Never in my life had I imagined I would ever become friends with Jaqueline the desert Xweetok.
Everyone in neoschool knows who she is, and from what I've always heard, not many pets like her. I personally had never met her, but the rumors about her were harsh. So like most other average high school students, I based my judgment of this pet that I'd never even spoken to by what my friends said behind her back.
She was in my history class during my 12th and final year in neoschool; it was the first class we'd ever had together, but I still didn't pay her much attention until we were forced to work together on a project one day.
"Okay, class, as you all are aware, today is Halloween. To celebrate, we're going to do something fun instead of taking notes!" Ms. Kellen announced.
In response to this, the students erupted into cheers. It was the last class of the day, and we were all anxious to get out and get ready for Halloween night, and were happy we wouldn't be listening to a boring lecture for the last hour and a half of neoschool.
When the class settled down, the red Kiko continued.
"Since we've started studying the history of the Haunted Woods, we will be going there to do a scavenger hunt. You will be working in pairs, and will be given a sheet with a list of naturally occurring objects in the Haunted Woods that you must collect. These objects are all important to the Woods' history or geography. You will all have forty five minutes to collect your objects."
At this the class cheered again, but then groaned when Ms. Kellen announced that she would be choosing our partners for us.
"I want to make sure there's no fooling around, so I will be pairing students that I think will work well together," she added.
As she began calling off names, I exchanged glances with my friend Alana across the room, and she grinned at me. We always worked well together on school projects, as we were very good friends. The purple Kyrii's eyes pulled away from mine as her name was called. She had not been paired with me. Instead she was going to be working with our friend Kamila, a yellow Usul. She looked at me and shrugged apologetically. I was a bit disappointed, but shrugged it off since there were other pets in the room I was sure I would enjoy working with.
My ears perked up as my name was finally called.
"Evelina the striped Poogle with Jaqueline the desert Xweetok," Ms. Kellen read, and I froze.
I was paired with Jaqueline? I glanced at her, and she looked at me and smiled politely. I smiled back half-heartedly. I didn't know the girl at all, true, but a bad feeling washed over me at the thought of working on a graded assignment with her. From what little I knew about her, she was stuck-up, arrogant, and superficial. Pets like her did not get along with pets like me and my group of friends as a general rule at this school.
When Ms. Kellen was done calling off names, we met with our partners as we exited the school and began walking to the Haunted Woods.
"Hi, I'm Jaqueline. I guess we're working together," she greeted me once we were outside.
"I guess so," I replied, barely sparing her a glance.
She seemed pretty friendly, but I wasn't going to let my guard down that easily. I was sure she would end up hating me, if we ended up talking to each other much at all. I didn't want to admit it to myself, but I knew I was a bit concerned; I hated drama, and was not looking forward to this activity becoming a problem once we began.
When we arrived, Ms. Kellen informed us that we had to return by 2:10 at the latest, and we started. When the class separated, Alana gave me a sympathetic look as she passed by, which Jaqueline didn't see.
"The first thing we have to find is a Clawmatoe," Jaqueline read from the scavenger list.
"Where do we find one of those?" I asked.
"I have no idea; I think it grows on some sort of bush," she replied.
We entered into the thick, dark trees and began trekking along the only path we could see. Neither of us spoke as we made our way through the damp wood. Jaqueline was reading over the list of items we needed to collect, trying to memorize everything so she would recognize the objects when we came across them. I, for one, could not care less about collecting everything, as I knew Ms. Kellen would give us a decent grade as long as she thought that we'd tried.
I didn't say anything to Jaqueline, though. I was surprised that she even cared about the scavenger hunt at all, but I didn't complain. At least she was doing most of the work.
When we finally came across a Clawmatoe, it was quite a challenge to retrieve. It was nestled beneath a thorny grey bush. Jaqueline offered to try and get it out, as she had longer arms, while I waited with the list.
"Ouch! This stupid fruit," she muttered as one of the thorns poked her in the shoulder. "Why does it have to be so hard to reach?"
"Here, I'll pull the branches away from you," I said, approaching the bush.
Carefully, I lightly pushed the branches near the Xweetok's face to the side, allowing her to crawl forward. Her paw touched the fruit, and as she pulled it off its stem, the bush seemed to come to life and it swung its branches around violently, scratching both of us.
We both let out shrieks and scrambled away from the apparently angry bush. I ended up falling backwards onto the hard dirt, and Jaqueline, who'd already been crouching, ended up the same way.
"That teacher is trying to kill us," Jaqueline muttered, but she was grinning with amusement.
I couldn't help but laugh.
