It's True. It Hurts. I Don't Know Why.
Mara stood up and began the long journey to the kitchen for another carrot stick. It would be her seventh—she was counting—and she wasn’t hungry for it at all, but she had to look like she was doing something, otherwise the other Neopets at the party would get suspicious.
She had been sitting in a chair near one of the tables where several guests were playing cards. About ten of them had squeezed around its four sides, talking and laughing loudly over the noise in the large room. Mara had been watching the game and pretending to know how it was played, but her chair was not in the primary circle and thus she had to peer awkwardly over the shoulders of the Neopets who were crowded together. She had maneuvered her seat so that she was near a couple of others who were carrying on a conversation in low tones; this way, she didn’t look quite so isolated.
But after several long minutes had dragged by, she started to get uncomfortable. This was probably her fifth or sixth seat of the evening—she hadn’t been counting those—and if she stayed too long, Mara was worried that one of the nearby Neopets would turn around and ask her what she was doing. In order to replace the inevitable answer of “nothing”, the red Poogle had decided to travel to the kitchen and back.
The party was being held in a big house, and the food was conveniently far away from the room where Mara was sitting. If she walked slowly, it took her a good two or three minutes to weave her way through to the kitchen, where vegetable trays and other snacks lined the countertops. A minute or two of hesitation added to the time of the journey back gave Mara somewhere near six minutes of disguise.
But of course, as soon as she sat down again, the prickles would creep back up her neck and she’d start to feel self-conscious all over again. The tension would build and build until she forced herself to stand up and make another trek across the house.
This time, when Mara returned with her carrot stick in hand, she saw that the card players had finished their game. Half had disappeared, and the others were engaged in deep conversation. Mara could no longer pretend that she was watching them play. Her empty chair glared at her, and she avoided it, allowing her legs to carry her out of the room in search of a new place to hide.
It appeared that she was the only one who was by herself. The other party guests were clumped in groups of two or more, like charged atoms that couldn’t be separated unless by a powerful force. They moved together, laughed together, stared at Mara together as she passed aimlessly by with a bitten carrot stick still clutched between her fingers.
If there was one thing Mara was grateful for, it was her red fur. Nobody could see her face flush as their critical eyes fell upon her. She tried to appear like she was looking for someone, even though the only Neopets she knew at the party were downstairs playing ping-pong or some other game that Mara was awful at. They would be too busy having fun to say anything to Mara; and even if they were available, what would she say to them? She didn’t know how to start a conversation.
Music vibrated through the walls from some unknown source. Voices rose and fell in a constant chatter. The lights were bright and artificial, and the air was hot, and the smell of food that had been sitting out for too long had begun to mix with sweat, making Mara’s stomach feel even worse than it already did.
She steered through the building, taking a bite of carrot whenever she felt particularly out of place, until that too was gone and her hands fell limply to her sides. All the other Neopets seemed to exhibit flawless body language, moving their hands as they spoke, smiling as they laughed, leaning casually against door frames. They didn’t even have to think about it. Yet, despite all her best efforts at mimicry, Mara knew that she looked stiff and awkward.
She passed through the same rooms over and over, until she was certain that several of the guests were giving her increasingly strange glances. At last, arriving once again in the kitchen, Mara wiggled behind a table and slipped out the back door.
The night was dark and cool.
Bright lights from the house made the yard look strange, but it was still a comfort. Mara walked across the patio and stood on the grass, breathing heavily.
What a joke she was. Why was she even here? The complex emotions which she hadn’t been able to verbalize inside now started to congeal, and they tumbled into her brain as she kicked the grass aimlessly.
A lot of the Neopets here were her friends, right? Why didn’t she just go up and talk to somebody? It sounded easy enough, but Mara knew that her friends just weren’t the same in these situations. It wasn’t their fault—in fact, she admired them for it. They could interact so easily with each other, even with strangers. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, except Mara. Surely that was her own fault.
In fact, it was pretty much all her fault. She knew it, and she probably should have prepared herself a little better for it. It happened every time, after all. She just wasn’t made for these situations. Yet, they just seemed to happen all too frequently. And every time, she found herself asking the same questions.
Worried that somebody might spot her from a window, Mara walked toward the other side of the house. Yellow light from inside bled onto the lawn, and she sought out the comfort of shadow.
Not that anybody really cared. So what if they saw her? So what if Neopets had been giving her weird looks inside? They didn’t really care about her, so why did she care about them? Why did she care what they thought?
It wasn’t so much that they were thinking bad things, she decided. It’s that she wished they were thinking something else, something better. She wished somebody would recognize her and think something positive, think that he or she should stand up and say hello to her, think that he or she was happy to see her. But nobody was thinking those things.
And this wasn’t just her pessimism speaking. It was true.
Yes, it was true and she knew it and she tried to say that she didn’t care, but that was one thing that simply wasn’t true at all.
Mara sat down against a big stone and stared into the flowerbed.
At times like these, she felt really empty inside.
But what could she do?
The problems were all her own, and she was the only one who could fix them. Nobody would change. And why should they? They were all fine. She was the one who needed to get her act together. She was the one who didn’t know how to behave. She was the one who kept getting into these situations.
At least she was learning from the experience. Yes, for that, she was grateful. Mara didn’t regret coming to the party—if she hadn’t, then she would have sat at home and let all these flaws go unnoticed. Here, with the bright lights shining on her from every angle, she could examine her shortcomings and try to figure out how to make them go away.
She plucked a daisy from the garden and fingered its petals.
One by one, she counted her flaws, tossing the smooth, white pieces of silk into the grass.
And as she pulled the daisy apart, Mara felt herself falling apart as well.
This was good, she told herself. At least she was identifying her problems. Better to feel the pain and at least know what she was up against, rather than keep on the same old path of awkwardness.
But it did hurt.
Why didn’t anybody else have to do this? She was the only one outside. She was the only one sitting by herself. She was the only one who had enough flaws to scatter across the yard like a million white teardrops.
Yes, she had strengths too, but now was not the time to consider those. What good were they in the face of situations like these? They hadn’t helped her inside, and they wouldn’t help her now.
Mara twirled the naked stem between her fingers before dropping it.
She took in a shaky breath.
She wanted to say that it wasn’t fair, but she wouldn’t let herself. Of course it was fair. This was her own fault. Nobody had forced her to be like this. The weight was entirely on her shoulders. It was fair. It was right. She deserved to feel this way.
At least she knew it. Better to know it and feel the pain, than to go about life looking like a fool and have no idea.
The wind picked up, and Mara pulled her knees into a tight hug. Clouds rolled past the moon. The trees looked unnatural, bathed in the pale glow of the lights that shone from inside the house. The music and voices drifted into the yard through the walls.
The cold breeze picked up a few of the daisy petals and carried them through the air. Mara watched them scatter. All those flaws, being chased away by the wind.
She felt like it should mean something, but she couldn’t think of just what it might be. The image was heavy, weighed down by significance.
Were her flaws floating away?
Was it time to leave the past behind?
Were the petals going to become feathers and lift her to her feet, carry her back inside, and transform her into the Neopet she wanted to become?
They were just flower petals, and the wind died before they even blew out of sight.