"I'm moving." That was the first thing Kori said to me after she got back from her trip to Brightvale. The blue Wocky had been visiting some cousins there, and I hadn't seen her in almost two weeks.
"What?" I cried, my voice shrill with surprise. Turning to look at her, my eyes searching her face, I asked, "Why? What's wrong with Meridell?"
"I'm sorry, Tessie, I really am. It's just--" she stopped, searching for the right words. We were sitting together on a low hill. It overlooked the fields and meadows of our village. Twisting her fingers nervously and looking away from me, she continued. "Mother's sister says that our shop will do better in a busier place. And-- And Mother agrees." It was true, somewhere busier would give the tiny shop its much needed customers. It was stocked with items hand-made by Kori and her sisters, but many of them were too fancy for our little village.
"Kori--" I broke off. I couldn't make her stay, it wasn't my decision. "Where?" I asked instead, trying to sound casual.
"Neopia Central," Kori said miserably. She hunched her shoulders.
For a moment I was tongue-tied, but then I managed to say, "That's-- That's so far away! We'll never see each other!"
"I know." The Wocky's voice was glum. "But at least we can Neomail, right?"
"I guess so."
The silence that followed was awkward. Things had changed between Kori and I, it was almost as if we didn't know how to talk anymore. To try and take my mind off of things, I plucked a few daisies and started plaiting them together.
After several minutes, Kori abruptly stood up. "I-- I better go now. Mother's expecting me home soon. Bye, Tessie."
Why was Kori leaving? She was free for the rest of the day, she had told me herself. I wanted to call out to her, to tell her to stay, but I couldn't. My tongue wasn't working properly.
"I'm leaving tomorrow." Kori said it as if I didn't know, as if I wasn't smart enough to understand. I stood in her bedroom, beside her dresser, helping her pack her clothes for the trip to Neopia Central.
"I know," I said quietly, neatly folding a pink blouse and handing it to her. "What time?"
Kori stuffed the blouse carelessly into her bag, and I inwardly winced. The shirt would be wrinkled when she took it out again. "Six in the morning. Mother wants to leave early. She thinks we'll be there by evening if we do."
"Can I come say good bye?" I folded a blue sweatshirt and a yellow T-shirt.
Kori shrugged, as if I didn't matter anymore. "Sure, Tessie. If you want." She reached for the sweatshirt and T-shirt, shoving them into her bag on top of the blouse.
I frowned. Did Kori really not care? Was I really so unimportant to her now? It was strange to see the change in my friend. Only a few days ago, she had wanted to stay in Meridell, but now, it seemed like she couldn't wait to leave. My thoughts became such a confusing jumble that I didn't realize Kori was talking until she snapped her fingers in front of my face and said my name several times.
"Tessie? Tessie? Neopia to Tessie!" Her voice was irritated. "Were you even listening?" She tossed her hair disgustedly, and glared at me. Without waiting for an answer, she continued. "No, of course you weren't. You never listen. Get out of my room, Tessie, and don't bother coming to see me in the morning!" Her voice rose almost an octave at the end, becoming an angry shriek.
I backed out of the room, my eyes wide with hurt and confusion. Barely holding back a sob, I turned and ran out of the house. I ran all the way home, blinking away my tears. Slamming open the door, I paid no attention to Mother's calls and raced up the stairs. I couldn't take it any more. Tears streamed down my face as I hurled myself down on my bed, ignoring the plushies heaped against the wall and on the pillows.
What had I done? And why was Kori mad at me?
"I'm sorry," Kori whispered in my ear, hugging me tightly. We stood on the platform of the stagecoach station, waiting for the coach that would take Kori and her family to Neopia Central. I had decided to go and say goodbye to Kori even if she didn't want me too, and I had the feeling that she was glad I had come.
"I'm just so nervous," she explained, pulling away from me. "But I shouldn't have said those things yesterday. Will you forgive me?"
I smiled, glad that Kori was saying sorry and that we were back on speaking terms with each other. "Of course I forgive you."
Kori's face relaxed. "I wasn't sure last night if you would forgive me or not." She smiled back at me. "I'm glad that you did. I don't think I could have stood leaving Meridell when my best friend was mad at me."
"I couldn't have stood it, thinking you were mad at me when you left Meridell."