"I know, she must be nuts! What teacher sends their students alone to do a scavenger hunt in the Haunted Woods?" I replied, and we both laughed again.
When we stopped laughing, I realized how creepy our surroundings actually were, and Jaqueline did too, as she shuddered when she placed the Clawmatoe into the basket we'd brought.
"At least we have the first item. What's next... oh, we have to find a Slimy Tree and collect some of the slime, how lovely," she said sarcastically, and I chuckled.
As we continued to make our way through the Haunted Woods, we started up a conversation as we walked. Despite what I had previously thought of her, Jaqueline was turning out to be quite friendly and funny, and I started to wonder if all the rumors about her were completely wrong.
I didn't mention to her what I'd thought, but the more time that passed, and the more incidents we ran into while trying to retrieve the odd list of spooky objects, the more I found we had in common.
"I agree; reading is a waste of time. All my friends ever like to do is read. If we go to the beach or for lunch, they bring along a book and start reading instead of having an actual conversation," I said to her.
"Not a lot of my friends read much, but the ones who do are ALWAYS reading. Live your life, you know? Reading's okay if it's wintertime and there's nothing to do, but I don't bring books to the beach or restaurants," Jaqueline added.
"Who are some of your friends, anyway?" Jaqueline asked before I could respond.
I hesitated. What if she knew some of my friends, and knew how much they hated her and her friends?
"Um, I don't know if you know a lot of them, but I'm friends with Alana, Kamila, Beulae..." I trailed off, and to my surprise, Jaqueline grinned.
"Oh, I don't know them that well, but they seem nice," she replied.
I was shocked. All of those pets couldn't stand Jaqueline, and she didn't even know. I began to wonder if she knew about all the rumors about her that floated around neoschool. Could they be true if she had no idea they even existed?
"Only four objects more to go," Jaqueline said, pulling me from my thoughts as she checked off the list.
"What time is it? Shouldn't we be heading back soon?" I asked.
Jaqueline looked up, trying to see the sky through the thick branches above us.
"I have no idea; I can't tell. We can just head back when we see others from our class leaving too," she replied without concern.
I glanced around, but didn't see anybody from our class. As I thought about it, I didn't remember having seen any of them for a while now...
"Do you go to the NC Mall a lot, Evelina?" Jaqueline suddenly asked, pulling me once again from my train of thought.
"Um, no, not really; none of my friends like to go there," I replied, shrugging.
"You should come with me and some of my friends sometime. I bet they'd like you," Jaqueline said.
"I'd love to. I'd say the same, but I don't think my friends like you," I replied casually, then paused, realizing what I'd said.
I looked at Jaqueline, who had turned to look at me.
"Why?" she asked, genuinely confused.
"Oh, well, um... they just... you know," I replied quietly, hoping she'd just let it go.
But of course she didn't.
"Actually, no, I don't know. Tell me," Jaqueline responded with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, they don't know you, obviously, but they have the impression that you're... kind of stuck up," I admitted.
I wasn't too sure how she was going to react, apart from becoming angry, however her reaction surprised me more than it should have.
She let out a scoff and shook her head, as if in disbelief.
"I can't believe people are still like that. I've had so much on my shoulders since elementary school and even now during our last year of high school, they still think they know who I am," she said aloud, more to herself than to me.
She stopped and looked me in the eyes, and there was a strange expression in them I had never seen before. It was a mix of anger, sadness, and accusation.
"What about you?" she finally asked. "Is that what you think of me?"
I looked down, trying to choose the right words, fearful of setting her off.
"No... Well, not anymore. I never knew you before, Jaqueline. What else was I supposed to think?" I asked.
"You shouldn't have thought anything until you met me. I didn't judge you from what I've heard about you," she said accusingly.
"What do you mean? Why would pets be talking about me?" I asked.
Jaqueline's deep brown eyes hardened.
"You don't even realize it, do you? There're rumors about everyone in neoschool, Evelina. What did you expect? You can't judge people by what others say, even your friends. It doesn't matter what people say about you because I've already seen that they aren't true. Get to know somebody before assuming something you know nothing about." Jaqueline's eyes burned like flames as she turned away from me.
I had nothing to say in response. She was right; I was wrong to judge her by what little I did know. Pets said that Jaqueline was arrogant, snobby, superficial, and rude, but those words couldn't be further from the truth.
Jaqueline was confident in herself, but that didn't make her conceited. She wasn't afraid to be criticized, and stood up for herself. That doesn't make her arrogant or rude.
I realized just how wrong I had been. When I was partnered with her, as I spent time talking to her I had been expecting her to fit the description my peers had given her, and I had been waiting for the moment when all the rumors I thought to be true would show.
