- I won! - cried Champ happily, standing on his chair, fist raised in a victory position, when he realized that all eyes inside the dining car were on him, which made the bear feel his cheeks blush as he sat down. back - Sorry, I... Never before in his life had the sportsman been so ashamed, he really wanted to hide under the table. He and Confidence had been watching the soccer game, and he hadn't been able to contain his excitement as he watched Belgium, whom he was rooting for, beat the Netherlands one-nil. And after having attracted everyone's attention by celebrating, what the athlete bear wanted most now was to disappear, especially when he turned towards the fennec and saw her trying to hold back her laughter. - Honestly, for those who didn't want to draw attention, you got a lot of curious looks - said the desert fox playfully, giving her friend a wink - I think your sportsman side likes to attract the spotlight, especially when you win a bet. - That's not funny… - he muttered with his head down and not daring to look around – You should help me, not make fun of me… - Relax Champ, no one is really interested in you - Confidence replied with a smile - See, everyone is already occupied with their business again, and you don't have to stand there, wanting to jump out the window to disappear. - And you want me to feel like? – asked the bear in an annoyed tone – It's hard to get used to the idea that I'm visible to everyone, not just who I'm going to help... - You'll get used to it soon, Champ. And thanks to your experience, you will be able to teach Care Bear Family how to deal with this feeling. The sportsman gave only a dejected sigh in response, and turned his face to the side of the window, feeling tears form in his eyes. He would never see the Care Bear Family friends again, however much Confidence wanted to say otherwise. Now he was just Looser Bear, someone whose name would never again be mentioned in Kingdom of Caring, and who could never be truly happy again. The fennec noticed the sadness that befell her friend, and watched his blank, sad gaze, while surely a thousand bad thoughts passed through his mind. She knew she needed to act, and so she quickly got to her feet. - Come with me, sports fan - she said to the athlete. - What? Like? - He asked, seeming to wake up - Where? - Let's go to the panoramic car, and you will know more about my country. And saying that, she smiled and held out her hand to the athlete bear, who accepted the gesture and let the fox lead him to the last car of the train. Climbing a short flight of stairs, they accessed the upper floor, having access to the special dome that allowed them to see the beautiful Canadian landscapes with much more amplitude. The blue lakes in the woods, with the snow-covered slopes of mountains rising out of the trees, the animals so close to the passengers, it was all ecstatic, and there was no landscape like it around every bend. The sportsman couple was alone upstairs, having fun while looking at the landscape. Confidence would point out beautiful places and talk about them when she knew something, or name birds and deer that flitted past the picture windows. Champ listened to all this with interest, looking around like an excited child, and not tiring of admiring the scenery. - So, are you still finding this trip a bore? – asked the fennec at one point, with an amused smile. - Of course not, sport fan, I'm really having a lot of fun! – the bear replied excitedly – Your country really is very beautiful, and you are the best tourist guide in the world! - Well, at least what I learned about geography at school was not in vain - said Confidence with a giggle - But I confess that I still preferred art and physical education classes. - Did you attend human school? - Yes, when I was seven years old. My adoptive father, Sage Heart, thought it would be interesting for me and my siblings to have this experience, and for two years we attended school in Regina, Saskatchewan. It was at this time that I became interested in karate, as a way of knowing how to defend myself from bullies, and as the sport of my life. I was also just learning wind magic when we were attacked by Soul Heart and our lives were turned upside down. - What? Soul Heart? Attacked? - Champ asked curiously - You didn't tell me about it before. In fact, you've never told me much about your group's history... - We lived in the woods, near Regina, to have some peace and so that Sage could train us in magic away from prying eyes. But we had a lot of human friends in town. One morning, we heard a loud explosion in a nearby camp, and when we arrived there we saw that the site was destroyed, with many casualties, and a purple female bear, bloodthirsty red eyes, killing all those who were still alive. She said her name was Soul Heart Bear, and upon seeing us, she said she was there to destroy us. Sage and she fought inside a magical dome while we couldn't get close. All of a sudden, we saw Sage get hit by a black bolt in his chest... He staggered and... He fell off a slope, into a mighty river... And we couldn't do anything... At this point Confidence had tears in her eyes, and her throat tightened with emotion as she stared at nothing through the window, her thoughts lost. The athlete bear felt sad to hear this, and he lowered his head a little embarrassed. - Sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel like this… - he muttered feeling guilty for his friend remembering such dark moments. - It's okay, Champ... The past is gone, but it still hurts sometimes – said the fighter with a slight smile – After Dad Sage disappeared into the water, Soul came to attack us, releasing a wave of energy that threw us into the ground like leaves in the wind. We were still inexperienced in magic, and the only one of us who had more knowledge was Loveheart. He got up, drew his sword and began to fight that evil female bear, while the others fled in every possible direction. I ran alone through the woods until nightfall, when I was finally found by firefighters who were looking for survivors of the massacre. - But what about the others? What happened to you afterwards? And Sage Heart, what happened to him? From what you told me, he's alive, but you saw him fall into the water... Champ's anxiety made Confidence laugh. - Don't be anxious, sportsman, I'll tell you what happened - she said with a little wink - After two days in the hospital, to treat my wounds, I ended up being adopted by the family of the brother of one of the firefighters who found me. Then I went to live with them in Saskatoon, the provincial capital. There was no news of my other siblings, let alone Sage, and I thought for many years that no one else had survived. But a few weeks after my 13th birthday, the house bell rang, and when my brother