Mother's Balloon: Part Eleven
Featuring Observations, A Betrayal, and the End of the World
"Meat pie, meat pie! We're having meat pie! Ma's having meat pie, Pa's having meat pie! Caleb, Medis and I are all having meat pie!"
"Bettina, have I ever told you I know a surefire way for you to bring world peace?"
"Aw, don't say it." Caleb chastened Hannah, who was holding her ears and groaning. "It's her birthday, she should be able to sing if she wants to."
Somewhere underneath her stringy blonde hair, the blue Kougra knitted her brow. "Fine, but tell her she has to be quieter, or she's gonna cause whatever that meat is in the pie to stampede."
Perfectly oblivious to her brother and sister's conversation, Bettina was dancing around the kitchen. Skipping, twirling and otherwise getting under foot.
"I'm so excited, Ma! This might be the bestest day of my entire life!"
Coming out of a most impressive twirl, Bettina slid in her socks across the wood tiled floor, landing inches away from her mother who nearly dropped the bowl of hot squash she was carrying across the room.
"Bettina, will you please sit down." the mother Yurble asked, a rather agitated order being disguised as a request. "This is the second time you've almost bumped into me. There's no more where this came from. If I drop this, we don't have squash."
Bettina twisted her smiling mouth into a begrudging pout, and went to take her seat at the table. Her pout sprung back into a smile, however, when she caught eye of the red Draik standing in the kitchen doorway. Her dress hung loose and carefree at her knees, and her dark hair looked as if it had been tousled by the wind. There was a certain glow about her Bettina had never noticed before.
"So that's what took you so long!" the biscuit Usul deduced. "You were making yourself look pretty."
"May I come in?" Reyela asked softly. "I heard your mother tell you to sit down. You're not getting in trouble, are you?"
"Nah, we don't get in trouble on our birthdays." Bettina said with a look that could almost be read as mischievous.
Hannah blew her hair out of her face with exceptional passion, and volume. "Yep, we can do whatever we want on our birthdays, no matter how much our victims beg us for mercy."
The children had taken their seats at the table, and their parents had assured them that supper was on its way. The table was set, and there was an air of excitement in the room that could have only been brought on by an occasion as special as this one. Even Liza was bouncing in her chair, and was looking almost as enthused as her young mother.
"Hannah's having meat pie, Reyela's having meat pie! Even Colton's gonna try to have some yummy meat pie!"
"Hey, that's pretty good." Medis commented, to Hannah's strong objection.
"Maybe it's me who has something wrong with my ears, but to me that sounded the opposite of good."
"Hannah, why are you always so intolerant?" Medis carped. "I don't think her singing's terrible, and Caleb doesn't mind it, right Caleb?"
Caleb did a Worthington shrug. "Well, no. Well, that last part was kinda off-key, but the rest was okay."
Bettina was apparently listening at this time. The little girl looked hunted. "You think my singing's off-key?"
"Do you even know what off-key means?" asked Hannah despairingly.
"Of course I do! Just because I'm little doesn't mean I'm stupid! You treat me like I'm Colton or something!"
"Don't call Colton stupid, Bettina." Caleb scolded his little sister. "He's just as smart as the rest of us, and he'll know as much too, when he's older."
"I didn't mean he was stupid!" Bettina cried in her own defense. "Hannah's the one insulting family members here, not me!"
The blue Kougra was completely appalled by this statement. "Why am I always the one who gets blamed for everything?"
"Enough with the caterwauling, all of you." Mrs. Worthington interposed. "Do you really have to fight while your father and I are making supper? I can dump this pie if you'd like, and we can all go to bed hungry."
"She started it, Ma!" Bettina pointed her finger at Hannah, who had turned her chair so that it was facing the wall, and was sitting with her back to her siblings.
"What are you doing, Hannah?" Mr. Worthington puzzled at his daughter who was staring expressionlessly at the wall.
"I don't know what you mean, Pa. There's nobody behind me, is there? Nobody who gives a hoot about me and my feelings anyway."
"You all should shut up and listen to yourselves." Reyela suddenly piped up. "You are arguing over absolutely nothing! It's ridiculous! None of you have any idea how lucky you are."
In an instant the squabbling ended, and all eyes were focused on the scarlet Draik.
Reyela suddenly felt flushed. "You don't know how lucky you are." she said again, this time almost timidly. "And if you do know, I cannot tell. Why, if I had brothers and sisters, I would never want to fight with them."
