A Darker Shade: Part One
"Hello, little one," the Uni said to me. I smiled up at her, and she laughed at my wide, goofy grin. "Don't worry," she cooed, "you'll be created soon, and then you'll get to go home with your new owner."
The Uni pinned a tag onto my crib. It read, "Yellow, Aisha, Male."
My sensitive hearing picked up a voice, and I turned to look through the bars of my crib. A preteen boy was talking to a Flotsam at the Creation Desk. The Flotsam pointed at me and said, "I think we have exactly what you're looking for."
The boy smiled shyly at me, and the Flotsam picked me up. "Do you want to hold him?" he asked. The boy nodded, and I was transferred into his arms. He held me awkwardly, but I didn't care. I knew I had found an owner.
"Hi!" I said to him.
"Hello, little guy," he said back. "Um." He set me down in my crib again and turned to whisper to the Flotsam.
"Is he supposed to be that color? The tag says he's yellow, but he doesn't look like a yellow Aisha. He's too dark to be a yellow Aisha. It's a really gross color." He whispered it to prevent my feelings from being hurt, but I heard it anyway. My heart sank.
"Don't worry," the Flotsam said. "Most yellow pets are born that color, and many will lighten after they are a few weeks old. Why, I've seen yellow pets that were darker than him end up being platinum-blonde beauties."
The boy looked back at me. I smiled, but not as widely now. Even if he did become my owner, I'll always remember this doubt, how my color was more important than me.
"Well, why not," the boy said, grinning. "I'll take him!" He picked me up again, and I nestled against his chest.
"What do you want to name him?" the Flotsam asked.
"Hmm... How about Justin?"
Justin. What a name! What a wonderful name! It had meaning, I knew it. As a Justin, I could write books, find cures, discover wonderful lands. As a Justin, I could do anything!
"I'm sorry," the Flotsam replied, interrupting my daydream. "That name is unavailable."
"Oh... Okay," the boy answered. "What is available?"
The Flotsam looked quickly at a list and told him, "Li_fhr290."
"Huh," he responded. "Is there anything else?"
"Uh... I guess Li_fhr290 is okay," my owner said.
Li_fhr290. What a name. As a Li_fhr290, I couldn't do anything.
"Congratulations, sir! Here are some complementary Neopoints for creating your pet!" The Flotsam handed him a bag, and my owner nearly dropped me to take it.
"I get Neopoints just for creating a pet? Sweet!"
"I can walk," I said. I didn't want to risk being dropped again. My owner didn't protest and set me on the ground, opening the bag to look at the Neopoints.
"What's your name?" I asked him.
"Oh, my name is Jake, but you are going to call me Dad," he said.
"Okay, Dad. I'm hungry; can we get something to eat?"
And thus my Neopian life began.
I never felt like I was my owner's pride and joy, but I assumed that was normal. I was the first pet of a newbie, and my owner was busy learning the ways of Neopia, and learning how to earn money.
When I asked him what he was saving for, he just shrugged and responded, "Li, when you have enough money, you can buy the world!"
Dad liked to hang out at Club Neoboards a lot, where he could chat and brag with other users. Other users liked to show off their pets, whether they had nice names, beautiful colors, or creative customizations. Some users even showed off their pets just because they loved them.
Dad told me to wait outside until he was done. "It's not you, Li," he would always say. "It's just your color. It's a really gross greenish-yellow, you know? Everyone would just make fun of you. Just wait a few weeks until it lightens, then I'll take you in to talk and play."
I waited a few weeks. A few months. A few years. My color never lightened. It remained the same gross pukish yellow it had always been.
I got by well, though. Dad was too busy restocking, sniping, and playing the stock market to really pay attention to me. And he always remembered to leave an omelette in the fridge or a jelly on the counter, and I was smart enough not to eat the rotten or poisonous ones, even if it did leave me with no meal for the day.
Then one day, my life changed.
"Li, I have a surprise!" Dad called. I jumped up from the book I was reading - a worn copy of More Than Just Carrot Cake. He had never brought home a surprise before!
I ran to the door, and then stopped. There was Dad, smiling, and behind him was a white Cybunny, holding his hand and looking around.
"I caught her while I was surfing the pound! Can you believe it? A limited edition painted pet! In the pound! And that's not even the best part! Her name is Aleksandrea! It's a misspelt real name!"
