Laurentina watched from her spot against the wall as Hildur, lying flat on her back, hands on her aching tummy, groaned.
“Uggggh! I ate too much!” she rolled over, groaning some more.
She was older than Laurentina, but Laurentina knew not to overeat. She knew if she mentioned this, however, Hildur would become enraged and would probably eat her up. So, Laurentina sat, watching Hildur out of the corner of her eye.
Here they were. Another holiday season, and still no place to call home. Their room at the pound was decorated a little bit for the coming Christmas, which was in only one week, but there was still the loneliness in the air that bit at Laurentina’s yellow Wocky ears. Hildur, a green Techo, was Laurentina’s only friend. As a shy, petite little Wocky, Laurentina rarely spoke and Hildur, a chunky, brash teenager, spoke far too much. They were a good pair.
Laurentina got up from her spot on the floor and went out into the hallway. Noises were heard inside rooms, but she ignored them, as she always did as she crept to the bathroom.
Staring at her lost eyes in the mirror, Laurentina wondered how many more holiday seasons she would spend in this cold, loud, unfriendly place. What she would give for a home in rural Meridell, where she had no neighbors and could go outside, lie in a lush meadow and hear nothing but air moving and particles dancing in beams of sunlight. Here, air was stagnant and smelly and dust fell in thick clumps like heavy grey clouds, too sad for the sky.
Laurentina left the bathroom and returned to her quiet room. She climbed up onto her top bunk and lay on her side, watching Hildur continue to writhe on the floor. She began to cry then. Big, smelly Hildur was the only family she had this Christmas. Unfunny, frustrating Hildur was the only one in all of Neopia who cared if Laurentina woke up or not.
Her mattress was thin and she could feel the springs dig into her back as they did every night, but tonight it bothered her the most. Her blankets were threadbare and the ceiling was grey and grimy and only a nose nudge away from her face.
She was sick of it all!
Laurentina grabbed a blanket, twisted it into a makeshift envelope and stuffed in a pillow, an extra potato sack (her only clothing), her hairbrush and the one hundred neopoints she had. This was all she had to her name? How pitiful.
Laurentina tossed the jerry rigged bag over one shoulder and stepped over Hildur, who didn’t seem to notice.
No one else noticed, not even the pound workers, as Laurentina slid out of the door and into the cold night. She shivered, thankful for her boots and sweater. Streetlamps lit up the night, and stars glittered.
Laurentina began walking, she didn’t know where, but it was better than here.
“Is she dead?”
“Please be ok!”
Laurentina’s eyelashes fluttered, and a burst of snow hit her face as little flakes fell off her lashes.
She shivered and tried to move, but her body was sore and stiff and ached all over. And she was so, so cold.
“So, so cold,” she whispered, and the world went dark again.
When she woke up for the second time, she was so, so warm. She was lying on a large purple cushion, an arms length from a roaring fire. She was covered with quilts and faint, soft music was playing in the background. She was sure it was a dream, but it was such a good one.
She started to move, her body was still sore but it was also so warm. She was wearing a new, thick light blue sweater and heavy flannel pajama bottoms and thick grey socks on her feet.
“Don’t get up yet!” A young air faerie rushed over with a tray. “Here, I made you a little something.”
It was a bowl of thick bean chili, a wheat roll with steam rising, a mug of mint tea and a sliced orange sprinkled with cinnamon.
“Is this all for me?” whispered Laurentina, thinking of the usual thin pea soups and oatmeal served at the pound, of which she only picked at and so Hildur usually took most of hers.
She ate the chili, which was heavy and delicious and warmed up her belly, and then she broke apart the roll, allowing the doughy steam to caress her nostrils. It was crunchy and hot on the outside and warm and mashy on the inside. And then, she savored each orange slice as she sipped down her tea.
“I’ve run a hot bubble bath for you. Follow me.” Laurentina got up and followed the faerie down a hall, where she opened a door. A glistening white bath tub, full of steaming bubbles.
Laurentina soaked until her body was pruned and wrinkly, and she slid out of the tub and dried off with a fluffy towel. She put on clean, soft flannel pajamas and slippers and then stepped into the hallway. The air faerie was sitting on a couch by the fire, along with a yellow Chia and a pink Kougra.
“Hello!” The air faerie smiled at Laurentina.
“My name is Mireia. This is Basak,”she motioned to the yellow Chia, “and this is Helene.”
“I’m Laurentina,” whispered Laurentina. “Thank you so much...”
She got cut off by a yawn and her new friends laughed.
“You can sleep on this cushion in front of the fire. We’ll talk in the morning. It’s well past midnight!” Mireia, Basak and Helene smiled at her and left. Laurentina, lay down on the cushion and promptly fell asleep.
In the morning, there was fresh fruit salad, hot chocolate and toast thick with jam. Laurentina ate until she felt sufficiently fat and then leaned back in a chair.
Basak and Helene had eaten daintily, and said nary a word.
“Now, Laurentina. You’re a pound runaway, I take it, from that dirty sack you were wearing yesterday?”
Laurentina nodded shamefully. “It’s so awful there.”
“I lived there for three years,” whispered Basak. “It was horrible.”
“You can stay with us for now,” Mireia said, crumpling her face in compassion.
Laurentina breathed a sigh of relief.
“But we’ll have to tell the pound where you are. Did you leave behind any friends? We have room for one more.” Mireia smiled, and nudged Basak and Helene.
Laurentina’s mind flashed to heavy Hildur, probably scarfing down the absentee Laurentina’s rationed food. Hildur, with her clunky feet and loud, smelly ways. Hildur, who whined about the cold, the hot, the other pets. Hildur, who had stood up for Laurentina. Who spoke for Laurentina when she was too shy to. Hildur, who had stayed up all night, holding and comforting Laurentina when she had neezles.
They arrived at the pound and Mireia went to speak with one of the workers. Laurentina walked softly down the halls. The other pets, with sad eyes and frowns looked up at her for once. She was dressed in Helene’s old clothes, a soft pink skirt, a heavy brown coat and thick boots. She made her way to the room she had shared with Hildur.
Hildur lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. When she saw Laurentina, she jumped up.
“Laur! I missed you so much!” Hildur ran to Laurentina and embraced her.
“How could I ever leave you behind?” whispered Laurentina.