A Waffle Paradise Circulation: 111,440,439 Issue: 192 | 26th day of Hunting, Y7
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Khalid's Pride: Part One


by ladyariel32

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The 23rd Day of Celebrating was a lovely night. The diner was vivacious with the sound of cheerful conversation and excited laughter. Table after table was filled with chatting customers, feasting on Khalid's appetizing dishes and drinking a spot of tea or coffee. From time to time, a pleasant lull in the noise would arrive, while the patrons were too involved in swallowing to make tête-à-tête.

     The Pride, a little diner in Neopia Central, appeared as if it were as large as Neopia itself that night. Its bare, wooden walls seemed to shine like Sparkly Paint. The red-and-white checkered floor looked as if it had been walked on for centuries but nobody seemed to mind. More and more, the pets were seeing the Pride as their home away from home.

     Khalid watched all the racket from his place behind the long wooden counter separating him from the eating Neopets. He was a Chia with snowy fur and a tuft of cream-colored hair. His eyes were always "smiling". No one had seen them in their royal blue glory yet. Nobody had even dared try to see. Khalid's mouth never stretched into a smile, though, a fact unusual for Chias, as his species are known to stroll down the streets with squinted eyes and a wide smile. Instead, his mouth was set in a stern line.

     "Huh," he muttered in his clipped, strangely accented voice. He adjusted the pure white chef's hat sitting on top of his head and rubbed his paws clean on his matching white apron. "Health is wealth", the apron gallantly proclaimed in black letters. "So many Neopians have come to dine today. How…interesting." His bushy left eyebrow twitched dangerously.

     "You know we just love the food here at the Pride," a teeny voice bursting with energy replied. "A cup of ba-"

     "Banana cream coffee. I know, I know," Khalid cut the voice off. He looked at the small red Kyrii standing in front of the counter. "Would you like a bowl of thornberry noodle soup to go with it?"

     "You're so great, Khalid!" the Neopet exclaimed happily, green eyes lighting up like Christmas lights. "Yes, I'd like that."

     "Did you have a nice day at home, Anya?" Khalid asked her nonchalantly while he made the coffee. "How is your mother?"

     "Fine, fine," Anya said. She brushed her long, burgundy hair with one paw. "She's, you know, thinking of what to cook for breakfast tomorrow."

     Khalid placed a steaming bowl of soup and a cup of coffee on top of the counter. "Here you go, Anya." The Kyrii handed him some Neopoints. Khalid watched as Anya slurped the soup up with zeal. "It is not very nice to lie, child."

     Anya gazed at him innocently. "Hmmm?" she said vaguely then continued to eat.

     Khalid sighed. "Tell your mother that there are other ways to earn Neopoints besides winning the lottery. You hardly have enough money to buy food, as it is," he said grumpily.

     "One of these days, she'll get lucky and we'll be really rich!" Anya said. She gulped down some coffee. "Besides, you always give me discounts when I eat here."

     "Right," Khalid said resignedly. I will try again tomorrow, he added to himself.

     "Oh, look! There's Gino. I haven't seen him in, like, ages," Anya said animatedly. "I've got to go talk to him. Wow, he's a Fire Wocky now? Well, I never…" She rushed off to one of the nearby tables.

          Khalid sat on his favorite wooden chair, hoping that more customers would not arrive yet. He had to think. He worried about the youngling. She was too enthusiastic, gullible, and innocent. She had too much faith in others. There was a time when he, too, believed in the greater good but never again. "Neopia is a very dismal, precarious place. You should watch your step or you will fall." For a moment, his startling blue eyes appeared from behind their smiling mask.

     A racket near the double doors of the restaurant separated Khalid from his previous train of thoughts. He directed his eyes there and saw a scrawny, young Lupe with grayish blue fur being scolded by a disgruntled Uni customer.

     "I didn't mean to spatter your clothes, ma'am," the Lupe said in a small voice. "I was just trying to get to the counter."

     "My food," the Uni began, her voice high-pitched and shaking, "is all over my clothes and you expect me to feel good!"

     "Er…" the Lupe replied sounding thoroughly confused.

     The Uni walked out of the restaurant in a huff, dragging her two Neopet friends along with her.

     The Chia gave an involuntary shudder. He liked Lupes, in general, but this one disgusted him a lot. For no reason, at all, it seemed. Well, except for the fact that he had upset the Pride's best customer, Ayanna the multi-millionaire extraordinaire. She might never return again.

     The Lupe blinked his huge, ebony eyes and shrugged. Then, he made his way to the counter, lifting his paws cautiously with each step.

     "Please," the Lupe began in a hoarse whisper when he reached his destination, "do give me some food. I'm really hungry! Haven't eaten in a week." He looked at Khalid with pleading eyes.

     Khalid sighed. "What is your name, young imp?" he asked, but not unkindly.

     "I'm Raekwon, sir," the Lupe replied. "I live in the cardboard box at the end of Magical Road."

     Khalid looked at Raekwon and sighed again. The Lupe had managed to track brown mud all over the floor. One of his dirty paws was clamped on the counter. His fur glistened with grime and sweat, probably from foraging around Neopia Central all day.

