Have Muffin, Will Conquer
Pansy slammed her little Usul paws down on the table. The entire wooden frame shuddered, and a bit of tea splashed out of her cup and onto the tablecloth. “That’s it!” she said. She was staring intensely out the window, her red ruff particularly fluffed with indignation. “I won’t stand for this anymore.”
Her brother, a blue Bori named Sappy, looked up from his newspaper. He sighed. “What is it this time, Pansy? Grarrl stepping on your flowerbeds?”
“No,” Pansy said. “Worse.” She sat down in her chair and leaned conspiratorially over the table. “That new Acara across the street.”
“She’s running a bake sale.” Pansy stared deep into Sappy’s eyes, trying to convey soul-wrenching anguish. The Bori wrinkled his nose, then folded his newspaper and laid it neatly on the table. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Pansy stood up again. “It’s very first bake sale of the month of Gathering! Since we moved here, I’ve never missed an opening day. She took the opening bake sale, Sappy. She’s trying to one up me.”
“I never knew the bake sale was such a big deal to you,” Sappy said hesitantly. It was true that for the past three years, since they had moved to 2436 Rainbow Lane, Pansy had participated in the neighborhood bake sale. It was also true that she had only done so under their owner’s encouragement, and grudgingly, because ‘there was no reason to give perfectly good cookies to strangers.’ She had never made much money, but the stall had always garnered plenty of business thanks to Pansy’s whimsical decorating, which often included taped-on cutouts of butterflies and faeries. For the past two years running, Sappy had even helped out and made brownies to supplement Pansy’s large variety of cookies.
Pansy bit her lip. “In all honesty, Sappy,” she said, “I hadn’t realized how much the bake sale meant until she... she...” Pansy’s eyes were welling up with tears, but she pulled out just in time, slamming her tiny fist on the table again. This time, tea splattered everywhere and Sappy eyed his sodden newspaper with distaste. Pansy didn’t seem to notice, but instead said, “We can’t let her wreck our summer. Sappy, brownies!”
* * * * *
Very shortly after, Sappy found himself slaving over a stove melting chocolate while Pansy paced around the table like a dyed-in-the-wool drill sergeant. “Brownies first! Then we move on to cookies. Chocolate chip, lemon, and butterscotch. Finally,” and here her eyes were sly, “the cup of grace, chokato muffins.”
“I think you mean coup de grace, Pansy,” Sappy said, stirring the chocolate dutifully. It was slowly melting in the makeshift double boiler they had fashioned out of two of their owner’s pots.
“That,” Pansy said acidly, “doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we dethrone that yellow Acara and take back our rightful place as bakery moguls.”
After a few more moments of pacing, Pansy began to rifle through the cookbooks she had thrown onto the table. Whenever she found a recipe, she would cackle triumphantly and mark it before resuming her search for the others. In a few minutes, she had found all the recipes. “Sappy,” she said, “I’m going to go set up our stand. You keep working—I’ll check on your progress periodically. Think you can get the first batch of brownies out by two o’clock?” She was scrutinizing him. Sappy could feel her eyes boring into the back of his neck as he carefully beat the chocolate into a mixture of butter, sugar, and eggs, going slowly so that the eggs wouldn’t seize.
“I’ll get them done.” Sappy grimaced privately to himself as Pansy exited the room, already muttering to herself about decoration details. The brownie mixture was soon finished and in the oven, spread thick in three small square pans, sprinkled generously with white chocolate chips. Sappy always made a triple batch for the bake sale. As soon as the brownies were in the oven, he turned to start the next recipe—lemon cookies—but a terrible shriek stopped him in his tracks. The Bori looked out the kitchen window, seeing for the first time what Pansy had done.
Already, the garden was saturated with ribbons. Each flower stem was bedecked with a separate ribbon, and over the top of each of Pansy’s carefully tended shrubs peeked a garden gnome. In front, there was a stand—more like a series of tables, really—covered with white tablecloths and several shakerfuls of glitter. Just past the glittering tables, Sappy could see Amanda’s simple setup on the sidewalk in front of her house. She had a single table and two types of cookies. The table was round and a white tablecloth slipped gracefully over the edges, ruffling at just the right places, to make the scene simple and serene. Sappy sighed and began to zest the first of five lemons.