We stood in silence for a moment before the excited voice of Kori's mother broke into our thoughts. "Kori, Lillia, Tellain, the coach is here!" Lillia and Tellain were Kori's sisters. Both of them were older than her. Lilllia was a pretty white Uni, someone I often admired, and Tellain was a green Acara.
"Just a minute, Mother!" Kori called. Her face was anxious, and her eyes wide. "I'll miss you so much, Tessie, write to me often!" She gave me another quick hug, turning to go.
"Wait, Kori, don't go, I have something to give to you!" I cried, suddenly remembering the picture tucked into the pocket of my apron. Kori stopped short, her eyes panicked.
"Hurry, Tessie, please! We'll miss the coach soon!"
I fished the picture from my apron, holding it out. It was of Kori and me, when we were younger, our arms around each other's shoulders. Sometimes, when I was lonely, I would take that picture and stare at it so hard that I would almost feel like I was in it, and Kori was standing right next to me. Kori reached out her hand.
"Kori!" her mother snapped, sounding annoyed.
The Wocky's fingers closed on the edge of the picture, and for a second, time seemed to freeze. I stared at her face and she stared back at me. Then, with a sickening rip, the picture tore in half as Kori jerked back, hurrying towards the coach and clutching her half of the photo tightly. She looked back over her shoulder once, and I could see tears glistening in her eyes.
I was left standing by myself, watching the fading dust, as the stagecoach pulled away. The half of the picture I had still clutched in my hands was that of Kori, and I stared at it, blinking hard and trying not to cry.
I miss you so much, Tessie. Those were the first words of the first letter Kori sent me. I had written to her twice, but she hadn't replied until now. Laying sprawled on my bed, I unfolded the rest of the paper, before continuing to read out loud to my plushies, to whom I read to often.
"I can't believe that it's been two whole weeks since I left. It's been horrible, you know." I stopped reading for a moment. Of course I didn't know that. Or maybe Kori actually had written to me, and the letters had been lost, or stolen, or maybe she forgot to send them. I didn't know. "The trip was the worst part, though, especially because Lillia got motion sick. But fixing up the new place is close second in horribleness. Mother bought a tiny little shop in a tiny little corner of Neopia Central. It's not even close to the Marketplace!" Again, I stopped reading. The Neopia Central Marketplace was almost famous among Meridellians. Many pets, including my parents, went once or twice a year to the Marketplace to sell goods.
"The building is so small, not all of our stuff fits in the display cases, and we have to leave it upstairs, which is where we live, currently. Mother says it keeps cost down, but it's awful. We only have two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen / dining room, and a teeny tiny pantry. It can barely hold all of our food, Tessie, we have to leave most of it out on the counters or on the table." I tried to imagine living in a house like that, and for a moment, I could visualize it perfectly in my mind. Then it was shattered as someone knocked on the door.
"Tessie, dinner time." It was my brother, Marven. Disappointed, I apologized to my plushies, tucking the letter back into the envelope, hurrying out of my room and down the hallway to the dining room.
Mother, a red Xweetok, Father, a silver Lupe, and Marven, who was an orange Blumaroo, were already seated at the table. Slipping into my seat, I smiled apologetically at my parents before turning my attention to the food, which was a delicious onion stew and thick slices of garlic bread.
After eating as fast I could without being rude, I hurried back to my room to finish reading the letter. Settling myself on my bed, I continued where I left off.
"Did you realize that school starts in a few weeks?" I hadn't. Glancing up at the calendar on my wall, I realized that Kori was right. School would be starting in exactly seventeen days, and I wasn't looking forward to returning to the local school without Kori at my side. "I'm actually kind of excited, I can't wait to make some new friends. But don't worry, Tessie, you'll still be the best friend I've ever had." Even as I read those words, I felt a pang in my heart. Would I still be Kori's best friend?
I felt too sick to finish reading the rest of the letter, and I put it on the nightstand next to the half of the picture of Kori before snuggling in amongst my plushies.
I'm coming for a visit! Kori's letter was brief, only five words long, and that was all it had said, in choppy, messy handwriting. Reading it again, I almost dropped the paper in shock. I hadn't seen Kori in over a year, but we had written to each other fairly frequently. As of yet, I hadn't made any new friends, not even after school started, or now, when summer break had started.
