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Clara: Part Two


by katiesheffield

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Clara woke up and opened her eyes. It was a gorgeous morning. The air was fresh as it drifted in through the open window, the light cheerful as it bounced across her blue border room. It made Clara feel like singing. But something was nagging at the back of her mind. Something that told her she really shouldn't be this happy. What was it?

     An image of a pile of books hidden behind a haystack flashed in front of her eyes, and in an instant the happy feeling was all gone. Guilt settled over her like a cloud, and she buried her head under the covers. Today might as well have been raining for how happy she was now.

     Sauna had delightedly proceeded to buy her close to a dozen new books, none of which she could read. In a panic she had hidden them behind the bales of hay. It was too late to tell Sauna now.

     Somehow she managed to drag herself out of bed and get dressed. She headed down stairs and started making breakfast. It was three days after Sauna and the red Eyrie Jordie had adopted her. They still insisted that she didn't have to cook for them, but as she was good at it and they despised the task, they didn't really have any objections.

     Sauna came down first this morning, and sat at the table. Clara could feel her owner's eyes watching her.

     "Clara?" The voice was gentle and beseeching.

     "Yeah?"

     "Is anything the matter? Are you feeling well?"

     She didn't look that bad, did she? She forced a smile. "I'm fine, Sauna."

     "We've been through this before. Call me mum."

     This time Clara's smile was genuine. "Alright, mum."

     "But really, honey, is anything the matter?"

     "No," she lied. "Why?"

     Sauna was hesitant. "Well, you just seem a little unhappy. Like something's bothering you. And I'd like to help, if I can."

     Clara felt like crying. Her conscience was screaming in her ear for her to tell her owner about the hidden books, but it was too late now. Sauna was the most valuable person in her life, and if Clara told her, she would never trust her again. She felt cornered. She had hoped the guilt would disappear. She had reasoned it out in her mind a million times. Sauna had given the books to her, and whether she read them or not was her choice. But her heart kept insisting that this was lying, and it was killing her from the inside.

     It was starting to show. Shadows were now lingering in her once bright eyes. Her coat was dull. She was exhausted from the constant guilt and feeling of gloom. Her face was looking strained. Instead of going away the guilt was building up and consuming her. She didn't know what to do.

     "I'm fine."

     Sauna didn't press the point, but it was clear she was still worried.

     "Clara?"

     "Hmm?"

     "I'm going to the shops today. I was wondering if you'd come with me." Clara stared at her in amazement. Sauna was terrified of shop owners! "I-I was thinking we could drop in on the doctor for a check up."

     Clara realized what it was about. "You're going to the shops so we can visit the doctor. Right?"

     Sauna grinned and pulled her pet onto her lap. "Just for a checkup."

     "I'm not sick."

     "How do you know? It could be an un-discovered disease. We could be famous for finding out about it!" She grinned again. "We could name it after you." She tried persuasively.

     "Alright. I'll come. But at the moment breakfast's getting cold, and Jordie's still not up."

     Sauna flashed a mischievous smile and winked. "That can be arranged." She put her pet down, skipped over to a cupboard and pulled a cord that was inside. Upstairs there was a mournful boom of the un-found gong, and a scream from Jordie. Sauna sighed contentedly. "It's the simple things in life I enjoy."

     * * *

     A little later that day Clara found herself standing beside her owner outside the doctor's. Sauna was pale, but determined. She gritted her teeth, closed her eyes and pushed open the door.

     They found themselves inside the waiting room. After only hesitating for a second, Sauna marched forward to the desk, which was manned by a blue Usul.

     "I- I..." She faltered. For a second it looked like she would run, but she glanced down at Clara, and instead swallowed and said hurriedly, "I'd like the doctor to have a look at my pet. Please."

     "Certainly. Right this way." The Usul led her down through a door and into the doctor Gelert's clinic.

     "Xweetok to see you, Doctor." The Usul left.

     The doctor Gelert stood up and advanced towards them with a friendly smile on his face. Sauna turned even paler than she had been before.

     "If you need me, I'll be in the waiting room." She turned and fairly bolted out the door.

     Clara smiled at the doctor apologetically. "I'm sorry, she's afraid of shopkeepers."

     The Gelert nodded understandingly. "I suppose there's no chance of her letting me prescribe a remedy?"

     "No."

