Will liked bugs because Ginny liked bugs.
Ginny liked all creatures, but she had a special talent for the creepy and the crawly. Things that lived in the cracks of cement stairs or under wet leaves. Later, much later, Will would forget his cousin's lessons and view bugs as home invaders, instead of co-tenants, neighbors, or friends. But at ten years old, Will would follow Ginny into the woods for anything and take whatever slimy offering she handed him as holy communion.
Every summer, Will and his sister Alice spent a week at their aunt's house with her five children. They lived two hours away - an interminable length most of the year that kept true summer bottled into this precious week.
Will counted blinks during the long drive down the Garden State Parkway, delirious with anticipation, with only the seedling pit of awareness that the trip would have to end at some point and there was nothing he could do about it, except ignore it and seize every day like summer could never end.
Will and Ginny were pen-pals during the school year. They'd scrawl short notes to each other on tiny slips of paper, outlining half-baked plans for Thanksgiving dinner pranks or whatever family holiday was around the corner. Will lived for Ginny's updates on their family pets. Every letter from Ginny was guaranteed to have some new creature story - Ino adopting a stray black and white kitten, John's garter snake going missing in the basement, and - always - the latest update on Scruffy.
Scruffy was Ginny's guinea pig. Guinea pigs are overgrown hamsters, the way a carp in a koi pond was once a goldfish in a plastic bag. Most guinea pigs are nibbly, snoozy, sniffily creatures confined to a wire cage with limited observation rights. But not Scruffy. Will wasn't sure how much of Scruffy's nature was predetermined, but Ginny's guinea pig was more dog than hamster. Scruffy had no wire cage - just an open pen, meaning Scruffy could come and go as he pleased. Ginny even took Scruffy outside and let him roam around their backyard. Will had seen it happen. There was never any fear that Scruffy would run away - Scruffy would always come back to Ginny. Even their family dog Mac treated Scruffy like his own puppy, and two loved nestling together in the sun. Will knew magic when he saw it, and Scruffy and Ginny were it.
When Ginny's last letter came the school year had just ended, and the church carnival was packing up and moving on to the next parish. Will and Alice still had a whole month before their two-hour trip. Making things worse, Ginny's letter had invited Will and Alice to a club - The Ginny Pigs. There was no further explanation - Ginny's letters always cut right to the chase. Will thought about keeping the precious secret to himself, but then quickly spilled the beans to his sister. Alice wasn't all the way there on the bugs and the slimy creatures, but she loved Scruffy and the two watched June and early July sizzle away as they wondered about this club.
When Will and Alice arrived at their aunt's house, there were plenty of "first order of businesses" to accomplish, which included a round of clay charades, playing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (with "lock-on technology" to play as Knuckles) on the Sega Genesis, making friendship bracelets, all the while eating spoonfuls of ice tea mix straight from the cannister. And this was all just on the first day (Will wasn't kidding about his Carpe Diem policy).
When he did catch eyes with Ginny that day, her dark brown eyes told him, "Later."
In the cooler hour after dinner the kids were always sent back outside.
Will, Alice, and the youngest cousin Jimmy were making a chalk labrinyth on the street when Ginny called to them. She then disappeared into the bushes next to the garage. Will raced over and found Ginny sitting in a small clearing, huddled between the driveway and the garage. In the center of the grotto was a wooden box, buried in the dirt, with the words
THE GINNY PIGS
scrawled on its lid, in handwriting that Will knew well.
Ginny didn't say anything, so Will sat down next to her, crossing his legs and waiting. Alice and Jimmy arrived soon after, with Jimmy holding his golden-haired guinea pig Angel and Alice holding the family bunny rabbit Mr. Rabbit. They completing the circle around the wooden box. Then Will realized that he was the only one not holding a pet.
"Welcome to the first meeting of The Ginny Pigs," said Ginny. She placed Scruffy on the dirt and lifted the lid of the buried box, swinging it back on its little silver hinges. Inside were Ginny's personal treasures: butterfly nets, fishing bobbers, food pellets for Scruffy, a sleeve of Oreos, a deck of cards, and a pack of Cotton Candy bubble gum. Ginny offered Will a cube and then he passed the rest around to Alice and Jimmy. By the time it reached Ginny again, Will's gum had already lost its flavor.
"We have one rule in this club - everyone must bring an animal."
Will's face flushed at Ginny's pronoucement. He was kicked out before it even began.
"Which is why I brought you this, Will."
Ginny handed Will a clear two-liter soda bottle with some egg carton pieces inside. Will didn't understand until he heard the chirp.
"Uh, thank you," he said, inspecting it closely. There were at least six or seven jumbo brown crickets inside, nibbling on some of Scruffy and Angel's food pellets.
"Now, our first mission as a club," continued Ginny. "Is to get Will a real pet - one of his favorites."
Will knew that could only mean one of three things: a turtle, a frog-slash-toad, or a crab.
"A bullfrog," said Ginny.
Her plan was simple: the next day they were headed to a nearby park for a picnic lunch. Ginny knew the park well - there were streams all over. They'd bring their nets and catch Will a frog and he could feed it the crickets. Simple as that.
They concluded their meeting and went inside to eat ice cream out of Ninja Turtle bowls and play Roller Coaster Tycoon on the downstairs computer.
Will woke up early the next day and pestered his aunt about when they'd be heading to the park. They finally got there around eleven (though none of the kids had an care or sense for time other than before-or-after meals) and the four Ginny-Pigs raced off to the creek.
They missed their first few chances at a prize - the squawk followed by the splash were dead giveaways.
Will started to get worried. These frogs were too fast. Then Ginny pointed.
"Big Bertha," she whispered, and they stared at the largest bullfrog they'd ever seen in their lives.
Ginny continued whispering a new plan: she'd enter the creek twenty feet upstream, trudge through the open sewage pipe tunnel under the foot-bridge, and then emerge right behind Big Bertha, nudging the frog towards Will, who would be waiting with a net.
Before long, Ginny re-emerged from the tunnel, drenched in mud, looking like a swamp creature. She tiptoed a few more steps and screamed, "NOW!"
The frog screamed next, then Will screamed, and Alice and Jimmy screamed, too, as Big Bertha flew through Will's outstretched arms, towards safety and another day.
Ginny looked disgusted with Will's performance. But then she put a slimy hand on his shoulder.
"Go have lunch, I got this."
Will and Alice and Jimmy went back to eat baloney sandwiches and drink Kool-Aid. Soon, Ginny came over with her hands clasped together, holding something.
"Quick, get me a cup!"
Will flung the rest of his red Kool-Aid into the air and held out his cup. Ginny opened her hands into it, and they looked down.
"Welcome to the Ginny Pigs, Will."