I studied the letter again, but it didn't say a date. Maybe there was something on the back. Flipping it over, I saw that there was something on the back. In even choppier and messier handwriting, it was scrawled, Month of Swimming, 7th-13th. Jumping from my bed, and causing my plushies to bounce, I scrambled over to my calendar. The seventh was only three days away. Three days of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. I almost groaned in despair before I hurried to tell my parents.
To my surprise, the three days passed quickly. Mostly, I spent time cleaning up my room, on the insistence of Mother. I tucked most of my plushies into my closet, aired the blankets, scrubbed the windows, and dusted anything and everything. When I was done, my room was so clean and sparkly, I almost didn't want to sleep in it.
The night before Kori arrived, I was so nervous and excited I couldn't eat. I wasn't sure how much Kori had changed, if we would still be able to talk and laugh like we used to do, if she was still the same. The last thought frightened me the most.
How much had Kori really changed?
I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer, and the question kept me awake for over an hour. But when I finally fell asleep, I slept without disturbance.
I woke the next morning before my alarm clock went off at went six thirty. Laying amidst my few remaining plushies, I listened intently. Down the hallway, I could faintly hear the sound of Mother preparing breakfast. Rolling out of bed, I dressed quickly before slipping out of my room and pattering down the hall.
Entering the kitchen, I saw that Father was already awake. He was sitting at the table, slowly sipping at a cup of coffee. He was dressed for a day in the fields. He wore a dark blue, plaid shirt, faded overalls, and a straw hat perched on his head.
"Good mornin', Tessie," Father said as I sat down at the table beside him.
"Good morning, Father," I replied.
Mother turned around, holding a platter of pancakes. "How'd you sleep, Tessie?" she asked, smiling at me and setting the platter down in the middle of the table. She turned back to the iron stove, taking a pot of oatmeal and then a pitcher of coffee.
I stood up again to help her grab the rest of the food. "Good, thanks."
"That's great." Mother looked at Father, adding, "Could you go call Marven in from the Gobbler-coop, dear? Breakfast's ready now."
Soon we were all sitting around the table, digging in to a breakfast of pancakes, oatmeal, toast, and fruit. Father and Marven were talking about the potato fields and the possibility of irrigating them with more water when I brought up a question.
"Do you think Kori's changed much?" I asked as I poured some syrup onto my pancake.
Marven paused with his fork almost in his mouth. "Of course she has." I frowned at the orange Blumaroo. That was not the kind of answer I was looking for.
Mother hastily filled in Marven's reply, "Marven meant that of course she has changed because of her move. She has to if she wants to get used to her new home, and besides, you have too. There's nothing wrong with change, Tessie."
I didn't really want to hear that either, but it was much more acceptable than Marven's answer. "Okay," I said. "I guess you're right."
Marven shrugged and resumed his conversation with Father, Mother pitching in every now and then. I ate in silence, reflecting on Mother's words. There was nothing wrong with change, she said, but I couldn't see how it was good. I wanted Kori to stay the way she was.
"Tessie!" Kori's voice was just like I remembered it, if a little higher and shriller from excitement. She practically leaped from the stagecoach, rushing forward to hug me.
"Kori!" I exclaimed. We clutched each other for a moment, and then we drew apart. I studied Kori's face intently. Her blue eyes were the same, but the fur around them was not. Her fur was now a rich brown and her ruff was a creamy tan. And her accent had changed. It sounded more citified, but I hardly noticed.
"You look just the same as I remember," she laughed, jolting me out of my thoughts. "How do I look?"
I considered for a moment, before smiling. "You look great."
Kori linked her arm around mine, dragging me towards the coach. "Come help me with my stuff, then we can go to your place and drop it off."
Soon we were lugging Kori's suitcases down the dirt road towards my house, chattering together about everything. Kori told me about her new house, what the people in Neopia Central were like, how school was going, and how glad she was to see me again. In turn, I told her all the happenings in our little town, what things had changed (like who had moved out and who had moved in), and how glad I was to see her.
As we approached my house, Kori stopped talking and looked around curiously. "It looks like nothing's changed here." She turned to me with a smile. "I'm glad. I don't think I could have stood it if things were too different."
I nodded in agreement before hauling the brown suitcase I was carrying up the steps onto the porch, where I dropped it to open the door. As it creaked open, we were greeted with the smell of applesauce and vanilla. Kori sniffed appreciatively, stepping in.
"Your mom hasn't lost her baking skills it seems," she commented, before heading down the hallway to my room. "Still the farthest room on the left?" She stopped and turned to look at me.
"Yeah," I replied, following behind her. We entered my room together. The windows were spotless, my desk was clean, and the dresser was free of dust. My bed, the one on the left, under one window, had three plushies sitting beside my pillows. The one Mother had set up for Kori was bare of everything but two pillows and blankets.
"Looks like you tidied up before I got here," she teased, setting her suitcase on the ground beside the bed on the right.
Setting the other suitcase down, I blushed. "Mother wanted me too."
Kori flopped down onto her bed, leaning against the wall. I settled on mine, and we stared across at each other for a few minutes before the chatter started up again.
As we talked, I decided that some change wasn't so bad after all.
"Bye, Tessie, I'll miss you!" Kori was leaning out of the open window of the stagecoach, waving furiously.
I swallowed hard. "Bye, Kori!" I managed to call, "I'll miss you more!" That, I knew, was probably true. Kori had friends to go back to. I didn't have anyone but her.
Kori laughed. "I'll come visit again as soon as I can!"
"Soon!" I agreed fervently, waving back at her almost as hard as she was waving at me. The stagecoach began to pull away from the station, and Kori's reply was lost amidst a clatter of wheels and Uni hooves.
I watched until it was just a small speck in the distance before I turned and began the long walk from the outskirts of town to my house. It was a lonely walk, by myself, with only my thoughts for company. The sound of my feet along the dusty path was constant and dull, like the throb of heartbeat.
I miss you already, Kori. My thoughts cried out, and I wished my friend were with me now. The quiet was almost unbearable, suffocating, and I longed to hear voices, for the silence to be dispelled, but there was only myself on that walk.
Eagerly, I checked the mailbox, hoping for a letter from Kori. It had been five months from her visit, and we had only written a few times since then. The only thing that was in the mailbox were letters for Mother and Father. Disappointed, I grabbed them and headed back into the house, tossing them onto the table. Mother was kneading bread dough.
"Was there anything from Kori?" she asked without turning around.
I shook my head, and then realized Mother couldn't see me. "No." With a sigh, I sat down, "Do you think something happened to her?"
"Tessie, dear, she's probably busy, like you are."
"Mother, she hasn't written in three weeks." My voice was filled with exasperation, and I glared at Mother's back.
"Be patient, Tessie, you can't expect Kori to spend all of her time writing letters." Mother finally turned around, looking reproving.
I frowned, standing up and leaving the room. I was beginning to think that Kori had forgotten about me. It wasn't a pleasant thought, and it left me grumpy.
Kori hadn't written in almost year. Though I still checked the mailbox every day, it was a halfhearted task, and many times, I put it off as long as I could. I still thought of her as my best friend, but now, she wasn't my only friend. I had become acquainted with one of the other girls in the village. Her name was Tivian, and she was a red Gelert. We met at least once a week, and we would talk and chatter, just like I had done with Kori.
"I've never noticed that picture, who's that?" Tivian had just entered my bedroom. I had invited her over yesterday, and had been looking forward to it since breakfast.
"Who?" I followed her gaze, and saw half of a picture, with a blue Wocky on it, pinned to the wall above my desk. "Oh." I was silent for a moment, then I motioned for Tivian to sit down on the bed. It was no longer covered in plushies. I had grown out of them several months ago.
"So?" Tivian asked, giving me a questioning look.
"Who was she?"
"She..." I trailed off. "She was my friend."
"Was?" Tivian asked, frowning. Then she covered her mouth, mumbling, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been so nosy."
"It's fine," I said softly. "We haven't talked in almost a year, so I guess we aren't really friends anymore."
Tivian nodded. "I know what that's like. My cousin moved away a few years ago. We were really close, but we're not as close anymore." she sighed, as if regretting something she had done. "Do you want to go outside?"
"Sure, you can go ahead. I'll be there in a few minutes." I said. Tivian nodded in understanding, and left the room. I stood up, staring at the picture of Kori for a several minutes, before finally whispering, "I miss you, Kori." Then I turned and followed Tivian outside.