“Calm down, you two. Just relax; she’ll be back when she gets back. Why don’t you have a glass of Lemint Juice?” said my younger sister, a blue Cybunny named Leeney. My second sister and Christmas Zafara, Denni, and I were pacing in our mother’s study, which also served as our lounge room, or the ‘dump-stuff-here-when-you-get-home’ room. Leeney and our youngest sister, a Camouflage Poogle called Belle, were sprawled out in their beanbags, playing Kacheekers. I was fiddling with my tail bow, adjusting my headband, and smoothing down my Gold Usul ears.
We were all waiting for our mother to come home. She had said earlier that morning, “When I get home from work, I’ve got a surprise for Denni and Jazz.”
But that still meant that Leeney and Belle were just as curious.
Mum usually gets home from work (work being a secretary for the Defenders of Neopia) at about 3:30pm, about 15 minutes after we get home from school. She comes home on her lunch break, which is usually for about an hour, and cuts up some fruit and makes some sandwiches, which she puts in the fridge for our after school snack.
On this particular occasion, however, it was 4pm and Mum still wasn’t home. Leeney stood up, abandoning Kacheekers, and said, “Look, there’s no point walking holes into the floor. Our bags are still spread everywhere, and the kitchen is a mess. We may as well clean it up before Mum gets home; otherwise you two may as well kiss your surprise goodbye.” We knew she was right. Mum hated us leaving our stuff everywhere, so we took our bags up to our rooms and cleaned up the kitchen.
I’d just finished loading the dishwasher, Denni was coming back in from emptying the bin, Leeney was wiping down the table, and Belle was sweeping the floor, when we heard the front door open. We looked up, and then heard our mum whistling. She’s a compulsive whistler; she whistles all the time, even in the most inappropriate moments. Half the time she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it.
We finished our respective jobs quickly, and by finishing I mean slamming the dishwasher shut, throwing a new bag in the bin, throwing the dishcloth in the sink, and throwing the broom in the corner, then rushed out to the hall to see what Mum’s surprise was.
We crowded around her, and Denni and I said at the same time, “What’s our surprise? What’s our surprise?”
She laughed, and put her bag down on the table. She was wearing the hood of her cloak, something she only did to protect her hair from being messed up by the wind. She lowered her hood, and her cheeks were rosy from the wind.
“My god it’s blowing a gale out there. The sky is dark as night, it’s going to rain any second.” Just as she said that, what happened? The heavens opened and down came the rain.
“I don’t suppose you four remembered to take the washing off the line, did you?” Mum said off hand. We looked at each other, and gasped. Mum rolled her eyes and in one graceful movement put up her hood, threw our coats at us and sprinted outside with us following close behind. Denni grabbed the washing basket from the pergola and we sprinted to beneath the close line. We started pulling the clothes off the line higgledy-piggledy, throwing them at Denni who somehow managed to catch them all and chucking the pegs into the basket. In a matter of seconds, we were sprinting back into the house.
Once we were back in the house, all Mum had to do was point at the clotheshorse, and we knew what we had to do. Denni and I knew that to get whatever our surprise was, we had to put all the wet clothes on the clotheshorse, and Belle and Leeney would have to help.
When we were done, we found Mum relaxing in the lounge. She yawned and stretched her arms in her recliner. We saw she already had her slippers on and was in her track pants. We all sat down, Denni and I in our beanbags and Belle and Leeney on the couch. Just as I opened my mouth to ask about the surprise, Mum yawned again and said, “Girls, I’ve had a long day and I really don’t feel like cooking. There are vegetables in the fridge, casseroles in the freezer, pasta, whatever you feel like. I’m easy to please.” We looked at each other, but got up and went into the kitchen. Leeney started making a salad, Denni put the pasta on, Belle started making a sauce for the pasta, and I set the table, poured the drinks and helped Belle with the sauce. In about half an hour, we’d finished dinner, and Mum shuffled in from the lounge room.
“This smell has been making me so hungry, girls. It looks so good.” We sat down at the table, and Mum started asking us about our days.
“So Belle, how was Miss Winnie today?” she asked.
Belle swallowed, and answered, “Pretty good. We worked on our paintings, then we had PE. We played Wingoball then a modified game of Yooyuball. You know, I think she started strict so we knew the rules, but she’s relaxing a lot now.” Mum raised her eyebrows, and I remembered a few weeks ago, when Belle was complaining about her ‘horrible new teacher’, Mum had said the exact same thing.
“And what about you, Leeney?” Mum asked.
Leeney put her fork down, and answered, “Terrible. Mr Winterbourne INSISTED that we have Maths ALL DAY, because apparently we ‘have a test coming up and we need to be prepared’,” she said, in a perfect imitation of her teacher. “So what? It’s not as if we haven’t been revising for ages already. He did let us have free time for the last lesson, though.”
Mum raised her eyebrows again. I remembered when Leeney had been complaining about never doing maths, and Mum had told her to ask for some more time on maths in class. I think Leeney overdramatised it to Mr Winterbourne, though. “How was your day, Denni?” Mum asked.
“It-mumph wash gohd caush –” Denni began, but stopped when Mum held her hand up.
“How many times must I tell you, Denni? Chew, swallow, and then talk.” Mum’s a stickler for table manners. Denni chewed, swallowed, and began to talk again.
“It was good because I had a heap of study periods today. I got to sleep in because I had a study period at the start of the day, and I went later. I had a single Maths lesson after recess, but after that, it was all study periods. Our study room is horrible, though, because it’s silent and supervised all the time. I wish we had the senior’s study room.” I laughed, then interrupted her.
