Just One Thing: Part One
Also by kittykatluver4ever
1st Day of Celebrating, Y11,
I woke up to the hushed cries of my sister. Based on her jubilant tone, something had happened. Indeed, something remarkable had occurred. She tugged me over to the window and I couldn’t help but chuckle myself as I watched a tiny snowflake drift past the glass like a bright speck of glowing dust. Snow should have arrived earlier in the season, considering that we lived on Terror Mountain, but the freezing winds were late in bringing the accompanying snow this year. As a result, we were forced to live in bitter but dry weather for a month or two and our human owner, Kai, had nearly gone crazy a few days before as she glared out at the barren landscape from our cozy cabin. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard Kai shriek with joy behind me as she pulled my sister and me into a warm hug. She then rushed out of the house, muttering something about the Advent Calendar, and left Daphne and me with the task of making gingerbread cookies. Snow had finally arrived, and that fact left the three of us in a cheerful mood for the rest of the day.
We lived in a fairly roomy cottage on the top of Terror Mountain, somewhat secluded from other cabins but situated in a place where a breathtaking landscape could be seen through the windows. My sister, Daphne, a young Christmas Lupe, proposed the idea of decorating the outside of our cabin. Kai was evidently pleased with this idea as she enthusiastically agreed. I followed Daphne as she dashed outside, her pawsteps slightly muffled by the thin blanket of snow that now covered the ground. Meanwhile, Kai retrieved her coat, scarf, and an armful of decorations. As a Snow Lupe, I realized that I could lie down in the snow and be instantly camouflaged. Daphne grinned as she squinted, obviously trying to distinguish me from the snowy backdrop.
At that moment, Kai stepped out, clumsily struggling to contain the various wreaths and garlands in her arms. Her cheeks were flushed and tiny specks of snow entangled themselves into her hair. We bedecked the cabin with lights of many bright colors and I began to feel the familiar rush of happiness I felt each year at the beginning of the month of Celebrating. Daphne and I decorated the interior of the house that evening as Kai ran down to Happy Valley to buy us treats. She returned later and helped us trim the tree, slightly distracted at first. We sipped hot cocoa together after the tree was finished and I asked her why she was excited. Kai set her mug down and told me and Daphne about the Winter Site Theme and then asked us if we could find out how she could get it. Daphne looked up eagerly, but I let out a playful groan. I could see nothing exciting in the Site Theme, but I patiently listened to my owner describe her longing for it.
2nd Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Kai dragged Daphne and me down to Happy Valley as soon as the sun rose and we stood in the long line of Neopians waiting to collect their gifts from the Advent Calendar. Kai bounced forward with excitement each time the line moved up, and Daphne followed her with just as much energy. I was the only who continued forward like a normal Neopian, but I often grinned so I wouldn’t spoil the lively atmosphere. I knew that Kai and Daphne weren’t anticipating the gifts, but the Site Theme. Honestly, I had no clue why they wanted it so much; they were slowly becoming obsessed with the idea of having it. I myself figured that the daily free gifts were enough to be grateful for.
As I sank deeper in thought, Daphne prodded me with a paw and tilted her head to the side, curious. I realized that my expression must have darkened a tiny bit and quickly forced a fake grin on my face again to I convince them that I was perfectly okay. Daphne smiled and nodded quickly like nothing had gone wrong; Kai, however, did not look so unconcerned. Just then, Daphne rushed forward to collect our gifts and any suspicion was completely erased from Kai’s face. Sometimes, it was too easy to please them, but I liked that about my family. I wondered, though, how much longer I could keep my slight irritation well-hidden.
5th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Nothing much has happened lately. Kai and Daphne continued their endless babbling about the Winter Site Theme, and I continued to listen and smile whenever they turned towards me. Family trips down to Happy Valley were daily now. Even though it wasn’t very far from the top of the mountain, Kai no longer went alone. Today, however, Kai told me to help her friend, a Lutari called Mr. Chipper, with selling ice cream. I went willingly to escape yet another hour of talk about the Site Theme, but I had a feeling that she had volunteered me just so she and Daphne could chatter on without my critical stares. My skills at smiling and hiding my thoughts were fading as of late. I did not know what was going on with my mind. It had been so easy to smile a few days ago. Nevertheless, I approached Mr. Chipper with a cheerful expression, determined not to ruin the mood this time.
“Hi there, you must be Jerome!” the kind Lutari greeted me as he beamed and shook my paw. I found him easy to talk to as I tried to reply with just as much enthusiasm.