You don't know how lucky you are. These seven words they had heard their parents say a hundred times before. They had been uttered so many times that the words had become stale and cliche. Yet, for some reason when Reyela spoke them, they took on an entirely new life. The only difference that could have possibly been was that Reyela knew what it was to be lonely.
"Isn't there anything we can do to help, Ma?" Medis entreated of his mother. "With supper, I mean. I could pour the drinks?"
"I wanna help too!" Bettina stood up on her chair as if she were about to give a speech. "I promise I won't get in your way, and I won't sing anymore either!"
"I can set the table." Hannah quietly volunteered.
"Turn around, Hannah." chuckled Caleb. "The table is already set."
Hannah volunteered instead to fetch some more milk from the storeroom, and Bettina, being the little sister she was, tagged along. Caleb helped bring the food to the table, and Medis, after taking seven glasses and one plastic cup down from the cupboard, watched Reyela sitting pensively in her chair. She had offered to help, but there hadn't been anything left for her to do. Mrs. Worthington had said that she was still a guest, and that she shouldn't have to worry about helping with supper.
Reyela hadn't put up a fuss. In fact, she looked quite happy watching the others work. Medis tried to imagine what she might have been thinking, leaning with her cheek on her hand, with a tiny smile on her face. Medis was not a mind reader, but he imagined it was something along the lines of, 'all is harmonious again'.
Poor Reyela would probably never know the reason why all siblings fought. It was because their love for one another was so strong that it could not be severed by the meanest insult, or the bitterest argument. Siblings could satisfy their human nature by being crueler to each other than any friend, or any other person in the world. And they knew that they would be forgiven. Because unlike most friends, siblings had known each other for their entire lives, and they knew that each other never meant what they said.
"Medis, what in Neopia are you doing?" Reyela looked at the Kougra sideways, supposedly aware that he was staring at her.
"I'm not doing anything." Medis blushed. "Why don't you sit down?"
"I am sitting down."
"Yeah, I know." the Kougra babbled. "I meant I should sit down. There's no need for me to be standing up if I'm not doing nothing. I'm probably just getting in their way."
"Probably." Reyela grinned. "I think it would be best if you were to sit down."
"Yeah." Medis shyly agreed with a customary shrug. "Me too."
About a half a minute later, Hannah and Bettina returned with the milk. Medis poured it into the glasses, and before long they were all sitting down around a table that was crowded with food. Meat pie, squash, spinach and homemade bread. It only looked like a lot because the table was small, but I assure you, dear reader, it meant so very much to Bettina, her parents, her three brothers and one sister.
"It all looks so good, Ma! You did a really good job this year!"
Mrs. Worthington smirked. "Why thank you, honey. I'm glad my cooking lives up to your high standards."
"So, can we eat now?"
"Wait a minute, Bettina." Mr. Worthington requested. "There's something I want to say first."
Every Worthington plus their houseguest looked up from their plate, put down their fork and knife , and turned to look at the brown Kougra at the head of the table.
"Uh, I just wanted to say happy birthday, Bettina. Thanks for a great year, and here's to another great year in our little princess's life."
"And congratulations on another trip around Kreludor." added Medis with a sly smile.
"I've never been to Kreludor in my life!" shrieked Bettina.
"I didn't say you've been to Kreludor, I said you've been around it. You see, Neopia makes a full orbit around Kreludor every year. That means everyone who lives on Neopia has been around Kreludor, provided that they're at least one year old."
"Impressive, Medis." Caleb commended his little brother. "But Kreludor actually orbits us, not the other way around."
"Dang it." Medis stabbed a piece of bread with his fork and proceeded to sulk. "I've been listening in my science classes and everything."
"You've probably been looking forward to using that line for a while, haven't you?" Caleb chaffed him. "I'm sorry, Medis. Maybe next time."
"Hey! You said Kreludor goes around Neopia." Bettina noted. "That means we should be congratulating Kreludor for another trip around me!"
"Well that's an idea." said Mr. Worthington. "But since it is your day, how 'bout we say congratulations to you for having Kreludor orbit around you for the fifth time."
Bettina chewed this idea over. "That sounds weird."
"You bet it sounds weird!" Mr. Worthington slapped the table with the flats of his hands . "Let's just say happy birthday like normal people and be done with it, before Caleb eats all the grub."
"Happy birthday, Bettina!" they all sang in unison. And so began a supper that was worth taking a trip around Neopia for. Everything tasted as good as it looked, and there was even enough for some of them to have seconds. But sweeter than the squash and more full than the meat pie, Reyela thought, was the lively conversation and banter that came with the meal. Tonight the Worthingtons were particularly talkative and rowdy. Reyela didn't have much to say, but she always loved to listen. To listen, and to observe.
