The Sisterhood of Terra and Phee: Part Two
"All right, everyone! Single file! Stay with your groups, please. Terra, Phoebe, that means you two as well," the Pink Uni says. We obey, separating into our age groups, but it is from a desire to behave, not out of any kind of fear of punishment. Her voice, while firm, is far too cheerful to be truly terrifying.
The angry and defeated-looking Techo next to her, on the other hand, is too terrifying to need a voice. Sometimes I wonder if he was always this grumpy. Maybe he'd been like Bert once, alone and angry about it. And he'd grown up into this grumpy, put-upon thing. There had been times, though, when he was finished filing Pound forms for a particularly sad pet and the owner had left for good, when I saw kindness in him. He would lean down to the pet's height -- even submit his knees to the cold floor if the pet was particularly short -- and wipe their tears. Tell them it was going to be all right. I never once saw him hug anyone, but I'd seen quite a few pats on shoulders and backs. It was enough, at least, to let the pet know that someone was still there.
Maybe it wasn't his own heart that had made him this way. Maybe it was absorbing the hurt from so many others'. The thought made me see his slouching shoulders and permanent frown lines in a new light. I had the sudden urge to hug him, but we were passing him and on the bus before I truly made up my mind about it. Maybe some other time.
After all, it wasn't like we were going anywhere.
"Where do you think we're going today?" I asked, craning my neck around an annoyed-looking Bruce who was blocking my view of Terra and Lana on the other side of the bus.
"I managed to overhear something about the shops," Lana said.
"As in Neopia Central? Why not just say so?"
Lana rolled her eyes. If you didn't know her, you'd think she was incredibly stuck-up. But she wasn't so bad as all that. Once you got to know her. "Not Neopia Central. The shops. The ones owners open themselves."
"Not all of them are owners yet," I point out. "You don't know if they all have pets. That's incredibly disrespectful, to make those assumptions."
Terra coughs to cover a laugh. Lana's expression turns sour for the briefest of moments, then she sticks her tongue out playfully. "Whatever, Phee."
"I've never been to the shops," Tricia says, crossing her arms over the seat in front of her where Lana and my sister sit. She rests her chin on her arms. "Have you?"
Lana shakes her head. "It pains me to say that I have little knowledge on this subject."
"Don't worry," I say, "I'm sure you'll be an expert by the time we leave."
Terra puts an arm around Lana. "Probably. She can't help it if she's a wizard, though."
"Speaking of wizards," I say, "I hear the Shop Wizard is helpful with finding things. Maybe we'll stop by his place. We should think of something to look for, in case they let us split off on our own." Sometimes they were known to do this for the older pets, though the younger ones had to stay in large groups led by at least one volunteer. Sometimes this was a pet, sometimes an owner. It depended on the day.
"I'm going to look for cake," Terra says longingly.
"Shakes for me," I say.
"I'm not feeling sweet today," Lana says.
"Are you ever?" Tricia interjects. Lana grins at her. If they don't end up getting adopted together, I worry what will happen to Tricia. She's really started coming out of her shell recently around Lana. And she's one of the few people too sweet for Lana to snap back at. Their relationship is almost protective. It brings to mind Terra and me.
"Anyway." Lana draws the word out. "I'm looking for a casserole. I don't even care what kind."
"I love casseroles!" Tricia exclaims.
"Well, it looks like we have our groups," I say. "Terra and I are on the sweets, and you two are on the savory dishes. Both of us need to bring back leftovers, so we can swap, okay?"
Everyone nods or otherwise comments their agreement. Then it's settled. ---
It's not only the taste of food that I love. It's how the food is made, the presentation, the culture that created it, the people who give it life. A slushie from Terror Mountain is not just a slushie. It's hours of work put into preparing it each day. It's days and weeks dedicated to perfecting that one particular recipe. Years spent dreaming of opening a shop, and then finally achieving your goal. Decades upon decades of passing down recipes, ideas and lore.
And it's memories.
It's Neopets coming in with friends to enjoy a treat after sledding, cheeks red from the cold and tongues red from the cherry slushie. It's laughter and tears over a brain freeze. It's now part of innumerable memories that live on as 'that amazing trip we took to Terror Mountain.'
It's the memories, the coming together, that get me the most. Nothing can be truly wrong with a steaming cup of Borovan in your hands.
I'm thinking these things when we arrived at the address the Shop Keeper had given us. Later, I'll realize how relevant these thoughts are to my life. But for right now, all I'm thinking about is a nice chocolate shake.
My eyebrows fly up at the sight of the shop. "This," I say, "is very pink."
Terra's head bobs up and down. "You're telling me."
The closest place we could find that had both cake and a chocolate shake was a local Valentine's themed cafe and gift shop. We'd decided before approaching the Shop Wizard that we would pool our spending Neopoints.
