Hey everyone, I'm back with another update to the story.

Chapter 20: Family Gathering

The next day came, and we drove to the family pool hosted by Bandit's younger brother, Stripe Heeler. Once we arrived, we got off the reddish jeep and made our way through a path. This was my first time here, and I was amazed by how beautifully made the path to the pool was. Several palms and plants native to this region dominated the trail. The sun was barely able to penetrate the thick leaves above.

Bluey and Bingo were skipping by us (Bandit, Chili, and me) and they soon shouted toward the cousins who greeted them at the end of the trail. Uncle Stripe hugs both kids, picking them up before setting them down. As we entered the pool area, I saw Trixie Heeler as well as her daughters (Muffin and Socks) there. Yet, what surprised me was the addition of two new people to the party I'd never seen before.

A tall male dog with a strange fur pattern consisting of light blue, yellow, and orange fur. Next to them is a female canine with orange and yellow fur.

"Uncle Rad!" The kids soon turned toward the person I didn't know as he similarly greeted them as Stripe did.

I looked toward Bandit and with a raised eyebrow I asked, "let me guess?"

"Yeah, he's my old bro, the oldest one of the bunch."

"Hi Frisky!" Bluey and Bingo said as the lady beside Rad (or Radley as he's called) waved back.

"Hello girls!"

Bandit, Chili, and I soon went in to greet the family members.

"How 'ya doing, Dustin?" Stripe smiled as he rubbed the top of my head before I grumbled slightly in response, but then I smiled mischievously at him.

"G'day!" I said back in response. I said it in a joking way, but it fits so well with my new Aussie accent that the kids across from me couldn't help but giggle. Socks and Muffin came by to say hi to me before they joined Bluey and Bingo's side.

"This is who I was talking about. Dustin's new in town, been staying with Bandit and the family" the bluish canine explained.

"Nice to meet 'ya Dustin" Frisky greeted me, kneeling to be at eye-level with me.

"Isn't Dustin a boys-" Bandit stepped in and shook his head before Radley cleared his throat, "ah-I mean, righto!" He said before Frisky and Chili rolled their eyes playfully in retaliation.

Sure enough, Stripe (while wearing a black apron that read "World's Best Chef") said, "fellas, check what's cooking on the barbie!"

"Barbie…like the doll?" I rolled my head to the side in an inquisitive manner before Chili kneeled and shook her head, "he means the barbeque."

"Ohh…" I soon laughed at the slang, that's pretty awesome…not going to lie. I might as well start saying that, heh.

Bandit and Radley soon joined their youngest sibling by the fiery grill. The ladies (Chili, Frisky, and Trixie) decided to converse under the gazebo while the girls put on their bathing suits (and their floaties) and got in the pool.

Sure enough, they urged me to join them. I hesitated.

There's a big problem that I forgot to mention. I can't swim.

It wasn't an issue on the beach, since it was shallow water and I was next to Bandit and Chili, but this was kind of a different situation.

I stood on the edge as the kids looked in confusion before Chili saw it too. Knowing right away, she set her drink down and walked up to me, "you alright, Dustin?"

I looked up to her and said with a bit of shame, "I'll sink if I go in…"

She nodded, looking around, "I'll ask Trixie if there are any floaties you can use if you like?"

I nodded.

"Give me a few and I can help you in" she smiled and that made me feel a bit better at least. I decided to sit by the edge, letting my feet paws soak in the heated pool. Bluey and the others gathered around me, "Dustin, you don't know how to swim?" Bluey asked before I shook my head.

"I thought you knew how!" Bingo added.

"Aren't you the same age as Bluey?" Muffin asked before I finally responded, "I lived near mountains and forests. I hardly ever went into lakes or springs in Canada."

"Springs?" Socks tilted her head while asking in her high-pitched voice.

"Ah…just…uh…pools in nature I guess" I shrugged, trying my best to describe it to them.

Muffin raised an eyebrow, "wait… there are pools in forests?" I chuckled back, "it's not the same, Muffin" I said in my seven-year-old voice, "although they are kind of warm like a pool."

Muffin simply narrowed her eyes to me before I smiled sheepishly back, "then it's a pool!"