opened the door, Loveheart was there. - You must have been very happy to see him again... - said the sportsman in a thoughtful tone and with a slightly worried look - After all, he is your boyfriend... - At that time he wasn't, but I was really happy. We cried holding each other for a long time. He told me that the fight against Soul Heart was very difficult, but that he managed to scare away our enemy after electrocuting her. Loveheart then returned to our cave, grabbed some groceries, whatever cash he could find, camouflaged the entrance and fled to the States, to distract the evil female bear if he was being followed. He lived wandering until age 11, training and specializing in plasma magic, and only then did he return to Regina to try to find us. For a long time he didn't get any clues as to our fate, until finally he found my hospital record and some data on my human adoptive family. And that's how he got to me... Confidence smilled to herself as she recalled the joy she'd felt the day she and Loveheart had been reunited, and how much she'd thought he'd matured after so many years. Champ just remained silent, his expression a little grim. - And then? - he asked dryly. - Well, in short, he convinced my human family to allow me to leave with him to look for our other siblings. In short, it took four years, but we managed to find them all. Guidance, Anger and Defiant remained in Regina, also adopted by human families, keeping in touch with each other. Snowy was in the Northwest Territories, living among the Eskimos, while Crafty was in Bismarck living on the streets as a street vendor. Calm Heart was in a convent in Seattle, and Passion lived in Great Falls as a member of a gang. It was difficult, after so many years, for all of us to get back together, already teenagers and having lived such strange experiences, but Loveheart and I didn't give up, and that motivated everyone to consider us the leaders of the Magi. We trained in magic and fighting every day, trying to guard against any attack, whether human or Soul Heart, until the day Snowy dreamed that Dad Sage was back in Regina, looking for us. - And he really was? - asked the sportsman, still a little somber, but again showing interest. - Yes, and thanks to his new wife, Life Heart - Confidence replied with a wide smile - The fact is that Sage survived the fall into the water, but when he woke up on the riverbank, hours later, he was completely out of memory. For several years he lived alone in the forest, until the day he simply stumbled across Life Heart Unicorn. Although she also lived alone in the forest, avoiding any contact with the other creatures, she took in our adoptive father and took care of him. They both fell in love and got married, and when that happened, she was finally able to use her magic to read Sage's memories, which reminded him of who he was, his mission, and about us. Immediately he and Life left to look for us, and it was natural for him to go to our old cave. Snowy has the power of clairvoyance, he can see into the future, and when he dreamed that our beloved foster father was alive and where he was going, we decided to head there too, to meet. We just didn't know that... - What? Come on, sports fan, make no mistake! What happened? - No sooner did we meet again, and hug each other happily, when we were attacked by Soul Heart Bear. She had felt that we were all alive, and that we would go back to the cave. We all fight it, using our powers and our knowledge in battle. Heavens, what a fight! Defiant nearly died from a chest wound, Calm had her hand and arm broken, and I fractured my right leg. Soul Heart was a really tough opponent. But even with all the injuries and difficulties, Sage and Love Heart created a ray of plasma energy strong enough to make that evil bear explode like a balloon. - How horrible! - Champ exclaimed with a frightened expression - It's okay that you were in a life and death fight, but you tell it so calmly... - Sorry about that, but after all the pain that creature put us through, I can't feel remorse - said Confidence with a slight frown, before giving a sigh - What matters is that we defeated her, and after heal thanks to the magic of Life Heart, we're back to being a family. Days later, Guidance found out that our new “foster mom” was pregnant, and when Sweet Heart was finally born, Sage decided we should have a decent home to live in. And that's how, following his magic, we went to Grimpen, near Vancouver, where we live to this day, and where you'll live too, Champ. The bear listened to all this with interest, though there was still a slight shadow on his face. Not that he wasn't interested in the story of the desert fox and her family, on the contrary, he found the whole adventure she had just told amazing. But there was one thing worrying the bear, and he decided it was time to talk it over with the fennec. On the other hand, the fighter noticed her friend's somewhat closed face. At first she figured he was just absorbing all the information she was telling him, as the Terada story was really amazing, even in the Care Bear Family mold. But now she saw that there was something else, and she decided that she needed to ask what was going on. - Confidence... - began the sportsman. - Champ… - the fennec spoke at the same time, before giving a giggle – Sorry, you can speak first. - No, I'm the one who apologizes, you can speak first – the athlete bear replied with a slight smile. - Alright. Why are you wearing such a grim expression? - Well... Since you talked about it... - Champ hesitated for a few seconds - What will you say to your adoptive family, when we get there? How will you tell them that we were kicked out of the Kingdom of Caring, how will you tell them that... Both of us... Well... How will you tell this to Loveheart, when he must have been waiting for you all this time?... That question made Confidence give a sad, thoughtful sigh. She hadn't seriously thought about it yet, but the athlete bear was right to be concerned, as the three of them would soon be face to face. - I don't know what I'll say to him... - the young female confessed in a sad tone, looking away - In fact, I can't even imagine how he'll react when he finds out the truth. - What about your family? Will they still accept me when they find out what happened? What do they think about your relationship with Loveheart? - They all always saw Loveheart and me as a leading couple, especially back when Sage was away. But I'm sure they'll accept you, even if at first some are upset. Sage is a good person, he knows how to discern things and he will understand what happened to us in Care-a-lot... - Confidence, I'm not just talking about us being kicked out of the Care Bear Family, but about us sleeping together! - exclaimed Champ in a serious