As I followed Jaqueline through the trees, I noticed it had grown colder, and it seemed that the little light shining through the trees had changed.
"Jaqueline... How long have we been out here?" I suddenly asked.
She stopped and looked around.
"I'm not sure, actually; I lost track of where we are a while back," she admitted; her voice was softer now.
My eyes widened.
"Don't tell me we're lost," I said.
Jaqueline looked sheepish.
"I'd assumed we'd run into the others on our way back, but I'm starting to think they've already left the woods," she explained.
"That's just great. So we're lost?" I replied, and Jaqueline nodded solemnly.
"I'm sorry. All we can do is look for a way out or for someone to help us," she said.
We continued to wander around the woods for a few hours, but we seemed to be going in circles as we never found an exit.
"It's really getting dark now," I said as it grew increasingly difficult to see.
At first, all I could think about was how much trouble we were going to be in when we returned, until it also dawned on me that we were lost in the Haunted Woods on Halloween night.
I mentioned this to Jaqueline, who only scoffed.
"You don't believe in that stuff, do you? We'll be fine," she assured me, but I could see she was worried too.
If the Woods were considered creepy in the daytime, they were terrifying at night. As the sky turned black, I kept thinking I heard ghosts and other monsters hiding in the darkness around me; and I was almost positive I could feel a pair of eyes watching my every move.
I jumped as I heard rustling in some leaves behind me, and Jaqueline spun around to see what it was that had startled me.
"I'm sure it's nothing," she said.
The bush rustled again, and this time I saw it move. Before I could decide whether to see what it was or run, a white Meepit emerged from the bush. Its bright white fur seemed to glow against the night.
Jaqueline and I both let out screams of terror and we scrambled in the opposite direction, running for our lives from Neopia's most evil petpet. I don't know long we ran for, but every time we slowed and glanced back, we could see a speck of white in the distance- the Meepit- following us, and we kept running.
As we sprinted, I could see a ray of bright moonlight shining up ahead, and I knew it had to be an exit to this terrifying place. Just as we neared the path leading outside the woods, Jaqueline's back leg got caught on a root and she fell. When I stopped to help her up, I spotted the Meepit only a few feet away. It had slowed as well, and I considered running, leaving Jaqueline to be taken away to wherever it was Meepits dragged off innocent Neopets to- when the small petpet stopped at her side and began sniffing the dropped basket from our scavenger hunt.
Frozen in fear, I watched the Meepit stick its little head into the basket and retrieve the Clawmatoe- one of the few things that had not fallen out- and take a bite out of it. We both let out a sigh of relief, and almost chuckled at the irony of the situation. The little petpet was harmless- it was just hungry.
I helped Jaqueline free her hind leg from the root, and when the Meepit had finished eating the Clawmatoe, it looked up at Jaqueline curiously. It sniffed her paw, and she cautiously lifted it up and began petting it.
"He's not evil, he just wants a friend," Jaqueline commented as the Meepit cooed and licked her face.
"I guess not all Meepits are evil," I said.
"Maybe we shouldn't have judged him before we gave him a chance," I added quietly, and Jaqueline looked up at me.
I returned her gaze, and smiled sorrowfully.
"I'm really sorry, Jaqueline. You were right, and I shouldn't have been so quick to assume the worst of you," I said.
"It's okay, I forgive you. After all, it's not that fair of me to be so offended; it's not like it was your fault. I mean, look at what just happened. We ran from this little guy just because he's a Meepit; he has a bad reputation, like I do. And at least you didn't run for the hills the first time you set eyes on me," she replied, and we both laughed.
* * *
"Are we still on for shopping at the NC Mall today at 4:00?" Jaqueline asked me as the bell rang, signaling the end of neoschool for the day.
"Absolutely; I'll meet you by the front doors!" I replied with a grin.
"Great, I'll see you later," she said, and she left the classroom while I finished collecting my things.
"Hey, Evelina, why have you been talking to Jaqueline so much lately? You're not actually friends with her, are you?" Alana asked me after the Xweetok had left the room.
I glared at the Kyrii.
"Why shouldn't I be friends with her? She's nice," I replied.
"Are you kidding? That girl's such a jerk. I don't know how anyone could possibly like her. Don't tell me she's sucked you in as well," Alana replied haughtily.
"Stop it, Alana. You don't know anything about her, you're being ignorant. Maybe if you took the time to get to know her, you'd realize how wrong you are. Now unless you have something nice to say, please don't talk about any of my friends again." With that, I tossed my backpack over my shoulder and walked out of the classroom, leaving Alana staring after me in bewilderment.