Everyone giggled as I rolled my eyes, "I guess when you put it that way…"

Soon, Chili came back with a floatie…it's a yellow/blue parrot…adorable, right?

"Is this okay, Dustin?" She asked before I nodded and smiled back, "yes, thanks!"

Sure enough, Chili Heeler guided me into the shallow edge…not minding if she got wet for this. I gulped: because I'm in this smaller body, the pool seems more massive than it actually was. I had to put on a brave face, though…I didn't want to let everybody down.

"We can stop anytime you like, okay?" She said behind me as we slowly got into deeper water. I sighed, nodding in agreement. I managed to move through thanks to my floatation device! Sure enough, my kid side got excited, and I started dog-paddling my way to the girls with Chili making sure I'd be okay.

I could hear Trixie (with Frisky in the background) cheering me on, "Go, Dustin, whoo!"

Once I made it, the Heelers, together, congratulated me as I closed my eyes and smiled…tail wagging behind me in response.

This isn't so bad! I'm technically not swimming, but this is a start!

"Thanks, Chili" I whispered behind her before she winked.

"Yay, Dustin!" Bingo shouted, soon joining my side in the pool.

"Flamingo!" Muffin exclaimed, pointing to my device from the comfort of her floatie. Bluey giggled in response, "that's a parrot, Muffin!"

"Par-rot?" Socks raised an eyebrow before Muffin continued, "it looks like a Flamingo…so it's a Flamingo!"

She suddenly splashed water in our direction as we playfully screamed back. Chili just shook her head after she got a bit of water on her face but couldn't help but playfully flick the water back in playful "revenge." Sure enough, the pool descended into a chaotic game of splash.

Sometime later, lunch was ready, and we all sat down on the patio to eat. It felt like a special occasion (it honestly was), like a feast on the holidays.

Once we were done, our group went to the front of the house and grabbed some scooters. Muffin and Socks had the distinction of owning one of those ride-on vehicles for young kids, and lemme tell you: that's a recipe for disaster right there.

"Muffy! Not that fast!" Stripe exclaimed, but his oldest daughter ignored him…zooming past him and down the sidewalk before a humorous chase ensued. Radley chuckled at the scene and felt as though he might as well help his young brother try and catch the playful delinquents (and maybe delight Frisky, he thought to himself.)

I was watching the hilarity ensue, I said softly, "that's pretty cool they could drive around in that toy car…kind of makes me wish we had those when I was a kid…"

Bandit was not too far away, managing to catch my fleeting comment, and sure enough, had an idea for me. The canine went looking into the trunk (or boot) of the jeep nearby, "c'mere, Dustin!"

Once I was next to him, I looked up and tilted my head, "what's up?"

"I think it's time I show 'ya how cool kids got around when I was their age." He brandished his skateboard to me, giving a smug grin, "what do you say, kiddo?"

He soon handed it to me and my eyes brightened. I looked up at him and nodded.

Sure enough, the forty-something-year-old dog showed me the ropes. It was hard to navigate at first, but with some practice and guidance from Bandit, I got the hang of it. I soon joined the girls on the sidewalk…making our way through! Bandit soon joined Chili, both looked on…both smiled at the wholehearted scene in front of them.

As the day ended, the entire family gathered on the patio again to take a big family photo. The adult brothers stood in the back behind the ladies (Chili, Frisky, and Trixie) while the kids (me included) stood in the very front.

Once the polaroid film was finished developing, we got to see the results and they were about as perfect as you could imagine.

Perfect as this day had been for all of us.

We said our goodbyes and quitted the residence: bound for Bluey's home. As the sky darkened and nightly dreams began to take me, I thought of Julie.

It didn't matter if it was a dream or a vision, but I heard her voice calling out to me…whispering in my dog ears…beckoning me to come home. I haven't forgotten, nor do I want to. The life I have now was dealt to me and is temporary.

Inside, I felt ready…ready to leave this world to return to my real life.

But, saying goodbye is never easy, but it must be done.

That's a wrap!

The next chapter will be the final one of this story (followed by an epilogue.) I hope you enjoyed it and I will see you in the next installment, take care!