"Well, now that we know there's two parts to this place, what do you want to do? Cafe, or gift shop?" Terra asks.
My choice, food or gift. But things don't have life like food does, so I choose the cafe.
Once we order -- a Heart Shaped Fruit Cake for her, and a beautifully-presented Love Shake Chocolate for me -- we go to find a seat, settling for a Simple Red Sofa near a window. We have three hours before we have to be back, quite a long time for an outing. So we take our time. And we talk.
We talk about life. About hurt and happiness, about sadness and ultimate dreams. Both of our unsaid ultimate dreams are obvious. To be adopted, and soon. But beyond that, I hadn't thought much about it.
"You go first," I insist. "I have to think about it."
"Well..." Terra said, taking another bite of her cake and chewing the thought over. She swallows. "I think I would want to be a teacher. Maybe a librarian. I could work for the Library Faerie, do an internship or something." She takes another bite and swallows that one, too, before I can think of something. "Okay, you've had time. What do you want to do?" she finally presses.
"I think I would travel," I say. "And meet a lot of new people." The idea is gaining momentum, and I smile to myself. A whole world out there, waiting for me to see it. Hundreds of pets and owners to make friends with. I imagine them all to be more friendly than the Bert types I'm used to dealing with. Maybe I'd meet more people like Tricia. Maybe they'd be shy and somehow comforting to be around. Maybe they'd be smart, like Lana. Maybe they'd be kind, like Terra. Or maybe they'd be unlike anyone I've ever met before. After all, with that many personalities in the world, I'd have to encounter something new at some point.
"I always pictured you as a chef," Terra says. I freeze. Terra never mentions anything relating to me and food. Ever. She must see it on my face, because she hurries to clarify. "I mean, because you're so good at knowing what goes together, and how to make it look nice. Like when we took that trip to the Soup Kitchen to help the Soup Faerie. Nobody's soup tasted as good as the one you were handing out, because you suggested adding some ingredients the Soup Faerie never even thought of. And you made it look so pretty, with those green sprigs. Your cooking pot ran out long before any of ours did."
Slowly -- incredibly, painfully, slowly -- my muscles relaxed. She hadn't meant it as an insult.
"You don't have to be ashamed of who you are, you know," Terra says. "No part of it, love of food or the color purple or whatever else. It all adds up to you being yourself."
Still. I'm on edge now, a result of years being made fun of. "Let's talk about something else," I say. "Next question."
And so we make lists, dozens of them. Which five pets, past or present, would you invite to dinner if you could? Which three paint brushes are your favorite?
"Which color would you be if you could choose any potion, lab ray zap, or paint brush right this minute?" Terra asks, her cake gone by now.
"Invisible," I laugh.
"Phee!" Terra exclaims. "What's wrong?"
I want to ask her what she means, but before I know what's happening, a tear has fallen into the glass my shake had been in. I'm crying! In public! I feel enchanted, somehow, by the fact that it had happened completely in spite of me not knowing it.
"I can't pick," I say, wiping my eyes. "It doesn't matter what I am, anyway." I hesitate before adding the last part, the real bit. "No potion could change me into something the other pets would love and accept, anyway. I keep thinking, you know, maybe if I tried harder..." I give a helpless shrug.
Even years and years later, I would remember what she told me almost as well as I would remember how she loved to dance to M*YNCI when she thought nobody was watching.
She looks me straight in the eye. "Someone somewhere must have told you a lie, then. Because that's not true."
I sniff and blink away, gazing at the cash register just for something to look at other than my sister.
She puts her hand on my hoof.
"The truth," she says quietly, "is much different. The truth is that nothing you do, no matter how hard you try, will make you any better than you are right now."
My face crumples. My own sister doesn't see hope for improvement?
But she continues.
"Because, Phee? You're the most perfectly beautiful thing I've ever seen in my entire life. You said it doesn't matter what you are, but that's a lie. It does matter what you are. It matters that you're happy. It matters that you're loved. It matters that you're loving, kind, and truthful." She takes her hand back and leans forward on the table. She whispers quietly, like it's our secret, "And you are all those things. Every single one of them. No potion or paintbrush in the world will ever change it."
And then I cry for real, harder than I have since I was small. But I wouldn't take it back. Because they are the happiest tears that ever were. Somehow, it seems, they are a direct result of my heart suddenly becoming much too large for my chest.---
Soon, my sister wouldn't be there. She couldn't tell me these things face-to-face anymore. But I could remember. I could honor them. I could chase joy when other pets didn't understand it. I could be loving and lovable when others were unkind. I could tell the truth when a lie would benefit me more. But there is no benefit greater than honoring this memory.
You're probably wondering what happened. Believe it or not, it was a direct result of that shop. That beautiful, horrible shop. And it was a result of my growing heart finally, for once, doing something completely unselfish.
To be continued…