The Painted Pets Club: Part Three
The air was brisk and chilly, just the way she liked it. The sun was almost beginning to set behind the barren trees, and Corridors made the walk to her locker alone. She clutched her pad of election notes to her chest, shivering, but not due to the cold.
Did Stacy hate her now? Was this really what their friendship had been reduced to? Had it all been her fault?
As she dialed her combination number she heard jeering from around the corner of the school building. Curious, she peeped around the wall. There was a little crowd of neopets- she squinted. A large, golden blob, and a skinny greyish figure... Skitters and Greg. There were a couple of painted pets as well, apparently from the lower ranks of the PPC.
She closed her locker and hurriedly walked across the courtyard, making sure not to look at or make eye contact with the group. But as she passed, she heard a familiar whiny little voice, now plaintive, “Leave me alone!”
"You’re an awfully scrawny Pteri, aren’t you,” stated a mean-looking Christmas Zafara.
The green Pteri had been separated from his flock, and now the predators were closing in. Stacy cringed from remembering those times she had had to face Skitters and Greg, but she couldn’t let her little brother be teased. No, of all of things.
Marching up to the group, she felt her heart beat faster.
“Give me back my stuff!” protested the Pteri as his backpack was wrested from him.
“What do you think you’re DOING?” screamed Cori angrily, shoving aside Greg and Skitters and marching into the circle. “You stupid little nincompoops! You want to beat up my brother? HUH? NO!! GO AWAY!”
She yanked the backpack away from a surprised Camouflage Shoyru and grabbed her brother’s wing, dragging him away on the ground back to home.
Her bedroom window was open to the night air. The stars twinkled luminously in the sky like diamonds, Kreludor hanging perfectly in the dark like a pendant. Cori sat at her desk, scribbling war plans for the election before crossing them out and furrowing her brows. She sighed and kneaded her forehead. She barely heard the swoosh of wings or the barely audible thump of a certain Shoyru landing on her windowsill.
“How’s it going?”
“SANDERS! I haven’t seen you in a long time.” She got up to give the Shoyru a big hug. Then she collapsed back in her swivel chair and groaned.
“Sanders! What’s happening to me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m in such a mess... Somehow, I’m running for student president. Me! Can you believe it? Miss Unpopular. And I’m running against Stacy, and she hates me, and I don’t know what to do!” She raked her paws through her mane in an upward direction, creating a comical faux-hawk. “Sanders...”
The yellow Shoyru listened to her tirade calmly.
“Sanders, do you think I’ve changed?”
Sanders calmly swished his tail back and forth.
“Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t,” he said, frustratingly enigmatically, “But I have to admit, you treat others differently now.”
“No, I don’t!” protested Cori.
“Stacy, for one.”
Cori couldn’t think of any response to that.
“What should I do?” she whispered. Sanders hopped onto her bed and made himself comfortable. He took out an apple from nowhere and began to munch on it.
“You should do what you think is right.”
Cori paused, swiveled back in her chair, and stared at her wall in thought.
“But for the future of our school, let the Wocky do the Talky and vote Stacy for president! Thank you!”
There was a ripple of laughter and tumultuous cheering. The entire auditorium resonated with applause, whistles, and enthusiastic yells. Only the island of PPC supporters remained silent and unanimated.
“Yeah, Stacy! Let’s go, Stacy!”
Cori had to admit that Stacy’s speech had been brilliant. It was eloquent, well-written and meaningful. With the help of her large crowd of friends, many of whom Cori knew personally, she had set up a powerful campaign.
For the past few months, the school seemed to have split into factions. The PPC rejects joined the non-painted pets, or pets that opposed the PPC on principle. When Cori walked down the hall, she often met the stares of her past friends. Some looked at her sadly, others in confusion, and a few brushed past her without acknowledgment.
Sitting in the first row reserved for election runners, she turned back to look at her new group of friends. Some were whispering and joking to each other, others were sneering; a good majority looked bored; Seraphina and Orleandus weren’t even paying attention, off in their own little world. She exhaled shakily and clutched her speech notes.
“You okay?” Next to her, Zach, who was running for treasurer, put a concerned paw on her shoulder. Cori smiled at him gratefully. He nodded.
“You can do this.”
She nodded and took a deep breath. The announcer’s voice boomed deep and distant.
Please give a hand for our next runner for student body president, Corridors!
Stacy alighted from the stage and passed in front of them. Cori grabbed her paw.
“Good job,” she whispered. Stacy looked confused, but her expression softened.