tone - I'm talking about our feelings, and our actions, and how your parents and siblings will react when they find out about all this! - I know that, Champ! But it's no use wondering how they'll react. Also, we don't need to tell them as soon as we arrive... - I will not lie to your family, much less to Loveheart - said the sportsman incisively - They deserve an explanation. Don't make the same mistake that ruined my relationship with Cheer Bear forever, and my life too. For a few seconds they were both silent, the fennec still with her head bowed and her expression thoughtful, the bear frowning steadily at the friend. Finally the girl gave a slight nod, and looked at Champ. - All right, we'll tell them all what happened, when the time is right – she said in a defeated tone, before getting up from her seat – Let's go back to our cabin, after all we have things to do. - What do you mean by that? - Asked the sportsman with a surprised look. - Oh, I just want to thank a certain bear for tickling me for half an hour yesterday afternoon - Confidence replied with a wink - And it's no use trying to run away, because if you don't let me do it now, I'll do it while you sleep, got it? Hearing this, Champ's face relaxed and he chuckled. - Yeah... I don't think I'll be able to escape you... - he confessed feeling his cheeks blush - But at least this will give me a reason to tickle you again in the future. - Whatever, we'll see who can handle the most tickles - concluded the fighting fox, as she and the bear went down the stairs of the car and went to the cabin, having fun with the tickle fight. ***** (A Man and A Train, by Marty Robbins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8slW3ny7mbY)
A man and a train, a train and a man They both tried to run as far and as fast as they can But a man's not a train and a train's not a man A man can do things that a train never can.
Goin' up a mountain even half way to the top The minute that a train runs out of steam it's gotta stop But it's a different story when a man runs out of steam He still can go a long, long way on nothin' but a dream.
Goin' cross the country when a train runs out of track It has to stop and turn around and then start headin' back But many miles from nowhere out where all the tracks are gone A man who's got himself a dream can still keep goin' on.
So don't try to stop me Don't try to stop me 'cause nobody can I've got a dream, a beautiful dream And that makes me a man.
No don't try to stop me Don't try to stop me 'cause nobody can I've got a dream, a beautiful dream and that makes me Makes me a man...
Jonas was on the roof of the railroad headquarters building, watching the sunset. Although that building was not one of the largest in the city of São Paulo, it still allowed whoever was on top of it to see a little more of the star king disappearing amidst the smoke of pollution and the “sea of buildings” of the great metropolis of South America. There, far from the hustle of the city and the office, the president of the Brazilian railroad could reflect on how his day had been, and literally recharge his energy for the new journey that would begin the next morning. After all, being CEO of the most important railway in the country was an arduous task, full of responsibilities, and a moment of peace was always good in these cases. Standing with his arms crossed at the edge of the rail, the businessman was looking at the city lights slowly turning on when he felt something vibrate in his jacket pocket. It was his "pager", and when he picked up the communicator, he read a message from his secretary asking him to return that call. With one last look at the reddened sky on the horizon, Jonas descended the two flights of stairs that separated him from the conference room, where he picked up the phone and dialed. - Maria, this is Jonas, what's wrong? – he asked the secretary, being silent for a few seconds – Oh, it's certainly good news, tell him to come inside. Moments later, the office door opened, giving way to a well-dressed, 35- or 40-year-old man, carrying a briefcase and with his jacket folded over his arm. - Jonas! How nice to see you again - said the newcomer with a little smile, putting his briefcase and jacket on the table and shaking hands with the businessman - How are things here? I hope Douglas and the union didn't cause problems... - You know they cause problems even when they are quiet – replied the company president with a laugh – And it's great to see you back, Eduardo. You know how much people like your presence. Carlos Eduardo Palhares was director of the engineering sector and also vice president of the railway company, being ahead of the company's main investment and growth goals, as well as being someone who would rather work outdoors than stuck in an air-conditioned office. He was respected and liked by everyone, and his only weird mania was the fact that he hated being photographed, having already quarreled with the company's marketing department when they released a commercial showing his photo. But apart from that fact, Eduardo was certainly one of the best employees the railroad could count on. - I'm the one who's happy to finally be back – said the engineer, sitting down in an armchair and crossing his long legs – You know, taking a vacation is a good thing, but there comes a time when idleness gets tired. - You and Frank are the only guys I know who love to work every day non-stop – commented the CEO with a teasing wink, also sitting down in an armchair – But how was your vacation? Where did you go this time? Yugoslavia? Burkina Faso? Kazakhstan? You always go to the strangest and most exotic places... - I just like to get to know the world and new cultures. But no, this time I stayed in Brazil. I went to see the "lençóis maranhenses" and the Parnaíba delta, and also took the opportunity to visit an indigenous village in Piauí and climb some slopes in the Picos region. - Still it is a very exotic script, even being in our country. - If I wanted to enjoy my vacation doing something normal, you would probably have found me walking in Morumbi or having dinner at Bovinus - Eduardo said with a wink - I believe that vacations are a time to take the time to discover new things. Have new flavors, new experiences, new perspectives with a free mind and not worrying about business. You should do the same on your vacation, Jonas. - Isn't going to Miami with the family a different experience? – Jonas asked with a giggle – And speaking of family, did you visit your son and Katia? A somber expression came over the engineer's face when he heard that question, since he didn't have a good relationship with his ex-wife Kátia, nor with his son Augusto. In fact, he didn't even like to discuss this personal matter with others. - No, I didn't go, I already