“No way are you getting our study room. We had to work damn hard for the teachers to trust us to be alone in there. You only get it unsupervised if you do excellent, and I mean excellent, work at the end of the year.” I was in my final year of school, Denni was in year 11, Leeney in year nine and Belle in year six. We all went to Harrogate Academy in Neopia Central. It’s a private, co-ed kindergarten to year twelve school.
“What did you today, Jazzy?”
I rolled my eyes, and answered Mum’s question.
“I only had a double Neopian Law after lunch, so I didn’t go in until one-thirty. But I tidied up the house a bit.”
Mum raised her eyebrows at me.
“Okay, I vacuumed my room and cleaned mine and Denni’s bathroom before I left.” Mum smiled, but kept digging into her pasta.
When we’d all finished, Mum said to Belle, “Run and grab me some paper, honey. I think I’ll write to Shenkuu-On-Wheels for dessert. Any requests?” We all began yelling at once.
“Ice Cream Dumplings!”
“And I vote for Whomp Berry Noodles,” added Mum to quiet us all down.
We looked at each other, and I said, “Uh, Mum, we’re making an executive decision that Whomp Berry Noodles are NOT dessert food.”
She laughed, and began writing the order. “So, we’ll have two small green-tea custards, two small containers of Purplum Buns, two small containers of ice cream dumplings and Chokato Dumplings, and also one small Whomp Berry Noodles.” We groaned, but Mum kept writing. She sealed the envelope, and said to us, “Girls, my wallet’s upstairs. Could you guys clean up the table and send the Neomail while I go get it?” Mum asked it in a way that wasn’t really asking. We nodded, and she ran up the stairs.
I put the plates in the dishwasher, Belle wiped the table, Leeney topped up our drinks, and Denni started getting out cutlery for dessert. I stood next to Denni when we were done, and asked her, “What in Neopia do you think the surprise is? Mum hasn’t said a word about it since she got home!”
She shrugged, and said, “I have no idea. But you know we won’t get anything if we ask her. Don’t you remember the Wuzzer?” I nodded, remembering. When we were little, Mum bought us a Petpet to share. We kept asking her and annoying her about getting it, and in the end, she put it in the Safety Deposit Box to wait until she created the next pet, which happened to be Leeney.
Mum came down the stairs, just as the doorbell rang. She opened it and the deliveryman was standing there with the carton of Shenkuu food. She forked over some neopoints, and carried it into the kitchen. Resting it on the bench, she took out the Purplum Buns, then the Green Tea Custards, the Ice Cream and Chokato Dumpling, the Whomp Berry Noodles, and a foil wrapped package. We groaned; the only thing we didn’t like about Shenkuu-On-Wheels is that they always put in a small surprise pack. Last time it was half Wasabi Crackers, half Hoban’s Leftovers. Mum tentatively unwrapped it, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it was an extra serving of Purplum Buns.
“At least it’s not Artichoke Dumplings!” said Belle.
“Hey,” said Mum, injured. “I love those!” We laughed again, and started opening the containers.
After dessert, we flopped down in the lounge room. Mum got out our NeoQuest 2 Board Game, and we kept going from where we left off. Mum was winning, and we all knew why. She played it in her spare time at work, and plays against the other staff members. Leeney was actually close behind, Belle and Denni were doing pretty well, but I was terrible at it, and I kept being beaten and sent back to my last resting place. Soon we were killing ourselves laughing, and then the doorbell rang. Belle jumped up to answer it, and came back with a Neomail in her hands.
“It’s for you, Mum,” she said, and handed it to Mum. Mum read it, and went white. She leapt up and started rushing around grabbing things. I followed her, and asked her,
“Mum, what’s wrong?”
“There’s an emergency at work. Something about a new villain, and I have to write up an emergency profile to go into tomorrow morning’s news. Be a doll and grab my wallet, will you?” she said, and raced upstairs to get her cloak.
I grabbed her wallet from the table in the hall where she’d left it and put it in her handbag. I grabbed her glasses as well, then threw a bottle of water and a sandwich in there as well. I handed it to her just as she was running out the door.
She gave us all a kiss, and yelled, “I’ll ring if I’m going to be there late!” We sighed as the door shut, and Denni and I took the other two up to bed. Mum had appointed me to be Belle’s carer and Denni to be Leeney’s carer. We were responsible for them. I took Belle up to bed, and got myself ready for bed.
On my pillow, I found a note from Mum.
Thank you so much for being such a great daughter, you’re the best eldest daughter ever. I just want you to know that I appreciate everything you do so much and you make my life so much easier. I’ll be taking you and Denni shopping this weekend, to say thanks for being so wonderful.
Love you always,
P.S. The surprise? Bogus. I just needed some help with the housework. But I’m still taking you two shopping.
“That is so cheesy, Mum,” I muttered, but I smiled all the same. I wandered into the drawing room Denni and I shared, and saw her there as well. She held up her note and we laughed.
“Mum is SO corny!” Denni laughed, and we flopped down on the couch. We had a real girly chat, and we hugged and went to bed.
I lay on my bed, and I heard Mum come in. She poked her head into my room, to say goodnight. She said to me, “Have you been looking at those pamphlets I got you?”
I nodded, and she left.
I sort of had been looking at the pamphlets, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to think about colleges. Was I ready to leave my family?
Author's note: Look out for the sequel, Dear Belle. All comments and questions welcome!