My sister Melanie was supposed to be baby-sitting Cami and me while Mom and Dad were attending a funeral. Before they left, Melanie said that she would help us make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Then, as soon as Mom and Dad had gone, she turned on the stereo and the TV, snatched a bag of chips, dropped onto the sofa, grabbed the phone, and called her friend Kendra.
Cami and I sat around the kitchen table, waiting for Melanie to come help us with the cookies. But every time Cami or I asked her when she was going to help us, she waved us away and hissed, “Just a minute! Quit bugging me! I have to tell Kendra one more thing.”
“Let’s forget the cookies,” I finally sighed, “and go down by the creek and find something to do.”
“What’s there to do down there?” Cami mumbled disappointedly. “The creek’s not deep enough to swim in.”
“We can wade in it, or maybe we can fish,” I suggested.
“There aren’t any fish in the creek, just a few old frogs.”
“Oh, well,” I sighed. “Let’s just sit here and wait for Melanie.”
Cami glanced in at Melanie and wrinkled her nose. Finally she muttered, “Catching frogs has to be better than listening to Melanie gab.”
“Then let’s go!”
Cami and I jumped up, ran out the door, cut down the dirt lane under the elm trees, and waded through Dad’s alfalfa field to the creek. I was just ready to kick off my shoes, when Cami screamed, jumped back, and scrambled up the bank.
“What’s the matter?”
Cami was on the bank with her mouth and eyes wide open. She was pointing down toward the creek. “A snake!” she blurted out.
I looked around, and sure enough, right by the edge of the creek, lying on a big flat rock, was the biggest, yellow-striped snake I’d ever seen. “Wow!” I gasped, kneeling down beside the snake. “Isn’t he neat?” I reached down and grabbed the snake behind the head and picked it up.
“Krista!” Cami screamed. “Put that awful thing down.”
I held the snake up, and it wrapped its thick body around my arm. Its black, forked tongue flashed out of its mouth. I giggled and charged up the bank toward Cami. She backed up and screamed, “Krista, don’t you dare come near me with that awful thing!”
“It’s just an old water snake. He won’t hurt you. Dad said that there aren’t any dangerous snakes around here. I think that snakes are kind of fun. They wrap around your arm and stick their tongue out at you.” I held my arm up so that Cami could see the snake better.
Cami frowned. “Girls don’t play with snakes.”
“I’m a girl, and I play with snakes.” I grinned. “I’d rather play with snakes than listen to Melanie gab on the phone or hear her old screaming music.” I laughed. “He won’t hurt you,” I repeated. “Touch him.” I held the snake toward her.
Slowly Cami reached a shaky finger out and touched the snake’s cool body. She jumped back, but a grin pulled at her mouth. “It’s creepy,” she whispered, touching the snake again. Soon she was stroking it softly with her finger.
“Do you want to hold him?”
Cami didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either.
“Just grab him behind the head,” I coached.
Soon Cami had the snake wrapped around her arm, while she stroked it with her free hand. She giggled. “He feels weird,” she said. “We ought to name him something.”
“How about Joe?”
“Snakes aren’t Joes.”
Cami shook her head.
“Jake?” I suggested next.
Cami smiled. “Yeah. We’ll call him Jake. Jake the Snake.”
“What’re we going to do with him?” I asked.
Cami said, “He’s too big for a bottle, and he couldn’t look out through a can. Since he’s a water snake, let’s put him in the bathtub.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know if Mom will like Jake bathing in our tub.”
But Cami wasn’t listening to me. She had already started for the house with Jake. I shrugged and followed her.
When we went into the house with Jake, Melanie was lying on the floor with her feet propped up on the sofa and her hand in the chips. She didn’t even know we’d been gone. We went right to the bathroom and put Jake into the tub.
“How much water shall we put in the tub?” Cami asked.
“Let’s fill it clear up,” I said, turning on the tap. “Jake’s pretty big, and he’s going to have all the water that he wants.”
“This’s better than that old creek any day. This is clean water, and it’s nice and cool in here.”
“You know what,” I said. “Jake looks lonely.”
“Yeah, he needs a friend,” Cami agreed.
“There are lots more snakes where Jake came from, I’ll bet,” I said.
Leaving Jake in the tub, Cami and I headed back to the creek. This time we had one of Mom’s plastic mop buckets so that we could bring a friend or two for Jake.
We soon discovered lots of snakes sunning themselves on the rocks. There were yellow-striped ones and red-striped ones. At first Cami made me do the grabbing. Then she saw a tiny one. I already had one in each hand, so Cami, not wanting the little one to get away, set the bucket down and grabbed it herself.