I stared, speechless, at my new sibling. For whatever reason, I felt betrayed. But it's not her fault, I realized. "Hi, Aleksandrea," I murmured.
"Hi," she whispered back. She was shy. At least we had something in common.
"I'm going to go now, okay, Allie? But don't worry, Daddy will be back soon, with some presents!" He petted her head and left me alone with her.
"I hate the name Allie," she growled. Then she remembered I was there and blushed. "It's an okay name, though," she stammered quickly.
"Don't worry," I replied, smiling. "What do you like to be called?"
"Alex," she said. "What's your name?"
"You can call me Li."
We became the best of friends, Alex and I. I finally had somebody to talk to. Dad favored her, and he didn't try to hide it at all. Suddenly she was the one going with him to Club Neoboards, and he didn't make her wait outside. He gave her gourmet foods, even toys, and I still got jelly and omelette and the occasional Key Quest junk item. But Alex always shared her stuff with me, and thus my life improved.
Still, I couldn't help feeling jealous. I had been my owner's only pet for three years, his first and only created pet, and suddenly he adopted someone else's pet from the pound and loved her more. But I was really jealous of her color. White, the lightest shade you can get. I longed to be any color than this putrid dark yellow, and Alex's snow-like coat only made me long for one similar.
And so, one day, I dared to ask.
"Hey, Dad," I said, sitting next to him on the couch as he read the latest Neopian Times.
"Hey there, Li," he replied.
"Dad, could I get painted?" I blurted out. He stopped reading and looked at me. "I've always wanted to be painted, and, well, I doubt that my color is going to lighten at all."
"Um, yeah, I guess," he said. "To be honest, though, I've always liked your color yellow."
My heart jumped, "Really? You always liked my color?"
"Well, yeah," he said, going back to reading. "Mostly because I thought that you weren't going to be painted, and that I wouldn't have to spend money on painting you."
He couldn't have said anything worse. I just nodded and went to my room, and cried.
A few months went by, and Dad forgot about the painting incident. He brought home Carremelle the Chocolate Bori, and Marckoes1 the Magma Peophin, both swiped from the pound.
But a few days after he was adopted, Marckoes1 changed.
"Dad!" he screamed when he woke up. We all rushed into his room, and gasped. He was no longer the beautiful fiery Magma color, but just red.
"How did this happen?" Dad demanded. We didn't know, so he rushed to Club Neoboards, Mark in tow.
We waited for their return, and eventually Alex and Carremelle went to bed. I stayed up, waiting.
Dad returned late. I ran to him. "Did you find out what happened to Mark?" I asked, looking around for my brother. He wasn't there.
"Li, I abandoned Mark."
"You... abandoned him?"
"It turns out that Magma pets adopted from the pound turn red after a few days. Something about their heat cooling in the pound. I really don't need a basic pet with a bad name, so I abandoned him."
Then he realized what he said.
"Not that I would ever abandon you, Li. You were my first pet. You're special."
I didn't say anything. He took that as a good sign.
"We can tell your sisters that Mark was sick, that's why he was changing colors. That he, you know, died. It will be easier for them to understand, okay?"
I nodded, and turned to go to bed. I did not let him see the tears on my face.
The next few weeks were filled with crying. Mostly from my sisters. I didn't cry at all, after that first day.
But time heals all wounds, and we found ourselves thinking less and less about Mark. Dad brought home Kawrlos, a Halloween Bori who went by the name of Karl.
One day, he brought Carremelle to Club Neoboards, and he brought home an Unconverted Royalgirl Kyrii. A few days after that, he pounded me.
We stood there at the Abandonment Desk, my arms crossed, his hands in his pockets.
"Well...," I started. "I probably won't see you again."
"Probably," he agreed.
"This is good bye?" I asked.
"Yup," he answered.
I thought of Alex, my best friend. "Promise me that you'll take care of Alex, okay?"
Guilt flashed across his face. "Well, I know someone who wants to trade their Real Word Hissi for a Cybunny, and I was thinking-"
"WHAT?!" I screamed. "You don't care about us, do you?! You created me, held on to me for years, and I mean nothing to you? And then you adopt Alex, Carremelle, Mark, and they mean nothing to you? You gave them a home! Saved them from the pound! Tell me the truth, why are you abandoning me?!"
Anger replaced guilt. "It's not my fault you're a badly named puke-yellow Aisha." He turned around and left. Those were the last words I ever heard from him.
To be continued...