A Darker Shade: Part Three
The pound loomed over me. Robert and I just stood outside. He was in no hurry.
"I thought you liked my color," I said, staring at some little petpetpets crawling in the dirt.
"I do, but I really don't need a red pet. Or a pink one. Or whatever you are." He shrugged. "I have Digit."
"Where there others, before me?"
"Of course there were," he said. "I had to trade to get Digit, you know."
"Did you ever feed any of them?"
"Not to get an avatar," I said. "Just feeding them for the sake of taking care of them."
He didn't say anything. I sighed and kicked a rock.
"If I was still a robot, would you keep me?"
"Yes," he said. "For a while, at least. I've been trying to trade you, for another avatar pet."
"But you won't trade me now, because people aren't going to believe that I'm pink," I concluded.
"Yes," he said. At least he wasn't lying to me. "Don't worry, you'll get adopted soon. Somebody will notice that you're pink, and they'll adopt you."
"Robert, can I ask you something?" When he nodded, I said, "Do any owners love their pets? And not for their names or color or whatever, but love them just because of who they are?"
"Sure," he said. "Lots of people love their pets."
"But you don't?"
"No." He looked at his watch, and said, "Li, I'm sorry, but I don't have all day. Do you mind...?"
"Of course I do," I said. But I walked into the pound anyway.
It took five minutes for someone to look at my tag and realize I was pink. They adopted me instantly. But then they actually looked at me.
"What color are you?" they asked.
"Red," I replied. I didn't want to be adopted just because I was some fancy color.
"But the tag says that you're pink."
"It's a glitch," I replied.
"Oh," she said. She abandoned me, even before we left the pound.
Three minutes later I was adopted again. Then I was abandoned.
I kept on getting adopted, then abandoned, then adopted again. In just a few days I had over twenty owners. Eventually word got around that I was a glitch, that I was actually a red Aisha and not a pink one, and then no one adopted me.
I wasted away in my cage. Some days, I wouldn't even open my eyes. What was the point? Why should I go on if no one cared about me? Why should I continue to live if no one loved me?
I was half-asleep when someone started shaking me. I looked out to see a man, gently rubbing my shoulder.
"Please, leave me alone," I mumbled.
"I'm sorry, but you have to wake up," he said. "What color are you?"
"Red," I replied. "Not pink. It's a glitch."
He stopped shaking me, and I thought he had gone away. But I opened my eyes and saw he was still there.
"I don't think it's a glitch," he said. "You're pink, aren't you?"
"No, red," I insisted. I tried to close my eyes, to ignore him and go back to sleep, but he wouldn't let me.
"Stay with me," he urged. "Are you lying to me?"
"Are you pink?"
"You're lying," he said. "I don't know why, but you are. I'm adopting you."
He lifted me out of my cage. I didn't care anymore. I laid my head against his shoulder and fell asleep.
I woke up the next day in a bed. The sheets smelled clean and warm. I looked around. The room I was in was lovely. There was a window about a desk, and light shone in.
The door opened, and I quickly pretended to be asleep again. I squinted my eyes open just enough to see what was going on.
"She's still asleep," a white Cybunny said.
"She's tired. Let her rest," the man from last night replied.
Then I realized - a white Cybunny! I sat up, startling both of them, and asked, "Alex?"
"Yes," the man replied. "How did you know my name?"
I stared at him, then back at the Cybunny. "Your name's not Alex," I asked her.
"No," she said. "Around here, I'm just known as Claire. It's short for Clairots."
"But your name is Alex?" I asked the man. He nodded.
"And your name is Lifur, right?"
I wondered why he thought that. Then I realized that if you sounded out Li_fhr, which is the first part of Li_fhr290, you get Lifur.
I was about to correct him, when I stopped. Did I still want to be Li? Li, the puke-yellow Aisha, the Flint Robot, the Crusty Blue Random Event Victim. Li, the unloved, unwanted. No.
"Actually, It's just Leaf. Spelled like the plant," I said. Leaf, the female Red Aisha. I liked it.
"Hello, Leaf," Alex said, smiling. "Claire, why don't you go get Leaf some breakfast?"
Claire nodded and hopped away.
Alex sat down next to me.
"So, Leaf, today is going to be all about you. After we feed you and clean you up, we're going to the doctor's office for a quick checkup, then we're heading to Mystery Island to relax and get to know each other better. Would you like that?"
It sounded fun. It sounded like something that owners do who love their Neopets.
"Yes," I said. "I would like that. I would like that very much."
He smiled. "Great!"
Claire came back with a tray full of French Toast and Orange Juice, Strawberries and Maple Syrup, Sausage and Eggs. I couldn't believe it!
We ate breakfast right there, together, in my new room. I couldn't stop smiling.
After that, Claire went outside to water her Negg Garden. Alex said that they had prepared part of the yard for my garden, and that I could plant whatever I wanted in it! Alex brought me into the bathroom and turned on the warm water in the bath, adding lots of bubble soap. He placed me into the water and massaged the dirt out of my fur and skin. I had forgotten how nice it was to be cleaned.