Hannah asked Mr. Worthington to pass the spinach, and Mr. Worthington said no. When Hannah went to reach for it herself, Mr. Worthington grabbed the bowl and pretended he was going to eat it all himself.
"Come on, you've all had enough!" the Kougra jested, with both hands around the spinach bowl, about to turn it upside-down over his plate. He was always playing pranks like this on his family, and no matter how often he did it they would always scream and laugh as if they thought he was for real. What made it even funnier, Reyela thought, was the fact that they knew he would never take food from them. Mr. Worthington would give up his last meal for his family. His top priority was to provide for them, and if there wasn't enough food for him, it didn't matter, as long as his wife and children had their fill. And Reyela had come to see that he was like this in every aspect of his life. Selfless, devoted, and content. He said he didn't need more than what he had, because what he had was everything. His family were his treasures and his house was his castle, and as far as he was concerned, he was a wealthy man. If only everyone measured wealth in the same way Mr. Worthington did. Then surely he would have been the richest man in Neopia.
"Come on, Pa, save some for someone else! You've already had seconds! I'm gonna have to take them away from you myself!" Caleb leaned across the table and yanked the spinach bowl out of his grasp.
"Oh, no you don't." Medis stole the bowl from him.
"Hey, why are you taking it from me?"
"Because you don't need it either."
Medis was truly cut from the same mould as his father, and Reyela believed this was a very good thing, as it meant that her friend would grow from a wonderful boy into a wonderful man. She could almost see him now, looking all grown up and tall like Mr. Worthington. He would still be the same Medis, only with longer legs and more years of experience, though Medis was already wise beyond his years. He was only eleven years old, and he had a deeper insight into life and the way life should be than most adults Reyela knew. Of course, Reyela did not know many adults, but she did know of one who could learn a great deal from the boy who had taught her so much. She would have to share with her father all he had told her when she saw him again.
"That's not fair at all. I need it just as much as any of you, if not more. So I'll be taking this back now." Caleb expressed his disapproval of his brother's comment by taking back the spinach and pretending to eat it off the colossal wooden serving spoon. "This is good!" he taunted his brothers and sisters. "And you know what? I think it's even better from the bottom of the bowl! I guess it's where all the flavour settles."
This provocation was more than Bettina could allow for. She stood up on her chair, stretched her skinny frame across the kitchen table and took the bowl, without saying as much as a please or a thank-you.
"It's my birthday, so I think I should get to decide who gets the last of everything. I think Colton should have it — He had less than anyone. He didn't even get a full scoop, right Ma?"
Mrs. Worthington was touched by her daughter's warmhearted generosity. "Colton doesn't need as much spinach as we do, dear. He's just a baby. A half a spoonful is more than enough to fill his tummy up. It was nice of you to think of your brother though. Colton thanks you for being so considerate."
Bettina was a sweetheart, in the purest form of the word. She was always thinking of others, and she had the warmest, most welcoming personality Reyela had ever seen. She recalled when she first arrived at the Worthington farm, the little Usul had been so delighted to learn they would be having a houseguest. Bettina was certainly not shy, not in the slightest, and it could have been that she was too young to know any better, but Reyela hoped with all her heart that this wasn't the case. The thought of Bettina changing with age was altogether heartbreaking. She was so dear, so innocent, so blissfully ignorant of all the hardship and sorrow the world had to offer. If Bettina were to change, Neopia would seem that much less bright. Reyela's only comfort was that she would not be there to watch the child grow up.
"Yes, Colton thanks you for being considerate, but he says he's got no use for vile green stuff anyway. The pie was delectable though, and the squash was," Caleb gave a cheeky grin. "Exquisite."
Young master Caleb gave Reyela hope that Bettina would not change entirely when she got older. At fifteen years of age, Caleb was still as much of a child as his brothers and sisters. He still loved to play outside, he still laughed at silly things just for the sake of laughing. As the eldest son of a farming family, Caleb retained the responsibilities of an adult. Every day he would help his father with strenuous farm chores, but Reyela had never once heard him complain. Perhaps that was why the other children looked up to him so much. Perhaps even the hardest work was like play to the young at heart.
"I have an idea. Why don't we divide it up evenly between the seven of us?" suggested Hannah. "We might only get one leaf each, but at least it will be equal. If you think it's worth the trouble..."
"Well, of course it's worth the trouble!" Mr. Worthington slapped the table again. "Pass it over here and we'll divide it up real good, is what we'll do. Good thinking!"