     He squinted at Raekwon who gave him a grin. Khalid got a glimpse of a bunch of shining yellow teeth. The Chia trembled.

     "I am sorry, Lupe, but you will not get even the tiniest bit of food from the Pride. Not unless you have money," Khalid said, his voice even stiffer than usual. "Since you do not seem to have any, I am afraid I must ask you to leave."

     Raekwon's eyes shone with unshed tears. His tattered ears drooped. "Oh," he said. "Oh."

     "I'll buy you some food," a familiar voice said. It belonged to Anya. She eyed Khalid with a sickened expression on her face. "What would you like?"

     Raekwon smiled. "Wow, thanks!" he exclaimed gratefully. "I'll have whatever you want me to have. I'm Raekwon." He extended a paw, which Anya shook with gusto.

     "Anya," she replied with a smile of her own. She turned to face Khalid. "A cup of banana cream coffee and a bowl of thornberry noodle soup," the Kyrii said evenly.

     Khalid's mind raced. "Spending again?" he asked Anya. "You don't have the Neopoints to pay for this, do you?"

     "I do," Anya said, her voice rising. "I do have the money." She dropped some Neopoints on the counter.

     The Chia was beginning to feel faint with all his sighing. "No, Anya," he said jadedly. "It's on the house."

     Raekwon scratched his head thoughtfully and let out a yowl.

     Khalid, Anya, and half of the people in the Pride stopped what they were doing to look at him reproachfully.

     The Lupe gave another grin. "Sorry."

     The customers returned to their eating. Khalid just bowed his head.

     Anya gave Raekwon a strange look. "What was that all about?"

     "I think I hurt my head when I scratched it," he said shyly. "My claws are pretty long, you see." He showed his white claws.

     Anya blinked. "Whatever," she muttered. "Khalid", she said in a louder voice, "take the Neopoints. You only care about the money, anyway. I used to think you were- " She looked at him sadly. "Never mind."

     Khalid could have moaned but he didn't. He took the money, gave Anya her order, and watched from far away as Anya and Raekwon ate and laughed together.

     'Something is not right about that Lupe,' he thought.

     

******

     "Here, have some omelette," Anya said, handing Raekwon half of her sausage omelette.

     "Thanks," Raekwon replied, his large eyes becoming even larger. He chomped on the food morsel blissfully. Anya could almost see his fangs at work. Almost.

     The Kyrii took a thoughtful bite out of her omelette. "So, Raekwon…" she began carefully, tracing a paw on the ground. She blinked. On the cardboard floor, rather. Cardboard box. She had a hard time remembering that two of them were eating midnight snacks in a cramped cardboard box on Magical Road.

     "Huh?" Raekwon said confusedly. He had stopped eating when Anya called his name.

     "Oh, sorry," Anya said, nearly bashfully. "Go on. Eat up."

     The Lupe shrugged and shoved the rest of the omelette in his mouth. "I gotta tell you, Anya," he said, still crunching, "this o…oat-thingy tastes pretty good. Even better than the soup at the fancy restaurant!"

     Anya flashed him a smile. "I got it from Tyrannia."

     "Tyrannia," Raekwon repeated cheerfully. "Sounds like my kind of place. Where is that?"

     "You don't know Tyrannia?"

     "Wouldn't have asked you if I didn't."

     "Oh."

     There was a lull in the conversation. Anya took another bite of her omelette to cover up her embarrassment. She, Anya, embarrassed! This was totally unheard of. If word got around about this, she would never be able to recover.

     Raekwon wiggled his tail and lay down on his side of the box. He sighed and smiled like a tired canine. Anya gazed at him.

     "Raekwon?" she asked slowly.

     "Hmm…?"

     "Where's your family? Why do you live in a box?" Anya said in a rush. She immediately wished she could take everything back. 'Open mouth, insert paw,' she thought. 'Anya, how insensitive can you be!"

     "Left me in front of the pound months ago," Raekwon suddenly replied, without moving. He smiled. "I got outta there as fast as I could. Didn't wanna get trapped with creepy Dr_Death."

     Anya's heart went out to him. 'He's trying to make it sound as if it's nothing at all…'

     "The box came much later," the Lupe continued. He looked at her and smiled again. "I found it while I was looking for food. In one of the dumpsters, I think. Well, I didn't get any food but I did get a home." His face turned serious. "It gets cold sometimes and awfully lonely…but I like it, anyways."

     Anya gave him a long, warm hug.

     

******

     Khalid counted the day's (and night's) earnings a third time and bonked his head on the counter. "Argh!" The amount didn't tally with his computations of what today's income should have been. "Where did the rest of the money go? I have never made a mistake in my calculations."

     A thought crossed his mind and he tried to will it away. But it stayed there for a long time until finally, he gave in to it. "Someone must have taken it." He rose from his seat and paced. "Surely not my employees. They are good, honest Neopets. I'm sure of it." He went on pacing. And stopped. "I know who took the NPs…I KNEW he was up to no GOOD!"

To be continued...

 
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