Learning to Accept
Lil dumped her light blue Mipsy-themed backpack onto the tired-looking wooden floor with a dramatic sigh that was, in her owner’s opinion, quite unnecessary.
“Lil, don’t just throw your stuff down! That’s a clean backpack! There are chairs right next to you.”
Nag, nag, nag, thought Lil. The Christmas Zafara peered over at the “chairs” in question. They screamed “cheap”, just like everything else in the dump of a Neohome that she still couldn’t believe she was going to live in. There was no way she was going to leave her backpack--containing all the treasures of a previous life--on any of the ancient, dusty furniture in this place. The floor was much better in comparison.
It was funny, really, because she hadn’t even liked the backpack when Shirly had brought it for her. It was, in her opinion, a perfectly good waste of a Friday present. Every Friday, after Lil left for school, Shirly would go out and buy a random gift for her only pet, to celebrate the ending of yet another week. It could’ve been the latest Zafara book hot off the press, an enviable new hat, or the current flavor of smoothie all the pets were dying to try out. Whatever it was, it was expensive.
Yes, indeed, Lil and Shirly used to be one of Neopia’s wealthy, high up on the society ladder with the avatar collectors, the Battledomers, and the restockers. Shirlz’s occupation had been none of the above, though. She was a stock market guru, selling and buying late into the hours, and (usually) returning home with bundles of neopoints. It was the nails that held in place their rung on the ladder of wealth. It also turned out to be the cause for their descent into the life of the poor, for one evening Shirlz came home, red-eyed and hiccupping, and announced to a disbelieving young Lil that she had invested heavily in a promising stock that plunged and hit rock-bottom.
The two had lost everything.
They had been forced to sell their gorgeous amethyst-colored Faerieland residence for half of what it was really worth and all the luxuriant furniture inside as well. Most of their personal belongings had to go too, though Lil nearly lost it when Shirlz had put the Zafara’s highly-prized Sweet Heart Negg on the Trading Post. But for the young pet, the most unbearable part of all was when they packed their bags with what little possessions they could afford to keep, and moved into El Cheapo Neohome located in--where else?--Neopia Central, the world’s most boring place. Ever.
Looking around her now, at the tiny living room with its measly furnishings and faded curtains, Lil longed for the days when she could make a fuss about receiving a 40,000-neopoint backpack.
“Come on, Lil, it’s late. Let’s get some rest.” Shirlz, seeing that the Zafara wasn’t going to pick her backpack off the floor without a fight, started up the creaky stairs, which groaned under her weight, and beckoned for her pet to follow. “Look! There are two bedrooms! You can have your own! Hurry or I’m going to claim the bigger one!”
Lil heaved another loud sigh, and slowly went up after her owner.
It was going to be a long night.
THE NEXT DAY
Sunlight streamed through the narrow gap between the two loose curtains and lit up Lil’s delicate, heart-shaped face. For a moment, she was back in her old bedroom, with its spacious walk-in closet and soft fuzzy plushies lined up in a row, according to size, on her nightstand. Then reality hit--hard--and with a shock she bolted upright in bed and took in her surroundings, her heart sinking lower and lower in her chest as she began to fully realize where she was.
“LIL! Breakfast is ready! You’ll be late for your first day of school if you don’t get out of bed RIGHT NOW!”
The young Zafara quickly threw on her favorite light pink dress, one of the few articles of clothing she had brought along, and ran down the stairs, taking care not to notice the peeling paint or the tasteless wallpaper. Shirlz was in the minuscule kitchen, setting down dishes of what appeared, at first glance, to be scrambled neggs. As Lil sat down, she pulled a plate towards her, only to drop it onto the table again when she saw the burnt, sticky mess of a meal.
“I know it’s not really good,” Shirlz, seeing her pet’s reaction, apologized, “but you know I’ve never really knew how to, well... cook.”
Lil nodded slowly, remembering how, back in the good old days, the two would stay in bed and order from Faerie Foods, where breakfast would be sent with Ailya, the speedy little Earth Faerie with the bright smile, fresh and piping hot.
She made a mental note to get her owner that new book Gourmet Cooking for Your Pet for Christmas, then immediately wondered whether they could even afford that in their current state.
“Here.” Shirlz thrust a cinnamon granola bar into Lil’s white paw, and handed her the Mipsy backpack the Zafara had dumped on the floor just last night, only this time it was filled with textbooks and school supplies, all--as Lil observed with dismay--second-hand.
“I’ve talked to your new teacher through Neomail already. She sent me the schoolbooks you’ll need, and some basic materials, just until... we... get back on our feet again.” Shirlz paused for a moment, and took a deep breath, her normally pale face flushed with--shame? “I’m sorry, Lil, I... just need a moment. You better hurry and leave before school starts.” She turned away.
Lil immediately regretted putting her owner through all the complaining and sulking she had done ever since that horrible night. She wished there was something she could do to make everything alright again. She hated herself for being so selfish and inconsiderate. So what if they were living in a house half the size of their old one’s garden? So what if they could no longer go on annual vacations to Brightvale and Mystery Island? They still had each other, didn’t they? Lil ran over to where her best friend was leaning against the rickety old table, and kissed her on the cheek.
“See you in the afternoon, Shirlz!” Lil smiled, and, to her relief, Shirlz smiled back, even if it was a bit forced, and then hugged her pet.
“We’ll make it, you and I,” she whispered into the Zafara’s long white ear. “Knock ‘em dead at school, Lil!”
LATER THAT MORNING
“Class, I’m thrilled to announce the arrival of a new student! This is Lilliana. She and her owner just moved here from Faerieland!” Mrs. Pheather, the old Pteri, cheerfully clapped her two sky-colored wings together. At the mention of Faerieland, the class perked up instantly. All the pets twisted in their seats, trying to get a better look at this strange new classmate, who came from that wonderful and exotic place in the sky most of them have only dreamed of seeing. Lil squirmed under the intense gaze of thirty pairs of eyes.
