Barrett stood above his brood, counting.
One little duckling was missing.
He hadn’t intended to adopt a brace of ducklings – wouldn’t have, if he had felt he had a choice. He didn’t feel old enough, responsible enough, to care for one infant, let alone seven. That they were ducklings, even more fragile than a human baby, made it worse.
Still, they were his, and in his care, since he found the mother on the side of the road, hit a by a car, her wing trying to protect the babies while she could. She looked at him, desperation in her eyes, and he nodded, knowing what was necessary. He had just returned with a blanket for the little things when she exhaled her last breath.
The babies were gathered in Barrett’s blanket, set gently in a box in his back seat, and taken to the nearest animal conservation refuge. No room and no funds, they said. He tried a vet’s office, but they scoffed.
So he adopted seven ducklings, and on their now-daily walk, he had lost one.
He called out for Lewis, looking back the way they had come. The park looked empty, the little pond, where he hoped to take them swimming in the summer, calm and smooth.
“Excuse me?” a voice behind him said.
“Hmm?” Barrett said, turning. A woman stood in front of him, a little duckling at her feet.
“Are you looking for someone?”
Barrett breathed a sigh of relief. “Lewis, thank God! Where did you find him?”
“I didn’t. I just heard a quack, turned around, and there he was.”
“Oh, thank you for leading him to me.”
“No trouble. If I might ask…”
“How did I get seven ducklings? Long story.”
“I was more going to ask about the name.”
“Yeah, shouldn’t be Louie?”
“He’s here too. But with a Huey, I also had to include Lewis and News.”
“Ah, of course. Well, I’m glad I could reunite you. And if you’d like to tell me that story sometime…”
“Oh! Uh, yeah, sure. Give me your number, and we’ll set something up.”
They exchanged information, and with a smile the woman left him. Barrett turned to chastise Lewis for wandering off, and thank him for his good wingmanship.