“How many do we have?” Cami asked later, looking at the tangled mass of squirming bodies in the bottom of the bucket. “It looks like a million of them.”
“We can count them as we put them into the tub with Jake,” I suggested.
Once more we headed for the house. The music was still going, and Melanie was still laughing and talking. We hurried to the bathroom and set the bucket down.
“Jake’s gone!” Cami gasped, looking into the tub.
“I guess we put too much water in. He must have crawled right out.” I peeked out at Melanie. “We’ve got to find him fast!”
We looked behind the clothes hamper and under the sink, but we couldn’t see Jake anywhere. We went out into the hall and started looking under the chairs and behind the furniture.
“What are you guys doing?” Melanie scolded, covering the phone with her hand and glaring at us. “You’re not into anything, are you?” When we shook our heads, she grumbled, “Well, don’t. I’m almost through here, and then I’ll be out to help you with the cookies.”
“We lost Jake,” Cami announced.
“Jake?” Melanie asked, still scowling. “Who’s Jake?”
I swallowed hard. “He’s our friend.”
“Krista, you know you aren’t supposed to have friends over while Mom and Dad are gone. You tell him to leave right now.”
“We can’t,” Cami explained. “We can’t find him. Have you seen him?”
Melanie shook her head. “Maybe he already went home. You two just run into the kitchen. I’ll be there in a second.”
“But what about Jake?” I protested.
“Forget about Jake. He found his way here. He can find his way home.”
Cami and I shrugged and went to the kitchen and sat down. We didn’t sit there long, though. Not two minutes later we heard a shriek. We jumped up and rushed into the living room.
Melanie was standing on the sofa, screaming and shaking. On the floor near where Melanie had been lying was Jake the Snake. He was curled up into a little stack and was being as peaceful as could be.
“Jake!” Cami squealed happily. “Thanks, Melanie. You found him for us.”
“Jake?” Melanie screeched. “That’s Jake?”
“Sure,” Cami said, scooping Jake up and holding him out to Melanie. “He’s cute, isn’t he? Do you want to hold him?”
“Get that awful, horrible thing away from me,” Melanie cried. She backed into the arm of the sofa, lost her balance, and fell. As soon as she hit the floor, she scrambled to her feet and ran as fast as she could to the bathroom. She slammed the door behind her, and we heard the lock snap into place.
“Are you OK, Melanie?” I asked.
“Krista,” Melanie howled from behind the door, “you get that awful thing out of this house!”
“But Jake’s our friend,” Cami protested before I could even open my mouth.
“Krista, I’m warning—”
Before Melanie could finish what she was saying, we heard her bump into Mom’s plastic mop bucket. Then there was another scream, more horrible than the others. We heard Melanie jerk on the door, forgetting that it was locked. Finally the door flew open, and Melanie came charging out of the bathroom, still screaming.
Cami was right by the door with Jake, and Melanie ran into her. Both Melanie and Cami fell down, and Jake got knocked right into Melanie’s lap. Melanie just sat there shaking and watching Jake crawl on her and stick his black tongue in and out.
Suddenly Cami sang out, “Look! Jake’s friends are getting away!”
Melanie had knocked the bucket over, and all our snakes were slithering out of the bathroom. Well, I had picked Jake up by then, but when I saw all the other snakes getting away, I handed Jake to Melanie, and Cami and I went after the other snakes. Pretty soon our hands were full of snakes, and we were putting them into the bucket as fast as we could. Melanie wasn’t much help, though. She didn’t even keep Jake for us. She dropped him on the floor.
“Well, that looks like all of them,” I said when I finally found Jake behind the magazine rack.
“You mean you’re not sure?” Melanie gasped. Her face was white, and she was standing on a chair, still shaking. “Do you mean that there might be more creeping around?”
I shrugged. “There could be. We didn’t have time to count them before.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do than go around catching awful creatures like that?”
“You didn’t help us make cookies,” Cami said, “and we had to do something.”
“I’ll help you make cookies right now!” Melanie cried. “Just get those things out of here. And don’t ever bring them back.”
Cami picked up the bucket, and we started for the door. “We want chocolate chip cookies,” I called over my shoulder.
“Anything! Now, get out of here with those snakes.”
Just then the phone rang. I answered it because Melanie wouldn’t get off the chair until we took Jake and his friends outside.
“It’s Kendra,” I said, holding the phone out to Melanie. She looked at the phone, then at the bucket of snakes, then at Cami and me. She jumped down from the chair, went into the kitchen, and said, “Tell her I’m busy making chocolate chip cookies.”
I grinned at Cami, Cami grinned at me, and we both grinned at Jake and his friends as we headed for the creek.