Two days ago, when Reyela first met Hannah, she had assumed that the blue Kougra hardly ever spoke. Now she could see she had been horribly wrong. Hannah was as lively and as talkative as everyone else in her family, and though she was not the type who liked to share her every thought and feeling, she was still a companionable person with a lot of good ideas, and good things to say. As for her very little voice, Reyela assumed it was simply the voice she had been given. Reyela wished she had more time to spend with Hannah. There was still so much she didn't know about her, and now she supposed she would never know.
"This worked out fine!" Mrs. Worthington declared, as she spooned her own leaf of spinach into baby Colton's mouth. "That whole scoop was too much for him, but a seventh of it is the perfect portion for a baby's belly."
"Midge, that was supposed to be yours." Mr. Worthington gently informed her. "And you know you don't have to feed him like that anymore. He's not an infant, he's old enough to start feeding himself."
The mother Yurble shot him a look a mother Blurgah may give an intruder. "He does feed himself. He likes when I feed him like this though, too. It's a comfort thing for him."
"A comfort thing for you, you mean." the father Kougra muttered, unaware if his wife had heard him or not. (but hoping for the latter) "I just hope you're getting enough nutrition yourself. What you don't give up for him you leave on your plate, because you're too busy spoon-feeding that kid."
"I just wanna make sure he's getting his nutrients, Seth. I'm fine, dear, I get enough."
Reyela would have thought that somebody with so many children would get tired of caring for them day in and day out. This was certainly not the case with Mrs. Worthington. She could work from dawn until dusk, into the wee hours of night, and be up at dawn the following morning just to keep her children happy. And she could do it with an unfaltering smile on her face. She was the coordinator, manager and director of all familial affairs and events, and yet she always had time to ask her children what they learned in school that day, or inquire as to where they had come in in the race during recess. She managed to be involved in every aspect of their lives without being an intrusive or meddlesome parent. In many ways, she was much like Reyela's own beloved mother. Maybe that was the reason why the Worthington farm felt so much like home.
"Uh-oh!" As soon as Mrs. Worthington turned her back to finish her supper, Colton knocked over his plastic cup with his elbow and started to cry as his highchair tray began to fill with milk.
"Colton dear, what am I gonna' do with you?" his mother cooed, and ran off to find a rag to wipe up the milky mess.
Colton was, without a doubt, the clumsiest baby Reyela had ever known. He was always spilling something, always knocking something over, or falling down himself. Of course, other babies may have been the same way. Reyela didn't know any others, but the word 'toddler' must have come from somewhere, so she supposed they all must have been like that, to some degree or another... Not that it mattered, though. Colton was also the most adorable, cutest, most charming baby Reyela had ever known. And how would he be when he was older? One thing was for certain: Colton had an extraordinary life ahead of him on the Worthington farm. A life full of green apples and petpets, and grassy hills and wildflowers. And he could roll down the hills if he wanted to, and if he rolled into a ditch and tore his clothes and bruised his knee, it wouldn't matter, because he would always have his family to pick him up and brush him off and tell him everything would be all right... As fond as Reyela was of Colton, she hated him right now. Because he had been born a Worthington, and she had not.
What their family had was something most families could only hope for. It was perfect love, peace, security, contentedness, comfort. There was no one word that could cover all they had, or if there was, Reyela didn't know it. The closest she could come to describing everything the Worthingtons had, and everything they were, was with the word happiness. They possessed happiness in its purest definition, and when she was with them, she could feel it too.
Reyela knew this was why the purple balloon had brought her here. To show her true joy after two years of bitterness, and to teach her so many things that she forgot she already knew. There was no place in Neopia like the Worthington farm, and if she were to leave, things would never be the same again. She knew it was her duty to go home, and to be her father's daughter, but to say it was what she wanted would have taken a lie, and to say it was for the best might very well have been untrue. How could she know for sure that it was what her father wanted? Was he really out looking for her, or did he even notice she was gone?
"Reyela and I had a real close game of Wadjets and Ladders today. I thought she was gonna win, but that game's so tricky! You think you've got it all wrapped up, but then you roll a bad number and the next thing ya know, you're done for." Medis eyed Reyela from across the table, and he noticed the absent expression on her face. "Something the matter, Reyela?"
"Yes, you're being awfully quiet." observed Mrs. Worthington. "Are you all right? You don't look like yourself."