know what the outcome would be - he replied dryly - And if you don't mind, let's change the subject. What is the company's news? The businessman immediately realized that it would not be a good time to try to talk to his friend about his family relationship, and so he immediately started talking about the latest developments at the railway. The inauguration of the line to Alto Araguaia, the arrival of new locomotives, the release of a new credit line for investments, the expansion of suburban train schedules, and Frank's visit were some of the topics mentioned. Eduardo listened carefully, asking a question or two, and being surprised when Jonas told about the eccentric behavior shown by the old businessman during the days he was in Brazil. - And then he spent practically two weeks shipping from Campinas, before going on vacation for a week without telling anyone, but four days later he was already back in the office in New York, like a magnet always comes back to the fridge - said the CEO in an ironic tone - And that was our little adventure with Frank. Now, whether this is eccentricity, madness or something else, I have no idea. I didn't have time to talk to Fred about it. - What a strange attitude of Mr. Frank, he usually doesn't act that way - pondered the engineering director thoughtfully - And as much as I know that Fred is a guy who doesn't keep secrets, why do you think he would know the reasons that led to the old to act like that? - Because when Frank just disappeared, I heard Fred say something like “first a flying alien car, then Mr. Frank goes crazy”, and you know the esteem he has for the old man and he would never call him crazy if there were no reasons... - Alien flying car? - Yes, Fred said he saw a flying car made of clouds, with colorful beings inside, when the train returned from the inauguration of Alto Araguaia - Jonas replied with a giggle - He told me that the next morning, when we met at the cafe, and before we started worrying about Frank's absence. - Colorful beings in a cloud car... - Eduardo muttered in a thoughtful tone - Did Fred tell that to Frank? - Probably yes, after all the two met the night before. But you know how Fred is kind of crazy and sees things that don't exist. He swears he has seen death when he was an ambulance driver, and that there was a knight in armor in his basement when he was a child. - Things fall into place... - said the engineer, scratching his chin and looking at the wall thoughtfully. - What? Do you think Fred really saw these things? – asked the businessman, widening his eyes, and putting his hand on his friend's forehead as if to feel his temperature – Do you have yellow fever? Or did you go crazy too? - No, no! I was really thinking about something else, certainly Fred didn't see any of this and he's just a storyteller - Eduardo replied promptly - And as for Frank, I don't think it's up to us to judge what he did. Despite his age, he always seemed very lucid to me, and certainly Elizabeth, James and everyone else who works with him on a daily basis would notice if he was having dementia. - I agree with you, but this whole procedure is still a warning for us to keep an eye on the old man. After all, dementia due to age can have several characteristics... - Neither you nor I are doctors, so we can not talk about it - said the director-engineer with some gruffness - But we certainly have other matters to deal with. How is the progress of the work between Alto Araguaia and Rondonópolis? And quickly the two went back to discussing railroad-related matters, although for the rest of the meeting Jonas had noticed a distant look at Eduardo, as if he was going back to brooding over that subject about Frank and Fred, trying to convince himself of something the CEO couldn't even imagine. ***** Since the night before, hardly anyone had slept in Heartomville, as everyone was eager for news involving Secret Bear. It took only a few minutes for all the bears and cousins in the area to be told who this stranger Sofia had met was, so the Young family home was filled with curious and anxious neighbors. But the presence of so many people bothered Intense, Internum and Caretaker, who wanted as much silence as possible to treat the unconscious bear. So Hunter amicably invited the majority to leave and wait for news in their own homes, allowing only Joyful, Looter, Rose, Worker, Peachy, Mother, Detailed and Forget to remain there, in addition to the nurse bear, the studious raccoon, and of the firefighter cat. At that moment, in the wounded man's room, in addition to Intense and Caretaker, there were also foxcat, the seamstress pink bear, the light pink bear, and Intellectual, waiting for news. Intense used a stethoscope to listen to Secret's breathing and heart, while Caretaker measured the bear's temperature and changed the bandage on his head. - It seems that the bleeding has really stopped, and the cut is starting to heal - said the cat in a low voice, showing that the old bandage was clean and without blood, before starting to make a new one - What is your opinion, Intense? - Yes, he really is already recovering, his pulse is stronger, as well as his breathing - she opened each one of the unconscious bear's eyes and examined it with a lens - The glow also returned to his eyes, and his extremities have a normal temperature. - He also doesn't have fever anymore – said the fireman, finishing the bandage before looking at the thermometer – Our new friend is now convalescing. - But then why is he still unconscious? - Joyful asked with a worried look, holding Peachy's hands - If he's already recovering, he should have already woken up, right? - It's not like that, Joyful, he just came out of the worst phase of the coma - replied the nurse bear disinfecting the instruments with alcohol - But he still needs care, and will continue to sleep for some time while his body recovers. It could be for another night, a week, a month... But the important thing is that now he is no longer at risk of death and his condition is stable. - This is really good news - Intellectual said with a wide smile - We need to tell the others soon, after all they are biting their nails, impatient. Also, he will certainly be able to sleep better if we leave him alone... - Well, that's exactly what I was going to say we should do – said the nurse, looking in the direction of the others, while covering the passed out bear with a sheet – He needs absolute peace, so everyone had better leave. I'll stay in the hallway to make sure everything's okay. Quickly everyone left the room, and with the exception of Intense, who sat in a chair beside the patient's door, the others went downstairs and went to the living room, where the others were waiting anxiously. - So, how is he? - asked Forget Bear with concern, seeing