“Thanks...,” she whispered back. “Good luck.”
The lights on stage were bright and hot. Cori looked out at the audience, visible despite the glare. She took in all the faces, felt the weight of all eyes on her.
“I never thought I’d be up here, running for student body president.” She paused, mustered a breath.
“I don’t know how many of you remember me the way I used to be, or what I used to look like. I wasn’t always a faerie Xweetok. I used to be a blue Moehog. A perfectly ordinary, blue Moehog.” The crowd rose slowly to life, rustling with whispers. She saw Seraphina and Orleandus exchange a comment. Many of the PPC members looked at her incredulously.
“Yeah, that Cori? That was me.”
“I realize now that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but I was so shy, and afraid, and I never thought that I could speak in front of a crowd, much less ask a crowd to vote for me against my best friend.”
The noise began to crescendo as the crowd’s whispering broke into murmuring.
“I’ve known Stacy since we were in our first year of Neoschool. I remember our first fight, when we both wanted this green crayon shaped like a mootix.” There were some laughs in the crowd.
“I thought it was the coolest thing. It sounds so stupid, right? Well, it was. Fighting with your best friend is stupid, because you aren’t thinking about how much they really matter to you, and only in hindsight do you realize just how dumb you were being, just how much you would regret it if they weren’t in your life anymore.” Cori looked out in the audience, and picked out Stacy’s face in the crowd. Tears were threatening to leak out of her friend’s eyes.
“The person who saw me for who I am, who accepted me flaws and all, with or without an expensive paint job, was Stacy. She held me up through all the good times, and the bad. She’s the most responsible, big-hearted, warm and caring person I know. She deserves this position. One hundred percent of the way. I know that she would do her best every day, and that... that she’d be the best student body president ever in the history of Neoschool. Stacy, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for treating you the way I did.”
Her voice cracking, unable to look at her any longer, she turned to the PPC.
“To the PPC, I’m sorry too. But I can’t stand back and watch this anymore. We’re not any more special than anyone else here. It’s wrong to treat another pet any differently, or reject them because their coat colour isn’t expensive enough. We’re all the same. And if we all just stood back and realized this, we could find some of the best friends that we never got the chance to know before. A pet’s worth isn’t determined by how expensive our coat is, or if we’re a Draik, or a Krawk. It’s the kind of person we are that matters.
With her heart pounding, head reeling, Cori walked uneasily off the stage, and returned to her seat. She buried her face into her paws, as Zach wrapped his arms around her in a hug.
Behind her in the audience, a figure stood up in his seat. The solitary green Pteri began to clap. Then his flock stood up and applauded, and soon the auditorium began to shake and roar with thunderous applause. Cori looked up, surprised, but was tackled into a violent hug by a whirlwind of red fur. Tears blinded her vision. She had never been so happy to be crushed in a suffocating hug.
After a while, the PPC began to disintegrate as increasingly more pets began to mingle and find its services no longer necessary. It shrank into a small group consisting of Orleandus, Seraphina, and a few others, but everyone just leaves them alone. I have my friends back, and my self back. Even Sanders is proud of me. Stacy won the election, of course, and is now serving as our proud president, attending to affairs justly and reasonably. Ironically, she also got painted. She is now proud and pink. My owner Roni recently won her first Art Gallery trophy, and she shines it constantly. She finally found her knack for winning art contests. Box is still his little monster self, and as for me? I started a new group with Zach called PCAP, Pet Clothing Awareness Program. We collect clothes and run semi-annual fashion shows, to encourage pets to express themselves through style. But really, it’s just a lot of fun. Even Greg and Skitters joined.
“Cori, what are you thinking about?” Stacy poked me from the side. “C’mon! The sun’s almost setting.”
“Hey, deep thinker,” teased Zach. “You ready?”
There was a small group of us gathered around the wishing well. The sunset painted the sky beautiful pinks and oranges, like a faerie Pteri’s rainbow feathers. We all reached into our pockets and took out neopoints.
“Is everyone ready?” asked Stacy. Everyone nodded. “Well then, make a wish!”
She smiled quietly, then tossed her neopoints in. They made a splish sound at the bottom. One by one, we tossed them in. Splish. Splosh. SPLASH.
I thought of everything that had happened this year, and smiled at my friends.
I thought of Goldena and the faeries in the little clover everglade, and I thought, No, I really couldn’t be happier.
“Thank you for everything,” I thought, then let my neopoints drop into the well.