"I'm fine." Reyela said finally, and her words rolled out one after another in spluttering breaths. "I... In fact, I don't think I've ever felt so good in all my life. This is so lovely, everything here. The food, and, of course all of you. I... I wish I could stay here forever. I would give anything, to be a part of all this."
There was silence as the Worthingtons looked back and forth amongst themselves. Then, Bettina broke the silence.
"Why don't you just stay then?"
"I..." Reyela blinked hard. "Bettina, we've been through this before. I can't stay. My father..."
"Your father doesn't love you anyway."
A startled gasp fell over the room. Mr. Worthington appeared stunned, and Mrs. Worthington's jaw dropped.
"Bettina! How could you say that?" she goggled. "You don't even know Reyela's father! And even if you did--"
"Go to your room." Mr. Worthington ordered. "I don't care that it's your birthday. You don't talk like that to people."
"But, but," Bettina stammered, her eyes welling up with tears. "I only said it 'cause I heard what you and Ma were saying! You said that Reyela's daddy probably wasn't taking her to Brightvale City, and you said Reyela probably just ran away from home!"
Reyela exhaled sharply. "Is that what you think?"
"Ma, Pa?" Caleb bravely intervened. "If you're sending Bettina to her room, you'd better send me too. I agree that Reyela's father is no proper parent. It's obvious that he neglects her, and if she ran away, I don't blame her. I wouldn't want to stay with a father who doesn't give me the light of day."
"If everyone's speaking their minds, I guess I'll take this chance to say something too." said Hannah charily. "Is... Is your father the one who taught you to get angry all the time? Or is he the real reason you get upset over silly things? I've been wondering, and I think everyone else has been too..."
Reyela did not know what to say. She felt her heart had leaped into her throat, prohibiting her from speaking, and only a second ago, she could have sworn it stopped beating. She felt numb from the tips of her fingers to her toes, and for a moment in time she thought the world was frozen in place. It was a sensation of shock, despair and utter crushing loneliness like she had felt once before in her lifetime, but which she never thought she would feel in this place, so the opposite of home. The thought that her friends had been deceiving her, talking behind her back about her father and herself, was a thought that shook her to her very core. How could they treat her so brutally after winning over her trust? How could they? How could they?
How could they?
"You should all be ashamed of yourselves." Mrs. Worthington rebuked them. "Of all the nasty, cold-hearted, thoughtless comments! I have half a mind to ground you all for a month!"
"Ground them for what, Mrs. Worthington?" Reyela mustered her voice to speak, but it came out in only a small, thin whisper. "Telling the truth? Apparently it's a practice your family doesn't promote, but I must commend you for trying it out, even if it is a little late."
"Reyela..." Medis looked at her with pleading eyes . "You don't understand."
Reyela and Medis' eyes locked. It made it all the more painful when the red Draik said her next few words."I understand completely. Finally, I have perfect understanding of what you truly think of me — What everyone truly thinks of me."
"Reyela, we all think the world of you."
"You stupid liar." the scarlet Draik hissed, with a venomous glance that cracked at the end, causing her to hastily turn away. "You know you're only saying that to ease your own guilt. You were the one who offered to help me in the first place. Your family probably hates you as much as they despise me."
Reyela couldn't stand to look at the biscuit Kougra's doleful eyes any longer. She stood up from her chair and prepared to escape.
"Oh, and Hannah," she added as she was turning to leave. "You asked me why I am always angry, as you called it? It's because nothing has ever been right for me in my life, and it never will. I wonder why I was even born in the first place..."
And with that Reyela ran, out the back door, not bothering to close it behind her.
Like a rocket, Medis jumped out of his chair and chased after the Draik. He had barely made it past the doorway when a pair of strong hands subdued him from behind, seizing him under his arms, preventing him from going any further.
"Let me go!" the biscuit Kougra screamed, struggling to break free of his father's grip.
"She needs to be alone." the brown Kougra stood firm, not letting up on his restricting hold. "You're only gonna make it worse by talking to her right now. She's mad at you, she's mad at all of us! You've gotta let her cool down."
"You don't understand her!" Medis wailed. "None of you do! We're the only friends she's ever had, and look what we did to her! She's probably given up on the world altogether. Fyora knows what she's gonna do now."
Slowly but surely, Mr. Worthington loosened his grip. They stood face to face on the back porch now, Medis looking up at his father with an expression of true desperation.
"You gotta let me go after her."
Mr. Worthington pushed him gently by the shoulder, and Medis took off like a flash down the steps.
"Where will you look for her?" Mr. Worthington called after him.
"Everywhere. And I think I know exactly where to start."
To be continued…