“I need to run an errand, you know. We all have busy moments sometimes! You can help me for a few hours by giving ice cream to those that have the Ice Cream Coupons. Now, if they don’t have coupons, kindly turn them away. But be sure to tell them about Taelia and how she might give away a few if they finish her quests! Remember to be polite and smile!” Mr. Chipper told me, and he dashed off, leaving me in charge of his ice cream cart.
It took only a couple of minutes before visitors had surrounded the cart. Most of them had coupons and I handed them their ice cream cones, but I found difficulty in smiling and wishing them a good day. I didn’t know what was going on. I directed every ounce of strength toward grinning and reciting nice phrases in a cheerful tone, but all of that took a lot of effort. When I thanked Mr. Chipper and headed home several hours later, I felt like a rock- heavy and dull. As the cottage came into view, I could hear the voices of Kai and Daphne from inside. Annoyance welled up inside of me, but even my surprise at my sudden anger did not ease the negative feelings. The decorations looked like nothing as I pushed open and stormed through the door. The delicious smell of cookies in the oven did nothing to improve my mood as I stomped pass my bewildered family members.
“I’m tired,” I announced before withdrawing into my room.
As I tried to sleep, I contemplated. What was wrong with me? Everything was fine just a few days ago... why did it all have to be like this? As sleep triumphed over my exhausted mind, I could not help but feel that this holiday season had turned into a complete disaster.
6th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
When I woke up again, I felt different. Opening my eyes, I blinked the sleep away and glanced out the window at the rising sun. I must have slept through last evening and all through the night. The sun, the glorious landscape, and the warm cottage still meant nothing to me. I felt absolutely terrible and I moaned loudly, an accidental emission.
“Awake, Jerome?” Daphne trilled as she bounced into my room with a breakfast tray. "Kai went off to Happy Valley earlier, but she made you breakfast. It's your favorite: buttered toast with a nice cup of hot chocolate!" She set the tray down by my side and plopped herself down on the bed beside me.
“I don't want anything. I'm not hungry. Go away,” I grumbled, still annoyed. The breakfast didn't look appetizing at all so I pushed it away. I realized that I didn't want to eat anything, not even buttered toast.
“But Jerome, Kai said that you should eat... you won't have any energy left if you don't!” Daphne insisted, pointing at the breakfast tray.
I growled at her, and when she pushed the tray towards me again, I shoved it back so violently that the hot chocolate spilled. Letting out a sigh, I withdrew back under the covers and closed my eyes, feeling even worse than before, if that was possible.
“What's gotten into you, Jerome?” shrieked Daphne as she scrambled to clean up the mess. I thanked her silently and waited for the guilt of having caused her trouble to come; however, I felt nothing. It was as if every emotion had been washed away from me except the negative feelings that seemed to be following me everywhere I went.
After several minutes had gone by, I was aware of the ominous silence in the house. Where did that Daphne run off to now? Probably rushing to find Kai, no doubt... I yawned and wandered over to the couch, where I collapsed and tried to sleep again, burying my head in my paws. I was on the verge of slumber when the front door opened and Daphne came hurrying in. Raising my head, I was about to growl at her but then saw a huge book clamped between her teeth and Kai right behind her. My owner surveyed me with worried eyes and I gazed back with my dull and expressionless pair. After several minutes of flipping through the book, Daphne glanced at me and read the page, her eyes flickering back and forth between me and the words. Annoyed, I asked her what was wrong.
“Jerome... you have... you have the NeoBlues,” Kai told me uncertainly. Daphne continued to alternate between reading the page and looking at me, saying nothing.
An awkward silence hung in the air until I broke it with a contemptuous growl. “Well? Is there a cure?” I was momentarily surprised at the disdain in my voice but brushed it off quickly as I waited for an answer.
“Jerome, I'm so sorry... yes, there is a cure, but it's a Tasty Pie and... and you know how much those things cost,” Daphne answered me this time. “We just can’t really afford it.... I'm so sorry, Jerome.”
How wonderful. I was now stuck in bed with some type of disease, and during the holidays, too. They didn't even tell me what the disease was exactly. Everything really was turning into a complete disaster.