     The Gelert sighed. "Alright. Let's have a look at you, shall we? Have a seat over there." He pointed to a comfy leather chair, and putting on a pair of spectacles, sat down in his own chair.

     "You don't want to run any tests?"

     The Gelert shook his head and smiled. "My dear, when you've been a doctor as long as I have, it's easy to see when a pet's sick and when it's not. You are not sick. However, there is something wrong. Anyone can see that."

     Clara looked at the ground.

     The doctor pushed the glasses up his nose and continued. "How is your owner? Other than being afraid of shopkeepers, that is. How does she treat you?"

     "Oh, she's lovely. She does everything for me. She loves me like I'm her own, even though I'm adopted."

     "Adopted, eh?" He made a note on his clipboard. "Any siblings?"

     "Jordie, he's an Eyrie."

     "And do you get on with him?"

     "Yes. He's been wonderful, too. Everything about my new life is perfect."

     "Mm-hmm. Are you really sure it's perfect? If you could change anything, would you?"

     An image of the hidden books flashed in front of Clara's eyes, and she flushed. "Well, yes."

     "Do you want to tell me about it? Anything said in this room is kept strictly confidential, you know." He leaned forward with a kind glint in his eyes.

     Clara caved in, and told him everything. About her last owner, who disowned her because she had stolen his book. About not being able to read. About the book hidden behind the bales of hay. About the overwhelming guilt from not telling her owner.

     When she had finished she had used several tissues, and she felt exhausted from telling what was in her mind. But it felt good. It wasn't a secret anymore. Someone else knew. It was as if a weight were off of her.

     The doctor leaned back in his chair and pushed the glasses back up his nose. "If I were you, my dear, I'd tell your owner."

     Clara started to make an objection, but he held up his hand for silence.

     "I cannot tell you what to do; I can only advise. You have brought several unhealthy mindsets from your old life into your new one. Keeping secrets, for example. You said your owner is wonderful to you, and loves you as if you were her own. If this is true, you can also expect her to forgive you for a mistake."

     Clara looked at her feet. "Please, sir. Don't make me tell her. I just can't."

     "I won't make you, my dear. But if you don't, the guilt will continue and eventually consume you."

     "But I can go to neoschool. It starts in a little while. I can learn to read there, and read all the books she bought me. She'll never know then."

     "But the guilt won't go away that easily. That's what is called a Band-Aid approach. And, if you'll forgive the expression, a bandage isn't much help to a corpse."

     "Please, doctor, I really can't tell her now."

     "Very well, dear. But I suggest you always keep it open as an option. Our time's up, I'm afraid."

     "Thank you. It feels better to have told someone, anyway. But please don't tell my owner."

     "Of course not, dear." He escorted her out of the clinic, and to her owner.

     "I can report she doesn't have any illness," was all he said.

     * * *

     After taking Clara home, Sauna went for a walk. She dearly loved her pet, and wished she knew what was wrong. The doctor had said she wasn't sick, so that ruled out that option. Maybe she didn't like her home? She seemed a very quiet and cautious pet, and though Sauna had done and would do everything to help her fit in comfortably, if Clara didn't like something she might be too polite to tell her.

     Sauna frowned as she walked past an alley, and gasped as a voice called her name from the shadows.

     Swinging around, she looked for her mysterious hailer. A shadowy figure stepped out of the ally, wearing a trench coat with the collar pulled up around his face, a hat low over his head, and a decidedly suspicious look, like a spy. When she saw who it was, she screamed.

     "Shh!" the Gelert doctor hissed urgently. "It's alright! I'm not going to hurt you! And I don't eat petpets!"

     "What do you want?" Sauna gasped, deathly pale.

     The Gelert doctor glanced either side, leaned in a bit and whispered, "The Island Mystic has been saying a lot of wise things lately." He stood back and nodded confidentially.

     Sauna raised an eyebrow. "Huh?"

     "He may have a bit of insight he's willing to share." More confidential nodding.

     "Your point is...?"

     The Gelert doctor heaved a sigh. "Listen, just go to the Island Mystic. He might be able to help you with Clara."

     "Ohh..." The gears in Sauna's head clicked. "Thank you."

     With a tip of his hat the Doctor disappeared into the shadows, leaving Sauna to stand there in bewilderment.