After that he rinsed me off and towel dried me. My fur was way too poofy, so he gently brushed me until I was sleek and shining all over.
"Now for the final touch," he said, and he handed me a Jeweled Black Collar. Grinning, I put it on. It fit perfectly!
"Thank you," I said, touching it.
"I'm glad you like it," Alex said. "Now I just need to organize some papers for a minute. The hospital will want to have a copy of your adoption certificate on file. Please, look around! And Leaf, welcome home."
I walked back to my room and explored my dresser and my closet. I even looked under my bed.
The living room had a Petpet Tank with a Ghoti in it (presumably Claire's petpet). The kitchen was stocked with food! Someone could live for months in here and not need to go to the store!
Finally, I went outside. The yard was beautiful! A huge oak tree provided shade, and it was so big and lush that Illusen must have blessed it herself. I saw a tilled piece of dirt that was to be my garden, and I began to imagine what I would plant. Vegetables, mostly, I figured.
Claire saw me and motioned me to come over and see her garden.
"These are my neggs," she said proudly. Every year I take good care of them, then I take the best ones to be shown at the Negg Festival. I've won quite a lot of ribbons!" she said.
"They're beautiful," I answered, sniffing a large Negg Flower.
"Here, eat this," she said, handing me a peculiar brown negg, dotted with black spots.
I took a bite.
"Wow, this is amazing!" I said, eating more. "What is it?"
"A cookie negg! They're my favorite."
"Claire! Leaf! Time to go!" Alex called. We both ran to him.
We walked to the Neopian Plaza, thankfully giving the pound a wide berth. The hospital waiting room was clean and orderly. Claire sat down to read a copy of the Neopian Times, while Alex and I walked up to the desk.
"Hello," Alex said. "I'm here to make an account and an appointment for Li_fhr290."
The Kougra nurse smiled. "Please fill out these forms, and the doctor will be with you in a minute."
I helped Alex fill in my medical information.
"Full name, Li_fhr290. Nickname, Leaf," he mumbled, writing it down. "Current gender, Female. Current color...," he looked up at me.
"Red," I insisted. I don't know why I was still lying. Perhaps I was worried he wouldn't want me if he discovered I was pink.
But he wrote Red down on the form.
"Have you ever changed species before?"
"No," I said.
"Have you ever changed genders before?"
"Yes," I admitted. "I was created a Male Aisha."
This fact about me didn't seem to faze him at all, although I felt strange telling it. I was a girl now, and I didn't want to go back to being a male, for some reason.
"Have you always been red?" Alex asked.
"No," I answered. "I started out yellow, then I was zapped into a robot, then I turned blue, and then I was painted red."
Alex wrote all this down.
"Do you remember when your last appointment was?"
"I've never been to the doctor's before," I said.
This shocked him more than the gender change. "Not even for a checkup? Not even when you're sick?"
"My past owners didn't really care about my health," I said.
He was silent for a moment.
"Leaf, I'm sure that's not true."
I shrugged my shoulders, and wiped my eyes. I didn't know why I was tearing up. I tried to hold it in.
Alex came over and hugged me. "It's okay, Leaf. I care about your health. I care about you, and I love you."
I hugged him back, and smiled. I wiped the tears off my cheeks.
"The doctor will see you now," the Nurse said.
The visit was rather short. A quick medical inspection showed that I was healthy, although I should try and gain back all the weight I lost in the pound.
That evening, Alex and I sat on Mystery Island Beach, watching Claire hunt for seashells.
"Leaf, I love you. I know you're a new member of this family, but it feels like you've always been with us," Alex said.
"I love you guys too." I sighed, leaning against him.
"Leaf, you're not really a red Aisha, are you?"
I paused, and sat up straight.
"Yes." I looked at him. He was smiling.
"I knew it! Tell me, when you were yellow, were you always a darker shade than normal?"
"Yes. It was ugly," I said.
"No, Leaf, no. You don't understand. I've been looking everywhere for a pet like you."
I glanced at him, then back at the sand.
"Why?" I asked.
"You're a special type of pet. You have more color in your fur than normal, which produces a darker shade. No matter what you're painted, your color will always be darker. It's why you look red when you're pink."
"But why does that matter?" I said.
"Here. Drink this," he said, taking a black potion out of his bag.
I sniffed it, questioningly.
"Trust me," he said.
I drank it, and watched my red fur darken.
My fur was black. As black and dark as space. Shiny, smooth, silky. It was beautiful.
"What was that?" I gasped.
"A Shadow Aisha Morphing Potion," Alex said. "Normal shadow pets are black, but nothing special. You, however, are the prettiest Shadow Aisha I've ever seen."
Once, I wanted to be light. But more than that, I wanted to be loved. But people everywhere lead me to believe I was something I was not. They made me think I was Li when I was actually Leaf.
Now, I am a Shadow Aisha. I am loved, even if I am a darker shade.