Laizabel shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the first bell rang and students began to file in through the small door on the other side of the room. Slowly chairs were filled, and as one by one the students took their assigned seats Laizabel grew more irritated. She was so busy burning a hole into her desk with the strongest glare she could muster that Laizabel hardly heard as the teacher addressed a new student. Her ears perked, however, when she heard the sound of the chair next to her scraping across the dirty floor and a Neopet sitting down in it.
"Hey!" she started, but cut herself off as she realized that the Neopet wasn't the beautiful pink Kougra named Lilac who normally sat there, and who Laizabel was currently looking for. Instead a face much like her own stared back. Only instead of white fur and black stripes, she had black fur and white stripes. It was a skunk Xweetok.
"Who are you?" Laizabel spat, her annoyance reaching maximum levels. "You're not Lilac! Get out of her seat."
The skunk Xweetok just blinked, a guilty look flashing through her eyes. She'd opened her mouth to say something when the teacher interrupted, banging her ruler on the desk as she called class to attention.
"Laizabel! I won't have anyone talking to a new student like that. Class, this is Brittney; she'll be joining us every day from now on."
Laizabel grumbled, slouching down in her chair and crossing her arms as she began glaring at the desk again. The new girl, Brittney, shot her one last look before returning her attention to the teacher, book open to take notes.
The white Xweetok sighed, relaxing her shoulders as she switched her gaze from the desk to out the window at Neopian Central. She'd never been one for taking notes, or doing all her classwork. Today, however, was worse than usual, as her thoughts were clouded with stress. Lilac hadn't shown up as she promised. The pink Kougra had borrowed money from Laizabel last week, 20,000 neopoints to be exact. Lilac had begged and pleaded, claiming she needed just a few more neopoints before she could reach her goal of a faerie paint brush. Laizabel had caved in as the Kougra had promised to pay her back Monday... But it was Monday and Lilac hadn't come to school.
Fear gnawed at Laizabel's stomach. Fear of Lilac never coming to neoschool, never paying her back. The Xweetok had earned all 20,000 neopoints herself, playing games and restocking a little every day as she saved up for a specific dress she wanted more than anything. Now she was back at zero, with little hope of being paid back. To make matters worse, she'd taken her anger out on the new girl. Glancing to her right, Laizabel saw that the poor girl was writing notes diligently, but looked extremely awkward and uncomfortable sitting in a classroom full of strangers. She'd never seen the Xweetok in town before. It was small so everyone usually knew everyone else. But Brittney was a mystery to her.
Slowly Laizabel turned towards the teacher and tried to focus on the lesson, instead of the dreadful feeling creeping through her mind. It was still possible Lilac could return tomorrow; until then, Laizabel had to keep cool.
Hours passed and finally the bell signaling an end to the school day rang, and all at once Neopets jumped up eager to get home to their families. Quietly Laizabel packed her books and flung her bag over her shoulders. She was the last to leave the class, wishing the teacher a good day and padding out onto the lawn. She wasn't in any rush to be home. Usually Laizabel would browse the shops before heading home, but she just didn't have the heart today. Worry still nagged at her; Lilac had never shown up as she had been hoping.
She sighed and continued walking at her snail pace when she saw a smudge of black in the corner of her eye. Turning, she realized it was Brittney, who was walking even slower than herself. She looked sad, her tail drooping and her head sunk close to the ground. Without really thinking, Laizabel ran over. She still felt bad for the way she had treated the Xweetok.
"Hey, Brittney!" she called, panting at the effort of catching up to her. "What's up? You look sad."
"O-oh, hi... Lizabell, was it?" she stammered, clearly bewildered that the white Xweetok would even speak to her, much less seek her out.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know!" Brittney gasped and Laizabel rolled her eyes good-naturally.
"Don't worry about it, what's wrong? You don't look excited to go home."
Brittney's eyes darkened and her head drooped again, looking as sad as a grey pet.
"W-well, that's because..."
"Because why?" Laizabel asked, urging her forward.
"I don't have a home... I'm in the pound."
Laizabel gasped, feeling stupid for saying anything at all and then pushing Brittney to answer. She hadn't meant to be nosey; she had just wanted to start up conversation!
"I'm so sorry, Brittney!"