     "Go to the Island Mystic, eh?" She glanced at where the sun was in the sky. She still had time. Without a moment's hesitation she headed off for Mystery Island.

     * * *

     As he entered his office the Gelert Doctor took off the coat and hat. It had been a pleasant change to his usual job. With a sigh and a smile he sat down and wrote a note addressed to the Island Mystic. Giving it to his pet Weewoo he opened the window.

     "Take that to the Mystic, won't you, Laura? There's a good Weewoo."

     As the Weewoo flew off to Mystery Island the Doctor watched her. This way he had both kept his promise to Clara and helped her. He hoped she wouldn't be too angry with him, if she ever found out the part he had played. With a smile he turned to get back to work. There were other pets to help.

     * * *

     Sauna arrived at Mystery Island, and began trudging up the hill to the Island Mystic. She doubted he could help. Last time she had come, he had told her she had forgotten to bury all her clothes. Jordie thought he was mad.

     As she neared the little hut she thought she saw a Weewoo flying away, but she must have been mistaken, because Weewoos didn't live on Mystery Island.

     Entering the hut the Mystic greeted her.

     "Ah, so you've come for you fortune, eh? Well, here it is:

     You will discover a helpful surprise behind your bales of hay.

     Come back again tomorrow for another fortune!"

     Sauna raised her eyebrows. Odd. As she left she thought about what he had said. How did he even know she kept bales of hay in the shed?

     She was halfway home by the time she realized she had faced a shopkeeper without being afraid. The thought made her go weak in the knees.

     * * *

     Arriving home, Sauna decided to check out the shed. Just in case. As she passed the house she could hear Jordie and Clara talking. She smiled. It was good that they got on so well. She entered the shed and glanced around. Nothing seemed out of place. She walked over to the bales of hay stacked against the wall. Looking behind she stifled a gasp. There, stacked neatly, were all the books she had bought Clara. She picked one up. Clara hadn't read them. Why?

     * * *

     As she sat in her room talking to Jordie about the likelihood of anyone taking over Neopia, Clara glanced out of her window, and saw Sauna walking through the garden. Towards the shed. Her heart skipped a beat. Could she have found out?

     "I- I have to go."

     She ran out of the room and down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She burst out the back door and dashed to the shed. What she could do she didn't know. Explain, maybe? Explain that she couldn't read and had forgotten to tell her? It sounded stupid. Sauna would be mad at her, no matter what she said, so she may as well say the truth.

     Entering the shed she saw Sauna standing there with a book in her hand.

     "Clara, is there something you want to tell me?"

     The disappointment in he owner's voice felt like a knife cutting into her. Hanging her head in shame, Clara burst into tears and explained.

     "I- I can't read. You were so excited when you got the first book, and I didn't want to-to say anything. I'm stupid and I've been an idiot." She saw the book drop to the floor as Sauna let it go. "I understand you must b-be really angry and upset, and I'm sorry. I just wanted to fit in and please you. I'm sorry I can't read. I'll go pack now."

     She turned to go, but Sauna's gentle voice stopped her.

     "Pack? Darling, whatever for?"

     Finally Clara looked up, and saw she wasn't the only one crying. Tears ran down Sauna's face.

     "The- the pound...?"

     "No, honey." Sauna bent down and picked Clara up; just like she had on the day she adopted her. Holding her close she stroked her head.

     "Honey, it was wrong of you not to tell me. But that doesn't matter. I still love you just as much as I ever have, possibly more, that's all." Clara sobbed on her shoulder.

     "I thought you'd be disappointed that I couldn't read. I mean, Jordie's a really good reader."

     "I adopted you just as you were. And I love you just as you are. Reading's not that hard, and I can help you learn. I had to teach Jordie when I got him." She smiled. "Honey, I've faced more shopkeepers today for you than I'd hoped to meet in my life. That's how much I love you. Teaching you to read will be a cinch after them." Clara hiccupped.

     "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, mum."

     "Well, you've told me now. Let's sit down, and you can tell me whatever else you want. I'll love you no matter what your past has been like."

     * * *

     It was nearly an hour later when they looked up to see Jordie marching across the garden, looking frustrated.

     "He's probably been wondering where we were." Sauna laughed. "You don't have to tell him about the books if you don't want to, honey."

     Clara's mind was already made up. "No. We'll tell him. He's my brother, and deserves to know. And anyway, if I learnt one thing today, it's that it's better to have the truth out than to keep secrets all the time."

