Rosie is five when she runs away for the first time.
She's upset, having fought with her sister Lucy over a plushie, so she scoops up her most treasured Usuki doll and her favourite blue cap and storms out of the door. It isn't very well-planned, more of a heat of the moment kind of thing, but she doesn't care; she just runs and runs and runs until she feels her legs turning to jelly beneath her.
Then she stumbles towards the Rainbow Pool, collapsing down onto the wall and gasping for air. She doesn't feel quite so angry anymore, but Rosie is stubborn and she won't go home so soon after her daring dash for freedom. So she sits on the wall, watching as the other pets splash around in the water, their owners laughing and smiling as they paint them exotic colours like faerie and gold and biscuit.
The idea of being a biscuit isn't very appealing to Rosie, but she would much prefer it to being the boring old blue Usul that she is. She watches enviously as a Kyrii steps out of the pool, now a beautiful royal girl. The Kyrii catches her looking and glares at her as if to say, “How dare you rest your common eyes upon such transcendent beauty as mine?”
Rosie looks away, irritated to feel the hot flush of embarrassment creeping through her cheeks.
She sits there for a long time, hugging her Fun in the Sun Usuki to her chest and staring, wide-eyed, as the rest of the world goes by. Rosie isn't quite sure what to do now. She could go home with her giant, fluffy, metaphorical tail between her legs and risk Lucy shouting at her, or worse, laughing, but that doesn't seem like such a great idea. Then again, the light has started to fade as evening rolls around, and Rosie doesn't have anywhere else to go.
A few minutes pass as Rosie lets herself fantasize about running to the pound, where the kindly pink Uni will help her find a wonderful, rich new owner who will paint her a beautiful colour and give her mountains of plushies and there won't be any annoying siblings like Lucy. She will be the apple of her new owner's eye.
Of course, even Rosie, at five years old, knows her plan would never work. She's heard all about the pound from Lucy, who was adopted from there. It's nasty, she says, and no one wants to adopt you unless you're painted a pretty colour.
Rosie isn't painted a pretty colour. She decides it's time to go home.
Lucy is furious when she comes home. She shouts at Rosie for a long time, but Rosie knows she is just relieved to see her home and safe. She can read her sister like a book – but that doesn't mean they get along. It's rare to find them not fighting with each other. Eventually, Lucy stops yelling and tells Rosie to go to bed, so she does.
Rosie lies awake, staring at the ceiling for a long time. Later, she hears Lucy come in. “Don't ever do that to me again,” whispers the Grundo, apparently thinking Rosie is asleep.
I won't, Rosie wants to say. I promise, I didn't mean to, I just want to be friends, but she is asleep before she can say any of it.
It's four years before Rosie pulls another stunt like that.
Lucy is shouting at her for being vain and shallow. “We just can't afford fancy paintbrushes and pretty petpets!” she screams. “You're so selfish, always thinking about yourself! Why don't you think about some else for a change?” her sister demands.
Rosie looks at Lucy. She is a plain green Grundo. She wouldn't understand. Grundos are ugly anyway, Rosie thinks to herself thinks, and no paintbrush could make her sister look good.
She doesn't say this out loud.
Instead, Rosie waits. She waits until everyone else has gone to sleep. Then she grabs her Blue Cybunny Backpack and fills it with clothes, a bottle of water and an omelette she swiped from the kitchen earlier. This time, she decides, she won't come home after a few hours. This time she's going to do it properly. Then Lucy will be sorry she was so horrible to her. She only wishes she had some neopoints to take with her as well.
Briefly, she remembers the time she ran away four years ago, remembers how Lucy was distraught beneath the layers of anger. A spike of guilt stabs at her heart, but Rosie ignores it. She pulls her backpack over her shoulders, slides her feet into her blue shoes (bought from the General Store, they can't afford any of the fancy shops) and slips out of the open window. Her bedroom is on the bottom floor so she easily lands on the ground outside and sets off into the darkness.