his friends appear - By the way, who are we talking about? - From Secret Bear, Mom – Detailed replied with a giggle – You've already asked this question three times in half an hour. - Could it be that at least once in your life you could remember things? - Looter asked with a slight frown. The female gray bear smiled, ashamed of her lack of memory. - I wish I could do that - she said shyly - But how is he anyway? - He's much better now - said Rose amiably, sitting down next to the yellow cat, whose nearly eight months pregnant belly seemed to take over the room - According to Intense said, he will still be asleep for some time, but there is no longer more risk of death. - What excellent news! – Sofia exclaimed with a sigh of relief, as she was one of the most concerned about the health of that stranger, after seeing him covered in blood the night before – The way he was when I saw him for the first time, it looked like he was going to die. - Luckily it wasn't this time - Joyful replied with a little smile, sitting down next to her husband - I just wanted to know how Secret managed to get hurt so much... - I know, I'm curious about that too… - Looter agreed in a thoughtful tone - But when he recovers, we'll know what happened and why he's here. And then we can go home, meet our kids again! Emotional tears welled up in the blue bear's eyes as he said this, as his greatest wish was about to come true. Mother, too, felt her eyes water at the thought that the time had finally come to see her beloved daughter Proud, and she couldn't contain her smile. Rose also had a huge smile on her lips as she imagined what it would be like when she would hug her little Champ after all these years. -This will be the best moment in the world... - she muttered with a satisfied sigh, wiping a tear from her eyes, when she noticed her husband's absence in the room - Where's Worker? He went to the bathroom? - No, he went home to help Diligent - Hunter explained with a smile - It seems the shower stopped working while she was taking a shower... - Oh heavens, I better go too! – Rose exclaimed, putting her hands on her head with a desperate look – Knowing how Worker doesn't have the patience to fix these things, he will certainly flood the house again! - Really, he never had the reputation of being a good plumber in San Martin - commented Mother with a giggle, standing up with her friend - Do you mind if I walk you to the door of my house? As you can see, it's a little difficult to walk carrying two kittens in my belly... - Of course I don't care, Mother. Give me your arm and lean on me. Saying goodbye to friends, the seamstress bear and the pregnant cat left the room, and Intellectual went to open the door for them. For a few moments the owner of the house watched the two friends walking slowly down the street, when then she saw Bold approaching from the other side. - Hi Intellectual, how are you? – questioned the lioness amiably – I know Intense asked us not to invade your house, so she could take all the exams in peace, but Dashing and I would like to know how the bear is... - Okay, my friend, you can come in now - replied the writer with a giggle, giving way to the feline - Just don't talk loud. We are in the living room, talking a little... In moments, both joined the others, who were still talking about how the Kingdom of Caring residents would react when they found out that there were other bears and cousins with them, and that they were their relatives. - If I know Champ well, he will jump for joy when he meets his parents and sister - Joyful said with a small thoughtful smile - Bright Heart will also be astonished when he hears that he has a sister. And I'm sure Mom will be very happy to see old friends again. - And how will my brother Braveheart react when he finds out I exist? – Bold asked curiously, joining the conversation after saluting everyone with her paw – Is he the emotional type or the tough type in these situations? - He's the kind that pretends to be tough, but I think he'll be the one to cry the most when he finds out you exist - Looter replied with a giggle - But I believe that Noble and True will also cry a lot when they find out that their old friends are alive, and that the Care Bear Family will have new members. - Since we're talking about it, how about you tell a little more about Secret? - Peachy asked amiably - After all, you almost never talk about the other residents of the Kingdom of Caring. The only thing we know about this bear is that he hardly ever says anything... - Actually, he never says anything out loud - Joyful said, smiling - Well, I don't see any problem talking about our friend. Maybe even your parents remember Secret from the San Martin days... - Yes, yesterday Mom and Dad were talking about how they thought Secret was a calm and silent little bear, unlike my sister Confidence. - He's calm and quiet just because he never says anything, as his name says - Looter replied with a giggle - He and Friend Bear are like brothers, always being together in the Caring Missions. - Secret is also a good driver, and skilled in using the Stare - commented the light pink bear - He is always willing to help someone who is in difficulties, even if he takes risks for it. - Looks like he's a really nice guy - mused Hunter with a thoughtful smile - But if he never talks, how will he answer our questions? Everyone was silent for a few seconds, waiting for an answer from the young couple of bears, who just looked at each other not quite knowing what to say. - Well... That's a good question... - confessed Looter after a few moments - I think I've only heard him speak in a normal tone two or three times in my life... We'll have to wait for Secret to wake up, and then he will decide what to do, including taking us to the Kingdom of Caring. - I know I've already asked this a million times, and that you can't take it anymore - began Forget in an embarrassed tone - But what is Kingdom of Caring like? And why can't you guys go back there anymore and take us with you? Everyone started to laugh at this question, before Caretaker put his finger to his lips for silence. - Quiet, be quiet! We should make as little noise as possible, to help Secret recovery - said the cat in incisive tone - Not to mention that Intense will be furious with us, if she hears a racket. - Yes, you're right, we better lower the volume of our voices - Intellectual agreed with a slight smile - But I agree with Forget, could you tell us a little more about the Kingdom of Caring. After all, it's never tiring to hear and dream about it. - Well I hope that soon we won't just need to hear and dream, but see and feel for ourselves - Joyful replied with a wide smile, settling in the chair - The Kingdom of Caring is the most beautiful place there is, and there we can