The first thing she noticed about her new classroom was that it was a lot smaller than her old one back in Faerieland. Instead of detailed sketches of all the Faeries, there were scribbled doodles of potatoes and the various members of Defenders of Neopia plastered on the walls. The desks were plain brown, and deprived of the purple-and-blue wings Lil was used to. But the thing that shocked her most was how there were hardly any painted pets, save for a slight brown Acara, and a plump speckled Kacheek. She hoped she’d get seated next to one of them.
No such luck.
“Lilliana, why don’t you take the desk next to Miles?” Mrs. Pheather swept her wing over the empty chair next to a red Meerca, dressed in an obviously homemade plaid shirt and dirty trousers. He beamed and waved at her.
“Faerieland!” Miles whispered to her once she had seated herself next to him. “Wow! My cousin once took a vacation with her owner there! She told me that Jhudora,” here he leaned in close to Lil and said in a hushed tone, “dyed her hair pink and joined a Kacheek Rights movement! Is it true?”
“No.” Lil rolled her eyes, and discreetly moved her chair a few inches away from the eager Meerca.
“I knew she was lying!” Miles grinned, pleased with himself. “Hey, did you live near the petpet shop? My cousin also said that the Faerie who runs it gives free Flouds to any pet who helps her tidy up! She says that Fyora comes out to visit sometimes and that the Wheel of Excitement is really...”
Needless to say, when the bell rang for the morning recess, Lil was more than relieved to be free of Miles and his endless stream of chatter. She joined the throng of pets as they made their way through the front doors and out into the grassy school grounds.
Sitting down on a large chunk of rock near the swings, she peeled the wrapper off her granola bar and was about to take a bite when-
“Hey Lil!” Miles- who else? - sat down right next to her, clutching a brown paper bag. “You don’t mind if I called you Lil, do you? I kind of like it better than Lilliana.”
“No, not at all.” Lil was secretly glad. She thought her given name was a bit of a mouthful too.
“You’ll have to forgive me for this morning,” Miles went on. “It’s just that I’ve never known anyone who went anywhere beyond Kiko Lake before! Except for my cousin, of course, but I think she’s an annoying little brat. You’re different, though.”
“No need to remind me,” Lil groaned, looking over at all the Neopia Central born-and-bred pets.
“No, no!” Miles said quickly. “I meant different in a good way. You must’ve traveled all over the world, I bet. You seem like that kind of person. Adventurous and bold. Like... like, Mipsy from the NeoQuest board game I got for Christmas! She’s one awesome Acara!”
Lil was stunned. Whatever she thought Miles’ opinion of her was, it was most definitely not this. She wasn’t bold, or adventurous, or amazing. Heck, she couldn’t even stand sleeping in a smaller bed than she was used to.
“You got me all wrong, Miles.” The Zafara kicked the dirt with the toe of her navy blue shoes. “I’m not anything like Mipsy. You just think that because I came from Faerieland. To tell you the truth, it’s not all that different from here, except everything has wings and is pink and purple. But...” She paused. Did she really want to tell him? “But I really, really, really miss it all. Everything. I miss the faeries and the bookshop and the food! I honestly don’t know if I’ll like it here.”
She fell silent and turned her attention to the dirt again. For a while, the two of them sat side by side on the large rock, neither one saying a word. Then, Miles opened the brown paper bag he was holding and took out a large slice of bright pink cake topped with a generous portion of cream. He split the slice down the middle pretty neatly and handed half to Lil. Miles then proceeded to take a large bite and chewed slowly, with his eyes closed. Lil watched him, and then did the same. As soon as the cake touched her tongue, a burst of strawberry flavour escaped into all corners of her mouth.
Miles grinned at her obviously amazed reaction. “It’s really good, isn’t it?”
Lil nodded, trying to savour as much of the dessert as possible. “It’s incredible. What’s it called?”
“It’s a Strawberry Kau cream cake. My owner brought several of these from the Breadmaster. He’s an unbelievably talented Kacheek! And,” he added, as a seemingly casual after-thought, “he’s a Neopian Central-er through and through.” Lil blushed.
“I didn’t mean that Neopia Central doesn’t have anything admirable to its name! It’s just that... I guess I’ll need some time to try and accept all of this.” The Zafara paused, then, as the last traces of the delectable strawberry taste vanished from her mouth, added, “And will you take me to the Breadmaster’s shop sometime?”
“Of course,” Miles replied, with a smile. “And if you think his cream cakes are good, wait till you taste his bread.”
It was a very different Lil the Zafara that went home that day. Humming an old Yes Boy Ice Cream song, she opened the chipped front door of her new Neohome and went upstairs into her room. Dumping her schoolbooks onto the dusty wooden floor, she threw herself onto her bed.
Looking over her shoulder, Lil saw a lumpy red shape of some sort sitting on her pillow. She turned over onto her front and realized that it was a little plushie, made to look like the miniature version of a real Zafara. It wasn’t a very detailed plushie, and whoever made it left off a tail spike, but it was very pretty all the same.
“They had a blue one too, but I didn’t think it looked as cute.” Shirlz appeared in the doorway, and went over to sit by her pet.
“It’s perfect. But, I thought we couldn’t... afford to buy extra stuff anymore.” Lil’s eyebrows met together in confusion. Shirlz simply laughed and hugged the baffled Zafara.
“Silly, have you forgotten? It’s Friday. Changes happen, but things like these will always be the same, no matter what.”
Lil smiled. Maybe she could learn to accept, after all.
I know how much of a cliché it is to add a note here that you got into the NT, but I just wanted to do it anyway. (: