The Cross-Painted Curse: Part Six
Part 6: The Final Push For Peace
I stare at Kai, my heart in my mouth. I don't know what to say, and it appears, she doesn't either. The silence stretches between us, as we both search for something to say.
Eventually, I find some words.
Kai flinches, and for the first time in months, it hurts me. She thinks I'm talking about us. Am I?
"The war. The Sway beat Pride and are at the Obelisk. We beat Wrath. Tomorrow we'll discover what was in the Obelisk."
We stare at each other again. Where do we go from here?
"So when do you think we'll be able to go home?" she interrupts me. That's probably a good thing, I don't know what I was going to say.
"I... uh... I reckon day after tomorrow? Day after that, possibly?"
"Good. I'll tell the boys." And she's gone.
I breathe out, shakily. What was I expecting her to do? Did I think she'd scream at me? Burst into tears? Beg me to stay? That's not her style, never has been. I've seen her hurt before, and every time she has the same reaction. She withdraws, pulls herself up to her full height and becomes very cold and polite. I've seen it several times, but I've never been the cause of it.
I listen to her retreating footsteps, padding quietly upstairs. I hear her knock gently on the boys' door and then I hear her murmuring. I think she's telling them the war is over. I hear a silence that I interpret as stunned. Then I hear Calvin's low rumble as he asks a question. There's another pause before I hear Kai's murmur as she answers him. I hear Lafayett's voice rise, as he asks another question. I hear Cardenio shut him down, and Kai rebuke him.
I can hear all this without hearing a word.
I feel so removed from them. I wish I could go up and join in. But even as I'm wishing this so desperately, I know I won't. I'll wait for Kai to leave, then I'll go up to my room and pack. And I won't come out of my room until I get hungry. And when I do, I won't say a word, I'll eat quickly and go straight back to my room.
I'm so lonely.
The next few days passed in a blur. When I went back to the Obelisk, I was given an option of prizes that the Oracle had chosen, but I decided against them all. I conferred with Commander Flint, and we agreed I could wait and choose my winnings at a later date. I told him it was because my family wanted to beat the rush home. I didn't tell him it was because I no longer cared about anything. We shook hands and I left.
The journey home was worse than the journey out. My brothers were silent, Kai stared ahead, paler than I had ever seen her, and I sat miserably listening to the other passengers talking in fear about the Oracle, and what it meant to Neopia. I didn't care any more.
When we got back to our house, I went straight up to my room, and closed my door. I could hear my family moving around downstairs opening windows and starting to clean and freshen up. I lay on my bed and stared at my familiar old ceiling. I felt my snow body loosen, and wearily reach over to turn the heater off. I hate having to think about things like this. No one knows what happens when a Snow pet overheats, but no one wants to be the first to find out.
I awake with a cry.
"I just wish-" I shut myself up. I was talking in my sleep, I never do that. What was I going to say? I have no idea.
I sit up slowly. The sun was starting to set, filling my room with a golden light. There's a silence around the house that tells me my brothers and Kai are out. I stretch, and make my way downstairs to forage in the fridge for food, relishing in the peace of being the only one in the house.
I was wrong. I wasn't alone. Kai is sat at the kitchen table, nursing a Diet Neocola. Although the room is quite dark, she hasn't put the light on. I get the feeling she's been here for several hours. I hover in the doorway uncertainly, wondering whether to go back upstairs and pretend I haven't seen her. The option of ignoring her is taken away from me when my stomach rumbles, so I carry on into the kitchen, flicking the light on as I do.
Kai blinks in the sudden light, and I see she's been crying again. I want nothing more than to crawl onto her lap and for us to have a cuddle like we used to. Instead, I move past her to the fridge, and peruse the meagre contents. Great. Two Juppie Cheese Wedges and a third of an aged Sausage Omelette. What rich pickings we have here! I grumble silently to myself, as I choose the least mouldy looking cheese wedge, and nibble tentatively at one corner of it. It doesn't kill me immediately, so I assume it's safe to eat, and turn around, gnawing on it, as I watch Kai stare into her can of neocola as though it holds the answers to life, the universe and everything. She lifts her head, and speaks quietly.
"Lorelai, can we have a civilised discussion, please?"
"I don't see why not," I reply, trying not to let my hackles rise at her martyred tone.
"I know you're not happy at the moment, and you haven't been since before the war, and I want to know why. If you were serious when you said you were leaving, I won't stop you, but I would like to know why, and whether it's something I could fix."
I look down at the cheese crumbling in my stupid snow paw. I can't work out what I want to scream at her first.
All of a sudden, the voice of my mysterious stranger from the last day of the battle reverberates throughout my skull.
"Be at peace."
Alright, I answer the strange memory. I take a deep breath, and try to marshal my thoughts calmly. She deserves to know why I'm angry with her, and I know screaming won't make her hear my words.
"I'm-" I start, then fall quiet again. Kai doesn't interrupt me, just waits for me to collect my thoughts.
"I've been upset with you since you morphed me without telling me first." Kai gasps, and her hands rise instantly to her mouth as she stares at me in shock. I don't give her a chance to speak, but carry on. "We worked hard for me to be Magma, and I loved being a Koi. You didn't tell me what you had been planning, you just dragged me out of the house one day and did- This!-" I gesture at my stupid Acara body with hurt. "You did this to me, without asking me or telling me. That would have been bad enough, but you weren't happy to have me look normal, you forced me into the Rainbow Pool twice, just to have an unusual pet. I look ridiculous, I'm a Snow Pet wearing the clothes of a Christmas Acara. No matter where I am, I stand out and look stupid, and I can't even swim properly anymore. We don't live in Terror Mountain, why did you think a snow pet was a good idea?"
I run out of steam, and realise I'm crying, tears gently making their way down my cheeks. I've horrified Kai; she didn't have a clue. I lift my horrible paw, and press the tears into my soft face, letting them solidify with the rest of my snow face. I wonder, idly, whether she knows this is the first time I've cried about this. I breathe in steadily, and continue.
"I have been alienated by my friends and by my family, because of my colour firstly, and secondly because I am unhappy I drove everyone away. I said I wanted to leave so I could find a new owner who wouldn't inflict this kind of betrayal upon me. I stand out. I'm weird, and I don't like it. I'm not built to be an Acara, I'm not Snow, and I never wanted to be Christmas! This isn't me." As I'm speaking, I remember something else my mysterious stranger said, that day by the boulder. According to them, I'm not Snow, but I'm also not Magma. They said I'd find my colour and be surprised by it. I sigh, deeply. I don't know if I can be bothered any more.
"I had no idea how much I hurt you." Kai sounds so sad and so tired. "I just wanted you to look special, I was so proud of you being so different, and standing out, I never knew you didn't feel the same thing as me. I think you look beautiful, you are unique and I love that. But if you aren't happy, I will take you to the Rainbow pool today, and we can fix this. Please. Let me fix my mistake, Lore, don't leave me over this."
A huge lump moves up my throat as I nod, my tears spilling over as we rush towards each other. Then I'm in Kai's arms again, howling, and she's sobbing, and we're clinging tight to each other.
I don't know how much time has passed when we eventually separate, both sniffing and wiping out faces.
"Right," says Kai decisively. "I'll go and sell some stocks, you go to the Rainbow Pool and pick a colour. I can swing about a hundred thousand for now, we'll get you feeling better, then we can save up for whatever morphing potion you want. Deal?" I nod. Deal.
By the time we return to the house, the boys have come back. I can see the lights on downstairs, and hear them laughing and joking in the kitchen. As we step through the front door, I make for the stairs, but Kai pulls me back.
"No." Kai speaks firmly, her hands on my shoulders as she steers me towards the kitchen. "You need to make your peace with them too. Better to do it now, than leave it and make it harder for yourself."
I grimace, and pull myself up tall. I can do this. They're my brothers, they'll forgive me. Won't they? Kai propels me through the door, and silence falls. Kai pretends nothing is wrong, and shifts past me towards the stove, "Have you boys eaten yet?" she asks, as, with a whirl of impossibly quick arm movements, she lights the hob, drizzles oil into a frying pan and throws some mushrooms in. In the next moment, she's measured out some rice and water and is pouring salt into the pan with the rice. My brothers and I watch her, finding it easier to observe than address the Elephante in the room. The Elephante being me.
Calvin clears his throat, and I turn to face him, awaiting the music. He lifts his head, his mouth open to speak to me, but the words don't make it out. He stares, surprised at my new appearance.
I run a paw over my horns self-consciously.
"Do you like it?" I ask softly, ignoring the others and focusing only on my best friend.
I roll my eyes. "Oh my, am I really? I never noticed."
Cardenio lets out a bark of unexpected laughter.
"I can just about see the sarcasm dripping from your mouth, sis," he says, and he reaches for the tomatoes on the side and starts cutting them up. "Chuck us the cucumber behind you, Laf. I'll make a salad." Lafayett does as he is told, sliding over two cucumbers and a large bowl. He grabs an onion for himself and starts to peel it.
"Why d'you pick striped?" he asks, pushing the peel off the table onto the floor and starting to cut the onion into rings to go with the rice. Without turning around, Kai clears her throat, and Laf dives under the table to retrieve the rubbish, muttering, "Sorry, sorry," as he throws it in the bin.
"Best of both worlds, it's nice enough." I open the fridge, grab the remaining Juppie Cheese Wedge, and settle myself at the table with the others. "Where's the grater?" Calvin gets it for me, and sits back down next to me.
"Oh, you know Commander Flint came by earlier?" asks Cardenio, absentmindedly eating half of every tomato he cuts up. Kai raps his knuckles smartly with her wooden spoon, and carries on stirring the mushrooms.
"What did he want?" I ask bitterly. In the last few minutes, we've created a nice, normal atmosphere. I don't want to go back to who I was when I knew Flint. I like this calm, I don't want to ruin it by being bitter.
"He dropped off your trophy, and wanted me to tell you that you where the best fighter he'd come across in a while, and that if there was another battle, he wanted you, angry and irritated and on his side." Nio's voice is carefully neutral.
"Yeah, well, he can go fly a kite. I'm not interested in being his anymore." I speak defiantly, but without looking up. The movement in the kitchen pauses for a moment, then continues, as Calvin nudges me and gestures to the doorway. I lead the way out, and turn to him. He sweeps me up in his burning paws, and we hold each other, tightly.
"Welcome back, sis." His voice rumbles through me, as I clasp him. I finally feel the last vestiges of my anger leave me, and I know I'm now at peace. I like it.
The following weeks and months were hard, but bearable. With my brothers behind me, I went back to school, and apologised to my friends, who forgave me quickly. Kai and I started working hard, saving for something. Eventually, we had saved up 4 million neopoints, and Kai asked me what I wanted to be.
"I want to be a Peophin," I tell her, bracing myself for the next part. She might go absolutely crazy when she hears what I am about to say.
"Makes sense, able to swim but be on land too." She smiles at me. "What colour?"
Big breath, I tell myself.
"Can I be a Pink/Royal cross-paint?" I ask sheepishly. I raise my head and look at her. She stares at me for a few seconds, while I wait on tenterhooks.
"You mad girl!" Kai bursts out laughing, and she tackles me. We roll over and over, giggling and wrestling.
That was nearly a year ago. As you can see, I am now a very happy, very proud Pink Royal Peophin. I am different, and I am loving it. I am at peace with my family, with Kai and with myself. I hope you are at peace too.