Cherry On Top
Cherry won't be happy if he sees his face in the newspaper—AT ALL. For a while he'll give me the cold shoulder, but I know he deserves this attention in the spotlight more than anyone I know. We've been together since elementary school, but more on a casual level until he came to school after his first try with the lab ray...
It was the last month of school, our last year of elementary before middle school. At lunch I was with my other friends. They were prettier pets from well-to-do families, combed manes, and polished nails or hooves. Their laughter about another pet's ugliness would hit the air with a screech, and whoever they gossiped about somehow knew that they were the current topic for ridicule. They were not my kind of people, but were Cherry's, so I tolerated them.
After another of the popular pets' contempt wails Cherry came over nervously, his tray of food shaking in his hands. Everyone, including myself, stared earnestly. For weeks Cherry had been bragging about his dad finally having enough for a complete Lab Ray Map. We've all been waiting for the results.
“Hi guys,” Cherry said.
From the sound of his voice we finally realized something was wrong. That day he was a red Grundo in a pink dress, with over-sized Sloth sneakers clashing the lace. You see, before Cherry ever had the lab ray, he was a girl.
The sudden gruffness in his voice couldn't be hidden underneath pink or poise. Everyone knew that the lab ray changed gender instead of his skin. Now his acceptance with the popular pets had broken.
“Is it okay if I sit here?” Cherry asked.
“Well, Cherry,” Penelope, the Faerie Peophin, sneered. “This is really a girls' table and... well, even as a girl you barely made it.”
Cherry showed no expression on his face, but I saw his fingers clenching his tray. He left, dumping his food in the garbage.
In class Cherry's chair was empty, and in recess he didn't come by the swings where we usually play. I believed he had skipped, so at the end of the day I went to the bathroom to wash my paws. From underneath one of the stalls I saw the tips of his sneakers tapping against each other. How long had he been sitting in there? I wondered. I was about to talk to him when Penelope came in the bathroom.
“Hello, Moesadja,” she said, not sounding pleased to see me at all. After she washed her hooves she then said, “Can you believe what happened to Cherry?”
I made a quick glance at Cherry's shoes, then back at Penelope, shrugging and pretending I didn't know what she meant.
“It's a change for the better, really,” Penelope went on, “She was always kind of homely. At least now her gender suits her—I mean—his appearance. Cherry will need a new name now: maybe, Charlie, or Chuck!”
After Penelope had her laugh, she left the bathroom. I went to Cherry's stall when the coast was clear.
“Cherry?” I knocked on his door.
“Go away,” he said. Not being able to hide his hurt any longer, he started to cry.
“Cherry, please come out.”
“No.” He took his shoes out of sight.
“Honey, you're my best friend. I don't care what Penelope, or the others say, or what the lab ray changes you into.”
“All I wanted,” Cherry sniffed, “was to be colored Faerie. I heard this happened, but I didn't think it... would happen... to me.”
“Oh, honey, it's okay,” I said, but wasn't really sure what else to say to make this better. I leaned against the door and thought for a moment. “You know, coming here in a dress was pretty cool.”
“I shouldn't have,” Cherry mumbled, sounding like he was ready to cry again. “Everyone laughed at me.”
“Come on, it's awesome. They're just jealous that they didn't have the guts to do the same!” I chuckled, then said softly, “Come out, now, we'll get some ice cream.”
“With a cherry on top?”
“All you can eat.”
He came out of the stall. A corner of his dress was pinched from being used as a tissue so much. I hugged my best friend and led him outside. We enjoyed the late spring weather. The wind was warm and the ground was wet from melted snow. Cherry's home was our first stop before buckets of ice cream since he was the one with the cash. He was happy to be with me, and his red eyes dreamed of sprinkles and berries, but, the moment we entered his room, they filled with tears once more.
“Cherry, what's wrong?” I asked.
All over Cherry's room were posters, dolls, toys, hair products, and other valuables made under Sloth's name. On his book shelves and bed were plushies Cherry made himself. There were unsent letters of admiration scattered and torn on the floor.
“I can't be his fan anymore,” Cherry wailed.
“What? Sure you can,” I assured her.
“No-no-no, you don't understand. I belonged to an all-girl guild famous for getting meet Sloth up close. Now they'll kick me out, and I'll never get to meet him.” Cherry let out a sigh and collapsed onto a beanbag in the shape of Sloth's head. “Moesadja,” he said, exhausted from all of the hurt, “I don't know if I can go through the lab ray again. It's so frightening, and I don't know what'll happen to me. I could never change, or turn into a ghost, or—worst—a mutant!”
“Mutants are cool...” I shrugged. “If you don't want to do it, then don't.”
“But... I still want to wear dresses,” Cherry said.
“Then do it.”
“And be Sloth's number one fan.”
“Then be his fan. I don't think Sloth cares what kind of attention he gets, boy or girl. Capiche?” I said, making a ring with my fingers.
“Yeah,” Cherry nodded and wiped off his eyes, “okay.”
There was a knock on the door. Cherry's father peeked in.
“Hey, pumpkin. Letter for you.” He gave Cherry the letter and snuck away. “I'll just leave you two alone...”
“Who's it from?” I asked.
Cherry didn't answer. He started at the front of the letter for a long time in awe before opening it. Slowly, maybe twice he read it. The corners of his mouth twitched with ecstasy and he let out a big whoop.
“HE WROTE BACK! HE WROTE BACK!”
“Wha-what?” I ducked as Cherry's arms failed around in uncontrollable happiness.
“Sloth wrote back to me!” Cherry cleared his throat and read the letter out loud.
Your letters that praise my brilliance are glorious to read. I thank you for recognizing my title as a genius and true ruler of Neopia for so many years. One day everyone will suffer my wrath, but I've made a mental note to spare you.
Inside the envelope is a “Creepy-Fangirl-Badge”. Wear it proudly, for Sloth has deemed you worthy as a true fan.
p.s. I liked the picture of the plushie you made. Can you send me one?
“Umm... congratulations?” I said.
Cherry pinned the badge over the heart of his dress.
“He wrote that letter himself,” Cherry said. “I can tell because that's his real signature.”
“It says 'fangirl'. Shouldn't you tell him that you're not a girl anymore?” I suggested.
“You can't just ask Sloth for something. He owes me nothing! Besides, I wrote my last letter as a girl, so this makes sense. I'm going to frame this above my bed!”
“Are you going to frame everything he writes to you?” I said jokingly, “Even if he signs a restraining order?”
My friend Cherry grew up to be a strong Grundo with no worries about what others thought of his new lifestyle. He never used the lab ray again; there was no need since he felt satisfied with the color red and being a boy. Over the years he's become a bigger fan of Sloth than any fangirl, and never lived through a day without that badge over his chest.
And yes, Sloth one day filed a restraining order, and Cherry hung it in a glossy frame with bullet-proof glass.