She manages to stay away from her house for a full two weeks this time, relying on the Soup Faerie's kindness and occasionally coming across a small bag of neopoints at the Money Tree. Soon she has enough neopoints to check into the cheapest room at the Neolodge. It's a nasty place, and Rosie is fairly certain there are roaches living inside her mattress, but it's a roof over her head and Rosie can just about bear it.
It is lonely, though.
She won't go home, though. It's not about the paintbrush anymore; it's a matter of principle. This is a battle of wills between herself and Lucy, and Rosie is sure she is going to emerge victorious. She lies on top of her dirty mattress, staring at the ceiling, suddenly reminded of a time four years ago when she lay in this exact same position just after running away.
Rosie sits up abruptly and storms out of her room, not entirely sure where she's going or why the guilt she's feeling is now so strong she can hardly stand it. It's Lucy who should feel guilty, for being so mean to her. Is it too much to ask for one measly little paintbrush, just to save Rosie the humiliation of walking around as a plain red Usul?
Rosie whirls around at the voice, startled to see the receptionist of the Neolodge, a stunning faerie Wocky, calling to her. “Yes?” she replies, a little unnerved as she walks up to the desk which the receptionist sits behind.
“You know a green Grundo?”
Rosie doesn't reply. If she were a faerie Wocky, she thinks to herself, she wouldn't be working at the nastiest Neolodge around. She smiles, imagining herself soaring through the clouds, up, up, up, away from Lucy and all of the problems that came with her.
Oh. Lucy. Right. She must have been here.
“Well, do ya?” The receptionist obviously thinks Rosie is a bit dim, because she is now speaking ever-so-slowly, carefully enunciating every word.
“Um... no.” The lie slides from Rosie's tongue easily, and she doesn't even have time to feel guilty about it.
The Wocky nods disbelievingly. “Only, there was one round here earlier, askin' after ya.” She watches Rosie carefully for her reaction.
Oh sweet Fyora, is she in trouble. “Oh... well, thanks,” Rosie says to the receptionist. She saunters casually out of the Neolodge, careful to keep up the appearance of being utterly unconcerned.
The second she is free of the door she breaks into a sprint, running as fast as her measly little Usul legs will carry her. She skids to a halt beside the Rainbow Fountain and looks around. A royal girl Kyrii steps out of the fountain, like one so many years before her, and Rosie thinks that absolutely nothing has changed, nothing, and she certainly doesn't want to go home.
She is definitely not lonely.
Staring around wildly, Rosie catches sight of Lucy. A plain green Grundo, and yet Rosie can recognise her immediately. She freezes suddenly. She doesn't want to see Lucy. She doesn't.
However, it seems Lucy wants to see her. And she does. The Grundo catches sight of her and her face only registers shock for a full five seconds before she runs towards Rosie and suddenly Rosie realises she doesn't want to run away anymore. She doesn't want a fancy paintbrush or nice clothes and pretty toys. She wants her sister.
Lucy can't seem to stop herself in time and ploughs straight into Rosie, knocking them both to the ground. With the distraction Lucy has so readily provided, Rosie could easily turn and run away, but she doesn't. She simply sits there, staring at her sister in abject amazement.
She wants to go home.
Hours later, the two sisters sit in front of the fire in their Neohome, just enjoying being in each other's company again. For once, they aren't butting heads over something.
Eventually, Lucy speaks. “I got you something,” she says, and stands up. She walks over to a shelf, one of the few pieces of furniture in the room, and picks up a Starry paintbrush. Rosie watches in astonishment as Lucy comes back over and places it in Rosie's lap. “I mean, if it means so much to you... I figured it was worth it.”
Rosie stares at the paintbrush. She pictures herself, brightly coloured blue and yellow, finally happy with herself. Then she pictures Lucy. Lucy, who probably scrimped and saved for months to buy this paintbrush for her spoilt little sister. Lucy, who never once stopped looking for her. She smiles and hands it back to her sister.
“You use it.”