8th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
I knew that we had never been rich Neopians. I knew that Kai only had about 30,000 NP in the bank. I knew that the Tasty Pie was worth something close to 200,000 NP and that we would probably never reach that amount. Yet, I couldn't help it. I rarely smiled, and if I did, it was a bitter smile at my condition. I thought endlessly about how things couldn't possibly get any worse than they already were. Every day was pretty much the same for me now: Kai and Daphne rushed off down to Happy Valley while I remained in the house and moped. Sometimes, I watched Kai bake cookies, and even though the cookies smelled fantastic, I never wanted to eat them. Kai would hand me a cookie and Daphne would glance at me with a hopeful expression on her face, but then I would turn away and return to my room, sulking once more.
Today, I allowed Daphne and Kai to take me down to Happy Valley. After having stayed inside the cottage for several days, I figured that I needed some fresh air. As I stood in line with them, waiting for them to collect their gifts, I remembered being here in a totally different condition. It seemed so far away, but it was actually not that long ago... I recalled standing here without the NeoBlues, able to laugh, able to smile, able to push away my frustration at Kai and Daphne so easily when they spoke of the Site Theme. Things were much harder now. I struggled to block out everything that might irritate me, but I simply couldn't do it. Something as insignificant as a laughing Aisha collecting her prizes annoyed me, and I knew that I had to get away before I ruined the whole scene with my negativity. I slipped away silently and began to run, leaving Kai and Daphne staring after me in shock. I raced back home, never stopping for a breath and ignoring the curious Neopians that gawked when I passed.
As I rested in my room, I thought about how I had at least spared my family members the trouble of having to deal with me... at least I didn't say anything that would have ruined the joyous mood. I sighed, wishing that if I could just have one gift on the Day of Giving, it would be to not have the NeoBlues.
9th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
I was so bored with this Advent Calendar business. I knew I should be honored since Kai had asked for us to do something very important and I knew how much it meant to her. There was simply nothing to research—Jerome and I had exhausted every survey and every analysis of the Advent Calendar, and we’d found nothing, absolutely nothing. Kai seemed to fit all the requirements; there was nothing to suggest that she wasn’t eligible. In fact, if the rules and apparent trends applied to Kai, she should have gotten the stupid Site Theme three years ago, when we had first come to live here. Jerome and I were baffled. But of course, he’d been in bed for days... so it was just me working on our impossible project.
Today Kai asked me if I’d figured anything out. I told her that I was very sorry, but that we hadn’t found any information that might explain why she couldn’t receive the Site Theme. She’d sighed wistfully, and said, “Oh, that’s okay then,” and went off to sit by the fire.
I felt like I was letting her down—I was searching for the answer to her dilemma, something that had been torturing her since the day we’d moved here. I needed to work harder, for her. Jerome may have been incapacitated, but I had to continue to search for the solution to her predicament. I made the decision to go talk to Jerome later that evening. He might have thought up some new idea in bed, though I had to doubt how helpful he would be in his ailing state.
Jerome wasn’t awake when I went to visit him on his sickbed. Kai was getting pretty worried; he wasn’t getting any better.... In fact, if anything, he’d grown worse—he was constantly in a bad mood. I had to wonder if he was really even asleep, or if he’d just been pretending so he could avoid me. Kai had made plans to transfer him to the hospital in Neopia Central. I shuddered to think how little progress I’d make without him around to assist me... I didn’t know what I was going to do.
I had to admit, it was actually kind of interesting... only a few Neopians were lucky enough to get that Winter Site Theme every year. It was no wonder Kai was so in love with the thing; it was so rare and valued.
Kai accompanied me on my daily trek down the mountain to visit Happy Valley; it was rather hilarious to see her eyes shine with amazement as she surveyed the various pets acting out the daily skit. I reckoned she could have sat and watched their little sketch for hours and not get bored. She said thank you several times when the little red Wocky with the green bow tie and the holly on his tail gave her the daily present, and I was forced to drag her away.
Kai was rather annoyed with me on the way back up to our cabin; she sniffed a little bit and refused to let me help her the many times she slipped in the ice caves. I thought of Jerome’s expression if he saw her like this, and the corners of my mouth twitched. Unfortunately, Kai had just fallen on her face, and, shaking her sopping hair out of her eyes, she let out a noise of hurt and disbelief. She murmured something along the lines of, “Not all of us have four legs and a tail,” in a grumpy manner before continuing.
I had scooped up a pile of snow almost by reflex and formed it into a compact little ball with my paws, but resisted the urge to chuck it at her: it was going to be very lonely without Jerome around. I was hoping Kai would be willing to talk to me under the influence of hot cocoa and a warm fire crackling merrily in the grate. Unfortunately, she was of very little help, and insisted on recounting to me the entire skit put on by the Advent actors.
To be continued...