on the brink of getting in serious trouble.
After a few more agonizing moments, Goldie popped up with a horrified expression. “I found him!” Before she said anything more, she dove back into the waters.
Relief and fear filled Stella’s heart.
“What’s going on here?” a stern voice from behind her asked, causing Stella to freeze in place.
She slowly turned to see an extremely tall security officer standing behind her, dressed in a black uniform. A silver badge glimmered in the light with the name, BRUNO GRIMES, engraved on it. “Um …” Stella stuttered. “Well, you see—”
Goldie popped out of the water, holding a shaking Lime. “He was trapped by the fountain’s suction pump! But other than that, he seems to be okay.”
“Lime!” Stella cried out with joy, and he jumped into her arms. She embraced him tightly against her face.
Lime sighed and hugged her cheek.
Stella mouthed, Thank you, to Goldie, and Goldie nodded with a gentle smile.
Goldie’s hair was having some sort of reaction from the water; it shimmered between shades of blue, almost pulsating like a cuttlefish. Her gills were also at alert, when normally they laid flat against her neck.
Stella suddenly realized maybe Goldie was cooler than she’d given her credit for and not that annoying.
Stella refocused on Lime. She held him in front of her, and her face reflected her anger. “Lime! How could you? You know better! You could’ve been stuck down there forever! We never would’ve seen each other again!”
“Okay, you two,” the security guard, who Stella had forgotten all about, said. “I think you need to explain yourselves.”
“We’re not done talking about this,” Stella murmured to Lime.
Goldie regarded Stella with a worrisome look while getting out of the fountain, water dripping to the floor.
“There you girls are!” Mrs. Winter walked up behind the security guard. A light mixture of what looked like clouds and snow swirled around her. “I was so worried about you. Where—” She stared at Lime in Stella’s hands, then at Goldie dripping water everywhere. “Wait, what’s going on?”
“That’s what I’d like to know too, ma’am. This one here”—the guard pointed at Goldie—“was in the fountain and came out with this thing.” He pointed at Lime. “It’s highly frowned upon for kids to enter the fountain for any reason.”
“What? Of course, no one should jump into a fountain!” Mrs. Winter crossed her arms, and the snowstorm swirled more wildly around her. “I’m glad to see you two are safe, but you need to explain yourselves. Now.”
Goldie’s gills flatten against her neck. “Well, Mrs. Winter, see, I just—”
“It’s all my fault,” Stella spoke up. “Goldie was helping me. She shouldn’t get in trouble. She rescued Lime for me.” Stella held out Lime for Mrs. Winter to examine.
Mrs. Winter bent down to get a closer look at the sad rock golem in Stella’s hands, the snowstorm calm. “Is this the famous Lime you’ve talked about?”
Stella nodded. “Yeah. He … um … got away from me.”
“I see …” Mrs. Winter raised an eyebrow. “So, you didn’t have to use the restroom then?”
“No.” Stella shook her head.
Mrs. Winter rubbed her forehead and turned to the security guard. “I can take things from here if that’s all right with you, officer.”
Officer Bruno pursed his lips and nodded, but before he left, he reprimanded the girls about how important it was to follow the mall rules and how it was never okay to jump into a fountain.
Mrs. Winter told Goldie to join the rest of the class at the science center while she talked to Stella alone.
Goldie grabbed her coat and shot Stella a glance full of sympathy. “I’m glad Lime is okay. You’ll have to tell me more about him later.”
Stella smiled. “Definitely. Thank you again so much for helping us.”
Mrs. Winter directed Stella toward a bench not too far from the fountain, and they sat.
Lime stayed quiet in her hand, either too tired from the day’s events or too scared to move.
“Stella, you really shouldn’t bring Lime with you on trips like this. Not only did you risk his safety, but Goldie’s as well. Also, if I didn’t show up when I did, you may have gotten into worse trouble with the mall’s security. Do you understand that?”
“Yes.” Stella blinked back tears. “My parents told me not to bring him, but I wanted him to see the science center.”
“Well, unfortunately, even if no harm was done, you still lied and didn’t follow directions and put a fellow student at risk. There must be a consequence for that. You’ll have to spend the rest of the trip on the bus with the bus driver and miss the science center.”
Tears slipped from Stella’s eyes as disappointment filled her, but, more than anything, the words “no harm was done” made her feel even worse. She and Lime had created quite the ordeal at the candy store, and she felt horrible to have just left the owner to deal with it. “Well, actually, I think Lime and I should go back to the candy store and apologize. We … kind of left a mess there.”
“Candy store?” Mrs. Winter asked.
After Stella explained what had happened, Mrs. Winter agreed that Stella needed to spend her time helping clean instead of returning to the bus. That could be her punishment, but she would still have to tell Stella’s parents what had happened, which Stella knew would lead to another lecture later.
After apologizing to the candy shop owner—who was in the middle of gathering all the loose gumballs—and showing him the little rock golem who had been the root of all the chaos, she asked if she could help him. He agreed, handing her a dustpan and small broom to sweep up the candy corn. Stella also put Lime to work, and he gathered all the candy corn that had fallen under the counter—a space too tight for Stella to reach.
Lime couldn’t help himself by munching playfully on a few pieces of the Halloween-colored candy, not realizing he was creating a bigger mess of candy crumbs behind him.
Stella shook her head with playful disgust, but she was so grateful to have Lime back. Sure, he was a handful, but she realized it wasn’t fair for him to be trapped at home all day. No wonder why he took off at the first glance of excitement. She and Lime weren’t that much different. After all, she hadn’t listened to her parents either.
“Hey little guy,” Stella said.
Lime eyed her while a chunk of candy corn dropped from his mouth.
“I know you got excited earlier, but you can’t take off like that or jump into a fountain.”
Lime stared at the floor, frowning, and his eyes were heavy with shame.
Stella spoke a little softer. “Hey …”
Lime looked at her and whimpered.
“Next time, let me know if you want to go somewhere, okay? We may not be able to go at that moment, but I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to take you there, okay? Is that a deal?”
A small smile erupted on Lime’s face, and he nodded.
She giggled. “Let’s make a pact. You promise you’ll listen better, maybe I can convince my parents to let me take you out a little more often, okay?”
He nodded in agreement.
“We’ll have to prove to my parents that we learned from today though, okay? That we’ll both listen better—can we do that?”
Lime came to her, and she put her hand down for him to step on. He pointed to her coat pocket, and she placed him inside. He hopped up and down, excitedly showing he learned where he should’ve stayed.
Stella smiled. “See. We got this. You’re learning already.”
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