It wasn’t long before Sappy began to send the cookies out on the house, arranged on large platters they kept in the cupboards particularly for this occasion. They were on plates by type. First came the brownies, and shortly after them, the first batch of lemon cookies. Already, Pansy had set up a sign in front of the tables and had a cash box discreetly nestled against one side of the innermost table’s legs. She stood behind the center table rubbing her bright red tail-bow for good luck. Sappy scrutinized her from the kitchen window as he doled out chokato muffin batter. She was always nervous at the start of bake sale, but by the time the third customer arrived, she had fallen into the swing of things. It would be so this time, just as always.
But the first few customers came and went, and Pansy still periodically rubbed her bow. She was shifting from paw to paw and occasionally glancing back at the window. At such times, Sappy ducked his head down to his mixing. The afternoon wore on, and it had a pale glare to it. It was the end of summer, and these were lazy days. Pets were outside, walking languidly along the sidewalk, weak-willed and hungry. It was prime time for cookie selling.
It wasn’t until four o’clock, when the sun was beginning to fall and clouds on the horizon were ushering in unforgivingly muggy heat that Sappy had finished with his baking. He came outside with the last plates of muffins and cookies settled on his arms and carefully set them down on the tables, trying to arrange them so that each table had an equal amount of goods.
“She’s not budging.” Pansy stood behind the center table, a sentry of doom, her lower lip set in a pout.
“What do you mean?” Sappy came around and stood by his sister.
“I mean—well, just look at her!” Pansy pointed with an accusing paw. Across the street, Amanda was sitting behind her table, eyeing Pansy’s table curiously. Where before, her table had been laden with goodies, now it was moderately graced, and when Sappy thought about it, he realized that the Acara had been the one doing the rousing business, not Pansy’s stall.
“I don’t think you should take it so hard. You’ve done well in the past. Maybe it’s time to pass the torch.” Sappy doubted his platitudes would appease his sister, but he offered them hopefully.
“No,” Pansy said, shaking her head slowly. “No, I can see it in her eyes.” She narrowed her own blue eyes, watching the Acara. “She wants a war, she’s going to get a war.”
Sappy nearly protested, but Pansy had a stubborn look on her face. It was a look that Sappy knew all too well. When Pansy set her mind to something, she did it. Fyora help them.
* * * * *
That night was miserable. The rain finally broke over Neopia, and Pansy spent most of the evening pacing back and forth in the living room, occasionally looking out the windows, past the rain drizzling down the windowpanes and into Amanda’s house. The yellow Acara had long since packed up her table—she had taken the cookies in at five thirty, and when it started to rain she had packed up the table as well. Pansy had stayed outside until seven, hoping for more customers. The rain had drenched her setup, and the cookies were just barely saved.
By nine, Pansy had collapsed on the couch with a headache, still doing calculations in her head. She made Sappy her scribe and by the time she fell into an exhausted sleep, he had jotted down a full three pages worth of notes for the next day’s opening. Sappy left her on the couch and went up to his own bed.
The morning wasn’t much better. When Sappy came downstairs, Pansy was spooning up the last of her cereal. “Sappy,” she mumbled, “we need more muffins.” She swallowed and drained her milk hurriedly. “Also, I think we’d do better business with five types of cookies, so I think you’d better make some chocolate ones. Maybe some walnut ones, as well. We need backup!”
She scurried out the door and Sappy rubbed his eyes sleepily. “What?” he murmured. The day went downhill rapidly from there. Almost every hour, Pansy would scutter inside the house and update Sappy on the state of sales. She counted every cookie that left her table, and every cookie that left Amanda’s. At one such interval, she came inside. “It’s noon, Sappy,” Pansy said. “We’re at fifteen to three today. I don’t think we can make up this difference.”