She gave Laizabel a weary smile, trying to appear cheerful, but not doing a good job as the two lapsed into an awkward silence, only broken by the sound of their paw steps as they walked side by side through Neopia Central.
"Look, Brittney, I wanted to tell you I was sorry for this morning. I didn't mean to snap at you and I hope you'll forgive me." Laizabel stopped, turning to give Brittney the most meaningful look she could muster, to let her know she meant the apology. "I was stressed and I took it out on you, and it wasn't right of me."
Brittney blinked, her eyes lighting up a bit as she gave a small, but real, smile. "It's okay, Laizabel."
The two kept walking together, passing Laizabel's house and the pound several times. Laizabel explained to Brittney how Lilac, the Kougra who normally sat in that seat, had borrowed money from her and how she needed it back. She described the dress she wanted and saw her own excitement mirrored in the skunk Xweetok's eyes. They talked about how Brittney had ended up in the pound, and that she'd been in there so long they decided she couldn't miss anymore school. Slowly the two became good friends and even as dark began tainting the sky and they had to part, their heads hit the pillows thinking of all the topics they'd talk about the next day. And maybe the day after that.
Days did pass and the two Xweetoks grew closer and closer. It started with just talking, to Brittney being invited to stay over to shopping together on weekends. They were inseparable, the first real friend either had ever had. They joked how they were opposites, and it must be true that opposites attract because even though they were different even in personality they'd clicked so fast.
It was Saturday afternoon and Laizabel was walking down Neopian Central with her brother Vaid, a Tyrannian Kougra. Their owner Rellexia had sent them to pick up some groceries and since Laizabel wasn't big enough to carry them all back on their own, she'd sent Vaid with her. They were making their way to the food store, bickering good naturally when Laizabel caught sight of purple colored feathers.
"Lilac!" she called, running up to the faerie Kougra and leaving Vaid behind though he soon caught up to stand next to his sister.
"Oh hello, Laizabel, how are you doing?" Lilac turned, looking as calm and beautiful as a crystal lake. Gone was her tacky, hot pink fur and her boring stripes. Now she had purple fur, matching her name that blended into feathers as her shoulders gave way to her wings. Her eyes shimmered with a new depth and Laizabel found herself lost looking in them.
"You owe me money," she stated flatly.
"I do?" Lilac gasped. "Laizabel, darling, I was under the impression you had given me the neopoints."
The Xweetok stiffened, anger glowing in her eyes as Vaid beside her hissed, clearly not pleased anyone would rip off his sister like that.
"No! Lilac, you said you'd pay me back!" she screamed, attracting a few odd stares from passersby. She didn't care, though; she was angry and hurt. Lilac had been her friend since the beginning of the year, but clearly she'd misjudged her.
"Oh, Laizabel... there's nothing I can do now we've already used them to buy my paintbrush!" she said blinking. "My owner's calling me, I must go. I'm sorry, Laiza." With that the Kougra took off, flapping her new wings and taking off from the ground in a flurry of wind and fur. Laizabel was left looking down at the ground in defeat with her brother nudging her on, trying to tell her it'd be okay.
She didn't feel like it'd be okay, though. It'd taken her weeks to earn those neopoints all by herself and she just couldn't bear the thought of having to start all over again. She had to accept she wasn't going to get the dress, and that felt like an even bigger defeat, as if it said she'd never be able to earn anything she wanted.
Laizabel dragged herself through the rest of that day, and the following day after that up until Monday morning when she arrived for Neoschool. She sighed sadly as she fell into her chair, the last to show up. Brittney shot her a worried look, but before she could say anything the teacher started class.
It seemed to Laizabel like an eternity before the final bell ended, but when she turned to talk to Brittney she saw the Xweetok rushing to pack her bag.
"I'm sorry I've got to hurry back today, and I won't be here tomorrow. But we'll see each other soon, I promise!" she blurted, giving Laizabel a quick hug before dashing out of the room and leaving her counterpart behind. Laizabel sat in her seat, feeling more sad and alone than ever.
The next day she tried to play hooky, saying she had a horrible stomachache and couldn't go to school, but Rellexia wasn't buying it. So, rushing to get ready and skipping breakfast, she arrived at school at the last second, grumbling as she sat in her chair. The desk next to her seemed too cold, empty of its usual occupant.