feel the love almost impregnated in our skin and overflowing in our heart... ***** Rose and Mother walked together down the street until they both arrived in front of the yellow cat's house, with the pink bear helping her pregnant friend the entire time. And she would have walked the cat to the door if Cosmo hadn't been sitting on the porch bench and had not run to the gate to grab his wife's arm. And after saying goodbye to their friend, the couple of cats walked slowly through the garden alley, with the tiger gently supporting the arm of his companion. - I think I'm the luckiest cat in the world, having you by my side - Mother said with a giggle to her husband - You always behave like a gentleman, and never complain when I ask for your help... - All I want is for you to be well, and our babies too - replied the feline astronomer with a kind smile - So enjoy, I'll pamper you and the cubs a lot when they are born. And speaking of being okay, any news on Secret Bear? - Yes, he is getting better little by little, and he doesn't take any more risks, but Intense and Caretaker think it will take some time before he wakes up. - This is really good news – Cosmo commented, helping his wife up the three porch steps – But what about you, dear? How are you feeling? - Just tired and with back pain. As much as it's an incredible feeling to carry two cubs in my belly, it's also not easy as it's so heavy... - Well, I believe you, after all you gained almost ten pounds in the last few months. But I wasn't really talking about our babies, I was talking about you and your feelings. How have you been dealing with this? - I confess that I just didn't go out jumping with anxiety because I'm pregnant, but I feel my heart beating stronger since last night - Mother said with a thoughtful sigh - That bear is my connection with Proud, he's the one who will lead me to mine beloved daughter! My dream will come true, I can feel it in every hair and fur on my body! Cosmo smiled at that, and kissed his wife's hands and cheek. At that moment, they both heard a slight sigh, and saw Internum standing in front of the door, looking at her adoptive parents with a kind smile. Slowly the raccoon approached and gave the yellow cat a hug. - I know how you feel, Mom - she said emotionally, before looking into the cat's eyes - I'm also extremely anxious and counting the seconds to find my little brother Bright Heart... As much as for you to find my sister Proud. - We are all anxious, even I, who have not yet met Proud and Bright Heart personally – commented the white tiger feeling tears in his eyes, before giggling and hugging his daughter and wife – But now we'd better try to relax a little, so the babies don't get stressed. After all, I think that even they prefer to wait a little longer and be born in the Kingdom of Caring... Saying this, he patted Mother's seven-month-old belly, feeling the two babies kick with glee, as if agreeing with their father. It was the cat's turn to laugh and kiss Cosmo on the forehead, in addition to holding the student's paws. - Certainly this would be the greatest gift I could receive from the Great Wishing Star, to see these babies born in the Kingdom of Caring, with all the siblings together - said the cat in an excited tone, and trying to control the emotion - But even if that doesn't happen, and they are born premature even here on Earth, what matters is that soon we will all be in Care-a-lot! Cosmo and Internum smiled at that and gave Mother a hug, before the trio entered the room, seeing all the cubs gathered there. Peaceful, Honest and Sugar were sitting on the floor, along with Athletic and Golden, playing a colorful ball between them. Deductive and Dreamer were sleeping peacefully in the playpen, while Rare and Will were playing checkers, being watched with interest by Prism. In the other corner, Technique and Ability were trying to fit a toy motor into a cart made from assemblers. All the children were focused on their games, and they had not realized that the adoptive mother had come home. - I feel so happy when I see all my "little stars" playing together... - Mother commented with a wide smile, looking at the cubs - This is the best feeling a mother can feel, and the greatest privilege too. - Mommy! Mommy! - the children shouted happily, running or crawling towards the cat and giving her a strong hug. - Glad you came! – said the little cougar with a smile from ear to ear – We were already missing you, and we thought we wouldn't see you to say good night! - How's the newly arrived bear? Has he woken up yet? Are we going to the Kingdom of Caring? Do you already know something about Sister Proud and Brother Bright Heart? – the young cheetah questioned as quickly as she ran, barely giving her mother a chance to answer any of the questions – Will they like us? Will Sister Proud play with us? Or will Brother Bright Heart teach us to invent things? And what about Kingdom of Caring, is that how Uncle Looter and Aunt Joyful tell us?... - If you let Mom talk, maybe she can answer these questions - commented the little white tigress with a giggle - Come on, Mom, tell us! It was the yellow cat's turn to laugh, seeing that the cubs were so much more anxious than she was. - Thank you for defending me, Peaceful, but I think we can talk about it tomorrow – said Mother sweetly, before giving a little wink – And as Sugar remembered, it's past time for you to be in bed. A loud sad “Aww” filled the room as all the cubs whimpered together at their mother's words, looking at each other with their heads bowed. - We do not go bed! – said Technique shyly, rubbing her feet on the floor – We no sleepy! - That's true, we're not... - Peaceful started to yawn - Sleepy! Not to mention that we won't be able to sleep without knowing news from Uncle Secret! - Oh, you don't have to worry, Secret is already better – replied the yellow cat with a little smile – Uncle Caretaker said that he's still going to sleep for a while, but that he's already getting better. And if all goes well, soon we'll all be accompanying our new friend to the Kingdom of Caring, where we'll meet Proud and Bright Heart, and we'll be happy forever! - Cool! I can't wait for this to happen! – Sugar said giving a jump of joy and anxiety – We're going to live in the clouds, just like the birds! - Is Kingdom of Caring as amazing as Uncle Looter and Aunt Joyful told us? - Rare asked thoughtfully - Do they really use cars made of cloud to get around? - Of course yes! I can't wait to learn how to drive a cloud car! – Will replied with a smile – And from the edge of the clouds, we'll see the whole world from above! - But we're not going fall of clouds? - questioned Ability, scratching his chin worriedly – Will invent things to protect us! - What I most want is to be able to meet Sister