“All it takes is a small rash of customers,” Sappy said calmly, opening the oven and removing a batch of walnut cookies. “One Skeith with an appetite could even you out, or even put you in the lead! Don’t look so down.” He proffered one of the newly baked cookies. “Come on,” he said. “Taste it. We have a fighting chance with walnut.” He smiled at her softly, not really knowing why he was saying what he was saying. But he loved her. He knew that much.
The Usul looked at him with tired eyes. “I didn’t sleep well last night,” she said, taking the cookie. “I kept thinking about her winning.” She took a bite, chewed for a moment, and then nodded, regaining some of her pep. “Two more batches of these,” she said thoughtfully. “I think we’ll make it big.”
“We’re gonna make it big this year, Sappy,” Pansy said. Her voice was a bit harder, and she clutched at the cookie as she stood. “I have to go back out. I think I see customers!” With that, she left, taking another bite of the cookie and then throwing it back down on the table, streaming crumbs. Sappy watched her go, then shook his head and went back to work.
At the end of the night, Pansy was tallying her sales. “So if we carry the two, that brings us up past five thousand Neopoints.” She looked up at Sappy. “Are you paying attention?” she said. “It looks as if you’re falling asleep.”
Sappy cracked an eye open. He had rested his head on the table and had been slowly kneading his temples. “I’m doing my best to fall asleep,” he said.
“Well, if you haven’t heard the rest of what I’m saying, then listen to this. I’ve been tallying customers at both our shops, as you know. My prices are cheaper, but I think we’re finally up to neck and neck.” Pansy tapped at the paper with her pencil authoritatively. “According to my calculations, we’re at five thousand, two hundred Neopoints, and that Acara’s only at fifty-five hundred. A three hundred Neopoint lead. Assuming we can keep this up for another day or two to finish out the week, we should be ahead and be able to maintain our superior goody-baking status! On that note, we’re going to need to replenish the walnut and the chocolate chip cookies. They were a big hit today.” Pansy beamed a benevolent smile down on Sappy. “I know it’s hard work, but you’re really making a difference.”
Sappy sighed, pushing himself up off the table. He looked straight at his Usul sister. “Pansy,” he said. “I think you should just give Amanda a rest. She thought it’d be fun to do a bake sale. She’s new, and probably didn’t know about your previous history. I’m doubtful she knows your temperament. She probably just thinks it’s fun, and frankly, if I were her and saw you standing around over here with your gaudy cookie display, I think I’d be a little creeped out. You’re staring at her all day, Pansy!”
“Well.” Pansy sniffed. “It’s a living.”
“I’m going to make you a deal,” Sappy said. “I will bake for you one more day, and then you call this whole thing off. I can’t take all this time to just bake cookies to help you win a self-imposed war on Amanda—who happens to be a perfectly normal, rational, and nice Acara. She’s not doing this to spite you. You know that, don’t you?”
“Spite breeds spite,” Pansy said. “Thus she must have spited me first.” She folded up her notepaper with an air of finality and scootched her chair back from the table. “I’m going to go get some sleep, Sappy. I recommend you do too. It’s going to be another big day tomorrow.” With that, she left the room with the swag of a much-decorated general on the road to conquest.
* * * * *
The next morning dawned unwilling and streaky, clouds spattering the horizon. Pansy was unfazed. “Sappy,” she said over their breakfast of orange juice and eggs, “she’ll back down today. She has to.” The Usul swirled her orange juice around in her cup, then drained the whole glass down. “She’ll realize that she’s no competition for us and run crying to her owner.”
“Pansy,” Sappy said uncomfortably, “that’s not very nice.”
“This whole ordeal isn’t very nice, is it? That’s the pain of war.”
Sappy watched Pansy curiously, trying to assess how she felt. Today she was confident and brash—but underneath, Sappy could see exhaustion. She was really a nice Usul, and extending her wrath over such a long time was physically taxing. Sappy had to admit, he didn’t feel the best either. Extended cookie baking could get to a guy.