Laizabel sniffed sadly, missing her friend and still hurt over the entire thing with Lilac. She was lost in her sea of doubt and unhappiness when something inside of her desk caught her eye. It was a small pouch with a ragged piece of paper attached. She reached inside, holding the paper close so she could read the pretty handwriting, written in pink pen.
Hey Laizabel, I'm so sorry I couldn't be here today. The pound's releasing some of the older pets to the public, which includes me! So I have to attend a sort of open house.
But that's not why I'm writing. See this pouch? It has 5,000 neopoints inside. I know it's not much, and I tried really hard, but this is all I could get. I figured it was better than nothing!
I saw what happened Saturday, with Lilac. I'm sorry I didn't come up to you then. I didn't... really know what to do. You looked so hopeless. But there is hope, okay? You don't have to start from scratch anymore! See you soon, Brittney
Laizabel finished the short note, her eyes blurring up with tears as she hugged the small pouch close. It had been exactly what she needed, some sort of proof that she wasn't alone and that she'd never be alone. She had Brittney, her best friend. And the most perfect friend she could have asked for.
She went through the day easier, knowing that tomorrow she'd see Brittney and they'd hug each other, Laizabel thanking her for the neopoints and the note that meant so much and they'd talk for the rest of the day about little things just enjoying each other's company.
But when Laizabel walked into school the next day, Brittney wasn't there, or the day after that.
The third day Brittney was absent, she walked up to the teacher after class had ended and asked her where Brittney had gone. Was she expelled? Did she drop out? Had Laizabel angered her, and now she was avoiding the white Xweetok like a disease?
"No, honey, she was adopted."
Laizabel's mouth dropped open. She'd known her friend was in the pound... But it had never occurred to her that Brittney may get adopted and end up moving. Faster than you could blink, Laizabel was out the door, her white fur flashing in the sunlight as she ran as fast as she could to the pound.
She burst through the door, startling a pretty pink Uni and an ugly yellow Techo. She stumbled up to the desk, gasping with the effort it took to run all that way.
"Brittney... Where is... Brittney?" she managed. The Uni looked puzzled for a second and Laizabel realized how common a name Brittney was. "The skunk Xweetok who got adopted."
The Uni's eyes lit up with recognition.
"Oh my, that's who you meant. What's your name, deary?"
"I'm Laizabel," she replied, easily now that she'd caught her breath.
"The little skunk girl left this for you," she said, handing Laizabel a small slip of paper. "She said it was important that you got it."
"Thank you," she said, walking out of the pound and holding the square of paper. It had been folded perfectly, and the paper was a pristine white. Laizabel couldn't help but be worried about what the inside held, but as she unfolded it the white sheet revealed a beautiful sketch of two small flowers woven together. Words appeared bellow them, in cursive writing and black ink.
Dear Laizabel. I was adopted on the day of the pound's release and my new owner lives somewhere on Mystery Island. She said she had two other neopets, a Lupe and a Gelert. I can't help but be a little excited, I've always wanted to see the beach.
But more importantly I'm sorry. We didn't even get to say goodbye, and it hurts so bad! I want you to know that you're my best friend, after all we're like mirror images! I don't know what I'm going to do without you... But you need to know that we'll always be best friends, no matter how far apart we are or how long it is until we see each other again. But we will see each other again, I promise with all my heart! Stay strong, for both of us.
The tears that had been pooling in Laizabel's eyes spilled over and she sobbed openly on the sidewalk for everyone to watch. She missed her best friend so much, she didn't know how she'd be able to deal with it. But Brittney had told her to be strong for both of them, so sniffling badly she wiped her eyes and got up ready to head home.
She wished so badly that Brittney would jump out from behind a bush or building, that they could hug and sit down and Laizabel could tell her all the things she was thinking of in that moment. That their friendship meant more to her than anything else, that she would probably never really use those 5,000 neopoints she'd given her. That she loved the way their fur reflected one another, that she lifted her head proudly whenever she caught someone staring at the two of them. She wished she could say Brittney was her best friend, and that no neopet would ever be able to take her place.
She wished she could tell Brittney how much she missed her, and how happy she was that she was finally adopted.
As Laizabel started up the steps to her home, she found her answer to how she'd be able to survive without her counterpart.
She'd wait for the day Brittney returned.