Proud and Brother Bright Heart and play with them - Honest said with a wide smile, before turning to Mother - Can you tell us a little more about what they were like when they were cubs, Mom? - Of course I can, but on condition that you put on your pajamas and promise you'll sleep after I finish the story - said the yellow cat with a wink at the cubs - After all, you also need to rest a little, or else you won't have the energy to play in Kingdom of Caring. Quickly all the cubs agreed to that, running and crawling happily to their rooms, including Dreamer and Deductive who had been sleeping until a few moments before. Cosmo and Internum started laughing at that scene, and the white tiger put his paw on his wife's shoulder. - You really know how to use child psychology - he said playfully, kissing the cat on the cheek - I'll help the boys change, and then we'll meet in the girls' room. - That's the only way to control so many cubs, especially when they don't want to go to bed - she replied, nuzzling her husband's noses, before turning back towards her raccoon daughter - And you are included in that too, Miss Internum. After all, as much as you have grown, you will always be a “little star” for me. - In other words, it's time for me to go to sleep too – said the young student with a giggle, holding her mother's hand – I'll help my sisters put on their pajamas, and then I'll change too. But you won't shy away from telling us a little more about Proud and my brother Bright Heart. - And I won't run away from my promise, because soon I won't need to tell you anything else, we'll meet them in person - Mother concluded with joy and hope, as she, Cosmo and Internum went to their rooms, their hearts pounding with anticipation. ***** - You can turn on the water, daughter! - shouted Worker from inside the bathroom as he finished regulating the shower. - Finally, I hope it works out now… - said Diligent with a hopeful sigh, opening the house's main water valve, wearing a bathrobe and a towel around her head. The young competing female bear was in the middle of a shower when the shower burned, and although she knew how to fix some things, changing the electrical resistance of that piece was not among her skills. So she had to call Hunter and Intellectual at home, asking her father for help, even though she knew he didn't have much patience for any kind of plumbing job. This was Worker's third attempt at properly fitting the shower into place, as water continued to seep through the seam in the pipe. Diligent hoped that everything would be all right now, so that she could finish her bath. That's when she saw Rose enter the garden and come towards her daughter with a worried look. - What's wrong, Mommy? - asked the young female bear, a little afraid - Is everything okay? Did something happen with Secret? - No, no, he's alright – replied the florist bear with a laugh – He's still sleeping, but Intense said that the worst is over and that he'll wake up soon, if all goes well. - Good to know, I'm so anxious! Finally, our dreams of being part of the Care Bear Family and meeting Champ will come true! I can barely sleep at night thinking about it... - I know, my daughter, I'm much more anxious than you - agreed Rose in a friendly tone, holding the hands of the young competitor - I will have my firstborn son in my arms again, I will be able to hear him call me “Mom” for the first time, and I will finally be able to see you and him together, arguing like brothers, exchanging training tips, and playing hide-and-seek in the garden. Hearing this, Diligent began to laugh and, despite her body being foamy, gave her mother a hug. - Well, I guess Champ and I aren't so young anymore to play hide and seek in the garden, but I won't miss the chance to argue with my older brother and to train alongside him. - What matters to me is that the four of us will soon be together, and we will be a happy family - said the florist bear with a wide smile - And speaking of happy family, did your father manage to fix the shower? Diligent was opening her mouth to answer this when both bears began to hear Worker's desperate screams, asking to turn off the water. Wasting no time, the young bear closed the register, before she and her mother rushed to the bathroom, finding the place flooded and the male bear all soaked, and mumbling nonstop as she once again released the shower from the pipe. - If this damn shower thinks I'm going to give up so easily, it's so wrong! – he said, putting the object under his arm and taking the toolbox – I'll fix this once and for all, or I'm not called Worker Bear! And without another word, he marched toward his workshop, dripping water across the carpet, his face flushed with anger. Rose and Diligent were silent for a few seconds, before looking at each other and starting to laugh. - Oh heavens, I think I'll have to go to Detailed and Books' house to finish my shower - commented the young tangerine bear, taking the shampoo, soap and pajamas - I hope they don't bother with that... - And I hope they don't mind that I have to go with you to shower there, after all I think we'll be without a shower for a few days, until your father gives up trying to fix the old one and go buy a new one - the pink bear ended with a giggle, also grabbing her shampoo, towel and bathing accessories, and escorting her daughter to her friends house, both still talking about Champ and the Kingdom of Caring. ***** After a full day of work, where Forest Ranger, Shimmers and Hector had to repair the holes in the wicker basket, sew the tears in the canvas and test the strength of the ropes, they were finally finishing inflating the balloon and carrying all the supplies and equipment necessary for the trip. However, as anxious as the bear was to see the boy and the feline safe outside the Kingdom of Caring, he couldn't help but worry that the sun was already setting on the horizon. - Are you sure you can fly the balloon at night? – he asked once more to the jaguar, as he placed the second cylinder of helium inside the basket – I don't want to see you coming out of one mess to get into another... - I may not have as good a night vision as Bright Heart and Bedtime, but trust me, I know very well what I'm doing - Forest Ranger replied with a wink - Besides, if the Kingdom of Caring invaders are doing so well equipped as you said, it's safer to escape at night. And if we wait until tomorrow morning and the balloon deflates, we don't have enough helium gas to refill it. - Of course I trust you, Forest. But all I want is to make absolutely sure that you and Hector are okay. - Don't worry, Shimmers. After we take off, everything will be fine and we'll make it to New York to enlist Frank Heartom's help. - But what about you, Shimmers? – asked Hector sadly, with his head bowed