At about noon, Pansy came in for a quick lunch. In between bites of her sandwich, she discussed the situation with Sappy. “She’s finally cowing,” Pansy said. “She knows she’s not getting any business. We have seven types of cookies and she only has two. She’s on a hill, we’re on the level ground. We have superior status as bakers.” She picked a piece of lettuce out of her sandwich and looked at it suspiciously before taking another ravenous bite. “I think you’re right about calling it quits today, Sappy. We’ll win today anyway, and there’s no need to waste supplies.”
“Because it’s the war that matters and not the patrons,” Sappy said dryly.
“Of course,” Pansy said. She popped the last quarter of her sandwich into her mouth and for a moment, her cheeks bulged until she managed to swallow. “I gotta get back out there,” she said. “My public awaits.”
This time, Sappy was slower to get up than normal. He sat at the table for a while, his lunch long gone. He began to stroke his chin with his claws and then, for an instant, his eyes lit up. “Of course!” he said. “She would never change her mind of her own accord.” He leapt out of his chair and slipped out the back door as quietly as he could.
* * * * *
Pansy squinted her eyes against the setting Neopian sun. The heat was intense and the glare off her table was maddening. Still, she only had a little bit of time left before the sunset finished and the day was over, and she was determined to make it through. Amanda had left her table a few hours back. It was always the last slog that was the hardest.
Then, somewhere through the glare, she saw movement. She would have thought it was another customer, except for the fact that it was coming from across the road. There were very few customers that did that. In fact, the object—it was materializing through the sun’s glare—looked to be Amanda. Pansy let her paws fall behind the table and clenched them into tightly wadded fists. There would be no pleasantries. This was war. What was the Acara up to, anyway? Deep in the recesses of her mind, Pansy firmed her resolve to not back down. She would win. There was no other option. But her heart trembled as the Acara came closer.
“Pansy?” Amanda hesitated only slightly before continuing. “I wanted to introduce myself. I’m new around here.”
“I know who you are,” Pansy said. She crossed her arms. It was strange to see her enemy face to face. She had been waiting for it all this time, but only now did she realize she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready at all.
“Your brother explained to me that you have a bake sale every year,” Amanda continued. “I honestly didn’t know that you felt so strongly on the subject.”
Pansy smiled weakly. “W-well, I only realized it recently, myself.” Why in Neopia was she being civil? She certainly hadn’t intended to be, but it all came flooding out her mouth abominably fast. And what about Sappy? Pansy brushed it out of her mind. Insignificant for the time being. She had to concentrate on the here and now.
The Acara was already forging ahead. “I was thinking. Maybe we could team up. You could teach me the ropes, since you’ve done this so much.”
Amanda’s voice was shaky. With a sudden rush of excitement, Pansy realized that the Acara was nervous. And she was asking for help! The red Usul subliminally cancelled the war. It was no longer needed. The present had changed. “I would love that!” she squeaked, her moment of introspection already over. “We could have focus sessions at the end of the night to see what we could do better! We could put up ads all over the neighborhood! We could start up our own bakery.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Amanda said, giggling. “But you like the idea, then? Do you think it could work?”
“Let’s start right away,” Pansy said. “We’ll need to decide where we’ll keep our station, and what we’ll name it. We should set up in two different streets to cover a larger area. This will be the biggest thing to ever have hit Neopia, no holds barred—!”
Sappy slipped back into the kitchen via the back door. For the last time, he peered out the kitchen window. All it took was a few words. Amanda hadn’t known. Of course she hadn’t. She was new. Still, now that the Acara had taken the first step, Pansy had picked up on it and was already waving her paws excitedly about above her head. Amanda was smiling. Pansy was smiling. The tension was gone. Communication was all it had taken.
“My idea,” Sappy said under his breath. He turned from the window just as the last of the sunlight slipped over the horizon and the world succumbed to night. As he sat down at the table with the day’s newspaper, he heard Pansy’s voice faintly through the window, high-pitched and happy once again. He smiled.
For previous stories featuring Pansy and Sappy, take a peek at issues 258 and 317. Hope you enjoy!