     Sauna smiled proudly. "Good choice, honey."

     Jordie entered. "Have you been having a shed warming party or something? Do you know what time it is?"

     They briefly explained what had been happening, and Clara was relieved when Jordie said, "Is that all? You were worried about not being able to read?" He smiled. "Sauna, do you mind if I have a word with Clara?"

     "Sure."

     There was an awkward pause.

     Jordie coughed. "Alone."

     "Ooh... right. I'll go... erm... sweep the floor." She was partway to the house before she stopped and looked back. "The floor hasn't needed sweeping lately, has it?"

     "Not since Clara arrived." Jordie smiled as his owner skipped to the house. "I wanted to tell you something," he said matter-of-factly. "I suppose Sauna told you she had to teach me how to read."

     Clara nodded.

     "Did she tell you I'm adopted as well?"

     She gaped at him. "You're adopted?"

     Jordie looked off at the sunset and chuckled. "Yeah. I thought it would be obvious. I mean, can you imagine Sauna rolling up to the create-a-pet staff and saying she'd like a Eyrie?"

     Clara laughed. "No."

     Jordie smiled at his little sister. "Well, my original owner created me, and got three steps out of that place before she decided she didn't want me." Pain at the memory flashed across his face. "When Sauna found me I was sitting in the middle of the street crying. It was starting to rain and would have been dark within half an hour. I doubt I would have survived if she hadn't taken me home and looked after me." He smiled again. "The point I'm trying to make is it's not what you have in here." He tapped his head. "It's what you have in here." He placed his paw on his heart. "All the knowledge in the world is immaterial if you can't be loved, and love in return."

     They sat in silence for some time, watching the sun slowly sink beneath the trees. At last Jordie looked at Clara again. "Neoschool starts in just over a week. I reckon I can teach you to read in that time."

     Clara looked up hopefully. "Really? You'd do that for me?"

     "Sure. Let's see if we can't get you writing by then, too."

     Clara grinned broadly. "Jordie, you're the greatest."

     He grinned in return. "I know."

     * * *

     Three weeks later.

     Clara sat in the comfy chair she now called her own, reading another book. In the short time since learning to read, she had devoured more books than Sauna had thought possible. A lot had changed. Her coat was a gorgeous glossy brown with blue stripes. Her bones no longer showed through her skin. Her eyes sparkled, and her eager to please smile was always there. She was now excelling at school, and had more friends than she had ever dreamt of having. But still, closest to her heart was her family; her family that had supported her and loved her unconditionally, and taught her a very valuable lesson.

     In order to succeed, you must make right choices. In order to make right choices, you must have experience. And in order to gain experience, you will make wrong choices.

     Clara had made wrong choices, and continued to make them on a smaller scale. But the experience she had gotten from the wrong choices was invaluable. Now she could trust people, and love without reserve. She finally felt free.

     Stretched out in front of the fire, her red Eyrie brother was watching the shadows skip across the walls. He seemed to be thinking hard.

     "Sauna?"

     Sauna looked up from the Neopian Times she was reading. "Hmm?"

     "Can I ask you a hypothetical question?"

     "Sure."

     "Right." He looked at the fire and chose his words carefully. "Suppose there was an Eyrie. A hypothetical one."

     "Would this hypothetical Eyrie happen to somehow be red?"

     "It's immaterial. Anyway, say this hypothetical Eyrie wanted to open a hypothetical shop. Just purely hypothetical, of course."

     "Mmm-hmm."

     "What if this hypothetical Eyrie had an owner..."

     "A hypothetical one?"

     "Yeah. A hypothetical owner. Who was, say, afraid of shop owners. Hypothetically."

     "Ohh... hypothetically afraid. That sounds nasty."

     "Well, would that hypothetical owner's hypothetical fear stop the hypothetical Eyrie from opening his hypothetical shop?"

     Jordie looked at Sauna hopefully. Sauna grinned.

     "I'd say the hypothetical owner would love her hypothetical Eyrie... who I suspect is red... so much that her hypothetical fear wouldn't exist."

     "Is that a yes?"

     "A hypothetical one."

     Jordie jumped up and threw his arms around Sauna's neck. "Thank you!" He laughed, and Sauna and Clara joined in. Family is invaluable.

The End

 
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