and looking askance at the swordsman – How will you manage to free the Care Bear Family on your own? What if something happens and you need help? I don't want to lose you too! I already lost Champ and Confidence... Shimmers smiled amiably and approached the boy, holding his hands comfortingly. - You will not lose me, Hector, I swear to you that soon we will be together again, and that Champ and Confidence will also be with us – said the beige bear with a wide smile – But now you must leave with Forest, to be safe and seek help from Frank. That's your mission! Just as I have mine too. And when this is all over, we'll be reunited and we'll have fun together! Saying that, he hugged the little Brazilian tightly, who just wrapped his arms around the bear's body and stayed there, with his chin on his shoulder, trying to hold back the tears, until he heard Shimmers' voice murmur in his ear. - And I'll let you tickle me a lot when that happens - said the bear in an amused tone, which made Hector smile - That's better, I like to see you happy and with that hopeful gleam in your eyes... - I'll miss you... I'll to feel "saudade" of you! – said the boy as a tear ran down his cheek, being quickly wiped away by Shimmers' paw – Promise you'll be careful? - Yes, I promise I'll be careful. At that moment, Forest approached the two friends and smiled. - I don't want to get in the way, but almost everything is ready for us to leave - he said a little awkwardly for interrupting that parting moment between the boy and the beige bear - I just need to give something to Hector, which he will certainly need. This attracted the little Brazilian's attention, especially when he saw the jaguar take a yellow package and offer it to the kid. The boy quickly undid the wrapping and realized that it was a raincoat. - I have my fur cover to protect me from the cold at night, but you're shirtless, so I thought I'd better provide you with something to warm you up - said the cat amiably, in front of Hector's surprised look - I'm sorry it's a raincoat, but I think it's the only piece of clothing I have that fits you... - It's okay, Forest, you don't have to apologize for anything – replied the boy, quickly putting the cloak and giving the jaguar a hug – Thank you for worrying about me! I loved the gift! - Good, I'm glad to see you like it, but now it's time for us to leave – Forest Ranger commented quickly, squeezing Shimmers' hand firmly – I wish the Great Wishing Star protects you, and your God of humans too. - Thank you, take care of Hector for me – said the chosen one with a slight smile, before turning to Hector and giving the boy another hug – We'll see you soon, my little friend. This time the boy couldn't answer, he just enjoyed that hug for a few moments, before separating from the bear and boarding the balloon along with Forest. Quickly they threw two sandbags out, and released one of the ropes that held them to the ground. The other rope was cut by Shimmers with his lightsaber, and finally the balloon began to rise into the air. The little Brazilian and the cat stood at the side of the basket, waving at the swordsman bear until he was just a beige dot among the trees. Just then, Hector sat down on the floor and pulled his legs towards him, trying hard not to start crying. Meanwhile, Forest controlled the balloon as best he could, trying to reach the correct wind currents that would take them to New York through the Kingdom of Caring shortcuts. But the jaguar couldn't help noticing his young companion's sadness, and he knew why. - Is everything all right, Hector? - asked the green feline with a small smile on his lips - Do you want to talk a little? - I'm fine, I just... I mean... - the boy hesitated a little, before a tear ran down his cheek and he took a deep breath - I'm just sad that I didn't stay there to help Shimmers... I'm afraid something will happen to him, I've already lost Champ and Confidence, I've already lost my mom, my friends, my dad... - Hector, you yourself heard Shimmers say several times that nothing will go wrong with him - Forest Ranger replied in a friendly tone, sitting down beside the boy - Also, remember that we have our own mission, and while we are fulfilling it, our friend will be able to fight more calmly, knowing that we are fine. - I know... But I can't help but feel sad and scared... I wish I didn't feel scared and sad, like you and him... - Just because I look calm doesn't mean I'm not scared, as much for me as for you, for Shimmers and for the Care Bear Family. But I need to trust that things will work out and think about other things. And while we're talking about it, I have a little mission for you, boy, if you want to help me... Hector wiped his tears and took a deep breath, before turning back to the feline with an interested gleam in his eyes. - A mission? – asked the little Brazilian – What is it? - I need you to keep an eye on the compass and also on the obstacles - replied the green jaguar with a wink, handing the boy a small compass and binoculars - That way I can better control the balloon, and we will reach ours more quickly destiny. Do you accept to help me? - Yes I do! - agreed Hector happily, rising to his feet and taking the objects offered by his friend before starting to look through the telescope. Forest Ranger smiled when he saw the animation of the little Brazilian, knowing that that way he would be distracted and the bad thoughts wouldn't come back to his mind. The feline quickly returned to its position, next to the two gas cylinders and the exhaust valve, which allowed it to control the height of the balloon as it floated through the clouds of the Forest of Feelings... Meanwhile, on the ground, Shimmers followed the small airship until it vanished over the horizon, when finally the bear breathed a relieved sigh, knowing Forest Ranger and Hector were safe. Closing his eyes, the swordsman concentrated for a moment, until he took aim at a stone. - Kashikakaya! – he shouted, stretching his arms and sending a white beam through the palms of his hands towards the stone, hitting it right in the center and turning it into dust. He then drew his lightsaber and made a full streak, using his drow powers to make the blade sharper and more powerful. The bear smiled as he realized that his magical powers and energy had returned almost to normal, and surely by the next morning he would be fully recovered and ready to fight. With that in mind, he holstered the saber and headed for Care-a-lot, trying to imagine how he would face that enemy army and free the Care Bear Family, but with the certainty that he could do it. The only thing Shimmers didn't notice was that he was being watched from a nearby tree branch by an invisible feathered figure who took to the air with a smirk, following the swordsman...